Sunday, March 22, 2015

PHOTOS | Military wants MILF training camp in Iligan dismantled

From InterAksyon (Mar 18): PHOTOS | Military wants MILF training camp in Iligan dismantled

The entrance to the camp of the MILF's 103rd Base Command in Iligan City

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines -- (UPDATE - 1:45 p.m.) The military has formally recommended to the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities that a training camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s 103rd Base Command in Iligan City be dismantled.

The recommendation to the CCCH, a joint government-MILF body that oversees a long-running ceasefire, said the camp, located near the boundary of Sitio Limonsodan, Barangay Waterfalls in Rogongon, Iligan poses a potential threat to the local Higaonon community in case armed conflict breaks out in the area.

Photos of the camp were provided to by the Army’s 4th Mechanized Infantry Battalion, which is based in Lanao del Norte.

Gate and guardhouse 

In an interview, Colonel Gilbert Gapay, commanding officer of Army's 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, told their recommendation stemmed from a complaint lodged before the Iligan City council by Datu Lantung Ko Limunsudan, or Higaonon chieftain, Deodato S. Abugan Sr. that MILF fighters under Abdul Sango Amoran of the 305th Guerilla Unit allegedly recruited 85 Higaonon tribesmen and Maranaws from Bukidnon and brought to the camp from May 16 to 31 last year.

"Based on testimonies, each applicant was required to pay P800 to P1,000 and was considered a graduate even without training," Gapay said.

He added that "one of the training committee members identified as Datu Saripada is a member of the (joint government-MILF) local monitoring team."

Obstacle course 

Gapay, who visited Sitio Limunsudan on March 12, said another training was conducted at the camp on January while yet another session is planned by the MILF within the month.

He said the training that began January 7 involved 90 Higaonon and Maranaw farmers working at a palm oil plantation in Barangay Ulamon, Tagoloan III, Lanao del Sur who were supposedly promised five hectares of land each if they signed up with the MILF.

"Armed MILF were sighted in the area on several occasions and they are under the 105th Base Command of the Northwestern Mindanao Front,” Gapay added.

The 105th Base Command is the same unit whose fighters engaged commandos of the police Special Action Force in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in the course of the January 25 government operation to get Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan.”

Marwan is said to have been killed but the ensuing clash also left 44 police commandos, 18 MILF fighters and at least five civilians dead, and the Mindanao peace process hanging in the balance.

Obstacle course

"As an assessment, the action initiated by the MILF may be considered provocative acts under the implementing operational guidelines of the GRP-MILF agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities as it endangered the safety and  security of the people and disturbed the tranquility of the community particularly the Higanonon tribe" Gapay said.

Gapay and Lieutenant Colonel Anton Abrina of 4th Mechanized Infantry Battalion gave a security briefing for members of the Iligan Bay Chambers of Industry Tuesday afternoon.

They urged the businessmen to be vigilant and intensify their monitoring to prevent any possible sabotage of their facilities and establishments.
Gapay said Iligan City remains at a Level 2 alert status, meaning the situation remains “normal.”

He also gave assurances that the military continues to be engaged in peacekeeping even as it continues to undertake preventive measures against any possible outbreaks of violence in Iligan City and Lanao del Norte.

A hoop trainees are supposed to jump through

MILF admits setting up camp in Iligan

From the Manila Times (Mar 22): MILF admits setting up camp in Iligan

THE Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) admitted on Sunday that it has a military camp in Iligan City, Lanao del Norte.

It made the admission after the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) lodged a complaint against the rebel group before the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities for maintaining a training camp in Iligan.

Col. Gilbert Gapay, commander of the Philippine Army’s 2nd mechanized Infantry Brigade, earlier called on the MILF to dismantle the camp.

“It’s a violation of the ceasefire provisions, actually it came to our attention when the local populace made an official complaint requesting the intervention of the military on the presence of armed elements in their area,” Gapay said.

But Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for political affairs, said the camp in Iligan is not a training facility but is used to orient people on various issues such as the Bangsamoro Basic Law and ceasefire mechanisms.

He added that it is common for a revolutionary movement to set up such facility.

Gapay also earlier said civilians have reported the alleged training of recruits in the camp.

“We verified the report and we found out that there was an MILF training facility at the boundary of Iligan and Lanao del Sur,” he added.

Gapay disclosed that his troops took some photos of the training facility.

“It threatens the people themselves, armed personalities are roaming the area and conducting training and recruitment,” Gapay said.

Under the ceasefire agreement, Gapay explained, the MILF should not establish new camps because there are only two recognized camps–Bilal and Bushra.

“There should be status quo. No recruitment, no force build-up, no capability build-up, no expansion of areas,” he said.

Who’s afraid of BBL?

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 22): Who’s afraid of BBL?

COMPREHENSIVE AGREEMENT   President Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak witnessed the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the Philippine government represented by chief negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer (seated right) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) represented by its peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal (seated left) on March 27, 2014. Also in photo are Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles (right), MILF Chair Murad Ibrahim (left) and Abdul Ghafar Tenku Mohamed. LYN RILLON

COMPREHENSIVE AGREEMENT President Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak witnessed the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the Philippine government represented by chief negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer (seated right) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) represented by its peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal (seated left) on March 27, 2014. Also in photo are Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles (right), MILF Chair Murad Ibrahim (left) and Abdul Ghafar Tenku Mohamed. LYN RILLON

The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was up for congressional approval this month following MalacaƱang’s schedule. Then the Mamasapano tragedy happened. The bill remains pending at the committee level in both chambers of Congress, with legislators promising to scrutinize it carefully.

The Mamasapano incident, which exacted a heavy death toll on both the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has nothing to do with the bill but it has amplified fears of what the BBL will create. These fears must be addressed.

1 Will the BBL carve out an independent territory in Mindanao?

Legal pundits have charged that the proposed BBL will create a substate and is therefore unconstitutional. Will it? The BBL will indeed create the Bangsamoro region that will enjoy an enhanced autonomy that other regions do not enjoy but it is far-fetched to consider this as the genesis of a separate state.

The Bangsamoro won’t deliver the four essential criteria to become a state, as set by the Montevideo Convention. It will have a permanent population, a defined territory and a government but not the capacity to enter into relations with other states—the fourth criterion. That power will remain lodged with the central government.

Amid debates on the BBL, it is instructive to know why the Supreme Court struck down the memorandum of agreement on the ancestral domain (MOA-AD), negotiated by the Arroyo administration and the MILF, as unconstitutional. The high court pointed out that the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), which the MOA-AD would have created and which would have authority and jurisdiction over the Bangsamoro ancestral domain and lands, was essentially a state because it met the four criteria of a state as laid down by the Montevideo Convention.

The BJE would also have an associative relationship with the central government. An associated state, according to the Supreme Court, is a status conferred on states that are on their way to full independence. The 1987 Constitution does not recognize the concept of association, allowing only the creation of autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras.

The Bangsamoro autonomous region can have a bigger territory than the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), depending on the results of the plebiscite. It will also have more avenues to raise revenue. While the Bangsamoro will have an asymmetric relationship with the central government, which will give it a status higher than that of a local government unit or administrative region, it will remain under the control and supervision of the President.

2 What will happen to the ARMM?

The BBL will repeal the laws that established the ARMM, thereby abolishing it, but the leaders of the Bangsamoro that will replace the ARMM will not start from scratch. The BBL will transfer the powers, assets and personnel of the ARMM to the Bangsamoro, although offices created through laws passed by the ARMM’s legislative assembly will be gradually closed.

The BBL provides for a period of transition from the ARMM to the Bangsamoro, which will be overseen by the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the interim government. Under MalacaƱang’s original schedule, there would have been roughly a year between the dissolution of the ARMM and the first election for the Bangsamoro parliament in May 2016. However, as the BBL remains pending at the committee level in Congress, with approval possibly in June yet, the BTA will have limited time to draft and implement a transition plan. Legislators may consider lengthening the transition period so the shift will be smooth.

3 Will the BBL create a separate Moro police force?

Certainly not! The Bangsamoro Police the BBL will create will be part of the Philippine National Police, with all its officers to come from it. The Bangsamoro Police will replace the ARMM regional police that was established on the basis of Republic Act No. 6975 that allows the PNP to establish regional offices.

The BBL will also create a Bangsamoro Police Board, from which the Bangsamoro Police will get directions. This won’t be a deviation from RA 6975 either, as the law allows the National Police Commission (Napolcom)—which exercises administrative control and operational supervision over the PNP—to also establish regional offices. The Bangsamoro Police Board will be part of the Napolcom; it will replace the ARMM Napolcom.

The chief minister will chair the Bangsamoro Police Board and will have operational control and supervision over the Bangsamoro Police, similar to local chief executives who have been deputized by RA 6975 as Napolcom’s representatives in the local government units.

The chief duties of the Bangsamoro Police will be to enforce the laws of the republic and the Bangsamoro, maintain law and order, ensure public safety, prevent crimes, arrest criminals, conduct searches and seizures, and initiate drives for the registration or surrender of loose firearms. The regional police group will be headed by a director.

4 What will happen to the weapons of the MILF?

The BBL will institutionalize the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro that spells out the decommissioning process of the MILF’s weapons and combatants. The decommissioning process is not written in the proposed BBL but is dependent on the bill’s passage so without the law, the MILF is unlikely to decommission its weapons and demobilize its combatants.

The MILF is not setting a precedent here. Like other peace processes worldwide, the decommissioning process gets delayed if the political settlement hits a snag. This explains the MILF’s assertion that it remains a revolutionary force and will continue to be so until its command and control structure over combatants is dismantled.

Four days after the Mamasapano incident, the members of the government and MILF peace panels approved the implementing guidelines of the decommissioning process, signifying their determination to see the peace process through.

Based on the guidelines, the decommissioning will be done in four phases: the ceremonial turnover of 75 high-powered weapons will mark phase one; the decommissioning of 30 percent of MILF weapons and combatants will  take place in phase two; 35 percent in phase three; and, the last 35 percent in phase four.

The turnover of high-powered weapons was originally scheduled in February but this has also been delayed following the BBL impasse. The first phase may be ritualistic at most, but without this, the two parties cannot proceed to phase 2, which should be completed by the time the BBL is ratified by voters in the areas that will comprise the Bangsamoro.

5 Will the MILF turn into a political party after approval of the BBL and renounce armed struggle?

The MILF has said that until its peace agreement with the government is implemented, it will remain a revolutionary organization. It has, however, prepared for its participation in the future Bangsamoro by forming the United Bangsamoro Justice Party that will join the new region’s first parliamentary election. The establishment of a political party is the best evidence the MILF can show its willingness and enthusiasm to participate in mainstream politics.

Preparation to handle the reins of government has also been made via the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute, the MILF’s training center for the Bangsamoro’s future leaders. This will be tested as the MILF heads the BTA. The proposed BBL provides that the MILF, “being the principal party to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, shall lead the BTA, in its leadership and membership.”

The BTA will have 50 members, all to be appointed by the President. An interim chief minister will also be appointed. The BTA will exercise legislative authority and the interim chief minister, executive authority.

6 Won’t the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) undermine the BBL?

It may get worse before things get better. Various groups may see it in their interest to sustain the Mindanao conflict and spoil the political process that underwrites a lasting peace in the region.

The International Alert’s Bangsamoro Conflict Monitoring System provides the hard evidence: Violent conflicts in the ARMM’s five provinces rose to 1,702 in 2014 or by 55 percent from the year before amid more clashes between the military and MILF on one side and the BIFF on the other.

The MNLF is, at best, a divided force. The Misuari-led faction rejects the BBL and feels excluded. The Zamboanga siege of 2013 demonstrated its resolve to block the GPH-MILF peace deal. Meanwhile, the BIFF is an MILF-splinter group that insists upon the establishment of an Islamic and separate Moro state. These groups will continue to undermine the peace in Muslim Mindanao, and may even, in the future, forge alliances with other disgruntled political elites.

However, with the leadership of the MILF and its forces in alliance with the government, it becomes simply a matter of time before these groups are won over or neutralized. Dealing with excluded groups such as indigenous peoples or rival rebel armies requires the building of strong alliances to govern the region—following the practice of local strongmen and “men of prowess” of Mindanao in the past. This is the bigger challenge for the MILF.

7 Will the Bangsamoro provide a haven for terrorists?

Terrorists will always find a safe haven where uncertainty, insecurity, instability and the lack of development persist. These make the Bangsamoro and other poor regions potential safe havens for terrorist activity. Peace, stability and development must be secured in Mindanao and the rest of the Philippines. Thus, it is crucial that peace processes with the MILF and the Communist Party of the Philippines-News People’s Army are relentlessly pursued.

The key ingredient in stemming extremism and terrorism is the ability of a strong and responsive government to meet the basic needs of its people and provide the security and protection that everyone desires. Until these conditions are met, the Armed Forces of the Philippines will have to deal with internal threats instead of focusing its intelligence efforts and firepower on the growing external threats in the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region.

Those who feel that the MILF is synonymous with the Bangsamoro will find hope in the former’s repeated denunciation of terrorism and its clear commitment and the demonstrable evidence of its participation and partnership with the government’s security forces in neutralizing terrorist groups and criminal gangs in the region.

8 Will the BBL require a huge item on the national budget?

The national government will shell out more to the Bangsamoro than to the ARMM to allow it to catch up with the other regions of the country. At the same time, the BBL will allow the Bangsamoro government to calibrate its revenue-earning powers to be able to spend on things the region needs and will need.

The national government will provide the following:

P1 billion for the transition from the ARMM to Bangsamoro

An annual block grant representing the region’s share from the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s (BIR) net internal revenue collections

Special development fund amounting to P7 billion in the first year after the BBL’s ratification and P2 billion per year from the second to the fifth years; and

Development funds, which will finance infrastructure and other development projects including provincial and municipal roads, in the first year following the BBL’s ratification and five years thereafter.

The 2016 annual block grant, computed at 4 percent of the BIR’s net internal revenue collections three years prior and less the local government units’ internal revenue allotments, will amount to P27 billion, the government has said. This, plus the transition and special development funds, will add up to P35 billion, higher than the P24.3-billion ARMM budget for this year.

The BBL will greatly expand the Bangsamoro’s sources of revenue. The Bangsamoro government will be able to collect capital gains, documentary stamp, donor’s and estate taxes, which the ARMM now cannot do. It can collect tolls on bridges and roads and a portion of the income tax from corporations headquartered elsewhere but doing business in the Bangsamoro.

The Bangsamoro government will also keep its share in the income from natural resource use as well as the national government’s 25-percent share in the taxes, fees and charges collected in the region for 10 years.

9 Will the BBL bring development to the region?

It promises to. Recognizing the region’s backwardness after decades of conflict, the BBL provides that, “The Bangsamoro government, with funding support from the central government, shall intensify development efforts for the rehabilitation, reconstruction and development of the Bangsamoro as part of the normalization process.” Normalization refers to the transformation of conflict-affected communities into peaceful, progressive communities.

The Bangsamoro government shall also promote economic development. It shall create a Bangsamoro Sustainable Development Board, composed of representatives from the Bangsamoro and central governments, which will harmonize environmental and development plans. It will draft a Bangsamoro Development Plan and, for this purpose, create an economic planning office.

The promise of peace and economic development through the BBL has piqued the interest of investors and donors in the Bangsamoro and other parts of Mindanao. Indeed, some people believe that the principal benefit of the peace agreement and the BBL will be an increase in aid and investments in other parts of Mindanao, before businesses begin putting their money in the Bangsamoro.

The growing interest and willingness of domestic business groups and foreign investors to invest in Mindanao are now threatened by the delay in the passage of the BBL. In the final score, the loss of these investments and their impact on jobs and livelihoods and the promise of genuine human development will be a far bigger tragedy than Mamasapano.

(Eddie Quitoriano is a member of the Mindanao Multi-Stakeholder Group  [MMG]. Drawn from the private sector, community groups, clans, local government, indigenous peoples and research outfits, MMG is a think group that explores the links between violence and exclusion from a multistakeholder perspective, building on the “Inclusive Peace in Muslim Mindanao: Revisiting the Dynamics of Conflict and Exclusion” study published by International Alert in 2009. )

IMT Head of Mission visits WestMinCom

From the Zamboanga Today Online (Mar 22): IMT Head of Mission visits WestMinCom

The Head of Mission of the International Monitoring Team - Mindanao 10 (IMT-M10) on Friday visited the Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) headquarters at Camp Navarro in Calarian, Zamboanga City.
IMT-M10 Head of Mission Maj. Gen. Datuk Sheikh Mokhsin Sheikh Hassan and other IMT members paid a courtesy call to WestMinCom chief Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero after an arrival honor of visiting military official.
During the visit, the IMT-M10 Head of Mission told Guerrero about Malaysia’s commitment in monitoring and observing the ceasefire between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
On March 14, the team arrived at the Awang Airport in Cotabato City on a C130-owned Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) before being taken to the IMT-M headquarters located about five kilometres away.
The team was welcomed by top officials of the Government of Philippines-Ad hoc Joint Action Group (GPH-AHJAG) and the Government of Philippines-Coordinating Committees for the Cessation of Hostilities (GPH-CCCH).
Bernama reported that in line with the IMT-M slogan of “Together We Make It Happen”, Sheikh Mokhsin said he was optimistic and confident that his team was capable of carrying out the responsibilities entrusted to them with dedication and discipline.
“We will continue to tread the path of excellence of the previous team in ensuring that the peace process can be achieved in the near future,” Sheikh Mokhsin told the Malaysian news agency.
The IMT-M10 comprises 16 members, of whom 11 are from the Malaysian Armed Forces (ATM), two from Royal Malaysian Police and three others are civil servants from the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Opinion: ‘Jabidah’ was a big hoax

Opinion piece in the Manila Times (Mar 22): ‘Jabidah’ was a big hoax (by Roberto Tiglao)

First of three parts

The so-called “Jabidah massacre” has been the biggest hoax foisted on this nation.

It is a yarn spinned in 1968 by treasonous politicians of the Liberal Party at that time as a propaganda weapon intended to deal what they thought would be a fatal blow to Marcos’ bid for reelection the next year.

In another demonstration of the law of unintended consequences, the just organized Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) then used the allegation to rouse Muslim youth’s anger so they would rally to the fledgling organization, which the more powerful Muslim traditional politicians refused to support.

The MNLF (and its breakaway group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front) ably mythicized Jabidah to become, as an academic put it, the “sacral moment invoked from time to time to mobilize the Muslims to the movement’s cause.” Misuari portrayed it as the culmination of genocidal attacks against the Moros; therefore, a Bangsamoro—an independent nation-state of the Moros—is necessary.

The mythicization of Jabidah has been so successful that even President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd and supporters of his Bangsamoro Basic Law have falsely, cruelly compared the Mamasapano massacre of 44 police commandos to the nonexistent “Jabidah massacre.” In their ignorance and stupidity, they are spitting on the graves of our fallen heroes who fought for the Republic.

How stupid can this president get: It was his father, then senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., who actually debunked the allegation of a Jabidah Massacre from the very start. His statements on this are preserved in the annals of the Senate as his privilege speech delivered March 28, 1968:

The so-called “Jabidah massacre” was the purported murder on Corregidor island on March 18, 1968 of 24 Muslim Tausug recruits being trained by the military to infiltrate Sabah and foment there an uprising among their ethnic group against the Malaysian government. According to the plan called Operation Merdeka (Freedom), hatched by Marcos’ armed forces, the uprising would be the excuse for the Philippine military to invade Sabah, which the Philippines had declared to be part of its territory. At that time, our country had a more powerful military than that of the new nation Federation of Malaysia, founded only in 1963.

Aquino on the Senate floor: “No massacre on Corregidor.”

Aquino on the Senate floor: “No massacre on Corregidor.”

Two dozens of the Muslim youths who were recruited for Merdeka were purportedly killed because they decided to resign, complaining of poor food and low salary.

In the MNLF’s myth-making though, the reason was changed into a noble one, that the Muslims refused to fight their brother Muslim Malaysians. It was a clever revision of the fictional story. When the top-secret Merdeka was exposed to the public, Sabah’s first Chief Minister Tun Mustafa was livid, and would fund the MNLF and allow them to use Sabah as their refuge and base. Mustafa even arranged for 201 MNLF cadres, including the present chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Murad Ibrahim, to be trained in Sabah by former British Special Action Service offices, which formed the Muslim organizations’ officers’ corps. The growth of the Muslim insurgency is, therefore, to a very large extent, due to Malaysia’s help.

The allegation of a massacre was made when former Cavite governor Delfin Montano, one of Marcos’ fierce political enemies, had one Jibin Arula, supposedly one of the Muslim recruits, file charges March 28 at the Cavite Court of First Instance against Army major Eduardo Martelino and 10 other officers and soldiers whom he alleged were involved in the purported atrocity.
One single witness to ‘Jabidah’

Arula would be the sole person ever to allege that he witnessed the massacre, and the fact that he was “handled” by Montano — who hated Marcos for having him defeaed in the 1967 gubernatorial elections — would be an important element in piecing together what Jabidah was really about, as I will discuss in the second part of this series.

In his suit, Arula claimed that with 24 other Muslim trainees, he was ordered to line up at the airstrip in Corregidor in the wee hours of March 18, 1968, and then shot by their trainers. He claimed that he was hit in the leg, so he managed to run, roll down a hill, hide in the bushes, and swim for hours as he himself put it in “shark-infested” Manila Bay until he was rescued hours later by fishermen – who promptly brought him to Montano.

Aruba’s account was so fantastic, reminding one of an action movie, that it was obviously scripted as part of a well-planned plot. How could a poor, illiterate Muslim who was shot (in the leg) on March 18 go through a near-death trauma and five days later file a case against the military in a Cavite court? Even rich victims of crimes take months to file a case against ordinary citizens, and longer against those in power, such as the military.

I am not the first to have investigated “Jabidah” and to arrive at the inescapable conclusion that it was a hoax, which I first wrote about in March 2013.

National artist Nick Joaquin (as Quijano de Manila), then a journalist writing in the most respected magazine at that time, the Philippine Free Press, narrated based on his interview with Ninoy. “Upon interviewing Arula, the sole witness to the alleged massacre, Aquino 2nd realized that for a second-grade dropout, this self-styled survivor of an alleged massacre had an amazing ‘photographic memory’ – he cited a litany of 48 names in full and retraced the elaborate unfolding of events, including the departure of the exact number of men from the camp, batch after batch.”

It was academic Arnold Azurin who was the first writer in recent years to question “Jabidah” in a 1994 Philippine Free Press article, which was expanded into a chapter in his book “Beyond the Cult of Dissidence.”

It is certainly one of the curious features of modern society that myths and so-called urban legends survive for decades.

Four congressional investigations by different committees were undertaken, all of which couldn’t establish that there was a massacre. Note that this was four years before Martial law, when the country’s democratic processes were so vibrant, and the opposition was powerful both in Congress and in media.

Aquino didn’t join the mob

Ninoy though, didn’t join the mob condemning the “massacre.” Like a good journalist, which he was before, he went to Jolo to check the facts, to look for the relatives of the Muslim youths purportedly massacred.

From the facts he gathered himself, Ninoy raised serious, even fatal, doubts on Arula’s claim, in his famous privilege speech at the Senate March 28, 1968, which had the misleading title “Jabidah! Special Forces of Evil?

Ninoy in his speech explained his conclusions:

“This morning, the Manila Times, in its banner headline, quoted me as saying that I believed there was no massacre on Corregidor. And I submit it was not a hasty conclusion, but one borne out by careful deductions.”

“After interviewing the self-asserted massacre survivor, Jibin Arula, doubt nagged me that there had, indeed, been a massacre… In Jolo yesterday, I met the first batch of 24 recruits aboard RP-68. This group was earlier reported missing – or, even worse, believed ‘massacred’ … William Patarasa, 16 years old, one of the (Muslim recruits’ leaders) denied knowledge of any massacre.” (Emphasis supplied)

What were these deductions? According to Aquino:

• “What would have been the motive for the ‘massacre?’ Some quarters have advanced the theory that the trainees were liquidated in order to silence them. But then, 24 boys have already shown up in Jolo safe and healthy. To release 24 men who can spill the beans and liquidate the remaining 24 ‘to seal’ their lips would defy logic.”

• “Arula’s fears, which in his place may be considered valid, may not be supported by the recent turn of events. (The) twenty-four recruits (allegedly massacred) have turned up (alive in their home province.)” (Emphasis supplied.)

There hasn’t been a single victim of the “Jabidah massacre” ever identified. For an ethnic group known for his tight, expanded kinship system, no relative has ever claimed his brother, son, cousin, or husband was killed in Corregidor.

Yet, Ninoy’s son in his speech in 2013 when a commemorative plaque was installed in Corregidor for those killed in the fictional “Jabidah massacre’ said: In March 1968, my father exposed the Jabidah Massacre.

What kind of president is this to claim that his father exposed the massacre, when his father’s speech plainly debunked it? (Google it to read it yourself.)

We don’t have to believe Ninoy’s conclusions, though. Just examine the facts — what happened to Arula, what happened to the military officers charged, and what happened to the Jabidah allegations subsequently? I’ll discuss these on Wednesday, and the very sad reason why the Jabidah allegations were hurled in the first place.
FB: Bobi Tiglao

Military confirms Abu Sayyaf sub-leader shot dead by Sahiron’s kin in Sulu

From the Zamboanga Today Online (Mar 21): Military confirms Abu Sayyaf sub-leader shot dead by Sahiron’s kin in Sulu

The military’s Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) on Friday confirmed that one of the sub-leaders of the Abu Sayyaf group was shot dead by his comrade in Talipao town in the province of Sulu.
In a statement, Capt. Rowena Muyuela, WestMinCom headquarters spokesperson, said ASG sub-leader Khalid Sali was shot to death by Yasser Sahiron at his temporary encampment in Barangay Bud Bunga.
Sali was a known follower of Radullan Sahiron, a one-armed al-Qaeda-linked militant leader who has a $1 million bounty on his head put up by the US government, which considers the group a foreign terrorist organization.
The military also tagged Sali as a former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) integree who joined the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division early 2000 and defected to the Abu Sayyaf groupside in 2008.
“Information received from ground units disclosed that a sub-leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group was killed by his nephew,” said Muyuela.
Muyuela also said reports revealed that Sahiron was brainwashed by ASG sub-leaders Furuji Indama and Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan who alleged that his uncle (Khalid) was a military informant.
“Subsequently, Sahiron proceeded to the creek and shot Khalid’s group, resulting to Khalid’s death and wounding of four others, one of whom was identified as Juljimar Halon who suffered serious wounds,” she added.
It was learned from Muyuela that the group of Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Sawadjaan planned to move towards Indanan, Sulu, after the series of law enforcement operations launched by the Joint Task Group Sulu.

Delay in promotion of Army general in Mamasapano raid draws flak

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 21): Delay in promotion of Army general in Mamasapano raid draws flak
The bicameral Commission on Appointments’ deferment of the promotion of a military general following the bloody Mamasapano operation has been drawing flak from peace advocates in Mindanao.

On social media, some Facebook accounts owned by these peace advocates now use photos of Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, chief of the 6th Army Infantry Battalion, as profile images, which they said manifested their expression of silent protest to the move—initiated by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano.

Pangilinan’s promotion to lieutenant-general was stalled at the CA at the behest of Cayetano last week.

“I know it’s a disappointment for you today, but I hope you understand that as you didn’t want to make a mistake, we also don’t want to make a mistake,” Cayetano told Pangilinan then.

For the peace advocates, Pangilinan was made to suffer for his bias towards the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

“Cayetano is denying the promotion of soldiers who are risking their lives in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao in exchange for his own political popularization and for political self-interest,” Jokey Solaiman, a government employee, said.

Prof. Octavio Dinampo, a peace worker in Sulu, said for doing his job, Pangilinan is now being punished with the denial of a well-deserved promotion.

Lawyer Suharto Ambolodto of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) has described Pangilinan as among the finest Army generals.

“Not everyone is given the honor to stand on a post to keep everybody safe. Not everyone is honored with the burden of command. Not everyone bear the burden of command well. God bless MGen Edmundo Pangilinan, one of the finest Army General in the Philippines,” Ambolodto said on a Facebook post.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu said the Provincial Peace and Order Council even passed on Thursday a resolution expressing the province’s “voice of concurrence to Pangilinan’s promotion.”

Assam Ulangkaya, a government employee and former journalist, said: “Gen Pangilinan sir, your stalled promotion (because of) Sen. Alan Cayetano’s opposition is just a temporary setback. You gained the respect of all peace loving people in the region. Our prayer is that you will eventually win your well-deserved promotion.”

Aftermath of Botched Philippines Raid Should Concern Washington

From the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Mar 19): Aftermath of Botched Philippines Raid Should Concern Washington (by Gregory B. Poling)

The Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force launched a raid on January 25 in Mamasapano on the southern island of Mindanao that killed wanted terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, known as Marwan, but at the cost of 44 police commandos’ lives. The operation has caused a firestorm in the Philippines, threatening the peace deal the government reached with Moro rebels in January 2014. It has also shaken faith in the Benigno Aquino administration, with opposition lawmakers calling for the president’s impeachment. But the fallout could end up as more than just a domestic crisis and bears watching by U.S. policymakers.

After the raid, Philippine commentators began speculating about U.S. involvement. The Philippine National Police on March 13 released its report about the Mamasapano operation, followed four days later by the findings of a Senate panel of inquiry. Both reports confirmed that U.S. troops did not engage in combat but were involved in training, intelligence gathering, advising, and monitoring the operation. The troops also provided equipment and, according to the police report, medical assistance. The police inquiry found that U.S. support helped commandos “elude large enemy formations, thereby avoiding further casualties.”

But the narrative in the Philippines has not focused on the benefits of U.S. support in the operation. Instead, lawmakers and the public have expressed concern about the unusual level of access for U.S. personnel during an operation about which even the interior secretary and the acting chief of police knew nothing. They have also questioned whether U.S. pressure to capture or kill Marwan pushed the Aquino administration into the operation. Mamasapano has poured fuel on the fire for those distrustful of U.S. intentions and opposed to an increased American military presence in the country—something that was already stoked by the trial scheduled to start next week of U.S. Marine Scott Pemberton for the murder of transgendered Filipina Jennifer Laude.

Both Manila and Washington have trumpeted the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in April 2014 as the cornerstone of a new era in the bilateral security relationship. The agreement would see rotations of U.S. ships, planes, and personnel at Philippine bases, much as U.S. Marines have been doing in Darwin, Australia, in recent years. That rotational presence will allow greater joint training opportunities, boost Philippine capacity, and provide the United States with a forward-deployed presence to respond rapidly to crises in the region. It might also provide an additional deterrent to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, and is therefore crucial to Manila’s goal of establishing a “minimum credible defense” posture to discourage Chinese adventurism.

The defense security agreement still needs to survive a challenge before the Philippine Supreme Court. Filipino legal experts largely agree that by the strict letter of the law, the court should find the agreement constitutional. But concerns bred by Mamasapano could well feed into any concerns the justices might have about the access granted by the agreement. And with the Philippine judiciary still not an entirely apolitical institution, the weight of public pressure or opposition from influential lawmakers, especially just a year out from a presidential race, cannot be discounted.

Mamasapano could also have long-term implications for whether and to what degree the Philippines can be the security partner the United States hopes it can be. The Aquino administration has made modernizing the navy and air force a top priority, recognizing that the Philippine military must look more to external threats than internal ones. The assumption that the peace process in the southern Philippines will be successful has underpinned that modernization effort. A lasting peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would not resolve all of Manila’s internal security concerns—it would still have the communist New People’s Army, the Abu Sayyaf terrorist network, and several Moro splinter groups with which to contend—but it would allow a significant realignment of forces and focus.

Now the fate of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which would implement the peace deal reached last January ending decades of conflict between the government and the MILF in Mindanao, is uncertain. Lawmakers have attacked various provisions amid anger over the MILF role in the Mamasapano clash, and deliberations on the bill have been suspended until late April.

The successful implementation of the peace deal is crucial to allow the Philippine army to bring more force to bear against the more radical Moro groups that trouble Mindanao and against the Abu Sayyaf group. The military has been prosecuting a campaign with MILF support against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Front since Mamasapano, and another against Abu Sayyaf since December. The campaigns have severely damaged both organizations, but at a terrible cost, with nearly 100,000 civilians displaced. That should provide a sobering warning about the kind of damage renewed war with the MILF could cause.

The United States has a vested interest in seeing Abu Sayyaf destroyed—one that drove the 14-year-long Operation Enduring Freedom–Philippines and that has come into renewed focus since Abu Sayyaf fighters began swearing allegiance to the Islamic State. Washington ended Operation Enduring Freedom last July, in recognition of its success in largely eliminating the threat of international terrorism in the southern Philippines.

On February 24, U.S. soldiers in Zamboanga City on Mindanao held a ceremony to officially deactivate Joint Special Operations Task Force–Philippines, though some U.S. troops are to remain in the Philippines to advise and assist in the fight against Abu Sayyaf. The collapse of the peace process with the MILF would seriously deteriorate the Philippine military’s capacity to press the fight against Abu Sayyaf. That in turn could undermine the successes that have allowed the U.S. drawdown of involvement in the southern Philippines.

The Mamasapano raid and its aftermath have presented the Aquino administration with the greatest challenge it has faced. The potential domestic damage is far reaching. But Washington should not view the matter as one affecting only domestic Philippine political and security concerns. Mamasapano could have very real long-term consequences for U.S. interests.

(This Commentary originally appeared in the March 19, 2015, issue of Southeast Asia from Scott Circle.)

[Gregory Poling is a fellow with the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.]

‘US must be wary after Mamasapano’

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 22): ‘US must be wary after Mamasapano’

The United States should keep an eye on the divisive effects of the bloody Mamasapano incident as it could have consequences for US interests in the Philippines, particularly on the antiterror operations against the Abu Sayyaf extremist group that recently swore allegiance to the terrorist Islamic State (IS).

Writing in the newsletter of Washington-based think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Gregory Poling cited the possible effects of Mamasapano on the Mindanao’s peace process, which could in turn derail the Philippine military’s campaign to eliminate the Abu Sayyaf.

The US, the country’s oldest and strongest defense ally, has been supporting the Philippines’ counterterrorism efforts, stepping up the partnership, particularly in the wake of the Sept. 11, World Trade Center attack in New York.

And while the Unites States deactivated its Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines in Zamboanga City last month, as Poling noted, US troops remain on the ground “to advise and assist in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf.”

“The Mamasapano raid and its aftermath have presented the Aquino administration with the greatest challenge it has faced. The potential domestic damage is far-reaching,” said Poling, whose analysis appeared in the March 19 issue of the CSIS publication “Southeast Asia from Scott Circle.”

“But Washington should not view the matter as one affecting only domestic Philippine political and security concerns. Mamasapano could have very real long-term consequences for US interests,” he said in the article, “Aftermath of Botched Philippine Raid Should Concern Washington.”

The Jan. 25 operation to arrest Malaysian bombmaker Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as “Marwan,” led to the massacre of 44 elite police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos by Muslim rebels. Three civilians died as did 17 rebels from the attacking Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) secessionist group and other groups. Marwan was also slain in the encounter.

Noting how Mamasapano “has also shaken the faith in the Benigno Aquino administration, with opposition lawmakers calling for the president’s impeachment,” Poling said the fallout could end up as “more than just a domestic crisis and bears watching by US policymakers.”

Affect AFP campaign

Poling, a fellow with the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies and the Pacific Partners Initiative at the CSIS, cited how the breakdown of the peace process could undermine the Armed Forces of the Philippines campaign against the Abu Sayyaf.

He noted the threats to the peace process as a result of Mamasapano, including the misgivings of several politicians about the Aquino administration and how it handled the operation, doubts about the sincerity of the MILF, the government’s dialogue partner in the talks, and the withdrawal of support for the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The draft legislation, which is meant to implement the peace agreement that the government signed with the MILF last year, is awaiting approval by Congress where many legislators have questioned its constitutional infirmities.

“The collapse of the peace process with the MILF would seriously deteriorate the Philippine military’s capacity to press the fight against [the] Abu Sayyaf. That in turn could undermine the successes that have allowed the US drawdown of involvement in the southern Philippines,” said Poling.

He said defeating the Abu Sayyaf was a matter of utmost interest to the US.

“The United States has a vested interest in seeing the Abu Sayyaf destroyed—one that drove the 14-year-long Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines and that has come into renewed focus since Abu Sayyaf fighters began swearing allegiance to the Islamic State,” Poling said.

Philippine view

The Abu Sayyaf pledged allegiance to the jihadist group last year just as the world saw the Islamic State’s escalating atrocities, including the execution of hostages of different nationalities.

Poling also cited how US involvement in the Mamasapano operation was being viewed in the Philippines. Reports of both the Philippine National Police board of inquiry and the Senate have shown how Americans were involved in training the operatives, the surveillance during the assault and the extraction of the dead and wounded.

“…[T]he narrative in the Philippines has not focused on the benefits of US support in the operation. Instead, lawmakers and the public have expressed concern about the unusual level of access for US personnel during an operation about which even the interior secretary and the acting chief of [the national] police knew nothing,” said Poling.

MILF: Grassroots Peace Monitors Network launches first General Assembly

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 22): Grassroots Peace Monitors Network launches first General Assembly

Grassroots Peace Monitors Network launches first General Assembly

An alliance of peace organizations held their first general assembly at Kadtuntaya Foundation Incorporated (KFI) Training Center last  March 18, 2015. 

The  group named Grassroots Peace Monitoring Network (GPMN) aims to consolidate grassroots monitors from different organizations in support to the peace process and ceasefire mechanisms, to gather and provide accurate  and up-to-date information on safety and security of civilians and ensure protection of civilians from harm and human rights abuses.

The launching was attended by  more than thirty (30) organizations mostly from Central Mindanao.

In his speech,  MGEN Datuk Sheik Mokshin Hassan, Head of Mission of International Monitoring Team Batch 10 (IMT-10), he expressed his support to the peace process between the Government of the Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (GPH-MILF). He said that the IMT will continue to carry out their responsibilities within its given mandate based on three principles; integrity,
impartiality and objectivity.

“We join with you in your prayers for a just and lasting peace insha Allah.”  he said. 

Let us pray for one another and love one another. We should always pray for the safety, love and brotherhood for and among all Muslims, Christians and the Indigeneous Peoples (IP). he added.

He further stressed “that peace is the only battle worth waging. If you cannot find within yourself, you will never find it anywhere else. Peace and trust take years to be built. But it takes only seconds to be destroyed.”

“Peace does not mean mean an absence of conflict. Differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences  through peaceful processess, dialogue, education, confidence building and other civilised ways.” Maj.Gen. Hassan explained.

BGEN Carlito Galvez AFP, Chairman of Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (JCCCH) said in his speech that he is very happy to have seen the efforts of Civil Society Organization (CSOs) in coming up with the GPMN.

“The Mamasapano incident taught us the value of coordination between and among us. If we have had coordination ahead  of time, ther could have been immediate action extended.” said Galvez.

“In the ceasefire, prevention is very important.” he added.

He reiterated that the Mamasapano incident is very tragic for the GPH and the MILF and all the people of Mindanao

“This forum is a life-saving endeavor where we can prevent similar event like the  Mamasapano incident.” he stressed. 

Atty Haron Meling, Chief Executive Assistant to Chairman Mohagher Iqbal of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) said in his speech that he appreciates the efforts of the CSOs by realizing peace network like GPMN. 

“This is a very timely endeavor towards the search for peace in Mindanao.”  said Meling.

“The founding of this very good endeavor is a moral booster to all believers of peace.” he added. 

The GPMN from multi-sector and diverse organizations will converge and consolidate its efforts-in one solidarity to support the peace process particularly the ceasefire mechanism by monitoring and ensuring that the rights of civilians are protected and that the hard-earned relative peace we experience today shall continue to be enjoyed by all fro a longer period of time.

MILF: “Must we wait for another 34 years, hundreds of thousands more dead Filipinos and millions more homeless and traumatized by war”?: Rep. Sitti Djalia Hataman

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 22): “Must we wait for another 34 years, hundreds of thousands more dead Filipinos and millions more homeless and traumatized by war”?: Rep. Sitti Djalia Hataman

“Must we wait for another 34 years, hundreds of thousands more dead Filipinos and millions more homeless and traumatized by war”?: Rep. Sitti Djalia Hataman

During her privilege speech delivered at the House of Representatives on March 20, in commemoration of the 47th Anniversary of the March 18, 1968’s infamous Jabidah Massacre at Corrigidor Island, Anak Mindanao Party-list Representative Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman, asked this question, “Must we wait for another 34 years, hundreds of thousands more dead Filipinos and millions more homeless and traumatized by war”? 

The complete details of Rep. Hataman privilege speech run as follows: 

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, honorable members of the House of Representatives, ladies and gentlemen, Assalamu alaikum Warahmatullahi taala Wabarakatuh. Good afternoon.

“Over the last eight years as a result of the so-called Muslim Mini-War in the Philippines, more than hundred thousand Filipino Muslims have lost their lives, over two hundred fifty thousand have come as refugees in the neighboring Sabah State of Malaysia, and more than one million have been displaced and rendered homeless…”

These words, ladies and gentlemen, are not new. In fact, they are not mine. These were from a speech given by Ninoy Aquino in Jeddah in May 1981— 13 years after the Jabidah Massacre, which happened March 18, 1968. Today is its 47th Year Commemoration. Again I quote:

“On the other side, according to President Marcos himself, about ten to 11,000 thousand Filipino soldiers have been killed over the last eight years as a result of the battle in the Southern Philippines…the Philippine government under President Marcos calls the Muslim fighters as rebels, he calls them outlaws, he calls them insurrectionists, and he calls them secessionists or far worst – traitors to the Philippines. The Muslims on the other hand see themselves as patriots, as holy warriors, birth right of self-determination from infidel attacks. It is most unfortunate that Filipinos are fighting against Filipinos today.”

These words, uttered 34 years ago, rings true to this very day. So we ask: why? What did we miss? What have we not learned?

From 2002 to 2013 alone—prior to the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2014—3.5 million Filipinos were displaced, a large majority concentrated in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. 3.5 million Filipinos—that is more than twice the population of the city of Manila.

Must we wait for another 34 years, hundreds of thousands more dead Filipinos and millions more homeless and traumatized by war?

We need Peace and we need it now. We, who have long been living in fear and conflict. We, who are more familiar with the sounds of guns in our fields than the sounds of bells in our schools; we, who are more experienced in building tents in evacuation areas than building decent homes in our communities.

We need peace, we need it now, and this Peace we hold in our hands, honorable members of this august body.

Perhaps, for many of us legislators, and for majority of our fellow Filipinos, the Bangsamoro Basic Law is just a piece of legislation. But for us, the Bangsamoro people, this is the key to our aspirations, the recognition of our rights and identity, an acknowledgement of the historical injustices committed against us as a people, a recognition of our history and heritage, an acceptance of who we are and that we do not need to give up our identity to belong to this nation, that we are as much a Filipino as any other Filipino.

This is what the BBL is to us. It is a product of foremost, 17 years of negotiations between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and second, because it seeks to preserve and build on the gains of the previous peace agreements, the BBL contains almost 40 years of peace talks.

But even as such, we know it is not perfect and that as legislators, it is our duty and responsibility to scrutinize every line, every word, every letter of the proposed law. By all means, let us do that. Our only prayer is for us to not lose sight of what this piece of legislation is all about – an integral component of a peace process, an enabling law towards the realization of a peace agreement. Thus, our earnest appeal, to remain consistent with the spirit of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

Yes, we understand the anger after Mamasapano and we are one with the nation in calling for justice for all the victims, including the innocent civilians, most especially, the 8 year old girl, Sarah Panangolang, who died in the same incident. Justice is due to every soul, regardless of faith, or sex or age or line of work.

But must we choose between Justice and Peace? Must we give up one in favor of the other? Is there no way we can give Justice to all who claim it and still give Peace to those who seek it? Can’t Justice and Peace come together, especially when this Peace is also in response to the decades of and continuing Injustices committed against those who yearn for it?

Some of us say, because of Mamasapano, we must give up the BBL. Napakadali pong sabihin, ngunit napaka hirap pong pakinggan at tanggapin para sa amin na halos buong buhay ay inalay na sa usaping pangkapayapaan na siyang nagbunga ng BBL. I started as a peace worker in 1997, then as a student activist. Five children after, we are now about to see a conclusion to the peace talks, only to be hostaged by an incident which is neither our fault nor something we asked for.

Some say because of Mamasapano, we must give up the BBL, because the MILF cannot be trusted. I am not an MILF Your Honor, I cannot speak in their behalf. But allow me to speak as a Moro Filipino.

September 2008, during the Holy Month of Ramadhan, the Mandi family were onboard one of the boats ferrying civilians who left their village upon seeing military planes hovering above them. With their parents, were the Mandi children Aida 17, Bailyn 10, King 8, Dayang 6, and Faiza 1 year old. All of them died, together with their father, when their boat was hit by a rocket from one of the planes of the Philippine Air Force. This was in Datu Salibu, Maguindanao.

As a Moro I ask, was there a nationwide demand for Justice for them? Was there a call to stop the peace talks because the Philippine government cannot be trusted based on the actions of some of its troops? I ask, magkaiba po ba ang halaga ng buhay nila sa buhay ng iba nating kababayan? Sila, na mga inosenteng sibilyan, at walang sinumpaang tungkuling paglingkuran ang bayan? Their only fault was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and yet, only a few human rights and peace advocates were interested to know their story and seek justice for them, which to this day, has not been served.

As a Moro I ask, will we, as a people, be made accountable for the Mamasapano incident? Will we be held responsible for what some of us think the MILF did?

Yes, the BBL is a product of the peace process between the GPH and the MILF, but what it contains is the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people, and not solely the interests of the MILF. Although we were not in the formal structures of negotiation, we as peace workers and advocates of the Bangsamoro people’s right to self-determination have ownership of the BBL. It is an ownership we claim regardless of what the MILF or the GPH or whoever thinks or says so.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law is not just about the MILF. It is about us. That is why, when we hear questions like, “Do they have the capacity to run a regional government? Are you ready for democracy? How can we entrust such and such to them?” These questions are not only directed to the MILF Your Honors, but also to us, Moro members of this august body, us, you all refer to as your esteemed colleagues.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law, as contemplated in the Comprehensive Agreement is not a solution that will only temporarily stop the bombs and the bullets. More than anything, it is about us trying to create a solution that will allow us to live alongside each other peacefully, while working towards our political, economic, social and cultural development, the realization of our right to self-determination.

It is not just another piece of legislation. We can have all the brilliant lawyers argue as to the legal provisions and their interpretations, but we pray that we also consider, how much it means to us as a people, the historical perspective of the Bangsamoro struggle it seeks to address. Kilalanin nyo po ang Bangsamoro, kilalanin niyo po kami. Now more than ever, we call for a deeper understanding of the Bangsamoro people and their cause, for the greatest injustice we legislators can do, is to enact or not enact a law, for a people we do not know, we did not care to know.

Lastly, allow me to humbly remind all of us, that enacting the BBL will not give rise to the Bangsamoro regional government, the decision of the people will. As legislators, our duty is to deliberate and enact the best law we can offer them, a law that will best serve the interest of everyone, not just the Bangsamoro and Mindanao but the whole country and our people. But at the end of the day, it will be them who will have the final say, whether or not to accept the law we passed. But to end it now, to not enact the law, is to decide for them and deny them that opportunity to make the decision.

Yesterday, the Honorable Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and other members of this House, met with the delegates of the Basilan Young Leaders Program. They were asked, what do they think of those who say the BBL is not the answer to the Muslim Mindanao problem. One young woman in her early twenties stood up and said, “Taga Basilan po ako, taga doon. Siguro po, kung may nakakaalam kung ano ang makabubuti o hindi para sa amin, kami po yun..” Another young man stood up and said, he himself was a victim of the armed conflict caught in a crossfire, and after narrating his story asked, “Ano po ba ang mawawala sa inyo kung ibigay nyo sa amin ang Kapayapaan?”

Sana, lahat tayo, ay magkaroon ng pagkakataong marinig sila. Listen. Hear. And so as I end my message, I appeal to everyone, to please, just listen and let us allow ourselves to absorb what each is saying, without the need to urgently respond or ask, just allow our words to sink in until it reaches our hearts.

And this time, instead of just hearing ourselves, may I ask each one of us to listen, to these people, men, women and children of Maguindanao, displaced by the recent conflict in their homeland. Sana po, Sila, hindi kaming mga politiko o ang mga rebolusyonaryo ang maalala natin sa tuwing pinag uusapan ang Kapayapaan para sa Bangsamoro.

AFP suspends offensive to give way to grad rites

From ABS-CBN (Mar 21): AFP suspends offensive to give way to grad rites

[Video report]

The Armed Forces of the Philippines will suspend its offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters for three days to give way to the graduation rights of students in Maguindanao.

601st Brigade Commander Col. Melquiades Feliciano said this was decided at a peace and order council meeting held Thursday.

“Everyone agreed that it’s our primary concern also that the students should have their time to graduate and will not be disturbed due to the ongoing offensive operations of the military and police,” Feliciano said.

“The days that we agreed on will be starting on the 25th or the 24th of this month, and I believe it’s a three-day SOMO (suspension of military operations) by the military and the police,” he added.

He said the BIFF pursuit operations will not be affected by the SOMO, as the BIFF are no longer in the towns where graduation rights are set to take place.

Feliciano likewise mentioned that based on reports they have received from their various sources, approximately 140 members of the BIFF have been killed in the military offensive.

Around 40 of them, meanwhile, are injured, he said.

ANC Dateline Philippines, 21 March 2015

MILF camp now abandoned, but intact

From the Philippine Star posted to ABS-CBN (Mar 22): MILF camp now abandoned, but intact

The newly discovered training camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) located in the hinterlands of Iligan City has been abandoned but its facilities are still intact, an Army commander said yesterday.

“It’s now abandoned. There’s no occupant at the said place for now,” said Col. Gilbert Gapay, commander of the Army’s 2nd Mechanized Brigade based in Iligan City.

Gapay’s unit responded to the complaints of tribesmen in the area regarding the presence of armed men roaming around their communities.

Gapay endorsed the complaint to the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) after learning that the MILF had set up a training camp in the area.

He said the training facility was not among several MILF camps recognized under the peace agreement.

Gapay said he could only assume that the facility, being maintained as reported by the MILF’s 103rd Base Command under Commander Abdul Sango Amoran, is currently unoccupied .

Gapay reiterated that reporting the existence and the immediate dismantling of the MILF training camp is in accordance with the existing peace process and ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF.

While the government has recognized areas and camps controlled by the MILF, the rebel group has agreed not to put up additional camps in other areas as part of the ongoing peace efforts to deescalate the conflict in Mindanao.

“I have coordinated this matter with Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez, our CCCH head, and a joint inspection team is now being formed to verify and inspect the area soon,” Gapay said.

Gapay and his men took photographs of the training facility.

Higaonon tribal leader Deodado Abugan Sr. earlier filed the complaint before the Iligan City peace and order council, showing photos of the training camp with white stone markers laid out the ground in an open clearing welcoming guests to the MILF’s 103rd Base Command.

Aside from obstacle courses, a makeshift guardhouse and a pile of wooden rifles being used for training, the troops also obtained a sample of the ID cards identifying the occupants of the area as belonging to the 305th Unit Guerilla Operation of the MILF’s 103rd Base Command, North-Eastern Mindanao Front, Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF).

The ID read “305th Unit, Guerrilla Operation, Taguloan, Amai Pak-Pak Province.”

Gapay said they have gathered that two batches of recruits composed of 80 and 72 recruits, mostly non-Muslim indigenous people, including the Higaonons, the tribesmen residing in the area, have already completed their military training supervised by the MILF at the camp.

There were reports that the supposed MILF guerrilla unit had promised five hectares of land to each recruit once the Bangsamoro Basic Law is passed.

The report added that each recruit was required to pay P800 before he can undergo the military training at the camp.

Located near the boundary of Lanao del Sur where the MILF has two huge camps in Butig town – Camp Bila and Camp Bushra – the training camp can only be reached via Cagayan de Oro City, then through Bukidnon on the Palacat route and not directly from Iligan City.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, Armed Forces of the Philippines-Public Affairs Office chief, said a Joint Site Verification Mission was created with members of the joint ceasefire committee, the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), and the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT), along with local officials and tribal leaders.

Cabunoc said the people behind these activities are only fooling the indigenous people because in the first place the land in the area is part of the ancestral domain of the Higaonon tribe.