Friday, July 25, 2014

BBL won’t be renegotiated, MILF warns Malacañang

From the Daily Tribune (Jul 26): BBL won’t be renegotiated, MILF warns Malacañang

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has maintained it won’t renegotiate matters that were settled in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) as the Muslim group blamed the Aquino administration for the delays in the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which would pave the way for a Bangsamoro government.

In its Website, the MILF said the Government of the Republic of Philippines (GRP) version of the BBL will not bring a peaceful resolution to the Bangsamoro Question.

“Obviously, the government peace panel line is to let the MILF accept a version of the BBL that may be constitutional but will not solve the Bangsamoro Question,” it stressed, apparently referring to the “diluted” version of the BBL returned by the Office of the President (OP) to
the MILF last June 23.

“On the other hand, the MILF overall objective is to end tyranny, restore dignity and secure a bright and prosperous future for all in the Bangsamoro Homeland. The current government proposals will not restore dignity to a people who suffered tyranny and will not secure a peaceful and prosperous future,” it added.

The MILF also blamed the government for the delays in the passage of the BBL as it enumerated the reasons the BBL, which was submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to the OP last April 22, has been delayed.

The MILF cited first the 61-day period that took Malacañang in reviewing the BBL. The OP returned the BBL, already diluted, to the MILF only last June 23.

The MILF also said the four-tiered BTC-OP never took place except for the fourth and highest engagement between President Aquino and MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Hiroshima, Japan, last June 24.

“The OP’s comments on the BBL, which is essentially the position pursued by the GRP peace panel, diluted the BTC’s text and have in many instances departed from the letter and spirit of the FAB and its Annexes, which is the basis of the crafting of the BBL,” the MILF stated.

“Moreover, the OP adopted a very conservative interpretation of the Constitution, which is a radical departure from what the government has been saying — and promised — that the flexibility of the Constitution would enable them to implement the FAB and its Annexes,” it added.

According to the MILF, many delays in the passage of BBL are actually caused by issues already settled in the FAB and its annexes but are “kept on coming back and forth at the instance of the GRP,” like for instance, ancestral domain to ancestral domains, central to national, Bangsamoro people to Bangsamoro peoples, among others.

“In view of the wide disparity between the two positions of the two parties, finding an agreed version takes some time,” the MILF said.

The MILF stressed that, just like the GRP, it is working on the timeline to have the BBL submitted before the House of Representatives immediately after Monday’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) of President Aquino. It cited that even if the MILF panel members are fasting, they are stretching the protocols, including the absence of Malaysian facilitator, to come up with agreed version of the BBL.

The MILF is standing firm on its position on the current discussion of the BBL, which it officially registered during the special meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

“All those issues that are settled in the FAB and its Annexes will not be subject for renegotiation; and settled language in the FAB and its annexes will not be subject for renegotiation,” the MILF pointed out.

“If both parties only abide by these commitments, the process would really move forward faster and save them from some irritating moments in their current engagement. More importantly, the MILF will never renegotiate these settled issues,” it added.

In an apparent bid to pacify the “doubting” MILF, Aquino said he will aggressively push the long-delayed enactment of the draft BBL in Congress.

“I want to be able to push this (BBL) with conviction,” the President stressed, adding it is his obligation to the people who are yearning for peace in Mindanao.

Aquino said both parties must work together to bridge the differences.
Holding a print out of Murad’s speech during the March signing ceremony for the CAB, the President read out this sentence: “After all, the CAB is not only for the MILF, but also for the MNLF, for all Muslim ethnic tribes, Christian settlers and indigenous peoples.”

A political analyst, however, noted that the CAB may not materialize after all as the administration has been preoccupied in defending Aquino and his minions over major issues that haunt his leadership, the latest of which were the “unconstitutional” Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and impeachment complaints filed against him.

“After four long years doing peace talks, the Philippine government and the MILF continue to hurdle with constitutional issues on the agreement they signed as it is about to be translated into basic law and face scrutiny in Congress and possibly in the Supreme Court,” said Dean Julkipli Wadi of the Institute of Islamic Studies of the University of the Philippines-Asian Center.

In a public forum entitled: “A Damaged Presidency, A Besieged Administration,” held yesterday at the Assembly Hall of UP’s National College of Public Administration and Governance which was hosted by the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), Wadi said Malacañang’s last-ditch effort to water down the draft of the BBL amid MILF’s insistence to have its own government in 2016 “is ominous of the difficulty ahead.”

Part of the pressure, he said, was the changing context into which the Aquino presidency has gone through enjoying high popularity before but now taking more defensive stances specially with Supreme Court’s ruling on DAP and impeachment charges filed against the President.

On the ground, coherence or at least some semblance of unity among Bangsamoros, their major players and stakeholders is even more wanting, Waldi said.

He further said that the Sabah standoff and the war in Zamboanga last year including the continuing campaign of violence by other rebel groups are “symptomatic of rough road of the Mindanao peace process.”

“Now, many people are concerned how the Aquino administration would be able to rally the major branches of government and the public to support the project to end the Mindanao conflict,” Waldi said.

Numerous rebel war materials seized in Davao City clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 24): Numerous rebel war materials seized in Davao City clash

Troopers from the 72nd Infantry Battalion have recovered numerous rebel war materiel following an encounter with 20 New People's Army (NPA) fighters in Sitio Fatima, Barangay Mandug, Buhangin District, Davao City Wednesday morning.

Capt. Alberto Caber, Eastern Mindanao Command spokesperson, said the clash took place 8:30 a.m.

He added that the 72nd Infantry Battalion troopers were alerted to the rebel presence by civilians tired of the NPAs' marauding ways.

Captured were several improvised explosive device, blasting caps, detonating wire, assorted ammunition including those used in the M-60 machine gun.

Civilians reported that there were NPA wounded carried by their companions during their retreat to Bunawan, Davao City.

There was no casualty on the government side and still on joint pursuit operations with the police.

Other items recovered items by the soldiers were CPP/NPA flag; subversive documents; 15 bag packs, rain coats, combat boots; civilian shoes; sack of rice; gas stove; and assorted medicines.

5 killed, 2 hurt as ASG, government security forces clash in Basilan anew

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 25): 5 killed, 2 hurt as ASG, government security forces clash in Basilan anew

Five people, including three Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) brigands, were killed while another two were wounded following a clash with government security forces in Sitio Magpasong, Barangay Sungkayot, Ungkaya Pukan, Basilan Thursday afternoon.
Military reports said the fighting erupted at around 1 p.m. as government forces located the lair of key ASG member Sulaiman Ajanti, alias "Ulay."

A 20-minute firefight took place and this resulted in the death of Ajanti and two of his followers.

Killed in the government side were two militiamen identified as Damman Hasalal and Jakaria Gulok. Two of their companions, identified as Adzmin Hasalal and Ummal Kulok, were wounded.

The reports said Ajanti and his cohorts were believed to be responsible for the series of attacks against rubber tappers of TARBIDC in Tumahubong, Sumisip, Basilan in 2011 and 2012 which resulted in the death of 29 civilians and wounding of 59 others.

The former's group was also responsible for the kidnapping of Department of Social Welfare and Development social worker Jennelyn Luna in 2013 and kidnapping of two United States nationals in 2012, military authorities said.

No truth to NPA report claiming 9 soldiers killed in Bukidnon clash -- AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 25): No truth to NPA report claiming 9 soldiers killed in Bukidnon clash -- AFP

The Eastern Mindanao Command on Friday denied reports being spread by the New People's Army (NPA) that nine soldiers of 103rd Division Reconnaissance Company were killed following a clash with their fighters in Quezon, Bukidnon Thursday afternoon.

"The claim of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-NPA that nine soldiers were killed in an encounter is a lie," said Capt. Alberto Caber, the command spokesman.

While admitting that an encounter did took place around 4:30 p.m. Thursday with an estimated 30 NPA fighters, he said that only four soldiers were wounded in the encounter.

Caber said the troopers were on routine security mission when they encountered the communist rebels in the vicinity of Sitio Lucat, Barangay Cawayan, Quezon, Bukidnon.

"The soldiers were on security patrol to protect the people and its communities from the NPA harassment and extortion activities (when fired upon)," he added.

Pursuit operations are still ongoing as of press time.

GPH, MILF determining issues to be included in the draft Bangsamoro law

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 25): GPH, MILF determining issues to be included in the draft Bangsamoro law

The government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are determining issues in the political agreements that will be included in the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which the peace panels aim to submit to Congress at the soonest possible time.

“That is not a moving away or diluting political agreements that have already been signed, but are issues about what should now be put in the law,” said Presidential Adviser on Peace Process Teresita Deles in a media interview.

Deles stressed the government and the MILF are working to find a fastest solution acceptable to both parties.

She said the peace panels do not want to renegotiate issues that have already been agreed upon.

“The problem is in the interpretation of how a political agreement is put into legal form. Doon iyong maaaring may deperensiya sa pagiintindi nito and I think that’s what’s very important in what happened yesterday,” she added.

Deles said President Benigno S. Aquino III indicated the need to submit the draft BBL to Congress as early as possible.

For her part, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said the President assured that he would push the BBL with conviction.

“As such, kailangan pulido po ‘yung ating due diligence. Alam naman po natin that once a draft is submitted to Congress, ise-certify po na urgent ng Pangulo dahil meron nga po tayong timetable,” she said in a Palace press briefing on Friday.

Valte said the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) has come up with the resolution asking the peace panels to look at some of the issues that have been raised between the legal team and the Commission on the draft law.

(Update) 3 slain ASG men in Basilan clash identified

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 25): (Update) 3 slain ASG men in Basilan clash identified

The military has identified the three Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) brigands killed during an encounter with government security forces in Sitio Magpasong, Barangay Sungkayot, Ungkaya Pukan town, Basilan Thursday afternoon.

These men are identified as ASG commander Sulaiman Adjanti alias "Ulay", Botong Aliman and Madie Umangkat.

Recovered from the ASG terrorists were two M-16 automatic rifles, one fitted with a M-203 grenade launcher.

Government troopers had just spotted the lair of Adjanti when the firefight took place.

Also killed in the 1 p.m. encounter, which lasted for 20-minutes, were militiamen identified as Damman Hasalal and Jakaria Gulok.

Also wounded were their companions identified as Adzmin Hasalal and Ummal Kulok.

Pursuit operations are still ongoing.

Adjanti and his other cohorts were believed to be responsible for the series of attacks against rubber tappers of TARBIDC in Tumahubong, Sumisip, Basilan in 2011 and 2012 which resulted in the death of 29 civilians and wounding of 59 others.

The former's group is also responsible for the kidnapping of DSWD social worker Jennelyn Luna in 2013 and kidnapping of two US nationals in 2012.

10th ID chief wants whole-nation approach in developing rural areas

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 25): 10th ID chief wants whole-nation approach in developing rural areas

Major General Ariel Bernardo has emphasized that the military is supportive to the development of rural areas, including even those tagged as rebel infested villages, on a whole-nation approach.

“We are not out there to kill all. We also want to solve the root causes of poverty," Bernardo said.

He said paving the way for development is not only based on a military approach but a holistic effort.

Bernardo hinted to participation and close collaboration of the civilian government and the military in bringing security and development together in the communities especially where presence of the armed rebel groups is strong.

According to him, the military is ready to welcome back into the mainstream the rebels if they show effort to lay down arms.

“Wholesale is better. Take away the arm struggle and we can work together,” Bernardo said in Tagalog.

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte had been urging both the military and the rebels to at least stop fighting and pave the way for development as foreign investors wanted to engage in agri-development industry here.

On Tuesday, Davao City saw the armed encounter between the New People’s Army (NPA) and the special auxiliary forces in Sitio Fatima, Barangay Mandug, this city. Duterte said he was tired of telling both sides.

Bernardo said he recognizes the importance of addressing poverty in the community, thus they are collaborating with the government agencies to bring services to the villages.

Bernardo, who relinquished his post on Friday as the 10th Infantry Division Commander as he retires from the military service, will be rejoining the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) as member of the panel. Before his stint at the 10th ID, Bernardo was chair of the government’s Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities.

During his stint as 10th ID chief, Bernardo said the military has conducted at least 427 barangay immersions; 70,312 focus military operations, four regional level convergence and 1,871 other forms of social actions.

With his command, Bernardo said the military was able to organized 6,767 youth leadership; 12,943 internal peace and security activities and able to reached 1,886 barangays in their areas of responsibility.

He also reported that his command was able to neutralize 374 NPA members; arrested 1,541 members and leaders; and, recovered 494 improvised explosives and 179 firearms.

72-hour SOMO offer for release of seized cops stays, says Surigao del Norte gov

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 25): 72-hour SOMO offer for release of seized cops stays, says Surigao del Norte gov

The three days or 72-hour suspension of military and police operations (SOMO) for the release of the four police personnel abducted by rebels will stay, says Surigao del Norte Gov. Sol Matugas.

Matugas is also the chairperson of the local crisis management committee working for the release of the four policemen seized by rebels when they raided the Alegria Municipal Police Station, Alegria, Surigao del Norte on July 10.

The four policemen were on their way to conduct barangay visitation and police community relations activity in a hinter village, when they chanced upon the blocking force of the main attack force of the rebels that attacked the police station.

Matugas said during the radio interview that the 72-hour SOMO is considered a reasonable period by the local crisis management committee in order to release the four policemen who are believed to be kept by the rebel custodial force at this time.

“The committee has already stretched so much after considering all the aspects of security and safety of the POWs and their keepers,” Matugas said after extending their offered period from a 24-hour SOMO to three days.

Matugas added that she cannot decide on the demand of the National Democratic Front (NDF) to include the municipalities of Jabonga, Kitcharao and Santiago as areas to be included in the SOMO as the said towns do not belong to her province. She hoped for understanding on the side of the NDF and to release early the policemen for the sake of their families waiting for them.

Earlier, the NDF through its spokesman George Madlos a.k.a. “Ka Oris” announced through a press statement that they may release the policemen today, July 25, through a third party facilitator had an agreement been reached on the conditions set by them on the release of the POws.

The NDF pressed for an eight-day SOMO which was reduced to a week and later on to six days.

The four policemen - PO3 Vic C. Concon, PO1 Rey O. Morales, PO1 Joen B. Zabala and PO1 Edito F. Roquino are still at the hands of the rebel custodial force. The local crisis management committee chaired by Matugas is exerting all efforts for their early and safe release.

Gov’t troops seize NPA camp, high-powered firearms in Northern Samar

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 25): Gov’t troops seize NPA camp, high-powered firearms in Northern Samar

Government troops discovered a camp owned by New People’s Amy (NPA) while conducting security operation Caputoan village, town of Las Navas in Northern Samar on Wednesday.

Col. Herminigildo C. Aquino, commanding officer of the 803rd Infantry Brigade of the 8th Infantry Division (8ID) Philippine Army based at Camp Sumoroy, Catarman also in Northern Samar said the First Scout Ranger Battalion consequently discovered two carbine rifles hidden under the bushes beside a makeshift hut.

The Philippine Army (PA) credited the successful recovery to the information provided by the people in the community.

Abu Sayyaf sub-leader, 2 followers killed in Basilan clash

From GMA News (Jul 25): Abu Sayyaf sub-leader, 2 followers killed in Basilan clash

An Abu Sayyaf sub-leader blamed for ambuscades on civilians and at least two kidnappings has been killed in an encounter with government troops in Basilan province on Thursday.

A military source citing an initial report from the field said Sulaiman Ajanti alias Ulay was killed with two of his followers in a “brief firefight” in Brgy Sungkayot in Ungkaya Pukan town shortly past Thursday noon.

The clash occurred following “joint special intelligence operations” targeting Ulay, he said.

“A brief firefight ensued between 2 platoons of 18 Infantry Battalion... and civilian volunteers which resulted [in] the death of Ulay and 2 of his followers,” the source said, quoting from the report.

He said Ulay's group was responsible for “the series of ambuscades against hapless civilians in 2011 and 2012” including those of workers of Tumahubing Agrarian Reform Beneficiary Integrated Development Cooperative (TARBIDC) in Tumahubong, Sumisip.

The source, who requested anonymity as he was not authoritized to speak to the media, said 29 people were killed while 59 others were wounded in the ambuscades.

Ulay's group was also blamed for the abduction of social worker Jennelyn Luna in 2013 and of US national Gaerfa Lunsman and her son in 2012.

Amb. Cuisia: Legal challenge delaying PHL-US defense pact implementation

From MA News (Jul 25): Amb. Cuisia: Legal challenge delaying PHL-US defense pact implementation

The Philippines could not fully enforce a new defense agreement with the US allowing large numbers of American troops to gain temporary access in local military camps until the Supreme Court resolves petitions to junk the accord, Manila’s envoy to Washington said Friday.
In an interview, Ambassador Jose Cuisia said he was unaware how the pending petitions before the high court could affect the implementation of the accord, called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), but added the government respects the cases that have been filed against it.

"We can not fully enforce the agreement...because it is being questioned," Cuisia said in an interview at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

There are currently three petitions filed questioning the constitutionality of the EDCA: the one filed by former Senators Rene Saguisag and Wigberto Tañada, another by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, party-list lawmakers from the "Makabayan" bloc, and former solons, and the third by the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and the state employees’ union Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage).
Incidentally, President Benigno Aquino III is facing an impeachment complaint before the House of Representatives over the EDCA.

The EDCA was signed by the Philippines and US after eight months of negotiations.
It is a 10-year defense pact that will allow an enlarged rotational presence of American troops in the country. Under the agreement, US military personnel will have access to designated Philippine military facilities, the right to construct facilities, and the right to pre-position equipment, aircraft and vessels.
Philippine officials hoped EDCA can deter increasing Chinese assertion and presence over disputed South China Sea territories as it builds up the defense capability of its cash-strapped military.
China, which had long opposed any involvement of foreign countries, particularly the US, in the dispute, repeatedly warned Washington to keep out of the territorial row. 
Although not a party to the sea disputes, the US has declared that it is in its national interest to ensure unfettered access to the sea and that conflicts are resolved peacefully. 
“I am not a lawyer so I don’t know the technicalities of what can be done while the case is being heard by the Supreme Court,” Cusia said, “but we don’t want to give the impression that we are not respecting the fact that there is a case filed."

Even the US, he noted, can’t do much until the petitions against the EDCA are decided on by the high tribunal.
“Until we put it into force then we can not really see any movement,” Cuisia said.
The envoy expressed hope a ruling will be handed down quickly for the sake of national interest.
“We’d like to be able to build up the capacity, the minimum credible defense posture as early as possible," Cuisia said. “Definitely it is to our interest that it be resolved one way or the other.”

Photo: AFP chief receives 4th Star

From GMA News (Jul 25): Photo: AFP chief receives 4th Star

The 45th chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, General Gregorio Pio Catapang, Jr., receives his fourth star in a donning of ranks ceremony held at the Department of National Defense on Friday, July 25. The ceremony was presided by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin (right) and came exactly a week since Catapang's assumption last July 18. Also in photo is Catapang's wife Vilma. AFP-PAO

AFP chief to lawmakers: Wait for SC ruling on EDCA

From Rappler (Jul 25): AFP chief to lawmakers: Wait for SC ruling on EDCA

AFP chief Lieutenant General Gregorio Catapang Jr says the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) cannot be derailed

URGENT: AFP chief Gregorio Catapang says EDCA should be implemented immediately. Rappler photo

URGENT: AFP chief Gregorio Catapang says EDCA should be implemented immediately. Rappler photo

New Armed Forces chief Lieutenant General Gregorio Catapang Jr cautioned against 'jumping the gun' on the Supreme Court's verdict on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the United States and the Philippines.

"We still have to find out if it's unconstitutional. We cannot jump the gun. Let's see if it will be declared unconstitutional," Catapang said on Thursday, July 24, when sought for comment.

General Catapang was reacting to the 67-page impeachment complaint filed against President Benigno Aquino III over the military agreement.

"This is a free country. You can talk and you can file cases. Hopefully, it will be decided by the Supreme Court. We will just await," Catapang added.

The complaint was endorsed by Gabriela Representative Emmi de Jesus and ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio of the leftist Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives.

It argues that the President violated the Constitution and betrayed public trust because he approved an agreement that they say "surrendered national sovereignity and compromised our territorial integrity."

Complainants cited the constitutional ban on the presence of foreign troops and bases, as well as the use and entry of war materials.

Lawmakers have raised issues against EDCA, too, saying that the deal more closely resembles a treaty, which requires the ratification of the Senate.

The Supreme Court has yet to release its decision on the matter.

It's the third valid impeachment complaint against President Aquino separately endorsed by Makabayan lawmakers. The first two complaints were based on the administration's Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which was already declared partially unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. (READ: Filed: First valid impeachment complaint vs Aquino and Youth groups file 2nd impeachment raps vs Aquino)

'EDCA implementation is urgent'

The military chief stressed that delays in the implementation of EDCA means delaying the assistance that the US is offering the Philippines for humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) and territorial defense.

"If (EDCA) is delayed, we cannot immediately respond to strong typhoons that will hit the country." Catapang said. "We want to preposition HADR equipment, airplanes and boats. It will have a huge impact if we cannot immediately accept offers of assistance," he added.

EDCA also expands existing cooperation arrangements between the Phiilppines and US militaries through the construction or upgrade of military facilities, and storage and prepositioning of defense equipment and supplies in "agreed locations."

The Philippines and the US have yet to agree on the military bases that will be offered to the American troops.

"We will still meet. The MDB-SEB (Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board) will meet and then we will identify the areas that we can offer to them," Catapang said when asked about the status of EDCA's implementation.

As AFP chief, Catapang is the co-chairman of the MDB-SEB. He said he supports the recommendation of his predecessor, General Emmanuel Bautista, to offer the naval outpost in Palawan's Oyster Bay, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, and Subic Bay in Zambales.

Catapang assumes the post as the Philippine military shifts its focus from internal defense to external defense. In his speech before Navy officers on July 24, Catapang recognized that the Navy will play a key role in the future of the military.

"The Navy will be a strong muscle that our country will count on to protect our people and the state," Catapang said.

5 dead in Basilan clashes

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Jul 25): 5 dead in Basilan clashes

Two government militias and three Abu Sayyaf militant were killed in fierce fighting in the restive province of Basilan in the Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao, officials said Friday.

Officials said the fighting erupted in the village of Sungkayot in Ungkaya Pukan on Thursday following a military operation that targeted Abu Sayyaf militant Sulayman Ajanti, who was killed in the clashes. Two other militants Botong Aliman and Madie Umangkat were also slain in the fighting.

Two automatic rifles were also recovered by troops from the slain militants.

Two government militias – Adzmin Hasalal and Ummal Kulok - were also wounded in the fighting that left two of their relatives Damman Hasalal and Jakaria Kulok, who were militias, dead.

No other details were made available by the Philippine Army in Basilan province and the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City on the clashes or the progress of the military operations against the Abu Sayyaf.

Philippine authorities have largely blamed the Abu Sayyaf to the spate of attacks and ransom kidnappings in the southern region.