Sunday, January 31, 2016

‘US violated no treaty’

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 31): ‘US violated no treaty’

Drilon: Americans have nothing more to explain on Mamasapano


BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF KILLING FIELD The flat cornfields of Mamasapano town in Maguindanao province, where 44 commandos of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force were pinned down and killed on Jan. 25 in clashes with Moro rebels, as seen from a hovering drone. REM ZAMORA/INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Senate President Franklin Drilon on Saturday said he believed the United States had nothing more to explain regarding its role in the counterterrorism operation in Maguindanao province last year that left 44 Filipino police commandos dead.

Speaking in a radio interview, Drilon said the US role in “Oplan Exodus,” the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) covert operation to take down Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, was part of the cooperation among countries fighting terrorism.

“We can’t act on this alone. Intelligence sharing is one thing where all countries cooperate. This is war on terrorism,” Drilon said.

The United States offered a $5-million reward for the capture of Marwan, a suspect in the 2002 bomb attacks on two nightclubs in Bali, Indonesia, that killed 202 people, including seven Americans.

Marwan was killed in Oplan Exodus, but nine members of the strike force, the 84th Special Action Company (SAC), and 35 members of the 55th SAC, which served as the blocking force for the mission, were also killed in gun battles with Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on Jan. 25, 2015.

Seventeen fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and three civilians also died in the daylong fighting.

Enrile wants explanation

Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile said at a hearing on the Mamasapano clash on Wednesday that the government should explain why it allowed US participation in the SAF mission to capture Marwan, which he said was a law enforcement matter.

Enrile wanted to know whether the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) or any other agreement was used as a basis for the US cooperation in the SAF mission.

He pointed out that the VFA covered only military cooperation between the Philippines and the United States, and it did not cover law enforcement, which involved criminal laws.

Criminal laws are strictly territorial, with few exceptions, he said.

Nothing violated

In his radio interview on Saturday, Drilon said the US role in Oplan Exodus did not violate any agreements between the Philippines and the United States.

No US base was set up in the Philippines for the Mamasapano operation so the Constitution was not violated, Drilon said.

“There was nothing violated in our treaty with America [or] under the Constitution,” he  said.

Former SAF chief Getulio Napeñas explained at the hearing on Wednesday that the United States was cooperating with the SAF because the force was the counterterrorism unit of the PNP.

US role

Napeñas said the United States through the Zamboanga-based Joint Task Force Philippines trained the 84th SAC, provided real-time intelligence information to strike force during the operation, helped to evacuate the dead and wounded after the clash, and conducted DNA identification of the slain Marwan.


Transcripts of discussions during closed-door sessions of the Senate Mamasapano investigation released last week showed that the United States provided an “intelligence surveillance reconnaissance” plane to locate the 84th SAC, whose members were carrying a finger of Marwan that they had cut off after killing him for DNA testing.

The US tracking helped a Philippine Army unit locate and rescue the 84th SAC commandos.

Norway pushes for peace talks to continue

From the Business Mirror (Jan 31): Norway pushes for peace talks to continue

In Photo: Norwegian Special Envoy to the Peace Process in Colombia Ambassador Dag Nylander (second from left) with (from left) Norwegian Special Envoy to the Peace Process Elisabeth Slattum, Embassy of Norway Ambassador Erik Forner and Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal.

NORWAY recently urged the Philippine government to continue its peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF).
During the Royal Norwegian Embassy in the Philippines’s “War and Peace in the Philippines and Colombia: Pathways to a Political  Settlement” event, Norwegian Special Envoy to the Peace Process in Colombia Ambassador Dag Nylander said the peace process must continue.
“Sustainable peace depends on parties finding common grounds.  They should find moderates in both camps.  Stay the course even if it is long  and with no certainty of end result,” Nylander said.
He added: “Use of military force is sometimes justified because of national interests.  Military intervention may stop fighting but they do not ensure that political settlement takes hold.”
Nylander said their work in the country’s peace process is part of the international efforts and that they advocate the work of civil society and its role to sustainable peace.
The peace process with the NDF, which negotiates on behalf of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, began in 1986, but has stalled, with the last formal talks happening in 2013.
Norwegian Special Envoy to the Peace Process Elisabeth Slattum said they are committed long term toward achieving peace in the country.
“Peace processes are marathons, not sprints.  We need to patiently work toward political settlement of the conflict, and drawing lessons and experiences from other peace processes—such as the Colombian—can contribute to creative thinking, leading to progress in the Government of the Republic of the Philippines-NDF talks,” Slattum said.
Norway is the-third party facilitator in the peace process. 

Analysts: US should strengthen ties with Philippines to sustain Asia rebalance

From the Philippine Star (Feb 1): Analysts: US should strengthen ties with Philippines to sustain Asia rebalance

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the United States strengthens the latter’s rebalance to Asia strategy. File photo

The United States (US) should extend its efforts to strengthen its alliance with the Philippines to sustain its rebalance in Asia, analysts said.

Analysts Kathleen Hicks and Michael Green said that the US has plenty of opportunities to network with its allies and partners in Asia such as Japan, Australia and India.

"This federated approach to defense should extend to the Philippines and other frontline states that are eager to improve in the face of expanding Chinese naval and air presence in the First Island Chain," Hicks and Green said in an article published on the blog of the Center for Strategic International Studies.

The analysts, however, added that the US should also expand its military ties with China to strengthen its confidence in areas such as humanitarian and disaster relief and crisis resolution.

"The US military must continue to expand and improve its Pacific posture—military forces, footprint, and agreements—to promote stability and deter aggression," the analysts said.

Hicks and Green added that the US expansion should include its access agreements with Australia, consolidation of Marine bases in Okinawa, Japan and opening of new facilities in Guam.

"Moreover, we must continue placing a premium on US military presence in Asia even as budgets contract and global force demand remains high," Hicks and Green said.

The analysts also suggested that the US should focus on building long-term defense capability investments for Asia by reducing known threats to American forces and strengthening its defense against potential military competitors.

The next US administration should have an Asia-Pacific strategy that sets out its goals in Asia, the analysts said.

"The rebalance to Asia should be a cornerstone of the next administration’s foreign policy, regardless of which party captures the White House," Hicks and Green said.
The analysts stressed that these steps would strengthen the rebalance of the US in Asia and ensure its longevity.

Show your proof

From the Mindanao Times (Feb 1): Show your proof

Military asks groups to file case vs. errant soldiers in light of IP harassments

THE MILITARY has challenged progressive groups into filing a formal case over allegations of human rights abuses committed by government troops against Lumad communities.
Capt. Rhyan Batchar, spokesperson of the 10th Infantry Division, said they are don’t condone any abuses by soldiers, and would welcome any complaint to be filed against them.
“We hope that at this instance these allegations will go beyond propaganda so that the division can cleanse our ranks of misbehaving soldiers,” Batchar said.
“We will wait for the formal complaints and investigation that will be conducted by the authorities,” he added.
Human rights group Karapatan tagged the military in the series of killings and harassments perpetrated against Lumads in the region.
Teresita Navacilla, 60, passed away on Saturday while she was confined in a hospital in Tagum City. She was attacked inside her house in Pantukan, Compostela Valley on Jan. 27.
The victim was one of the convenors of Save Pantukan Movement, a vocal critic of large-scale mining and the military’s Oplan Bayanihan. Prior to her death, she was a purok chairman of Gumaman in Barangay Kingking in Pantukan.
Alex Josol, chairperson of Indug Katawhan, was also rushed to the hospital after unidentified perpetrator/s slammed a hard and heavy object down his head in Purok Lawaan, Barangay Napnapan in Pantukan on Jan. 28.
They were waiting for him as he was on his way to their tunnel,” Hanimay Suazo, secretary general of Karapatan-SMR, said.
Josol and Navacilla were small-scale miners who have accused troops from the 46th Infantry Batallion of human rights violations.
Reportedly, the manobos evacuated from Talaingod, Davao del Norte because they were allegedly harassed by a paramilitary group belonging to the 68th Infantry Battalion last Jan. 29.
There was also a report that four children of Datu Ginom Adil were abducted by alleged Alamara group in Sitio Tibukag ,Barangay Dagohoy in Talaingod on Jan. 28 at 4 p.m. but they were released on Friday.
According to Suazo, they were abducted because the paramilitary group wanted Datu Andil to stop break away from Salugpongan group. Datu Adil was among the tribal leaders who stayed in UCCP Haran allegedly out of fear for their lives from the Alamara.

USAID official visits Bohol, renews US commitment to growth

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 29): USAID official visits Bohol, renews US commitment to growth

United States Agency for International Development (USAID) General Counsel John Simpkins visited the province of Bohol from January 26 to 27 to renew the US government’s commitment to the province’s inclusive and sustainable development.

Simpkins joined Bohol officials led by Governor Edgar Chatto and Tagbilaran City Mayor John Geesnell Yap II to launch the Stakeholders’ Forum, which was organized by  U.S. Embassy Manila’s USAID through its Strengthening Urban Resilience for Growth with Equity (SURGE) Project.

SURGE is the flagship activity of USAID’s Cities Development Initiative (CDI), which aims to transform secondary cities into engines of growth.

Tagbilaran is one of the CDI partner cities, together with Batangas, Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo, Puerto Princesa, and Zamboanga.

Launched in 2015, SURGE supports these cities to become economically thriving and resilient growth centers outside the urban core of Manila, with increased levels of investment, employment and disaster risk preparedness for the city and adjacent rural areas.

Representatives from national agencies, local governments, businesses, and civil society attended the forum where they identified and prioritized SURGE activities for Tagbilaran city.

During the event, Simpkins witnessed the signing of four partnership agreements. “Today marks an important milestone for the province of Bohol and the city of Tagbilaran, as we witness the forging of partnerships that will improve the local economy’s competitiveness and overall development,” he said.

Following the event, Simpkins visited Tagbilaran City Elementary School, where he handed out learning materials to Grade 2 students on behalf of the American people and led a reading activity for the children.

In his interaction with school administrators and faculty, he reiterated the U.S. government’s commitment to help improve the reading skills of students.

Through its basic education program, Basa Pilipinas, USAID is working to improve the reading skills of one million early grade students by strengthening reading instruction for teachers and increasing access to quality reading materials.

Capping Simpkin’s trip was a meeting with local stakeholders to discuss maritime law implementation in Danajon Reef at the Balicasag Marine Protected Area. USAID, through its Ecosystems Improved for Sustainable Fisheries (ECOFISH) activity, supports the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and Bohol Province to protect its coastal and marine resources.

Simpkins praised the innovative approach undertaken by government officials and the communities to protect and preserve its natural resources.

Gov’t. provides assistance to former rebels

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 1): Gov’t. provides assistance to former rebels

The government has released P1.3-million livelihood assistance to 20 former rebels in Capiz last year.

Under the government’s Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP), the 20 former rebels here have already started their lives anew after they ended their arm struggle and decided to go back to the fold of the law and embrace a new life.

Of the 20 rebels of whom 14 are male and six are female, 16 former rebels are from Tapaz, three from Jamindan and one from Maayon town.

In December last year, 12 former rebels each received a P65,000 livelihood assistance under the government’s Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) which is spearheaded by the DILG as part of the government's peace and development efforts across the country.

The assistance aims to aid the former rebels in their transition back to mainstream society.

Capiz Governor Victor Tanco with representatives from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and DILG handed over the said check.

In April, eight former rebels also each received the same assistance from the government.

The CLIP implementation is in partnership with the local government units, AFP, Philippine National Police, Department of Social Welfare and Development and civil society organizations that demonstrates the Aquino administration's commitment to pursuing peace and development amid the stalled peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

PAF to acquire brand new combat boots

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 1): PAF to acquire brand new combat boots

Aside from brand-new aircraft and spare parts, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) is also allocating PHP4,357,800 for the acquisition of combat boots for its personnel.

Interested bidders can submit their bids on Tuesday, 9:00 a.m., at the PAF Procurement Center Conference Room, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

"All particulars relative to Eligibility Statement and Screening, Bid Security, Performance Security, Pre-Bidding Conference/s, Evaluation of Bids, Post-Qualification and Award of Contract shall be governed by the pertinent provisions of Republic Act 9184 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR)," said the bid bulletin at the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System.

The latter also known as "An Act Providing For The Modernization, Standardization And Regulation Of The Procurement Activities Of The Government And For Other Purposes."

This is in line with the government's transparency and accountability efforts.

‘Create 2 federal states in Muslim Mindanao for peace’

From the Philippine Daily Inquirerm(Jan 31): ‘Create 2 federal states in Muslim Mindanao for peace’

With hope dying on the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), an ex-governor has proposed a drastic solution to achieve the “elusive peace” in southern Philippines: Amend the Constitution to allow the creation of two federal states in Muslim Mindanao.

This was the formula proposed by former Tawi-Tawi Gov. Al Tillah, which he presented at a media forum in Quezon City on Saturday.

Tillah suggested that two federal states in Muslim Mindanao could be created—one for the island provinces of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan and the “environs of Zamboanga,” and another for the landlocked provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and neighboring provinces.

“This to me is the only viable solution to end the war in Mindanao,” he said.

Tillah expressed the hope the Philippines “will go with the federal system” and “amend the Constitution” through a constitutional convention.

“This government thinks the 1987 Cory Constitution is the Bible, the Quran. It is not.
The United States Constitution has been amended several times. Why is it not possible to amend the Constitution… to serve the needs and times of our people and country?” Tillah said.

Tillah said the BBL—a key feature of the peace agreement the Aquino administration signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and which seeks to create an expanded Muslim region in Mindanao to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao—can only achieve peace “to some extent, but not totally.”

8 bases on table in Edca talks with US

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 1): 8 bases on table in Edca talks with US
TOP Philippine diplomats and defense officials will soon meet with their US counterparts to discuss the implementing details of the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, or Edca, between Manila and Washington, including the designation of at least eight local military bases for US use.

Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma told the Inquirer Sunday that “the decision on which (military) bases will be used jointly by the Philippines and the US will be subject to mutual agreement between the two countries.”

“This is one of the matters that will be discussed during the forthcoming meeting of the Mutual Defense Board and the Security Engagement Board” of the two allies,” he added.

Col. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, earlier said that Manila had offered Washington eight bases where it could build facilities to store equipment under the Edca: Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga; Clark Air Base, also in Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay in Palayan, Nueva Ecija; Camp Antonio Bautista and a naval base in Palawan; Camp Benito Ebuen and a naval base in Cebu, and Lumbia air field in Cagayan de Oro City.

Many of these facilities are already AFP “exercise sites,” he noted.

According to Padilla, “the list was prepared many months ago.”

The Americans are also seeking access to three seaports, including Subic Bay, the former US naval base in Zambales, and airfields on Luzon.

Last year, more than 100 US Navy ships reportedly docked at Subic, while two advanced nuclear-powered stealth submarines made visits in early January.

Last month, Philippine and US officials met in Washington to discuss locations Manila could provide access to US forces for their “mutual benefit.”

The high-level meeting was held at the Department of State hours after the Philippine Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Edca signed by the two countries four years ago.

Brink of war

The pact allows American forces, warships and planes access to Philippine military camps.

China’s official Xinhua news agency, in an English language commentary, had warned that the Edca would only escalate tensions and “could push the situation to the brink of war.”

The Philippines “appears to be now turning to Uncle Sam to back its ambition to counter China,” the article said.

The deal, it claimed, was “groundless because China, which sticks to a defensive defense policy, has never coerced any country on the South China Sea issue.”

Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te explained that the high court’s ruling simply affirmed the rotational presence, not the permanent basing, of US troops in the country.

The decision was clear in saying that the Edca should remain within the bounds of both the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement and the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

The high court’s ruling declaring the Edca constitutional bolstered US efforts to assert its presence in Asia and dovetailed with Manila’s desire for American assistance in countering Beijing’s maritime claims in the South China Sea.

‘Lumad’ seek help amid new abuses

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 1): ‘Lumad’ seek help amid new abuses

TALAINGOD, Davao del Norte—Ata-Manobo villagers are crying anew for help to stop what they call another wave of atrocities being committed by suspected anticommunist militiamen in their communities here.

The “lumad” (indigenous) leaders aired their appeal shortly after returning to their homes from a Protestant Church-operated sanctuary in Davao City in May, where they took shelter from alleged abuses committed by the Alamara, a tribal militia unit purportedly propped up by the military for its counterinsurgency activities.

They renewed calls for the pullout of soldiers from their villages and the dismantling of the Alamara.

Maj. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, Eastern Mindanao Command chief, said the military had never tolerated abuses against lumad communities. He denied that the military was supporting the Alamara, though he acknowledged that it was recognizing legitimate tribal armed groups such as the “baganis” (tribal warriors).

“The bagani is part of the political structure of the tribes. We don’t know about that Alamara. We are consistent with our view that this Alamara is nonexistent,” Guerrero said.

Contrary to claims by human rights groups that the military has been using the Alamara as a proxy against the New People’s Army (NPA), Guerrero said he “has yet to find any evidence that the Alamara has helped in our counterinsurgency efforts.”

Datu Cris Olaño told North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco, chair of the House committee on indigenous peoples, during her visit on Friday that “barely three days after we returned to our homes, killings happened again and the Alamara continues to threaten us.”

Since November last year, hundreds of Ata-Manobo people have gone back to their communities here, months after they descended in Davao City to seek refuge at Haran, which is owned by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

They spoke of abuses and human rights violations allegedly committed by military units and the Alamara in the hinterlands of Davao del Norte and Bukidnon provinces.
A 17-year old Manobo girl was also reportedly raped by soldiers. The victim has filed charges against her supposed attackers.

In November, more than 200 of the 700 Haran evacuees agreed to return home after government officials and law-enforcement authorities gave assurance that they would be protected this time.

But Olaño said recent incidents, such as the killing of a datu and a 15-year old boy, proved that the words of assurance were empty. Over 170 of the villagers have been forced to flee anew, he said.

“We really wanted to solve their concerns as these have been recurring,” Catamco said. “We brought the national agencies like the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development), DOH (Department of Health) and Department of Education to help provide their immediate needs.”

She said she was coordinating with a technical working group that President Aquino created to look into the plight of the lumad communities and find solutions to their problems.

Datu Nardo Bontuas, another tribal leader, said he could not blame anybody else for his people’s predicament but the soldiers and the Alamara.

“We used to eat three meals a day before the military and Alamara came to our village. Now that they pass by frequently, we could eat only once a day,” Bontuas said through an interpreter.

Catamco said she could not prevent the military from entering the villages as it was mandated “to protect the lumad against armed groups out to hamper the delivery of government services.”

But Bontuas said no other armed groups were sighted in the villages, including the communist NPA, which they have been accused of supporting.

Romy Maas, another lumad leader, said the situation in the indigenous communities would end once the military and the Alamara stop labeling residents as communist supporters.

“We’re not NPAs. We’re just farmers and civilians. The Alamara should not target us,” he said.

All the communities want a peaceful existence and that they should be spared from the government’s anticommunist campaign, Maas said.

Guerrero said the soldiers would even hunt down Alamara members if their group really existed. “We will run after Alamara and other lawless elements in upland communities, especially now that elections are approaching,” he said.

Palace accepts BBL’s doom

From the Philippine Star (Feb 1): Palace accepts BBL’s doom

With Malacañang accepting that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is doomed in Congress, President Aquino has directed Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles to consult with concerned parties on sustaining the peace initiative beyond his term.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., in his regular weekend interview over state-run radio dzRB, yesterday said Deles was told to come up with an action plan for the next administration to consider.

The directive was to “firm up in consultation with stakeholders an action plan for promoting the peace process in the transition period during the remainder of the current administration’s term and up to the assumption of the next administration.”

President Aquino has ordered that special efforts be exerted to ensure the implementation of a peace agreement with Muslim rebels even after his term ends this year, Coloma said.

Congressional leaders have said they are unlikely to pass the BBL before the President’s term ends in June.

Aquino had hoped to sign the BBL to seal a peace accord with the largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

But opposition from some legislators had delayed its passage despite his lobbying.
Senate President Franklin Drilon himself has conceded that there is no more time to pass the measure, considering that there will only be three session days left starting today, for Congress to approve the BBL.

For her part, Deles said the peace panel headed by Miriam Coronel-Ferrer might still conduct consultations with the MILF, which they have dealt with for the past five years of the Aquino administration.

“Measures will include strengthening existing peace bodies and mechanisms to include the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, ceasefire and other joint security mechanisms, joint bodies for socioeconomic interventions,” she said.

“We would want to operationalize the recommendations of the transitional justice and reconciliation commission regarding the healing of the wounds of war, and moving towards sharpened interfaith and multicultural dialogue and cooperation,” Deles added.

And more importantly, there has to be an “undertaking of necessary groundwork to ensure the success of the legal, political track in the next administration.”

“We need to do all that is possible to ensure the full implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro beyond this administration,” Coloma explained, quoting from the text message of Deles.

Last week, Malacañang acknowledged the imminent doom of the BBL following the remaining three session days of Congress, saying the path to peace is not limited to the passage of the peace measure.

Coloma issued the statement after Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. conceded that time is running out for Congress to pass the priority measure.

“We have three days left. Let’s see. I cannot be certain about that,” Drilon admitted.

The BBL needs to be ratified by Congress in order to be implemented as the governing law for the Bangsamoro region by replacing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao that was created during the term of Aquino’s mother, the late Cory in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

The House of Representatives, for its part, has ended the period of debates and started the period of amendments.

But the long speeches of lawmakers against the measure have taken much time that the prospects of its passage in the chamber next week – where Congress will adjourn for the election campaign – are near impossible.

Even if it breezes through the House, it still has to hurdle the Senate, which has prepared a different, more constitutional version renamed the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

Spokesman: Marcelino not profiting from illegal drugs

From GMA News (Jan 31): Spokesman: Marcelino not profiting from illegal drugs

A military officer on Sunday denied the police's "insinuation" that embattled Marine Lt. Col. Ferdinand Marcelino is financially benefitting from illegal drugs.

"The bank transactions that PNP-AIDG (Philippine National Police Anti-Illegal Drugs Group presented were meant to discredit Ltcol Marcelino," Marcelino's spokesperson Major Vonne Villanueva said in a statement.

Villanueva  said Marcelino "categorically denies the insinuations by PNP-AIDG that he is profiting from illegal drugs trade."

The PNP-AIDG announced last Thursday that its investigators are coordinating with the Anti-Money Laundering Council to look into the financial records of Marcelino.

Chief Inspector Roque Merdegia, spokesperson of AIDG, said that also seized 13 bank deposit slips from Marcelino during a drug raid at a townhouse in Sta. Cruz, Manila last January 21.

Seized during the raid were more than 60 kilos of shabu.

Mardegia said that based on the bank deposit slips, Marcelino withdrew at least P2.25 million from May of 2014 until March 2015.

Aside from the drugs and the bank transaction receipts, he said operatives also seized cash -- P2,510, $210, Aus$15 and HK$20 -- from Marcelino.

Marcelino's bag also yielded P86,000 cash, the AIDG spokesperson added.

Villanueva said that Marcelino kept the bank receipts and AFP passbooks "as part of his personal financial records and his confidential operational fund records when he was still with ISAFP (Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines)."

"I would not discuss the details in public due to its sensitive nature and the fact that they have not filed another case against him related to these bank deposits," the former military spokesman said.

Villanueva said that the embattled Marine official is willing to sign a waive for AMLC to probe into his bank records "only if his accusers will do the same."

US vows to help PH versus China

From The Standard (Jan 31): US vows to help PH versus China

WHILE the Philippines’ dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea is not covered by the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, the US will abide by its treaty with the Philippines if it turns into a shooting war, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said Saturday.

“Edca isn’t directly related to the South China Sea [West Philippine Sea] issues. It’s about the United States helping its ally, the Philippines, as it goes about building a minimum credible defense,” Goldberg said in an interview with the GMA Network.

“It’s not aimed at any country or the disagreements in the South China Sea,” Goldberg said, but in case of a “shooting war,” the US will be ready to abide by the Mutual Defense Treaty it signed with the Philippines in 1951.

“The Philippines is a treaty ally of the United States. President Obama, when he was here, said that the treaty is ironclad. We take seriously our responsibilities, our obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty,” Goldberg said.

He, however, said that the US is not anticipating a “shooting war” due to the sea disputes.

“That is a hypothetical situation. You have to know what the circumstances are,” he said.

Goldberg made the remark as he lauded the decision of the Supreme Court, in its first en banc session for the year, to uphold the constitutionality of the Edca, which allows increased rotational presence of US troops in the country.

The high court voted 10 in favor, four against and one taking no part. Those who dissented to the majority ruling were Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo Brion, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, and Marvic Leonen.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio wrote a concurring opinion while De Castro, Brion, and Leonen wrote their respective dissenting opinions.

Under the agreement, the US will be allowed to build structures, store as well as pre-position weapons, defense supplies and materiel, station troops, civilian personnel and defense contractors, transit and station vehicles, vessels, and aircraft for a period of 10 years.

The US envoy also made the remark amid growing fears in Southeast Asia that China’s activities in disputed waters is adding to tensions in the region, Malacañang said.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. stressed that the Philippines is determined to “assert the importance of freedom of navigation and over flight” in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, which China claims almost entirely.

The building of additional runways contributes to heightened tensions in the region, Coloma said.

“We reiterate that these actions by China violate not only pertinent international laws but also the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea of which China is a signatory, along with the member countries of [Association of Southeast Asian Nations],” he added.

NPA rebels, soldiers clash in Masbate

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 31): NPA rebels, soldiers clash in Masbate

While conducting an internal security operation at about 11:42 a.m. Sunday, elements of the 9th Infantry Division encountered more or less than 12 New People’s Army (NPA) members at the vicinity of Sitio Balalong, Barangay Villa Pogado, Cataingan, Masbate.

A police report said the rebels were believed to be members of Kilusang Larangang Gerilya-South led by Rogelio Suson, also known as Ka Manong.

The firefight lasted for 10 minutes with no casualty on the government side and an undetermined number on enemy side.The rebels withdrew toward southeast direction.

Chief Supt. Augusto M. Marquez Jr., Bicol police regional director, directed all chiefs of adjacent police stations to conduct checkpoint operations and intelligence monitoring in their respective areas of responsibility.

A hot pursuit operation is still being conducted by elements of the 9IB against the fleeing enemies.

PNP Transformation: 25 years in the making --Sarmiento

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 31): PNP Transformation: 25 years in the making --Sarmiento

Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) recounted on Sunday the Philippine National Police's (PNP) struggle for change since its inception in 1990.

"Twenty-five years ago, the framers of Republic Act No. 6975 wanted to overhaul the police force. The government tried to address the public’s perception of its police and the need to upgrade the capability of the PNP as a whole," said Sarmiento in his message during the celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

R.A. 6975 is the law that established the PNP under a reorganized DILG.

The DILG Secretary said that no matter how promising the law was, the transformation plan back then had a few remarkable strides because it lacked the needed funds. There were only little upgrades in terms of equipment, personnel capability, and training.

However, Sarmiento lauded how the country's police force struggled and evolved throughout the years, especially with the help of a supportive administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III.

"I am glad that I serve as Secretary of the DILG while a supportive President is in office. With President Aquino, not only did his administration pour in around Php73-billion to upgrade the PNP, we also have in our hands the Patrol Plan 2030," he said.

The DILG Chief also urged the PNP not to forget the basics in fighting criminality, that is by winning the hearts and minds of their true bosses -- the Filipino people.

He further lauded the PNP for establishing its presence in public areas which has helped inculcate in the public that they are allies in keeping the communities safe.

Sarmiento said he is confident that PNP is in the best position in achieving all its targets come 2030.

More Lumad flee homes amid 'harassment'

From Rappler (Jan 31): More Lumad flee homes amid 'harassment'

Lumad from Davao del Norte claim that military and paramilitary forces still threaten their community

 UNDER THREAT. Datu Cris Olaño, a Lumad leader, expresses his concerns during a congressional inquiry on January 29, 2016. Photo by Editha Z. Caduaya/Rappler

UNDER THREAT. Datu Cris Olaño, a Lumad leader, expresses his concerns during a congressional inquiry on January 29, 2016. Photo by Editha Z. Caduaya/Rappler

Indigenous peoples from a village in Talaingod, Davao del Norte again expressed concerns about the alleged harassment by military and paramilitary forces in their area.

A week ago, around 170 Lumad from Talaingod fled to the Haran compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Davao City.

One of their leaders, Datu Mard Buntu-ag, told a congressional inquiry on Friday, January 29, that they continue to fear for their safety.

(READ: Is the military innocent in Lumad killings?)

"We used to eat 3 times daily, but when the soldiers entered our communities, our lives were endangered. They accused us of being rebels," Buntu-ag said.

Tribal chieftain Datu Cris Olaño also said threats from the Alamara paramilitary group persist. The Lumad believe the Alamara is backed by the military.

"We went home December 30, thinking we will be safe [in Talaingod] and live a normal life, but here again we are threatened," he said.

The military's Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), however, maintained that they are not backing the Alamara.

"We do not encourage paramilitary groups. We have yet to get evidence that the Alamara is helping the soldiers in our counter-insurgency efforts," said Eastmincom commander Major General Rey Leonardo Guerrero. "We will run after Alamara and other lawless elements in upland communities, especially now that elections are approaching."

Guerrero added that the military regularly conducts foot patrols because it receives reports that New People's Army (NPA) rebels are disturbing the residents.

Datu Intu Sayad, a former NPA rebel, also said that rebels who infiltrate Lumad communities make the indigenous peoples vulnerable to attacks.

(READ: Lumad: Caught in the middle of a war)

"Leave us alone," Sayad said. "We are capable of protecting our communities because we have our own political structure, we have our way of keeping peace. Rebels must be driven out from our lands."

Romy Maas, another Lumad leader from Talaingod, appealed to authorities to spare them from the government’s fight against communist rebels.

"We're not NPAs, we’re just farmers and civilians. The Alamara should not target us," Maas said.

In May 2015, more than 700 Lumad were displaced from Talaingod after alleged government forces and the Alamara occupied several villages in the town. Human rights groups reported cases of harassment and indiscriminate firing.

(READ: TIMELINE: Attacks on the Lumad of Mindanao)

United Nations Special Rapporteur Chaloka Beyani visited the displaced Lumad in July 2015, and urged the Philippine government to defend the indigenous peoples from militarization.

"They described to me their concerns including their alleged forced recruitment into paramilitary groups, known as Alamara, under the auspices of the AFP and harassment in the context of the ongoing conflict between the AFP and the NPA," Beyani said.

Friday's congressional inquiry was led by North Cotabato 2nd District Representative Nancy Catamco, the chairperson of the House committee on indigenous peoples.

Catamco came under fire last July for allegedly insulting the Lumad, but she denied the allegation, pointing out that she herself was an indigenous person. She also insisted that the Lumad were being suppressed at the Haran compound.

(READ: Duterte: Lawmaker to blame for clash in Lumad evacuees' site)

On Friday, Catamco vowed to address the plight of the Lumad.

"We really wanted to solve their concerns and these have been recurring, the health department, the social services and the education directors are all here because we are seriously looking into this situation and we are ready to provide them the urgent and the long-term needs of the community," she said.

Beyond PNoy: moving on in the Bangsamoro peace process

From MindaNews (Jan 31): Beyond PNoy: moving on in the Bangsamoro peace process

“The BLBAR is dead; long live the BBL!”

The Congress-proposed Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR) under the Aquino administration is dead, but the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) will continue to live beyond the Aquino administration.

This is what lawyer Ishak Mastura, head of the Regional Board of Investments (RBOI) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, meant when he said “the BLBAR is dead; long live the BBL!.”

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has repeatedly said that in their present form, they would not accept the BLBAR that the House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL and the Senate Committee on Local Government substituted for the “agreed version” of the BBL because these versions envision a Bangsamoro that is “less than the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) that it seeks to replace” and the Senate version reduces it into a mere local government unit.

In an interview on January 26, Murad reiterated earlier statements that if the BBL is not passed under the Aquino administration, they will continue, in the next administration, to demand implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) which the peace panels signed on March 27, 2014.

There will be no renegotiation of the CAB, he said, because it is a signed agreement, forged after 17 years of peace negotiations, and is in fact already on implementation phase, including the passage of the BBL.

PARTNERS IN PEACE. President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on stage at the ceremonial decommissioning on Tuesday at the gymnasium of the old Maguindanao Capitol in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

PARTNERS IN PEACE. President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on stage at the ceremonial decommissioning of MILF combatants and weapons on June 16, 2015  at the gymnasium of the old Maguindanao Capitol in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. MindaNews file photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

He said they will not change the draft BBL for submission to the 17th Congress (2016-2019) because “it’s already an agreed version. Napagkasunduan na.”

He said the process of passing the BBL under the next administration will not necessarily go back to zero but to square 1 as the “agreed version” of the BBL will already be ready for submission when the 17th Congress opens and will then go through the legislative mill.

Murad said they are aware that once the draft BBL is re-filed, changes would still be made by the next Congress. “Titingnan natin kasi sa proseso, even though it’s already agreed, kung meron silang pagbabago (Let’s see because in the process, even though it’s already agreed, Congress might introduce changes).”

He said they are open to “improvements” of the draft when Congress deliberates on it, “as long as it will not contradict the CAB… as long as they will comply with the CAB.”

The “agreed version” Murad is referring to is the version drafted by the BTC which was vetted by and agreed upon with the Office of the President, the same version submitted to Congress during ceremonial rites held in Malacanang on September 10, 2014.

This draft BBL became HB 4994 and SB 2408.

After their committee hearings, however, the House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the Senate Committee on Local Government, filed their respective substitute bills HB 4894 and SB 2408, both titled BLBAR.


In September last year, when deliberations on the Bangsamoro law were already riddled with problems, former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel told MindaNews that “amending the BBL by deleting its constitutionally questionable provisions was the easier thing to do – in Congress – than to revise the Constitution” to accommodate the Bangsamoro, a regional government that will be parliamentary in form.

“But, if we are minded to revise the Constitution and offer our Muslim brethren a formula for peace and development that is widely acceptable to them as a people, we might as well propose the adoption of a federal system of government,” Pimentel, a MIndanawon and long-time advocate of federalism, said.

“For a federal system of government for the entire country would not only give the Bangsamoro peoples a chance to govern themselves according to their customs and traditions – with minimal interference by the central government, but will also give the rest of the country’s ‘federal states’ the same status without the latter’s having to rise up in arms as our Muslim brethren had to do over the centuries,” he said.

On January 13, when MindaNews asked Pimentel on the chances that Congress can still pass an “acceptable” Bangsamoro law given only nine session days left to deliberate on it, Pimentel said, “none in law that will satisfy the MILF or the other Muslim factions.”

The MILF found the BLBAR substitute bills unacceptable because it would render the Bangsamoro less autonomous than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). In the deliberations for what would become RA 9054 in early 2001, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) also found the Congressional draft unacceptable because it would “render the ARMM less autonomous than it already was.”

Pimentel said passing a Bangamoro law in Congress “is another pointless attempt at settling the so-called ‘Moro problem’ in Mindanao.”

“Federalism is the way to go,” he said.

Only one of the four major contenders for the Presidency is espousing federalism.
Shifting to a federal form of government requires amending the 1987  Constitution.

For Dean Tony La Vina of the Ateneo School of Government, the immediate next step is “for government and MILF to negotiate a new timetable.”

The two peace panels will meet in February in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the next steps.

Let Supreme Court rule

Mastura, who earlier served as a lawyer and member of the technical working group of the MILF peace panel, told MindaNews that he believes the “BBL legislative agenda will continue even up to the next administration if there is no more time in this administration” but in the meantime, he hopes the Supreme Court would now act on the cases filed before it that questioned the constitutionality of the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsmoro.

“In the meantime, we have to get the Supreme Court involved in jump-starting the process with a ruling on the cases against FAB/CAB so that there are no more time-consuming debates on constitutionality among the executive and legislative departments,” Mastura said.

He said his preferred mode for “next steps” in the Bangsamoro peace process is for the Supreme Court to conduct oral arguments for the cases against the FAB and CAB “and then rule on it to have the parameters and guide on the legislation of BBL that is based on CAB/FAB and to find out if indeed we need constitutional amendment for some of its provisions to be accommodated.”

“Thus, with this move or modality, the whole of government, i.e. the three branches of government — meaning the executive, legislative and judiciary — will be engaged in the Mindanao peace process,” Mastura proposed.

Lawyer Maria Asis of the Bangsamoro Study Group said the next steps would be “continuous assertion of the CAB, one arena of which is the Supreme Court.”