Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Int’l forum calls: Spare civilians from military ops

From the Sun Star-Davao (Apr 16): Int’l forum calls: Spare civilians from military ops

PEACE ADVOCATES urged the administration of President Benigno Aquino III to interfere in armed conflicts and address the issues that affect innocent civilians, to attain the just and lasting peace over the land.

Evacuees of the Ata-Manobo tribe who have sought safe haven in Davao City since April 2 from their villages in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, said they will not return to their homes for as long as the military continues to operate there.

In a live stream “Online Forum and Webinar” at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Haran in Davao City, the international and national church and civil society groups, focused on the Ata-Manobo evacuees of Talaingod town, called on the government to uphold the safety and dignity of every person even in armed conflict.

Among the groups are the Union del Barrio, the Union of Progressive Iranian, the International Action Center, Bayan Southern California, Ministries of the United Methodist Church California-Pacific Conference and other member organizations of Panaghiusa (a network for peace and justice in Mindanao).

Church and civil society groups held the online forum to show solidarity with over a thousand Talaingod Manobos who have evacuated their homes in Talaingod in Davao del Norte since April 2.

The gunbattle between the government forces and members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in some areas in Talaingod in Davao del Norte forced 206 families or 927 individuals, of which 503 are children, to flee and leave their hometown earlier this month.

Delegates of East Mindanao Philippines Annual Conference (EMPAC) Board of Church and Society Committee on Ethnic Concerns, in their pastoral statement in support to the call to stop the ongoing militarization herein Mindanao, said the government must ensure the humanitarian protection and basic needs of those affected.

The delegates in the statement are as follows: Vilma Ariola, EMPAC chairperson of Committee on Resolution; Rev. Camilo Balgona, EMPAC chairperson of Committee on Ethnic Concern; Bishop Ciriaco Francisco, of Davao Episcopal; Rev. Israel Paint, of EMPAC church and society; and Rev. Abraham Perasol, of Northeast–Davao.

"We are also calling the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and National Democratic Front (NDF) to resume the stalled peace talks to address these problems that affects the populace, especially this indigenous people. We call for an immediate indemnification, restitution and rehabilitation for affected civilians," delegates said.

The delegates added that the government has the primary obligation to undertake rehabilitation to bring the displaced families back to normalcy and security.

It also said that instead of spending billions on the war, they are appealing to provide basic services and implement asset and social justice reforms that is due to citizens.

ALSO READ: Militants, evacuees call for military pull-out

"We call the entire church to support and advocate the peace process in general. Articulate the people's ante in the peace process, heeding their clamor for basic social reform, transformation and national development.
Only social justice can solve a social problem, not calls for war," delegates said.

The peace negotiation between the GPH and NDF had been on and off for the past 27 years. For these years, both parties only agreed on the human rights issue through signing a Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (Carhrihl).

NDFP Panel chair Luis Jalandoni, in a video talk on Talaingod, Civil War and Peace Talk for Community leaders of the United Methodist Church and Bayan–USA, said because of some violations by the Aquino regime of the peace agreements, the peace talks are stalled.

Jalandoni added that they had been disappointed by the statements of the Philippine president and others in his administration regarding the peace talks, including the ceasefire pre-condition and a new deadline set by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to eliminate the insurgency.

However, Jalandoni said the NDFP supports the Norwegian Government's proposal for holding informal talks in Oslo in late May 2014. He added that the peace advocate organizations in the Philippines and abroad also support the holding of such talks, though the Aquino regime has not responded.

"You can continue your strong campaign of solidarity for the Ata-Manobos and other indigenous people struggling for their ancestral domain and resisting militarization. You can also help in campaigning for the release of Tiamzon and Austria and other NDFP consultants," Jalandoni said.

"You can also campaign for the release of Andrea Rosal and demand for the resumption of peace negotiation between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and Aquino government based on the binding past peace agreements," Jalandoni added.

Jalandoni said despite all the negative indications on the government side regarding the peace talks, the NDF is ready to resume peace talks.

He added that suggested action of “No US taxes for human rights violation” is very timely and will be effective in supporting the Filipino people's struggle for a just and lasting peace.

The Ata-Manobo evacuees have called for a pullout of military operations in their villages.

“Kami nanawagan na ipa-pull out ang sundalo sa kabukiran kay kining among mga lumad, wala mi naanad dire sa syudad. Didto mi naanad sa among lugar sa kabukiran (We are asking the government to pull out the military from Talaingod because we are not used to the lifestyle here in the city. We are used to living in our place),” said Datu Duloman Dawsay.

Datu Duloman, spokesperson of Salugpongan ‘Ta Tanu Igkanogon, said that while they long to go home after weeks of staying at the Haran House, they will not do so if the military continues to operate in their area.

The evacuees claim aerial bombing, massive harassment, and encampment in places where the soldiers are not supposed to put up camps. There are those from their tribe who have sought refuge in Bukidnon.

The Lumads are still in fear of what was done to an elderly tribe member named Ubonay Botod Manlaon, who was held by soldiers for seven days and forced to guide the military in their counter-insurgency operations.

The Ata-Manobos, led by Datu Duloman Dawsay, are asking the government to listen to their call of pulling out the military from Talaingod so that they can return to their homes and live in peace with their families.

MILF-BIAF 116th Base Command in Lanao holds thanksgiving for the signing of CAB

From the MILF Website (Apr 16): MILF-BIAF 116th Base Command in Lanao holds thanksgiving for the signing of CAB

The historic signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014 at Malacanang ground after a tumultuous 17-year peace negotiations were hailed not only by the Bangsamoro people but also local, regional, national and world leaders and even Non- Muslims or non-Moros in Mindanao. Local and international peace and development partners also expressed the same tone of appreciation and thanked the Philippines Government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for the very significant progress in the peace talks.

Fulfilled and elated with the inking of the CAB seen by many as the ultimate solution to the four decades of Moro struggle for peace and self-determination, the 116th Base Command based in Butig, Lanao del Sur held a thanksgiving or “kendure” in the vernacular on April 12-13, 2014 at its headquarters as a celebration and expression of gratitude first, to the Almighty Allah and to the GPH-MILF and all local and international peace partners that supported the peace process. The theme of the program-celebration was “Working together for Peace and Development in Bangsamoro”.

The CAB is viewed by both patricians and laymen as the first step towards achieving lasting peace and comprehensive solution to the Mindanao question and they are fully cognizant of its daunting tasks ahead particularly during implementation stages of the agreement.

The two –day program was attended by BIAF top brass officers, base commanders and their ground forces that manifested their unwavering support for the smooth and full implementation of CAB.

Some BIAF officers from the MILF main camp at Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, members of the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH – MILF), members of the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) were among the invited guests who witnessed the affair.

Messages from different sectors were also delivered such as:  
“I am hoping that in the Bangsamoro Government the living condition of the farmers and their families will be improved and the problems on land disputes will be addressed”, a farmer sector’s head said.

“It is prudent that the two Moro Fronts, MNLF & MILF must unite since both have been struggling for the same cause and  their unity can pave the way for the realization of the Moro dream for long lasting peace and development in the Bangsamoro region”, one youth leader said.

Shari’ah Lawyer and fiscal in Butig Municipality explained in summation the contexts of Ministerial form of Government and the impact of graft and corruption that have menaced the region of Mindanao.

“The CAB is our last chance to address the Bangsamoro problem”, the local government of Butig is fully supportive of the CAB”, he stressed.

Official guest from the Office of the General Staff in Darapanan elucidated the salient points of the CAB and other updates particularly on the Annex on Normalization.

Other guests shared their hopes and supports to CAB and expressed their optimism that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) may pass the scrutiny of Philippines Congress when it is forwarded to it by the Office of the President.

After the program, Maranaw foods and delicacies were served and enjoyed by everyone at the program venue.

MILF: Heavy skirmishes between Government soldiers and rebel forces rage in Basilan

From the MILF Website (Apr 16): Heavy skirmishes between Government soldiers and rebel forces rage in Basilan

Heavy skirmishes took place about 2AM of Friday, April 11 in the town of Tipo-Tipo, Basilan when combined members of the Philippine Army Scout Rangers and 18th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) raided Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) lair headed by Puruji Indama at Barangay Silangkum, Tipo-Tipo. 
In an early report by the military however said that the encounter took place at Kurellem, Ungkaya Pukan town about 2.5 Kms. from Baguindan, Tipo-Tipo that resulted to the death of three ASG members and wounding of 19 soldiers. Reliable source said that the wounded soldiers are confined and recuperating in a military hospital in Zamboanga City.

The raid at the village of Kurellem lasted about two hours when the bandits scrambled to safety and ran away towards different directions after the death of their comrades. Pursuing soldiers supported by two jetfighter planes, four MG 520 Helicopter Gunships and artillery encroached on an MILF perimeter defence at Baguindan under Chairman Hamsa Sapatun of the Basilan Political Committee is located.

At 9AM the same day a fierce gun battle ensued between government troops and MILF Forces with the soldiers aided by more truckloads of reinforcements and Simba Tanks.  The exchange of fire halted at around 11PM. Unconfirmed reports said that civilians saw a number of government fatalities at Tabian Brigade at Isabela City due to the skirmishes at Baguindan.

Reports from the ground said the MILF suffered three martyrs namely; Basir or Buka Kerok, Soy Tarung & Mohammad Soh. Slightly wounded were Totong Ausal and Muthim Imam. One civilian was also killed identified as Julamri Bapakil and wounded were Adzmar Abdurahim, 14 years old, Hudri Julamri, 16 years old, Basri Pamasad and Jihad Abdurajim, 17 years old. The movement of the AFP soldiers was not in any way coordinated with CCCH neither the military informed the AHJAG. The encounter could had been avoided had the military coordinated with the GPH-MILF CCCH and the International Monitoring Team. The raid at Kurellem against the Abu Sayyaf lasted only for two hours as they ran away but the exchanged of gun fires between the aggressed MILF Forces and the government troops took several hours.

Heavy damages were also reported on a school building, madrasah, mosque and agricultural crops due to relentless artillery shelling and helicopter gunship machinegun fire.

MILF: LGU’s North Upi and South Upi hold joint meeting for peace in Bangsamoro

From the MILF Website (Apr 16): LGU’s North Upi and South Upi hold joint meeting for peace in Bangsamoro

The local government units of North Upi and South Upi held a joint meeting for the prevalence of peace in the localities in the light of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) last April 12 at the conference hall of the capitol building of Upi town.
 The joint meeting for peace was the first of its kind between the two LGU’s initiated by Upi Mayor Ramon Piang. The meeting was attended by Mayor Piang and Mayor Abdullah Campong of South Upi and other LGU officials. 

Also in attendance were invited guests from the MILF- BIAF headed by Mohammad Nassif, Chief for Operations of the MILF-BIAF and head of the MILF-TWG on Normalization, members of MILF Political Committees of Upi, business groups, farmers,  members of the International Monitoring Team (IMT), Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), Office for Southern Cultural Communities-ARMM,  Philippine Marines, Philippine National Police (PNP), the media and barangay officials of North Upi and the South Upi.

Maintenance of peace and order, the future Bangsamoro government, and others issues concerning IP's and settlers from Luzon and Visayas were the agenda of the meeting set by the organizers.

In his message, Mohammad Nassif assured that members of BIAF who are assigned or native inhabitants in the area are ready and willing to assist the LGU’s and their counterparts in the AFP in the maintenance of peace and order should the need arises.

“Kaya kasama ko ngayon ang mga opisyales ng BIAF at ng AFP para makilala ninyo sila” (That is why they are here so that you will be familiarized with them)    Nassif said.

Captain Azhar Adam of the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) and member of the IMT-Mission 9 clarified the IMT mandates and the reasons for their presence in Mindanao.

The tour of duty of the IMT which monitors the ceasefire agreement, civilian protection, rehabilitation and development, and socio-economic components of the agreement between the GPH and the MILF is extended until March 2015.

The GPH and MILF also agreed to reduce the number of IMT members to 36, 14 from Malaysia, nine each from Brunei and Indonesia, and two each from Japan and Norway.

Also present was Takayuki Nakagawa of Japan, a member of IMT for Socio-Economic Assistance Component.

BGen. Romeo Gan, Assistant Division Commander of the 6th Infantry Division, has been designated by the AFP hierarchy as the new head of the GPH Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), following the retirement of MGen. Leo Cresente Ferrer last December 2013.

In 2002, AHJAG was formed through joint efforts of the GPH and the MILF Peace Panels in 2002 that seeks to interdict and isolate lawless elements. It coordinates, monitors, and disseminates information between and among the AFP, Philippine National Police (PNP), and the MILF to undertake smooth and careful law enforcement operations without jeopardizing the GPH-MILF peace process.

The AHJAG is comprised of representatives from the MILF, the AFP and the PNP that operate on a yearly GPH-MILF bilateral mandate and is supervised by the joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH).

The group will serve as a crime prevention mechanism to help security authorities maintain law and order in far-flung areas.

The AHJAG has resolved dozens of domestic peace and security issues in areas covered by the ceasefire agreement and had managed to secure the release without any ransom of several kidnap victims in Central Mindanao and surrounding regions in recent years.

Colonel Arturo M.  Beo, Deputy Commander of 1st Marine Battalion who represented the Philippine Marines assured the support of the Marines in the peace process.

Director Fatima Kanakan, a Teduray Muslim, of the Office for Southern Cultural Communities-ARMM, clarified the issue on delineation of the ancestral domain of the Indigenous People (IP’s) particularly of the Teduray, by the National Commission Indigenous People –Region 12 (NCIP).  She explained that the IPRA shall be superseded by the BBL once it becomes a law. The law includes ancestral domain, basic rights, customs and tradition of the IP’s.

After the signing of the CAB, a lot of adjustments shall be undertaken by different agencies of the government particularly in the implementation of programs.

Kanakan   also asked his brethren Tedurays to give chance to the MILF and the Bangsamoro Government to uplift the conditions of the Bangsamoro people and the IP’s.

Mayor Piang also explained that the IPRA Law is also incorporated in recently signed CAB and to be included in the BBL with more benefits for the IP’s compared to the IPRA law.

In the open forum facilitated by Major Carlos Sol Jr. of GPH-CCCH it was suggested   that members of the local committee members of MILF shall be invited during the Municipal Peace Order Council (MPOC) meeting of the LGU.

Mayor Piang bought the idea and announced that in the next meeting of the MPOC he will invite members of the MILF political committee in the municipality and ask them to be the LGU partners in maintaining peace and order.

Cattle rustlings in villages are one of the serious problems mentioned by the LGU’s that shall be put on the table during the executive session.

Another issue raised during the open forum is the alleged recruitment of prospective members of Police Force for the Bangsamoro which Nassif denied. He said that the GPH-MILF Peace Panels are still waiting for the   recommendations of the National Police Commission tasked to study the structure and guidelines of the proposed police force for Bangsamoro.

After the meeting, an executive session was held with the two mayors, and the security sectors: IMT, AHJAG (MILF-GPH), CCCH (GPH-MILF), PNP, Philippine Marines to discussed the implementation of all issues relative to peace and order affecting the adjacent  municipalities.’s-north-upi-and-south-upi-hold-joint-meeting-for-peace-in-bangsamoro

CPP: On the GPH-MILF peace process

Propaganda statement from Sison posted to the CPP Website (Apr 17): On the GPH-MILF peace process

Prof. Jose Maria Sison
Founding Chairman
Communist Party of the Philippines
From a previous position of exercising the right to national self-determination, to the extent of fighting to secede from the Philippine state, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has surrendered itself to the sovereignty, constitution and constitutional processes of said state and has opted for regional autonomy under the Philippine state. Is that true?
Jose Maria Sison (JMS): The leaders of the MILF themselves have confirmed the fact by their own words and deeds. The Bangsamoro Basic Law and all the agreements and annexes covered by the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) are subject to the 1987 Constitution and constitutional processes of the Philippine state. The Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) has publicly assured the MILF that the Philippine constitution can accommodate the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the Bangsamoro political entity without resorting to constitutional amendment.

The MILF has allowed said assurance of GPH to pass, or has not objected to it, from the signing of the FAB in 2012 to the further signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in 2014. The MILF has also agreed that the Bangsamoro Transition Commission ceases to offer constitutional amendments when it ceases to exist upon the enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. The GPH-MILF negotiations have also ended upon the signing of the CAB.

The Bangsamoro Transition Commission, which is tasked to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), has already submitted the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law to the Aquino administration for processing and approval before submission to Congress for the process of legislation. Subsequently, it would still be possible for constitutional issues to be raised before the Supreme Court.

2. Is the Aquino administration determined to push the enactment of the BBL? Why? What makes the Aquino administration and its agents in Congress and the Supreme Court so confident that they can keep the BBL within the four corners of the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines state and override constitutional issues that have been raised by certain political leaders, legal experts and media pundits?

JMS: The Aquino administration is determined to push the enactment of the BBL and the establishment of the Bangsamoro political entity because behind him are the US, the European Community, Japan, Australia, Malaysia, and other countries which are interested in the exploitation of the natural resources of the Bangsamoro areas. The administration has enough time and numbers in both houses of Congress to ram through the BBL, not to mention the pork barrel for persuading possible oppositionists. It is a bit of balderdash that Aquino wants to have a legacy of making peace in the Bangsamoro areas.

The GPH executive and legislative branches are obviously using the provision in the 1987 constitution that created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in order to give a constitutional grounding to the Bangsamoro political entity, and present this new entity as a replacement of the existing ARMM political organ which shall be abolished upon the promulgation and ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. In this connection, all other constitutional issues can be fixed by further “language engineering” by the GPH, with the MILF predisposed to consent.
It is reasonable to estimate that the Aquino regime is taking the MILF for a ride, if only to cause the dissolution of the MILF as a revolutionary organization. But most likely, the ride is not shorter than going all the way to the establishment of the Bangsamoro political entity. The US and GPH strategists are known to calculate that the MILF will go the way of the MNLF.

3. Is not the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) or its Sema and Misuari factions still in a position to complain and raise a constitutional issue about the continuing validity of the ARMM Organic Law and the 1996 peace agreement? And would not the Misuari faction go back to armed struggle for the purpose seceding from the Philippine state or demanding respect for the 1996 peace agreement?

JMS: If the Bangsamoro Basic Law as envisioned would repeal and not merely amend Republic Act 9054 (which amended RA 6734, the original ARMM Organic Law, and which incorporated the provisions of the 1996 MNLF-GRP Final Peace Agreement), there is a high probability for the MNLF or any other interested party to raise a constitutional issue before the Supreme Court on the ground that the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, which is supposed to be the full implementation of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, has continuing validity and cannot be terminated or abrogated unilaterally by the GPH.

The Aquino administration is confident that it has enough numbers in the Sereno Supreme Court, including Marvic Leonen. Together with the MILF, the administration is also trying to appease the opposition of the MNLF and other groups with accommodation in the Bangsamoro political entity and threaten those who resist with fatwa under shariah law and condemnation as peace spoilers. But the resisting Moro organizations, like the Misuari faction of the MNLF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), can also issue a counter-fatwa and appeal for support from the Moro people and the Organization of Islamic Countries which gave its blessings to the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.

4. Aside from the contradictions in the application of the constitutional provision on the ARMM, what are the other constitutional issues that need to be fixed by the Aquino administration and Congress?

JMS: Senator Miriam Defensor, the chair of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, has publicly complained that a Bangsamoro substate is being established and has raised a number of constitutional questions:
  1. Why should executive agreements with the MILF determine and diminish the powers of the central government, in violation of the supremacy of the Philippine constitution by dividing the so-called reserved powers of the central government and the so-called exclusive powers of the Bangsamoro political entity?
  2. How can the ARMM provision in the 1987 constitution be practically dissolved by mere agreement with the MILF?
  3. Why should the powers exercised by the national government over local government units be yielded to, or become the exclusive powers of, the Bangsamoro political entity?
  4. Natural resources belong to the Philippine state, but how come they shall be under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro political entity?
  5. What exclusive powers can belong to the Bangsamoro political entity in a unitary state like the Philippines?
  6. How will the ministerial form of Bangsamoro government jibe with the presidential form of government for most of the country? and
  7. How can the Bangsamoro Transition Commission be tasked to work on proposals to amend the constitution for the purpose of amending and entrenching in the Constitution the agreements whenever necessary, without derogating from any prior peace agreement?
Other contentious issues have been raised by those who adhere to the 1987 constitution. They include the following:
  1. Why subject the people of the five provinces claimed by Bangsamoro to one more plebiscite, when in fact they said yes to autonomy twice already in the past?
  2. Why should the Philippine state cede or concede a part of its internal waters and territorial sea to become Bangsamoro waters under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro political entity?
  3. Why the extraordinary high shares of Bangsamoro in the division of government revenues, which are discriminatory to other regions? and
  4. Why should there be a Bangsamoro police without a clear frame or line of subordination to the Philippine National Police, which is mandated by the 1987 constitution as the sole police force?
5. How are these constitutional issues possibly being addressed by the GPH and the MILF?

JMS: I presume that both the GPH and MILF are aware of these issues and they must have discussed these within the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, especially upon the initiative of the GPH agents. It is possible that the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law has been watered down and toned down by the commission and brought down to a level much lower than the earlier high expectations of the MILF.

To update ourselves on the constitutional issues, we have to get a copy of the draft basic law recently submitted to the GPH executive branch. After submission of the draft, the GPH executive branch can amend the draft. And this can be further amended by Congress. As soon as the draft of the BBL reaches Congress, it should be available to the public for scrutiny and opposition to objectionable provisions.

6. Will the MILF be able to protest or withdraw from the entire deal if it gets far less than its expectations, or if it considers itself swindled by the GPH?

JMS: The MILF has already declared and agreed that it will decommission its weapons and dismantle its army only after the implementation of all the agreements. The implication of this is that the MILF can withdraw from the deal if it is swindled. But in the first place, it has already submitted itself to the constitution and constitutional processes of the GPH. The MILF leaders seem to be satisfied with prospective appointments to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, with elections to the Bangsamoro political organs, and with the absorption of most of the MILF fighters in the Bangsamoro police.

7. Behind the scenes Aquino and his political agents are known to laugh at the MILF for believing that the Bangsamoro political entity will have exclusive powers, independent of the central or national government, and for supposedly expecting to have extraordinary shares of revenues and opportunities for bureaucratic corruption and personal enrichment, when more than US$ 300 billion of US and other foreign investments are supposed to pour in to exploit the natural resources in Bangsamoro. Would imperial Manila actually allow the Bangsamoro bureaucrats to grab the lion’s share from the opportunities of bureaucratic corruption?

JMS: Despite all the promises that the Bangsamoro political entity will have for more powers and financial resources than the ARMM, I think that the GPH president and the central government in Manila will put in all the caveats and make sure that the Bangsamoro political entity will be something like the existing ARMM, a bureaucratic layer, between the presidential office and the local governments still operating according to the current code on local governments. The high bureaucrats and big compradors of Manila and the Moro political dynasties will still take the lion’s share of whatever bureaucratic loot can arise from investments of the US and other multinational firms exploiting the natural resources in the Bangsamoro.

8. Assuming that the Bangsamoro political entity will replace the ARMM, what will become of the MILF in the short term and long run? Will there really be a durable peace in the areas of the Bangsamoro?

JMS: The MILF itself has indicated that it shall liquidate itself, become an Islamic movement and form a political party for electoral purposes. The highest MILF official Brother Ebrahim Murad is expected to become the Chief Minister. I presume that the other MILF officials will also assume high offices in the Bangsamoro political organs.

If we go by the historical example of the MNLF, the MILF has to be vigilant against ceaseless attempts of the Manila-based bureaucrats and the military officers of the reactionary government to subordinate, corrupt and split the MILF officials. The electoral process will also be a way to weaken the former cohesiveness of the MILF and will allow the traditional ruling families and favorites of any current president to take over the Bangsamoro political entity. Remember how the MNLF split and the ARRM eventually fell into the hands of the Ampatuan family.

The GPH-MILF peace agreement and establishment of the Bangsamoro political entity will not necessarily result in a just and lasting peace. There are armed clans and armed political forces like the MNLF of Misuari and the BIFF. It remains to be seen how they can be appeased or outraged.

The exploited masses of workers and peasants have a high potential for waging an armed revolution against their exploiters and oppressors in the Bangsamoro areas. The agreements made by the GPH and MILF are not concerned about national independence vis a vis the imperialist powers, democracy for the workers and peasants, social justice and development through land reform and national industrialization.

9. What are the prospects of the Bangsamoro people and Moro Resistance and Liberation Organization in the Bangsamoro areas?
JMS: The Moro people will continue to wage various forms of struggle in order to assert and realize their right to national self-determination and ancestral domain. The Moro Resistance and Liberation Organization (MRLO), the revolutionary masses and allies can take more initiative in carrying forward the people’s democratic revolution through protracted people’s war. The imperialists and the Manila puppet government will not satisfy the basic demands of the Moro people. The MRLO is in a position more than ever to arouse, organize and mobilize the Moro people to fight for national and social liberation.

10. What is the consequence of the peace settlement between the MILF and the Manila government to the revolutionary movement led by the Communist Party of the Philippines? Will such peace settlement strengthen the reactionary government in waging a campaign of military suppression against the revolutionary? If not, why and how?

JMS: The MNLF and MILF have had long ceasefire agreements with the Manila government since a long time ago. Meanwhile, the New People’s Army, the people’s militia and the self-defense units of the mass organizations have grown in strength nationwide, together with the Communist Party, the National Democratic Front, the mass organizations and the people’s democratic government.

According to reports, sixty per cent of the reactionary forces are now deployed in Mindanao. Most of them are tasked to attack the rapidly growing forces of the NPA. But some continue to be posted in the Bangsamoro areas in order to contain and attack the BIFF and the MNLF-Misuari, not to mention the infamous Abu Sayyaf. The concentration of the reactionary troops in NPA areas in Mindanao will give the NPA a chance to seize more weapons and encourage the NPA to attack and seize arms from the weaker enemy forces in Luzon and the Visayas.

The CPP, NPA and NDFP are resolutely and militantly carrying out the plan to advance from the strategic defensive to the strategic stalemate in the people’s war nationwide. For more information on the progress of the people’s revolutionary struggle, I refer everyone to the to read the long message of the CPP to NPA on the latter’s 45th founding anniversary and the latest battle reports of the NPA in various parts of the Philippines.

CPP/NDF: On Talaingod, Civil War and Peace Talks

NDF propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Apr 16): On Talaingod, Civil War and Peace Talks
Luis Jalandoni
NDFP Negotiating Panel
 Good evening, Friends and Kababayan, Community and Faith leaders of the United Methodist Church, and members of mass organizations of BAYAN.

I extend warmest greetings to the great indigenous people of Talaingod, Davao del Norte, for their persistent fighting spirit, opposing the landgrabbing of Alcantara and Sons since the 1990s and up to now, and their resistance to destructive mining. They are now subjected to the most brutal militarization causing their renewed uprooting. They indeed deserve our strong solidarity.

This flagrant human rights violation by the military and the Aquino regime is repeated in many parts of the Philippines. As the Ata-Manobos in Talaingod accuse the 60thInfantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, and the 4th Special Forces of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Cordillera people condemn the brutal massacre of the Ligiw family in Abra and demand the pull-out of the 47thInfantry Battalion, Philippine Army, whom they accuse of many human rights violations.

Similar militarization and uprooting are caused in Bicol, other parts of Luzon, and the Visayas. The policy of the Aquino regime to favor foreign destructive mining is carried out with brutal militarization.

In addition, the neoliberal policies of the regime, of privatization, deregulation, liberalization and denationalization, are causing great havoc on the lives of the workers, peasants, indigenous people, urban poor, fisherfolk, women and youth, and other sectors of the population.

Because of the intolerable exploitation and oppression of the ruling system of big landlords and compradors backed by the US, there has been a civil war in the Philippines since 1969. The liberation forces upholding and defending the rights of the exploited and oppressed are waging a war for national and social liberation. The New People’s Army led by the Communist Party of the Philippines, and the forces of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, through 45 years of heroic struggle, have established people’s organs of democratic power in substantial portions of 71 out of the total 81 provinces in the country.

The NDFP has held peace negotiations with the Manila government and has signed more than ten agreements since 1992. The aim of the NDFP is to address the roots of the armed conflict, such as land reform and national industrialization, in order to achieve a just and lasting peace.

The Aquino government, however, has refused to comply with the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). It has declared the Framework Agreement, The Hague Joint Declaration, “a document of perpetual division.”

It arrested NDFP consultants Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria on 22 March 2014. It refuses to honor the JASIG. It detains them and 13 other NDFP consultants.

It keeps in jail 470 political prisoners, charging them with criminal offenses, in violation of the CARHRIHL.

On 27 March 2014, it arrested Andrea Rosal who is due to give birth next month. She is the daughter of the late NPA Commander Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal. When she was three years old in 1989, she was snatched from her grandmother’s arms to pressure Ka Roger to surrender. A powerful campaign by Ka Roger and supporters compelled the military to release her.

Extrajudicial killings under Aquino have reached 188 cases, an average of almost one each week.

The NDFP demands the release of the 15 NDFP peace consultants and the political prisoners. We demand a stop to the militarization of civilian communities.

Because of the violations by the Aquino regime of the peace agreements, the peace talks are stalled. However, the NDFP supports the Royal Norwegian Government’s proposal for holding informal talks in Oslo in late May 2014. Peace advocate organizations in the Philippines and abroad also support the holding of such talks. The Aquino regime has not responded.

You can continue your strong campaign of solidarity for the Ata-Manobos and other indigenous people struggling for their ancestral domain and resisting militarization.

You can also help in campaigning for the release of Tiamzon and Austria, and the other NDFP consultants.

You could also campaign for the release of Andrea Rosal.

You can demand the resumption of peace talks between the NDFP and the Aquino government based on the binding past peace agreements.

Your suggested action of “No US Taxes for human rights violations!” is very timely and will be effective in supporting the Filipino people’s struggle for a just and lasting peace.
Thank you!

Contents of PH-US defense agreement will be announced, Malacañang assures

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 16): Contents of PH-US defense agreement will be announced, Malacañang assures

Once the details are available, the contents of the proposed defense accord between the Philippines and the United States will be made public, Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said yesterday.

The Philippines and United States panels recently concluded the eighth round of talks on the proposed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) which will allow the US military greater access to Philippine military bases. The draft of the agreement, which seeks to enhance the country’s defense as well as disaster management capability, is expected to be submitted soon to President Aquino for review.

As it is an executive agreement, it will have to be reviewed and finally approved by the President, Coloma added.

Secretary Coloma had earlier said the President would ensure that the Constitution and the national interest are upheld in the proposed agreement.
“There is no deadline for the signing of the agreement,” he added.

Coloma brushed aside speculations that the United States has been dangling carrots to the Philippines, including its recent aviation safety upgrade by the US Federation Aviation Authority (FAA), to hasten the approval of the proposed security deal between the two countries.

“There are many interdependencies but I would like to say that the FAA issue is something that arose even before there was any report on opening further talks on Enhanced Defense Cooperation,” Coloma said.

Coloma asserted that the country’s aviation authorities addressed the air safety concerns raised by FAA, resulting in the “favorable outcome” announced last week.

And if the reports that US Department of Agriculture is considering more mango shipment from the country are true, Coloma said they welcome such news “with total appreciation.”

“We hope that it will result in beneficial – in even more beneficial outcomes to our farmers and to our industry. Let us be aware that there is an entire spectrum of relationships in the international field – both multilaterally and bilaterally,” he added.

AFP: No ransom demand for abducted Filipina

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 16): AFP: No ransom demand for abducted Filipina

The Abu Sayyaf members have not demanded a ransom for the release of the Filipina resort worker who was kidnapped in Sabah, Malaysia earlier this month, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said on Wednesday.

AFP Public Affairs Office research head Captain Mark Posadas told Manila Bulletin Online that they have not received any demand from the al-Qaeda linked group.

“As far as we know, no ransom has been demanded,” he said.

The Filipina was identified as Marcy Dayawan, a worker in Singamata Reef Resort in Sabah.

Last week, Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the abductors demanded $11 million (more than P487 million) for the release of the abducted Chinese tourist named Gao Huayun.

AFP said the abductors allegedly belong to the Abu Sayaf group operating in Tawi-Tawi in Mindanao.

“One was identified as Murphy Ambang Ladia, also known as Haji Gulam,” Posadas said.

Murphy Ambang Ladia, who is under the group led by Binang Sahirol, is a former member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Posadas said.

He also said that the AFP in Western Mindanao is still on alert as it continues to work with Malaysian security forces to search for the victims.

PH, China, Malaysia negotiating hostages’ release

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 16): PH, China, Malaysia negotiating hostages’ release

The Philippines and China are now working with Malaysian authorities in negotiating with the kidnappers of the Chinese tourist and Filipina worker who were abducted from an island resort near Semporna in Sabah on April 2.

Speaking at a press conference after the Putrajaya Forum 2014 in Kuala Lumpur where he delivered a speech on transnational and organized crime on Tuesday, Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi disclosed that Filipino authorities, in particular, are working with certain parties who are able to negotiate directly with the captors of 29-year-old Chinese tourist Gao Huayun, and 40-year old Marcy Dayawan.

Gao and Dayawan were abducted from the Singamata Adventures and Reef Resort in Semporna by seven armed men. The Philippine national is employed at the resort as a receptionist.

Authorities believe that the Semporna kidnap case was the handiwork of Philippine militant Muslim group Abu Sayyaf. The group also abducted a Taiwanese tourist in November of the previous year from Pulau Pom Pom, off Sabah’s east coast.

Ahmad Zahid, likewise, revealed that part of the negotiations is the reduction of the RM36.4 million (roughly P500-million) ransom that the kidnappers have demanded for the safe release of the Chinese national.

The Malaysian official, however, declined to offer more details on the case for security reasons aside from the general belief that the motive of the suspects was “purely to enrich themselves with the ransom money.”

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 17):

Meeting Aims To Ensure Peace, Stability In Asia-Pacific

The Philippines and Japan, two countries currently embroiled in separate territorial disputes with China, are firming up their bilateral security strategy and defense policy in a bid to ensure peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

A delegation was dispatched by the Philippine Navy (PN) to Tokyo to participate in the Third Staff-to-Staff Talks with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF). Both panels conducted in-depth talks on security strategy and activities, defense policy, build-up, and exchange programs.

The PN-JMSDF staff-to-staff meeting is conducted as a way of strengthening bilateral relations and discussing matters that will increase the degree of cooperation and promote mutual understanding and trust between the two countries.

The talk focused on the terms of the Defense Cooperation and Exchanges (DCE) between the Department of National Defense of the Philippines and the Ministry of Defense of Japan signed by DND Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin and MOD Minister Satoshi Morimoto on July 2, 2012.

The DCE covers various defense exchanges such as working level exchanges, education and research exchanges, capacity building, exchange of information, multilateral cooperation, and other forms of cooperation as may be mutually decided upon by both countries.

During the talks, the participants also tackled the lessons learned during the disaster relief and rescue operations following the onslaught of super-typhoon “Yolanda” in the Philippines in November, 2013.

The PN hosted the 2nd PN–JMSDF staff-to-staff talks in Manila in October, 2012.

Manila has an existing territorial dispute with Beijing over the West Philippine Sea while Japan is at odds with China over the sovereignty of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

Arraignment of rebel leader moved anew

From the Sun Star-Davao (Apr 15): Arraignment of rebel leader moved anew

THE arraignment of one of the most wanted New People's Army (NPA) member in Davao Region accused of abducting three Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) personnel in Barangay Tambobong, Baguio District Davao City in 2012 was rescheduled anew after one of the lead prosecutors in the case was absent during the hearing Tuesday.

Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 16 Judge Emmanuel Carpio reset the arraignment for Roberto Castillote, alias Ka Bobby, on May 8 after Prosecutor Victoriano Bello Jr. went on-leave during the supposed arraignment Tuesday.

An arraignment was supposedly scheduled last March 21 yet it was rescheduled on Tuesday after Castillote requested to have the services of lawyer Manuel Quibod rather than from a lawyer from the Public Attorney's Office (PAO).

Castillote was charged for serious illegal detention after he allegedly abducted Civilian Active Auxiliaries (CAAs) Artemio Canobas Sitoy, Romeo Bulod Bago and Tony Pandian, all residents of Barangay Tambobong, Baguio District. The abduction of the complainants took place between December 30 and 31 of 2012.

But while he is yet to make a pleading on the arraignment scheduled May 8, Castillote has other pending cases in another branch of RTC.

RTC Branch 17 is currently handling the robbery, murder, and slight illegal detention case against Castillote who was also accused of detaining seven men and killing one of the captives at Purok 4, Barangay Carmen in Baguio District, Davao City last year.

Castillote has pleaded not guilty for robbing from and detaining Albert Matundo, Cesar Agas, Albin Agas, Jelber Agas, Elmer Agas, Jubert Agas and murdering Paulino Landim Jr. on March 19 while a preliminary conference was already held last April 11.

Lady spy traps NPA leader

From Tempo (Apr 16): Lady spy traps NPA leader

A New People’s Army (NPA) leader tagged in the killing of a police officer was arrested after falling into a trap set by his female “textmate” who turned out to be a police asset.

Police said Romando Reyes Eduate, 36, also known as Ka Demsen, was apprehended over the weekend by police and military operatives at Calaba bridge, Barangay Mudeng, La Paz town, where he agreed to finally meet the lady who became his girlfriend through texting.

Senior Superintendent Benjamin Lusad, Provincial Police Office (PPO) director, said Eduate, 36, also known as “Ka Demsen,” is commanding officer and team leader of the Sandatahang Platoon Pampropaganda (SPP)-South Central Abra that operates in the towns of Bucloc-Daguioman-Boliney-Sallapadan, this province.

Lusad added that Eduarte did not resist when intelligence operatives of the Philippine National Police and the military held him by virtue of warrant of arrest issued by Judge Corpuz Alzate of Regional Trial Court Branch 2 in Bangued, Abra.

Eduarte is one of the suspects in the slaying of SPO4 Ernesto Bernal, then police chief of Lacub town, also in Abra on August 5, 2004 in Sitio Mamasag, Barangay Poblacion, Lacub.

According to Supt. Mario Mayames, Abra police deputy director for operations, the rebel commander was unaware that his supposed girlfriend is a police spy when he agreed to meet her the said date.

“They have been texting for almost three months until they developed a supposed long-distance relationship and the girl-asset urged him to meet her finally at the bridge,” Mayames revealed.

Duterte negotiates for POW’s release

From Tempo (Apr 16): Duterte negotiates for POW’s release

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said Monday that he was negotiating with the New People’s Army (NPA) to release Sgt. Jeric Bucio Curay of the 72nd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army who was snatched last April 4, in Barangay (village) Andap, Laak, Compostela Valley.

In a message sent to the media here, Aris Francisco, NPA spokesperson in the area, said that Curay, who came from a military detachment in Barangay Panuramin, was riding his motorcycle when he was seized and held as Prisoner of War (POW) under the custody of the Comval-North Davao-South Agusan Subregional Command of the rebel group.

Francisco added that the capture of the soldier is timed with the NPA’s renewed campaign against Armed Forces of the Philippines units (the other one is the 60th Infantry Battalion) responsible for protecting big logging firms which have wiped out the forests of Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley, and Agusan del Sur provinces.

Duterte said that the family of Curay personally came to his office to ask for help.

He disclosed that the rebel group is asking a favor, which Duterte did not divulge

Aquino awaits AFP recommendation on NPA ceasefire

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 16): Aquino awaits AFP recommendation on NPA ceasefire

President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday said he is relying on the recommendation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) if they will declare a ceasefire with the New People’s Army (NPA) in time for Holy Week.

“That’s a tactical decision which I leave to the chief of staff and I await their recommendation,” Aquino said during an ambush interview at the North Port Passenger Terminal Complex in Manila.

Media reports said the National Democratic Front-Bicol has assured locals a peaceful Lenten season, amid the lack of a ceasefire, as it respects the religious traditions of the people.

Aquino visited several passenger terminals and transportation hubs on Wednesday to inspect the situation there before the mad rush of people to the provinces for the Holy Week.

PH Navy asking for 3rd warship from US

From Rappler (Apr 16): PH Navy asking for 3rd warship from US

The Philippines is pursuing its request for a 3rd Hamilton Class cutter from the United States, Navy chief Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano told Rappler.

“As far as we are now looking at it, there will be a positive action for getting a 3rd Del Pilar frigate as we now call the Hamilton Class cutters,” said Alano on Monday, April 14.

Decommissioned US Coast Guard ship BRP Gregorio Del Pilar and its twin ship BRP Ramon Alcaraz are currently the Philippine Navy’s most capable warships. Both have been deployed to the patrol the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea).

The Philippines acquired them from the US in 2012 and 2013, respectively, through the Excess Defense Articles program. The Philippines only had to pay for the refurbishment of the decommissioned ships.

The plan to acquire a 3rd cutter was previously scrapped.

The Philipine military earlier estimated that it needs at least 6 ships to patrol the country's long coastline. Alano said the number is constantly being evaluated. He also cited existing cooperation agreement with the navies of neighboring ASEAN countries.

Bidding for 2 brand new frigates worth P18 billion (US$400 million) is also ongoing. (READ: Wanted: Consultant for PH Navy’s P18.9 billion warships deal)

PH wish list

The Philippines and the US are finalizing a new military deal that will increase the presence of American troops in the Philippines and give them wider access to military bases.

This comes at a time when the Philippines is locked in a bitter maritime dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea.

The draft agreement has been submitted to Malacañang. Talk is rife that it will be signed during the visit of US President Barack Obama later this month, April 28-29.

Philippine Ambassador to US Jose Cuisia Jr said he is hopeful that the new agreement will also mean “we can get more equipment in the future.”

“The Armed Forces must decide what are the things they would like to get. I have not seen the wish list of the AFP,” said Cuisia.

The AFP is constantly evaluating its requests for assets. It was previously looking at F-16 fighter jets from the US but changed its mind because of maintenance costs.

“You recall we were looking at F-16s before. The AFP decided not to. Why? Because the maintenance costs are very high,” Cuisia said.

The military instead opted to acquire for P18.9 billion a squadron of FA-50 lead in fighter jets from South Korea’s Korea Aerospace Industry (KAI). (READ: PH Air Force a joke no more, acquires fighter jets)

The Philippines and KAI signed the contract last month, March 28. It has been almost a decade since the Philippine Air Force retired the last of its US-designed F-5 fighters in 2005.

The FA-50 has minimum fighter capabilities. Its design is derived largely from the F-16 meaning it won’t be a problem if the Philippines in the future gets the money to upgrade to the more expensive jet.

AFP: Abu Sayyaf group, not MILF, target of Basilan operation

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 17): AFP: Abu Sayyaf group, not MILF, target of Basilan operation

Moro Islamic Liberation Front AFP FILE PHOTO

The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Wednesday said its troops targeted Abu Sayyaf  leader Furuji Indama and not the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the ongoing military operation in Basilan that has left two soldiers and 18 others dead, including four MILF fighters.

“We did not attack the MILF. We attacked the Abu Sayyaf. Our intelligence information was against the Abu Sayyaf and we had good information that he (Indama) was in the area,” military spokesperson Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala told the Inquirer by phone.

MILF Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar had denounced the killings, and asked an independent body monitoring a ceasefire between the rebels and the government to investigate the fighting which he charged was initiated by the military.

The military has said the slain MILF fighters were apparently drawn into the fighting because they had relatives among the Abu Sayyaf members involved in the clashes.

Zagala said the military coordinated its operations against the Abu Sayyaf with the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG).

The AHJAG is “the mechanism between the MILF and the government that responds to criminality and terrorism in areas with MILF presence.”

Zagala stressed the AFP had always supported the peace process with the MILF.

“It was never our intent to spoil the peace process. We support it and we are in full coordination with the MILF, through the AHJAG, in our operation,” Zagala said.

He also said it was “unfortunate” that MILF members were among the casualties in the fighting that began last Friday.

“We have to look into why they (MILF fighters) were there,” Zagala said.
He reiterated the statement of AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista that the slain MILF fighters had acted on their own and that their participation in the fighting was not sanctioned by the MILF leadership.

On Tuesday, Bautista told the Inquirer that the MILF fighters who engaged the military in a gun battle were believed to be relatives of the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan led by Indama who has a multimillion-peso bounty on his head.

Another military source told the Inquirer that Indama is married to the sister of MILF fighter Imamul Mande, which was why the latter and his followers always give “safe haven” to the Abu Sayyaf when they are pursued by the military.

President Aquino meanwhile is unperturbed by reports that some MILF members were helping the Abu Sayyaf.

In an interview with reporters while inspecting transport terminals in Metro Manila, Mr. Aquino said this incident would not be a “problem or hindrance” to the  recently signed comprehensive peace agreement with the Muslim rebels.

“Number one, it is my understanding that we used the mechanism (in the peace pact) to avoid misunderstandings and inform the MILF about this operation,” the President said.

He pointed out that the MILF member who was slain in last week’s skirmish in Unkaya Pukan in Basilan  was there “not as a member of the MILF but because he was a relative of one of the Abu Sayyaf members being chased.”

AFP attack in Basilan intentional’

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 16): AFP attack in Basilan intentional’

THE Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Tuesday denounced an attack by government troops on its forces in Basilan Saturday, barely three weeks after it signed a peace agreement

“My message to the military in Basilan is please do not disturb the honeymoon period between the MILF and Malacanang because after the signing of the CAB [Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro], there is a honeymoon period,” said MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar.

Jaafar added that he thought the attack was intentional, since the military must have conducted surveillance before taking action in the area, where government troops were hunting down Abu Sayyaf bandits.

Jaafar said the MILF was conducting its own investigation into the incident in which four MILF members were killed.

Earlier, the military admitted that MILF troops fought alongside Abu Sayaff bandits in a battle that left 18 rebels and two soldiers dead Saturday. This was contrary to their insistence Monday that no MILF fighters were involved.

But Armed Force chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said the rebels who fought with the Abu Sayaff did so in a personal capacity, without the imprimatur of the MILF, with which the government recently signed a peace agreement.

Some of the MILF fighters had relatives in the Abu Sayaff, he added.

“We are in touch with the MILF leadership,” Bautista said.

Military sources said that at least five MILF commanders and several of members reinforced their relatives in the Abu Sayaff, who were pinned down by elite government troops from the 18th Infantry Battalion on the outskirts of Tipo-Tipo town in Basilan.

The MILF commanders were identified as Malista Malangka Sapaat, the men of Hamsa Sapanton, Abbas Salong and Rashid Iklaman, and Parang Pais.

The Abu Sayyaf were commanded by Nurhasan Jamiri, Bashir Kasaran, Ibrahim Malat and Furuji Indama.

The military assaulted the Abu Sayaff camp in Sitio Ungkaya, Barangay Pukan, Tipo-Tipo town, some 250 meters away from an MILF camp, to seize Indama, who threatened to disrupt an ongoing road construction project.

“The MILF should deal with them (rebels), the MILF leadership should deal with their members,” Bautista said.

Amid reports of Saturday’s fighting, the Palace said its legal team will review the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law “with a sense of urgency” to meet the May target for the submission of the legislative measure to Congress.

“There is a sense of urgency in being able to complete this review because we are all aware of the indicative timetable,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma said.

“The President will review and certify the draft bill as urgent to Congress. So this is a joint effort and both sides are doing what is necessary with the sense of urgency to be able to complete the task at hand within the indicative timetable,” Coloma added.

Coloma said the legal team may decide to “supplement or modify” the draft law, the final output of the peace agreement between the government and the MILF.

The law will create the Bangsamoro, a political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Coloma said there is a “reasonable degree of confidence” that the timetable will be met.

“I think we must be mindful that throughout the process of crafting the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, there was close coordination on both sides in order to be able to hammer out this agreement. And even while the agreement was being negotiated, the Philippine panel was consulting regularly with the same panel that is now reviewing the draft law,” he added.

The legal team is composed of deputy executive secretary for legal affairs Michael Aguinaldo, chief presidential legal counsel Benjamin Caguioa, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, and other government legal experts.

The leadership of both houses of Congress have committed to pass the basic law by December, after which a plebiscite will be held in the first quarter of 2015.

The plebiscite will cover the current provinces and cities in the ARMM, the cities of Isabela and Cotabato, six municipalities in Lanao del Norte, and 39 barangays in six municipalities of Cotabato province.

After the plebiscite, the government aims to put the Bangsamoro Transition Authority in place by 2015 to serve as interim government until the elections in 2016.

Earlier, Senator Miriam Santiago questioned the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, saying the peace pact was unconstitutional.

She said the agreement establishes not a mere autonomous region as provided for by the Constitution but a sub-state, which will exercise certain sovereign powers that should be reserved only for the central government.

She noted that preliminary studies show that the agreement apparently contains provisions that are very similar to those contained in the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain or MOA-AD, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional.

“Both the MOA-AD and the Bangsamoro Agreement appear to facilitate the secession of the Bangsamoro from our country in a manner similar to the secession of Kosovo and Crimea,” Santiago said.

But government chief negotiator Miriam Ferrer said the CAB was crafted “within the framework of the 1987 Constitution.”

House leaders assured the public that they would not pass a law with infirmities.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. also maintained that the Bangsamoro Basic Law would not be questioned before the Supreme Court.

“We are certainly working on the theory that its constitutionality can be assured,” Belmonte said.

Belmonte’s statement came after the Bangsamoro Transition Commission submitted the draft law to Malacañang.

Belmonte said that the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be among the priorities of the House when Congress resumes session on May 5.

House Deputy Majority Leader and Citizens Battle Against Corruption party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna, a lawyer also expressed confidence that the proposed law is legal, as it allows the Transition Commission to propose constitutional amendments.

Suspected Abu Sayyaf bandit arrested in Sulu

From GMA News (Apr 16): Suspected Abu Sayyaf bandit arrested in Sulu

Authorities have arrested a suspected Abu Sayyaf bandit in Patikul, Sulu, a television report said Wednesday.

A report on GMA News TV's News To Go said that on Tuesday, authorities set up a checkpoint in Patikul in pursuit of three members of the bandit group. 

Joint forces of the Philippine Marines and Philippine National Police subsequently arrested a man reportedly carrying explosives who had mixed with the crowd.

The report, however, did not identify the suspect.

It was also not clear if he was with the three suspects the police were earlier pursuing.

Police are readying charges of illegal possession of explosives against the suspect.

But the suspect faces additional charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention if there would be victims filing a complaint against him, police said.

Albay hosts Balikatan 2014

From the opposition Daily Tribune (Apr 16): Albay hosts Balikatan 2014

Albay hosts gain the Philippines-United States annual joint military exercises this year, Balikatan, with a month-long series of humanitarian and civic assistance (HCA) activities in this city and in Guinobatan town, from April 21 to May 22.

Balikatan 2014 (BK14) organizers have earlier booked about 400 hotel rooms for the purpose, for a full month period, representing about 60 percent of high-end quality room capacity in the province. The event is the fifth similar RP-US military-related activities which Albay had hosted since 2007.

Salceda said BK14 lends support to the provincial and local government units community outreach initiatives, enhances the program’s interoperability between the participants and local stakeholders, promote the BK14 Exercises and further enhance RP-US bilateral relations.

Salcedo said BK14 civic assistance activities will include Engineering Civic Assistance Program (ENCAP), Cooperative Healthcare (MEDA/ET) engagements, and Civil Military Operations and Community relations activities in Legazpi City. Guinobatan and several other nearby towns.

BK14 activities, held simultaneously in other parts of the country, involve some 5,500 US and Filipino military personnel. In Albay, some 400 US soldiers will participate in the HCA.

Albay had consistently hosted past humanitarian activities with US, most prominently; the Amphibious Landing Exercises or Phiblex last year, the US Pacific Angel in 2010, the RP-US Balikatan in 2009, and the visit of USS Peleliu in 2007.

For this year, BK14 will hold three ENCAPs in Guinobatan. In Barangay Malobago, it will construct a barangat health center and two classrooms at the Malobago Elementary School, aside from the repairs of the school’s sanitary, water and electrical facilities. In Barangay Mercedes will also construct one classroom and repair other facilities.

In Legazpi City, ENCAP activities include the construction of public toilet and water facilities in Barangay Pawa, and repair of the Tamaoyan Elementary School in Barangay Tamaoyan and its sanitary, water and electrical facilities.

BK14’s Coopeerative health engagement includes health symposia with professional health workers in at least five barangays of Legazpi City and Guinobatan town where AFP and US soldiers are already deployed.

New US bases deal for signing during Obama visit after all

From the opposition Daily Tribune (Apr 16): New US bases deal for signing during Obama visit after all

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation (EDC) agreement which the Palace has repeatedly denied was being rushed for a signing during the visit of US President Barack Obama on April 28 to 29 is already in the hands of President Aquino and will be signed during Obama’s visit after all.

The EDC is alternatively called the increased rotational presence deal that would allow US military forces and assets to have access to local military bases.  It is however, believed that the US will have its own military bases.

The EDC is a crucial agreement in support of the Obama administration’s policy to rebalance US forces for an increased presence in the Asia Pacific.
The Department of National Defense (DND) through spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said the draft of the agreement has been submitted to Aquino.

“According to (Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo) Batino, Philippine panel chairman, the two panels agreed to submit the latest drafts for their respective inter-agency reviews and approvals. There can also be some informal consultations between panels, if necessary,” Galvez said.

The supposed conclusion of the bases agreement came almost at the same time that the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lifted restrictions on local airlines by restoring the Philippines to a Category 1 air safety status.

The US Department of Agriculture (DA) also recently announced that it is now considering to import more mangoes from the Philippines.

“We are aware that the Federal Aviation (Administration) of the US, as with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), had already previously noted some concerns regarding aviation safety. And those concerns were duly addressed by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, resulting in the favorable outcome that was announced to us last week, so that is what it is all about,” Press Secretary Herminio “Sonny” Coloma said, denying that the FAA decision was connected to the signing of the defense agreement.

Coloma said that everyone has to be “aware that there is an entire spectrum of relationships in the international field, both multilaterally and bilaterally.
“If in another front we get good news, then we welcome that news with total appreciation, and we hope that it will result in even more beneficial outcomes to our farmers and to our industry,” Coloma said.

He added that “there are many interdependencies” in denying that the US moves were all connected.

“Well, it’s something that arose even before there was any report on opening further talks on Enhanced Defense Cooperation,” Coloma said.

Presidential deputy spokesman Abigail Valte last Monday said Aquino was already doing the review of the document submitted by the Philippine panel for his approval which was expected to be one of the salient agenda in the coming visit of US President Obama on April 28-29 in Manila.

If the agreement has been finalized, then the next step would be for that agreement to be submitted for review by the President, as Coloma maintained that the EDC would be an executive agreement.

Congress wanted a look at the agreement first before acknowledging that it is indeed an executive agreement and not a treaty that would require Congressional approval.

“Definitely, it will have to be reviewed and finally approved by the President,” Coloma said.

Coloma would neither confirm nor deny that Aquino had on his table the copy of the agreement. “I will need to find out the current status,” Coloma said.

In the visit, Aquino and Obama would be expected to discuss defense, security and economic cooperation as well as the contentious issues of the West Philippine Sea which affects the Asean region.

“We can reasonably expect that the two heads of state will discuss topics of mutual concern in the aspects of defense and security, economic relations, and other areas that are regularly considered by both countries,” Coloma said.

Both the Philippines and the US negotiating panels had concluded the eighth round of negotiations, and they have found consensus on key provisions of the EDCA that made the agreement ripe for signing.

“I’m still awaiting a reply from DND if they have any available updates for now. But our latest status is what was conveyed to us as of this last weekend,” Coloma said.

Coloma did not say anything on whether the copy of the agreement would be released to the media for the public to know its provisions.

MILF body submits half-baked BBL draft

From the opposition Daily Tribune (Apr 16): MILF body submits half-baked BBL draft

The 15-man Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC)  that drafted the Bangsamoro Basic Law submitted to President Aquino an incomplete bill that Malacañang said will be certified as “urgent” to ensure Congress’ early approval of the BBL, was found and confirmed to be incomplete and lacking in details.

The BBL draft was reported to lack the provisions in the armed police force of the Bangsamoro as well as the provisions on the Bangsamoro waters, both of which are seen as controversial and even unconstitutionally infirm, despite these two elements being included  in the annexes signed between the Philippine government peace panel and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) panel.

Press Secretary Herminio “Sonny Coloma yesterday admitted to reporters  the submission of the documents and confirmed  the BBL draft was  incomplete, saying that it is precisely a calling it a draft,  translates to being incomplete.

He said yesterday morning he  had  received a text message from the Office of the Executive Secretary regarding the submission yesterday of a working draft which lacked the police and Bangsamoro waters provisions.

Coloma said that: ”By definition, a draft is something that can be supplemented and that can be modified until it is finalized.

“I do not have the details that you are asking about in particular but we can verify this. Even if we knew it, what is most material and what is most important, I believe, is that the legal team will be able to do everything that is necessary to be able to submit the draft bill to the President for his own review and approval,” Coloma said.

In the same breath however, Coloma denied that the lacking provisions on the BBL concerning the police system and territorial waters would be filled in by the legal team of Aquino in Malacañang and  complete the document before it would be submitted to Congress.

While admitting that certain provisions were lacking and even stating that the Palace lawyers would be filling in the blanks, Cololma contradicted himseld by saying: “No. This is a product of Bangsamoro Transitory Commission, and its  commitment is to draft a bill that the President will review and certify as urgent to Congress. So this is a joint effort and both sides are doing what is necessary with the sense of urgency to be able to complete the task at hand within the indicative timetable,” Coloma said.

Coloma said that throughout the entire process, the Philippine and MILF panels “have exercised the requisite due diligence, industry, and determination in order to complete the agreement and in order to bring it to where it is now”.

“So I think we can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that there is reason to be optimistic that the timetable can be met,” Coloma said.

“It will be reviewed by the legal staff of the Office of the President, including Desla (Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs), Office of the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, and even of the Office of the Solicitor General,” Coloma said.

While in the process of drafting the BBL, the legal team of Malacañang was claimed to have been supervising the BTC, however, the body still failed to meet the deadline, and the need to review the document.

 Coloma said the target of the Aquino administration is to be able to submit an enacted BBL to the people of the affected areas by end 2014, “so that there can be sufficient preparations for the conduct of elections for officials that will regularly administer the Bangsamoro political entity”.

“It is hoped that the election can take place simultaneously with the 2016 national elections, and we are all guided by that indicative timetable, so all those concerned are acting with a sense of urgency,” Coloma said.

He added that they have no actual update on the number of registered voters in the Muslim communities covered by the Bangsamoro.

“We can inquire and verify with the Comelec, but I’m certain that they are aware of this forthcoming event on the conduct of the plebiscite, and they would be making the necessary preparations for this,” Coloma said.

Of the 15-man who composed the BTC, as appointed by Aquino, majority of them have no legal background and only a third of them are lawyers who were given the responsibility to draft the basic law.

 “I think we must be mindful that throughout the process of crafting the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, there was close coordination on both sides in order to be able to hammer out this agreement,” Coloma said.

Coloma said that there was willingness on both sides to receive inputs from each other.

“And even while the agreement was being negotiated, the Philippine panel was consulting regularly with the same panel that is now reviewing the draft law,” Coloma said.

Coloma said that there is an assurance, that the people that are doing the reviewing are quite familiar with the agreement, and the BTC would have referred extensively to the CAB itself, saying that the CAB is a substantial input into the crafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

 The BBL draft, once approved by Congress and signed by Aquino into law would be expected to be challenged before the Supreme Court for being contravene to the dictates of the 1987 Constitution.  

On the part of the Senate, through the Senate president, Franklin Drilon, he said that any oversight or lapses, on the part of lawmakers, in overseeing the preservation of the nation’s sovereignty in scrutinizing the provisions of the proposed BBL  will be unacceptable.

It is incumbent upon members of the two Houses of Congress, once formal deliberations of the BBL is taken up to ensure that not only the efforts exerted by the government peace panel and that of the MILF will not be put in vain but to guarantee as well that the law that will create the Bangsamoro political entity will stay within the confines of the 1987 Constitution, he said.

“We cannot afford to err on this most-sought piece of legislation, if we truly want to secure this peace in Mindanao which we have now realized after decades of hostilities,” the Senate leader said, underscoring repeatedly the need to have the BBL fall within the four corners of the Constitution, “and that it can withstand judicial scrutiny.”

The CAB, as well as the four annexes already smacks of unconstutionality.
At least two senators have already warned against the possibility of the constitutionality of the BBL being challenged before the Supreme Court as it is seen raise a question on “sovereignty within a sovereignty.”

Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., over the weekend, cautioned Malacañang on the matter of dealing with what he called as a “legal storm” once the BBL is approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives.
He took note of the pronouncements earlier made by colleague, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, as the latter found the provisions of the CAB unconstitutional since it stands to be in violation of principle of constitutional supremacy.

Santiago pointed out that the Constitution only allows an autonomous region and not a sub-state that will exercise sovereign powers reserved only for the central government.

Drilon, however, assured that the national sovereignty will be the premiere concern of Congress as they prepare to work on the BBL, which they consider as a legislative priority.

“I will be at the forefront in seeing that our sovereignty is respected. I don’t think that the Filipino people will forgive us if we rescind any part of our sovereignty. We must remain as one country, and one nation - as one Filipino people.”

“I am determined to see that the BBL will be a policy for harmony and shared development. As long as I am here, it will not be an instrument of capitulation, nor it will be an affront to our constitutional integrity,” he stressed.

Drilon said he expects his colleagues from Senate as well as those from counterparts in the lower house, to take an active role in the crafting of the BBL and passionately debate on the most pertinent issues concerning the peace pact.

The Senate chief urged lawmakers to devote time and effort in scrutinizing the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law when it reaches Congress.

“Soon, the ball will be in Congress’ hands. It is the Congress that will ultimately shape and mold the piece of legislation which will breathe life to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” emphasized Drilon, a former executive and justice secretary.

The Senate leader underscored that the law, which should be passed as early as possible, needs “to be responsive to the real and distinct problems and needs of the Bangsamoro people.”

“This measure should resolve social tensions, poor infrastructure, and lack of economic development in the region. It will demand from our lawmakers their utmost prudence, practicality and political acumen,” he added.

The Senate and the House of Representatives had earlier agreed to include the Bangsamoro Basic Law in their priority agenda, and both chambers committed to pass it by the end of 2014.

“That is our target because we want to see 2015 as the year when we can submit this for ratification by the areas covered by the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”