Monday, December 31, 2012

Coast Guard eyes revamp

From the Manila Standard Today (Jan 1): Coast Guard eyes revamp

The Coast Guard will carry out a reshuffle of key officers within the month, Commandant Rodolfo Isorena said on Monday. He said this major reassignment is in consonance with the rotation policy of the command for the officers’ career advancement. Since Dec. 9, the Coast Guard has been on full alert until Jan. 7. “If we implement the reshuffle at this time, it might lead to confusion…So the reshuffle would take place after the New Year so that we would not disrupt the services of the coast guard during this holiday season,” Isorena said.

A board of officers would be assisting the Commandant in drafting the list of reshuffled officials that would be proposed to Secretary Abaya. Among those who might be affected by the reshuffle are the 12 district commanders namely: National Capital Region and Central Luzon chief Rear Admiral Cecil Chen; Central Visayas Commodore William Melad; Eastern Visayas Captain Pablo Gonzales; South Western Mindanao Commodore Ferdinand Velasco; and Palawan Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista. Southern Tagalog Commodore Eduardo Gongona; Western Visayas Commodore Athelo Ybanez; North Western Luzon Commodore Leopoldo Laroya; Eastern Luzon Captain Joselito dela Cruz; South Eastern Mindanao Commodore George Ursabia; Bicol Commodore Joel Garcia; and Northern Mindanao Commodore Elson Hermogino.

Rebel priest’s son now an Army soldier

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 31): Rebel priest’s son now an Army soldier

Jordan Balweg was an infant when his father, slain rebel priest Conrado Balweg, and his militia, the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA), negotiated peace with the late President Corazon Aquino in 1986. More than 20 years later, Balweg’s 26-year-old son was officially integrated into the Philippine Army, along with 57 former members of CPLA, in a Dec. 29 ceremony in this military camp.  The integration of the CPLA members into the military fulfills a condition of a 2011 closure agreement for peace negotiations under the term of Aquino’s son, Benigno Aquino III.

Last year, Jordan had been supporting CPLA members in Kalinga who refused to submit to the government-brokered closure plan, believing it was not what his father wanted. The Kalinga militiamen said the term “closure” meant terminating the “sipat,” a cessation of hostilities binding CPLA and the government while they negotiated terms for an autonomous region in the Cordillera.

The creation of the Cordillera Administrative Region in 1987 was the first step taken to fulfill this goal, but Jordan, in a 2011 letter to the Inquirer, said that closing the sipat forged in Mt. Data in Mt. Province “makes autonomy an impossible quest.” The closure agreement was negotiated by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and sets the protocol for the CPLA’s disarmament and conversion into a nongovernment organization. But the CPLA’s Kalinga-based members protested the agreement at the Regional Development Council. So many were surprised to see Jordan receive his military integration papers from Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, Philippine Army chief, during the ceremony.

“I think this is the best thing for me—to defend the country. So I accepted the offer to be a soldier,” Jordan said.  He said it was not an easy decision to join the military.

China adds destroyers to marine surveillance

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 31): China adds destroyers to marine surveillance

China has transferred two destroyers and nine other ex-navy vessels to its maritime surveillance fleet, reports said Monday, as it moves to beef up its position in bitter territorial rows with Japan and other neighbours. Beijing renovated the ships and transferred them to surveillance operations to “alleviate the insufficiency of vessels used to protect maritime interests”, said a report on Tencent, one of China’s major news portals.

China is embroiled in a maritime dispute with Japan that has seen tensions between the two Asian giants, the world’s second- and third-largest economies, at times reach fever pitch. It is also engaged in a simmering row with its southern neighbors over its claim to vast swathes of the South China Sea.

Beijing has been sending maritime patrol vessels into waters around the East China Sea islands — which it claims as the Diaoyu and which Japan controls and calls the Senkaku — since Tokyo nationalized the chain in September.  China is apparently seeking to prove it can come and go in the area at will and on Monday three of Beijing’s ships were spotted in the waters around the islands, according to Japan’s coastguard, in the latest perceived incursion. Two of Beijing’s newly-refurbished vessels are destroyers, with one each to operate in the East and South China Seas, with the others including tugs, icebreakers and survey ships, according to the Tencent report.

The destroyers, the Nanjing and Nanning, numbered 131 and 162 respectively, each had a displacement of 3,250 tons and had a top speed of 32 knots, according to, an independent UK-based website. It said that during their time in the navy they were equipped with 130mm guns with a range of 29 kilometers, anti-ship missiles and other weapons. The Nanjing went into service in 1977 and the Nanning in 1979. Both retired this year from the Chinese navy, previous domestic media reports said.

It was not clear whether it was the first time the maritime surveillance fleet has acquired destroyers, or when the transfers took place. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment when asked about the destroyers at its regular briefing on Monday. Officials at the Ministry of Defence and headquarters of the China Marine Surveillance were not immediately available to comment when contacted by AFP.

The transfer report was first published in the International Herald Leader, a Chinese-language newspaper linked to Beijing’s official news agency Xinhua, and the author said the operation had been given significantly more capacity. “The maritime surveillance team’s power has been greatly strengthened and its capacity to execute missions sharply improved, providing a fundamental guarantee for completing the currently arduous task to protect maritime interests,” wrote Yu Zhirong, of the government’s Research Centre for Chinese Marine Development. Since 2000 the maritime surveillance fleet, which is tasked with “protecting China’s interests and executing law enforcement missions”, has also received a total of 13 new vessels, the report said.

Daily patrols have been stepped up from six vessels before the disputes heated up to “more than 10″ Yu said, adding authorities planned to build another 36 surveillance ships by 2015. A Chinese plane overflew the islands in the East China Sea earlier this month, in what Japan said was the first time Beijing had breached its airspace since at least 1958. Tokyo scrambled fighter jets in response. Yu added in the report: “I believe Chinese maritime surveillance authorities will build and buy many ships and planes in the future with strong capabilities and advanced equipment.”

'State of Kidnappings' in Southern Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner (Dec 31): 'State of Kidnappings' in Southern Philippines

It has been more than two years since Japanese treasure hunter Katayama Mamaito was abducted by the Abu Sayyaf on the island of Pangutaran in the southern Philippine province of Sulu. Police said Katayama, whose real name is Toshio Ito, 66, is still alive, but there have been no efforts from either the Philippines or Japanese government to rescue the foreigner. He was last reported to have been helping the Abu Sayyaf in cooking food for them and freely moves around, according to Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra, the provincial police chief.

Aside from Katayama, the Abu Sayyaf is also holding Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani, 43, and his two Filipino assistants Rolando Letrero, 22, and Ramelito Vela, 39. The trio went to Sulu province in June to secretly film the Abu Sayyaf for a documentary on Al Arabiya News Channel. Prior to his detention, Atyani has had previously travelled to the province in secrecy to interview terrorist leaders, the Philippine military said. The military has previously said it would arrest Atyani for espionage should he be released by the Abu Sayyaf. Atyani had also clandestinely interviewed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

Freyra said two European wildlife photographers Ewold Horn, 52, from Holland; and Lorenzo Vinciguerre, 47, from Switzerland, kidnapped in February this year in Tawi-Tawi province had been brought to Sulu province. “We have been constantly monitoring the situation of all these kidnapped victims now in Sulu, but the Abu Sayyaf, as in the past, is highly mobile and would change their hideouts from time to time to avoid detection by government authorities. We have people on the grounds monitoring developments and feeding us intelligence about these victims,” Freyra told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner. He said the government has a strict no ransom policy and authorities would not negotiate with terrorists. “We would like these problems resolved soon and our operations to locate the victims continue,” he said.

Police in Tawi-Tawi said the duo was allegedly seized by members of the Moro National Liberation Front. Another group of kidnappers are also holding a Malaysian fish trader Pang Choon Pong, who was seized in October 2011 in Tawi-Tawi, but his fate remains unknown.

In November, Malaysian authorities said two of its nationals were seized by 5 gunmen disguised as policemen from a palm oil plantation in Sabah near the Philippine border. It said the two, who are cousins, were both working for the plantation in Lahad Datu, and had been taken at gunpoint. Their companions said the gunmen spoke in Malayu and Tausug, a dialect commonly used in the southern provinces of Tawi-Tawi and Sulu. There were no immediate reports whether the foreigners are being held in either of the two provinces, but Malaysia said the victims could be in Tawi-Tawi.

Abu Sayyaf gunmen are also holding an Australian adventurer, Warren Rodwell, a former soldier, who was kidnapped in the seaside town of Ipil in Zamboanga Sibugay province on December 5, 2011. Rodwell, 54, is married to a Filipina Miraflor Gutang, then 27, but local police said the marriage was in trouble within months after their June 2011 wedding. Shortly after Rodwell's kidnapping, the then local police chief Edwin Verzon said Gutang had filed two complaints of abuse against the Australian and Gutang's parents said she had moved out of their shared house just two weeks previously. Verzon was later sacked for his comments and the local governor Rommel Jalosjos imposed a blackout on Rodwell news coverage.

Just recently, a video clip of Rodwell - a prolific world traveller and English teacher in China - was uploaded in YouTube as a proof of life. Rodwell, who appeared frail and desperate, said he does not trust the Abu Sayyaf and the Australian government and holds no hope that he would be released before the end of the year. Rodwell’s wife also has not issued any statement about the latest proof of life of her husband. The Abu Sayyaf has demanded $2 million for Rodwell’s freedom, but Gutang previously appealed to the kidnappers to free her husband, saying he is not rich, and they cannot afford to pay the ransom. Rodwell has appealed for his safe release in a video sent by his captors to his wife shortly after his kidnapping. “To my family please do whatever to raise the two million US dollars they are asking for my release as soon as possible. To the government, to the Filipino government especially the government of Zamboanga Sibugay, (Governor) Rommel (Jalosjos), I’m appealing to you please help me to coordinate with my family to raise to whatever money is being asked.” The kidnappers eventually lowered their demand to only $460,000 in another video released by the Abu Sayyaf in March.

Major General Ricardo Rainier Cruz, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said Rodwell is being held in Basilan province off Zamboanga City and that efforts are going on to rescue the former soldier. “Our efforts to locate Warren Rodwell are continuing, but the kidnappers have been constantly moving from one location to another and that is our problem now. He is also being used by the Abu Sayyaf as human shield and the safety of Warren is our top concern also,” Cruz said in an interview.

The Abu Sayyaf, which means “Bearer of the sword,” has been tied to dozens of kidnappings over the past decade in the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi – all in the Muslim autonomous region; and Zamboanga City and other areas in Western Mindanao. The group, authorities said, has links with the al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya terror networks and is responsible in many bombings in key areas not only in Mindanao, but also in the Philippine capital.

Some leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, were also accused as behind many kidnappings-for-ransom, some of them involving foreign missionaries in Mindanao. And so were other smaller criminal groups such as the Pentagon Gang, whose members were former rebels of the MILF.

Authorities also blamed the communist New People’s Army in several abductions of soldiers, policemen and even civilians suspected of working or passing information to the military about the rebel group. But unlike the Abu Sayyaf or the MILF, the NPA usually abduct their victims for political reasons. Kidnappings for ransom remain the biggest threat to personal security, second to terrorism in the restive, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao.

Security officials said the Abu Sayyaf is the most notorious militant group involved in kidnappings-for-ransom and victimized mostly wealth Filipino traders and foreigners, but lately had been targeting even ordinary people who can pay ransom for as low as P100,000. And those who cannot pay are beheaded. Officials said the Abu Sayyaf uses its ransom collections to purchase weapons and fund future terror attacks in the country and were believed channelling funds to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya.

Among the highest-profile kidnappings carried out by the Abu Sayyaf were the 2000 raid cross-border raid in Malaysia where it took 21 mostly Western holidaymakers and ransomed them off for millions of dollars to private negotiators of foreign governments whose citizens had been kidnapped.

It also kidnapped Jeffrey Craig Schilling, an American citizen, while travelling in Sulu province also in 2000. It was followed the next year with the kidnapping of 20 people, including American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham, and compatriot Guillermo Sobero, who was later beheaded.

Abu Sayyaf militants also kidnapped dozens of Filipinos, including teachers and students and a Catholic priest in a raid of a town in Basilan province. And this was followed through the years by kidnapping Filipino traders, but in 2008 the militants seized a popular local television news anchor Ces Drilon and his two cameramen and a guide while on their way to clandestinely interview an Abu Sayyaf leader.

And in January 2009, Abu Sayyaf kidnapped three members of the International Red Cross - Andreas Notter, of Switzerland; Eugenio Vagni, of Italy and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba. And there was suspicion that ransoms were paid to the kidnappers either in Malaysia or Indonesia after authorities claimed that Mauiya, an Indian Jemaah Islamiya militant, was negotiating with the hostages’ representatives.

Sri Lankan peace worker, Omar Jaleel, of the Non-violent Peace Force, was also taken in Basilan the same year; and so were other Filipinos seized in the province and Zamboanga City.

In 1998, Italian priest Luciano Benedetti was kidnapped by rogue MILF rebels and released after eight weeks in captivity. In 2001, renegade MILF rebels also snatched Italian priest Giuseppe Pierantoni as the 44-year-old from Bologna said mass in the parish church of Dimataling town in Zamboanga del Sur and missionary Giancarlo Bossi, of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions, in Payao town in Zamboanga del Sur in 2007.

And in 2009, rogue MILF rebels also kidnapped Irish priest Michael Sinnott from his missionary house in Pagadian City and freed months later after ransom was paid.

Officials said kidnappings-for-ransom has become a lucrative business for rebels and criminal syndicates in Mindanao, where many areas are underdeveloped and job opportunities are scarce. Sometimes gangs kidnapped civilians and hand them over to rebels in exchange for a cut in the ransom. Poverty has been blamed for many kidnappings in the South.

The National Liberation Movement in the Philippines and the "Terrorist Listing" by Foreign Powers

Excerpt from lengthy speech/paper presented at the Second New World Summit by CPP founder and ideological guru Jose Maria Sison. The speech was posted to his Website (Dec 29):  The National Liberation Movement in the Philippines and the "Terrorist Listing" by Foreign Powers

By Prof. Jose Maria Sison
Founding Chairman, Communist Party of the Philippines
Chief Political Consultant, NDFP Negotiating Panel
Keynote Speech at the Second New World Summit
The Waag, Leiden, 29 December 2012

First of all, I wish to thank the organizers of the Second New World Summit for inviting me to serve as the keynote speaker. I am honored and delighted to avail of this “alternative parliament” to expose the socio-economic, political, and ideological interests behind the “terrorist” labeling and listing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the New People´s Army (NPA), your speaker and in effect the entire struggle of the Filipino people for national liberation and democracy.

In this connection, may I present to you briefly the highlights of the revolutionary history and circumstances of the Filipino people, the CPP, the NPA and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and in the process my historical and current role which has resulted in my inclusion in the so-called terrorist blacklist of the US and the EU among others. More importantly, I wish to present to you the just cause of the Filipino people and their revolutionary forces to fight for national liberation and democracy.

I shall comment on the adversities that I have faced in connection with the “terrorist” blacklist and other acts of persecution, on how these have affected me and on my position towards them and towards the states that employ them. I shall also point to the rise of the international democratic movement and relate them to the goals of the national liberation movement in the Philippines.

The Interests Behind “Terrorist” Listing

The interests behind the “terrorist” listing of the national liberation movement in the Philippines are chiefly those of the US among the imperialist powers. The “terrorist” listing seeks to demonize the movement and justify the use of violence and deception against the people and social activists in order to preserve and promote the socio-economic interests of the US monopoly bourgeoisie. This globally hegemonic class wants to continue drawing superprofits from the working people and oppressed nations and peoples and seeks to crush their resistance.

The local reactionary classes of big compradors and landlords in the Philippines follow the dictates of the US. They serve the interests of the US and their own class and factional interests in the semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system. There is the illusion of democracy in the Philippines but this is merely the competition of political factions of the same exploiting classes. These factions always compete for US support because this is the most decisive in determining which of them becomes the ruling faction.

Since 9-11, the US has used the pretext of combating Al Qaida in order to proclaim and carry out a perpetual borderless war of terror on countries assertive of national independence and on national liberation movements. For this purpose, it has launched wars of aggression against Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, killing hundreds of thousands of people and destroying their social infrastructure in the process. It has caused the adoption of draconian laws like the USA PATRIOT Act in the imperialist and dominated countries and has emboldened governments to engage in state terrorism.

To justify the extraordinary and boundless use of violence and go beyond appropriate police measures against common crimes, the US has used the metaphor of war to commit grievous criminal violations of basic democratic rights, engage in foreign military intervention and wage wars of aggression. Of course, the US has a motive for the use of oppression, aggression and occupation. This is to maintain and expand its dominant share of the global and regional markets, the sources of cheap labor and raw materials, the fields of investment and the spheres of influence.

Under its global security policy, the US has designed the master plans for military campaigns of suppression against the revolutionary forces and people in the Philippines. These are Oplan Bantay Laya for the Arroyo regime and Opĺan Bayanihan for the current Aquino regime. The NPA has never engaged in any cross-border action against the US or any other country. But the US and its Filipino puppets connive in trying to subject the CPP, NPA and the NDFP chief political consultant to the jurisdiction of the US and other imperialist powers.

There were those who said in the years of 1989 to 1991 that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the full restoration of capitalism in revisionist-ruled countries, there would be world peace and peace dividends. But in fact the US has been driven by its ideological and economic interest to wipe out every vestige or semblance of the socialist cause and even the cause of national liberation and democracy among the oppressed nations and peoples. It has launched multi-pronged offensives of counterrevolution in the ideological, socio-economic, political and military spheres......

CPP calls for big advance in armed struggle and mass resistance in 2013

From the CPP Website (Dec 31): CPP calls for big advance in armed struggle and mass resistance in 2013

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) today called on the Filipino people and their revolutionary forces to strive for a big advance in armed struggle and mass resistance in 2013 in response to the Aquino regime’s policies that exacerbate the socio-economic conditions of the Filipino people and further open up the country to US government intervention and foreign economic domination.

“The Aquino regime’s continuing resort to deception, statistical distortion and half-truths, media spins, manipulated surveys and publicity gimmicks cannot conceal the worsening conditions of the Filipino people or placate their seething discontent over Aquino’s failure to deliver on promises of change in the people’s lives,” said the CPP. “After close to three years, the Aquino regime has miserably failed to address the problems of unemployment, landlessness, homelessness, low wages, spiralling prices, hunger and poverty, disease and epidemics,” added the CPP.

“It has waged a campaign of suppression resulting in a wave of human rights violations, especially in the countryside where the AFP imposes martial law in peasant communities that are active in land reform struggles and in opposing mining and plantation operations.” “It has become crystal clear that the Filipino people have no other recourse but to intensify their revolutionary mass struggles and armed resistance,” said the CPP.

“In the coming year, the Filipino people must raise their level of struggle against oil price increases, wage freezes and the two-tier wage system, the demolition of urban poor communities, land grabbing, incursions of mining operations, the corporatization of public health service, the K to 12 program, the privatization of public schools and hospitals through so-called Public-Private Partnership programs, charter change efforts to embed IMF-imposed policies into the Philippine constitution and other attacks against their national and democratic interests,” said the CPP.

“Mass demonstrations are bound to intensity and jolt the ruling political system currently under the antipeople, anti-democratic and puppet Aquino regime,” said the CPP. “The demand to put an end to imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism and for an overhaul of the ruling semicolonial and semifeudal system will advanced vigorously by the toiling masses.”

“Over the past years, the New People’s Army has accumulated enough firepower, organizational strength and mass support to heighten its initiative and further intensify the armed struggle,” said the CPP. “This coming year or two, the NPA can achieve a big advance,” pointed out the CPP. “More tactical offensives and military campaigns can be launched and coordinated at the inter-front, inter-regional and national levels in order to frustrate Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan war of suppression and deliver more lethal blows against the enemy and seize firearms at a faster rate than in the past decade.”

Marines continue pursuit operations vs Abu Sayyaf

From the Philippine Star (Dec 31): Marines continue pursuit operations vs Abu Sayyaf

Marines will continue operations even on New Year's Day against the bandit group Abu Sayyaf, which is believed to be holding captive four foreign nationals in the jungles of Sulu. “There is no halting in the operation commitment. It is on going on a normal basis,” said Col. Armando Bañez, deputy for Marine Operation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Naval Forces Western Mindanao. Bañez said the intelligence build-up has not slowed down either to determine the exact target areas where the Abu Sayyaf groups have been seeking temporary sanctuary.

Part of the intelligence work was to determine where the bandits are keeping the its kidnap victims, including Australian Warren Richard Rodwell, Europeans Elwold Horn and Lorenzo Vinceguerre. The bandit group is also believed to be holding captive Jordanian broadcast journalist Baker Atyani and three Filipinos. The official said that based on ground reports, the bandits separately holding the kidnap victims are regularly moving from one place to another to evade government forces.

Bañez also said that Marines have also been deployed to government installations in the province to prevent the possibility of the militants taking advantage of the holiday and stage an attack during the New Year. “They (Marines) are ready for that possibility,” he added.

Meanwhile, security operations in Basilan province also remained active despite the holidays. Chief Superintendent Juanito Vaño, director of the Philippine National Police's Western Mindanao regional police office, said combat police forces have a standing order to relentlessly pursue the lawless elements. “We will not stop. Operations will continue with the usual manhunt against the targets and intensify the case build-up,” Vaño said.

Grenade blast kills 1, hurts 3 in Cotabato

From the Philippine Star (Dec 31): Grenade blast kills 1, hurts 3 in Cotabato

A tricycle driver was killed while three others were injured in another grenade attack here Sunday night, the second in just one week. Investigators identified the fatality as Al-Masri Amirul, 18, who died from shrapnel wounds in different parts of his body. The blast wounded Albert Villarete, 39; Reynaldo Tagayan, 42; and Legaspi Banguis, 56.

Investigators said the victims were standing along a busy street at Barangay Rosary Heights 6, when a a motorcycle-riding man hurled a Mark-2 fragmentation grenade at them while shouting “Happy New Year!” Probers are still clueless on the identities of the suspects and their motive for the grenade attack.

The incident was preceded by the bombing, using an Mecar M-72 grenade, of a house along Don E. Sero here by motorcycle-riding men that left a former barangay councilor wounded. Army bomb experts have also safely defused an improvised explosive device found near the Rosary Heights police precinct early this week.The bomb was detonated using a liquid-type, calibrated disruptor explosive to destroy its blasting mechanism.

2012 a year of peaceful Bangsamoro

From the Philippine Star (Dec 31): 2012 a year of peaceful Bangsamoro

Year 2012 will be remembered as the time when the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) agreed to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with a new self-governing entity, being a “failed experiment,” as far as President Benigno Aquino III is concerned.
The ARMM’s creation was a brainchild of Aquino's matriarch, former President Corazon Aquino, as part of her administration’s initial peace overture with the MILF, which resulted in the crafting of the September 2, 1996 government-MNLF final peace agreement, during the time of then President Fidel Ramos. It was Mrs. Aquino, in fact, who created the Regional Consultative Commission or RCC that drafted the ARMM’s first ever charter, Republic Act 6743, which was ratified through a plebiscite in 1990, resulting into the fusion of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi together as territory of the autonomous region. The ARMM's area was expanded, which eventually included the island province of Basilan and the cities of Lamitan and Marawi, with the ratification of its amended charter, R.A. 9054, through another plebiscite in August 2001.

The replacement of the ARMM with a new autonomous political entity, through a political and legislative transitional process that would last until 2016, is the main objective of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), signed October 15 this year by the government and MILF panels in Malacañang. Peace talks between the government and the MILF started Jan. 7, 1997, a process that saw “ups and downs” causing its collapse over a dozen times, sparked by security problems in many flashpoint areas the rebel group wants to group together as Bangsamoro homeland. For a while, local sectors were euphoric over the signing of the FAB, something residents of the autonomous region never thought would happen so soon, much sooner than they expected.

President Aquino has created the Transition Commission (TransCom) through Executive Order 120, to oversee the drafting of the Basic Bangsamoro Law that is to become the “body and soul” of the Bangsamoro region. “We in the ARMM government are ready to make that vision come true. We are ready to help in the transition process,” said the region’s acting governor, Mujiv Hataman. Hataman, whom President Aquino appointed as ARMM's caretaker in December 2011, has been addressing the administrative and fiscal woes besetting the ARMM’s dysfunctional bureaucracy, tainted with massive graft and corruption. The region’s perennial, long-time mismanagement and the misuse of funds in the coffers of its line agencies and support offices have been blamed for the grinding poverty and widespread underdevelopment in its component provinces and municipalities.

ARMM residents have lately been seeing outpouring of support for the FAB and the TransCom, through public consultations participated by cross-section communities, political and religious leaders and representatives of various civil society organizations, or CSOs, in the autonomous region. Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, whose province is a known bastion of the MILF, and Hataman are to jointly preside over a grand regional FAB forum in Buluan town on January 12 to 13. Mangudadatu said he is expecting representatives of the MILF and the government’s peace panel, officials of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, and leaders of Mindanao’s Christian religious communities to participate in the dialogue in Buluan in the second district of Maguindanao. Hataman and Mangudadatu were expected to renew the support of their respective administrations to the on-going government-MILF talks during the January 12-13 grand regional FAB forum.

There is so much reason for local sectors in the autonomous region to help push the FAB forward and show support for the newly-created TransCom. Local folks witnessed bloodshed and saw the dislocation of about a million residents in flashpoint areas in the south when President Joseph Estrada embarked on an all out war policy against the MILF in 2000. Mr. Estrada’s military adventurism led to the government’s takeover of close to 50 “main and minor” MILF camps, including Camps Busrah and Abubakar Assidik, in Butig, Lanao del Sur and in Maguindanao’s Barira town, respectively, amidst the 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities. Thousands were again displaced in February 2003 when government forces drove away from the Buliok Complex, a 3,000-hectare guerilla enclave in Pagalungan, Maguindanao, the chieftain of the MILF, Imam Salamat Hashim, forcing him to relocate to Butig town in Lanao del Sur, where he eventually died of a cardiovascular disease several months later. The last of the hostilities to wrack the South, which lasted for about one year, was sparked by the aborted August 5, 2008 crafting by the GPH and MILF panels in Malaysia of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which was eventually junked as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The MOA-AD was the supposed basis for the setting up of a Southern Moro homeland the MILF was to govern through its proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.

“We’ve had enough of bloodshed. It’s time to settle the Mindanao problem on the negotiating table amicably, in the spirit of amity, fraternalism and mutuality,” said Oblate priest Eliseo Mercado, Jr., director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, and a convener of more than 50 peace advocacy outfits involved in projects complementing the GPH-MILF talks. Thas been a fragile peace for over a year now in many supposedly hostile areas in Mindanao. There has even been a “zero encounter” between government and MILF forces in Central Mindanao in the past 15 months, enabling non-government organizations, line agencies, local government units, the ARMM leadership to freely implement socio-economic projects in far-flung areas without any disruption. Peace advocacy outfits in ARMM are now busy encouraging voters to choose candidates for local elective positions that are supportive of the Mindanao peace process and are engaged in activities meant to prevent any outbreak of military-MILF hostilities in their respective municipalities and provinces. The ARMM is to hold its eight regional elections in May 2013, simultaneous with the local and senatorial elections.