Saturday, September 12, 2015

Quirino foundation honors forgotten heroes

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 13): Quirino foundation honors forgotten heroes

‘WE HAVE BEEN FORGOTTEN,’ veterans of the Korean War lament during their 41st annual convention, but the Elpidio Quirino Foundation remembers to honor their heroism. With the President’s grandchildren Cory Quirino and Ruby Gonzalez-Meyer (extreme left) are veterans Arnulfo Bañez, Miguel Villamor, Crispin Paciente Sr., Augusto Flores and  Ernesto Venturina. JILSON SECKLER TIU

‘WE HAVE BEEN FORGOTTEN,’ veterans of the Korean War lament during their 41st annual convention, but the Elpidio Quirino Foundation remembers to honor their heroism. With the President’s grandchildren Cory Quirino and Ruby Gonzalez-Meyer (extreme left) are veterans Arnulfo Bañez, Miguel Villamor, Crispin Paciente Sr., Augusto Flores and Ernesto Venturina. JILSON SECKLER TIU

The year is 1952. Just seven years after the end of a war that devastated their homeland, another wave of Filipino soldiers arrive in the shores of the Korean Peninsula, heeding the call to support the defense of democracy.

In unfamiliar terrain, in the bitter cold, the Filipinos—mostly just in their 20s—hang on to their helmets and rifles amid the onslaught of enemy forces.

It is the first overseas war the Philippines fought, a war largely forgotten today.

“Of course, when we arrived, we saw the people scared, hungry, with tattered clothes,” said 86-year-old retired Col. Ernesto Venturina.

Venturina was part of the 19th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) of the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (Peftok), the country’s contingent which began deployment two years earlier (1950) to support United Nations forces repel communist forces in the divided Korean Peninsula.

“We were in the front lines. The sight of both our people and the enemy, it was sad to see that,” said Venturina, who deployed at 22, the youngest first sergeant among the entire UN forces at the time.

The memory is as vivid for retired General Prudencio Regis, Venturina’s fellow soldier in the 19th Battalion.

The unit is among forces that saw action in some of the fiercest battles in the three-year war, including the Battle of Hill Eerie, a military outpost near the 38th parallel, the demarcation that divides Korea into the communist North and democratic South to this day.

Regis arrived in the battlefield by train, going straight to the front lines.

“There were shots all over. I was praying, praying,” said the 90-year-old, who served alongside former President Fidel Ramos, among the prominent Korean War veterans whose ranks produced top military officials, diplomats and civil servants.

While memories of the war 65 years ago remain indelible in the minds of the veterans, some lament that stories of their hard-fought survival have now become cobwebbed, hardly commemorated like the true acts of heroism that they were.

“We have been forgotten. That’s the truth,” said 85-year-old Florendo Benedicto of the 20th BCT, aggrieved of what he described as the insufficient compensation benefits to Filipino Korean War veterans.

Noting the meager recognition accorded to the country’s living heroes, the President Elpidio Quirino Foundation, an organization led by descendants of the country’s second post-World War II leader, this month honored Filipino Korean War veterans as part of the late President’s 125th birth anniversary commemoration.

“We are very happy and honored to be here for the first time,” said Ruby Quirino Gonzalez, one of the Quirino grandchildren actively involved in the foundation.

It was the late President who sent Filipino troops to support UN forces in the Korean Peninsula in 1950, deploying some 7,500 fighters under five BCTs over three years. A total of 112 Filipinos lost their lives in the war.

The Filipino troops made up the fourth-largest contingent among 16 nations under the UN command at the time, toiling the battlefield alongside United States forces.

Quirino’s son, son-in-law

The troops included the Quirino family’s own—a fact little known about the Peftok’s barely talked about travails.

Among those sent to Korea’s combat zones were Qurino’s son, 1st Lt. Tomas Quirino, and son-in-law, 1st Lt. Luis “Chito” Gonzalez, husband of Victoria Quirino, the late President’s daughter. She was known as the Philippines’ teenage first lady, having assumed the role in lieu of her mother Alicia Syquia who perished in the liberation of Manila in 1945.

“It was very hard for him (Quirino) to see that he was sending more troops when we just survived the war (World War II). It was a very happy decision for him to send his own,” said Gonzalez, daughter of the late lieutenant.

Enduring cold weather

“They were (Filipinos at the time) just rehabilitating their lives, and now they were going back to war. But they were all a happy troop. They were very courageous, they were known as among the bravest,” she told the Inquirer.

She said her late father, who served as a combat pilot in the war, always had stories to tell about the war.

“We were told so many stories about how it was so cold. Their suffering, it was really the weather and the danger,” said Gonzalez in an interview.

As part of a series of events leading to the celebration of Quirino’s 125th birth anniversary on Nov. 16, the Quirino Foundation launched on Sept. 7 an exhibit of just-found war photographs from the former first family’s collection at the Philippine-Korean Friendship Center in Taguig City.

Now on display at the Peftok Korean War Memorial Hall, the exhibit titled “The President’s Sons” features photographs of Tomas Quirino and Luis Gonzalez in deployment, accompanying a timeline of Peftok’s participation in the war.

Emotional journey

Gonzalez said digging up the photographs from the war was “a thoroughly emotional journey” for the family.

The collection includes never-before-seen photos of Filipino troops in the trenches, wrapped in cold-weather gear, as if fighting winter as hard as they were the enemy forces.

Coinciding with Peftok’s annual convention, the foundation also premiered “March of the Valiant,” a gripping 30-minute retelling of the Filipino soldiers’ exploits in the Korean War, featuring the veterans themselves.

“We dedicate not only the collection, but spent a little bit of time to try to give honor to all of you valiant men who fought in the Korean War, but also to those who never made it back,” Gonzalez told the veterans during the memorial rites.

“We would like for our youth never to forget the bravest, the truest and the noblest of our Filipinos in the war,” she told around 50 of the surviving veterans, fondly called “super seniors” for their advanced age.

Honoring the heroes who once defended his country, South Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Kim Jae-shin said spending his day with Peftok veterans was “the most touching, moving and happiest day” since his arrival in Manila in April.

In his remarks at the commemoration, the Korean envoy said he could not find the words to express his gratitude to the veterans before him.

Fragile peace

“As a Korean, I’m very much aware that peace is quite fragile,” said Kim, in apparent reference to the continuing tension between the two Koreas.

“It has been said that the true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him. The same can be said of the men who fought in the Korean War,” he said.

He cited the courage of Peftok soldiers to rally behind democracy and independence, helping shape what is now a free and robust nation.

“In 1950, men with indubitable principles, men like the soldiers that made up the Peftok, fought alongside South Korean troops not because they hated the invaders, but because they believed in preserving the democracy and independence of the country,” said Kim.

As a continuing expression of thanks to Peftok, the South Korean government has been providing scholarships to veterans’ descendants, currently numbering 175.

In a message read on his behalf by Philippine Army Vice Commander Major General Demosthenes Santillan, Philippine Army chief Lt. General Eduardo Año said today’s generation of Filipino troops “take inspiration” from the Peftok veterans.

“Your numbers were not that big, yet the impact of your timely presence and actions in many engagements have been crucial, where the loss of a position or two would have spelled defeat for UN forces,” he said.

“Your gallantry is part of the tradition of excellent service, which we, the active members of the force, strive to achieve even in the smallest of tasks,” the Army chief said.

Gonzalez hoped the bravery that Peftok soldiers showed 65 years ago would strike a chord not just among those in service, but also among today’s youth. The advocacy for peace is, after all, a timeless endeavor.

“As you know, North and South Korea have a very tenuous relationship. It’s very strained. Tensions are very real and very present. Can you imagine what would have happened if the UN and the 16 countries that went didn’t take that action?” said Gonzalez.

She cited the Peftok veterans’ pride and nationalism as “traits that we can now communicate to our youth.”

“There are so many soldiers in the line of fire today, whose families live in fear, and in pain, and anxiety. What are we doing about it? As my grandpa once said: ‘The sleep of the heroic dead is never peaceful.’ What are we, the survivors, doing in the interest of peace?” Gonzalez said.

As Venturina put it, nobody wins in any war.

“As much as possible, nations should not go to war… A state of war is very ugly,” said the veteran.

“As much as possible, they should exert all efforts to negotiate and iron out their differences. Because in war, there’s no winner. Both victor and loser, they are all losers,” he added

Olongapo braces for more GI visits in coming months

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 13): Olongapo braces for more GI visits in coming months

The city is deploying shore patrol officers under a proposed task force to prevent crimes while American servicemen spend their liberty (rest and recreation) period here.

Local law enforcers will serve as shore patrol officers and would be stationed at entry and exit points of the Subic Bay Freeport to monitor vehicles entering and leaving the economic zone, according to Mayor Rolen Paulino.

“We are bringing back shore patrol [officers] and they will ensure that US troops will not go to areas that are considered off limits or out of bounds,” Paulino said.

He said a command center would also be set up for easy coordination of incident reports involving American troops.

“These [safety measures] will only be activated when visiting troops are around,” he said.

Plans are being drawn up once American ships again frequent the area, should the murder trial of US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton wind up in the next three months, he said.

Pemberton is awaiting a local court’s verdict on the murder charge filed against him by the family of slain Filipino transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude.

Laude was found dead in a motel here on Oct. 11 last year. Witnesses had identified Pemberton as the foreigner who was with Laude when they checked into the motel.

“Once the trial of Pemberton is over, we’re looking forward to more frequent visits of US ships and their troops,” Paulino said.

Last year, the US Pacific Command (US Pacom) canceled the R&R of US servicemen in the Philippines after Pemberton was detained for Laude’s slaying.

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Chair Roberto Garcia earlier said the US Pacom had eased up on its servicemen’s liberty R&R and allowed them to leave their ships but not the free port.

Paulino said task force members would ensure the safety of Olongapo residents and visiting Americans on shore leave.

He said he planned to form Task Force Liberty, which would be composed of representatives from Olongapo villages, the police, the Philippine Army Reserve Command, the city council and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Aside from US servicemen, Japanese naval and army troops are also expected to visit Subic Bay in the coming months, the mayor said.

SPO1 Johnstone Lloyd Cortez, chief investigator of Police Station 3 here, said a number of US troops visiting this city in the last 10 years had been charged with “unruly behavior.”

“Based on my personal observation, some of these visiting US servicemen were involved in bar fights with Filipinos over unpaid bills or being too drunk,” Cortez told the Inquirer.

He said the police station, which is near a stretch of entertainment clubs frequented by visiting US servicemen, had received complaints from bar owners about Americans being “too annoying” or “rowdy.”

But none of the documented cases was as grave as Pemberton’s murder charge.

“We consider the case of Laude as an isolated incident since the reports we received involving US soldiers were mostly petty crimes over the years,” said Cortez.

He said most of the complaints against US soldiers did not reach the court since American shore patrols would usually intervene and fix the brawls before the complainants could seek police assistance.

AFP assails militant groups for ‘demonizing gov’t’

From the Manila Bulletin (Sep 13): AFP assails militant groups for ‘demonizing gov’t’

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) assailed yesterday militant groups for their alleged attempt to internationalize the killing of at least three members of an Indigenous Peoples (IP) group in Surigao del Sur.
Col. Restituto Padilla, military spokesman, said what should be focused on is the investigation of the killings which was already initiated by the Philippine National Police (PNP).
“The attempt to internationalize the issue and demonize government and the AFP in regard to the matter is always an expected move on their part,” said Padilla, reacting to reports that the militant groups Karapatan and Bayan are trying to involve international groups to look into the issue.
“It is obviously part of their agenda to hurl all accusations and blame everything on the AFP to besmirch the AFP’s reputation,” said Padilla.
The issue stemmed from the killing of Lumad elders in Surigao del Sur reportedly by a paramilitary group created by the military for anti-insurgency campaign in the province.
The group reportedly stormed the Lumad community and mercilessly killed three leaders, even warning the residents about their connection to the communist rebels.
The attack prompted hundreds of Lumad families to flee their homes and seek refuge to an evacuation center in downtown Surigao del Sur.
But the military was quick to deny the allegation.
“The AFP was not involved in the incident and is working and cooperating fully with the Philippine National Police to ascertain the facts regarding this disturbance,” said Padilla.
“The AFP is also doing its own internal investigation to ascertain if AFP actions were appropriate relative to this unfortunate event,” added Padilla.
So far, criminal charges have already been filed against the suspects, three of them were identified.

Bishops urge probe into ‘lumad’ killings

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 13): Bishops urge probe into ‘lumad’ killings

Lumad students form lines for a flag-raising ceremony at the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center, which a tribal leader claims the military wants burned for being run by communist guerrillas. KARLOS MANLUPIG/INQUIRER MINDANAO

Lumad students form lines for a flag-raising ceremony at the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center. KARLOS MANLUPIG/INQUIRER MINDANAO
Catholic bishops are calling for an investigation into the killing of three lumad leaders in Surigao del Sur, allegedly by paramilitary forces, even as they criticized the Aquino administration’s alacrity in defending the suspect group.

“[We ask] the government for an honest, thorough, impartial and speedy investigation so that the guilty may be held to account for their wrongdoing,” said Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, in a statement.

The CBCP is “profoundly disturbed by reports that national leaders have been quick to exonerate the militia group of wrongdoing,” he said.

“This alarming eagerness to deny culpability does not augur well for truth and for justice,” Villegas added.

According to Villegas, such declarations could only be believable after the conduct of a “reliable and trustworthy investigation by impartial and competent persons.”

“If made before any such investigation, they disturbingly suggest a refusal to hold accountable those to whom the administration so eagerly extends its mantle of protection,” he said.

According to press reports, on Sept. 1, a militia group called the Magahat-Bagani Force killed Emerito Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural Livelihood Development (Alcadev), Dionel Campos, a community leader from the Mapasu indigenous group, and the latter’s cousin, Aurelio Sinzo, in Barangay (village) Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

Alcadev is privately run but state-regulated learning institution that provides basic and technical education to lumad children in communities rarely reached by government services.

Villegas said he found it “troubling” that a militia group had been suspected, noting that these paramilitary groups which government makes use of for counter-insurgency and counter-rebellion maneuvers “do not fall under a clear, established and accessible chain of command.”

He said their association with the government could be “pernicious, for while they act with the tacit consent, if not authority, of state agents, they cannot be held to account for their actions by the regular channels of accountability and attribution that exist in the regular armed forces and police.”

International efforts

Meanwhile, the militant Karapatan human rights watchdog has written to the special rapporteurs on human rights and indigenous peoples at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) urging them to investigate the lumad killings.

“We want international bodies to know what is happening in Mindanao—that the lumad, in defense of their land, are being killed and forced to leave their communities,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.

More than 2,000 Manobo residents fled Lianga town after the killing of Samarca, Campos and Sinzo. Samarca was found with a slit throat and gunshot wounds inside the Alcadev office. Campos was gunned down in front of community members, while Sinzo was beaten with a wooden stick before being shot.

Witnesses and local police tagged the Magahat-Bagani Force, a group said to be trained, armed and funded by the military as part of its counter-insurgency program.
Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel commented that “the military has created a monster that it can no longer control.” He later disclosed that military officials had asked him to tone down his statements.”

Karapatan raised the issue with the UNHRC through letters sent to Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz, special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Christof Heyns, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution; Michel Forst, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Chaloka Beyani, special rapporteur on the promotion of the human rights of internally displaced persons.

Part of policy

“We reiterate our position that the political killings happening right now are part of the government’s policy and not simply an internal conflict among indigenous peoples as the government wants the public to believe,” Palabay said in a statement.

For his part, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said the Karapatan move to “demonize” the military was to be expected.

Expected move

“The attempt to internationalize the issue and demonize the government is always an expected move on their part. It is obviously part of their agenda to hurl all accusations and blame everything on the AFP to besmirch the AFP’s reputation,” Padilla said.

He stressed that “the AFP was not involved in the incident and was working and cooperating fully [with] the Philippine National Police to ascertain the facts regarding this disturbance.”

It was also conducting an internal investigation “to ascertain if the AFP actions were appropriate relative to this unfortunate incident,” Padilla said.

‘Marwan killed by aide’

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 13): ‘Marwan killed by aide’

MILF says it’s the only truth on Mamasapano

marwan dead lite

Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir (also known as “Marwan”) lies dead in his hut, his possessions in disarray after a surprise raid by members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF). CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Was Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” executed by his aides?
If he was, was the execution the “alternative truth” to the Mamasapano clash that President Aquino said the government was investigating?

Mohagher Iqbal, chief peace negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said in an interview that there was “no alternative truth.”

“There is only one truth,” Iqbal said, adding that it is found in the report of the MILF in its investigation of the clash between its forces and commandos from the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, on Jan. 25.

The report included the MILF investigators’ observation that Marwan was shot in the back of the head, probably while lying face-down on the floor.

“This was our information per our investigation although we no longer did a follow-up because we felt it was the task of the PNP,” a source from the MILF said on Saturday.

“Marwan was already dead when the SAF arrived in his hut. The scenario we saw was the attack [by the SAF] was just a drama,” the source said in an interview.

The source told the Inquirer that the MILF believed Marwan was killed by his own aides, a theory based on the group’s investigation report.

Forty-four SAF commandos, 17 MILF guerrillas and three civilians were killed in the daylong gun battle, sparking public outrage that delayed the completion of a peace agreement signed by the government and the MILF last year.

MILF’s probe

“It was really his [Marwan’s] security [aide] who killed him,” the source said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The source said that the MILF’s own investigation showed that the firefight in Barangay (village) Pembalkan, Mamasapano, where Marwan was found, was between the 84th Seaborne unit of the SAF and the group of Marwan’s Filipino aide, Basit Usman.

“Basit Usman and his men were alerted by the gunshots from Marwan’s hut and that triggered the firefight,” the source said.

Other Inquirer sources, quoting unconfirmed reports, said one of Marwan’s aides was killed in the firefight while another was able to escape.

The MILF Special Investigation Commission implied in its 35-page report submitted to the government in March that Marwan was executed, but the information went largely unnoticed, or ignored.

Truth in MILF report

Speaking to the Inquirer in a separate interview, Iqbal said the truth about what happened in Mamasapano could be found in the MILF report.

“If you have read the report, the truth is there and for us that is the truth, not the alternative truth. I don’t want to sound political, but the report speaks for itself,” Iqbal said.

The MILF report was never made public, but copies were given to, besides the government peace panel, an international team that monitored the ceasefire between the government and the MILF, the Department of Justice and Sen. Grace Poe, who headed the Senate inquiry into the Mamasapano clash.

Ocular inspection

Here is how the MILF investigators, in their report, described what could have happened inside the hut and the surrounding area where the firefight between the 84th Seaborne and Marwan’s men allegedly took place:

“During the ocular inspection, the Commission found that there were very few bullet holes on the wall of the hut where Marwan was found and killed. The trajectory of the bullets also indicate that the fatal shot did not come from the shots fired outside the house as the bullet holes are roughly [46 centimeters] above the floor. If the shots were fired while Marwan was lying down, he could not have been hit while if he was standing and engaged the elements of the SAF in a firefight, the injuries sustained should have been at his lower body and not on the chest.”

Shot at close range

The report noted: “There are also no bullet holes on the floor of the hut. In all likelihood, the fatal shot must have been fired at close range and while Marwan was lying on the floor.”

It also said that Marwan’s hut, which has a floor area of 2.4 by 4 meters, was only 119 meters away from the hut of Usman.

That Marwan was executed by his aides, who likely had become government assets, and was not killed in an exchange of fire with SAF commandos would drastically change the story in the report of Director Getulio Napeñas, the then SAF commander, on what happened in Mamasapano.

It would also raise the question of whether the 55th SAC, the back-up force that suffered the heaviest casualties, should have even been in Barangay Tukanalipao, which was 3 kilometers away from Barangay Pembalkan.

Despite the deaths of 44 of his men, Napeñas described the police counterterrorism operation as a success because they were able to take down Marwan.

The US government had offered a $5-million reward for the capture of Marwan and $1 million for Usman.

Usman slipped out of Mamasapano after the clash and was killed in May in Guindulungan town, also in Maguindanao. MILF fighters reportedly took down Usman.

Gov’t investigation

Last Tuesday, President Aquino disclosed at the Meet the Inquirer Multimedia forum that there was an emerging “alternative truth” to the Mamasapano debacle.

Aquino said the photograph of Marwan lying dead in the hut “posed many questions.”

“That is what we want to resolve,” he had said.

The photo, contributed by a source to Inquirer columnist Mon Tulfo, was published by the Inquirer on Jan. 30.

Difficulty in finding witnesses

Aquino did not give details, saying an investigation was going on and that the investigators were having difficulty finding witnesses.

The photo published by the Inquirer showed Marwan lying half-naked, with a pool of blood under his head, indicating that he might have been shot from behind. A clean chest shot also left him bloodied. His body appeared not to bear large bullet wounds.

Various Inquirer sources noted that this was not how someone would look like if he was felled by bullets from high-powered firearms.

SAF survivors said Marwan was awakened when members of the strike force entered his hut. He fired on the commandos, who fired back, killing him.

They said one officer took pictures of the slain Marwan and another cut a finger from the right hand of the dead terrorist for DNA tests.

The gunfire roused Marwan’s followers who lived nearby, the survivors said, and the commandos fought their way out of the hut and the village.

No resistance

Iqbal said there was no way Marwan could have offered resistance, but declined to comment beyond what was stated in the MILF report.

“What [the investigators] presented is the result of actual investigation on the ground. What we presented is a strong lead to ferret out the truth. We wanted to know the truth like everyone else,” Iqbal said.

Contradicting the statements of SAF survivors, the MILF report noted that within the vicinity of Marwan’s hut, “there are no indications of bomb explosion[s] as there are no craters on the ground around the hut.”

“Neither is there indication of an intense firefight in or around the hut,” the MILF report added.

The MILF report also said the 84th Seaborne encountered members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), an MILF splinter group, as the police commandos withdrew from Marwan’s hut.

“Intense fighting occurred in an area about 927 meters from the hut where Marwan was found and killed,” the report said.

Ali Tambako

The MILF report said that according to information gathered, “Marwan was buried by the forces of Mohammad Ali Tambako around the areas of Barangays Pembalkan and Dasikil, known lairs of the BIFF and the forces of Mohammad Ali Tambako.”

The Inquirer source from the MILF said the police should interrogate Tambako, whom they arrested in General Santos City in March.

“Tambako was the one who coddled Usman and Marwan. He should know something,” the source said.

A military officer told the Inquirer that investigating how Marwan died would lead to the truth about how the SAF Mamasapano operation was “handled, controlled and mismanaged in the end.”

‘They lied to P-Noy’

“They lied about what really happened, how they killed Marwan. They lied to the President, to the people and to the families of the 44 SAF officers who died in the operation,” the officer said.

“It is now difficult to find out what really happened, because there is no one to blame for the deaths of the SAF 44 but their commanders who deployed them for a poorly planned mission. When it backfired, they blamed everyone but themselves,” the officer said.

Charges mulled vs. soldiers linked to lumad killings

Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Sep 12): Charges mulled vs. soldiers linked to lumad killings


CAGAYAN DE ORO. Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) Bishop Antonio Ablon talks to colleagues on the phone to report the presence of a suspected intelligence operative, here shown in cuffs, who tried to sneak into a gathering of human rights workers in Cagayan de Oro, September 11. The suspected intelligence operative was later turned over to police. (JB R. Deveza)

SOLDIERS  linked to the deaths of five Manobo tribesmen in Pangantucan, Bukidnon may soon be facing criminal and administrative charges, Bayan Muna representative and Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) member Carlos Isagani Zarate said Friday.

Zarate said UPLM lawyers will be having a case conference with relatives of the five lumad, dubbed the Pangantucan 5, to determine how best to proceed with the planned filing of the cases.

The military earlier maintained that the five - identified as Jobert Samia, Herminiano Samia, Elmer Somina, and minors Emer Somina, 17, and Norman Samia 13 - were New People’s Army (NPA) rebels who engaged elements of the Army’s 1st  Special Forces Battalion in a supposed fire fight in Barangay Mendis, some two kilometers from Pangantucan town last August 18.

Human rights advocates and relatives of the victims, however, disputed the military’s claims saying the five were civilians and that they were killed in cold blood.

Zarate said lawyers will be looking at lodging complaints in relation to the Pangantucan 5 in different venues such as the Courts, the Commission of Human Rights (CHR), and others to ensure that justice will be served.

“We will file cases in different arenas,” Zarate said adding that the recent killings in Bukidnon and Surigao de Sur are deadly symptoms of a troubling government policy aimed at breaking down lumad resistance from business intrusions into tribal lands.

Zarate, who, together with fellow Bayan Muna lawmaker Neri Colmenares were speakers at Barug Katungod Mindanao Conference held at the Mass Specc Building along Yacapin Street, this city, said aside from the case of the Pangantucan 5, the lawyers will also be looking at other cases of attacks against the Lumad in Mindanao, including the August 26 arrests of 11 tribesmen in Kitaotao, Bukidnon and the September 1 killing of three lumad leaders in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

Barug Katungod is a Mindano-wide human rights network of lawyers, church people, academics, lumad groups, and other rights advocates.

The two-day conference which ended Friday, September 11, was participated by some 100 representatives of different groups. Among the objectives of the conference is the drafting of resolutions and recommendations regarding the human rights situation in Mindanao for action at local, national, and international levels.

Armed intel operative intercepted

Meanwhile, conference participants were alarmed yesterday afternoon after organizers intercepted an armed suspected intelligence operative at the entrance of the conference venue.

Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) Bishop Antonio Ablon said a .45 caliber pistol was found in the possession of one RolandoL. Gamonit Sr. who tried to enter the conference by posing as a representative of a lumad group.

Ablon said organizers of the conference were able to disarm Gamonit, cuffing him with a handcuff found in his possession.

Ablon said they recognized Gamonit as the same man who tried to sneak into a similar meeting last year.

Gamonit was later turned over to responding  policemen from the Divisoria Police Station.

CBCP, militants weigh in on lumad

From The Standard (Sep 13): CBCP, militants weigh in on lumad

CONTRARY to President Benigno Aquino III’s claim that there is no policy to kill or harass tribesmen, the leftist Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said such a policy against tribesmen, called lumad, is part of the administration’s “Whole of Nation Initiative” and the military’s Oplan Bayanihan.

Even Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas lamented that the military-backed Magahat-Bagani murdered tribesmen and caused a flood of refugees in Tandag City in Surigao del Sur.

But the military said on Saturday that it would welcome any investigation on the killings of tribesmen in Mindanao even as it continued to deny any policy against indigenous people.


Speaking for the voiceless. A motorcyclist passes by a mural at the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City on Saturday amid a controversy on the killing of tribesmen, called Lumad, in Mindanao. JANSEN ROMERO

However, Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. said his group obtained a PowerPoint presentation, apparently prepared by the Department of Science and Technology, outlining an “IP-centric” inter-agency program aimed at lumad communities in four Mindanao regions.

According to the presentation that Reyes e-mailed to journalists, the Whole of Nation Initiative was being pursued, particularly in Eastern Mindanao, because 74 percent of the communist New  People’s Army are indigenous peoples who have no access to government service.

“Ninety percent of guerilla bases are located in [ancestral domain] areas of IP communities,” read one of the slides in the presentation.

“Forty-four percent, 51 percent, 44 percent and 49.8 percent of the population of Regions 10, 11, 12 and 13 are IPs,” it said.

Reyes noted that it is precisely in these regions where Lumad communities are complaining of harassment and even killings by security forces and militiamen under their supervision and control.

In Surigao del Sur, about 3,000 Manobo fled their homes because of harassment  by military-backed militias.

On Sept. 1, Emerito Samarca, executive director of the award-winning Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, and lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo, were murdered in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

In Bukidnon, five Manobo tribesmen, including a blind 72-year-old and two minors, were killed in Panngantucan town in what the military claimed was a “legitimate encounter” with communist rebels.

In the town of Kitao-tao, 14 lumad, including women and a minor, were arrested and flown out by helicopter during an operation involving around 200 Army soldiers.
In Davao del Norte, about 700 Manobo tribesmen fled their homes in Talaingod town because of a military operation by soldiers and militiamen.

But the CBCP president said it was disturbing that national leaders would so quickly dismiss charges of wrongdoing even without an official investigation.

“We are disturbed profoundly by reports that national leaders have been quick to exonerate the militia group of wrongdoing. This alarming eagerness to deny culpability does not augur well for truth and for justice,” Villegas said in a statement.

“Such declarations inspire credence only after a reliable and trustworthy investigation by impartial and competent persons shall have taken place. If made before any such investigation, they disturbingly suggest a refusal to hold accountable those to whom the Administration so eagerly extends its mantle of protection,” the prelate added.

“The CBCP asks the government for an honest, thorough, impartial and speedy investigation so that the guilty may be held to account for their wrong-doing,” Villegas added.

“Indigenous peoples and cultural communities are already disadvantaged in a number of ways. They are, in our day and age, the ‘anawim Yahweh, the poor of the Lord who have no avenger and none to stand for their rights,’  he said.

“That their leaders and members should suffer yet the tragedy that has recently been visited upon them only underscores their plight as marginalized and underserved, apparently outside the pall of protection even of the law. This cannot be just. This cannot be the will of God,” Villegas said.

“That a militia group has been named is likewise troubling. Militia groups, by their very nature, do not fall under a clear, established and accessible chain of command. Government makes use of such groups for counter-insurgency, counter-rebellion maneuvers,” he said.

Villegas said that international law holds governments responsible for the actions of people acting in behalf of the state.

“If militia groups cannot fit within a structure of clear authority and command by legitimate state authority, they should not be tolerated, much less employed as mercenaries by the State. We ask our indigenous Filipino brothers and sisters to keep their faith in the ways of peace and to abide by the law, even as they rightly press for the vindication of their rights,” Villegas said.

The military, however, said in a statement they welcome any probe amid calls by the left-wing Karapatan for the United Nations to probe alleged military atrocities against the indigenous people in Lianga in Surigao del Sur.

“We will cooperate and support any official investigation. Killings of defenseless civilian is outside of the military parameter. We do not condone these atrocities,” said Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala, Commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Civil Relations Service (AFP-CRS).

AFP spokesman Restituto Padilla, on the other hand viewed the accusations of left wing groups as an attempt to internationalize the issue and demonize government and the AFP.

“It is obviously part of their agenda to hurl all accusation and blame everything on the AFP to besmirch the AFP’s reputation,” Padilla said, insisting that the military was not involved in the killings.

“The AFP is also doing its own internal investigation to ascertain if AFP actions were appropriate relative to this unfortunate event, “Padilla said, “we assured the public that the interest of the lumads and our respect for their cultural ways is foremost in our minds.”

DepEd in Davao Region sets up 10 schools for indigenous peoples

From the Business World (Sep 11): DepEd in Davao Region sets up 10 schools for indigenous peoples

As condemnation continues to mount over the alleged killing of an indigenous school teacher and community leaders in Lianga, Surigao del Sur by military and paramilitary units, the Department of Education (DepEd) in the Davao Region said it has established 10 schools for children belonging to indigenous peoples (IP) communities.

More than 600 IP students are currently enrolled in the schools that opened last June, according to Jenielito S. Atillo,spokesperson for DepEd-Region 11.

“We already have established these schools in areas where there are issues faced by IPs,” Mr. Atillo said in an interview.

The schools are in parts of Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental as well as in Talaingod, Davao del Norte where the Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center, a school for IPs that was ordered closed this year by the DepEd for supposed failure to renew their permit, is located.

“These schools are supposedly in preparation for the alleged schools that were foreclosed by DepEd, which is not true. But we continued on because there is a need and the order of the (Education) secretary is to establish these schools formally,” Mr. Atillo said.

Human rights group KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, however, expressed skepticism over the “motivations behind the establishment of DepEd schools”, particularly in Davao del Norte.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, in a text message to BusinessWorld, said these schools “were conducted in the light of intense AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) operations and encampment in lumad (IP) alternative learning institutions and disruption of the schooling of children in these schools.”

“The motivations are not at all altruistic nor it is an expression of compliance to DepEd’s mandate -- it is clearly a means of militaristic end of the AFP that is to occupy whole communities and schools and to further engender terror in civilian communities,” Ms. Palabay said.

Mr. Atillo said the 10 schools can accommodate more students and they expect enrolment to increase in the coming months until the next school year with schoolchildren coming from the far-flung areas.

Teachers assigned in the new schools are conducting multi-level classes wherein Grades 1, 2, and 3 are taken care of by one teacher.

“These teachers are equipped with multigrade type of know-how. These teachers also underwent training on how to teach IP students. It’s a very good start though it’s really our dream of the ratio of one-is-to-one (per grade level). Presently we cannot do that, but what is important there is we do something about it,” he said.

“These schools will really answer the educational needs of the IP students,” Mr. Atillo added, noting that the curriculum adopted is specifically designed for the indigenous communities under the Basic Education Assistance for Mindanao (BEAM) program.

The DepEd regional office aims to open more schools to serve children in more remote areas.

The IP Sectoral Council of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), in a statement issued yesterday, called for a Regional Inter-Agency Investigation as well as an investigation by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on the Surigao del Sur incident where three people were killed and some 565 families were forced to flee their homes, based on Karapatan’s report.

Moro rebels to stop surrendering firearms if Bangsamoro law is ‘watered-down’

From Business World (Sep 11): Moro rebels to stop surrendering firearms if Bangsamoro law is ‘watered-down’

 MORO rebel group that signed a peace treaty with the government last year will stop surrendering its firearms should the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law be ‘watered-down.’

All aspects of the normalization process would stop if Congress passes a diluted law, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Q. Iqbal said in a phone interview on Friday.

“We have this stance because in case of a watered-down law, that would be a violation of all the agreements in the [Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro] and [Framework agreement on the Bangsamoro,” Mr. Iqbal said in mixed English and Filipino.

Earlier this week, the MILF published in an editorial on its website,, saying that the group will desist from continuing with the normalization process, which started earlier this year involving the ceremonial decommissioning of decommissioning of 75 weapons and of 145 Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the armed contingent of the group, if such a case would arise.

The editorial at the MILF website also explained what would constitute a diluted Bangsamoro law that would lead to an outright rejection from their group.

“Frankly, it is not about how many provisions of the original BBL are deleted, substituted or amended. Just one issue, for instance, the aspect of natural resources, can make the BBL diluted and would force the MILF to reject it,” the editorial read.

In a text message to BusinessWorld, professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process explained that the components of the road map of the peace agreement between the MILF and the Philippine government will naturally be delayed alongside the delays in the passage of a good BBL.

Despite this, the government’s chief peace negotiator said that all the stakeholders involved should stop at nothing in ensuring that peace between the two side will continue despite the difficulties.

“What is important is both parties stay the course of peace. In any case, everyone -- Congress, government, MILF -- should just try to do their part as effectively as they can so that we won’t have to pass the problem on to the next administration and Congress,” she said.

Video: EXCL: 'Asset ng militar ang nakapatay kay Usman'

From ABS-CBN (Sep 11): Video: EXCL: 'Asset ng militar ang nakapatay kay Usman'

[Video report: 'Asset ng militar ang nakapatay kay Usman']

Video for 'Asset ng militar ang nakapatay kay Usman'

Hindi MILF kundi militar umano ang nakapatay sa teroristang si Basit Usman. Ito ang iginigiit ng isang umano'y asset ng militar na humarap sa ABS-CBN. Sinisingil niya at ng kanyang grupo ang gobyerno sa ipinangakong pabuya sa pagkakapatay kay Usman. Exclusive, nagpa-Patrol, Carolyn Bonquin. TV Patrol, Biyernes, Setyembre 11, 2015

Militants rally at Camp Aguinaldo over rape of ‘lumad’ girl

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 12): Militants rally at Camp Aguinaldo over rape of ‘lumad’ girl

A militant women’s group picketed Camp Aguinaldo on Friday to demand that the military jail three soldiers accused of raping a teenaged “lumad” girl in Davao del Norte instead of just placing them under restricted custody.

Members of Gabriela, also called on the AFP to immediately pull out its troops from areas where indigenous people or lumad live, citing the series of alleged abuses committed by the military against the lumad.

Joms Salvador, Gabriela secretary general, said it appeared the soldiers were being given special treatment. “If common, poor people were tagged in this, they would have been jailed and beaten up. But since they are members of the AFP, they are merely restricted to their camp,” Salvador said.

Around 20 members of Gabriela joined the midmorning picket in front of Camp Aguinaldo’s Gate 2 as soldiers wielding shields and truncheons looked on.

Sought for comment, AFP public affairs office chief Col. Noel Detoyato said the protest was “part of a working democracy.”

“We just hope they will not break the law while expressing themselves,” Detoyato said.
The protesters eventually ended their protest after it began to rain.

Earlier, the Philippine Army said it has placed under restricted custody three of its soldiers allegedly involved in the rape of a 14-year-old lumad girl in Talaingod, Davao del Norte. The Army, through its Human Rights Office, said it was conducting a special investigation.

Salvador argued that the soldiers should be arrested and jailed rather than remain in the custody of the 10th Infantry Division.

The militant group cited a series of abuses against lumad, including the killings of three lumad leaders allegedly by an armed group.

“The prolonged presence of soldiers usually result in sexual offenses. Victims are afraid or ashamed to expose the crime after being threatened and pressured into settlement,” Salvador said.

The militant group urged other lumad victims of sexual abuse to come out and file charges against their attackers, even if they turn out to be with the military.

“Such moves will be a chance to punish these criminals and strengthen the resounding call to pull out military and paramilitary troops from their ancestral lands,” Salvador added.

Group wants UN to investigate Lumad killings

From ABS-CBN (Sep 12): Group wants UN to investigate Lumad killings

Human rights group Karapatan has asked the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the killings of Lumad people in Mindanao which it believes was perpetrated by a paramilitary group sanctioned by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

"We want international bodies to know what is happening in Mindanao—that the Lumad, in defense of their land, are being killed and forced to leave their communities," Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Public outrage over the plight of Lumads reached its peak after a Lumad school head and two Manobo leaders were gunned down in Lianga, Surigao del Sur last September 1.

The fatalities were identified as Emerito Samarca, executive director of lumad school Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development; and Manobo leader Dionel Campos; and Aurelio Sinzo.

Karapatan accused the paramilitary group Mahagat-Bagani of being behind the killing. It likewise accused the military of causing the displacement of Lumads in Mindanao.

"While the AFP can lie through their teeth about their involvement on the killings and all other atrocities of its paramilitary groups, the motives are crystal clear: eliminate those who are perceived as enemies of the state, including those who fight for their land and their rights,'' Palabay said.

''There is no way the government can deny this as long as it implements counter-insurgency programs like Oplan Bayanihan. The paramilitary groups is one way of tackling this dirty war against the Filipino people. It is no wonder why the AFP has not disbanded these groups - because they work together.''

Karapatan sent letters about the plight of the Lumads to Dr. Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons; Christof Heyns, SR on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Michel Forst, SR on Situation of Human Rights Defenders; and Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz, SR on Rights of the Indigenous Peoples.

The military has denied the existence of the paramilitary group. It has also accused several lumad people of empathizing with the New People’s Army, saying some facilities harboring lumads, such as the Davao City Haran mission sanctuary of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP), is under the control of leftist groups.

In a statement, AFP spokesperson Restituto Padilla Jr. slammed the group's move to ''internationalize'' the issue.

"The attempt to internationalize the issue and demonize government and the AFP in regard to the matter is always an expected move on their part. It is obviously part of their agenda to hurl all accusations and blame everything on the AFP to besmirch the AFP's reputation,'' Padilla said.

''The AFP was not involved in the incident and is working and cooperating fully with the Philippine National Police to ascertain the facts regarding this disturbance. The AFP is also doing its own internal investigation to ascertain if AFP actions were appropriate relative to this unfortunate event. We assure the public that the interests of the lumads and our respect for their cultural ways is foremost in our minds."

MNLF leader agrees GPH complied with 3 consensus points

From the Philippine Star (Sep 12): MNLF leader agrees GPH complied with 3 consensus points

The official flag of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

A senior leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) agreed that the Philippine government (GPH) has complied with the three consensus points as part of the implementation of the GPH-MNLF 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA).

Habib Mujahab Hashim, chairman of the MNLF’s Islamic Command Council (ICC) issued his observation during a private meeting with Undersecretary Jose Lorena of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

The meeting took placed at the sideline of the technical informal meeting of the Tripartite Review Process (TRP) on the implementation of the 1996 GPH-MNLF FPA early this week at the New World Hotel in Makati City.

The TRP, which involved GPH, MNLF and top officials of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that acts as third party facilitator through the OIC Peace Committee of the Southern Philippines (OIC-PCSP) will prepare for the formal tripartite meeting in November in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

According to Hashim, while nothing has been agreed upon during the technical meeting, the three consensus points were clarified to him during his private meeting with Lorena.

The remaining points include the transition government for MNLF and sharing of resources and the referendum.

He said from the stand point of the government, the referendum had been conducted which resulted to the assumption of MNLF chairman Nur Misuari as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) from 1996 to 2001 when Farrouk Hussein succeeded as governor following the estoppel doctrine.

Hashim said the same principle was applied in the transition issue when Misuari accepted to head the Southern Philippine Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD).

Meanwhile, the sharing of resources was incorporated with the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) over the agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“So legally and technically, it will be very difficult for the MNLF to say those things have not been complied with by the Philippines. So the doctrine of estoppel applies,” Hashim said.

However, Hashim said they can still pursue the three issues to be implemented in areas outside the present ARMM through the 1976 Tripoli accord that seeks 15 provinces. Currently, only five provinces under the ARMM were adopted following the referendum in 1989.

“So medyo na technical kami. But in the 15 provinces only 5 were included, so we still have 10 provinces. But this should be subjected to lengthy discussion,” Hashim added.