Friday, March 27, 2015

Army hunting down NPA who kills soldier, harass militia base in North Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 27): Army hunting down NPA who kills soldier, harass militia base in North Cotabato

The military here has launched manhunt operations against communist rebels hit squad who liquidated an Army corporal in Magpet, North Cotabato Thursday, officials said Friday.

Another Army battalion is also pursuing another band of communist guerrillas in Barangay Villaflores, Makilala after they attacked Thursday afternoon a militia detachment.

Lt. Colonel Jose Rustia, commander of the 57th Infantry Battalion, said manhunt is on-going in the mountains of Barangay Temporan where Corporal Ricardo Paghubasan of Charlie Company and head of 57th IB peace and development outreach program (PDOP) was liquidated Thursday morning.

Rustia said Paghubasan and his companion were on a motorbike heading toward Barangay Barangay Temporan when two men, also riding tandem on separate motorbike, flagged down the soldiers and opened fire.

“He was not in combat uniform, he has only carrying a side arm, he was on a peace and development outreach program implementation when waylaid by the NPAs,” Rustia said, adding that the hit squad also took Paghubasan’s motorbike and cal. 45 pistol.

Rustia identified the suspects as NPA’s under Commander Jazmin of Front 53. He added the NPAs were after Paghubasan’s head because he was the team leader of the Army’s peace and development outreach program helping villagers in NPA infiltrated communities of Magpet.

In nearby Makilala, also in North Cotabato, NPAs harassed a militia detachment in Barangay Villaflores on late Thursday afternoon.

About 20 NPAs tried but failed to overrun a detachment of Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit in Barangay Villaflores.

The undermanned militia put up a fight forcing the NPAs to retreat into the hinterlands.

Capt. Danny Boy Tapang, 39th Infantry Battalion, said the harassment which sent jitters to residents nearby, was the NPAs way of sending the message that “it is still a force to reckon with.”

The communist rebels is set to celebrate its foundation anniversary on March 29.

Tapang said every time the NPAs have important days to celebrate, they attack military installations, including soft targets like police offices, village halls and civilian communities who refused to pay revolutionary taxes.

"We are on alert and we seek the public support by reporting the presence of communist guerrillas in their communities," he said.

Defense, military officials control juicy contracts

From the Manila Times (Mar 26): Defense, military officials control juicy contracts

TWO high-ranking officials of the Department of National Defense (DND) are allegedly in cahoots with some officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in “fixing” contracts for favored bidders, such as in the case of the questionable procurement of 21 refurbished UH-1D helicopters.

The Senate and the House of Representatives are set to investigate the alleged anomaly where “witnesses” are expected to surface and “tell all” about the deal that was sealed with Rice Aircraft Services Inc. (RASI) and its partner, Eagle Copters Ltd.

According to DND insiders, the “duo” has been on top of big-ticket and “juicy” contracts awarded to favored bidders, among them a local supplier of defense materials, a woman with the initials “J.M.” Sources said the trader has a number of retired and active officials in her payroll.

Last week, The Manila Times columnist and veteran broadcast journalist Erwin Tulfo wrote about another questionable DND decision to purchase 28 M113 armored personnel carriers (APCs) for P880 million instead of shipping in 114 units of M113 donated by the United States.

It turned out, Tulfo said, that the 21 M113s bought from Israel, each of which costs at least P31.4 million, are APCs previously used in Belgium, the United States and Israel.

“In my Teleradyo 5 interview with Defense Undersecretary [Fernando] Manalo, he could not justify the DND’s decision to purchase 28 M113 APCs from Israel instead of spending less on transporting the 114 APCs from the US,” he added.

The Manila Times sources provided several documents and photos to back up their claim that the helicopter contract was “rigged” in favor of RASI, owned and operated by US businessman Robert Rice.

They said biddings were declared a failure to pave the way for a negotiated contract in favor of RASI.

Documents obtained by The Times showed that ranking Philippine Air Force officers “guided” the contractor on how to skirt strict rules on government procurement, which allows a negotiated deal after two successive failed biddings.

To make the “drama” more convincing, the bidding for the 21 helicopters failed not only twice but thrice and on all occasions, RASI emerged as the winner, only to be disqualified eventually because of a number of “irregularities.”

The quickest and surefire way to bag the deal was to declare a failure of bidding to relax the requirements for negotiation.

Interestingly, a bidder should have been declared blacklisted if it was found out that it faked its requirements or lacked the required facility and financial capacity as in the case of RASI.

The documents showed that there were two Post Qualification (PQ) inspections conducted at the facility of Rice. The first was on March 1-8, 2013 by PAF Brig. Gen. Conrado Parra and Maj. Oliver Casuncad.

The two officials gave a very impressive Post Qualification report but failed to satisfy government observers during deliberations on their mission.

They found out from the first PQ that Rice has no qualified facility and some of his documents were fake. The helicopter components were discovered to be non-compliant with the requirements from the start but the official report was favorable.

The second PQ inspection was conducted by on April 23-27, 2013 at Rice facility again by Parra and Casuncad, accompanied by two more PAF officers whose findings differed from the findings of the first two officers.

The documents again showed that there were papers found to be fraudulent but were kept away from view allegedly upon the instruction of the two ranking DND officials. The favorable report was to avoid the blacklisting of Rice.

Sources said Assistant Secretary Patrick Velez was informed that the documents submitted by Rice–statement of ongoing contracts, whereby contracts stated therein did not actually exist; audited financial statements; and net financial contracting capacity– were fraudulent.

As a part of PQ procedure, Rice had to present all the original documents and the individuals who signed them. In the audited financial statements, Rice failed to present the Certified Public Accountant who certified the report.

“They never mentioned the fake documents submitted by Rice. This is relevant to the discussions between the PAF official and Rice’s former representative on how to manipulate the bidding to arrive at negotiation. Velez knew that the papers were fake but the DND resolution turned out favorable. Rice should have been blacklisted on the second bidding,” one of The Times sources said.

The Manila Times was given what seems to be a copy of an authentic mail envelope addressed to Rice that contained a copy of a resolution passed by the DND Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC) 1.

The resolution states that there were failed biddings and that it was highly recommended that “Secretary of National Defense (Voltaire Gazmin) to resort to the adoption of an Alternative Mode of Procurement through Negotiated Procurement.”

Stating causes for the recommendation, it was dated May 13, 2013 and signed by Undersecretary Fernando Manalo as chairman; Velez, as vice chairman; Director Nebuchadnezzar Alejandrino as member; and Army Col. Joselito Reyes as member.

The other members of SBAC 1 who failed to sign the resolution were Lt. Gen. Gregorio Macapagal and Maj. Gen. Gabriel Dimatatac.

A copy of the resolution was given to Rice, proof that he was being informed to prepare to bag the contract under a negotiated scheme, the sources said.

Rice, by his own admission through a lawsuit in the US, claimed that he had prior economic relationships with the Philippine government.

The Times sources said these “economic relationships” were the beginning of his “partnership” with Philippine officials.

Opinion: Clearest indications that Jabidah was a hoax (by Roberto Tiglao) Part 3

Opinion piece in the Manila Times (Mar 26): Clearest indications that Jabidah was a hoax (by Roberto Tiglao)

Third of a four-part series

The clearest indications that the “Jabidah massacre” – claimed to this day to have sparked the Moro rebellion – was nothing but a hoax are the contrasting fates of the alleged perpetrators and the supposed sole witness, Jibin Arula.

The “Jabidah” killings purportedly occurred under the clandestine “Operation Merdeka” in 1968, in which young Muslims were being trained to infiltrate Sabah to foment an uprising against adjacent Malaysia, so the Philippines could intervene and claim it. When one batch mutinied because of low pay, they were killed, as the made-for-movie narrative went.

Although an Air Force major, Eduardo Martelino, headed the entire operation, the training was being undertaken by the Army’s Special Forces, its elite unit established by then Capt. Fidel Ramos.

Other than the president himself, therefore, command responsibility for Operation Merdeka would have been on the armed forces chief of staff at that time.

Who was he? Gen. Manuel Yan, the youngest to be appointed to the post, and considered to have been the best and most principled Chief of Staff the country ever had. He resigned his post when martial law was imposed, declaring that he could not implement it as he thought it unconstitutional. Because of his prestige, though, Marcos convinced him to become ambassador to Thailand. President Cory Aquino subsequently appointed him as ambassador to Indonesia and then to the UK Court of St. James.

Distinguished as Yan was, would he have allowed a whitewash of an alleged Jabidah “massacre”?

President Ramos recruited Yan in 1992 as his Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, his chief negotiator with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that led to the 1996 peace settlement. Would the MNLF have talked to the ultimate commander of the Army Special Forces that massacred Muslims in Corregidor in 1968? I don’t think so.

Arula, the only “witness” to the alleged “Jabidah massacre”: Both the MNLF and the MILF, though, cared little about him, and he died forgotten in Cavite in 2010.
Arula, the only “witness” to the alleged “Jabidah massacre”: Both the MNLF and the MILF, though, cared little about him, and he died forgotten in Cavite in 2010.

Well maybe, it was the Army commanding general who was the rascal?

The Army commander then was as distinguished as Yan: Gen. Romeo Espino, who went on to become the armed forces’ longest-serving chief of staff. Despite working under from 1972 to 1981, Espino had totally not been tainted by the human rights abuses during martial law. Do you think such a principled military officer would have covered up for his men’s atrocity? I don’t think so.

What happened to the officers accused by the sole witness of murdering or having ordered the killing of at least 24 Muslim youths in Corregidor?

If there were really a massacre of Muslims, you would think that Major Martelino — whom then Senator Aquino demonized as an evil kind of James Bond, the blockbuster movie at that time — would have emigrated to the United States or anywhere in the world to escape Moro wrath. After all, the thousands of MNLF fighters and relatives of those allegedly killed in Corregidor would be going after him, a fatwah in effect declared on him, right?

Martelino converted to Islam

Far from that. Martelino, after his acquittal by the court martial, went on with his military career, becoming full colonel. Even years before Jabidah, he had married a Muslim, Sofia, and converted to Islam, taking the Muslim name Abdul Latif.

After retirement, of all places to live for a man who was supposedly responsible for the Muslim youths’ massacre, Martelino settled down with his Muslim wife in the midst of the Tausugs in Simunul island in Tawi-Tawi, where he first recruited and trained for the Merdeka Muslim infiltrators.

His involvement in Operation Merdeka apparently wasn’t just another military assignment for him, but was part of his life’s cause.

He wrote a book in 1959 entitled “Someday Malaysia,” published in New York, which even United Nations General Secretary Carlos Romulo prefaced and called a “valuable contribution” to scholarship. By “Malaysia,” Martelino wasn’t referring to the Federation of Malaysia, which would be founded only in 1963. He referred to a “Union” he said President Manuel Quezon first conceived: “A prosperous world unit comprising the nations of Southeast Asia inhabited by the Malayan race. Burma, Thailand, Annam, Malaya, Indonesia and the Philippines leagued in an integrated commonwealth.”

And the other officers who were accused by the sole whistleblower Arula of killing the Muslim recruits?

They all went on to have distinguished military careers, the Jabidah accusations against them forgotten. Other than Martelino, Arula — a barely literate former farmer — had filed charges against five officers, who were then tried in a court martial and acquitted. We were able to trace what happened to each.

Then captain Teodoro Facelo, whom the alleged witness Arula claimed recruited him, became a full colonel, and served as the second commander of the Army’s 503rd infantry brigade in the late 1980s. This brigade had been distinguished for its successful campaigns against the New People’s Army — with not a single human rights case filed against its members.

Then Capt. Oropesa rose to the rank of general. Following is the last report on him that I got: On June 26, 2014 – “The 11th Special Forces team, composed of Gen. Cirilo O. Oropesa AFP (Ret), Maj-Gen. Jose Magno Jr. AFP (Ret), Maj-Gen. Rodolfo Canieso AFP (Ret), Gen. Rodrigo Ordoyo AFP (Ret), was honored for their significant role in the training and organization of the 1st Special Forces Company led by then Capt. Fidel V Ramos.”

Lt. Eduardo Batalla got to be brigadier general, and in 1989 was the Philippine Constabulary Commander for Western Mindanao. He was murdered, together with several other officers, by Muslim rogue cop Rizal Alih who took them hostage in a prison break.

Capt. Ruperto Amistoso became a full colonel when he retired, and was recruited in 1990 by Gen. Jose Almonte as the Intelligence and Investigation Services chief of the crack anti-smuggling unit at that time, the Economic Intelligence and Investigation Bureau. Capt. Alberto G. Soteco wasn’t really a military man but a doctor, who, after volunteering for the Philcag contingent in Korea was assigned to the Special Forces’ detachment in Corregidor. He left the military right after they were acquitted by the court martial.

Are these the kind of officers who would undertake a ruthless massacre in Corregidor in 1968?

Lt. Abadilla?

That a Lt. Rolando Abadilla was one of the accused has been taken by Jabidah propagandists as an indication of the ruthlessness of those who were supposed to be guilty of the alleged massacre, since he became notorious in the 1980s as Marcos Metrocom chief. But in Corregidor he was merely a supply officer. Would Marcos have taken as his top henchman a military man whose head would have been put by the MNLF on a bounty because of “Jabidah”?

The only really pathetic figure here in this entire saga is Jibin Arula, the only one who claimed he was an eyewitness to a massacre.

When the Jabidah controversy waned, in part because of the ridicule later heaped on it as “a massacre without the massacred,” Arula’s patron, Cavite governor (a Liberal) Delfin Montano, and the Liberal Party who exploited the issue for purposes of the 1969 elections, discarded him like a used rag after Marcos won the elections.

According to Arula’s own account, Montano gave him P20,000 to leave and fend for himself.

As the sole witness to what was supposedly a historic event that fueled growth of the Moro rebellion, he would have been taken in by the MNLF, even secured him in Malaysia, or for the MILF, to relocate him to one of its many camps in Maguindanao, right?

Nope. He settled in Antique with another woman, leaving his wife in Bonggao, an island in the Sulu archipelago. He would have seven children on that Visayan island and people there didn’t even know he was Muslim as he regularly attended mass in the village’s church.

That the MNLF, MILF, Senator Aquino and the entire opposition Liberal Party cared little for Arula, the only person who “exposed” the “Jabidah massacre” obviously means that they knew something the rest of the country didn’t.

MNLF chairman Nur Misuari, when he got to be ARMM governor, recruited him in 1997 for an assignment with a monthly salary of P7,000, to narrate when asked his Jabidah allegations at forums on the Moro issue. He spoke only at a few of those forums, though. He became jobless when Misuari ended his term in 2000.

Arula resurfaced in 2007, and was interviewed by several obviously gullible journalists (even featured in a documentary by Al-Jazeera) and invited to forums by NGOs at that time during the propaganda campaign for a peace settlement with the MILF.

When his wife died sometime in the mid-2000s, he went to Cavite and was given odd jobs by the son of Melencio Sagun, the chief of police in Naic, Cavite in 1968 who purportedly “found” him after his dramatic escape from Corregidor.

Arula died in a vehicular accident in 2010, which Aquino’s organizers of a planned Jabidah commemorative event found out only in 2011, when they were looking for him as their star participant.

Nobody even knows where he is buried; no relative of his has come out. Not the MNLF, nor the MILF has ever mentioned him again.

Conclusion of this series on Monday: The National Historical Commission resists Aquino’s pressures on the “Jabidah” issue.
FB: Bobi Tiglao

Opinion: Only Aquino was fooled by ‘Jabidah’ hoax (by Roberto Tiglao) Part 2

Opinion piece in the Manila Times (Mar 25): Only Aquino was fooled by ‘Jabidah’ hoax (by Roberto Tiglao)

Second of Three Parts

It’s not just former police chief Alan Purisima and Special Action Force (SAF) chief Director Getulio Napeñas—key characters in the Mamasapano drama—who have managed to fool President Benigno Aquino 3rd, leading to the massacre of 44 elite police commandos.

This arrogant, yet gullible president, out of all five chief commanders of the country’s armed forces after Marcos, has also fallen hook, line and sinker for the hoax called the “Jabidah massacre.”

According to this yarn, “24 and even as many as 200” young Muslims who were being trained  under “Operation Merdeka” were massacred by Army Special Operations troops when they mutinied.

Merdeka (Freedom) was purportedly a Marcos plan to infiltrate Sabah with Filipino Muslim guerillas to foment an uprising against Malaysia.

Aquino, in his speech at the very first “commemoration” of the Jabidah fiction on Corregidor island in 2013, ordered the National Historical Commission to put Jabidah in our history books and to install a commemorative marker on it in Corregidor, together with a Garden of Peace.

Two years later the Commission has done neither, and it hasn’t authorized whatever is there. There is an unauthorized plaque on “Jabidah,” though, in Corregidor stuck on a World War II bunker, with the tasteless annotation: “Donated by Hon. Majiv Hataman,” with a facsimile of his signature. Hataman is a Liberal Party stalwart who was elected as governor of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

It didn’t cross the minds of those nincompoops who participated in the “commemoration” in 2013 and last March 18 that of all massacres in modern history, not a single victim has been identified as having been killed in the so-called Jabidah carnage.
Unauthorized marker on “Jabidah” screwed on a World War II bunker in Corregidor with the ‘epal’ “donated-by” note.
Foreground, unauthorized marker on “Jabidah” screwed on (background) a World War II bunker in Corregidor with the ‘epal’ “donated-by” note.

There were four named martyrs in the “Battle of Mendiola Bridge” that sparked a student uprising in the 1970s. There were 13 identified martyrs killed in the Mendiola Massacre during Cory Aquino’s watch in 1987. There were 58 killed, all with names, in the Maguindanao Massacre in 2009. There were 44 police commandos killed in the Mamasapano massacre, and the six civilian casualties were identified.

Not a single Jabidah victim identified

There is not a single identified victim in the “Jabidah Massacre.”

No one has claimed that his brother, husband, son, a kinsman of the nth degree, or even a friend was among those killed in the purported massacre. Moro propagandists would not even dare paying a scoundrel to claim to pretend he had a Jabidah-massacre relative.

This is astonishing, especially because of the well-known and feared practice of rido among Muslims in Mindanao. Either based on religion or just tribal culture, this tradition requires the family of a murdered person to exact vengeance, even against just the relatives of the perpetrator, and runs across generations.

Neither the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) nor the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) sent congratulatory messages for the 2013 anniversary when the “massacre” supposedly occurred and the government’s position on it.

Even as so many writers have routinely claimed—falsely—that Jabidah sparked the “Moro war of liberation,” the two organizations knew full well that it was a fabrication, but have opportunistically remained silent on the issue as it has roused anger among the Muslim youth. The rhetoric of a Jabidah massacre has  vanished in official MNLF and MILF documents, although it has been resuscitated by younger Moro politicians notably ARMM governor Hataman.

Not Aquino’s mother Cory, not Ramos, Estrada, nor Arroyo had ever talked about Jabidah, much less order it put in our history books.

When she assumed office, Cory Aquino called for an official investigation into the Jabidah massacre. Nothing came of it, not even the organization of a body to do the investigation. An official close to Aquino had told me: “It didn’t take too long to realize Jabidah was a propaganda hoax, that it was best to keep quiet about it, though, so as not to rile the Moro militants.”

Former president Fidel V. Ramos would have known what really happened, as he was Presidential Assistant for Military Affairs from 1968 to 1969. The Jabidah accusations were officially hurled not at then President Marcos, but the armed forces. The accusations, if true, would have been really personal for Ramos: He founded the Army’s Special Forces Regiment, whose officers were accused of the alleged massacre in 1968, only a few years after he ended his stint as commander of the elite force.

Ramos could have made his negotiations for a final settlement with the MNLF in 1996 easier if he had played to the Moro insurgent gallery—as Aquino is doing now— and declared that his peace pact made the sacrifice of those killed in “Jabidah’ worthwhile. He didn’t, for he knew Jabidah was a hoax.

Part of the Jabidah urban legend, a confusion even written about by scholars, is that Marcos, with his martial law, managed to suppress the controversy.

But the Jabidah accusations broke out in March 1968, more than four years before martial law was declared and during what was actually the golden age of Philippine democratic institutions—the Congress and the Press—which Marcos could not have browbeaten.

The best and the brightest probers

The Senate, in fact, at that time was not just opposition-dominated but manned by the most respected and intelligent senators ever, who could not be cowed by Marcos, among them — other than Senator Ninoy Aquino — Jovito Salonga, Gerardo Roxas, Arturo Tolentino, Jose Diokno, Lorenzo Tanada, Raul Manglapus, Emmanuel Pelaez, Eva Estrada Kalaw. There never, in fact, has been again such a more capable, articulate and principled Senate as they during the Jabidah controversy.

The professionalism, courage and sheer intelligence of journalists in newspapers and TV stations (despite their anti-Marcos biases) like the Manila Times, the Manila Chronicle, and the ABS-CBN network at that time have, in fact, not been seen again.
Tell me, would this kind of Senate and this kind of press – the best and the brightest in our history—be cowed by Marcos and let the issue die down?

Only if they realized it was a hoax. In fact, Jabidah swiftly receded from public consciousness by the end of 1968, with the report that a martial court in February 1971 acquitted the accused officers treated only as a minor inside-page news story.

As supported by facts, I have written in this series, what Jabidah was probably really about was the following, which I’ve deduced using certain details the sole witness Jibin Arula provided:

The Liberal Party around late 1967 learned that Marcos was covertly executing the clandestine military operation for the country to eventually wrest Sabah from Malaysia.

It was Liberal Party Cavite governor Delfin Montano who uncovered it, since it was Lino Bocalan who was providing the logistics and finances for the operation in Corregidor. Montano was closely monitoring Bocalan since his former crony he helped to become the biggest cigarette smuggler in Cavite had defected to Marcos’ side and planned to run against him in the 1969 elections. (Bocalan won.)

Liberal Party strategists thought it could be an issue that would be fatal for Marcos in the then coming 1969 elections. Malaysia would almost certainly protest the operation that risked a war, and even raise it in the UN, making Marcos unpopular.

The Liberals had one big problem, though. If they revealed it through the media, they would be accused of betraying the nation, exposing a secret operation against Malaysia intended, after all, to claim what was really Philippine soil.

However, they would appear to be merely doing their job as the opposition, if rather than just Operation Merdeka, they would protest the killing of Filipino Muslims who decided to leave their training course.

They were even careful not to call for a press conference for their “expose.” On March 25, 1968, just five days after Jabidah supposedly happened, Governor Montano and his lawyers accompanied Arula to file a frustrated murder case against the Special Forces officers in a Cavite court. It was reported only as a minor story first, until Muslim Liberal Party congressmen raised a howl over it, and Ninoy delivered his Jabidah speech March 28.

What an opposition Ninoy and the Liberal Party were! For politics they betrayed the nation, in effect ratting on our country to the Malaysians.

It, however, had two other terrible unintended horrible consequences for the nation.
First, it was really the main reason why the Moro problem has become such a huge one for the nation. It gave the Muslim youth a cause célèbre, indeed a casus belli that roused their anger to join the then secessionist MNLF. Upon learning that the Philippines was serious in claiming Sabah by fomenting a revolt against it, Malaysia similarly retaliated by funding and actively supporting a Moro uprising. The MNLF’s break-away group, the MILF, would grow into such a huge military force it was able to massacre 44 commandos at will, and now claims swathes of central Mindanao as its territory, which for our military to enter needs the group’s permission (“coordination”).

Second, it was an ingredient for Marcos to impose a dictatorship three years later. It convinced the military from its top brass down to the foot soldier that we have such an unprincipled opposition that would even betray the nation just to gain power.  Together with the Plaza Miranda bombing two years later in 1971 – which the military was convinced was a communist plot that involved Ninoy, since he missed it — it became easy for Marcos to convince the armed forces, even then PC Chief Ramos and Chief of Staff Espino, that our style of democracy wasn’t working with that kind of opposition, and that they should support as they did, a dictatorship.

Next week: The fate of the sole Jabidah witness and the accused Special Forces officers, and why exposing  Jabidah as  a hoax is important for our nation’s future.
FB: Bobi Tiglao

Army sets up new checkpoints in Samar’s rebel-infested village

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 27): Army sets up new checkpoints in Samar’s rebel-infested village
The Philippine Army’s 87th Infantry Battalion (87th IB) will set up new checkpoints in Guirang village of this town to deter activities of communist rebels.

Lt. Randy C. Alunday, assistant commander of the 87th IB Alpha Company, said the new checkpoints is part of massive clearing operations to prevent possible attacks during the upcoming Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army (NPA) 46th founding anniversary on March 29.

The checkpoint, according to Alunday, will complement patrol operations conducted in the area purposely to hinder activities of the New People’s Army.

“The bottom line of all of this is that we are doing everything we can to provide for the best possible safety and security,” he said.

New checkpoints will be manned by soldiers who are trained in doing high-profile search techniques.

“They've done specific rehearsals to build them up over the last few months and they understand all of the different scenarios, from the highest threat level to the most rudimentary threat level, in order to provide a safe environment,” Alunday explained.

Linda Pacaanas, chief of Mabini village, said the presence of soldiers in the area has repelled insurgents and boosted their confidence in their small village.

Mabinil village has been known as site for encounter between government troops and rebels.

Soldiers conduct regular patrols in the area to prevent enemy activity, and have also a standby troops ready to reinforce every time there has been a threat to operating troops in the area.

“We want to do this in a balanced way so people feel safe. This is to ensure that people with a more sinister intent don’t get to bring something into the community,” he added.

Peace groups in Davao call for permanent suspension of military offensive

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 27): Peace groups in Davao call for permanent suspension of military offensive

Peace groups in Davao held a silent rally on Friday to mark the first year anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CAB) and urged government to suspend the all-out offensive against the Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao.

Lindee Prieto, convenor of the Initiatives for International Dialogue and secretariat for the All-Out Peace, said the government must not only suspend the all-out offensive to pave the way for the graduation of students in the affected areas of Maguindanao but must consider a humanitarian ceasefire permanently.

Prieto, who led the silent rally attended by Muslim and non-Muslim communities on Friday, voiced concern of the increasing number of civilians leaving homes for the evacuation centers.

She said the latest figures showed the number of "bakwits" (evacuees) already reached over a hundred thousand people particularly from the Bangsamoro core areas and Tiduray communities.

“We are here not only to commemorate the first year anniversary of the peace agreement, but we are here to remember what we have gone through…what we have gained after the signing,” Prieto said in an interview.

Prieto voiced concern over the setbacks of the peace process after the Mamasapano incident and the all-out offensive that already derailed discussion of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

She said the BBL is already delayed although Congress assured to reopen hearings in April.

She said there were reports that 20,000 internally displaced persons have returned home after the military suspended the all-out offensive against the BIFF.

However, she was worried that people are still leaving their communities because of the level of insecurity in their area.

“We seek for the reassessment in the areas. Naghangyo mi sa publiko (We are appealing the public) for humanitarian help,” Prieto said.

Yesterday, taxi operators joined the call for peace under the campaign “Cabs for CAB”.

“We have the support of the operators after we have reached out to them,” Prieto said, emphasizing that they are involving more groups to join in calling to save the peace process. Taxi units have carried posters and posted stickers on their units calling for peace in Mindanao.

PNoy to give national address on Bangsamoro

From the Philippine Star (Mar 27): PNoy to give national address on Bangsamoro

President Benigno Aquino III will address the nation today as the country marks the anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

An advisory sent to Palace reporters said Aquino will address the nation on the CAB at 2 p.m.

The CAB is the final peace agreement signed between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in March 27, 2014, concluding the over 17 years of negotiations.

The peace pact resulted in the creation of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which will serve as the enabling law for the proposed political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Aquino is expected to renew his call for the passage of the BBL after the Mamasapano incident put the Bangsamoro peace process in peril.

On January 25, Special Action Force troopers clashed with members of the MILF and its breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

The encounter resulted in the death of 44 policemen, 18 rebels and five civilians.

AFP contests CA writ of habeas data but vows to protect rights lawyer, probe alleged threats

From InterAksyon (Mar 27): AFP contests CA writ of habeas data but vows to protect rights lawyer, probe alleged threats

The Armed Forces of the Philippines is contesting a writ of habeas data issued by the Court of Appeals on behalf of human rights lawyer Maria Catherine Dannug-Salucon but said it will investigate her alleged harassment by soldiers.

A statement from the AFP public affairs office also said military units have also been ordered “to ensure the life, liberty and security” of the Isabela-based Salucon “and her immediate family members.”

On March 12, the appellate court’s sixth division granted Salucon’s petition for a writ of habeas data after she alleged military and police personnel placed her under surveillance and harassed her on several occasions in March last year after she handled the cases of several persons accused of being New People’s Army members.

Aside from granting the writ, the CA also ordered the military to produce for possible destruction all information, records, photographs and dossiers related to their surveillance on the petitioner.

However, the court dismissed the cases against President Benigno Aquino III, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and resigned Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima, who were named respondents in Salucon’s petition.

The writ of habeas data is a remedy available to any person whose right to privacy, liberty or security is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity engaged in the gathering, collecting or storing of data or information about the person, family, home and correspondence of the aggrieved party.

The AFP said it had filed a motion for reconsideration, through the Office of the Solicitor General, of the CA resolution granting the writ of habeas data to Salucon.

AFP on red alert for NPA anniversary

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 27): AFP on red alert for NPA anniversary

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will declare red alert starting Saturday in connection with the New People’s Army (NPA) anniversary.

“The AFP will declare red alert status starting 12 noon tomorrow March 28 up to 12 noon March 30. Troops will not be allowed to leave their duty stations during the duration of the red alert status,” Armed Forces public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said at a press briefing on Friday.

“The AFP is ready to perform its mandated tasks to protect the people against any armed threats including the NPA bandits who are normally launching attacks against government installations and people during their anniversary,” he said.

Cabunoc said they would take preemptive measures to thwart the communist rebels’ plans of mounting violent attacks.

The NPA will hold its 46th anniversary on Sunday.

DND: PHL to forego repair of Pag-asa Island airstrip

From GMA News (Mar 27): DND: PHL to forego repair of Pag-asa Island airstrip
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Friday said the military would not push through with its planned maintenance repair works on Pag-asa Island, one of the Philippine territories China is also claiming in the Spratlys.

In a chance interview after an earthquake drill in Marikina City, Gazmin said the military could not proceed with the repair of its facilities on Pag-asa Island including its eroding airstrip as doing so would require the construction of a pier.
Only a day before, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the repair of the airstrip would not violate the code of conduct among claimant-countries in the South China Sea.

“Repair and maintenance, that’s okay with us. But before we bring in construction materials there, we need to put up a pier to allow the entry of ships. So that will totally change the landscape. That’s against the DOC,” Gazmin said.

Gazmin was referring to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), a non-binding agreement signed by China and the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEN) which includes the Philippines. 

The agreement aimed to ease the tension between countries that have claims over the mineral resources-rich Spratly Islands.

Gazmin pointed out that the landscape of Pag-asa Island might be changed if the military will put up a pier in order to accommodate the ships that would carry the construction materials for the repair works. He said such move is in violation of the DOC.

“We cannot repair (our facilities) because the construction materials will be coming from the outside,” Gazmin said.

Gazmin said it was impractical and very expensive to use aircraft in transporting the materials to the island.

“If it will be by aircraft, it will be very very expensive and very impractical. So you have to bring in the boat but the boat cannot come in because there is no pier,” Gazmin said.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has long planned to repair its facilities in Pag-asa, including its dilapidated runway. The AFP, however, did not push through with its plan as the tensions between the Philippines and China over the disputed islands in Spratly escalated last year.

Pag-asa is one of the nine islands occupied by the Philippines in the disputed chain of islands and islets in South China Sea or West Philippine Sea. These chain of islands and islets are commonly referred as the Spratly Islands.

The seat of government of Kalayaan town in Palawan is situated on Pag-asa Island.

Just on Thursday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said government could actually conduct repair works in the islands it occupies in West Philippine Sea as it is not covered by the DOC.

“I think the violation of the DOC is in terms of massive reclamation and we have said that maintenance and repair [are] not covered by the portion of the DOC which says repair and maintenance [do] not raise tension,” Del Rosario said.

Under the DOC, parties agreed “to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that woul complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner”.

The agreement, however, lacks the power to sanction states that will violate its provisions.

China and the ASEAN have yet to craft a code of conduct on exploration in West Philippine Sea or South China Sea, which is envisioned to be a legally-binding document.

It has been earlier reported that China is conducting massive reclamation works in several islands in the disputed territory.

Aside from China and the Philippines, other countries who have claims over Spratlys are Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei.

CPP/NDF-KM: KM calls on Filipino youth to rise up against discredited US-Aquino regime

NDF/KM propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Mar 26): KM calls on Filipino youth to rise up against discredited US-Aquino regime
NDFP National Democratic Front of the Philippines
Spokesperson, Kabataang Makabayan
The Kabataang Makabayan (KM, Patriotic Youth) held a lightning protest rally today, together with other allied revolutionary organizations of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), in celebration of the 46th anniversary of the New People’s Army on 29 March 2015.

KM also resonates the call for the Filipino youth and people to rise up against the anti-people, corrupt and rotten system presided over by the US-Aquino regime.

The current debacle over the Mamasapano incident could not anymore be escaped by the US puppet regime of Aquino, despite the chain of lies and public deception it employs in order to escape direct accountability. Aquino has been exposed, and he is hell-bent on swaying public opinion by employing cheap propaganda tricks like showbiz personalities and pathetic appeals to emotion, even as he scampers to issue one presidential speech after another that cannot in any way assuage the people’s disgust and hatred.

The Mamasapano operation was planned and pushed by the US to Aquino and his ilk in its so-called ‘war on terror’. Aquino surrendered our national sovereignty to the US, violated his chain of command in favor of personal friendship and allegiance, mounted the death-bound operation that included civilians, and showed flagrant arrogance in attacking the areas controlled by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has a ceasefire agreement with the Aquino regime.

In the midst of public clamor for accountability and justice, the Aquino regime has instead opted for political vindictiveness by launching an all-out war in Mindanao that has now displaced hundreds of thousands. The traumatized communities who massively fled their homes and livelihood now suffer the same plight suffered by those displaced by Aquino’s all-out military offensives in Zamboanga.

The KM calls on the Filipino youth to rise and join the peoples mounting protests against the corrupt, incorrigible mendacious, fascist, puppet and anti-people US-Aquino regime. Millions of Filipino youth are out of school and unemployed. The few who could study suffer ever-rising tuition and other fees and bear the brunt because of the US-Aquino government’s failure to deliver education and other social services as a right of the people. There is no real hope for the Filipino youth and people in this rotten system dominated by ruling classes of big compradors and landlords like Aquino and maintained by their US imperialist master.

Together with the people, the Filipino youth must stand and build the strong ouster movement against the rotten semifeudal and semicolonial system maintained and represented by the Aquino regime. The Filipino youth, armed with vigor, energy, skills and talent should selflessly offer its best years in service to the people and for genuine revolutionary change. The Communist Party of the Philippines lead millions of the revolutionary people in building the people’s government in the countryside and thousands of revolutionary base communities, conducts agrarian revolution and leads economic, cultural, political programs that genuinely benefit the people.

In the countryside, more and more youth join the New People’s Army, the genuine people’s army that launches sure blows against the fascist armed machinery of this rotten system. KM calls on the Filipino youth to rise up and join the ever growing people’s army that will crush this rotten system!

Long live the 46th Anniversary of the New People’s Army! Long live the CPP-NPA-NDFP!

Filipino youth, serve the people!

Go to the countryside, join the New People’s Army!

Overthrow the rotten system and rule of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism!

Overthrow the corrupt, puppet, anti-people and fascist US-Aquino regime!

Suspected BIFF tunnel discovered in Maguindanao

From ABS-CBN (Mar 27): Suspected BIFF tunnel discovered in Maguindanao

MAGUINDANAO - Government troops have discovered a tunnel allegedly used by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) near the boundary of Barangays Meta and Iginagampong in the town of Datu Unsay in Maguindanao Thursday.

Soldiers accidentally discovered the tunnel while on foot patrol in the area after one of them slipped and landed on the tunnel. It is located 10 feet below the road, and is hidden behind trees and grass.

The tunnel is about 20 meters long and previously functioned as a water channel.
It is also located near the Army detachment in the area.

"Maraming instance na kasi na may naglagay [ng] IED malapit dito, target yung brigade commander ng Mechanized...tapos nagkahabulan din noon sa mga armado hindi sila napansin nawala kaagad mabilis masyado. So possible ito ang ginagamit nila paakyat rin ng hill 224 mga 200 meters kasi paakyat dyan hill 224 na. Nung makita rin ito may mga balot pa ng pastil," said Lt. Col. Gerry Cap-atan, commander of the Provisional Battalion of the 6th Infantry Division.

Authorities are planning to have the tunnel closed to prevent future use.

Troopers pursuing attackers of Agusan Del Norte governor

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 27): Troopers pursuing attackers of Agusan Del Norte governor

Troopers of the 4th Infantry Division are now conducting pursuit operations against the New People's Army (NPA) band who attacked the convoy of Agusan Del Norte Gov. Maria Angelica Rosedell Amante-Matba Thursday afternoon.

The attack took place at 11: 20 a.m. in the vicinity of Sitio Mimbahandi, Barangay Camagong, Nasipit town, 4th Infantry Division deputy spokesperson Capt. Joe Patrick A. Martinez said.

He added that the attacking rebels were from the NPA's Guerilla Front 4-A.

Martinez said Matba's party had just came from a turnover ceremony of a school building when fired upon.

Escorting police officers and troopers from the 29th Infantry Battalion managed to return fire and drive away the rebel group.

In the issuing firefight, a police officer was wounded and now undergoing treatment at the Butuan City Hospital.

Martinez said Matba's party was not injured in the attack.

Photo: Filipino fishermen rescued by US Navy

Posted to ABS-CBN (Mar 27): Photo: Filipino fishermen rescued by US Navy

Sailors attached to the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) rescue five stranded Filipino nationals in this photo taken on March 25, 2015. The Filipinos were taken on board and underwent medical check-up. The Blue Ridge is currently on patrol within the Indo-Asian Pacific region.

Photo: Commemoration

From the Manila Standard Today: Photo: Commemoration

Japanese soldiers played by Talisay City College students take cover from an explosion to commemorate the arrival of American forces on the shores of Talisay 70 years ago to liberate the Philippines during World War II.

Military scores NPA abandonment of rebel corpse in Compostela Valley

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 27): Military scores NPA abandonment of rebel corpse in Compostela Valley

The Eastern Mindanao Command on Friday condemned the New People's Army (NPA) for abandoning the corpse of a slain rebel at the heavily forested section of Sitio Totoy, Barangay San Jose, Monkayo town, Compostela Valley.

The still unidentified body was discovered 8: 30 a.m. by patrolling troopers on March 25.

Eastern Mindanao Command spokesperson Col.Romeo Brawner believed that the slain rebel was killed during the March 24 encounter with the 25th Infantry Battalion and abandoned on the same day when it proved difficult to transport him.

The corpse was turned over to the local government unit for proper disposition.

Eastern Mindanao Command head Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad slammed the bandits' disregard for the dignity of human life as well as the sanctity of death.

"This is how they treat and exploit their own people. They don’t have any concern for a wounded fellow and just let him die. The same thing happened when the NPA bandits left their vice commander to die during their failed attack in Mati, Davao Oriental last month," he added.

"We are calling on our deceived brothers who are still with the New People's Army for them to lay down their arms and live peaceful and meaningful lives," Baladad concluded.

War drums beating, but AFP says it’s prepared

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 27): War drums beating, but AFP says it’s prepared
The military is  adhering to  the line of the government’s road to peace with rebel groups, but said that in case peace talks bogs down,  it is ready to eliminate armed resistance.

Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc, Public Affairs Office  chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said of military brass: “I believe they are fully committed to the peace process and that they wouldn’t allow the hawks in their ranks to push them back toward  the days when their option was the use of violence. ”

On Wednesday, MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar laid down their options and possible scenarios if Congress shoots down the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Ghadzali  said one option is for them to elevate their redress to the United Nations. Another is the possibility that their men go back to war against the government. Jaafar also feared their units may break away from the MILF and join the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

MILF chairman Al Haj Murad and chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said they could not accept a “watered-down” BBL.

But lawmakers, legal luminaries and constitutionalists saw dangers in  the BBL if passed in its present form: Some of its provisions are unconstitutional, and  endanger  national security.

In 2008, the MILF split into two after the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) was junked by the Supreme Court   because the magistrates said the agreement was unconstitutional. This prompted some commanders of the MILF to launch  attacks not only against government forces but also civilian communities.

The BIFF faction emerged after the MILF leadership expelled one of its commanders, Ameril Umbra Kato, for not supporting the resumption of the peace talks with the government. The faction turned “spoiler of peace” by launching violent activities in some parts of Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

“The AFP maintains a credible deterrence to any armed threats all over the country,” Cabunoc said, reiterating the preparedness of the Armed Forces in case war erupts again if the BBL is rejected.

‘China alone in claims to sea’

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 27): ‘China alone in claims to sea’

NO nation in the world recognizes China’s nine-dash claim in the South China Sea and the weakness of its legal base is the reason Beijing is undertaking massive reclamation in disputed waters, according to Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.

“It reaffirms the belief that no country in the world recognizes that the nine-dash line is a valid claim on the part of China,” Del Rosario said at a forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

Right is might. Foreign Affairs Secretary
Albert del Rosario answers questions during a
forum of the Foreign Correspondents
Association of the Philippines in Manila where
he stressed that no country in the world
recognizes China’s claim in the South China
and West Philippine Seas. AFP PHOTO /
Del Rosario accused China of accelerating its expansionist agenda by changing the size, structure and physical attributes of land features in the South China Sea and have even rammed Filipino vessels in the West Philippine Sea, endangering the lives of fishermen.

“China is aware it has to engage in a battle of public opinion and shape the narrative in its favor given the weak legal case it is standing on,” Del Rosario said, adding that the Philippines chose to pursue international arbitration “to preserve a valued friendship” with China.

The DFA chief highlighted the international community’s significant support for the Philippines’ advocacy for a peaceful and rules-based settlement of disputes in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law.
 Del Rosario welcomed the growing international support after United States Senators John McCain, Bob Corker, Jack Reed and Bob Menendez warned that China’s land reclamation and construction in the region could be considered “a direct challenge, not only to the interests of the United States and the region, but to the entire international community.”

Del Rosario described the US lawmakers view as very helpful, saying it brings into focus with the international community the differences in terms of what is being said and what is happening on the ground.

“We welcome the statements made and we also welcome the call for a more substantive support and focus on the Asia rebalance strategy of the United States,” he added.

Del Rosario said a comprehensive US strategy on Chinese reclamation would likewise add an important voice to Manila’s arbitration case against China.

The Philippines likewise welcomed the Vietnam’s and Indonesia’s stand against China’s continue expansionism in the south China, adding  describing it as helpful in terms of promoting the rule of law and in finding peaceful and nonviolent solutions to the South China Sea claims.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has earlier announced that part of China’s claims to almost the entire the South China Sea has no legal basis.

“The ‘nine-dash line’ that China says marks its maritime border has no basis in any international law,” Jokowi said.

Vietnam Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Bin said his government told the Permanent Court of Arbitration that Vietnam fully rejected “China’s claim over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagoes and the adjacent waters.”

China claimed sovereignty over 90% of the water and all the islands in the South China Sea by drawing a nine-dash line covering 90% of that sea, prompting her neighbors to protest that her claim contradicts international law, specifically the 1982 UNCLOS.

“Even as the Philippines filed arbitral proceedings under Article 287 of UNCLOS, however, China continues to undertake unilateral measures that form part of a pattern of forcing a change in the regional status quo in order to advance and realize its ‘nine-dash line’ claim of undisputed sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea,”  Del Rosario said.

“As the arbitration case proceeds, everyone should have a deep appreciation of the case, in the context of our policy on the West Philippine Sea,” he said.

China backs the level of the resources it has poured on consolidating its presence in the South China Sea with an aggressive public diplomacy campaign, in its domestic public, the region and international community, and – as some of you may have noticed -- even in the Philippine public.

He said China is aware that it has to engage in the battle of public opinion and shape the narrative in its favor given the weak legal base that its claims are standing on.

“That said, it is my hope that all Filipinos can work together with us in standing behind our country’s position,” Del Rosario said.

“Ours is a principled position. The challenge, therefore, is to continue communicating effectively and efficiently our principled position on the West Philippine Sea issue.   Even as we face a formidable challenge, we have the law on our side.  International law is the great equalizer,” he said.

Del Rosario expressed confidence that doing the right thing will help the Philippines get what it think is right.

“We are, moreover, in the right. And right is might, ” Del Rosario concluded.

Alleged GPH funds for MILF old news, false

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 27): Alleged GPH funds for MILF old news, false

Allegations that the government is providing the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) funds through the Sajahatra Bangsamoro Program and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission is old news and have been proven to be false, the head of the National Commission for Muslim Filipinos and government peace panel member said Friday.

"We don't know where critics are getting all the information that they have been announcing to the media, but we can certainly ask the implementing agencies of Sajahatra Bangsamoro and of course the Bangsamoro Transition Commission to send them the financial reports that were submitted to the Commission on Audit if they want. All they have to do is ask," said NCMF chair Bai Yasmin Busran – Lao in reaction to a radio interview that alleged that the government is giving funds directly to the MILF through the BTC and Sajahatra Bangsamoro.

The NCMF Secretary explained that Sajahatra Bangsamoro is a program implemented by government agencies that provide services and other development projects for communities in Muslim Mindanao.The BTC, on the other hand, is a government agency created by President Aquino that is under the Office of the President and remains subject to regular government accounting rules and COA audit.

Government peace panel member Senen Bacani said the Php100-million operational expenses of the BTC, as provided in the EO during the body's first year, are subjected to regular government accounting and auditing procedures since the body is under the Office of the President.

“In fact, we learned that the BTC even returned funds that were not used to the National Treasury. If there are doubts, the Commission on Audit is there to give us its audit report,” he said.

On the Sajahatra Bangsamoro Program, Bacani said that its main goal is to provide short-term quick impact projects to the economically-deprived communities and other targeted beneficiaries in Mindanao.

“The implementation and funding of the Sajahatra program are all under the existing budget of these government agencies such as the departments of Agriculture, Social Welfare, Health, Public Works and Highways, among others,” Bacani said.

As to the future creation and funding of the BTA, Bacani said that lawmakers can ensure transparency in its financial transactions since the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is still in their hands for scrutiny. The draft BBL provides for the creation of the BTA to oversee the transition of the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the future Bangsamoro region.

US Navy rescues 5 Filipino fishermen in Philippine Sea

From Ang Malaya (Mar 27): US Navy rescues 5 Filipino fishermen in Philippine Sea

United States Navy sailors aboard the command ship of the US Seventh Fleet USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) assisted five Filipino fishermen who were in distress.

According to the official blog site of UN Navy, five Filipinos were fishing in Philippine Sea when their boat’s motor stalled out. Crew from USS Blue Ridge found them “adrift for three days with no food.”

“We thought it was strange to see something in the water, so we slowed down to get a better look. As we began looking for signs of distress, we noticed someone was waving a white t-shirt, while someone else was waving a flashlight,” officer of the deck on duty Ensign John Li said.

Blue Ridge then deployed a team on a rigid-hulled inflatable boat to rescue and safely brought the five men onboard the ship. While onboard, five Filipino nationals were given basic first aid. “The men were suffering from hypothermia and malnourishment among other ailments,” US Navy said.

“These are situations Navy medical professionals are trained for. Luckily, we were there at the right place and the right time to save a life,” USS Blue Ridge medical officer Lt. Cmdr. Omar Saeed said.

Two rebels surrender

From the Mindanao Times (Mar 26): Two rebels surrender
TWO MEMBERS of the New People’s Army from the region surrendered separately over the weekend. Alias Makjie voluntarily surrendered without firearm to the 67th Infantry Battalion based in Brgy. Central, Cateel, Davao Oriental on March 21, Saturday. Col. Romeo Brawner, spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command, said the 22-year-old surrenderee left the organization after he experienced difficulties in the movement.

On the same day, alias Mike identified as an NPA medic, also voluntarily surrendered without firearm to the Troops of 60th Infantry Battalion at Sitio Palo, Brgy. Limbaan, New Corella, Davao del Norte.

According to Brawner, Mike approached the troops after he was convinced by the barangay official to leave the movement and return to the folds of the law.

The surrenderees will be enrolled in the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) to prepare them for reintegration into the society.

Eastern Mindanao had recorded around 36 rebels who have already surrendered in their area of responsibility for the 1st Quarter of the year.

In his statement, Lt. General Aurelio Baladad, EastMinCom Head, welcomed the surrenderees as the NPA anniversary is approaching on March 29. “We are happy on the decision of our two brothers to be back in the folds of the law and live a peaceful life,” he said.

“We are encouraging others who are still with the NPA to come down, surrender their firearms and live a peaceful life with their family,” Baladad said.

A year after peace deal signing: Prospects for Bangsamoro law

From Rappler (Mar 27): A year after peace deal signing: Prospects for Bangsamoro law

What are the prospects for the passage of the law implementing the peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front post-Mamasapano?

REMEMBERING PEACE. Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman; Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak; Philippine president Benigno Aquino III and Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process hold the documents following the signing of a final peace agreement between the Philippine government and the muslim rebel group inside the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, the Philippines, March 27, 2014. Dennis Sabangan/ EPA

REMEMBERING PEACE. Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman; Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak; Philippine president Benigno Aquino III and Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process hold the documents following the signing of a final peace agreement between the Philippine government and the muslim rebel group inside the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, the Philippines, March 27, 2014. Dennis Sabangan/ EPA

What a difference a year makes.

Exactly a year ago in Malacañang, euphoria marked the signing of the peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that was 17 years in the making.
In Kalayaan Grounds, some 500 MILF rebels trooped to the Palace in busloads to witness the event. Onstage, the backdrop was dominated by paper doves encircling the emblem of the President.
There was renewed sense of hope that peace was within reach. Back then, it seemed that the greatest hurdle to the next stage of the peace process - the passage of the proposed law based on the peace deal in Congress and ratification in a plebiscite - was the persistent issue on constitutionality.
No one could have anticipated the Mamasapano tragedy that has turned the peace process around.
In the aftermath, the trust and approval ratings of President Benigno Aquino III, whom proponents of the Bangsamoro Basic Law had counted on to rally support for its passage, has sunk to an all-time low. At the Senate, the committee report on the Mamasapano debacle was unforgiving to Aquino, the MILF and the peace process as a whole. At the House of Representatives, about 100 lawmakers clamored to reopen investigations on the incident as the Bangsamoro bill faces dilution in another committee.
Despite the challenges, peace panels of the government and the MILF have reiterated that they are not giving up on the fight for the passage of a good Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress under the Aquino administration. (READ: Is it time for Plan B for the peace process?)
But with time running out as the 2016 election nears, some peace observers have proposed pursuing ways to proceed with the peace process beyond the Aquino administration.
Former government chief peace negotiator Jesus Dureza wrote in Mindanews:
"I am of the view that if the conditions today are not conducive to pass an acceptable BBL, it may be best to wait for better times and not force the issue now, lest the consequence may be dire and irreversible," Dureza said.
For Ateneo School of Government Dean Antonio La Viña, there is still time and BBL proponents should take advantage of the window to pass the law up to June.
La Viña said parties involved should continue pushing for an improved version of the law and reassess the political climate when the June deadline arrives.
"It's all about politics. If the President is able to change the situation – he said (the other day) that he will make announcements in the next few weeks about pushing for the peace process – then yes, we should push for the BBL right now. But if the politics doesn't change, it might be better to leave this to the next administration, where there could a better chance of passing a good law," La Viña said.
"If they can not get a good law, why will you replace the ARMM with something even worse or weaker than the ARMM?" he added.
Amid the political fallout that has eroded support for the BBL, Congress is carrying the responsibility of ensuring that the BBL would stand legal scrutiny.
Some constitutional experts, including former Supreme Court Justice Vicente Mendoza, have called the BBL unconstitutional for creating a substate, while the original framers of the 1987 Constitutional have come out with a statement supporting the constitutionality of the measure.
The proposed law seeks to create a parliamentary form of autonomous government that is designed to have more teeth than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Due to legal questions, the House of Representatives is set to delete what it believes are unconstitutional provisions, including those creating branches of the auditing, civil service, human rights and elections bodies for the Bangsamoro.
But the MILF has said that it would be better for Congress not to pass the law at all if it would mean passing a watered down version of measure. 
In a Wednesday, March 25, interfaith forum in Cagayan de Oro, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal gave assurances that the rebel group would not disengage from the peace process no matter what happens to the BBL, Mindanews reported.
Protect the CAB
While most discussions are centered on the fate of the BBL, La Viña said protecting the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) must also be considered.
"It is a very good agreement, a great achievement – enough for this administration that you can leave the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law to the next administration. In the end, that's what they might have to do," La Viña said.
"You have to protect the CAB. It the BBL is passed, then next administration might not even honor it because they feel like they don't own the process. They can say it's only for Aquino and not the nation. At least you give the next administration a major part of completing the agreement and then they will feel ownership," he added.
How constitutional issues would play out in relation to the political climate should also be considered, according to La Viña.
"Before Mamasapano, you can imagine Aquino had more influence on Congress. If BBL was passed by 90% of the Senate or the House, the SC will have a hard time voting against it. They can be considered as the roadblock. They can ask themselves 'Are we doing the right thing?' Now, they don't have to consider that. I don't think they will be restrained," La Viña said.
With varied opinions on the legality of the bill, even the peace panels anticipate that the law would be questioned in court no matter what comes out from Congress.
"One consideration is if there's a case filed before the SC questioning constitutionally, legality of the BBL, the case that will be filed will involve also the CAB. If that happens and the CAB is declared unconstitutional, then we are back to zero. The peace process can survive having no BBL but it can not survive the CAB being unconstitutional," La Viña said.
BBL only one part of the process
Alistair Macdonald, chair of the Third Party Monitoring Team on the Bangsamoro peace deal, said stakeholders should not forget that the BBL is only one part of the peace process.
Despite the volatile political climate, Macdonald said the CAB - if taken as a whole - still gives "the best prospect for peace" in Mindanao.
Under the peace deal between the government and the MILF, the establishment of the Bangsamoro autonomous region – to be implemented through the passage of the BBL - would entail a counterpart staggered decommisioning of firearms on the side of the MILF.
All these will be done in parallel with the gradual redeployment of government armed forces in the area, as well as the creation of socio-economic programs for the return of combatants to the mainstream.
"The BBL is only one part of the process, the process of legislation establishing the whole set up of the Bangsamoro," Macdonald said.
"All of that needs to be seen as a whole to be able to move forward on that basis and seize this opportunity for peace for the Philippines," he added.