Friday, October 24, 2014

Army urges CHR, rights groups

From the Visayan Daily Star (Oct 25): Army urges CHR, rights groups
to investigate death of CAFGU

Three suspected New People's Army assassins believed to be members of the NPA Special Partisan Unit shot and killed a member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit Thursday in Barangay Sikatuna, Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental.

The killing of CAFGU member Joel Villanosa took place almost two weeks after a barangay chairman and his wife died in an ambush, also perpetrated by the NPA in Tinayunan Hill, Guihulngan City, military records show.

Lt. Col. Paulito Idul, 11 th Infantry Battalion commander, said yesterday that Villanosa succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds.

The 3 rd Infantry Division condemned the atrocious attack of the NPA, this time victimizing an unarmed CAFGU member.

Maj. Rey Tiongson, 3ID spokesman, said the Philippine Army will file charges against the perpetrators, and called on the Commission on Human Rights and other human rights advocacy groups, including Karapatan-Negros, to investigate the murder of Villanosa.

Tiongson said the 3ID, headed by Maj. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, has ensured that the necessary support is provided as soon as possible to the family of Villanosa.

Villanosa, 47, assigned at the Linantuyan detachment, was about to board a passenger tricycle, when he was gunned down at the public market of Brgy. Sikatuna, Guihulngan City.

Col. Jon Aying, 303 rd Infantry Brigade commander, who also now supervises the 11IB in central Negros, condemned the inhuman act of the NPA, and said the Army's implementation of the AFP Internal Peace and Security Plan "Bayanihan" in tandem with CAFGU members, other security forces, stakeholders, had been effective in the effort to win the peace in Negros Island.

3 NPA members surrender in North Cotabato

From the Philippine Star (Oct 24): 3 NPA members surrender in North Cotabato

NORTH COTABATO - Tired of difficult life and separation from their families, three New People’s Army guerillas on Thursday left the movement and surrendered to the authorities in Magpet town.

Lt. Col. Nilo Vinluan, commander of the 57th Infantry Battalion, which has jurisdiction over Magpet and nearby towns in the province, said Jimmy Ampoy, Larry Maasan Bayawan, and Danny Tambonan, all resented having joined the NPA.

Vinluan said the three rebels decided to leave their group, holding out at the hinterland border of North Cotabato and Bukidnon provinces, after realizing that they were duped into joining the NPA in exchange for payment for every attack on military positions anywhere in the two provinces.

“According to them, life was so difficult in the jungle and that they could no longer stand the sight of hapless farmers being subjected to taxation, at gunpoint. These three former NPAs are not hardened terrorists so they decided to yield,” Vinluan said.

He said they need to keep the three NPAs under tight watch owing to the possibility that they can be assassinated by their former comrades.

“We shall facilitate their rehabilitation by helping them link up with proper government agencies that can help them return to their families and start life all over again,” Vinluan said.

Vinluan said the three men had confessed to their having accompanied, as lookouts, NPA ordnance experts in perpetrating more than a dozen roadside bombings in North Cotabato in recent months.

From toting guns to tending fishponds

From UCANews (Oct 23): From toting guns to tending fishponds

In one Philippine village, former Moro rebels get a fresh start

<p>Soldiers watch as former Moro rebels haul their catch from a communal fishpond in the village of Pedtad in Kabacan town, North Cotabato province (Photo by Joe Torres)</p>

Soldiers watch as former Moro rebels haul their catch from a communal fishpond in the village of Pedtad in Kabacan town, North Cotabato province (Photo by Joe Torres)

In the hinterland village of Pedtad in North Cotabato province, a group of former Islamist fighters have put aside their guns in exchange for a more peaceful life managing fishponds.

"Tending the farm and pulling out water lilies is safer than carrying guns and roaming the mountains," said Harun Imba. "In the mountains, your life is always in danger.”

A former deputy battalion commander of the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Imba started fighting — like many of the men here — when he was just a boy.

"I don't remember my age anymore," he said with a chuckle. But he can easily recall the long days of walking, the lack of food, and the sleepless nights spent in preparation for an attack.

"It was hard, very, very hard," he told in the local dialect. "And imagine that I was doing it since I was a teenager," said Imba, who looks to be in his mid-fifties.

As poverty and job opportunities worsened, thousands of young Muslims were lured into the war in Mindanao starting in the 1960s. Many initially joined the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a secessionist rebel organization founded by former university professor Nur Misuari in 1969. The MILF, which broke away from the MNLF in the late 1970s, continued the fight by recruiting more soldiers and setting up camps all over central Mindanao.

Decades of war left many young Moro men with few options.

Badarudin Mantawil, a 44-year old former MNLF fighter, was a student in the early 1980s, but was forced to drop out.

“I stopped because my parents could not afford to send me even to the public school in our town," Mantawil said.

“[They] were simple corn farmers caught in the middle of a war.... We would leave our farm every time there was an encounter between the military and the rebels," he recalled. "Then I took sides. I joined the rebels.”

The village of Pedtad, which has a poverty index of 35 percent and a malnutrition rate of eight percent, is one of 24 villages in the town of Kabacan that is trying to rebuild homes on the ashes of war. Most of Pedtad’s 2,700 residents belong to the MNLF and the MILF, and reintegration into peaceful communities has not been easy.

"You cannot imagine how it is to evacuate," says Abdul Buat, 45, a resident of Pedtad village. "You have to run, and keep on running as bombs and mortars explode around you."

"I grew up in evacuation centers,” said Buat, who still remembers coming home to the village with his parents and their neighbors only to find their homes burned and their crops rotten.

At least 40 percent of households in central Mindanao experienced displacement at least once between 2000 and 2010, according to the World Food Program.

In Pedtad, villagers and fighters alike simply decided to opt out.

In an evacuation center during one of the government's "all out wars" some five years ago, the villagers realized they were all "related to each other," said village leader Dan Mantawil.

"They had nothing to do, so they started talking with other displaced people from nearby villages."

After the shooting died down, they went home to their village and declared that they had enough of the fighting, he said.

"When 'outsiders' [fighters] saw that we did not want war anymore, they followed our example and started to stay home.”

Local MNLF and MILF fighters began going AWOL from their units. They sold their guns, bought water buffalos and started farming.

"There is still shooting sometimes in nearby villages, but people here are not joining the fighting," Mantawil said.

In October 2012, President Benigno Aquino signed a peace deal with the MILF to "pave the way for a final and enduring peace in Mindanao".

The government aims to set up a new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro in the region by 2016. The agreement calls for Muslim self-rule in parts of the southern Philippines in exchange for a deactivation of rebel forces by the MILF.

Residents, however, insist the deal had little impact on their choices.

"We heard about the Bangsamoro, but we don't know anything yet about it," said Mantawil. "We just want to work here peacefully.... It was for the children.”

Former Moro rebels haul their catch from a communal fishpond in the village of Pedtad, in Kabacan town, North Cotabato province (Photo by Joe Torres)

For the past few years, fighters and villagers alike have been focused on carving out a more promising future.

“I work so that my children will not experience what I experienced,” said Badarudin Mantawil, the former fighter. “I farm. I do whatever I can to be able to send my children to school.”

A fish farm seems an unlikely place for a second start, but it is what many former fighters have pinned their hopes on in recent years.

At first the former rebels and villagers found it difficult to approach government officials.

"Nobody would want to help," said Buat.

But as peace talks progressed, their efforts gained traction.

Local agriculture officials arrived and gave lectures on proper farming techniques.
"We started pulling out the weeds and the water lilies," said Imba.

"Then they gave us fish nets," said Mantawil.

Grants began pouring in from the UN World Food Program and EU to help the villagers expand their fishpond into a communal venture.

For his part, Mantawil says he could not return to fighting.

"Life as a rebel was hard. You just follow orders. Now I am my own commander and I follow my own orders.”

Imbal said he is lucky he is still alive and is ready to "start a new life".

"Farming is better than fighting," he said in a somber tone.

"If you hold a gun, there is no future, and it's dangerous. It's better here, it's safe. And the water lilies are beautiful."

FAQs: Olongapo murder case reveals uneasy US-Philippines ties

From the Philippine Star (Oct 24): FAQs: Olongapo murder case reveals uneasy US-Philippines ties (by Jim Gomez)

A protester holds a mock missile during a rally at the US Embassy in Manila to demand justice for the killing of Filipino transgender with a U.S. Marine as a suspect Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014 in the Philippines AP/Bullit Marquez

American forces are guarding Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, yet a ring of Filipino troops surrounds them. The seemingly redundant security effort around the suspect in a Philippine murder case reflects Manila's uneasy ties with Washington, its former colonial master.

Pemberton, 19, is accused of killing Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude, a 26-year-old transgender Filipino, in a motel room Oct. 11 in the city of Olongapo. He was initially held on a U.S. Navy warship at the Subic Bay Freeport, northwest of Manila, but on Wednesday he was transferred to the Philippine military's main camp, where Filipino troops and two of his fellow Marines continue to guard him.

Here are some questions and answers about the tensions that result when U.S. troops are accused of serious crimes in the Philippines, whose love-hate relationship with Washington has been shaped over the decades by war, terrorism and now, jitters over China's rise:

Q: What are the rules when a US service member is accused of crime in the Philippines?

A: Under the Visiting Forces Agreement, which the treaty allies signed in 1998, the Philippines can prosecute U.S. troops accused of crimes there. But the accord grants the U.S. custody over those troops "from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings."

Left-wing groups and nationalists have demanded that the Philippine government take immediate custody of Pemberton, saying Americans continue to impinge on their country's sovereignty nearly 70 years after it gained independence. In a compromise between the two countries, the U.S. transferred Pemberton to Philippine soil but continues to guard him and officially has not given up custody.


Q: How did the agreement come about?

A: After World War II, the U.S. maintained huge military bases in the Philippines for nearly a half-century, but those were shuttered in the early 1990s amid rising nationalism, virtually freezing military ties.

China's 1995 seizure of a contested reef, however, prompted Manila to reach out to Washington again. Three years later, the allies signed the Visiting Forces Agreement, allowing large-scale military exercises to resume in the country. It also gave the Philippines a clear right to prosecute U.S. troops who commit crimes, something it lacked previously.

Territorial disputes continue to simmer between China and the Philippines over islands in the South China Sea, and occasionally spark direct confrontations. In April, Manila and Washington signed a 10-year defense accord that will give American forces greater access to Philippine military camps.

With its anemic military, the Philippines aims to bolster ties with the U.S. to try to deter China. Washington, meanwhile, is strengthening its military in Asia after years of heavy engagement in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Q: What role has the Visiting Forces Agreement played in past cases?

A: The highest-profile, and to many Filipinos most infamous, case was against Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, who was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison on charges of raping a Filipino woman in 2005. He was held at the U.S. Embassy in Manila until a Philippine appeals court overturned his conviction in 2009, allowing him to leave the country amid anti-U.S. protests.

In 2009, then-U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney advised Washington about the dilemma Smith's case created.

"It is imperative that we recognize that more than a legal case, the accusation against LCpl Smith struck at the very heart of Philippine historical animus toward its colonial past," Kenney wrote in a confidential diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks. "For the last three years, no story ... matched the headlines in column inches devoted to the sordid details" of his case, she wrote.

With Philippine officials dead set against a repeat of the circumstances of the Smith case, they reached a deal with the U.S. that allows both sides to say they have control over Pemberton.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Wednesday that Washington "is fully aware that for the Philippine government, it will be totally unacceptable for them to detain Pemberton within the premises of the U.S. Embassy, as was done in the Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith case."

Q: How else does history affect the US military's relationship with the Philippines?

A: America's foray into the Philippines started when it defeated the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898, ending more than three centuries of Spanish colonization. But the Philippines was ceded shortly after to the United States and only gained independence in 1946, a colonization that was disrupted by the Japanese imperial army's invasion.

Following U.S. forces' exit and return in the 1990s, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks brought the two militaries closer. Filipino officials allowed hundreds of American counterterrorism troops to train Filipino forces fighting al-Qaida-linked militants in the south. U.S. counterterrorism forces began to scale down their presence in the south this year after helping weaken Abu Sayyaf extremists.

Q: Could the Philippines decide to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement?

A: The murder case has reignited calls, even among some Philippine senators, for the repeal of the agreement. But that is unlikely because of the security implications: Abrogating the deal could effectively halt current U.S. troop presence and large-scale exercises in the Philippines. President Benigno Aquino III has strongly opposed calls from left-wing activists to scrap the pact, but the government is open to a review of the agreement, including provisions on criminal jurisdiction and custody.

Q: Where does Pemberton's case go from here?

A: Laude's family has filed a murder complaint against Pemberton before government prosecutors in Olongapo, the city northwest of Manila where she was killed. If prosecutors assess there is strong evidence, Pemberton will be indicted and face trial.
Meanwhile, the Marine will likely remain detained in an air-conditioned van, equipped with a sink and a cot, at a U.S.-Filipino compound in the Philippine military's Camp Aguinaldo in metropolitan Manila.
Jim Gomez, chief correspondent of The Associated Press in Manila, has focused on security and terrorism issues in the Philippines for The AP since 2001.

Govt rules out VFA scrapping, changes

From the Manila Standard Today (Oct 25): Govt rules out VFA scrapping, changes

US open to review deal but revisions must wait

THE Aquino administration slammed the door Friday on the abrogation of the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States despite calls for its cancellation in the wake of the killing of transgender Jennifer Laude, allegedly at the hands of a US Marine.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said ongoing talks between the Philippines and the United States were intended to come up with clear guidelines on some of the more contentious issues surrounding the treaty which was ratified in 1999, but were not aimed at amending or scrapping the VFA.

“That’s not being considered,” De Lima said, reacting to calls for amendment or abrogation of the VFA.

Briefing on Pemberton. US Ambassador to the
Philippines Philip Goldsberg fields a question
during a press briefing at the US Embassy in
Manila on Friday. Goldberg said he sympathized
with the slain transgender Jeffrey Laude but
the rights of Private First Class Joseph Scott
Pemberton of the US Marines, the suspect in
the killing, must also be respected. With him
is Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Romulo.
Danny Pata
“What’s being discussed are just the implementing guidelines,” she said, adding that these would be consistent with the provisions of the agreement.

De Lima said the guidelines would just “correct deficiencies, gaps or loopholes in the agreement which lead to the differing or varying interpretations.”

De Lima declined to comment when asked how the government would address calls for an abrogation of the treaty.

“I don’t think I am in any position to make any declaration with respect to that. That kind of decision should be addressed at the highest level,” De Lima said.

De Lima reiterated that the move to review the VFA came months ahead of the Laude case. In fact, she said it was initiated to address issues emanating from the2005 rape case of Suzette Nicolas alias Nicole in Subic involving four US Marines led by Lance Corporal Daniel Smith.

Among the contentious issues cited by De Lima were “custody, jurisdiction and official duty.”

US Ambassador Philip Golderg said Washington was willing to review contentious provisions of the treaty.

“We’ve been engaged in talks over time with the Department of Foreign Affairs with the Department of National Defense about clarifying various aspects of VFA to the parties’ satisfaction,” Goldberg said.

“Any additional suggestions are up to the Philippines’ side, if they want to make additional suggestions. But they have to be mutually agreed. It’s a mutual agreement between two countries. It has to suit both our interests and objectives,” the envoy added.

But Goldberg said any adjustments should not be done in the midst of the controversy over the Laude killing.

“While we’re always open to talking to our friends and allies about these issues, this shouldn’t be done in the middle of something that we have to handle through rule of law,” Goldberg said.

“We can continue talking about it but it’s not part of this process. It’s part of the process between the countries to clarify what these things mean. If the Philippines wants to bring additional things to the table as [Justice Secretary Leila de Lima] suggested, that’s the Philippines right,” Goldberg said.

“The Philippines is free to raise issues that they want, but that doesn’t mean on the other side that it is immediately agreed to. There are two sides to an agreement,” he added.

Goldberg said the transfer of the suspect, PFC Joseph Scott Pemberton, to Camp Aguinaldo was already an “unsual step” for the US in consideration to the people’s sentiments, which was in contrast to Smith, who was detained inside the US embassy when he was on trial for rape in 2005.

The US envoy agreed that different parts of the VFA need to be clarified and Manila and Washington are already doing that, but that is not enough reason to rescind a good agreement.

“I can’t imagine abrogating VFA, but I don’t want to get into a political debate here,” Goldberg said.

At a budget hearing in the Senate, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario reaffirmed De Lima’s statement that the ongoing talks would not lead to any amendments to the VFA.

The review is procedural and had noting to do with the death of Laude, Del Rosario said.

While the treaty is being reviewed, it is not being renegotiated, Del Rosario said in response to a question from Senator Loren Legarda on the possibility of revising provisions on jurisdiction and custody of American personnel accused of crimes.

Legarda pointed out that the provision on custody and jurisdiction of the country’s VFA with Australia, ratified in July 2012, was more sensitive of Philippine laws.

But Del Rosario said that while the US currently has custody of Pemberton, the Philippines can formally seek custody once criminal charges are filed against him.

Pemberton is currently detained at a facility inside Camp Aguinaldo while the murder charge against him is undergoing preliminary investigation.

“We can be sure that he will not leave the country,” said Del Rosario. “The VFA, we intend to show the public it works and that justice will be served.”

In the House, an administration lawmaker described the VFA as “one-sided love affair” in favor of the United States and called for the treaty’s abrogation.

“I support the moves to abrogate the controversial VFA as the treaty is largely lopsided in favor of the United States especially as regards detention of US personnel accused of crime,” said Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian of the Nationalist People’s Coalition.

Gatchalian said he fears that US interests will again prevail at the cost of a Filipino’s life and the country’s dignity as charges were filed against Pemberton for the murder of a 26-year-old Laude, who was found dead in a motel in Olongapo City.

Although Pemberton is currently detained in Camp Aguinaldo, the principal suspect in Laude’s murder remains under US jurisdiction and custody during the pendency of the judicial proceedings under the provisions of the VFA.

“This is an opportunity for the government to prove its loyalty to the Filipino people by abolishing the VFA and by making sure that the accused will be placed under the jurisdiction of Philippine laws,” said Gatchalian, a majority member of the House committee on foreign relations.

“The VFA is a one-sided love affair between the Philippines and the US since it is only the Philippine government, which ratified the treaty and the US, while doing nothing, stands to gain most out of the agreement,” Gatchalian said.

Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon urged the Justice Department to recommend the termination of the VFA.

“The problem with drafting new implementing guidelines is that it gives Washington the opportunity to sneak in new provisions and interpretations that are favorable for them. We need to emphasize the fact that any changes in the VFA need to be approved by both parties. The DOJ drafting the new IRR doesn’t necessarily mean that the US will not have any hand in the crafting of the new guidelines,” Ridon, a member of the leftist Makabayan bloc, said.

“What’s more dangerous in Secretary De Lima’s proposal is that it opens an opportunity for the US to further undermine our sovereignty through the expansion of VFA’s coverage. That is why we are calling on Secretary De Lima to recommend the termination – and not the review and expansion – of the VFA,” Ridon said.

Ridon said merely drafting new guidelines on custody of US military servicemen involved in criminal offenses “will not solve the manifold faults of the VFA.”

“Concocting new implementing rules will not suffice to address fundamental flaws in the text of the agreement itself. It’s like saying that we can fix a flawed law by revising its IRR. It doesn’t work that way,” the legislator said.

Ridon reminded De Lima that aside from the provisions on custody of accused US servicemen, there are several other contentious provisions in the 15-year old VFA, including vague definitions of terms such as “activities” and “temporary visit,” which give the US military unlimited access to the Philippines for any activity they want to undertake at any time.

Misunderstanding looms over Bangsa pact implementation

From the Manila Times (Oct 25): Misunderstanding looms over Bangsa pact implementation

A monitoring group sees a cloud of misunderstanding looming over implementation of a peace agreement signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) because it has not been fully explained to the people that it would affect.

The Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT), set up by the government and the MILF to keep an eye on the agreement’s implementation, noted the possibility of a misunderstanding developing in its first report released ahead of the submission of the draft Bangsamoro Basic law before Congress in September.

The law will create the Bangsamoro Region, which will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The team is headed by former European Union Ambassador to the Philippines Alistair MacDonald with Karen Tanada of Gaston Z Ortigas Peace Institute, Zainudin Malang of Mindanao Human Rights Action Center, Huseyin Oruc of The Foundation for Human Rights, Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief and Steven Rood of Asia Foundation as members.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law is the fruit of the accord between the government and the MILF that provides annexes on transitional modalities, power sharing, wealth sharing and normalization or putting MILF combatants beyond use.

“Interlocutors were concerned about the inclusiveness of the process. Indeed, it seemed that there may be a significant scope for misunderstanding about the implications of the agreement, its relationship with the 1996 Final Peace Agreement and the likely tenor of the future Bangsamoro assembly and government,” the report read, referring to the failed peace agreement between the government and MILF’s predecessor, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

“There was also a clear desire among many of our interlocutors to see the agreement as something which would be beneficial for all Bangsamoro, and not only for one or other Bangsamoro group[s]. It will be important for both parties to do more to underline the inclusiveness of the process, no less for Western Mindanao than for Central Mindanao,” it said.

These sentiments were echoed by House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle Against Corruption party- list.

“The areas comprising the proposed Bangsamoro Region are not solely inhabited by Moros. There are a lot of Christian and indigenous communities that are not Moros.

Based on my reliable sources during discussions about the proposed law, the Christian communities and the indigenous non-Moro tribes have this fear that they will be discriminated [against],” Tugna said in a text message.

Under the proposed law, the core Bangsamoro Region will include the municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal in Lanao del Norte, as well as barangay (villages) in the municipalities of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit and Midsayap that voted for inclusion in ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite, as well as the cities of Cotabato and Isabela.

The Third Party Monitoring Team traced such inclusiveness worries to the need for greater public information about the Comprehensive Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro that was very evident in Manila and Cotabato, and even stronger in Zamboanga and among stakeholders in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

“It was encouraging that both society and religious leaders, both Muslim and Christian, were keen to help support information efforts. But they recognized themselves that they needed to have a better understanding of what the implementation of the agreement will mean for the Bangsamoro,” the report pointed out.

“It would be important for the parties to strengthen their outreach and public messaging to a wider audience, including local government units, ulama, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, civil society, private sector and chambers of commerce,” it said.

The TPMT said the consultations confirmed the tremendous importance attached to achieving a comprehensive, inclusive and sustainable peace in Mindanao that would end cycles of violence and displacement, and that would allow the tremendous economic, social and cultural potential of Mindanao to come to the fore.

Formed in 2013, the TPMT will convene every two months and as they deem necessary, through regular operation of the Bangsamoro overnment from the second semester of 2016.

Army officer kneels, asks for forgiveness for accidental slay

From the Manila Bulletin (Oct 24): Army officer kneels, asks for forgiveness for accidental slay

In an exceptional gesture of apology, an Army colonel knelt before the tribal leader of two  civilians who were accidentally gunned down by two of his soldiers last Oct. 12 in New Bataan, Compostela Valley.

Lt. Col. Michael Logico, commander of the 66th Infantry Battalion (IB) which figured in that misencounter that killed farmer Lando Sabado Dagansan, 48, and his son, Felix, 16, met with the tribal leaders of the Mandaya tribe to which the two victims belong and took full responsibility for the incident.

“I felt that, as the commander, I was the only one capable of fixing the damage. Before I knew what I was doing, I stood up, walked over to Arturo (tribal leader and a Dagansan relative), knelt in front of him and begged for his forgiveness,” Logico said in a statement.

Logico had sought the dialogue with the Mandaya elders immediately after the shooting incident which happened in the wee hours of Oct. 12 at a pitch-black trail in Sitio Taytayan, Barangay Andap.

Elements of the Scout Platoon of 66th IB were conducting security operations when the point man was taken aback by a beam of light that flashed just five meters from the patrolling soldiers.

Then the platoon heard frantic shouts of “Sundalo! Sundalo! (Soldiers! Soldiers).”

Blinded by the sudden flash of light and sensing that his and his comrades’ lives could be in danger, the point man leveled his weapon in the direction of the blinding lights and fired away, killing the Dagansans on-the-spot.

“I was informed of the incident that same day. Through cell phone, I called my brigade commander and the division commander. I told them that I’ll take full responsibility for what happened,” Logico said.

Four days later, Logico found himself face-to-face with irate Mandaya tribe members who demanded the death of the point man and another soldier who fired their weapons at the victims.

“I told them that inasmuch as I recognize their customary laws, I could not grant their demand. The soldiers were my responsibility. If I turned them over to the tribe, their blood would be in my hands”, Logico said.

Instead, Logico offered to take his men’s place since he “was the commander who sent them there.” But the tribe declined.

The Army officer explained to the tribal leaders that surrendering his men to them would only prolong the cycle of violence and it would only show that he could no longer control his command.

Thus, Logico reiterated his offer of financial and material support for the family of the victims that would be in keeping with tribal custom.

“During recess, I approached the members of the tribe one by one and personally apologized, in behalf of the battalion. I assured them that we will not shirk from our responsibility and obligation”, Logico emphasized in the statement.

When the dialogue resumed, the tribal council said that it was convinced that the intentions of Logico was sincere.

“Instead of the deaths of my soldiers, we were obliged to pay indemnity (Balukas). I agreed to all except for one, the surrender of the two M-16 rifles to the tribe,” he said.

And it was when the dialogue was about to conclude that Arturo Dagansan, spokesperson for the council and a relative of the victims, “broke down in tears when asked to speak before the members of the council.”

According to Logico, it was at that point that he could no longer control his emotions, prompting him to approach Dagansan and knelt before him to ask his forgiveness.

An agreement was signed by the tribe and the 66th IB that was witnessed by the members of the council and other officials who were present during the dialogue.

Logico said he and his men were thankful that the problem was resolved through the customary laws and tradition of the Mandaya tribe, and that the soldiers now can pursue their peace and development mission in the area.

What only remains unclear is the legal aspect of the case.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) had been tasked to investigate but has not come up with a report on the Oct. 12 incident.

We need defense deals with US – PNoy

From the Manila Bulletin (Oct 24): We need defense deals with US – PNoy

The Philippine government is determined to keep its military agreements with the United States despite public outcry over the murder of Filipino transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude allegedly by an American serviceman.

President Aquino said the Philippines needs the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) as well as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US to boost the country’s capability in addressing various challenges on security, territorial integrity, and disaster response. He assured that the government continues to uphold the national interest in forging these defense accords with its strategic ally.

“I firmly believe that we need this EDCA. We need the mutual defense treaty. We need this to address the challenges we are facing today, not just on political tensions, military protection, potential military conflicts, issues about territory, but even in terms of humanitarian assistance, that the ability to be able to respond to changes being brought about by global climate change,” Aquino said during a media forum in Ortigas last Wednesday.


“For instance, given our limitations, the ability to maintain communications, the ability to be able to transport people and goods here and in very adverse conditions, the ability to be able to know what is happening on the ground anywhere in the country: all of these will be assisted by our participation both treaties, the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement), EDCA, etc,” he added.

Calls to review or even abrogate the VFA intensified after US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton was implicated in the death of Laude last October 11 in Olongapo City.

Groups calling for the review or abrogation of the VFA expressed concern that the agreement, which governs the conduct of visiting American troops in the country, is biased toward the interest of the US, especially in terms of custody of erring soldiers.

Pemberton failed to show up during the preliminary investigation of the Laude murder, and remains under US custody even though he has been transferred to Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.


In pursuing the country’s defense pacts with the US, the President explained that he pressed Washington to respect “our sensitivities” as well as “our cultural needs.”

“I did mention that to the ambassador and to the various officials who have visited us. In the Philippines, your long-standing ally expects to have that same treatment, that our sensitivities, our cultural needs and wants will have be demonstrated and respected by all of these agreements. And that is a very fundamental aspect,” Aquino said.

One of the issues raised by the President was that maintenance of the prepositioned supplies of the US troops must be “left to locals.”

Aquino also recognized that negotiations between the sides must be “give and take.”
“They cannot agree to something specific to the Philippines without it affecting all of their agreements elsewhere. I think we have to be reasonable,” he said.

“When you ask of the other party that which we cannot be given, then you’re guaranteeing that you will never come to an agreement. And is that the need?” he added.


Despite President Aquino’s assurances, former senator Joker P. Arroyo expressed doubts on the sincerity of the US.

“How can Filipinos be expected to have faith in America’s military security arrangements with the Philippines when the United States does not have faith in the Philippine justice system?” Arroyo asked.

“What strikes me as offensive is that although he is in a so-called detention facility, which I think a van inside the military camp, he is being guarded by Americans. What for? What is he being guarded for? There are Filipino members of the Armed Forces already guarding the premises,”


Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, noted.

“I find that offensive to use because it indicates that there is no trust on the capability of our own Armed Forces. If we did this in America, if, for example, a Filipino who was in a detention facility there by joint agreement of the two governments, and there were already American guards, can we insist that there be Filipino guards there? I find that unacceptable,” she said.

Arroyo recalled that the Philippines has had half a dozen defense and security arrangements with the US since 1951 “and the Philippines is divided as to its wisdom and necessity.”

“When problems arise from these security arrangements, the incident that causes it invariably is not security-related. In every case, it would involve US servicemen who violate Philippine criminal laws when they are off-duty. Pemberton is not an isolated case. In the past 60 years, similar cases have arisen,” Arroyo said.

“Predictably, the US immediately protects the US servicemen. If the US cannot even protect Filipino women from US servicemen, how can Filipinos rely on the US to live up to her commitments embodied in the treaties or agreements they have with us?” Arroyo asked.

“That should be food for thought for the Senate whose battle cry is to review the VFA,” he added.


As this developed, US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg lamented the forced entry of Laude’s sister Marilou and fiancĂ© Marc Sueselback inside a restricted area of Camp Aguinaldo where Pemberton is held.

What happened at Camp Aguinaldo was “intruders were able to get into a restricted area” which was “very disappointing quite frankly,” Goldberg said.

“We should be all focused on making sure that the rule of law is followed to make sure that justice is served, justice for the family, justice for Jennifer Laude,” Goldberg said in a television interview yesterday.

He said although they recognize that the bereaved family of the victim is very upset, “we can’t see justice done through this kind of (incidents).”

“First of all our responsibility under the VFA is to make a suspect avail for trial,” Goldberg stressed. “That’s our responsibility, and that’s what we’ll follow.”

“We’ll follow the rule of law,” he added. “We’re not going to engage in theatrics.”

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has submitted a letter of protest before the German embassy for what it described as a misbehavior of Sueselback inside a military camp.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, chief military information officer, said the letter contains a request to ascertain the true identity of Sueselbeck and the violations he had committed inside the Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City last Wednesday.

AFP okays ceasefire if ASG frees hostages

From the Daily Tribune (Oct 25): AFP okays ceasefire if ASG frees hostages

Only an unconditional release of all 10 hostages, including two Europeans and a Japanese, believed to be held by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Tawi-Tawi would make the Armed Forces of the Philippines agree to a ceasefire with the terrorist group.

Chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said the ASG should ensure the safe release of its hostages before the military agrees to a cessation of fighting after it had poured 1000 fresh troops to track down the group which kidnapped the two European bird watchers, a Japanese and seven others.

Catapang’s statement was in response to a query by a school teacher during a public forum.

“That is possible but they need to release all hostages first. The lives of these people (ASG) are going to waste. Let’s help one another in changing them,” Catapang said.

The two European bird watchers were kidnapped in Tawi-Tawi in February 2012 while they were on a cruise off Palawan.

Last Friday, two German hostages –Stefan Viktor Okonek and his wife Herike Diesen — were released by the ASG in Patikul, Sulu.

The German hostages were abducted while on a cruise off Palawan aboard a yacht last April.

But the military claimed the release was the result of an “all-out law enforcement operation” launched by government security forces upon the order of the Special Action Committee, headed by Sulu Vice Gov. Abdusakur Tan II.

Catapang attended yesterday’s consultative meeting at the Sulu Provincial Capitol, attended by 15 municipal mayors, including Jolo town Mayo Hussin Amin. The gathering was organized by the governor, Tan’s father.

In his message, Catapang vowed closer coordination between the military and local officials, saying he will direct military commanders in the area to visit local officials and identify community problems with them.

“We will help identify development projects and other social interventions that will directly address the problems,” Catapang said.

The elder Tan said he will support the move to organize a peace and economic summit that will be attended by different stakeholders including the civil-society organizations.

“We will do our part by working closely with different organizations. We also believe that we can solve these problems by helping each other,” said Tan.

No VFA amendment, just a review

From the Daily Tribune (Oct 25): No VFA amendment, just a review

Renegotiation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is unlikely to take place under the present circumstances where the United States government does not appear to be amenable to the idea.

“I think in essence (it can be amended but) I’m not sure the US will agree,” Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Albert del Rosario yesterday said before the Senate finance subcommittee hearing the proposed budget of the said agency.

Del Rosario told the subcommittee chaired by Sen. Loren Legarda that even prior to the case involving the killing of a transgender Jeffrey Laude allegedly  committed by US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, the government has undertaken efforts to review the VFA since last year.

“It’s been in our agenda. We are reviewing the VFA in its entirety, to see how we can fine tune it,” he said to reporters in an ambush interview.

“We are reviewing it at DFA level with appointed officials of the US government. We are in discussion with US officials. I think the level of consultation now is not negotiations. It is a review of both parties,” he told the Senate panel.

Yet Del Rosario admitted that there is great interest in VFA because of the apparent attention stirred by the Laude case.

A number of lawmakers have been calling for either the abrogation or amendments of the provisions of the military agreement, especially on the issue of jurisdiction of the Philippines in taking custody of a US serviceman committing a crime in the country.

The matter on the issue of jurisdiction on custody of an accused American soldier is among the stick points in the discussion, the DFA chief said.

Although the the DFA chief expressed pessisim over the likelihood of renegotiated VFA, the government is still hoping to  iron out some issues that are getting in the way on the implementation of the agreement.

“We are looking at the smooth implementation of the mechanism. I think this time we are not for a renegotiation because if there is a material change on that, we have to re-submit the whole thing back to the Senate,” he said.

“There are so many things that are getting in the way but we are endeavoring to do that as quickly as possible,” he added.

In the said hearing, Del Rosario admitted that Pemberton is not actually under the Philippine custody even if he’s currently detained at the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) headquarters.

“Technically speaking we did not actually ask (custody of Pemberton) because the US had custody already of Pemberton. We also did not ask for custody because at this particular time he has not been charged. We will formally ask and we said to them (US government) already that we will be asking,” he said in the hearing.

“What I’d like to explain at this time is that there is a difference between jurisdiction and custody. Jurisdiction is proceeding with the legal process.

The  jurisdiction without question lies with the Philippines and custody, its, everywhere you go there is a difference in terms of how men in uniform are treated worldwide.

“Even in the Philippines, with the Philippine military, they are treated differently
So custody, in accordance with the DFA, legal custody remains with United States. 
Although in the case of Pemberton, we have requested for custody in terms of the extraordinary situation,” he said.

“At this time, he is being held at Camp Aguinaldo. the US has legal custody but he is in a Philippine property within a military base and security is being provided by both the Philippines and the US government.

“You can be sure that he will not leave the country and you can be assured that the VFA, we intend to show the public it works and that justice will be served,” he said.

Legarda asked how can similar incidents be prevented from happening again.

“Crimes are commited everywhere so that aspect of the problem there cannot be addressed but what we are trying to do is that we have a mechanism in place. we are trying to make that work and we are trying to demonstrate that it does work,” he said.

“To make VFA work, the VFA states that they are entitled to custody but we continue to request that they consider otherwise because of the extraordinary circumstances,” Del Rosario said.

Meanwhile, a  stalwart of the Nationalist Peoples Coalition (NPC) is supportive of moves to abrogate the controversial VFA  as the treaty is largely lopsided in favor of the United States especially with regard to the  detention of US personnel accused of crime.
Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian feared that US interests will again prevail at the cost of a Filipino’s life and the country’s dignity as charges were filed against US Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Permberton for the murder of a 26-year-old transgender woman named Jeffrey Laude, who was found dead in a motel in Olongapo City.

Although Pemberton is currently detained in Camp Aguinaldo, the principal suspect in Laude’s murder remains under US jurisdiction and custody during the pendency of the judicial proceedings as per Section 6, Article V of the VFA.

“This is an opportunity for the government to prove its loyalty to the Filipino people by abolishing the VFA and by making sure that the accused will be placed under the jurisdiction of Philippine laws,”

said Gatchalian, a majority member of the House committee on foreign relations.

Gatchalian described the VFA as a “one sided love affair” between the Philippines and the US since it is only the Philippine government which ratified the treaty and the US, while doing nothing, stands to gain most out of the agreement.

“It is like an American national promising to marry his Filipina girlfriend on condition that the Filipina helps him pay his debt in the US. And after everything has been settled, the American will tell his Filipina bride to forget about the wedding and they just live as common-law spouses. This is clearly a one-sided love affair since the Filipina is williing do everything to show her love while her American boyfriend takes everything for granted,” Gatchalian explained.

Gatchalian recalled that nine years ago, Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith was convicted of rape by the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) and was briefly detained at the Makati City Jail but was transferred to the US Embassy in Manila after the Romulo-Kennedy Agreements.

The Romulo-Kennedy Agreements were later declared by the Supreme Court not in accordance with Sec. 10 of the VFA, which states that Philippine authorities will take charge of the convict’s confinement.

The Court of Appeals reversed the RTC decision in 2009, acquitting Smith who immediately left the country.

“The people cried for justice when local leaders allowed the US to violate VFA provisions to serve their own interests. This time the government must serve the interests of its own people by abrogating the lopsided VFA,” Gatchalian said.

CPP: Denounce docking of USS Washington

Propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Oct 24): Denounce docking of USS Washington

Communist Party of the Philippines
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) denounces the arrival and docking of US aircraft carrier USS Washington at Manila Bay.

The USS Washington, which docked yesterday, is one of the biggest US warships and its arrival constitutes a grave affront on Philippine territorial integrity. The unrestricted use by US military forces of Philippine territorial waters underscores the absence of genuine national freedom and the complicity of the Philippine puppet state in US military interventionism.

Amid the uproar over the brutal killing last October 12 of Filipino Jennifer Laude by a US serviceman, the arrival of the USS Washington brings to the fore the US imperialists’ gross contempt of Philippine sovereignty and national dignity.

In an ill-disguised attempt to relegate to the sidelines the bitterness generated by Laude’s killing, the US Embassy seized on the USS Washington’s arrival to cite how many pieces of bottled water and other supplies the warship brought to affected areas in the wake of the devastation caused by supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) last year.

This disgusting tack illustrates to the Filipino people how the US government exploited global humanitarian efforts in order to bring its warships into the shores of Samar and Leyte and strengthen its military’s foothold on Eastern Visayas. Months after the humanitarian disaster, US navy ships and fighter planes continue to operate in Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

The US military engages in “disaster interventionism” to enable it to make extra-sovereign claims on Philippine territorial waters and further entrench its forces in the Asia-Pacific region.

Philippine military chief apologizes for ignoring Sulu peace council, crisis committee

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Oct 24): Philippine military chief apologizes for ignoring Sulu peace council, crisis committee

Sulu provincial photos show Philippine military chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang with Governor Totoh Tan during a public dialogue Friday, October 24, 2014. 

SULU – Philippine military chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang has publicly apologized to the Sulu provincial government and other officials for not coordinating with the peace and order council in connection to the recent release of a pair of German yachters by the Abu Sayyaf.

General Catapang, accompanied by dozens of senior military officials led by Lieutenant General Rustico Guerrero and Rear Admiral Reynaldo Yoma, flew to Sulu on Friday and attended a public dialogue where he made the apology.

The dialogue was the offshoot of a meeting on October 20 by representatives of various civil society groups and different sectors with Sulu Governor Toto Tan, who heads the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) and its ad hoc special action committee handling the hostage crisis.

The Abu Sayyaf told a radio station in Zamboanga City that it had freed Stefan Viktor Okonek, 71, and Henrike Diesen, 55, on October 17 in exchange for P250 million ransoms. The duo was heading to Sabah in Malaysia on a private yacht from a holiday in Palawan province when militants who were returning to the southern Philippines from a failed kidnapping in Sabah spotted the Germans and seized them on April 25.

The military insisted that no ransom was paid for the release of the hostages and even dared anyone to come up with evidence that ransom had been paid to the Abu Sayyaf.

Governor Tan said the PPOC and the crisis committee only learned about the release of the hostages after the media broke out the news. “We were not informed about that the hostages were already rescued and it was only through media reports that we became aware that they were rescued and (already) in the custody of the Armed Forces (of the Philippines),” he said.

“We would like to apologize to the people of Sulu for any shortcomings during the law enforcement operations in pursuit of the Abu Sayyaf group to retrieve the Germans and other hostages,” General Catapang said.

He also apologized for not immediately informing the PPOC and the crisis committee about the release of the German hostages and vowed to work closely with the civilian authorities.

Governor Tan praised General Catapang for his humility and sincerity when he apologized in front of a huge crowd. And Vice Governor Tan said that it was the first time that the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines has apologized to the people of Sulu. “Umaasa kami na magiging maganda na ang sitwasyon (sa Sulu) sa mga darating na panahon,” he said.

Jolo Mayor Hussin Amin also quizzed General Catapang on the impression that the military is abetting the enemy when reports of ransom payment to the Abu Sayyaf broke out. General Catapang said their only focus is the safe rescue of the hostages not involving any ransom.

The German hostages were recovered by policemen in Patikul town, but were whisked away by soldiers and brought them to a military base in Jolo town and not even Mayor Hussin was informed about the release of the foreigners.

General Catapang said a cease-fire with the Abu Sayyaf is possible, but the militants must first release all their hostages. “That is possible, but they need to release all hostages first. Sayang ang buhay ng mga batang iyan. Pagtulungan nating sila ay magbago,” he said after a Muslim teacher asked him whether the military is open to a truce with the Abu Sayyaf group.

Mayor Amin suggested that Sulu province hold a peace and economic summit participated by officials both in local and national governments to tackle various issues and further unite development efforts here.

General Catapang, in demonstration of his commitment towards peace and progress, pledged to solicit development projects for Sulu. He even cited the marketing potential of sweet mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) and lanzones (Lansium domesticum) and other fruits in Sulu.

He also directed military commanders to work closely with local government officials in identifying problems in their communities and help them in development projects and other social interventions that will address directly the issues.

Vice Governor Tan said the provincial government is ready to work hand in hand with different organizations to sustain peace and progress in the province. “We will do our part by working closely with different organizations. We also believe that we can solve these problems by helping each other,” he said.

Another Abu Sayyaf faction is also holding a Malaysian fish breeder Chan Sai Chuin, 32, who was kidnapped along with a Filipino worker on June 16 this year from a fish farm in the town of Kunak in Tawau District. The militants are demanding 3 million ringgits (P41 million) for the safe release of the fish breeder. It is also holding captive a Malaysian policeman Kons Zakiah Aleip, 26, who was seized on June 12 also this year following a clash in Sabah that killed another policeman. The militants are demanding 5 million ringgits (P68.3 million).

The militants are still holding hostage a 64-year old Japanese treasure hunter Katayama Mamaito, who was kidnapped from Pangutaran Island in July 2010; and two European wildlife photographers Ewold Horn, 52, from Holland; and Lorenzo Vinciguerre, 47, from Switzerland, who were taken captive in the coastal village of Parangan in Panglima Sugala town in the southern Tawi-Tawi province in 2012. And several Filipinos kidnapped in other provinces and brought to Sulu.

The military said the militants are hiding in civilian communities and have moved their hostages from one hideout to another making it extremely difficult for security forces to track them down.

Soldier shot dead by sniper in ComVal

From ABS-CBN (Oct 25): Soldier shot dead by sniper in ComVal

COMPOSTELA VALLEY -- A soldier was shot dead by a suspected New People's Army (NPA) rebel in Barangay Calabcab, Maco in Compostela Valley on Thursday afternoon.

The victim, PFC Michael Barbo, was getting his clothes from the clothesline when he was shot by a sniper.

Barbo was rushed to the hospital but was declared dead.

The victim is a member of the Peace and Development Outreach Program of the 46th Infantry Battalion.

Tubbataha management says US’ P87-M payment ‘fair’

From GMA News (Oct 24): Tubbataha management says US’ P87-M payment ‘fair’

The Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) on Friday welcomed news that the United States has agreed to pay P87 million for widespread damage on the reef after one of its minesweepers ran aground in the area nearly two years ago.

"Sobrang tuwa po namin kasi sa wakas, 'di ba? Masaya kaming maisasara na itong matter na ito. Ang dami rin kasing ginastos," TMO park manager Angelique Songco told GMA News Online.

Songco made the remark hours after Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the US had agreed to pay for the damage caused by USS Guardian when it hit the South Atoll of the Tubbataha Reef on January 17, 2013.

"I think it's fair," Songco said when asked if the payment was enough.
Songco said the amount would cover both the P58.4 million fine imposed by the Philippine government for the restoration of the marine park and the expenses of the Philippine Coast Guard during the salvage operations.

The coast guard sought P28 million to cover its costs, she said. It took at least 10 weeks of salvage operations to haul away pieces of the USS Guardian.
The amount, she said, was "made clear" to the Department of Foreign Affairs and the US Embassy.

Songco said the office was glad that the development came before the second year anniversary of the incident, after which she claimed the Philippine side could no longer pursue payments.

The grounding of the USS Guardian damaged at least 2,345.67 square meters of the reef, a World Heritage Site and one of the top scuba diving destinations in the world.
Still, Songco expressed wariness over the good news.
"Wala pang official communication [on the matter]. Narinig pa lang namin from the news. Sana totoo," Songco said.
Del Rosario, in a Senate hearing on the Department of Foreign Affairs' P12.8-billion proposed budget for 2015, said he "received correspondence" on the US payment on Thursday. Headded that "documentation [was] being prepared."
The Tubbataha reef management said earlier this year that the reefs had yet to fully recover from the damage and that it would take a while "for the once productive area to recover."

Not a good time to review VFA, says US envoy

From Rappler (Oct 24): Not a good time to review VFA, says US envoy

(UPDATED) Ambassador Philip Goldberg says the United States is 'always open to talking about these issues, but this shouldn’t be done in the middle of' the debate over the custody of a US Marine suspected of killing a Filipino

FOLLOW VFA: Ambassador Philip Goldberg says the current case of the US Marine should be separated from moves to review VFA. Photo by Mark Cristino/Rappler

FOLLOW VFA: Ambassador Philip Goldberg says the current case of the US Marine should be separated from moves to review VFA. Photo by Mark Cristino/Rappler
The United States is open to reviewing the provisions in the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Philippines, but it should not be done while the two countries are handling the murder probe against Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said.
"We need to follow the VFA at the moment. While we’re always open to talking to our friends and allies about these issues, this shouldn’t be done in the middle of something that we have to handle through rule of law," Goldberg said on Friday morning, October 24, in a roundtable discussion with select journalists, including Rappler's.
"We can continue talking about it. But it’s not part of this process. It’s part of the process between the countries to clarify what these things mean. If the Philipines wants to bring additional things to the table as the Secretary of justice suggested that’s the Philippines' right,” said Goldberg.
Justice Secretary Leila De Lima also said on Thursday the executive branch is reviewing the "not so clear" provisions in the VFA. Goldberg was asked if the US sees "a need to change anything in the VFA" and if it will allow a "review of ambigious provions" in the agreement.
'Enough clarity'
What the US and the Philipines are doing right now is "clarify the different parts of the VFA" with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of National Defense. But Goldberg stressed that this process is "separate from the current situation," where the custody of Pemberton is being debated.
Highlighting the rule of law, Goldberg said the "VFA as it is" is clear on the issue of custody.
"I think we should separate that from the current situation. The current situation is that we have to apply VFA as it is. We have enough clarity in the steps under way for example. The Philippine government has said, as we have, that custody goes to the US and that jurisdiction will be applied here. These are steps in the VFA that have to be formally done," Golberg said.
Ratified by the Senate in 1998, the VFA allowed the return of American troops to the Philippines following the eviction of US bases here in 1992. The VFA provides that Philippine courts will have jurisdiction over erring US troops but custody will remain with the US while trial is ongoing.
Goldberg noted that the transfer of Pemberton to Camp Aguinaldo is already an "unusual step" for the US in consideration of people's sentiments. This is very different from the case of former US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith in 2005 when he was detained inside the US embassy while the trial for rape was ongoing. (READ: EDCA Olongapo murder, and the old case of Daniel Smith)
'Extraordinary cases'?
De Lima said the Philippines is not seeking to amend the treaty, but only to clarify the guidelines in implementing the military agreement with the US.
De Lima was quoted saying, “There are provisions where the Philippine and US sides have differing interpretations, that’s why we have to have implementing guidelines."
A provision in the VFA also allows the Philippines to request custody in "extraordinary cases." Based on the interpretation of the US, Goldberg said, this still means the US has to agree to any request from the Philippine side.
Earlier, De Lima said that the transfer of Pemberton to Camp Aguionaldo was already an indication that the Philippines already has custody over the soldier. Her position contradicted the statements of Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario and the US embassy that, under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), his legal custody remains with the US despite his being detained in Philippine military grounds.
De Lima later announced the review of the implementation of the VFA.
Goldberg highlighted that clarifications has to be "mutually agreed."
"We've been engaged in talks over time with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) with the Department of National Defense (DND) about clarifying various aspects of VFA to the parties' satisfaction. Any additional suggestions are up to the Philippines' side if they want to make additional suggestions. But they have to be mutually agreed. It’s a mutual agreement between two countries. It has to suit both are interests and objectives," said Goldberg.
"The Philippines is free to raise any issues that they want but that doesn’t mean on the other side that it is immediately agreed to. There are two sides to an agreement," Goldberg added.
Senator Miriam Santiago in a Senate hearing on Wednesday, October 22, also called the VFA a "failure." She hit the provision in the agreement that grants the Philippines jurisdiction over US servicemen accused of crimes, but gives the US custody over them. (READ: 'VFA is a failure' – Miriam)
Goldberg echoed President Benigno Aquino III in dismissing calls to abrogate the VFA. "I can’t imagine abrogating VFA, but I don’t want to get into a political debate here," Goldberg said.

No shore leave for 5K American troops in Manila

From Rappler (Oct 24): No shore leave for 5K American troops in Manila

'We decided, out of respect really for the sentiment of the Philippines, not to have liberty for the crew on this visit,' says US Ambassador Philip Goldberg

Some 5,500 American troops aboard one of the US military's floating air base, the USS George Washington, arrived in Manila on Tuesday, October 23, but were not allowed to get off the ship.

"It was a short visit. They did few exercises here with the Philippine Navy. We decided, out of respect really, for the sentiment of the Philippines not to have liberty for the crew on this visit," US Ambassador Philip Goldberg told reporters in a roundtable interview on Friday, October 24.
Goldberg added: "It’s a shame. Twenty to 30,000 service people come here for exercises and other events during the course of a year. They want to see the Philippines. They want to meet Filipinos. They want to engage and taste Filipino food and buy things. It would have been better for some of the shopping malls. We didn’t think that it’s good moment for shore liberty just out of respect for sentiment here."
The nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier has a crew of about 5,500 sailors – 320 of whom are Filipino-American. It can carry up to 80 aircraft. It docked off the coast of Manila after conducting naval exercises with Philippine and Japanese ships in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). It left Manila Friday morning, October 24.
The murder of transgender Filipino woman Jennifer Laude allegedly by US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton has gripped the Philippines, oldest treaty ally of the US in the Pacific. Pemberton was among American soldiers who participated in joint exercises with Filipinos in Olongapo a few weeks ago.
The incident again puts the spotlight on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that allowed the return of the American troops after a 1991 Senate vote evicting US bases in the country.
Critics argue that continued custody of Pemberton by the US shows that VFA is lopsided in favor of the Americans.
Goldberg maintained that the defense relationship of the Philippines and the US continues to be strong. (READ: Not a good time to review VFA, says US envoy)
"It doesn’t diminish the fact that the George Washington and the carrier group was here. The strategic relationship betwen our two countries continues and our commitment to Philippine security continues. That is really the important issue," said Goldberg.

US to pay PH P87M for damage to world heritage site

From Rappler (Oct 24): US to pay PH P87M for damage to world heritage site

(UPDATED) The amount represents the P58M that the Philippines asked the US and the P28M fuel and repair costs incurred by the Coast Guard. It is lower than environmentalists' estimates of P737.8M to P1.2B.

Almost two years after an American navy vessel damaged coral reefs in the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Palawan, the United States is finally compensating the Philippines.

The US is set to pay the Philippines P87 million, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed on Friday, October 24.

The news came 4 months after the US received a formal request for compensation from the Philippine government on June 13, 2014.

DFA spokesman Charles Jose said in a text message: "When asked on the status of US payment for Tubbataha, SFA [Albert del Rosario] said we are now in the documentation stage. When asked how much we are asking from US, he replied, '87 million pesos.'"

But Kurt hoyer, press attaché of the US embassy told rappler that no amount has been finalized yet. The US embassy is also yet to release a statement on the matter.

"We will have a statement when all is finalized. Hopefully soon," he said via text message.

The USS Guardian obliterated 2,345.67 square meters of coral reef when it crashed into Tubbataha, the world-famous marine park and protected area in Palawan province on January 17, 2013.

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg in June did not release the amount of compensation in Manila's request, but the Philippine government had pegged the cost of the damage at P58 million ($1.3 million).

Environmentalists who had gone to the Supreme Court to force the government to demand compesation from the US had a higher estimate of damage: P737.8 million ($16.8 million) to P1.2 billion ($27 million).

The US Embassy, however, chose to negotiate directly with the Philippine government instead of entertaining petitions from other groups.

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered the "crown jewel of Philippine seas" because of its rich marine life.

Angelique Songco, superintendent of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park told Rappler that the P87 million is the combined amount of payment for Tubbataha damage and costs incurred by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

She said that around P58 million is for Tubbataha damage, while around P28 million will pay for fuel and repair costs incurred by the PCG.

BIFF attacks 3 towns in Maguindanao

From InterAksyon (Oct 24): BIFF attacks 3 towns in Maguindanao

BIFF spokesman Abu Misrie with followers. AFP FILE PHOTO

Armed elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) created havoc in different parts of Maguindanao Thursday night in what the military believes is a form of retaliation for the recent arrest of a Jemaah Islamiyah-trained bomber.

Among those they simultaneously attacked were the patrol bases of the military in the towns of Datu Piang, Datu Unsay, and Shariff Aguak.

The exchange of gunfire between the BIFF and the military lasted for almost five hours started around 10 p.m.

BIFF spokesman Abu Misrie Mama immediately admitted that his group was behind the attacks.

He said these were done to let the other party know of their presence and strength and did not have anything to do with the talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, from which the BIFF split.

No one was injured in the military, according to 6th Infantry Division spokesman Col. Dickson Hermoso.

BIFF on Thursday attacked two barangays in President Quirino, Sultan Kudarat, resulting in the death of Maximo Salamanca, brother of former mayor of the said town.

In this attack, the exchange of gunfire between the BIFF and the 33rd Infantry Battalion lasted almost nine hours.

Abu Misri said two BIFF members were injured in the attack.

U.S. gov't to pay PH P87 million for damage of Tubbataha Reef - DFA

From InterAksyon (Oct 24): U.S. gov't to pay PH P87 million for damage of Tubbataha Reef - DFA

File photo of USS Guardian that ran aground on Tubbataha Reef in January 2013.

The United States government will be paying the Philippines a total of P87 million for the damage caused by the January 17, 2013 grounding of American Navy ship USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef.

This is according to Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who said that a message about the compensation would soon be sent to the DFA by the US Embassy in Manila.

An inter-agency mechanism was used to determine the amount of compensation that the Philippines should receive from the US, according to Del Rosario.

Last month, the DFA said it would continue discussions with the US government on compensation for the damage.

At the same time, the DFA said it would abide by the Supreme Court decision rejecting a petition for a writ of amparo against the crew of the American minesweeper and seeking around $27 million for the damage it wrought to the World Heritage site last year.

"We will continue our ongoing discussions with the US government on the matter of securing full compensation for the damage caused to the Tubbataha Reef, and will be guided by the Supreme Court decision and the advice of the Office of the Solicitor General," the DFA said.

Earlier, the high court said the claim for damages should be pursued through a civil suit and not a petition for a writ of kalikasan.

It also said it is Malacanang that should demand compensation from the US government for the damage to more than 2,300 square meters of the reef, which marine experts say would take decades to recover.

"The Court deferred to the Executive branch noting that the conduct of foreign relations of the government is committed by the Constitution to the political departments of the government and the propriety of what may be done in the exercise of this political power is not subject to judicial inquiry or decision," the Supreme Court ruling said.

The petitioners based their claim for compensation on the 2009 grounding of the USS Port Royal in Hawaii as they criticized the Philippine government’s claim of $1.4 million based on the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009.

The law pegs the penalty at P12,000 per square meter for damage to the reef and a similar amount for rehabilitation.