Wednesday, April 17, 2013

“Heartbreak Hill” and the road to Bangsamoro: 38.5 months to 30 June 2016

From MindaNews (Apr 17): “Heartbreak Hill” and the road to Bangsamoro: 38.5 months to 30 June 2016

April 15, 2013 marked exactly six months to the day the Philippine government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), leaving only 38.5 months more to June 30, 2016 when the Aquino administration bows out of office and its “legacy” — the “Bangsamoro” — is expected to be inaugurated.

The “Bangsamoro” is the new autonomous political entity that would replace the 23-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The “Roadmap to the Creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Political Entity” prepared by the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office in time for the signing of the FAB on October 15, 2012, listed 15 steps to 2016.

These are: 1. Signing of the FAB by both parties; 2. Parties adopt Annex on the Transitional Arrangements and Modalities (the illustrated roadmap does not mention the annexes on power-sharing, wealth-sharing and normalization but they should be on this Step); 3. Transition Commission (TransCom) is formed via Executive Order (EO); 4. Congress passes resolutions supporting the EO; 5. TransCom drafts Bangsamoro Basic Law bill; 6. Bill is submitted to Congress; 7. Bill is certified urgent by the President; 8. Congressional action on the bill; 9. Bill submitted to the President for approval; 10. President signs the bill into law; 11. Plebiscite is held for the ratification of the law; 12. Promulgation and ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law; 13. Bangsamoro Transition Authority is created. ARMM is deemed abolished; all devolved authorities are vested in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority; 14. Ministerial form and Cabinet system of government will commence once the Bangsamoro Transition Authority is in place; and 15. Bangsamoro Transition Authority is replaced upon the election and assumption of the members of the Bangsamoro legislative assembly and the formation of the Bangsamoro government.

Under the FAB, the parties were supposed to have signed the four Annexes –Wealth-Sharing, Power-Sharing, Normalization and Transitional Arrangements and Modalities – by yearend 2012.
Steps 1, 3 4

Six months after the FAB signing and four months past their deadline to finish the annexes, the GPH and MILF peace panels have signed only one annex — Transitional Arrangements and Modalities; three Terms of Reference — for the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT), the Independent Commission on Policing (ICP), and the Sajahatra Bangsamoro; and a certificate extending the tours of duty of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team up to March 2014 and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group until February 14, 2014.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews at the end of the talks in Kuala Lumpur on April 11 that they were ready to sign the Annex on Wealth-Sharing, which had been initialled by the GPH-MILF Technical Working Group during the February talks but government, he said, wasn’t ready.

GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer acknowledged to MindaNews 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.”

Why the review has taken so long, Ferrer told MindaNews: “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.”

Quarter step

The panels have gone through Steps One, Three and Four of the roadmap but only a fourth of Step Two.

Under Step Two, the three Annexes have yet to be finished. The panels agreed last week to meet again after the May 13 elections but “exchange notes” between.

The panels have 11.3 steps more to go: the remaining ¾ of Step Two, before it could move to Step Five where the TransCom begins drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Without the Annexes, the TransCom, created under Executive Order 120, cannot proceed to the substantive issues. At best it can only set up office, come up with internal rules and create committees, said Iqbal, concurrent TransCom chair.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) says otherwise. In its “Frequently Asked Questions” on last week’s talks, it said that while awaiting the finalization of all the annexes, “we believe that the (FAB) can serve as a lift-off point that will allow the (TransCom) its substantive work.”

But Iqbal, who is TransCom chair, told a press conference during the body’s first meeting in Pasig City on April 3 that “we cannot proceed to discuss the substantive issues unless the three remaining annexes will be discussed and signed by the parties.”

A month’s delay is a month taken away

The panels hope to finish the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law by 2014 so that the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) can take over from the ARMM hopefully by late 2014 until the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro in May 2016 and their assumption to office by noon of June 30, 2016.

Peace panel members from both sides acknowledge that every month’s delay in the completion of the three Annexes is a month taken away from the Basic Law drafting or viewed from another angle, a month taken away from the BTA.

The TransCom’s work is the backbone of the future Bangsamoro. It is tasked to “draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law;” and whenever necessary, may “recommend to Congress or the people, proposed amendments to the 1987 Philippine Constitution” and “assist in identifying and coordinating development programs in the proposed Bangsamoro” in conjunction with the MILFs Bangsamoro Development Agency and the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute and “may likewise coordinate with such other relevant government agencies and/or non-government organizations.”

EO 120 added these tasks to the TransCom: “coordinate and conduct dialogues and consultations with the National Government and various stakeholders in furtherance of its functions; and perform such other relevant functions as the President may hereinafter direct.”

The TransCom has yet to decide on a time frame for drafting the law although the panels had earlier targeted 2014 as the completion of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The TransCom, which will hold office in Cotabato City, has not been able to convene again after April 3 as the budget for the office has not been released.

Best-case scenarios

There are only 38.5 months left between April 15, 2013 and June 30, 2016.

In the best case scenario that the Annexes are completed by June 30, 2013, the panels will be left with only 36 months to June 30, 2016.

Granting the TransCom sets and sticks to a timeframe of one year to draft the Basic Law, inclusive of consultations and possible proposed amendments to the Constitution, 36 months less 12 will leave only 24 months.

Once the bill is submitted to Congress (Step 6), the President will then certify the bill as urgent.
MindaNews asked Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez how long it will take for the Comelec to prepare for a plebiscite that would ratify the Bangsamoro Basic Law in the proposed areas of the future Bangsamoro which includes the present five-province, two-city Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and he said “best preparatory time would be six months” inclusive of the information campaign.

Take away six months from the remaining 24 months for the plebiscite preparation, and that leaves the two panels only 18 months for congressional action on the draft Basic Law and the transition governance itself.

While the administration party appears confident it will have the numbers in the Senate and the House, the final count will be determined only after the May 13 elections.

But granting it will still have the numbers and the bill on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law is certified as urgent, how soon can it pass?

President Aquino certified as urgent last year House Bill 4146 to synchronize the ARMM elections with the national mid-term polls. The bill was filed on March 23, 2001 and passed on June 6 and 7 that same year in the House of Representatives and Senate. The bill was signed into law on June 30, 2011.

In the best case scenario that the bill on the Bangsamoro Basic Law is acted upon similarly as the synchronization law — three months – then 18 months less three leaves only 15 months for the BTA to install its ministerial form and Cabinet system of government, reorganize the bureaucracy and “ensure the continued functioning of government in the area of autonomy.”

But given that the bill that will be certified as urgent is not as simple as synchronizing an election but a Basic Law of the new autonomous political entity, deliberations in the committee and plenary level may take, again in a best-case scenario, six months. Hence, 18 months less six months would leave only 12 months for the BTA.

More delays

Given that the estimates are based on best-case scenarios, more delays between Steps 5 and 13 mean a transition governance of less than a year, if at all it reaches Step 13.

The MILF had earlier proposed a seven-year transition governance – a year-long pre-interim period and a six-year interim period.

An MILF panel member noted that steps taken by GPH have not been sequential contrary to the roadmap.

The source told MindaNews that it could be government’s strategy to “force the MILF into a trap to further force them into making further concessions.” The source added that “the deliberate delay from GPH is obvious. You can just count the instances that they have caused the delay. This is to force MILF to make further concessions by dangling period or time for BTA. Of course if we hate the MILF, the surest way to kill it is by giving them very limited time to govern and deliver and constraining them with lesser powers and subject them immediately to an election. Definitely, if they cannot deliver, they will be routed in the elections in 2016.”

In her opening statement on April 9 at the KL talks, GPH peace panel chair Ferrer said, “If it would seem that the process is taking more time than what our counterparts might expect, this is because, our President, this government panel, are not the type who will promise the moon, the sun and the stars, only to leave you later in the dark, or to your own resources, when the going gets even tougher.”

Ferrer said their mandate is “to negotiate with you, not on the basis of false promises, rather, to negotiate with you on a solid foundation that would withstand the scrutiny of the skeptics, the misgivings of the unconvinced, the cynicism of the critical, especially among those whose view of past peace negotiations and autonomous regions is less than pleasant.”

But time is fast running out on the peace President Aquino described two months ago as “abot-kamay” (within reach).

On February 11, at the launching of the socio-economic development project, Sajahatra Bangsamoro, at the MILF turf in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, President Aquino said “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).”

“Heartbreak Hill”

The President likened the stage of the peace process then to the “Heartbreak Hill” of the Boston Marathon.

The President’s family lived in exile in Boston for a couple of years during the Marcos dictatorship.
He said that 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.

Ferrer, who quoted what the President said about “Heartbreak Hill” in her closing statement in the KL talks on February 27, said the President repeated “Heartbreak Hill” to them during a “small meeting” after the formal launching” and the President said “that’s where you are now. That’s why it’s so difficult because you have to go through this hill in order to actually complete the marathon.”

Ferrer said she recalls having told Iqbal then that “siguro naman hindi tayo bibigay hangga’t andito tayo, nandito sa Heartbreak Hill. And I remember distinctly his response which was magbibigayan tayo. And I think that’s how we got this far. Hindi tayo bumigay at nagbigayan tayo. In English? We did not give up, but we gave, and that’s how we got this far.”

“So we’re halfway through that heartbreak hill and soon we will finish the marathon. And after the marathon, of course, there will be another marathon. So it’s not goodbye, it’s still hello to everyone,” she said.

Two months later, the panels are still stuck at “Heartbreak Hill.”

It used to be that those who get past “Heartbreak Hill” are certain to reach the finish line.

But last Monday, thousands of runners who survived “Heartbreak Hill” didn’t reach the finish line. Two bombs exploded just as it was “abot-kamay.”

IN CANLAON: 2 brgys now ‘insurgent-free'

From the Visayan Daily Star (Apr 17): IN CANLAON: 2 brgys now ‘insurgent-free'

Barangays Bayog and Lumapao of Canlaon City, Negros Oriental were declared “ insurgent-free and development-ready” yesterday, with the signing of the area clearing evaluation report by the military, police and barangay officials at the Panubigan, Canlaon, a military press release said.

Col. Christopher Estella, deputy Brigade commander of 302 nd Brigade, and chairman of the Area Clearing Evaluation Board, said the two barangays have been cleared from the influences of the New People's Army, “And we expect that development will flow on those areas”.

Bayog and Lumapao used to be frequented by the NPAs, and this affected the development efforts of the government. But the active support of the local government units of special operations teams deployed in these barangays brought a positive impact on the community. Residents are now receptive and cooperative in the programs of the government, the press release also said.

Barangays Mayabon and Calango of Zamboanguita, and Brgy. Tayak in Siaton were declared “insurgent-free and development ready” early this month under a joint declaration signed by the LGUs, the PNP and 302 nd Brigade, the press release also said.

More barangays in Negros Oriental will be declared NPA-free as the military continues its operations in the hinterlands of the province where a minimal number of rebels are operating, Estella added.

He said the ACEB is optimistic that the province will be free of insurgency this year and will attract more investors and ensure its progress, the press release said.

Present at the signing of the report were Estella, Canlaon Mayor Jimmy Clerigo, Bayog Brgy. Captain Neneth Galang, Lumapao Brgy. Captain Gaudioso Olvido, Senior Police Officer 4 Carol Garcia of Canlaon City PNP, Canlaon ABC president Mamerto Bermil, kagawad Lito Ocag, and Ltc. Wilfredo Isaac and 1Lt. Danilo Mutoc of the 11 th Infantry Battalion, the press release added.

PH to push for Code of Conduct at ASEAN Summit

From Rappler (Apr 17): PH to push for Code of Conduct at ASEAN Summit

Will the time be ripe for the creation of a Code of Conduct (COC) for the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) at the 22nd ASEAN Summit?

President Benigno Aquino III will once again urge ASEAN countries to draft a COC that will be used to implement the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea when he attends the 22nd ASEAN Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei on April 24 to April 25, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said.
The ball will be in China's court. Hernandez said the ASEAN has already agreed on elements to be included in the COC, details of which will be presented to China in the upcoming Summit.
"What we have at present is that the ASEAN, from the SOM (Senior Officials Meeting) side up to the Ministers’ side, were able to come up with and agreed upon the elements of the Code of Conduct that would be shown and discussed with the Chinese," he said.
"But, as you all know, the Chinese side has said that they will only discuss this with ASEAN when the time is ripe. And we are hoping that the time is ripe is now for such discussion because this actually would be very good and this would be good for the region, and this will put peace and stability and freedom of navigation in the area that we are talking about," he added.
China has been hesitant to adopt a Code of Conduct, insisting that the South China Sea row is a bilateral issue.
Supportive leadership
During the recent state visit of the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, to the Philippines, the South China Sea dispute also figured in the discussions during his meeting with Aquino. Brunei is the current chairman of the ASEAN.
"This is one of the priorities also of the chairmanship of Brunei, as far as the ASEAN is concerned, and we are happy that the chairman is very supportive in discussing maritime security and cooperation in the South China Sea," Hernandez said.
"And, hopefully, with the leadership of Brunei, we will be able to push this and come up with a crafted formulation of the COC which would be agreed by China. But it looks like that ASEAN is very, very gung-ho and also is pushing for the crafting of the legally binding Code of Conduct as soon as possible," he added.
Asked on the possibility that China might use the creation of the COC as a leverage against the case, Hernandez said that the Philippines maintains that both mechanisms to resolve the dispute should be pursued.
"We will go on with the arbitral proceedings and we hope that this will proceed as expected. But, at the same time, we will continue on pushing for a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea," he said.
Since April 2012, the Philippines has been locked in a standoff with China over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Out of the 10 member countries of the ASEAN, 4 countries are fighting for overlapping claims on the territory - Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Meanwhile, another issue involving territorial claims and the Philippines will not be part of the agenda. Hernandez said Sabah is not expected to be part of the discussions because it is a "bilateral issue."
Aquino also has no scheduled bilateral meetings with other countries during the two-day summit.
“I think it’s more because of the short period of this summit. People are busy and this is actually a very short summit and not like the one that we had last November,’’ Hernandez said.

Future Balikatan drills to focus on territorial defense

From InterAksyon (Apr 17): Future Balikatan drills to focus on territorial defense

Future bilateral military exercises between the Philippines and the United States will soon shift to territorial defense to better equip the Armed Forces to respond to the dispute over territory in the West Philippine Sea.

Lieutenant General Terry Robling, US exercise director of Balikatan 2013, said they are preparing a "road map" for the drills that will help the Philippine military become a "national maneuver force that is designed for territorial defense."

Robling said this "will happen at some point" but not at next year's Balikatan.

He said equipping the Philippines with knowledge and skills in territorial defense will be a "strong defense tool."

"I think you have a sovereign government that has to deal with the issues in the region and of course there are many countries that have historical claims on different parts of the Asia Pacific region so those are always issues that will come up," Robling told reporters.

The 29th Balikatan exercises concluded Wednesday with countries reaffirming their alliance.

This year's exercises began April 5 with 8,000 American and Filipino soldiers participating in various activities including community health engagements, humanitarian civic assistance and combined staff exercises in Crow Valley, Subic Bay and Fort Magsaysay.

This year's bilateral exercises focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, including the first multilateral tabletop discussion on disaster preparedness that was attended by China.

The 2013 Balikatan also made history as the exercises were opened for the first time to cadets of the Reserve Officers Training Corps.

A squadron of F/A-18 Hornets also participated in this year's exercises as part of the 33 air and naval assets deployed by the US for the exercise. For the AFP, nine air assets participated in the exercise.

Aside from combat training and humanitarian assistance discussions, American and Filipino soldiers also engaged in community assistance projects, including the construction of roads and schools.

A total of 2,700 Filipinos received free medical services and 650 Filipinos received dental services.

Brian Goldbeck, charge d'affaires of the US Embassy in Manila, said the annual exercises represent the continuing alliance of the US and the Philippines.

"We will stand by you," he said during the closing ceremonies. "We have not left you and we will not leave you."

Planning for next year's Balikatan exercises is expected to start next week. Major General Virgilio Domingo, Philippines exercise director of Balikatan 2013, said next year's exercise will again focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Military accuses NPA of harassing Compostela Valley small miners

From InterAksyon (Apr 17): Military accuses NPA of harassing Compostela Valley small miners

The military on Wednesday accused communist rebels of firing on small-scale miners in Montevista town, Compostela Valley province.

No one was hurt in the incident, which happened on Monday.

Colonel Buenaventura Pascual, 1003rd Brigade commander, said about 10 rebels fired at 40 workers of a small-scale mining firm in Sitio Bagtok, Barangay San Vicente.

Pascual condemned the incident and accused the NPA of violating the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law by attacking civilians.

Writ of kalikasan sought vs US, PH officials over Guardian grounding

From InterAksyon (Apr 17): Writ of kalikasan sought vs US, PH officials over Guardian grounding

Environmentalist groups on Wednesday filed a petition for a writ of kalikasan against American and Philippine officials led by President Benigno Aquino III to lay accountability for the damage caused by the grounding of a US Navy minesweeper on Tubbataha Reef.

The petition also named US 7th Fleet commander Scott Swift and USS Guardian commander Mark Rice.

The suit seeks to make the US “legally accountable” for the grounding of the Guardian on the UNESCO World Heritage Site on January 17, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said in a statement.

The minesweeper was dismantled and finally removed from the reef on March 30. The grounding damaged more than 2,345 square meters of corals.

“The suit was filed on behalf of the Filipinos living in the provinces surrounding Tubbataha Reef on the Sulu Sea -- namely, Palawan, Antique, Aklan, Guimaras, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Zamboanga del Norte, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi,” the NUPL said.

The writ of kalikasan is an extraordinary legal remedy in cases involving environmental damage that could pose a risk to life, health and property of residents in two or more cities or provinces.

“This petition for the issuance of the writ of kalikasan raises novel questions because it presents a nexus between the environment and foreign military troops,” the NUPL’s Edsel Tupaz, main counsel in the suit, said in the statement.

The NUPL is co-counsel in the citizen’s suit.

In the same statement, NUPL secretary general Edre Olalia said that, aside from the environmental and ecological impacts, the Guardian grounding also “puts (tp the) fore the continuing disrespect and insolence on our territorial integrity and national sovereignty.”

The lawyers’ group slammed the Aquino government for its “double standard” in not acting on the grounding of the Guardian in contrast to its prosecution of 12 Chinese fishermen whose vessel sailed onto Tubbataha just days after the minesweeper was removed.

“Instead, the Aquino administration has focused on recovering nominal, even trifling damages, not enough to finance rehabilitation of the reef, and petty compensation for what was lost to the Philippine ecology when the USS Guardian so severely damaged the incomparably rich Tubbataha reef,” Olalia said. “The defense of US officials to escape liability does not hold water under national and international laws and jurisprudence.”

He added that the incident bolsters calls for the abrogating of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which he called “outdated and reflects US arrogance and interventionism.”

Suspected NPA dies in clash with Army in N Cotabato town

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 17): Suspected NPA dies in clash with Army in N Cotabato town

A suspected member of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) operating in Davao province was killed in a two-hour running gun battle with government forces in a remote village in Magpet town in North Cotabato, Monday.

Sources said the slain rebel was identified only in his alias as "Ka Joker."

Lt. Nasrullah Sema of the 57th Infantry Battalion said "Ka Joker" was taken by members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), through the help from the Cotabato Provincial Government, and later brought to the village center on Tuesday.

“The man died while on the way to the hospital due to severe loss of blood,” said Sema.

Reports said a group sought the help of the Davao City-based ICRC to retrieve "Joker" from the encounter site.

This was allegedly after the military conducted road check from the boundary up to the highway in Magpet town.

Sema admitted having set up choke points in the area.

This, however, was done to know if there were other people who got hurt during the encounter so they could send them to the nearest hospital for treatment, he said.

The fighting between the NPAs and elements of the 84th IB of the 10th Infantry Division took place along the boundary of Magpet, North Cotabato and Davao City and lasted two hours.

None from the 84th IB was wounded during the armed fighting, according to Sema.

NPAs abduct 4 militiamen in Agusan del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 17): NPAs abduct 4 militiamen in Agusan del Sur

Thirty armed men believed to be members of the CPP-NPAs abducted four members of the Civilian Armed Forces of the Geographical Unit (CAFGU) Active Auxiliary (CAA) on Monday morning at Km.9, Brgy. Don Don Alejandro, San Luis, Agusan del Sur.

Reports from Agusan del Sur Police Provincial Office reaching the regional police headquarters said the suspected CPP-NPA guerrillas abducted the militiamen at around 11:00 Monday morning at the said place while passing a checkpoint established by the NPAs at Brgy. Binicalan of the said municipality.

The same police report also identified the victims as Mario C. Libanda, 39 and Tuloy C. Libando, 36, both residents of the said barangay and were assigned at San Pedro Patrol Base; Rubio M. Asalan, 23 of Brgy. Binicalan and Rejoy P. Francisco, 25; a resident of Brgy. Mahayahay, San Luis town and both were assigned at the CAA Patrol Base of the said barangay.

The rebels accordingly established a checkpoint at Brgy. Binicalan and flagged down all passing motorists. They hold most of the motorists but released all the others after some time except for the four victims.

The same police report mentioned the abductors withdrew towards the southwest direction of the said place bringing along with them the victims. Police and military authorities assigned in the area conducted joint operations in order to rescue the abducted CAA members.

A municipal crisis management committee was created headed by San Luis Mayor Hon. Ronald Corvera, to deal with the situation.

Meanwhile, rescue operations is still being conducted to rescue the two policemen who were abducted by six armed group, 11:15 p.m. Sunday. The authorities are still searching for the whereabouts of the abductors who brought the two policemen with them to a still unknown place at the hinterlands of Agusan del Sur, upon their escape.

Police Officer 2 Ronald Alan M. Munez and Police Officer 1 Nemuel D. Espana, members of the Loreto Municipal Police Station, responded to an alarm about the presence of a hacking suspect at Sitio Molo, Brgy. Poblacion of the said place when they were waylaid and abducted by at least six heavily armed person believed to be NPAs. A municipal crisis management committee is now activated to handle the situation and to negotiate for the safe release of the victims.

PSSupt. Alexander J. Sampaga, Acting Provincial Director of the Agusan del Sur Police Provincial Office is still at the area along with the elements of the Provincial Public Safety Company in order to monitor the situation.

Phil. Army’s 7ID get new motorcycles

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 17): Phil. Army’s 7ID get new motorcycles

The Philippine Army's 7th Infantry Division's peace and order campaign received a big boost after the higher headquarters sent 10 new motorcycles for its operations, a ranking military officer said on Wednesday.

Major Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., 7ID commander, said the new Honda TMX155 motorcycles, which cost P76,300 each, will be issued to the line units in the field for administrative purposes.

The new motorcycles were blessed recently at the (Kaugnay) Division (7ID) headquarters here.

Last April 8, the Department of Agriculture (DA) Region 3 donated a brand new Holland modern tractor with complete accessories to 7th ID to sustain its agricultural projects.

Recently, three wheelchairs were also donated at Fort Magsaysay Army Station Hospital (FMASH) by Col. Rogelio V Ballesteros, retired military officer of the Philippine Army.

The donations are of big help to the military and its dependents who are confined at the Army hospital.

Catapang thanked for the donations that they received as he expressed hope that more stakeholders will pledge to support the development plans and livelihood projects within the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservations (FMMR).

Task Force Zamboanga, police receive motorboats

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 17): Task Force Zamboanga, police receive motorboats

The city government has turned over seven units of motorboats boosting the seaborne capability of the police and military forces in this southern port city.

The motorboats, costing a P127,500 each, were turned over Tuesday afternoon by Mayor Celso Lobregat to Zamboanga City police officer-in-charge Senior Supt. Edwin de Ocampo and Task Force Zamboanga (TFZ) commander Col. Glenn Macasero.

Six of the seven units of motorized bancas are replacements for the watercrafts assigned at the Police Stations 1, 2, 3, 4, 9 and 10 while the remaining one will be for the TFZ troops based in the island barangay of Pangapuyan.

Lobregat said the old and dilapidated ones are being retrieved for rehabilitation and will be returned to the police units they were earlier assigned to augment the conduct of seaborne patrols.

De Ocampo said the motorboats are of big help to his command in the conduct of seaborne patrols covering the 36 kilometers coastline of this southern port city.

Lobregat said the new motorboats form part of the city government’s unyielding support and assistance to the police and military in this city.

He said the city government has also allocated funds for fuel and maintenance to the motorboats.

Ex-rebel group in Negros Occidental turns NGO

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 17): Ex-rebel group in Negros Occidental turns NGO

The Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB) under Tabara-Paduano Group is now a non-government organization in Negros Occidental.

The rebel group that has an impending peace agreement with the national government is now known as the “Kapatiran para sa Progresong Panlipunan” or Brotherhood for Social Progress.

Gilbert Arsenal, its newly elected president, said the conversion of the group into a socio-economic organization is one of the conditions under the government’s proposed peace pact.

Arsenal said their group hoped that their transformation can encourage other members of New People’s Army to return to the mainstream society.

The RPA-ABB has 716 members nationwide wherein 607 are in Negros Occidental and 58 are in Negros Oriental.

Reports from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process said the RPA-ABB possesses more than 400 firearms and 300 explosives.

These firearms and explosives, however, are yet to be surrendered pending the signing of the peace agreement.

PCG team to fly to Japan for USS Guardian probe

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 17): PCG team to fly to Japan for USS Guardian probe

A team of five ranking Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) will fly to Japan on Wednesday to participate in the next stage of an investigation into the grounding of the minesweeper USS Guardian at Tubbataha Reef last January 17.

The Coast Guard Marine Casualty team will go to the United States' naval base in Sasebo, Japan to meet with their counterparts.

Leading the team are Coast Guard deputy commandant and marine casualty team chairman Rear Admiral Luis Tuason Jr. and Palawan commander and team vice chairman Commodore Enrico Evangelista.

PCG commandant Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena said the five-member team is to exchange information with the US Navy and may return as early as Friday.

He added that the team will have 10 days to prepare and submit a report to Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC)Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, who in turn will submit it to President Benigno Aquino III.

An investigation showed the USS Guardian damaged 2,345.67 square meters of the reef.

Salvage teams managed to cut and remove the ship from the reef only last March 30.

But mere days after the USS Guardian was removed from the area, a Chinese fishing vessel with 12 Chinese aboard ran aground at the reef on April 8.

Ferrer says GPH, MILF peace process gaining momentum

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 17): Ferrer says GPH, MILF peace process gaining momentum

The peace process to end the decades-old armed conflict in Mindanao has “gained much more momentum” as negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels are now focused in resolving the last three remaining annexes – wealth-sharing, power-sharing and normalization..

This was stressed by Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the government peace panel, during a press briefing at Café 1771 in Ortigas Center, Pasig City Tuesday night.

She briefed reporters on the outcome of the just-concluded 37th formal exploratory talks held in Kuala Lumpur.

“Considering that we are at the homestretch of discussing the most difficult issues of the negotiations, both parties are cautiously moving forward on surmounting these hard issues,” Ferrer said.

“The government is diligently studying the totality of the commitments, especially their legal, political and financial implication,” Ferrer added.

Ferrer said that “the GPH (Government of the Philippines) wants a peace agreement that is based on a foundation,” saying that President Benigno S. Aquino III “has said time and again (to) deliver what we commit to; commit to what we will be able to deliver.”

During the 37th exploratory talks, Ferrer said that the GPH-MILF technical working group on normalization continued their discussions, and moved towards an agreement on the architecture for the normalization process.

Normalization includes the inventory of weapons and ammunition of the MILF.

Ferrer said that also discussed was the Terms of Reference for Sajahatra Bangsamoro, the development program jointly undertaken by the government and MILF for the delivery of basic socio-economic services to target communities in Mindanao was signed by the two panels.

“The parties agreed on a modality to settle outstanding the issues on the annexes of power-sharing and wealth-sharing, mainly through an exchange of notes in the next weeks with the assistance of the Malaysian facilitator,” Ferrer pointed out.

With regards to the newly-formed Transition Commission (TC), Ferrer said the “commission immediately began the process of organizing itself and is currently focused on setting the administrative arrangements that will facilitate the performance of its tasks.”

Ferrer said that “while awaiting the finalization of all the annexes, we believe that the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro can serve as a lift-off point that will allow the Transitional Commission its substantive work.”

Asked whether the upcoming midyear elections would affect the momentum and pace of the on-going negotiations, specifically on the completion of the annexes, Ferrer said it “has no effect.”

“The GPH wants to complete the annexes and sign the comprehensive agreement at the soonest possible time,” she said.

Ferrer said the two panels have agreed to meet again after the May 13 elections.

She said that during the last round of talks, “the government panel had a frank and candid discussion with the MILF.

Ferrer said that the peace process has gained momentum since formal exploratory talks resumed even as she stressed the need for a give and take by both sides during the course of the negotiations.

She also said there is also a need of fine tuning to resolve any problem that may arise.

Ferrer vowed that the government will go through all these crucial issues to find their solutions.

Rabusa dismayed by junking of plunder raps vs. ex-AFP generals

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 17): Rabusa dismayed by junking of plunder raps vs. ex-AFP generals

Retired Armed Forces budget officer Col. George Rabusa Wednesday expressed his dismay over the dismissal by the Office of the Ombudsman of the plunder complaint he filed against former generals of the AFP.

Rabusa personally went to the DOJ Wednesday and met up with Justice Secretary Leila M. De Lima.

According to Rabusa, he cannot understand why the Ombudsman said he had no sufficient evidence, when in fact, he has in his possession a truck-load of documents to substantiate his case.

Among those documents, Rabusa said, is the "allotment advice" stating the money was released to the generals.

Rabusa even wondered why he was not even summoned by the Ombudsman before deciding on the complaint.

Although he was summoned by the Ombudsman on March 14, 2013, Rabusa said, a decision has been rendered on the complaint since July last year.

Likewise, Rabusa also understood the dismay of the DOJ because of the reversal by the Ombudsman of its recommendation to file the plunder case in court against retired AFP chiefs of staff Gens. Diomedio Villanueva, Roy Cimatu and Efren Abu, as well as retired Maj. Gen. Carlos F. Garcia and Lt. Gen. Jacinto Ligot.

There was no immediately available reaction or comment from the Ombudsman.

On the other hand, Atty. Noel Malaya, legal counsel of Rabusa, said they are contemplating on either filing a motion for reconsideration before the Ombudsman or filing a petition for review before the Supreme Court.