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 You are in:   Front Page > Asia Pacific > East Asia Today > In Depth
East Asia Today
Wednesday 05 December, 2001

Philippines President Gloria Arroyo on the war against terrorism
Philippines president Gloria Arroyo
East Asian leaders, mindful of Islamic sensibilities, have been hoping that the United States can produce compelling evidence to link Osama Bin Laden to the terrorist assaults on America. The question is particularly urgent in Indonesia and Malaysia – and in the Philippines, where President Gloria Arroyo has made peace in the mainly Muslim south a priority.

Christopher Gunness asked Mrs Arroyo if she is convinced by the evidence she’s seen:

Gloria Arroyo: Yes, I had the same briefing as Mr Blair had and really I think the evidence is compelling. The circumstantial connections are really very specific, and really many events coincide with the events as we know them, so the more convinced we are.

Christopher Gunness: But are you saying that this evidence is solely circumstantial?

Gloria Arroyo: In the sense that there is no eyewitness of course, but when you say circumstantial evidence it is still very, very strong evidence.

Christopher Gunness: What I want to know, and what I think a lot of the Muslims in your own country are going to want to know, is precisely how watertight this evidence is. Would it convince your Muslim constituents?

Gloria Arroyo: They don’t ask, they know.

Christopher Gunness: They know that Bin Laden is linked to these attacks?

Gloria Arroyo: They know that, they don’t doubt that.

Christopher Gunness: But what specifically is it that convinces them and you?

Gloria Arroyo: In the Philippines there is so much, you know....we have a very big Muslim population so word gets around. Many of the revelations confirm conventional wisdom as we know it in the Philippines.

Christopher Gunness: But we surely have to move beyond hearsay if we are talking about the potential for an attack?

Gloria Arroyo: No, this is not hearsay. I cannot tell you the details, I am not prepared to give the details of a briefing that was given to me in confidence.

Christopher Gunness: Now Mr Blair is saying though that of the 19 hijackers at least three have been positively identified as known associates of Osama Bin Laden. Do you believe this?

Gloria Arroyo: Yes, that’s part of it but I am not prepared to have to make a case about it because the people of the Philippines are already convinced.

Christopher Gunness: And you are convinced that in Mindanao, too, there is no problem with your administration supporting what could ultimately be an attack on a Muslim country.

Gloria Arroyo: You know, I don’t think that’s the way we should bill that. The stress is not on the attack on Muslim countries because we don’t even know how imminent that is. The stress is that this is a war on terrorism. The Philippines has been a victim of terrorism, so that we understand what this means.

Christopher Gunness: So you are not worried about carrying the Muslims in your country with you if you do end up supporting a war against the Taleban in Afghanistan?

Gloria Arroyo: What I have said is that we are in a war against terrorism, and the Philippine Muslim leaders have time and again expressed their support formally and publicly to my statements.

Christopher Gunness: So does it follow from that that you are not worried about the impact on the peace process in the south of your country if indeed the world does go to war with Afghanistan?

Gloria Arroyo: Again, I don’t know why you are stressing so much about the war in Afghanistan. As I said there are many ways of skinning a cat and right now we are talking about the principle of a war against terrorism. The support the people have given is strategic support, and I have given them already the very specific ways in which we can help, and they have supported us. As far as our peace process is concerned, the peace process with the Muslims right now is with the Moro Islamic Liberation front and they have distanced themselves from Osama Bin Laden and Al-Quaida.

Christopher Gunness: But you have also said that you would lead the creation of a regional anti-terrorism coalition along with Malaysia and Indonesia, and it is certainly the case in Indonesia that Muslims there feel this is an attack on them.

Gloria Arroyo: I did not say I would lead a coalition. We initiated an agreement for working together against terrorism and Indonesian and Malaysians have agreed in principle. It includes things like exchange of intelligence and information. It included things like joint patrols in common sea borders. So it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that we have to be involved in the internal dilemma that Indonesia is undergoing.

Christopher Gunness: As far as the Abu Sayyaf group is concerned, how do you think that this so called war on terrorism is going to effect your approach to them?

Gloria Arroyo: Well, it think we will be able to have more support now.

Christopher Gunness: Does it mean they remain an enemy in military terms, beyond the reach of your diplomatic efforts?

Gloria Arroyo: Definitely they are an enemy, they are terrorists.

Christopher Gunness: And they are beyond diplomacy? It’s only a military battle that you can win against them?

Gloria Arroyo: Not just military. We also have to win the hearts and minds of the people in the communities in which they live.

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