Friday, February 22, 2013

Rebels extortion vs local politicians in Panay starts- PA

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): Rebels extortion vs local politicians in Panay starts- PA

The military authorities here confirmed that the New People's Army (NPA) has started their extortion activities against politicians in Western Visayas, particularly in Panay Island this election period.

Maj. Rey Tiongson, spokesperson of 3rd Infantry (Spearhead) Division (3ID) based in Camp Macario Peralta, Jamindan, Capiz, said they have already received reports from different army field commanders relative to the ‘permit to campaign and permit to win scheme' of the NPA rebels.

The Army spokesperson said the rebels sent letters to political candidates informing them they have the full control of a certain area, thus there’s a need for candidates to coordinate with them before they could gain entry in the area for political campaign sorties.

Tiongson said that although the rebels did not specifically mention the desired amount, the letter is tantamount proof that a certain candidate need to pay the rebels’ campaign scheme before they are allowed to campaign in a rebel-infested area.

But the under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta, Jr. assured the citizenry that the military is on top of the situation even as they continuously monitor rebel activities to prevent them from imposing illicit extortion scheme against local politicians.

The military authorities also advised politicians in the region to shun the extortion scheme made by rebels at this time of the election campaign period in preparation for the midterm elections in May 2013.

Meanwhile, areas placed under election watchlist of areas (EWAS) of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in Western Visayas reached to 40 areas.

Negros Occidental topped the list with 13 areas that include Pulupandan, Sipalay City, Escalante City, Moises Padilla, Toboso, Himamaylan, Cauayan, Isabela, Ilog, Candoni, Murcia, Calatrava kag La Castellana.

The province of Iloilo closely followed with 11 towns placed under the Comelec watchlist that include Estancia, Maasin, Passi City, San Enrique, San Dionisio, Igbaras, Calinog, Tubungan, Lemery, Leon and Miag-ao.

The province of Antique has seven election watchlist areas. These are the towns of Barbaza, Laua-an, Tibiao, San Remegio, Sibalom, Anini-y and Libertad. In Capiz, tagged as EWAS are the towns of Pilar, Cuartero, Maayon, Tapaz and Mambusao;

Aklan has three election area of concern that include Kalibo, Buruanga and Lezo.

While district of Jaro was tagged by the Comelec as the lone watchlist area in Iloilo City.The Philippine National Police said a certain area will be placed under election areas of concern where political violence has been recorded in the past election, presence of private armed groups and New People’s Army rebels.

NPA rebels attack police detachment in Misamis Oriental

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): NPA rebels attack police detachment in Misamis Oriental

Members of the outlawed New People's Army (NPA) engaged law enforcers in a 20-minute firefight in a police detachment in Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental Friday dawn.

Chief Supt. Catalino Rodriguez, director of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Northern Mindanao, said that some 20 fully armed NPA rebels attacked the police detachment in Barangay Dampil, Lagonglong past 3:00 a.m. Friday.

He said the police officers assigned at the detachment returned fire prompting the rebels to withdraw to the southwestern part of neighboring Salay town where the rebels established a blocking force.

Rodriguez said the police, in coordination with the military, were now pursuing the NPAs who harassed the PNP detachment.

The police, all belonging to the PNP's regional police service battalion, did not suffer casualty since all of them were on heightened alert, Rodriguez said.

He said all police units and stations in Northern Mindanao had been ordered to be on alert following the attack of the major pineapple companies in Bukidnon Tuesday evening.

About 150 NPA rebels staged a simultaneous attack on Del Monte Philippines, Inc. (DMPI) major camp in Camp Phillips, Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon and the company's satellite camp in Villa Vista in Sumilao, also in Bukidnon Tuesday evening. A security guard of Kadre Security Agency, who was on duty at the administration building of DMPI in Camp Phillips, was killed while three other civilians were wounded in the attack.

OPAPP Eyes Release of NDF Detainees

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 21): OPAPP Eyes Release of NDF Detainees

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) is looking into the release of detained political consultants of the National Democratic Front (NDF) through the legal process, according to OPAPP spokesperson Polly Michelle Cunanan.

Cunanan made the statement after Karapatan, Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Bayan, Selda, Hustisya, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Kabataan and Desaparecidos held a protest rally outside the OPAPP headquarters in Pasig City on Wednesday.

Cunanan said OPAPP representatives took note of their grievances, got their contact numbers and assured them that their requests will be processed.

“On the matter of the release of political prisoners, OPAPP is conducting an internal review process in accordance with our laws and court processes as this remains a priority,” Cunanan said amid calls of some groups to free detained NDF consultants. “OPAPP is pursuing different paths to a durable peace, including the peace negotiations and everything that it entails. Besides the informal talks which are happening outside the public view, OPAPP is pursuing socio-economic and development programs in the grassroots, and leading the discussion and actions in government on the release of political detainees,” she said.

The NDF, which is the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA), has been pushing the government to free its detained consultants allegedly covered by the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) as a precondition to resume formal talks that have been stalled since February 2011.

JASIG is among the agreements signed by both parties to allow those involved in peace negotiations to freely discuss and move without any threat of being arrested. The NDF insisted that consultants arrested by the government are protected by this agreement, and should be released.

In July 2011, panels of both sides flew to The Netherlands to verify if the NDF’s detained consultants were indeed JASIG-covered. They agreed to open a sealed envelope stored in a safety deposit box kept by the parties eight years ago in a bank. The envelope was supposed to hold the photos and aliases of the NDF's consultants.
“But when they opened the envelope, it did not contain actual photos of alleged NDF consultants using their aliases, but only diskettes allegedly containing photos, and these could not be decrypted,” Cunanan said.

“As a logical consequence of the NDF’s failure to comply with the terms of the verification mechanism, JASIG has been rendered inoperative,” she said.

Cunanan said that JASIG remains as the biggest challenge in the negotiations with the NDF. “But the government remains committed to the peace process. We will still be the last to leave the peace table.” Last December 2012, Special Representatives of both parties met in The Netherlands and agreed to observe a 27-day ceasefire and resume talks in early 2013 to continue discussions under the Special Track. They also agreed to discuss the forging of a Common Declaration of National Unity and Just Peace which will prompt the immediate implementation of a truce.

Idyllic Camp Phillips: dreamland no more after NPA attack

From MindaNews (Feb 21): Idyllic Camp Phillips: dreamland no more after NPA attack

Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon (MindaNews / 21 Feb) – The attack by the New People’s Army at the Del Monte Philippines Inc., compound here last Tuesday left a chilling effect on the residents of Camp Phillips, a “dreamland” community for its company officials and workers.

FALLEN ICON. NPA rebels topple this huge pineapple icon located in Camp Phillips, Manolo Fortich in Bukidnon during last Tuesday's attack. Camp Phillips residents are angry why the icon that symbolizes their community was destroyed by the rebels. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

FALLEN ICON. NPA rebels topple this huge pineapple icon located in Camp Phillips, Manolo Fortich in Bukidnon during last Tuesday’s attack. Camp Phillips residents are angry why the icon that symbolizes their community was destroyed by the rebels. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

For hours, Camp Phillips residents cowered as NPA rebels disguised as Army soldiers fired their guns in the air as they attacked two compounds of Del Monte located at the middle of the community Tuesday night.

The rebels burned several trucks, ransacked several offices and left a security guard identified as Alfredo Neri dead and two others wounded. A habal-habal (motorcycle) driver identified as Mario Ayuban was also shot and wounded in the thigh as he was about to answer a phone call.

Before the rebels left, they used a truck to ram and topple down a huge pineapple icon located at the entrance of Camp Phillips.

“What the rebels saw in the icon was maybe something evil but pineapple is what feeds our families, gave education to our children. The pineapple icon was a symbol of our community,” said Gyllen Sanchez, 31.

“We are not used to this kind of violence. I grew up in a peaceful environment in Camp Phillips where there is hardly no crime reported,” she said.

Sanchez said Camp Phillips, from where Del Monte manages operation of its vast pineapple plantation and where many of the families of its officials and workers reside, does not even have a single policeman. She said the place is secured by Del Monte’s private security agency.

Sanchez said the security guards go around Camp Phillips unarmed. “They are only armed at the gates,” she added.

Mayette Rivera, also a Camp Phillips resident, said the community was used to having no crimes that most of the houses’ doors are unlocked.

“We are used to living in an idyllic environment where it is safe to raise our children. I doubt if we can still have this after this raid,” Rivera said.

Camp Phillips was set up right after Del Monte started its operations in Manolo Fortich town in Bukidnon in 1926.

At a nearby airfield in Barangay Dicklum was where Gen. Douglas MacArthur, his family and staff made their dramatic escape on board a B17 “flying fortress” plane to Australia on March 17, 1942.

The United States Air Force also built a weather station in nearby Barangay Damilag in the early 1970s. The site is now the training camp of the Philippine National Police Regional Special Action Force.

But it was in Camp Phillips – in the rows of small houses and bungalows – residents and visitors fell in love with despite the fact that workers and officers have to leave when they retire from Del Monte.

“Camp Phillips is a walkable, bikable community. Everything – offices, stores, schools, churches, videokes, cafés – is within walking distance,” reads a post at the blog site “Bukidnon my home.”

“The climate is perfect for backyard gardening. There is enough land in everyone’s backyard to put SM Hypermart out of business. And I am talking backyard – front yard is for flower gardens and landscapes. Our backyard has some space for at least 20 kinds of vegetables,” read another post at the same blog site.

“We used to be the envy of everyone from Cagayan de Oro to Bukidnon. Camp Phillips is a self-contained community with enough fresh milk, organic vegetables to buy,” Rivera said.

Residents told reporters that around 100 NPA rebels dressed as Army soldiers arrived in Camp Phillips aboard commuter vans and trucks. A few even made a stop asking for directions to the Del Monte compound.

Del Monte worker Victor Tolentino said he was standing outside one of the stores waiting for his shift when the rebels arrived in front of the Del Monte compound.
“The first thing I noticed was that they were too young to be soldiers. They spread themselves outside the gate. I think they were about a hundred of them,” Tolentino said.

He said several rebels went to the stores in front of the Del Monte compound and announced to everyone not to move and that no one should raise their cell phones.
“Then everything started. Two young female rebels raised and started waving two red flags with hammer and sickle. Another two female rebels were holding cameras and filming everything,” Tolentino narrated.

He said everyone just stood and watched from the sidelines, unable to move because all of them were scared.

Tolentino said he saw Ayuban driving his motorcycle from a bend while answering a call from one of his clients. A rebel mistakenly thought Ayuban was calling the police and shot him on his thigh.

He said the raid was over in less than 30 minutes with the rebels leaving towards Barangay Dahilayan, a resort village near Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon.

In a statement e-mailed to news organizations, Allan Juanito, spokesperson of the NPA’s North Central Mindanao command, said the rebels also attacked the facility of Dole-Stanfilco in Impasug-ong town in Bukidnon.

National Democratic Front spokesperson Jorge Madlos told a radio station in Cagayan de Oro that the attack on Del Monte was “a form of punishment” for its refusal to heed their demand to stop their operations.

Madlos blamed Del Monte for clogging the waterways and tributaries, causing the deadly flood waters of tropical storm Sendong that killed more than a thousand people in Cagayan de Oro in December 2011.

He warned that more attacks will be launched against Del Monte unless it stops its operations or stops expanding its vast pineapple plantations.

Rivera said the threat left a chilling effect among Camp Phillips residents.
“Now everyone will be on their toes. Every time there will be power interruptions everyone will be alarmed, thinking the rebels have come back to attack again. This is not the life that we want,” Rivera said.

She said the idea of a dreamland was broken when the rebels came last Tuesday.

In a related development, the Department of Education reported that classes have not yet resumed to normal in Manolo Fortich after NPA attack.

Erlinda Chico, Dep-Ed Manolo Fortich district in charge, told MindaNews in a telephone interview that classes have been disrupted because children and their parents are still traumatized by the attack.

She said that as of Thursday, two days after the attack, less than 50 percent of the students attended classes. On Wednesday, only about five pupils showed up in most classes.

Chico appealed for the government and the rebel group to “choose peaceful means” to address conflicts.

“Consider talks, peaceful means like dialogues to address the issues,” she added.
The afternoon class schedule in the town has been adjusted from the usual 1-4 p.m. to 12:30- 3:15 p.m.

Chico said children have to go home early to avoid danger. The teachers, too, choose not to wear their uniform to avoid being identified.

“The teachers reported for work but they also expressed fear about the incident,” she added.

Chico, who has been in service for 40 years, said it was the first incident of its kind to occur in their “peaceful” town.

NPA raids home of environmental activist in Surigao Sur

From MindaNews (Feb 22): NPA raids home of environmental activist in Surigao Sur

Some 20 fully armed men who claimed to be members of the New People’s Army (NPA) raided Tuesday morning the home of an environmental activist in Carmen, Surigao del Sur and carted away high-powered firearms.

Dr. Isidro Olan, executive director of Lovers of Nature Foundation, Inc., who survived a near-death assassination attempt October last year, was again confronted with fear after fully armed men appeared outside his house in Barangay Puyat around 7:30 a.m.

“I was afraid that what happened last year was going to happen again,” he said. The environmentalist narrated that his wife Olive, together with their helpers, was cooking outside when the armed men suddenly appeared.

She was close to the door so she was able to run inside and lock the door, but the helpers were left outside, said Olan.

The staunch environmental advocate pointed out that the group claimed they were NPA members and that they meant no harm and only wanted his firearms. “They already had the caliber .22 rifle from one of my men’s outside, and demanded I turn over more. I gave them my 12-gauge shotgun, and then they insisted I also turn over my AR-15 Baby Armalite,” Olan said.

When the armed men threatened to burn down Olan’s vehicle, he said he was afraid that they might harm hiss family, and so he gave in.

Olan added that while the entire situation was going on, his wife managed to call the police and the nearby detachment of the Special Cafgu Active Auxiliary (SCAA) stationed about 250 meters from their house.

“But the NPA realized that we asked for help, so they told us to ask those we called to back down or else they would be forced to use bombs. I then called the SCAA not to proceed since I feared there might be further bloodshed on my behalf. I just want everything to end peacefully,” he added.

The day after, Olan said he managed to talk to the NPA through mobile phone and aired his disbelief regarding the incident.

“They claimed that they raided my home because of the complaints of others that I was very strict in not allowing people inside the 40-hectare reforestation project area. I explained to them that these people are cutting trees illegally. I worked so hard to reforest these areas, planted different varieties of trees and yet these people will just come and cut them down,” said Olan.

He then asked that they should have at least verified the complaints before rushing into conclusions.The NPA, according to Olan, then promised on the phone never to bother him again.

Senior Insp. Dominador Plaza stated that they are closely investigating the incident.
“We can confirm that it was the NPA who raided his home. But we believe that they were just after the firearms. We wanted to file charges against the group but Dr. Olan requested not to pursue with the filling. The provincial police director already advised him to transfer his residence away from the hinterlands of Barangay Puyat and closer to the town proper,” said Plaza.

MILF: Editorial--People-centered agenda

Editorial posted to the MILF Website (Feb 22-28): People-centered agenda

Right from the start in January 1997, the agenda of the GPH-MILF peace negotiation has always been “How to solve the Moro Problem” which was later refined or correctly put in proper context as Moro Question. This Question is political, with elements of economic, social, cultural, religious, historical, etc. The core is to restore back to our people the right to govern themselves, which was deprived of them when the so-called Philippine Republic was established in 1946.
However, while it is true that one of the central basis of this assertion of Moro’s right to self-determination including claim to ancestral domain anchored on the sultanate system of yore which was firmly established in Mindanao before Spain came in the 16th century, but the main principles embodying this are equality of peoples and parity of esteem. We want to put in place an entity where everyone enjoys the same rights and privileges.
It is fully admitted that the role of the sultanates is well recorded in the niche of Moro history and we are always proud of it. Had they not withstood the invasions of colonizers, there would have been no Moros and Islam today in Mindanao. The classical example is what happened to Granada and Cordoba in Spain when the two Moorish kingdoms were defeated by the Catholic armies of Europe. Those who did not escape and accept Christianity were all put into the sword.

Truth is that if the sultanates in Mindanao failed to stay on power to this day, there are several compelling reasons.

First, during the closing years of the Spanish rule in the Philippines, all the sultanates, except the Sulu sultanate and perhaps to a lesser degree the Buayan sultanate, had practically lost their powers. The Sulu Sultanate managed to stay in power for sometimes during the American regime, but the Americans, the superpower at the closing of the 19th century and to the 20th century --- and to this day --- was too much to confront. This was made more serious when second level Moro leaders, instead of the sultans themselves, carried the brunt of the fight against the Americans.

Second, in 1935 President Manuel L. Quezon formally abolished the sultanate and the datu system. Of course, the various sultans and the datus did not agree to this policy, but they had no way to stop it.

Third, much of the world today which has monarchial settings has undergone major transformation. Except for those staunchly conservative Arab states, the role of monarchs and kings has been substantially reduced, mostly ceremonial in character. This is largely brought about by emergence of democracy in the western world and Islam among Muslim states, which expounded equality of peoples and respect for human rights. This radical change simply means that the 21st century is not the era of monarchism but popular rule.

And fourth, while many members of the so-called royal families joined the MNLF and the MILF but the various sultanates, as institutions, remained in the backbench.

It is not true to say that the MILF has not consulted members of these royal families. In fact, in the case of the MILF, one of the members of its peace panel is a direct descendant of the sultanate of Maguindanao. But in these consultations, the core idea is to seek the views of individuals, groups, institutions in order to bring forth a system of governance where the people exercise self-governance over themselves. Anybody who sincerely subscribes to this view is welcomed.

MILF: MILF peace panel members brave storm to attend Dialogue-Forum in Isabela

From the MILF Website (Feb 22): MILF peace panel members brave storm to attend Dialogue-Forum in Isabela

Storm signal # 1 hoisted in most provinces of Mindanao including Basilan did not hinder Mohagher Iqbal, MILF Chief Negotiator, Prof. Abhoud Sayeed Lingga and Al Camlian, both members of the MILF Peace Panel to attend a Dialogue-Forum for Peace on “The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro” held at the Querexeta Formation Center Claret College of Isabela City upon the invitation of its organizers last February 19.

Iqbal and his delegation boarded a Philippine Navy ship from Zamboanga City as commercial boats were prohibited to sail due to typhoon Crising. They were already onboard a fast craft bound for Basilan when the Coast Guard made the announcement for the cancellation of all sea-bound trips including theirs.

Also attending the forum were Mayor of Isabela City Cherrylyn Santos-Akbar, Basilan Vice Governor Salakahul, Col. Carlito “Charlie” Galvez, commander of the Joint Task Force Basilan, and the official representative of ARMM-OIC Governor Secretary Kahal Kedtag.

Despite the rain, the MILF delegation was warmly met by Father Martin Jomoad and organizers at the wharf putting on them garlands while the Claret Band was performing a welcome music in honour of the visitors. For about an hour the residents of Isabela City anxiously waited at the center just to see and listen to the speeches of the MILF officials. With no written speech Chairman Iqbal said “we came here in the name of peace, a peace which everybody could not have just slept nicely but more than that where there is justice.

“I have no prepared speech; I will speak from the bottom of my heart,” Iqbal solemnly declared.

Being impressed by Iqbal’s remarks, Father Jomoad said that the people of Isabela are so happy upon hearing Mr. Iqbal’s mentioning the word peace”.

What was clearly delivered that the FAB is not solely beneficial to the Bangsamoro but to all people residing in the proposed Bangsamoro region.

One participant raised the question of why the need for another referendum when in the past two referenda had resulted in rejection for inclusion in the ARMM by the residents. Abhoud responded that by saying that an enclave like Isabela will be too its disadvantage if it does not join the new political entity.

Another question was asked: “Why is Isabela still included in the Framework agreement on Bangsamoro?” Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga answered “there’s nothing wrong when you are consulted again as it is part of a democratic process.” And this process is one of the features of the framework agreement.

In another question, “Are Christians allowed to celebrate their religious activities such as fiesta, street parade and so on? Iqbal quote a Qur’anic verse which says that “there is no compulsion in religion”. “Unto you your religion and unto me my religion.”

What is yours is yours, and mine is mine and so you have the right to perform your religious practices” Iqbal further said. On his part, Prof. Lingga said that “in the FAB everybody is allowed to perform his religious traditions, practices or celebrate feasts but if you are drunk that is another story”.

When one resident asked about a comparison between the Final Peace Agreement of the MNLF and the FAB Chairman Iqbal said that, “FPA was unilaterally implemented by the Government Republic of the Philippines under Ramos Administration and the Moro People had not been consulted in contrast with the FAB”. “The essence of democracy has not been followed.

Consultation with the people is a must when their welfare is at stake. Decisions that will ultimately affect the people are not a monopoly of the elites of the government”.

Al Camlian supplemented that we are not against the MNLF in fact most of us came from the MNLF Chairman Murad Ebrahim, Brother Iqbal and I were pioneer MNLF members”.

A number of the men, women and students secured the center while Military men were in charge of securing the premises. Everyone was overwhelmed as this rarely happen in Isabela, and in Basilan in general.

Troops exhume NPA mass purge victim

From the Manila Times (Feb 21): Troops exhume NPA mass purge victim

Major Angelo Guzman, Ninth Infantry Division spokesman, on Thursday, said that combined elements of the 49th Infantry Battalion and the local police recovered the remains of Juanito Hirang in Sitio Santol, Barangay Old Camp in Capalonga, Camarines Norte.

Lt. Col. Micheael Buhat, Ninth Infantry Battalion commander, said that the information was tipped off to them by the victim’s former comrade, who was then with the underground movement when Hirang was executed on July 9, 2004.

“It has been bothering his conscience for years that is why he reported it to the Army in order for the victim to have a decent burial,” Buhat said.

Hirang’s skeletal remains was turned over to his family in the municipality of Jose Panganiban.

Last year, some 30 skeletal remains of people also believed to be victims of the communist’s mass purging were also unearthed from a common grave in Bondoc Peninsula of Quezon province.

In 2006, dozens of bodies, also believed to be that of the Maoist rebels, were also exhumed in Inopacan, Leyte province.

The purging operations was reportedly implemented by the communist party starting in the mid 1980s through the so-called Plan Missing Link, which was meant to cleanse the underground movement of alleged military spies, or deep penetration agents.

In Mindanao, the rebels called the purging as operation zombie. A rebel caught spying, or suspected as an undercover agent is considered a zombie, or a walking dead.

Reports said that before a zombie was executed, he or she underwent first a mock trial. If the evidence was weak, he or she was detained and tortured to squeeze out information that would later be used as basis for his or her execution.

The purging took the lives of hundreds of suspected spies, which later caused a schism in the movement that also led to the murder of some communist leaders.

Peace Deal With MILF Behind Sabah Crisis

From the Manila Times (Feb 20): Peace Deal With MILF Behind Sabah Crisis

Alienation from the peace process, particularly the drafting of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, prompted the current sultan of Sulu province and some members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to establish permanent residence in a village in Sabah, an expert on Islamic studies said on Tuesday.

Dean Julkipli Wadi of the University of the Philippines (UP) Institute of Islamic Studies, said that the standoff “is partly the result of a parochial peace policy that has developed these past months.”

“While the framework agreement and the intimacy of the relationship between Malaysia and the Philippines were major developments indeed these past months, these have isolated a number of critical players. And one of these is the sultanate,” Wadi explained.

Asked what he meant by a “parochial” peace process, the university dean said that he meant “the lack of critical participation of institutions and critical players in the shaping of the framework agreement.”

Forged in October 2012 by the negotiating panels of the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the agreement provided the framework that would guide further negotiations, particularly on the establishment of an autonomous Bangsamoro state and the terms of wealth sharing of the government and the political entity.

Wadi said that the sultanate, as a traditional institution in the Muslim society of Mindanao, was slighted by its apparent exclusion from the shaping of the agreement.

Earlier, Jamalul Kiram, current sultan of Sulu, admitted that he was prompted to send a group of some 400 people to Sabah because the sultanate was excluded from the drafting of the agreement.

“[The framework agreement appeared] like a deal only between the government and the MILF, but the domain, or the scope of the agreement actually talks a lot about resources, about territories. The people of Sulu, particularly the sultan, felt that they had not been given ample representation in the process,” Wadi said.

“It simply doesn’t make sense for any entity, or party to negotiate and even talk about wealth sharing in areas like the Sulu archipelago when the major players and stakeholders, including traditional institutions like the sultanate, are isolated if not totally neglected in the whole process,” the dean added.


The isolation, apparently, was not only felt by the sultan of Sulu, but also by the MNLF.

Earlier reports said that among Kiram’s supporters were some 20 armed men. The Islamist group claimed that these men were their members.

“It’s not only the sultanate that has been left out, it also includes the MNLF, and the MNLF has also been making some posture this past several months in order to make itself relevant again,” Wadi told The Manila Times.

He mentioned that the recent clash of the MNLF and the Abu Sayyaf group in an operation to retrieve the Filipino crew of an abducted Jordanian journalist was one example of such posturing.

Wadi went as far as suggesting that there might be a brewing alliance between the MNLF and the sultanate of Sulu.

Vital nerve

Wadi, moreover, saw as ironic the neglect to include the sultanate and its claim over Sabah as a crucial part of the peace negotiations between the government and the MILF.

“I would say that the Sabah issue is a vital nerve in the Mindanao conflict—it is the heart of the Mindanao conflict,” Wadi stressed.

He explained that the creation of the MNLF and, subsequently, its splinter group, the MILF, was spurred by a botched Marcos-era plan to occupy Sabah over which the sultanate holds proprietary interests.

In 1972, the Marcos regime secretly gathered a group of Muslim-Filipinos in Corregidor to train them to occupy Sabah. The recruits, however, learned of the plan and rebelled. As a result, they were allegedly killed by government troops. The event was dubbed the Jabidah Massacre and would eventually stoke the anger of Muslim Filipinos and lead to the formation of the MNLF, an organization that would mount a decades-long armed secessionist struggle in Mindanao.

Without the long-standing claim over Sabah, “Nur Misuari would have remained a professor in UP and maybe Hashim Salamat would have remained a librarian in a university,” Wadi said.

Misuari, former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, was the founder of the MNLF. Salamat was the founder of the MILF, a splinter group of the MNLF, which separated from the latter because of reported ideological differences.

Call for attention

While the situation in Lahad Datu in Sabah seem tense, Wadi doubted that the standoff will result in a bloody confrontation between the Malaysian government and Kiram’s group.

“I think the standoff is just a way to call for attention but it is not really intended to create problems or result in bloodshed,” he said.

The university dean is also confident that the Malaysian government will not respond harshly to the standoff.

“We are quite glad that Malaysia is also addressing [the standoff] in a calibrated manner because it knows that the Sabah issue is deeply rooted in terms of the sultan’s historical rights and many others. Therefore, it cannot also engage harshly against the followers of the sultan,” Wadi said.

He also noted that Malaysia will avoid an armed confrontation because it does not want international attention on the issue.

“There would be international attention given to the sultanate and the long historical issue would be dug up,” Wadi opined.

The dean, however, believes that the standoff would not necessarily lead to the revitalization of the Philippine claim over Sabah. The incident, meanwhile, should prompt the government and MILF peace panels to be more inclusive in their negotiations, Wadi said.

“The peace panels should be creative enough to raise the question: how do we integrate or address traditional sentiments like the issues of the sultanate so they would be integrated and be a part of the framing of the Bangsamoro?” the dean added.

PH Navy blocks Sulu Sea

From the Manila Times (Feb 21): PH Navy blocks Sulu Sea

THE Philippine Navy has sealed off the so-called southern backdoor, to prevent the followers of the sultan of Sulu province from traveling to Sabah, where a standoff between the sultanate’s followers and Malaysian security authorities persists.

The naval blockade was one of the measures taken by the Philippine government to prevent the escalation of the already tense situation, meant to ease the tension in and around Lahad Datu, where hundreds of Filipinos were holed up.

Lt. Commander Gregory Gerald Favic, Navy spokesman, on Thursday, said that six ships and an islander plane have been patrolling the Sulu Sea after Malaysian authorities reported the presence of loyal supporters of the sultanate. The group is headed by Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram, a brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram 3rd of Sulu.

Favic said that the Navy patrol team is keeping a close watch on the vicinity of the provinces of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan, home provinces of Kiram’s mostly Tausog warriors.

The naval patrol, he said, is for “security and stability of the situation.”

“We are avoiding the escalation of the issue,” the Navy spokesman added.

Favic clarified that the Navy’s patrol and reconnaissance mission on the vast Sulu Sea was not requested by Malaysia. He added though that the Philippine Navy is ready to conduct joint maritime patrol operations with the Malaysian Navy within the disputed area.

The Sulu Sea is a large body of water in the southwestern part of the country.

Favic said that no one has been arrested trying to cross the southern backdoor going to Sabah so far.

Heirs of the sultan of Sulu said that their followers will stay put in Sabah, which they claim as theirs. The Filipinos are staying in the village of Tanduao, surrounded by Malaysian forces.


Emissaries of the Philippine government continue to negotiate with the leaders of hundreds of members of the sultanate of Sulu, who rejected Malaysian demands to return to the Philippines.

Government sources said that there is a plan to fly a Philippine Air Force C-130 transport plane to Sabah, or a naval boat to fetch Azzimudie’s group and bring them back home.

But whether such plans will be carried out “depends on the situation on the ground,” a source, who is privy to the negotiations with the sultanate leaders said.

Two weeks into the standoff, Malaysian officials are now calling for a drastic action against the sultanate’s followers.

Sabah’s Daily Express quoted Home Minister Datuk Seri Hisham­muddin Tun Hussein as saying that there will be no compromise on the rights and safety of its people in resolving the intrusion of the Filipinos, some of them armed.

“Since they had guns, it is important our action does not lead to bloodshed,” he said.

Malaysian security forces have surrounded the village, where the sultanate members are seeking refuge.

“The issue is not political, not racial, no connection with the stand on sovereignty but in our context this is our land and this is something that can jeopardize the nation’s security. This is why we are trying to handle wisely without bloodshed or loss of lives in our land,” he said.

He said that Malaysia is working closely with the Philippines to resolve the standoff.


Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng criticized Hishammuddin and said that he would have acted proactively if his place was attacked in a similar manner.

“If there was a group of 100 heavily armed men, I would have sought help from the federal government to send the police and army to get rid of the militants, or take severe action on them. They should be taken out because they threatened, challenged and disturbed the safety of the people and sovereignty of the country,” he said.

“I am shocked that despite their refusal to leave, no action has been taken and that Hishammuddin has said that they are neither militants nor terrorists. How can he say that? They had grenade launchers and machine guns.”

Hishammuddin insisted that the sultanate members were not terrorists, although they are armed. He said that the group made several demands including recognition of the Royal sultanate of Sulu army, and for the Tausug community that has been in Sabah for a long time to remain there. Tausug refers to native inhabitants of Sulu in the southern Philippines, where the seat of the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo is situated.


Malaysian authorities arrested and detained seven people, three of them journalists, who attempted to enter the village, where the Filipinos were staying.

One of those arrested was Jamela Aisha Alindogan of Al Jazeera, a Filipino. Her companions, Steve Chao and cameraman Mark Giddens were detained for seven hours.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines denounced the arrest.

“While we take cognizance of the diplomatic and security concerns raised by the standoff, it bothers us that journalists going about their legitimate work should be held and questioned for so long. Whatever the implications the standoff may hold, we firmly believe that these can never be an excuse for any attempt to stifle the delivery of accurate and timely information, especially to the people of the Philippines and Malaysia who have a direct stake in what is going on,’ the media group said.

The other persons arrested were members of the Sabah Progressive Party. They were released after several hours except for a boatman, whose papers were reportedly not in order.

Sabah police chief Datuk Hamza Taib confirmed the arrests, saying that the three journalists and the youths tried to enter Tanduo by land but failed.

Police have cordoned off the area in the vicinity of Tanduo since Tuesday.

Peaceful resolution

Meanwhile, President Benigno Aquino 3rd called for a peaceful resolution to the Sabah standoff, saying that the use of force the way to deal with the problem.

“We have been dealing with this. We have been talking to parties concerned, including the family of the sultan to ensure a peaceful resolution,” the President said.

The President also acknowledged the good relationship of the Philippines and Malaysia, having helped the country in forging a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“They [the Malaysians] have been very, very friendly to us. And they have been very, very supportive to us,” he told reporters.

Aquino said that the government has been studying the Sabah issue and has compiled available data to study the sultanate’s claim on Sabah.

“I am not an expert. I have tasked the experts to study all of this and to find out precisely all of our standings. Where do we stand? And from where we stand where do we move forward?” he said.

The President’s aunt, former gov. Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco of Tarlac province, also on Thursday, expressed readiness to go to Sabah to talk with Kiram.

She said that she has the trust of Kiram and his supporters.

Cojuangco said that Kiram’s action was an expression of disappointment because his group was not consulted, when the government forged a peace deal with the MILF.

“It’s a sign of despair that nobody listens to them,” she added.

Don’t Harm Sultan’s Men, Nur Warns Malaysia

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 21): Don’t Harm Sultan’s Men, Nur Warns Malaysia

Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding Chairman Nur Misuari yesterday appealed to Malaysia to settle the Sabah standoff peacefully and warned that his group will come to the aid of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III’s followers if blood spills.
“I hope they will not harm them. They (Kiram’s followers) are our brothers. If one drop of their blood is spilled, we might be forced to come to their aid,” Misuari said.

“Please don’t touch them, give them a friendly and brotherly treatment,” Misuari appealed.

Misuari was in Zamboanga City yesterday for the MNLF leadership meeting, which he said was attended by some 2,000 leaders from across Mindanao to discuss various issues facing the Bangsamoro people.

When he was in Jolo, Sulu, over the week, Misuari said that what he heard was that the group of the Crown Prince Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, younger brother of Kiram, crossed the sea to the island because they were allegedly promised to be settled in Sabah by Prime Minister Dato Seri Haji Mohammad Najib bin Tun Haji Addul Razak.

Misuari appealed to the prime minister to exercise prudence in dealing with the people of the sultan.

“This should be handled by cooler heads,” he said, adding it would also be good to await the coming election in April in Malaysia to see who will be the new prime minister.

Misuari also said the group of Rajah Muda could have gone to Sabah to show their impatient over their claim.

Meanwhile, an ally of Kiram appealed to the Malaysian government yesterday to extend a brotherly Islamic tolerance to the Moro group still holed up in Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia.

Abraham Julpa Idjirani, secretary general of the sultanate and spokesperson of Kiram III, spoke with the Manila Bulletin Thursday.

On the news report about a Friday (today) deadline said to have been issued by Malaysia for the group to leave Sabah, he did not respond specifically about it.

Rather, he reiterated that the rajah muda and his followers will not pull out from their journey home to Sabah.

“I just spoke five minutes ago to the aide-de-camp of the crown prince and also with his son. They told me they are doing fine,” said Idjirani at about 2:05 p.m. Thursday.
As he acknowledged the tolerance shown by the government of Malaysia to the Moro group who sailed to Lahad Datu on February 11, in exercise of their proprietary rights over the oil-rich island.

“We want to thank Malaysia for being tolerant to the sultan’s people,” he said.
On the other hand, he appealed to Malaysia for more tolerance to the brother Muslims.
“We appeal to Malaysia to be more patient and prolong their Islamic tolerance to their fellow Muslims,” said Idjirani.

He said in Islam, forcing people to go hungry is un-Islamic, referring to the Malaysia security forces’ blockade of food supply for the rajah muda and his group.
It started Wednesday, he said.

Idjirani said depriving food to people is also a violation of human rights enshrined in the United Nations.

Kiram III sent his brother and their people to Sabah on what they described as a journey home, crossing the sea from Simunul in Tawi-Tawi.

He said they went there peacefully to stay and claim what is rightfully the Sultanate of Sulu’s ancestral domain.

Meanwhile, the Philippine military has deployed at least six ships and an aircraft near the border of the Philippines and Malaysia in what a Navy official describe as an operation to deescalate the tension in the Sabah standoff.

Lieutenant Commander Gregory Favic, spokesman of the Philippine Navy, said they have started conducting the border patrol on February 12, or right after the news of the standoff in Sabah broke out.

Rebel priest seeks end to Tan dynasty in Samar

From the Daily Tribune (Feb 22): Rebel priest seeks end to Tan dynasty in Samar

A Catholic priest-turned-rebel Santiago Salas has called on the public to reject candidates belonging to a political family in Samar province cbcpnews reported.
Salas, spokesman of the National Democratic Front- Eastern Visayas (NDF-EV), said that the province needs reform and one measure is by ending the “Tan dynasty.”

The rebel leader accused the political clan of corruption, adding that they used their political power to “entrench and further its economic interests at the expense of the people.”

“While the Tans benefit from their political and economic power, the government employees and common people suffer grinding poverty, militarization and deprival of basic social services,” Salas said.

“If the Tans will have their way, they will certainly further their oppression and exploitation of the people,” he said.

There are currently three Tans in the Samar provincial government: 2nd District Rep. Milagrosa Tan, her daughter Gov. Sharee Ann Tan and son Vice Gov. Stephen James Tan.

Rep. Tan’s two other children are also seeking the mayoralties in the cities of Calbayog and Catbalogan, while her brother-in-law is aspiring a congressional seat in Samar’s first district.

“Because of their intertwined political and business interests, the Tans have also outraged the people with their nepotism and political patronage, exemplified by Rep. Tan and her four children running for key local positions as if just business as usual,” said Salas.

“Fr. Salas,” as called by his comrades, also criticized the government officials’ alleged inability to address cases of human rights violations in the province.

“Human rights violations have raged in the province since 2005 under then 8th ID chief, the butcher Gen. Jovito Palparan, but the Tans never condemned (it),” he said.

“They also slammed the door on rights violation victims seeking assistance, as well refused as to aid areas suffering from intense militarization,” Salas said.

Rebel attack fails to stop operations

From Business World (Feb 21): Rebel attack fails to stop operations

The New People’s Army’s (NPA) attack on Del Monte’s plantation office and truck yard in Camp Phillips, Bukidnon province on Tuesday did not affect the company’s operations.

A company statement issued on Wednesday said key assets at the plantation and cannery have been safely secured.

It added the employees trapped in their offices were able to escape unharmed although a security guard was killed.

The company said it has beefed up security measures especially that the spokesperson of the rebels said it would not be the last rebel attack.

Del Monte said it is coordinating with the Philippine National Police and the military as well as with the local government units to secure the company’s assets and its workers.

"Our top priority is to ensure the safety and security of all our employees and their families," it said.

"The incident is truly unfortunate, and the Del Monte management is unaware of the reasons why the rebels committed such acts of violence," it said.

The company, however, did not provide the value of its facilities and equipment lost in the incident.

Jorge A. Madlos, the spokesperson of the National Democratic Front in Mindanao, said the attack was launched since the company’s operations have been a threat to the environment and are exploiting the small farmers nearby.

He warned other companies of facing similar attacks if their anti-environment operations will remain.

Kidnapped Zamboanga restaurant owner freed

From the Mindanao Examiner (Feb 22): Kidnapped Zamboanga restaurant owner freed

Suspected Abu Sayyaf members on Friday freed a kidnapped restaurant owner in the southern Philippine town of Jolo after six weeks in captivity, police said.

Police said Edgar Fabella, 42, was released near the Jolo pier at around 10 a.m. “Mr. Fabella was released in Jolo town at around 10 in the morning,” Inspector Ariel Huesca, a regional police spokesman, told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

He said it was not immediately known whether ransom was paid to the kidnappers in exchange for Fabella’s freedom. “We don’t know if ransom is paid for his release,” Huesca said.

Fabella was kidnapped by gunmen on January 11 from his small roadside restaurant on a coastal village in Zamboanga City and escaped on a motorboat.

His family did not give any statement about the release.

In December, suspected Abu Sayyaf kidnappers also released on ransom a school principal, Flordeliza Ongchua, 49, after more than two months in captivity in Jolo town.

Ongchua was kidnapped on November 13 in her house in Zamboanga City’s Labuan village, several miles from where Febella was seized. At least a dozen gunmen barged in Ongchua’s house after failing to find their target, the village chieftain, Ronald Maravilla, who is a relative of the victim.

Negros church worker, teacher lose bid to junk murder raps but get order for new probe

From InterAksyon (Feb 22): Negros church worker, teacher lose bid to junk murder raps but get order for new probe

Rodel Rojo, husband of detained church worker Anecita, who is accused of being among communist rebels responsible for killing an Army lieutenant in Negros Occidental, waits to be let into the jail in Cadiz City for a Valentine's Day visit. (photo by Julius Mariveles,

A church worker and a teacher accused of participating in the killing of an Army lieutenant by communist rebels in Negros Occidental lost their bid to have the charges against them quashed but the judge hearing their case ordered the reinvestigation of the accusations against them.

The lawyers of church worker Anecita “Cheche” Rojo and teacher Zara Reboton Alvarez said the decision of Cadiz City Regional Trial Court Judge Renato Muñez was a “positive development” even as they stressed that the two women had been deprived of their right to due process.

The two are among more than 50 persons accused of the death of Lieutenant Archie Polenzo during an encounter on March 7, 2010.

Alvarez was arrested October 30 last year by policemen and soldiers of the Army’s 62nd Infantry Battalion, while Rojo was seized from the convent of the Bago Cityu church last December by the police’s Regional Intelligence Unit.

Rojo said the officers who arrested her presented no warrant and dragged her down the convent stairs into a waiting van.

Both women are detained at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Cadiz.
In his order dated February 5, Muñez found it “… proper that a reinvestigation be conducted by the prosecution in order not to deprive both accused of their right to due process” and gave Cadiz prosecutor Gwendolyn Tiu 30 days to submit her resolution.
A subpoena Muñez issued on February 19 also ordered the two accused to submit their counter-affidavits by February 26.

However, he said the claim of the two that they had not been afforded the right to preliminary investigation was not enough to drop the murder charges against them.
Alvarez, in the counter-affidavit she filed through her counsel, former prosecutor Cesar Beloria Sr., said she was included in the murder charge on the “mere basis” of a supplemental affidavit by Edward Baynosa, a confessed rebel, who claimed he was one of those ordered by the scores of accused to kill the Army officer.

Beloria also questioned the authority of prosecutor Marcelo H. Del Pilar, the officer-in-charge of the Cadiz City Prosecutor’s Office, who he said signed the original information filed before Muñez even after he had already resigned.

Tiu refuted this, saying Del Pilar was still in “active service” with the Department of Justice when he signed the information on July 15, 2011.

Tiu also denied the claim of Alvarez that she was not served a subpoena, presenting records that showed one had been issued May 22 last year.

“This is a positive development because this would allow Zarah and all the other accused to present their counter-affidavits before the city prosecutor,” Beloria, Sr. told

At the same time, he said Tiu’s admission that the subpoena against his client had been served by Talisay City police proved she had been deprived of due process since Alvarez is a resident of Cadiz, not Talisay.

On the other hand, Rojo’s lawyer, Joel Cabalatungan, said the murder, robbery-in-band and arson his client is accused of committing should be consolidated into a single case since these were allegedly done “in furtherance of rebellion or a component of rebellion.”

The military and police claim Rojo, a lay worker of the Catholic church, is supposedly the Negros regional finance officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines, a charge refuted by priests and other church workers who have organized the Free Cheche Rojo Movement.

But Tiu argued that the “… the crime of murder in this case was absolutely unnecessary to commit rebellion although it was the natural consequence initiated by all the accused.”

She also pointed out that ”… just because accused Rojo and all the other accused in this case were suspected to be top-ranking (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army) officials and members do not automatically imply that the crime of murder of (Polenzo) was committed in furtherance of a political end.”

Tiu claimed the “essential element” in rebellion which is “… public armed uprising against the government under Article 134 of the Revised Penal Code is lacking as there were no masses or multitude involving crowd action done in furtherance of a political end and even assuming that there was uprising, there is no showing that the purpose of the uprising is political, that is, to overthrow the duly constituted government in order to establish another form of government…”

Rebels begin sending extortion letters to Western Visayas candidates - military

From InterAksyon (Feb 22): Rebels begin sending extortion letters to Western Visayas candidates - military

As the campaign for the May elections heats up, the New People's Army has begun sending out “extortion letters” to candidates in Western Visayas, the military claimed.

Major Rey Tiongson, spokesperson of the 3rd Infantry Division based in Camp Macario Peralta, Jamindan, Capiz, said field commanders have begun reporting that the rebels have sent letters informing candidates to coordinate with them before campaigning in areas they claim to control.

Tiongson said although the letters do not demand any money from the candidates, they are tantamount to extortion.

The Comelec on Elections has identified at least 40 “areas of concern” in the region. These are areas where political violence has happened in the past, or where private armies and communist rebels are known to operate.

Negros Occidental topped the list with 13: Pulupandan, Sipalay City, Escalante City, Moises Padilla, Toboso, Himamaylan, Cauayan, Isabela, Ilog, Candoni, Murcia, Calatrava and La Castellana.

Iloilo province has 11 -- Estancia, Maasin, Passi City, San Enrique, San Dionisio, Igbaras, Calinog, Tubungan, Lemery, Leon and Miag-ao -- and Antique, seven -- Barbaza, Laua-an, Tibiao, San Remegio, Sibalom, Anini-y and Libertad.

In Capiz, the areas of concern are the towns of Pilar, Cuartero, Maayon, Tapaz and Mambusao; and in Aklan, Kalibo, Buruanga and Lezo were identified.
Iloilo City’s Jaro district was also tagged an area of concern.

Rebels begin sending extortion letters to Western Visayas candidates - military

From InterAksyon (Feb 22): Rebels begin sending extortion letters to Western Visayas candidates - military

As the campaign for the May elections heats up, the New People's Army has begun sending out “extortion letters” to candidates in Western Visayas, the military claimed.
Major Rey Tiongson, spokesperson of the 3rd Infantry Division based in Camp Macario Peralta, Jamindan, Capiz, said field commanders have begun reporting that the rebels have sent letters informing candidates to coordinate with them before campaigning in areas they claim to control.
Tiongson said although the letters do not demand any money from the candidates, they are tantamount to extortion.
The Comelec on Elections has identified at least 40 “areas of concern” in the region.
These are areas where political violence has happened in the past, or where private armies and communist rebels are known to operate.
Negros Occidental topped the list with 13: Pulupandan, Sipalay City, Escalante City, Moises Padilla, Toboso, Himamaylan, Cauayan, Isabela, Ilog, Candoni, Murcia, Calatrava and La Castellana.
Iloilo province has 11 -- Estancia, Maasin, Passi City, San Enrique, San Dionisio, Igbaras, Calinog, Tubungan, Lemery, Leon and Miag-ao -- and Antique, seven -- Barbaza, Laua-an, Tibiao, San Remegio, Sibalom, Anini-y and Libertad.
In Capiz, the areas of concern are the towns of Pilar, Cuartero, Maayon, Tapaz and Mambusao; and in Aklan, Kalibo, Buruanga and Lezo were identified.
Iloilo City’s Jaro district was also tagged an area of concern.

Sultanate welcomes creation of Sabah study group but nixes deadline to leave

From InterAkyson (Feb 22): Sultanate welcomes creation of Sabah study group but nixes deadline to leave

Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram II (Erik de Castro, Reuters)

While pleased by the move of President Benigno Aquino III to form a study group to review the country’s options on the oil-rich territory of Sabah, Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram II said Friday they have no plans to recall hundreds of followers, some armed, from a village in Lahad Datu where they have been in a standoff with Malaysian authorities.

Speaking to reporters at the Blue Mosque in Taguig City, Kiram said he was not bothered by the reported “ultimatum” issued by Malaysia for his followers, the self-described Royal Sultanate Army, to call off their “intrusion” into Malaysian territory by Friday, February 22.

Kiram attended prayers held by the Muslim community in Maharlika Village.
At the same time, he said they have not received the reported Malaysian ultimatum, leading them to suspect it could be a government ploy to make them back down.
Another representative of the Kiram family, addressing reporters later, said the Philippine government -- to which the Sultanate of Sulu ceded its claim in the 1960S -- has lost, by its decades of neglect and virtual surrender to Malaysia, its authority over Sabah.

The resource-rich territory, which hundreds of thousands of Filipinos from Mindanao have made their home in past years, has reverted to the sultanate, the Kiram representative said.

Responding to a question, she confirmed that Malacanang Palace in recent days had sent emissaries to the Kirams in a bid to resolve the standoff triggered by the sultanate’s followers’ decision to stay in Lahad Datu.

She named Miriam Coronel, chair of the government panel in peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, presidential political affairs adviser Roland Llamas, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujid Hataman, and an unnamed justice undersecretary.

There was a suggestion for Kiram to go to Malaysia and persuade his brother Datu Rajah Muda to come home, but the sultanate rejected this, she added.

She said the decision of the sultan’s followers to stay put in Lahad Datu was “a voluntary effort of the royal forces,” adding that, “if there was an EDSA revolution, I think this is the Sabah revolt of the royal forces.”

Earlier, Kiram expressed confidence the Malaysians will be open to talks and will not use force against their group, noting how hurting a fellow Muslim is haram, or forbidden, in Islam.

“The Sultanate of Sulu is willing to sit down and talk for peace. We want peace,” he said.

But earlier, Kiram said any negotiations with Malaysia should be held in another Muslim country, either Indonesia or Brunei.

Amid mounting calls to take a stand on Sabah, PNoy forms team to study PH claim

From InterAksyon (Feb 21): Amid mounting calls to take a stand on Sabah, PNoy forms team to study PH claim

Amid mounting calls for the Philippine government to take a stand on the Sabah issue, President Benigno Aquino III announced on Thursday that he had formed a team of experts who would study the country's claim to the territory.

Aqino, in an interview in Iloilo aired over state-run Radyo ng Bayan, said he had found some of the source documents on the Sabah claim to be confusing.

He said among the source documents that had been compiled by the government are the 1878 agreement between the Kiram family and the British North Borneo Company as well the numerous amendments to the accord.

Aquino said the government had also opened its communication lines with the family and supporters of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

"We want to ensure a peaceful resolution in Sabah," Aquino said.

Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila de Lima, who is part of the team on Thursday said, "We are looking at the validity or legal basis of the claim as well as an assessment of its strength or weakness (of the claim of Sultan Jamalul Kiram) as the case may be.”

De Lima said they had started looking at the available materials and literature, including previous studies.

The DOJ chief said that while there was no deadline given to them, "we know that this is a priority assignment."

"I will try to finish in a few days," De Lima said.

Problem with GRP-MILF peace pact

Since February 9, Kiram’s followers, about 400 people including 20 gunmen, have been holed up in Tanduao village in Sabah's remote coastal town of Lahad Datu.
Kiram said he was prompted to send his people to Sabah after the Philippine government left them out of the framework agreement signed in October, which only catered to the interest of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

It was Malaysia, which took over Sabah in 1963, that brokered the peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF.

While the MILF respects the Kiram family's claim to Sabah and won't stand in the way of that claim, it "will not revive the claim," according to Khaled Musa, deputy chairperson of the MILF's committee on information.
Kiram, who ran but lost in the 2007 senatorial elections, is the acknowledged leader of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo. The sultanate based in Southern Philippines once controlled North Borneo, which is now known as Sabah.
The sultanate acquired Sabah as a prize for helping the Sultan of Brunei against his enemies.

According to the sultante, it did not relinquish its sovereignty over Sabah and only leased the territory to the Briitish North Borneo Company starting in 1878.

Pajak, the keyword in the 1878 pact

The keyword in the 1878 agreement between the Kiram family and Gustavo von de Overbeck of the Briitish North Borneo Company was pajak. The Kirams maintain that pajak means lease. But Malaysian authorities define pajak as sale.

The lease continued until the independence and formation of the Malaysian federation in 1963, which included Sabah.

Because of Sabah's inclusion, the Philippine government during the presidency of Diosdado Macapagal, broke diplomatic relations with Malaysia.

It was during Macapagal's term when then reigning Sultan of Sulu, Muhammad Esmail E. Kiram I, ceded to the Philippine government the full sovereignty, title, and dominion of Sabah to the Republic of the Philippines. This gave the Philippine government the full authority to pursue its claim to Sabah in international courts.
But starting in 1989, succeeding administrations put the Sabah claim on the back burner and instead decided to pursue economic and security relations with Malaysia.

P70,000 for 7 million hectares

Up to now, the heirs of the sultanate receive rental money for Sabah from the Malaysian government.

Sabah’s total land area is 7.36 million hectares or almost one-fourth of the Philippines, which is 30 million hectares.

Annually, the Malaysian government pays the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu, 5,300 Malaysian ringgit currently equivalent to P70,000. If pajak is defined as rent, it means that Malaysia’s annual rent of Sabah is only .009 centavos per hectare.

According to Kiram, the rent they receive only proves that the sultante owns Sabah.
"Why should we leave our own home? In fact, they are paying rent (to us)," Kiram earlier told reporters in Manila.

"Our followers will stay in Lahad Datu. Nobody will be sent to the Philippines. Sabah is our home," he added.

Take a stand on Sabah claim

Lawmakers and legal experts are urging the Aquino admnistration to take a stand on Sabah.

Citizens Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC) partylist Representative Sherwin Tugna on Tuesday said addressing the issue early on would ensure a peaceful solution and avert misunderstanding and violence.

“Let’s not evade this issue anymore. Either make a stand on it or abandon the claim entirely. One way or another it would always find its way in the headlines. This would continue until it is properly and eruditely addressed by both parties,” Tugna said.
On Wednesday, reelectionist Senator Antonio Trillanes IV also urged the Aquino administration to make known its policy on the country's claim to Sabah.

Meanwhile, lawyer Harry Roque, director of the University of the Philippines Law Center's Institute of International Legal Studies, said, "It is incumbent on President Aquino's administration to espouse the claim of the sultanate."

"Certainly, Articel 1 of the 1987 Constitution on the National Territory mandates this," added Roque.

NPA releases soldier, cop

From Rappler (Feb 21): NPA releases soldier, cop

In a simple ceremony somewhere in the mountains of Laak town, heavily armed guerrilla fighters who are members of the communist New People's Army released a soldier and a cop held as "prisoners of war" for more than a month.

PO1 Ruel Pasion of Compostela Valley police and Private First Class Jezreel Culango of the 60th Infantry Battalion were separately captured in a checkpoint manned by rebels in the same town last January 17.

A leader of the custodial unit of the NPA said the investigation conducted by the revolutionary court has not seen sufficient evidence to prosecute both for serious crimes against the people.

"The release of Pasion and Culango is also in accordance to the standing policy of the NPA on lenient treatment on prisoners of war," the NPA leader said.

THE OFFICIAL. Davao City vice mayor Rodrigo Duterte arrived in his chopper to bring back Pasion and Culango to their headquarters in the city. Photo by Karlos Manlupig

THE OFFICIAL. Davao City vice mayor Rodrigo Duterte arrived in his chopper to bring back Pasion and Culango to their headquarters in the city. Photo by Karlos Manlupig

The NPA added that the release also satisfies the appeals of the relatives of the captives.

"The order of release is an act in the exercise of the political power and authority of the People's Democratic Government and is done on humanitarian grounds," the NPA said.

The National Democratic Front declared a 4-day unilateral ceasefire in Compostela Valley and in Davao del Norte to facilitate the release while urging the government to do the same.

The parents of Culango and the wife of Pasion joined the call for the declaration of a suspension of military operations.

But the government has not responded to the appeals.

After signing their release orders, both former NPA captives expressed their relief and their gratitude for their safe release.

"I am very thankful to the NPA for the fair treatment. We were provided with enough food and medicines. They treated us like their brothers," Pasion said.

Culango shared that they were not harmed even once by their captors.

Pasion and Culango were turned over to Sowing the Seeds of Peace, a group of church leaders who worked as the 3rd party facilitator for the release.

Arriving in a chopper, Davao City vice mayor Rodrigo Duterte volunteered to bring back Pasion and Culango to their respective headquarters.

"I am grateful to the NPA for obeying the rules of the Geneva Convention and for their fair treatment to the prisoners. Congratulations to the NPA for the safe release," Duterte said.

Life lessons

Pasion and Culango commented that they would have significant changes in their conduct of duty if ever they would be given the chance to continue their government service.

"We will treat people with dignity and equally. We also should not do harm to others," Pasion said.

Pasion shared his realization that, like the objective of the police, the rebels are also fighting for the interest of the poor.

Culango also commented that he admires the NPA for its practices.

"The NPA are very organized. And they take care of each other. The problem of one is the problem of everyone," Culango said.

However, both commented that they are determined to go back in their jobs in the security forces of the country.

"We will do our jobs. But we will not wish to encounter our captors in the field. Who would want that anyway? We all want peace," Culango said.

FREE AT LAST. PO1 Ruel Pasion (left) and Pfc Jezreel Culango show their order of release from the custodial unit of the NPA in Laak town on Thursday, February 21. Photo by Karlos Manlupig

FREE AT LAST. PO1 Ruel Pasion (left) and Pfc Jezreel Culango show their order of release from the custodial unit of the NPA in Laak town on Thursday, February 21. Photo by Karlos Manlupig

Peace negotiations

The Sowing the Seeds of Peace said they appreciated the efforts of all those who helped to materialize the release of Pasion and Culango.

But the group said the government and the NDF must immediately go back to the negotiating table to achieve genuine peace in the country.

"In the talks, the root causes of this conflict will be identified and will be given appropriate solutions including significant socio-economic reforms," the Sowing the Seeds of Peace said.

Duterte also joined the call adding that the resumption of the talks is already long overdue.

End of ordeal

Exchanging handshakes, both captives and captors said their goodbyes to each other.
"I am already excited to be with my family," Pasion said.

Culango said he is also thrilled to be united with his parents and his girlfriend.

As the NPA guerrillas marched in a single row towards their main base, Pasion and Culango, with nervous smiles, hopped onto the chopper with Duterte.

They are back in the city but the conflict in the countrysides between the government and the communists rages on.,-cop

Tubbataha salvage operation begins

From Rappler (Feb 22): Tubbataha salvage operation begins

ON SITE. The Jascon 25 crane vessel starts cutting up the USS Guardian into pieces. Graphic by Bardo Wu

ON SITE. The Jascon 25 crane vessel starts cutting up the USS Guardian into pieces. Graphic by Bardo Wu

Finally, the salvage operation to remove the USS Guardian that ran aground Tubbataha Reef Natural Park has started.

Thanks to better weather condition in the area on Friday, February 22, the Gibraltar-flagged Jascon 25, the lead crane ship in the salvage operation, has started establishing its position near the ship.

The salvage crews started analyzing how to cut up the USS Guardian to remove it from the area, the Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Armand Balilio said.

For a week, bad weather has kept the crew from operating Jascon 25 without anchoring.

Under the original salvage plan, the cranes were to lift the whole USS Guardian from the reef, but the Americans later changed their mind and decided to dismantle the minesweeper into sections and transfer these to a barge with the cranes, without moving the vessel to minimize damage to the coral.

The minesweeper ran aground over a month ago inside the protected area of the marine park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the world's top scuba diving destinations.

DND chief hopes Sabah row will be settled peacefully

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): DND chief hopes Sabah row will be settled peacefully

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin is hoping the stand-off between Filipino Muslims and Malaysian forces in Lahad Datu, Eastern Sabah will end peacefully.

Gazmin said on Friday that he and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Emmanuel T. Bautista have been in constant talks with their Malaysian counterparts so that the issue will conclude as soon as possible without bloodshed. "Both us and our counterparts agreed that this issue must be resolved peacefully," Gazmin stressed.

As negotiations are ongoing, the DND chief stated that efforts are now underway to ensure that no additional Filipino Muslims will arrive at the disputed territory that could further complicate the situation.

The Philippine Navy (PN) on Thursday announced that it has beefed up its patrol operations off the Sulu Sea in wake of the ongoing stand-off between the Filipino Muslim followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram and Malaysian forces in Sabah.

"The PN thru Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM) in Zamboanga City has been supporting the efforts of Western Mindanao Command in ensuring that security will be enforced and that issues will be resolved peacefully," PN spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic said.

Under NFWM, Naval Task Force 62 is ready to conduct maritime patrol operations with Malaysian authorities. Six PN ships and one Islander aircraft are now on stand-by for this duty to stabilize and secure the situation.

"As an archipelagic state, the PN plays a crucial role in maritime operation such as defense, interdiction, patrolling and law enforcement. Guarding more than 36,000 kilometers of vast territorial waters, the PN intensify its naval operation in the country's backdoor - Sulu Sea," Fabic stressed.

No more second frigates for PN - DND official

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): No more second frigates for PN - DND official

A ranking Department of National Defense (DND) official has said the option to acquire second-hand frigates to boost the numbers and capabilities of the Philippine Navy (PN) has been waived.

Fernando Manalo, DND undersecretary for finance, munitions,installation and materiel, said this because evaluation studies found out that acquiring these vessels will be more costly in the long run. "The PN found out that it will be more expensive to maintain second hand vessel(s) than buying a new one," he added.

With this conclusion, the Italian-made "Maestrale" frigates, are no longer in the running for possible acquisition by the Philippines. "Its no longer being evaluated," Manalo stressed.

The "Maestrale" was earlier touted by the DND as the next ships to be acquired for the PN due to its credible missile and anti-submarine capabilities. With this development, Manalo said the Philippines is now looking for new build naval ships with the same configuration.

The DND earlier said that five countries have expressed their intention to sell the Philippines modern frigates and offshore patrol vessels which will help the country protect its vast maritime territories. These offers came from the United States, Israel, Croatia, South Korea and Australia. All vessels being offered by these nations are brand new.

Manalo added that offers of the above-mentioned countries started coming during the last quarter of 2012. The DND official attributed the sudden influx of would-be-suppliers to the fact the Philippine is now seriously upgrading its military forces. The Philippines is in the market for two modern and powerful frigates in order to enhance its maritime domain awareness and protection capabilities.