Thursday, April 11, 2013

WikiLeaks: Moro Islamic Liberation Front had underestimated Aquino

From GMA News (Apr 11): WikiLeaks: Moro Islamic Liberation Front had underestimated Aquino

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which would later praise President Aquino's leadership on the peace process, had doubted his ability to "understand the complexities" of the Mindanao conflict as he was nearing victory in the 2010 elections, according to a confidential US embassy cable to Washington DC in February 2010.

The cable, written by US Charge d'Affaires Leslie Bassett, was one of some two million confidential communications by US diplomats made accessible by a new WikiLeaks search engine for state department archives.

MILF leaders lamented that none of the presidential candidates in 2010 appeared to take the peace process seriously, but only then-Senator Aquino was singled out for criticism by name.

"(The peace process) is too complicated for Senator Aquino to understand," MILF peace panel member Michael Mastura was quoted by the embassy cable as saying at a meeting between a US diplomat and the MILF in February 2010.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF Peace Panel Chairman, was also at the meeting, which took place in Mastura's house in Cotabato City during the final months of the national political campaign when then-frontrunner Noynoy Aquino was being attacked by his critics as a mentally unstable intellectual lightweight.

Just months after Aquino's victory, Iqbal would begin engaging in secret peace negotiations initiated by Aquino, culminating in the Bangsamoro peace pact. The "framework agreement," signed in Malacanang in October 2012, is considered one of the crowning glories of the first half of Aquino's six-year term.

Interviewed by blogger Raissa Robles in 2011, Iqbal had confirmed that the 2010 meeting between the MILF and the US Embassy had taken place. Steve Rood, the country representative for the Asia Foundation in the Philippines who was listed in the cable as among those at the meeting, also confirmed in a text message on Thursday that the meeting occurred.

"Listen to how we feel"

The cable, based on notes taken by US embassy political officer Michael Pignatello who was the lone US diplomat at the meeting, recounted how the MILF representatives pleaded for greater US involvement in the peace process, complaining of a lack of commitment from the government of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The cable narrated: "'Listen to how we feel,' Iqbal implored. 'The Filipinos are the rulers,' he continued, 'and we (Moros) are slaves. It is a lopsided relationship.'

"Because the U.S. erred in including Mindanao in Philippine territory when providing the Philippines with its independence, the U.S. 'owed' the Moros its assistance."

The cable described the MILF leaders as "very unhappy" with the Arroyo administration and its "policy reversals," criticizing its chief negotiator Rafael Seguis for not listening, "since he appeared to be texting on his phone during negotiations."

The embassy cable quoted Mastura as making a threat to "Balkanize" Mindanao if it lost patience with the peace process, referring to the ethnic conflict in the Balkan states in Europe in the 1990s that resulted in violence.

"Please do not allow us to do that," Mastura reportedly told his American visitors. He also mentioned that the MILF was being urged by unnamed forces to assassinate then-executive secretary Eduardo Ermita and North Cotabato Vice Governor Manuel Pinol, both identified as having "made a career out of opposing peace in Mindanao."

"Moot and academic"

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, meanwhile, refused to comment on the contents of the cable.

“As a matter of policy, we don't comment on supposed internal communications of foreign governments,” Valte said in a text message.

Palace communications chief Ricky Carandang added that they they don't comment on “purported cable leaks.”

“Look how the negotiations are going right now,” he noted, referring to the progress in the peace talks.

For a Moro affairs scholar, Mastura's statements are now “moot and academic” since the MILF and the Philippine government have both reported productive talks.

“It's a totally different ballgame now,” Datu Jamal Ashley Yahya Abbas said in a text message.

UP Institute for Islamic Studies Dean Julkipli Wadi agreed, saying there is “nothing controversial” about Mastura's statements.

“There's nothing controversial about it as GPH and MILF peace panels were still on opposite sides of the fence at the time,” Wadi said.

The US embassy cable also reported the "atmospherics" at the dinner meeting, describing the host Mastura couple as liberal Muslims and Mrs. Mastura as an outspoken woman who does not wear a headscarf, countering impressions of the MILF as Islamic conservatives.

Nevertheless, the cable concluded with a cautious tone: "We have no basis to believe that the MILF would prove more capable than its predecessors of governing well."

DVIDS: Philippine, US firefighters train ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ on rescue equipment

From the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS) (Apr 10): Philippine, US firefighters train ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ on rescue equipment
Philippine, US firefighters train ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ on rescue equipment

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew D. Bell explains the use of the P-40 power pusher ram to Filipino firefighters April 8 at Clark Field, Philippines. Marine firefighters demonstrated the capabilities of their rescue equipment to Filipino firefighters to better prepare both militaries for potential accidents. The training was part of exercise Balikatan 2013, an annual bilateral training evolution aimed at ensuring interoperability of the Philippine and U.S. militaries during planning, contingency and humanitarian assistance operations.

CLARK AIR BASE, Philippines - Firefighters from both the Philippine Air Force and U.S. Marines trained ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ April 8 on rescue equipment at Clark Field, Philippines, as part of exercise Balikatan 2013.

The training began with aircraft rescue firefighter Marines demonstrating the capabilities and uses of the K-12 rescue saw and power hawk, or “jaws of life,” and allowed followed with their Filipino counterparts getting hands on training with the equipment.

BK13 is an annual bilateral training evolution aimed at ensuring interoperability of the Philippine and U.S. militaries during planning, contingency and humanitarian assistance operations.

“As firefighters, we have to be ready to do what is needed of us at all times,” said PAF Technical Sgt. Arthuro Sumilhig, a firefighter with the 600th Air Base Wing, 1st Air Division. “That is why every opportunity we have to train is an important one. It was great to get hands on with the gear the Marines use.”

While no real emergency was taking place, the firefighters trained together by making cuts with the rescue saw and power hawk into old barrel drums.

The importance of being proficient with these tools is unmatched as they may be the only thing standing between you and another person’s life, according to U.S. Marine Sgt. Harry M. Nieves, an aircraft rescue firefighter with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

“Being able to come out to the Philippines and work together with their firefighters and display our capabilities is a great opportunity,” said Nieves. “It doesn’t matter where you are or what military you are in, firefighters are always training to get better.”

The benefits both parties get out of the training holds a lasting memory as firefighters stay constantly prepared for their next emergency, according to U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Stephen R. Kiser, an aircraft rescue firefighter with the squadron. Both the Marine firefighters and their Filipino counterparts act as first responders to their respective aircraft and need to be ready to respond to any crisis with the tools available.

“Everything we do has a purpose,” said Kiser. “While today we were only cutting into a barrel, tomorrow that barrel could be the door of an aircraft. In this job you never know what you might be getting into.”

Throughout the exercise, Philippine and U.S. firefighters will continue bilateral training in order to ultimately better themselves and be at the ready to respond to any emergency.

Other units participating in Balikatan will conduct training in multiple locations throughout central Luzon to include humanitarian civic assistance, ground military training operations and a command post exercise based on natural disaster response.

DVIDS: Barangay Residents Help Combined Philippine-U.S. Army Team Stay Ahead of Schedule

From the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS) (Apr 11): Barangay Residents Help Combined Philippine-U.S. Army Team Stay Ahead of Schedule
BK 13 - Barangay residents help combined Philippine-US Army Team stay ahead of schedule

Barangay residents Adrian Chavez, left, and Francis Empeno, wire bamboo support rails to the existing footbridge in Tapuac. A combined team of Philippine and U.S. Army Engineers are building a new footbridge to improve the community. Thanks to consistent help from Tapuac volunteers, the team is ahead of schedule. The project is one of seven engineering civic action projects (ENCAP) being performed by Combined/Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force (CJCMOTF) units in support of exercise Balikatan 2013. Balikatan is an annual Philippine-U.S. bilateral exercise. Humanitarian assistance and training activities enable the Philippine and American service members to build lasting relationships, train together and provide assistance in communities where the need is the greatest. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chris Fahey.)

TAPUAC BARANGAY, Philipines - Thanks to volunteer effort by the Tapuac Barangay’s residents, the combined team of Philippine and U.S. Army engineers building a new footbridge for the community are ahead of schedule.

Since the construction on the footbridge broke ground March 21, the barangay has come together to provide a pool of skilled volunteers to help with construction.

“I remember on the first day we poured concrete, they had about 15 local civilians out here with us,” said crew leader U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Williams. “They are very skilled at pretty much every aspect of construction and will fill any capacity needed. They’ve helped us become way ahead of schedule, turning four day jobs into two.”

Williams said the benefits of the volunteers are two-fold.

“The footbridge is for the community, so for them to help and understand that this was a team effort by all of us, not just the military, really adds to the camaraderie,” he said. “Also, if down the road any repairs need to be made, then they are already familiar and have a great deal of confidence.”

Knowing that other barangay residents know how to make these repairs provides assurance to Marie and Marian Alfers – sisters who live close to the new footbridge along with 13 others in her household. Her father, a farmer, and nearly all of her siblings will rely on the footbridge to go to school, transport crops and see family members on the opposite side.

Synonymous with community, barangay holds a deeper more personal meaning. For the Alfers sisters, it also stands for trust.

“It’s easier for us to trust the construction when we see our barangay elders out helping,” said Marie through an interpreter. “We believe the footbridge would be strong either way but seeing our barangay out there is still reassuring.”

Volunteering to help the combined team at no extra cost to the government is what Tapuac Barangay Captain Rafael Elamparo calls his duty. His barangay is one of the largest in the province and has more than 100 farmers who live on the far side of the footbridge – cut off from most of the barangay.

Before the existing footbridge was strung up, they would have to walk and transport crops several kilometers out of the way. The new bridge will save time, energy and help ensure farmers don’t lose crops during transit.

“Try to imagine what it is like during the typhoon season,” said Elamparo. “It’s extremely dangerous. I have 365 families who live in this barangay. This is their home, so of course they feel a responsibility to help, but we also want to help. We are thankful for Balikatan and the help it’s bringing us. When we help, we get to show our respect and learn about our new neighbors.”

The Tapuac footbridge was one of seven engineering civic action projects (ENCAP) being performed by Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force (JCMOTF) units in support of exercise Balikatan 2013.
Balikatan is an annual Philippine-U.S. bilateral exercise.

Humanitarian assistance and training activities enable the Philippine and American service members to build lasting relationships, train together and provide assistance in communities where the need is the greatest.

Palace exec: Grounded US, Chinese ships are apple and orange

From GMA News (Apr 11): Palace exec: Grounded US, Chinese ships are apple and orange

Malacañang on Thursday urged the public to quit comparing the two separate grounding incidents of a United States minesweeper and a Chinese fishing vessel in the Tubbataha Reef, saying the two are “completely different."

“I think it’s unfair [to compare.] They are not apples to apples. One is a military ship of an allied country who is here with our permission, involved in our mutual defense; the other is a private fishing vessel, which was here without permission, which was here for commercial reasons,” Presidential Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang said at a briefing.

“Clearly, the different natures of these two vessels would necessitate different responses. And I don’t think anyone would argue that you treat one the same way as the other, since they’re completely different circumstances,” he added.

Shortly before midnight Monday, a Chinese fishermen's vessel ran aground in Tubbataha Reef, three months after a similar incident involving the US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian.

The US vessel was finally extracted two weeks ago and four of its crew members were relieved of their duties for failure to follow standard US Navy navigational procedures. The Philippine government, however, has yet to press charges against the ship's sailors.

Meanwhile, the Tubbataha Management Office lodged poaching charges against 12 Chinese fishermen Wednesday afternoon.

However, Carandang reiterated that the government is not playing favorites, as there is an ongoing investigation regarding the USS Guardian’s grounding.

“We have an investigation that is proceeding with the Americans, and there are certain laws and practices that we have to abide by,” Carandang said, although he noted that the government does not believe the American vessel meant to cause damage.

“The goal [of the investigation] is to find out what happened [and] to seek some sort of reparations for the damages that admittedly were incurred. Nobody believes that this was done on purpose so our idea is if something happens then, there are certain processes in place that would ensure or that would provide for the resolution or the reparation in the event of this incident,” Carandang said.

The Philippines may charge the United States 58 million pesos ($1.4 million) in compensation for damage caused by the USS Guardian to the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

No special treatment in Tubbataha incidents - Palace

From ABS-CBN (Apr 11): No special treatment in Tubbataha incidents - Palace

Malacanang said on Thursday it is not treating Americans, whose Navy ship ran aground in Tubbataha Reef, with kid gloves compared to Chinese fishers whose boat met the same fate recently.
"First of all, those are two separate incidents. They're not apples to apples," Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang told reporters.

"One is a military ship from an allied country [which] is here with our permission, involved in our mutual defense. The other is a private fishing vessel, which was here without permission, which was here for commercial reasons."

"Clearly, the different natures of these vessels would necessitate different responses," he added.

Carandang said that an investigation is ongoing into the grounding of the USS Guardian, which was removed from the reef after three months.

The Chinese fishers, meanwhile, will face charges for poaching, among others.

Army beefs up security at jail holding top rebels

From the Visayan Daily Star (Apr 11): Army beefs up security at jail holding top rebels

The 303 rd Infantry Brigade has beefed up the forces of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology to secure the Negros Occidental District Jail in Barangay Tabunan, Bago City, where a notorious rebel leader and his wife are detained on non-bailable charges, its commander, Col. Jon Aying, said yesterday.

While they have not received any report on attempts to rescue detained rebel leader Reniel Cellon and his wife, Mary Jane Magquilat, so far, Aying said they are not taking chances.

He added, however, that, actually that is the usual plan for inmates with non-bailable cases, as their lawyers have also recommended.

Aying said they have deployed soldiers in the vicinity of the Provincial Jail since the first day Cellon was committed there.

Cellon, Magquilat and four other suspected rebels, are facing charges for violation of the Comelec gun ban before the Kabankalan Regional Trial Court, after the recovery of firearms and explosives from them, and from the vehicle they were riding, when they were intercepted at a checkpoint in Ilog last week.

This is on top of the murder and frustrated murder charges Cellon and Magquilat are facing, police records show.

Senior Supt. Celestino Guara, caretaker of the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office, confirmed yesterday that they have received reports on plans of the New People's Army to rescue Cellon, who is the commander of the NPA Southwest Front Sentro De Grabidad platoon.

Guara also said they have dispatched policemen to the Provincial Jail in Bago City.

Paduano: RPA transformation underway

From the Sun Star-Bacolod (Apr 10): Paduano: RPA transformation underway

STEPHEN Paduano alias “Carapali Lualhati,” former National Chair of the Revolutionary Proletarian Armg-Alex Bongcayao Brigade (RPA- ABB), revealed the ongoing transformation conference held by his former comrades.

Paduano has already resigned from the RPA-ABB after he decided to join in the political system of the country. He is now the number one nominee of 136 Abang Lingkod Party-list group.

The transformation conference will also result to the election of the new set of officers while the former rebel group is in transition from being an armed group into an unarmed group, he said.

The transformation of the RPA-ABB into a social political group is headed by its chair Veronica Tabara of the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa ng Pilipinas (RPMP).

Paduano said that he was one of the speakers in Tuesday's conference of his former comrades.

The transformation he said is part of the final agreement between the government peace panel and the RPA-ABB.

Paduano said that some of the difficulties encountered by his former comrades is their safety because they find it hard to adjust from being armed to being unarmed, although they will be put in Peace and Development Communities.

NPA attempts to rescue arrested leader

From the Sun Star-Bacolod (Apr 11): NPA attempts to rescue arrested leader

NEGROS Occidental Police Office (Noppo) chief Celestino Guara said the New People's Army (NPA) rebels attempted to rescue their top leader including other rebel members who were nabbed in Barangay Dancalan, Ilog last week.

The rebels were arrested during a checkpoint in the said barangay in relation to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) gun ban.

Arrested were rebel leader Reniel Cellon and wife, Mary Jane Magquilat; and four rebel members identified as Jose Sonny Boy Ditomal, 41; Rodrigo Maricasa, 49; Antonio Estaniel, 51; and Edson Gonzales, 20.

Last Monday, additional charges for violation of the Comelec gun ban were filed before the Kabankalan Regional Trial Court against the arrested NPA rebels.

Police recovered a .45 caliber pistol, owned by the slain PFC John Ilisan; a fragmentation grenade owned by NPA commander Cellon; and a.22 pistol which was seized from Magquilat.

Guara said the Philippine National Police (PNP), the military, and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) are on alert and may augment forces in Ilog where the alleged NPA leader and hid companions are detained.

Guara stressed that they are prepared against such rescue attempts and plans of the NPA to rescue their leader and comrades.

Cellon, commander of the Sentro De Grabida Platoon of the NPA South West Front Committee, was linked by the military to numerous incidents of liquidation in southern Negros which victimized Ilisan, former rebels, and paramilitary troopers.

Also recovered in Cellon’s vehicle were rifle grenade, hundreds of live ammunition for an M-16 armalite rifle and carbine, subversive documents and assorted food.

The Kabankalan RTC has recommended P12,000 as bail for each count of violation of the Comelec gun ban against the suspects.

Aside from the gun ban charges, Cellon and Magquilat are also facing charges for murder, which are non-bailable offenses, and frustrated murder.

NPA confirms clash with police in Talakag

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Apr 12): NPA confirms clash with police in Talakag

THE New People’s Army (NPA) North Central Mindanao Command (NCMC) confirmed the clash between the NPA rebels belonging to the Mt. Kitanglad sub-regional command and the police officers of the Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB) in sitio Liburan, barangay Sagaran in Talakag town, Bukidnon Wednesday afternoon.

NPA-NCMC spokesperson Allan Juanito, however, didn’t confirm the alleged death of two rebels since he is still waiting for the details from the unit.

“Should there be casualties, I call on the authorities to observe the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) agreement between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA-National Democratic Front in the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP),” Juanito said in a statement sent to Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro Thursday evening.

He is calling on the police to provide decent care if dead bodies will be found or notify the families of the dead. He also urged the police to make it easier for the families or relatives to claim the bodies if not accord the dead bodies with decent burial should no one claim.

Police wounded

Talakag has been known for feuding clans, fearing bloodshed the villagers reported to police that armed men were sighted.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) responded and found out that the armed men were communist rebels. Wounded during the clash were Inspector Alwin Baclao, Police Officers 1 Marlon Mendoza and John Bodiongan. Baclao is the commanding officer of the 104th Maneuver Company of the RPSB in Northern Mindanao.

Senior Inspector Ronnie Francis Cariaga, PNP-Northern Mindanao spokesperson, said the firefight lasted for an hour, allegedly resulting in two fatalities on the rebels’ side. No bodies have been found as of press time.

Recovered from the clash area were one M16 Rifle and one .38 caliber pistol.
Baclao suffered serious gunshot wounds while Mendoza suffered a gunshot wound in his right leg and Bodiongan suffered a slight gunshot wound in his head.

The three were brought to a hospital in Cagayan de Oro City.

Cariaga said the PNP-10 in coordination with AFP territorial units is focused on providing strategic guidance in the performance of its mandated functions in protecting the state and the people as embodied in the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP).

“It shall aid government security units in planning for and contributing to the attainment of internal peace and security,” Cariaga said.

Senior Supt. Orlando Viñas, Bukidnon provincial police director, said he could not disclose the names of the fatalities yet.

Viñas relayed that the police officers sighted from a higher ground armed men cooking on the outskirts of Barangay Sagaran, about 16 to 18 kilometers from the town proper.
Viñas also urged the communities, who give the rebels food and water while they transfer from one place to another, to stop helping them.

Lt. Col. Jose Maria Cuerpo, 8th Infantry Battalion commanding officer, said that the army has sent teams to conduct hot pursuit operations against the rebels.

Captain Christian Uy, 4th Infantry Division acting spokesperson, also confirmed the military operations that will flush out the rebels in the area.

Police Chief Supt Catalino Rodriguez Jr., police regional director, awarded on Thursday afternoon the Wounded Medals to the three officers.

Rodriguez ordered the National Police to intensify its proactive security patrols to stop the communist rebels in advancing their criminal activities.

Among the security measures are the setting up of random checkpoints and the continuous enforcement of the election gun ban.

The New People’s Army is waging the world’s longest communist armed struggle in the world. In its 45 years of conflict with the Philippine government, it has caused thousands of deaths on both sides.

The government is currently engaged in a peace talk with the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the political arm of the NPA.

Soldier killed in Sayyaf ambush

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Apr 12): Soldier killed in Sayyaf ambush

A SOLDIER was killed in an ambush staged by the Abu Sayyaf bandits in the hinterlands of Basilan province, a top police official said.

Basilan police officer-in-charge Abubakar Tulawie identified the slain soldier as Corporal Nurhassad Imlani of the Army’s 18th Infantry Battalion.

Imlani was driving his motorcycle when the Abu Sayyaf bandits ambushed the him around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in Sitio Kurellem, Silangkum village, Tipo-Tipo municipality, Superintendent Tulawie said.

Imlani, who was assigned with the intelligence, was traveling from the village of Sungkayot, Ungkaya Pukan town en route to the village of Tipo-Tipo proper, Tipo-Tipo town when he was ambushed, the police said.

Two of the ambush suspects were identified as Abu Parung and Abu Mudzrie, who are followers of Abu Sayyaf commander Puruji Indama alias Abu Dujana, Tulawie added.

Malaysia frees LP candidates in Sabah; no raps filed

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 11): Malaysia frees LP candidates in Sabah; no raps filed

A Liberal Party mayoral candidate from Tawi-Tawi and 31 supporters who were swept by strong currents to Lahad Datu in Sabah last Tuesday are free to return home without any charges being filed against them, Malacañang said Thursday.

Strategic Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang said the government has convinced Malaysia that Rommel Matba and his supporters were not reinforcements for the followers of the Sultan of Sulu who had crossed into Lahad Datu in mid-February.

“They wandered into that territory, they’ve been processed and they’ll be back maybe by today or tomorrow,” Carandang told a Palace briefing.

According to Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, the Malaysians saw that “this was not an incursion and that their boat was only swept by current and wind. And they saw that they had relevant papers and IDs with them and that they were carrying campaign materials.”

Quoting the Philippine National Police, Roxas said Thursday night that Matba and his companions were released from Malaysian custody and were ”now at Sandakan pier on their way home.”

(UPDATED) Annexes unfinished; GPH, MILF resume talks after May 13 polls

From MindaNews (Apr 11): (UPDATED) Annexes unfinished; GPH, MILF resume talks after May 13 polls

KUALA LUMPUR  – The peace panels of the Philippine government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ended their three-day negotiations today (Thursday) with the three annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro still unfinished.

Thursday’s session began at 9:54 a.m. and ended with the signing at the State Room of the Palace of the Golden Horses Hotel at 1:05 p.m. of a Joint Statement that they will “meet again after the May 13 Philippine elections” to finish the annexes on wealth-sharing, power-sharing and normalization.

The annexes are needed to complete the comprehensive peace pact which will then be the basis for crafting the Basic Law for the “Bangsamoro,” the new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao by 2016.

Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal shake hands after signing at 1:05 p.m. Thursday a Joint Statement at the end of the three day talks in Kuala Lumpur.  MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas
Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and
Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panel chair Mohagher
Iqbal shake hands after signing at 1:05 p.m. Thursday a Joint
Statement at the end of the three day talks in Kuala Lumpur.
MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas
Discussions of the Technical Working Group (TWG) on Normalization which met since Monday, a day ahead of the scheduled April 9 to 11 talks, are “moving the parties towards an agreement on the architecture for the normalization process,” it said.

The eight-paragraph statement said the panels “continued to find ways to resolve remaining issues on the annexes on wealth-sharing, power-sharing and normalization, agreeing to exchange notes through the facilitator in the coming days” and affirmed their commitment to “finally settle these issues soon so that all three annexes may be signed without undue delay.”

GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said they hope to address a number of issues during the exchange of notes between now and the next round of talks
MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal described this week’s talks as “very tough.”
“Government is not ready to sign Wealth-Sharing. MILF is very ready,” he told MindaNews.

The Philippines is holding its synchronized national mid-term, local and regional elections on May 13. Malaysia’s election is on May 5.

Different phase

Ferrer told MindaNews that the panels are “already in a different phase of finishing only the remaining issues and the routine does not have to be the same. The approach can be different.”

She said there are only two remaining key issues in the Annex on Power-sharing: “the allocation of the powers across the different items pertaining to transportation and communications and the concept of regional waters.”

In the Annex on Wealth-Sharing, “it’s really getting the whole picture, it’s the fine-tuning and getting the sum total of all the obligations that will be committed by government.”

Ferrer acknowledged that the Wealth-Sharing Annex had been “initialed at the TWG level but as agreed, it will be subject to the review of our principals.”

She said due diligence is being conducted “now that we have the sum total of taxes, block grants, subsidies, revenue shares…and government wants to be very clear about the kinds of commitments it will be making.”

The Wealth-Sharing Annex was initialed during the February 25 to 27 talks and is, until now, still undergoing review by government.

Ferrer explained that the review process takes long. “Unlike in the case of the MILF when they are focused on this thing, government is focused on many things, it has many agendas so that means in a matter that requires extensive discussion, understanding of the full implications and consensus of all branches of government that will be affected here, then that‘s a process that takes some time in the midst of all the regular governance functions, in the midst of all issues that government is facing.”

The panels also signed the Terms of Reference of the Sajahatra Bangsamoro, a socio-economic peace initiative of government in partnership with the MILF and personally launched by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III on February 11 at the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute compound in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. President Aquino then said peace was “abot-kamay” (within reach).

“Abot-kamay na po ang bunga ng kapayapaang kay tagal nating inaasam-asam” (The fruits of peace that we have long cherished are now within reach), Aquino said exactly two months ago.

Heartbreak Hill

The President, whose family lived in exile in Boston for a couple of years during the Marcos dictatorship, likened the stage of the peace process as of February 11 to the “Heartbreak Hill” of the Boston Marathon.

He said on the last mile of the marathon, when the runner already sees the finish line, the terrain goes uphill. But there is no stopping, he said.

“While nearing the peak of ‘Heartbreak Hill’ there will be more intrigues, more difficult process. But our trust for each other will get us through,” the President said.

The next day, February 12, members of the “Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo” arrived in Lahad Datu in Sabah to assert their proprietary rights over Sabah. Whether or not it was mere coincidence, or the product of an alleged conspiracy, the arrival in Sabah led to a standoff that broke into violence on March 1and led Malaysia into launching Operasi Daulat (Operation Uphold Sovereignty) through aerial and ground attacks to flush out the “Royal Security Forces” from Lahad Datu.

At least 70 Filipinos have been reported killed and hundreds arrested in Sabah and at least 5,000 have evacuated to Sulu, Tawi-tawi and Basilan. Complaints of alleged human rights violations were also reported by evacuees.

Although the GPH and the MILF have repeatedly said Sabah is a foreign affairs issue and is not within the purview of the GPH-MILF peace talks, criticisms had been raised about Malaysia’s role as third party facilitator in the peace talks, given that it is a party to Sabah.

Malaysia has been facilitating and hosting the talks since March 2001.

Former GPH peace panel chair Jesus Dureza (2001 to 2003), wrote in his column on March 11 that aside from the deaths and the violence suffered by Filipinos in Sabah, “one of major casualties of the Sabah incident is the MILF peace negotiations. “

“Evidently, events have overtaken the MILF peace talks. Even MILF’s claim for a Bangsamoro ancestral domain and right to self determination, without factoring in the Sabah claim, will not fly anymore. Malaysian participation as a neutral ‘facilitator’ is now blown to pieces due to their violent operations against the Filipino Muslims in Lahad Datu. With the arrival of hundreds of Filipinos fleeing Sabah, more alleged atrocities committed against Filipinos are starting to surface,” he wrote.

Different feeling
Dr. Steven Rood, The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative to the Philippines and its representative to the International Contact Group, the body created by the GPH and MILF peace panels on July 29, 2009, composed of representatives of state and non-state organizations “to accompany and mobilize international support for the peace process,” noticed a “different” feeling in the talks since February, when the Sabah issue came to the fore.

“While many aspects of the talks seem to never change (same participants, same venue, often the same issues) the feeling has been different since early February, when the tragic imbroglio in Sabah erupted, with armed followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of Sulu entering Sabah, followed by a Malaysian security operation in which dozens were killed and hundreds arrested,” he wrote in his blog in “In Asia: weekly insights and features from The Asia Foundation.”

Rood said there is an “obvious question of the effect of all this on the facilitation by Malaysia” of the GPH-MILF peace talks. “Some have called into question the whole notion of Malaysia acting as a neutral facilitator given the Philippines’ claim (though long-dormant) over Sabah (as successor-in-interest to the Sultan of Sulu), and particularly in the context of deaths of Filipino citizens.” But Rood added that “others say that there is no reason to re-think what has been mostly an effective process at reaching an agreement.”

Patience, impatience

Another ICG member, Kristian Herbolzheimer, Director of the Philipines an Colombia Progammes at Conciliation Resources, described the peace process as “on a good track.”

“At the final stretch of a long negotiation process, expectations are high, which can lead to impatience,” he said.

Herbolzheimer said Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams “keeps reminding that peace discussions inside the Irish Republican Army were more difficult than with the British Government. The Oslo peace accord of 1993 between Israel and Palestine eventually failed due to lack of buy-in from all stakeholders from both constituencies. Parties have not been able to rebuild that momentum 20 years later.”

Another ICG member Emma Leslie, Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in Cambodia told MindaNews that peace processes “require us to practice the Islamic virtue of patience or endurance. It is no different in this process. We would always want things to move faster, but we trust that taking time ensures a just peace in the long term.”

MILF: Advocacy on Framework Agreement held in Kidapawan City

From the MILF Website (Apr 11): Advocacy on Framework Agreement held in Kidapawan City

Advocacy on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro was successfully held last April 7, 2013 at the settler’s dominated City of Kidapawan.

It was held at Barangay Nuangan, Kidapawan City with the theme, “Peace Advocacy on Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) towards the Establishment of Peaceful, Just and Humane Society”. It was attended by Moro natives, settlers and indigenous people.

During his opening remarks, Nasser Mustafa, MILF Provincial Vice Chairman of North Cotabato emphasized the importance of participating in peace advocacies as a medium of letting the people understand the letter and intent of the FAB and the reasons behind why the Bangsamoro is asserting their right to self-determination The Bangsamoro people where oppressed and long deprived of their rights by past foreign and local colonial governments.

Professor Esmael A. Abdula, member of BLMI Steering Committee and guest speaker provided highlights on the FAB. He related the historical background of the Bangsamoro struggle and the peace process between the MILF and the GPH which has been dragging on for almost 17 years.

He stressed that the Mindanao question needs political solutions through peaceful and diplomatic means that will redound to peace and development in Mindanao. Moreover, the FAB, he said is seen by many as the ultimate solution to the Mindanao problem that will improve quality of life of people; builds harmonious social and cultural relationships among the Moros, indigenous people and settlers.

Hon. Atty. Greg Andolana, former Congressman of 2nd District, North Cotabato and faculty of the University of Mindanao, Davao City and the University of Southern Mindanao, Kabacan, North Cotabato emphasized, that FAB is a done deal but there is a need to pursue and support the peace panels in completing the two remaining contentious annexes and sign a comprehensive compact agreement between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) so that the Bangsamoro can take off.

He stressed that the tri-people in Mindanao should work hand in hand to support the FAB. In the event that Bangsamoro Basic Law is crafted by the Transition Commission, enacted into law by Congress, signed by President Benigno C. Aquino III and ratified by the people in a plebiscite it will pave the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Region as new political entity.

Hon. Angel Japar, Indigenous People representative to the United Nations made a very encouraging message in order to achieve lasting peace in Mindanao. He said everyone should understand the essence of FAB. He encouraged the indigenous people to consolidate their efforts and support the FAB.

Bai Delhia Hassan, a known traditional leader described how the Moros and the indigenous people suffered from the hands of colonial and oppressive regimes. She said that land grabbing continued to haunt the Moro and indigenous people in North Cotabato. She cited the experience of their family and said that the land they own with in the heart of Kidapawan City was occupied by settlers. To get back their land she filed a complaint in court. After expending a lot of money, they finally won the case and repossessed their land. However, to her dismay, settlers continue to occupy her land, derive income from it but she is not given rental. The local government is mum on her plight and did nothing to act on her favor. The LGU instead continue to collect taxes from her otherwise her land will forfeited by the local government.

Brother Mads Tempolok, congratulated the organizers and encouraged the leaders of the tri-people to initiate the conduct of similar advocacy program in their respective communities.

The said Peace Advocacy was attended by more than one thousand people all from Bangsamoro, Indigenous people and from the Pilipino Settler, also present in the forum are from the Local Government officials, traditional leaders from the Bangsamoro and Indigenous People.

The forum ended, with good smile and hands shake indicate, that understand the FAB establish the culture of peace and justice. Every body hope to have dreams come true, when FAB get to be done and Bangsamoro Government should be realize.

MILF: BDA Southern Mindanao Region conducts Child Protection Advocacy in Malungon, Sarangani Province

From the MILF Website (Apr 11): BDA Southern Mindanao Region conducts Child Protection Advocacy in Malungon, Sarangani Province

The Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA), in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Funds (UNICEF) and supported by Australian Aid for International Development (AusAID), conducted a Child Protection Advocacy at Barangay Talus, Malungon, Sarangani Province on April 4, 1013, anchored on the International Law on the Rights of a Child.

The activity, which is part of the BDA-UNICEF Child Protection Component (CPC) Program, was geared to increase the awareness of the community on children’s rights, the international and national laws on child protection and the mechanisms on monitoring and reporting grave child’s rights violations.

More than eighty community members composed of barangay Officials, day care teachers, barangay health workers, youth leaders, religious leaders, elders, representatives from the local government and parents attended the one-day seminar.

BDA Southern Mindanao Region Regional Manager Mohalikin D. Piang oriented the participants on the background of the BDA and its component programs. He pointed out that the organization is inclusive serving communities regardless of the religious denominations and tribal affiliations of the beneficiaries.

Piang related that the BDA, a product of the Government of the Philippine (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace process, has been operational for more than a decade already and gained international support coming from the World Bank, European Union, Japan International Cooperation Agency and agencies of the United Nations like the UNICEF.

He also discussed some salient points of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and urged the audience to support the peace process between the GPH and the MILF.

Julhaina Cadon, Operations and Training Officer of UNICEF Tahderriyah Curriculum Program (TCP) Component, gave the overview of BDA-UNICEF Program and elaborated the Tahderriyah (pre-school) Curriculum Program.

She related that the program was indeed instrumental in the development of pre-school classes of Madaris (plural for Madrasa) in Mindanao making it compliant to the requirements of the Department of Education (DepEd).

“Today, Tahderiyyah graduates are admissible to Grade 1 in any schools since the curriculum used in Tahderriyah has been approved by DepEd,” she explained.

Nor Ayn Makakena, Project Operations Officer of BDA-UNICEF Child Protection Component (CPC) Program, lectured Children’s Rights, Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism in Grave Child’s Rights Violation and Child Trafficking.

She related that the Philippines is one of the 193 countries that signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child.

The resource person explained that children have civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. She pointed out that the state and its citizen should give protection to the children since “children could not protect themselves.”

“Children must be protected from violence, abuse, exploitation or trafficking,” she stressed.

Makakena said the country has a law on child protection such as Republic Act 7610 and (RA) and the RA 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Person Act.

She mentioned that among the grave child’s rights violation includes maiming, killing and engaging the children in armed struggle as soldier.

Sugoda Buayan Province Political Committee Vice-Chairman Osmena Salisipan graced the gathering. He encouraged the audience to continue supporting the GPH-MILF Peace Process and the BDA Programs. "The dream peace and development of Mindanao can be realized with the strong support of various stakeholders and Mindanaons themselves," he pointed out.

The participants were grateful for the knowledge they acquired. Marilyn Maude, Day Care Workers Supervisor said they have understood what a Moro or Muslim is now.

Malungon is the only inland of the seven municipalities of Sarangani Province. The other six are coastal. The town is dominated by Indigenous peoples mainly Blaan and Tagakaolo.

Palace plays down Sino boat on gas field spying

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 12): Palace plays down Sino boat on gas field spying

The Palace on Thursday played down speculation that the fishing vessel grounded in the Tubbataha Reef was part of espionage operations carried out by the Chinese government, despite military claims that China had been sending such boats to Philippine waters to spy on the development of the country’s gas fields.

Tubbataha Reef, a protected marine sanctuary, is well outside China’s so-called nine-dash territorial line and well within Philippine territory.

“At this point, we are treating it the way it looks — it is a Chinese fishing vessel, not government-owned, and that they ran aground by accident,” said Presidential Communications Development Secretary Ramon Carandang. “At this point, we have no reason to believe otherwise.”

President Benigno Aquino III earlier said the owners of the Chinese fishing vessel and its crew will be charged for illegally entering Philippine territory and causing damage to the Tubbataha Reef.

Under the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009, there is an automatic presumption that anyone entering the zone illegally is a poacher.

The President could not hide his dismay that the Tubbataha Reef, which has yet to recover from the damage done by the grounding of a US warship, the USS Guardian, was once again damaged by a foreign vessel.

The President said the government is thinking of adding more lighted buoys to expand Tubbataha’s buffer zone.

“We will expand the areas that will be closed to transit to forestall any possibility of another grounding incident,” he said.

The grounding of the Chinese fishing vessel happened just as the wreckage of the USS Guardian had been removed from the reef.

Under the existing law covering Tubbataha, a fine of about $600 or P24,000 per square meter of damaged reef is mandatory.

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park protects almost 100,000 hectares of marine habitats containing three atolls and a large area of deep sea.

Home to whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles and Napoleon wrasse, the park supports more than 350 species of coral and almost 500 species of fish.

For this, it has been declared a World Heritage Site by the Unesco.

The reserve also protects one of the few remaining colonies of breeding seabirds in the region, according to Unesco.

The Coast Guard said it would start refloating and removing the 65-meter-long Chinese fishing boat, the Min Long Yu, which ran aground in Tubbataha Reef shortly before midnight Monday.

Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista, head of the Coast Guard Palawan district office, said the agency already deployed its search and rescue ships, the BRP Corregidor and BRP Romblon to remove the grounded vessel.

“It (BRP Corregidor) is expected to arrive on April 13. The next day, we can start lightening the vessel,” he said. “One option is to refloat the fishing boat.”

The BRP Romblon was the first Coast Guard vessel to arrive in Palawan after Min Long Yu ran aground in the North Islet of Tubbataha Reef Monday night.

The Coast Guard ships will first siphon the half of the 80,000 liters of fuel from the wooden hull of the fishing boat before removing water and heavy cargo to lighten the boat.

“The ultimate goal is to remove the vessel safely from the reef without causing damage to the reef,” Evangelista said, estimating that the entire operation would take more than two weeks.

Angelique Songco, superintendent of the Tubbataha Management Office, said she hoped the courts would find the 12 Chinese poachers guilty and send them to jail for six to 12 years.

In the past, however, Chinese poachers were let off with a pardon from the national government, she said.

“There is no lack of evidence here,” Songco said, adding that the grounded fishing vessel is enough evidence that the Chinese poachers violated Philippine maritime laws as well as a Unesco provision.

The poachers were currently detained at the provincial jail in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. They could be slapped fines of P300,000 each for “destroying and disturbing resources” if found guilty on charges for violating the Tubbataha Act.

The secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Renato Reyes Jr., accused the Aquino government of a double standard against territorial violators, noting that the crew of the USS Guardian were not charged or treated the same way.

“Why are the Americans so special that they were neither detained nor investigated in the Philippines? Reyes said in a statement.

The US Navy immediately rescued and whisked its personnel to Sasebo, Japan after the grounding to avoid arrest, legal responsibility and a possible jail term in the country, Reyes added.

Also on Thursday, Senator Francis Escudero vowed to allocate more funds for the protection and preservation of environmental treasures such as the Tubbataha Reef.

Govt, MILF fail to solve peace issues

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 12): Govt, MILF fail to solve peace issues

The signing of a final peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front was postponed after both sides agreed to hold off negotiations until after the May 13 polls.

In a joint statement after the 37th round of formal negotiations in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, both panels admitted that they failed to complete the three remaining annexes on power-sharing, wealth-sharing, and normalization.

“The panels agreed to meet again after the May 13, 2013 Philippine elections,” the joint statement read.

“The panels continued to find ways to resolve remaining issues on the annexes on wealth sharing, power sharing and normalization, agreeing to exchange notes through the facilitator in the coming days. They affirmed their commitment to finally settle these issues soon so that all three annexes may be signed without undue delay.”

The government and the MILF originally agreed to complete the talks on the four annexes in December but the schedule was moved to March.

The annexes remain unsigned until today except on transitional arrangements.
Earlier, presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles said that the normalization process with the MILF will also result in the disarmament of other private armed groups in Mindanao.

“You don’t just talk about the arms of the MILF, but also of everyone else. That is part of normalization. How can you ask the MILF to completely disarm if other groups or some families are armed?” she said.

“We are looking for a real partnership among the government, the MILF, and other governance constituencies to look at this matter on how to make life more secure, to trust in the state forces to make them secure, and be engaged in other productive activities,” Deles added.

Deles said both parties would also work together to reduce and control of firearms in Mindanao.

“As put in the framework agreement, decommissioning is phased and calibrated and will start once political commitments are delivered. We agreed that substantial decommissioning happens when the basic law is delivered,” she said.

“The MILF shall undertake a graduated program for decommissioning of its forces so that they are put beyond use,” Deles added, citing the framework pact.

A joint normalization committee will also be formed for the coordination between the parties towards full decommissioning, which will be overseen by a third-party monitor composed of domestic and international partners of the peace process.

The Transition Commission, the body mandated to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law, met last week for the first time and has agreed to undertake consultations in all communities that will be affected by the planned abolition of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The basic law, once enacted, will pave the way for a new autonomous political entity in Mindanao to be called Bangsamoro.

Under the framework agreement, the Bangsamoro will have for its core territory the present composition of the ARMM.

The new political entity will also include 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 which voted for inclusion in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite; and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela.

President Benigno Aquino III wants the basic law to be enacted by 2015, with an interim authority in place a year before the next national elections.

“We need the organic act enacted into law by 2015. This will be passed through Congress and approved in a plebiscite and we hope to install the new government with a mandate after 2016 elections. There will be an interim authority from 2015 to 2016,” Aquino said.

AFP vows to deploy troops to aid Comelec

From the Daily Tribune (Apr 12): AFP vows to deploy troops to aid Comelec

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) yesterday vowed to deploy troops to assist the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and other government agencies involved in the holding of the May mid-term elections in maintaining peace and order before, during and after the polls.

The AFP affirmed is commitment in protecting and safeguarding the upcoming elections on Wednesday with the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MoA) with Comelec, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Department of Education (DepEd).

Lt. Gen. Gregorio Macapagal, AFP deputy chief of staff, represented the AFP during the MoA signing which was attended by Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes, DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro and PNP Director for Operations Ager Ontog Jr.

Macapagal stressed that with or without the MoA, the 120,000-strong military, as deputized by the Comelec, is duty bound to ensure the safe and peaceful conduct of the elections.

“It is our task to ensure that the coming elections will be peaceful and orderly. We will therefore deploy personnel for election duty and ensure the security of polling places,” said Macapagal.

Pursuant to Comelec Resolution 9570, the AFP was deputized to ensure a free, orderly, and honest election.

In this regard, the AFP is mandated to assist the Comelec and the PNP in the implementation of elections laws, rules and regulations, and deter or deny private armed groups and other armed threat groups from conducting election-related violence.
The Comelec, AFP and the PNP have already activated Joint Security Coordinating Centers to serve as focal point for all coordination related to the elections.

Consequently, Joint Security Assistance Desks will also be established in polling precincts.

In 2004, the military was dragged into the alleged manipulation of the presidential elections as contained in the infamous “Hello Garci” recordings of conversations of then Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and some personalities, supposedly including then presidential candidate Gloria Arroyo.

Several active AFP officers were mentioned in the tapped conversations of Garcillano, including then AFP deputy chief of staff for operations and Task Force Honest, Orderly and Peaceful Elections head Maj. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr., who rose to become AFP chief.

CPP: CPP cites stark differences in handling Tubbataha incursions by US and Chinese vessels

From the CPP Website (Apr 11): CPP cites stark differences in handling Tubbataha incursions by US and Chinese vessels

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) today pointed out the stark difference in the Aquino regime’s handling of the successive incursions since January by the US military and Chinese fishermen at the Tubbataha Reef Wildlife Area. On the one hand, the Aquino government exhibited subordination to the US military, allowing their exoneration. On the other hand, it is vigorously pursuing the filing of charges against the crew of the Chinese vessel who are currently detained and awaiting inquest.

Last Monday, a Chinese fishing vessel ran aground at Tubbataha, damaging the coral bed. The Tubbataha reefs, declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations, is a protected wildlife area where large sea vessels are prohibited from entering. The grounding last Tuesday comes less than two weeks after the last piece of the US naval minesweeper USS Guardian was removed. The USS Guardian had illegally entered the area more than two months and run aground at the southern part of the reefs. Close to 3,000 square meters of coral were damaged.

“The detention by Philippine authorities of the 12-man crew of the Chinese fishing vessel is precisely what they refused to do to the crew of the USS Guardian when they ran aground in the same area.”

“The prompt action against the Chinese crew is in stark contrast to how the reef authorities turned back when the fully armed US military crew of the USS Guardian took battle positions to block the approaching authorities and prevent their interdiction,” pointed out the CPP. “The Aquino regime failed to protest and instead chose to remain silent and meek in the face of the high-handed show of force against the Philippine reef officials.”

“Furthermore, Aquino did not even lift a finger when the US military immediately flew the crew of the USS Guardian to the US Pacific Command base in Japan, preventing the Philippine government from subjecting them to an investigation.”

“In the face of the grounding of the Chinese fishing vessel, Philippine government officials are now making noise about how the Chinese fishermen will be made to pay for the damages on the reef. Just a month ago, the Aquino regime invoked a policy of silence on the issue of requiring the US government to pay fines for the damage caused on the reefs to instead settle for the ‘compensation’ fund being proposed by the US government.”

“The US offer of compensation, which the Aquino regime has promptly accepted, is nothing but a bribe to prevent the Philippine government from requiring the US military to submit itself to Philippine jurisdiction.”

“Since the Aquino regime failed to assert Philippine laws and authority over the USS Guardian crew, the US military did not even need to invoke the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which gives it the prerogative to refuse to submit its military personnel to Philippine legal proceedings,” said the CPP.

CPP/NPA: NPA and PNP clash in Talakag, Bukidnon

Posted to the CPP Website (Apr 11): NPA and PNP clash in Talakag, Bukidnon

Alan Juanito
NPA North Central Mindanao Regional Operations Command (Jiito Tito Command)

The New People’s Army – North Central Mindanao Regional Command confirms that there was a firefight between an NPA guerilla unit under sa Mt. Kitanglad Sub-regional Command and the Regional Police Public Safety Battalion in Sitio Liburon, Brgy. Sagaran, Talakag, Bukidnon yesterday, April 10, at about 3:00 PM.

The media has partially reported that three policemen were wounded in the firefight. It was also reported that two Red fighters died in the clash. Until now however, we are yet to receive an official report from the field.

If it is true that the police have recovered the dead bodies of our comrades, we appeal to them to abide by the rules of war and leave these bodies in a funeral parlor so their families could claim them for proper burial. We hope that the police and military will not simulate the 8th IB’s insensitive handling of Litoy Panduma’s family and relatives that took them over a month to claim his dead body left unattended in the forests of San Fernando, Bukidnon last February.

As the people’s war intensifies against an exploitative state, which serves foreign and local ruling classes, it is but natural for armed clashes like this to take place. Along the road to genuine freedom, ultimate sacrifices of heroism are offered in advancing the struggle of the oppressed and exploited majority.

Once again, we ask for your indulgence as we await for detailed information on the said firefight. Rest assured we will inform the public as soon as we get to the bottom of the incident.

ASEAN, China to meet on code of conduct

From Business World (Apr 12): ASEAN, China to meet on code of conduct

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, BRUNEI -- Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China will hold a special meeting to hasten progress on a code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea, Indonesia’s foreign minister said yesterday.

The meeting was proposed by China and all countries within the ASEAN have agreed to participate, Marty Natalegawa told reporters at a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in Brunei.

The agreement is potentially significant as China has insisted on handling territorial disputes bilaterally with individual countries, while ASEAN wants to speak as a group, a disconnect blamed for hindering progress on a code.

Although no date has been set, Mr. Natalegawa said the planned meeting underscored the importance of making “progress on the code of conduct and to maintain a positive atmosphere in the South China Sea.”

“About where and when and how, I think that’s something that needs to be worked out,” he added, of the meeting’s details.

Simmering tensions over competing claims to the sea, which is rich in oil and gas deposits, have reached boiling point in the past two years, with the Philippines and Vietnam accusing China of increasingly aggressive actions.

China claims nearly all of the sea, an important waterway for world trade, while Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims in the area.

Brunei, the tiny, oil-rich sultanate which chairs the 10-nation ASEAN bloc this year, has said it is keen to conclude a code of conduct under its watch.

China and ASEAN signed a broad declaration in 2002 pledging the parties would handle disputes peacefully and not take actions that threaten peace and stability, but efforts toward a legally binding code of conduct have floundered.

At the foreign ministers’ meeting, ASEAN renewed calls for restraint “in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes,” a statement by Brunei’s government said.

But Mr. Natalegawa said ASEAN’s own self-restraint is tested by “unilateral action to try to change [the] situation” in the body of water, referring to China, and adding, “Enough is enough.”

The meeting in Brunei was convened to prepare for an April 24-25 summit of ASEAN countries in which the sea issue is expected to figure prominently.

The sea dispute led to unprecedented infighting at an ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Phnom Penh last July, which ended for the first time in the bloc’s 45-year history without a joint communique.

As chair at the time, Cambodia -- a close China ally -- was accused of resisting efforts by the Philippines and Vietnam to take a more aggressive position against the Chinese.,-China-to-meet-on-code-of-conduct&id=68587

Peace deal deferred anew

From the Business World (Apr 12): Peace deal deferred anew

The government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ended talks yesterday without reaching a deal on key issues, pushing back anew the prospect of signing a final peace agreement after next month’s elections.

In a joint statement, the two sides said negotiations will proceed even beyond the formal talks in Kuala Lumpur.

“The panels continued to find ways to resolve remaining issues on the annexes on wealth sharing, power sharing and normalization, agreeing to exchange notes through the facilitator in the coming days,” read the statement signed by MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, government chief negotiator Miriam Colonel-Ferrer and Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, the Malaysian facilitator.

“The panels agreed to meet again after the 13 May 2013 Philippine elections,” the statement further read.

The 37th round of exploratory talks inked the Sajahatra Bangsamoro, the development program jointly undertaken by the government and the MILF for the delivery of basic services to target communities in Mindanao.

For the annexes on wealth sharing, power sharing and normalization, the statement only noted that “affirmed their commitment to finally settle these issues soon so that all three annexes may be signed without undue delay.”


Of the three concerns, Moro rebels have earlier noted challenges to crafting the annex on normalization or the disarmament of Moro rebels.

“Discussions on the normalization annex by the technical working groups continued, moving the parties towards an agreement on the architecture for the normalization process,” read the statement.

Early this week, the MILF said it wants the negotiations to focus on ensuring the welfare of Moros in running their affairs over ancestral lands in Mindanao.

This is the only way to wipe away insecurities that have haunted Moros that pushed them to fight the government for more than four decades, it added.

Mr. Iqbal said discussions on normalization should go beyond the gradual disarming of Moros. He did not elaborate.

Leftist rebel killed, 3 cops wounded in Bukidnon clash

From Rappler (Apr 11): Leftist rebel killed, 3 cops wounded in Bukidnon clash

A leftist rebel was killed while three policemen were wounded as fighting erupted Thursday, April 11, in Bukidnon.

Troops under 104th Regional Public Safety Battalion and policemen were patrolling in the outskirt of Sagaran village Talakag, Bukidnon when they encountered undetermined number of New People’s Army rebels, said provincial police commander director Senior Superintendent Orlando Binas.

A brief fire-fight ensued, leaving a guerrilla dead and three of his men injured, said Binas.

"There's an on-going pursuit operation. Those wounded cops are now out of danger," he said.

The 4,000-strong NPA, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines is fighting a leftist insurgency that has killed over 40,000 people in 60 Philippine provinces since 1969.

Sabah police: Don't believe claims of more Sulu fighters

From Rappler (Apr 11): Sabah police: Don't believe claims of more Sulu fighters

SECURED. A state security force guards outside Camp Dayang of the Royal Security Force in Tubig-Indangan, Simunul, Tawi-Tawi. File photo by Karlos Manlupig

SECURED. A state security force guards outside Camp Dayang of the Royal Security Force in Tubig-Indangan, Simunul, Tawi-Tawi. File photo by Karlos Manlupig
Here comes another round of contradicting statements over the Sabah situation.
Malaysian police dispelled reports that hundreds of Sulu fighters were preparing to travel to Sabah to serve as reinforcements for the followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, state news agency Bernama reported.
Bernama said Sabah police commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib "reminded" residents not to believe the reports.
The situation in Lahad Datu remained "business as usual," Hamza said, while areas that were previously occupied by the Sabah claimants, such as Kampung Tanjung Batu, Tanjung Labian and Kampung Lok Buani were returning to normal.
On April 9, the spokesperson and a member of the Sultanate of Sulu said at least 400 "volunteers" from Mindanao arrived in Sabah on March 20 and April 5 -- a contingent that is twice larger than the number of Royal Sultanate Force (RSF) members that sailed to Lahad Datu in February.
Two days before the sultanate issued such statements, Malaysian security forces seized a boat carrying 32 armed Filipinos, according to a report by the Agence France-Presse. Malaysian police, however, did not identify the nationalities of the detained individuals.
Malaysian police also held Tuesday at least 32 members of the Liberal Party, whose boat was washed away by strong waves to Sandakan while they were on their way to a campaign sortie in an island in Tawi-Tawi. They were scheduled to be released on Wednesday.
In a separate development, reported that Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Nur Misuari has staked his own claim to Sabah and is preparing to make his own move. MNLF members were among the original batch of Sabah claimants that sailed to Lahad Datu.
Sulu Gov Abdusakur Tan, however, denied reports of any Misuari-led "mission" to Sabah, according to Interaksyon.
Nine more people, including two Malaysians, were arrested in Sandakan on Tuesday, April 9 over possible links to the standoff. As of Thursday, April 11, a total of 181 people have been detained under Malaysia's Security Offences Act of 2012 while at least 70 Filipinos have died.
Over 6,600 Filipinos have fled Sabah as of the first week April.

MILF warns gov't: Clock is ticking

From Rappler (Apr 11): MILF warns gov't: Clock is ticking

REMAINING ISSUES. The government and the MILF hold informal discussions before session started on Thursday, April 11. Photo from the Twitter account of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process

REMAINING ISSUES. The government and the MILF hold informal discussions before session started on Thursday, April 11. Photo from the Twitter account of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process

The clock is ticking on the peace process, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) warned government on Thursday, April 11, as the formal talks in Kuala Lumpur ended without any agreement.

Despite an earlier target to sign a final peace pact by April, both parties failed to complete any annexes in the latest round of talks. The next round of talks will be held after the May 13 elections - a timetable the MILF had dreaded.
MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal earlier said it would be ideal to finish the negotiations before the May elections.
With the delay, Iqbal cautioned the government against prolonging the talks further.
Asked whether he's frustrated, Iqbal told Rappler in a text message Thursday: "A real negotiator will not be frustrated under any situation. But GPH (government) must tighten its belt. Time is ticking away."
The government, for its part, was quick to respond to concerns that the peace talks has turned from upbeat to uncertain.
In an FAQ on the 37th round of talks released by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) a few hours after the talks ended Thursday, the government said:
"The Government panel had a frank and candid discussion with the MILF during the last round of talks. They have reiterated their commitment to the peace process and their trust and confidence on President Aquino and their counterparts. As in the past, all hard feelings were smoothened out, and the next steps were ironed out. There is clarity on how to move forward."
This is not the first time that the MILF -- which has been embroiled in a 40-year struggle for autonomy and self-determination -- has called for "a sense of urgency" in the talks.
In an editorial published in on March 24, the MILF said: "The urgency of concluding the peace talks is in the minds of the MILF leadership. We know that the momentum is there but any dilly-dallying is bringing us closer to the other path. The truth is that if we cannot close this negotiation successfully during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, we do not know what lies ahead in 2016. And more seriously, it can be a menu for more violence and fighting in Mindanao."
Main cause of delay
The main cause of delay is the annex on wealth-sharing, which includes issues on the devolvement of natural resources, as well as taxation.
"The government is not ready to sign [the] wealth-sharing [annex]. They asked for more time," Iqbal told Rappler in a text message. "The MILF is ready."
In an interview with Rappler last week, Iqbal said that as far as the peace panels were concerned, they have "practically sealed the deal" on the wealth-sharing annex.
After the 36th round of peace talks, Former Agriculture Secretary Senen Bacani, one of the members of the government peace panel, expressed the same sentiment, saying that the annex was "almost ironed out" and working solutions have been formulated on the 3 remaining contentious items:
  • how taxes will be devolved
  • mechanism of grant transfers from central government to Bangsamoro
  • shares and revenues from mineral and other natural resources
However, any agreements still have to be approved by President Benigno Aquino III and MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim.
"We already have a formula for that," Iqbal told Rappler in last week's interview. "As far as the two parties are concerned, we have already settled that. But in any peace negotiation, there is that principle of ad referendum. What does that mean? It means that even though the two negotiators agree already on the track, the principals in the MILF, the government, can still review the track because the final say belongs to the principals," Iqbal said.
[Video: Rappler Special: MILF'S Iqbal on peace (part 1) 
For the MILF, a wealth-sharing arrangement has to happen between the Bangsamoro and the national government.
"There has to be wealth-sharing. Because the reality is, in Mindanao, especially with what we call the ancestral domain of our people, everything is being decided by Manila. All the natural resources have been at the sole discretion of Manila. So, we want to have a share on this," he said.
The latest round of talks was supposed to have been held last March 25, but was suspended for two weeks upon the request of President Aquino, who said he wanted to review the content of the annexes first.
In the OPAPP's FAQ, the government said it was "cautiously moving forward" considering that the talks are "at the homestretch of discussing the most difficult issues of the negotiations."
"The Government is diligently studying the totality of the commitments, especially their legal, political and financial implication. The GPH wants a peace agreement that is based on a foundation. As the President has said time and again, deliver what we commit to; commit to what we will be able to deliver," OPAPP said.
Other contentious issues
During the first meeting of the Transition Commission on April 3, OPAPP Secretary Teresita Deles gave her word that the government will stick with their intended timetable of finishing the transition towards the Bangsamoro within the Aquino administration, acknowledging that the peace talks is in "a race against time."
"Without setting rigid deadlines, we have a timetable and we are serious about it,” she said.
Other contentious issues remain unresolved.
Both panels have only signed one out of the 4 annexes needed to complement the Framework Agreement signed in October 2012 -- the Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, which outlines the transition process from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to the new Bangsamoro political identity.
As of the last round of talks, the annex on normalization still remains at the level of the technical working groups. The annex contains the 3 most contentious issues of the peace talks -- decommissioning of firearms, the creation of the Bangsamoro police force, and the deployment of government troops to MILF areas.
Meanwhile, the annex on power-sharing is "almost complete," as of the 36th round of talks.
Although the The Transition Commission has started working on its internal rules and regulations, as well as logistical requirements needed for its operation, it needs a comprehensive peace agreement before it can proceed with the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
In their joint statement for the 37th round of negotiations, both sides "agreed to exchange notes through the Facilitator in the coming days" and affirmed their commitment to settle the issues "so that all three Annexes may be signed without due delay."
Although the annexes on power-sharing, wealth-sharing and normalization have yet to be completed, both parties were able to sign the Terms of Reference of the Sajahatra Bangsamoro, a basic services program for MILF communities that President Aquino launched in February in a historic visit to the MILF stronghold.

Army airs concern over safety of civilians with landmine use

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 10): Army airs concern over safety of civilians with landmine use

The military expressed concern over the continued use of landmines by the communist rebels in Compostela Valley on the safety of residents.

Colonel Angelito de Leon, commanding officer of the 1001st Infantry Brigade based in Maco, Compostela Valley said that on the first week of April, 2013 alone, nine improvised landmines had been recovered by the soldiers in various clearing operations, four of which in Barangay Libudon, Mabini, Compostela Valley and five others from various areas of operation in the province.

He said the recovery of four improvised landmines on April 5 was preceded by the explosions of three improvised explosive devices that left two soldiers killed and two others wounded.

De Leon said the explosion preceded an encounter between the soldiers and the rebels.

He said several IEDS and assorted ammunitions were also recovered in a rebel encampment in Sitio Darot, Barangay Libudon in Mabini.

 “As of this report, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams we deployed in the area have already cleared the barangay road where the rebels concealed the landmines. Civilians in the area are now safe to pass the road,” De Leon said.

He said the use of landmines by the rebels shows that they are unmindful of the safety of civilians, a deliberate disregard for human rights and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) agreed by the National Democratic Front and the government.

Captain Jeffrey Balingao, civil-military operations officer of the 100st IB disclosed other activities against the rebels from April 5 to April 7 in the province.

Last April 5 at 6 a.m., members of the 25 Infantry Battalion discovered an abandoned camp at Sitio Puting Bato, Barangay Panansalan, Compostela town while conducting peace and security operations.

Balingao said the rebels scampered away leaving behind batteries, tents, ammo pouches, cooking wares, personal belongings and documents.

He also said that at 7:30 a.m., April 5, the soldiers under the 71st IB recovered about a hundred-meter-detonating cord with complete detonating assembly in Barangay Panibasan, Maco.

Balingao said that another abandoned camp was discovered by the members of the 25th IB in Sitio Maroot, Barangay Banglasan, Montevista where assorted medical items, documents and electrical wire were recovered.

Records from the 10th Civil-Military Operations Battalion showed that this year alone, the improvised landmine explosions claimed four lives and wounded 34 others in the region, including the incident which resulted to the killing of one soldier and wounding ten others while conducting relief and rehabilitation activities for the victims of Typhoon Pablo in Davao Oriental.