Monday, January 14, 2019

Mindanao gives U.S. its lowest trust rating, Russia its highest

From Rappler (Jan 14, 2019): Mindanao gives U.S. its lowest trust rating, Russia its highest

But across the Philippines, the United States remains the most trusted country, says a Pulse Asia survey 
VISITING MARAWI. US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim makes a trip to the ravaged city of Marawi in October 2018, and visits a Camp Ranao memorial honoring those who died in the line of duty during the Marawi siege. Photo from US embassy
VISITING MARAWI. US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim makes a trip to the ravaged city of Marawi in October 2018, and visits a Camp Ranao memorial honoring those who died in the line of duty during the Marawi siege. Photo from US embassy

MANILA, Philippines – While Filipinos still trust the United States most, the southern Philippine island group of Mindanao has a less trusting attitude toward Uncle Sam, a recent survey showed.

It was in Mindanao that the US got its lowest rating, and Russia its highest, in a survey released by polling firm Pulse Asia on Monday, January 14.

The US received a trust rating of 74% in Mindanao, while its rival Russia got 54%.

In contrast, across the Philippines, the US remained the most trusted country at 84%, while Russia, at 45%, was the least trusted after China.

Mindanao is the center of a decades-long Muslim rebellion exploited by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State. The US is helping the Philippines fight terror in Mindanao, and rebuilding the terrorist-ravaged city of Marawi – even as its colonial atrocities in Mindanao continue to hound it.

Mindanao is also the turf of President Rodrigo Duterte, who detests the Philippines' former colonizer for abuses such as the Bud Dajo massacre of Moros in Sulu by American soldiers in 1906.

The first President from Mindanao has also hit the US for extending aid with supposed preconditions such as taming his bloody anti-drug campaign – unlike China and Russia which supposedly help with no strings attached. (On the ground, however, Duterte's men have continued close links with the US despite Duterte's new friends.)

For this survey, Pulse Asia asked respondents the following question: "Generally speaking, how much trust should the Philippines extend to (country/organization)?"

The survey was conducted among 1,800 adult respondents from December 14 to 21, 2018. It covered selected countries – the US, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China, as well as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

The survey has an error margin of ± 2.3% at 95% confidence level for national results. For specific geographic areas, the survey has the following error margins at 95% confidence level: ± 6.5% for Metro Manila, ± 3.5% for the rest of Luzon, ± 5.2% for the Visayas, and ± 4.7% for Mindanao.

NYC chief asks SKs nationwide to fight leftist youth groups

From Rappler (Jan 14, 2019): NYC chief asks SKs nationwide to fight leftist youth groups

National Youth Commission chief Ronald Cardema urges Sangguniang Kabataan officials to report all anti-government propaganda and clean up leftist vandalism

YOUTH VS THE LEFT. National Youth Commission Chairman Ronald Gian Cardema makes announcements during a Malacañang press conference. RTVM screenshot

YOUTH VS THE LEFT. National Youth Commission Chairman Ronald Gian Cardema makes announcements during a Malacañang press conference. RTVM screenshot

President Rodrigo Duterte's crackdown against the Left has spilled over into a campaign against youth organizations suspected of links to the movement.

On Monday, January 14, National Youth Commission (NYC) Chairman Ronald Cardema called on all Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) officials to "fight" youth leaders allied with the communist New People's Army.

"Being Presidential Supporters or Presidential Critics is part of a healthy democracy, no problem with that. But being consistently Anti-Government, being Anti-Government Troops, and being the youth recruitment base of rebels...the newly-elected government youth leaders of today must make a stand," Cardema said in a statement sent to newsrooms.

What is SK being asked to do? Cardema said youth village officials can report "all anti-government leftist propaganda," initiate projects to clean up vandalism, and launch school-to-school and home-to-home engagements to spread "patriotic" and "nationalistic" visions and programs.

The NYC estimates that there are about 400,000 SK officials spread throughout the country's over 42,000 barangays. (READ: Duterte slams communists amid supposed ouster plot)

"All of you...will use your government titles & offices in orienting & mobilizing the youth to be partners of our government, of our government troops, and to become your own supporters towards community-building & nation-building," Cardema added.

Why does this matter? It is the first time since the NYC was placed under the Department of the Interior and Local Government from the Office of the President that the commmission's power is being used to call for coordinated action against leftist groups.

The NYC says on its website that it is the "policy-making coordinating body of all youth-related institutions, programs, projects and activities of the government." (READ: 2018 blockbuster: Red October plot vs Duterte)

Cardema, which was appointed to head the NYC when Ice Seguerra left the post in August 2018, was the leader of the Duterte Youth Movement.

Dimaporo, Commander Bravo meet in MILF camp

From MindNews (Jan 14, 2019): Dimaporo, Commander Bravo meet in MILF camp

LINAMON, Lanao del Norte – “As part of our mandate to bring peace by building relationships, I am happy to announce the successful meeting between Lanao del Norte 2nd District Congressman Abdullah ‘Bobby’ Dimakuta Dimaporo and Hadji Abdullah G. Makapaar alias Commander Bravo, commander of the North Western Mindanao Front of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) at Camp Bilal in Tamparan of Munai in Lanao del Norte on Sunday January 13, 2019,” Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., Presidential Adviser on Peace Process announced in a press statement Sunday night.

Galvez, who was present at the historic meeting of erstwhile enemies, said both agreed to “work collectively for peace and bring development in the area” and to “set aside their political differences” in the run-up to the plebiscite on RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao on January 21 and February 6, 2019.

“I was teary eyed that finally Congressman Dimaporo and Comander Bravo met and ended their three decades-long hatred with each other. I am looking forward for a peaceful Mindanao” he said.

Lanao del Norte 2nd district Rep. Abdullah ‘Bobby’ Dimakuta Dimaporo (R) and Abdullah G. Makapaar alias Commander Bravo (L), commander of the Northwestern MIndanao Front of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces meet at the MILF’s Camp Bilal in Munai, Lanao del Norte on Sunday January 13, 2019. Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Carlito Galvez, Jr., who was present during the meeting, said both agreed to set aside their political differences and work for peace and development. Photo courtesy of Brig. Gen. Thomas Sedano, Jr. of the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, Philippine Army

The plebiscite in Lanao del Norte, where six towns that voted for inclusion in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 2001 — Balo-i, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan, and Tangkal — are proposed for inclusion in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) will be held on February 6.

The Dimaporos have been saying they support the Bangsamoro law but would not want to divide Lanao del Norte. The law provides that even if the six towns proposed to be part of the BARMM vote yes, the consent of the voters in the 16 other towns of Lanao del Norte is needed for the six to be part of the BARMM.

The BARMM will replace the 28-year old ARMM upon its ratification in the plebiscite.

Galvez noted that it was the first time the two, whom he described as “blood-related” and “share the same passion to bring peace and development in the area,” met after four decades.

During the meeting, he said, Dimaporo and Bravo talked about the history of their family as their fathers “joined forces and fought the invading Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.”

Brig. Gen. Thomas Sedano Jr., commander of the Philippine Army’s 2nd Mechanized Brigade, and Butch Malang, chair of the MILF’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, also witnessed the meeting.

AFP willing to provide security to poll bets

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14, 2019): AFP willing to provide security to poll bets


Poll bets running for national and local posts are advised to coordinate with military units during the campaign period for their security from possible rebel attacks, especially in New People's Army (NPA)-infested areas, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Noel Detoyato said on Monday.

Detoyato said candidates can request for security but it is up to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to approve it.

"They can update their campaign trail with the AFP unit in their area to give them area security as long as they coordinate in advance so that troops can be pre-deployed," he said in a message to the Philippine News Agency.

The election period began on Sunday (Jan. 13).

Earlier, Detoyato said the AFP would ensure the peaceful conduct of the May polls and all election-related activities this year, including the Bangsamoro Organic Law plebiscite on January 21 and February 6.

Group urges The Netherlands to revoke Joma’s asylum status

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14, 2019): Group urges The Netherlands to revoke Joma’s asylum status

A group of former rebels urged The Netherlands Embassy to terminate Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Joma Sison’s asylum status and repatriate him to the Philippines so his punishments may be served.

In a rally staged Monday in Makati City, members of the Liga Independencia Filipinas called on the embassy to remove the CPP founder’s privilege as Dutch citizen.

Nolan Tiongco, leader of the anti-communist group, in an interview, said Sison has conveniently made The Netherlands his safe haven while the communist group he founded has lost touch of its purpose to bring injustices to light in the country.

“Ang nangyayari pa, mas marami pang injustices na idinulot ang mga giyera ng New People’s Army (NPA). Maraming nasaktan at namatay, wala naming naligtas katulad ng dapat sanang mithiin ng grupo (What happened here is more injustices were brought by the NPA. Many were wounded, nothing has been resolved),” Tiongco said, adding that in the 50-year struggle of the communist group, no proof surfaced that the group’s fight is even legitimate.

Tiongco, a former member of the revolutionary movement, said most of the rebels who joined during his time dropped the fight because they realized it made no sense.

“Malaking pagsisi namin na dating kabahagi ng movement ang pagsali. Mali yung pakikipaglaban, mismo yung mga kasama na nakikibaka, sila mismo yung nag-aaway away at karamihan ay terroristic act (Joining the movement was a huge mistake. Fighting was wrong, our comrades in the group were fighting against each other, mostly terroristic acts),” he added.

Contributed photos

In February 2018, a 55-page petition was filed before a Manila court to legally declare the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization.

Early this year, Senator Panfilo Lacson has reminded the Department of Justice to follow-up in its petition seeking to tag the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group.

“I urge the executive branch, particularly the DOJ to follow up with the judiciary the case that they filed calling for the prescription of the NPA as a terrorist group which is provided under Section 2 of the Human Security Act of 2007,” Lacson said on Twitter.

“They have not succeeded for the past five decades so I don't see how they can. Right now, they are reduced to a band of extortionists, arsonists and robbers, even a terrorist group,” added Lacson, former Philippine National Police chief.

DND to monitor possible investors in Hanjin

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14, 2019): DND to monitor possible investors in Hanjin

While it would defer to the government's economic team regarding the entry of possible investors in Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Philippines (HHIC-Phil), Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday said they will monitor those who have expressed interest to invest in the bankrupt shipbuilder.

"We defer to the economic team in this area. But we (are) interested to know who are coming to invest," he said, noting that the HHIC-Phil is near the Philippine Navy's major docking and anchorage area of its large naval vessels.

"After all, Subic Bay is also a major docking and anchorage of our big ships. We will monitor who are interested to invest," Lorenzana said.

HHIC-Phil earlier said it has a total of USD1.3 billion outstanding loans, USD400 million of which come from Philippine banks and USD900 million from South Korean lenders.

According to Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), the HHIC-Phil filed a petition last Tuesday at the Regional Trial Court in Olongapo City "to initiate voluntary rehabilitation under Republic Act 10142, otherwise known as An Act Providing for the Rehabilitation or Liquidation of Financially Distressed Enterprises and Individuals".

The petition is to seek help from the government to find investors that can take over the operation of HHIC-Phil shipyard in Subic, as well as to help its employees, who have carried the brunt of the company's financial woes.

In December 2018, the company laid off more than 7,000 workers.

PNP welcomes surrender of 20 NPA rebels in Laguna

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14, 2019): PNP welcomes surrender of 20 NPA rebels in Laguna

A total of 20 New People's Army (NPA) rebels have surrendered to the police in Laguna, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said Monday.

Upon their surrender, Albayalde said the rebels turned in several high-powered firearms and various grenade projectiles.

“We welcome the return of 20 members of the communist New People’s Army, some belonging to the indigenous people's tribe in Southern Tagalog region who surrendered over the weekend in Kalayaan, Laguna,” Albayalde told reporters during a press conference in Quezon City.

“They now enjoy the state-guaranteed liberty to lead normal lives with their families and possibly benefit from the government’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP),” he said.

Albayalde said President Rodrigo R. Duterte has vowed to provide members of the communist armed group housing and livelihood once they surrender and return to the government's fold.

He said rebels who surrendered their firearms are also given the cash equivalent of their weapons.

"Yung mga firearms hindi bumababa na (The firearms are exchanged with cash not less than) PHP100,000 and... the Governor of Laguna also pledged an additional PHP15,000 each for all the surrenderers," he said, adding the former rebels also get a minimum of PHP50,000 for their livelihood.

During the former rebels' presentation to members of the media, one of them, identified only as Ka Ruben, alleged that university students are being forced and threatened to join the communist movement.

“’Yun po ang ginagawa nila, takutin at hindi na pinababalik ang mga tao sa bayan (That's what they're doing. They're coercing them and would not let these students to return to the towns),” Ka Ruben told reporters.

Calabarzon regional police director Chief Supt. Edward Carranza, meanwhile, said the students are visiting mountainous areas -- the lairs of the NPA -- where they would do their immersion activities.

Most of these students, however, no longer return from the mountains as they have been already forced to join the armed wing of the communist movement.

Duterte’s voice ‘powerful influence’ in BOL ratification

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14, 2019): Duterte’s voice ‘powerful influence’ in BOL ratification

The voice of President Rodrigo R. Duterte is a powerful influence on the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), Malacañang said Monday.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo made this remark after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana bared that the President will join a big rally on Jan. 18 in Cotabato City to appeal to people to vote for the measure.

“Well, certainly the voice of President is always a powerful influence on whatever matter he gives his voice into,” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.

Panelo, however, said he was unsure of whether the President would be attending the scheduled rally.

He stressed anew that it is up to the people to decide on the ratification of the BOL through a plebiscite set on Jan. 21.

“Ultimately, it will be the people’s call, whether they want it or not. What is important and certain is that the President will abide by whatever the will of the sovereign people in that part of this country is,” Panelo said.

Asked if the President will campaign for the passage of the BOL should he attend the rally, Panelo said it will depend on what Duterte feels is best.

“If he feels there is a need then he will campaign for that. If he feels that it will win even without his calling for voters to support it, then he will not,” Panelo said.

“The President is a best judge of what will be the outcome of this plebiscite. He will make a move, if he thinks he should. He would sit and just watch if he feels hindi kailangan (it’s not necessary),” he added.

On July 26 last year, the President signed the BOL, or Republic Act 11054, which seeks to establish a new Bangsamoro political entity to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The BOL, previously known as the Bangsamoro Basic Law, is considered as one of the Duterte administration’s biggest legislative achievements.

LGUs warned vs. paying 'permit to campaign fees' to NPA

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14, 2019): LGUs warned vs. paying 'permit to campaign fees' to NPA

Pay “permit to campaign fees” to communist rebels and you support terrorism.

This was the warning of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to all governors, mayors, and all candidates about directly or indirectly giving financial, material, and political support to communist terrorist rebels as well as other non-State actors, DILG spokesperson Assistant Secretary Jonathan Malaya said.

“Secretary Eduardo Año has issued Memorandum Circular 2018-211 reminding all local chief executives and LGU officials that giving any form of support to communist rebels is a violation not only of Executive Order 733 but also of RA 10168,” he said in a news release Monday.

“Many reelectionists are in the heat of campaign mood, whether discreetly or openly, as the May 2019 midterm elections near. Paalala lang po na huwag magpaloko at magbayad ng ‘permit to campaign’ or ‘permit to win’ sa mga komunistang grupo na itinuturing ng gobyerno na mga terorista (Just a reminder: Don't be duped and pay 'permit to campaign' or 'permit to win' to communist groups that are considered terrorists by the government),” Malaya said.

In the said Memorandum Circular, Año directed all Regional, Provincial, City and Municipal Peace and Order Councils to apply moral suasion or to recommend sanctions against Local Chief Executives who are known to have supported communist rebels.

“Under this scheme, they demand money from candidates in exchange to allowing them to enter and campaign freely in the hinterland that are within their area of operations,” Malaya said.

He added that this scheme is clearly a form of extortion and is repugnant to the right of suffrage not only of the candidates but of the individual voters as well.

“The DILG is calling all LGUs and law enforcement agencies to ensure that all candidates and political parties are allowed unhampered entrance in every LGU and to ensure the peace and order in all areas, including those considered as hotbeds of insurgency, so that all candidates and political parties are given access to the electorate during the campaign period without intimidation or manipulation by any group,” he said.

Section 4 of the Republic Act (RA) No. 10168 otherwise known as "The Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012,” states that: “Any person who, directly or indirectly, willfully and without lawful excuse, possesses, provides, collects or uses property or funds or makes available property, funds or financial service or other related services, by any means, with the unlawful and willful intention that they should be used or with the knowledge that they are to be used, in full or in part: (a) to carry out or facilitate the commission of any terrorist act; (b) by a terrorist organization, association or group; or (c) by an individual terrorist, shall be guilty of the crime of financing of terrorism.”

Those found guilty of committing the said provision of RA 10168 shall suffer the penalty of reclusion temporal in its maximum period to reclusion perpetua and a fine of not less than PPH500,000 nor more than PHP1 million.

“The DILG may also file other charges pursuant to the Revised Penal Code and other pertinent laws and seek the disqualification of all those candidates who shall be proved to have cooperated with said non-state actors in accordance with the provisions of the Omnibus Election Code,” he said.

“The same course of action shall be undertaken against those incumbent local government officials or employees who shall cooperate or give aid in any form or manner-- material or otherwise, to non-state actors without prejudice to the administrative cases that shall be filed against them,” Malaya added.

Meanwhile, Malaya said local chief executives should instead support the entry into mainstream society of former communist rebels through the national government’s Enhanced-Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) of the interagency Task Force Balik-Loob.

The E-CLIP’s expanded benefit package for communist rebel surrenderers include enrolment in the Department of Education's Alternative Learning System and issuance of certification of completion of elementary or high school education. Their spouse or children can also get matriculation and stipend for college education.

Former rebels also get livelihood materials or employment assistance through referral to government agencies or private companies as well as housing assistance or housing unit from the National Housing Authority.

Each former rebel as E-CLIP beneficiary gets a PHP15,000 immediate assistance for mobilization expenses while his or her enrolment in the program is being done as well as a PHP50,000 livelihood assistance and firearms remuneration.

E-CLIP beneficiaries also get a monthly modified conditional cash transfer from the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program; livelihood materials or employment assistance; and free legal assistance through the Department of Justice - Public Attorney's Office, among other benefits.

Journey to peace at a crossroads with BOL plebiscite

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14, 2019): Journey to peace at a crossroads with BOL plebiscite

In an impliedly pivotal endorsement of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) by the National Ulama Council of the Philippines (NUCP), it appealed to the electorate to ratify the measure “in the name of peace, development and justice for all.”

The NUCP, through its Ulama members and affiliated Islamic organizations, said it shall participate in the information drive for a better understanding of the BOL, and in campaigning for its eventual acceptance by our people.

This appeal, it said, amounts to a religious duty, an exhortation to achieve the “Islamic liberation” that enlivens the fundamental vision of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Where MILF’s erstwhile fight for Moro independence was a major jihad, the present alternative struggle for peaceful reform and development equals to a minor jihad in accord with Islam orthodoxy.

In his message to a pro-BOL ratification rally earlier, MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim quoted the words of Front founder Hashim Salamat when he said: “I have planted the seed of Jihad fiy Sabilillah in the minds and hearts of young generations.”

“I encourage everyone, let us walk together for the next level of this struggle, Inshaa Allah,” he added.

“Whence Islam directs all Muslims’ practical affairs as bridge to afterlife, the Quran (32:19) exhorts: “As for those who believed and did righteous deeds, for them will be the Gardens of Refuge as accommodation for what they used to do.”

The plebiscite to ratify the BOL is set for January 21 for areas listed in it, and on February 6 for those which later applied for inclusion in the envisioned Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The Supreme Court has denied the merged petitions for temporary restraining order (TRO) against the BOL plebiscite filed by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the provincial governor of Sulu, clearing the entire way for the holding of the historic vote.

So far, the Commission on Elections has approved 48 more petitions of non-BOL listed barangays for participation in the second-date plebiscite.

The MILF and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) who brokered the enactment of BOL by Congress are all but certain that the basic law will be ratified.

However, they are not celebrating yet since two cities — Isabela in Basilan Province and Cotabato City in Maguindanao — considered as politically important, have voted against inclusion in two past plebiscites and currently still show no signs of change of heart.

Last Dec. 27, no less than Murad and MILF Peace Implementing Panel Chairman Mohagher Iqbal, together with Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez, Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato City and ARMM Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman blitzed Isabela City with an interfaith rally to inform the attending thousands of ambivalent local residents why BOL is good for them this time around.

During the rally, Hataman, who is a native of Basilan, noted that “rumors like the destruction of crosses, closure of churches, banning of pork and enforcing the use of hijab among women had spread across” residents of Isabela, which is the administrative capital of Basilan.

The rally aimed to debunk this misinformation, he told his province-mates.

“In Sumisip (town) we have two barangays dominated by Christians — they have piggeries there, they have churches there and people enjoy religious freedom,” Hataman said.

Quevedo cautiously said the huge attendance is a hopeful indication that Isabelenos are this time open-minded towards the BOL.

Galvez, for his part, said “the dealings between the military and the MILF in Basilan, became warmer and cozier than at any time in the past” after the Malaysian-brokered Bangsamoro peace deal was signed in 2014.

Galvez, who served as Army brigade commander in the province, said they have “firmly re-established all the peace mechanisms to ensure long-term peace on the ground” through the peace process.

“Now I am standing here as a brother of peace, making sure the peace agreement is well implemented -- starting with the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law”, he told the multi-cultural audience.

“The BOL is the culmination of our efforts to give our Moro brothers and sisters the opportunity to take ownership of the landmark measure and finally achieve our dream of genuine and meaningful self-governance. More importantly, the law gives due recognition to the identity of all residents living within the Bangsamoro territory. So, whether you are a Moro, Christian, or Lumad, rest assured that your rights and welfare will be protected,” he told the Christian majority Isabelenos.

Unlike the week-later BOL-enthusiastic rallies in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu, its top-level campaigners had harder sales-talk to make in Isabela City.

It fell on Quevedo to assure his fellow Isabela Christians about the beneficence of BOL. He then pointed to BOL provisions on basic rights (Article IX) such as:

* The Parliament shall adopt measures to ensure mutual respect and protection of the distinct beliefs, customs and traditions of the Bangsamoro people and the other inhabitants in the BAR.

* No person shall be subjected to any form of discrimination on account of creed, religion, ethnic origin, parentage or gender.

* Religious Freedom — “any establishment and any institution is free to implement policies and undertake activities pursuant to their respective religious beliefs and values.”

* Human Rights — “The Bangsamoro Government shall fully respect human rights.”

A few days later in the Bongao, Tawi-Tawi rally, Mohagher Iqbal said some 160,000 people “have died during the course of the Moro struggle, and it is about time to end this cycle of violence.”

“We are already seeing the light at end of the tunnel. It’s not just flickering light but a very clear light”, he said.

It was Iqbal, as MILF head negotiator, who signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) with Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen signing on behalf of the Philippine government in 2012 in Malaysia, ending 17 years of roller coaster peace talks.

FAB set down the broad but comprehensive terms of deal.

After two more years of threshing out the deal’s specifics, Iqbal and the new government chief negotiator, Miriam Coronel Ferrer, together with their panels’ members, signed the final Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in formal ceremony in Malacanang attended by representatives of foreign countries.

CAB consolidated as well all previous agreements including FAB itself, which among others stipulated the enactment of a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by Congress.

Four more years passed before that law, now renamed as the BOL, was finally enacted in 2018.

On Jan. 21, the BOL will be affirmed— barring a mishap — through the plebiscite by Muslim Mindanao region’s populace.

From that crossroads of history, the Bangsamoro people and their leaders inevitably must overcome more challenges in their phenomenal journey to peace, justice and development.

As what has been observed, it is easier to clinch a peace agreement than to implement it, as shown in the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.

In a policy brief, the Cotabato City-based Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) earmarked some of those challenges, such as the immediate creation of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority – which will function for only three years - and the extent of its powers and responsibilities as mandated by the BOL as well as the absolute need for civil society cooperation in establishing the new government’s institutions such as its political and electoral systems.

“The collective hope for the BOL is that it comes with a clear path to peace and development in Muslim Mindanao. And as demonstrated in this policy brief, this path entails the massive redesigning of the regional autonomy framework. First by vesting in the regional government substantial political and fiscal authority. Second, and more importantly, by instituting mechanisms to encourage the genuine engagement of the Bangsamoro community in the governance of the region,” the IAG said.

“MILF Chairman, Murad Ebrahim, is absolutely correct that governing the region will be a tremendous challenge for the new leaders of the Bangsamoro government,” IAG predicts.

3 more Maute group members surrender in Lanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14, 2019): 3 more Maute group members surrender in Lanao

Three members of the Islamic State-inspired Maute group surrendered to authorities in Lanao del Sur, bringing the number of surrenderees to five, military officials said.

Maj. Gen. Roseller Murillo, Army’s 1st Infantry Division commander, said the three surrendered to the 82nd Infantry Battalion around noon Saturday in Piagapo, Lanao del Sur.

Murillo, who is also the Task Force Zampelan (Zamboanga Peninsula and Lanao Provinces) commander, said the three have turned over a rocket propelled grenade (RPG), one grenade launcher, and one caliber .30 M1 Garand rifle with ammunition.

The identities of the three Maute surrenderers were withheld. They are followers of Owayda Benito Morohomsar alias Abu Dar.

Lt. Col. Jason Jumawan, Army’s 82nd Infantry Battalion commander, said the three decided to surrender due to dissatisfaction and discontentment with the leadership and capabilities of the Maute group.

The first two surrenderees, who are also followers of Abu Dar, surrendered on Friday to the Army’s 55th Infantry Battalion in Pagayawan, Lanao del Sur.

“While we are supporting the recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi, our efforts against Maute group remnants will be continuous in order to achieve a peaceful and progressive community in our area of operation,” said Col. Romeo Brawner, Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade.

Murillo has commended the efforts of the troops that led to the surrender of Abu Dar’s followers.

“Our campaign against terrorists will be relentless and we will take advantage of their weakened leadership and capabilities in order to attain a just and lasting peace in our area of operation,” he added.

Samar clash stalls Red’s attacks in Region 8

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14, 2019): Samar clash stalls Red’s attacks in Region 8

The Philippine Army 803rd Infantry Brigade based in Northern Samar. (Photo courtesy of Army 803rd Infantry Brigade) 

TACLOBAN CITY -- The recent encounter between government troops and New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in San Jorge, Samar has derailed the planned attacks of the group in Eastern Visayas, the Philippine Army reported on Monday.

Brig. Gen. Ramil Bitong, commander of the Philippine Army 803rd Infantry Brigade based in Northern Samar, said a pursuit operation was launched against heavily-armed rebel fighters they engaged in a gun battle Saturday morning.

“The encounter in San Jorge is a significant accomplishment against the Communist-NPA Terrorists (CNTs). As of this report, our troops are pursuing the main body of the fleeing CNTs, comprised of the Eastern Visayas Regional Party Committee (EVRPC) leadership,” Bitong said in a statement issued to reporters.

Bitong said rebels have been planning to launch tactical offensives in Leyte and Samar provinces, prompting the brigade to step up their combat operations in northern part of Samar Island, considered as NPA’s stronghold in the region.

“This is another desperate attempt of the EVRPC to stay relevant by sowing fear and discontent among the residents of the region,” he added.

The gun battle in the remote village of Bay-ang in San Jorge town resulted in a slight injury of nine soldiers due to shrapnel from an explosion.

Soldiers found bloodstains in the enemy’s position but the number of wounded NPAs is still undetermined, according to the military.

The Philippine Army lauded residents of San Jorge and Motiong towns for providing reliable information on the abuses of communist rebels.

Bitong appealed to the remaining NPAs and their supporters to stop their activities and join the government’s development efforts.

Grand rally for BOL ratification set in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14, 2019): Grand rally for BOL ratification set in Maguindanao

At least 50,000 Bangsamoro residents on Sunday joined a caravan that traveled across three provinces in Mindanao as part of the campaign for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

The day-long caravan, involving over a thousand vehicles, started in this city and motored to Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and North Cotabato and the back to this city.

The participants aboard the vehicles chanted, “Yes to BOL!” “Mabuhay and (Long live) BOL!” “BOL is the only way to peace!” and “Mabuhay ang (Long live) Bangsamoro!”

On Tuesday, Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu will host the grand rally for the ratification of BOL in the town of Buluan, the province’s capital, which Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana is expected to attend as guest of honor.

“The projection is 90 percent of Maguindanao will go for "Yes" vote. I would like 98 percent go for it after the grand rally,” Mangudadatu said Monday.

Mangudadatu said he expects about 500,000 people to join Tuesday’s rally in Buluan, his hometown.

On January 21, voters in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi as well as the cities of Isabela and Cotabato will join the plebiscite for the ratification of the BOL and whether they want to join the new political entity — Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The BARMM, once ratified in a plebiscite, will replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

MILF chief makes first visit to Maguindanao military camp

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14, 2019): MILF chief makes first visit to Maguindanao military camp

Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, the Army's 6th Infantry Division commander (right), and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chief Al Haj Murad Ebrahim (center) shake hands during the latter's visit on Sunday to Camp Siongco, Maguindanao. (Photo courtesy of 6th Infantry Division) 

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao -- In an unprecedented move, the military on Sunday welcomed the leader of its former archenemy in a visit to its camp, an act seen by many as a reconciliation gesture.

Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, the Army’s 6th Infantry Division chief, welcomed Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in a symbolic act of peace.

The visit was seen as Ebrahim's way of reciprocating the August 2018 visit of Sobejana to the MILF main base in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

Sobejana said he invited Murad as a gesture of the military’s primacy to the government peace effort here in the southern Philippines.

“I never dreamt of coming over here,” the 71-year-old Ebrahim told military officials and personnel here.

“Actually, we were never enemies; we were in a situation where we need to perform our mandates and duties, you as state forces and us as a group fighting for our right to self-determination,” Ebrahim said.

Since the 70s when the rebellion erupted in Mindanao, government forces and Moro gunmen have been violently trading bullets whenever they crossed path until a peace deal was reached in recent years.

Sobejana said they will always support all government peace initiatives "for this is what the Army stands for."

Army, police pursue Reds after clash in NegOr

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14, 2019): Army, police pursue Reds after clash in NegOr

Joint elements of the Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police (PNP) are now conducting pursuit operations against a band of alleged New People’s Army (NPA) insurgents following an armed encounter early Monday morning in the remote and mountainous barangay of Linantuyan in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental.

Senior Supt. Raul Tacaca, PNP provincial director, said no one was injured on the government side in the clash that lasted for about 30 minutes.

According to him, he has directed the PNP personnel and the police stations to remain vigilant to avert possible atrocities by the NPA.

“Naka full alert status pa tayo hanggang ngayon at ang sabi ko sa kanila, lalo na sa police stations, (We’re still on full alert status up to now and I told them) to tighten security and not let their guards down,” Tacaca said.

An initial police report showed at around 8:25 a.m. Monday, a team under 1Lt. Lodriguito, on board a KM250 vehicle, was proceeding towards Barangay Linantuyan to attend a condemnation rally against the NPA when an undetermined number of alleged NPA elements fired at them in the vicinity of Sitio Kaningag of the said barangay.

Elements of the Linantuyan Civilian Armed Auxiliary (CAA) led by Lt. Taño were tasked to reinforce the troops that figured in the encounter by conducting route security in the vicinity of Sitio Mandi-e in Barangay Magsaysay, Guihulngan City, the police report said.

Meanwhile, elements of the Army’s 94th Infantry Battalion and other law enforcement teams were also deployed for the pursuit operations.

The police, meanwhile, is assisting in the pursuit operations but concentrating mostly on the checkpoints, according to Tacaca.

The condemnation rally was held following the shooting-to-death early this month of a CAA member assigned in Linantuyan, a mountain village situated about 33 kilometers from the city proper of Guihulngan.

The victim’s companion was also slightly hit but survived that shooting incident, allegedly perpetrated by the NPA.

76 ex-NPAs get cash benefits in Davao City

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14, 2019): 76 ex-NPAs get cash benefits in Davao City

A former New People's Army rebel receives from Mayor Sara Duterte a check amounting to PHP65,000 as immediate assistance and firearms renumeration under the E-CLIP program at Grand Men Seng Hotel on Monday. With Mayor Sara are Brig. Gen. Ernesto Torres, commander of the Army's 1003rd Brigade and Vicky Sarcena of the City Department of the Interior and Local Government. PNA photo by Lilian C Mellejor

DAVAO CITY -- The 76 former New People's Army (NPA) rebels, who surrendered in this city, were given a new lease in life after receiving a total of  PHP4.4 million in total cash benefits under the government's Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) on Monday.

Mayor Sara Z. Duterte, who led the distribution of benefits, along with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) officials, said she wanted the money released immediately so the former rebels can feel the tangible impact of the government's programs.

Of the total amount, some PHP3.51 million from the DILG was intended for livelihood assistance while the local government provided a total of PHP975,000 for firearms remuneration.

Each of the surrenderers received either PHP65,000 or PHP40,000 representing immediate cash assistance of PHP15,000,  remuneration for surrendered firearms at PHP50,000 for high-powered firearms and PHP25,000 for the smaller ones.

One of the recipients, 20-year-old Jerome (not his real name), received PHP65,000. He said he was nervous, and at the same time happy with his new-found freedom after his surrender in January last year.

Jerome said he was 18 when the NPA recruited him to be posted in the areas of North Cotabato and the hinterland parts of the city. He said he would use the money to open a small store and engage in piggery.

Like Jerome, Ka Princess (name also withheld) who received PHP65,000 also wants to engage in raising pigs.

Ka Princess was a political instructor of the NPA’s Pulang Bagani Command 1, which operates in Paquibato District. She was in college when she joined the NPA.

Ka Princess said she has become a target for assassination of the NPA after she abandoned the communist rebel group.

Brig. Gen. Ernesto Torres, commander of the Army's 1003rd Brigade, said 54 beneficiaries were given financial assistance under the E-CLIP.

The other 22 are still completing their requirements but already received remuneration for their surrendered firearms, Torres added.

Torres said a total of 45 former rebels were also granted assistance amounting to PHP2.9 million by the DILG and the Davao del Norte provincial government on December 21.

In her message to former rebels, Mayor Sara advised them to invest their money.

"Do not spend it on alcohol. Do not use it on activities where you cannot see the result of your investment,” Sara said in the dialect.

The mayor also said the former rebels should explore and avail of the opportunities provided by the local government, such as free education for their children, skills and entrepreneurship training, or jobs if they want to work with the city government, the Davao City Police Office (DCPO), and the Philippine Army.

2 NPA rebels in arson case yield in Sultan Kudarat

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14, 2019): 2 NPA rebels in arson case yield in Sultan Kudarat

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao -- Two New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, who were involved in the burning of PHP30 million worth of construction equipment in Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat, surrendered to military authorities on Sunday evening.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, the Army’s 33rd Infantry Battalion commander, identified the surrenderers only as “Ka Glen”, 55 and “Ka Jongie”, 35, who surrendered in Senator Ninoy Aquino town, Sultan Kudarat.
Cabunoc said both “Ka Glen” and “Ka Jongie” were members of the NPA’s Guerrilla Front 73.

Cabunoc turned them over around 8 a.m. Monday to Lt. Col. Jorge Garcia, Marine Battalion Landing Team-2 commander, whose unit has jurisdiction over Barangay Hinalaan, Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat.

The NPA rebels torched eight heavy equipment in Hinalaan, Kalamansig, on January 7.

The equipment were owned by Janmerc, a construction firm undertaking a road project linking Senator Ninoy Aquino town to the municipality of Kalamansig.

Cabunoc said the two surrenderers admitted they were involved in the burning of the equipment and have expressed willingness to turn as state witnesses against their comrades.

Janmerc allegedly failed to pay the rebels revolutionary taxes.

Cabunoc said the two rebels turned over machine pistols when they surrendered.