Saturday, December 24, 2016

13 hurt in Christmas Eve blast in Midsayap, Cotabato

From Rappler (Dec 25): 13 hurt in Christmas Eve blast in Midsayap, Cotabato

(UPDATED) The blast strikes outside a church just as people are attending Christmas Eve mass   

Thirteen people were injured in a blast outside a church in Midsayap, Cotabato on Saturday evening, December 24.

The blast ripped through a police car and hit churchgoers arriving for Christmas Eve mass at the Archdiocesan Shrine of Santo Niño.

"The communion was ongoing when the explosion took place," Fr Jay Virador told reporters.
He added that the blast occurred about 30 meters (98 feet) away from the church's entrance and caused panic.

Authorities did not immediately say who was responsible for the blast, which a police report said was caused by an unspecified explosive.

"All victims suffered minor injuries except for one female civilian who was seriously injured [on] her foot," regional police spokesman Superintendent Romeo Galgo said in a written report.

A member of the Midsayap police force, SPO4 Johnny Caballero, was among those injured.

A police investigator who asked not to be named told Agence France-Presse it appeared the suspects had initially targeted the church but later settled for a patrol car assigned to guard the building instead.

"It seems they wanted to get closer but due to heavy security they opted to throw the explosive at the police car blocking the road," the officer added.
'Act of cowardice'
In a statement, the Midsayap local government condemned the blast as an "act of cowardice" and a "senseless deed."

"It is sad to note that things like these cause harm and distress to the peaceful people of Midsayap especially as we celebrate this time of joy and giving," it said.

"We ask the people of Midsayap to collectively fight these forms of violence with prayers and acts of love and trust to one another. We believe that good shall always and will always triumph over evil."

The Midsayap local government also vowed to punish the perpetrators.

"As we look deeper into the details of this incident, we will make sure that those behind this will face the full force of law. Our authorities are now in full coordination to attend to the wounded and those who need help," it said.

"We encourage vigilance and caution to everyone. Violence and terror do not deserve a place in our peaceful community."

16 hurt in Christmas eve blast at Catholic church in southern Philippines

From InterAksyon (Dec 25): 16 hurt in Christmas eve blast at Catholic church in southern Philippines

Sixteen people were wounded in a grenade explosion outside a Catholic church during a Christmas eve mass in Midsayap town in North Cotabato late Saturday evening, a priest and police said on Saturday.

Residents told the blast happened just as the Sto. Niño Shrine was packed with Catholic churchgoers. "Traditionally, that Mass draws so many people that some bring their own chairs or stools."

Security forces across Southeast Asia are on alert ahead of the Christmas and New Year holidays, as police in Australia and Indonesia said they had foiled bomb plots and Malaysian security forces arrested suspected militants.

No group has claimed responsibility for the Mindanao attack, but Muslim rebels and Islamist extremists are known to be active in the province, where there have been blasts in the past.

Bernardo Tayong, Midsayap town police chief, said most of the injured had been standing outside the Sto. Nino parish church in Midsayap town, North Cotabato.

Father Jay Virador said the blast sent the congregation fleeing.

"There was no more concluding prayers as there was a commotion," Virador said. "People hurriedly left the Church."

One police officer was wounded because he was standing near a patrol car where the grenade exploded, about 30 meters from the church entrance, Tayong said.

Tayong said bomb experts were still at the site. There were reports that another grenade or improvised bomb was also left in the area. "Our details are sketchy yet," he said.

The US embassy in Manila said citizens had been warned against traveling to volatile southern islands due to kidnapping and bombing threats.

Three weeks ago, police safely detonated an improvised explosive device found by a street cleaner near the US embassy, prompting a security clampdown.

In September, 14 people died and 70 were wounded when an IED exploded in a crowded market in Davao City, hometown of President Rodrigo Duterte. Nine people, who were linked to an Islamic State militant-affiliated group have been arrested for the attack.

At least 3 injured as bomb explodes in front of Midsayap church

From Mindanews (Dec 24): At least 3 injured as bomb explodes in front of Midsayap church

At least three persons, one of them a police officer, were injured when a bomb exploded  in front of  the main entrance of a Catholic church in Midsayap town, North Cotabato at around 9:30 p.m. while the Christmas mass was ongoing.

Fr. Jay Virador, who was celebrating the mass said the bomb exploded some 30 meters from the main entrance of the jampacked Sto. Nino Church while parishioners were queuing to receive communion.

He said the people panicked and scampered for safety.

Tension arose again when one of the parishioners shouted upon seeing a bag, thinking it may have been a bomb.  The bag was apparently left behind by those who scampered for safety.

Saturday’s bombing in front of a Catholic church is the second in a month in the region – the first was on November 27, on the first Sunday of Advent. Two persons were injured when a bomb exploded in front of the gate of the Our Lady of Hope Church in Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat.

In Midsayap, initial reports reaching the Police Regional Office here said “an explosion occurred in front of Sto. Nino Parish wherein PNP patrol care with plate number SKA 130 was hit by unknown explosive, wounding three persons including SPO4 Johnny Caballero.”

A police officer said the perpetrators may have failed to make it closer to their target and decided to throw the explosive towards a police patrol car guarding the church.

Superintendent Bernard Tayong, chief of Midsayap town police said bomb experts are now in the area conducting post blast investigation.  No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Veterans: Make Capiz Liberation day a holiday

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 24): Veterans: Make Capiz Liberation day a holiday

ROXAS CITY, Capiz – Capiz veterans are urging the province’s congressmen and local government unit officials to make necessary representation with Congress to make December 20 an annual local non-working public holiday.
This was conveyed by Veterans Federation of the Philippines Sons and Daughters Association, Inc. (VFP – SDAI) Roxas City District president Dr. Antonio A. Balgos during the 72nd anniversary of the Liberation of Capiz and Capiz Veterans Memorial Day celebrations last Dec. 20 here.
He said the move aims to “further highlight and encourage more widespread awareness and public attendance on the occasion.”
The province’s was liberated from the two year and eight months clutches of the Japanese forces on Dec. 20, 1944 through the gallantry and heroism of Capiceño freedom fighters.
The Japanese guerillas arrived here April 16, 1942 and established garrisons in Roxas City and other towns until local revolutionary heroes conducted a three – pronged attacked on the Japanese military camps which toppled down the intruders.
Three of the five living World War II veterans in the province attended the occasion along with post WWII veterans, VFP – SDAI members, 61st Infantry Battalion as well as Boy Scout of thw Philippines troopers and Knights of Columbus members, among others.
A Sangguniang Panlalawigan No. 71 in 1994 formally settled Dec. 20 as Capiz Liberation Day.
The occasion has become an official provincial government event under the facilitation of the Provincial Tourism and Cultural Affairs Office (PTCAO) in 2009.
“With this, our veterans can now rest assured that their heroic deeds and patriotic legacies will always continue to be well remembered and appreciated,” Balgos added.
The celebration was also graced by Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division commander Brig. Gen. Jon Aying, VFP regional president Hannibal Lipardo, VFP – SDAI – Roxas City Northeast Post past president and Roxas City councilor Corazon B. Tiangco and Capiz Vice-Gov. Esteban Evan Contreras II.

16 hurt in N. Cotabato town church attack

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 25): 16 hurt in N. Cotabato town church attack

A total of 16 midnight mass churchgoers, including a policeman and a three-year-old child, were hurt as a grenade exploded outside a Catholic church on Saturday night at the poblacion (town proper) in Midsayap, North Cotabato, some three hours before Christmas day.

Initial reports said two men aboard a motorbike hurled the grenade at a police vehicle parked just outside the church around 9:30 and hurt people hearing mass just outside the crowded church after it exploded.

Among those hurt and rushed to the Amado Hospital in the area were SPO4 Johny Calawigan Caballero 43; Ejimar Bargaso loques, 22; Princess Nicole Capundog 3; Jessa Mae Banlawi 19; Little Joy Costales Singco 33; Jonel Rillo Orquiola 14; and Kent Steven Robles, 16.

Those brought to the local Pesante Hospital were Regor Pedrosa; Ronaldo Soles; Cheyserr Mae Rosete; Jofer Asis; and also Arniel and Jennilyn, both surnamed Silvano.

Admitted to other hospitals in Midsayap were Arissen Bagot, 13; and Ronald Duga, 30.
Another victim, Leah Butan, who was severely hit in the right leg, was rushed to the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center here in Cotabato City.

Police has yet to determine the group responsible behind the attack.

Gregorio Del Pilar-class frigates also useful in humanitarian, disaster relief missions

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 25): Gregorio Del Pilar-class frigates also useful in humanitarian, disaster relief missions

Aside from their territorial patrol missions, the three Gregorio Del Pilar-class frigates (former the Hamilton-class cutters of the US Coast Guard) also can play a valuable role in the Philippine Navy's humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.

"The Hamilton-class cutters are a good platform for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations considering her size, equipment, and speed," PN spokesperson Capt. Lued Lincuna said in an interview with the PNA.

A Hamilton-class cutter/Del Pilar-class frigates weighs 3,250 tons, has a length of 378 feet, beam of 43 feet, and draft of 15 feet.

In fact, one of the three ships in the class, BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16) was deployed to carry 200 tons of emergency supplies and relief goods to Yolanda-hit Tacloban City shortly after her commissioning in Nov. 22, 2013.

Her other sisters, the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (FF-15) and acquired on Dec. 14, 2011 and the newly-arrived BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17) which was commissioned last Dec. 9, are all capable of doing such missions if needed.

Increase of Medal of Valor gratuity shows President Duterte's appreciation of soldiery's sacrifices, heroism

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 25): Increase of Medal of Valor gratuity shows President Duterte's appreciation of soldiery's sacrifices, heroism

President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to increase the gratuity of Medal of Valor awardees to PHP25,000 to PHP75,000 effective this January shows the Chief Executive's appreciation for the sacrifices bravery shown by the Filipino soldier in the field of battle.

This was emphasized by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo who said this upgrading will do a lot to inspire the soldiery and encourage them to perform well in their constitutional duties.

"(Increase in Medal of Valor awardees' gratuity) shows the Chief Executive's appreciation of the heroism and gallantry of our soldiers in the field, especially those who bravery have earned them the Medal of Valor, our highest decoration and honor in combat, also the increase in gratuity also serves as a challenge for our troops to do their utmost in security the peace and fighting the enemies of state that might jeopardized this peace," he said in Filipino.

The Medal of Valor is the nation’s highest combat medal, being awarded to only 40 military personnel of which 17 are still surviving to date.

It can also be given posthumously. It was first awarded to Filipino military and constabulary personnel early in the 1900s.

The medal is awarded by the President of the Philippines to members of the AFP and allied military personnel, including recognized guerrilla forces.

It is awarded for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.

With this privilege now in the offing, Arevalo is hopeful that this incentive will push all AFP personnel into serve the country and nation further so that lasting peace will reign in the land.

Peace talks doomed to fail, says security exec

From the Philippine Star (Dec 24): Peace talks doomed to fail, says security exec             

While the Duterte administration is upbeat over the outcome of the ongoing peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), a senior security official said it is bound to fail.

The official said the leadership of the CPP and the New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (NPA-NDF) would yield nothing and would seek only a complete takeover of the government.

“In every negotiation, there’s got to be a point where both parties should agree on particulars including salient points, like total government control of power sharing, in the case of the CPP-NPA-NDF,” the security official said.

However, the matter of government takeover or even power sharing is very unlikely because not only the Filipino people will oppose this, but majority of the members of the uniformed services.
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He said President Duterte, with his socialist stand, might bend over to the CPP-NPA-NDF demands but it is unlikely that he will just hand over or allow the communist leaders to share power with his administration.

The official mentioned Duterte’s appointing left leaning people to various government posts, including key officials within his inner circles in Malacañang.   

“That alone (appointments) can be viewed as a concession on the part of President Duterte to the CPP-NPA-NDF his administration’s sincere desire to end the decades-old insurgency problem peacefully,” he said.

However, the communist leadership wanted more, the official said.

The official said the communists are also demanding the release of all so-called political prisoners and the withdrawal of troops in conflict-stricken areas.

Holistic approach to battling terror

From the New Straits Times Online (Dec 24): Holistic approach to battling terror (By Noel Tarrazona)

THE Armed Forces of the Philippines announced this week that since a military offensive began in July, 156 Abu Sayyaf fighters were killed, while 157 were wounded as a result of the “search and destroy” military policy campaign of the Rodrigo Duterte government.

The offensive commenced after a proposed peace dialogue between Abu Sayyaf leaders and the Duterte camp failed to take place.

Since he assumed the presidency, Duterte has frequented Sulu and Basilan, the cradle of Abu Sayyaf, to sent a diplomatic message to the group to release Canadian and Norwegian hostages.

But, Abu Sayyaf beheaded two Canadian captives, defying Duterte’s call.
The ongoing fierce battle has taken the lives of 29 foot soldiers, most of whom were victims of ambush attacks by Abu Sayyaf.
Before the military offensive, Duterte had patiently appealed to Abu Sayyaf, saying the war in Basilan and Sulu was a futile exercise, as he continued to call on the militants to stop the war for the sake of the provinces’ children.

But, his message fell on deaf ears, and as a result of the dialogue deadlock, he sent 10,000 highly trained scout rangers and battle-tested marine soldiers to wipe out Abu Sayyaf.
Moreover, Abu Sayyaf remains an economic disturbance at the Philippine-Malaysian border because even at the height of the Philippine military offensive against the group, some of its members managed to abduct 70-year-old German sailor Jurgen Kantner at the border last month.
His female companion, Sabine Merz, was reportedly shot by the abductors, and was found naked on board a German yacht, reportedly owned by Kantner.

Despite the heavy casualties suffered by Abu Sayyaf, it still managed to hold 23 hostages: 18 of them foreigners, including a Japanese as well as Europeans, and five Filipinos.

Many residents in southern Philippines are surprised at how Abu Sayyaf has been able to intensify its kidnapping activities despite facing heavy military pressure.

The militants have been using the Philippine-Malaysian border to prey on prospective kidnap victims because the vastness of the sea makes it difficult for security authorities to conduct patrols.

Asia Times reported that the group has raked in at least US$10 million (RM44.7 million) through kidnap-for-ransom activities since 2012, and has reportedly used some of the money to bribe village officials, residents and politicians to mislead military soldiers chasing down its members.
Military spokesman Major Filemon Tan said it was difficult to identify Abu Sayyaf members, and his men were having a hard time gathering intelligence.

Money may also be a factor in the group’s continuing aggression in piracy activities at the Philippine-Malaysian border, despite the military offensive.

Given the difficulty, such an offensive may not stop Abu Sayyaf from engaging in piracy and kidnapping activities at the border.

Analysts believe that to put an end to Abu Sayyaf, a holistic approach is needed, and a military offensive might not be the sole solution to the problem.

Asian Sociology Professor Dr Adrian Semorlan told the New Straits Times that as the military offensive continued, a developmental approach should also take place, like providing members of the community with quality education and economic opportunities, because as long as Basilan and Sulu remain impoverished, they will breed terrorism.

These two provinces remain among the 10 poorest in the Philippines.
“Poverty, and the absence of the government’s social services and quality education in impoverished areas are the root causes of extremism,” said Semorlan.
Realising that a holistic approach is needed to address terrorism, the Duterte government is testing an initiative to address poverty in Sulu to prevent more terrorist groups from emerging.
He has named a pilot initiative, called Negosyo para sa kapayapaan sa Sulu (Business for peace in Sulu).

The presidential proposal gathered the Philippines’ top billionaires to develop Sulu in terms of air transport and telecommunications, a 50-megawatt coal power plant, a water plant and medical facilities.

The billionaires include Ramon Ang, Manny Pangilinan and Michael Tan.
Duterte hosted a launching ceremony to start the programme early next year. Sulu Governor Abdulsakur Tan II and town mayors witnessed the ceremony.

The president said the government was determined to address security issues in Mindanao, to make it conducive for investments. He said his administration was continuously talking to armed rebels, while running after terrorist groups, to promote peace on the island.

More than 30 per cent of the people in Sulu and Basilan live below the poverty line.
Duterte also announced that the Philippines would like to collaborate with Malaysia and Indonesia to form a more intensive security plan at the border, but he did not elaborate.
While Abu Sayyaf remains a security threat at the Philippine-Malaysian border, the Philippines is no longer relying on its military offensive, but is also exploring the use of developmental efforts to stop terrorism.

Soon, it will collaborate with its two neighbouring countries to prevent piracy and kidnapping activities at the border.

Filipino soldiers recovering a yacht near Laparan Island in the Sulu archipelago, southern Philippines, last month. German sailor Jurgen Kantner was abducted by Abu Sayyaf, while his companion, Sabine Merz, was reportedly shot. EPA pic
[Professor Noel Tarrazona, is a freelance international journalist and geopolitics analyst in the Philippines.]

CPP lashes at Duterte for keeping political detainees

From the Manila Bulletin (Dec 23): CPP lashes at Duterte for keeping political detainees

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) blasted President Duterte for his supposed failure to fulfill his promise to release hundreds of political prisoners by Christmas.
In a statement published on on December 22, the CPP said that its leaders have exercised flexibility in their negotiation with the government (GRP) despite alleged ceasefire violations committed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
“Sa diwa ng pakikipag kaibigan sa rehimeng Duterte, nagpakita ng pleksibilidad ang mga rebolusyonaryong pwersa sa harap ng kabiguan ng GRP na tuparin ang nauna nang inaasahang pagpapalaya sa mahi-git 430 detenidong pulitikal bago Oktubre 26 sa pamamagitan ng proklamasyong amnestiya ng presi-dente (In the spirit of friendship with the Duterte regime, flexibility has been shown by the revolutionary force despite the failure of the GRP to deliver its expected release of over 430 political detainees before October 26 through the proclamation of amnesty by the President),” the CPP said.
The statement also read that the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the CPP, has prevented armed confrontation with the AFP troops despite the alleged violation.
The National Democratic Front or NDF has ordered a suspension of offensives against the military soldiers since August 21, the longest in the history of NPA, according to the CPP.
Duterte restored the GRP’s ceasefire declaration on the following day.
Both parties are hopeful that a bilateral ceasefire document would be forged during the resumption of peace talks on January 18 to 25 in Rome, Italy.
But the CPP lashed out at Duterte for changing his mind about releasing political prisoners without the bilateral ceasefire document.
GRP panel member Antonio Arellano said last week that they are working on the release of the political prisoners but it will take time due to the judicial process.
“Sickly and elderly will be prioritized for release,” Arellano said.
Meantime, the chief of the AFP’s Public Affairs Office (PAO) said that the President’s declaration of a Holiday unilateral truce with the communist front is no different from the unilateral ceasefire he declared last August as part of the continuation of the peace talks.
Marine Col. Edgard A. Arevalo, said the current unilateral ceasefire which President Duterte revived to help jumpstart the continuation of peace talks is still in existence and the declaration of the Holiday truce is just to show the Reds of the importance of it.
“It’s (holiday unilateral truce) is no different from the previous one declared with the CPP-NPA-NDF as this is still is in existence. Looking at the declaration, the Chief Executive just wants to emphasize the importance of inclusive period which is within Christmas and New Year, dates that are important not only in the country but in the whole world,” Arevalo said.

Winning the peace in Tarlac

From the Manila Times (Dec 23): Winning the peace in Tarlac

IS peace possible in the birthplace of insurgency? Or is progress possible without peace? In this season of love and peace, both are possible in Tarlac province. This, even as the Armed Forces of the Philippines prepares a new plan to sustain peace and security in the countryside.

In a word, Tarlac is now a community where people could feel safe and sleep soundly at night. Credit to the local leaders who painstakingly explored all avenues to secure peace in the province. 
How they did it was not simple, however but the fruits of the collective effort made all the hard work more than worth it.

From the 1970s until the 1990s, Tarlac was hardly the place local and foreign tourists, as well as residents of nearby places, would put on their list of places to visit. People were especially wary because talk was rife that the “western barrios” in San Jose town were rebel strongholds, the bailiwick of leftists whose operations spread out to the surrounding areas.

That was how it was then. It is a different scenario today. Anyone can wander around or live in Tarlac and not worry about his safety. Then governor and now 2nd District Rep. Vic Yap played a pivotal role in this. But the initiative to sue for peace actually began with his father, the late Rep. Jose “Tatang Aping” Yap.

It was hard going at the start. But the fruit of the dogged determination to win peace at all cost is a gift to Tarlaqueños. Today, what was once a dreaded place has become truly home, a haven of tranquility.

Road to peace

 There were many stumbling blocks on the road to peace. Doubts clouded the horizon and there were many factors that made it almost impossible. Tatang Aping’s role as a member of the country’s peace panel that engaged the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front headed by Jose Maria Sison in talks, has contributed much to this effort, and so his son Vic felt actively getting the peace process on the road must begin in his own backyard.

At the onset of the new millennium, serious efforts to attain peace intensified when a group of people gathered to form the organization that will soon become a symbol of goodwill. After a series of secretly-held consultations and discussions among residents, rebels, and government officials, a pact to end all conflict was sealed. All sectors involved were backed up by Tatang Aping for his drive to win the peace that gave birth to the Sanctuary for Peace and Sustainable Development (SPSD) in 2007.

When Vic became governor that same year, he had two things in mind – peace and progress for his people. As both the SPSD and Vic shared the same vision, they maximized all efforts and means to capitalize the mountainous area of San Jose town.
Rebels were given livelihood as tourist guides while residents and government personalities served as overseers. Thus Tarlac’s tourism industry blossomed.

Yap believes there is progress in tourism. San Jose is home to the Jose V. Yap Sports Complex (formerly the Tarlac Recreational Park) that has already been the venue for national and regional events such as the Palarong Pambansa and Central Luzon Regional Athletic Association meet and other similar major activities. It also houses the Monasterio de Tarlac where the famous relic of Jesus Christ’s cross is on exhibit.

Expanding aggressiveness

 As the SPSD was gaining ground, the death of Tatang Aping in 2010 came as a shock to the community. But his efforts to firmly establish peace and order in the province had taken root and strengthened the resolve of his heir Vic to be even more aggressive in making the peace they had gained last.

To re-affirm his commitment to peace, the young Yap expanded his administration’s thrust to boost the province’s tourism industry. Aside from San Jose town, neighboring areas like Santa Ignacia, Mayantoc, Camiling, and San Clemente swept in the momentum to identify potential tourist spots for development. It is in these places that “virgin” wonders were discovered.

New era

 Then came the dawn of a new era for Tarlac – the province was declared a Conflict-Manageable, Development-Ready (CMDR) community in 2014 by the AFP through then Northern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. who later became Chief of Staff. It was a result of the various community development activities jointly fulfilled by the Yap administration and the AFP’s 3rd Mechanized Infantry Battalion through the latter’s “Bayanihan” Operations.

The 3rd MIB pilot tested the concept and launched its first Bayanihan Operations in the Municipality of Capas on April 16, 2007. The inter-agency convergence effort was put into motion in a simple ceremony at the municipal hall.

Seeing it as a viable vehicle toward achieving peace, the Bayanihan (Insurgency-Free Tarlac Campaign) was formally launched on May 27, 2008.

Since then, numerous community projects have been conducted and have won the trust of the residents making them steady partners of government in the efforts to maintain harmony.

The Bantay Bayanihan (BB) – a civil society organization that serves as an oversight body over the armed forces – also contributed in making the province as a CMDR owing to its important role in monitoring the military’s implementation of the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP), or the Bayanihan.

As an oversight body and space for dialogue between the people and government, BB is critical in ensuring that human rights are protected as the IPSP is being implemented. Because no human rights violations have been reported since the introduction of the BB national in 2011 and in Tarlac in 2013, the province became a symbol of hope for the nation’s peace advocacy. In fact, Tarlac is the first province to present its peace and security plan during the BB national assembly in November 2014.

No letting up

 Given these achievements, Yap shows no sign of letting up as he feels even more responsible for keeping peace and order in his area. The province’s capital City of Tarlac, for example, is his next target to clear of spoilers of peace and those that fuel conflicts manifested through a series of crime and killings that no other local officials can solve, at least in the history of past administrations.

He also called for the localization of labor issues to sustain lasting industrial peace in the province, a step, he said, that would ensure progress for the people and the community.

Knowing that labor unions are essential for acquiring healthy working conditions, Yap, however, believes that such unions should focus on issues besetting their respective company and stay away from “unnecessary” activities that involve militant organizations.

Vic also noted the simple way of resolving issues revolving around local companies is by sitting down to negotiate instead of taking to the streets and creating a chain of repercussions such as miscommunications and misinformation, traffic jams, and worse, violence that result in more chaos.

A peaceful place

 With all the means to live and flourish in an environment that promotes harmony, Tarlac is now ready to become a safe, if not the safest, place to live in. Governor Vic Yap sees no reason why it cannot happen as all the necessary steps for peace have been laid.

He believes that Tarlac, the birthplace of insurgency some 50 years ago (Bernabe “Ka Dante” Buscayno on March 29, 1969 founded the CPP-NPA), can become a bastion of peace.

Meanwhile, the AFP is set to implement a new campaign plan against security threats starting January 2017 as disclosed by public affairs office chief Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo.

The new plan is expected to replace the IPSP launched in December 22, 2010, then President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s peace and security strategy.

Although IPSP was a success in Tarlac, it has been criticized by human rights groups for alleged extrajudicial killings, abductions, tortures and mass displacements committed by the military and its agents in other areas of the country.

Lt. Col. Roderick Balbanero, 3rd MIB commanding officer, said the program was a success and a good strategy in the efforts toward securing peace and security.

However, he said it doesn’t conform to the current administration’s (President Rodrigo Duterte’s) priority programs. While there are no (more) focused military operations in the area, peace-building and confidence-building efforts must be carefully studied.

“I would recommend a new campaign plan for peace-keeping and a peace-building strategy to support the peace process. Our country had suffered many losses in lives due to endless disputes and wars among ourselves. Maybe we can begin with the Comprehensive Local Integration Plan and Local Peace Talks,” Balbanero said.

Are we still the AFP or PLA?

From the Business Mirror (Dec 23): Are we still the AFP or PLA? (By Rene Acosta)

In Photo: President Duterte inspects troops during the 81st anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines at Camp Aguinaldo military headquarters in Quezon City on Wednesday

THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) celebrated its 81st anniversary on Wednesday. And while top defense and military officials were in their jovial celebratory mood atop the stage of the sprawling Camp Aguinaldo parade grounds, soldiers outside the façade were, however, busy doing mental calisthenics trying to understand the reasons behind China’s offer of assistance to the military and the decision of their leaders to accept it.

Former President Fidel V. Ramos (right) talks with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua at Camp Aguinaldo on Wednesday.

Former President Fidel V. Ramos (right) talks with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua at Camp Aguinaldo on Wednesday.

Liking it to a mission, they rattled up probing questions, which include: Is it part of China’s policy of appeasement? Is it a thank-you gesture for Beijing for being easily allowed to occupy a portion of the Philippine territory, and exploit it against the use of Filipinos? For their senior officers and defense leaders, is it an indirect payment for losing a piece of the country’s sovereignty?
For the foot soldiers, they could not still fathom the wisdom behind the decision of their officials to let them soon use Chinese-made firearms and equipment—not against their pride and, definitely, not from a country that they have considered an “enemy” not too long ago.
The AFP under former President Benigno S. Aquino III has indoctrinated the soldiers that Beijing is a threat, considering its occupation and development of reefs in the Spratlys into huge military bases.
President Duterte (center) salutes with (from left) former President Fidel V. Ramos, Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana, Military Chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during the 81st anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on Wednesday.
President Duterte (center) salutes with (from left) former President Fidel V. Ramos, Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana, Military Chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during the 81st anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on Wednesday.

“There must be something out of that decision,” one soldier with the rank of a sergeant said. “They should tell it to the Marines that there is none.”
“It is degrading really that after China has occupied our territory, it offers and let us use its firearms. It is like that we have been totally conquered in a war,” he added.
Officials, however, maintained that such negative thoughts from ordinary soldiers were misplaced, explaining that China’s offer of firearms and equipment was a mere dole-out and was being handed out without any precondition.
Dole-out or grant?
“This is a dole-out, it is a dole-out worth 100 million yuan, which is equivalent to P720 million. They have a list that we are looking into, looking at the equipment that are there,” Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana said on Tuesday.
“Maybe, we can get small arms, fast boats or night-vision goggles,” he said, adding the grant was just for a small amount.
Armored personnel carriers join the celebrations of the 81st anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Wednesday.
Armored personnel carriers join the celebrations of the 81st anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Wednesday.

The defense chief said China has made its offer during his meeting with China’s ambassador to the country on Tuesday night, the eve of the AFP anniversary. The meeting was also attended by President Duterte.
The military is expecting the delivery of the equipment by the second quarter of next year, as the defense department will still have to send officials to China to check them.
Aside from the grant, Lorenzana also said China has offered to provide the military with a soft loan of about $500 million.
“They want to provide us about $500 million worth of loan, long-term soft loan if we still need equipment,” he said.
Nothing final yet
In providing the assistance, China wanted to help the country in its campaign against terrorism and illegal drugs.
“They will help the President. He [Chinese ambassador] told the President, ‘I know your problem on terrorism, I know your problem on drugs, so we would like to help you,’” Lorenzana quoted the ambassador as saying.
The defense secretary admitted they did not discuss the territorial problem.
Another soldier with a rank of technical sergeant said defense officials should always consider the country’s issue with Beijing every time they will agree to accept any assistance from China.
“Call it anything you want, but it is really some sort of fixing us. China has robbed us of a territory, a sovereignty, and yet here comes our officials accepting a measly sum in the guise of a dole-out,” he said.
If the country cannot help but accept Chinese assistance, then at least it should not be in the area of defense.
“It is as if we are being made a part of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and that is hard to accept; unacceptable,” he said.
However, Defense Undersecretary for Finance, Munitions, Installations and Material Raymundo D.V. Elefante said nothing is final yet on the Chinese grant.
“It is still in early stage, wherein nothing has been decided yet. In fact, we still have to talk. By the way, the offer being offered is a grant for the military equipment, and not necessarily rifles,” he said.
The territorial tiff with China is making the assistance from China a complicated issue for soldiers, even if it is being given free, and the absence of a clear position from the government—whether it is still interested in pursuing the West Philippine Sea case or not—is not helping.
In his pre-election message in February this year, Duterte said he is willing to talk with China for a joint exploration in the contested territory to resolve the dispute.
Foreign Secretary Perfecto R. Yasay Jr. also said a couple of days ago that while the country will pursue peaceful means in addressing the issue, “it cannot stop China at this point in time,” referring to the continued militarization of the territory by China.
His statement followed a pronouncement made in July that the Philippines is willing to share natural resources in the West Philippine Sea.
However, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio maintained that Duterte, as the Commander in Chief, is mandated to defend the country’s territory.
Failing or refusing to do it is an abdication of his position.

MILF: Editorial -- Gambling is evil

Editorial posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Dec 23): Editorial -- Gambling is evil   

Gambling in all its forms should not be allowed to proliferate; it does not give any benefit to the people in general.  One, two, or few may win but clearly at the expense of the losers and their families – and society.

We laud the decision of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in banning all online gambling operations in the country, saying they have no positive effects on the economy. We hope the ban will cover all gambling in Moro areas, because Islam strictly prohibits it in all its forms.

President Duterte has made many policies or decisions that are similar to those of the MILF. Certainly, he did not copy what the MILF had done and is doing but merely the confluence of two situations: He and MILF are doing things rightly, such as banning smoking, war on drugs, and campaign against kidnapping, abhorrence of gambling, solving conflicts peacefully, strict distaste for corruption, and many more. As a revolutionary organization, the MILF strives to improve or even alter the prevailing system which is exploitative, oppressive, and feudal. It is a tall order and is protracted but it gives moving on and on.

However, President Duterte and MILF differ on the degree of prohibition and the basis for making such decisions. Clearly, Duterte’s decision is based on conscience, rationality and the need for good governance, while the MILF’s is anchored on the teachings of Islam, which is not time-bound and subject to some conditions.

In banning gambling, which strictly covers only Muslims, Almighty Allah says in the Qur’an (5:90): "O you who have believed, indeed, intoxicants, gambling, [sacrificing on] stone alters [to other than Allah], and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan, so avoid it that you may be successful.”

The other reasons, which falls within the purview of Allah being all-knowing and all-wise, are as follows:

Gambling makes a person rely on accidents, luck and wishful thinking for his earnings, instead of hard work, the sweat of his brow;

It destroys families and causes the loss of wealth through haraam (unlawful) means. It makes rich families poor and humiliates proud souls;

It results in enmity and hatred among the players, because they are consuming one another’s wealth unlawfully and getting wealth unlawfully;

It turns people away from the remembrance of God and from prayer, and pushes the players to have the worst of attitudes and habits;

It is a sinful hobby that wastes time and effort, and makes people get used to laziness and idleness. It stops the people from working and producing;

It pushes people to commit crimes because the one who is penniless wants to get hold of money in any way he can, even if he has to steal it or take it by force, or through accepting bribes and cheating; it causes stress, illness and nervous breakdowns;

It breeds hatred and in most cases leads to crime, suicide, insanity and chronic illness;

It pushes the gambler to bad behaviour such as drinking alcohol and taking drugs. The atmosphere in which gambling takes place is dimly lit and filled with cigarette smoke; people talk in hushed voices and whispers, and sneak in and out as if they are up to no good. They come in hesitantly, filled with suspicion, and gather around the green table, breathing uneasily and with their hearts pounding.

They are supposed to be friends playing a game, but in reality they are enemies, each of them lying in wait for the other and trying to make gains at the expense of the other and his children.

The owner of the place tries to numb the feelings of all participants by offering dreamy music, fallen women, all kinds of drinks and cigarettes.

The green table is surrounded with cheating and deception. The waiters and girls may tell one player about another player’s cards, helping one player to beat another by means of nods and whispers. Sometimes they achieve a kind of balance to make sure the game carries on and people stay for longer.

No doubt everyone loses in the end; they lose the money they spend on drinks and cigarettes, the money they give to the waiters, the money they spend on drinks for the girls, and all kinds of other losses. Even the one who wins all or most of the games loses all or most of his winnings, and the loser loses everything.

And at the end of the night, they all sneak away; showing the signs of depression and humiliation, and the loser warns the winner to look out the next day; and

In gambling, one’s gain is another’s loss.

US military aid to PH increases in 2015-2016

From Rappler (Dec 23): US military aid to PH increases in 2015-2016

It is the biggest sum given by Washington to Manila since American troops returned here in 2002, according to a Reuters report

MORE TRAINING. Philippine Marines simulate a beach landing exercise as part of their annual joint naval exercises with the US in October 2015. The EDCA aims to conduct more military training with Philippine forces. File photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP

MORE TRAINING. Philippine Marines simulate a beach landing exercise as part of their annual joint naval exercises with the US in October 2015. The EDCA aims to conduct more military training with Philippine forces. File photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP

The United States poured into the Philippines a record amount of money for security assistance from 2015 to 2016, according to a Reuters report.

For the US fiscal year of October 1, 2015, to September 30, 2016, the US gave the Philippines over $127 million in security assistance. According to Reuters, it was the biggest sum given by the superpower to its Southeast Asian ally since American troops returned here in 2002.

The amount was a 154% increase from the military assistance that Washington gave Manila during the 2014-2015 fiscal year, which was pegged at around $50 million.

Citing information from the US embassy, Reuters reported that $50 million went to foreign military financing, $1.9 million to international military education and training, $42 million to maritime security initiative, and $33.2 million to counter terrorism activities.

“The aid boost went mostly into items such as communications equipment, small arms, replacement parts for hardware and coastal radar for maritime security,” read the Reuters report.

The disclosure comes as relations between the two countries entered a rather uncertain chapter, given President Rodrigo Duterte’s constant tirades against the Western power.
Duterte, who was elected in May 2016 elections, has resented the United States' criticism of his administration's war on drugs that have led to more than 6,000 deaths to date.

The report said America's increased spending on Philippine military aid was finalized when outgoing US President Barack Obama visited Manila in 2015, during the term of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.

The US and the Philippines are longtime allies, particularly when it comes to the tension over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which China practically claims as its own. The Reuters report noted that the amount was part of a “renewed commitment made to Manila in a 2014 Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).”

Duterte, meanwhile, has triggered an apparent pivot from the US to Russia and China. The President has said that he wants to procure equipment from those two countries rather than depend on the US.

Obama and Duterte were supposed to meet on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in September, but it was scrapped after Duterte’s harsh words directed toward the US.

The US president had said he would confront Duterte over the killings made in the name of his war on drugs. From July 1 to December 23, more than 6,000 deaths have been linked – either directly or indirectly – to the nationwide campaign against illegal drugs.

US politicians have expressed concern over the possible use of American money in the Philippine war on drugs.

"We urge the US to denounce these horrific violations of basic human rights, and ensure that no foreign assistance is being provided to support egregious acts against humanity," said Democrat senators Edward Markey and Chris Coons, and Republican Marco Rubio, according to Reuters.

The US has yet to finalize the military assistance for the Philippines in the coming fiscal year.

US concern over the killings in the drugs war may affect the Philippine National Police’s planned procurement of rifles from a US manufacturer.

Negros rebels slam war on drugs, rate Duterte a 5 on scale of 10

From InterAksyon (Dec 24): Negros rebels slam war on drugs, rate Duterte a 5 on scale of 10

A New People's Army squad guarding the approaches to a grassroots peace forum hosted by the rebels in the mountains of Central Negros. (photo by Nonoy Espina,

CENTRAL NEGROS -- Communist rebels on Negros blasted President Rodrigo Duterte for his bloody war on drugs and rated him a “5” on a scale of 1 to 10.

At the same time, they challenged people to stand up “and act or more people will become victims of (the) extrajudicial killings” that have marked the war on drugs, accounting for most of the more than 6,000 deaths since Duterte’s term began in July.

They also rejected government plans to restore the death sentence, even if their system of revolutionary justice does include capital punishment, saying the current system of governance would ensure that “it will be used mostly on the poor, who cannot afford to mount a decent defense.”

Speaking to journalists at a grassroots peace forum in a village deep in the Central Negros mountains, former priest Frank Fernandez, spokesman of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines on the island, said he was giving Duterte positive points for his professed pursuit of an independent foreign policy and his stance against the United States.

“It is not enough to be anti-US,” Fernandez said, stressing that the goal should be “anti-imperialist,” apparently referring to Duterte’s shift towards China and Russia, both US rivals that Philippine rebels say harbor imperialist ambitions.

However, he asked: “Is Duterte consistent? How far will he go?”

Fernandez also wondered if the military, which he said remains “controlled by the US,” would allow Duterte to actually pursue an independent policy removed from the former colonizer.

More important, Fernandez said, Duterte “has to prove himself,” noting that in his first six months as president, “wala sang benepisyo sa masa (there have been no benefits for the masses).”

An NPA fighter mingles with the audience at a grassroots peace conference hosted by the rebels in a mountain village in Central Negros. (photo by Nonoy Espina,

Zeroing in on the bloody anti-drug campaign, Fernandez said Duterte’s “approach can never solve the problem.”

“Drugs are only a symptom of what ails society. The need is to go to the root of the problem, to look at society as a whole” he stressed. “Drugs are no different from gambling, prostitution, guns for hire, graft and corruption -- all symptoms of society’s problems.”

New People’s Army commander Juanito Magbanua acknowledged that “at first we appreciated Duterte’s efforts to solve the drug problems” but quickly saw something was wrong because “most of those who have died are the poor.”

“Even the street pushers belong to the suffering poor,” he said. “We are not saying they (pushers) are right but most of them were pushed to the trade by poverty.”

Magbanua said Duterte should recognize that “drugs reach the streets from above, from the drug lords and large distributors. Why not go after them first instead of killing only the poor, who are as much victims of the drug trade?”

He also pointed out that “way before Duterte became president, the revolutionary movement already had an anti-drug program in the guerrilla zones” and that, while they shared the goal of eradicating the narcotics trade in the country, “we cannot agree to the extrajudicial executions whose targets are largely the masses.”

Aside from this, the rebel leaders said the war on drugs threatened to derail efforts to negotiate an end to the almost half-century old armed struggle as they accused the military of using the anti-narcotics campaign as a cover for counterinsurgency operations, saying 16 activists, including an indigenous people’s leader, have been targeted in extrajudicial killings across the country “using the war on drugs as a justification.”

“This is why we cannot agree right away to a bilateral ceasefire with government because we have to secure the people in the areas where we operate against abuses like this,” Fernandez stressed.

While the government and rebels separately declared unilateral ceasefires to mark the resumption of formal peace talks in June, efforts to forge a bilateral agreement have been stymied by the continued detention of more than 400 political prisoners and allegations of continued military operations and human rights abuses.

As for the death penalty, Fernandez said its existence in the revolutionary justice system is meant “to protect the people” and explained that every sentence the rebels imposed “goes through a proper investigation as well as consultation with the masses, especially in areas where revolutionary organs of government operate.”

In contrast, he said, the justice system of the government “is meant to protect those in power, the ruling classes,” citing the “rehabilitation of murders and plunderers” such as former Presidents Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Joseph Estrada and Ferdinand Marcos.