Monday, March 30, 2015

Editorial: Infrastructure is key

Editorial in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 31): Editorial -- Infrastructure is key

MINDANAO is rich in natural resources yet businesses generally avoid investing in many parts of the island, for reasons of security. No wonder the conflict-affected provinces in Mindanao are among the poorest in the country, many with minimal infrastructure and very few private-sector investment.

The connection between conflict and poverty is nowhere more evident than in the 2012-2013 Philippine Human Development Report. Sulu had the lowest human development index (HDI) of 0.216, followed by Maguindanao, 0.3; Tawi-Tawi, 0.31; Zamboanga, 0.353; Agusan del Sur, 0.354; Davao Oriental, 0.356; Sarangani, 0.371; Zamboanga del Norte, 0.384; and Lanao del Sur, 0.416. The common denominator of these provinces is conflict. The report noted that Sulu’s HDI was almost as bad as those of the poorest African countries.

The HDI measures human development by averaging three basic measurements: health, education and standard of living. Ideally, the HDI should be close to 1. In comparison, provinces in Luzon dominated the top performing provinces in the report: Benguet, 0.849; Batanes, 0.789; Rizal, 0.734; Cavite, 0.709; Bulacan, 0.699; Bataan, 0.698; Laguna, 0.695; Nueva Vizcaya, 0.678, and Ilocos Norte, 0.641. The HDI index in Metro Manila was 0.634.

Prof. Toby Melissa C. Monsod, the coordinator of the 2012/2013 Philippine Human Development Report, observed that aside from the conflict in Mindanao, the poor HDI rankings of provinces in the South had been due to a failure to have “connective infrastructure.” She cited as proof the overlapping public investments, many small projects with little or no development significance dotting towns and cities, such as waiting sheds, entrance arches and multipurpose pavements, resulting in “duplicative infrastructure and programs in disregard of scale, synergy and the conscious integration of larger markets.”

It is not that the government has no plan for developing Mindanao. In fact, there is a roadmap for Mindanao that was based on the Roadmap for Transport Infrastructure Development for Metro Manila and Surrounding Areas, which the Aquino administration completed with help from the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The roadmap includes short-, medium- and long-term strategies and investment programs for the development of the transport infrastructure sector to serve as a guide in the development of policies, prioritization and design of transport programs and projects, according to Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan.

Perhaps the problem is in the implementation, which has been taking too long for many public infrastructure projects due mainly to funding problems. A case in point was the recently relaunched extension of the South Luzon Expressway to the province of Quezon, which was promised by the deposed strongman Ferdinand Marcos, approved during the term of President Fidel Ramos, and broke ground during the administration of President Gloria Arroyo.

Last week, the head of the country’s biggest conglomerate reiterated that building more infrastructure in Mindanao was the key to finding a long-term solution to its peace and order issues. San Miguel Corp. president Ramon Ang recalled an early investment he made in a cement plant in Batangas, which suffered from attacks by the New People’s Army in the early 1990s. Although Batangas, Cavite, Laguna and Quezon are progressive provinces today, Ang said these were considered “no man’s land” at that time.

The government solved that, not by signing a peace treaty, but by building more roads, Ang said. The same can be true for Mindanao, he said. If the government and the private sector develop the area, then the economic status and the life of the people there would improve. “If you look at them now, [you will see that] they are having a hard time because infrastructure is lacking. The government should bid out ports, airports and other infrastructure in Mindanao, and the private sector should be the one to construct them,” he said.

It is difficult to imagine why much of Mindanao is in such a sorry economic state. It has the resources that can easily draw investments, particularly in agriculture and tourism. All previous studies point to the lack of basic
infrastructure—schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, seaports, airports—and of electricity as the main issue. If the government can’t do these due to budgetary constraints, then it should tap the private sector. There is this mechanism called the public-private partnership, which, sadly, has been moving much too slowly.

MILF ‘to be hit’ if it blocks arrest of members involved in Mamasapano, lawmaker warns

From GMA News (Mar 29): MILF ‘to be hit’ if it blocks arrest of members involved in Mamasapano, lawmaker warns

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) “will be hit” if it blocks the arrest of members believed responsible for the killing of 44 police Special Action Force troopers in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Jan. 25, a lawmaker has warned.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez on Sunday urged the MILF to heed President Benigno Aquino III’s advice for the group to step aside and let the government bring those responsible for the Mamasapano tragedy to justice.

Rodriguez, chair of the House ad hoc committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), said the government will make good on its word to seek justice for the fallen police commandos even as it remains committed to pushing ahead with the peace process by passing the BBL.

“The president said they (MILF) have to step out of the way because we're going to arrest [those responsible for the Mamasapano clash]. Certainly, the full force of the law will be used to implement the [case that will be filed by the Department of Justice] and the warrant of arrest that will be issued by the court. They have to step aside. Otherwise, they will be hit along the side,” he said in an interview with dzBB.

In a nationwide address last month, Aquino warned the MILF against getting in the way of the government’s manhunt for suspected terrorist Abdul Basit Usman, one of the targets of the Mamasapano police operation. He also said he was counting on the MILF's assistance in seeking justice for the police commandos who died in Mamasapano and in the manhunt for terrorist bomb maker Basit Usman.

"Sa mga kasapi at liderato ng MILF: Mula pa noong umpisa, tinuturing ko kayo bilang mga kapatid sa paghahangad ng kapayapaan. At hanggang ngayon, umaasa ako na tutulong kayo na hanapin ang hustisya. Kailangang panagutin ang lahat ng may sala, lalo na kung totoong may mga sugatan at hindi makalaban na tuluyan pa ring pinatay," Aquino said.

Law enforcement operations against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, whose members are believed to have also been involved in the clash and are hiding Usman, have been ongoing since February.

More than 100,000 residents of Maguindanao have been affected by the operations and thousands have had to flee to evacuation centers.

Own sanctions

But MILF chairman Al Haj Murad, in an interview with GMA News on March 19, was adamant that members found to have been involved in the Mamasapano clash would not be surrendered to the government but would instead be sanctioned under the group's own regulations and under Shariah Law.

The MILF has completed its own investigation on the deadly Mamasapano clash where over 60 people, including 44 police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos, were killed. The clash occurred despite the peace deal signed by the government and the MILF in March last year.

While the DOJ has yet to wrap up its own probe on the incident, Rodriguez said the Moro group will have to let the government arrest the concerned MILF members because they are Filipino citizens.

“They (MILF) will have to follow the warrant of arrest. And they already know that the government is going to implement it. There's no more coordination [needed]. Sasagasaan talaga sila, if that is needed. There [will be] no compromise when the cases have already been filed,” he said.

Asked what the consequence will be if the MILF refuses to heed the arrest warrant for its men, Rodriguez said: “Then they will be hit. Anybody who will stop the warrant of arrest, they can be neutralized by the government.”

Perception of weakness

The lawmaker said the government would have to put its foot down and enforce the warrant of arrest because it would be perceived as weak if it does not.

“We are a government. Ano ba tayo, are we just a government that cannot implement its own order?” he said.

Once the DOJ files cases against those involved in the clash, Rodriguez said the MILF cannot cite the ongoing peace process to arrive at a compromise with the government.

“It (arrest warrant) may compromise it (peace process), what can we do?” he said. “After the DOJ files the case, the court issues the warrant of arrest, the full force of the law should be implemented by all law enforcement agencies of our government.”

Updates from De Lima, Ferrer

For its part, the House independent minority bloc called on Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel Ferrer to provide Congress with an update on government efforts.

In a press conference last week, bloc leader Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez pointed out that the government has yet to move to arrest the individuals who killed the SAF troopers more than two months after the incident occurred.

The MILF has finished its own report on the Mamasapano massacre and has submitted copies of it to the government. Therefore, the government can no longer claim [it] has yet to identify the killers of the SAF 44,” he said.

According to the lawmaker, the bloc will ask the House to investigate the government’s slowness in prosecuting the killers of the 44 SAF troopers even if Congress is on recess.

“We have a lot of questions to ask to a lot of people. To the best of our ability, the bloc will do everything we can to help ensure justice for the SAF 44 as soon as possible,” Romualdez said.

The MILF has insisted that its fighters acted in self-defense, disengaged when a ceasefire was declared, and has denied involvement in acts shown in a viral video of an armed man shooting a wounded SAF trooper and looting the body.

"It is a known fact that there are other armed grounds in the area, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and private armed groups. Any of these groups could have entered the encounter site after the MILF pulled out of the areas after a ceasefire was affected, as was in fact witnessed by the withdrawing 105BC (Base Command) men," it said in its investigation report, a copy of which was sent to the Senate.

Makabayan bloc readies 20 questions in case PNoy attends House probe on Mamasapano clash

From GMA News (Mar 30): Makabayan bloc readies 20 questions in case PNoy attends House probe on Mamasapano clash

Makabayan bloc wants PNoy to attend Mamasapano hearing

House members under the Makabayan bloc on Monday, March 30, present a letter requesting President Benigno Aquino III to attend the House of Representatives' hearing on the January 25 Mamasapano incident after the Holy Week. Xianne Arcangel

Although House leaders aren’t keen on inviting President Benigno Aquino III to the resumption of the House of Representatives’ hearings on the Mamasapano clash next week, the progressive Makabayan bloc isn’t giving up hope that he will show up and answer the 20 questions its members have prepared for him.
In a letter dated March 30, the seven-member bloc asked Reps. Jeffrey Ferrer and Jim Hataman-Salliman, chairs of the two House committees investigating the bloody Jan. 25 police operation, to invite Aquino to the hearings scheduled on April 7 and 8 to shed light on a number of issues surrounding the incident, such as the extent of the United States’ involvement and his knowledge about the covert police mission.

“In light… of the findings of the Senate committee on public order and the Philippine National Police Board of Inquiry, it is necessary for the House of Representatives to investigate further into significant issues raised but not completely resolved by the said bodies… An analysis of both the Senate and BOI reports will lead to the conclusion that it is only the President himself who will be able to shed light on these matters,” the group said.

The progressive bloc is composed of party-list representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate from Bayan Muna, Emmi de Jesus and Luz Ilagan from Gabriela, Terry Ridon from Kabataan, Fernando Hicap from Anakpawis and Antonio Tinio from ACT-Teachers.

Ferrer chairs the House committee on public order and safety while Hataman-Salliman heads the House committee on peace, reconciliation and unity.

The 20 questions posed by Makabayan bloc to the President generally revolve around the following issues: the reason behind Aquino’s decision to allow then-suspended PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima to call the shots in the Mamasapano police operation, details and the rationale of the decisions on the day the mission was carried out on Jan. 25, and the extent of United States’ involvement in the operation.

Invitation a no-go

More than 60 people, including 44 police commandos, were killed in a clash between the Special Action Force (SAF)and various armed groups on Jan. 25, despite existing ceasefire mechanisms between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. has earlier ruled out inviting Aquino to the probe, saying the President has already sufficiently explained his role in the police operation.

Ferrer has also thumbed down the prospect of extending an invitation to Aquino to show up at the hearing, but said he will respect the Makabayan bloc’s decision to ask for the President’s presence.
“I will respect their decision if they will be the one to invite the President, but as for the committee on public order and safety, the issue has already been resolved,” he said in a text message.

Although the chances of inviting Aquino to the hearings are slim, Tinio said he is hopeful the President will take the initiative to show up, saying he owes it to the people to answer the lingering questions on the Mamasapano debacle.

He said lawmakers will extend the courtesy accorded to Aquino should he appear at the hearing.

"Kami naman sa House, batid namin ang posisyon ng Pangulo at makatitiyak siya na irerespeto namin ang kanyang posisyon bilang Presidente at Chief Executive kung siya ay pupunta upang sagutin ang aming mga katanungan," Tinio said.

20 questions

The questions which the Makabayan bloc wants Aquino to answer are the following:

1. Why did you authorize or allow the participation of then PNP Chief Alan Purisima in Oplan Exodus even though you were fully aware that he was already suspended at that time?

2.  If he were only an "expert adviser," why did you say that you ordered him to coordinate with PNP OIC [Deputy Director General Leonardo] Espina and AFP Chief of Staff [General Gregorio Pio] Catapang and that he did not follow said order?

3.  Why didn’t you, as the commander-in-chief, direct Espina and Catapang to support the SAF, instead of delegating the task to a suspended official?

4.  When you let a suspended official head an operation, received reports from him, and ordered the SAF director [Director Getulio] Napeñas to report to him, did you not violate the chain of command?

5.  Did you not violate the suspension order issued by the Ombudsman against Purisima when you allowed the latter to head the operation?

6.  What did you and Purisima talk about during the January 9 meeting at Bahay Pangarap, after Napeñas left and before Purisima told Napeñas, "Sabihan mo na ang dalawa [referring to Sec. Mar Roxas and PNP OIC Gen. Espina] kapag andun na. Ako na ang bahala kay Catapang"?

7.  How many times did you text Purisima and other officials about the operation on Mamasapano? What are the contents of these messages, if any? Was there an instance that you made voice calls to Purisima and other officials on the matter? We also request for the transcripts of these voice calls.

8.  You said that you were irked at Purisima because you could not make sense of his conflicting texts.  Why did you not call him to clarify matters?  Why did you not call other officials such as Gen. Catapang and AFP generals involved in the rescue or even Sec. Roxas or Gen. Espina to know what was happening?

9.  You were aware of the probability of "pintakasi," that the SAF troopers will be attacked by any and all armed locals in the area.  Why did you not order coordination with the CCCHH even just hours before the operation was launched?

10. WESTMINCOM Commander [Lt. Gen. Rustico] Guerrero testified that you were getting updates throughout the day at his headquarters in Zamboanga. Who were the officials updating you and what was the information they gave you?

11. With all the updates/information you receive[d] in the morning about the SAF engagements, why did you not get a sense of urgency to mobilize necessary forces and resoruces to reinforce and rescue the SAF commandos?

12.  What were your orders to Guerrero or Catapang, if there were any? Did you issue any pronouncement to them or any one to consider the peace process with the MILF in implementing the rescue operations?

13.  Were you aware that the CCCHH was working towards a ceasefire in the middle of the fighting?  When were you informed of this?

14.  Did you give any orders to stand down?  Did you not give order/s to Catapang and/or Pangilinan not to fire the artillery in Mamasapano, Maguindanao where the 55th SAC were engaged with the MILF and other armed locals in consideration of the peace talks with the MILF?

15.  Why was there no air support during the Mamasapano operation? Were you aware that two helicopters and two airplanes could have provided air support to the SAF were deployed to secure you in Zamboanga?

16.  What can you say about Napeñas's statement that you left them hanging ("iniwan kami sa ere") and that this is the highest form of betrayal? Gen. Napeñas claims that the agreement in the Han. 9 meeting was “time on target.” Did you expressly disapprove “time on target coordination” and ordered Director Napeñas to coordinate with the AFP one day or more before the operations?

17.  Why did you say, in response to a question after your first speech on Jan. 28, that Purisima was “involved up to the point in time, directly, that he was ordered suspended by the Ombudsman,” when facts show he was actively involved in the planning and actual execution of Oplan Exodus while suspended?

18.  Why did you allow US intervention - from the planning, funding, training, ISR, and during the very conduct of the operation and the subsequent evacuation, as is obvious from the presence of six Americans at the tactical command post? Why did you find it necessary to work with the US, but not with DILG Sec. Mar Roxas, PNP [OIC Director General] Espina or AFP Chief Gen. Catapang?

19.  What is your legal basis for allowing this intervention by the US military in a PNP   law enforcement operation - a purely internal matter – even though this is not covered by the MDT, VFA, and EDCA?

20. What was the extent of the participation of the Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines in the Mamasapano operations?

On the front line: Volunteer troops in times of crisis

From Rappler (Mar 30): On the front line: Volunteer troops in times of crisis

A group of men and women volunteers can serve as the country's first line of defense during times of crisis

READY RESERVE. Members of the NCR Regional Community Defense Group, Army Reserve Command, salute the Philippine Flag in a seminar on Project Agos.

READY RESERVE. Members of the NCR Regional Community Defense Group, Army Reserve Command, salute the Philippine Flag in a seminar on Project Agos.

In the event of a national crisis or calamity, there is a group of men and women already in the field and ready to respond. They aren’t super heroes and they don’t have special powers. They are, in fact, normal people who have volunteered to defend the country and help the people, if called upon to do so.

The men and women of the Armed Forces of the Philippine Reserve Force are mandated to augment the regular military force during times of national emergencies like a foreign invasion or government collapse. Yet, little is known about them, even within the military organization. Many of the 100,000 volunteers nationwide come from humble backgrounds while others have corporate day jobs. One thing they share in common is a desire to be of service to their country. 
"Reserves" are often the last group to be called into active duty in the event of a war or coup. But in times of disasters, the roles reverse. 
According to Brigadier General Marcelo Javier Jr, Commanding Officer of the 15th Infantry Division (Ready Reserve), Reserves act as the first line of defense in their communities during a disaster. 
“Where are the camps? Along EDSA and other roads. When the big one hits the electric posts will go down. You will have to clear that first. And before you clear that, it will take days, at least hours to clear that,” said Javier. 
Javier, who is also a Director in the Philippine Red Cross Muntinlupa Branch, believes citizens cannot solely rely on the government to help each of them when disaster strikes because the government and the military will need to deal with big problems like ensuring peace and order and saving lives. 
Inform and educate
But how can ordinary volunteers with little to no training in disaster preparedness and response help save lives? One way is by being community organizers and educators.
TOP DOWN. Maria Ressa talks to officers and troops of the NCR Regional Community Defense Group, Army Reserve Command at Fort Bonifacio.
TOP DOWN. Maria Ressa talks to officers and troops of the NCR Regional Community Defense Group, Army Reserve Command at Fort Bonifacio.
On Sunday, March 29, Rappler’s civic engagement arm, MovePH, in partnership with the NCR Regional Community Defense Group of the Army Reserve Command conducted an orientation for 250 Reserve troopers on how to use social media to better inform and educate the public about how to prepare for a disaster.
Rappler CEO Maria Ressa introduced Project Agos, Rappler’s platform for disaster information management and multi-sectoral collaboration for disaster preparedness.
Ressa talked about how the government, the military, and the public can collaborate for top-down decision making and bottoms-up civic action through Project Agos. She also demonstrated how social media can be used to spread good ideas and build stronger networks that would be useful in times of crisis.
Zak Yuson, Head of Civic Engagement at Rappler, Jed Alegado, Agos Campaign Manager, and Philip Fortuno, Community Development Specialist, dived deeper into how social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and the Project Agos Alert Map are being used to improve communication and coordination for crisis response. 
Speaking on behalf of the participants, Javier said that learning how social media works is essential for performing their duty as Reserves to be “forward deployed” and always capable and available to help the public in times of crisis. 
MovePH and the NCR Regional Community Defense Group, led by Col Corleto S. Vinluan Jr, will continue to train officers and members of the Reserve Force as well as cadet officers of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in different universities in Metro Manila. The collaboration is part of a long-term partnership between MovePH and the Armed Forces of the Philippines for its ongoing disaster risk reduction and management and climate change adaptation (DRRM-CCA) program, which is supported by the Australian Government.  
Preparedness stars at home
For Javier, his years of training in crisis management has led him to one conclusion: preparedness starts with the family. Javier is a staunch advocate of “pre-incident planning” where each member of the family knows what to do during a disaster. 
Each member of the family should be given a specific task relative to their capability. He advises every family to divide themselves into teams responsible for either food, shelter, search and rescue, and security. 
On a larger scale, neighbors on a street should also plan and act together before, during and after a disaster to pool food and ensure the safety of their community. Acting alone will not ensure survival, Javier said, only cooperation and having proper systems in place will. 
“When the big one hits, government will have a very difficult time to respond because of mobility problems. A lot of streets will be blocked. People will be in chaotic mode. What you need is leadership in chaos. For us in the Reserves, we consider this as a primary mission. Like it or not, in the event of an emergency, people will look up to you and ask, ‘what are we supposed to do?’ We can tell them, ‘this is what you’re supposed to do before the disaster, then people will just move towards their individual assignments.” said Javier. 
“Government has the mandate to protect the people, but the citizen has the responsibility to preserve his life,” he added.

Military kills BIFF's Kumander Bisaya in Maguindanao – report

From GMA News (Mar 30): Military kills BIFF's Kumander Bisaya in Maguindanao – report

A top leader of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Usop Abeh Salih also known as Kumander Bisaya, was killed by security forces in Maguindanao province on Sunday, GMA News' Jun Veneracion reported.
Jun Veneracion     
JUST IN: Sources say military validating reports that Cmdr. Bisaya, one of BIFF top leaders, was killed in an encounter in Maguindanao.

AFP: NPA ‘running out of cadres,’ will go back to peace talks soon

From GMA News (Mar 29): AFP: NPA ‘running out of cadres,’ will go back to peace talks soon

The New People's Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, is running out of fighters and will have to go back to negotiations, the spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines said Sunday, the 46th anniversary of the NPA.

Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala said that development programs in the provinces and continued operations against the NPA have isolated the rebel group from potential recruits.

According to the AFP's Eastern Mindanao Command last week, there has been a "significant decrease" in the number of NPA fighters in its area, where around 53 percent of the estimated 3,000 members are.

"Na-degrade na 'yung capability nila, tapos na-degrade na 'yung influence sa mass base and they ran out of mass bases, ano. Expected na they will be isolated from the mass bases, that’s their eventual demise," he said, adding the military can "easily hit them in the mountains without collateral damage among civilian communities."

Kakilala said that this, along with government development projects like bridges, schools, and roads, will make the NPA "irrelevant" by addressing economic issues that contribute to the insurgency.

"We are isolating them from the communities. Eventually they will run out of cadres," he said, adding one of the objectives of the military's Internal Peace and Security Plan-Bayanihan is to get the CPP-NPA-National Democratic Front to abandon its armed revolution and to go back to peace negotiations.

"We are optimistic on that. There is no way out but to talk peace with our government. Probably they will start the ball running right now, but probably the next administration will pursue that angle. But if they won't talk peace, they will really be irrelevant because development will come in... They will become irrelevant na," he said.

In January, NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison hinted that peace negotiations might resume this year.

"Kung magpakatino ang rehimeng Aquino at OPAPP [Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process], posible pang matapos ang comprehensive agreement on economic reforms at agreement on truce and cooperation bago matapos ang term ni Aquino," he said then.

Sison said a "special team" composed of representatives from both parties has been working on the agenda of fresh peace talks since last September.

In April last year, the Philippine government ended its peace negotiations with the NDFP after a 22-month impasse, citing the lack of "sincerity and political will" on the part of the party and its affiliate groups – the NDF and the New People's Army.

Medical and dental mission by US and RP Air Force

From the Bohol News Today (Mar 30): Medical and dental mission by US and RP Air Force

A medical and dental ‘balikatan’ is set to be held here by the United States (US) and the Philippine Air Force.
City Mayor Baba Yap recently met with the advance parties of of the medical and dental ‘balikatan’ with the representatives of the US and Philippine Air Force (PAF). The ‘balikatan’ will be conducted in Tagbilaran City in the month of August this year.
At least 15 groups will be joining the medical and dental mission here who earlier joined the mission conducted in the Luzon including Ilocos, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija and recently in Dumaguete City.
Tagbilaran City and some Bohol towns will be the fifth area which the medical and dental mission will be conducted here especially that the province was hit by magnitude 7.2 earthquake in 2013.
To be included in the medical and dental mission this coming August is the repair of the damaged school buildings in the province.

Photo: New aircraft

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 31): Photo: New aircraft

Members of the Air Force take a look at one of the three newly acquired aircraft inside Villamor Air Base on Monday. Danny Pata

Retired general bags Peace Awards

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 31): Retired general bags Peace Awards

Ret. Brig. General Manuel Mariano and wife Mrs. Lolit Mariano, bagged one of the most prestigious special awards, “Integrity In Action” in the Peace  Awards held recently at the Manila Hotel. General Mariano is  known to be an advocate of reforms. He cleansed the AFP LogCom and got rid of   scalawags and grafters  in the command, sharing a common vision and devoted to the idea that this nation very badly needs a strong- willed, dedicated and enlightened leadership.

He co-authored the book, “The Power of Reform”, detailing the culture of corruption in the AFP LogCom and how he cleansed it almost single handedly and reaped the fruits of the Reform Program and thereby benefitted the recipients for the AFP, PNP, the out-of-school youths and its various outreach program.

The PEACE AWARDS for “Integrity in Action”, was bestowed on   Mariano as a deserving individual in his field of expertise that contributes to honesty, integrity and peace. Together with his wife, Lolit Mariano, they are known for their continuing advocacy pursuits for humanitarian and religious communities.

The Integrity Circles Movement, nominated the couple for the  award which was long overdue as they remained bloodied but unbowed in their joint efforts to fight corruption.

The PEACE AWARDS was indeed, a recognition of unsung and unheralded new heroes who, by purity of intensions just do what is beneficial to our communities and country. It was attended by dignitaries, heads of state, foreign and local media from the print, Radio, TV and Social Media practitioners during the First Asian Summit held recently at the historic Manila Hotel.

Military: Strength of BIFF halved

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 31): Military: Strength of BIFF halved

THE military claimed to have reduced the strength of the extremist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters by half as it ended a month-long offensive that has already caused the dislocation of more than 120,000 residents of Mindanao.

“We have accounted for 139 enemies killed, 53 wounded and 12 captured,” AFP chief of staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang said on Monday.

“They are now splintered into small groups to evade the pursuing soldiers,” Catapang said, adding that the military will continue mopping-up operations against the smaller groups while the government undertakes development projects in areas that used to be controlled by the BIFF.

“Effective (March 30), the all-out offensive against the BIFF would be ended,” he added of the operations that started February 25.

But he stressed the military will continue to pursue the extremists who have fled to the highlands and the Liguasan Marsh.

“We are now entering the new phase of our operation which is peace and development. I want to emphasize that still, we will continuously deploy forces to secure communities and deny the BIFF entry into their former enclaves in Maguindanao,” Catapang said.

Catapang said that the military will coordinate with the regional government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the province of Maguindanao for the safe return of the residents back to their homes.

“Now that we have driven out the armed BIFF members and the small group of terrorists led by Basit Usman, we will focus our attention in rebuilding the affected communities,” he said.

“We will help the LGUs, other government agencies, and the national government as a whole in delivering public services to the people. We will support the implementation of development projects that are intended to spur the economic activities in these areas,” he added.

Catapang said the military sympathizes with the people who were affected by the offensive and the military will help local government in building Maguindanao, which bore the brunt of the operations, into a highly-developed area where people enjoy peace, progress and prosperity.

“We understand the physical and emotional challenges experienced by the non-combatants who were among those who were adversely affected by the armed conflict with the BIFF,” he said .

“It is very important to note that from as high as 120,000 evacuees last month, they are now down to about 90,000 people who have remained in various evacuation centers and houses of relatives.

According to the Automous Region in Muslim Mindanao Humanitarian Emergency Action Response Team (ARMM-HEART), a total of 17,956 families, or 91,602 people, are still living in 79 evacuation centers in 13 municipalities in Maguindanao.

But this was already down from 20,030 families, or 102,005 people, who were reported to have been dislocated as of March 26. Up to 25,000 families or 124,000 individuals were displaced at the height of the conflict.

AFP rescues 4 human trafficking victims

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 30): AFP rescues 4 human trafficking victims

Authorities rescued four victims of human trafficking and arrested their recruiter during a joint operation in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, the military said.

Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) spokesperson Capt. Rowena Muyuela, citing a report from Joint Task Force Zambasulta (Zamboanga-Basilan-Sulu-Tawi Tawi) public information officer Ensign Chester Ramos, said the victims were onboard M/L Sea Glory when rescued around 11:00 a.m. Friday.

The four were identified as Marilou Olico, Clarisa Pardines, Claiza Ann Lorez, and Ritz Pas. Their recruiter, Henry Alsamala, who was also on the vessel, was immediately arrested.

M/L Sea Glory was then anchored at Chinese Pier, Barangay Poblacion, Bongao town and bound for Malaysia when the rescue happened.

The joint operation was conducted by elements of the Naval Intelligence and Security Group- Western Mindanao (NISG-WM), Provincial Women and Children Protection Desk- Bongao, Tactical Operations Group Sultaw (TOG Sultaw), Regional Intelligence Unit-9 (RIU9); and 304th Area Intelligence Security Service (304th AISS).

Muyuela said intensified law enforcement operations were continuously being conducted to expedite arrest of lawless groups and curb illegal activities in the province.

C-295 can be configured for maritime patrol --PAF

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): C-295 can be configured for maritime patrol --PAF

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) said on Monday its newly-acquired Airbus Military C-295 can be modified and fitted for maritime patrol work.

"It is capable of being fitted with external fuel tanks and pods which can be equipped with sensors and surveillance equipment needed for maritime patrol work," PAF spokesperson Lt. Col. Enrico Canaya said in Filipino in an interview with the Philippines News Agency

This can be done by fitting pylons to the wings of the aircraft, he added.

Aside from this, the C-295 is capable of staying aloft for 11 hours, making it an ideal maritime patrol platform.

Meanwhile, turnover and commissioning ceremonies for the new aircraft on Monday were headed by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang and Air Force head Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.

Canaya earlier said that the last time the PAF acquired brand-new transport planes was in the 1980s when it acquired three Fokker F-27 "Friendship" aircraft from the Netherlands.

"The additional C-295s will enhance the overall capability of the PAF in providing airlift requirements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines during humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations," he added.

Lift requirements of the PAF is presently being carried out by three Lockheed C-130 "Hercules" and three F-27s.

The PAF has an existing order for three C-295s at Airbus Military.

The contract, worth PhP5.29 billion, was signed last year.

Training for the first batch of four PAF pilots and 24 maintenance crew was done in Seville, Spain and was completed last March 10.

"Succeeding training for pilots will continue this year in anticipation of the delivery of two more C-295s," Canaya said.

The first C-295 arrived at the former Clark Air Base in Pampanga in the afternoon of March 22. Its arrival is five months earlier than the scheduled August delivery date.

The two remaining planes are expected to be delivered in the last quarter of 2015.

Canaya said the C-295 is categorized as medium lift aircraft equivalent to the Fokker F-27 aircraft being maintained by the 220th Airlift Wing. The C-295s have rear ramp door similar to that of the C-130s for easier access and loading/unloading of passengers and cargoes.

"Thus, it can augment in the type missions performed by the C-130s for lesser payload requirements," the PAF spokesperson added.

He said that the C-295s can carry as much as 71 passengers, 50 paratroops, 24 stretchers with five to seven attendants or up to about 20,000 pounds of cargoes.

It is capable of short field landing and takeoff and has a top speed of 358 miles per hour.

Canaya said the aircraft departed last March 16 from Seville, Spain, where it was assembled. It was flown into the country by civilian pilots and crew of Airbus Military.

Airbus won the Department of National Defense medium lift aircraft program by tendering a bid for PhP5.29-billion for three aircraft last year.

This is considerably lower than the PhP5.3-billion stipulated in the contract.

2 rebels yield on eve of NPA anniversary

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 30): 2 rebels yield on eve of NPA anniversary

The Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said two members of the New People’s Army (NPA) surrendered to the government in Bukidnon province a day before the rebels celebrated their anniversary on Sunday.

In a statement sent to the media, Eastmincom spokesperson Col. Romeo Brawner, Jr. identified the NPA members as Ronie Dumpali Lino, alias Rey, and 19-year-old Genden Gocor Gutual, Jr. alias Junjun.

Lino was a team leader in Bukinon, who voluntarily yielded to the Army last March 26 in Sitio Masalugpo, Barangay Kalgangan, San Fernando, Bukidnon, while Gutual surrendered to the elements of 69th IB last March 27 in Barangay Fatima, Paquibato District here.

Brawner said disillusionment with the movement was the main reason they returned to the folds of the law.

Their relatives also played an important role in convincing them to give up the armed struggle, the statement added.

“They said they were not happy even if their anniversary was nearing, when their morale was supposed to be at its highest,” Brawner pointed out in the statement.

The latest two surrenders led to a total of 32 NPAs who surrendered since January this year that contributed to the six percent reduction in  NPA strength in Eastern Mindanao.

C-295 sets maiden mission to Palawan, Mactan

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): C-295 sets maiden mission to Palawan, Mactan
The country's first ever Airbus Military C-295 medium transport, which was formally commissioned Monday, will have its maiden mission in Philippine Air Force (PAF) colors by flying supplies to Palawan and Mactan Tuesday.

"We will have our logistic flight tomorrow (Tuesday) and we were informed that we will be flying to Palawan and Mactan," said Capt. Geraldine Matienzo, one of the first pilots to qualify to fly the Philippines' latest transport aircraft.

Matienzo is a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 2005.

She said that the aircraf's payload consisted mostly of supplies needed by military manning the airbases in Palawan and Mactan.

Matienzo said that having the C-295 in PAF inventory will greatly enhance the Air Force's capability.

"Now (that) it has been enhanced and we are very happy for that and we are honored to be part of the pioneer aircrew to perform such missions that will enhance our capability," she said.

The PAF has an existing order for three C-295s at Airbus Military.

The contract is worth Php5.29 billion. It was signed last year.

Training for the first batch, composed of four PAF pilots and 24 maintenance crew, was done in Seville, Spain and was completed last March 10.

"Succeeding training for pilots will continue this year in anticipation of the delivery of two more C-295s," Canaya said.

The first C-295 arrived at Clark Air Base, Pampanga on March 22. Its arrival was five months earlier than the scheduled August delivery date.

The two remaining planes are expected to be delivered in the last quarter of 2015.

The C-295 is categorized as medium lift aircraft equivalent to the Fokker F-27 aircraft being maintained by the 220th Airlift Wing. C-295s have rear ramp door similar to that of the C-130s for easier access and loading/unloading of passengers and cargoes.

It can carry as much as 71 passengers, 50 paratroops, 24 stretchers with five to seven attendants or up to about 20,000 pounds of cargoes. It is capable of short field landing and takeoff and has a top speed of 358 miles per hour.

The aircraft departed from Seville, Spain last March 16 where it was assembled. It was flown into the country by civilian pilots and crew of Airbus Military.

Airbus won the Department of National Defense medium lift aircraft program after offering Php 5.29-billion bid for three aircraft last year, considerably lower than the Php5.3 billion stipulated in the contract.

Soldiers to get higher subsistence allowance

From the Manila Times (Mar 30): Soldiers to get higher subsistence allowance

President Benigno Aquino 3rd has signed a joint resolution passed by Congress increasing the subsistence allowance for all enlisted personnel, including policemen and soldiers.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the resolution that Aquino signed on Friday raises the allowances of the police and military workforce to P150 from P90 effective January 1, 2015.

Also covered are personnel of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG). The amount needed to raise the subsistence allowances will be derived from the savings of relevant government agencies this year and will be appropriated in the national budget in the succeeding years.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th, the principal author and sponsor of the measure in the Senate, lauded Aquino for promoting the welfare and recognizing the sacrifices of the uniformed personnel by signing the measure into law.

”It has been a long time since the subsistence allowance of our soldiers and police was increased. Despite their significant role in the country, they remain to be among the measly paid public servants. We are thankful that finally our government has addressed this need,” said Trillanes, chairman of Senate Committee on National Defense and Security.

”We hope that through this measure, we would uplift their morale and inspire them more to serve faithfully this country, especially in these trying times,” he added.

PHL denies Sabah trade-off with Malaysia

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): PHL denies Sabah trade-off with Malaysia

The Philippine government on Monday belied reports that it has proposed to drop its claim on Sabah in exchange for Malaysia's support on its arbitration case against China.

A report over the weekend was quoting a Philippine diplomatic note to Malaysia, saying the country is reviewing a 2009 protest on Kuala Lumpur’s Sabah claim if it will back Manila’s case. Both nations are contesting ownership of Sabah.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose confirmed the existence of the note but said its content is all about the “features in the South China Sea and their implications in the extended continental shelf claims.”

Sabah is not in any way part of the note,” Jose said.

“The Philippines has excellent relations with Malaysia. In the context of our friendly bilateral relations, our two countries have been for years exchanging ways on how to address the issue of extended continental shelf in the South China Sea,” he added.

Palace: No such Sabah offer

From the Manila Times (Mar 30): Palace: No such Sabah offer

Malacañang on Monday dismissed a report that the Philippines has offered to ease its claim on Sabah in return for Malaysia’s support in Manila’s territorial dispute with China.

“There is absolutely no basis to such report,” its spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a statement.

Lacierda’s comment was sought on a Vera Files story that was published by The Manila Times on Monday.

The article said a note verbale recently handed over by the Philippine government to Kuala Lumpur amounted to a quid pro quo in which Manila would backpedal on its Sabah claim if Malaysia manifests before a UN body an extended continental shelf (ECS) definition favoring the Philippines in its case against China.

The note verbale was given by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to visiting Malaysian Defense Minister Dato Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.

Manila has taken its territorial dispute with Beijing to the United Nations International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas (Itlos) for arbitration.

China however, refuses to recognize the process, insisting that the Itlos has no jurisdiction over the issue as the matter has to be resolved bilaterally.

Quoting a DFA statement, Lacierda clarified that the note verbale is part of the two neighbors’ “friendly bilateral relations” and does not in any way include the Sabah issue.

“The Philippines has excellent relations with Malaysia in the context of our friendly bilateral relations. Our two countries have been for years exchanging ways on how to address the issue of the [ECS] in the South China Sea [West Philippine Sea],” he said.

“The note verbale that was written about was part of this process. The note is about the features in the South China Sea and their implications on ECS claims. Sabah is not in any way part of the note,” Lacierda added.

While the note verbale, a copy of which was obtained by VERA Files, indeed made no mention of Sabah, it alluded to a 2009 complaint filed by Manila against a joint submission by Malaysia and Vietnam before a UN body.

The Philippines had said then that such joint submission would impact its standing claim on Sabah–a resource-rich territory leased by British overlords from the Sultanate of Sulu, but which Britain later simply handed over to Malaysia.

According to the Vera Files story, the note verbale referred to the May 6, 2009 joint submission by Malaysia and Vietnam to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) in which Malaysia claimed an extended continental shelf (350 nautical miles from baseline) that was clearly projected from Sabah.

The Philippines, in an August 4, 2009 note to the UN Secretary General, protested the joint submission because it effectively declared Sabah to be a Malaysian territory.

The Philippines claims ownership of Sabah, which at present is occupied by Malaysia, based on the title of the Sultan of Sulu who ceded proprietary rights over the 76,115-square-kilometer land to the Philippines in 1962.

In last week’s note verbale, however, the DFA informed the Malaysian government that it is “reviewing” its 2009 protest–something that an expert said could weaken Manila’s claim to Sabah.

The note verbale said the Philippines’ action as its reviews the 2009 complaint would depend on Malaysia’s response to Manila’s two requests related to the South China Sea conflicting territorial claim.

The first request is for Malaysia to “confirm” that its claim to an extended continental shelf is “entirely from the mainland coast of Malaysia, not from any of the maritime features in the Spratly islands” in the South China Sea.

The DFA also requested Malaysia to confirm that it “does not claim entitlement to maritime areas beyond 12 nautical miles from any of the maritime features in the Spratly islands it claims.”

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), a state is entitled to 12-nautical-mile territorial sea over which it exercises sovereignty.

Malaysia, like the Philippines, claims parts of the Spratly islands, which are being claimed almost wholly by China, Vietnam and Taiwan. Brunei Darussalam is another claimant to some parts of the Spratlys.

There are some parts in the Spratlys where the 200 nautical mile EEZs of the Philippines and Malaysia overlap.

Military badly needs more money – AFP chief

From the Manila Times (Mar 30): Military badly needs more money – AFP chief

ARMED Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. wants at least one percent of next year’s national budget to be allocated for defense spending even as he admitted that the country’s military capabilities are no-match against the Chinese.

Catapang made the admission amid reports on China’s ongoing reclamations in disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea)

Apparently reacting to the apparent military activities in contested waters, he said, “I hope this is just like an [SM] Mall of Asia that they are constructing but I think they have some military or defense purpose.

The Philippine military had noted that seven reclamations are taking place in the conflict areas.

In a news briefing, Catapang showed aerial photos of the ongoing reclamations, including two that are inside the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

He did not say who took the photos, which were taken in December last year and in February and March this year.

“So as [of] now we have monitored about seven reclamations in the area but we are much more concerned [with] two specific areas [that are] inside our exclusive economic zone.

These include the development that they [Chinese] would like to do in Mischief Reef, also in Mabini Reef and Chigua Reef, all of these are inside the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of the Philippines,” Catapang said.

When asked if the AFP is not frustrated about not being able to do anything to stopping China’s apparent military activities and saber-rattling, he replied, “That’s the reality.”

He noted the need to increase military and defense expenditures and suggested that if the country cannot raise them to two percent of the gross national product (GNP), a law must be passed to allow the AFP modernization to be secured for the next 15 years.

“What I am proposing is that at least one percent of the national budget, approved national budget, will go [to] improvement of the capabilities of our defense and military units, to include the OCD [Office of Civil Defense] because we are fighting or facing also another global challenge, which is global climate change,” Catapang said.

He, however, pointed out that the AFP is prepared to defend the country, citing continuing naval patrols and troop supplies in the West Philippine Sea.

The AFP chief said it is now up to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to decide on what to do regarding the matter.

“Our job is just to know what is happening in the area and it is up to our national leaders to give us the marching orders on what to do,” he added.

“What we would like to highlight here is it’s not only the Philippines that should be concerned about what’s happening in the West Philippine Sea but entire nations or countries all over the world,” Catapang said.

According to the AFP chief, he is hoping that the Chinese government will recognize the Philippine claim to areas in the disputed waters so that no provocative actions will be taken against Filipino troops deployed there.

Holy Week ceasefire

From the Manila Times (Mar 30): Holy Week ceasefire

Military halts large-scale offensive vs BIFF

The Armed Forces high command on Monday ordered its ground troops in Maguindanao to stop its all-out offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), claiming it has already achieved its objective of neutralizing the breakaway rebel group.

“Effective today [March 30], the all-out offensive against the BIFF would be ended. After the relentless operations against the BIFF, we have achieved our objectives including the neutralization of more than 50 percent of their ranks, the capture of bomb factories and the seizure of their enclaves or safe havens in different Maguindanao localities,” the military’s Chief of Staff. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. said in a news conference at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City (Metro Manila).

Catapang, however, noted that remnants of the bandit group have splintered into small groups to evade pursuing soldiers and have sought refuge outside the conflict areas.

“The BIFF remnants have nowhere to hide,” he said.

“Formerly, they were in groups of 50 to 100, now they are just 20 to 30, so it’s part of our tactical move[s] because if we move also a hundred soldiers, easily the enemy can know or locate us or see us,” Catapang added.

We will still conduct offensive operation[s] but not big operations like brigade or battalion operations but [these] will be small-sized operations, Ranger-type,” he explained.

The military said the last reported clash between government forces and the BIFF happened on Sunday in Barangay Malangog in Datu Unsay town and Barangay Pamalian in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town, both in Maguindanao, where four soldiers and 12 BIFF members including a certain Commander Bisaya were killed.

Commander Bisaya was among the BIFF fighters who engaged the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) in Mamasapano town last January 25 that resulted in the death of 44 police commandos.

Catapang ordered the all-out offensive on February 25 or exactly a month after the Mamasapano incident, a tragic ending to a mission meant to arrest suspected international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir also known as Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman.

Since the launch of the offensive, the AFP claimed, 151 BIFF bandits have been killed, 65 wounded and 12 arrested.

Ten soldiers and more than 30 others were wounded on the government side, the also military claimed.

Catapang said the military will continue to deploy soldiers to secure communities and deny the BIFF reentry into their former enclaves in Maguindanao.

“We will continue to hunt down the terrorists, like Basit Usman and his cohorts, who are now hiding outside the conflict areas,” he added.

As of Monday, military officials were coordinating with the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) for the safe return of residents to their homes.

Catapang said the number of displaced persons has dwindled from 120,000 to 90,000 who remain in various evacuation centers and houses of their relatives.

While pursuing the terrorists particularly high-valued targets, other units of the military will focus on rebuilding affected communities.

“We will help the LGUs [local government units], other government agencies, and the national government as a whole, in delivering public services to the people. We will support the implementation of development projects that are intended to spur the economic activities in these areas,” Catapang said.

The BIFF, which broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) supposedly in 2008, is mostly active in Maguindanao and other places in central Mindanao.

It was founded by Ameril Umbra Kato who wants full independence for Mindanao and disagrees with the MILF’s acceptance of autonomy offered by government peace negotiators.

Kato also claimed to have 5,000 fighters on his side but the military said that he only had 300 men. It was only in August 2011 that the MILF recognized the break and declared the BIFF a “lost command.”

The BIFF rejected the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, a preliminary peace agreement signed between the Philippine government and the MILF, and vowed to continue the fight for an independent Islamic state in Mindanao in southern Philippines.

DSWD sends more aids for armed conflict evacuees

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): DSWD sends more aids for armed conflict evacuees

To securely address the needs of displaced families brought about by the ongoing armed conflict in Mindanao, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) vows to continue sending additional food and non-food relief supplies in the affected areas.

The DSWD, in a statement, said that as of Monday (March 30), the DSWD provided Php 24.76 million worth of assistance in the 13 towns in Maguindanao; in Pikit and Matalam, North Cotabato; and in Bitaugan, Surigao del Sur where a clash between the military and members of the New People’s Army (NPA) occurred on Feb. 27.

The DSWD has also included Brgy. Estado, Matalam, North Cotabato and Monkayo, Compostela Valley as among the areas it continues to assist after armed conflicts ensued there on March 20 and March 24, respectively.

The DSWD released the relief supplies either through the DSWD-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) or through concerned local government units (LGUs), as well as through the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH)-Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

As of press time, a total of 27,178 families or 132,870 persons have been affected by the incident.

Of this number, 20,078 families or 100,390 persons are inside 78 evacuation centers. The evacuation centers in Pikit have already closed, but 1,629 families or 8,145 persons who opted to stay with their relatives continue to receive relief assistance.

The Social Welfare and Development (SWAD) Teams in the affected towns remain in close coordination with the LGUs for further assessment of the needs of the evacuees. While at the evacuation centers, evacuees are given psycho-social counseling and children-evacuees undergo play therapy sessions to lessen their trauma.

Proposed Bangsamoro gov’t to get Php36.8B, not Php75B in first year – Abad

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): Proposed Bangsamoro gov’t to get Php36.8B, not Php75B in first year – Abad

Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Butch Abad on Monday clarified that the Bangsamoro government will get only Php36.8 billion and not Php75 billion as reported in the first year.

”This Php36.8 billion is provided in the (proposed) law. They have to study the law,” Abad said in a press briefing in Malacanang, referring to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Some lawmakers claimed that the Bangsamoro government will get Php75 billion budget in 2016 if the BBL will be approved this year.

Abad explained the budget is almost the same amount that the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has been getting from the national government.

He also said the ARMM also gets Php26 billion in the form of Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA).

”That (IRA) will not be touched in the Bangsamoro government because that is provided for under the local government code and it goes directly — we release that directly to the LGUS,” he said.

Should the BBL hurdles Congress, the Bangsamoro government will replace the ARMM.

MILF: “Every Filipino needs to understand the GPH-MILF peace negotiation”: DP Spokesperson Valte

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 29): “Every Filipino needs to understand the GPH-MILF peace negotiation”: DP Spokesperson Valte

“Every Filipino needs to understand the GPH-MILF peace negotiation”: DP Spokesperson Valte

After President Benigno Aquino’s announcement on the creation of a peace council and holding of peace summit to make people fully understand the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said on Saturday (March 28) that “Every Filipino needs to understand and get involved in the ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Valte said the details of the summit would be up to the convenors who would gather other responsible and respected leaders to spearhead the event – how it would be executed and the number of days it would be held.

During last Friday’s commemoration of the 1st anniversary of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in Manila, President Aquino stood firm in his belief that the peace process must be pursued and that the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) must be passed or the nation would have “to count body bags later on” because of war in Mindanao.

The peace council comprises “citizen leaders known for their wisdom and integrity” as independent convenors that included Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., businessman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, former ambassador and peace advocate Howard Dee and Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman, a youth leader and founder of Teach Peace Build Peace Movement, a non-profit organization with a mission of making every youth a peace builder.

Aquino said the independent convenors would dissect the proposed law in a calm and reasonable manner that would not incite anger and hopelessness.
“This way, the BBL can be improved. They will write a report that will be made public, so that everyone may be informed, and so that more of our countrymen may understand the matter. In this manner, we will be able to advance a reasonable decision as regards the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” the President said.

Valte said the inputs from the summit would not be useless even as Congress deliberated on the proposed BBL because it would collect different positions or opinions from all sectors of society.

“This is an issue that everyone needs to understand. It is an issue that everyone needs to be able to dissect in a rational manner, so why oppose a space that could help the public understand and improve the draft BBL?” Valte argued.

Valte said the convenors would not in any way usurp the work of the lawmakers and there was nothing wrong in involving the people in the peace process.

“It’s Congress that has the power to go over the law and then to make refinements to it, but that does not exclude the people because Congress should primarily be listening to the people, and we do not see why the people should be excluded out of discussions that concern matters that affect them as well,” Valte said.

“Think of this as an additional discussion. This will not replace the discussions in Congress. It will not replace the system that the BBL has to go through to make it a law. This is just an additional space wherein stakeholders, community leaders and other citizens can take part in rational discussions about the BBL,” she said.