Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sultan to U.S: Protect us in Sabah

From Rappler (Feb 25): Sultan to U.S: Protect us in Sabah

With the ongoing standoff in Sabah, self-proclaimed Sulu sultan Jamalul Kiram III will ask the US government for help in their quest to reclaim the territory from Malaysia, his spokesman said on Monday, February 25.

The 1915 Kiram-Carpenter Agreement assured the sultan American protection “should a problem arise in Sabah between the Sultan of Sulu and other foreign countries,” Abraham Idjirani told Rappler.

“That’s the US historical obligation to us. I talked to our men in Sabah. They need food and medicine,” Idjirani said.

The spokesman added that the sultan has "evidence that Sabah belongs to us and that Malaysian government are paying rental fees to the Sultan of Sulu.”

Proof of this, Idjirani explained, is that since 1870 the British Empire had been paying them the equivalent of 5,300 ringgit in Mexican gold coins.

From 1946 to 1963 the Malaysian ringgit was pegged to the British pound sterling.
“And from 1963 to present, the currency of rental fee [and] back to [the] Malaysian ringgit. We have receipts of their payment,” stressed Idjirani.

Militants to stay in Sabah

Regarding the situation of the 180 Filipinos defying Malaysian security forces in Sabah, Idjirani said that so far the sultan has not changed his orders for his "Royal Army" to stay in Lahud Datu.

Obeying those orders, the Filipinos occupying the village of Tanduao will not return home even if the government on Sunday dispatched a humanitarian ship to repatriate women and civilians.

“The message [is] clear: to live there in peace and to point their weapons on the ground,” Idjirani said.

Jesus Dureza, former Philippine representative to the East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), asked Malaysia to end its blockade of the area and cancel its deadline for Kiram's men to leave Lahud Datu.

“Malaysia should refrain from pushing the button. My recommendation is to lift its announced 'deadline to vacate' and the food blockade imposed to scuttle the Sultanate's resolve. Extending it to a few more days won’t work. It will only lead to the brink,” Dureza said.

The former official of BIMP-EAGA -- which also includes Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia -- added that "now that the Philippine government is grappling with the incident and has indicated that it will help handle the situation, it may be best for Malaysia to just leave the matter, for the meantime, to the Philippine side to resolve the so-called standoff."

"This will need cooling off time so [a] deadline won’t help,” he said.

Let PH solve the problem

Dureza also suggested that Filipino backchannel negotiators must work round the clock to convince Malaysia to leave the matter for the Philippines to resolve.

“Malaysia must also be given [the] 'graceful exit' of lifting its declared 'deadline' by making it appear that it is merely acceding to a 'friendly neighbor’s' request. After all, this way Malaysia will pass on the onus of the problem to the Philippine side. And Filipinos, I know, will have a way of quietly resolving it in time. For the moment, this is a Filipino problem that only Filipinos can resolve,” he said.

Idjirani announced that the sultan had likewise requested assistance from the International Committee of the Red Cross through Philippine Red Cross chairman and opposition senatorial candidate Richard Gordon for the international relief organization to bring food and medicine for their people in Lahad Datu.

The heirs of the sultan of Sulu led by Kiram's brother Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin and between 180 and 400 followers sailed to Sabah on February 12 to pursue their claim on the resource-rich state, saying they felt left out of the peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

But the Philippine government refuses to discuss the Sabah claim for now and also ruled out sending UN peacekeepers to the area.

Sulu and its sultan once controlled parts of Borneo, including the site of the current standoff between a group of Filipinos and Malaysian security forces.

The heirs of the sultan have been receiving a nominal yearly compensation package from Malaysia under a long-standing agreement for possession of Sabah, a claim that has not been actively pursued by the Philippines since 1964.

Iqbal, 14 others named in TransCom

From Rappler (Feb 25): Iqbal, 14 others named in TransCom

The peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) marked two developments Monday, February 25, amid the ongoing standoff in Sabah.

President Benigno Aquino III on Monday named the members of the Transition Commission (TransCom) that will draft the basic law that would pave the way for the Bangsamoro political identity as the 36th round of peace talks started on the same day.

The 7 members representing Government of the Philippines (GPH) panel are:
  1. Hon. Akmad A. Sakkam
  2. Hon. Johaira C. Wahab
  3. Hon. Talib A. Benito
  4. Hon. Asani S. Tammang
  5. Hon. Pedrito A. Eisma
  6. Hon. Froilyn T. Mendoza
  7. Hon. Fatmawati T. Salapuddin
Those nominated by the MILF are:
  1. Chairman - Hon. Mohagher Iqbal
  2. Hon. Robert M. Alonto
  3. Hon. Abdulla U. Camlian
  4. Hon. Ibrahim D. Ali
  5. Hon. Raissa H. Jajurie
  6. Hon. Melanio U. Ulama
  7. Hon. Hussein P. Munoz
  8. Hon. Said M. Shiek
In a statement, MalacaƱang said the 7 appointees on the government side were chosen by a TransCom Selection Body composed of Justice Secretary Leila M. de Lima, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles, and the Secretary of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos Mehol K. Sadain.

The Selection Body laid out the following major qualifications for each appointee:
  1. must be a Bangsamoro
  2. a track record in support of the peace process, and established probity
  3. untainted by any charge or suspicion of corruption or abuse of power
Meanwhile, the MILF earlier said they chose their TransCom nominees based on two major requirements:
  1. must be loyal and dedicated to the Bangsamoro cause
  2. must be capable of discharging the task at hand.
The TransCom will be tasked to draft the basic law for the Bangsamoro, which will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The draft law will be tackled as an urgent measure in Congress. A new Bangsamoro Basic Law is targeted to be completed within the 16th Congress.

Peace talks and the Sabah standoff

As the peace talks resumed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Monday -- faciliated by Malaysian peace broker Dato'Tengku Abd' Ghafar Tengku Bin Mohamed -- the followers of the Sultan of Sulu remained holed up in Lahad Datu, Sabah despite the deadline set by Malaysia for them to leave the area. The original deadline had been Friday, February 22. It was moved to Sunday, February 24.

The government has sent a chartered boat to Lahad Datu to fetch the women and civilians in Lahad Datu.

Reports said Sultan Jamalul Kiram sent his followers to Lahad Datu to renew their claim to Sabah after the sultanate felt left out of the Framework Agreement signed on Oct 15, 2011.

Both the MILF and the government have maintained that the peace talks between the MILF will continue despite ongoing tension in Sabah.

Although the MILF respects the legitimacy of the Sultanate of Sulu's claim to Sabah, MILF vice chair for Political Affairs Ghadzali Jaafar told Rappler it was a separate issue from the peace process for the Bangsamoro.

"I dont think it will affect the peace process this has nothing to do with the peace process. The peace process is about the Bangsamoro people, it's not about the claim to another territory," Jaafar said.
Ahead of the resumption of peace talks, government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer told Rappler that the creation of a new political identity would have to be resolved by other agencies and could not be resolved by the creation of the Bangsamoro political identity.

"The Sabah question is not on the negotiating table but what is on the table is the concerns of the Bangsamoro people that will be part of the new political identity. In that sense, the concerns of the Sultanate of Sulu, as part of the territories under the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement would be included. But we would have to distinguish that component with the issue of unsettled claims," she said.

"It's about peace in our communities. That's a question we will have to address but it's resolution that does not have to be parallel to the issue of creating a new political entity," she added.

Another NPA Camp falls, improvised landmines recovered

Just posted to the Samar News Website (Feb 18): Another NPA Camp falls, improvised landmines recovered

By 20th Infantry Battalion, 8ID PA

Barangay Magsaysay, Lope de Vega, Northern SamarAnother CPP/NPA camp has been seized by government forces in vicinity Km 11, Barangay Happy Valley, San Isidro, Northern Samar last February 18, 2013 at around 1:05 in the afternoon.

Lieutenant Colonel Noel A Vestuir, 20IB’s Commanding Officer, in his report to 803rd Brigade Commander, Colonel Rolando Malinao, said that as the troops of Bravo Company, 20IB led by Sgt Antonio Seberre while conducting combat patrol in the hinterland barangays of San Isidro, Northern Samar, discovered a newly abandoned NPA encampment with hastily destroyed makeshift posts and bunkers.

According to LTC Vestuir, the said camp was pinpointed after the residents in the nearby barangays informed the troops of the presence of unidentified armed men in the area. As the troops searched the area, they were able to recover the following items: two (2) improvised anti-personnel mines; two (2) meters detonating cord; electric firing wire; one (1) IED switch; one (1) rifle grenade; four (4) back packs, personal belongings and subversive documents.

LTC Vestuir added, that the series of the discovery of NPA camps was a result of the continuing support of the people in the barangays. As can be recalled, already three (3) NPA camp were also seized by 20IB last week in the municipalities of San Isidro, Victoria and Catarman.

According to LTC Vestuir, “the presence of NPAs and the recovery of improvised explosive devices is a clear indication that the terrorist group is planning to conduct atrocities against the peace-loving people in the area that were prevented due to the timely response of the government troops. The use of landmines is a gross violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) wherein the CPP/NPA/NDF are signatories.

Vestuir also calls for the NPAs to surrender. “Considering that the people themselves no longer accept the NPAs in the barangays, it is high time that they shall already spare them of their terroristic activities. With the series of discovery of their camps, it is clear that we have already narrowed the sphere of their influence and it would not be long for our troops to eventually find them. If that would happen, we will not hesitate to use the full might and strength of our forces against them.” Vestuir concluded.

‘CPP losing control over tactical units'

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 25): ‘CPP losing control over tactical units'

The leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army appears to have lost control over its local tactical units in the ground that are frequently accused of violating the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, also noted the continued use of landmines by the NPA in Western Visayas over the years, the use of children and women in armed conflicts, and the recent ambush of civilians and three policemen in La Castellana, Negros Occidental.

Since 2009, more than 20 improvised explosive devices were recovered by the Philippine Army in Iloilo and Capiz. Worse, the NPA detonated an improvised explosive in Tubungan, Iloilo, where two civilians were injured, military records show.

The way the NPA rebels launch warfare, it is evident that they totally disregard collateral damages to non-combatants, especially children, Mabanta said.

“ There is no let-up in searching for ingredients used in making IEDs, and we are increasing our efforts in the conduct of security operations in order to prevent harm to civilians, he added.

In 2009, three civilians died, while four were killed in an ambush also perpetrated by the NPA in Brgy. Salamanca, Toboso, military records also showed.

CARHRIHL, that was signed by the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front Philippines in March 16, 1998, states that parties involved in the agreement should affirm and apply the principles of international humanitarian law in order to protect the civilian population and individual civilians, as well as persons deprived of their liberty for reasons related to the armed conflict and also guarantees the right against economic and food blockades and indiscriminate bombings, shelling, strafing, gunfire and the use of landmines.

The Philippine Army, civil society groups, clergy and local officials strongly condemn the continuous use of landmines.

“It continues to oblige its soldiers to always uphold the rule of law, promote and protect human rights and strictly adhere to the provisions of the CARHRIHL,” Mabanta said.

Sulu 'royal army' won't board 'humanitarian' ship

From ABS-CBN (Feb 25): Sulu 'royal army' won't board 'humanitarian' ship

The royal army of the Sultanate of Sulu will not board the "humanitarian ship" that the Philippine government sent to ferry back to the country the claimants of Sabah, a spokesperson said Monday.

Abraham Idjirani, spokesperson of the sultanate, said Sultan Jamalul Kiram III was not officially informed of the government's plan. Thus, no repatriation of the sultan's 100 followers, led by the sultan's brother and crown prince Raja Muda Azzumudie Kiram, will occur.

"Maliwanag, kahit sino ang ipadala, kapag walang pirma ang sultan ng Sulu, na si Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, kung saan sinasabi na ito ang pupunta sa inyo, hindi niya (Raja Muda Azzumudie) kakausapin. Sapagkat ang understanding ngayon ay dapat napagbigay alam kay Sultan Jamalul Kiram III," Idjirani told dzMM.

"Hindi tayo nagmamatigas, ngunit pinapaliwanag lang natin na dapat ganoon ang mangyayari para alam ni Raja Muda kung sino ang kakasuapin at 'di kakausapin."
Asked if the sultan's followers, who have been holed up in the town of Lahad Datu since February 9, will budge, Idjirani said: "Gaya ng sinabi niya, ni-reiterate niya, pwede na silang hakutin kung sila ay malamig na bangkay."

In a statement released late Sunday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said: "As we have stated in countless occasions previously, we call on the entire group to go back to their homes and families, even at the same time we are addressing the core issues they have raised. Please do so for your own safety."

The DFA chief said a ship "on a humanitarian mission" will fetch and ferry back the women and other civilians from the "royal army's" group.

"We sent the ship to Lahad Datu on a humanitarian mission. We are deeply concerned about the presence of five women and other civilians in the group, and we urge them to board the ship without delay and return home," he said.

Onboard the ship are Filipino-Muslim leaders as well as social workers and medical personnel. The ship, with hull number AT296, will sail from Bongao, Tawi-Tawi to the village of Tanduo in Lahad Datu.

In a report, Malaysia’s The Star Online said the Friday deadline set for the group to leave "was extended by 48 hours after the Philippine government requested for a four-day extension till Tuesday on the grounds that Manila was trying to persuade the Sulu group to give up their stand."

In an interview with ANC on Monday, DFA Spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the Malaysian government has yet to respond on the Philippine government's request for extension.

"We have been talking to the Malaysian side regarding the extension of deadline up to Tuesday. So far, they have not come back to us officially. And some government officials are also talking to the Kirams so that they would make sure that they are able to leave Lahad Datu expeditiously and peacefully," Hernandez said.

"We hope they would take the whole picture in a positive light. We hope that we are able to solve the issue of the stay of the group in Lahad Datu as soon as possible."

The group said they have claims over Sabah, citing numerous historical accounts and rental receipts from the Malaysian government.

Army commander relieved from post after twin attacks in Bukidnon

From GMANews (Feb 24): Army commander relieved from post after twin attacks in Bukidnon

A Philippine Army brigade commander has been relieved from his post following last week’s attacks on two farms in Bukidnon by communist rebels, a military spokesperson said Sunday.

Colonel James Jacob, commander of the Army’s 403rd Brigade, was removed from his post while the military is conducting its probe on the attacks, Army 4th Infantry Division spokesman Lt. Col. Eugenio Julio Osias IV said.

Osias said the military wants Jacob to be “readily available” during the probe, which will be headed by Col. Ferdinand Quidilla.

On Tuesday, a security guard was killed and two others were injured after the New People’s Army attacked the Del Monte Philippines and Dole Philippines agro-industrial farms in Bukidnon.

The military described the twin attacks as “a clear and deliberate violation” of human rights and international humanitarian law.

Osias said the military probe will determine possible lapses which may have led to the attacks.

“That is the standard operating procedure. Whenever there are big incidents such as this, due to command responsibility, there will be a board of inquiry,” he said.

USS Guardian salvage op fails to push through due to bad weather, huge waves

From GMANews (Feb 24): USS Guardian salvage op fails to push through due to bad weather, huge waves

Operations to disassemble the USS Guardian—the American Navy minesweeper stuck at the Tubbataha Reef in Palawan—failed to push through once more on Sunday due to bad weather condition and huge waves at sea, a local official of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said.

Commodore Efren Evangelista, PCG district commander in Palawan, said authorities failed to start salvage operations on the grounded warship due because huge waves of up to two meters were pounding the sea vessel.

"Since this morning, salvage operation was unable to commence due to unfavourable weather and sea condition… Although there has been numerous attempts to board the USS Guardian, such attempts have been futile," Evangelista said.

On Saturday, the crane ship JASCON 25 was already prepositioned near the crippled USS Guardian. Reference beacons have already been put in place to help stabilize the position of the grounded ship.

The USS Guardian has been grounded at the marine protected area for more than a month now after it ran aground on the reef in the Sulu Sea on its way to Indonesia supposedly due to strong currents.

The Tubbataha Reef’s management said damage caused by the grounding has already reached over 4,000 square meters. The US Navy has already apologized for the incident.

Evangelista likewise said that the USS Guardian salvage operations may resume within the week.

“Today's operation will have to be put on hold as of the moment but making sure that as soon as the weather eases up, salvage operation will continue as planned,” he added.

American authorities are targeting to complete the removal of the ship by March 23.

China to conduct Spratlys, Scarborough fishery patrols

From GMANews (Feb 25): China to conduct Spratlys, Scarborough fishery patrols

China will hold what it called "routine" fishery patrols around the disputed Spratly Islands as well as other disputed areas in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), according to a report posted Monday on China's government portal.

According to a Xinhuanet report, Wu Zhuang, chief of the South China Sea Fishery Bureau, said the routine fishery patrols in the Spratlys will be a "top priority" in 2013. Wu added that the patrols aim to safeguard the "legitimate interests of Chinese fishermen."

China will also "speed up" routine patrols especially near the Spratlys, while Chinese law enforcement staff will continue their "supervision" over the Huangyan Islands and Meiji Reef. Supervision over the Xisha islands and Beibu Gulf will also be intensified.

Regular fishery administrative patrols will be held in the South China Sea in 2014 as well.

In 2012, the Chinese Fishery Bureau's patrol ships stayed at sea for a record 183 days.

The Huangyan Islands are internationally known as Scarborough Shoal. The Philippines refers to the area as the Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc.

Last year, the Philippines and China confronted each other at the Panatag Shoal after Philippine officials caught Chinese fishermen taking marine species from the area.

On the other hand, the Philippines and China are two of six claimants to the Spratlys, the other claimants including Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

MILF: Gov’t, MILF 36th exploratory meeting starts today in KL

From the MILF Website (Feb 25): Gov’t, MILF 36th exploratory meeting starts today in KL

The government and MILF 36th Exploratory Talks will kick-off today to try to settle the remaining unsettled substantive issues on power-sharing, wealth-sharing, transitional arrangement and modalities, and normalization, which consistently evaded the two negotiating teams for almost six months since they started discussing these issues in August last year .

However, this meeting would involve fewer members from both peace delegations, because only the three members of the Technical Working Committee (TWG) on Normalization are joining their respective delegation. Members of the two TWGs (power-sharing and wealth-sharing) have already exited and the remaining issues which they failed to settle are elevated to the peace panels for resolution.

Prof. Mirriam Ferrer-Coronel heads the government peace panel and Mohagher Iqbal the MILF peace panel.

Also joining the two panels are their consultants and experts on taxation and transportation and communication.

A source at the MILF peace panel secretariat disclosed that at least three unsettled issues from each of the TWGs (power-sharing and wealth-sharing) are expected to be tabled for deliberation.

The parties are also expected to formally organize the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) which will be composed of international and domestic players.

The TPMT is tasked by the parties to monitor and assess compliance by parties of the comprehensive agreement and other agreements, and as part of the Joint Normalization Commission, they will make the final say whether an Exit Agreement is to be signed by the parties.

The Exit Agreement concludes the peace negotiation, after the parties have fully complied with all their obligations.

Basilan town slowly rises from the ashes of war, poverty

From the Mindanao Examiner (Feb 24): Basilan town slowly rises from the ashes of war, poverty

For the first time in more than two decades, the town of Tipo-Tipo in the Muslim province of Basilan is slowly rising from the ashes of war and poverty. Now, the town - once feared in the South because of strife and lawlessness – is synonymous to peace and progress, at least for the time being.

The town’s mayor, Ingatun Istarul, is all praises to Aquino government and the leadership of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao for the peace and development support they are now getting.

“We like to thank President Benigno Aquino for giving priority and more funding to the Basilan circumferential road which links the town of Tipo-Tipo to Lamitan City. The Aquino and the regional governments through Governor Mujiv Hataman, has re-started the road project and once completed, this would have a very huge impact on our economy and the neighboring town of Al-Barka, especially on agriculture. It would hasten trade and commerce and improve also the local peace and order,” Istarul told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

Just over the weekend, Istarul was among town officials who joined Hataman in a simple ground-breaking ceremony of a 1.8-kilometer road that would also connect Tipo-Tipo town to Al-Barka.

The project is worth about P34 million, according to Public Works and Highways Secretary Emil Sadain, in a brief interview at the sideline of the ceremony held outside the two-storey Tipo-Tipo municipal building where hundreds of villagers flocked to see the lowering of a time capsule in the spot where the road project would begin.

“This is just the start of another developmental project. We are doing all these projects to uplift the living conditions of the locals and help hasten the economy. This is true to other provinces in the ARMM,” Hataman said in a brief interview during a break in the ceremony.

Army Colonel Carlito Galvez, commander of military forces in Basilan province, said the local peace and order situation is improving since the signing in October last year of the Bangsamoro framework accord.

“Basilan now is different and I can see the improved peace and order condition and the continuous efforts of the national and regional governments to bring peace and development in Basilan province,” he said, referring to the accord the government signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels.

And the mayor agreed. “Since the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed, the peace and order drastically improved and our people are supporting the peace process and the Bangsamoro (accord). There is no more fighting between MILF rebels and our government forces in Basilan and with an improved peace and order comes the development and infrastructure projects that benefit the people,” Istarul said, adding the government also provided them housing projects for the poor through the so-called PAMANA program.

PAMANA is the acronym for “Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan," the government’s program and framework for peace and development in areas affected by armed conflict and communities covered by existing peace agreements. It seeks to reduce poverty, improve governance and empower communities.

The program, which literally means "Peaceful and Resilient Communities," is expected to benefit the poorest sector in the ARMM which is composed of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao provinces, including the cities of Lamitan and Marawi.

Philippines sends navy ship to fetch Sulu sultanate members holed up in Sabah

From the Mindanao Examiner (Feb 24): Philippines sends navy ship to fetch Sulu sultanate members holed up in Sabah

The Philippines is sending a navy ship on a humanitarian mission to the Malaysian state of Sabah in an effort to persuade members of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo who are still holed out in the town of Lahad Datu, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

It said the ship, BRP Tagbanua, would be dispatched Sunday night from the capital town of Bongao in Tawi-Tawi to Lahad Datu’s village of Tanduo where Sultanate members have been surrounded by Malaysian security forces.

A statement sent by the Department of Foreign Affairs to the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner said the landing craft utility would fetch and ferry back the women and other civilians among the 180-member Sultanate group holed out in Lahad Datu. It said among the group are at least 30 armed escorts.

It also notified the Malaysian Embassy in Manila about the mission that included some Muslim leaders, social workers and medical personnel.

“We sent the ship to Lahad Datu on a humanitarian mission. We are deeply concerned about the presence of five women and other civilians in the group, and we urge them to board the ship without delay and return home,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said.

“As we have stated in countless occasions previously, we call on the entire group to go back to their homes and families, even at the same time we are addressing the core issues they have raised. Please do so for your own safety.”

There was no immediate statement from the Sultanate leaders about the government plan to fetch and bring back those members headed by Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram, a brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III who is demanding recognition from Malaysia.

Sabah is being claimed by the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, saying it was a gift from Brunei for quelling a rebellion many centuries ago.

Del Monte loses P26m in NPA attack

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 23): Del Monte loses P26m in NPA attack

Del Monte Phil. Inc. (DMPI) lost some P26 million worth of damaged to properties resulting in attacks waged by the New People’s Army (NPA) on its plantation site in Camp Phillips, Bukidnon last Tuesday, a company statement said Saturday.

It said that the NPA rebels torched heavy equipment at the company’s motor pool, lost a security guard and wounded three security personnel during the 30-minute siege Tuesday evening.

“The attack, the first to occur since Del Monte was founded in 1926 in the lush valley of Bukidnon, shocked personnel, workers, and stakeholders,” the statement said.

It said that the company took care of the family of the security guard who was killed in the attack and took charge of all the medical expenses of the wounded personnel.

Some 150 rebels staged a simultaneous attack on DMPI’s major camps in Manolo Fortich and its satellite camp at Villa Vista in Sumilao, all of Bukidnon, Tuesday evening.

The NPA rebels accused DMPI of unabated plantation expansion that has caused major environmental damaged in Bukidnon that caused deadly flash flood during tropical storms in low lying areas particularly in Cagayan de Oro City in December 2011.

Despite the incident, the working conditions at the company’s plantation site in Camp Phillips, Manolo Fortich, has returned to normal now, the statement said. DMPI operates two major divisions: the cannery at Bugo in Cagayan de Oro City and its operating arm at the pineapple plantation in Camp Phillips, Manolo Fortich.

It developed some 16,000 hectares of lands (some rented) into a pineapple plantation, making it one of Asia’s major suppliers of tropical fruits in the world market. The statement said that the company employs more than 1,000 regular workers in the cannery and plantation area apart from the seasonal plantation workers hired by contracting firms.

GPH team explains FAB, addresses concerns of stakeholders

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): GPH team explains FAB, addresses concerns of stakeholders

Government peace panelists continues to reach out to major stakeholders in various parts of Mindanao, this time in Christian dominated towns in North Cotabatonear the areas where a new political entity is expected to be established anytime soon.

Shuttling through a series of multi-stakeholders’ forums in the municipalities of Pikit, Midsayap, and Pigcawayan in the province of Cotabato, the GPH peace negotiating panel led by Prof. Miriam Coronel Ferrer explained the peace gains of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Joining Coronel-Ferrer in explaining the FAB and the annexes on territory, wealth-sharing, power-sharing, and the transitional arrangements and modalities were peace panel members Presidential Assistant for Muslim Concerns Yasmin Busran-Lao, former Agriculture Sec. Senen Bacani, GPH legal team head Atty. Johaira Wahab, Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) chairman BGen. Gilberto Jose Roa, Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) chairman BGen. Roland Amarille, Peace Program Officer Wendell Orbeso, and Cotabato 1st District Congressman and chair of the Special Committee on Peace Jesus Sacdalan.

Coronel-Ferrer expressed confidence that genuine peace is finally close at hand, citing the recent visit and turnover of government services of President Aquino to MILF communities during the launching of the Sajahatra Bangsamoro program at the BLMI Compound in Camp Darapanan last Feb. 11.

“Malapit na nating makamit ang kapayapaan para sa lahat--isang kapayapaan na tuloy-tuloy na. Hindi iyong kapayapaan ngayon tapos gyera na naman sa susunod na araw. Sinisikap po natin ngayon na maging permanente ang tigil-putukan para sa buong kinabukasan natin, sa pangkalahatan, at sa susunod pang mga taon at dekada. (We are close to attaining peace--a lasting peace. This will not be the fleeting kind where we wake up at war again the next day. We are doing our best to achieve a ceasefire that will last a lifetime and for the succeeding years and decades),”

Coronel-Ferrer said. The GPH FAB advocacy team addressed the concerns and apprehensions of farmers, local government officials, businessmen and the academe in the three municipalities on the creation of the Bangsamoro autonomous entity.

Certain barangays in the municipalities of Pikit, Midsayap and Pigcawayan which voted for inclusion in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 2001 are included in the envisioned core territory of the Bangsamoro.

Among these issues are the apprehensions of the elected local government officials that their terms of office will expire by the time their local government units are annexed to the Bangsamoro in case majority of their constituents voted for inclusion during the plebiscite.

Coronel-Ferrer explained that the elected officials of the local government units who choose to be included in the Bangsamoro will remain in their positions. “Malinaw na hindi tatanggalin ang mga local government officials (It is clear that local government officials will not be removed from their positions),” she said.

Coronel-Ferrer clarified that it is the elective offices in the ARMM that will be abolished and replaced upon the creation of the new Bangsamoro entity. However, the terms of office of elected ARMM officials will not be cut short.

“Contiguous” issues The advocacy sessions also brought up issues on the envisioned core territory to be included in the Bangsamoro. Some stakeholders asked “what if a local government unit who voted ‘yes’ during the Bangsamoro plebiscite is not adjacent or contiguous to the core territory? Would it still be included in the Bangsamoro?”

Atty. Johaira Wahab clarified that as per the FAB, the envisioned core territory will consist of (a) the present geographical area of the ARMM; (b) the municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal in the province of Lanao del Norte and all other barangays in the municipalities of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit, and Midsayap that voted for inclusion in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite; (c) the cities of Cotabato and Isabela, and (d) all other contiguous areas where there is a resolution of the LGU or a petition of at least 10 percent of the qualified voters in the area asking for their inclusion at least two months prior to the conduct of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Being 'contiguous' is an important consideration for inclusion in Bangsamoro.

Equal representation Undersecretary Yasmin Busran-Lao explained that the Bangsamoro will take on a ministerial form of government. She explained that this will strengthen the party system where the people will vote for the party and according to the programs put forward by the parties.

Busran-Lao also urged the stakeholders to form among themselves parties to represent the different sectors including the farmers, women, youth, and the indigenous peoples. “So ito po yung kinagandahan nito. Hindi mo kikilalanin sino yung siga, sino yung anak ng kung sino, sino yung mayaman, sino yung dynasty. (So this is the beauty of it, you will not be subject to intimidation by the powerful, or the wealthy as well as those who belong to political dynasties),” she said.

Protection for all Busran-Lao further reiterated that the rights of all the people in the Bangsamoro including the Christians and IPs will be respected and that vested property rights will be protected.

She also clarified that it is only the Muslims in the Bangsamoro who will be covered under the Shari’ah Law, and underscored that the Philippine Constitution will apply to all inside the envisioned autonomous entity. “Ang Bangsamoro ay para sa lahat--Muslim, Kristiyano, at Lumad para tuldukan na ang lahat ng di pagkakaunawaan. (The Bangsamoro is for all--Muslims, Christians and IPs to finally end all misunderstandings),” she added.

Aquino renews commitment to peace talks with communists

Philippine News Agency (Feb 23): Aquino renews commitment to peace talks with communists

President Benigno S. Aquino III expressed his strong resolve to move the peace process with the communist rebels following a meeting with Norwegian facilitators in Malacanang Friday.

The President received the members of the Royal Norwegian government as well as the team of facilitators in a courtesy call at the Palace, Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Saturday in a radio interview over government-run dzRB Radyo ng Bayan.

“The President spoke about his resolve to move the peace process forward. Alam naman natin na medyo naaantala ng kaunti ang peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front),” Valte said.

“Maganda naman ang pagtanggap ng mga facilitators at positive ang kanilang response. The facilitators expressed that they felt that now is a good time to move the peace process forward,” she added.

Government peace panel chair Alexander Padilla said in a forum this week that the public must “guard and support” the peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDF.

Despite the challenges in the peace talks with the communists, Padilla said the government remains optimistic that a final negotiated political settlement will be completed and implemented during the term of President Aquino.

One of the contentious issues is the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) as the insurgents insist for the release of political prisoners who they claim work as "consultants."

JASIG allows negotiators or consultants to freely discuss and move without the threat of being arrested. It remains the biggest challenge in the talks, Padilla said. The NDF claims that these political prisoners arrested by government security forces are covered by the JASIG. However,

Padilla noted that despite predicaments the “government stands committed” to the peace talks. Despite the hurdles, Padilla said he believed that “the parties will forge peace when time comes.” Both panels will come to an agreement because there is no other choice, he added.

Freed trader says captors treat him well

From the Philippine Star (Feb 23): Freed trader says captors treat him well              

Authorities said the businessman held for 43 days by suspected Abu Sayyaf might have developed the Stockholm syndrome after the freed victim claimed his captors expressed pity and released him for nothing.

“Naawa sila sa akin dahil nalaman daw nila na mahirap lang kami,” said Edgar Favella, an eatery operator, as he was presented to the newsmen Saturday at the city hall by Mayor Celso Lobregat, chief of the local crisis management committee (CMC).

Instead, Favella said he was tasked by the kidnappers as their chef as they learned he was a cook back to their eatery in Barangay Maasin this city.

He said he was not harmed or threatened by his captors during his captivity.

Favella said he has no idea of the place where he was brought by the kidnappers only after he was already freed in the downtown of Jolo, capital town of Sulu Saturday morning.

Lobregat said the victim was “obviously” still in fear as he was just freed by his captors.

But Mayor Lobregat disclosed that the wife, who was tasked by the kidnappers to coordinate with him, had negotiated directly with her husband’s captors.

Lobregat said the kidnappers initially demanded P20-million ransom but reduced it to P5-million before lowered it to even smaller amount which he is no longer privy.

“There had been negotiation between the kidnappers and the wife going for quite sometime,” Lobregat said.

The military and police forces have prepared operations in an effort to neutralize the group of kidnapping syndicates operating with the Abu Sayyaf group, according to official.

Brig. Gen. Eugenio Clemen, deputy chief of Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) said they have already initiated military operation action and was on the process of identifying each of the kidnappers.

Clemen said the general target areas where the kidnappers are taking refuge have been identified and operation commands were validating it.