Sunday, December 29, 2013

Over 200 detained MNLF rebels now in Taguig

From ABS-CBN (Dec 30): Over 200 detained MNLF rebels now in Taguig

About 266 Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels loyal to founding chairman Nur Misuari and involved in the Zamboanga City siege are now at the Quezon City Jail Annex in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig.

The MNLF rebels left San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm in Zamboanga City via a Philippine Navy boat on Friday. They arrived at Sangley Point in Cavite at 8 p.m. Sunday and were brought straight to the Taguig jail.

The Misuari followers were detained at Camp Bagong Diwa's newly built Special Intensive Care Area (SICA) 2, a four-storey building which can house up to 300 detainees.

The rebels were brought to Manila after the Supreme Court (SC) granted the request of the Department of Justice (DOJ) for the transfer of the trial of the rebels in Metro Manila.

The DOJ earlier filed rebellion charges and charges for violations of international humanitarian laws against Misuari, MNLF commander Habier Malik, and several others in connection with the siege. Misuari remains at large.

Justice Secretary Leila De Lima had earlier announced the need for the transfer of the trial's venue for security reasons.

Lahad Datu invasion: A painful memory of 2013

From Astro Awani (Dec 30): Lahad Datu invasion: A painful memory of 2013

KUALA LUMPUR: On Feb 11, 2013, the nation was rocked by news that broke late into the night about the eastern shores of Sabah being invaded by a group of armed men.

The group, comprising over a hundred people, was quickly identified to be followers of self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram III. They were led by Jamalul's brother Agbimuddin Kiram.

Hailing from Pulau Simunul of Tawi-Tawi in the southern Philippines, the group first entered Malaysian waters by boat on Feb 9 and gathered in stages at Felda Sahabat 17 in Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu, as a means of ‘reclaiming’ part of Borneo as their ancestral land. This forced some eighty locals to flee from 15 homes.

Lahad Datu 3

Upon being discovered by fishermen, the Filipino rebels broke into smaller groups and entered several locations in the village, including Kampung Sungai Bakau.

On Feb 14, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the Malaysian government would negotiate with the group before ousting them from the area. Then Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar said negotiations with the group were in progress to find the best solution without bloodshed.

Lahad Datu 4

Two days later, then Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein made a statement that played down the situation; the group merely comprised ‘malnourished’ and elderly men in sarongs and slippers, mostly unarmed, he said.

The tussle between Malaysia and the Philippines over Sabah had been a long-standing one. The Suluks wanted Sabah to be returned to them, claiming it was seized by the British from their government. But Malaysia had always rejected the Philippine's territorial claim to Sabah as it deemed that Sabah residents had exercised their right to self-determination when they voted to join the Malaysian federation in 1963.

Lahad Datu 5

The Sulu sultanate also lost their rights in the Madrid protocol of 1885 when their predecessors Spain relinquished all their claims to Sabah, giving all control to Malaysia’s predecessors, the British.

However, it was subsequently learnt that the Malaysian Embassy in the Philippines were issuing cheques for RM5,300 to the legal counsel of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu in keeping with the terms of an 1887 agreement. While Malaysia considered it as annual cession payment for the disputed state, the sultan’s descendants considered it as “rent”.

Many then called for the Malaysian government to reduce or stop the cession payment altogether, including former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and opposition lawyer Karpal Singh.

The first shootout between Malaysian security forces and the small group of Filipino rebels broke out on March 1 when the latter tried to break a police blockade in Kampung Tanduo. Najib confirmed that the event had left two police commandos dead while Sabah police commissioner, Datuk Hamza Taib, confirmed that 12 of Kiram’s followers were killed.

At this juncture, the Philippines government seemed to totally leave the fate of the royal Sulu army in the hands of the Malaysian security forces.

Lahad Datu 1.5

In the early hours of March 3, a group of Filipino gunmen, believed to be less than 10, ambushed the police in a village in Semporna, Sabah. The media reported that six Malaysian police officers and seven assailants were killed. It was also reported that four of the policemen had their bodies mutilated, with one beheaded.

On March 5, three F-18 and five Hawk aircraft filled the Kampung Tanduo skies in an airstrike against the Filipino rebels at dawn in an effort to flush them out. Thirteen of the Sulu gunmen were killed in the process. The deaths were confirmed by then Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Codenamed Ops Daulat, the ‘mopping up’ stage also saw ground troops going door-to-door to sniff out the intruders. However, none were caught.

Kampung Tanduo was finally secured by Malaysian forces on March 11, with the bodies of 22 Sulu gunmen recovered. Despite the deaths, the Kiram family insisted that its army stay put in Sabah and not surrender.

Between March 20 and April 1, 15 Filipino nationals were charged in court over the incursion – eight of them in the Tawau High Court while the rest in the Lahad Datu Magistrate’s Court.

Lahad Datu 2

A Malaysian Special Branch officer, Corporal Hassa Ali Basari, was also charged and convicted for intentionally refraining from disclosing information on terrorist acts by the Sulu gunmen in Lahad Datu.

Ops Daulat ended on June 29 when it was replaced by the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM). The body is now responsible for security arrangements in the area, covering all operations from northern Kudat to south-eastern Tawau. This is to ensure that Sabah’s eastern sea borders remain safe. A 24-hour ESSCOM operations room was also announced on Aug 12.

The Lahad Datu standoff reportedly saw a total of 68 deaths – 56 from the Sulu sultanate, nine from the Malaysian authorities and six civilians.

Swoops, heavier security in Sabah east coast

From the Free Malaysia Times (Dec 30): Swoops, heavier security in Sabah east coast

Locals are well aware that the yearend holiday season has often been used to hide cross-border criminal activities in past years.

LAHAD DATU: Residents in the east coast districts of Sabah have seen increased movement of security forces since last Thursday.

More flights of military helicopters and armoured vehicles in this district of late have caught the attention of locals who are well aware that the yearend holiday season has often been used to hide cross-border criminal activities in past years.

This time the authorities appear to be taking no chances and have made it a point to clearly publicise their readiness to lock down the area and thwart any attempt by criminal elements operating from and seeking safe harbour in the Southern Philippines.

Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) officials however have called the increased movement of personnel “normal” and part of the on-going strengthening of security on the eastern seaboard of the state.

Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib when contacted downplayed the security movements, calling them “routine” operations being carried out by police who are part of the ESSCOM.

However, some security officials claim that the extra security alert came about after personnel at a police outpost in Kg Sibuti in the Dent Haven area of Tungku were alerted to the presence of an unidentified pump boat in the area.

The team manning the outpost were reported to have fired a flare into the night sky on hearing the sound of a boat engine approaching the main coastline in wee hours ofFriday morning.

However no vessel was detected and the ESSCOM high command was immediately informed and military helicopters and soldiers were dispatched to the area.

The official said that they had so far no evidence of any intrusion and the sound of boat engines in the night are not unusual as the use of pump boats is common by local villagers and fishermen in the area.

“All information received is not taken lightly and checked,” an official, who declined to be named, said.

Late Thursday night an army helicopter flew over this township and the manoeuvre was repeated on Friday night.

An armoured truck was seen on the main road heading toward Tungku area while soldiers armed with M16 rifles were seen on the street of Fajar commercial area and in town.

Swoop on illegals

Meanwhile Bernama reported yesterday that 20 people, including six women who did not have valid travel documents were detained during Ops GASAK 2 launched by Esscom.

ESSCOM director-general Mohammad Mentek said during the Ops that was carried out from 3.30am to 2.30pm, the 20 people, aged between four months to 50 years, were detained for further investigations.

“Initial investigations showed that the nine men, six women, a baby boy and four girls did not have valid travel or identification documents with them.

“There are 665 people living on Pulau Kalapuan, comprising 149 men, 235 women, 135 boys and 126 girls,” he said in a statement in Kota Kinabalu yesterday.

Mohammad said Ops GASAK 2 was a follow up operation to Ops GASAK 1 which was launched on Nov 24, covering Pulau Pom Pom, Pulau Mataking, Pulau Mabul and Kapalai and pledged that such operations would continue.

He said during the integrated operation which involved security agencies, police, Armed Forces, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, Immigration, National Registration Department and Sabah’s Federal Special Task Force.

Mohammad also issued a stern warning that action would be taken against anyone harbouring illegal immigrants, especially those who rent their houses to foreigners (illegal immigrants).

(Yearender) At DFA, a year of crisis troubleshooting for PHL’s top diplomat

From GMA News (Dec 29): (Yearender) At DFA, a year of crisis troubleshooting for PHL’s top diplomat

In June, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario called on victims of the alleged sex for repatriation scheme to come forward and help the government resolve the case. Danny Pata
The Department of Foreign Affairs grappled with crisis after crisis this year on the foreign policy frontlines—from the "Saudization" policy that confronted thousands of Filipino workers and other foreign nationals in oil-rich Saudi Arabia to armed hostilities in Sabah that threatened the country's cozy relations with Malaysia.

But the South China Sea territorial rifts were at the top of the high-stakes strategic concerns that tested and best defined the leadership of Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario.

Taking China to court

The Philippines took a bold gamble early this year when it brought China before The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration over the West Philippine Sea dispute. In a region where many governments cringe at the prospect of standing up to Asia's resident superpower, it was a defining gambit in the country's foreign policy that earned the regional giant's ire but also the respect of many other nations.

Beijing ignored the move and made its displeasure felt by taking steps to prevent President Benigno Aquino III from attending an annual Association of South East Asian Nations-China trade expo in the Chinese city of Nanning in September despite quiet negotiations by Filipino diplomats with their Chinese counterparts.

"Foreign policy should continue to advocate, and to be based on, the rule of law," Del Rosario said in a speech early this month, pressing the country's rule-of-law approach that has become a buzzword in discussions of the territorial conflicts.

"Since the Philippines is not as economically strong and militarily powerful as other countries, the rule of international law will serve as the great equalizer," he added.

China's incursions, officials say, persisted in the South China Sea, some parts of which have been renamed West Philippine Sea by Manila.

Del Rosario met with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington in April. During their meeting, the United States expressed support for the Philippines' call for international arbitration in settling its territorial row with China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). AFP/Nicholas Kamm
Kiram's men attack Sabah

In February, the DFA's attention turned to the south when Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III deployed about 200 of his men, many of them armed, to Malaysian-controlled Sabah to press the clan's historical claim on the resource-rich territory, sparking weeks of deadly clashes with Malaysian forces.

The violence threatened to strain Manila's ties with Malaysia, which has been brokering the country's talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Calls for the government to revive a long-shelved claim to Sabah emerged.

Foreign Affairs Sec. Albert del Rosario (2nd from left) traveled to Kuala Lumpur in early March to meet with Malaysian Foreign Minister Dato Sri' Anifah Aman (2nd from right) and Defense Minister Dato' Seri Dr. Ahmad Zamid Hamidi (right) on ways to peacefully resolve the Sabah crisis. At left is PHL Ambassador to Malaysia Ed Malaya. DFA
PHL-Taiwan relations sour over fisherman's death

In May, Taiwan protested and took retaliatory steps when one of its fishermen was shot and killed by Philippine Coast Guard personnel in northern waters. After months of tension, President Benigno S. Aquino III sent an envoy from the Manila Economic and Cultural Office to Taiwan in August to apologize on his behalf to the fisherman's family.

Sex-for-flight scheme uncovered

In June, chairman of the House committee on overseas workers' affairs Rep. Walden Bello announced that female overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) had come forward accusing some Philippine embassy and Labor officials in the Middle East of demanding sex in exchange for repatriation. In a "News To Go" interview the same month, Del Rosario said he had been unaware of reports about prostitution rings allegedly operated by Philippine embassy staffers. He later announced that the government probe into the incidents was expanded to include Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

The Department of Justice earlier this month created a task force to investigate the alleged sex-for-flight scheme.

Apology demanded for hostage crisis

Hong Kong continued to press its demand for an apology from the Philippine government for the death of eight Hong Kong tourists in a bungled hostage rescue in 2010.

In November, Del Rosario said that the Philippine and Hong Kong governments were "together working quietly to achieve a result that is mutually satisfactory."

Survivors and relatives of several tourists who were killed during the August 23, 2010 Manila bus hostage crisis observe a moment of silence outside the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong on the incident's 3rd anniversary. The group filed writs in the High Court in Hong Kong to seek compensation from the PHL after Manila allegedly ignored demands for compensation and declined to apologize. Reuters/Tyrone Siu
Repatriations from the Middle East

As crises overlapped at home, thousands of Filipinos got caught in the crossfires of the bloody unrest in Syria, Yemen and other Arab countries, prompting massive repatriations of Filipino workers and their dependents that the DFA helped oversee.

In Saudi Arabia, a government crackdown against illegal workers also prompted repatriations.

When UN peacekeepers from the Philippines were kidnapped in the Golan Heights, the DFA led a crucial probe and recommended that the Filipino contingent remain in the volatile region after UN officials acceded to Manila's demand for better security and deployment conditions.

Filipino UN peacekeepers pass through an army crossing in Quneitra between Syria to the Israeli annexed Golan Heights on Wednesday, June 12. The DFA raised the issue of the peacekeepers' safety and security with the UN following two abduction incidents this year.AFP/Menahem Kahana
Typhoon Yolanda

Yolanda's massive devastation kept the DFA busy as it helped issue an international appeal for aid, then coordinated the entry of assistance from more than 60 countries. The DFA oversaw the visits of US Secretary of State John Kerry, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the ministers of Australia and United Kingdom to the typhoon-battered regions.


With its weak military, the Philippines turned to diplomacy as a crucial weapon amid the territorial spats. That meant more spade work for the DFA.

The Philippines, Del Rosario said, has expanded defense and security engagements with more countries allied with the US, including South Korea, New Zealand, Italy, Spain and France. It has also enhanced ties with Japan to improve maritime security. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Philippines in July to boost ties between the two nations.

From 2012 to July of this year, the Philippines successfully oversaw the conclusion of more than 40 accords on political and security matters, Del Rosario said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is welcomed by a street sweeper after Ban inspected a devastated area in Fatima village, Tacloban City. Reuters/Romeo Ranoco
'Multi-dimensional' challenges

"It was another year of multi-dimensional challenges," Del Rosario said when asked how he assessed 2013.

Those challenges, he said, concerned major issues "encompassing the promotion of our national security, the advancement of our economic diplomacy and the protection of the welfare of our overseas Filipinos."

"We faithfully implemented a principled foreign policy as directed by our president," he said.

ARMM creates model communities ahead of Bangsamoro govt

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 29): ARMM creates model communities ahead of Bangsamoro govt

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)government has set aside P500 million to come up with model barangays from the region's five provinces in preparation for the upcoming establishment of Bangsamoro government.

Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman, in a statement, said the model barangays would showcase how a community under the new Bangsamoro government will be after the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Each province will have 10 model barangays or one model community from each town.

Each model community will showcase what a local government should be with all the line agencies of the government present and functioning well.

"This forms part of the ARMM preparation for the coming Bangsamoro government which is slated sometime in 2016," Hataman said.

The government basic services like health, education, livelihood, peace and security, among others will be physically present in the model barangays.

The government and the MILF are closer to signing a peace deal that will give Moro people in Muslim Mindanao the opportunity to government themselves through the Bangsamoro government.

Ahead of the signing of the peace accord, the Aquino government has started bringing the government closer to the people of ARMM which will form major part of the Bangsamoro government.

Aquino's administration brought genuine government services to ARMM communities where basic services such as health and education were absent due to decades of armed conflict.

Once an agreement is signed between the Aquino government and the MILF, full swing government services will engulf the country's poorest region.

PNP in glare of Atimonan shooting in 2013

From the Manila Times (Dec 29): PNP in glare of Atimonan shooting in 2013

2013 opened with a bang for the Philippine National Police (PNP): One of its top officers led a team of policemen and soldiers that opened fire on a convoy of an alleged group of criminals at a checkpoint in Atimonan, Quezon.

The January 6 incident left 13 people dead, including the alleged henchman of a gambling operator in Batangas province.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) declared the incident a rubout, not an encounter as claimed by the group of Supt. Hansel Marantan that manned the checkpoint.

Multiple murder charges were later filed against Marantan and several officers before the Gumaca, Quezon, Regional Trial Court.

The DOJ eventually dropped the charges against 11 members of the Army Special Forces Battalion who provided support to the police contingent.

The incident led to the relief of C/Supt. James Melad as director of the Southern Tagalog Police.

Six months later, police officers were again in the spotlight, this time over the death of Ricky Cadavero, the leader of the Ozamiz robbery gang, and his assistant, Wilfredo Panogalinga Jr. in San Pedro, Laguna province.

The two were gunned down while being transported back to camp after their inquest in Cavite. Their police escorts claimed that Cadavero and Panogalinga were shot when they tried to grab the gun of one of the policemen.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) established that the two were killed in cold blood.

The incident led to the relief of all the policemen involved, including the regional commander, C/Supt. Benito Estipona, who succeeded Melad as director of the Southern Tagalog Regional Police.

A fact-finding investigation by the PNP Directorate for Personnel Records and Management (DPRM) revealed that the incident was premeditated.

The policemen involved in the killing were charged with two counts of murder.
Aside from ensuring a peaceful and orderly elections in May, the PNP also had its hands full dealing with street crimes which remained a major concern in most major urban centers in the country. These include pick-pocketing, small-time scams and swindling.

As of end June 2013, the PNP Directorate for Investigative and Detective Management (DIDM) recorded 273,509 crimes. Of this number, 138,944 were index crimes or crimes committed against a person or properties and 134,565 were non-index crime or violations of laws and ordinances.

Police also recorded several bank robberies in 2013. The most daring heists, however, were carried out by street criminals who robbed jewelry shops in two popular shopping malls in Metro Manila.

On January 27, members of the “Martilyo Gang” using hammers and crowbars forced open a jewelry store in SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City. In early December, several men using the same modus operandi robbed a jewelry shop inside SM North EDSA Mall in Quezon City.

The PNP also had to face the threats of terrorism and communist rebels, still very active in Mindanao and in the Visayas, Bicol and Southern Tagalog region.

The police recorded several bombings and explosions, the deadliest of which was the explosion at a crowded bar in Cagayan de Oro City in late July, killing five people and wounding dozens.

Police traced the bombing to a newly formed group called Khilafa Islamiya Movement (KIM), believed to have links with Al-Qaeda.

Aside from the Khilafa Islamiya, the PNP monitored two other militants groups, the Anak Ti Ilo and the Young Jihadist Group.

Policemen and soldiers also responded to the occupation of several areas in Zamboanga City by rogue Moro rebels that displaced thousands of residents.

The PNP was also tapped for disaster relief operations and maintaining law and order in areas hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda in November.

PNP Chief Alan Purisima said that for the coming year, he will propose the acquisition of helicopters, patrol vehicles, firepower and communication equipment.

“The performance of PNP for 2013 is good… we have done so many things, we have some transformation that have taken place and many changes are being made and can be felt as we go on,” Purisima said.

Purisima vowed a more stringent screening of applicants, as he noted that some of the policemen involved in illegal activities were rookies.

“The problem of the PNP right now is related to the recruitment of police officers and that’s where it all started. So we are changing that slowly and hopefully we will be successful,” he said.

Rizal martyrdom remembered

From the Manila Times (Dec 29): Rizal martyrdom remembered

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd leads the nation in marking the 117th death anniversary of Dr. Jose P. Rizal today with a flag raising ceremony in Tarlac province.

“He will start with the raising of the flag exactly 7 a.m. (the time when Rizal died) in Bagumbayan, Luneta, Manila,” Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.

The Palace earlier urged the lowering of the Philippine flag to half staff today in honor of the national hero.

Palace Deputy Spokesman Abigail Valte called on Filipinos to reflect on Rizal’s legacy that has “reverberated throughout our people’s collective narrative.”

Rizal Day, she added, marks the centennial of the Rizal Monument, built as the tomb and memorial of Rizal.

As part of the commemoration, the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office is launching today its website on the Rizal Monument. The website contains comprehensive essays, archival photo galleries, an architectural retrospective and contextual maps focusing on the Rizal Monument and on the Bagumbayan of history with full translation of the essay, the Tagalog Hamlet by Miguel de Unamuno, one of the earliest and most influential reflections on Rizal.

Rizal, the construct and Rizal, historically

From the Manila Standard Today (Dec 30): Rizal, the construct and Rizal, historically (By Fr. Ranhilio Aquino)

In elementary school, at least in our days, we were taught to revere Rizal, not that reverencing his memory is wrong, but, in the light of what his biographers and present-day historians tell us, much of the lore that engendered this memory was hardly anything more than that—lore.  We were taught about a Rizal who loved his country so that in the struggle for liberation from the hated colonizer, he courageously marched to his death after having lived a life worthy of any reasonable person’s emulation.

Workers rush to spruce up the statue
of national hero Jose Rizal in time for
today’s commemoration of his
But we were never told of the Rizal who would have been prosecuted in our time for a violation of the laws protecting women from violence.  We were never told of Rizal’s trepidation, almost despondency, at the time of execution, and of the attempts he made to go back on what he had written if only to be spared the penalty of death.  While we were told what an astounding grasp he had of languages, we were not given examples of the awkward English he also wrote.  And while I have access to Rizal’s works in their original Spanish, I wanted to ask native Castilian speakers what they thought of Rizal’s Spanish: More fair, rather than elegant, was the assessment I got.

Not that our teachers intended to deceive us about Rizal.  Probably they did not know any better. And while there are some who take issue with the way the likes of Ambeth Ocampo write history, I admire Ambeth when he writes about Rizal for one reason, among others: Without probably intending to do so, by his delving into details (that others will deride as ‘trivia’) he actually deconstructs the Rizal that decades fashioned as an embodiment and a projection of our ideals (probably now lost) as a people.

In fact, some debates over Rizal are actually proxy debates.  One favorite topic is whether or not he retracted.  Some insist he did; others are adamant that he did not.  And this debate has passionately raged because it is actually a proxy struggle between those who would have a more secular society and those who cling to the ideal of a Philippines with a Catholic soul.  Then the other debate surrounds Rizal’s political position: Did he advocate revolution against Spain or did he merely want reforms, but still under the aegis of “Madre Espana”?  Like many an interminable debate on Sacred Scripture, one will find as many passages in Rizal’s writings in favor of one position as those in favor of its opposite.  But the debate is actually a proxy debate between those who think that Philippine history was polluted by the Spanish presence and those who, like Nick Joaquin (rightly, to my mind) believe that history is the story we tell about ourselves, of which the Spanish epoch is inevitably a part, and that the ‘true’ Filipino, if this characterization makes any sense at all, is he who stands within this narrative.

It is Rizal Day once more, and each speaker, each local TV channel, each Rizal Day host will proffer his own construct of Rizal, anywhere along the spectrum that ranges from an almost deified Rizal to a Rizal laden with his own share of human frailty, so far distant from the statues we see in almost Rizal Park throughout the country, dignified in overcoat, striking a Napoleonic pose, right hand over his breast, sometimes with books proclaiming his intelligence beside him --- even if available records at the University of Santo Tomas clearly show that Rizal never got the degree ‘Medicinae et Chirurgiae Doctor’.  Insofar as we are made aware of our own aspirations as a people whenever we extol the virtues of Rizal, these constructs are useful -- as long as they remain anchored somehow in the Rizal, the man of flesh and blood, courage and fear, nobility and shady ambition!

2013: ‘Explosive’ Year for Mindanao (Second of two parts)

From the Manila Bulletin (Dec 29): 2013: ‘Explosive’ Year for Mindanao (Second of two parts)

DEPRESSING SIGHT – This file photo dated November 16, 2013, shows the once state-of-the-art Joaquin F. Enriquez Sports Complex in Zamboanga City that was turned into an evacuation center for thousands of people who were displaced by the 23-day standoff between government soldiers and Moro National  Liberation Front rebels last September. (Nonoy E. Lacson)

DEPRESSING SIGHT – This file photo dated November 16, 2013, shows the once state-of-the-art Joaquin F. Enriquez Sports Complex in Zamboanga City that was turned into an evacuation center for thousands of people who were displaced by the 23-day standoff between government soldiers and Moro National Liberation Front rebels last September. (Nonoy E. Lacson)

Mindanao was rocked by atrocities in 2013, which claimed the lives of many people, displaced thousands of residents, and destroyed millions of pesos worth of properties and infrastructure.

But the 23-standoff between government forces and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels loyal to founding chairman Nur Misuari in Zamboanga City remains the most destructive.

The siege lasted for three weeks marked by sporadic fighting, as the military engaged the MNLF in “close quarter battle.”

Residential houses, buildings, and other structures were totally destroyed by fires.

Misuari signed a peace accord with Manila in 1996, but the rebels accused the government of violating parts of the agreement.

The group also felt excluded from new negotiations between the government and a larger rival faction, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which separated from the MNLF in 1978.

Due to the atrocities, thousands of people evacuated to the state-of-the-art Joaquin F. Enriquez Memorial Complex for fear of being caught in the crossfire.

The Office of Civil Defense (OCD) reported that 3,591 houses were destroyed in Barangay Sta. Catalina, 2,113 in Rio Hondo, 1,685 in Kasanyagan, 1,592 in Sta. Barbara, and 1,179 in Mariki.

The OCD also said that 118,819 persons or 23,794 families from 14 barangays (villages) have been affected by the violence, with almost 100,000 people sheltered in 33 evacuation centers in the city.

As the year ends, government efforts are into the rehabilitation of the affected families, but were somehow stalled when super-typhoon “Yolanda” wrecked havoc in the Visayas.

On September 28, 2013, the government declared the end of military operations in Zamboanga City, where Malik, reportedly the leader of the attacking MNLF rebels, was nowhere to be found.

Eventually, a court issued warrants of arrest for Misuari, Malik, Bas Arki, and Assamin Hussin. They have been charged with rebellion and human rights violations.

Misuari, who is the founder of the MNLF, has been accused of allegedly ordering the attacks.

Given the kind of police capabilities and justice system, there is general skepticism whether these bombing cases can really be solved.

But before the curtain falls regarding the “2013: Explosive Year for Mindanao,” the government peace panel and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed an important portion of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, during the 42nd exploratory talks.

In the spirit of attaining peace, the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF steadfastly worked on for so many years toward a fruitful conclusion that would benefit not just the Bangsamoro people but the rest of the people in Mindanao.

The government panel stressed that prospects are now brighter than ever for the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

With the peace talks entering the end stage, the Annex on Power-Sharing to the FAB was finally signed in the evening of December 8 – after 16 months of negotiations.

The government and MILF peace panels signed the Annex on Power-Sharing with both parties agreeing that the unresolved issue on “Bangsamoro waters” be treated as an addendum to the annexes on Power-Sharing and Revenue Generation and Wealth-Sharing.

The signing leaves only one more annex unsigned – the Annex on Normalization to finally complete the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that would hasten the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), and to finally give way for the creation of the Bangsamoro autonomous political entity that would replace the 23-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Like the skepticism on law enforcement and justice system, the peace negotiations earn some of them, as well.

Looking back, chaos by way of bombings, siege, hostage-taking, and house burning dominate the headlines for stories coming from Mindanao.

But, Mindanaoans are steadfast in their resolve that everything will come to pass, even as they found ways to help their “kababayans” in the “Yolanda”-affected areas in the Visayas despite the miserable incidents they were into.

It’s not just giving back, they said. It is their way of being positive and being forward looking towards 2014.

CPP says dim prospects on GHP, NDFP peace talks

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Dec 30): CPP says dim prospects on GHP, NDFP peace talks

Maoist fighters doubt that the peace negotiations aimed at resolving the lingering communist insurgency in the country will go back on track within the remaining 30 months of President Aquino’s administration.

In a statement marking its 45th founding anniversary Thursday, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) blamed this gloomy prospect of the peace process to Aquino’s supposed disinterest in pursuing a just conclusion to the armed conflict.

“In view of the proven unwillingness of the Aquino regime to negotiate a just peace, the revolutionary movement does not expect the resumption of peace negotiations with the regime. It has no choice but to wait for the next regime to engage in serious negotiations,” the CPP said.

But government said it is not ruling out the communists from the peace table until they would say so.

“For the record, the government has not received any official communication from the CPP expressing their intent to no longer negotiate with the current administration,” said a text message from presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Quintos-Deles.

“If this is indeed their intent, the government, on the other hand, remains committed to work for a peaceful settlement of all internal armed conflict. Government will not close the peace table to those who want to pursue sincere and truthful dialogue in responding to our people’s call for peace,” Deles added.

“We will continue to seek ways to resume negotiations on the basis of a doable and time-bound agenda,” she further stressed.

Stalled tracks

The CPP is engaged in on-and-off talks with government through the National Democratic Front (NDF) for two decades now. When it resumed under the Aquino administration after six years of being stalled, negotiations with communist rebels follow the regular and special tracks.

The regular track, done through the peace panels, involves building consensus on four substantive agenda as defined by The Hague Joint Declaration inked by the parties on September 1, 1992.

Talks under the regular track have been stalled since February 2011 mainly over the issue of releasing detained NDF consultants. The parties were left on the second agenda, that is, on social and economic reforms. The first agenda, on respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, has been done through an agreement inked on March 16, 1998.

The third agenda is on political and constitutional reforms while the last one is on ending hostilities and disposition of forces.

The special track, which involves talks on a proposal for alliance and truce, is parallel and complementary to the regular track. This is done between CPP founding chair Jose Maria Sison and presidential adviser for political affairs Ronald Llamas.

Talks under the special track also stalled since February this year as the parties failed to agree on a joint declaration on, among others, upholding national sovereignty, and the need for genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization.

Unrealized meeting

Had the joint declaration been done, it would have helped pave the way for a meeting between President Aquino and Sison in Hanoi, expectedly early 2013.

Such meeting was planned to take the same significance as the Tokyo meeting of Aquino and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim.

The Aquino-Murad meeting helped hasten peace negotiations between government and the MILF.

The CPP said: “the Aquino regime is not at all interested in peace negotiations but the capitulation and pacification of the revolutionary forces and people under the guise of unilateral simultaneous indefinite ceasefires.”

“It has rebuffed the offer of the NDF for truce and alliance or cooperation on the basis of a concise general common intent to realize and carry forward national independence, democracy, social justice, development through land reform and national industrialization, people’s culture and international solidarity,” it added.

For the CPP, the truce and alliance or cooperation “are meant to promote the accelerated negotiation of the remaining comprehensive agreements in accordance with The Hague Joint Declaration.”

More offensives

In the next few years, the CPP has urged its supporters to “do our best to cause the ouster of the Aquino regime or compel Aquino’s resignation from his office...”

“We consider our efforts to remove Aquino from power as part of the process of strengthening the revolutionary movement and overthrowing the entire ruling system...” the CPP said, pointing at the lesson of the legal mass movement driving away the Marcos and Estrada regimes, 15 years apart from each other.

“Even if this would not succeed, the movement would still be strengthened and will further cause the US-Aquino regime to fail in its brutal attempt to destroy the armed revolution of the people,” the CPP added.

The group also ordered its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA) to “intensify the offensives” against enemy targets.

“We must wage battles to wipe out enemy units and seize their weapons. This is the way to strengthen the people’s army for the purpose of overthrowing the reactionary state,” said the CPP which is targeting to increase its fighters to 25,000, its peak strength in the late 1980s per estimate of government security forces.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has estimated NPA strength at around 4,000 armed fighters as of mid-2013.

The CPP hopes to capture political power through total military victory, building its armed strength from the countryside where the state is weakest.

Gov’t, MILF steer clear of snag on ‘waters’

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Dec 30): Gov’t, MILF steer clear of snag on ‘waters’

Buried in the euphoria of the signing of the Annex on Power Sharing to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) on December 8 is the glaring absence of consensus on the issue of ‘Bangsamoro waters.’

In their joint statement, the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels said they will be working on “an addendum on the matter of Bangsamoro Waters” alongside completing the Annex on Normalization next month in order to pave the way in forging a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA).

The CPA will consist of the FAB plus its four annexes on transitional modalities, wealth sharing, power sharing and normalization. The addendum on Bangsamoro waters will be another documentary hurdle to forging the CPA.

The concept of Bangsamoro waters is proposed by the MILF to provide political connectivity to the future autonomous entity’s territory which are in mainland Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago.

Psychology of nationhood

According to MILF peace panel member Maulana Alonto, such political connectivity will be important to developing further the psychology of Moro nationhood.

The MILF’s proposed concept goes beyond the current notion of municipal waters which is defined by the Philippine Fisheries Code as “marine waters 15 kilometers from the coastline, including streams, rivers, public forest, timber land, forest reserve or fishery reserve within the municipality” except those subject to the provisions of the law on protected areas.

Such maritime territory will primarily involve parts of Yllana Bay, the Moro Gulf and the Sulu Sea.

Delineating Bangsamoro waters and defining jurisdiction over these will definitely have implication on sharing the wealth that will eventually be found therein.

Based on various studies, the Moro Gulf and Sulu Sea are endowed with a rich diversity of fishery resources that command high economic value. In addition, the Sulu Sea also hosts several known blocks of oil and gas deposits.

Oil, gas riches

In mid-2011, the Philippine Energy Contracting Round 4 offered to interested investors 15 blocks throughout the country covering a total of some 100,339 square kilometers.

One energy block offered is in the Sulu Sea, covering around 432,000 hectares with water depths ranging from 1,500 to 5,000 meters, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).

Of the eight wells drilled within the Sulu Sea block, “five of these have significant oil and gas shows.” This block, the DOE said, holds around 209 million barrels of oil and 716 billion cubic feet of gas.

The DOE also said that three of four additional wells drilled adjacent to the block “have been declared as gas discoveries” with an estimated deposit of some 775 billion cubic feet.


Prior to their 42nd exploratory meeting on December 4 to 8, the parties held executive sessions in November in Kuala Lumpur to thresh out the issues hounding a power sharing consensus.

In these meetings, according to MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, they maintained that a resolution on the question of Bangsamoro waters would be the deal breaker.

That a power sharing annex was clinched even as the issue of Bangsamoro waters is still unresolved shows the creativity of the government and MILF peace panels; they refused to be stuck on the issue of waters, pushing the peace process closer to conclusion.

By agreeing to create a separate document to contain the consensus on Bangsamoro waters, the negotiators kept true to their record of innovative approaches toward finding a mutually acceptable political formula to end the four-decade Moro rebellion in Mindanao.

The parties’ decision to break the consensus-building exercise into sets of major documents, beginning with the 10 Decision Points of Principles, was the principal driver of the succession of strides in the negotiations, which is entering its 17th year next month.

Through this strategy, the parties were able to classify agreements on principles from differences with details, and isolate unresolved points from the growing body of consensus on issues.


For the MILF, the deal on power sharing between the central government and the future Bangsamoro government was a “hard-earned” victory in the negotiating table. The group describes it as a “product of struggle (hence) it resonates with justice...”
The parties took 18 months to hammer out the details of the document, beginning in July 2012, just before the parties concluded the FAB.

“The Annex embodies the Parties’ agreement on the delineation and sharing of power between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro Government within the territorial jurisdiction of the prospective Bangsamoro political entity,” the December 8 joint statement of the peace panels said.

“It also provides principles of intergovernmental relations to ensure the harmonious partnership between and among the different levels of government,” they added.

At the heart of it is the listing of some 81 governance powers. These are categorized into reserved which are exercised only by the central government; exclusive, which are to be exercised by the Bangsamoro government; and concurrent, which are shared by both, hence the need for coordinative mechanisms in the exercise of these.

Of the list, 58 are powers fully devolved to the Bangsamoro government, nine retained by the central government, and 14 are concurrent powers.

Structure of government

Another important feature of the power sharing annex is it’s providing the structure of the Bangsamoro ministerial government, which will also define its electoral practice.

Bangsamoro constituents will be electing members of its legislative assembly which is envisioned to compose at least 50 members coming from “district, party-list, reserved seats and sectoral constituencies.”

The Annex provides for the Bangsamoro assembly to be “representative of the Bangsamoro’s constituent political units, as well as non-Moro indigenous communities, women, settler communities, and other sectors...”

The parties have agreed that the Basic Law, which will serve as charter of the Bangsamoro government, must “ensure that representation in the assembly reflects the diversity of the Bangsamoro.”

A Chief Minister shall run the Bangsamoro cabinet. He/she will be elected by the assembly members from among themselves. The Chief Minister will appoint a deputy and other ministers with most coming from the assembly.

The Chief Minister will also preside over a council of leaders to be composed of provincial governors, city mayors, and “a representative each of the non-Moro indigenous communities, women, settler communities and other sectors.”