Friday, February 28, 2014

Muslim clerics seek peace-building role for Bangsamoro

From the Manila Times (Feb 28): Muslim clerics seek peace-building role for Bangsamoro

MARAWI CITY: Groups of ulama (Muslim clerics) here in the south conducted public consultations across Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) seeking the creation of Darul Ifta (Islamic House of Opinion) for ARMM that would play a vital role on peace building.

“We are raising many issues about Muslims in Mindanao, but we never heard about the side of Ulama,” Saad Amate, one of the organizers of Ulama consultations on institutionalization of Regional Darul Ifta for ARMM (RDI-ARMM) that convened first in this city on February 8 and followed up in Zamboanga city on February 16 to 17, told The Manila Times.

Amate said the event was attended by ARMM officials and groups of ulama from different Muslim institutions including armed groups Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and “unanimously” expressed their need over the creation of the RDI-ARMM.

Ulama groups include Muslim Mindanao Ulama Council, Jamio Muslim Mindanao, Jamiyatul Waqf, Kamilul Islam, Jamiatu Marawi Islamic Foundation, Jamio Mindanao Islamic Center, Jama’ah Tablig, and other groups including two giant armed groups MNLF and MILF. Among representatives of the groups are mufti, Amate said.

Mufti is a Muslim cleric leader and issuer of fatwa (Islamic legal pronouncement), which is being followed by their members.

“It is very disturbing to have many mufti, sometimes we do not know whom we will follow,” local folk said in vernacular here.

RDI-ARMM aims to unite and unify ulama from various groups in ARMM under one umbrella institution for them to be in charge of Muslim affairs in ARMM and be involved in the social services, said Department of Education (DepEd) of ARMM for Madaris Undersecretary Alzad Sattar.

Darul Ifta was established largely for spiritual and ritual activities such as khutba (giving sermon), attending funerals, conducting wedding ceremonies, leading of daa (prayers) and gracing kanduri (thanksgiving), but has no greater participation in policymaking and governance since the creation of the ARMM.

Sattar, who attended the event, said “this is now the opportune time for the ulama to play an active role in transforming the society and combat the social menace affecting the community.”

“The time has come for the ulama to think out of the box. Their significant role on moral transformation, peace building, good governance, and socio-economic development should not be undermined,” he said.

During the convergence, the ulama have come up with seven resolutions that to be submitted to the concerned agencies or individuals for appropriate actions.

“A covenant was also signed by the ulama reiterating their commitment and support to the peace processes between the GRP-MNLF and the MILF-GPH respectively,” Sattar said.

One of the resolutions is “urging the Organization of Islamic Coordination (OIC) to immediately convene the Bangsamoro Coordinating Council between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for unity and solidarity among Bangsamoro for peace and development in the Bangsamoro homeland,” Sattar said.

Another resolution is “urging OIC through Peace Council for Southern Philippines, Government of the Republic of the Philippines, MNLF and MILF to convene as quadripartite meeting for unity and solidarity among Bangsamoro.

Malaysia’s motive as peace broker under question

From the Manila Times (Mar 1): Malaysia’s motive as peace broker under question

THE Malaysian government has been aggressively pursuing the signing of the peace pact between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for two reasons—its territorial hold on Sabah and the development of Liguasan Marsh in Mindanao, an area rich in gas reserves.

A book published by the Office of Strategic and Special Studies (OSS), the think tank of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), casts suspicion on Malaysia’s real motive for brokering peace between the two camps.

“Doubts by many a Filipino about Malaysia’s role have not been completely dispelled. They suspect that the Malaysians have been supporting Filipino Muslim separatist groups by funding and training their fighters and that brokering a peace agreement favoring them would ultimately favor Malaysia,” wrote University of the Philippines Political Science Prof. Jose Raymund Quilop and Cesar Pobr, in their book, In Assertion of Sovereignty.

The OSS said Malaysia and the MILF were a “tag team” in persuading Manila to giving in to the secessionist group’s demands. The MILF, the book said, was firm in having Malaysia as a peace broker.

Unlike the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which has vowed to reclaim Sabah, the MILF has assumed a more flexible stand, mainly because Malaysia has been supporting the MILF’s fight.

“The Philippine standing claim over Sabah has been echoed by the MNLF. The MNLF, through its leader Nur Misuari, has expressed its vow to reclaim Sabah. It sees the peace process as a sell-out, with the MILF openly tolerating Malaysia’s sovereignty over Sabah,” the book said.

In February last year, armed followers of the late Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram 3rd occupied a town in Sabah, asserting the Sultanate’s claim on the territory. Kuala Lumpur drove the intruders out after a series of bloody clashes. Misuari, like Kiram and his followers, belong to the Tausug tribe of Muslim Filipinos.

The OSS, which has been providing insights on defense policies and strategies for decades, said Kuala Lumpur wanted a final peace deal with the MILF signed so it could supplant Manila’s 1996 pact with the MNLF.

It said that the MNLF and the Sulu Sultanate’s threat to reclaim Sabah “might have prompted Malaysia to take a more forward step to fast-track the conclusion of a GRP-MILF deal so that it could have precedence over the GRP-MNLF peace deal,” the book said.

Other excerpts from the military-sanctioned document claim that it is likely for the MILF to tap Malaysia as its partner in exploring the vast Liguasan Marsh in Central Mindanao.

Investment opportunities eyed

On Thursday, Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya said after the signing of the last annex in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, 13 Malaysian companies visited Cotabato province to explore investment opportunities in the southern region.

The Malaysian firms were the first international business groups to show interest in putting up businesses in Mindanao.

Malaya said the companies are looking at oil palm plantations, rubber manufacturing, halal foods, infrastructure development and light manufacturing as lucrative ventures.
Last month, the Philippine government and the MILF signed the Annex on Normalization that will lead to the decommissioning of the MILF’s armed force and private armies in the proposed Bangsamoro area. It was the last of the four annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which was signed on October 15, 2012.

“I think the focus of the visit would be consolidating peace and supporting the development of Mindanao. Malaysia has been the facilitator of the Mindanao peace process since 2001. In our view, they are invested in that process as we are in the Philippine government,” Malaya told reporters.

“They stayed the course and what is important now that there is a successful conclusion of the peace process is to transform the support and the goodwill from facilitation of the peace process into concrete economic support measure, so that in the words of the Prime Minister—‘the former freedom fighters can be transformed into productive farmers,’” Malaya said.

Arms supplies from Malaysian dealer

The book details how Malaysian funds, guns and ammunitions had found their way into MILF hands in the past.

Documents seized from an overrun MILF camp indicated that MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar wanted to buy weapons from a Malaysian arms dealer named Rim Kyu Do. On September 25, 1999, Rim was handed two checks in the amount of $1 million.

“This amount was to be part of a total $2,196,250 as advance payment for the purchase of what appeared to be a Swede-made MSM Type A midget submarine with a Swimmer Delivery Vehicle, SA-16 surface to air missiles and a 30 MM anti-tank cannon,” the book said.

The submarine could be used to transport MILF fighters around the Liguasan Marsh and to attack targets, including the Malampaya gas plant, it said.

The Malaysian arms dealer was able to deliver millions of bullets but the deal subsequently fell through. The government said the deal collapsed because Rim could have run away with the money, or the military offensive against the MILF made the delivery of arms difficult.

Sabah not included in talks

On Thursday, President Benigno Aquino 3rd flew to Malaysia for a two-day state visit.
Before leaving for Kuala Lumpur, the President said he would relay the Philippines’ thanks to Malaysia for helping the survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda. Aquino said Malaysia had given $1 million and sent medical and humanitarian assistance teams to the typhoon-ravaged areas.

He was also scheduled to sign a few agreements during his meeting with top Malaysian officials.

But the thorny Sabah issue is not on the agenda.

“We are confident the visit will promote our interests and deepen our ties with our neighbor while offering more opportunities for Filipinos,” Aquino said.

With him are Secretaries Albert del Rosario of Foreign Affairs, Cesar Purisima of Finance, Gregory Domingo of Trade, peace process adviser Teresita Deles, Lualhati Antonino of the Mindanao Development Authority, Julia Abad of the Presidential Management Staff, Herminio Coloma Jr. of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, and Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras.

Security alert for Sulu delegation to Sabah

The Sun Daily (Feb 27): Security alert for Sulu delegation to Sabah

Police are closely monitoring entry points in Sabah following an intelligence report that claimed a delegation led by chieftains of the defunct Sulu Sultanate in South Philippines were making plans to visit the state to meet local Suluk leaders.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said today that police are investigating what their intentions are to enter the state.

"That is the information we received and we are not sure what they are up to. Maybe to meet some individuals here, but we are monitoring the situation and will take action if the need arises." he said.

The defunct Sulu Sultanate, led by their late chieftain Jamalul Kiram who was behind the Lahad Datu incursion in February last year, had sent an army of about 250 men to the state in a bid to lay claim to Sabah.

Meanwhile, Khalid rebutted a news report that 60 of his men, including senior officers, are under a high-profile probe by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) for corruption involving millions of ringgit.

"I met Abu Kassim (MACC Chief Commissioner Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamed) on Wednesday and he told me the news report was false, it is not true.So I do not know where the Malaysian Insider got all this information. Maybe they got it from a 'tukang kebun' (gardener) or so and decided to run the story.

"Such reporting is not right." he said after a function with ex-senior police officers at the Jalan Semarak police training centre.

However, Khalid admitted that there are several policemen, including a senior officer, who are being investigated by the MACC for graft and abuse of power.

On another matter, Khalid said police are aware of the recent rise in shooting cases and have taken step to counter the problem.

CPP/NPA: Philippine Army, hinaras 4 sugatan

Posted to the CPP Website (Feb 25): Philippine Army, hinaras 4 sugatan (Philippine Army, harassed 4 injured)

Diego Magtanggol
NPA Camarines Sur Front Operations Command (Norben Gruta Command)
Matagumpay na naisakatuparan ang taktikal na opensiba laban sa isang platun na kabilang sa 49th Infantry Battalion ng Philippine Army noong ika-13 ng Pebrero 2014 sa Brgy. Patalunan, Ragay, Camarines Sur.

Alas 12:15, isang tim ng Bagong Hukbong Bayan ng Norben Gruta Command ang maingat na nakalapit sa namamahingang isang platun ng 49th IBPA. Tumagal ng ilang minuto ang palitan ng putok na nag-iwan ng 4 na sugatan kabilang si PFC MARIANO OBARIO at may 3 pang iba pa. Ligtas naman na nakamaniobra ang mga magigiting na Pulang mandirigma.

Ang taktikal na opensibang ito ay pagtugon sa malawak na panawagan ng mamamayan na parusahan ang tropa ng 49th IBPA sa direktang paglabag nito sa karapatang pantao. Ilan dito ang pananakot at pambubugbog kay ROMIE MEDALLADA, 51 taong gulang at isang magsasaka. Nitong ika-13 ng Pebrero naman ay may nadagdag naman sa mahabang listahan ng mga biktima ng paglabag sa karapatang pantao. Sila ay sina ERIC POSTRE, 38 taong gulang at ARMANDO SAPURO, 21 taong gulang, pawang mga magsasaka at nakatira sa Brgy. Patalunan, Ragay, Camarines Sur. Sila ay walang awang binugbog at kinulata ng baril. Meron ding kaso ang mga hambog na kasapi ng 49th IBPA ng panununog ng koprahan na pagmamay-ari ng masang magsasaka sa kaparehong barangay.

Patunay lamang ito sa kawalan ng disiplina at walang paggalang sa karapatang-pantao sa tuwing sila ay may combat operation. Ito ay kabaliktaran sa pinapangalandakan nila sa kanilang mga civic military operation na pawang bahagi ng kanilang Triad Operation kasama ang operasyong paniktik. Sa tulong ng malawak na suporta ng mamamayan, patuloy na bibiguin ng Bagong Hukbong Bayan ang anumang pagtatangka na supilin at durugin ang patuloy na paglakas ng demokratikong rebolusyong bayan.

Oplan Bayanihan, Biguin!

 Digmang Bayan, Paigtingin!

Military denies caught extortion suspects are soldiers

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 28): Military denies caught extortion suspects are soldiers

The military on Friday denied that the two persons posing as members of the Philippine Army and were arrested in Nueva Ecija early this week were part of its roster of troops.

“Per verification and as a result of the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] investigation, alleged Lt. Morales and his cohort are not members of the AFP,” said Major Emmanuel Garcia, spokesperson of the 1st Civil Relations Group.

The two were arrested in an entrapment operation on Maharlika Highway in Cabanatuan City early this week. They introduced themselves as First Lieutenant Darrel Silva Morales and Jose Angeles Suva Viola II, an enlisted personnel.

The suspects had AFP IDs, firearms, mobile phones and cash when they were arrested.

An entrapment operation was made after police received reports of extortion involving the two.

“Cases of robbery and usurpation of authority have been filed against the suspects.

Said personalities are members of a larger syndicate and criminal group operating in Nueva Ecija,” Garcia said.

Army Special Forces gets gold in Anvil Awards

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 27): Army Special Forces gets gold in Anvil Awards

AFP Public Affairs Office Chief Lt Col Ramon P Zagala (middle), Perk Comm’s Benjor Catindig(3rd from right), and Infinit-1’s Ms Sony Jalandoni (3rd from left) received the Anvil Award of Merit during the 49th Anvil Awards held yesterday, February 26 for the coffeetable book, “Philippine Army Special Forces: 50 Years of Valiant Service” published in line with the 50th Anniversary of the Special Forces Regiment/ AFP PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE
That “special” branding just got even better.

Considered as one unorthodox fighting unit of the Philippine Military, the Army Special Forces just got another winning card, this time on the public relations battlefield.

After publishing a book to commemorate its 50th anniversary, the Army Special Forces won an Anvil Award for Merit at the 49th Anvil Awards Wednesday night at the Solaire Resort and Casino.

Titled “Philippine Army Special Forces: 50 Years of Valiant Service,” the coffee-table book features the 50 years of the Special Forces and its battles that made the regiment an elite brotherhood and one of the best regiments in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“I can’t describe the feeling for the recognition of our hardwork, and I’m very happy because we were recognized,” AFP Spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Raymond Zagala said. “It’s surreal, I never expected that the book will win an award.”

He said that the book has not only met the expectations of others, but was also worthy to chronicle the history of the Special Forces.

“It is an enormous task,” said Zagala whose Special Forces had former president Fidel V. Ramos as its first commander. “The expectation that’s on our shoulder was to create something worthy of the anniversary of the courage and determination of the Special Forces.”

Narratives and stories from the frontlines and the veterans that lived it are featured in the book.

Zagala said that the book will shed light on the Special Forces’ history and its main goal for the country, to defend its sovereignty and its people.

Though the Special Forces is looked upon as one tough brotherhood, the book gives the human, and sometimes quirky, side of the honored men sporting the green berets.

Korean troops focus on repair of facilities used by children

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): Korean troops focus on repair of facilities used by children
The Republic of Korea "Araw" Force is focused on rehabilitating facilities that cater to the needs of the children like schools, hospitals and orphanage.

Colonel Chulwon Lee, commander of the "Araw" Force, reasoned out that children are the future of the nation when asked by members of the media as to their desire to repair school buildings.

There are 82 damaged school buildings in Leyte's three towns covered by their rehabilitation operation as stipulated in the agreement between the South Korean government and Philippine government.

However, they will only repair 60 school buildings during their one-year stay in Leyte province.

When they arrived to the province for assessment, they immediately saw the destruction caused by typhoon "Yolanda" to Eastern Visayas. They felt worried on its effect to children thus, they immediately focused in reconstructing damage school buildings in the towns of Tanauan, Palo and Tolosa and the Leyte Provincial Hospital.

The troops had already finished rehabilitating five schoolbuildings of the Tanauan 1 Central School in Tanauan, Leyte visited by President Benigno S. Aquino on Tuesday.

Some facilities of the Leyte Provincial Hospital were also rehabilitated by their groups, added Lee, including the orphanage under the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

When asked if they will honor the request of local governments and school officials to repair school buildings that are not included in the agreement, Lee replied that they have to stick with the agreement for security reasons.

He added that if there are officials from local government units who would ask them to stay longer after the agreement expires this December 14, they are willing to do so but this must have consent from the Philippine government.

Col. Lee also stressed that their presence in the country is not only to help victims of typhoon "Yolanda" but to repay the sacrifices of Filipino soldiers who helped their government fight against the communist government of North Korea.

Without the help of more than 7,000, the freedom that South Korean people have right now is impossible, said Lee.

They are now repairing the damaged houses of three Filipino veterans of Korean war as their way of showing deep gratitude to the former soldiers.

Despite harassment of fishermen, PHL will not deploy Coast Guard to disputed shoal

From GMA News (Feb 28): Despite harassment of fishermen, PHL will not deploy Coast Guard to disputed shoal

There are no plans to deploy Coast Guard personnel to the disputed Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal despite the alleged harassment of Filipino fishermen there by Chinese authorities, MalacaƱang said Friday.
During a press conference, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said she is not aware of any directive from President Benigno Aquino III to send the Coast Guard to the shoal. The also said the Philippines has "adopted the policy of non-provocation and non-confrontation."

"In fact, the chief of staff of the Armed Forces had already mentioned this that due to the fact that the government, or at least, this particular administration has already adopted the policy of settling the dispute peacefully and under the rule of law, we will abide by that pact—obviously referring to the case that we filed before the arbitral tribunal," Valte said.

"As such all the agencies that may have something to do with the particular claim are already—have already been long advised of what to—on how to go about this," she added.

But she noted that Coast Guard vessels continue to patrol the country's waters.

"That’s normal and that’s regular," Valte said, although admitting they cannot surround the entire country at the same time given certain limitations.

Valte also said it is still the call of the secretary of the Department of National Defense whether to deploy vessels to certain areas.

The Palace official issued the statement after ACT-Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said the Coast Guard’s presence in the shoal might deter Chinese authorities from harassing Filipino fishermen in the disputed waters.

Gov't, MILF to ink final peace pact 'end of March'

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): Gov't, MILF to ink final peace pact 'end of March'

The Philippine government and Muslim rebels will sign a peace deal to end one of Asia's longest and deadliest insurgencies "by the end of March," Malaysia's prime minister said Friday, February 28, after meeting his Filipino counterpart.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said President Benigno Aquino invited him to witness the ceremony when "the comprehensive agreement is due to be signed by the end of March."
An official in the office of Aquino's adviser on the peace negotiations confirmed the signing was targeted for the end of next month though no exact date has been set.
"The successful conclusion of the Mindanao peace process... makes possible the empowerment of all the peoples of Mindanao," Aquino told reporters referring to the southern Philippine state where a decades-long rebellion has killed more than 150,000, mostly civilians.
Aquino was speaking to reporters in Malaysia's administrative capital Putrajaya on his first visit to the neighboring country.
The Philippine government and the 12,000-member Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) completed negotiations in January for a comprehensive peace agreement that will give rise to a new political entity to be known as the Bangsamoro.
Muslim-majority Malaysia hosted the negotiations.
The deal aims to end an insurgency that began in the 1970s, killed tens of thousands and left large parts of the fertile southern Philippines mired in violence-plagued poverty.
But even Aquino's peace chiefs have warned that the toughest stages, including implementing the deal, are yet to come after 18 years of stop-start negotiations.
They also include stamping out threats from renegade guerrillas and getting the support of hostile politicians and the nation's highest court.

Malaysia, Philippines agree on peaceful settlement of disputes in South China Sea (West Philippine Sea)tle

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): Malaysia, Philippines agree on peaceful settlement of disputes in South China Sea (West Philippine Sea)
PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia, Feb. 28 (PNA/Xinhua) -- Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said here Friday that Malaysia and the Philippines agreed on the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) in accordance with the rule of law and United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

He made the remarks at a joint press conference with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, adding that both countries believed their potential to prosper could only be fully realized in the international context where the rule of law was upheld.

"We believe that adherence to the rule of law, positive engagement and sincere dialogue are fundamental if we are to build a truly prosperous and peaceful Southeast Asia, where no one is left behind," he said.

Aquino said the two leaders reviewed many aspects of defense relations, particularly the educational and training exchanges between the armed forces and defense officials, as well as continued joint training activities and intelligence exchange.

He said both countries would be examining the progress of several initiatives and cooperation during the 8th Philippines- Malaysia Joint Commission Meeting, which would take place this year.

Aquino is on a two-day visit to Malaysia, which is his first since he took office as the Philippine President in 2010.

Army holds caravan for peace at La Castellana, Negros Occidental

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): Army holds caravan for peace at La Castellana, Negros Occidental

The 11th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army based in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental, together with the 302nd Infantry Brigade and 303rd Infantry Brigade in collaboration with the provincial government of Negros Occidental headed by Governor Alfredo MaraƱon, has initiated a Caravan for Peace and Development at Barangay Puso in La Castellana, Negros Occidental.

The activity is a one-stop-shop Medical Mission which includes medical consultations, giving of medicines, dental service, haircut, massage, circumcision, fruit-bearing seedlings, and vegetables seedling this past weekend, a media release on Thursday said.

The caravan was also attended by the different representatives of provincial departments and offices to provide information and livelihood programs to the populace of the said barangay.

A total of 1,273 beneficiaries from Barangay Puso had availed of the free services to include medical consultation (52), tooth extraction, (10), distribution of coffee seedlings (800), free haircut (47), circumcision (31), massage (33), and assorted non-food stuff (300).

The beneficiaries also received one bag of rice and goods as well.

Brig. Gen. Francisco Patrimonio, 302nd brigade commander based in Tanjay City, Negros Oriental, said the that Armed Forces of the Philippines will continue to support and facilitate peace initiatives of the government in attaining peace, security and development in the community.

“I persuade everyone to cooperate with the government so that peace and order will rule in the area,” he was quoted as saying in the media release.

Lt. Col. Wilfredo Isaac, commanding officer of the 11th IB in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental, said that the Army actively supports, advocates, and participates in peace-building in the country.

He also stressed that “we should actively advocate peace and work together to put forward the agenda of peace among the people”.

3 police officers hurt in NPA ambush in Surigao del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): 3 police officers hurt in NPA ambush in Surigao del Sur

Three police personnel were hurt in an ambush perpetrated by a heavily armed group believed to be members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) as they were on their way to assist in the confiscation of illegal forest products discovered at a remote village in San Agustin, Surigao del Sur, Thursday afternoon.

Reports from the Surigao del Sur Police Provincial Office said that nine (9) personnel from the 131st Regional Public Safety Company led by PInsp. Andrev G. Bautista together with Nestor Piala, representative of the Community Environment and Natural Resource Office (CENRO), were on board an Elf vehicle going toward the town of Lianga, Surigao del Sur when they were attacked upon reaching the portion of the national highway of Barangay San Vicente, Barobo town at 2:15 p.m. Thursday.

The ambuscade resulted accordingly to the wounding of the three members of the 131st RPSC identified as Police Officer 2 Arwin F. Dela Cruz, who was hit at his upper right arm; Police Officer 2 Alejandrino M. Intas, who was hit at his right leg and Police Officer 1 Mark Sherwin M. Castrodez, who was also hit at his right leg.

The police report said that the RPSC personnel came from their base at Cutlog, Barobo, Surigao del Sur and were on their way to Lianga town of the said province to respond to a request for assistance from OIC CENRO Hernan P. Ramirez, to verify and confiscate some forest products reportedly found at Barangay Gata, San Agustin in Surigao del Sur.

The three wounded policemen were rushed to D.O. Plaza Memorial Hospital at Barangay Patin-ay, Prosperidad town in Agusan del Sur for medical treatment, on board an ambulance of the Barobo Municipal Health Unit (PN LHA 137). They have been declared out of danger by their attending physician.

1,450 examinees pass PMA entrance

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): 1,450 examinees pass PMA entrance exams

Only 1,450 examinees -- 952 males and 498 females -- out of 12,195 applicants passed the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Cadet Qualification Test given last Aug. 25, PMA spokesperson Major Agnes Lynnette Flores announced on Friday.

Flores said of the 12,195 examinees, only 11,978 were able to complete the test which was held in 37 examination centers nationwide.

She said the next phase of the selection process for PMA Cadetship is the complete physical examination to be conducted at the Armed Forces of the Philippines Medical Center, where they will be made to undergo medical, psychological and physical examination to determine their fitness to undergo the four-year military training in the country's most prestigious military school.

After the series of examinations, the PMA Cadet Procurement Board will deliberate and select the most qualified candidates to compose PMA Class of 2018.

Flores said these individuals are expected to report to the PMA on April 1 for the oath-taking ceremony and reception rites.

President Aquino thanks Malaysian gov’t for support in peace talks, 'Yolanda' recovery

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 29): President Aquino thanks Malaysian gov’t for support in peace talks, 'Yolanda' recovery

President Benigno S. Aquino III on Friday thanked the Malaysian government for showing support to the Philippines in facilitating peace talks and giving aid in wake of typhoon "Yolanda" (international name: Haiyan).

In his speech during the joint press conference with His Excellency Najib Razak, the President said he was grateful to His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the Prime Minister and the people of Malaysia for the warm welcome.

He said the welcome was extended not only to him and his delegation but also, and more importantly, to the thousands of Filipinos who live and work in Malaysia.

President Aquino noted that the Philippines and Malaysia have worked hand in hand given intertwined history as Malay peoples.

“I wish to thank Your Excellency for the significant support your government has demonstrated in facilitating and hosting the peace talks between my government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF),” the President said.

He said the successful conclusion of the Mindanao peace process “finds root in the determination of both our peoples to strengthen the foundations of peace and justice.”

“This makes possible the empowerment of all the peoples of Mindanao,” he added. “I look forward to welcoming Your Excellency in Manila for the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.”

The President also thanked the Malaysian government for the solidarity the people of Malaysia showed Filipinos in the wake of "Yolanda", which he said was a “true display of our common commitment to look after the well-being of each other.”

“Your Excellency, I speak on behalf of our people when I say: the Filipino people will never forget an act of kindness. On behalf of my countrymen, please accept my sincerest gratitude: Terimah Kasi. Maraming salamat,” he said.

President Aquino also said that the meeting between two governments “reflects the respect and friendship that peoples with a shared and inextricable history accord one another.”

“Truly, our ancestors would have been proud to see their sons and daughters banding together to realize a common vision: Citizens empowered to live dignified and productive lives, so that they themselves may help open the doors of even greater opportunity for their fellow Filipinos and Malaysians,” the President said.

2 PN officers to participate in RIMPAC

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): 2 PN officers to participate in RIMPAC

Two Philippine Navy (PN) officers are set to participate in this year's RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific Exercise).

Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic said the unnamed officers will be attending the RIMPAC planning conference in California this April.

"And the same officers will be attending the actual exercises (off) Hawaii in July. The said officers will act as staff officers during the exercises," he added.

And when asked whether these PN officials will be observing the exercises aboard one of the naval vessels, Fabic said this will be determined during the planning conference.

"Usually they join other staff in (US Pacific Fleet) headquarters (in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii) during exercises. They will act as staff officers during the war games," the PN spokesman said.

RIMPAC is the world's largest international maritime warfare exercise.

It is held biennially during June and July of even-numbered years from Honolulu, Hawaii.

It is hosted and administered by the United States Navy's Pacific Fleet, headquartered at Pearl Harbor, in conjunction with the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, and Hawaii National Guard forces under the control of the Governor of Hawaii.

The US invites allied military forces from the Pacific Rim nations to participate.

With RIMPAC the United States Pacific Command seeks to enhance interoperability between Pacific Rim armed forces, ostensibly as a means of promoting stability in the region to the benefit of all participating nations.

How are govt, MILF doing in peace process? 'Gigantic progress' but 'need for speed' - indie panel

From InterAksyon (Feb 28): How are govt, MILF doing in peace process? 'Gigantic progress' but 'need for speed' - indie panel

How has the Mindanao peace process been doing? Particularly, how are the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front implementing the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro?

Overall and before the signing of the fourth and final annex on normalization, the two parties have made “gigantic progress,” although there is a “need for speed,” according to the independent Third Party Monitoring Team, the panel created by the agreement that is mandated to monitor the implementation of the agreement.

“The government and MILF panels have made gigantic progress in completing all four Annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB),” said Alistair MacDonald, TPMT chairman and former ambassador of the European Union to the Philippines, at a press conference Friday.

After consultations with a wide range of stakeholders in September and December, TPMT noted the following in its first public report:
  • Commitment “It was evident that both parties continued to share the strongest commitment to peace, and are absolutely determined to bring the process to a successful conclusion.”
  • ‘Need for speed’ “There was a strong recognition of the ‘need for speed,’ and for the drafting of the Basic Law to be completed as soon as possible in order to allow Congress to commence its deliberations in a timely manner.
  • Public info “Many stakeholders underlined the need for deeper public information about the FAB and its implications, and for the parties to strengthen their outreach and public messaging to a wide audience, including local government units, the ulamas and bishops, the business sector, and civil society more widely, and including also information in local languages.”
  • Inclusiveness “A number of stakeholders expressed concern about the inclusiveness of the process, and there was a clear desire for the FAB to be something which would be beneficial for all residents of the Bangsamoro.”
‘Tremendous work’ done by both govt, MILF

The TPMT noted four “key steps” undertaken by both parties since the signing of the agreement in October 2013, or what MacDonald called “some of the greatest steps” and “tremendous work”:
  • The signature of the Annexes on Transitional Modalities (February 2013), on Wealth Generation (July 2013), on Power Sharing (December 2013), and on Normalization (January 2014, together with the addendum on Bangsamoro Waters).
  • The launching of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission in April 2013, and the work being carried forward in drafting the Basic Law.
  • The launching of the Independent Commission on Policing in September 2013, to prepare proposals for a new police service for the Bangsamoro.
  • The launching of the Sajahatra Bangsamoro program in Feburary 2013, providing in coordination with the Transition Commission the government’s initial support for identified MILF combatants, families, and other affected persons and communities.
These, MacDonald said, are indications that “we can clearly see the construction of a lasting peace.”

Why is it important to have peace in Mindanao?

“Much remains to be done,” MacDonald said, among them: the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement (by March 2014), the drafting (by end 2014) and adoption of the Basic Law (by January 2015), and the full implementation of the agreements reached (by July 2016).

Everyone that the panel talked to on the progress in the implementation of the agreement expressed a desire for a “comprehensive, inclusive and sustainable peace in Mindanao,” the panel said.

Why is this so? Because “building a peace…will bring an end to cycles of violence and displacement, and…will allow the tremendous economic, social and cultural potential of Mindanao to come to the fore,” MacDonald said.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Peace In Mindanao: The Challenge Of Disarming Rebels – Analysis

Posted to the Eurasaia Review (Feb 27): Peace In Mindanao: The Challenge Of Disarming Rebels – Analysis (by Joseph Franco/RSIS)

A military offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) reduced the threat of “spoilers” to rekindle violence. However, failing to reintegrate BIFF communities can lead to the emergence of a new generation of violent militants, posing a threat to the wider region.

ACCOLADES FOLLOWED the 25 January 2014 signing of the Normalisation Annex between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This was, afterall, the last remaining hurdle before the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement.

The Annex detailed the phased decommissioning of MILF combatants, the redeployment of Philippine security forces, and the overall reduction of illicit firearms in Mindanao, Southern Phiilippines. Optimistic projections forecast the legislation of a Bangsamoro Basic Law by the end of 2014 and the subsequent creation of an autonomous Bangsamoro region by 2016.

Operation Darkhorse: a qualified success

The far-reaching consequences of the impending peace deal attracted the attention of spoilers such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which broke away from the MILF in 2011. The BIFF purported itself as the new vanguard of the Muslim secessionist movement and pledged to continue using armed violence.

Operation Darkhorse was launched in 27 January 2014 by the Philippine Army in support of a police operation to arrest the leadership of the BIFF. Mechanised infantry units were able to take four BIFF camps, including their headquarters and primary IED or bomb-making facility. From a military perspective, Darkhorse accomplished its goal of severely damaging the BIFF’s capability to wage a guerrilla campaign.

There are however, important details that may have been overlooked by some observers. Prior to the symbolic raising of the Philippine flag at the BIFF’s main encampment, several media personalities invited to cover the event were wounded in an IED attack. While there had been prior IED incidents attributed to the BIFF, the 1 February 2014 explosion was the first time an attack was filmed and subsequently broadcast to a wider audience.

Child combatants as potential militants

But aside from the BIFF’s use of IEDs, the group’s casualty statistics underscore a troubling trend. Of the 52 rebels killed, three were confirmed child combatants.

Anecdotes from soldiers reveal how unarmed minors in BIFF uniform accompany their older male relatives into skirmishes. Once the older BIFF combatant is killed or injured, the minor picks up the weapon and presses on the fight.

Involvement by children is a recurring feature of internal conflict in the Philippines, a manifestation of what can be described as a ‘vocational transference’ of extremist behaviour. As in other internal conflicts, it is human and not physical geography that matters more. The BIFF’s ‘camps’ are typical rural communities. In fact, camps of various threat groups are not demarcated by barbed wire or fencing but have diffuse boundaries – agricultural communities with hastily-built fighting positions.

Regardless of political affiliation, the homes of members of pro-government militias, secessionist movements like the MILF and the BIFF, Islamist-inspired groups such as the Abu Sayyaf, and private armed groups would often have a common feature—fortifications built from simple and often fragile resources such as compacted earth or coconut lumber. Even without an organised armed conflict, the pervasive lack of governance in Central Mindanao makes it susceptible to violence, which in turn incentivises the ownership of illicit firearms and prompts the organisation of self-defence groups.

The BIFF even has greater propensity to attract children to its campaign, considering its limited number of personnel compared to groups such as the MILF. Prior to Darkhorse, foreign and Philippine media have independently confirmed the disproportionate number of child combatants swelling the ranks of the BIFF. Contrary to the experience of child soldiers in Africa and Latin America, there is a distinct lack of coercion for the recruitment of young combatants in Mindanao.

Prior to the peace process, succeeding generations in MILF communities would join the secessionist movement. Membership in armed groups is an ubiquitous event, an attractive vocation for young men with limited socioeconomic prospects. Children are raised in an environment where firearms are plentiful and are passed on from older male relatives as heirlooms.

Consequences of failed normalisation

The greatest risk is for this generation of BIFF child combatants to grow older and more radical. The dismantling of BIFF communities could only serve to diffuse latent resentment for the Philippine government and the prospective Bangsamoro – a conflict ready to ignite once infused with ideological motive. The Normalisation Annex intends to prevent this, by guaranteeing the “pursuit of sustainable livelihood”, “political participation”, and a “peaceful deliberative society”.

The critical step is to diminish the amount of illicit weapons in Mindanao and disincentivise the use of violence. Even with the disbandment of organised armed groups, the resulting glut of weapons would find its way into the illicit small arms trade. This dynamic would be accelerated if promised improvements to livelihoods do not materialise. Alongside economic well-being, political arrangements and institutional arrangements must be in place to create meaningful autonomy to the Bangsamoro.

Failure to pursue normalisation poses consequences not only to the Philippine peace process but to the wider Southeast Asian region. Rifles from the military and handguns from the Philippine National Police had found use in sectarian conflict in Poso, Indonesia. The 2001 Jemaah Islamiyah plot to bomb foreign missions in Singapore was also facilitated by the conflict in Mindanao – as a place to procure explosives like ammonium nitrate and firearms.

Moreover, the existence of latent extremists, child combatants grown up, could create enclaves untouchable to authorities. This is not without precedent in Central Mindanao, which for years played host to a Jemaah Islamiyah training camp, until its destruction in 2005. These areas are contiguous to the locations of BIFF communities.

It is not too far-fetched to see a future where violent ideologues could either buy or recruit the services of former child combatants who fail to reintegrate into mainstream society. The apparent proficiency of the BIFF in using IEDs compared to other Philippine threat groups constitute an attractive skill set for other violent extremists seeking to enhance their capability to launch attacks.

In short, the infusion of a violent extremist ideology to previously un-ideological but nonetheless experienced combatants can create a potent mix that can destabilise the Southeast Asian region.

Joseph Franco is an Associate Research Fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.

RSIS Commentaries are intended to provide timely and, where appropriate, policy relevant background and analysis of contemporary developments. The views of the author/s are their own and do not represent the official position of the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), NTU, which produces the Commentaries.

MILF: Mindanao Peace Weavers calls for forbearance

Posted to the MILF Website (Feb 28): Mindanao Peace Weavers calls for forbearance

The Mindanao Peace Weavers (MPW) issued a statement last February 25 on the arrest of MILF-BIAF 118th Base Commander Ustadz Wahid Tundok by elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and Philippine Marines at the latter’s checkpoint at Matampay Bridge, Cotabato City last (missing text?)
In the said statement, the group expressed its deep concern and anxiety at Sunday’s arrest of Commander Tundok, based on an alleged standing warrant of arrest for arson and multiple murder charges. This potential flashpoint, following just a week after the shooting to death of MILF Commander Yusoph Kusain, and again the arrest made on Commander Tundok, reflects an apparent gap between top-level pronouncements of both the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and their troops and ceasefire coordinating mechanisms on the ground, the statement said further. 

The civil society group said in its statement that it feels that the proverbial reason of “just following orders” made by officers and men of the CIDG executing the warrant, should be further informed and tempered by the direction and temperament of forbearance that is being made manifested at the highest level of the peace process. We take note of President Aquino’s December 9 statement at a Malacanang Press Corps briefing, stating:

“This is not going to be simple because here we would have to demonstrate our full trust in each other.”

“We feel that this sentiment should be translated into action by all forces, and permeate all actions by either side, particularly now that the Bangsamoro peace process nears its final stretch. We appeal to both sides to temper their actions and responses with utmost restraint, and allow the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to stand and make its case before the country without distraction or provocation”, the group said in its issued statement.

It went further saying, “Let the BBL be judged for its own merits, with the world as its witness.  We encourage both sides to engage more fully not only the letter, but more particularly the spirit of peace negotiations and peace-building, which millions of us in Mindanao continue to yearn and work for”.

Finally, the group said, “The MPW appeals for the release of Commander Tundok, as this will improve confidence-building even as the government and the MILF peace panels are talking transitional justice in the peace talks. This paramount effort requires our collective forbearance, our common acceptance and ultimate singular belief that the process we are engaged and invested in will work, given its one true chance. To this end we again reiterate that the guns in Mindanao have held sway for too long, let our generation now instead listen to a just peace”.

MILF: Daguma committee on information trains peace advocates

From the MILF Website (Feb 28): Daguma committee on information trains peace advocates

The Daguma Committee on Information in cooperation with Mindanaoan Humanitarian and Development Initiative, Inc. (MinHuDI)  conducted a 3-day Training of Trainers with the theme “Empowering Bangsamoro: Nurturing Leaders of Society to become More Effective” held at Datu Talipasan-Impao Elementary School, Barangay Dansuli, Isulan, Sultan Kudarat on February 21-23, 2014.

The activity was attended by 35 participants from different line agencies of the six municipalities of Daguma Province and facilitated by the MinHuDI’s Executive Director, Mr. Norodin Dimaokom.

The topics discussed were on leadership and MILF Policies by Executive Director Moidjoddin Talusob of Kalilintad Development Foundation, Inc.(KDFI). The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its four Annexes were discussed by Prof.  Esmael Abdula.  Abdula is currently the Chairman of the Campaign and Mass Mobilization, Sub Committee on Information, Committee on Information and a member of the Steering Committee of Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI).  Leadership in Islam in the Present Situation was delivered by the Chairman of Daguma Provincial Shariah.  Dimaokom lectured the participants on public speaking. 

On the last day of the activity, the participants designed plans for the conduct of peace advocacies in the contiguous areas of the Bangsamoro core territory. They identified the Municipalities of Lambayong and Esperanza of Sultna Kudarat Province as target areas.   

The members of the community headed by Mr. Ibrahim Abdul and his wife Mrs. Bainot Abdul, Principal of Datu Talipasan-Impao Elementary School expressed their gratitude for the conduct of the training. They assured the organizers of their cooperation for incoming activities that maybe held in the province. The participants also expressed their high commitment and full support to the Committee on Information and the people of Daguma.

Suspected NPA mass grave found in Davao City

From ABS-CBN (Feb 28): Suspected NPA mass grave found in Davao City

Troops belonging to the Philippine Army's 69th Infantry Battalion and police have discovered a mass grave believed to have been used by the communist New People's Army (NPA) in Barangay Malabog, Paquibato District in Davao City on Thursday.

Soldiers and police, upon reaching Sitio Malamboon, had to ride an all-terrain vehicle and walk for 5 minutes before a former NPA rebel could point where the alleged mass grave is located.

Authorities dug up skeletons of 4 people wrapped in tarp, malong, and duyan.

The former rebel identified the remains as that of persons named only as "Ka Lolong," "Ka Pogi," "Ka Allan" and his wife, who were all members of the NPA's Guerilla Front 56 and residents of Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

The victims were killed in 2012, the informant said.

The former rebel said he was disheartened about the killings.

Residents in the area surmise that the 4 were executed because they were suspected of betraying the communist movement.

The skeletons were blessed before being taken by authorities for further investigation.
The grave was filled and a white flag was placed on it.

"Ikinustodiya muna sa PNP Crime Laboratory ang mga buto," said 1st Lt. Ryan Velez, CMO officer of the 69th IB.

Government forces are coordinating with the local government unit of Talaingod in Davao del Norte to trace the whereabouts of the victims' families.

PA packs lethal punch with heavy 155mm field guns

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): PA packs lethal punch with heavy 155mm field guns

As the Philippine military slowly shifts to an external defense setting, it is important to note that the Philippine Army is equipped with a powerful battlefield weapon in the guise of the heavy 155mm field guns.

As of this posting, the Philippine Army is known to operate 10 units of these heavy guns.

Army officers said these field pieces have a maximum range of 14,600 meters.

These guns have a "kill zone" of 50 meters and "casualty zone" of 100 meters.

The 'kill zone'refers to a spot, once hit directly by a 155mm shell, will mean the obliteration or death of living thing in that spot while the 'casualty spot' refers to the place, once hit, will mean the wounding or incapacitating of all living things in that particular area.

Having these weapons at hand ensures that the PA has the capability to provide massive fire support to its troops in the field if needed.

The 155mm field gun is the heaviest and most powerful weapon of the PA.

All artillery weapons are placed under the supervision and control of the Army Artillery Regiment.

The PA, as of this writing, boast of operating 273 artillery pieces.

This number does not include artillery pieces owned by the Philippine Marine Corps.

Around 10 of these weapons are the heavy 155mm howitzers with the remaining guns consisting of various models of the 105mm howitzer, an artillery piece capable of being towed or tracked into combat.

These weapons are constantly being maintained and modernized to provide Army units with a relatively heavy punch.

Earlier, the Department of National Defense announced that it is acquiring 12 units of towed 155mm howitzers forP438,620,000.

This includes 240 rounds of 155mm HE (high explosive) and integrated logistic support.

PAF to get 3 brand-new medium lift aircraft from EADS/CASA-Airbus Military

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): PAF to get 3 brand-new medium lift aircraft from EADS/CASA-Airbus Military

The Philippine Air Force (PAF)'s lift capability will be getting a much needed boost with the delivery of three C-295 medium lift aircraft from EADS/CASA-Airbus Military.

This after the Spanish aerospace manufacturer won the contract for the P5.3 billion medium aircraft fixed wing project by the Department of National Defense (DND).

The PAF's medium lift capability is presently being fulfilled by its three F-27 "Friendship" aircraft.

EADS/CASA-Airbus Military's bid for the program only amounted to P5.29 billion.

The first plane will be delivered in August 2015, while the second will be in March 2016 and the last one in September 2016, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin stated.

"These aircraft will help in troop and limited equipment movement," he added.

The C-295 is described as "a capable and versatile transport and surveillance aircraft.”

EADS/CASA stated that the C-295 can carry up to nine tons of cargo or 71 people.

It also has a maximum cruising speed of 260 knots and operate in short and rough airfields.

32 MNLF pioneers back peace process

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 27): 32 MNLF pioneers back peace process

The Malaysian-backed peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) gained momentum with the current overtures of surviving pioneer combatants of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in favor of the proposed establishment of a new Bangsamoro autonomous political entity in Mindanao.

At least 32 surviving members of the MNLF’s “Top 90” maiden batch have regrouped to adopt a resolution casting their support to the GPH-MILF deals, particularly the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB), and its four annexes that would comprise a final accord, as well as the drafting of the new Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Resolution No. 01-2014, which was signed in Marawi City on February 3, but distributed only yesterday to concerned entities, also conveys the group’s choice of Datu Hadji Abul Khayr Alonto, a fellow lead figure in the “Top 90” batch, as MNLF chairman.

In the resolution, the 32 signatories had affirmed the legitimacy of Nur Misuari and Alonto as chairman and vice chairman of the MNLF, respectively.

“By virtue of law of succession and noble covenant of the original MNLF Central Committee, we have obliged… Brother Abul (Alonto) to assume the MNLF chairmanship,” said the signatories, who enumerated some misgivings that prompted them to replace Misuari.

Alonto, the first speaker of the maiden autonomous region created by the government in 1978, also signed the resolution in conformity with and acceptance of his selection.

The resolution cited the “unfortunate blunders” of Misuari that “hauled down the MNLF into an abyss of leadership crisis, and its lamentable fragmentation as well as the exodus of able and dedicated Mujahideen (freedom fighters), either into the Philippine government bureaucracy, or to private lives of seemingly but definitely unwanted complacency.”

Ibaloi clan joins group to fight for land ownership in Baguio

From the Philippine Star (Feb 28): Ibaloi clan joins group to fight for land ownership in Baguio

A native Ibaloi clan in Baguio has joined the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) in their ancestral land dispute with private realty developer Sta Lucia Realty and Development Inc. along Kilometer 3, Asin Road here.

Belying earlier allegations that the CPLA, a militia group that had since severed ties with the New Peoples Army in 1986, has “occupied” the 54-hectare ancestral land being disputed by the native Ibaloi clan “Tunged”, Rosita Liwan speaking in their behalf said it was even the CPLA headed by Melchor Balance alias “Ka Kawar” that brokered dialogues with the huge realty firm to agree on a joint relocation survey of the disputed land.

The CPLA had  been “maligned” publicly for its alleged “land-grabbing” activities elsewhere in Baguio City and Benguet province.

But Balance, chairman of the group, instead blamed “pseudo-CPLA” groups like those that had since agreed with a “closure agreement” with government that are still “using the name of the group for their personal interests.”

Liwan said it was their clan’s decision to close ranks with Balance’s group in their bid to strengten their claim of the disputed 54-hectare land that had been appropriated  by the realty developer as part of the subdivision development.

“We have proofs that it is the clan’s property  as shown by tax declarations since 1959,”  she said, adding they are holding  boundary proofs with other Ibaloi land claimants which had since sold theirs to Sta Lucia.

There are about 10 Ibaloi families under the Tunged clan fighting it out with Sta Lucia, which agreed  that a “status quo” on the property pending a determination of the metes and bounds of each claim.

The CPLA  involved with land-grabbing issues in Baguio maybe linked, Tingguian (Abra) “Ka Kawar” said, to those still claiming they are CPLA’s but in fact have turned their backs on the  “uniform, identity and aspiration” for Cordillera regional autonomy.

“Haan dan a CPLA a ta nag closure agreement dan garud (They are no more CPLA because they already entered a closure agreement with the government)."

Two years ago, the CPLA group led by Arsenio Humiding entered into a closure agreement with the government via the Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process (OPAPP).  They had since transformed as a socio-economic group, its leaders had claimed.

The present CPLA now, Balance said, is alive and still aspiring for  regional autonomy and had since embarked on a citizen’s initiative-fueled “autonomy caravan” consulting Cordillerans in the grassroots if they still yearn for self-government.

The response in the provinces where they went so far is tremendous, said CPLA consultant Benedict Ballug, convenor of the “Autonomy Movement in the Administrative Cordillera” (AMIN-TACO), meaning, “all of us”.

The same autonomy movement dreams to craft a “tribal version” of the third Organict Act that will establish the Cordillera Autonomous Region by the end of this year.   “This time around, with its beginnings in the grassroots unlike in the past, Cordillerans will say yes to it,” Ballug said.

MILF: What happens to MILF after peace deal?

Guest article posted to the MILF Website (Feb 27): What happens to MILF after peace deal?

How is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) preparing for a post-war environment?

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Mohagher Iqbal said Friday, January 24, that once a peace deal is signed the MILF will cease to exist as an armed group and start positioning itself as a "social movement."

"Time and again we have been discussing that. Of course, things will change. There will be a lot of transformation. The MILF will eventually become a social movement. It will engage, for instance, in the establishment of schools, hospitals, clinics. It will no longer use the force of arms to achieve its objective...[as it gets] more and more democratic," Iqbal said.

The government and the MILF panels met here (Kuala Lumpur) to finalize pending issues, specifically on how the group will "decommission" their firearms and forces. 

Regional government

To prepare for the creation of the envisioned Bangsamoro government, MILF chief Al Haj Murad Ebrahim had earlier revealed the MILF is also working towards building a political party in time for the 2016 elections. 

Murad said they are taking this step "to maintain the status of the MILF as an Islamic organization." The political party, he said, "will be the arm of the MILF for the political process.” 

MILF officers have, in fact, been undergoing a series of workshops on building a political party. 

But will Mindanao see an MILF-led government in 2016? It's not a guarantee. 

Under the power-sharing agreement signed in December 2013, there is no provision stopping other political groups from running for positions in the Bangsamoro government, where elected members will choose a chief minister from among themselves. 

Although the current peace process includes only the MILF, both sides have maintained that the new Bangsamoro government will be inclusive. 

"The marching orders from the President have always been the same – that we come up with an agreement that is fair to all and a recognition that we should arrive at a just and lasting peace in Mindanao," said Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, who joined the talks here as an observer.


The talks' most difficult phase was the issue of "normalization," or what happens to the MILF troops and their weapons.

When the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Nur Misuari signed a peace agreement with the Ramos administration in 1996, the MNLF troops were not required to surrender their arms. 

Instead, the government offered the "Balik-Baril" (return your arms) program where MNLF members voluntarily surrendered their arms in exchange for cash.

But the program was plagued by allegations of corruption. Soon enough, MNLF rebels launched attacks against government forces, like the bloody siege on Zamboanga City in September 2013. The MILF, which broke away from the MNLF in the 1970s, vowed to avoid this mistake. The Aquino administration shared the same commitment.

This is why a special section on "normalization" was included in the initial Framework Agreement signed in October 2012, said Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles. 

"From the signing of the Framework Agreement, it was already decided that there was a need for a sole section on normalization. In fact, the term normalization was used to convey the notion that post-agreement – in terms of what happens to communities, the fighters – is not something that automatically happens. You have to have a scheme for that to be done," Deles said.

What to do with guns

The peace panels refrain from using the word "disarmament" to refer to how the MILF will lay down their weapons since the group – technically – will not surrender their arms to the government. 

Both sides considered various options. In the case of the Irish Republican Army, firearms were kept in a warehouse. In the case of Aceh, the firearms of rebel troops were destroyed – something ruled out by the MILF.

A 3rd group will be assigned to first conduct an inventory of MILF and their armed troops. 

As the MILF decommissions its arms in phases, the government, in exchange, will reduce the size of armed troops assigned in Mindanao – and help disband private armed groups in the area. 

"We will not surrender our firearms. We will not give them to the government. There will be a 3rd party. In exchange for that, there will be redeployment of government troops, disbandment of private armies," Iqbal said. 

"There has to be a police (force) for the Bangsamoro [as well as] socio-economic programs all around... transitional justice has to be implemented. These are parallel mechanisms that have to be implemented," he explained. (Rappler)

MILF: Iqbal delivered a message during the Social Call with the Members of the Congress

Posted to the MILF Website (Feb 27): Iqbal delivered a message during the Social Call with the Members of the Congress

Message of Mohagher Iqbal, Chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commision, During the Social Call to Members of Congress on February 26, 2014

It is a great honor and a personal privilege for the members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to make this social call to the Honorable members of the House of Representatives.  

As Chair of the Commission, I would like to thank the House leadership led by the Honorable Speaker Feliciano Belmonte for the kind invitation and the warm welcome your Honors have extended to us. 

I am gratified that we are meeting today in a casual and less formal setting.  I sigh in relief that we are not in Congress because we are summoned by any of its committees to appear under pain of contempt. 

 Instead, we are being welcomed as your partners as we journey together towards achieving the long sought peace and prosperity in Mindanao.    

The BTC is the product of the partnership between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.  It is the same olive branch of peace and partnership that BTC is extending to Congress today.

Please allow me to imagine our partnership from the lens of the BTC.

Our partnership is founded on our common aspiration that sustainable peace and development will reign in Mindanao and the whole country.  In legislating the soon-to-be-signed Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), Congress will most likely be besieged by many interest groups and individuals who will raise a myriad of issues ranging from the constitutionality and legality of the agreement, to political considerations and practicality and viability in implementing the agreement.

These may be valid concerns.  Yet, we should not to lose sight that there is one supreme consideration that stands above the rest and that is addressing the root causes of the long-drawn Moro rebellion.  

What is the use of a measure that passes all constitutional and legal tests but fails to address the root causes of the Mindanao conflict and worse, becomes a source of new and more virulent fissures? What is the use of measures that may be politically expedient but will only further entrench the very system that fuels the armed conflict? What is the use of sleek, practical and viable measures when they cannot be implemented in an environment of instability and insecurity?  

The root causes of the Moro rebellion were aptly articulated among others by someone who is not a Moro but a Christian leader whose family are settlers not indigenous to Mindanao.  I am referring to the newly installed cardinal of the Catholic Church, his Eminence Orlando B. Quevedo.  

The good Cardinal summarizes the roots causes of the Moro rebellion into three: First, Injustice to the Moro identity. Second, injustice to the Moro political sovereignty.  Third, injustice to Moro integral development.

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the annexes and the CAB recognize the long history of injustice to the Moro people and have laid down the principles, modalities and infrastructure for redressing their grievances.  I urge Congress to exercise its plenary legislative powers to translate the peace agreement into a law that is faithful to the spirit and intent of the peace pact.  

As Chair of the Commission, I respectfully submit that the FAB and its annexes assert that justice for all is the basis for sustainable peace and prosperity in the Bangsamoro.  On the other hand, law, in the words of Martin Luther King, “exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress”. 

As the attainment of social justice is the ultimate aim of law, Congress is urged to pass a Basic Law that is no less than a “legislated peace agreement”---a Basic Law that is faithful in letter and spirit to the CAB.

I apologize for touching on a serious subject on this light and casual occasion.  It is precisely your generosity in welcoming us as friends and partners that I can speak out from the heart.  

 Amidst the different discourses on the role of the Congress in legislating the peace agreement, I feel that I have to speak out and urge the Honorable members of Congress to be the “enablers” that will make the agreement of the parties for sustainable peace and development in Mindanao come to fruition.

Let us be partners, the BTC and Congress with the whole of the Philippine government in addressing the historical grievances of the Moro people. Some quarters are saying that the MILF is taking a big risk and a leap of faith in partnering with the executive branch and now with Congress.  Let me say that there is no risk taken or leap of faith made greater than the cry of our suffering people for justice and self-determination. 

Let us continue not only to open but to widen even more the lines of communications we have started to put in place today.  Your BTC will continue to engage Congress and its committees so that we can build mutual understanding of the peace agreement, the context by which it has been forged and the real intention of the parties. 

Thank you and good day.