Wednesday, September 30, 2015

AFP condemns NPAs endless use of landmines

From the Philippine Information Agency (Sep 30): AFP condemns NPAs endless use of landmines

KITAOTAO, Bukidnon, September 29 — After the latest bomb attack that wounded five soldiers in Bukidnon, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) strongly condemned the communist New People’s Army’s (NPA) non-stop use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) or landmines.

“We condemn, to the highest degree, the NPA’s continuous use of landmines despite their being a signatory to the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), especially that these explosives are being planted along residents’ trails,” said Ltc. Lennon G. Babilonia, Commanding Officer of the 8th Infantry Battalion.

In the recent attack in Barangay Pagan, Kitaotao, Bukidnon, he said, the troops were conducting security and pursuit operation when hit by the IED planted by communist New People’s Army (NPA) under Guerilla Front 53, Southern Mindanao Regional Committee (SMRC) who are believed to be responsible in the aborted liquidation attempt of Barangay Captain of White Kulaman—the neighboring village of Barangay Pagan.

It can be recalled that the day before the blast, the army’s 8thIB thwarted the NPAs plot to kill the village chief.

The troops encountered 15 heavily armed NPA rebels while White Kulaman Barangay Captain Felipe S. Cabugnason and his Council members were on a community dialogue on the outskirts.

In a statement, Ltc. Babilonia said the NPA has betrayed people’s trust and defied humanitarian law, and it is very disappointing because the explosion happened on September 20, the day before the celebration of the “International Day of Peace” which is set to be celebrated on the 21st of September.“In the spirit of peace, the NPA has violated their commitment on respect for human rights. It only proves that they are not sincere in bringing peace and development to the rural areas,” Ltc. Babilonia said.

Lumad from Agusan: NPA, not military, responsible for killings

From Rappler (Sep 30): Lumad from Agusan: NPA, not military, responsible for killings

The other side of the story: Lumad leaders from Agusan del Sur talk about the abuses by the National People's Army

(L-R) Jesse Acevedo, former NPA rebel Marcial Belandres, and Datu Martin Acevedo talk about the abuses done by NPA rebels to lumads in some parts of Mindanao. Photo by David Lozada/ Rappler

(L-R) Jesse Acevedo, former NPA rebel Marcial Belandres, and Datu Martin Acevedo talk about the abuses done by NPA rebels to lumads in some parts of Mindanao. Photo by David Lozada/ Rappler

Amid reports of the Philippine military’s alleged killings and abuses of the Lumad, the indigenous people of Mindanao, a group of Lumad leaders from Agusan del Sur claimed that it is the New People’s Army (NPA), not the military, who is responsible for the killings.

In an exclusive interview with Rappler on Wednesday, September 30, Martin Acevedo, a datu from Prosperidad, La Purisima in Agusan del Sur province, said that in their area it is the NPA who make trouble and kill Lumad.
The NPA imposes taxes on civilians. They charge each family a monthly tax of P10. Say you have 4 children, you'd have to pay P20 monthly – P5 per head. If the civilian can't pay, they compute the price for their life,” Acevedo said. (READ: TIMELINE: Attacks on the Lumad of Mindanao)
He added: “Once they finish computing – and the farmers still can’t pay – the NPA will catch them and kill them in the mountain, where the graves can’t be found. That’s what they did in our area.”
Martin, whose father and two siblings were allegedly killed by the rebels in 1992, said no Lumad in their area has joined the NPA, mainly due to the military’s presence.
“Despite the NPA’s aggressive recruitment, nobody from our place went with them because we made the people in our area understand what would happen to them there,” he added.
Military as friends
“The military are our friends because they give us ways to improve our livelihood, while the NPA only imposes taxes,” said Jesse Acevedo, younger brother of Datu Martin.
According to Jesse, the NPA has given the Lumad nothing but pain and hardships. He claimed that in January 2014, NPA rebels burned the Lumad's rubber plants and livelihood materials because of their insubordination.
“Why did the NPA burn the plants we need for our livelihood? Understand that the goals of the NPA are not to promote our welfare but to take advantage of the Lumad. If we continue to be recruited by them, it will come back to haunt us,” Jesse said.
Farmers who do not pay the “revolutionary taxes” imposed by the rebels, according to Jesse, are either kicked out of their land or killed.
“So we'd rather just pay because we have nowhere else to go. In some areas, like in Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur, if we are unable to pay the tax, the NPA will kill us. On the government's end, their only instruction to us is to let our children go to school and to continue to protect our children’s future,” Jesse said.
He added: “I can promise you that it is not the military who cause the problems because they give us help with livelihood and education for our children.”
Opposing sides
The statements of the two datus contradict reports that Lumad in Surigao del Sur are being killed and displaced by paramilitary and military personnel.
PROTEST. A multisectoral group holds a protest outside the House of Representatives to protest the Lumad killings. Photo by Vincent Go/Rappler
PROTEST. A multisectoral group holds a protest outside the House of Representatives to protest the Lumad killings. Photo by Vincent Go/Rappler

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has repeatedly denied the military’s involvement in the incidents. AFP Chief General Hernando Iriberri, during the budget hearing for the Department of National Defense (DND) on September 8, denied that the Magahat Bagani Force paramilitary group, mainly accused of the killings, is working with the 36th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.
Rights groups like Karapatan and Kalumaran have repeatedly accused and condemned the government for allegedly perpetrating the killings.
UP Professor Winnie Monsod earlier accused leftist groups of using the Lumad to their advantage, for which she was slammed by Lumad and rights groups.
Two United Nations special rapporteurs Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Michel Forst already urged the Aquino government to investigate the killings in Mindanao, calling the issue “unacceptable, deplorable.”
The Senate Subcommittee on Justice, led by Senator Teofisto Guingona III, has already scheduled a hearing on the Lumad killings on Thursday, October 1, in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur.
Marcial Belandres, a member of the NPA for 25 years before surrendering to the government, told Rappler that the abuses reported by the Acevedos continue till now.
“There are still a lot of CPP-NPA in Surigao. They have rights groups there that they call legal but the backing are actually illegal. I witnessed, and sometimes participated, in the wrongdoings of the NPA,” Belandres said.”
He added that he surrendered to government forces because he wanted a better life for his family.
“Now that I am on the government’s side, I am being treated well. I am given food and help to send my child to a proper school,” said Belandres, who is being hunted by the NPA.

‘We need to understand Lumad culture’
Lawyer Levito Baligod, who brought the Lumad to Manila, said the government needs to understand the Lumad culture better before making any drastic decisions. (READ: Is the military innocent in Lumad killings?)
“The problem is that the government is lost on how to understand the situation. If the government will render their support to the Lumad datus, who signed a manifesto against the NPA, we can solve the problem. The datus themselves are already asking help from the government,” Baligod, who rose to fame during the pork barrel scam, said.
Baligod pointed to the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) statement a few days back which said that the baganis were responsible for the Lumad killings.
“The baganis are the Lumad's warrior class, next to datus (chieftains) and baylans (priests). They are cultural guards. There are baganis who sided with the NPA and there are those who were assigned to defend their tribes. We cannot generalize,” he added.
The lawyer added that he is trying to link with the government the Lumad who came to him for help.
“We will try to ask the government to provide protection for the Lumad people because if the government is not present in their areas, the CPP-NPA would easily be able to enter, infiltrate and impose their will,” he said.
Call out
The Acevedos and Belandres are calling on other Lumad tribes to veer away from the NPA.
“I can say from my heart that it is not true that it’s the soldiers killing Lumad. The true killers are the CPP-NPA. Even if we'd live in the forest for one year, we’ll be fine as long as we're able to have our livelihoods. But with the NPA there, finding a livelihood is problematic,” Belandres said.
Jesse added: “I'm calling out to my Lumad brothers who are living in the mountain: I plead that if there is someone who recruits you from the CPP-NPA do not go with them because they are the ones causing havoc in our tribes.”
As the government and various rights groups continue to investigate the cases, the Lumad continue to be caught in the middle of the war between the government and the communist rebels.
"I'm calling on those Lumad who are still in the mountain to surrender so we can live a normal life and be given a livelihood by the government," Jesse said.

The Lumad's long years of languishing for land and life

From Rappler (Sep 30): The Lumad's long years of languishing for land and life (by Yolanda L. Punsalan)

Their tragic fate and stories have to be honored and retold many times over until a concrete solution is reached and peace prevails   

In the city, our close encounters with indigenous tribes happen only in exhibits or cultural shows when we appreciate their songs, dances, epic tales, and textiles weavings - superficial knowledge that should now be replaced by our empathy for the true sentiments of our brothers whose elders, tribal leaders, and datus have been brutally killed in full view of their families and communities.

(TIMELINE: Attacks on the Lumad of Mindanao)

The living witnesses courageously share their tragic stories, starting August this year. Thus far, under the Aquino administration, 52 Lumads have been murdered. According to their relatives, it’s our very own protectors of the nation, the military, who are responsible for these unspeakable killings.

Oppressed tribes

There are about 100 to 110 tribal groups from the northern to southern Philippines, with a population of about 14 million.

The bigger groups are the Aetas of Zambales, the Mangyans of Mindoro and Palawan, the Igorots of Mountain Province, the Caraballos, the Dumagats of Southern Tagalog, the Atis and Tumandaks. Then, there are the smaller tribes such as the Badjaos, T’bolis, and Manobos of Mindanao.

There is also the emergence of the “Bago” tribe, Ilocano Christians from the lowlands, and ethnic mountain tribes – the Kankaneys, Igorots and Tingguians – who have settled in the Sugpon mountains of Ilocos Sur.

All of them have preserved their traditional cultures and livelihood, seemingly undisturbed by the centuries of colonial rule, and continue to be unaware of modernity until today.

Pia Macliing Malayao, a Bontoc Igorot from the Mountain Province and Secretary General of the Katribu Kalipunan ng Mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas, said that the indigenous tribes’ strategy for escaping the colonizers was to keep receding to the hinterlands, to the interior vastnesses of their forests, and not to stay steadfast in the coastlines. That way, they knew that the foreign colonizers would cease pursuing them.

All these tribes have a deep and special connection to their lands.

No single individual has a title to the land they till for their livelihood. They consider ownership of this as a collective, as belonging to the entire community, with the present generation as mere stewards of the soil. A very biblical outlook - the idea of the Torrens Title System never reached their culture.

These days, however, the many years of languish and oppression are being made known to us through the help of the religious groups who volunteer in educating the tribal children. They have also helped evacuate the victimized communities to safer ground like in Tandag City, Bukidnon.

Some Lumad leaders are now being taken cared of by some bishops and by the nuns of the Religious of The Virgin Mary, St Paul College University.

Malayao bemoans the fact that even in textbooks that have been used in our educational system, their peoples are being described stereotypically as short (pandak), dark-skinned, kinky-haired, with thick lips, and flat wide noses (sarat). That they have to be compelled to do their rituals or sing and dance for tourists — much like Edward Said’s Orientalism — so they could earn their keep.

However, multi-awarded economics and social sciences teacher Ruby Denofra assures Malayao that this is being rectified now and that understanding the indigenous people’s (IP) culture and welfare are now being emphasized in the curriculum.


The deeper, graver wounds inflicted on our indigenous brothers are caused by the oppression on them since the passing of the Mining Act of 1995. But the national oppression against them have been felt way back in the Marcos regime, especially in the 1980s.

When mines, dams, and plantations were established, IPs were shoved away from their lands. Their farming areas are ruined; health and skin diseases are borne; and the soil that used to give them life and crops deteriorated.

In one barangay, an entire schoolhouse submerged because the soil it stood on crumbled softly like cookies.

A Lumad's story

Pakibato District, probably the pinnacle area of Davao, overlooks the entire province. It is so beautiful that travellers attest that they can almost touch the heavens when they visit.
Pakibato is where Aida hails from. In between sobs and unceasing tears, she narrates how she witnessed her own uncle being murdered by the military. Trumped up charges are now being filed against her to say that she and a datu have also been responsible for killings in their area and human trafficking.

This remote area in Davao, though beautiful, has not been reached by the government’s social services. There are no schools, doctors, or hospitals.

Through their own efforts and the volunteer missionaries and teachers — who go there to teach English, Math, basic agriculture and other subjects — they were able to put up an elementary school. In 2004, they built a specialized high school, guided by the tenets of the alternative learning system, with the men doing the carpentry work, and the women and children gathering wood from the trees.
Aida’s house has been pockmarked with bullets. Her husband and children have been evacuated, without any belongings left. Aida is with the nuns now in Quezon City, with only 6 pieces of clothing that get her by every week.

At nights, she’s sleepless as she vividly recounts the very bloody scenes of the murders she has seen up close.

Other houses in the beautiful Pakibato district have been turned into barracks by the military. Their presence is very visible in Mindanao.

More IPs will traverse the rugged terrains and rivers and seas to journey to Manila on foot, if need be. Maybe through some generous souls, some of they may board some transport vehicles.

Some 700 of them are expected to arrive on October 26. They will stay here until November 19, a special APEC Summit no-work holiday.

If our own government is welcoming the Syrian Refugees with welcoming and open arms and hearts, it should do the same for our tribal families. Their tragic fate and stories have to be honored and retold many times over until a concrete solution is reached and peace prevails.

[Yolanda L. Punsalan is the long-time executive secretary to the chairman/president of the Reliance Group of Companies. She is willing to devote time for advocacies such as environmental issues, women’s and children's rights.]

Is the military innocent in Lumad killings?

From Rappler (Sep 30): Is the military innocent in Lumad killings?

A young Lumad who is caught in the middle of the war between the government and the New People's Army shares his take on the killings in indigenous areas

OTHER SIDE? A young lumad lifts the blame off the military, and points his finger at the New People's Army regarding the Lumad attacks in Mindanao. Photo by Fritzie Rodriguez

OTHER SIDE? A young lumad lifts the blame off the military, and points his finger at the New People's Army regarding the Lumad attacks in Mindanao. Photo by Fritzie Rodriguez

The military is innocent in the contoversial Lumad killings, a young Lumad is insisting. His hands fell on his lap as he spoke in Bisaya and broken Tagalog. The boy is 18 and had just left his Surigao del Sur home in Ha-ayan, Barangay Diatagon Lianga.

He is among the Lumad that lawyer Levito Baligod brought to Manila to have their voices heard on the issue.

On Wednesday, September 30, Baligod told Rappler he is helping some Lumad who are telling a different story compared to the relatives of the victims and activists. (WATCH: Lumad: Caught in the middle of a war)

Human rights groups, activists, journalists, and pundits have weighed in on the situation, holding authorities accountable. The crisis has displaced more than 4,000 indigenous peoples from Surigao del Sur, Bukidnon, Saranggani, and Davao del Norte allegedly due to human rights violations committed by the military. (READ: #StopLumadKillings trends: Nasaan ang Pangulo?)

Alternative learning

The boy's father is dead and his mother remarried. He was raised by his grandmother, a member of the New People’s Army (NPA). But he himself is not a member of the group, he said.

He claimed he was an Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) student, a school which provides an “alternative learning system especially designed to provide secondary education to indigent indigenous youth – the Manobo, Higaonon, Banwaon, Talaandig, and Mamanwa.”

According to ALCADEV, they offer “academic studies, vocational, and technical skills.” The boy learned how to read and write at ALCADEV. But there, he also learned how to hold a gun, he said. He first held one during 3rd grade.

Why the gun? “Para manalo sa pakikipaglaban sa gobyerno (To win the fight against the government),” the boy answered.

In places like Lianga, there are no government schools, Baligod told Rappler.

“What’s there is ALCADEV and TRIFPSS (Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur Schools) which are both being run by the CPP-NPA.”

Several groups, however, disagree and support ALCADEV, stressing its role in helping indigenous peoples (IPs) .

ALCADEV's name has not always been as tainted. It is known as an award-winning privately operated but government-regulated learning institution established in 2004 by different IP organizations in CARAGA. Its students mostly live in the highlands of Surigao del Norte and Sur, Agusan del Norte and Sur.

'Radicalizing the youth'

Although the boy knows how to use a gun, he said he never fired one. At school, he said he learned “NPA songs” (kanta na pang-NPA). On Saturdays, his teachers would take them to NPA postings.

After graduating, the boy claimed that students either turn into ALCADEV teachers or NPA members.

"They were taught to hate the government," Baligod said. "So the CPP-NPA radicalized the youth, indoctrinated the general population for them to revolt against the government. So we need government presence in the area."

"On their behalf, we will try to ask government to provide protection for the Lumad people," Baligod continued. "Because if there's no government there, the CPP-NPA can easily enter, inflitrate, and impose their will."

But according to ALCADEV, its main mission is to empower the indigenous youth to become “self-reliant, self-sufficient, analytical and creative in seeking ways to improve the quality of life of their families, their indigenous communities and the country.”

Attacks on the Lumad

It was earlier reported that a series of attacks on the Lumad of Mindanao have been taking place since May this year. The attacks are concentrated in Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, and Surigao del Sur, which are hosts to Lumad schools.

When asked whether the Lumad killings and reports of violence and harassment in Surigao del Sur were committed by the military or paramilitary, the boy gave a swift “no.” It was the NPA who did it, he claimed.

A 13-year-old Lumad, however, earlier told Rappler that she witnessed how her father, a Lumad leader and farmer, was shot in the head twice allegedly by military and paramilitary elements on September 1 near their village in Lianga town in Surigao del Sur.

On the same day, another Lumad was killed together with ALCADEV executive director Emerico Samarte. Samarte was killed inside a classroom in Barangay Diatagon. The culprits, according to the human rights group Karapatan, are the paramilitary group Magahat. (READ: School head, 2 lumad leaders killed in Surigao del Sur)

Peace talks

On September 22, two United Nations special rapporteurs on IP rights urged the Aquino government to look into the Lumad killings, condemning the attacks on the Lumad and educators (READ: Lumad killings unacceptable – UN experts)

Peace talks among the government, the NPA, and the National Democratic Front must also be pursued, UN Rapporteur Vicky Tauli-Corpuz earlier told Rappler.

The UN expert also recommended that "a mechanism where a joint monitoring and investigation could happen" be formed.

"The people are caught in the middle. They are...made to side with whichever group, and in the process, that's when all these kinds of killings are happening," Tauli-Corpuz said.
[Video report: Lumad killings not due to tribal war — UN Rapporteur

Before leaving for Manila with Baligod, the boy stayed in an evacuation center, a sports complex in Tandag City.

“Condition's tough, people only sleep in chairs,” he said in Bisaya. “We eat instant noodles and it’s hard to bathe.”

He added that ALCADEV students are separated from the rest of the evacuees within the center. "Teachers guard them, in case they're pulled by soldiers."

The boy wishes to pursue his studies, without ever having to pull a trigger in his life.

His words are only among the several voices either drowned or amplified in the ongoing revelation about the lives and deaths of the Lumad.

AFP welcomes Misuari's help in rescue efforts for kidnap victims

From ABS-CBN (Sep 30): AFP welcomes Misuari's help in rescue efforts for kidnap victims

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) welcomes the help of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Misuari in the rescue efforts for the three foreign nationals and a Filipina abducted on Samal Island, Davao del Norte.

The commander of Joint Task Group Zamboanga-Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-tawi (ZamBaSulTa), Rear Admiral Primitivo Gopo, said they welcome any help from different sectors, even from the group of Misuari, who is facing criminal charges in connection with the Zamboanga siege in 2013.

(READ: Duterte asks Misuari to help free hostages)

Gopo, however, declined to comment on the possible legal implications that could crop up.
Misuari has a standing arrest warrant for a case of rebellion and violation of the International Humanitarian Law.

Some of the former victims of the Zamboanga siege also expressed concern over Misuari's participation in the rescue efforts.

Jimmy Villaflores, barangay chairman of Santa Catalina, said it is morally incorrect to allow Misuari to negotiate with the abductors for the safe release of the four captives.

Villaflores said Misuari should face first his criminal charges in court and answer for all the damages he caused in Zamboanga City, including the hundreds of lives wasted during the almost one month of crisis.

He said he is also worried that Misuari might use this favor to push for the grant of amnesty.

(READ: Amnesty for Nur Misuari sought)

Meanwhile, Gopo said they still cannot confirm if the victims were indeed taken to Sulu, a known stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

The Abu Sayyaf has been responsible for the series of kidnapping of foreign nationals in Mindanao, extortion activities, and attacks on public places.

Philippines hostage crisis: Rebel leader urges truce

From the Gulf News (Sep 30): Philippines hostage crisis: Rebel leader urges truce

Misuari has sent men to negotiate with Abu Sayyaf for safe release of three foreigners and Filipina

The founder of a former secessionist Filipino-Muslim rebel group called for a halt to military operations as he coordinated with a local Filipino-Muslim terror group for the safe release of three foreigners and a Filipina national who were abducted from an upscale resort in southern Philippines last week, sources said.

Nur Misuari, founder of the 45-year old Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) asked the military not to intensity operations in Parang, Sulu so that the MNLF members would not be caught in the crossfire as they gain access to the Abu Sayyaf Group, which has taken custody of Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norweigian Kjartan Sekkingstad, and Filipina Marites Flor who were kidnapped from Ocean View Resort on Samal island, Davao del Norte last week, a source who requested for anonymity told Gulf News.

Misuari was concerned about the safety of the hostages and residents who live near the forested hideaway of the Abu Sayyaf Group, the source said.

Although the military has refused to confirm reports that the Abu Sayyaf Group was behind the one-week old hostage-taking, Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, commander of Sulu’s joint task group said the operation will help authorities get the hostages from their abductors.

The military operation will focus on the Abu Sayyaf Group, not on the negotiators, Arrojado said.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and former cabinet secretary Jess Dureza were the ones who persuaded Misuari to help the government resolve the hostage-crisis, said the same source, adding that Misuari accepted the challenge, convened a meeting and assigned men to reach out to the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group who took custody of the kidnap-victims in Sulu last Sunday.

Assessing Misuari’s capability, MNLF Islamic Command Council (ICC) head Habib Nudjahad Hashim whose group is allied with Misuari’s MNLF faction, told a TV network the MNLF founder could “negotiate for the safe release of the kidnap-victims”.

“He has influence in Sulu,” said Hashim, adding that Misuari has “listened to the request” of Duterte and Dureza.

Families of the kidnap victims and local authorities claimed they have not yet received ransom demands from the Abu Sayyaf Group.

It is not known if emissaries of President Benigno Aquino asked Duterte and Dureza to reach out to Misuari.

Earlier, Aquino’s Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said, “The administration accepts any assistance offered by organisations or by individuals to solve this crime.”

Misuari has been in hiding in Sulu since he was implicated as the mastermind of the 20-day siege of southern Zamboanga City in which hundreds were killed and displaced in late 2013.

His allies wanted Aquino to grant Misuari amnesty so that he could go to Saudi Arabia for the tripartite review by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Philippine government, and the MNLF of the implementation of two political settlements forged by the MNLF and the Philippine government in Libya in 1976, and in Manila in 1996.

The Abu Sayyaf Group has been blamed for high-profile kidnap-for-ransom activities that targeted foreign tourists and missionaries as well as local residents. It is also accused of undertaking bombing and other terror attacks in the south. It has links with Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian conduit of Al Qaida.

MNLF joins search for abducted foreigners

From the Manila Times (Sep 30): MNLF joins search for abducted foreigners

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has joined the search for three foreigners and a Filipina kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf Group.

The MNLF said it is helping locate Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Tess Flor who were abducted on September 21 from the upscale Holiday Oceanview Samal Resort on Samal Island off Davao del Norte province.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who is also helping free the victims, has sought help from MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari.

Duterte, citing an intelligence report, claimed that the victims are being held by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu, one of five provinces under the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Habib Mudjahab Hashim, of the MNLF, said Duterte and Misuari spoke on the phone.

“Mayor Duterte, I was informed, got in touch with brother Nur, and brother Nur is now convening his commanders in Sulu for whatever decisions that will be made, but indications are brother Nur will listen to Duterte. I think he will help in the possible safe release of the hostages,” Hashim said in a television interview.

“We believe that Duterte, being a friend and a man of peace, I think he can do a lot, and it’s only him among the leaders of Mindanao that brother Nur would listen most,” he added.

Misuari is wanted for his alleged role in the September 2013 MNLF attacks in Zamboanga City that had displaced over 100,000 people and more than 200 people were killed.

There is no official confirmation either from the military or police authorities that the hostages were taken to Sulu and no group have claimed responsibility for the abduction.

Hostages sighted in Sulu; captors demand P2M before showing proof of life – MNLF

From the Manila Bulletin (Oct 1): Hostages sighted in Sulu; captors demand P2M before showing proof of life – MNLF

The four hostages snatched from Samal Island in Davao del Norte 10 days ago and their kidnappers have been sighted at the foot of Mount Bud Daho in the jungles of Sulu.

This was revealed by a senior official of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to Manila Bulletin yesterday citing friends and sources in the area.

“They were sighted by MNLF fighters the other day (Monday),” he said.

The MNLF official speaking on condition of anonymity said the kidnappers landed on the beach of Barangay Silangkan, Parang, Sulu at around 1 a.m. of September 25 and were met by Al-Habsi Misaya.

The source said Misaya leads an Abu Sayyaf faction who recently kidnapped a Chinese resort manager (Yang Zai Lin) in Sandakan on Sabah island in 2014 and brought him  to Sulu. Misaya’s group had reportedly earned several millions of pesos from their kidnapping activities.

He said Misaya and his men led the hostages – two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina at foot of Mount Bud Daho, about eight kilometers from Jolo, the capital town of Sulu.

The victims were seized on the night of Sept. 21 from the Ocean View Resort in Barangay Camudmud, Babak district, Samal Island, Davao del Norte.

Mount Bud Daho was the site of the “Bud Daho Massacre” of some 1,000 Tausug men, women and children in 1906 by American forces.

The source said the kidnappers’ lair is about 15 to 16 kilometers away from the camp of MNLF founding Chair Nur Misuari.


The source who is a former government official said the suspects surveyed the resorts on Samal Island for a month where they spent about P5-million before striking on September 21.

The source said he tried to get a proof of life from the kidnappers but they demanded P2 million before giving any proof of life.

“That is not the ransom yet, only for the proof of life,” he said.

“I believe the kidnappers have already reached the families of the foreigners through the negotiator,” he said.

Drones had been hovering in the vicinity of Mount Bud Daho for two nights between the borders of the municipalities of Talipao, Patikul and Indanan – known lairs of the ASG bandits, the source added.

He mentioned  seven kidnapping groups in Sulu –  the groups of Misaya, Ajang-Ajang, Sawadjaan,  Tanum, Lucky 9, Anak Ilo, and Norodum.  They are also ASG or at least affiliated with the mainstream ASG.

He said three groups  – Misaya, Ajang-Ajang and Sawadjaan – collaborated in the Samal Island caper.       “It is the Sawadjaan group under Hatib Hassan that funded the kidnapping in Davao,” he said, adding Hassan’s group received P250 million last year in ransom for the release of two German nationals – Stefan Viktor Okonek, 71, and Herike Diesen, 55.

Hassan and his collaborators shared the loot but kept a big part of it s as his group’s capital for their kidnapping activities, the source added.


The ASG launched a daring raid on the Pulao Sipadan resort in 2000, seizing 21 European tourists and Malaysians and earned at least US$25 million from the attack, mainly from Libya and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, another senior MNLF leader, Habib Mujahab Hashim, chairman of the Islamic Command Council (MNLF-ICC), confirmed the whereabouts of the hostages near Mount Bud Daho.

He said the kidnappers are on the run, which endangers the lives of the hostages because of an ongoing military operation.

Hashim wondered if the military operation could be suspended so as not to endanger the lives and safety of the hostages.

The MNLF-ICC chief said Misuari had agreed to help in recovering them.

Maas convened his commanders yesterday to discuss ways to help in the recovery,” Hashim added after Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Jesus Dureza, former presidential peace adviser, sought Misuari’s assistance.

Hashim said he was not aware of any ongoing negotiations.

Is the Philippine army turning a blind eye to murder?

From IRIN humanitarian news & analysis (Sep 29): Is the Philippine army turning a blind eye to murder?

Mourners gather in the Philippines town of Lianga on 13 September for the funeral of Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo, tribal leaders who were killed two weeks earlier by members of a paramilitary group
Has the Philippine army been in cahoots with armed groups accused of murdering civilians in the southern region of Mindanao? That’s the focus of an investigation the government has finally agreed to undertake.
Responding to pressure inside and outside the country, including from the United Nations, the government said on 22 September that it would probe the killings of three indigenous rights activists earlier this month. Now, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has said the investigation will be broadened to look into the wider roles of paramilitaries and their supporters.

Who are the victims?

The victims are known as “Lumads”, which is a collective term for indigenous peoples living in Mindanao. Lumad communities have found themselves caught in a war between the Philippine military and an insurgent group known as the New People's Army (NPA).
Both the military and paramilitary groups have been accused of abuses against civilians, and the brazen killing of three indigenous leaders earlier this month sparked outrage and international attention. A paramilitary group called the Magahat Bagani Force attacked an indigenous school on 1 September in the town of Lianga in Surigao del Sur province, according to local civil society groups as well as Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In the pre-dawn attack, paramilitary members allegedly broke down dormitory doors and herded students and teachers outside. Magahat members then shot and killed educational administrators Dionel Campos and Emerito Samarca, as well as Juvillo Sinzo, a tribal leader. According to HRW, Philippine army soldiers had arrived in the community the day before the attack and camped nearby, but they did not intervene as the killings took place.

Rights and environmental organisations have also accused the military and paramilitaries of attempting to drive indigenous people from their ancestral lands in order to make way for mining companies. The province of Surigao del Sur has been designated by the government as the “mining capital of the Philippines”, HRW noted. Campos was a noted activist opposed to the exploitation of indigenous people by mining companies.

Who are the paramilitary groups?

The Alamara paramilitary group operates in the province of Davao del Norte, and rights groups say its members often carry out activities alongside military troops. According to HRW, soldiers accompanied Alamara members who harassed students and teachers in the town of Talaingod in March. “The soldiers stayed outside the classrooms but allowed the Alamara to go inside, fully-armed, accusing us of being supporters of the NPA,” one student told HRW.
The Magahat Bagani Force operates in Surigao del Sur province. After the 1 September killings, provincial governor Johnny Pimental blamed the military for backing the paramilitary group, telling reporters: “The military created a monster”.
Both paramilitary outfits are comprised of people recruited from indigenous communities.

What role does the military play?

Captain Alberto Caber, a spokesman for the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command, denied that the army is supporting paramilitaries and accused the NPA of pitting factions of Lumad communities against each other.
“Lumads are deceived by the communists through their recruitment efforts. For every five NPA members, four are Lumads from eastern Mindanao,” Caber told IRIN. “It is the communists who orchestrated everything that led to conflict within the communities.”

International rights groups as well as Filipino organisations such as Karapatan dismiss the idea that there is no link between the army and groups like Magahat and Alamara. Karapatan said it has documented the relationship between the military and Alamara going back to 2002.
Even the justice secretary, de Lima, linked the groups to the army in her statement on Sunday, repeatedly mentioning “paramilitaries” and promising “a conclusive probe on their supporters who fuel their criminal operations and acts of violence”.

The UN special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani, has also expressed concern about links between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and paramilitaries. After visiting the region in July, he reported that indigenous people “described to me their concerns including their alleged forced recruitment into paramilitary groups, known as Alamara, under the auspices of the AFP”.
Indigenous people took shelter at a sports stadium in the Philippines city of Tandag where they are shown 12 September after paramilitary members killed three leaders in their village two weeks before
Who are the guerillas?
The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines and has waged one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies for the past four decades. At the height of its power in the 1980s, the NPA had close to 30,000 fighters, but its ranks have fallen to about 5,000 today.

On Sunday, de Lima accused the NPA of “heightened recruitment” in Lumad communities, which she said had resulted in “the subsequent intensification of armed operations”.

Why target schools?

Schools run by religious and nongovernmental organisations have borne the brunt of attacks, as paramilitaries accuse them of indoctrinating students with communist ideology – a charge repeatedly denied by educators.

“The paramilitary group harasses them into joining, and if they refuse, then they say ‘Ah, you are a (communist) rebel’,” Kharlo Manano of the Salinlahi Alliance, an NGO that has been trying to help affected children back to school, told IRIN.

Is there hope for a credible investigation?

Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy director for Asia, said he welcomed de Lima’s pledge of a sweeping investigation into the activities of paramilitary groups and their backers. But he pointed to a history of military impunity and said the investigation would fail unless it resulted in paramilitary leaders being tried in civilian courts.

“The government has promised big before, and then failed to deliver,” he told IRIN. “So it's important to make sure the justice minister delivers on this promise and ensures no opportunity is missed to hold accountable those responsible.”

BIFF killed, explosives seized after clash with Army in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 30): BIFF killed, explosives seized after clash with Army in Maguindanao

A member of outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) was killed in a brief encounter with government forces in Datu Piang, Maguindanao Wednesday, the Army and residents here said.

Quoting reports from 2nd Mechanized Brigade, Capt. Joan Petinglay, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division, said the clash erupted at 6 a.m. Wednesday in Barangay Mayanis when about 20 BIFF members fired at elements of the 2nd Mechanized Battalion of the 2nd Mechanized brigade under Colonel Lemet conducting patrol activities near a school.

After 30 minutes, the gunmen fled to different directions but government forces recovered several live ammunition 60 mm mortars used by BIFF in manufacturing improvised explosive devices.

The Army halted the manhunt on fleeing guerillas to allow civilians to get out of the way.

Residents said they are worried government forces will arrive and resume operations against the outlawed BIFF after reports that many of them have been charged in connection with the January Mamasapano encounter.

But Petinglay said the soldiers were not serving warrants of arrest since it was not their job. The soldiers were patrolling the village while securing a school compound nearby when attacked.

Datu Piang Mayor Genuine Kamaong, quoting reports from village officials, said the civilians have returned home although may are ready to move out should shooting war resumes.

PAF in the market for SF-260 trainer plane spare parts

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 30): PAF in the market for SF-260 trainer plane spare parts

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) announced that it is in the market for spare parts intended for the maintenance and recovery of one of its SIAI-Marchetti SF-260 trainer aircraft.

The said plane has tail number 027.

Major Gen. Isagani Silva, PAF Bidding and Awards Committee chair, in a bulletin posted at the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System, said the project has a budget of Php13,207,728.

Bid opening is scheduled for Oct. 8, 9 a.m. at the PAF Procurement Center Conference Room, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

The SIAI-Marchetti SF.260 (now Alenia Aermacchi SF-260) is an Italian light aircraft marketed as an aerobatics and military trainer.

It was designed by Stelio Frati, originally for Aviamilano, which flew the first prototype of it (then designated F.260) on July 15, 1964.

Actual production was undertaken when SIAI Marchetti purchased the design soon thereafter and continued with this firm until Aermacchi bought the company in 1997.

The military versions are popular with smaller air forces, which can also arm it for use in the close-support role.

The PAF is known to operate between 10 to 18 units of the said aircraft in its inventory.

PHIBLEX 2016 opens Thursday

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 30): PHIBLEX 2016 opens Thursday

Filipino and American Marine units will formally start the nine-day Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX) Thursday.

Opening ceremonies will take place at the Philippine Marine Corps headquarters in Marine Barracks Rudiardo Brown, Bonifacio Naval Station, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

PHIBLEX 2016, the 31st iteration of the annual military maneuvers, will end on Oct. 9, said PMC spokesperson Capt. Jerber Belonio.

He added that amphibious exercises will take place in different areas in Luzon, including Angeles-Clark, Pampanga with command post or table top exercises scheduled in Palawan.

Field exercises include small arms and artillery live-fire training.

Belonio stressed that the nine-day exercise is meant to improve interoperability of both forces in responding to crisis situations.

"PHIBLEX is a bilateral training between the Philippines and US forces so that we can maintain readiness, enhance interoperability and improve the ability for a bilateral Philippine-US force to respond to natural disasters or during crisis," he pointed out.

The humanitarian and civic assistance projects in Palawan will include engineering civic action projects, to improve local infrastructure, cooperative health engagements and to share medical best practices to meet the medical needs of Philippine citizens.

The humanitarian and civic assistance projects support the needs and humanitarian interests of the Philippine people.

All portions of PHIBLEX will also play a major role in preparation for the upcoming large scale exercise, Balikatan, to take place next year.

2 troopers abducted in Compostela Valley

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 30): 2 troopers abducted in Compostela Valley

Heavily-armed men flagged and abducted two motorcycle-riding soldiers in Monkayo town, Compostela Valley Wednesday afternoon.

The incident took place at 5: 45 p.m. at Barangay Casoon, Monkayo town.

Supt. Antonio Rivera, Southern Mindanao Regional Police spokesperson, identified the victims only as Pfcs. Alabaso and Añueber, both members of Alpha Company, 25th Infantry Battalion.

He added that the two had just left their patrol base in Barangay Banlag when intercepted and abducted by heavily-armed men.

Tracking and pursuit operations are now ongoing.

DOJ Task Force on Anti-Terrorism scores victory vs. kidnapping syndicates

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 30): DOJ Task Force on Anti-Terrorism scores victory vs. kidnapping syndicates

The Department of Justice (DOJ) Task Force on Anti-Terrorism gained another court victory after the conviction of a notorious kidnapper, sending a warning to other syndicates operating with the same type of modus operandi.

Based from court information, Jomar Ulangkaya, along with three other suspects identified as Saudi H. Kassan, Mohaimen Abo and Mohammad Yusop Pasigan, who are still at-large up to this date, kidnapped a 9-year-old child in front of their house in Cotabato province.

Incidentally, the runaway vehicle of the suspects got into an accident.

To avoid being noticed by the locals of the area, three of the four suspects immediately fled the area after the incident.

Ulangkaya was the one who pursued with the plan of kidnapping the child.

Fortunately, the police were conducting operations in the area and managed to catch up with Ulangkaya.

The encounter ended with the suspect being caught and the victim rescued.

In a 9-page ruling, the Pasig City Regional Trial Court (RTC) sentenced the accused Ulangkaya to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and pay the victim whose identity is withheld, a sum of Php120,000 for nominal, moral and exemplary damages.

"This is a perfect example on how our justice system should be, this is a warning to those who continue to oppress the weak for selfish motives," DOJ Secretary Leila De Lima said.

"I commend the Task Force on Anti-Terrorism for this hard-earned victory," De Lima added.

Authorities are still conducting follow-up operations for the arrest of the other suspects who managed to escape after the incident.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Former soldier convicted in senior officer’s killing in Cebu

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 29): Former soldier convicted in senior officer’s killing in Cebu

CEBU CITY – A former soldier who killed his senior officer inside Camp Lapu-Lapu here six years ago was convicted by the trial court Monday.

Jesusito Bayang was found guilty of homicide and was meted the penalty of imprisonment from six to 12 years.

Judge Estela Alma Singco of the Regional Trial Court Branch 11 also ordered Bayang to pay the victim’s family P38,405 in actual damages, P75,000 in civil indemnity, P50,000 in moral damages, and P20,000 in attorney’s fees and other litigation expenses.

Bayang was accompanied by his lawyer Rameses Villagonzalo when the verdict was read in open court past 8 a.m. yesterday.

Villagonzalo, in an interview, said they would appeal the verdict before a higher court.

“We’re actually expecting an acquittal. But that’s the decision of the court. We respect it although we will be filing an appeal before the Court of Appeals,” he said.

Bayang, now 38 years old, was unhappy with the court’s ruling but said he will try to move on.

“Unsaon na-disgrasya man gyud. Dawaton na lang nako. (What I else can I do? The incident had happened. I just have to accept its consequences),” he told the Inquirer.
Bayang, who has two children aged 10 and 8, has been working as a farmer in his hometown in Surigao del Norte since being expelled from the military in 2010.

“Mo-uli lang usa ko sa amo. (I’ll return home from here),” said Bayang who is out on bail from the time the charges against him was filed in court.

Bayang admitted to shooting to death his senior official, Staff Sgt. Romeo Mendez, whom he said bullied him for five years.

But the accused had argued that he acted in self-defense when he sensed that Mendez was about to kill him.

Mendez was the supply sergeant of the 7th Finance Service Unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Central Command headquarters in Cebu City, while Bayang served as driver, mess sergeant, and cook.

On Sept 4, 2009, at around 5 a.m., Bayang said he was asleep in his quarters when Mendez woke him up by pulling his legs, and compelled him to clean the surroundings.

Bayang said he got a broom to obey Mendez’s order, but he decided to return to the room since it was still dark outside and he could hardly see the area to be cleaned.

Cleaning the surroundings of the military headquarters was scheduled at 6 a.m.

Bayang said he told Mendez to treat them properly since they are no longer trainees but enlisted personnel of the AFP.

From there, he said Mendez went to a locker, and although he didn’t see any firearm, he heard the cocking of a gun.

Afraid of what might happen to him, Bayang got his firearm.

He said he proceeded to the mess hall to drink coffee but Mendez, who was in the place, allegedly confronted him. As Bayang attempted to leave, he said Mendez banged the table.

Bayang said he then immediately got his gun and shot Mendez five times. The victim died on the spot, while Bayang immediately surrendered to the military police.

In her ruling, Judge Singco said the defense failed to prove that Mendez was armed when the confrontation took place.

“Aside from the alleged cocking sound of a gun that the accused heard, it was not shown that the victim was actually armed. The belief on the part of the accused that victim intended to harm him existed only in his imagination,” she said.

While Bayang claimed to be bullied by Mendez for several years, Singco said the defense did not present any witness to prove the accusation.

“In any event, such does not in itself establish the legal right of accused to kill the victim, otherwise retaliation and not self-defense is committed,” the judge said.

Singco said that the number of wounds sustained by the victim negates claims of self-defense.

“The number of wounds, five in all, indicates that the act of the accused was no longer in self-defense but a determined effort to kill the victim,” she said.

Bayang was originally charged with murder but the Cebu City Prosecutors’ Office downgraded it to homicide based on the evidence submitted to them.

AFP troops start receiving 'fixed' new M4 rifles

From InterAksyon (Sep 29): AFP troops start receiving 'fixed' new M4 rifles

President Aquino presides over ceremonial turnover of M4 rifles, the procurement of which was marred by the discovery of units with sight and barrel defects. Photograph from Malacañang Photo Bureau.

Military personnel in the Visayas and Mindanao have started receiving their so-called brand new but refurbished M4 rifles after the United States-based supplier – Remington Outdoor Company – fixed units with sight and barrel defects.
President Benigno Aquino even presided over the ceremonial distribution of the rifles, only for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Technical Inspection and Acceptance Committee (TIAC) to discover that the rifles' sight mechanisms and barrel grooves were defective. 

Remington had won the bidding in October 2013 to supply the AFP with 50,629 brand new M4 rifles worth some P2.1 billion.

Of the total number of rifles, 6,443 are destined for the Marine corps.

The government had appropriated a total of P3.3 billion to buy new rifles, and the AFP indicated earlier that it had saved P1.2 billion and will use the savings to buy additional rifles.

The firearms procurement is part of the Joint Philippine Army–Philippine Marine Corps Assault Rifle Acquisition Project.

The rifles are intended to replace early models of M-16 and M-16A1 rifles, the majority of which were as old as the Vietnam War era and are already in poor condition.

According to the Phil. Army spokesman, Col. Benjamin Hao, the AFP has already taken delivery of 24,300 rifles, which are currently being distributed to the troops in Mindanao.

He added that a total of 19,866 rifles are "still undergoing ballistic tests by the Philippine National Police".

"[The] M4 rifles {are) part of the 44,186 rifles that are now on hand in Army arsenal," Hao said. "For this year, also, the Army expects the delivery of more armored personnel carriers, protective gear for individual soldiers, and radio communication equipment."

According to Phil. Army Logistics Officer Col. Pio Diñoso, "Priority recipients are the troops assigned in Mindanao. However, due to our favorable logistics distribution schedule, especially with the availability of our C-130s cargo aircraft, the troops in the Visayas and Cotabato received their rifles in advance."

Meanwhile, just recently, the Army received and successfully tested the initial six of the 28 M11A32 Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) that the US Army donated through grant. Elbit Systems Land and C4I of Israel refurbished the tanks with technology and the weapons systems by Australia.

The Army is set to receive 114 more tanks of same model from the US Army.

Interview: A Philippine Perspective from the Middle of the South China Sea

From The Diplomat (Sep 29): Interview: A Philippine Perspective from the Middle of the South China Sea

The Diplomat talks with Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon about governing an area in the middle of the South China Sea disputes.

Interview: A Philippine Perspective from the Middle of the South China Sea

A view of a Chinese vessel taken from a convoy the mayor was in on the way to Pag-asa in October 2012.  Image Credit: Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon
Eugenio “Jun” Bito-onon is the mayor of Kalayaan municipality, which comprises six islets controlled by the Philippines in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, the islands are claimed by several other countries including China. These islets include Pag-asa Island, which houses nearly 200 inhabitants. During his recent visit to Washington, D.C., Bito-onon spoke with The Diplomat’s associate editor Prashanth Parameswaran about his perspective on the South China Sea. An edited version of that interview follows.

Much has been written about China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea and its impact on claimants like the Philippines over the past few years. You have personally had encounters with Chinese warships in the South China Sea. Can you tell us a bit about your experience, and how that has informed your view on the issue and China’s role in it?

I have had several experiences with Chinese vessels at sea. One incident happened on October 8, 2012. This was during the maiden voyage of the MV Queen Seagull, a wooden hull cargo and passenger boat owned and operated by Kalayaan municipality. The MV Queen Seagull had set sail from Puerto Princesa City port for a routine delivery of supplies to Pag-asa Island, and it was joined by three other boats in Bancalaan Island, an island located at the southernmost tip of Palawan.

map of kalayaan islands
A local government map of the Kalayaan Islands including Pag-asa Island. (Photo Credit: Provincial Planning and Development Office).

After the convoy had passed by Second Thomas Shoal and stopped to take shelter at Sabina Shoal due to inclement weather, we departed from Lawak Island early on October 8 a few hours before dawn. When we had passed Likas Island (West York Island) for about an hour while heading west to Pag-asa, the boat captain in the MV Queen Seagull spotted a fast approaching vessel heading directly for it.

When the radio operator informed me and mentioned that the approaching vessel had not responded to calls, I immediately said that it must be a Chinese vessel with a crew not comprehending English. When I came out of the cabin, I discovered that it was a warship, silver gray in color with bow number 995 heading northward. I shouted for anybody with a camera to take pictures and video footage and someone successfully did it, with the pictures indicating a date and time of October 8 at 13:00 hours (the picture is shown above). I used this evidence in my report to the Western Command and the National Security Administration, and I also told the story to local radio and friends in the national media.

Though I had initially thought that the warship was just passing by on its way to China, at 16:00 hours, with just an hour left to Pag-asa, it crossed our convoy again between the third and last boat. I noticed that it slowed down and was lying tow within viewing distance left of our convoy. Meanwhile, to the right side of our convoy, a wide reef 5-9 kilometers from Pag-asa Island was billowing with smoke coming from the exhaust of numerous Chinese diesel-engine sampans used to dig giant clams, which I also took pictures of from a distance. It dawned on me that if these boats were to be apprehended, a repeat of the Scarborough Shoal incident would occur. It would be a tough job to drive and prevent them from destroying the coral reef.

In August 2014, I took Asahi Shimbun and Asahi TV to Second Thomas Shoal. While approaching the southern part of the feature at 8pm, we were suddenly blocked and harassed by a Chinese coast guard vessel. We were streamed with strong search light and blared with horn. But our boat captain prevailed by going around the rear part of the big boat until we got into the shallow area and the lagoon.

There were several other experiences as well. But all of them led me to believe that what I have read and heard about China’s aggression is related to its dream of taking the whole of the South China Sea in disregard of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to which she is a signatory. I am made to believe that the oil and gas in the Reed Bank is its main target of China after learning that the Department of Energy has extended the exploration contract of Forum Energy for another three years because of China’s harassment.
As someone who is on the front lines in the South China Sea, what is your assessment of the approach that the current government, led by President Benigno Aquino III, has taken on the issue?

I think the best move that President Aquino did was the filing of the arbitration case. I fully appreciate and support the filing of the arbitration case to once and for all resolve the issues and problems. I believe it will provide permanent solutions to the messy situation that we are in today. As mayor of a local government unit with a handful of constituents but gaining consistent support from the national government in terms of Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) funds, we can still be patient enough to wait for the results of case.
Pag-asa Island, which you govern, has nearly 200 inhabitants. Can you give us a sense of how is it sustained as an entity that supports civilian life? And how is it governed and secured?

Well, the municipality continuously receives support from the national government in terms of Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA). For 2016 for instance, the forecast of IRA for Kalayaan municipality is 59 million pesos. The funds, which other municipalities and cities in the Philippines also receive, are governed by certain policies and laws which determine how they ought to be spent. For example, for a fifth class municipality like Kalayaan, a maximum of 55 percent of it is allowed for personal services, 20 percent for development, 5 percent for calamity, and so on.

That being said, there are some steps that we take to account for the unique nature of Pag-asa Island. Due to a lack of arable land, the municipal government ensures food security by providing a month food subsidy consisting mainly of 14 kilograms of rice per adult resident. To facilitate the processing of financial transactions, the local government of Kalayaan has set up an Extension Office in Puerto Princesa City.

In terms of governance, there are two administrators who assist me in handling daily affairs – one based in Pag-asa and another in Puerto Princesa City. The municipality also owns and operates a marine transport vessel to ensure it can conduct basic tasks – like transporting construction materials for projects – on its own without relying on the military. Nonetheless, in most cases the military is very supportive and graciously extends accommodation or transportation services or assistance to the municipal government and its constituents in between quarterly municipal trips.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) deploys units to all the islets and several branches of AFP are present in Pag-asa Island for defense and security purposes. Peace and order is taken care of by our police from the Philippine National Police and the Barangay tanods (community peace keepers).

Aerial view of Pagasa Island

An aerial view of Pag-asa Island taken back in 2014. (Photo Credit: Armed Forces of the Philippines).

You have proposed an eco-tourism zone (ETZ) in the Kalayaan Islands. Can you briefly outline the rationale for this, and what it would entail?

The Ecotourism Zone Proposal is a municipal government initiative intended to serve as a peaceful solution to the increasing militarization in the Kalayaan islands. It is designed to show the direction and the aspiration of the municipal government. It actually started from the concept of “Tourism for Peace” which envisions future cooperation and bringing people together, learning about their culture, enhancing connectedness, and providing relevant job and livelihood opportunities. With ecotourism comes adequate environmental and ecological protection of certain areas zoned for tourism investment.
How has your proposal been received by the Philippine government thus far?

Because of the Bottom Up Budgeting (BUB) Program, funds have been allocated by several national government agencies for our access, and it is in this context that we have proposed our tourism-related projects. This year, we have signed several agreements regarding counterparting of funds with the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) for the acquisition of a steel boat, and with the Department of Tourism for the construction of a souvenir or coffee shop to serve as a passenger lounge in Pag-asa and the preparation of Kalayaan Tourism Master Plan in 2016. I think the timing is good and things have started this year while awaiting the final results of the arbitration case.
The proposal for an ETZ is still a work in progress. But how have the Chinese government as well as various Chinese entities and interests responded to economic initiatives like these over the past few years?

I think the Chinese government has been eager to negotiate with the Philippines about cooperation in ecotourism and fisheries. It is the Philippine government that is hesitant and it has been insisting that this should not occur until the arbitration case is over. So, no matter what kind of economic engagement is offered by any Chinese entities in the area of the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines is overcome with great doubt over their intentions. The local government cannot act on its own on this issue. Instead, it takes advice from relevant national agencies especially the Department of Foreign Affairs and Office of the President.
You are now in the midst of a public awareness campaign to the United States until early October. What more do you think the United States can do in assisting the Philippines in the South China Sea?

I learned that there have been many conflicts in the world that were eventually resolved peacefully. There are scholars and scientists who have been advancing ideas on how to promote peace in the South China Sea. For example, I learned of John McMannus’ proposal to pattern the resolution of the problem in South China Sea after the Antarctica model. I think that without a capable and interested arbiter(s) or negotiator(s) that could intervene in the situation, China will continue to bully and harass weaker states in the South China Sea considering that it has already dwarfed all other occupants with its man-made islands. The United States can come to the aid of weaker and smaller countries as an intervenor or broker.