Wednesday, January 22, 2014

GPH, MILF open 43rd exploratory peace talks in Kuala Lumpur

From InterAksyon (Jan 23): GPH, MILF open 43rd exploratory peace talks in Kuala Lumpur

Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the GPH peace panel, is flanked by Undersecretary Yasmin Busran-Lao and Mehol Sadain in this October 1, 2013 file photo.

The 43rd exploratory talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) opened on Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur with the government peace panel chair calling for larger doses of goodwill, determination and faith from both sides to achieve a successful peace process.

“The time to conclude the formal exploratory talks is now,” said Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the GPH peace panel, in her opening statement at the resumption of the negotiation.

Ferrer stressed that “we cannot afford to lose more time at the expense of the bigger task of implementation, and of the considerable progress we have already gained” as the talk is now on its 43rd session to fine a just and lasting solution to the long-drawn Mindanao conflict that had killed over 150,000, the wounding of tens of thousands and the destruction of billions of pesos over the years.

The Aquino administration is giving top priority to end the armed conflict in southern Philippines before President Benigno Aquino III ends his six-year term on June 30, 2016.

Ferrer said that based from experience “a successful peace process usually requires larger doses of goodwill, determination and faith,” adding that “these crucial elements, fortunately, are aplenty (as) they abound between and among the two parties and all the friends of this process.”

Ferrer said the 43rd exploratory talks opened as the two panels are about “coming to terms with the bigger project of ‘normalization’ with its diverse components -- socio-economic, transitional justice and reconciliation, and security.”

“The security aspect alone is made up of several elements -- disbandment of private armed groups, decommissioning of MILF combatants and weapons, redeployment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) from or within the Bangsamoro as the security situation improves, a halt to the proliferation of loose firearms, and transitional security arrangements that will see the AFP, Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) collaboratively keeping the peace on the ground,” Ferrer said.

“As with all explorations enthusiastically pursued and assiduously followed by the numerous stakeholders and supporters, the expectations as to what the process will deliver are enormous,” she stressed.

Ferrer enumerated them as follows:

-- Foremost expectation is the end to the armed conflicts in Muslim Mindanao, and a halt to the recurrence of violence involving the various armed groups.

"Certainly, this is an expectation not only for those that will fall inside the Bangsamoro but those areas which would co-exist side-by-side the Bangamoro such as Zamboanga City and the rest of the Zamboanga peninsula, North Cotabato, and Lanao del Norte," said Ferrer.

"We take special note of Zamboanga City which has yet to fully recover from the trauma resulting from the siege launched by a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)," she noted.

In this regard, Ferrer said, "we ask the MILF leadership to ensure that their ranks refrain from any provocative acts that generate distrust among the populace."

-- Secondly, the public expects that the new set of institutions will bring about meaningful autonomy.

But even more important, Ferrer said, "they need to see that these new institutions decisively result in good governance, nurture public trust, and secure the rights and welfare of all (especially the minorities among the minorities, the poorest of the poor, and other disadvantaged segments of society)."

"Equally important, these institutions must serve as the functional channel for peaceful political contestation among politicians and would-be politicians from non-traditional sectors including from those in the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)," she noted.

“In all, the public expectation is that these, our efforts, would truly make a difference. A difference for the better. A difference that is sustainable. A difference that will unite rather than divide. A difference that will bring about a sense of well-being and not stoke the fears and insecurities of the populace," Ferrer said.

Ferrer said that in order to meet these expectations, "we need to put the right people and appropriate mechanisms in place, the benchmarks on which to measure our progress, and the protocols that will guide our actions, and instill discipline among our ranks. We must be able to sustain the integrity of our peace process.”

At the same time “we must intensify our ‘convergence efforts’ among the Bangsamoro and with other non-Moro indigenous peoples (IPs),” she said.

In particular, Ferrer said, "we ask you, our negotiating partners, to show the goodwill and benevolence in extending the hand of friendship with your other fellow Moros and fellow indigenous peoples, especially those, who like you, historically descended from ancestors who have called Mindanao their home."

Nevertheless, Ferrer said, there is a “need to be realistic enough to know we will also make mistakes. That we will not be able to bring everybody on that board. That we will suffer delays. That there will be naysayers, recalcitrants and breakaways, as well as corrupt and abusive members of our respective organizations. That some will feel left behind while others will abuse and take more than their just share. That there will be opportunists and misfits for the opportunities that will be opened.”

“We come here as skeptical and realistic as anyone else. But these dangers never stopped us from cumulatively achieving consensus and inching our way forward. Why should these stop us now from moving on to the next stage of our work for peaceful change and reforms,” she pointed out.

Ferrer appealed that “the time to conclude the formal exploratory talks is now. Let us enable ourselves to move forward 100 percent to the next stage of implementation. Call it exploratory implementation if you like. After all, there is no ready-made template to these kinds of endeavors.”

Other members of the GPH panel are former Secretary Senen Bacani, Undersecretary Yasmin Busran-Lao, Undersecretary Zenonida Brosas, Undersecretary Chito Gascon.

As the good facilitator has said, "in this round, we are burdened with great expectations."

Also present during the opening ceremony was Tengku Datu Abdul Ghafar Tengku Mohamed and the Secretariat of the Malaysian facilitator led by Madam Che.

The MILF peace panel was led by Mohagher Iqbal with Professor Abhoud Syed Lingga, Abdulla Camlian, Datu Kinoc, the lawyers and the consultants of the MILF; and the members of the Central Committee.

Also present were members of the civil society groups spearheaded by Professor Octavio Dinampo from Mindanao State University (MSU) in Sulu, Datu Hussayin Arpa of the Philippine Council for Sama and Bajau Inc.

Members from Congress both from the Senate and the House of Representatives are expected to attend the exploratory talks in the next few days, along with along with Cabinet secretaries, Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles and Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda.

“They manifest the unusually high note of anticipation that we will produce in this round the last of the four Annexes that we had pledged to accomplish in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. In addition, we are expected to close the Addendum to the Annexes on Power Sharing and Wealth Sharing that the GPH and the MILF panels subsequently agreed to add,” Ferrer said.

CPP/NPA: NPA launches punitive action against SUMIFRU in Valencia City, Bukidnon

NPA propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Jan 23): NPA launches punitive action against SUMIFRU in Valencia City, Bukidnon

Mamerto Bagani
NPA Mt. Kitanglad Sub-Regional Command (Mt. Kitanglad Sub-Regional Command)
Eight equipments were paralyzed as a unit of the New People’s Army under Mt. Kitanglad Sub-regional Command launched a punitive action against the multinational plantation company Sumitomo Fruits (SUMIFRU) in Brgy. Barobo, Valencia City Bukidnon, January 18, around 10:00 PM. The Red fighters seized two firearms during the incident.

The damages incurred by SUMIFRU reportedly amount to P11 million after the NPA attacked its banana packing house and paralyzed a cargo truck, a backhoe, six assorted machines and three laptop computers. A shotgun and a .38 revolver were also seized from the company security guards.

The NPA launched the punitive action against SUMIFRU because of its anti-people activities, including land grabbing, the anti-labor and environmentally-destructive operations of their pineapple and banana plantations.

The company expansion operations, now covering more than 5,000 hectares, continue to control vast tracts of agricultural land in two cities and two municipalities in Bukidnon. Peasants and lumads were thus displaced and driven away from their lands. Many of them are enslaved by the foreign company as wage laborers.

Meanwhile, agricultural workers have long complained of wage slavery and inhumane working conditions. In 2010, workers were forced to strike against irregular payment of their wages, which now remains to be the case. They only earn a daily wage of P289 despite the millions raked by SUMIFRU in superprofits. This wage is grossly inadequate to provide for the decent living of a family, more so now with electricity rates, prices of basic commodities, gasoline and social services soaring unbridled.

With contractualization, all workers in SUMIFRU can only work for five months without assurance of a renewal. By their contractual status, all workers in SUMIFRU remain without job security, while being deprived of benefits and the right to organize trade union.

SUMIFRU also wreak havoc on the environment due to its destructive operations. Chemicals and waste from its plantations pollute the water, air and the soil. This aggravates climate change and victimizes the poor people who are most vulnerable to natural calamities. Residents near the plantation, as well as workers themselves, complain of the adverse effects of chemicals on their health. The company pays no heed even as many people are plagued with skin diseases.

This is yet another message from the revolutionary movement warning companies such as SUMIFRU to cease in their plantation expansion and the exploitation and oppression of agricultural workers and the people.

Sultan: Fight for Sabah still on

From the Manila Standard Today (Jan 22): Sultan: Fight for Sabah still on

The Sultanate of Sulu on Tuesday rejected rumors that it has given the Malaysian government sovereign rights over Sabah.

Sultan Abraham Idjarani, spokesman of the Sultanate of Sulu, said the Sultanate, through its new leader Esmail Kiram II, has not signed any agreement with Malaysian authorities that would give the Malaysian government sovereign rights over Sabah.

“What we proposed was to have the matter discussed seriously and peacefully to achieve a comprehensive solution to the Sabah issue,” Idjarani said.

Should Malaysian authorities agree to a meeting, Adjarani said they would also tackle the situation of Filipinos jailed in Malaysia.

Idjarani added that Esmail Kiram, through a signed statement, has called on Malaysia to ‘rectify’ the wrongdoing it committed when it grabbed Sabah from the Sultanate of Sulu.

The Sultanate has claimed ownership of Sabah, which it said was handed by the King of Brunei after Sultanate forces defended Brunei.

In March last year, dozens of followers of Sultan Rajad Muda Agbimuddin Kiram were killed while several others were captured and jailed when some 200 members of the Royal Sultan Army launched an assault against Malaysian forced in Lahad Datu, Malaysia.

Esmail Kiram also appealed to the Organization of Islamic Conference, where Malaysia is a founding member, and the Bangsamoro representative from the ancestral domain of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, which was given an observer status, to help in the peaceful resolution of their claim over Sabah.

Idjarani said the Sultanate is also “appealing to our neighbors, the Asian countries in particular Indonesia to endorse the peaceful resolution of the Sabah dispute as the dispute is not without a peaceful resolution.”

In the same statement, Esmail Kiram stressed that the Sultanate’s ownership over Sabah “is undeniable and indisputable.”

He also appealed to the United Nations “to take the necessary preferential attentions for a peaceful resolution of the conflict to avoid further bloodshed which we do not like it to happen again.”

“How can Malaysia continue to occupy, exploit and utilize North Borneo’s(Sabah’s) natural wealth and resources such as oil which does not belong to her by historic right and legal title?,” Kiram said.

The new Sultanate leader said he is again serving “a notice of termination of the lease of North Borneo” to the Malaysian government as successor of leasehold rights to Great Britain for its early resolution.

The statement noted that the Sultanate first served the same notice in 1957.

Kiram also reminded the US government of its historic and moral obligations under the 1915 Kiram-Carpenter Peace Agreement between the US, represented by Governor General Francis Burton Harrison and the late Philippine President Manuel Roxas that the termination of the Temporal Sovereignty of the Sultanate of Sulu in the Sulu Archipelago does not mean an end to the Sultanate of Sulu’s continued sovereignty over North Borneo called as a New State of Sabah in 1963.

NPAs admit burning 3 trucks of contractor in Sarangani

From the Philippine Star (Jan 22): NPAs admit burning 3 trucks of contractor in Sarangani

The Alex Ababa Command (AAB) of the New People’s Army (NPA) has owned up to the burning of three dump trucks of a private construction firm in Malapatan town in Sarangani province.

The AAB, a newly formed NPA command, operates in the provinces of Sarangani and Davao del Sur.

The NPA attack has caused worries among other private contractors building government-funded projects like farm-to-market roads in Sarangani.

In a statement, Edilberto Mahusay, who introduced himself as ABB spokesman, said they burned the dump trucks of Jargon Construction Co., reportedly owned by a certain Jan-Jan Mercado, as a “punishment.”

Police said the NPA rebels swooped down on the firm’s compound in Barangay Daan Suyan in Malapatan town past midnight last Jan. 14, poured gasoline on the dump trucks, and then set them on fire.

The dump trucks were reportedly worth P10 million.

Mahusay said they launched the attack because the company had ignored their demand for “revolutionary tax.”

But Mercado, in an interview with Bombo Radyo here, said his company had not received any letters from the NPA.

Mahusay said the company had to pay “revolutionary tax” since it has gained millions of pesos from the projects it constructed in supposed NPA strongholds.

China won’t touch PH areas in Spratlys’

From Malaya (Jan 23): China won’t touch PH areas in Spratlys’

A SECURITY official yesterday said there are no indications that China would occupy Philippine-occupied areas in the disputed West Philippine Sea or South China Sea.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official also said there is no “concrete basis” for the reported plan of China to gain control of the areas manned by Filipino troops.
About two weeks ago, a Chinese newspaper said China might seize the areas occupied by the Philippines in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea this year.
The nine areas occupied by Filipino troops form part Palawan’s Kalayaan town. The seat of government of Kalayaan town is Pag-asa island where the military put up Air Force and Navy facilities.
The Spratly Islands is a chain of islands and islets, believed to be rich in oil and minerals deposits, is claimed in part or in whole by the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
“It may be a remote possibility. They will be looking for headache if they do that,” the official said. “We are occupying more or less nine islands. We will resist if they enter (our occupied areas),” he said.
The official also said he expects the international community to side with the Philippines in the event China seizes the islands occupied by the Philippines.
“More or less the international opinion will be on our favor. But of course, our important ally is the US. They will not take this sitting down,” he said.
The Philippines has a Mutual Defense Treaty with US. The treaty mandates both sides to defend each other in case of an armed attack on “metropolitan territory” or island territories” under their jurisdiction or on their armed forces, public vessels or aircraft.
The official also said he believes China will continue with its provocative acts in the dispute. He cited China’s recent imposition of a fishing ban and a naval exercise involving two destroyers and an amphibious landing ship.
“Their provocations and daring, bold acts - short of going to war - are continuing. They will continue that. These (provocations) includes the imposition of controversial regulations,” he said.
On the fishing ban in the disputed areas, the official asked should Filipino fishermen should seek a permit from China to fish when they are fishing inside the Philippine territory.
“Why should we secure a permit from them...That’s part of their strategy. If you do that, you will recognize their sovereignty in the area. We are not that foolish to do that,” he said.

31 soldiers positive for drug use kicked out

From ABS-CBN (Jan 22): 31 soldiers positive for drug use kicked out

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) booted out from service 31 soldiers found positive for drug use.

AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the soldiers were subjected to investigation, prior to their dismissal from the service.

Zagala said a random drug test conducted in 2013 found 167 to be using shabu and marijuana.

The AFP, he said, is now investigating 100 more soldiers who tested positive for drug use. He confirmed that most of them will most likely be removed from service as well.

Citing figures from the military's anti-drugs "Task Force Moses," Zagala said at least 20,000 officers and men were subjected to the random drug test last year.

Compared to last year, the task force will increase by 20 percent the number of military personnel to be subjected to random drug test this year, Zagala said.

"As protector of the people, we should always be in our best physical, mental, and psychological condition in order to fully serve our responsibilities," Zagala said, adding that members of the AFP should be "professional at all times."

Most of the soldiers who tested positive for drug use belong to the Philippine Army, Philippine Navy particularly the Philippine Marines, and were all "young".

Bangsamoro Transition Commission hopeful on normalization annex

From ABS-CBN (Jan 22): Bangsamoro Transition Commission hopeful on normalization annex

The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) is hopeful that the annex on normalization will be signed this week during the 43rd round of peace talks between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Peace talks between the two sides resumed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Wednesday.

"Hopefully, kasi konti na lang yung natitirang issue sa normalization annex, kabilang dito yung decommissioning ng mga armas ng BIAF-MILF," Commissioner Atty. Raissa Jajurie said.

Among the issues to be tackled during this round of talks is the Bangsamoro waters, which is also part of the power-sharing portion.

The BTC's primary role is the drafting of the Bangsamoro basic law.

"Sana mapirmahan na ito, kasi hindi magiging kumpleto yung basehan ng pagda-draft namin ng Bangsamoro basic law pag wala ito," Jajurie said.

Meanwhile, Secretary Teresita "Ging" Deles of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) reacted to the Moro National Liberation Front's (MNLF) rejection of calls to unite with the MILF in crafting the Bangsamoro basic law.

She clarified that the proposal is for the MNLF to participate in the crafting of the envisioned Bangsamoro basic law (BBL), and not to unite in "crafting a peace deal" with the government.

"The fact is peace negotiations between GPH and MILF are coming to a close, with the projected outcome being the enactment of a new law that will put in place the Bangsamoro government with all its improved provisions for achieving a strengthened autonomy in the region," Deles said.

She reiterated that the Bangsamoro basic law is not just for the MILF but for the entire Bangsamoro people.

"We continue to hope that the various MNLF leadership blocs will come around to seeing the value of engaging themselves, together with other Bangsamoro stakeholders, in crafting the best possible law for the Bangsamoro," she said.

MNLF urged anew to join Bangsamoro

From ABS-CBN (Jan 23): MNLF urged anew to join Bangsamoro

The government reiterated its call for the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to participate in crafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles made the pronouncement as the government and MILF peace panels resumed the 43rd formal exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia yesterday.

“The fact is peace negotiations between the government and the MILF are coming to a close, with the projected outcome being the enactment of a new law that will put in place the Bangsamoro government with all its improved provisions for achieving a strengthened autonomy in the region,” Deles said in a statement.

“The call is for the MNLF to participate in the crafting of the envisioned Bangsamoro law, not a call to unite in crafting a peace deal,” she pointed out.

She said they are hoping that leaders of different MNLF factions will join in the setting up of the Bangsamoro region, which the government and the MILF aim to establish before the term of ARMM officials ends on June 20, 2016.

She stressed that the Bangsamoro Basic Law is not just for the MILF but the entire Bangsamoro people.

“We continue to hope that the various MNLF leadership blocs will come around to seeing the value of engaging themselves, together with other Bangsamoro stakeholders, in crafting the best possible law for the Bangsamoro,” she said.

Civil society groups

Civil society groups in Mindanao have also expressed their support for the MNLF to join in crafting the basic law.

“To show solidarity, inclusiveness for shared responsibility and leadership for broader constituency building,” Alih Aiyub, Bishop-Ulama Conference regional chairman, said.

Grace Rebollos, regional convener of Bantay Bayanihan Western Mindanao cluster and former president of Western Mindanao State University, also supported the convergence of the different communities, including the MNLF and MILF.

North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Talino-Mendoza expressed optimism the two sides could soon forge a final peace agreement.

Mendoza said the provincial government supports the peace process through the conduct of community dialogues involving the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said Mendoza met recently with members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, led by its chairman Mohagher Iqbal, also the MILF chief peace negotiator, at the provincial capitol in Kidapawan City.

The Bangsamoro Transition Commission is mandated to craft the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The 42 consensus agreements in the 1996 peace accord should be included in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission working table with MNLF representatives, according to Edmund Gumbahali, president of the Panglima Hawani Foundation based in Jolo, Sulu.

“The MNLF and MILF should complement in the establishment of the Bangsamoro government while MNLF continues negotiating with government on the issue of territory that are not included in the Bangsamoro government,” he said.

“In a process as crucial as this – crafting of basic law – it is always helpful to include as many stakeholders as possible. I think it’s good if they (MNLF) are willing to participate and contribute beneficial inputs in the process,” Nuhman Aljani, a member of the Young Moro Professional Network in Western Mindanao, said.

“I am one in support …(of) the inclusion of stakeholders, particularly the MNLF and the lumads,” Ali Yacub, president of the Golden Crescent Consortium of Peace Builders and Affiliates, said.

Consistent with OIC position

Deles said the government’s position is consistent with the call of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

She said OIC Resolution 2/40-MM, which was adopted during the 40th session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers, calls for the development of “a mechanism to ensure that the gains of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement on the implementation of the 1976 Peace Agreement are preserved and the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and its annexes are fully implemented with the end goal of integrating the gains achieved in these peace agreements in the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”

Muslimin Sema, MNLF council of 15 chairman, has clarified during a radio interview in Cotabato City on Tuesday that his group is not opposed to the forging of a final peace agreement between the government and the MILF, citing the need to respect the 1996 final peace agreement between the government and the MNLF.

MNLF sees rival to split up after disarmament deal

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 22): MNLF sees rival to split up after disarmament deal

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) yesterday warned of fragmentation within the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) if and when it signs the normalization annex of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) which calls for disarmament of MILF fighters.

Absalom Cerveza, spokesman of the MNLF, expressed belief that hardcore MILF fighters would be leaving the group if the normalization annex is signed, apparently in rejection to the disarmament clause.

Cerveza predicted there would be realignment of forces in Mindanao to the benefit of the MNLF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) of Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato who broke away from the MILF in 2011.

Kato is tagged as among the hardcore Muslim leaders who are batting for the establishment of an independent Islamic state in Mindanao.

“Eventually, the strength of the MILF will slowly diminish as majority of them would be transferring to the MNLF and BIFF,” said Cerveza.

Cerveza cited the culture and tradition of Muslims of owning firearms as part of their lives.

“I doubt if the MILF fighters will lay down their firearms based on Muslim culture and tradition,” said Cerveza.

The MILF broke away from the MNLF ahead of the signing of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the government, then led by President Ramos, and the MNLF chairman Nur Misuari.

The normalization annex is among the last major issue being discussed by the peace panels of the government of the Philippines and the MILF. In fact, the panels have opened the 43rd round of the negotiations in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

On the table during the ongoing talks are the addendum of the Bangsamoro waters which is part of the recently signed power-sharing annex, and the normalization annex.

In their opening statements, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal and GPH panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer expressed optimism of the outcome of the ongoing talks.

Defense finds fake military report in Pestaño case

From the Business Mirror (Jan 22): Defense finds fake military report in Pestaño case

THE Ombudsman filed murder charges against several Navy officers and enlisted men in connection with the alleged killing of Ens. Philip Pestaño in 1995 on the basis of an “nonexistent military report,” a defense lawyer said.
Defense counsel Ana Luz Cristal said she has discovered that the Joint Order dated November 22, 2011, ruling issued by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, who ordered the filing of a case for murder (OMB-P-C-05-1928-J) and grave misconduct (OMB-P-A-05-1223-J) against her clients, was based on allegedly “newly discovered evidence”—a report allegedly prepared by a committee tasked by the Office of the Inspector General (IG) of the Armed Forces to investigate the case.
The accused include Capt. Ricardo Ordonez, Lt. Cmdr. Ruben Doque, Petty Officer 2nd Class Mil Leonor Igcasan and Petty Officer 1st Class Carlito Amoroso, all retired. Also in the charge-sheet were Cmdrs. Reynaldo Lopez, Luidegar Casis and Alfrederick Alba; Lt. Cmdr. Joselito Colico; Hospital Man 2 Welmenio Aquino; and Machinery Repairman 2 Sandy Miranda, all in active duty.
Cristal said the fake IG report, titled “Investigation Report on Alleged Suicide of the late Ens. Philip Pestaño PN Aboard BRP Bacolod City [LC550]” was dated December 12, 1996.
It was allegedly signed by Col. Lazarito E. Rosos, Lt. Col. Eddie A. Ebuen, Maj. Jose Feliciano Loy Jr. (Judge Advocate General Service) and MSgt. Melnerio L. Bangayan, all of the Air Force; Lt. Col. Alfredo P. Amparo of the Army; Cmdr. Ernesto M. de Lumban of the Navy and Lt. Marifem V. Ubongen-Isaac (Judge Advocate General Service).
Cristal said the group’s 15-page report was used by Morales as her “new evidence” against the accused.
“Yes, that supposed IG report made by that committee became the basis in the issuance of the joint order of the Ombudsman dated November 22, 2012, charging our clients with murder and finding them guilty of grave misconduct,” the lawyer said.
“On November 11, 2013, we wrote the Armed Forces chief of staff to inquire on the veracity of the Inspector General’s report. On January 10, 2014, we were surprised to receive a reply from the Office of The Inspector General informing us ‘that the said IG report does not exist,’” she added.
The reply letter signed by the Office of the Inspector General chief, Rear Adm. Zyril Carlos, states: “ …regarding your inquiry on the authenticity of an Office of the Inspector General Investigation Report dated 12 December 1996 and a summary disposition form dated 31 March 1997 wherein said documents were allegedly the result of the investigation conducted by Ad Hoc Committee directed to probe circumstances surrounding the death of Ens. Philip Andrew Pestaño PN aboard BRP Bacolod City [LC550] on September 27, 1995.
“I regret to inform you that the requested documents do not exist in the archives of this office. Furthermore, lateral coordination was also made with the Office of the Judge Advocate General that affirmed the nonexistence of such documents in that office,” Carlos said.
With this revelation, Cristal wrote a letter dated January 16 to the Armed Forces chief of staff, Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, to hold the committee members “for Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman, Conduct Prejudicial to Good Order and Military Discipline, and Conduct Bringing Discredit Upon the Military Service.”
“We were stupefied how the Office of the Ombudsman got hold of a copy of the said nonexisting report without the Inspector General himself or the chief of staff, Armed Forces endorsing it. This of course is highly irregular,” she said.
“The respondents have willfully and deliberately acted in conspiracy with one another to cover up the real cause of the death of Pestaño at the expense of the officers and men of BRP Bacolod City, who are now being indicted for murder and ordered to be dismissed-discharged from the military service by the Ombudsman.  Moreover, the said report has jeopardized the lives and career of our clients and their families,” she added.

US Pacific fleet chief says North Korea is top security concern

From the Manila Times (Jan 22): US Pacific fleet chief says North Korea is top security concern

SINGAPORE: North Korea remains Washington’s “number one security concern” in Asia, the United States (US) Pacific Fleet commander said on Wednesday, despite simmering territorial disputes elsewhere in the region.

Admiral Harry Harris Jr. also accused China of “coercion” in its maritime disputes with neighbors.

He said an increased deployment of US military assets in the region as part of an Asian “pivot” announced in 2012 would ensure that “we are where it matters and when it matters.”

“Our number one security concern is North Korea,” Harris told reporters in Singapore on board the destroyer USS Spruance.

“I am concerned as a commander for the provocations that come from North Korea. I don’t understand them, I don’t understand their leadership and I don’t understand their intent,” he said.

Pyongyang last week warned of “calamities and disasters” if the United States and South Korea push ahead with a series of annual joint military drills from next month.

Last year’s exercises were held in the wake of North Korea’s third and largest nuclear test, and prompted months of escalated military tensions that saw Pyongyang issue similar apocalyptic threats of nuclear war against its southern neighbor and the United States.

Harris also expressed concern at China’s declaration of an “air defense identification zone” over the East China Sea, including over islands disputed with Japan.

“We think that the air defense identification zone [ADIZ] was an unfortunate imposition in the region,” he said.

“It highlights an issue that I am concerned about, and that is coercion by China in this case and other countries as well,” Harris added.

“It has not affected our military operations at all. We choose to do business as usual in the ADIZ.”

The declaration, which caused an international furor, requires foreign aircraft to declare their intentions and maintain communications with Chinese authorities or face unspecified “defensive emergency measures.”

ASG men killed in Tawi-Tawi clash

From the Manila Times (Jan 22): 2 ASG men killed in Tawi-Tawi clash

Elite police commandos killed two Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members in a recent encounter in a remote village in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi Sunday morning.

The reports said the encounter between elements of the 51st Special Action Company (SAC) of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) occurred on Sanga-Sanga Road, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi.

The two ASG members killed in the encounter were identified as Redz Matarol from Talipao and a certain “Doke”. A third member a certain “Umben” was able to escape from the firefight in which PO2 Ronie Igot was wounded.

The two slain ASG bandits and “Umben” were reportedly followers of ASG leader, Yasser Igasan, whose group was tagged in the abduction of a Jordanian journalist freed last month following more than a year in captivity.

Police claimed to have uncovered a plan of the ASG to kidnap more wealthy businessmen in Mindanao.

CPOC tackles MILF issue

From the Zamboanga Times (Jan 22): CPOC tackles MILF issue

The City Peace and Order Council (CPOC) on Monday tasked Vice Mayor Cesar Iturralde and City Legal Officer Jesus Carbon to closely coordinate with the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and other concerned agencies pertaining to violations of the ongoing peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
This, following reports of the establishment of a political office and a cooperative by and MILF group in barangay Cawit, which IMT and representatives from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said is illegal and should not be pursued.
Mayor Beng Climaco, CPOC chairperson, likewise tasked Atty. Carbon and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) regional office to study the matter considering that it was a clear violation of the protocol on the peace negotiations.
Climaco convened the CPOC Monday afternoon to tackle peace and security issues specifically the report about the setting up of an MILF political office and a cooperative in Cawit in the west coast.
The Council invited the IMT leader Malaysian Col. Zolkipli Hashim, AHJAG-OPAPP Action officer for Western Mindanao Maj. Abdurasad Sirajan and Cawit Barangay officials to shed light on the issue.
The IMT, OPAPP, Cawit Barangay Council together with the City Government last Friday, January 17, dialogued with the MILF group led by a certain Jusali Morsalin following reports of the establishment of the so-called Bangsamoro political office and cooperative in the west coast.
After listening to all sides, the IMT during the dialogue declared that pending the comprehensive peace agreement between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), any movement on the ground let alone in Zamboanga City by any MILF group is illegal and therefore should not be pursued.
Col. Zol instructed the group to dismantle whatever structure it had erected on a piece of land in Barangay Cawit so as not to affect, preempt or derail the ongoing GPH-MILF peace process.
Meanwhile, Mayor Climaco during the CPOC meeting Monday said Vice Mayor Iturralde will report to the IMT, on behalf of the CPOC, regarding complaints or reports on any MILF movements in the barangays.
On the other hand, the chief executive said the CHR represented by Atty. Sharon Mae Sales-Belisario will have to study the matter considering that the setting up of the supposed Bangsamoro political office in Cawit is a violation of the protocol on the peace process.
“With the help of the CHR, our Technical Working Group through Vice Mayor Iturralde and Atty. Carbon will guide us on what’s to be done given the situation”, the mayor added.
Also present during the meeting were Councilors Roel Natividad and Jerry Perez- who are members of the CPOC and Councilors Cesar Jimenez and Rommel Agan; City Administrator Antonio Orendain Jr., Task Force Zamboanga Chief Col. Andrelino Colina, Police OIC Director PSupt. Allan Nazarro, City DILG OIC Director Atty. Mohammad Arakama and representatives of member-agencies.

Gunmen kill bizman in Lamitan City

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Jan 22): Gunmen kill bizman in Lamitan City

MOTORCYCLE-RIDING gunmen have killed a businessman in broad daylight in Lamitan, the capital city of Basilan province, the police reported.

The Lamitan city police said the gun attack happened around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at Flores Street.

City police chief Almer Ismael identified the fatality as Johnny Esturco, one of the incorporators of a pawnshop.

Esturco, who is a retired soldier, was on his way home coming from the police headquarters when repeatedly shot by the perpetrators.

A thorough investigation is underway aimed to identify the culprits, who also carted away the victim’s .45 caliber handgun, Ismael said.

New NAVFORWEM chief to focus on maritime peace and stability

From the Zamboanga Today (Jan 22): New NAVFORWEM chief to focus on maritime peace and stability

Newly assumed Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NAVFORWEM) Rear Admiral Jesus Millan reiterated yesterday the need to strengthen their vital security roles in the preservation of peace and stability in the southern gateway and maritime environment.

Millan, who assumed office yesterday, admitted the he is aware of the enormous challenges and the great responsibility to come during the stint of his command. However, he said, it is an honor and privilege for him to continue serving the Philippine Navy and the country.

Millan assured his complete support in assisting the operational commander of Western Mindanao, Lt. General Rustico Guerrero, commander of Western Mindanao Command (WESMINCOM) to fulfil the mandate of protecting the people and the sovereignty of the state.

Millan clarified that he will carry out the implementation of the strategic thrust of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in collaboration with the different stakeholders.

He assured to continue to focus on naval and maritime operations purposely to enhance maritime awareness and maintain a secured environment conducive to the economic growth of the region.

The new NAVFORWEM commander will strengthen their Humanitarian Disaster Response capabilities to address the present climate condition of the country.

Millan was formerly assigned as deputy commander of NAVFORWEM and commander of Naval Task Force 61 last 2011.

MILF: Moro leaders convene in Marawi City

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 22): Moro leaders convene in Marawi City

MARAWI CITY- The bad weather did not stop various Moro civil society leaders based in Marawi city to convene and discuss the sad plight of the Zamboanga evacuees that still remain in the evacuation centers and the Basilan students who were fired upon by an army helicopter last January 5, 2014.
Leaders condemned in the strongest term possible the said aerial attack against the Madrasah Students (Morit) having Picnic at Albarka, Basilan, they demanded that AFP should take full responsibility and punish those found guilty.

Agakhan M.Sharief Chairman of the Ranao Islamic Province Radio Forum (145.15) laments that Apology is not enough; they should face and be tried in court. Sharief also warned that a Bigger Protest will be organized if the Government will not take this seriously.

They also appeal for help and accused the GPH of "gross neglect" for failing to provide and ensure return of Zamboanga evacuees that still remain in the evacuation centers.

Indignation rally held as farmer 'slain' by NPA laid to rest

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 22): Indignation rally held as farmer 'slain' by NPA laid to rest

A small group of hinterland residents, led by village officials of Barangay Tayak in Siaton, Negros Oriental on Wednesday strongly condemned the ambush-slay of a farmer allegedly by the New People’s Army (NPA) late last week as they called for an end to the insurgency problem.

On Wednesday morning, around 50 people attended the funeral mass for the late Narciso Bantoto, Jr. at the Sibulan town parish church before they proceeded to Dauin town where he was laid to rest at a public cemetery at noontime Wednesday.

The protesters, carrying placards calling for peace and development and shunning the underground movement, among other things, joined in the indignation rally that followed the funeral mass for the victim who was laid to rest five days after he was shot dead in Siaton.

The farmer, identified as Narciso Bantoto, Jr., 36, married and a resident of Sitio Salingkubong in Barangay Tayak, was killed in the presence of his family by at least two unidentified men in the evening of January 17 at around 9:30 in the evening while they were on their way to a benefit dance at the sub-village of Mainit.

Philippine Army sources said the victim was shot five times while his wife, three children and a niece were spared by the perpetrators who allegedly identified themselves as NPA members and who said they were only after Bantoto for “crimes” against the organization.

Crisabel Bantoto, the victim’s wife, in an interview, disclosed that while they were walking around 9:30 p.m. last Friday towards the barangay dance, two men suddenly appeared in their path and pointed guns at her husband.

The suspects shoved the wife and the family members aside and without warning shot Bantoto several times despite their pleas to stop.

Witnesses claim to have heard the suspects announce that they were NPA members while Army authorities confirmed they were able to retrieve a piece of paper signed by a “fictitious” name claiming to be the NPA and giving reasons as to why Bantoto was executed.

Crisabel Bantoto said the perpetrators’ faces were not covered but she could not identify them as it was dark when the shooting happened.

She also denied having any knowledge of her husband having any enemies but admitted his death could be in relation to his leaving the underground movement and returning to mainstream life.

Bantoto was said to be a member of the Yunit Militia (mass base) of the NPA until he left last July 2013.

Army officials say Bantoto was most likely killed because he was accused of being an informant of the military.

Meanwhile, Ricardo Makatungtong, village chief of Tayak, expressed sadness over the death of Bantoto, noting the fate that befell him after having “served” in the underground movement for some time.

According to the Tayak official, he disclosed that as today, that hinterland village is no longer as prominent as in the past as having a large mass base of NPA supporters as well as regular rebel members.

Many residents there have already returned to the folds of the law although he believes that sometimes, armed rebel groups are regularly passing through his village.

He called on the people to unite and openly reject the insurgency movement and instead support the government’s program for peace and development.

Makatungtong said this is not the first time that a former NPA supporter was executed in Tayak.

He disclosed that a few years back, a member of the Lupong Tagapamayapa was also killed in the presence of other barangay officials in the area.

An Army official said the two suspects who shot dead Bantoto are believed to be members of the liquidation squad, Special Partisan Unit or SPARU.

2 frigates undergoing bidding to be the most capable in the PN --Fabic

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 22): 2 frigates undergoing bidding to be the most capable in the PN --Fabic

The Philippine Navy said on Wednesday the two frigates, now undergoing bidding at the Department of National Defense, will be the most capable vessels in its inventory.

PN spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic said the two vessels, which have a contract of P18 billion, will be armed with a variety of sensors and weapons capable of detecting and neutralizing air, surface, and submarine threats.

Once the bidding process is completed within this year, the two frigates are expected to be delivered by 2017.

"The frigates (now undergoing bidding) will be the most capable vessels in the PN inventory once constructed and commissioned into service," Fabic said.

At the moment, the two most capable ships in the PN are the two Gregorio Del Pilar class frigates acquired from the United States Coast Guard.

These vessels are armed with 76mm Oto Melara auto-cannon, a variety of light weapons and capable of handling, launching, and maintaining a helicopter, in this case the three brand-new AgustaWestland AW-109 "Power" helicopters, and capable of speeds up to 29 knots.

Some technical specifications of the DND's P18-billion frigate program have been revealed by MaxDefense: Philippines, a blogsite for Philippine defense-related matters.

This includes a capability to conduct air-to-air warfare (AAW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and electronic warfare (EW).

Aside from this, these naval vessels should be able to do extended maritime patrol with an embarked helicopter and operating up to Sea State 6.

It must also have a range of 4,500 nautical miles at 15 knots, endurance of 30 days in tropical condition, and capable of running up to 25 knots of continuous speed.

Navigation equipment of the two ships, at a minimum, must consist of two navigation radars, GPS, depth sounding set, and vessel tracking system compatible to PN's existing system.

The frigates' weapon system, at a minimum, should consist of a 76-mm gun, stabilized secondary gun, four .50-caliber machine guns, surface-to-surface missile launchers, surface-to-air missile launching system, and anti-submarine torpedoes.

Central Command committed to bringing development, peace in the Visayas

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 22): Central Command committed to bringing development, peace in the Visayas

The Cebu-based Central Command on Wednesday is committed to bringing peace and development in the Visayas.

Major Gen. John Bonafos, Central Command head, said that they will do this by helping other stakeholders construct projects that will bring about progress in the region.

He particularly mentioned the continuous assistance they are extending to "Yolanda" survivors in the Visayas.

However, Bonafos reminded his ground commanders to be vigilant as security is still a top concern.

"We are focusing on the relief operations and the rehabilitation of the typhoon victims, but we are also looking at the security concerns of the victims and all of Visayas," the Central Command chief stressed.

Bonafos added that the fight against insurgency will always be a priority.

"We must remain as vigilant as possible," he added.

But Bonafos also stressed that commanders in the Visayas must continue to reach out for a peace dialogue with the communist rebels.

He also reminded that commanders must see to it that their actions continue to be in accordance with the rule of law and the International Humanitarian Law.

President Aquino welcomes US Senator Marco Rubio in Malacanang

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 22): President Aquino welcomes US Senator Marco Rubio in Malacanang

President Benigno S. Aquino III met with US Senator Marco Rubio in Malacanang on Wednesday to discuss financial and security issues.

Rubio, who arrived on Tuesday, paid a courtesy call on the President at the Music Room of Malacanang.

In a statement, Rubio underscored the importance of Asia to the economic and security well-being of America and said he hoped that the “rhetoric” about the increased presence in the region “does not come at the expense of enduring alliances and challenges in other parts of the world.”

Joining the Senator were US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Bradley, Consul for Foreign and International Security Affairs Jamie Fly and the Senator’s Chief of Staff, Cesar Conda.

“For the Philippines, there are two main issues that we’ll talk about, one is the South China Sea issue,” Conda said.

“We want to learn more about China’s activities there and what the Philippines is doing and how the United States can help,” he said.

Conda said Rubio is also set to discuss economic issues with Aquino to strengthen the existing close trading relationship between the two allies.

Joining the President in welcoming Senator Rubio were Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras and Rosalita Prospero of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Navy patrol ship aids LPA-battered towns in Davao Oriental

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 22): Navy patrol ship aids LPA-battered towns in Davao Oriental

The Philippine Navy (PN) on Wednesday announced that one of its patrol ships, the BRP Magat Salamat (PS-20), has delivered 52 tons of assorted relief goods to low pressure area (LPA) battered towns of Cateel and Baganga in Davao Oriental.

Ensign Herlijk F. Gregorio, Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao spokesperson, said this aid was immediately forwarded to the Department of Social Welfare and Development-Davao for distribution to the affected residents.

At least 186,543 families or 895,572 persons were likewise affected by the LPA in 846 barangays in 15 provinces of Regions 10, 11, CARAGA, and ARMM.

Of the total affected, 55,501 families or 260,478 persons were displaced and served in 585 evacuation centers.

Twenty seven areas were placed under state of calamity, including Agusan Del Norte, Lanao Del Norte, Iligan City, Kapalong, Carmen, Asuncion, New Corella, and Tagum City - all in Davao Del Norte; Tarragona, Manay, Caraga, Baganga, Cateel, and Boston - all in Davao Oriental; Sta. Josefa, Sibagat, Bunawan, San Francisco, Esperanza, Veruela, Trento, and Rosario in Agusan del Sur; Butuan City; and Lianga, Tago, San Miguel, and Bislig in Surigao del Sur.

Estimated cost of damage was pegged at P369,142,178.22, with P128,513,750 to infrastructure and P240,628,428.22 to agriculture.

NAG gets much needed boost with reactivation of 4 Islander aircraft

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 22): NAG gets much needed boost with reactivation of 4 Islander aircraft

The Naval Air Group (NAG), the Navy unit tasked to provide air support to the fleet, got a much needed boost following the activation on Tuesday of four Norman-Britten N2 Islander aircraft.

This effectively raises the number of Islander planes operated by the Philippine Navy to six.

Aside from the six PNIs, the NAG can now boast of operating three AgustaWestland AW-109 "Power" helicopter, four Cessna light utility planes, one R-22 "Raven" helicopter and one MBB-105 helicopter.

Having these planes in the inventory greatly improves the Navy's capability to patrol and protect the country's vast territorial waters.

Lt. (junior grade) Rommel Rodriquez, Philippine Fleet spokesman, said the four planes had just finished their mandatory "scheduled maintenance inspections" (SMIs).

The procedure entails the repair and refurbishment of all aircraft systems and retraining of its flight crew.

“SMIs are required for all Navy aircraft whenever they reach a total of 50, 100, 300 and 500 hours of flying time. This is necessary to ensure the safety and capability of our aircraft when they are deployed in the operational areas,” NAG chief Col. Caculitan said.

After reactivation ceremonies Tuesday, the Philippine Navy Islanders (PNI) in naval parlance were immediately deployed to San Fernando City, La Union; Cebu; Zamboanga City and Palawan.

PNIs are capable of conducting maritime air surveillance, air drop, air lift and aerial reconnaissance missions at sea.

Each aircraft has two pilots and four maintenance crew.

'No time to lose' in 43rd GPH-MILF talks

From Rappler (Jan 22): 'No time to lose' in 43rd GPH-MILF talks

 KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (Updated) – "We can't afford to lose more time at the expense of the bigger task of implementation."

With these words, Philippine government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer opened the 43rd round of peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Wednesday, January 22. Malaysia is serving as the third-party facilitator to the talks.
For the 43rd – and what the panels and stakeholders hope to be the last – round of talks, the parties are expected to sign the annex on normalization and the addendum on Bangsamoro waters. These are the last two documents needed to be completed before the comprehensive peace agreement can be signed. (READ: Gov't, MILF hope to seal firearms deal)
The word "expectation" weighed heavily on the negotiators and observers present at the state room of the Palace of the Golden Horses, which has been the venue of the GPH-MILF peace talks under the Aquino administration.
"This early, as expected, the impending success of the talks is getting many 'relatives' because succes is relative, nay many 'fathers,'" Iqbal said. "There are more people supporting MILF and declaring oneness within rather than joining spoilers."
Despite the anticipation for the expected signing of a peace pact soon, Iqbal would rather take the final stretch of the talks with a cautious approach.
In his opening statement, Iqbal stressed the signing of the comprehensive peace pact is only the first step towards lasting peace in Mindanao.
"We must caution that the final destination is not within immediate reach yet. The signing of the comprehensive agreement is not the end of the odyssey. Let's remember that we will only formally terminate this peace process through the exit agreement when the two parties successfully fulfill the implementation," Iqbal said.
[Video: MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal - opening statement 43rd round of talks  
Bill to establish Bangsamoro to be completed by April
The peace panels hope to install the ministerial Bangsamoro government and replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) before the Aquino administration ends in 2016.
"We can not afford to lose more time at the expense of the bigger task of implementation and or the considerable progress we've already gained," Ferrer said.
"The time to conclude the formal exploratory talks is now. Let us enable move forward 100% to the next stage of implementation."
To provide the legal framework for the new institution, a new Basic Law must be passed in Congress.
Iqbal, who is also the chairman of the 15-member Transition Commission presently drafting the Basic Law, said the team has set an April deadline for the completion of the draft.
The proposed law will be certified as urgent by the President when it is submitted to Congress.
Also expected to grace this round of talks are lawmakers, including senators TG Guingona and Koko Pimentel, as well as representatives Jim Hataman Saliman, Jesus Sacdalan, Teddy Baguilat Jr, Pangalian Balindong.
[Video: Gov't peace panel chair Miriam Coronel Ferrer's opening statement - 43rd round of talks  
In addition to the landmark Framework Agreement signed in October 2012, both sides earlier signed deals on how power and wealth will be shared between the central government and the Bangsamoro political entity.
Welcoming both sides to this round of talks, Malaysian Facilitator Tengku Datu Abdul Ghafar Tengku bin Mohamed said "each annex is an agreement in itself."
For the government, Tengku said the task has always been to consider all sides while for the MILF, the challenge is to sign a comprehensive peace agreement that will be acceptable to the public.

[Video: Malaysian Facilitator Tengku Datu Abdul Ghafar Tengku bin Mohamed - 43rd round of GPH-MILF talks]