Saturday, April 11, 2015

MILF: Editorial -- ‘Mountain out of molehill’

Editorial posted to the MILF Website (Apr 8): Editorial -- ‘Mountain out of molehill’

It is a pity that many of what appeared to be good people in this country including some so-called honorable members of the legislature are acting like small children by choosing to pick up on small and fleeting issues rather than those that make this country a better place to live in.  Often they make a mountain out of a molehill. What if a member of the MILF, which is a revolutionary organization, uses a nom de guerre, in signing documents with the Philippine government? Is that a big fuss that can cause so much hitch in the minds of so many people especially lawmakers who are supposed to be serious and responsible?

By the way, what can they get if the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will be rendered non-binding because of the legal challenge and eventually declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court?  They do not want to admit it but the consequence of their “grandstanding”, if they succeed, would be risky and dangerous. The MILF will not renegotiate the Framework Agreement (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) anymore.

Gone are the days of the great minds in the Senate, like Senators Arturo Tolentino, Jovito Salonga, Teofisto Guingona, and Claro M. Recto. People listened intently when they debated on issues. But today, except for some few brilliant minds in the Senate, the proceedings are very dull and disinteresting. More disgusting is that in the Senate today there are two senators who are brothers and another two a brother and sister, and they are coming from Metropolitan Manila.
However, the late President Ferdinand Marcos, who also used “Maharlika” as his nom de guerre during his alleged guerrilla life in World War II, was perhaps the brightest among these contemporary leaders, but he used his near “genius mind” in evil ways. (We are watching where his only son and namesake, Senator Bongbong Marcos, is bringing himself to. But this early, he has been accused, rightly or wrongly, of faking his résumé stating that he earned an undergraduate degree from Oxford University and a Master Degree in Business Administration from Wharton School. However, both schools denied the claim.

American diplomat and reformer Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Now see what is being talked about in the media and in the halls of Congress; they are all practically about people and trivial matters. What can this gossiping bring to this country, nothing except intrigues and ill-feelings! If this is the gauge in evaluating the quality of contemporary Filipino leaders, then the result is not outstanding.

The Mamasapano incident is indeed tragic. No one has a contrary view. In fact, it continues to threaten the survival of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress. But if we keep on harping and harping on the same issue, again and again, like a circus, and forget the bigger and more pressing issue of the day, like the BBL, then this country is heading for trouble.

MILF: Mindanao People’s Caucus issues an appeal on the plight of IDP’S in Maguindanao

Posted to the MILF Website (Apr 10): Mindanao People’s Caucus issues an appeal on the plight of IDP’S in Maguindanao
Mindanao People’s Caucus issues an appeal on the plight of IDP’S in Maguindanao

The Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC), one of the largest non-government organizations in Mindanao that advocates peace and development in the region issued an appeal dated April 7, 2015, addressed to the Military and the House of Congress. The document was signed by Mr. Abdulbasit Benito, MPC Secretary General.

The appeal entitled, “ A call for a Principled Peace! An Appeal of Internally- Displaced Persons (IDP’s) to end the military operations in Maguindanao, Protect Human Security, and Enact the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Their appeal runs as follows:

To our Honorable and Esteemed Members of Congress,

 We, the undersigned peace advocates, in behalf of the internally displaced women community leaders, the“bakwits” whom we have accompanied from Mindanao, call on you, our honourable legislators to bear in mind that your deliberations on the Mamasapano incident, and the subsequent findings and pronouncements you will have on the matter, will have a resounding effect not only on the development of laws concerning the criminal justice system and “terrorism” but more importantly it will shape public perception on the Bangsamoro and will set the tone in terms of policy decisions concerning social justice, development, and peace for the Bangsamoro people.    

As our duly elected representatives, we hope that when you make a stand on the findings of your investigation you would do so with a rational and open mind, and unprejudiced heart capable of going beyond the political rhetoric of war and warmongers; able to judge and understand that the real injustice brought by the incident in Mamasapano is not that the “Fallen 44” were killed while performing their duty; or that the MILF were not informed about the PNP-SAF operation hence the “mis-encounter” between their forces and the Government; nor is it even about the untimely and tragic deaths of the civilians who were caught in the crossfire. The real injustice that happened after Mamasapano was committed against the people who are now being displaced from their homes, because instead of upholding the primacy of the peace process, the government has opted to launch an all-out offensive in the area, which has led to the evacuation of 25,067 families or 125,302 persons from the 14 towns of Maguindanao.

The real victims of the fire fight in Mamasapano were not the PNP-SAF and MILF combatants who died in the battle. The real victims are the farmers who have lost all means of livelihood because they are driven out of the lands they tilled and from the animals they raised all because their lands now serves as the battleground between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). The real victims are the families who are now suffering from almost subhuman conditions in evacuations centers; living only on food aid and dole out in order to survive while being constantly under threat from hunger and starvation, disease, and death.

The true casualty of Mamasapano is the shattered hope for peace caused by the suspension of the deliberations on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and the subsequent campaign against its passage. We are disheartened that even some esteemed members of Congress has gone so far as misinform the public about how the BBL is “unconstitutional” and will only strengthen and give power to the “terroristic” MILF. Unfounded statements and baseless fears that only seek to rile the Filipino people against the Bangsamoro people by feeding on the prejudices and the ignorance of the general populace about the BBL.

For the “bakwits” and for us Mindanaons who have known war and its devastating consequences, we see the BBL as the only logical and peaceful solution to the 17 year conflict which has caused countless death and suffering, and has sent the provinces of Muslim Mindanao in a perpetual cycle of war and underdevelopment.

In this context,  we ask you, our elected Representatives to consider the following:

To resume the deliberations on the BBL and ensure its passage consistent to the 12 points of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

To hold an immediate inquiry into the humanitarian situation in the areas of conflict taking to task the conduct of the Joint Task Force Central and its operation without a timetable.   

To initiate a resolution that strengthens humanitarian assistance for IDPs and protects their rights as defined by international human rights standards.

As you deliberate on Mamasapano, we fervently hope that you see this bigger picture, and that you act bearing in mind that what is at stake here is the future of peace in Mindanao. As Nelson Mandela once said "We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in any society, a life free from violence and fear.” This is what we ask you to strive for. This is what we expect from our political leaders.

MILF: “There is nothing wrong with aliases”: Chairman Iqbal

Posted to the MILF Website (Apr 10): “There is nothing wrong with aliases”: Chairman Iqbal

Mohagher Iqbal, Chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Peace panel and Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) admitted yesterday, April 8 that “Mohagher Iqbal” is just one of his several assumed names as a revolutionary.

“Yes, I have been using several names, which is natural for us in a revolutionary organization. Marcelo Del Pilar used nine names,” Iqbal told congressmen during the 2nd day of the Mamasapano incident”, he said.  “But I am a Filipino citizen and holds only one Philippine passport under his real name”, Iqbal clarified.

Iqbal however refused to reveal his real name, citing certain “sensitivities” that he did not specify. He nevertheless offered to ask the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to furnish the House a copy of his passport.

“I have been traveling abroad using my real name, which is known to the government,” he said.

Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer of the GPH Peace panel in a statement also refused to reveal the MILF peace negotiator’s real and legal name.

Iqbal also confirmed reports quoting him as saying he could not swear allegiance to the Philippine government until the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law was passed and the MILF no longer considers itself as a revolutionary organization.

Answering question from the lawmakers, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the law frowns upon the use of an alias or a false name. She said the law even punishes such use if it is intended to hide a crime.

However, she said the signing by the MILF peace negotiator of peace agreement documents using his assumed name does not invalidate such documents.

“I don’t think so, as long as he does not deny his identity. But I’m not sure. This needs further study,” she said.

MILF: “Conflict can only lead to more suffering”: P-Noy calls anew for BBL passage

Posted to the MILF Website (Apr 10): “Conflict can only lead to more suffering”: P-Noy calls anew for BBL passage

“Conflict can only lead to more suffering”: P-Noy calls anew for BBL passage

“Conflict can only lead to more suffering and misunderstanding, while solidarity brings widespread benefit. This is the same lesson that leads us to champion lasting peace in Mindanao, and to call for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.” 

President Aquino highlighted this plea in his message during the anniversary of the Araw ng Kagitingan at Bataan on April 9, 2015.

“Those who were once our enemies are today our partners in realizing a just peace for all. In coming together to foster stability in Mindanao, all the more are we able to widen the scope of opportunities available to our countrymen,” Aquino said.

The president vowed to continue the pursuit for peace because “this is the way to obtain justice for all.”

“Now that we are here, we will not allow succeeding generations to suffer the same fate,” he stressed. He noted there has been two generations that have already suffered due to violence that has dominated Mindanao.

According to a study, the conflict in Mindanao have cost the government PhP2.013 trillion for the period 1970-2001. 

Nearly 120,000 people including government troops, Moro rebels and civilians were killed in the period of fighting. War in Mindanao has also sowed hatred, bigotry, discrimination and misunderstanding.

The peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that was nearing the finish line was stalled after the bloody Mamasapano encounter on January 25 this year where 44 police commandos, 17 MILF fighters and three civilians were killed.

The BBL is the fruit of 17 years of arduous peace negotiation between the government and the MILF with an ultimate goal to come up with resolution that would bring justice to the Bangsamoro people and free them from the bondage of poverty. 

“Let us remember: Despite our differences, we live in and share a single world. The legitimate concern of one is a concern of all. This is the crossroads before us: Shall we help to solve problems while they are still small, or remain indifferent and face an even more formidable challenge in the future?” the president said.

Aquino stressed, “This generation has the responsibility of maintaining peace, and of continuing the pursuit of widespread prosperity. This is the vow that the Philippines makes, not only for the victims of past wars and violence, but also for present and future generations of Filipinos, and for the rest of our brothers and sisters across the globe.”

MILF: Iqbal appeals to media to look at the “Other Side” also

Posted to the MILF Website (Apr 11): Iqbal appeals to media to look at the “Other Side” also

Iqbal appeals to media to look at the “Other Side” also

BTC Chairman Mohagher Iqbal on Friday appealed to the members of the media to see also the side of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front especially in the reportage of emotion-laden issues such as the Mamasapano encounter and the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

In a discussion with members of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) in a restaurant in Quezon City, Iqbal considered it as media’s role to give all the angles to the story and to be very factual.

Iqbal stated his wonder about how some newspapers would portray the MILF and BBL in the worst picture on a daily basis. “To me it is a frustration that they cannot see an iota of goodness in this,” Iqbal stressed.

Iqbal also believes that there seems to be a concerted effort to discredit MILF and BBL especially through the media.

But even after the Mamasapan encounter, Iqbal said that “personally and organizationally we still have high trust for President Aquino.”

“And if not for the mutual trust between the GPH and MILF, I would say the Mamasapano encounter was really a game-changer or deal-breaker,” Iqbal said.

The NUJP-organized discussion also tackled how government and the MILF should communicate to the media.

Iqbal was joined by GPH Peace Panel member Senen Bacani in clarifying several issues with the news editors from ABS-CBN, GMA 7, CNN Philippines, Manila Standard, Manila Times, Philippine Press Institute, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas and Philippine Center for Investigative Jounalism.

MILF: “Agreements not automatically voided with Iqbal’s alias, there are 4 other signatories for MILF”

Posted to the MILF Website (Apr 11): “Agreements not automatically voided with Iqbal’s alias, there are 4 other signatories for MILF”

“Agreements not automatically voided with Iqbal’s alias, there are 4 other signatories for MILF”

A former member of the government’s Peace Negotiating Panel said agreements signed by the Government of the Philippine s (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) panels are not automatically voided with signature of Mohagher Iqbal, an alias, because there were four other signatories for the MILF.

In his facebook page, Lawyer Mehol Sadain who once served as GPH Peace Panel member under the Aquino administration said, “When he signed as chair of the MILF (peace panel), he was not signing for himself, he was signing for the MILF.” 

Sadain posted his opinion amidst the debate and discourse on the use of an alias by Iqbal, which many are saying voids all the agreements signed by the MILF chief negotiator.

“Mohagher Iqbal is chief of the MILF negotiating panel, and therefore represents the MILF on authority issued by the MILF Central Committee.”

“Aside from him, there are four other members of the MILF panel. In effect, the GPH, represented by the Philippine panel is negotiating with the MILF, and not with Iqbal alone,” Sadain said.

“And the MILF is duty bound to recognize Iqbal's act/s as their duly appointed chair,” Sadain, a lecturer on Islamic law and electoral reform in the University of the Philippines explained.

He said the MILF is the real party to the agreements that has authorized Iqbal and the other four to sign in its behalf.

Iqbal admitted before the lawmakers last Wednesday April 8 using alias which he said a practice common among revolutionary organizations.

Iqbal, also chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), said he uses his real name in his passport. 

However, he refused to reveal his real name for “certain sensitivities.”

“Although it is true that a fictitious signature can void a civil contract, yet the issue here is whether (with respect to Mohagher Iqbal who has gone on public as Mohagher Iqbal, and is now publicly known as such) the name and signature as Mohagher Iqbal can still be considered fictitious,” Sadain said.

Sadain, a commissioner of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, said, “Fictitious refers to something which is imaginary, or invented by imagination, and therefore not real.”

“In this case, Iqbal is a real person who ascribes to himself the name Mohagher Iqbal. Even if the name is an alias, the entirety of Iqbal as a name and a person is not fiction,” he said.

Being the chief negotiator of the MILF, Iqbal has affixed his signatures in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) on October 15, 2012 and Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014.

The two historic peace covenants were lauded by international communities and peace advocates.

FAB and CAB have resulted in the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the measure which seeks to establish the Bangsamoro, a political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Village chief, aide slain in Abu attack

From the Philippine Star (Apr 12): Village chief, aide slain in Abu attack

A village chairman and his escort were killed in an ambush by suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits in Sumisip, Basilan yesterday.

Nurahman Japparul, 52, chief of Barangay Mangal, Sumisip, and Hajim Barilyo died at the scene due to several gunshot wounds, Basilan police director Senior Superintendent Mario Buyucan said.

The victims were on a motorcycle when they were waylaid at the border of Barangays Sumisip Central and Mangal at around 6 a.m.

The bandits were reportedly led by Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Juhaibir Alamsirul, alias Abu Kik.

“The bandits burned the victims’ motorcycle,” case investigator Police Officer 3 Khasmer Osamad said.

2 rebels killed in Cagayan clash

From the Philippine Star (Apr 12): 2 rebels killed in Cagayan clash

Two suspected New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas were killed in an encounter with government troopers in Sto. Niño, Cagayan last Friday.

One of the fatalities was a woman, according to provincial police assistant director Senior Superintendent Franklin Mabanag.

The remains of the slain insurgents were left behind by their comrades following a firefight in Barangay Balano. Authorities have yet to identify them.

Charges yet to be filed vs NPA men

From the Sun Star-Davao (Apr 11): Charges yet to be filed vs NPA men

AUTHORITIES have yet to file charges before the City Prosecutor's Office against a high-ranking leader of the New People’s Army (NPA) and another suspected communisrt rebel who were arrested at a checkpoint in Barangay Sirawan in Toril in Davao City last week.

Facing charges for violation of Republic Act 9516 or The Illegal Possession of Firearms, Ammunition or Explosives, were Vincent Estrada, head of the regional instructor's bureau of the NPA’s ROC SMRC, and Zacarias delos Santos Mancia Jr.

Army's 10th Infantry Division spokesperson Lt. Vergel Lacambra, in a phone interview, said the two communist rebels are now detained at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-Davao Region (CIDG-11) jail facility. He added that the CIDG operatives will be the one to file the additional charges against them.

Members of the Task Force Davao (TFD) and Davao City Police Office (DCPO) arrested Estrada and Mancia at 9:20 p.m. of Tuesday. The two were onboard an Isuzu Bighorn SUV with plate number BDV-684 heading to Davao City when they were arrested at a checkpoint following a warrant of arrest.

Estrada and Mancia were found in possession of caliber .45 pistols, two fragmentation grenades, five units of cellular phones, documents and laptop. The division had recorded five high-ranking NPA leaders arrested in Davao Region since last 2014, Lacambra said.

Lacambra said Estrada was earlier charged with kidnapping and illegal detention at Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 3 in Nabunturan town in Compostela Valley, adding that he is a high-valued cadre which is difficult for the communist movement to replace.

Bus bombs have BIFF signature

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 11): Bus bombs have BIFF signature
THE improvised explosive device found inside a passenger bus Thursday in Sultan Kudarat bore all the marks of bombs made by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a military spokesman said Friday.

“It’s the BIFF’s. It has been the behavior of the BIFF to conduct bombings in public places as one of their diversionary tactics to distract our combat operations against them in the hinterlands,” said Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala, Armed Forces spokesman.

 The bomb attack was thwarted after a passenger of the Yellow Bus Line bound for Isulan town along the national highway found the bomb stuffed in a plastic bag at the rear portion of the bus.

Bomb experts removed the explosive device after all the bus passengers moved to safety.

A ranking military intelligence official who requested anonymity said the bomb was also similar to those used by the Special Operations Group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with which the government is negotiating peace.

“They are the same because they were taught how to make IEDs by Usman and Marwan,” the official said, referring to Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino bomb expert Basit Usman.

Marwan was killed in a Jan. 25 raid, but Usman is still at large.

Following a month-long all-out offensive, the military continued focused operations against the BIFF, which has broken into small groups hiding in the marshlands of Maguindanao. Hiding with them is the group of Usman, Malaysian terrorist Amin Baco alias Jihad and four other “foreign-looking” terrorists.

The military said more 160 BIFF fighters were killed and dozens more were wounded during the all-out offensive. Less than a dozen soldiers were also killed and more than two dozens were wounded.

When the BIFF was founded by former MILF commander Ameril Umbra Kato, the group had about 300 armed men. The MILF leadership expelled Kato and his followers for not supporting its peace talks with the government.

Also on Friday, the military said there was no evidence yet that kidnapped Naga town Mayor Gemma Adana had been moved to Sulu, the lair of the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group.

Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo Jr., spokesman of the Philippine National Police (PNP), said they believed the victim and her abductors were still in the Zamboanga Peninsula.

Cerbo, however, refused to identify the abductors.

Earlier, Capt. Maria Rowena Muyuela, public affairs chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said the armed men who abducted the mayor belonged to the group of Waning Abdusalam.

Kakilala said it was a pattern that kidnap victims were passed to the ASG in Sulu and Basilan, but there were no signs as yet that this happened to Adana.

On Dec. 5, 2011, Austalian national Warren Rodwel was kidnapped in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay and was released on March 27, 2013 by the ASG in Basilan.

Kakilala also dismissed speculation that Thursday’s firefight in Sulu that killed six bandits and two soldiers was connected with the Adana kidnapping.

“The military offensive against the ASG in Sulu, just like in Basilan, is a continuing effort to decimate the bandits. Of course, the objective of these operations is to safely rescue all the kidnap victims from the hands of these bandits,” he said.

On Thursday, a two-hour firefight involving the 32nd Infantry Battalion and fewer than 300 bandits erupted in Sitio Nangka, Barangay Gata, Patikul, Sulu.

Battalion commander Lt. Col. Gregorio Nieveras said 15 soldeirs, two of them with the rank of captain, were wounded.

“Dozens more bandits were also wounded during our initial assault after artillery fire that was followed by close air support by our MD520 attack helicopters,” he said.

At present, the military said the ASG was still holding six kidnap victims, including European bird-watcher Ewold Horn.

World Bank: BBL can’t ensure peace, new threat groups emerging

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 11): World Bank: BBL can’t ensure peace, new threat groups emerging

The government has to contend with other armed groups, including new threat groups, after achieving peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Sen. Francis Escudero said on Friday, citing a World Bank-funded study of the conflict in Mindanao.

The World Bank study titled “Rebellion, Political Violence and Shadow Crimes in the Bangsamoro: The Bangsamoro Conflict Monitoring System (BCMS) 2011-2013” was undertaken to provide data that would help in understanding the conflict in Mindanao.

It said information was “critical in dealing with the potential recurrence of conflict after the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro” between the government and the MILF.

International Alert UK Philippines and the World Bank put up the BCMS to “monitor and analyze conflict, particularly violent conflict with the Bangsamoro and adjoining areas.”

The BCMS collected conflict data from 2011 to 2013 from the Philippine National Police and five credible print media sources in five provinces.

(Escudero’s office provided the Inquirer a copy of the World Bank study.)

With other armed groups in the region, Escudero said the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) would not be an assurance of lasting peace in Mindanao.

The World Bank study looked into and analyzed data on conflict in the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi where there were 2,578 violent incidents of violence from 2011 to 2013.

The five provinces make up the bulk of the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous region.

“The BBL will only provide peace between the government and the MILF,” Escudero said, reiterating his call to government peace negotiators to be “candid, honest and not raise false hopes that the BBL will bring peace to Mindanao.”


The MILF, however, sees the BBL as a tool that would make the other armed groups in Mindanao irrelevant.

“With the BBL, other armed groups will lose legitimacy because the issues related to the Moro conflict are being addressed,” Mohagher Iqbal, chief peace negotiator of the MILF, said at a recent round-table discussion in Davao City sponsored by the National Union of Journalists.

Iqbal acknowledged that the BBL “may not be a complete formula” for peace. But with the BBL, he said, “the situation will change significantly.”

The passage of the BBL by Congress is part of the peace agreement signed last year by the government and the MILF.

Escudero said the World Bank study showed that the BBL “will not really provide lasting peace with the armed groups in Mindanao.”

“But admittedly, it may lessen the groups fighting the government [with the achievement of peace with the MILF],” Escudero said.

For the government to settle the peace and order problem in Mindanao, it has to “engage all other groups as well and not just the MILF because all other groups that were excluded will still pose serious security threats to Mindanao and our country,” he added.

EU extends P13.9-million help to Maguindanao war evacuees

From the Business Mirror (Apr 10): EU extends P13.9-million help to Maguindanao war evacuees

The European Union (EU) has provided P13.9 million to fund emergency humanitarian assistance to Maguindanao residents who were displaced from their homes following a recent escalation of violence there.

The money will enable the provision of lifesaving relief items to the most vulnerable and support the management and provision of services at evacuation and displacement sites.

The two-month emergency project will specifically focus on the most vulnerable families. It will help ensure that they have access to safe and dignified shelters, water and sanitation facilities, as well as lifesaving nonfood items, such as blankets, sleeping mats and hygiene kits.

Psychosocial support will also be provided, allowing the displaced persons to exchange with others about their traumatic experience and receive information on potential further specialized support.

Moreover, the EU is continuing its assistance to the families displaced by the fighting that took place in Zamboanga in 2013, by providing a separate P13.7-million fund on top of the assistance provided in 2013.

A year-and-a-half after the displacement took place, some 20,000 residents remain in evacuation and transitional sites, living under very difficult conditions. The EU-funded aid will also focus on the most vulnerable individuals, providing them with food, protection, livelihood support and health services until the authorities can provide a more permanent solution for the displaced.

In both cases, the assistance is being made available through the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (Echo) through its Small-Scale Response Mechanism.

The first project in Maguindanao will be implemented by a consortium composed of the International Organization for Migration and Plan International—two humanitarian actors which have a long-established presence in the Philippines.

The operation in Zamboanga will be implemented by another consortium comprising non-governmental organization Action Contre la Faim and Plan International—both already operational in the area from previous Echo funding.

The armed conflict in Central Mindanao, southern Philippines, intensified in February 2015, when fighting erupted between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the towns of Pagalungan and Pikit. The clashes further escalated when the Armed Forces of the Philippines launched an “all-out offensive” against the BIFF troops. The fighting resulted in the displacement of over 120,000 people in the provinces of Maguindanao.

In September 2013 a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front seized hostages in Zamboanga, leading to an intervention by the military. The ensuing clashes lasted for more than two weeks and left some 45 dead and over 100, 000 people displaced in Zamboanga City.

Echo’s Small-Scale Response fund is a global mechanism that allows for rapid funding of up to P13.9 million for humanitarian aid in countries affected by natural and manmade disasters.

War hero revisits road to healing

From DVIDS (Apr 10): War hero revisits road to healing

War hero revisits road to healing

Col. Cirilito Sobejana, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Philippine Army G3, visited Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC) April 7, 2015, and visits with Staff Vascular Surgeon Maj. Farhan Ayubi, DO, TAMC Vascular Surgery Department. Sobejana expressed gratitude for treatment he received 20 years ago at TAMC that saved his career in the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the use of his right arm. Sobejana is a recipient of the AFP's equivalent to the U.S. Medal of Honor for actions taken against a terrorist organization in 1995. (U.S. Army photo by Jim Guzior, Tripler Army Medical Center Public Affairs)

TRIPLER ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Hawaii -- It's been 20 years since Col. Cirilito Sobejana, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Philippine Army G3, visited Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC).

During his first visit, a then Capt. Sobejana, wondered if doctors here would be able to save his nearly severed right arm.

He recently got to shake hands and extend his thanks to TAMC staff for the medical treatment that allowed him to continue his career in the AFP and the use of his arm.

Sobejana is a recipient of the AFP's equivalent to the U.S. Medal of Honor for actions taken against a terrorist organization in January of 1995.

After sustaining gun-shot wounds during a five-hour fire-fight, Sobejana was medically evacuated to a local hospital in the southern region of the Philippines and remained for four days until he was stable enough for transfer to a medical facility in Manila.

Sobejana was then informed by his military superiors that he would be sent abroad for advanced medical care at TAMC. The U.S. military hospital provided his care because of the U.S. and the Philippine alliance with over 70 years of deep military-to-military ties.

"[My arm] was nearly severed. It was shattered ... At that time, our hospitals didn't have that capability yet to treat my injury," recalled Sobejana.

After landing on Oahu, Sobejana was escorted via ambulance to TAMC.

Sobejana spent 10 months receiving care at Tripler where he received almost a dozen separate operations, to include reconstructive surgery, which ultimately saved his hand.

Sobejana light-heartedly recalls being very well known among the surgical staff at TAMC and says he was often greeted with a "welcome back" from staff just before undergoing his later surgeries.

"I was very impressed with the care and the way they treated me as a battle casualty," he said.

Sobejana then received post-operative care at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC), in San Antonio Texas.

The transfer allowed him to continue care with his primary physician who had since transitioned to the major medical facility there.

"I reported to the hospital every day, Monday through Friday for my rehabilitation ... for four months."

After undergoing rehabilitation, Sobejana eventually regained his strength and his competitive edge.

"Now I can do pushups. I can do 50 to 60 pushups in one minute."

Sobejana, who was in Hawaii as part of a high-level planning conference between officials from the U.S. Army Pacific and the AFP, says he has enjoyed his 39 year career and looks forward to the next seven years before mandatory retirement. "I am happy now. I am happy doing my job, serving the people and securing the land.

During the visit to TAMC, Sobejana toured Vascular Surgery, Orthopedics and other clinics.

Although much has changed since his stay at TAMC, there is one thing he says is exactly as he remembered. "The color is still the same. It's still a pink hospital."

He says he hopes to convey to the medical staff at TAMC and BAMC the deep gratitude he feels for the care he received." I will not forget them. I always treasure the things that they did for me just to save my arm."

Limited liberty for troops in Philippines exercise

From the Navy Times (Apr 10): Limited liberty for troops in Philippines exercise
More than 6,000 Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen participating in a major exercise in the Philippines won't be enjoying the local nightlife.

U.S. Pacific Command is strictly limiting liberty for troops participating in the Balikatan exercise alongside 5,000 Filipino troops.

"Service members participating in, and supporting Balikatan 2015 may only eat in restaurants inside their hotel or within close proximity to their hotel (walking distance) if their hotel does not have a restaurant inside," said Army Maj. David Eastburn, a PACOM spokesman.

Absolutely off limits will be the bars and nightclubs, Eastburn said, but commands can organize their own events.

"Bars and nightclubs are off limits and all participants in Balikatan 2015 must be back in their hotel by 10 p.m. Service members may participate in command sponsored community relations events and ships may authorize events on the pier."

The exercise, which begins April 20 and runs for 10 days, involves elements from the III Marine Expeditionary Force, the amphibious transport dock Green Bay and various Navy construction, riverine and explosive ordnance disposal units.

Liberty has been restricted for U.S. troops in the Philippines since a marine was accused of murdering a local transgender woman, Jennifer Laude, after a night out on the town.

Lance Cpl. Joseph Pemberton is on trial in the Philippines and faces 20 years in prison if convicted.

The killing infuriated many Filipinos, who have called for their government to scrap the newly minted 2014 Visiting Forces Agreement, a major foreign policy victory for the Obama administration, which rekindled military ties with the country after decades of frosty relations.

But the Philippine government has stood by the VFA, saying it will not renegotiate the deal.

Balikatan, which means "shoulder-to-shoulder," is a field training exercise that includes a number of humanitarian assistance projects.

"Our armed forces and the U.S. armed forces are coming together for these mutual defense and disaster response exercises towards a more responsive partnership to the community, focusing on development and community service," Philippine Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc told The Philippine Star.

In addition to the 11,000 U.S. and Philippine troops, Australia is sending about 60 troops and an aircraft to the exercise.

The exercise comes at a time of rising tension between China and its neighbors over its construction of artificial islands in the Spratlys archipelago, which lies off the coasts of Malaysia and the Philippines.

Analysts believe that the Chinese government is seeking to expand its exclusive rights to resources, including fisheries and mineral deposits.

Govt knows MILF identities’

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 11): Govt knows MILF identities’

THE government has known the real names of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leaders since the peace process started in 1997, a Palace official said Friday after lawmakers criticized their use of aliases in signing a peace agreement with the government.

“At least on the side of the executive, allow me to say that the real names of the MILF negotiators are of course known to the Philippine government, and in fact, they possess Philippine passports as issued by the Department of Forteign Affairs,” said deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte, during a press briefing in Malacanang.

Valte said when the peace process started in 1997, the MILF negotiators like previous rebel group negotiators—notably from the National Democratic Front and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army—were allowed the courtesy of using their aliases which they used for security reasons when they were part of their respective underground movements.

She also dismissed suggestions that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) would be affected by the refusal of MILF leaders to reveal their real names.

“The BBL should be discussed on the basis of the merits of the law itself, or of the draft bill itself, and not other attendant issues that may be related but perhaps are not really at the core of the main points of the BBL draft itself,” she said.

Valte also said there was no deception on the part of the MILF.

“Their real names are known to government so there was no deception on their part. There’s no deception on their part because they made their real names known to the government,” she said.

Valte’s statement Friday contradicted presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles, who said she only learned that MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal used an alias when he admitted this before a congressional hearing.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the use of aliases by the MILF officials would have no legal implications on the peace agreements they signed.

She said the use of a nom de guerre or pseudonym by officials of revolutionary organizations was “common practice” and was not covered by the law against the use of aliases under the Revised Penal Code.

“If we do not allow them the courtesy to continue using such nom de guerre whenever they are involved in the peace process, do you think the peace process would be successful?” she said.

De Lima also compared the MILF leaders to the use of screen names by movie personalities such as former President Joseph Estrada, whose real name is Joseph Ejercito.

She said the question should not affect the validity or legality of the documents they signed.

Two administration lawmakers, however, disagreed.

House Deputy Majority Leader and Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles said it was time that MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal reveal his true identity and sign the peace agreement again using his real name.

“Is it legally binding on the MILF if their representative signs with a fake name? What other concealments, deceptions and hidden secrets are behind the peace agreement? No wonder our officials in the Bureau of Immigration could not find any travel records belonging to Mohagher Iqbal. Because that is not his real name. So please tell us for the sake of transparency what is the real name of Mohagher Iqbal?” Nograles said.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Jr. agreed, and urged the MILF leaders to show their sincerity by using their real names.

At the Palace briefing, Valte also defended President Benigno Aquino III’s move to create a National Peace Council, saying this violated no law.

“I don’t know why it would be illegal because it’s a private group that is not being funded by government. They responded to the President’s call to organize themselves, the co-conveners did, and that everything will be done separately and independently. In fact, the President only tasked the two conveners. It’s up to them who the other people they would choose to be part of the council. We have no hand in the selection. We have no hand in anything else. These community leaders and private individuals have agreed to form this council, again, which will not supplant Congress in any way to be able to contribute to the national discussion on BBL,” said Valte.

She also said other questions about the National Peace Council should be addressed to them, since they have already been organized.

Valte also declined to comment on the warning from chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer that war could erupt if Congress does not pass the BBL.

“As our chief negotiator, she has an extensive background on the negotiations, on the situation there. And it is not uncommon for her or any of our negotiators to see that the alternative to BBL would be more violence,” Valte said.

“As the President said, we have a chance to end it now, and there are many factors that are in our favor to be able to give it a real shot at peace in that region. So all we’re saying is that we give it a chance. Let’s talk about it. Let’s have a rational discourse on the merits and what can be improved in the draft that was submitted,” Valte said.

She also said the President has been clear in urging Congress to “preserve the core principles, the provisions that support real autonomy.”

Valte said she did not know if the peace agreement was on the agenda when the President visits Malaysia in April.

AFP, NPA open new war front

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 12): AFP, NPA open new war front

BUTUAN CITYThe Armed Forces of the Philippines and the communist New People’s Army have resorted to issuing press statements of their own in their heightened propaganda war.

This developed as the NPA has claimed that at least three government soldiers belonging to the 30th infantry brigade were killed and six others wounded when a team of NPA rebels attacked the state troopers in Surigao City on Saturday, April 10, 2015.

In a press statement, NPA’s Kumander Jhared, a   battalion commander of the Agusan-Surigao area said the  encounter between government troopers and his men took place at  10:30 a.m. April 10, 2015.  “Fully armed NPA rebels in an advantage position encountered the patrolling 30th IB Philippine Army soldiers in  area,” Jhared said.

Jhared said the soldiers-casualties were brought to Barangay Ema in Sison town, Surigao del Norte which was  six kilometers away from the encounter site.

“Residents in Barangay Ema saw three cadavers of soldiers belonging to 30th IB  placed in body bags while the six wounded government troopers were brought to hospitals in Surigao del Norte for treatment”  Jhared said.

But Army spokesman Major Christian Uy said there was indeed such an encounter but  it took place in Barangay Anomar in Surigao City and  not in Barangay Tongonon which is near Barangay Mat-I, a known NPA lair.

“While there was (an) encounter between some six NPA rebels and the 30th IB government troopers it lasted only for ten minutes and the NPA rebels scampered away. There (were)  no casualties on the government side but a lot on the NPA rebels side,” Uy said citing report from 30th Infantry Battalion of the 4th Infantry Division.

The Surigao City Police   confirmed there were skirmishes between NPA rebels and  government troopers within Surigao City areas but couldn’t confirm whether it was in Barangay Anomar or in Barangay Tongonon.

Surigao City investigators  said that   they received report from the military about the encounter but did not state where exactly it happened.

But  Jhared in text messages insisted the firefight took place in Tongonon.

Last April 9,  soldiers belonging to the  29th infantry   and the  NPA rebels  engaged in a brief firefighter in Sitio Tagkiling, Barangay Anticala, Butuan City. No casualties from both sides,  both military and NPA rebels claimed.

Iqbal: Catholic church backs BBL

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 12): Iqbal: Catholic church backs BBL

ALTHOUGH “the real battle now is in Congress,” MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said even the Catholic Church supports the controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that has been criticized as being unconstitutional by lawmakers.

“The Catholic church is supportive of the BBL, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Ateneo de Davao President Joel Tabora, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando B. Cardinal Quevedo at Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, Jr. [support it],” Iqbal was quoted by a news item on the CBCP website.

“There is an overwhelming support from Moro groups including traditional leaders, politicians and ordinary people,” Iqbal also added.

Despite this, however, Iqbal said there is a need to increase and strengthen the support base for the BBL pending at both Houses of Congress, saying “the real battle now is in Congress.”

Speaking before the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines last week, Iqbal said BBL supporters need to be identified thoroughly and ways have to be found to strengthen and consolidate partnerships with them.

He went on to describe international support for the BBL as “very strong.”

Iqbal said he looks forward to developing close relations with the business community such as the Makati Business Clun and the Mindanao Business Council.

Iqbal said there should be a massive information campaign on the salient provisions of the proposed BBL and the “need for peace in the country.”

He added more often than not, “the attitude of politicians are conditioned by the pulse of their electorates.”

“We have to rally educational institutions and academicians behind the BBL’s passage,” he stressed adding that there are future engagements with 18 surviving members of the 1987 Constitutional Commission.

Iqbal likewise cited the challenge of engaging those who are against the BBL’s passage, including the “majority of media practitioners”, especially after the Mamasapano incident.

He said some politicians and opposition groups are using the BBL as “tool of politics”, while majority of the Filipinos have not read nor studied the draft law.

He bewailed the fact there still lies anti-Moro biases and prejudices which he described as “very strong in Luzon and the Visayas as there are hostile opinion-makers, columnists, talk show hosts and a lot more.”

Should the BBL fail to pass, the MILF’s clout, popularity and effectiveness will sink to the lowest level as there will no longer be decommissioning of its weapons and combatants and no Exit Agreement will be signed.

He candidly said the radicals “will have greater say on how the situation develops in Mindanao.”

MILF backers meet in Davao

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 12): MILF backers meet in Davao

AFTER a member of the Maranao royal family questioned their legitimacy, the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front announced on Saturday that about 300 datus [traditional village leaders] along with three Maguindanao royal families will gather on Sunday for a show of support for the rebel group.

The Maguindanao leaders will gather at the Waterfront Insular Hotel in Davao City along with members of the MILF Central Committee, including MILF Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar, according to the media advisory.

The event is apparently part of a nation-wide campaign to gather support for the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which embodies the peace agreement the MILF reached with the government but is now being deliberated in Congress amid questions on the rebels’ sincerity.

Jaafar, who warned last month that the MILF would resume fighting if the BBL is “watered-down,” will make his first public appearance after a respected member of a Maranao royal family, lawyer Firdausi Abbas, questioned the legitimacy of the MILF leadership.

Abbas claimed that the current officials of the MILF wrested leadership of the rebel group from MILF leader Abdul Asiz, now deceased, who was the designated successor of MILF founder Hashim Salamat.

Abbas, whose family was deeply involved in the original Bangsamoro movement, criticized the MILF leaders as lawmakers questioned why the MILF leaders had to use fictitious names in seeking a historic agreement with the Philippine government.

The use of aliases by MILF chairman Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim, Jaafar and chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal has stirred a legal controversy dividing leaders of the House of Representatives.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. defended its legality and said their use of aliases does not invalidate the peace agreement the MILF signed with the government.

“I wouldn’t make a big thing out of it. As long as we all know who we are talking to. We in fact have many public officials elected and serving under aliases,” Belmonte said without naming names.

Deputy Speaker and Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao said Iqbal’s use of pseudonym was not an issue.

“There’s too much ado about nothing in the case of Iqbal’s use of an alias. The Catholic priest assumes an alias in becoming a pontiff. And he signs documents and state papers under that alias,” Aggabao said.

“Why would that be different from someone who assumes an alias in becoming a rebel. We are engaged in nitpicking,” he added.

He also cleared Secretary Teresita Deles, presidential adviser on the peace process and professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the government peace panel chair, of any legal liability over the fact that they know Iqbal has been hiding his true identity. “I think. Deles and Ferrer have no liability whatsoever,” Aggabao said.

House Deputy Minority Leader and 1-BAP Rep. Silvestre Bello III echoed Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s position that the use of aliases by the MILF officials would have no legal implications on the peace agreements they signed.

Bello, a former peace negotiator and former justice secretary, added that the use of a nom de guerre or pseudonym by officials of revolutionary organizations was not covered by the law against the use of aliases under the Revised Penal Code.

“No law was violated; much less the Constitution,” Bello said.

But House Deputy Majority Leader and Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles maintained that  use of alias in the peace agreement and other documents with the government is prohibited under the law.

Ang Nars Rep. Leah Pacquiz said lawmakers must be able to compel Iqbal to reveal his true identity and name in an executive session of the House next week.

She said it was disturbing that the government agreed to deal with non-existent and fictitious people, especially on sensitive issue such as a peace agreement.

Beijing slams Obama remarks

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 12): Beijing slams Obama remarks

THE United States is like a “thief crying ‘stop, thief’” in asserting that China is using its “sheer size and muscle” to bully smaller claimants such as the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea, Beijing said through state new agency Xinhua on Saturday.

“The world’s leading superpower, which believes policing the world is its destiny, sometimes however seems to have a penchant for playing the trick of thief crying ‘stop, thief’,” the state news agency said in a commentary without a byline.

“Such finger-pointing laid bare again the mind-boggling hypocrisy of the United States, which takes habitual tactics of standing facts on their heads as well as blame-shifting.

“Arbitrarily exercising its mighty military power, the United States is the real bully in the world who has rarely missed an opportunity to stoke tensions between China and its neighbors,” the commentary added.

The article said China is “elbowing aside” no one by carrying out construction and maintenance work on some islands and reefs in the Nansha Islands, which fall entirely within its sovereignty.

It is the United States that has been busy elbowing countries like the Philippines into deliberate and serious provocations against China, triggering conflicts and undercutting regional stability, it added.

But Malacañang said the Philippines has broad international support in its maritime dispute with China because of the peaceful approach it is taking.

“The country’s position, when it comes to this maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea, as you can see, has received broad international support because it’s... We have adopted the peaceful track,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a radio interview.

“We have committed to pursuing our cause through recognized fora, and that we continue to adopt the rules-based approach,” she added.

Palace: Use of aliases not the core of peace negotiation

From Ang Malaya (Apr 11): Palace: Use of aliases not the core of peace negotiation

“The real names of the MILF negotiators are of course known to the Philippine government,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said. Use of aliases is “a matter of personal security.”

“When the peace process started in 1997, the MILF negotiators like previous rebel group negotiators — notably from the NDF (National Democratic Front), the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), the CPLA (Cordillera People’s Liberation Army)— they were allowed the courtesy to continue using their aliases that they used as underground,” the presidential spokesperson added.

”So, at least for us, the BBL should be discussed on the basis of the merits of the law itself, or of the draft bill itself, and not other attendant issues that may be related but perhaps are not really at the core of the main points or the core points of the BBL draft itself,” Valte noted.

However, Senator Marcos said “This mocks the entire process and puts in serious question the very sincerity of the rebels to enter into peace with us.”

“By using a nom de guerre, and claiming to represent the MILF, this person known as Iqbal places the entire peace process in jeopardy because he lacks the legal status to even represent and negotiate with the government,” Marcos explains.

Leftist Bayan says Balikatan will not benefit PHL: Points out brewing tension with China

From Ang Malaya (Apr 11): Leftist Bayan says Balikatan will not benefit PHL: Points out brewing tension with China

Umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) of leftist militant organizations said that Balikatan 2015 will take place amid the brewing dispute in the West Philippine Sea between China and the Philippines and will not benefit people of the Philippines.

“Our capacity to defend our territory against China will not be improved just because there are training exercises,” Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr. said.

“It is silly that China is even being mentioned since the US has expressed its non-committal to defend the Philippines in the event of an armed confrontation with China.”

Balikatan 2015 will start April 20 and will run until April 30.

“The joint exercises are designed to increase our capability to defend our country from external aggression. It is to test how ready and how effective we can operate with our American allies in both humanitarian and security operations,” AFP-Public Affairs Office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said.

6,656 American soldiers, 5,023 Filipino soldiers and 61 Australian soldiers are expected to participate.

Rodriguez: BBL okay assured, but for eight provisions

From MindaNews (Apr 11): Rodriguez: BBL okay assured, but for eight provisions

The chair of the House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will push for the passage of the controversial law when the deliberations resume on April 20, minus eight provisions that he said are unconstitutional.

But Committee chair Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (2nd district, Cagayan de Oro) said he will ensure the new Bangsamoro region will have its fiscal autonomy.

“I will assure that it has money to spend for education, health and development,” he said.

BBL POSITION. Rep. Rufus Rodriguez ( 2nd district, Cagayan de Oro), chair of the House of Representatives’  Ad Hoc Committee on the  Bangsamoro Basic Law,  explains his position on the proposed law before NGOs and civil society groups  at the Archbishop’s Residence in Cagayan de Oro City on April 11, 2015. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

BBL POSITION. Rep. Rufus Rodriguez ( 2nd district, Cagayan de Oro), chair of the House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, explains his position on the proposed law before NGOs and civil society groups at the Archbishop’s Residence in Cagayan de Oro City on April 11, 2015. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

Rodriguez said the fiscal-generating measures of the proposed region will come from the documentary taxes; land and water rights; income tax revenues and other revenues.
He said income generated from these tax measures should be given “100 percent” to the new Bangsamoro region.

“The region of Muslim Mindanao is among the poorest in the country. This money will help them catch up with the development of the rest of the country,” Rodriguez told
Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, NGOs and CSOs during the “Peaceful Conversations” forum held at the Archbishop’s House in Cagayan de Oro City Saturday morning.

Ledesma and the NGO leaders told Rodriguez they would like to see Congress pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

“We cannot just waste 17 years of peace talks. This is the right time to pass the BBL,” Myrna Siose of the Cagayan de Oro Archdiocese said.

Rodriguez assured Ledesma and NGO leaders that he can muster enough support from the 75-member House Ad Hoc Committee to pass the BBL.

11bbl2 PEACEFUL STUDY. Pro-BBL campaigner Archbishop Antonio Ledesma (left) and Rep. Rufus Rodriguez ( 2nd district, Cagayan de Oro), read the different presentations from NGOs and civil society groups  during a discussion on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) at the Archbishop’s Residence in Cagayan de Oro City on April 11, 2015. Rodriguez chairs the House Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

BBL STUDY. Pro-BBL campaigner Archbishop Antonio Ledesma (left) and Rep. Rufus Rodriguez ( 2nd district, Cagayan de Oro), read the different presentations from NGOs and civil society groups during a discussion on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) at the Archbishop’s Residence in Cagayan de Oro City on April 11, 2015. Rodriguez chairs the House Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

Questions of constitutionality
But Rodriguez said eight of the 250 provisions in the BBL will be deleted because of questions of constitutionality.

He said these are some provisions of Section 2 of the Powers of Government  authorizing the new Bangsamoro administration to have its own version of the Commission on Elections; Ombudsman; Civil Service Commission; Commission on Audit; and  Commission on Human Rights.

Rodriguez explained that the 1987 Constitution guarantees  these agencies as “independent Constitutional agencies” that even Congress, the judiciary and the President cannot tinker with.

The proposed BBL provides that the creation of the Bangsamoro Commission on Audit is “without prejudice to the power, authority, and duty of the national Commission on Audit to examine, audit, and settle all accounts pertaining to the revenues and the use of funds and property owned and held in trust by any government instrumentality, including GOCCs;” the proposed Bangsamoro Civil Service Office which shall develop and administer Bangsamoro government employees and officers is also “without prejudice to the Civil Service Commission’s powers;” the Bangsamoro Electoral Office “shall be part of the Commission on Elections;” and the Bangsamoro Commission on Human Rights (BCHR) which shall have investigatory and prosecutorial powers shall in the performance of its functions, coordinate with the Commission on Human Rights.”

In the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the principal core territory of the Bangsamoro, the Regional Human Rights Commission (RHRC) was recently created as “an independent office that has the same powers and mandate as the national Commission on Human Rights” and “has primary and original jurisdiction to investigate, on complaint or on its own initiative, cases of human rights violations within the Autonomous Region, to include civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights,”   the Commission said.

“Maybe what the MILF or new region can do is to ask these agencies to strengthen their regional offices. We might have a legal problem if we create a new regional office even if these are under the national offices,” he said.

Other provisions for deletion
Rodriguez said he would also push for the deletion of provisions that require the President to coordinate with the new region with regards to the operational conduct of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police.

He said this provision runs against the principle of “one state-one army.”

The proposed BBL provides that the proposed Bangsamoro Police “shall be part of the Philippine National Police” and the proposed Bangsamoro Regional Police Board under Article XVI, Sections 5 and 6 “shall be part of the National Police Commission (Napolcom) and will perform the functions of the NAPOLCOM in the region.”

Rodriguez said the provision allowing areas outside the proposed Bangsamoro region to join if ten percent of the residents petition for inclusion, will be scrapped because of the opposition of Mindanao congressmen, governors and mayors.

“This will only promote instability and besides the successful peace agreements in Belfast and Aceh do not have this provision,” Rodriguez said,
The provision on the petition of 10 % of the residents is based on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. However, the petition, made available only for residents in areas which are contiguous to but outside the proposed core territory of the Bangsmaoro, can be approved only if majority of the qualified voters approve it in a plebiscite.

Rodriguez said what will be added are the United Nations guarantees to protect the indigenous peoples, their rights and culture.

“The new region will be a better place for the Lumads (Indigenous Peoples). Even under its  original draft, Lumads are already guaranteed seats in its legislative assembly,” he said.