Sunday, 23 September 2001

Gov't grants US request to land, refuel, fly over RP

Will welcome assistance vs Sayyaf

The Philippine government has approved a request of the United States to land and refuel fighter jets headed for the Middle East, presidential spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao said yesterday.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo granted the US request upon the endorsement of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the spokesman said.

Tiglao said the refueling of three US fighter jets at the Benito Ebuen Air Base, formerly Mactan Air Base, in Cebu on Thursday was done within the bounds of the Constitution and international laws.

"It's covered by international aviation conference. Hindi ininvoke actually yung Visiting Forces Agreement. Even if it is an Australian plane, hihingi ng clearance. Pwede with the approval of DFA and the President," he said.

However, Tiglao said the local authorities are clueless whether those US fighter jets were carrying nuclear firearms.

Tiglao said under the US military policy, they can neither confirm or deny carrying such nuclear or biological weapons.

Still, he allayed fears of possible attacks on the US military air and sea vessels while refueling in the country's ports.

"Sandali lang naman ang refueling nila," he said.

Vice President and Foreign Affairs Teofisto Guingona had earlier said the President was given a blanket authority from the National Security Council and congressional leaders to decide on the US request to land, refuel and fly over Philippine airspace.

Guingona said the NSC made the authorization to support the United Nations Security Council resolution calling on all member-countries to help the US-led war on terrorism.

The NSC also gave the President the authority to cut short the normal process that would require US requests to go through the foreign affairs, national defense, and transportation and communication departments.

The US F-18 Hornets reportedly came from Kadena US air force base in Japan and landed at Ebuen Air base around 8 a.m. and left after two hours for Koror Island in Guam.


Abu Sayyaf

Malacaņang will not demand military assistance from the United States in its crackdown on the Abu Sayyaf in exchange for the Philippine government's support for the US-led war on terrorism.

In an interview, presidential spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao said President Arroyo did not seek a similar trade as the government of Pakistan, which asked for a debt relief from the United States.

"We don't demand," Tiglao said, but Malacaņang would accept any voluntarily assistance from the US to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf bandits, who continue to hold an American couple and several Filipino hostages, he added.

"We hope later on they will appreciate our campaign and they will give us more technical help," he said.

The Pakistan government asked for a debt relief in exchange for its alliance with the US to capture prime terrorist suspect Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Tiglao also reaffirmed the government's "full and unqualified" support for the international coalition against terrorism, saying it is both a moral imperative and diplomatic obligation.

Arroyo's spokesman also denied reports that negotiations involving ransom payments have been ongoing for the release of Martin and Gracia Burnham, who were abducted from the Dos Palmas island resort in Palawan on May 27.

"The standing policy would still be no negotiations for ransom. We cannot allow ransom negotiations," he said.

He admitted that they have no information on the whereabouts of the hostages.

But he assured that hundreds of military and police troops, deployed in Basilan, are still pursuing the bandit leaders and members with let-up.