Friday, January 2, 2015
With the government accusing the communists of violating the ceasefire in attacks that have left three soldiers dead, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chair Jose Ma. Sison on Friday said the communists were bound only by their own unilateral ceasefire declaration.
Sison noted that the ceasefire dates of the CPP—including its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), and political arm, the National Democratic Front (NDF)—were different from those of the Armed Forces of the Philippines ceasefire.
“When the ceasefire dates of the NPA and AFP coincide, the NPA has not made any tactical offensive and has even gone to the extent of releasing its prisoners of war in contrast to the (government) hoarding 14 NDF consultants and 500 other political prisoners on multiplied charges of rebellion and common crimes,” Sison said.
Teresita Deles, the presidential adviser on the peace process, on Thursday accused the communist rebels of double talk, saying they wanted to return to the negotiating table but continued to launch attacks on government forces during the Christmas ceasefire.
In her New Year’s Day message, Deles said that because of the NPA attacks, she was looking at the resumption of the peace talks with caution.
The government declared a unilateral ceasefire from Dec. 19 to Jan. 19, the last day of the visit of Pope Francis to the country.
The communist rebels declared a staggered ceasefire: from 12:01 a.m. of Dec. 24, 2014 to 11:59 p.m. of Dec. 26, 2014; 12:01 a.m. of Dec. 31, 2014 to 11:59 p.m. of Jan. 1, 2015; and, in observance of the Pope’s visit, 12:01 a.m. of Jan. 15, 2015 to 11:59 p.m. of Jan. 19, 2015.
Earlier, Deles denounced the NPA’s torching of the heavy equipment used in a construction of a building in Paracale, Camarines Norte, and burning a civilian-owned vehicle in Agusan del Sur last Dec. 22; the Dec. 23 abduction of Compostela Valley jail warden Jose Mervin Gementiza Coquilla in Panabo City, Davao del Norte; and the Dec. 29 murder of 1st Lt. Ronald Bautista, Private First Class Albert Amor and military volunteer Renel Baluca in Sitio (settlement) Barigyan, Barangay (village) Candinuyan, Mabini, Compostela Valley.
One small group is fostering peace using technology and bridging together communities across the country
BRIDGES. Host Baicon Macaraya in Cotabato City speaking with Jennifer Foltz, Cultural Affairs Officer, US Embassy – Manila, in Zamboanga City. Photo by Bambina Wise
We live in an era where even terrorists and warlords have no qualms about posting beheadings on social media and watching the images go viral. Where celebrities bare their famous assets online and the internet promptly "breaks." Where women can be degraded on Twitter, cute cats and fashionable toddlers glorified on Facebook, and the profligate spending of corrupt politicians' offspring, revealed on Instagram.
But what if social media were used for purposes truly positive, truly constructive, and truly epic?
Some organizations may indeed choose to employ social media to sow terror. But there are others using it just as effectively for the opposite purpose – to build peace. One such organization, PeaceTech, is doing it right here in the Philippines.
PeaceTech Inc., a Philippine-based non-government organization, harnesses the power of technology via videoconferencing and social media, employing them as tools to bridge young people in Mindanao who are separated by distance and ignorance.
Using this model, PeaceTech teamed up with the US Embassy in Manila to launch a program they call EPIC – “Empowerment for Peace through Information and Communication."
With the support of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT), which generously provided a private high-speed line, the Embassy and PeaceTech demonstrated the reach of this new tool for peace-building in November 2014 in a massive videoconference connecting thousands of young people gathering in Cotabato and Zamboanga cities.
EPIC included high school students and out-of-school youth from two regions, which can show mistrust for one another – Central Mindanao, including Cotabato City, Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat; and Western Mindanao, including Zamboanga City, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
The ground-breaking videoconference, showed the youth via giant screens that the misperceptions they carried about one another were often the result of misinformation and the lack of communication.
To show the United States’ support, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg flew to Zamboanga City to speak live to the thousands of young people through the screens: “All of you, standing together, can make a difference.
“What we are really here to do today is to help young people create a better future, to look forward, and to be able to have a real impact on your communities, on your city, on your country. And that’s why we support the EPIC Program.”
Noralyn Lumbatan, 22, an out-of-school youth from Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao watched the Ambassador from Cotabato City: “I (now) realize that my negative perception about the people of Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi would not have changed if it had not been for EPIC.”
Pinky Angga, 19, an out-of-school youth from Datu Blah Sinsuat, Maguindanao agreed: “At first, I really thought the people from Basilan and Sulu were kidnappers and killers, but because of EPIC and the technology like the Mass Videoconference, I learned that they are also nice and joyful people like us.”
On the other side of the videoconference, Tony Jamid, 21, of the municipality of Sitangkai, Tawi-Tawi felt the same: “I didn't think that they were the same as us, not until we saw them and interacted with them. I realized that we have same 'hopes, same dreams and same expectations' just like in the EPIC Song.”
There were several truly “Aha!” moments, as the youngsters began to realize, as they became more aware of how “the other side” lived, that they had so much in common. And they also began to appreciate that they all had a voice, and could be heard, even the young people at risk of fighting in conflict. They were empowered in a way their parents had never experienced.
“My father told me that we the youth are very lucky nowadays since we have technology, and this can help us to know and meet different kinds of people in other places, and maybe the rest of the world,” said 18-year old Shira Guiamalo of Midsayap, North Cotabato.
The videoconference was historic in other significant ways. Former “enemies” involved in conflict came face-to-face, courtesy of the video screens, such as a marine who lost his leg in a joint MILF-MNLF ambush in Lanao del Norte and a former MNLF fighter from Sultan Kudarat. Joining them were a MNLF hostage victim of the 2013 Zamboanga City siege and Edmund Gumbahali, an MNLF member who was himself a hostage of the Abu Sayyaf when he was kidnapped in 2012. He recalled matter-of-factly: “They mentally tortured me. They kept telling me: ‘Tomorrow, we will behead you…”
Conflict can sometimes seem the only mode of existence for these communities, acknowledges PeaceTech president Gianna Montinola.
“But it’s not a situation they necessarily want to find themselves in; it’s just that they have never known any other way – until now. And with technology dominating the lives of young people more and more, the possibilities for greater understanding – and lasting peace - are limitless. That’s why a program like EPIC is so important.”
The US Embassy has been a key partner with PeaceTech in making EPIC a reality, firmly believing that social media can have a significant impact among the youth in conflict-affected areas.
Jennifer Foltz, Cultural Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Manila said: “One of our priorities is reaching out to young people, especially young people who want to improve their communities, who want to bring peace, who want to fix challenges with education… so when our partner in this program PeaceTech told about this awesome idea, we worked together to make this program happen.”
Using ICT and social media to connect groups within Mindanao might become a model, which PeaceTech and partners apply in other regions including the Middle East where groups are equally divided by ignorance. It’s easy to blame the enemy,” says PeaceTech founder Robin Pettyfer.
“But we believe that ignorance is the real enemy here and not other people. And that gives us hope because today we have the ability to connect people in the remotest places through programs like EPIC so they too can realize that what they are told about one another might in fact not be true.”
[Bambina Olivares Wise is a correspondent for the New York-based fashion trade daily, Women's Wear Daily (WWD). She got involved with PeaceTech after returning to the Philippines.]
Three members of the New People’s Army surrendered to military authorities in Sultan Kudarat province.
Lt. Col. Markton Abo, 33rd Infantry Battalion commander, withheld the identity of the rebel returnees to protect their families from possible retaliation from their former comrades.
Abo said the three surrenderees, who were residents of Lebak and Senator Ninoy Aquino towns, were former armed regulars of NPA-Front Guerilla 73 which is operating in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani.
“The NPA surrenderees asked us to withhold their names at the moment so as not to jeopardize the security of their family members,” Abo said.
The former NPA rebels, who yielded carbine and shotgun rifles, said they decided to abandon the underground movement so that they can live normal lives with their families.
Abo said they will receive livelihood assistance from the Comprehensive Local Integration Program of the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the provincial government.
The NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been waging a Maoist-inspired insurgency campaign in the Philippines for the more than four decades now.
Peace talks between the government and the CPP are expected to resume this year after they were stalled in 2001.
Local officials are convinced only either the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), or the Al-Khobar extortion ring could be responsible for Wednesday’s bombing of the public market in Mlang, North Cotabato.
Mlang Mayor Joselito Piñol said the bombing, which killed two of his constituents and injured more than 30 others, could be in retaliation for the earlier arrest of a guerilla bomb expert implicated in the November 23 bombing in the same town.
Two Mlang residents were killed while more than 20 others were injured in the bombing, which local leaders said was perpetrated by the brigand BIFF.
“The denial by the BIFF that it was not responsible for the two recent bombings in our municipality is unbelievable. All leads point to that group as responsible for these bombings,” Piñol said.
Abu Misry Mama, spokesman of the outlawed BIFF, said the local government unit of Mlang should first investigate extensively on both bombings before pointing an accusing finger at them.
“We only attack military targets, not public markets, public terminals and buses carrying passengers,” Mama said.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front said it is open to “improvements” to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law which is undergoing congressional scrutiny.
In an editorial posted in its website (www.luwaran.com), the MILF acknowledged that a concern that keeps cropping up is whether the former rebel group would accept a watered down version of the BBL, which was sent to Congress on Sept. 10.
“Would the MILF accept it? The answer to this question cannot be a straight and blunt, because it entails a lot of sensitivity and reality. We know for a fact that in this country, plenary power over legislation is lodged with Congress,” the MILF said.
“Our answer has been very consistent that the MILF trusts the collective wisdom of Congress to pass a good legislation. Congress, like any entities of government, wants the Moro question or problem to be solved. We do not know of any time in the future that this opportunity presents itself again,” it added.
The MILF acknowledged that the BBL “is not an ordinary legislation” having been the product of 17 years of negotiations.
The group said it will respect the prerogative of lawmakers who might want to amend the proposed BBL even as it cautioned Congress that their decision might not be a welcome development for the Bangsamoro people.
“The MILF’s position is clear: We welcome an improvement of the BBL. Who does not want an improvement?”
“But a reminder has to be earnestly said: an improvement to one group may not necessarily be so, to another group,” the MILF added.
President Benigno Aquino III earlier renewed his appeal to Congress to pass the BBL “as soon as possible.
THE 46-year-old communist insurgency is steadily dwindling and that may be one of the reasons why the communist National Democratic Front is again seeking to enage the government in peace talks, the military said on Friday.
Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc attributed the supposed decline in member to the military’s Internal Peace and Security Plan “Bayanihan,” which was conceived in 2010 to erode rebel influence through community development projects coupled with security operations.
“We have dealt a big blow against the NPA as their strength decreased to about 3,200 NPA remnants this year.,” Cabunoc told defense reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.
“This is due to the intensified focused military operations that resulted in the neutralization of 90 members who were killed in clashes, 106 who were arrested and filed with cases and 521 others who voluntarily surrendered to government forces,” Cabunoc added.
He said that the reduction in rebel strength is also associated with the current leadership crisis within the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed New People’s Army following the capture of top leaders, like Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, Eugenia Magpantay-Topacio, Agathon Topacio and Arnold Jaramillo.
“They are also considering going back to the negotiating table, which the AFP supports because it is in line with our IPSP ‘Bayanihan’ that calls for winning peace and for the CPP-NPA to abandon the armed struggle,” he added.
But CPP founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison dismissed Cabunoc’s claim.
“If the AFP propaganda is true, the AFP brigades and battalions should go back to the barracks and let the police take over the lucrative rackets of the military in the field,” Sison said in an online interview.
Sison was referring to abusive officials who are supposedly protecting criminal groups, like illegal miners, in the countryside which have spurred ordinary people to seek the help of the NPA.
The military itself has confirmed that some politicians, in connivance with miltiary or police officials, have become targets of the NPA because of illegal activities, like black-sand mining in Northern Luzon.
“At any rate the military and police are always competing in misappropriating public funds and extorting from the people and private companies,” Sison said.
The communist leader said the CPP itself has shown in the past that it is not averse to admitting mistakes and will not hesitate to apologize to the people so it will not fudge its membership data.
“Ang Bayan, the official publication of the CPP, has announced since a few years ago that the armed strength of the NPA is around 10,000, augmented by tens of thousands of men and women in the people’s militia and hundreds of thousands in self-defense units of the mass organizations,” Sison said.
“The CPP has already about 200,000 cadres and members. It has a mass base that runs into millions. The AFP disinformation claims false achievement that the NPA had 25,000 rifles in mid-1980s and now has only 3,500. The truth is that the NPA had 5,600 rifles in 1985 and now has 10,000 rifles,” he added.
The NPA also scored the miliary for claiming that the NPA reneged on its commitment to release “prisoners of war” in Surigao del Norte when it was actually the fault of the military who continued military operations although they publicly announced a suspension of military operations.
“I am apologizing to the families of the policemen that they were not released as expected. This is because the military and police have been violating the government’s declared ceasefire,” said top communist leader Jorge Madlos.
The NPA, however, said they will release policemen Democrito Bondoc Polvorosa, Marichel Unclara Contemplo and Junrie Amper before the Jan. 15 visit of Pope Francis.
A soldier was killed and three others were wounded Friday night when the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters attacked two Army detachments in President Quirino town, Sultan Kudarat, Captain Joan Petinglay, spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division, said.
It was the second recorded attack this year by the rebel group, which broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
On New Year’s Day, BIFF gunmen strafed an Army outpost in Shariff Aguak town, Maguindanao.
Jail guards at the Maguindanao provincial jail foiled on Friday the attempt of an alleged kidnapping and carjacking gang leader to escape.
Jail warden Armando Baguamama said guards conducting a routine inspection early Friday morning found hacksaw marks on the bars of the cell where Datukan Sama, 49, alias “Commander Lastikman,” is detained with 28 other inmates.
Sama is facing charges of multiple murder, frustrated murder, kidnapping and carnapping before courts in North Cotabato and Maguindanao.
He was first arrested in Pikit, North Cotabato and detained at the Kidapawan City jail, from which 50 of his followers attempted to spring him in an attack that left at least three persons, including firemen, dead.
He was moved to Midsayap, North Cotabato and later transferred to the Maguindanao provincial jail, from which he escaped in 2013. Rearrested in July that year in Tacurong City, he was returned to the Maguindanao jail on May 2 last year.
Baguamama said they also found a motorcycle a few meters away from the jail, which they suspect was intended to be Datukan’s getaway vehicle.
The guards also found a sachet of suspected methamphetamine hydrochloride, or “shabu,” a steel saw and bladed weapons in Sama’s cell.
The Maguindanao provincial jail, also known as the House of Correction, is located within a military reservation area and beside housing units on PC Hill, Barangay Rosary Heights 1, Cotabato City.
A soldier from the 33rd Infantry Battalion was killed while three of his companions were wounded after a still undetermined number of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) simultaneously attacked military detachments located in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces early Saturday morning.
A retired enlisted personnel of the Philippine Marines was found dead inside a firing range at the Naval Station Jose Francisco in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City on Friday morning, the Philippine Navy confirmed.
Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo, the commander of the civil military operations group of the Philippine Navy, identified the enlisted personnel as Romeo Sierra, a retired master sergeant of the Philippine Marines.
Sierra was also one of the range officers inside the said camp.
Based on initial investigation, Sierra was allegedly shot in the mouth. A .45-caliber pistol allegedly owned by the victim was found near his body.
Arevalo said based on closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera footage, Sierra arrived at the firing range at 6:58 a.m. on board a tricycle.
His body was found at 8:15 a.m. by an enlisted personnel of the Philippine Navy.
According to Arevalo, he has received reports that Sierra was having financial difficulties and was even trying to pawn his personal pistol to a colleague.
He, however, said it is now up to the Philippine National Police (PNP) to find out if Sierra committed suicide or if he was shot by a suspect.
Arevalo said Sierra's death has nothing to do with the shooting of Marine 1st Lt. Shelina Calumay in November and the robbery of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) commissary exchange service last year.
Army scout rangers invite suspects for questioning
Police said army scout rangers invited two suspects for questioning.
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has filed Senate Resolution No. 1059 seeking an inquiry, in aid of legislation, into the alleged P10-million robbery inside the Fort Bonifacio Naval Station recently.
In her resolution, Santiago said that on November 16, 2014, personnel of the Naval Station discovered the robbery, which was then investigated by National Capital Region Police Office's Southern Police District (SPD).
“Lt. Cmdr. Marineth Domingo, the Navy's public affairs office chief, reportedly said an initial inquiry showed that the huge amount of money was taken from the manager's vault inside her office, which was not forcibly opened,” Santiago said.
Quoting Domingo, Santiago said that while she could not give the exact amount lost, there were reports that the robbers took off with PIO million.
“The Navy official further claimed that roving guards and security personnel did not notice anything unusual, nor did they monitor any unauthorized entry in the base premises,” Santiago said.
The robbery was discovered by an employee only the morning after the incident, and SPD was immediately notified of the theft.
Santiago said that the incident raises concerns on the safety of keeping huge amounts of money in government offices.
“It is timely to discuss the feasibility of a no-cash policy in all public transactions, to reduce the possibility of similar incidents,” Santiago said.
Congress, through relevant legislation, should ensure that public funds are not only appropriately used, but also safely kept, she added.