Friday, June 14, 2013

Army Brigade strengthens initiatives in keeping the ‘Bayanihan’ spirit alive

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jun 14): Army Brigade strengthens initiatives in keeping the ‘Bayanihan’ spirit alive

The 1002nd Brigade of the Philippine Army remains steadfast on its vow to keep the ‘bayanihan’ spirit alive to further promote peace and development in its areas of responsibility.

Capt. William Rodriguez, civil military officer of the 1002nd Brigade, based in Malandag, Malungon, Sarangani, emphasized that their troops intensify implementation of Peace and Development Outreach Program (PDOP) especially in remote villages.

Under this program, Rodriguez said that they conduct peace and capacity building through immersion and dialogues with communities as well as conduct skills trainings, that would could boost the livelihood capacity of the residents, especially the underprivileged. 

Army troops are in full force in coordinating to local government units and government agencies helping them in the construction of school buildings, rehabilitation of roads and other developmental efforts, he said.

“As part of our ‘bayanihan’ , we also conduct ‘winning the peace’ activities including youth leadership summit, youth for peace planning workshop and other school activities because we believe that the youth is one of the vulnerable sectors that can be easily influenced (by the New People's Army),” Rodriguez noted.

Another initiative which the brigade strengthens to boost ‘bayanihan’ is the conduct of dialogues with indigenous people (IP) communities and the delivery of livelihood and developmental projects.

Meanwhile, the military official said that they also take part in implementing the government’s national greening program.

Rodriguez explained that aside from these initiatives, still, the 1002nd Brigade mainly focuses on the security of the people. Deployment of units and personnel to places with high risk of tensions and conflicts is their primary action to combat different forms of criminality.

He is hopeful that these initiatives would not only empower the ‘bayanihan’ spirit but would also enlighten the public that the military is dedicated in working for durable peace and sustainable development in its areas of responsibility.

'Bayanihan' is a strategy that includes nation building efforts in implementing development projects through the coordination of the people and different stakeholders to ensure peaceful and developed communities.

The 1002nd Brigade covers six municipalities and one city of North Cotabato, 13 municipalities and 1 city of Davao del Sur and seven municipalities of Sarangani province.

Also included in its area of operations are the 10 municipalities and 1 city of South Cotabato and one municipality of Sultan Kudarat.

Commentary: Annex on Wealth-Sharing snagged

Commentary posted to MindaNews: MIND DA NEWS: Annex on Wealth-Sharing snagged by Patricio P. Diaz

Initialed last February 27, the Annex on Wealth-Sharing has remained snagged and, together with the other annexes, can delay longer – if not much longer – the signing of the Government – Moro Islamic Liberation Front Comprehensive Agreement and the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law by the Transition Commission.

Two media reports reveal the snag to be a source of concern. The MILF opposes the attempts of Government to have changes in the initialed document. Government says MILF “should give up” some of its demands in wealth-sharing, as well as in power-sharing, that cannot be devolved to Bangsamoro; these are hampering the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement.

Reported, the MILF Central Committee on Information website (June 12, 2013: MILF to hold on to initialed annex on wealth-sharing ):

“The government had their first change of position vis-à-vis the initialed document especially on natural resources and block grant to Bangsamoro government during the 38th GPH-MILF Exploratory Talks last April 9-11.  The MILF negotiating team vehemently objected to the changes.”

Luwaran quoted Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel “Except for those that are in harmony with the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), we don’t accept the changes introduced by government on wealth-sharing,” who said that “the MILF is sticking to the initialed document”.

“The second backtracking is contained in the so-called ‘notes’ recently sent to the MILF through the Malaysian facilitator, Dato Tengku Ab’ Ghafar Bin Tengku Mohamed, who visited the MILF leadership at Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindano last June 7.” Iqbal refused to divulge the content of the “notes”.
Luwaran further revealed:

(1) MILF has no plan to abandon the initialed document. Backtracking by any of the two parties is a serious drawback to the peace process.

(2) From a peace panel member: “The peace negotiation is an exercise in futility if there is no stop to this changing of positions by the government negotiating team. We are not renegotiating the initialed document,”

(3) The “notes” sent by the government to the MILF peace panel is an attempt to throw the blame on the MILF for making it appear that the ball is in our court.

(4) From Khaled Musa, deputy chair of the MILF Committee on Information: “Two changes of positions in a row within the span of two months is alarming.”

(5) Frustration on the ground is gaining momentum, as a consequence of too much unnecessary delay from government. Radical elements within the MILF are beginning to be restive and hitting the MILF and its peace panel.

(6) Three months have elapsed since the annex on wealth-sharing was initialed without clear direction for the talks. Government is sitting on it unnecessarily in the guise of due diligent study.

Luwaran did not indicate what in the “notes” from the government has made it appear “the ball is in the MILF court”. This, however, may be inferred from the press statement of Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the Government peace panel.

Her statement appended to The Philippine Star report (June 13, 2013: Gov’t, MNLF resume talks) is revealing. Could this be in the “notes” of Government to MILF?

The MILF should give up some of their demands to achieve a final peace agreement under the proposed Bangsamoro government. There are provisions proposed by the MILF that the government cannot devolve to the Bangsamoro. One is the MILF proposal that the budget of the Bangsamoro government would be automatically appropriated separate from the annual general appropriations act (GAA).

The other contentious issues that hamper the early signing of the peace agreement are the provisions of power sharing where the government maintains that it cannot delegate to the Bangsamoro the handling of national defense, foreign relations, customs and tariff, and immigration.

She said obviously exhorting the MILF: “These are issues when, if you will not bend, surely we will not be able to arrive into an agreement. So, these are the challenges. So we really have to see that in the process of our aspiration we cannot have all of this.”

MILF understands Ferrer as saying “the ball is in your court”.

What are the causes for concern?

First: Behind their beautifully worded Joint Statements apparently stalk distrust and reservations with each other’s sincerity. While expressing optimism of success, they are now warning each other of the responsibility for the looming failure.

Second: As reported by Luwaran, the Annex on Wealth-Sharing was initialed by former Secretary Senen Bacani and Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga of the government and MILF peace panels, respectively. However, during the final stage of the discussion of wealth-sharing, no less than Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Chairman Mohagher Iqbal, chairs of the government and MILF peace panels, respectively,  led the discussion, which culminated in the initialing of the document last February 27.

This means all the provisions in the initialed documents were mutually agreed by the two Parties. For the last three months after the initialing, Government has proposed changes to which MILF has objected.  Does it mean that Ferrer had no full authority, or she exceeded her authority, to commit Government in the negotiation?

Third: In the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro [III.2], (a) defense and external security, and (b) foreign policy are among the powers reserved for the Central Government.  If, as Ferrer has said, MILF is demanding for these in their power-sharing proposal, does it mean MILF was insincere in signing the FAB?

The snag cannot be downplayed. It explains why there was no exploratory talk in May after the election as previously announced. This must explain why two weeks in June are about to pass without any announcement as to when the next exploratory talk will be. The drafting of the BBL is further set back by another month.

How much longer will the signing of the Annexes be delayed – all four, not just the wealth-sharing? Bangsamoro is imperiled!

PNoy satisfied with progress of MILF peace deal

From ABS-CBN (Jun 14): PNoy satisfied with progress of MILF peace deal

President Benigno Aquino has not expressed disappointment in the delay in the signing of the final peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Palace spokesperson said on Friday.

"I have not heard any expression of disappointment at least on the part of the President on the progress of the annexes," deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

Valte said the government and MILF peace panels continue to work on the remaining annexes before a final and comprehensive peace agreement could be forged.

MILF First Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar on Wednesday said he is dissatisfied with the slow pace of peace talks with the Philippine government.

In October last year, the two sides signed an initial peace pact aimed at ending decades of conflict in Mindanao.

Eastmincom asserts role as protector of people and sovereignty

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jun 13): Eastmincom asserts role as protector of people and sovereignty

A top military commander affirmed the resolve of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as protector of the state and national territory and sovereignty by showing bravery and heroism in the fulfillment of its mission. 

In his statement on the 115th Independence Day commemoration, Major General Ricardo Rainier Cruz, commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command said that the soldier is always ready and willing to make sacrifices to protect the interests of the Filipino people. 

He recalled that for many decades, thousands of soldiers offered their lives and died for the country to ensure that citizens have a peaceful and secure environment conducive to national development.

Cruz urged every Filipino to actively participate in protecting the country and making its communities safe.

“Let us all take pride in our freedom not only during the celebration of our Independence but in every waking moment that we have as Filipinos,” he said.

Captain Severino David, deputy commander and spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command said the celebration centered on the theme, “ Kalayaan 2013: Ambagan Tungo sa Malawakang Kaunlaran,” where soldiers actively participated in the Independence Day activities with the city government and the line-government agencies yesterday particularly in the flag-raising and wreath-laying ceremonies at the Rizal Park.

He said the major services of the Armed Forces namely the Philippine Army, Philippine Navy, and the Philippine Air Force also joined in the static display of hardware and programs showcasing their respective capabilities in a mall along JP Laurel Avenue.

Civil society organizations like the Amnesty International, Brahma Kumaris and the Youth for Peace-Talbos which share a common peace advocacy with the soldiers also supported the event.

MNLF infighting stalls talks

From the Philippine Star (Jun 14): MNLF infighting stalls talks

A faction in the Moro National Liberation Front managed to stall the resumption of peace talks with the government on Monday, a ranking MNLF official said yesterday.

MNLF spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla said the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has allowed the indefinite postponement of the tripartite preliminary talks between the government and the MNLF pending resolution of who should represent the group in the Islamic body.

“The issue on the representation has been raised so the tripartite talk between the OIC, government and MNLF has been reset to an undetermined date,” Fontanilla said.

He declined to give details but a source revealed a faction led by Muslimin Sema has questioned the representation of former MNLF chairman Nur Misuari in the talks.

Misuari has been recognized and given an observer seat at the OIC representing the Bangsamoro people in the Philippines.

Fontanilla said Misuari is set to meet with the Indonesian ambassador on June 18 to discuss the resumption of tripartite talks.

Indonesia is brokering the talks between the government and MNLF panels.

The three-day preliminary talks were supposed to discuss the final implementation of the 1996 peace agreement under the auspices of OIC.

Misuari was supposed to lead the four-man panel while Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles is expected to head the government panel.

Fontanilla, a member of the MNLF panel, said among the issues that will be discussed are the two last remaining items of the peace accord: coverage of territory and sharing of resources.

Fontanilla added the resumption of peace talks is an offshoot of a resolution issued by the OIC that called on the Philippine government to synchronize the framework agreement forged by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“The MNLF sees no conflict with the framework agreement because it aims to address the Bangsamoro problem in Mindanao,” he said.

Fontanilla, however, clarified that if the last two items in the peace accord will not be resolved, they will seek the endorsement of the OIC to elevate their cause before the United Nations.

He said the MNLF would exhaust all peaceful and diplomatic means to attain political objective of self-rule.

“The MNLF has already renounced war to attain its political objective; we will not fight except in self defense,” Fontanilla said.

An MILF official, however, scored the government for the supposed delays in the crafting of the annexes of the Bangsamoro framework agreement.

In an article posted on the MILF website, Khaled Musa, deputy chair of the group’s information committee, said the delays have triggered negative reactions on the ground.

The article quoted Musa as saying that “frustration on the ground is gaining momentum as a consequence of too much unnecessary delay from the government.”

“He also disclosed the radical elements within the MILF are beginning to be restive and hitting the MILF and its peace panel,” the article read.

“More than three months have been consumed since the annex on wealth-sharing was initialed without clear direction for the talks.”

Musa accused the government of sitting on the annexes unnecessarily in the guise of due diligence.

The annexes of the Bangsamoro framework agreement involve wealth sharing, normalization and power sharing.

These annexes, which are still under review, will have to be completed before a final peace agreement with the MILF is signed. Specific details of the annexes have yet to be made public.

The MILF article claimed the government peace panel had changed its position on the annexes twice.

“The peace negotiation is an exercise in futility if there is no stop to this changing of positions by the government negotiating team,” the article quoted an unnamed MILF negotiator as saying.

The group said it has no plan to abandon the original document, saying backtracking could pose a serious drawback to the peace process.

The MILF claimed the government had its first change of position when the document on natural resources was being tackled last April. MILF negotiators reportedly “vehemently objected” to the changes.

“Except for those that are in harmony with the framework agreement on the Bangsamoro, we don’t accept the changes introduced by government on wealth-sharing,” said MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal.

4 rebels killed, 2 yield

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jun 14): 4 rebels killed, 2 yield

Four New People's Army rebels died, while two others surrendered to the 79 th Infantry Battalion in a series of encounters last month in Santa Catalina, Negros Oriental, the military said.

The death of the four rebels was confirmed by Engrid Gayo, “alias Ka Joy”, 19, and Bobby Kiskis, “alias Ka Andot”, 18, who surrendered June 7 to the 79 th Infantry Battalion, said Maj. Rey Tiongson, 3rd Infantry Division spokesman.

Military records show that 79IB troopers figured in a series of encounters with the South East Front of the Komiteng Rehiyonal-Negros members on May 6, 11, 13 and 14 in barangays Nagbalaye, Milagrosa and San Pedro, all in Santa Catalina, Negros Oriental.

Lt. Col. Marion Sison, 79IB commander, said Gayo and Kiskis surrendered because they could no longer take the sufferings and pressures they were experiencing and the fear of getting killed, citing the death of their four comrades.

Sison said the two returnees also disclosed that many of their comrades are now lying low after the encounters with Army soldiers.

Five other members of the rebel Yunit Militia surrendered to the 79IB before the encounters in Santa Catalina, military records also show.

Sison said Gayo and Kiskis were tasked to organize and recruit the youth in the hinterlands of Santa Catalina, and became full-time NPA members eight months before the encounters last month.

He added that the NPA rebels in southeast Negros are continuously on the run because of the sustained military and social pressure.

AFP sends boats, planes for Masbate rescue

From Rappler (Jun 14): AFP sends boats, planes for Masbate rescue

The military has deployed its forces to help in searching for the missing passengers of a ship that sank off Burias, Masbate on Friday, June 14.

The Naval Forces Southern Luzon, which is based in Legaspi City, Albay, has deployed a patrol craft (DF-321) with a team of Navy Seals, and a patrol gunboat, according to Lt Col Ramon Zagala, public affairs chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Zagala added an islander aircraft from Cebu was also deployed to assist the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

The 505th search and rescue group of the Philippine Air Force was also tapped to help in rescuing passengers, he said.

"AFP units deployed to the site of the incident will work day-in and day–out in the search and rescue operations led by the Philippine Coast Guard. The lines of communication and close coordination between the agencies involved in the concerted efforts are already in place," Zagala said.

Two persons died after the ship, MV Our Lady of Mt Carmel, sank at around 5:30 am on Friday. The ship carried 57 passengers, and 15 of them remain missing as of posting time.

Abra villagers urge Malacañang to probe 'indiscriminate' bombardment

From the Philippine Star (Jun 14): Abra villagers urge Malacañang to probe 'indiscriminate' bombardment

Officials of two villages Abra on Friday petitioned Malacañang to investigate the alleged indiscriminate bombardment by the military, which is pursuing New People's Army (NPA) members who clashed with its soldiers two weeks ago.

At least 27 officials of the villages of Umnap, Buanao and Lat-Ey in Malibcong town condemned the aerial bombings, particularly the bombardment on the Puro rice field in Lat-Ey in the morning May 31.

The officials said that in their petition to Malacañang that one of the bombs dropped by the military "exploded 40 meters from the hut of Matilde Sacgragon where 14- year old “John”and 17 year old “Ken”, were gathering escargot at the nearby rice field.”

The bombardment is part of the pursuit operations of the Philippine Army's 503rd Infantry Battalion against NPA members in the area.

The military had assured that the bombardment was 500 meters away from residential areas,

The local officials, however, said in the petition that one more bomb was dropped 170 meters from the Hydro-Electric Power House and residential houses.

They said that the bomb exploded at least 60 meters from Ponciano Culangan’s rice granary and 120 meters away where Rommel Teneza was plowing.

“We have in our possession the bomb shells that we found in the area as proof,” the village officials said in the petition.

Even as the Cordillera police reported of “aerial bombings” after the clashes two weeks ago, the Philippine Army declined to acknowledge the bombardment and insisted that their targets were “legitimate.”

The village officials sent the petition to Malacañang through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

“We do not like this incident to happen again in the future as well as we do not like the military to get used to these abuses and wrong doings,” the officials said.

They said the bombings "harassed" the villagers "especially the elderly and children."

NDF accuses Aquino peace adviser of sabotaging peace talks

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 14): NDF accuses Aquino peace adviser of sabotaging peace talks

The spokesman of the communist-led National Democratic Front on Friday accused Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles of sabotaging the peace talks.

Fidel Agcaoili alleged that Deles wants to permanently end the peace negotiation between the government and the NDF.

“From the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime to the present one of Benigno S. Aquino III, Deles has had one singular aim in the peace negotiations between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the NDFP – the capitulation and pacification of the revolutionary movement,” Agcaoli said in a statement e-mailed from his base in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

He added: “But because she could not get her way, she has been sabotaging the peace talks, even proclaiming the so-called sovereign right of the US to intervene in Philippine affairs in the ‘terrorist’ listing of the CPP, NPA and Prof. Jose Maria Sison, the chief political consultant of the NDFP Negotiating Panel, after coming from a round of negotiations where it was agreed that the two parties would call on the international community ‘to refrain from any action that may impede or impair the peace process’.”

On Monday, Deles accused the NDF, the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, of designing the peace talks as a “protracted and unending process” without conceding anything to the government “after 22 difficult years of trying to achieve peace.”

“There is a need for a ‘new approach’ to the peace negotiations under which the community and other peace stakeholders should play a pivotal role. And on this rests our hope and belief that peace will, sooner than later, reign in our land,” Deles said in a statement posted on the website of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

Agcaoili scoffed at Deles’ claim regarding the communists’ agenda of protracted and unending peace talks and said the allegation was “preposterous.”

“Deles is practically calling as foolish all previous presidents, especially Fidel V. Ramos and Joseph Estrada, and her predecessors in the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), especially Ambassador Howard Dee and former Justice Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III, for having been ‘hoodwinked’ by the NDFP into signing and approving more than 12 agreements, including The Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL),” Agcaoili said.

Deles’ scheme, claimed the NDF spokesman, “is the reason why the government peace panel refuses to abide by signed agreements” between the two parties.

Agcaoili cited how the government panel called The Hague Joint Declaration, the framework agreement in the peace negotiations, a “divisive” document and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) “inoperative” in securing the release of JASIG-protected persons.

Negotiations between the communist rebels and the government have been stalled since 2004, giving rise to continued human rights violations, according to human rights watchdog Karapatan.

In the two years of the Aquino presidency, Karapatan said it has documented 137 victims of extrajudicial killings, including 14 victims of enforced disappearances, 72 of torture, and 269 of illegal arrest, mostly attributed to state security forces.

A military report on the other hand said nearly 400 people, the majority of them civilians, have been killed in encounters between NPA and government troops and other alleged rebel atrocities since 2011.

Navy reservist gets award for helping Cebu Pacific passengers leave plane

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 14): Navy reservist gets award for helping Cebu Pacific passengers leave plane
A Navy reservist who served as a “guiding voice” when a Cebu Pacific plane overshot the runway at Davao International Airport received an award from the Philippine Navy Friday afternoon for his “commendable conduct.”

Ensign Marlon Bo was given the Military Commendation Medal by Captain Promitivo Gopo, chief of Naval Reserve Command at Navrescom Headquarters in Intramuros, Manila, the Philippine Navy said in a statement.

Bo, a graduate of the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy in 2003 and was also one of the passengers of the ill-fated airplane, assisted the “passengers in a systematic, secure and prompt disembarkation from the plane.”

“Applying his knowledge and training in emergency evacuation procedure, Ensign Bo with unreserved concern for the safety of his fellow passengers, took the initiative and managed to avert stampede and prevent them from further hurting themselves,” part of the award citation read.

“Ensign Bo was able to organize and assist the passengers in a systematic, secure and prompt disembarkation from the plane during the said emergency situation. Unmindful of his own personal safety, Ensign Bo did all these until the last passenger had safely disembarked,” it said.

None of the 165 passengers was injured, but several complained about the slow response of Cebu Pacific’s pilots and crew. The rough landing in stormy weather Sunday evening forced the closure of the Davao International Airport in Davao City while the Airbus A320-200 remained stuck on the runway.

“Everyone panicked. Women and children were screaming,” Percival Jacones told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He said the cabin crew appeared stunned and it took 15 minutes before the captain came out of the cockpit to address the passengers

Nino Alinsub, who was also aboard the flight, recalled in his Facebook account how Bo encouraged passengers to remain calm.

“It took the courage of one person, whom we only know as Captain Bok from the Philippine Navy, to stand up and calm everyone down. He knew what he was doing, and he was in control when even the cabin crew looked like they were really at a loss on what to do,” Alinsub said.

“Captain Bok gave clear instructions for everyone to sit down, so that we could leave row by row to prevent the plane from tilting over. He was the clear definition of a “guiding voice,” he said.

Civil Aviation Authority Deputy Director General John Andrews said pilot error probably caused the accident.

Coast guards to be criminally charged, De Lima confirms

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 14): Coast guards to be criminally charged, De Lima confirms
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Thursday confirmed an Inquirer report that the National Bureau of Investigation had recommended the filing of criminal charges against coast guards involved in the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman in northern Philippine waters last month.

De Lima also confirmed the Inquirer information that the NBI, which investigated the shooting death of fisherman Hung Shih-chen here and in Taiwan, submitted its report to her on Tuesday.

In text messages and a phone patch interview, De Lima, who is in Madrid, Spain, for a conference on capital punishment, said she submitted the NBI report to President Aquino before she left Manila on Tuesday night.

She said the NBI recommended criminal and administrative charges against coast guards involved in the shooting of the Taiwanese fishing boat Guan Ta Hsin 28 in the Balintang Channel on May 9.

De Lima said she was not sure whether employees of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) were among those recommended for prosecution.

The BFAR owns the coastal patrol vessel MCS-3001, but the vessel is manned by Philippine Coast Guard personnel.

There were 17 coast guards and two BFAR employees on the MCS-3001 when the shooting happened.

Fourteen high-powered rifles were submitted to the NBI for the investigation.

De Lima declined to disclose how many personnel had been recommended for charges and on what counts, saying it was up to President Aquino if he wanted to adopt the NBI findings.

Private complainant

The NBI is looking to have  Hung’s daughter, who brought murder charges against the Philippine Coast Guard, as private complainant in the case should Aquino approve the “recommended criminal charges,” De Lima said.

She described the NBI report as “exhaustive” and based on “objective evaluation of evidence” made after careful deliberations.

“As to whether [the findings are] acceptable, it remains to be seen,” De Lima said.

She said Taiwan’s separate investigation of Hung’s death did not influence the NBI probe.

NBI investigators and their Taiwanese counterparts sat down together to discuss results of tests, share notes and evidence, and exchange opinions, De Lima said.

But they should have reached different conclusions that De Lima said should not be too far apart.

Still waiting

The Coast Guard had no immediate comment on De Lima’s confirmation of the Inquirer report, which Cmdr. Armand Balilo, spokesperson for the agency, described on Wednesday as “not final” and “not official.”

Balilo said on Thursday that the Coast Guard’s position on the issue had not changed and that the command was “waiting for the official communication from the NBI.”

In a report the Coast Guard submitted to the NBI, the coast guards claimed they acted in “self-defense,” as the fishing boat tried to ram into their vessel.

But a source who told the Inquirer on Tuesday that the NBI report had already been submitted to De Lima said the investigation had disproved the coast guards’ claim.

Wrong action

Lawyer Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, on Thursday said bringing charges against the coast guards would not be a proper course of action for the government.

“If you [bring charges] against your own law enforcement officers for carrying out their duty, that [would send the] wrong signal to our law enforcement agents,” Batongbacal said during a visit to Coast Guard headquarters in Manila.

He said he believed the Taiwanese fishermen were poaching in Philippine waters.

“The Taiwanese were fishing illegally, we should consider that as a primary context of this incident,” he said.

The Coast Guard shooting of the Guan Ta Hsin 28, he said, happened in the course of law enforcement.

“Every law enforcement activity impliedly carries with it the responsibility that you will use force to enforce the law. Otherwise, [people would laugh at us]. Your law enforcement would be completely ineffective,” he said.

Prosecuting the coast guards would encourage poachers from any country to “have a field day because the Philippines is afraid to enforce its own laws,” he said.

Use of force

Criminal charges should be brought only if there is excessive and arbitrary use of force, he said.

Whether the use of force is excessive or arbitrary depends on the situation and the rules where law enforcers operate, he said.

“That is where you will know whether firing at a poaching vessel, which is not even showing its flag (according to reports), is justified or not,” Batongbacal said.

When a vessel at sea is not flying its flag, it is showing that it is not abiding by any law of any coastal state, he said.

“It could be an act of piracy or smuggling when you don’t fly your flag,” he said, adding that the Coast Guard acted well within its mandate.

The chase

Batongbacal said he had seen the Coast Guard video of the incident.

He said the MCS-3001 chased the Guan Ta Hsin 28 for one and a half hours in rough sea conditions.

The distance between the two vessels was 15 to 30 meters, he said.

At that distance, the coast guards could not have seen where the Taiwanese fishermen had ducked, much less aimed and fired at anyone on the moving boat.

He said the coast guards, who were armed with rifles, had a hard time hitting the fishing boat’s engine because both vessels were moving and the sea was rough.

Nothing illegal

Batongbacal said he watched the video of the encounter and did not see the coast guards doing anything “out of place or illegal.”

“I did not see laughing or happily firing away. If at all, there was only a small incident when someone smiled, which was understandable considering the tension at that time,” Batongbacal said, adding that the coast guards did not rake the fishing boat with gunfire.

A source who had seen the same video earlier told the Inquirer that the coast guards were laughing as they fired at the boat, “unprofessional” behavior that embarrassed Philippine law enforcement.—

Israel commends Filipino peacekeepers

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 14): Israel commends Filipino peacekeepers

Israel on Friday expressed gratitude to the Filipino peacekeepers “for their courage” and determination to keep peace in the volatile Golan Heights.

“The government of Israel, through its Embassy in Manila, sincerely thanks the brave men and women of the Philippine Army for their courage and adherence to the goals of peace and security,” the Israeli Embassy in Manila posted in its Facebook account.

The embassy tagged the Filipino soldiers as “world class.”

The 341 Filipino members of the United Nations Disengagement Force now comprise the biggest contingent in the Golan Heights after Austria began pulling out its 377 troops amid intense fighting between Syrian troops and rebels.

“The continued contribution and deployment of the Filipino contingency is an asset to international society as we highly respect the mandate of the United Nations Disengagement Force. The Filipino soldier is, indeed, world-class,” the embassy said.

Manila has been considering to bring the Filipino troops home soon, after some were briefly kidnapped by Syrian rebels in recent months.

On Tuesday, President Benigno Aquino urged the United Nations to provide more security to its depleted peacekeeping force so the Filipino contingent could stay.
Aquino said the peacekeepers’ situation had become more tenuous by the day, after one Filipino peacekeeper was wounded last week by wayward mortar fire amid a fight between Syrian troops and rebels.

Austria started to pull out its peacekeepers from the UN mission on Wednesday due to the worsening security situation in the region. Austria peacekeepers take up about one-third of the UN mission.

When Austria completes the pull out, there will be only 534 peacekeepers left, 341 of which are from the Philippines.

Only contingents from India and Philippines have remained after Canada, Japan and Croatia and Austria as the most recent, decided to quit the peacekeeping mission.

The peacekeepers are part of the UN Disengagement Observer Force. They monitor the buffer zone between Syria and Israel.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a report to the UN Security Council on Wednesday, said that self defense capabilities of the UN peacekeeping mission in the area must be enhanced, and also proposed to increase the force strength of the UN mission to about 1,250 troops

Tales from the deep: Fil-Am steers US submarine home

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 14): Tales from the deep: Fil-Am steers US submarine home

Cmdr. Douglas Bradley shows some of the torpedoes of the US Navy’s attack submarine USS Asheville, which is docked at the Subic Bay Freeport. MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

Coming home to the land of his mother was a longtime dream of Lt. Vincent Mejia.

When he finally did so, it was doubly joyful for the Filipino-American sailor who was tasked to steer to port one of the US Navy’s most advanced attack submarines after it had surfaced.

“The most exciting was being able to drive the sub back to my homeland. It’s been a dream my entire life to come home,” said Mejia, 24, born and raised in the United States but whose mother hails from Pangasinan.

“I would have never thought I would come back here and drive the ship to port,” said Mejia, who spends most of his days doing paperwork but also gets to serve as the sub’s helmsman, steering the vessel from time to time.

Mejia is among a handful of Filipino-American sailors on their first Navy deployment aboard the USS Asheville, a submarine that docked here last weekend on a routine port call as part of its six-month Western Pacific deployment.

Nicknamed “The Ghost of the Coast,” the 110-meter fast-attack submarine has been in service since 1991 and is the fourth Navy ship to be named after the North Carolina city, known to have a long maritime history.

‘Ghost of the Coast’

The first Asheville was a patrol gunboat stationed in the Philippines during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Homeported in San Diego, the gas-powered, 6,900-ton Los Angeles class sub is at sea “in support of maritime security operations in international waters,” according to the Navy. With a top speed of 32 knots (around 60 kilometers per hour), the vessel is capable of sub-to-sub and sub-to-surface ship warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, armed with tomahawks and torpedoes.

The Asheville arrived on Saturday for routine resupply, refueling and rest and recreation stop for its crew, tethered to the USS Frank Cable, the 7th Fleet’s mobile repair and support platform that arrived here the day before. The submarine, which last visited the Philippines in 2000, was scheduled to leave Thursday while the Frank Cable is expected to remain in Subic to service other US ships.

In father’s footsteps

The arrivals are among a string of port visits of US vessels, a sign of steady defense ties between the Philippines and the US despite an early hitch this year, when the warship USS Guardian ran aground and damaged the treasured Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in January.

The Guardian was dismantled and removed from the reef after more than two months. The US has vowed to fully compensate the Philippines for the damage and provide long-term assistance for coastal protection programs here.

For Mejia and his fellow Filipino-American crewmen, the Asheville’s five-day visit was a rare chance to see the country they also consider home.

Laguna native Seaman Brian Santos, 21, followed in his father’s footsteps in the Navy but opted to try service below the surface.

“My dad is in the Navy [serving] on a surface ship. I guess I wanted to experience the other side,” said Santos, whose family left the Philippines for the US when he was 13. He handles the ship’s critical fire or weapons control system.

Life fathoms below was a choice for the Asheville’s 150 crewmen: Everyone volunteered, none were assigned. And the sacrifice of being a shadow in the deep—of months without sunlight, of no contact with friends within a crammed space—is a matter of pride for the sailors, especially their commanding officer.

“This is their (Filipino-American crewmen) first sea tour but they can go anywhere, they can do many number of different things,” said Cmdr. Douglas Bradley, a decorated sailor of 20 years.

“The crew is the best and the brightest in the US Navy. They are mostly math and science degree holders. Everybody volunteered. They want to be here. No other job gives you such responsibility in a short period of time,” said Bradley, whose command of the Asheville is his first.

The bond among Asheville’s sailors is as tight as its spaces—a brotherhood that marks the difference between submarine and surface lives in the US Navy, Bradley said.

Family affair

Unlike warships and aircraft carriers, for instance, where staff complement could run up into thousands, ship life down below is a family affair.

“I think that’s part of the family atmosphere that we have here. Everybody knows each other, unlike a surface ship. Everybody is important. Everybody has a job to do that needs to be done. We depend on each other,” Bradley told reporters given a rare tour of the submarine.

Sailors take turns serving three six-hour shifts. As the ship operates across a spectrum of depths and time zones, the submarine seems to have a clock all its own.

“It’s something we get accustomed to. We cycle the lights on and off: on, when it’s daytime (up the surface), and off, when it’s nighttime. And when we come to port, we reset our body clock,” Bradley said.

Sailors also keep a tight watch of the ship’s own atmosphere control system, which creates the vessel’s own oxygen out of water and expels harmful gases, such as carbon monoxide.

Mental endurance

The three-deck submarine may be bigger than a wide-body aircraft but with everything that is packed aboard, there is limited space to go by within the ship’s 10-meter width (because of the ship’s spatial layout and limits, the Asheville’s crew is an all-male lot).

Sailors who serve are all tested for mental endurance in such confines—which may be claustrophobic for some—and all are prepared to redefine the bounds of personal space once they enter the sub’s hatch.

Hallways would find the submariners walking sideways, chest to chest on busy hours. In berthing areas, sailors sleep on bunk beds more akin to shelves rather than decks, all in layers of three, and the spaces beneath their beds serve as lockers.

Over at the torpedo tubes, a deck below the sleeping quarters, the ship’s cook finds his nightly slumber beneath the 21-foot torpedoes themselves, his cushion set in the space between the 1.6-ton weapons and the floor.

The laundry room, shared by all 150 personnel, is no bigger than a plane’s typical lavatory.

Mejia misses sunlight

The captain’s room—the largest single room on the ship—is hardly a luxury. It’s as wide as Bradley’s arms extended end to end, only enough for him to stretch his legs on a bed that converts into an office during his waking hours.

The mess hall, the biggest common room that doubles as a function area for mission briefings, sits only up to 30 people.

“Eating is not a social thing. You get it and go. Get your nutrition and move on,” Bradley said in half-jest.

But it is this space that cultivates the sub’s sense of community where the entire crew is one big clique, said Mejia, who admits to missing the sunlight.

“Being down here, in such a small space, we become a family. We are just one clique. It’s more family-oriented than in other ships, based on what I’ve heard,” Mejia said.

MILF frustrated by slow pace of negotiations

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 14): MILF frustrated by slow pace of negotiations

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has formally sent word to the government that it was already “frustrated” with the slow progress of the peace negotiations and that rebel field commanders were starting to lose faith that the Bangsamoro issue would be  resolved soon.

Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for political affairs, said Friday that the MILF conveyed that message to the government through Malaysian facilitator Tengku Datuk Abdul Ghafar Tengku Mohamed.


“We sent a message to the government through the facilitator, saying that the MILF is frustrated about what is happening to the peace talks now and the MILF is very, very much concerned about what is going on. In other words we are not happy,” Jaafar told reporters by phone.

Jaafar said the MILF ground commanders were “slowly losing faith and hope that the Bangsamoro issue will be resolved through talks.… They are angry because they have already been waiting for a long time.”

“As far as I am concerned, this is not a very good situation, the erosion of the confidence and trust in the Philippine government, that it is really (determined) to address the Bangsamoro issue,” Jaafar said.

‘Deliberate’ delay

Jaafar said that the MILF’s frustration stemmed from what it viewed a  delay in the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement, which appears to be “deliberate.”

For one, Jaafar said, the government has said that the formal talks will resume in Kuala Lumpur after the May elections and yet no date has been set yet.

While waiting for the talks to resume, there should have been an exchange of notes between the two panels but this was delayed as well, he said.

Jaafar said that Tengku handed the notes from the government only recently and the MILF central committee has asked for time to deliberate on them.

The notes contain the government’s proposed amendments to the wealth-sharing annex of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB). The MILF has protested the government’s move to make changes to the annex, saying that the two panels had already affixed their initials to it.

Exchange of notes

Government chief negotiator Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer  said that “even without the conduct of formal meetings, the peace process continues to move forward” because of the fact that there was an ongoing exchange of notes.

In a statement, Ferrer said that “government hopes this process will allow the parties to gain more clarity with respect to the current language of the Annexes and lead them to an agreement on the unresolved issues.”

She said that while the wealth-sharing annex had indeed been initialed by the two panels, “prudence on the part of government requires that it undergoes a final review before the President gives his final stamp of approval.”

Ferrer said that the amendments to the wealth-sharing annex were being proposed to ensure that the Bangsamoro “will enjoy effective and meaningful fiscal autonomy but also take into account the legal, political, and administrative constraints of the Central Government.”

“These are the considerations as to why government wishes to introduce some changes to the draft annex, particularly with regard to some aspects of taxation, fund transfer mechanisms, and revenue sharing,” she said.

Blueprint for peace pact

Jaafar said that the MILF continued to bank on a peaceful way to resolve the decades-old Mindanao conflict. He added that the MILF also still “believes in the seriousness of President Aquino in solving the issue.”

“But he better check and ensure that what he wants to attain peace is what will prevail,” Jaafar said.

The government and the MILF signed the framework agreement in October, touted as the blueprint for a final peace accord.

But it has been rough sailing for the negotiations since then, with the panels hammering out the details of the annexes on wealth sharing, power sharing, and normalization.

The two panels have signed the annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, which is the road map to creating the Bangsamoro region that is planned to take the place of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 2016.

Impasse on wealth-sharing annex stalls GPH-MILF talks

From MindaNews (Jun 14): Impasse on wealth-sharing annex stalls GPH-MILF talks

Eight months after the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and four months after President Benigno Simeon Aquino III said peace was “abot-kamay” (within reach),  notes on how to resolve the contentious  issues on the remaining three annexes have been exchanged but no date has been set for the resumption of  the talks as the panels have yet to break an impasse on the wealth-sharing annex.

Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed shuttled between Manila and Maguindanao last week but the positions of the parties remain as far apart as or even farther apart than it was in the last talks in April.

In their Joint Statement at the end of the talks in Kuala Lumpur on April 11, the panels said they would “meet again after the May 13 Philippine elections” and affirmed their commitment to “finally settle these issues soon so that all three annexes may be signed without undue delay.”

UNTIL THE NEXT TALKS. Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the government peace panel and Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panel in Kuala Lumpur at the end of the round of talks in April.  No date has been set for the resumption of the talks. MindaNews file photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

UNTIL THE NEXT TALKS. Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the government peace panel and Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panel in Kuala Lumpur at the end of the round of talks in April. No date has been set for the resumption of the talks. MindaNews file photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

To complete the comprehensive peace pact that would pave the way for the creation of the  “Bangsamoro,” four annexes are supposed to be signed. These are the annexes on wealth-sharing, power-sharing, normalization and transitional arrangements and modalities.

In the FAB, both parties agreed to complete the annexes by yearend 2012.  The panels are six months behind schedule.

It has been two months since the April talks and a month after the elections.

By June 15, it will have been eight months since the October 15, 2012 signing in Malacanang of the FAB, leaving the Aquino administration only 36.5 months to set up what has been touted as its legacy project — the new autonomous political entity called “Bangsamoro” – supposedly by the time the President steps down on June 30, 2016.

GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer told MindaNews on June 9 that the facilitator “arrived on Friday (June 7) and we have exchanged notes and messages on the issues related to the wealth and power sharing annexes.”

Tengku went to Maguindanao on June 6 and 7 and returned to Malaysia on June 9.

“All avenues to hasten the resolution of the difficult issues are being tapped before he full panel formal talks,” she said.

Earlier, Ferrer told MindaNews the date of the next talks would be set only “after exchange of notes and most issues are resolved.”

Only one of four annexes

Only one annex has been signed since the FAB signing: the Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities on Februrary 27.  But without the three main annexes, there is nothing to transition to.

Although it was not cited in their Joint Statement on February 27, the  Annex on Wealth-Sharing was initialled that day by GPH peace panel member Senen Bacani and MILF peace panel member Abhoud Syed Lingga.

After the GPH-MILF Technical Working Group (TWG) on Wealth-Sharing submitted its report, the two panels had agreed to create a special team from the panels – headed by Bacani and Lingga – to handle wealth-sharing.  The draft annex was initialled in the presence of the peace panel chairs and members, the Malaysian facilitator and the International Contact Group.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews on June 8 that the GPH panel was “causing the delay of the talks.”

“They are backtracking from what they conceded in the initialed wealth-sharing annex,” he said.

Asked to comment on Iqbal’s statement, Ferrer told MindaNews that “wealth-sharing matters initialed at TWG level (were) based on common understanding (that they) shall be subject to review by principals.”

In a Q and A with Ferrer released by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) on June 13, Ferrer’s response to the question on “where are we now” is that the exchange of notes has commenced “and through this process, we hope to come as close as possible to agreed language and return to Kuala Lumpur to be able to finalize the Annexes on Power and Wealth-sharing very soon.”

“Due diligence”

But only Ferrer appears optimistic the talks would resume “very soon.”  Iqbal remains firm the MILF will not re-negotiate the initialed Annex on Wealth-Sharing.

On April 11 in Kuala Lumpur,  Iqbal told MindaNews: “Government is not ready to sign Wealth-Sharing. MILF is very ready.”

On the same day, Ferrer told MindaNews that there were 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, Ferrer said, “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.”

She said due diligence was 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.”

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.”

“Under review”
On June 12, Ferrer told MindaNews that the GPH proposals are now “under review by MILF.”

But the MILF apparently does not intend to review the GPH proposals because on the same day,  a report in the MILF website,, said the MILF “will hold on to initialled annex on wealth-sharing.”

Quoting a peace panel member whom it did not name, said the MILF “has no plan to abandon that document” and that “backtracking by any of the two parties is a serious drawback to the peace process.”

“The peace negotiation is an exercise in futility if there is no stop to this changing of positions by the government negotiating team,” the report said.

“We are not renegotiating the initialed document,” the report added.

The report also said that in the April talks, Iqbal said that “except for those that are in harmony with the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), we don’t accept the changes introduced by government on wealth-sharing.”

The second time GPH allegedly changed position was in the “notes” sent to the MILF through the Malaysian facilitator. The report did not say what were in the “notes” but said the initialed document was “diluted severely by the notes” from the GPH.

“Two changes of positions in a row within the span of two months is alarming,” luwaran quoted Iqbal as saying.

“Final review”
In the June 13 Q and A released by OPAPP,  Ferrer explained that “prudence” on the part of the government requires that it “undergoes a final review before the President gives his final stamp of approval.”

She repeated previous statements that the President is “committed to delivering an agreement that will allow the Bansamoro to enjoy effective and meaningful fiscal autonomy but also take into account the legal, political, and administrative constraints of the Central Government.”

Ferrer said these are the considerations “as to why Government wishes to introduce some changes to the draft annex, particularly with regard some aspects of taxation, fund transfer mechanisms, and revenue sharing.”

Ferrer did not say what these “changes” are. Iqbal would not say either.

But he told MindaNews on June 14 that there were “more changes” introduced in the notes GPH sent to them last week through the Malaysian facilitator than what the GPH presented in April, thus bringing the parties farther apart in their positions.

As early as April, the MILF had already turned down the government panel’s proposed “changes.”

MindaNews learned from sources in both panels that one of the points of disagreement is that a sharing system on natural resources in favor of the Bangsamoro government as agreed upon and initialed on February 27, is being brought down by government to 50-50 which is what Republic Act 9054, the law that amended the Organic Act creating the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) provides under Article IX, Section 15.

“More than 9054”

In both the power and wealth sharing TWGs, the major issue is how much more powers would be granted to the Bangsamoro than what has been granted to the ARMM under RA 9054.

In November, a month after the signing of the FAB and the last round of talks attended by then GPH peace panel chair Marvic Leonen (he was appointed Supreme Court Justice the following week),  Leonen told MindaNews that what the GPH was offering to the MILF “will be more than 9054… it cannot be less.”

Asked how much is “more,” Leonen replied that this is what the TWGs are discussing.  He defined “more” as “more that will be satisfactory to the MILF.”

Ma. Lourdes Lim,  NEDA regional director and chair of the GPH-TWG on wealth-sharing told MindaNews that the powers proposed for the Bangsamoro on wealth-sharing would be more than what RA 9054 provides. “(RA) 9054 is the minimum. That is our reference point. That’s the baseline,” she said.

On February 11, at the launching of the socio-economic project,  Sajahatra Bangsamoro, at the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute compound 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.

“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.
Four 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.

On April 15,  thousands of runners who survived “Heartbreak Hill” did not  reach the finish line. Two bombs exploded just as it was  “abot-kamay.”

Bayanihan progress

From the Manila Bulletin (Jun 14): Bayanihan progress

The Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Mindanao Command (AFP-WesMinCom) hosted a command conference in an effort to review the progress of its Internal Peace and Security Operation (IPSO)-Bayanihan efforts in Western Mindanao for the 1st Semester of 2013.

The conference was attended by senior commanders of the Army’s 1st and 6th Infantry Divisions, 3rd Air Division of the Philippine Air Force, Naval Forces Western Mindanao Command, counterparts in the Philippine National Police, and other senior staff.

AFP-WesMinCom chief General Rey Ardo said the 1st Semester of 2013 was a very challenging period for his command, having to accomplish the mandates on internal security like the Sabah crisis.

The Sabah crisis also gave the command an opportunity to employ AFP resources and assets of large magnitude, and helped resolve and diffuse the tension, which could have transformed into large-scale violence, Ardo said.

The military move has prevented a negative international repercussion, he said.

Moro rebels 'frustrated' by delays in peace talks

From InterAksyon (Jun 14): Moro rebels 'frustrated' by delays in peace talks

While majority of their members believe in he sincerity of President Benigno Aquino III, “many ground commanders” of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are getting restless over the government’s failure to re-start peace talks after the May 13 elections, as expected. This is from Jaafar Ghadzali, MILF vice chairman, who admitted Friday to a sense of frustration among rebels over alleged tactics to delay the signing of the Comprehensive Compact Agreement.

Ghadzali pointed to the latest statement of Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, asking Moro rebels to be “patient” as the government peace panel was trying to thresh out key issues on he peace agreement.

Aquino and MILF chairman Al Haj Murad signed a historic Framework Agreement (FRAG) in October last year at Malacanang, signaling the start of formal talks that both sides hoped would eventually lead to a comprehensive, final accord.

Ghadzali said, “The MILF is . . . very much concerned about what is going on; in other words, we are not happy, especially our leaders and commanders on the ground…Until now, the signing of the Comprehensive Compact Agreement has been continuously delayed and the feeling of some of us is that the government is deliberately delaying the signing of the peace talks.”

He said they relayed their concerns to the Philippine government through the Malaysian facilitator.

According to him, “the confidence and trust of many of the MILF leaders in the worthiness of the GPH peace panel is gradually eroding. . . .  [Why do they keep counseling us to have patience, patience, patience]?”

He said, “most of our commanders on the ground are becoming angry, they’ve been waiting for a long time . . . But I want to say this, we still believe that the most peaceful and civilized way of resolving the Bangsamoro issue is through negotiations. But the question is how long our people can wait, how long our leaders can wait for that settlement, for the signing of that Comprehensive Compact Agreement?”

The government, he noted, did not follow the timetable agreed upon by both sides, when it unilaterally postponed the resumption of peace talks. “During the last meeting between the two panels in Kuala Lumpur before the election, the arrangement was that immediately after the election the talks will be resumed. We expected that the next meeting would be a venue to exchange thoughts and proposals but this did not push through because of the unavailability of the GPH panel.”

Ghadzali wondered aloud if the Moro rebels would have to wait “another 10 years, 20 years to address the Bangsamoro issue? So I don’t think the current situation is very good.”  Nonetheless, Ghadzali said the MILF leadership still expects political will from the President in ending the armed conflict in Mindanao.  “We still believe in the seriousness of President Aquino in resolving the issue, but he should check what’s really going on.”

500 houses soon available for AFP, PNP members in Iloilo town

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 14): 500 houses soon available for AFP, PNP members in Iloilo town

The National Housing Authority (NHA) is finishing the construction of the first batch of 500 housing units in Barangay Acuit, Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo out of the 1,000 units earmarked for low salaried members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), Bureau of Fire and Protection and Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Iloilo.

The housing program here is under the P7 billion earmarked by President Benigno Aquino III to provide adequate and decent housing to over 260,000 members of the PNP and AFP. Phase II of the program covers projects in the Visayas and Mindanao.

Phase I covers the completed construction of 21,800 houses worth P4 billion in 2012 located in San Jose del Monte and Norzagaray in Bulacan; Baras and Rodriguez in Rizal; Calamba, Laguna and Trece Martires and General Trias in Cavite.

NHA Regional Director Isagani Jalbuena said the Iloilo project also covers 50 housing units to be constructed in Sta. Barbara, Iloilo as part of the 500 units soon to be constructed in another area in Iloilo.

Another batch of 1,000 units are to be constructed in Barangay Lunoy, Roxas City.

President Aquino signed Administrative Order No. 9 on April 11, 2011 in creating the AFP/PNP Housing Project by ordering the NHA to implement and manage housing projects for more than 260,000 military and police personnel which was also expanded to include other units of the AFP and PNP.

Each house is a two-storey unit designed in row houses constructed in a 40-square meter lot and worth some P140,000 each.

The selected beneficiary will have to pay P200 per month for the first five years and the remaining 30 years of payment will be computed with a compounded interest method to produce equally affordable amortization ranging from P400 to P800 only.

The NHA has targeted the construction of 370,000 housing units per year in order to help solve the 3.7 million housing units backlog of the government in the next 10 years.

NPA rebel surrendered in Surigao

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 14): NPA rebel surrendered in Surigao

A rebel-member of the New People’s Army (NPA), who wanted to start a new life, surrendered to the military in Surigao del Norte, an Army official said Friday.

Lt. Col. Leo E. Bongosia, spokesperson of the Army’s Fourth Infantry Division here, said that the military was withholding the name of the NPA rebel pending his debriefing at the 30th Infantry Battalion in Placer, Surigao del Norte.

He said that the 17-year-old rebel turned over one M16 rifle with 96 live ammunitions and one M1 Garand rifle with 7 live ammunitions and magazines.

According to Bongosia, the rebel-teenager and other minors were recruited to the rebel movement in Surigao.

Under the program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) guns for peace, the surrenderor would receive a financial assistance of about P80,000, he added.

He said the military would also provide security to the rebel returnee for fear that his comrades might subject him for summary execution.

“The military will not allow the rebel returnee to move alone without a detailed security,” Bongosia said.

PHL welcomes US Senate resolution for Peaceful Resolution on WPS disputes

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 14): PHL welcomes US Senate resolution for Peaceful Resolution on WPS disputes

The Philippines Friday welcomed a U.S. Senate resolution calling for peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea as tensions spiked anew in the resource-rich waters due to increased Chinese military presence in areas claimed by Manila as part of its territory.

US Sen. Menendrez (D, New Jersey) , and his co-sponsors Senators Benjamin Cardin (D, Maryland), Marco Rubio (R, Florida), and Bob Corker (R, Tennessee) on Monday filed Senate Resolution 167 condemning China’s alleged use of force and provocative acts in the South China Sea or also known in the Philippines as West Philippine Sea.

“We understand that the resolution has yet to undergo the necessary congressional process before it is passed by the US Senate, nonetheless, we extend our appreciation on the mere fact that some US Senators have considered it necessary to express their views on a fundamental issue that affects the peace and stability of the Asia Pacific Region,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told a press briefing.

The resolution, Hernandez said, reaffirms the “strong support” of the US, a long-time military treaty ally, to resolve the years-long territorial rifts through peaceful and rules-based approach, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS.

Resolution 167, forwarded to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, blamed China for several “dangerous” incidents in the waters involving countries it has territorial disputes with like the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan.

China claims the sea nearly in its entirety, citing historical records to back its assertion.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are also claimants to the waters where undersea gas deposits have been discovered in several areas.

“The Philippines especially appreciates the reaffirmation of the peaceful resolution of disputes, including through arbitration; its condemnation of the use of threat or use of force,” Hernandez said.

In a surprise move that stunned China and the international community, Manila initiated an arbitration process under the UNCLOS on January 21 to try to declare as “illegal” Beijing’s nine-dash claim, which covers almost the entire sea even as it overlaps with other countries’ territories.

China has resisted the Philippines’ move to let a U.N. body intervene in the disputes, saying the Philippines’ case was legally infirm and carried unacceptable allegations.

UNCLOS is a 1982 accord by 163 countries that aims to govern the use of offshore areas and sets territorial limits of coastal states.

The Philippines and China are both signatories to the treaty.

Hernandez thanked the senators for their support for the ongoing and deepening efforts of the US in the region in “ensuring freedom of navigation, maintenance of peace and stability, and respect of universally recognized principles of international law.”