Thursday, January 15, 2015

Rights groups rap news blackout on detainees

From the Manila Standard Today (Jan 16): Rights groups rap news blackout on detainees

HUMAN rights advocates on Thursday protested the news blackout imposed on the conditions of the 491 political detainees who went on a five-day hunger strike to coincide with the papal visit to seek the intervention of the Pope for their freedom.

Jail officials barred the hunger strikers from seeing their relatives, lawyers, doctors and the media.

This prompted Bayan Muna lawmakers to denounce the “two-faced character” that the Aquino government has shown in welcoming Pope Francis and in the treatment of the political detainees,  who began their fasting on the day the Pope arrived in the country.

Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said it was ironic that the government was violating the human rights of the political detainees when the Pope came here precisely on a mission of mercy and compassion.

Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate condemned as “illegal, highhanded, callous and devious” the blackout imposed by jail officials at the Camp Bagong Diwa Rehabiltation Center.

“The cavalier acts of these jail officials are not only insensitive and highly irregular coming as it is at that time when we are awaiting the pastoral visit of Pope Francis, preventing the visitation of the political prisoners is also illegal,” Colmenares said.

“Republic Act 7438 clearly spells the right of the detainees, among others, to be visited by their relatives, doctor of choice and counsel. These jail officials must be investigated and held accountable,” said Colmenares, also House Senior Deputy Minority Leader.

“This is the height of hypocrisy being shown by the Aquino government, which makes it appear to the whole world that they warmly welcome the Pope at the same time that it treats the political detainees harshly and differently,” Palabay said.

At least 491 political prisoners in different jails all over the country have staged a hunger strike and are fasting to highlight their plight and the state of the country’s justice system during the visit of Pope Francis.

Andrea Rosal, a political detainee who was among those who wrote to Pope Francis and appealed for his intercession, was also deprived of visitation rights, Palabay said.

Rosal, whose daughter died two days after she was born in detention, introduced herself in her letter to the Pope as the daughter of the late Ka Roger Rosal, former spokesman of the communist New People’s Army.

“We, in Bayan Muna welcome the arrival of Pope Francis in the Philippines and we hope that he will intercede for the release of all political prisoners. We also hope that Pope Francis will support the peace talks between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front to address the root causes of the armed conflict and to attain social justice,” Colmenares said.

Zarate described the jail officials act as “pure harrassment.”

“Its only purpose is to hide from the attention of Pope Francis the sufferings and unjust conditions of the political prisoners under the Aquino administration and shows its two-faced character,” Zarate said.

On Thursday, Palabay said, Dr. Julie Caguiat, who was supposed to check on the conditions of the striking and fasting political prisoners, former Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza, Dr. Carol Araullo of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Sr. Cecilia Ruiz, Marie Hilao Enriquez and Palabay of human rights watchdog Karapatan and several paralegals, were barred from entering the Camp Bagong Diwa Rehabilitation Center.

They identified Jail Warden Michelle Ng Bonto as having demanded all sorts of clearances and made excuses “to unjustly deny” the group’s visit.

“Even an appeal made by lawyer Rey Cortez of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers was also ignored by the jail officials,” Palabay said.

“These jail officials acted like they are above or beyond the law,” Zarate said, echoing the call to investigate the jails officials led by the jail warden Bonto.
The jail officials refused to be interviewed.

Palabay said the doctors wanted to oversee the ongoing hunger strike since the jail officials refused to provide medical personnel to monitor their health.

Various cause-oriented groups in the country trooped to the streets and talked to media to air long-unresolved social problems in the hope that the Pope will intervene.

Baby Reyes, project officer of Rights Network who works with landless Yolanda victims in Leyte and Samar, urged Pope Francis to help victims realize their dreams “where there are no families left without homes and no peasant farmers without lands.”

“Yolanda survivors who are without land and housing security are praying for divine ontervention to fulfill their wish of land and housing security because government solution to these long-standing problems of the poor have become remote possibilities,” Reyes said.

Rights Network has documented that of 11,000 Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) due to agrarian reform beneficiaries in towns of Barugo, Alangalang, and other areas in Leyte, only hundreds have been awarded.

“We, farmers also in Ormoc city, still don’t have our lands for more than 10 years already despite being awarded with CLOAs. We still cannot go back to our farm,” farmer Rosenda Apay said in an interview.

Reyes also hit the government for its “continued negligence” toward Yolanda survivors, and for its lack of long-term shelter security.

Jessie Gariando, leader of Rights Eastern Visayas for farmers and fisherfolk, also asked the Pope to help them to gain access to programs and services of the government for its 1,800 members across Leyte, Tacloban and Ormoc Cities, and Eastern Samar.

Environmental advocacy group Panalipdan-SMR based in Davao City also appealed to Pope Francis for support on People’s Mining Bill.

Kim Gargar, spokesman of the group, said that “in the spirit of pro-people religious stand” they are urging Pope Francis to support the passing of House Bill 4315 or the People’s Mining Bill, which seeks to protect forest areas from further damage through mining.

“The Pope must see the impending ecological crises looming in Mindanao, the ongoing expansion of foreign owned plantations, which did not only displace farmers from their lands, but adversely affected the environment as well,” Gargar said.

Gargar said the ongoing expansion of these corporations greatly reduced the flora and fauna in those areas, making ecosystems unstable.

“Forests are cleared for planting of oil-palm, rubber, and bananas, to name a few cash crops. As a result, various animal species are deprived of their habitats, and essential plants are killed. When these things happen, it’s a biological crisis looming over the horizon,” Gargar said.

Gargar added that with the Pope visit, the voices of the poor farmers will be heard.
“We want the Pope to help us echo the need to bring back the lands to the farmers, so food security can be established, and the environment serves to nourish the people who in turn, take care of it,” he said.

Meanwhile, the women’s rights group Gabriela said the Pope could teach President Benigno Aquino III some lessons in compassion and mercy.

Gabriela secretary general Joms Salvador also acknowledged the Pope’s statements against violence towards women, especially wartime rape, as well as his condemnation of sexual abuse committed by priests.

“Most importantly, Pope Francis has affirmed the evils of the current global economic system, albeit tacitly, and condemned corporate greed that further push the poor deeper into hunger and poverty. He can definitely teach the Aquino government some lessons on mercy and compassion... because the Filipino people continue to suffer from the government’s neoliberal policies that are brutal and insensitive to the people’s conditions,” said Salvador.

Salvador said that their group hopes that the Pope will again make strong statements against corruption and impunity, issues that plague the Aquino government.
She also said the government was overacting in its security preparations.

“Pope Francis is known as the People’s Pope, not Pope of the Police. At the rate that the Aquino government is deploying police forces throughout the Pope’s routes, only the police could be near enough to see and interact with him,” she added.

3 NPA leaders surrender in Capiz

From the Philippine Star posted to ABS-CBN (Jan 16): 3 NPA leaders surrender in Capiz

Three leaders of the New People’s Army (NPA) have surrendered to authorities in Capiz.

Lt. Col. Victor Llapitan, commanding officer of 61st Infantry Battalion, identified the communist rebels as alias Alen, team leader of Squad 2, Baloy Platoon, Central Front-Komiteng Rehiyon Panay; and two others with aliases of Tommy and Mica, both members of Tugalbong Platoon of the CF-KRP.

Llapitan said the group is operating in Tapaz, Dumalag and the boundaries of Jamindan and Mambusao towns.

The three NPA leaders surrendered upon the intercession of Tapaz Mayor Rose Gardose and barangay chairman Remy Katipunan.

“They said they have been thinking about their families and their desire to give them a better future,” Llapitan said.

Maj. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division (ID), assured communist rebels that they would accept anyone who want to lay down their arms.

“Together with local government officials and other stakeholders, we will help and assist them to integrate and live peaceful and normal lives,” he added.

Guerrero said 18 communist rebels have surrendered in the past five months.

US on helping allies build military capabilities: they must do it as well

From Ang Malaya (Jan 16): US on helping allies build military capabilities: they must do it as well

During a United States military event at Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, California held January 13, US Department of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks about US military’s change of focus from Afghanistan to Asia Pacific.

According to US Department of Defense’s news article, the Secretary said the transition becomes “more and more a critical component of our own strategic interests as we continue to help our allies build their capabilities.”

However, Hagel said “we can’t take on all of the challenges by ourselves – they must do it as well.”

In 2014, US allocated USD50 million through Foreign Military Financing to help upgrade equipment onboard Philippine Navy ships, improve AFP Command and Control systems, provide advanced technical training, and strengthen institutions responsible for the maintenance and sustainment of the AFP’s growing inventory, as reported by US Embassy in Manila. Part of the fund was used to shoulder approximately forty percent of the procurement value of two C-130.

First horizon of Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization is currently underway, while defense officials are planning on second horizon.

Jacinto-class corvettes receiving ups: 76mm and 25mm guns, fire control, ammos

From Ang Malaya (Jan 16): Jacinto-class corvettes receiving ups: 76mm and 25mm guns, fire control, ammos

Department of National Defense is upgrading three Jacinto class patrol corvettes divided in two projects. In two invitation to bid documents the Defense Department is looking for firms who could upgrade the BRP Emilio Jacinto, BRP Apolinario Mabini and BRP Artemio Ricarte with allocated budget of PhP630.6 million and PhP224 million.

Combined Phase 3 projects will restore and sustain Oto Melara 76mm and MSI Seahawk 25mm Bushmaster guns of three patrol vessels. It will also provide the vessels with new electro-optical fire control system.

Also included in the project is the procurement of Jacinto class vessels’ ammunition.

Bid opening for two separate projects will be on February 10 of this year.

These vessels were commissioned for service last 1997 and are currently in Philippine Navy patrol force.

MILF members attack villagers in Maguindanao province

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Jan 15): MILF members attack villagers in Maguindanao province

Former Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels attacked a group of civilians and sparking a brief firefight in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao, officials said Thursday.

Officials said about 20 gunmen led by Commander Cayub, of the MILF’s National Guard, opened fire on the villagers in Macasampen in Guindulungan town after he failed to locate the man who killed one of his relatives three months ago.

Village chieftain Kamsa Pendatun sought the help of the military, but Cayub’s group fled even before soldiers could arrive.

Officials said the incident resulted to panic and fear among villagers in the area. There was no immediate statement from the MILF about the attack.
The MILF signed a peace accord with the Aquino government last year ending decades of bloody war in the southern region.

IED explodes in Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Jan 15): IED explodes in Philippines

An improvised explosive went off on a highway in North Cotabato’s Pikit town in southern Philippines, but authorities on Thursday reported no casualties from the attack by suspected rebels.

Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, a spokeswoman for the 6th Infantry Division, said soldiers recovered bomb shrapnel and concrete nails, including broken parts of a cell phone used to detonate the explosive in downtown area.

“The blast was believed carried out by rebels who continue to sow terror and fear and without regards to the lives of innocent civilians,” she told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but it occurred on January 14 on the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to Manila. The Pontiff arrived Thursday from Sri Lanka for a four-day visit as part of his Asian tour.

“We have recovered broken parts of cell phone, 9 volts battery, and concrete nails and a burnt piece of black cloth. There was no report of casualties,” Petinglay said.

Previous bombings in the province were largely blamed by the police and military to the rebel group called Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which is fighting for an independent state in the troubled region.

Abu Sayyaf frees 3 construction workers seized in Basilan province

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Jan 15): Abu Sayyaf frees 3 construction workers seized in Basilan province

Three construction workers were briefly seized Thursday by Abu Sayyaf rebels in the restive province of Basilan in the Muslim autonomous region in southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials said the trio - Edgar Francisco, 40; Sommy Siason, 17; and Alex Francisco, 18 – were seized by five rebels under Abdulhassan Tabadjanul in Cadayan village in Akbar town.

The victims were onboard a truck owned by businessman Muktar Muarip when the gunmen intercepted them. Muarip owns CNJ Construction firm in the province where the men are employed. It was unknown whether Muarip negotiated for the freedom of his workers.

Policemen and troops, who were dispatched to pursue the rebels, have recovered the trio in the same village where they were taken by the Abu Sayyaf.

“After an hour of pursuing the bandits, the victims were released by their abductors. Subsequently, the victims proceeded to the location of their dump trucks where they were rescued by government troops,” said Captain Eugene Espino, a spokesman for the Joint Task Group Basilan.

He said security forces were tracking down the gunmen in Basilan, one of five provinces under the troubled autonomous region governed by Mujiv Hataman.

3 construction workers rescued from Abu Sayyaf in Basilan

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 15): 3 construction workers rescued from Abu Sayyaf in Basilan
Government forces on Thursday morning rescued three construction workers who were kidnapped by members of the Abu Sayyaf group in Akbar town in Basilan.

Captain Maria Rowena Muyuela, spokesperson of Western Mindanao Command, said the three construction workers–Edgar Francisco, Sammy Siason and Alex Francisco–were abducted Thursday morning in Barangay Cadayan, also in Akbar town.

The victims, all residents of Isabela, Basilan, were on board the company truck when flagged down and forcibly taken by five armed men.

Muyuela said police and military forces immediately conducted pursuit operations, forcing the bandits to release their captives an hour later.

Building A More Solid Evidence Base for Peace and Development in Mindanao

From the Asia Foundation (Jan 14): Building A More Solid Evidence Base for Peace and Development in Mindanao

Conflict-affected areas of Mindanao in the southern Philippines form a complex, unpredictable, and highly dynamic environment that makes development programming very challenging against a backdrop of general urgency. Over the last 15 years, The Asia Foundation has been engaged in Mindanao with programs that improve local governance, support the private sector, fight corruption, devise ways to manage community conflicts, particularly clan conflicts (known as rido), and support the peace process with Muslim separatist organizations.

Conflict in Mindanao
Conflict-affected areas of Mindanao in the southern Philippines form a complex, unpredictable, and highly dynamic environment that makes development programming very challenging against a backdrop of general urgency. Photo/Karl Grobl

Our Mindanao team is presently implementing programs that involve a diverse range of participants: the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), civil society organizations, religious leaders, and Philippine government agencies, including local governments, bureaucratic agencies, and the Philippine military and the police. While we have built up a strong, on-the-ground knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work based on our programming experience, this experiential learning is increasingly not enough in a changing landscape that demands further data and analysis to support outcomes.

Almost three years ago, our Mindanao team started using the theory of change approach to come to a better understanding of the coherence of our programs that address conflict and support the peace process. Prior to the introduction of the theory of change as a conceptual tool, it was difficult for our team to show how the many different actions – and the arguments to support these – were leading up to broader goals. Does training religious leaders to handle community affairs improve state-society relations? Will managing community conflicts strengthen peace negotiations with insurgent groups? Working with different civil society groups and government partners in multiple fronts in a fast-changing and difficult operating environment, it was often a challenge to bring staff and partners together and have discussions using a common platform to discuss program strategies and see the “big picture” of our work in peace and security. In our efforts, we were bolstered by efforts of the Justice and Security Research Programme to work with the Foundation in the Philippines and elsewhere to examine how theories of change were actually being used.

As a process, our use of the theory of change created a venue where staff are given time to think, discuss, and make more explicit the different rationale and assumptions – “why we think what we are doing will likely get us there.” It shifted the focus from the traditional activity and output orientation of individual projects to higher-level outcomes. The regular venues and conversations around the theory of change gave us a chance to step back and reflect. By investing time and resources to convene several times a year, the Mindanao team – together with some local partners – has been building in a process for iterative learning to help answer the question: “What lessons are we learning and what are they telling us?

As an output, taking the theory of change approach for Mindanao has given us better clarity of shared outcomes, not just at the project level, but more broadly in the context of the overall program. When talking with donors, the theory of change has helped Foundation staff demonstrate how seemingly disparate interventions being done by the team are linked and complement each other. Foundation staff are mindful that the theory of change must not be a rigid management tool, but one that affords flexibility to analyze and revise strategies and “pathways” in finding better ways to working for peace and stability in Mindanao.

A good illustration of this has been our programs that support the on-going peace process between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine Government. On the surface it would appear that there are only two parties involved in the peace process. In reality, the stakeholders are very diverse with various political and economic interests at stake. On top of this is the existence of various armed groups, such as elements of the discontented Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which had a previous peace agreement with the government. Local clan conflicts (rido) further muddle the already difficult path to peace. Therefore, careful analysis of the web of relationships needs to be firmly articulated in the design of peace process related programs.

For instance, how does work at the community level (local partners engaging high status individuals to mediate between two feuding clans) relate to work on the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (technical assistance to institutions implementing the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro)? Or what work at the community level with religious leaders helps the security sector have a stronger capacity for conflict mitigation?

The challenge – and current aspiration – for our Mindanao team is how to become better in 1) building more solid evidence to support our arguments for doing what we do; and 2) evaluating outcomes and measuring the extent to which the Foundation has contributed to results laid out in the theory of change. How can we produce data that supports our conclusions? It is not enough to assess the overall theory f change based only on the front-line program staff and the partners’ perspectives. The TAF-JSRP collaboration has been a good opportunity for us to examine our own theories of change, as the research findings, while still preliminary, have brought a fresh outside perspective to the team’s discussions. Moving forward, our team hopes to bolster our analytic process to include multiple lines of evidence from other sources, more robust research, and specific measurement of quantitative and qualitative indicators. By building a more solid evidence base for our theories, we can then demonstrate that the theory of change can be an effective tool for finding better solutions and getting better results.

[Derkie Alfonso is The Asia Foundation’s results monitoring officer on the Mindanao Team, and Celestino Habito is a senior program officer on the Foundation’s partnership (with DFAT) team in the Philippines. They can be reached at and, respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.]

Pope Francis’ Visit to Philippines Creates Mass of Security Concerns

From the Wall Street Journal (Jan 14): Pope Francis’ Visit to Philippines Creates Mass of Security Concerns

Pope’s Mass in Manila Expected to Attract Up to Six Million People

How does one manage what could be among the largest gatherings of Christian believers ever assembled? Very carefully, Philippines officials and security experts say.

With as many as six million devotees expected to attend an open-air Mass in the center of Manila during Pope Francis ’ visit to the country, it could be one of the biggest Roman Catholic events ever held, rivaling Pope St. John Paul II’s Mass in the same city in 1995. That gathering drew an estimated five million people.

The scale of Sunday’s centerpiece event, as well as a closely watched side-trip to Tacloban, the city devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, will be a test of the Philippines’ ability to protect not just the pontiff, but also the hordes of people expected to throng areas where he is scheduled to appear.

Last Friday, two people were killed in a stampede at a boisterous religious procession in Manila, which attracted about one million people, many of whom jostled to touch a centuries-old statue of Jesus Christ that is reputed to hold mystical powers.

It is not just the large crowds that are a concern. The Philippines, some 80% of whose 100 million people are Catholic, is also home to a long-running insurgency in Muslim-dominated areas in the south of the country, and al Qaeda-linked terrorists, such as the Abu Sayyaf group, have persistently attempted to connect the insurgency in the Mindanao region to a broader Islamist movement.

They have achieved some limited success in this. The Philippines once served as an operations base for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the Sept. 11, attacks on the U.S. in 2001, and Ramzi Yousef, who bombed the basement of the World Trade Center in 1993.

In 1995, when St. John Paul II was visiting Manila to celebrate World Youth Day, the two men and an accomplice, Abdul Hakim Murad, rented an apartment on the pope’s planned route as part of an assassination plan, U.S. and other security officials say. The plot was abandoned after police responded to a small fire at the apartment and found bomb-making materials along with a laptop computer that contained details of another plan called “Operation Bojinka.” It proposed the bombing of 11 U.S. passenger jets over the Pacific Ocean, and crashing another plane into the Central Intelligence Agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va.

More recently, Philippines-based militants, including Abu Sayyaf, have attempted to align themselves with Islamic State forces operating in Syria and Iraq, at one point swearing loyalty to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, much as they did to al Qaeda previously.

However, after years of U.S. military support, the Philippine military has killed or captured many of Abu Sayyaf’s most-effective commanders.

Matt Williams, of Pacific Strategies & Assessments, a Manila-based security and risk consultancy, said the high-profile nature of Pope Francis’ visit “presents an attractive target for both coordinated and lone-wolf style attacks.”

The bigger security threat is how to manage the crowds, he said.

“Violent crowd movements, such as mass pushing, can quickly reach levels that are difficult to contain and result in a domino effect,” Mr. Williams said.

Pope-mania has already been aroused in Manila, with all manner of souvenirs on sale, from cookies, coffee mugs and T-shirts to 12-inch-high plush dolls fashioned in Pope Francis’ likeness. The night before the big Mass on Sunday, a theater company will put on “Pope Francis: the Musical” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, with a real priest taking on the role of the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as the pope used to be known.

As the anticipation for the papal visit builds, there are concerns that all this zeal could become a real hazard.

Philippine police say they aim to deploy 25,000 officers to retain order, while thousands of troops and other security officials will help secure key sites such as Tacloban’s airport and Rizal Park, the sprawling venue in the center of Manila that will host Sunday’s mass.

Undercover agents from the Swiss Guard—the Vatican’s own security team—will also be in the crowd. Metro Manila’s government, meanwhile, has recommended that traffic police use adult diapers to help keep their minds on the job. People planning to attend Sunday’s mass in Manila have been asked to leave their backpacks at home, and use only transparent containers for food or water.

One specific challenge is how to cope with this particular pontiff’s disdain for being cooped up inside bulletproofed “popemobiles”, as his predecessors tended to do after an attempt on the life of St. John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square in 1981. Another pontiff, Pope Paul VI, also avoided a knife attack in Manila in 1970.

Instead, Pope Francis has chosen to travel around in open-air vehicles, one of which is modeled on the Philippines’ iconic jeepneys—American World War II-style jeeps that enterprising Filipinos stretched out to become utility or passenger vehicles. Worse, from a security standpoint, is Pope Francis habit of spontaneously walking out into the crowds that flock to wish him well, and authorities have asked ordinary Filipinos to be on their guard.

As President Benigno Aquino III said in a televised address to the nation on Monday, “The pope’s visit is a great honor for our country…but it is also a big challenge.”

Ignore alarmist texts about plots vs Pope—AFP chief

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 15): Ignore alarmist texts about plots vs Pope—AFP chief

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) appealed to the public on Thursday to ignore text messages that could cause alarm as Pope Francis visits the Philippines.

In a press briefing a few hours before the Pope arrives, AFP chief Lieutenant General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. had asked the people to stop spreading text messages warning of plots to harm the Pope and millions of Catholic faithful.

Over five million people are expected to flock to Quirino Grandstand in Luneta for a Mass while authorities are also bracing for thousands of devotees in Tacloban and Palo, Leyte.

Both the AFP and the Philippine National Police denied talk of potential terror threats against the pontiff.

“Baka may ma-receive na alarmist text, huwag na ipasa. We want to assure everybody that the AFP is 100-percent ready to secure the Pope and the people,” Catapang said.

On whether there were arrests made for plotting attacks against the Pope, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II said government agencies and the PNP have not monitored any arrest of a person or groups in the country.

The Pope is set to arrive at the Villamor Airbase past 5 p.m.

The US Just Gave the Philippine Military Another Boost

From The Diplomat (Jan 14): The US Just Gave the Philippine Military Another Boost

Aircraft will be a much-needed and long overdue shot in the arm for Manila.

On January 9, the United States disclosed that it would give the Philippines a pair of surplus Lockheed Martin C-130T Hercules transport aircraft in early 2016.

This is old news to those who follow Asian defense closely. The Philippines has been looking to boost its C-130 fleet for years, and the Obama administration has been mulling granting such aircraft to the Philippine government for a while now, with outstanding questions on issues such as the number and timing. News of the impending donation itself first broke publicly in July 2014, with the chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. disclosing that the planes would be delivered in 2015 and all that was left was the finalization of documents. The official announcement now confirms that it will happen in 2016, not 2015.

There is little doubt that this is a much-needed boost for the Philippine military. The C-130s play a critical role in “strategic airlifting,” which is in high demand — especially when the country is ravaged by natural disasters and needs to transport victims, rescue personnel, and supplies, as was the case with Typhoon Hagupit in 2014. But C-130s also have broader applications, including moving and resupplying troops to tackle ongoing insurgencies at home and assisting in humanitarian disaster relief and peacekeeping operations abroad. The Philippine military used to have many more C-130s lying around a few decades ago, but they were mothballed following years of neglect that many now bemoan. As a result, the country’s capacity has long been vastly overstretched and it badly needs more of these planes.

The deal is also cost-effective, which is hardly an unimportant consideration for the two allies who just inked a new defense agreement last year with a wary eye towards China’s continued assertiveness in the South China Sea. The cash-strapped Philippines often cannot afford new equipment, and this pact offers it refurbished items that Washington is also helping pay for. Meanwhile, the United States gets to boost its ally’s capabilities with equipment it no longer needs amid lingering worries about sequestration.

While this is a boost for the Philippine military, it is also a small one. Former AFP chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista has said publicly that the Philippine Air Force should have at least nine C-130s, so this addition alone still leaves much to be desired. Other creative moves could get it to that magic number, though. For instance, while most of the old Philippine C-130s referenced earlier are beyond repair, insiders say at least a few of them can still be brought back after significant work and some time. That would be a welcome step as the country looks to finally truly modernize its military over the next few years.

Political prisoners ask Pope to help in appeal for release

From MindaNews (Jan 15): Political prisoners ask Pope to help in appeal for release

Political prisoners in the region have appealed for their release in time for the arrival of Pope Francis, according to a statement sent by the Samahan ng Ex-detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA-SMR).

In a statement sent to MindaNews, 16 political detainees at Compostela Valley provincial jail stated that they plea for Pope Francis to join their fight for justice. Upon the Pope’s arrival today until his departure on the 19th, the detainees would fast together along with other political prisoners in the country.

In Southern Mindanao region, Karapatan documented 35 political prisoners who endured jail time for “fabricated” cases.

“Kami nagpa-abot ug nagahangyo sa imong malumoong kasing-kasing nga mabati nimo among kahimtang sulod sa bilangguan nga mahatagan una ug pagtagad ang among tagsa-tagsa ka mga kaso,” (We ask from your merciful heart to be one with us in our struggle that justice will be served in our cases),” the prisoners said.

A different letter from the political detainees at Malaybalay City, Bukidnon jail said: “It has been our firm stand that to serve the people is not a crime but rather a conviction to persevere.”

Dominiciano Muya, a staff and agriculturist of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in Southern Mindanao Region (RMP-SMR) who was arrested October 16 last year in Tagum City, is one of the eight political detainees in the said jail.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) accused Muya to be a high-ranking NPA official, with a P4.8-million reward on his head.

Muya also serves as a consultant of the RMP’s community-based school for Lumad children in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

“Muya is just one of the 491 political prisoners in the country who actively worked in different people’s organization to fill in for the government’s failure to provide basic social services to Filipinos,” said Hanimay Suazo of Karapatan-SMR.

“We have been slapped with several trumped-up charges and projected in public as common criminals. Like other political prisoners, our basic human rights have continuously been violated day by day. Detention itself and the slow pace of justice proceedings in our country are witnesses to this prolonged agony inflicted on ourselves as well as to our families and relatives,” the letter stated.

Fe Salino, Selda secretary-general, said that the Aquino administration has not only failed to recognize the legitimate demands of the people but is “insensitive to even filing criminal cases as a mask to hide the existence of political prisoners.”

“Should the Pope take heed, it would be a very important statement and thrust the Philippine government into action to recognize and free all political prisoners,” Salino concluded.

In the 1981 and 1995 papal visits of then Pope John Paul II, several political detainees were released by the government after the Pope expressed his concern.

MILF: Surviving framers of 1987 Constitution support Bangsamoro

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 15): Surviving framers of 1987 Constitution support Bangsamoro

In its first formal meeting since the drafting of the 1987 Charter, former members of the Constitutional Commission forged a consensus on the issue of Bangsamoro.
Representing the unanimous sentiment of fourteen of the eighteen (18) surviving members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission out of original forty eight (48) issued a statement on the Bangsamoro that deals with the vision, spirit and core principles behind the provisions on autonomous regions which to our mind constitute the essential constitutionality of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

They said, Our Position on the importance of the Bangsamoro Autonomous region to the future our country is unprecedented both as an unfulfilled promise and as a model of equitable autonomy.

Their position also states: We fully support the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region;

We believe that a new organic law is necessary to fulfill the vision and spirit that
guided the constitutional provisions on autonomous regions since RA 6734 and
RA 9054 have clearly not gone far enough to give life to the concept of autonomy
for Muslim Mindanao as envisioned by the Constitution;

We were aware in 1986 that we were imperfect instruments of the sovereign will of our people But however imperfect our perceptions then or our fading memories today, recurring questions on the “constitutionality” of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) lead us to offer our insights.

Bangsamoro is about the development of people, not about the
constitutionality of words.

The core principle of the 1987 Constitution in mandating a special status for the
autonomous regions is the human development of the people of Muslim
Mindanao and the Cordilleras. Hence, the public conversation should not be
about semantics but about people – their needs, their aspirations, their choices and about empowering them with the environment and institutional framework
for social justice.

Social justice that calls for genuine social change is the central theme of the 1987
Constitution; and here, it is broader in scope and intent than in the 1973 and the
1935 Constitutions. An interpretation of any relevant provision of the
Constitution that results in war and abject poverty would be contrary to its

The people of the Cordilleras and of Muslim Mindanao do not want
war. They want human development and they want to be heard. And the
government needs to listen. This is mandated by a new provision in the 1987
Constitution on the right of the people and their organizations to effective and
reasonable participation at all levels of social, political, and economic decisionmaking.

The larger context of the CAB and BBL

Human development is a noble end in itself. But the larger context of the CAB
and the proposed BBL is our failure to effectively address the longest running
insurgency and the development of our peoples, especially those of Muslim

The full flowering of the genius of a people is human development.
And it needs a place of its own because it is a basic human right.
Both sovereignty and property are premised on exclusion. That leaves us
with a problem. How do we reconcile our needs and our borders?”
If all human beings are free and equal, then each person is entitled to
belong somewhere and to obtain the things they need to live and to be free.
If people cannot obtain what they need where they are, or if they have no
place where they are entitled to be, then our exclusion of them denies
their humanity”.

The full flowering of Bangsamoro is assured if their leaders from a long line of
heroic resistance to colonization can believe that Bangsamoro, with meaningful
self-determination within the framework of the Republic, has a future and they
can help create that future.

Closing the gap between law and justice

International Law is not an iron law imposed by a supra-body above all nations
that disallows interpretations of words and language to fit the diverse situations
of individual nations.
We are not restricted from defining Bangsamoro as an integral and permanent
part of the Philippines, which is “sui generis” descriptive of the historical fact
that it is the “homeland” of Filipino citizens with institutions of governance that
conform with our Constitution. And our decision, rooted in its own history, can
become part of “international law” upon its approval in a plebiscite of those
affected by the creation of Bangsamoro, and by its acceptance by the community of nations.

Reason tells us that a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region can close the centuries old gap between law and justice and that we are on the cusp of a historic
opportunity to make it happen.

The negotiations on a Bangsamoro peace agreement have dragged on for 17
years. The Aquino government committed itself to bring the peace process to
fruition and has earned the trust of the Bangsamoro people that it will stay the
course. We must bring about that fruition, not because it is the will of one
man, but because it is the shared vision of a nation.

(Excerpts from a speech of Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio during the regional convention of Mindanao lawyers on November 20, 2007)

The efforts and sincerity of both panels are demonstrated by the broad
consultations that were conducted, by the explicit requirement in the BBL that
the new organic law should be in conformance with the Constitution, and the
unequivocal statement that the Bangsamoro territory shall remain part of the
Philippines. A new organic law is the second of a two-stage process mandated by
Article X, Section 18 and is the proper subject of the Supreme Court power of
judicial review. The CAB is equivalent to the first stage of that process

The price of peace

The story of how the Israel-Egypt Peace Agreement of 1978 despite its
acknowledged shortcomings, at least restored peace to their borders that lasts to
this day, exemplifies what ultimately counts in a peace agreement:
After 13 days of negotiations brokered by then President Jimmy Carter of the
United States, Israel Prime Minister Begin refused to sign the Agreement already
signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, primarily because it called for the
return of certain annexed territories to Egypt which he had said was nonnegotiable. Finally, the peace accord was signed between PM Begin and President Sadat.

This is peace-making without borders and self-limiting mental models.
But there is always a price to pay for any worthy vision. Sadat was assassinated by
disgruntled elements of the military in 1981 but not before he and Begin were
awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

What our people want

The decision on the Bangsamoro will ultimately rest on what the people want of
our country. And what the deliberations and the overwhelming vote in the
plebiscite for the Constitution tell us is that they dream of a free people in a
democratic society where peace and justice reign. It was clearly a vision.
Among the signatories are Fr. Joaquin Bernas, former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., former Comelec Chief Christian Monsod, Bishop Teodoro Bacani, and Rene Sarmiento.

MILF: Solons urge Senator Miriam, other critics to respect BBL

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 14): Solons urge Senator Miriam, other critics to respect BBL 

On January 11, two lawmakers, one from the island of Basilan, and the other one from a partylist appealed Senator Miriam Defensor- Santiago and other critics of proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to “respect the process” and be part in crafting a “legally sound” and mutually acceptable peace measure, instead of immediately shooting it down and reverting the peace process to scratch.
In a report by Manila Bulletin on January 12, Basilan Rep. Jim Hataman-Salliman, Vice Chairman of the 75-man Ad Hoc panel on the BBL; and AKO Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe made the appeal after Senator Santiago vowed to block the passage of the BBL in the 24-man Senate, claiming it is unconstitutional.

Hataman-Salliman said Santiago and other critics of BBL should not stop the ongoing discussions and consultations on the measure that seeks the creation of a Bangamosoro region for lasting peace and progress in Mindanao.

“Let’s respect her opinion. But, we should also respect the process. Of course, consultations and debates in different avenues is part of the process. And eventually, this measure will be voted upon by the members of both Lower and Upper chambers. Upon approval, it will be signed by the President. The Supreme Court could also step in and look into this. And if everything is okay, there will be a plebscite. If and when these process can be complied, I don’t think any among the members of Congress can stop it,” he said in an interview.

Senator Santiago, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes maintained that the basis of the comprehensive agreement on the BBL is unconstitutional since it supposedly violates the principle of constitutional supremacy, the Manila Bulletin also said.

She announced that she would hold a hearing to thresh out the unconstitutional provisions of the BBL on January 26 and February 2.

Batocabe, for his part, urged Santiago to take part in crafting a legally sound and acceptable BBL.

“It is within the rights of Senator Santiago to oppose the BBL as member of Congress. But then, being a constitutionalist, her inputs on how to harmonize the BBL with the Constitution are highly valuable if only to help in the peace process,” he said in a separate interview.

“To my mind, it would be better to do our share in crafting a legally sound and acceptable BBL rather than killing it, and reverting back the peace process to square 1,” he stressed.

MAGDALO party-list Rep. Francisco Ashley Acedillo, for his part thinks that Santiago’s panel has no jurisdiction over the issue.

MILF: Al Haq & WAMY host educational camping for Bangsamoro youth and preachers

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 13): Al Haq & WAMY host educational camping for Bangsamoro youth and preachers

More than a hundred male and female Bangsamoro youth and selected preachers from different parts of the Mindanao gathered in an educational camping for youth and Duat (preachers) with the theme “I am Positive!” urging the participants to be more optimistic and tract the right path in all their undertakings in life.
The activity was realized with the collaboration of Al Haq (The Truth Quidance Center) and World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) - Al Ahsa Office, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was held at Mount Sabrina Panorama View Resort in General Santos City from January 2-5, 2014. 

Facilitators were Dr. Mohammad Abdul Rahman Al Omair from Al-Ahsa University and Engr. Nabeel Mohammad Al-Kadil, the Director of WAMY- Al Ahsa.

Al Omair tackled Da’wah: Mission for Mumin’s Life, A Unique Muslim Youth and Life Sketches of Pioneers of Da’wah Activities. Al-Kadil handled short courses in Communication, Creative Thinking, and Target Creating.

The two facilitators encouraged the participants to strengthen da’wah activities in the country and those can also be done in more creative ways.

The participants were very grateful for the learnings imparted by the Arab lecturers. They gave their best abilities during their workshop presentations.

WAMY is the world’s largest Muslim youth organization with various affiliated Muslim youth associations from different countries. Its primary goal is to preserve the identity of Muslim youth and help overcome the problems they face in modern society.

Every four years, WAMY hosts international conference, pooling selected Muslim youth leaders from all over the world, where current issues affecting young Muslim are discussed and strategies are crafted to overcome those concerns.

WAMY-Philippines is based in Cagayan de Oro. It implements projects benefitting Bangsamoro youth from different parts of the country.

MILF: BTC urges Senate and House of Representatives to hasten passage of BBL

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 13): BTC urges Senate and House of Representatives to hasten passage of BBL

In a special session held in Davao City last January 9, 2014, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) passed Resolution No. 01, Series of 2015, urging the leaders of both the House of Senate and House of Representative to hasten the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law Law (BBL).
In said resolution, the BTC mentioned the circumstances related to the BBL that it submitted to President Benigno Aquino III and turned over to the leadership of both Houses of Congress in a formal ceremony at MalacaƱan Palace on September 10, 2014

The purpose of the BBL according to the said resolution are to establish an effective and efficient autonomous government in the Bangsamoro, and to undertake the processes of normalization, participation in the affairs of government and nation building, and the formation of genuinely principled political parties, in time for synchronization with the 2016 Presidential elections;

The proposed BBL when enacted by Congress shall address the needs and aspirations of the people in the Bangsamoro and consonant to the letter and spirit of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

CPP/NDF: Release of 3 prisoners of war (POW) in Surigao del Norte cancelled due to AFP’s refusal totemporarily pull-out COPD operatives

NDF propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Jan 15): Release of 3 prisoners of war (POW) in Surigao del Norte cancelled due to AFP’s refusal totemporarily pull-out COPD operatives
Maria Malaya
NDFP Northeast Mindanao Chapter
The NDFP-NEMR regrets to inform the relatives and friends, the Third Party Facilitators and the general public that the release on January 17, 2015 of the three (3) Prisoners of War, namely PO1 Jorie M. Amper, PO3 Democrito B. Polvorosa, and PO1 Marichel U. Contemplo, negotiated between the NDF and the emissaries of DILG, is cancelled due chiefly to the AFP’s refusal to temporarily withdraw their COPD operatives from the area.

To facilitate the safe and orderly release of the 3 POWs and to avoid possible encounter between the NPA and the AFP, the NDFP-NEMR requested that AFP units conducting COPD operations in Barangays Sico-sico and Camam-onan, Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte to temporarily withdraw to their base camp in Brgy. Mahanub, Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte, even as the personnel of the Brgy. Sico-sico detachment remain in place.

Despite negotiations, Brig. Gen. Jonathan Ponce, head of the Army’s 402nd Infantry Brigade, refused to meet this request, a position that seriously endangered not only the lives of the 3 POWs but of their family and loved ones and others who wish to attend their actual release. Having been informed of this, the NDFP-NEMR deemed it necessary to call off the release and ordered the NPA Custodial Force to relocate to a safer place.

The release of the 3 POWs was meant to be a gesture of peace during the Papal visit and in response to the ardent request of the family to be reunited with their loved ones. This is also a confidence building-measure for the resumption of the peace talks between the NDFP and the GPH.

With these three reasons, the AFP should not have found it difficult to consider the simple request of the NPA Custodial Force, the family, the local Third Party Facilitators, the Local Crisis Committee of the Surigao del Norte province, the Chairman of the Peace and Order Council of Caraga Mayor Ferdinand “Jun”Amante and, most especially, the office of the DILG Secretary. In spite of the AFP’s outright refusal, we thank all those who genuinely gave effort to somehow make the release possible.

CPP/NDF-CNL: CNL statement on Pope Francis visit

NDF propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Jan 14): CNL statement on Pope Francis visit

Christians for National Liberation
The Christians for National Liberation, together with all progressive Christians and the broad masses, welcomes and highly anticipates the upcoming visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines. Dubbed as the “People’s Pope”, Christians who fight for national sovereignty, social justice and genuine democracy can be inspired by the Pope’s life of loving service to the “least, lost and last” of society. As an “activist Pope”, Francis has shown to us the life of authentic discipleship: living a life of simplicity and embracing the struggle of the poor and marginalized. The Pope’s visit can strengthen the pro-people Christians’ to put into practice the church’s social teachings and encourage them to emulate his life of loving service while cognizant of the conservative and reactionary dogmas and positions of the institutional Church.

In line with the Pope’s visit to the Philippines, CNL wishes to highlight the following important points:

1. Support and put into practice Pope Francis’ teachings and statements that are beneficial to the Filipino people.

Ever since he assumed the papacy, Francis is consistent in making pronouncements and formulating teachings that are pro-poor. Immediately after his election as Pope, Francis declared: “I want a church that is poor and for the poor!” In his first Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (EG), Francis reminds Christians of their primary task of serving the poor: “Our faith in Christ, who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members.” (EG 186). Similarly, in an international gathering of grassroots social activists Pope Francis directed them to to struggle against the “structural causes” of poverty and inequality, with a “revolutionary” program drawn from the Gospels: solidarity entails “struggling against the structural causes of poverty, inequality, the lack of work, land and shelter, the denial of social and labor rights.”

Social transformation and being on the side of the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized has always been at the heart of the Pope’s teachings: “Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society. This demands that we be docile and attentive to the cry of the poor and to come to their aid.” (EG 187)

2. Emulate Pope Francis’ pro-poor stand and his life of simplicity and loving service.

Church people can draw strength from the Pope’s progressive views to continue serving their communities and fighting evil and oppression in society. In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis reiterates the task of pastoral workers in the church: “today we are seeing in many pastoral workers, including consecrated men and women, an inordinate concern for their personal freedom and relaxation, which leads them to see their work as a mere appendage to their life, as if it were not part of their very identity” (EG 78). He reminds church leaders to “obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’. He sees the centrality of service to the poor as the key to our Christian identity: “there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them.” (EG 48) “Spiritual conversion, the intensity of the love of God and neighbor, zeal for justice and peace, the Gospel meaning of the poor and poverty, are required of everyone.” (EG 201). To concretize his pro-poor stand and his life of simplicity, the Pope remarked that he prefers “a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” (EG 49)

3. Learn from Pope Francis’ sharp criticism of the evils of the capitalist system.

In a speech delivered before Italian bishops, the Pope asked the bishops to be “ready to re-examine the current model of development that exploits creation, sacrifices people at the altar of profit and creates new forms of marginalization and exclusion.” He vehemently condemns the economic system that is “centered on the god of money” which also needs to plunder nature in order to maintain the frenetic pace of consumption inherent in it. He emphasized the urgent need to critically evaluate the structural causes of so much inequality “which robs us of work, housing and land.”
Capitalism, which Pope Francis calls “an economy of exclusion by an idolatrous system of money” tends to “devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market.” (EG 56)

We need to learn from the Pope’s teaching that “as long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of the markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems because inequality is the root of social ills.” (EG 202)

4. Raise outstanding socio-political issues in our country and link the broadest number of the Church sector to the struggle of the basic masses.

True to his class and being subservient to the dictates of his true “bosses”— the U.S. government, big comprador bourgeoisie, the big landlords and corrupt bureaucrats— Aquino is the ultimate puppet of U.S. imperialism and the great defender of bureaucrat capitalists. In so doing, he blatantly neglects and abandoned the poor and marginalized sectors of society.

Through the Papal visit, the Filipino people hope to draw attention to the pressing problems of poverty, exploitation of workers, land monopolies and feudal oppression, the wide gap between the super-rich ruling elite and the rest of the toiling people, human rights violations and the widespread use of state terror against the people.
Pope Francis’ visit to the country could bolster the Filipino people’s pursuit for justice. In particular, the church people are fed up with Aquino’s lies and deception. Aquino’s continued support for neoliberal economic policies reveals his utter disregard and detestation towards the toiling masses. Progressive church people and people’s organizations can take this occasion to show to the global community the real situation of the country: hunger, joblessness, low wages, landlessness, rising prices of basic commodities and poverty.

The Aquino government’s utter neglect and abandon of Yolanda victims must be exposed during the Pope’s visit to Tacloban. The present administration must be held accountable for the criminal negligence of the Aquino regime to the more than 8,000 people who died and disappeared during super typhoon Yolanda last November 8, 2013.

We also hope that Pope Francis who took on the name of St.Francis, the saint of peace, will impart a clear message that the roots of armed conflict is addressed, social justice is attained to have just and lasting peace.

5. Arouse, organize and mobilize the church people to participate in the national democratic revolution

In Evangelii Gaudium, Francis cautioned pastoral workers who espouse certain pessimistic attitude: “Some people do not commit themselves to mission because they think that nothing will change and that it is useless to make the effort. They think: ‘Why should I deny myself my comforts and pleasures if I won’t see any significant result”? (EG 275) He reminded the pastoral workers on what authentic faith is all about: “an authentic faith—which is never comfortable or completely personal—always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it.”

In his address to the World Meeting of Popular Movements, Pope Francis highlights the importance of the “culture of encounter in the service of poor persons, of poor peoples and of this poor Church for the poor.” He sees in popular movements the indispensable contribution to the building of a more just and fraternal society: “we the poor want to take hold of our own destiny, and the Church wants to accompany this in the process.”

Heeding Pope Francis’ observation that “the poor not only suffer injustice but they also struggle against it!” we must therefore exert extra effort to arouse, organize and mobilize members of the church—bishops, priests, religious and laypeople in the urgent call to oust the landlord president. We make a vow to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the vast majority of workers, peasants, urban poor, women and the youth.

Lastly, may we find strength in these words by Pope Francis after a meeting with activists in Rome: “Dear sisters and brothers continue with your struggle, you do good to us all. It is a blessing of humanity!”

The Pope’s visit is an opportune time for church people to re-examine their Christian commitment of loving God and loving their neighbour by joining all progressive and patriotic forces in waging the national democratic revolution. Genuine revolutionary change will only happen by putting an end to the oppressive, exploitative, corrupt and U.S. backed Aquino regime.

CPP: Solidarity with the Filipino people during visit of Pope Francis

Propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Jan 13): Solidarity with the Filipino people during visit of Pope Francis

Communist Party of the Philippines
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) expresses solidarity with the Filipino Catholic faithful in welcoming the head of the Roman Catholic church Pope Francis who is set to arrive on Thursday for a four-day visit to the Philippines.

In solidarity with the Filipino people, the Central Committee of the CPP has earlier declared a five-day ceasefire effective from 12:01 am of January 15 to 11:59pm of January 19.

On the occasion of Pope Francis’ visit, the Filipino people seek to draw his attention to the outstanding problems of widespread poverty and hunger, oppression and exploitation, large economic gaps between the ruling elite classes and the toiling masses, extremely low wages, landlessness and landgrabbing, homelessness and subhuman living conditions in colonies of poor communities, bureaucratic corruption, obscene profit-making by big business partners of the government, destruction of the environment by big capitalist interests, political persecution, torture, militarization and state violation of human rights and violations of Philippine sovereignty.

Close to 500 political prisoners and their families and friends seek the help of Pope Francis in their quest for justice and freedom.

Survivors of supertyphoon Yolanda and other calamities seek the Pope’s compassion as they expose the criminal neglect of the Aquino government and demand a just rehabilitation program that gives premium to the interests of the poor peasants, fisherfolk and workers.

Workers and ordinary employees hope to get the Pope’s sympathies as they struggle for the restoration of a national minimum wage and an increase in monthly wages to P16,000 to enable their families to live decent lives. They also clamor for an end to the demolition of their homes and communities as the government serves big private interests.

The toiling masses trust that Pope Francis will favor their clamor for an end to the policy of privatization and deregulation which has favored big business to the detriment of the people’s access to education and public health services as well as to essential public infrastructure, including mass transportation, electricity, water, the internet and others.

Peasant masses also seek Pope Francis’ assistance in their struggle to own the land they till and putting an end to landgrabbing by landlords, mining companies and plantations.

The CPP supports the Filipino people in their quest for social justice and to draw Pope Francis’ attention and garner his support their cause. The CPP castigates the Aquino regime for overly militarizing the so-called security preparations in an attempt to prevent many people, especially the downtrodden, from seeking Pope Francis’ support.

The CPP acknowledges Pope Francis’ criticisms of social injustices and abuses by the economic and imperial powers, and sees bases for cooperation between the revolutionary forces and progressive-minded church people in advancing the cause of the poor and the oppressed.

Kiram’s death won’t stop Sulu Sultanate from claiming Sabah

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 15): Kiram’s death won’t stop Sulu Sultanate from claiming Sabah

The untimely death of Raja Muda Agbimmudin Kiram, the commander of the more than 200 Royal Sulu Force (RSF) fighters who assaulted Lahad Datu in 2013, will not stop the Sulu Sultanate from pushing its claim over Sabah.

Abraham Idjirani, secretary general and spokesman of the Sulu Sultanate, said that Sultan Esmael Kiram II is standing pat on the sultanate’s claim over Sabah from Malaysia through peaceful negotiations.

“His (Agbimmudin) death does not mean an end to the search for the peaceful resolution of our Sabah claim in order to establish a peaceful co-existence of people among nations,” Idjirani said in an interview.

“As long as there are existing genuine Kirams — royal children of the administrator of North Borneo, the claim will remain now spearheaded by Sultan Esmael Kiram II,” added Idjirani.

In fact, Idjirani said that Sultan Esmael II is currently reorganizing traditional leaders — panglima, majarajah, religious leaders and the youth sector,  as part of the peaceful efforts to pursue the Sabah claim.

“He is taking the multisectoral approach in the reorganization, involving all stakeholders in the Sulu archipelago to include Christians,” said Idjirani.

“The Sultan supports calls for negotiation,” he added.

Agbimmudin, who is next to Sultan Esmael Kiram II in the royal hierarchy, died on Tuesday at his residence in Simunul, Tawi Tawi due to heart attack.

According to Idjirani, Agbimmudin would be succeeded by his younger brother Datu Phungkal Kiram as raja muda or crown prince.

In February 2013, Agbimmudin led more than 200 fighters of the RSF in a daring assault of Lahad Datu, in an attempt to reclaim Sabah from Malaysia.

The assault has the blessing of his elder brother, the late Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, as the sultanate asserted ownership of Sabah. Jamalul died of ailment in October 2013 and was succeeded by Sultan Esmael II, now the incumbent head of the sultanate.

Dozens of RSF members and Malaysian authorities were killed during the fighting that dragged on for several weeks with Tausug fighters throwing support to the sultanate’s supporters.

There were reports then stating that Agbimmudin was killed during the fighting but such information turned out to be false.

Other reports said that Agbimmudin managed to sneak out of Sabah, evading pursuing Malaysian troops at the height of the conflict.

Troops go into high alert for papal visit

From the Manila Standard Today (Jan 15): Troops go into high alert for papal visit

The country’s security forces have been placed on high alert several hours before Pope Francis arrives today for a five-day visit.

The military would be strictly implementing a no-fly zone beginning today (Friday), even as the police has mobilized its intelligence forces and tracker teams to strengthen its security for the Catholic leader and his entourage and the expected huge crowd awaiting the Pope’s arrival.

The military said it would use its ground and air assets to “shoot down” any aircraft or other flying objects such as drones violating the pre-declared no-fly zone areas which may pose danger to the security and safety not only to Pope Francis but to the people.

Ready for Sunday. This aerial shot shows the Quirino Grandstand,
where Pope Francis will be celebrating mass on Sunday. Danny Pata

We do not want that (shooting) drones) to happen but that is part of the defense system,” Philippine Air Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Enrico Canaya said Thursaday.

The PAF, in coordination with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) have declared as no-fly zones the areas where the Pople is expected to hold public appearances and hold masses in Metro Manila and in Palo and Tacloban cities in Leyte.

In Metro Manila, declared as no-fly zones are the areas in and around the Quirino grandstand, the Mall of Asia and the University of Sto. Tomas, places where the Pope are scheduled to conduct masses.

The Pope’s flying routes from Manila to Leyte have also been declared as no-fly zones.

“We’ll provide air cover that’s why we are informing the public now that we will strictly enforce no fly zone on aircrafts and drones. As much asmpossible we do not want to use force,” Canaya said.

Approaching aircrafts will be forewarned and encroaching aircrafts in the no fly zone will be shot, Canaya added.

“Make no mistake because there are variety of approaches that we can do. We have gunships and armed aircraft and even surface to air guns. These things we do not want to use as much as possible, “ Canaya said.

The PNP, on the other hand, said it has created task units (Tus) from ten major police offices that would be mobilized in various parts of the country to detect, investigate and thwart attempts by terror groups and criminal gangs out to sow violence during the Pope’s religious activities.

PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group director Benjam Magalong,  said the main objective of the TUs is to ensure “zero untoward incident” during the Pope’s visit, as outlned by PNP Officer-In-Charge Deputy Director Gen. Leonardo Espina.

Among the units tasked to fulfill that mandate are the heds of the Intelligence, Operations, Investigation, Legal, Administrative, Logistics offices of the PNP.

Magalong, who was tasked to oversee the Tus, said the task units are composed of 77 investigation personnel, with 88 personnel and 17 investigation teams.

“The CIDG, as part of its mandated task, shall provide wide scale coverage during the Pope’s state visit and Apostolic journey, in support to the Presidential Security Group (PSG), the lead agency handling the safety of the Pontiff,” Magalong said.

At least thirty eight CIDG agents and investigators were assigned to Tacloban and Leyte to investigate cases and incidents which may disrupt and affect the Pope’s visit in the Leyte. The CIDG agents will work alongside the PNP Special Operation Units (SOU) which had been mobilized ahead of the Pope’s arrival.

Magalong said the CIDG will complement the operations by other law enforcement agencies tasked to secure the Pope, and will include deployment of undercover intelligence agents from the Armed Forces and other PNP units.

The PNP said the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and intelligence forces from the Vatican had also sent their personnel ahead of the Pope’s visit as part of the overall security preparations.

Meanwhile, President Benigno Aquino III personally inspected three areas where the motorcade of Pope Francis will pass by in Metro Manila when he arrives today.
Accompanied by Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Aquino began the inspection at 1 a.m. Wednesday, making the rounds at the Villamor Airbase, Apostolic Nunciature, LRT-Quirino Station, and Orosa street where the main entrance for devotees who will attend the mass at Luneta on Sunday is located.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Aquino noticed that a boom crane in Torre de Manila was facing Luneta and ordered that it be turned to the opposite side.
The President also noted that there was no security at the STI building near the Papal Nuncio residence and asked for policemen to be deployed there.

“The President has been on top of the situation. The President is hands-on, and when we say hands-on, the President has met very, very regularly with all the agencies concerned,” Lacierda said.

“Those minute observations - you could see how the President monitors and is very mindful of the surroundings,” he added.

The President on Monday said that while there is no direct threat to the safety of the Holy Father, the government is not taking chances and is “touching base with allies” such as Interpol and other member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations “to identify any threat whatsoever coming from any direction.”

In particular, he said Interpol has a watchlist of all individuals, not just Filipinos, who may have gone to Syria and Iraq to train with the terrorist network ISIS.

“There are thousands who are waiting for the convoy of the Holy Father, and the millions who will participate in the mass at Luneta. Crowd surge in an excited bid to get nearer to the Pope might trigger chaos,” Aquino said.
“As for direct thr
eat, there is none. But we need to remember the sheer number of people who will attend - some might want to shake his hand, touch his frock, or even ambition to have a selfie with the Pope.”

“There are those generic threats, and the Pope has also made statements on conflicts across the globe that might be seen as a challenge by those perpetrators sowing terror,” he added.

He said as much as 50,000 soldiers and police, or 20 percent of all government forces, have been deployed to secure the Pope.