Monday, September 15, 2014

(UPDATE) 4 killed as militiamen clash with leftist rebels in Davao

From the Philippine Star (Sep 15): (UPDATE) 4 killed as militiamen clash with leftist rebels in Davao

At least four people were killed after fighting erupted between tribal militiamen and members of the leftist rebel group New People's Army (NPA) yesterday, Philippine army and police officials said today.

Carl Omar Fiel, town police chief, said two members of the Alamara tribal militia were also wounded in the fighting in Gupitan village, Kapalong town in Davao del Norte province.

Fiel said Alamara militiamen under a certain Ongging Mansaloon engaged about 20 NPA guerrillas in a firefight at around 4 p.m. local time. The two-hour clash resulted in the death of Mansaloon' s 21-year-old son and three leftist rebels. The chieftain and another tribal militiaman were injured.

Colonel Harold Cabreros, commander of the Philippine Army's 1003rd Infantry Brigade, said several rifles and improved explosives were also recovered at the site of the encounter.

Last month, the 100-strong Alamara declared a "pangayaw" or tribal war against the NPA guerrillas whom the group accused of committing human rights abuses and violating tribal culture in Gupitan - an upland village rich in timber.

Goldberg: US watching Isis in PH

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 16): Goldberg: US watching Isis in PH

US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg: Watching. AFP FILE PHOTO

US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg: Watching. AFP FILE PHOTO

Manila and Washington are both keeping close tabs on reports of the terror group, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis), recruiting fighters in the Philippines, particularly in Mindanao, US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg said on Monday.

In a separate interview with the Inquirer, the splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Monday confirmed that it had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and was in constant communication with the group, including its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

In a phone interview, BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mama said the group feared that the US government’s pronouncement about neutralizing Isis would affect Mindanao, and that its declaration of a “war on terror” against the Islamic State would launch proxy or direct hostilities in other countries outside the Middle East, including the Philippines.

“Are we afraid? Yes, we are afraid. But we are ready to defend ourselves if ever they will attack us,” Mama said.

Speaking at the Kapihan sa Embahada held at the US Embassy in Manila, Goldberg said the US was “concerned about the idea of Isis trying to recruit foreign fighters all around the world.”

Possible recruitment places

Goldberg added that the US was aware of foreign fighters from the US, United Kingdom, Europe and Australia who had gone to the Middle East, and that Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia could also be “possible places for recruitment” by Isis.

“It’s everywhere, including the West,” the ambassador said of Isis’ recruitment efforts.

“We’ve taken note of the public announcements that have been made by some groups in the southern Philippines about Isis, but I don’t want to say that we have no information to indicate that there have been fighters going to the Middle East. (W)hat I’m saying (is that) we and the Philippine government are watching it very closely and it concerns us, wherever it may be taking place,” Goldberg said.

Degrade, destroy

US President Barack Obama last week declared war against the group, following its execution of two American journalists and, more recently, a British aid worker. The US is now leading a global alliance to fight the terror group and said that it was moving ahead with its strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State that the US called a terrorist organization.

Mama scored the US “war on terror” and recalled how it had been used before in the Philippines.

“Remember… the Filipino-American War? Mindanao was not annexed by the Americans because our ancestors bravely fought using their bolos,” the BIFF spokesperson said, adding that the “tactic” was also employed during martial law.

“Lately, when we were still with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), we were able to engage Filipino soldiers with Americans (among) them,” Mama said. The MILF, he added, had also recovered guns allegedly from Americans after fighting them in North Cotabato and Maguindanao.

The rebel leader described the guns as “balikatan,” claiming that these were the firearms used by American troops during the Balikatan joint military exercises.

Very dangerous

Mama added that one of the BIFF’s concerns was the use of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones by foreign troops in Mindanao.

“We saw (them) flying over our heads before. (They’re) very dangerous for the communities,” Mama said.

In 2002, militant organizations criticized the massing of foreign troops in Mindanao that the US government had tagged the “second front of the war on terror.”

Both the Philippine and US governments had denied that American forces were joining combat operations and said that their presence was only for joint military exercises.

Palparan transfer draws fire from Church group

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 15): Palparan transfer draws fire from Church group

The advocacy group Promotion of Church People’s Response decried Monday the decision of a court in Bulacan to place retired Major General Jovito Palparan in the custody of the Philippine Army instead of the provincial jail, saying it was a display of military dominance over civilian authority.

“Also, it shows the explicit enjoyment of General Palparan of the special treatment given to him by the Aquino administration,” said PCPR general secretary Nardy Sabino in a statement.

He demanded that instead of providing security to a violator, the government must move to protect human rights victims and their families.

“We demand that security be given to the human rights victims and their family and not to the violators…. Let justice roll like flowing river and righteousness like a never ending stream,” he added.

Palparan, who was called “The Butcher” by political activists, was arrested in a house in Sta. Mesa, Manila last month after more than two years in hiding.

The former commander of the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Division is standing trial at the Malolos Regional Trial Court in connection with the disappearance of UP students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, who were last seen in Hagonoy town in Bulacan in June 2006.

3 suspected NPA rebels killed, 2 govt troops hurt in Davao Norte clash

From GMA News (Sep 15): 3 suspected NPA rebels killed, 2 govt troops hurt in Davao Norte clash

Three suspected members of the New People's Army were killed, while two government troops were wounded following a clash in Davao del Norte over the weekend, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said.
In a news release on Monday, the AFP's Eastern Mindanao Command said around 5:45 p.m. Sunday, troops from the Army's 10th Infantry Division's 72nd Infantry Battalion engaged an undetermined number of communist rebels at Sitio Poiton in Barangay Gupitan in Kapalong town.
The operating troops recovered an AK-47 assault rifle, an M16 rifle, an improvised explosive device as well as a hand grenade from the rebels.
Meanwhile, the two wounded members of the CAFGU were taken to the nearest hospital for treatment, the AFP said.
According to Col. Harold Cabreros, who heads the 1003rd Infantry Brigade, they will coordinate with the local government in Kapalong "for the proper disposition of the three NPA cadavers."
Cabreros said he instructed the soldiers to maintain security particularly in Kapalong, where residents including the indigenous people "Lumad" were "abused and deceived" by the CPP-NPA, the news release said.

DAR turns over 25 Pamana projects to Zamboanga farmers

From the Business Mirror (Sep 15): DAR turns over 25 Pamana projects to Zamboanga farmers

THE Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) recently turned over 25 projects under the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (Pamana) project to agrarian-reform beneficiaries organizations (ARBOs) in Zamboanga del Sur.
The projects are aimed at spurring rural development and promoting peace and order in conflict areas.
For Zamboanga del Sur, the projects include water systems, postharvest facilities, solar and stilt dryers, farm implements and cattle fattening, among others.
Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer Arturo Soria said the finished project was turned over to the barangay chairmen of the 25 villages in Dinas town, where the 25 ARBOs are operating.
These include multipurpose buildings for barangays Bacawan, Benuatan, Nian, Guinicolalay, Don Jose, Songayan, Pisaan and Lower Dipaya; water systems for barangays Kinakap, Ignacio Garrata, Legarda Uno, Dos and Tres, and Dimaya Proper.
Soria added that cattle for fattening were distributed for farmers in Dongos; six mud boats and a hand tractor for East Migpulao; tire path for Poblacion; solar dryer for Sumpotan and Sambulawan, stilt dryer for Locuban; and water systems for Sagacad, Legarda Uno, Old Mirapao and Nangka.
DAR-Western Mindanao Regional Director Julita Ragandang said 1,896 farmer-beneficiaries, comprising 6,088 households with an estimated 34,000 population, would directly benefit from the projects.
Randang added that the projects represent the initial offering out of the 166 projects that are being implemented by the DAR under the supervision of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.
“They serve as DAR’s legacy to the public under the Pamana Phase 1 project in agrarian-reform areas,” Ragandang said.

US to announce compensation for Tubbataha damage ‘soon’

From GMA News (Sep 15): US to announce compensation for Tubbataha damage ‘soon’

An announcement will be made “soon” by the US government on the compensation for the damage caused by an American warship on internationally-famous Tubbataha Reef off Palawan province, Washington’s envoy to Manila said Monday.
Washington has offered compensation to the Philippines for the damage caused by the USS Guardian, which the Philippine government estimated to cost around P58 million or $1.3 million.
Environmentalists and militant groups have filed a complaint against the US before the Supreme Court to demand for compensation after the US vessel ran aground the reef in January 2013, damaging over 4,000 square meters of the coral outcrop.
“We are going through the last phase of the review. You know whenever something like this happens, it requires various legal and other review and I am convinced that very soon, we will have an announcement to make,”  Ambassador Philip Goldberg told a media forum at the US Embassy in Manila.
Goldberg said the US government received and took note of the Philippines’s review and recommendations while US officials conducted its own investigation.
The US military had to dismantle the ship to remove it and to prevent further damage to the reef, which is a United Nations-declared world heritage site.
The US military has since relieved the ship’s officers and crew for the incident, saying they failed to adhere to standard navigation procedures.

Guv: Give peace a chance

From the Visayan Daily Star (Sep 15): Guv: Give peace a chance

Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. is apparently not giving up on his call to the leaders and members of the New People’s Army to give peace a chance.
This was noted after government negotiating panel chairman Alexander Padilla announced that he will support any attempt or endeavor of the local government executives to explore localized peace talks with the local insurgents.
Marañon said that ever since, he has been trying to reach out to misguided Negrenses, who are still in the mountains and fighting against the government, to join him in the fight against poverty, and not against each other.
He reiterated his offer to provide medical assistance to ailing former priest Frank Fernandez, alleged by the military to be the secretary of the Komiteng Rehiyonal-Negros, and reportedly suffering from a lingering illness.
Padilla said Friday that the holding of localized peace talks, that may be initiated by local government executives, is welcome especially when the resumption of peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front stalled again.
More than 100 ex-rebels and their families have availed of financial and livelihood assistance from the provincial government of Negros Occidental, since 2011, military records show.
Meanwhile, Undersecretary Maria Cleofe Gettie Sandoval of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said that the government is poised to sign a closure agreement with the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (Tabara Paduano Group), that had signed a peace agreement in 2000.
Sandoval said the PAMANA project, founded on the ideals of participation and inclusion, is changing people’s lives.
In a statement from the OPAPP, Sandoval cited the hiring of 95 former RPA-ABB members as forest guards, through the partnership of PAMANA and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
In the RPM-P/RPA/ABB peace tracks, scholarships under the Commission on Higher Education’s Study Grant Program and health insurance coverage by PhilHealth have also ensured that family and kin of former combatants, as well as immediate community members, have basic social protection benefits, Sandoval said in the OPAPP statement.

House approves bill defining Philippine maritime zones on committee level

From AngMalaya (Sep 15): House approves bill defining Philippine maritime zones on committee level

House Bill 4889, Philippine Maritime Zones Act, was approved on House of Representatives committee level Thursday, September 11.

Francisco Ashley L. Acedillo of Magdalo party-list, Rodolfo G. Biazon from Muntinlupa, Jose F. Zubiri III of Bukidnon 3rd district, and House committee on foreign affairs chairman Al Francis C. Bichara of Albay 2nd district introduced the bill.

“The passage of this proposed legislative measure aims to provide for the necessary flexibility in the enactment of subsequent laws pertinent to the rights and obligations to which the Philippines is entitled and may exercise over its maritime zones in accordance with the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” as introduced by four lawmakers.

The bill says Philippine maritime zones include internal waters, archipelagic waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

The bill states that 12 nautical miles from the baseline or low-water line will be the country’s territorial sea, for contiguous zone – 24 nautical miles from the baseline, exclusive economic zone will be 200 nautical miles from the baseline, and for the continental shelf, 200 nautical miles from the baseline, including the seabed and subsoil of submarine areas.

“The Philippines shall exercise sovereign rights over this area, including the right to explore and exploit living and nonliving, organic and inorganic resources in accordance with the UNCLOS and other existing laws and treaties,” states in the proposed law.

Palparan is ‘home,’ now in Army HQ detention cell

From Rappler (Sep 15): Palparan is ‘home,’ now in Army HQ detention cell

The military is 'happy' about the retired Army general transfer from the Bulacan jai. 'We look forward to his safety while undergoing trial,' says Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr

Retired Major General Jovito Palparan arrives at the Military Police Headquarters inside the Army headquarters. Photo by Francis Lopez/Rappler
Retired Major General Jovito Palparan arrives at the Military Police Headquarters inside the Army headquarters. Photo by Francis Lopez/Rappler

Retired Army Major General Jovito Palparan Jr is home. Onboard a maroon Mitsubishi van, a smiling Palparan arrived at the Philippine Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, at 2:45 pm on Monday, September 15, following a court order to move him from the Bulacan Provincial Jail.

His detention cell inside the Army Custodial Center is small – 2.8 meters by 4.3 meters – with only a bed and an electric fan. He will have to share the toilet with other detainees in the compound, where Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and fellow Magdalo soldiers were detained before President Gloria Arroyo gave them amnesty in their rebellion case.

But Palparan, who served as commander of the 7th Infantry Division, will be secured by his former colleagues in the military.

Palparan is accused of masterminding the abduction of 2 University of the Philippines (UP) students in Bulacan in June 2006. The Malolos regional trial court ordered his arrest in 2009 but Palparan evaded arrest until soldiers captured him in August 2014.

Human rights activists, who have tagged the general as "The Butcher" because of his alleged human rights violations, protested the court decision.

"The military moved heaven and earth for this, as what they have done to protect their own and justify the numerous human rights violations committed," Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Palparan earlier asked the court to transfer him either to the Philippine Army Custodial Center or at the detention center of the Intelligence Agency of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) in Camp Aguinaldo over alleged threats to his life.

This came after the Bulacan court rejected his petition to remain in the custody of the National Bureau of of Investigation.

The military top brass is happy.

"We are happy to hear that Major General Palparan's request has been granted by the court. We look forward to his safety while undergoing trial," said military chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr.

Army chief Lieutenant General Hernando Iriberri vowed they will "abide by the provisions of the transfer as stipulated by the court order and he will be presented to the court when needed."

Palparan's counsel has coordinated with the Army as early as two weeks ago for the possible transfer, according to Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Noel Detoyato.

Palparan will join in the custodial center his co-accused in the abduction of the 2 UP students – Army Colonel Felipe Anotado Jr and Master Sergeant Edgar Osorio.

Anotado himself has been staying for 3 years in the room adjacent to Palparan's new cell.

House seeks safe conduct pass for Misuari, Kato

From Rappler (Sep 15): House seeks safe conduct pass for Misuari, Kato

Congressman Rufus Rodriguez wants to hear out the MNLF and BIFF leaders on the Bangsamoro bill. He says the suspension of arrest warrants would have no effect on their pending cases.

Committees in both chambers of Congress tasked to deliberate the proposed law creating a new autonomous region in Mindanao want authorities to temporarily suspend the warrants of arrest for rebel leaders to allow them to participate in the deliberations.

Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the special committee in the House of Representatives that will discuss the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, said he has spoken to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima about his proposal.

"Secretary De Lima said she has an open mind. The decision will be up to the discretion of the court and she told us that the proposal should be made in writing," Rodriguez told Rappler.

Rodriguez and his counterpart in the Senate, Senate Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr, want Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) founder Umra Kato to attend public hearings on the proposed law.

The bill is a product of the final peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Both the Misuari and Kato have rejected the peace agreement and continued to push for an independent region.

The MNLF signed a peace accord with the government in 1996, but maintains that the agreement has yet to be fully implemented. The MILF broke away from the MNLF in the 1970s at the height of the conflict between government forces and Muslim rebels due to differences between Misuari and other leaders.

The BIFF, meanwhile, is a splinter group of the MILF. It which broke off from the group after the Supreme Court declared the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domains (MOA-AD) between the MILF and the Arroyo administration as unconstitutional.

Rodriguez said he will also ask Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to approve a 5-day safe conduct pass for both Misuari and Kato to give them their opportunity to air their concerns on the Bangsamoro bill, which stakeholders hope would finally put an end to 4 decades of war in Mindanao.

Rodriguez sought to clarify that suspending their warrants of arrest would have no effect on pending cases against the two.

"We only want the warrant to not be implemented while the safe conduct pass is in effect so they or their representatives can participate in the discussion. During this time, they will be under the custody of the House of Representatives," Rodriguez said.

Misuari is facing charges for the 2013 siege of Zamboanga that killed over 100 people. Umra Kato, who has long been rumored to be ailing, is facing charges over the 2008 hostilities resulting from the SC decision on the MOA-AD.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law seeks to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with a new government that has greater political and fiscal autonomy.

Although it is a product of the peace agreement between the government and the MILF, the autonomous government that will be established will not be limited to the MILF.

Deliberations in Congress on the Bangsamoro Basic Law could serve as a venue for the concerns of the MILF, the MNLF and the BIFF to reach a common ground.

Hearings in Mindanao, too

The first public hearing on the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be held on Wednesday, September 24. The Senate is also expected to conduct its own briefing on the same week, Marcos earlier said.

Members of the House special committee will meet on Tuesday, September 16, to approve their internal rules and timeline.

Aside from holding marathon hearings in Manila, the 75-member ad hoc House committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law will hold simultaneous public hearings in Mindanao, including the Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, provinces under the ARMM, as well as Davao City.

To fast-track deliberations, all 8 vice chairpersons of the 75-member ad hoc committee will divide the responsibility among themselves. Rodriguez said hearings will also be held during scheduled sessions breaks in September to October and in November.

Rodriguez said he hopes to put the bill to a vote at the committee level by November 30.

At the top of the committee's considerations is the constitutionality of the proposed law – an issue that had also hounded peace panels from the start up to the final stages of discussions.

During the negotiations, the MILF was of the position that real autonomy in Mindanao can't be entrenched without amending the Constitution. The government, meanwhile, negotiated for a final peace accord under the direction that it must be implemented without the need for charter change.

The same issue delayed the submission of the Bangsamoro bill in Congress after the MILF accused Malacañang of diluting the first version of the basic law when it was submitted to President Benigno Aquino III for review.

Malacañang and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, led by MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, said they believe the proposed law, as well as the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro which it is based from, is "within the flexibilities of the Constitution."

Guests to be invited in the Wednesday hearing include presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, who played a key role during crucial moments in the talks, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and the government peace panel.

Rodriguez said he and Marcos had considered holding joint hearings to fast-track discussions but the "sheer number" of House members who will be involved in the deliberations made them decide to hold separate hearings instead.

At the Senate, Senate President Franklin Drilon said there is "strong bipartisan support" for the bill.

A total of 13 senators, including 4 members of the minority and 9 members of the majority, signed as co-authors of the bill, which was formally filed at the Senate Monday, September 15. The House version was filed on Thursday, September 11.

Congress is under pressure to pass the basic law by 2015 to give the MILF-led transitional body at least one year to lead the transition toward the Bangsamoro.

Both the MILF and the govenrment want the Bangsamoro to be installed by 2016 before Aquino steps down from office.

Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr earlier said Congress can pass the bill by the first quarter of 2016.

Under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the MILF agreed to decommission rebel firearms in exchange for political commitments towards the creation of a new autonomous government, including the passage of the law.

Once the Bangsamoro Basic Law is approved in Congress and through a plebiscite, the ARMM will be deemed abolished.

Palparan transfered to Army custodial center in Fort Boni

From InterAksyon (Sep 15): Palparan transfered to Army custodial center in Fort Boni

Palparan after his arrest last month.

Retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan was transferred to the Philippine Army Custodial Center inside Fort Bonifacio at 2:30 p.m. Monday, after undergoing a medical check-up at the headquarters of the 191st Military Police Battalion.

Military sources said the medical examination was standard procedure to ensure that the detainee is in good physical condition.

Visiting hours would be from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., according to Army Spokesman Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato, who added that there would be no special treatment accorded Palparan.

Earlier in the day, a Bulacan court granted the petition of Palparan to be transferred from the Bulacan provincial jail to the Army custodial center in Fort Bonifacio on account of alleged threats to his life from communist rebels.
Palparan's lawyer, Atty. Narzal Mallares, said the order was handed down by Branch 14 of the Malolos, Bulacan Regional Trial Court in open court during the hearing of his motion.

The court issued the order even after Atty. Edre Olalia of the National Union of People's Lawyers manifested his opposition to the motion for transfer.

Olalia is the legal counsel of the families of missing University of the Philippines (UP) students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno.

Palparan, along with Colonel Felipe Anotado and several other soldiers, are facing charges for the abduction of Cadapan and Empeno in 2006, an allegation they have denied.
The court entered a plea of not guilty for Palparan after he refused to enter a plea during his arraignment last month.

In asking for the transfer of detention, Palparan cited intelligence reports that the communist New People’s Army (NPA) had allegedly formed a hit squad to liquidate him, adding that his detention at the provincial jail is also very risky since there are several NPA members also detained there.

Palparan initially requested to be detained either at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame or at the headquarters of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) in Camp Aguinaldo, but he later asked the court that he be detained at the Army custodial center.

In a related development, Mallares sought to allay the concern that Palparan will be given VIP treatment at the Army facility, saying that even at the provincial jail where he was detained after he was transferred from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) last August 12, he was not given special treatment.

At the same time, he said that, aside from the security consideration, Palparan's detention at an Army facility is just right, since he is still in the reserve force even if he has already retired from active service.

Palparan's last posting before he retired was as Commanding General of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division.

Palparan's detention cell at the Army custodial center measures 2.8 by 4.3 meters and does not have a toilet.

There is one bed and an electric fan. The bath and toilet is common to several cells sharing it.

He will be the ninth detainee once transferred

Also detained there are his co-accused, Lt. Col. Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado and Staff Sgt. Edgar Osorio.

The detention center is a building within a compound inside Fort Bonifacio surrounded by high double fences.

Only soldiers are detained there

Army chief Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri issued a statement, part of which reads as follows:

"As ordered by the court with its presiding judge Teodora Gonzales, the PA [Philippine Army] will take custody of MGen Palparan. He will be detained at the PA Custodial Center. We will abide by the provisions of the transfer as stipulated by the court order and he will be presented to the court when needed. The PA custodial center is prepared for the transfer of MGen Palparan. He will be treated fairly and justly.”

For her part, Lorena Santos, Secretary General of the group Desaparecidos, said in a statement that "the last ray of hope for justice has just been doused. Palparan is essentially freed, and Malacanang welcomes it."

Santos said the basis of the decision "is unclear. The police warden of Bulacan Provincial Jail acknowledged in court that his basis for the so-called threat to Palparan's life is purely speculative."

Unable to contain her disappointment, Mrs. Connie Empeno, the mother of Karen, shouted in Filipino at the end of the hearing: "You're in a better position, Gen. Palparan. You’re in jail. Your children and your wife can visit you. How about my daughter, where is she now?"

Both Santos and Empeno remarked that Judge Teodora Gonzales used the premise of lack of funds and security of other inmates at the Bulacan Provincial Jail to grant Palparan's transfer.

"This is yet another proof that the Aquino regime and the Armed Forces of the Philippines coddle butchers like Palparan and are protecting him," Santos said. "Bringing Palparan back to camp is good as saying that he is back in power among his minions."

Dec. 17 is target date for passing Bangsamoro Basic Law

From MindaNews (Sep 14): Dec. 17 is target date for passing Bangsamoro Basic Law  

Calendared for first reading Monday, September 14, the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, now known as House Bill 4994, is targeted for passing by December 17 this year so the plebiscite be held “February or March” next year, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who will chair the Special Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro, said.

Rodriguez told MindaNews in a telephone interview Sunday that the 75-member special committee will hold its first organizational meeting on September 16 and its first public hearing on September 24.

He said the Committee secretariat had met on September 11, a day after Malacanang submitted the “urgent” measure to Congress, to discuss the proposed rules and calendar of hearings.

September 11 was also the day the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) or House Bill 4994 sponsored by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and 16 others, was stamped received by the House of Representatives.

Rodriguez said the first organizational meeting of the Special Committee to approve the rules and the schedule of hearings will be on Tuesday, September 16.

First hearing

He said hearings of the special committee will be held from 9:30 a.m. to p.m.

He explained that under the House Rules, committees are not supposed to hold hearings when there is a plenary budget hearing, but his committee has been allowed to do so.

For the first hearing on Sept. 24, the Special Committee will call on the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP); the government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels; and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, the body tasked to draft the BBL, “to brief us on the Basic Law,” he said.

According to the legislative calendar, Congress will go on recess on September 27, will resume sessions on October 20, take a break again on November 1, resume sessions on November 17, go on break on December 20 and resume sessions on January 19, 2015.

“We hope to finish by December 17 so we can have the plebiscite in February or March,” Rodriguez said.

The government and MILF peace panels had earlier agreed that the plebiscite to ratify the Bangsamoro Basic law should be held “within 120 days from the effectivity of this Basic Law.”

He said they will already put in the Bangsamoro Basic Law the P700 million budget for the Commission on Elections.

Day-long hearings, regional weekend hearings

Rodriguez said the day-long hearings will be held Tuesdays to Thursdays in the House of Representatives while Fridays and Saturdays will be spent on public hearings in Mindanao.

The dates have yet to be finalized but Rodriguez said the Committee will hold simultaneous hearings within the region during weekends: in Zamboanga City, Basilan and Sulu; in the cities of Marawi (in Lanao del Sur), in Tubod town in Lanao del Norte, and the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro; in Cotabato City, Maguindanao and North Cotabato; and in the cities of Davao and General Santos.

He said hearings will be conducted in the cities of Zamboanga, Davao, General Santos, Iligan and Cagayan de Oro even if they are not part of the proposed Bangsamoro territory “because we want to hear also the Christian side, the Christian stakeholders, businessmen, leaders in adjacent cites.”

“We want the entire Mindanao to be discussing the Bangsamoro,” he said.

Misuari and Kato

Rodriguez reiterated that the Special Committee will allow Nur Misuari, founding chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato, a former commander of the MILF who set up the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in March 2010, to air their views on the proposed BBL.

“We want to hear their side,” said Rodriguez.

Misuari and Kato are facing several criminal charges and are considered fugitives.

But Rodriguez said special arrangements are being undertaken to get them to participate in the hearings and he had spoken to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on the matter.

He said the Special Committee will request the Department of Justice to ask the prosecutors handling the cases of Misuari and Kato to lift the effects of their warrants of arrest for three days, inclusive of travel time, so they can attend the hearings.

He said they will also request the Department of Defense to issue safe conduct passes to Misuari and Kato for the same purpose.

“What if they can’t or won’t attend?” MindaNews asked. Rodriguez replied they can send their representatives.

Neither seen nor heard from

Kato has not been seen or heard from since November 2011 when he suffered a stroke. The usually media-savvy Misuari, who was charged for various criminal offenses for last year’s siege in Zamboanga City, had not been seen or heard from, too, not even during the 20-day standoff between MNLF guerrillas loyal to him and the military in downtown Zamboanga City in September last year.

Misuari was last seen in Zamboanga City during a press conference in his residence there on July 25, 2013 where he warned they may opt to declare an independent republic if Malacañang pushes through with its plan to put a closure on the Tripartite Review on the 1996 Final Peace Agreement. The government had claimed that all the issues attending the Tripartite Review process had been resolved and that it was “the right time to complete the review process.”

Kato told MindaNews in April 2011 that he was not against peace talks but was against a never-ending peace negotiation.

“Hindi kami nangangailangan ng negotiation. Kami kailangan namin ang resulta. Kahit na hindi kami magnegotiate, pero kung makita namin na yun ang hinahangad natin, okay automatic, we will agree. Sang-ayon na kami’ (We do not need negotiations. We need results. Even if we don’t negotiate, but if we see that what we aspire for is addressed, okay, automatic, we will agree).

He said he would not stand in the way of the peace negotiations because “I am not against the peace negotiation pero against ako sa walang hangganan na negotiations.”

Where are the Mindanawon authors?

House Bill 4994 , “An Act providing for the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro and abolishing the ARMM…” was stamped “received” by the House of Representatives Bills and Index Division at 11:20 a.m. on September 11.

The copy of HB 4994 posted on the website of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) showed Speaker Belmonte and 16 others as sponsors.

Curiously, only two of them 17 authors are Mindanawons: Lanao del Sur’s Pangalian Balindong and Davao del Norte’s Antonio Lagdameo, Jr.

Asked why there were only two Mindanawon co-authors, Rodriguez said September 11 was a Thursday and most of the representatives had gone home to the provinces.

Rodriguez said he expects that on its first reading on September 15, HB 4994 will have more co-authors.

At the Senate, Senate President Franklin Drilon told reporters after the submission of the draft BBL to Congress last September 10 that the bill was going to be referred to the Committee on Local Government headed by Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. and the Committee on Peace, Unification and Reconciliation headed by Senator Teofisto Guingona III, a Mindanawon.

Drilon said there is a “wide bipartisan support” for the “urgent” bill.

He said what they will “closely look at is that is should fall within the four corners of the Constitution. The President has assured us that there is no need for constitutional amendments.”

Marcos’ Committee on Local Governments has called on the parties that drafted the BBL to brief them on the proposed law on September 23.