Friday, January 20, 2017

NDFP highlights need for genuine agrarian reform 30 years after Mendiola massacre

From the often pro-CPP online publication the Davao Today (Jan 21): NDFP highlights need for genuine agrarian reform 30 years after Mendiola massacre

NDFP negotiating panel spokesman Dan Borjal (Zea Io Ming C. Capistrano/
The National Democratic Front of the Philippines said the lack of justice, 30 years after the Mendiola massacre shows the need for the country to have a genuine agrarian reform program.
“Thirty years later, there is still no justice for the martyrs of the massacre. Thirty years later, there is still no genuine land reform,” said NDFP negotiating panel chair Fidel Agcaoili in a statement read by NDF peace panel spokesperson, Dan Borjal.

The Mendiola massacre claimed the lives of 13 farmers and injured hundreds. But the NDFP said similar cases of attacks against farmers are still happening today.

“We cite the violent attacks against agrarian reform beneficiaries in Lapanday, in Tagum City, the continuing problem in Hacienda Luisita and other cases as clear proofs that there is still no resolution of the age-old land problem,” Agcaoili said.

Agcaoili added that former President Corazon Aquino promised to subject the Conjuanco-owned Hacienda Luisita to land reform.

“Ironically, Hacienda Luisita has become a centerpiece example of the broken promises of traditional politicians and previous GRP regimes,” he said.

Borjal, in an interview said, genuine agrarian reform will resolve poverty.

“There are a lot of migrant workers here in Italy. We have 10 million migrant workers in the Philippines because of poverty, there is no job which prompts Filipinos to go abroad,” Borjal said.

He said it is also the root cause of the armed conflict. The NDFP is decided to resolve this in this round of the peace negotiations.

“Once and for all we have to resolve the problem of landlessness besetting our farmers. They are majority of our people,” Borjal said.

Borjal said both parties are working on the issue while they were still in the Philippines.

He said, both parties are now starting the reconciliation of the two drafts on Friday afternoon. The discussion on CASER will continue for three more days. The peace talks will last until Jan. 25 here.

GRP, NDF to sign supplemental guidelines on Joint Monitoring Committee today

From the often pro-CPP online publication the Davao Today (Jan 21): GRP, NDF to sign supplemental guidelines on Joint Monitoring Committee today

The peace panels of both the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines are expected to sign the supplemental guidelines for the Joint Monitoring Committee here today, Jan. 21.

The signing will take place at 9 a.m. (4:00 pm Philippine time)

The guidelines will guide the work of the JMC in monitoring the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, the first substantive agenda signed between the GRP and the NDFP.

GRP peace panel chairperson Silvestre Bello III said it is important to reach a consensus on the definition of terms and condition of the joint ceasefire agreement.

“You cannot have a ceasefire agreement without definition of terms,” he said.

Alleged violations on the indefinite unilateral ceasefire agreements declared by both the GRP and the NDFP were submitted to each party’s negotiating panel during the second day of the peace talks held here Friday.

Independent observer Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, Alliance for the Advancement of People’s rights submitted to the GRP reports on violations of human rights and the International Humanitarian Law by government forces and agents collated from August 21, 2016 to December 31, 2016.

Among the documented cases were 10 cases of extrajudicial killings, 14 victims of frustrated killing, 397 cases of illegal arrest without detention, 14,659 cases of threats, harassment, and intimidation and 7,841 cases of use of schools and other public places for military purposes.

Palabay said the documented reports were submitted by human rights workers, members and leaders of people’s organizations and non-government institutions, including victims of human rights abuses.
Bello said they will go over the list that was submitted.

“We will go over the said list submitted by Karapatan and we will really conduct serious investigations in these allegations,” he said Friday.

Bello said they also gave a list of violations committed by the NDFP.

Pull out troops

Palabay said the continuing military operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the guise of “peace and development” operation affect the civil and political rights of the Filipino people.

“Even if the military calls revolutionary movements engaging in the peace process with the GRP as ‘peace-inclined groups’, as long as counter-insurgency objectives through military means, exist, genuine adherence to CARHRIHL remain as rhetoric,” she said.

Palabay said they are urging the government panel to look into the violations.

“Just and lasting peace can only be achieved if there are sincere efforts to abide by previously-signed agreements and human rights obligations and people’s rights and welfare are upheld and protected at all times,” she added.

NDFP Senior Adviser Luis Jalandoni said a bilateral ceasefire is not possible if the Army continues to violate the unilateral ceasefire.

Jalandoni said an estimate of 500 barangays are affected by the violations of ceasefire nationwide.
“Kailangan ihinto yan (It needs to stop),” he said.

Jalandoni said Duterte should act decisively and order the pull out of troops from the communities.

Meanwhile, Bishop Felixberto Calang, main convenor of the Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao and an observer to the peace talks said the issues on the cessation of militarization in communities, particularly in Mindanao, and the release of prisoners should be addressed immediately.

“We are aware that despite the high level of optimism during the opening of the talks, there are strong undercurrents that affect the smooth direction of the talks,” Calang said in a statement on Friday.

“The realization of the political prisoners release, the cessation of militarization especially in Lumad and peasant communities in Mindanao, and issues related to the unilateral and bilateral ceasefire, need to be appropriately addressed at this juncture of the talks,” he said.

Gov’t committed to CARHRIHL

Bello said that the government has been consistent in honoring their commitment under the CARHRIHL.

“Our position is very clear, the President is not guilty of any violation of human rights,” he said.

“Wala pa naman specific acts committed by the President that would constitute a violation of human rights,” Bello added.

GRP proposes social-economic projects ahead of final peace pact

From the often pro-CPP online publication the Davao Today (Jan 21): GRP proposes social-economic projects ahead of final peace pact

The Philippine government is proposing to implement social-economic projects to communities ahead of an agreement on social and economic reforms in the new round of talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines here.

Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza in an interview said the parties had a “non-agenda conversation” where the GRP presented the proposal of having “social-economic projects” that will benefit the communities even before signing a final peace agreement.

Dureza said the proposal would be similar to what was implemented for the Bangsamoro peace negotiations.

“We are copying a little bit the template of the Bangsamoro that while negotiations are ongoing, we’d like to improve the lives of the people there, not in the context of anti-insurgency, not to undermine the movement of the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines), NDF,” he said describing it as a “confidence building measure.”

He said the challenge to negotiations is on the actual implementation of the signed agreements.

“We really want to have a final peace agreement but as you know very well, huwag natin masyadong asahan ang final peace agreement because if you sign a final peace agreement, we have learned from the Bangsamoro that the more challenging part is its implementation,” he said.

Dureza said he believes that the NDFP will welcome it “immediately.”

He said they will send a briefer to the NDFP on how it was done with the Bangsamoro peace process.

“Hopefully they can look at it and maybe try and enhance in accordance to what they want, what is comfortable with them and if they finally agree, we have already formed our respective committee on the socio-economic part of the work,” said Dureza.

Dureza said he volunteered to chair the project and that the government has already identified its members for the project.

‘Not anti-insurgency’

Dureza said the project is not for anti-insurgency since the revolutionary movement will get to form their own implementing agency.

“They will choose the area to implement projects,” he said.

Dureza said the project would also involve Red fighters of the NPA to capacitate them.

“So that when the final peace agreement is signed they will also be capacitated to probably implement projects,” he said.

He said the project should be acceptable to the NDFP and the donor countries.

He said the government and the CPP may generate more support from the Donor community “so the pie will be bigger on the ground.”

Dureza clarified that the project will only serve the purpose of temporary relief to communities while the parties are still negotiating.

“The bigger work and fund will come when the final peace agreement is signed,” he said.

Dureza said if this pushes through it could be a “milestone” in the negotiations.

NDFP open, but…

Meanwhile, Jalandoni said while they are open to the government’s proposal they would like to ensure that the projects will really benefit the communities.

He said they will look at the proposal closely and study and would like to get the experience of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, if indeed the projects were helpful.

“Open din pero kailangang pag-aralan yung mga kumpletong bagay kasi yung mga masa at organisasyon ng rebolusyonaryong kilusan ay gumagawa na ng mga social economic projects nila para sa kanyang pangangailangan, pangangailangan ng hukbo, pangangailangan ng taumbayan. Ang experience niyan ang military ang sumisira nitong projects ng mga masa sa komunidad,” Jalandoni told reporters.  (We are also open but it needs further study because the masses and revolutionary organizations are already implementing social economic projects for their needs, the needs of the New People’s Army, the needs of the people. Their experience is that the military destroys these projects in the communities.)

He said they are also wary that foreign donors who will participate in the project are against the peace talks.

4th Infantry Division still on stand-by for possible rescue missions in Caraga

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 21): 4th Infantry Division still on stand-by for possible rescue missions in Caraga

WET, COLD, AND HUNGRY — Stranded students and teachers of the Mindanao University of Science and Technology (MUST) fit into a rescue raft as floodwaters rose in Cagayan de Oro City around 2 a.m. Tuesday. They were rescued by Army’s Fourth Infantry Division and the Police Regional Office-10 after 10 hours of being trapped inside the campus without food and water. (Camcer Ordoñez Imam | Manila Bulletin)

(FILE) WET, COLD, AND HUNGRY — Stranded students and teachers of the Mindanao University of Science and Technology (MUST) fit into a rescue raft as floodwaters rose in Cagayan de Oro City around 2 a.m. Tuesday. They were rescued by Army’s Fourth Infantry Division and the Police Regional Office-10 after 10 hours of being trapped inside the campus without food and water. (Camcer Ordoñez Imam | Manila Bulletin)
Commander of the 4th Infantry Division, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Madriga, has instructed all his unit commanders to maintain close coordination with the different Disaster Response and Rehabilitation Management Councils (DRRMCs) in their respective areas of responsibility, since the calamity has caused immense damage in many areas and has displaced thousands of people.

Heavy rains have battered Caraga since Monday, causing heavy flooding.

In response, the 401st Infantry Brigade covering the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, and Butuan City deployed close to 400 soldiers to conduct rescue operations in the area.

The troops helped various local government units (LGUs) and other rescuers transport more than 12,000 affected families or 50,836 individuals to different evacuation centers.

Meanwhile, the 402nd Infantry Brigade, whose area of coverage includes the provinces of Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Dinagat Islands, dispatched more than 300 soldiers to support the affected localities during and after the calamity.

It also focused on Malimono town in Surigao del Norte, which was cut off after floods made the provincial road inaccessible and damaged the detour bridge in Barangay Tinago.

Moreover, 225 affected families or 1,325 individuals in nearby Mainit town were brought to evacuation centers.

The 403rd Infantry Brigade meanwhile has been augmenting additional troops from the 8th Infantry Battalion and 1st Special Forces Battalion, and rescue teams in Valencia City.

They were able to transport families from 11 barangays near the swollen Pulangi river to evacuation areas.

In other areas of Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental, and Cagayan De Oro City, soldiers have already shifted from disaster response to relief and rehabilitation operations.

Troops were dispatched to help the different LGUs in delivering relief goods to the evacuation centers and in conducting clean-up drives in affected schools and communities.

“I would like to once again commend all the key players for their active contribution and participation in helping our people during the hit of the recent calamity. We have once again proven that ‘bayanihan’ or working together as one will lessen the effect of any catastrophe. The unity that we have showcased is something that every Filipino should be proud of and should emulate,” Madrigal said.

“Rest assured that the 4th Infantry Division will always be your active partner in this side of the country. Let us all continue working together through the spirit of ‘bayanihan’.”

Reds say joint ceasefire hopes slim

From Malaya Business Insight (Jan 20): Reds say joint ceasefire hopes slim

THE National Democratic Front of the Philippines said the chance of having a joint ceasefire with the Duterte administration is already slim due to various issues, including the continued detention of more than 400 political prisoners and the “reckless” war on drugs.

NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili issued the statement Wednesday, on the eve of the third round of the formal peace negotiations in Rome. The joint ceasefire is among the issues due to be discussed in the talks.

Agcaoili said the NDFP has already raised its protest to the government about the continuing violations of the previously-signed Comprehensive Agreement on Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIL) and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).

“These violations place into serious question the sincerity of the GRP in its peace negotiations with the NDFP. For if previously signed agreements are not honored, what guarantees does the NDFP have that future agreements would not be similarly violated by the GRP?” he asked.

Agcaoili said the issues he raised are the “grave violations of the CARHRIHL and JASIG and the broken promises on the release of political prisoners have made the extension of the NDFP’s unilateral ceasefire untenable.”

“The prospect for forging a bilateral ceasefire agreement has grown dim,” he said.

He noted the arrest and conviction of JASIG-protected NDFP consultants Eduardo Sarmiento, Emeterio Antalan and Leopoldo Caloza over “trumped-up charges.”

He said government then suggested that the three withdraw their appeals for the granting of presidential pardon.

“As a result, their conviction became final. But until now, they have not been pardoned and continue to languish in prison. This is not only a violation of CARHRIHL and JASIG but also a serious betrayal of trust,” he said.

Agcaoili said several NDFP consultants have been subjected to surveillance and harassment by “motorcycle riding” men. He said JASIG provides NDFP consultants protection from such actions and are even allowed to carry firearms for their security.

“Despite a protest filed with the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) panel, the surveillance and harassment continued, obliging the consultants to take counter measures,” he said.

Agcaoili said the NDFP has also demanded justice for NDFP and JASIG-protected personalities -- enforced disappearance victims Leo Velasco; Prudencio Calubid, his wife and relatives; Rogelio Calubad and his son; Nestor Entice and his wife; Leopoldo Ancheta; and Philip Limjoco; and murder victim Sotero Llamas.

He said soldiers have continued their operations in areas they suspect as under the control, or are influenced or sympathetic to the communist movement on the pretext of peace and development projects.

“They occupy schools, health and day care centers, barangay halls, public plazas, and even bus stops and private residences in more than 43 provinces and 146 municipalities all over the country. They conduct illegal searches and interrogations to identify relatives of NPA members as well as supporters and sympathizers of the revolutionary movement to terrorize the people. They impose food blockades and restrictions on the movement of residents, disrupting their economic activities,” he said.

Government and the NDFP separately declared unilateral truce days before the start of the first round of talks in August last year. The two sides are working on a more permanent one.

Agcaoili also cited the government’s war on illegal drugs which he said has drawn concerns from “reputable human rights and lawyers’ organizations.”

The NDFP chief negotiator said the war on drugs has resulted in the killing of innocent people “due to brutal, reckless and indiscriminate methods employed by the police in its anti-drug operations.”

The other issues Agcaoili raised are the non-indemnification of human rights violations during the martial law years, the hero’s burial accorded to strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

2 Abu Sayyaf kidnap victims rescued in Sulu

From Rappler (Jan 20): 2 Abu Sayyaf kidnap victims rescued in Sulu

Esteban Janamjam and Dulce Almers are rescued by members of the Joint Task Force 'Sulu'

DEBRIEFING. Esteban Janamjam and Dulce Almers are debriefed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Photo from Armed Forces of the Philipppines.

DEBRIEFING. Esteban Janamjam and Dulce Almers are debriefed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Photo from Armed Forces of the Philipppines.

Two Filipinos held by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) were rescued at Indanan, Sulu on Thursday, January 19 by members of the Joint Task Force “Sulu“ (JTFS).

The kidnap victims were Esteban Janamjam, 49 years old, from General Santos City, and Dulce Almers, 50 years old, from Apo beach in Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur.

The two were abducted last October 26, 2016 onboard a fishing vessel off the coast of Pangutaran Island in Jolo, Sulu.

JTFS monitored the location of the kidnap victims, and conducted special operations against them to rescue the victims.

Esteban and Almers were taken to Zamboanga City for a medical checkup and debriefing at the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' (AFP) Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) in Camp Navarro.

The AFP then turned over the victims to the Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP), who escorted them back to their families.

WestMinCom also extended financial assistance to the victims and provided a Philippine Navy “Islander” aircraft to ferry them to Davao City to ensure they are reunited with their families safely.

Track 2 diplomacy in aid of official dialogue on South China

Posted to the Manila Times (Jan 21): Track 2 diplomacy in aid of official dialogue on South China (By

New 6ID chief assumes command

From InterAksyon (Jan 20): New 6ID chief assumes command

Brig. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega, Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda and Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. (photo by Dennis Arcon,

Brigadier General Arnel Dela Vega formally took over the command of the 6th Infantry “Kampilan” Division based in Camp Siongco, Datu Odin Sinsuat town, Maguindanao Thursday.

The former Joint Task Force Sulu commander took over the helm of the 6th ID from his classmate Major General Carlito Galvez Jr., who is the new chief of the Western Mindanao Command. Both belong to Philippine Military Academy “Sandiwa” Class 1985.

The assumption of command ceremony was graced by Army chief Lieutenant General Glorioso Miranda.

Dela Vega used to command the 603rd Infantry Brigade and was credited for helping defuse several clan feuds, or rido, in Maguindanao’s first district.

The 6th ID’s area of responsibility covers the provinces of Maguinadano, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat Cotabato City.

DOJ wants Mamasapano trial moved to Manila

From the Manila Times (Jan 21): DOJ wants Mamasapano trial moved to Manila

THE Department of Justice (DOJ) will push for the transfer to Manila of the trial of rebels charged for the 2015 massacre of 44 members of the elite Special Action Force (SAF).

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd said he had ordered his prosecutors to file a motion to transfer the trial venue to Manila from Cotabato, to spare the judge from any “pressure.”

This will also to ensure the safety and security of witnesses and the families of the victims, he said.

“Of course there’s pressure in the courts there (Cotabato). In early January I asked the prosecutors to file for the transfer of venue here in Manila,” Aguirre said.

Eighty-eight members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and private armed groups are being tried on the complex crime of direct assault with murder in connection with the January 25, 2015 encounter in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that left 44 elite police troopers dead.

The SAF men were on a mission to serve arrest warrants on international terrorist Sulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan” and his alleged cohort, Abdul Basit Usman.

Marwan was killed in the botched raid while Usman died in a firefight with the military in May 2015.

The previous Aquino administration received heavy criticism after it turned out that the operation was directed by the then suspended national police chief, Alan Purisima, without adequate coordination with the military.

27 armed men nabbed in Marawi City

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Jan 20): 27 armed men nabbed in Marawi City
MARAWI CITY, Lanao del Sur –- Twenty-seven armed men led by a suspected member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) were arrested at a military checkpoint on a highway in borders of barangays Matampay and Mipaga around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, January 17.
 The armed men were on board four vehicles en route to Saguiran town in Lanao del Sur.
Colonel Joselito Pastrana, commanding officer of the Army’s 65th Infantry Battalion, said a tipster informed them regarding the armed men prompting them to set up the checkpoint.
Pastrana said a 16-year-old boy was among the armed group whose leader, Aleem Abdulaziz Aminodin, identified himself as an MNLF member.
 Pastrana said Aminodin told them that they were on their way to rescue his daughter who was supposedly kidnapped by a rebel commander in Lanao del Norte.
The seized firearms included a loaded M60 machine gun, a Barrett rifle, an M14 rifle, an M1 Garand rifle, an M16 Bushmaster, and several handguns.
Brigadier General Roseller Murillo, commander of the Army’s 103rd Brigade based in Marawi City, said the identities of the armed men are now being ascertained to determine whether they have links with the MNLF or with terror groups like the Maute group.
The seized firearms are now with the Philippine National Police for ballistics tests.
 The 27 suspects were subjected to inquest proceedings at the Hall of Justice in Marawi City Thursday, January 19.

ESSCom Alerts Philippine Security Forces On Abandoned Boat

From Sabahkini/Bernama (Jan 20): ESSCom Alerts Philippine Security Forces On Abandoned Boat


The Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCom) has contacted the Philippine security forces upon discovering a Sandakan-registered trawler – minus the crewmen – in the waters of the neighboring country.

The fishing vessel was found in the waters between Baguan Island and Taganak Island yesterday afternoon.

ESSCom commander DCP Datuk Wan Abdul Bari Wan Abdul Khalid said the security command was waiting for development on the incident from the Philippine security forces.

He said information on the fishing vessel was conveyed to the Philippines at 3.15pm.

“The vessel was found with its engine running but there was no sign of any crewman.

“The Philippine forces later tugged the boat to Taganak Island located in the waters of that country, he said in a statement in Sandakan, today.

Wan Abdul Bari said the prawn fishing trawler owner lodged a police report over the missing boat and its three Indonesian crew members at 6.03pm at the Sandakan police headquarters.

DND on lookout for increased ISIS threats

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 20): DND on lookout for increased ISIS threats

The Department of National Defense is not taking the threats of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) lightly and has assured that they are “constantly monitoring possible terror threats.”

This follows the warning of Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the US Pacific Command, that the Asia-Pacific region, including the Philippines, is at risk of  attacks by the ISIS returning to their home countries as the terrorists are driven out of Iraq and Syria by US forces in continuing operations.

Several terrorist groups in the Philippines, such as the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group, have pledged allegiance to the ISIS.
In a statement on Friday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that as part of continuously addressing these threats, they have “instituted changes in the AFP leadership, placing people with extensive experience in the Central and Western Mindanao areas.”

This week, Western Mindanao Command installed its new commander, Maj, Gen. Carlito Galvez, a military officer with extensive experience in Western and Central Mindanao areas.

The Maguindanao-based 6th Infantry Division’s new commander is Brig. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, who has a background in leading Sulu and Central Mindanao areas.

Lorenzana also said that the military “has long standing instructions to intensify its intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism operations.”

The government is also working closely with Malaysia and Indonesia as these threats “cross borders.”

“That is why as early as July last year, we have already signed a trilateral defense cooperation agreement with Malaysia and Indonesia to strengthen our joint efforts in fighting terrorists, piracy and other crimes and strengthen security measures in common maritime areas,” the defense chief said.

They have also intensified their operations by strengthening naval and air assets for their anti-terrorism drive, he added.

Halipa takes over from the Muktadirs

From The Star Online (Jan 21): Halipa takes over from the Muktadirs

 Abandoned vessel: The Sabah-registered boat found listing in waters off the Philippines on Thursday

Abandoned vessel: The Sabah-registered boat found listing in waters off the Philippines on Thursday

A notorious Abu Sayyaf sub-commander is believed to be responsible for the kidnapping of three Sandakan-based Indonesian crewmen at gunpoint in the Sulu Sea off the Phi­­lippines.

Halipa, who is on the Eastern Sabah Security Command’s (Ess­com) most wanted list, is believed to have headed into Cagayan, his home base and is trying to get to Abu Sayyaf territory in Jolo with the hostages.

The three Indonesians have been identified by the Filipino officials as Hamdan Salim, 29, Subandi Sattu, 47, and Sudaling Samandung, 26.

It is learnt that Halipa’s group had first raided another Malaysian fishing vessel in Philippine waters but for some unknown reason, did not rob or take anyone.
He and his group proceeded to the Taganak island where they ab­­ducted the three Indonesians.

According to intelligence sources, the kidnap-for-ransom group had taken another three hostages but it is not clear whether it was from another raid involving Filipino fishing boats during their spree on Thursday.

It is understood that Sabah-based fishermen are risking fishing in Philippine waters due to better catches till April.

Halipa is believed to have worked with the now crippled notorious Muktadir brothers in several kidnappings in Sabah waters over the years. He was a known smuggler before turning full-time into kidnap-­for-ransom activities.

Malaysian security forces are waiting for word on the three Indonesian crewmen.

Esscom commander Datuk Wan Abdul Bari Wan Abdul Khalid said the authorities received a report of the abandoned boat on Thursday and later another report by the boat owner.

“We received a report about an empty vessel listing in waters between Baguan and Taganak islands off the Philippines at about 3.15pm Thursday, and later at about 6.03pm, got another report from the boat owner about his three missing crewmen,” he said.

He said Philippine security forces told them about the Sabah-regis­­tered vessel that was found with its engines still running.

“We are now waiting for confirmation from our counterparts in Manila,” Wan Adul Bari said.

Shippers avoid new 'pirate hotspot' in waters west of the Philippines

From InterAksyon (Jan 20): Shippers avoid new 'pirate hotspot' in waters west of the Philippines

A surge in piracy to the west of the Philippines is forcing ship owners to divert vessels through other waters, stoking their costs and extending the time it takes to transport goods such as Australian iron ore to key Asian destinations.

There have been 16 attacks since last March on ships in the Sulu and Celebes Seas, through which about $40 billion worth of cargo passes each year, according to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP).

That government-backed anti-piracy organization says over a dozen crew are currently being held hostage by Filipino Abu Sayyaf militants, all from ships sailing through the Sulu and Celebes Seas.

"The Sulu/Celebes area is the world's fastest growing piracy hotspot, with violent attacks on commercial vessels and their crews, and an increasingly successful kidnap and ransom business model," said Gerry Northwood, chief operating officer at armed guard company Maritime Asset Security and Training (MAST).

The International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur has also warned of the rising threat of armed pirates in these waters, with shipping companies starting to shy away.

"Increasing piracy particularly in the Sulu Sea has been a rising concern for us," said Benedikt Brueggermann, chartering manager at shipper Oskar Wehr Asia in Singapore.

"We are doing our best to avoid the area both on empty and laden voyages. We'd rather do that than put the ship and crew's lives at risk. It's very sad to see this happening in this region."

Shipping data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows several large vessels carrying iron ore from Australia to northern Asia, which used to take the route through the Sulu Sea, are now sailing east of the Philippines, through the open Pacific Ocean.

At least six shipping companies are diverting vessels via this route, according to shipping executives.

One is U-Ming Marine Transport, Taiwan's largest dry-cargo ship owner, which said 10 of its large capesize-class ships have taken this detour since the end of 2016.

"All our ships sailing from Australia to China and North Asia are now sailing via east of Philippines – it is a proactive action to prevent pirate attacks," said U-Ming's president, Ong Choo Kiat.

Other firms avoiding the Sulu and Celebes seas are Eastern Pacific Shipping, Diana Shipping, and Anglo-Eastern Ship Management.

Sailing east to avoid the Sulu Sea adds about half-a-day to a 14-day voyage from Port Hedland, Western Australia's main iron ore export terminal, to northern Asia.

Shippers said that while the extra costs of around $300 per day for fuel on each journey were not huge, the added costs would mount up over time – another blow to an industry already grappling with a period of extremely low profit margins.

PEACETALK: We must prove to our people that these negotiations will indeed bring about genuine change

From MindaNews (Jan 20): PEACETALK: We must prove to our people that these negotiations will indeed bring about genuine change (Fidel V. Agcaoili)

(Opening speech for the Third Round of Talks in Rome of Fidel V. Agcaoili, chair of the NDFP negotiating panel, 19 January 2017, in Rome Italy)
Your Excellencies from the Royal Norwegian Government and the Government of Italy,
Dear Countrymen in the Negotiating Panels and Delegations of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines,
Esteemed guests,

Let me first thank the Royal Norwegian Government for its continuing support to the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations and to the Government of Italy for allowing the third round of talks to be held in Rome.

Our panel comes to this third round ever ready to push the negotiations forward and even accelerate the process of forging mutually acceptable comprehensive agreements on the most important topics of Socio-economic Reforms (SER) and Political and Constitutional Reforms (PCR).

But our panel is also mindful of the fact that certain serious obstacles remain to be hurdled if mutual trust and confidence are to be maintained so that the negotiations can move forward.

We have repeatedly raised the issue of the release of all the NDFP-listed political prisoners as a matter of obligation on the part of the GRP under CARHRIHL. We have also been repeatedly assured by our colleagues on the other side of the table. But sadly, close to 400 of these political prisoners remain in jail.

We clearly state today that the release of the above-mentioned political prisoners should not be seen as a mere confidence-building measure or a gift to the NDFP. It is an obligation of the GRP under CARHRIHL. Neither should the political prisoners be treated as trump cards to extract concessions from the NDFP. Such conduct is bound to further erode mutual trust and confidence.

We have also raised with the other side our concerns over other violations of CARHRIHL and JASIG such as the non-resolution of the enforced disappearance and murder of JASIG-protected NDFP personnel during the Arroyo regime; betrayal of trust in the continued imprisonment of three JASIG-protected NDFP consultants who have been promised presidential pardon; surveillance and harassment of recently released consultants participating in the ongoing peace negotiations; continuing military operations that terrorize communities under the guise of peace and development projects of Oplan Bayanihan; arbitrariness and absence of due process in the anti-drugs campaign; and the failure to compensate victims of martial law.

It is for these reasons that the NDFP panel has requested to place compliance with CARHRIHL and JASIG as the first item on the agenda for this third round.

After this, we can proceed to the all-important task of working on the drafts which have been exchanged by the RWC-SER and RWG-PCR.

As I have said earlier, the NDFP panel is willing to accelerate the process of forging mutually acceptable comprehensive agreements on SER and PCR so that we can move on to the phase of implementation within the period of the Duterte government.

We must prove to our people that these negotiations will indeed bring about genuine change. They are tired of broken promises from politicians and the failed policies of previous GRP regimes.

While we hope for the acceleration of the process, we must also be realistic and be ready for the possibility that the negotiations may take longer than we hope for. We are happy and grateful for having the assurance of the Royal Norwegian Government of their continuing commitment to support our peace negotiations.

I reiterate the determination of our panel to do everything necessary to make these negotiations a success. We owe it to our people.

Thank you.

PEACETALK: Finding common ground, matching word with deed, having resolve with will

From MindaNews (Jan 20): PEACETALK:  Finding common ground, matching word with deed, having resolve with will

(Opening Statement of GRP Panel Chair Silvestre Bello III during the 3rd Round of Talks between the GRP and the NDF in Rome, Italy on 19 January 2017)

Almost five months ago, in August of last year, we embarked on resuming our negotiations which to many, after almost three decades of peace talks, seem to be intractable and more so, immovable to others.

Against this pessimism, however, we decided to come forward and tried anew the talk for peace. Resuming the talks we did, with only the steady guiding hands of President Duterte for us to hold on as we venture on the difficult tasks of sensing each other and understanding each other’s fears and dilemma. Doubly difficult were the challenges of unlearning war in order to wage peace.

We are glad that we did not falter in resuming the talks after seven years of impasse to be followed by another five years. For indeed, our first and second round of talks in August and October, respectively, were no small measures of our commitment to the tasks of ending the armed conflict and of building peace. Our joint signed commitment to stay at the table and complete the negotiations within a specific timeframe, provided us the needed momentum to discuss remaining substantive agenda of the negotiations.

Our respective declaration of indefinite ceasefires in August to accompany the talks put flesh to our commitment at the table. More so, it afforded our people tangible dividends of the peace talks, given the lowering of the level of violence on the ground, especially in conflict-affected communities. Undoubtedly, we both earned confidence that allowed us to start the discussion of a possible joint ceasefire that will hopefully lay the groundwork for ending hostilities.

And so, this brought us to this third round of talks which I am privileged to open with Ka Fidel in the presence of staunch peace warriors in the persons of Secretary Dureza and Professor Sison, together with our peace champions headed by no less than Ambassador Elisabeth Slattum in her capacity as our third party facilitator.

It is very opportune to hold this round of talks at the advent of the new year that promised enabling hope. Indeed, we shall need this hope to tackle the rigorous subjects on socio- economic, political and constitutional reforms, and of ending hostilities and disposition of forces. I am also hopeful we can meaningfully discuss the issues that persistently confront our negotiating table, such as prisoner release; the implementation of the reconstructed JASIG list; the full operationalization of the Joint Monitoring Committee of CARHRIHL; and the amnesty program.

Likewise, I am one with President Duterte’s optimism that in this round of talks, we are able to finalize and approve the joint ceasefire agreement. Towards these agenda, the GRP panel has come prepared to exchange and discuss our drafts on said agreements.

There are reasons to hope we can hurdle the task we meant to accomplish in these talks. From the pre-meeting of the panels held last night to finalize our discussion agenda today, I see the same commitments of both parties that animated us during the past round of talks to remain strong.

We welcome the proposal of our Norwegian third party facilitator on the guidelines for the talks with regard to documentation, media coverage, and confidentiality. Surely these will not only further improve the environment for talking but likewise, help us protect the integrity of our discussion, which is increasingly challenged as we confront the harder parts of our negotiations.

I trust that our discussion in the next five days will be cordial but frank, rigorous but productive—in finding common ground, in matching word with deed, and in having resolve with will. Hopefully, the outcome of this third round of talks will not change us, but rather unequivocally define us.

As the GRP panel chair and peace worker myself, I am grateful to everyone for bringing us to this round of talks. May the promise of hope that the new year brings, continue to animate our negotiations. Thank you and happy new year.

PEACETALK: Our shared aspirations for Peace

From MindaNews (Jan 20): PEACETALK: Our shared aspirations for Peace (Bu Jesus G. Dureza)

(Opening statements of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus G. Dureza and Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr. at the third round of the GRP-NDF peace talks in Rome, Italy on 19 January 2017).

Thank you very much and good morning to everyone. To the Norwegian Government representatives and the facilitator who are here including the Norwegian Ambassador to the Philippines, Ambassador Erik Forner, who is here with us, the CPP-NPA-NDF panel and the other key members of the panel of the Government of the Philippines and the team. Ladies and gentlemen, our guests, good morning!
It is with great honor and privilege that we open again today jointly the third round of our negotiations. We thank here immediately the international champion for peace, the Royal Government of Norway, for being with us and providing to us all the support.

We were able to meet up with His Holiness, the Pope yesterday and we’d like to share the papal blessings to everyone here, hoping that our shared aspirations for peace will not take long for everyone and that it would ultimately be for the good of the whole nation.

I had the privilege of inviting personally our Foreign Secretary Perfecto Jun Yasay to be with us. For many of you who may not know him and for those who have travelled from the Philippines to come here, he is mostly the one responsible for making all these travels possible as our Foreign Secretary. In this light may I share with him with the permission of everyone, my part of opening, making an opening statement and may I invite Secretary Jun Yasay to please say a few words.

SECRETARY YASAY: Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat. Thank you very much Jess, I was not prepared to be here before you to even say or make any statement, I must confess that I came here to the city of Rome to attend to an official function primarily which was to meet with my counterpart the Foreign Minister of Italy, to engage him in bilateral talks yesterday and to sign a few agreements aimed at strengthening the relationship between our two countries.

But I must also confess that my trip has brought about the fulfillment of two of my top bucket list, one is to be able to meet Joma Sison and that is more than enough for me, to justify my trip to be here and that also justifies why I am dumbfounded and speechless, Joma thank you for this occasion of meeting with you.

I had look(ed) up to him and continue to look up to him even when I was still a young college student at the Central Philippine University in Iloilo City and we have a lot of mutual friends. I know Joma to be a very dedicated leader and Filipino who works greatly and singly for the welfare and benefit of the Filipino people. I know him and it is one of the reasons why I admire him most is because when he wants to get things done for the good of the country, he will be relentless and he will not end until that is done.

Number two on my bucket list is to be able to have an audience with the Pope yesterday and I handed over the letter of President Rodrigo Duterte to him. A letter of solicitation and greetings but I do recognize the significance of this event and the process that we’re going through today.

Despite of my presence, I know I could not add or retract from the importance of this event or even its outcome but I bring the hope, the faith and the confidence, not only of those who are here but of our Filipino people left behind and their longing for enduring and lasting peace. And of this if that faith, that hope, that trust, that confidence could somehow add to what we have here as our hope and our confidence that we would be having a lasting and enduring peace soon then that is worth of all of the travels and the difficulties and the struggles that we have made.

On my job as the Foreign Affairs Secretary, as Jess had mentioned to you earlier, was just to facilitate immediately and promptly the travel of those who play a very important role in this process and I’d like to say that this was the direct instructions of the President to me. This is the role that I play, please make sure that all of those who play an important role in the process, facilitate the issuance of the passports, and I am glad that I have not wavered on that.

Thank you very much Joma, Luis Jalandoni is here, one guy that I also admire, let me reiterate my strong belief and shared belief with what had been said by the good ambassador that dialogue is always important when things cannot be achieved, it is always important that we get to talk.

Let me also extend my personal gratitude of thanks to the Norway’s Government support and assistance to make this process possible. Thank you and good luck to all of us!

PEACETALK: Encouraging both parties to hurdle the snags in the current round of talks

From MindaNews (Jan 20): PEACETALK: Encouraging both parties to hurdle the snags in the current round of talks (By Bishop Felixberto Calang)

(Statement of Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, main convenor of Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao and observer in the GRP-NDFP Peace Talks)

We welcome the high level of optimism that marked the opening of the talks in Rome yesterday. As observers in the peace talks, we express our gratitude to the Royal Norwegian Government for facilitating the process. We appreciate Special Envoy Elisabeth Slattum’s emphasis of highlighting the common goals of the peace process. We believe that consistent with these common goals come commitments and obligations.

As President Duterte’s ‘steady hand’ of guidance in the talks was stressed by DFA Sec. Perfecto Yasay and OPAPP Sec. Jesus Dureza, we were actually expecting a last-minute release of political prisoners in congruence with the CARHRIHL and the spirit of the 1st and 2nd round of talks.

We are hoping that this 3rd round will bring about the realization of the release of political prisoners as this is a critical issue in the sustainability of the process.

We are aware that despite the high level of optimism during the opening of the talks, there are strong undercurrents that affect the smooth direction of the talks. The realization of PPs releases, the cessation of militarization especially in Lumad and peasant communities in Mindanao, and issues related to the unilateral and bilateral ceasefires, need to be appropriately addressed at this juncture of the talks. For now, these issues appear to affect the relevant focus needed for the discussion and eventual signing of the SER.

As a people’s movement for a just and lasting peace, we at Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao are encouraging both parties to hurdle the snags in the current round of talks and give focus on the SER. We congratulate both the GRP and the NDFP, with the facilitation of the RNG, for bringing about the fruition of this 3rd round of talks. We share in the optimism and commitment of RNG Manila Ambassador Erik Forner that “we are in this for the long haul.”