Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Muslims Celebrate Eid As Fighting Rage In Mindanao





Muslim women look out from the Capitol building in the southern Philippine province of Sulu on Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2008 as they celebrate the Eid Al Fitr. Governor Sakur Tan led the celebration of the Eid al Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 30, 2008) – Muslims in the southern Philippine island of Sulu on Tuesday celebrated the Eid al Fitr, which marked the end of the holy Ramadan, Islam’s fasting month.

More than 3,000 people gathered outside the Capitol building in Patikul town, one of several areas of prayer congregations, and listened to mufti as they preached and told Muslims to religiously follow the teachings of the holy Koran.

Sulu Governor Hajji Sakur Tan, clad in his traditional white skull cap and robe, led devout Muslims throughout the one hour prayer.

“The fasting month of Ramadan is very important to us because it cleanses our hearts and mind and reflects on the past. Without God in our heart and mind, we are nothing, and the Eid Al Fitr is the time for us to thank God for the blessings we received in life and this is also the time to share. There is always God and love in our hearts,” he said.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims observe a strict fast and participate in pious activities such as charitable giving and peace-making. And at the end of Ramadan, Muslims throughout the world observe a joyous three-day celebration called Eid Al-Fitr of the Festival of Fast-Breaking.

Eid Al-Fitr is a time to give in charity to those in need, and celebrate with family and friends the completion of a month of blessings and joy.

But while Sulu celebrates the Eid Al Fitr, fighting was raging in Mindanao between government soldiers and Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels.

Eid Kabalu, a senior MILF leader, said government troops shelled rebel position in the villages of Pagatian and Matia in Datu Piang town in Maguindanao, one of six provinces under the Muslim autonomous region, one of the most restive in the southern Philippines.

“Troops attacked our positions with artilleries and they also torched civilian houses in the villages,” Kabalu said.

But Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, a spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, denied the MILF reports and said rebels were targeting government soldiers in the province. “As a matter of fact, the MILF ambushed our troops on Monday in Datu Piang and this triggered fighting in the area that left a still undetermined number of rebel casualties,” he said.

Sporadic fighting since last month have left more than 300 soldiers and rebels dead, according to both the MILF and the Philippine military. Clashes broke out after rebel forces mounted a series of deadly attacks across Mindanao after the aborted signing of the Muslim homeland deal on August 5.

Because of the attacks, President Gloria Arroyo suspended the peace talks with the MILF and scrapped the territorial deal and she also disbanded the government team negotiating with the rebel group.

The MILF blamed Arroyo for the collapse of the peace talks and warned of a bigger war if Manila continues with its offensive in Mindanao.

Malaysia, which is brokering the peace talks, said it will still support the peace process in Mindanao and so is the influential Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and the United States, including Libya, Brunei and Japan which have deployed truce observers in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner)

Monday, September 29, 2008

4 Philippine Soldiers Wounded In Mindanao Clash

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 29, 2008) – Four government soldiers were wounded in a clashed Monday with Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels in the Muslim autonomous region of Mindanao, officials said.

Officials said the fighting erupted after MILF forces attacked a military post in the Village of Andavit in Datu Piang town in Maguindanao province. "Four of our soldiers are wounded in the fighting," said Major Armand Rico, a regional army spokesman.

MILF attacks are becoming more frequent in the province and nearby areas the restive Muslim region where government assault on rebels, blamed for deadly attacks last month, also continued.

Manila has blamed several hardliners in the MILF, among them commanders Ameril Kato, Abdurahman Macapaar and Sulayman Panglian, for the series of attacks that killed dozens of innocent civilians.

The MILF, on the other hand, blamed the aborted signing of the Muslim territorial deal between rebel and government peace negotiators, for the hostilities. The deal would have expanded the Muslim autonomous region, which is made up of six provinces. It would have granted homeland to more than four million Muslims in over 700 villages across Mindanao.

President Gloria Arroyo has scrapped the territorial deal and disbanded the government panel negotiating peace with the MILF. She also suspended the seven-year old peace talks after the MILF rejected government demands to surrender the rogue rebel leaders. (Mindanao Examiner)

Resolve Philippine Moro Insurgency Without External Help, Senator Tells Gov't

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 29, 2008) - Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. said the Arroyo government should resolve the Muslim insurgency problem in Mindanao through means at its disposal instead of relying too much on external help.

Pimentel decried that the government appears to be in a quandary on how to restart the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after the fiasco over the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) which ignited armed hostilities in the southern Philippines.

He said the government is desperate for a new approach to address the problem and is now even contemplating on requesting the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to intervene and broker the derailed peace negotiation.

Pimentel said the breakdown of the government-MILF peace talks with Malaysia as third-country facilitator only serves to show the pitfalls of foreign intercession in settling an internal conflict.

"However, it must be borne in mind that with or without the intervention or mediation of a foreign country or organization, ultimately a domestic problem so complex as the Muslim insurgency can be solved only by Filipinos themselves," Pimentel said in a statement.

He said that while the Philippines acknowledges the efforts of Malaysia in the difficult quest for peace in Mindanao, there is basis for the reservation of a lot of people over the choice of this neighboring as peace broker.

Pimentel said the effectiveness of Malaysia as a peace broker has been somehow affected by its still unresolved territorial dispute with the Philippines over Sabah to the extent that it is widely suspected to have a "hidden agenda" for assuming this role.

He said the fact that the Arroyo government is now thinking of asking Indonesia and the OIC to step into the shoes as peace broker indicates that it is having second thoughts in having Malaysia continue with its role as facilitator.

Pimentel also lamented that the peace process has turned upside down after the government itself disowned the MOA on Ancestral Domain in the face of widespread objections from Congress and several other sectors due to its glaring constitutional infirmities.

He said the government has nobody to blame but itself for the debacle as it never bothered to consult with Congress specially in resolving difficult issues in the peace talk. Even local government officials and constituents of communities that will be annexed to the so-called Bangsamoro Juridical Entity were left in the dark about the contents of the peace accord.

Pimentel said that the MOA on Ancestral Domain was problematic because while the Philippine Constitution only grants autonomy to Muslim Mindanao, the agreement virtually confers sovereignty on the proposed BJE and cedes part of the national territory to it.

In the words of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon, the agreement will lead to the creation of "a state within a state."

Pimentel maintained that the most acceptable and ultimate political solution to the Muslim conflict is the establishment of a federal system which will lead to creation of 11 federal states, including the Bangsamoro state.

"The adoption of a federal system will enable the Bangsamoro a fuller opportunity to promote their own identity and culture, and their own economic development at their own pace without the need of seceding or declaring their independence from the republic," he said.

"It will likewise address the concerns of the rest of the country that their respective development efforts are being thwarted by the bias shown by Manila-based bureaucrats in favor of what is popularly called Imperial Manila."

Cop Kills Brother In South RP

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 29, 2008) - A police officer was arrested in the southern Philippines after he allegedly shot and killed his elder brother, officials said.

Officials said SPO3 Diomedes Ocapan was accused of killing Edgar Ocapan during an altercation over the weekend in the town of San Miguel.

The policeman confronted his brother whom he accused of stoning his house and a heated argument ensued and the young Ocapan pulled out a gun from his holster and shot his brother.

The cop was eventually arrested, but it was unknown whether the family would pursue criminal charges or not against him. (Erico Rosco)


Zamboanga Police Beef Up Security As Ramadan Nears End

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 29, 2008) – Police authorities in Zamboanga Peninsula in the Southern Philippines have beefed up its security as Muslims celebrate Eid al Fitr, which marks the end of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan ends on Wednesday.

Regional police chief Jaime Caringal has ordered policemen to tighten security measures to ensure the Eid celebration would be peaceful. Moro rebels have previously threatened to mount attacks on military targets at the end of the Ramadan.

Zamboanga City is also preparing to celebrate the Feast of the Nuestra Señora Virgen del Pilar de Zaragoza, an annual fiesta held every Oct. 12 in honor of the Virgin Mary. (Erico Rosco)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

UCCP Pastor Berlin Guerrero Is Freed

Pastor Berlin Guerrero. (Prebysterian News Service Photo)


Pastor Berlin Guerrero, who has been in custody in the Philippines, was released on September 10, 2008.

The United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) thanks their partners in mission, including The United Church of Canada, who have supported the campaign for Guerrero's release.

The UCCP said: "We are happy to inform you that Pastor Berlin Guerrero was released…after the Court of Appeals Justice granted a temporary restraining order barring the Cavite Regional Court Branch 19 from proceeding with the hearings on the murder case and directed the government lawyers to submit more evidence to justify the trial of Pastor Berlin Guerrero."

"We thank you for your support in various ways and for your continuous prayers for the dismissal of the case. The decision brought an eruption of applause, after which many, both inside the courtroom and keeping vigil outside of the Court of Appeals, cried with tears of happiness. "Today is a story that we must tell again and again."

"This is a moment of great inspiration to be remembered," shared misty-eyed Father Rex Reyes, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.

Inside the courtroom Pastor Berlin Guerrero tightly embraced his wife, Mylene, and his three teenage children. The parents and siblings of Pastor Berlin also huddled close to celebrate the moment.

US Forces Join Combat Operations In Southern Philippines



Philippine troops continue the hunt for MILF rebels in Mindnaao. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Mark Navales)

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 28, 2008) – An alliance of militant Filipino teachers opposed to the continued stay of US forces in the Philippines urged the Philippine Senate to investigate the involvement of the American military in combat operations in Mindanao.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers said the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement should investigate the US role in the operation that killed Abu Sayyaf leader Aldam Tilao, also known as Abu Sabaya.

ACT urged the Senate to summon two Philippine Marines officers, Major General Juancho Sabban and Major Gieram Aragones, to shed light on the participation of US soldiers in the Abu Sayyaf operation. Sabban is currently the commander of the anti-terror Joint Task Force Comet based in Sulu province, while Aragones is a Marine intelligence officer.

“These two officers gave the American journalist Mark Bowden extensive interviews in which they openly acknowledged working with the US Central Intelligence Agency and the US Navy SEAL in an operation to track down and eventually eliminate Abu Sabaya,” Antonio Tinio, ACT chairman, said in a statement.

Tinio said Bowden’s article recounts the roles played by the Philippine military, US commandos, and the CIA in hunting down the Abu Sayyaf group that kidnapped 20 people, including a US missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham, and California man Guillermo Sobero, from Dos Palmas resort in Palawan Island in 2001.

Details of the US intelligence agencies’ role in tracking down Sabaya’s group using the most advanced eavesdropping equipment were contained in an article titled “Jihadists in Paradise” by Bowden for the Atlantic Monthly.

Bowden is author of the best-selling book “Blackhawk Down,” and has a number of books and articles being developed into Hollywood films and box office hit “Black Hawk Down” is his biggest film to date.

“A kidnapping at a Philippine resort triggered a yearlong hunt for pirate terrorists and their American hostages. A behind-the-scenes tale of intrigue, spy craft, and betrayal,” wrote Bowden in his opening piece.

Tinio said Bowden's article recounts that two US Navy SEAL teams participated in the mission that resulted in the killing of Tilao. “They served as backups to the team led by then Captain Aragones. That wasn’t just a training exercise, it was a combat mission,” he said, referring to the US Navy Seal teams.

He said the revelations made by Sabban and Aragones in Bowden’s article are clear evidence that US troops directly participated in combat operations which violated VFA and the Philippine Constitution. The RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty and the VFA only allow the presence of US troops on Filipino territory for joint military exercises.

Tinio said the two officers provided much of the material for Bowden’s article which was later adapted into a Hollywood film.

“We’re not just talking about violations of the terms of the VFA. The article confirms that the CIA, US military intelligence, and even the FBI have been operating freely in the south in the name of the so-called war on terror, with the full consent and cooperation of our government.”

“It also confirms that the many joint exercises being conducted in Mindanao are used as a cover for US military operations in the area. This is making a mockery of the Constitution,” Tinio said.

Jihadists in Paradise revolve around the ordeal of the American missionary hostages, who were kept for 18 months by the Abu Sayyaf and the death of Tilao. The movie portrays the role played by the US Central Intelligence Agency against Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines.

An elite team of US-trained Philippine troops tracked down and killed Tilao in a sea battle in the Zamboanga Peninsula in July 2002, nearly six months after 1,200 US soldiers descended on Basilan Island to help train and advise the local military.

A video of the operation taken by a US spy plane, which was posted in the Atlantic Monthly website (
http://www.theatlantic.com/movies/bowden/surveillance-9.mhtml), showed 6 black figures, believed to be Tilao and his group, walking to a waiting speedboat — guarded by another figure — under the cover of darkness.

Senior Filipino military commanders likened the black and white footage to a Hollywood espionage movie. The video was taken using a thermal camera.

Days before Sabaya’s death, troops pounced on his group that was holding the remaining hostages in Zamboanga’s jungles, rescuing Gracia Burnham and a Basilan nurse, Ediborah Yap. Martin Burnham, however, was killed by a stray bullet. Sobero was beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf and left his corpse in the jungle in Basilan.

Some Filipino lawmakers have also militant groups and political activists in questioning the continued stay of US troops in the southern Philippines, especially in areas where Filipino forces are battling Muslim and communist insurgencies.

Another militant group, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, also called for then expulsion of all US troops deployed in the southern Philippines.

“The continuing presence of US troops in various parts of Mindanao already goes beyond what the Philippine Senate contemplated as temporary during its deliberations on the VFA in 1999. The Senate deliberations defined 'temporary' as being about six months. The US troops have been in Mindanao for six years,” Renato Reyes, Jr., the group’s secretary-general, said.

The agreement between the Philippines and the United States which covers forces visiting temporarily is intended to clarify the terms under which the foreign military is allowed to operate.

Lawmakers also questioned the constitutionality of the treaty and they have filed two resolutions seeking a probe into the continuing presence and the involvement of the US military in local military activities and a review of the VFA.
Filipino lawmakers are to begin an inquiry into the role of US troops deployed in the southern Philippines. The Joint Legislative on Oversight Committee on Visiting Forces Agreement has already created a fact-finding team to investigate the allegations.

The team, headed by Rep. Antonio Cuenco and Senator Rodolfo Biazon are expected to arrive in Zamboanga City on October 1 to start the probe. US forces maintain several small bases inside the Western Mindanao Command headquarters, the Philippine Navy base and the Philippine Air Force and Philippine Army bases in Zamboanga City.

Reps. Maria Isabelle Climaco and Erico Fabian have joined the growing calls for an investigation into the continued stay of US forces in Zamboanga City since 2002, when Manila and Washington agreed to hold a joint military exercise here. (Mindanao Examiner)

Family Of Abducted Man In South RP Appeals For His Safe Release

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 28, 2008) – Unidentified gunmen abducted a young father in front of his wife and son in the southern Philippine province of Compostela Valley, where communist insurgents are actively operating, police said Sunday.

Police said the armed men seized Jay Larobes at around 11 a.m. Saturday in the village of Mipangi in Nabunturan town. His family said the gunmen dragged the victim and forced him inside a vehicle and sped away.

Larobes was driving his motorcycle with his wife and son when the gunmen blocked their path and snatched him, police said.

No group claimed responsibility for the abduction and the victim’s family would not say more about Larobes’ background or whether he is a political activist or not. But his family appealed for his safe release.

Previous disappearances of activists had been largely blamed to the military. (Romy Bwaga)

Probe US Role In Killing Of Abu Sayyaf Leader, Teachers Group Urged Philippine Senate

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 28, 2008) - The Alliance of Concerned Teachers asked the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement (LOCVFA) to investigate the direct involvement of United States troops in the operation that killed Abu Sayyaf leader Aldam Tilao, also known as Abu Sabaya, in June 2002.

Tilao was killed in an operation believed led by the US forces while trying to escape a massive government manhunt in Zamboanga del Nortye province. A video footage taken by a thermal camera mounted on a US spy plane recorded the operation and has been posted in the Internet.

The group urged the Senate to summon two Philippine Marines officers, Major General Juancho Sabban and Major Gieram Aragones to shed light on the participation of US soldiers in the said operation. Sabban is currently the commander of the Joint Task Force Comet based in Sulu while Aragones is a Marine intelligence officer.

“These two officers gave the American journalist Mark Bowden extensive interviews in which they openly acknowledged working with the US Central Intelligence Agency and the US Navy SEALs in an operation to track down and eventually eliminate Abu Sabaya,” Antonio Tinio, ACT chairman, said in a statement.

Tinio noted that Sabban and Aragones provided much of the source material for Bowden’s article entitled “Jihadists in Paradise,” which appeared as the cover story of the U.S. magazine The Atlantic in March 2007.

The article recounts the roles played by the Philippine military, US commandos, and the CIA in hunting down the Abu Sayyaf, the bandit group that kidnapped 20 tourists from the Dos Palmas resort in 2001.

The hostages included three Americans—Guillermo Sobero and Martin and Gracia Burnham. Bowden’s piece served as the basis for the documentary “Stalking Jihad,” which was first aired on the US cable channel The History Channel last October 2007. Sabban and Aragones likewise make appearances in the TV documentary.

Bowden is the best-selling author of Black Hawk Down, which recounts the US military’s debacle in Somalia . The book was subsequently turned into a Hollywood movie.

“Bowden's article recounts that two US Navy SEAL teams participated in the mission that resulted in the killing of Abu Sabaya. They served as backups to the team led by then Capt. Aragones. That wasn’t just a training exercise, it was a combat mission,” said Tinio.

“The candid revelations made by Sabban and Aragones in the article are clear evidence that US troops directly participated in combat operations in Philippine territory, in direct violation of the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Philippine Constitution.” The RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty and the VFA only allow the presence of US troops on Philippine territory for joint military exercises.

Tinio said the Atlantic article raised wider questions regarding violations of Philippine sovereignty.

“We’re not just talking about violations of the terms of the VFA. The article confirms that the CIA, US military intelligence, and even the FBI have been operating freely in the south in the name of the so-called war on terror, with the full consent and cooperation of our government."
"It also confirms that the many joint exercises being conducted in Mindanao are used as a cover for US military operations in the area. This is making a mockery of the Constitution.”
ACT has urged Filipino lawmakers to scrap the VFA.

Sa Pagtatapos Ng Ramadan, MILF Tiyak Na Gaganti Sa Mindanao!

MAGUINDANAO (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 28, 2008) – Habang papalapit ang pagtatapos ng Ramadan ay nadarama naman ang unti-unting opensiba ng rebeldeng Moro Islamic Liberation Front sa Mindanao.

Hindi makaporma ng husto ang MILF sa atake ng militar dahil ang buwan ng Ramadan ay ang pinaka-banal sa Islam. Sa tuwing Ramadan ay nagaayuno o nagpa-fasting ang mga Muslim at tanging pagdarasal ang ginagawa ng karamihan.

Ngunit magtatapos na ang Ramadan sa Oktubre 1 at dama na ang tindi ng galit ng MILF dahil dumadalas na ang atake nito sa mga puwersa ng pamahalaan. Halos hindi makaganti ang MILF sa atake sa kanila dahil sa Ramadan.

Ngunit sa mga nakalipas na araw ay marami ng atakeng inilunsad ang rebeldeng grupo at sa mga nakalipas na araw ay tinira ng MILF ang ilang puwesto ng militar sa Maguindanao at North Cotabato.

Inaasahang magkakaroon ng malaking labanan matapos ang Ramadan. Ito rin ang sinabi ng MILF nuong nakaraang linggo at nagbantang maglulunsad ng opensiba kungn hindi titigil ng atake ang pamahalaang Arroyo.

Iginiit ng militar na target nito ang mga rebeldeng nasa likod ng atake nuong nakaraang buwan sa North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, Sarangani, Maguindanao at iba pang lugar sa central Mindanao.

Nais ng pamahalaan na madakip o mapatay sina MILF commander Ameril Kato, Abdurahman Macapaar at Sulayman Panglian na siyang nasa likod ng atake na ikinamatay ng maraming sibilyan.

Sinuspinde ni Pangulong Gloria Arroyo ang peace talks at binuwag na rin nito ang government team na nakikipagusap sa rebeldeng grupo matapos na magmatigas ang MILF na huwag isuko ang tatlong commanders at iba pang sabit sa madugong raid.

Sinabi ng MILF na ang pagkakabasura sa ancestral domain na inisyal na nilagdaan ng mga peace panels nuong July ang siyang dahilan ng gulo sa Mindanao. Hindi na rin makikipagusap ang MILF sa pamahalaang Arroyo dahil sa naunsyameng ancestral domain deal. (Mindanao Examiner)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Help Protect Our Sea, Philippine Coast Guard Appeals

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 27, 2008) – The Philippine Coast Guard on Saturday appealed to citizens to protect the marine environment and urged them to help in then government’s campaign in cleaning up the country’s coastlines.

It said pollution is threatening the marine environment and could spell destruction to the coral beds and animals and plants in the sea.

Senior Officer Maximo Esperon said pollution is also threatening the livelihood of small fishermen and seaweed farmers. He said trash and other garbage littered across the sea coasts and on coral beds, aside from oil spill from water vessels.

“Time will come when ordinary fishermen could no longer catch fish in the coastal areas if these malpractices would not be corrected or stopped,” Esperon said."We appeal to citizens to help protect our sea."

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources is also alarmed by the pollution at sea and largely blamed chemical and oil spills from ships and oil tankers.

Volunteers and divers in Zamboanga City and Lamitan City in Basilan province have recently banded together and launched separate campaigns to clean the sea. (Erico Rosco)

OIC Secretary-General Gives Eid Al Fitr Message

The Message of the OIC Secretary General Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu on the occasion of the End of holy month of Ramadan and auspicious event of advent of Eid Al Fitr.

In these blessed days, the Muslim world is living through the last week of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and prayer, and preparing itself to celebrate Eid Al Fitr, which is an occasion of joy and a time to give thanks to God Almighty who helped us fast and worship him.

In these holy days, I wish to express to the Muslim Ummah my sincere congratulations on the occasion of the Eid Al Fitr, praying to God that the coming month will bring us good tidings for a better future, progress and prosperity and usher in a new era when all difficulties and conflicts will come to an end through dialogue and peaceful means.

I also pray to God Almighty to grant us his guidance to reunite our ranks, strengthen our solidarity towards a prosperous and peaceful world, and enable us to safeguard the tenets of our faith from harm and evil.

The month of Ramadan is the month of peace, serenity and security, a month when Muslims particularly make sure to refrain from all forms of wrong-doing as ordained by the tenets and teachings of Islam.

Unfortunately in this holy month, heinous crimes were committed against innocents, leading to the loss of scores of human lives who were brutally murdered in a number of barbaric attacks including those in Islamabad and Sanaa, causing extensive damage and violating the serenity of the holy month and sanctity of human life.

Those two condemned senseless incidents, like previous terrorist attacks in various parts of the Muslim World, have been a source of tremendous amount of pain, grief, and distress. On this occasion our thoughts and prayers go to the departed souls, the wounded ones, the grieving families.

The sanctity of human life is strongly stressed in Islam. Any violation of this assertion should be vehemently condemned. Committing these atrocious sins particularly during the holy month of Ramadan, should make our rejection and condemnation even stronger and more determined.

In light of these tragic events, we would like to reiterate the steady position of the OIC, in condemning terrorism in all its manifestations, including hideous and misguided suicide attacks, irrespective of their motivations or justifications.

OIC Summits and Ministerial Conferences condemned terrorism in the strongest possible terms. No effort should be spared to bring the perpetrators of these barbaric attacks to face justice. On this occasion we reaffirm and reiterate our unyielding determination to combat this scourge by all means in cooperation with the international community.

We call upon the Muslims, the world over, to unite their stand on this issue and help to put an end to this phenomenon which distorts the image of Islam as a religion of peace, compassion and tolerance.

May we all live in a peaceful, just, tolerant and prosperous world where sanctity of human live is respected and dignity and inalienable rights of human being are upheld.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Deranged Man Is Killed After Attacking Neighbors In South RP

COMPOSTELA VALLEY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 26, 2008) – Village policemen shot dead an old man, who allegedly went berserk and wounded one person in the southern Philippine town of Compostela.

At least seven policemen were involved in the killing of Pablo Cabilin, 67, on Thursday. They claimed that Cabilin was armed with a bolo and attacked one of them, Carlos Ilajas.

Cabilin also tried to attack other residents in the village which prompted the policemen, who were armed with shotguns, to open fire and eventually killing the man.

The victim’s family said Cabilin was suffering from a mental illness and that killing was unnecessary, adding, the village policemen could just have shot the man in the leg to immobilize him.

It was unknown whether the family would file criminal charges against the seven policemen or not. (Romy Bwaga)

Philippine Lawmakers Begin Probe Of US Military Presence In Mindanao

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 26, 2008) – Filipino lawmakers are to begin an inquiry into the role of US troops deployed in the southern Philippines, where security forces are battling Abu Sayyaf terrorists and other rebel groups in the troubled region.

The inquiry was called after several political groups and lawmakers claimed US soldiers are participating in combat operations in the restive region, which is prohibited under the Filipino Constitution.

The Joint Legislative on Oversight Committee on Visiting Forces Agreement has already created a fact-finding team to investigate the allegations.

The team, headed by Rep. Antonio Cuenco and Senator Rodolfo Biazon are expected to arrive in Zamboanga City on October 1 to start the probe. US forces maintain several small bases inside the Western Mindanao Command headquarters, the Philippine Navy base and the Philippine Air Force and Philippine Army bases in Zamboanga City.

Reps. Maria Isabelle Climaco and Erico Fabian have joined the growing calls for an investigation into the continued stay of US forces in Zamboanga City since 2002, when Manila and Washington agreed to hold a series of joint military exercise there.

Among those calling for the investigation were the militant groups Bayan Muna to which Rep. Satur Ocampo, a staunch anti-US advocate, belongs; the independent Citizens Peace Watch, Bantay-Ceasefire and several Muslim human rights groups.

Former Southern Philippines military chief, Edilberto Adan, now the Executive Director of the Presidential Commission on VFA, has repeatedly denied the involvement of US troops in any combat operations in Mindanao.

Political activists have accused Adan of siding with the US military and called for his resignation. It said the VFA Commission should be headed by a civilian, who is “respectable and neutral” and not by a former military general.

“Adan should resign because he had sided so many times with the US military, instead of searching for the truth. He acts like a lawyer for the US forces, instead of being a patriotic Filipino citizen,” said Alvin San Jose, an activist.

Philippine Marines Lt. Gen. Nelson Allaga, commander of the Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga City, said American troops are engaged in humanitarian missions and they are not allowed to participate in combat operations.

But aside from humanitarian missions, the US military said it is supporting the Philippines war on terror by providing the local military with intelligence information against the Abu Sayyaf and other rebel groups in Mindanao.

The US Embassy also said the American forces are assisting, advising and training Philippine units, and conduct series of humanitarian activities and soldiers are not supposed to engage in direct combat.

The Philippines Commission on Human Rights said it has reports of US participation in combat operations against the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces. (With reports from Erico Rosco and Juan Mantanggol)

Policemen Wounded In Clash With Rebels In Mindanao

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 26, 2008) – One Philippine policeman was wounded in a clash Friday with communist insurgents in Davao City in Mindanao Island, officials said.

Officials said police forces, backed by army soldiers, clashed with insurgents at around 1.10 p.m. in the village of Tamayong in Calinan district. They said villagers reported the presence of gunmen in the area.

Major Armando Rico, a regional army spokesman, said an undetermined number of insurgents were either killed or wounded in the fighting.

“They suffered heavy casualties,” Rico said, referring to the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines which broke off peace talks with Manila in 2004.

On Thursday, eight insurgents and three government soldiers were killed in fierce clashes that also left 14 infantrymen wounded in Lingig town in Surigao del Sur province, where troops captured a rebel base.

The rebels broke off peace talks with the Filipino government after they accused President Gloria Arroyo of reneging on a deal that would have freed hundreds of political detainees and a put a stop to extrajudicial killings of activists in the country. (Mindanao Examiner)

Philippine Soldiers Detonate Powerful IED In Basilan

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 26, 2008) – The Philippine military detonated Friday a powerful homemade bomb in Lamitan City in the southern province of Basilan, officials said Friday.

Officials said the bomb was left near a grocery store in downtown Lamitan and detonated by soldiers late Thursday. The blast was so powerful that it damaged the steel shutter of the store and wounded one person who was hit by shrapnel.

The explosion left a shallow crater more than a meter wide on the road where the improvised explosive, constructed with a cellular phone, was detonated.

Officials said the bomb was assembled from TNT and the cell phone as an initiator to set off explosion. Instead of the phone ringing, it sends the power to a blasting cap.
“Mayor Roderick Furigay has appealed to residents to stay calm and vigilant,” his executive assistant, Nick Castro, said.

Castro said the foiled bombing coincided with the celebration of the tourism week in Lamitan.
“It is sad to think that while we are working hard to promote tourism and bring peace in the land, there are bad people who will always try to destroy efforts like this, but despite the incident, our celebration will continue,” he said.

No group claimed responsibility for the foiled attack, but Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are active in Basilan and have been implicated in the spate of terrorism and kidnappings on the province.

The Abu Sayyaf is still holding two aid workers, Esperancita Hupida and Millet Mendoza, they kidnapped Sept. 15 in Tipo-Tipo town. Hupida is the program director of the Nagdilaab Foundation, while Mendoza is a humanitarian worker. The gang demanded as much as P15 million ransoms for the victims’ safe release. (Mindanao Examiner)

In The Philippines, Son Finally Finds Father After 26 Years

(Ed. This email really came at a surprise and we are happy that Rodrigo finally found his long lost father. We are happy for Rodrigo. Below is the message we received today and we are re-posting Rodrigo's letter that led to all these events.)

New comment on your post #595 "Son Is Searching For His Father, Rodrigo Navarro Rapatan"
Author : Marechu Pelicano
(IP: 71.228.84.132, c-71-228-84-132.hsd1.fl.comcast.net)
E-mail : marechupelicano@yahoo.com.ph
URL : http://www.julitaleyteblogspot.com/
Whois : http://ws.arin.net/cgi-bin/whois.pl?queryinput=71.228.84.132


Wow! Di po ako makapaniwala, dahil dito ay natagpuan na ni Rodrigo Pelicano ang kanyang ama na simulat-sapul na magkaisip siya ay kanya ng hihanaphanap.

Maraming paraan ang ginawa niya, matagpuan lamang niya ang kanyang ama, ngunit maraming beses din siyang nabigo.

Ngayon araw na ito ay nakatakdang magkausap ang mag-ama sa unang pagkakataon, 26 years muna ang nagdaang panahon, bago mangyari and inaasam- asam ni Eric o Rodrigo, Jr pa naman siya sa kanyang ama.

In behalf of my nephew, Rodrigo Pelicano, maraming salamat po The Mindanao Examiner, kayo po ang naging daan sa nakatakdang paguusap at pag kilala ng mag-ama. Mangyari po kahapon lamang nangyari ito, at yong kapatid pala ni Rodrigo ang nakahanap nitong panawagan niya, sa kanyang ama!

Lubos na nag papasalamat,

Marie


You can see all comments on this post here:http://zamboangajournal.wordpress.com/2006/08/22/son-is-searching-for-his-father-rodrigo-navarro-rapatan/#comments


Son Is Searching For His Father, Rodrigo Navarro Rapatan

August 22, 2006 at In Uncategorized

Dear Sir/Ma’am:

Good day to you! Ako po si Rodrigo M. Pelicano, taga Leyte. Ako po ay 24 taong gulang na. Nakita ko po ang address ninyo sa Internet. Alam ko pong hindi ito akma sa topic ng inyong column pero nagbabakasakali pa rin po ako na inyo po akong pagbibigyan.

Sumulat po ako sa inyo sa pagbabakasakaling kayo ang magiging daan kung paano ko mahahanap ang aking ama na nasa Mindanao, partikular po sa Cagayan de Oro City. Sa kasamaang palad hindi ko po batid kung saan siya eksaktong nakatira sa Cagayan.

Ilalahad ko po kung ano ang kwento sa likod ng aking pangalan. Ako po si Rodrigo at matagal ko nang hinahanap aking ama, mangyari pong naanakan lang po ang aking ina noong 1982 ng aking ama sa Cagayan nung nakapagtrabaho ang aking ina doon.

Noong pong nagkahiwalay sila ay hindi alam ng aking ama na nagsilang ang aking ina ng isang sanggol at ako po yon.

Ma’m/Sir, sana ay matulungan po ninyo ako sa aking problema. Ang tagal-tagal ko na pong hinahanap sa aking ama, subalit hindi ko alam kung saan ang tamang lugar o paraan o taong makakatulong sa akin.

Ang pangalan po ng aking ama ay RODRIGO NAVARRO RAPATAN. Umaasa po akong makikita ko pa siya. Mula ng ako ay isilang hindi ko pa po siya nakikita. Sana po maintindihan niyo po ang aking nararamdaman.

Wala po akong ibang hangad kundi ang makita at makilala siya. Kung sakaling may nakakakilala po sa aking ama ay maari po akong matawagan sa 0920-211-8971.
Maraming salamat po!Pakipanawagan naman po. I believe this is the best way in searching my father.


Thank you very much!

Gumagalang,


Rodrigo Pelicano

http://www.topix.net/forum/ph/zamboanga/T6GL2D3ITE3DR2OQ6

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ex-Gov't Officials Vow To Oppose Arroyo Extension

"Moves For Term Extension Will Not Die: Filipino Citizens Should Prepare For Action".

We, the organizations and individuals who have signed this statement, are citizens of this Republic alarmed by current political developments. We note that in spite of various protestations by political leaders from the administration and the opposition, the talk of a brazen attempt to extend the term of Mrs. Arroyo simply will not die.

Charter change to be initiated in Congress through a constituent assembly has seemingly been stopped in its tracks by the vocal opposition of many members of the Senate, whose two-thirds approval would logically seem necessary to convene a constituent assembly.

Yet the House of Representatives, through the Speaker, and the Chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, has announced that it will be holding “public consultations” to elicit public opinion on charter change, whether for federalism, shift to a parliamentary system or such other excuse/justification as may later dawn on the proponents.

Some legislators have been vocal in pushing their interpretation that “the Constitution requires only a two thirds vote of its members to propose amendments to the Constitution,” an interpretation that would make the Senators’ votes almost irrelevant in the process.

The current administration has swung violently on the matter of the conflict in Mindanao from rushing to sign the MOA on Ancestral Domain with the MILF to the abrupt cancellation of the peace talks, the dissolution of the peace panel and the attempt of Mrs. Arroyo to disown knowledge of the agreement; and now a relentless armed confrontation that is seemingly designed to goad the MILF and other groups into a combative reaction or a series of violent actions.

The inevitable armed confrontations and deaths that will follow could be a ready-made platform to suspend the writ of habeas corpus or, heaven forbid, even the declaration of Martial Law. The Constitution requires only a vote of a majority of the members of Congress, voting jointly, to approve and extend Martial Law.

We declare our commitment to a just and sustainable peace in Mindanao. We will initiate and support all possible actions that will bring about an inclusive process to begin with ceasefire and return to the peace table.

We declare our united opposition (1) to any moves that exploit the Mindanao situation to extend Mrs. Arroyo’s stay in power, (2) to any attempt to amend the Constitution before 2010, (3) to any attempt to change the Constitution through a Constituent Assembly, and (4) to any step towards declaring Martial Law.

We call on all Filipinos to be vigilant, to inform themselves, to organize with like-minded fellow citizens, and to prepare to show our leaders and officials the true power of our democracy.

Signed by: Former Senior Government Officials (FSGO)
www.fsgo.org.ph

College Editors Mourn Death Of Press Freedom Fighter

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines, in behalf of its National Office, regional formations and chapters, all member publications and affiliate organizations nationwide and across the globe, expresses its most heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Rachelle Mae Palang (1986-2008).

Rachelle, or Mae-Mae to her closest friends and colleagues, was beloved to the Guild for her bubbly, tongue-in-cheek demeanor. She graced the Guild's gatherings with her easy banter and infectious smile, but was always brisk and business-like in her leadership.

She has served as a valuable pillar and driving force in all of the conventions and gatherings she has attended and helped organize. To most Guilders, she was not only a colleague but a precious friend and confidante.

Shock for her untimely demise are evident in her Friendster and Multiply accounts, riddled with comments ranging from disbelief, grief, and even anger – all directed at her, as if to attest that even at the time of her death her friends and colleagues still go to her for conciliation.
Such was Mae-Mae's legacy and brand of leadership. She has always been easy to approach, a rational adviser and generous in her time and efforts.

Mae-Mae was also an outstanding student at the Velez College in Cebu City where she took up and finished her nursing degree. She became editor-in-chief of Vital Signs, the official campus publication. As campus journalist and student leader, she exemplified deep commitment to uphold press freedom, freedom of speech and students' democratic rights and welfare. She is respected by her fellow campus journalists nationwide for her wit, intelligence and sharp grasp of issues.

She was elected as Vice President for the Visayas during CEGP's 67th National Student Press Convention and 33rd Biennial Student Press Congress held in Albay, Bicol in 2005. She served her term for three consecutive years before she finally relinquished her post May of this year. The CEGP will without end be honored and grateful to have had someone as dedicated as Mae-Mae as one of its leading officers.

Mae-Mae worked hard to help re-open closed campus publications, establish student papers in universities who had none, and expose and fight campus press freedom violations as well as other forms of campus repression nationwide. She led, organized and participated in countless poetry readings, cultural nights, Writers' Trips, journalist skills workshops and protest actions and activities.

Even after her stint as VP for the Visayas, she proved instrumental in gathering and collating cases of campus press freedom violations in the region for CEGP's quarterly digest.

Mae-Mae had to cut short her attendance in CEGPs' 68th National Student Press Convention and 34th Biennial Student Press Congress in Davao City for her scheduled nursing licensure exams in May 2008. She passed with flying colors and eventually became a registered nurse.

Even before she left, she announced to the Guild her desire to pursue an alternative medical career, one that she would devote to the less-privileged. Mae-Mae also took and passed the National Medical Admission Test. She dreamt of becoming a doctor.

It therefore did not come as a surprise to the Guild to learn that upon achieving her nursing license Mae-Mae immediately volunteered for a three-month medical mission to the hinterlands of Negros. Mae-Mae barely finished her volunteer work in Negros when her dreams died with her.

Mae-Mae was killed by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on September 18, 2008 in an alleged encounter with New People's Army rebels. Her face was barely recognizable; she was shot at point-blank range. Her feet and legs were black and bruised, signs of torture evident elsewhere in her beaten body.

Mae-Mae's untimely demise reminds the Guild all too painfully of the same fate that another CEGP alumna suffered under the hands of the AFP.

In April 2002, Benjaline 'Beng' Hernandez, former CEGP Vice-President for Mindanao and a human rights volunteer, was murdered by the military while conducting a fact-finding mission in Cotabato province.

Investigations revealed that the AFP, after wounding Beng, raped and shot her at close range. The AFP later on insisted that Beng was an NPA rebel.Beng, like Mae-Mae, was also only 22 years old when she died.

The CEGP condemns in strongest terms accusations and insinuations by the AFP that Mae-Mae was armed and a combatant. She was in Negros in her capacity as a registered nurse and circumstances surrounding her brutal killing should be independently investigated.

The CEGP, in this regard, welcomes initiatives by the Commission on Human Rights Regional Office to conduct an investigation on Mae-Mae's case.

The CEGP is also reviled at the AFP's gall to celebrate Mae-Mae's death by bestowing incentives and acclaim to her killers. It is an awful and terrible reminder of the state and characteristic of our security forces. They who are supposed to protect civilians are the main enemies of human rights defenders and social workers.

The CEGP also condemns in strongest terms the AFP's malicious attempts to malign the Guild's name through red-tagging and nasty insinuations. It is precisely this kind of twisted mentality that gives license to the military to repress, harass, silence and kill with impunity. Journalists are easily treated and branded as rebels simply because they are exposed to the ills of society.

The CEGP calls on all its member publications and fellow journalist organizations nationwide and abroad to collectively wield their pens and raise their voices to denounce Mae-Mae's killers.

The CEGP regards the likes of Beng and Mae-Mae as heroes of the present generation, young martyrs who have chosen to exchange their lives of comfort for their noble convictions.

Grand Pa WHo Had Sex With Young Girl Dies From Heart Attack

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 25, 2008) – A grand father, who had sex with a young woman, suffered a heart attack and died later at a hospital in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines, reports said Thursday.

Reports said doctors failed to save Manolo Pescadero, 70, after he was rushed to the hospital late Wednesday. It said the septuagenarian had a heart attack while having sex with the woman at a motel.

The woman said Pescadero was her “text mate.” (Mindanao Examiner)

Pneumonia Kills 11 In Zamboanga City

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 25, 2008) – At least 11 children had died from pneumonia in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines, and health officials say the number of cases of the deadly disease is alarmingly increasing.

“Eleven children are confirmed to have died due to pneumonia and there is a steady increase in pneumonia cases here since last month. This is already alarming,” Eufran Dagalea, Zamboanga City Epidemiology Surveillance Unit nurse, told the Mindanao Examiner.

He said the deaths were recorded last week and health workers have been monitoring cases of pneumonia in hospitals. He said hundreds of pneumonia cases were recorded since early this year.

“There is a sharp increase in pneumonia cases compared to last year and this could be attributed to several factors, including sanitary conditions in areas where the patients come from, poor hygiene and even the weather,” Dagalea said.

He said two representatives from the National Epidemiology Center in Manila have arrived here Tuesday to help local health authorities in monitoring pneumonia cases, especially in children.

Dr Ricardo Angeles, chief of the Zamboanga City Epidemiology Surveillance Unit, has confirmed that eleven children had died from the deadly disease. He said health officials are monitoring the situation here, although there is still no declaration of outbreak of pneumonia.

Cases of pneumonia in children have increased sharply from an average of 160 a month in 2007 to more than 400 each month this year. Although the exact numbers of previous deaths were not readily available for comparison, health officials urged parents to immunize their children and shield them from the deadly disease.

Pneumonia is an infection of the lung, and can be caused by nearly any class of organism known to cause human infections. These include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.

It is also the most common fatal infection acquired by already hospitalized patients. In developing countries, pneumonia ties with diarrhea as the most common cause of death.

Dr Rodelyn Agbulos, chief of the Zamboanga City Health Office, said the increasing numbers of pneumonia cases, many in infants, was noted since July.
“We advice the public to take good care of their health and to practice good personal hygiene, parents must allow their children to be immunized in health centers, and to maintain a good and balanced nutrition and exercise regularly to enhance the immune system,” Agbulos said.

Antibiotics are usually given since most pneumonia cases are associated with bacterial infection. It is also important that the proper antibiotic is taken at the correct dosage, time and duration. Inability to do so may lead to resistant organisms that are more difficult to treat.

Agbulos said health workers have intensified their campaign in different villages to educate parents about the importance of immunizations and proper children’s health care. (Erico Rosco)

Permanent Presence, Combat Involvement Of US Troops Undermine RP Sovereignty: Bayan

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Paper Submitted September 25, 2008 To The Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement by Renato M. Reyes, Jr., BAYAN Secretary General.

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan has from the onset been opposed to the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement because it violates the Philippines’ sovereignty and justifies the prolonged presence of foreign troops on Philippine soil despite the absence of any basing treaty.

The VFA, as it is implemented today, practically reverses many of the victories in the struggle to remove foreign bases from the Philippines.

The VFA does not specify or limit the number of US troops allowed entry into the Philippines. The numbers can range from 10 to 1000 and beyond.

The VFA does not specify or limit the areas in the Philippines that the “visiting” troops can access. With the broadness of the agreement, US troops can access military camps, civilian facilities and even areas of actual armed conflict such as Sulu or Basilan.

The VFA does not specify or limit the duration of the stay of the “visiting” US forces. It is so broad and vague that it allows the continuing, even if rotational, presence of US troops in the Philippines.

The VFA does not specify or limit the activities being undertaken by the “visiting” US forces. The VFA does not explicitly prohibit activities that violate the constitution, such as direct combat involvement of US forces. Neither does the VFA set a limit on the number of activities, including joint exercises and other “approved” activities, that could take place within a year.

The VFA is simply too broad and too vague when it comes to the treatment of “visiting” US forces such that it can mean the US can deploy an unlimited number of troops, for an unspecified duration, anywhere in the Philippines, for a broad range of activities, that may not be limited to “exercises”.

Since the “visiting” US troops are not required to present visas like any other visiting foreigner, there is really no way of telling how long they stay, when they leave and when they return.
Permanent presence

One case that the Philippine Senate can look into is that of the presence of the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines based in Zamboanga. This unit of the US Special Forces under the Pacific Command had its origins as part of the Joint Task Force 510 of the US Special Operations Command Pacific during the Balikatan 02-1.

When the JTF 510’s mission ended in July 2002, it transitioned to the JSOTF-Philippines. It currently maintains its headquarters inside Camp Navarro of the WESTMINCOM of the AFP in Zamboanga. This unit of the US Special Forces has remained in Mindanao since 2002.

It is our view that the JSOTF-Philippines based in Zamboanga fits the description of what the US military calls a Forward Operating Site. The JSOTF-P headquarters inside Camp Navarro acts as a Forward Operating Site that has a small permanent presence and can support sustained operations. This facility can host a rotational force and pre-positioned equipment. The FOS is often associated with bilateral and regional training exercises and activities.

The JSOTF-P occupies a facility that was described by a Mindanao-based human rights group as being “sealed by walls, concertina wire, and sandbags. The actual size of the area could not immediately be seen from the outside. Their communication facilities (satellite dishes, antenna, and other instruments) are visible.”

That the JSOTF-P hosts a rotational force is confirmed by no less than Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita who recently said that the US troops are NOT overstaying, and that they simply come and go, one batch leaves when another batch enters.

While the AFP and other government officials, and even the US embassy, will argue that the US forces are not setting up permanent bases in Zamboanga, we believe this is no longer the critical point. The US, based on its own defense posture review, does not intend to put up the traditional bases akin to Subic and Clark. The thrust is to have as many Cooperative Security Locations and Forward Operating Sites which are more flexible, cheaper to maintain, concealed and thereby less prone to controversy and protest.

While the Arroyo government can argue that the structures are “temporary”, we can also argue that these structures have been “permanently occupied” since 2002. The presence of the US troops, even if on a rotational basis, has become permanent. The structures in Camp Navarro have been ‘permanently occupied’ by the US forces, 365 days a year for almost six years now.

There are several “exercises” and activities between US and RP forces throughout the year, all of which are said to be approved by the Mutual Defense Board. However, there have been many conflicting statements from the AFP and other government officials on whether or not the present batch of US forces in Mindanao are covered by any joint exercise.

Again, the VFA does not provide the Philippine government with a means to ascertain the length of stay of these troops and the activities they are associated with.

The JSOTF-P Headquarters in Zamboanga is also made possible by the RP-US Mutual Logistics Support Agreement, a pact that compliments the VFA by providing logistical support for the “visiting” US troops. The MLSA was signed as a 5-year executive agreement in 2002 and was recently renewed in November 2007.

The reasons for the renewal, and the review process that should have preceded it, were not made public by the Department of National Defense, AFP or Department of Foreign Affairs. It is not known if other branches of government were consulted in extending the MLSA.

The AFP should disclose the terms under which the JSOTF-P headquarters in Camp Navarro operates.

1. Is the JSOTF-P covered by the MLSA? What are the terms and conditions for the operations of these US-occupied facilities? Are there existing records and documents covering the past six years? How are Philippine laws even applicable to these US military facilities?

2. Who pays for the costs of hosting the foreign troops in Camp Navarro? What are the terms of payment? Up to what extent is the Philippine government obliged to support the stay of the US troops?

3. Does the AFP exercise authority over the JSOTF-P headquarters? In what way?
4. What is the area covered by the headquarters? Are the headquarters ever vacant? If so, are they ever dismantled?

5. Aside from living quarters, what other facilities are the US being allowed to set up inside the JSOTF-P headquarters? Does this include communication facilities, surveillance and spy facilities, and others of similar nature? Given the prolonged presence of US troops in Mindanao, does this not already go beyond what is contemplated into VFA and MLSA.

It is also relevant to ask why the MLSA was renewed without even informing the public, maybe even the Senate, as to the evaluation of its implementation from 2002-07. What were the circumstances and arguments used to justify the extension? Or was the extension a done deal motivated by the need to provide a legal framework for the ‘permanently occupied’ facilities by the overstaying US troops in Mindanao.

We ask these questions in the face of reports that the JSOTF headquarters have acquired a function that is already against the Constitution. The prolonged presence of the US troops and the structures that they have occupied show the flaws in the VFA and the MLSA. The US forces are taking advantage of the grey areas in these agreements to violate Philippine sovereignty.

Combat involvement

Bayan takes note of the high probability as well as existing accounts that the US forces are engaged in combat operations.

The United States Institute for Peace, a US government funded institution, describes the role of the US forces deployed in Mindanao in its February 2008 report. The deployment of US forces in Mindanao was not for humanitarian missions or civic actions, but for specific military objectives.

“In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States grew particularly concerned that Mindanao could become a training ground and sanctuary for international terrorists. This concern led to expanded U.S. military assistance to the Philippine government and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

U.S. military assets were deployed in the southern Philippines to assist efforts to pursue groups designated as international terrorists, including members of the Indonesian Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and the local Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).”

The description of the role of the US forces was not limited to merely “training” Filipino troops. The term used in the report was “assistance” which could also mean directly participating in tactical operations and missions in differing capacities.

The report further stated that “American targets also included so-called MILF lost commands, who were linked to terrorism. American Special Forces under the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) established expanded counterterrorism operations, providing the AFP with intelligence, training, and weaponry. The objective was to assist the AFP in its efforts to reform, modernize, and enhance its ability to fight terrorist groups.”

The USIP also noted that “U.S. policy instruments in Mindanao include diplomacy, conditionality of U.S. economic and military assistance programs, and more punitive measures on the counterterrorism front.”

What does the US mean by employing “punitive measures” against terrorists? Why are US forces allowed military “targets”? Are such actions even covered by the VFA, the Mutual Defense Treaty or even the newly-conceived Security Engagement Board which is said to also operate under the mandate of the VFA?

Because of the US forces’ proximity to the armed conflict, this makes them more likely to engage in actual combat than if they were in other parts of the country.

Balikatan 02-1 was the turning point in the transition from “exercises” to direct combat role for the US forces. The Balikatan at the time was held in Basilan, with the expressed military objective of assisting and training the AFP in the efforts against the Abu Sayyaf (Balikatan 02-1 TOR).

The Balikatan 02-1 Terms of Reference was drafted to assuage fears that the US would engage in actual combat in Mindanao. However, subsequent events showed the opposite.

In 2002, the International Solidarity Mission reported the shooting of Buyong-buyong Isnijal, a civilian suspected of being an ASG member, by US troops on combat patrol in Basilan. The US and Philippine authorities of course denied that US soldiers were part of the team that shot Isnijal inside his house.

In February 4, 2008, US forces were said to be embedded in an AFP unit that conducted a military operation in Maimbung, Sulu that resulted in the deaths of seven civilians. This included two children, two teenagers, a pregnant woman and an off-duty soldier.

It is not clear if the Balikatan 02-1 terms of reference were used in succeeding military exercises after 2002 or if there are any “terms of reference” being employed in the current activities of the US forces in Mindanao. As far as we know, the 2002 TOR was only for the duration of the 02-1 activity.

Intelligence gathering as a combat role

The AFP has admitted that the US troops are engaged in intelligence work, especially against military targets such as the Abu Sayyaf, so-called terrorist groups and the so-called “rogue” MILF units.

The National Union of Peoples Lawyers has described the “intelligence gathering” operations of the US forces as being part and essential to actual combat operations. “They(US troops) are part of the hostilities because they provide intelligence and support to the AFP against the MILF. Since US troops are involved in intelligence gathering, they are therefore part of the combat operations, and the claim that they are not involved in combat operations is not only misleading but is an outright lie,” says the NUPL.

It is noteworthy to ask what parameters are observed in allowing foreign troops to conduct actual surveillance and intelligence operations on the local populace. The power to spy on the people can easily be abused, especially since existing agreements are silent on this aspect of US military involvement. If we are against the notion that we’re being spied upon by the local authorities, then all the more should we oppose the notion that foreign troops are given a free pass to conduct intelligence operations against Filipinos.

The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) by US forces has been well-documented in Mindanao. In February 2006, the Mindanao Examiner reported that a UAV crashed in Jolo. In March 2002, a Predator-type drone crashed in the sea off Zamboanga City. In November 2005, an unmanned spy plane reportedly crashed in Mount Tumatangis in Jolo.

The same news report said that “the US military has a fleet of various unmanned spy planes, from a palm-size remote-controlled aircraft, to bigger and sophisticated high-altitude; long-range remotely piloted vehicles designed for long-endurance photographic reconnaissance and electronic surveillance missions, and as attack aircrafts.”

The AFP tried to explain the presence of the spy planes. “There is nothing to fear about the US drone. It is being used to survey areas where humanitarian activities will be jointly undertaken by US and Philippine troops,” Maj. Gamal Hayudini, a spokesman for the Southern Command, told the Zamboanga Journal. This is obviously a big lie and a cover up.

We thus ask the following questions: Who really controls the surveillance equipment? Who authorizes its use? Who are the targets? Does the use of UAV’s controlled by US forces violate our sovereignty, even if such actions are done with the complicity of the AFP?

We also raise the alarm on the use of these UAV’s because it is well known that these drones are not just limited to spying. They can also be used as offensive weapons, as in the case of US forces in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. Who will then prevent the US forces from training their UAV’s on local targets?

The US has heretofore established a stable presence in Mindanao. What other surveillance and intelligence equipment are being utilized by the US forces in Mindanao? Are there similar intel and surveillance facilities present in the JSOTF-P headquarters? Who authorizes their use? Under what terms? Is the US already operating “listening posts” in these facilities, with or without the knowledge of the AFP?

“Humanitarian missions”

The term “humanitarian mission” and “civic actions” have become the standard response of both the AFP and the US embassy every time US forces figure in incidents that are not covered by the VFA, such as operating spy planes, or being part of an AFP military convoy that was ambushed by rebels.

What really are these “humanitarian missions”? What is their role relative to the US forces presence in the country?

These civic activities are all part of the “communications strategy” being employed by the US to justify their continued presence in the country. This much is admitted by their own documents, such as ANNEX A, Strategic Communication, USPACOM Pacific Joint Training Strategy.
Such activities are undertaken “to educate elected officials, opinion leaders and the public on the importance of military training; build public trust and support of training activities; portray the cost of readiness and potential impact of not being ready…and highlight the military as good stewards of the environment.”

The document further states that “Military participation in school activities (reading weeks, career fairs, etc) is a highly effective community relations tool at the “grass roots” level.”
Humanitarian missions are not the main activities of US Special Forces in Mindanao. They are merely part of a “communications strategy” that is subsumed to strategic US military thrusts.

In the US Pacific Command Joint Training Strategy 2007, the umbrella plan for activities such as the Balikatan, it stated that “the overarching goal of the Pacific Joint Training Strategy is to ensure U.S. forces are ready to respond promptly and effectively to any and all contingencies that may confront our nation.”

It would perhaps be naïve to think that the US Special Forces certainly came to the Philippines to play doctor and dentist. They have clear strategic military objectives along the lines of securing US political and military interests.

Observations

It has been 9 years since the VFA came into effect. During this period, especially from 2002 to the present, various questionable activities involving American troops have taken place. It has become difficult to call attention to these so-called “illegal” activities because the VFA itself is full of loop-holes and vague provisions.

There is also the observation that the AFP has taken on the role of interpreting foreign policy and the application of relevant treaties and agreements.

For the above reasons, we urge the Senate to terminate the RP-US VFA. In the short term, we ask the Legislative Oversight Committee on the VFA to direct the DND and AFP to cause the immediate pull-out of American troops in Mindanao and the dismantling of all their existing facilities. We urge the LOCVFA to compel the DND and AFP to make public all terms of reference on US military activities and facilities in Mindanao.

Photo: In Grave Danger


An unidentified motorcycle driver puts the life of this child in grave danger as she barely holds the man's shirt to prevent her from falling as they pass through a traffic Thursday, September 25, 2008 in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

Photo: John Shinn III and Selma Blair


SEPTEMBER 23, 2008: Selma Blair films 'Kath & Kim' at the Burbank Media Center Mall. On this Tuesday, a group of photographers found themselves working on the set of the new TV show "Kath & Kim" starring the gorgeousSelma Blair.

The film set was inside the Burbank Media Center Mall in Burbank, Calif. Jack Carter of Tigerpixx took this photo as I was taking Selma's picture when she exited the mall to go to her trailer after shooting a scene. As usual security on the set and inside the mall was very tight.

The photographers had to constantly move around to avoid detection. Early on I was caught by mall security taking pictures of Selma and her co-star Molly inside the mall and was asked to leave.

I pretended to leave and found a good spot inside Macy's with a group of photographers to continue taking pictures. Overall, Selma was very accommodating: smiled at the cameras and even waving at us a few times as we prayed that she would not blow our cover in our hiding spot inside Macy's. (Mindanao Examiner: John Shinn III, a proud Zamboangaueno, is the owner of the PaparazziNotebook.com and publisher of the LAZamboangaTimes.com.)

Speech of President Gloria Arroyo during the 63rd United Nations General Assembly


President Gloria Arroyo addresses the United Nations General Assembly. (Photo by Rey Baniquet)

Speech of President Gloria Arroyo during the 63rd United Nations General Assembly, UN Headquarters New York City, USA, September 23, 2008.

Senior Don Miguel d’ Escoto Brockmann, His Excellency, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, friends.

The developing world is at a tipping point. In the Philippines, we feel the pain of high prices of food, fuel and rice. Our people pursue the universal dream of a better life for themselves and their children: better education, better healthcare, higher wages, a dignified retirement.

We are proving the value of a new paradigm for self-reliance through the use of: first, a targeted strategy with a precise set of prescriptions to ease our price challenges; second, food self-sufficiency and more energy independence; and third, long-term reforms. This is a positive example we wish to share with the rest of the world.

Our gains in the last seven years were hard-earned. We made tough and sometimes painful decisions to reset our economy – tax increases, banking reforms, crackdown on smugglers, and tough fiscal discipline, to name a few.

Thankfully, these reforms have given us some running room to weather the first wave of global price shocks that reverberated across the world earlier this year.

It hasn’t been easy but Filipinos are tough and resilient. We have pulled together. We have been able to draw on additional revenues to provide targeted investments in food and fuel to keep our poor afloat until a better day.

But we are also realistic that we cannot do it alone. We need a strong UN as never before. We need rigorous international cooperation as never before.Economic uncertainty has moved like a tsunami around the globe, wiping away gains, erasing progress, not just here in Manhattan Island, but also in the many islands of the Philippines.

Just when we thought the worst had passed, the light at the end of the tunnel became an oncoming train hurtling forward with new shocks to the global financial system. The setbacks from these global shocks of the past year, and the past weeks, are real and profound. It will take time and perseverance to put the pieces back together.

To address these global challenges, we must go on building bridges among allies around the globe, to bring rice to where it is needed to feed the people; investments to create jobs, and keep the peace and stability in the world.

It is therefore timely that our Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has organized this year’s agenda around the impact of the global economy on the poor. He deserves our highest praise for his quick and decisive action on the global food crisis. His comprehensive framework for action involving the UN, donor countries, civil society and the private sector seeks to achieve food security through the right combination of policies, technologies and investments. This is a model of the United Nations in action.

Since the volatile global economies became apparent in its situation many months ago, in the Philippines, we have increased and stabilized the supply of rice and delivered targeted subsidies to the poor. We have reached out to neighbors like Vietnam and others in ASEAN and elsewhere to ensure a stable supply and affordable prices. We have clamped down on price gouging, and invested more billions in planting and agricultural modernization.

We have increased our energy independence by 17 percent through greater use of geothermal, bio-fuel and other renewable sources. We expect to attain 60 percent energy independence in two years.

Biofuels have been cited for being a positive factor for clean energy. At the same time, they have also been cited as a negative factor that contributes to high food prices. We are pursuing a policy of using non-food biofuel sources planted on land unusable for food production purposes. We see this approach as a way for countries to seek a sustainable balance between food and energy needs.

For food self-sufficiency, our food baskets are North Luzon – in our largest island – and the southern island of Mindanao. Mindanao has fields of the highest productivity, yet also the majority of our poorest provinces. It is a sad irony that our food basket has some of the highest hunger in our nation. The prime reason is the endless Mindanao conflict.

Our archipelago of 7,000 islands has had its share of religious strife, ethnic tension and violence. For years, we have worked to achieve peace in Mindanao. Much progress was made, until violent elements within the Moro Islamic Liberation Front decided to take the law into their own hands. We will restart the dialogue when the area is secure, our people are safe, and responsible elements in the MILF regain control.

There is no alternative to peace. I stand before you today, to declare loud and clear that we are committed to the process of peace in Mindanao.We gratefully acknowledge here today the central role of so many friends and allies, like the UN, Brunei, Indonesia, Libya, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and others in the Organization of the Islamic Conference; Australia, New Zealand, the US and other bilateral ODA partners; the UE and Sweden, all have played a big role in advancing peace and development in Mindanao.

We will refocus the peace talks for one that is centered on dialogues with rebels, for one of authentic dialogues with the communities. The context of our engagement with all armed groups shall subscribe to the UN-recognized principle of demobilization, disarmament and reintegration.
We maintain high hopes in interfaith dialogue as a means to build bridges rather than barriers between communities of different cultures and ethnicity. In continuation of this effort, the Philippines will host the first-ever special Ministerial Meeting on Interfaith Dialogue for Cooperation and Development in May next year.

We will also cooperate with the Alliance of Civilizations. We are also pleased that our Secretary General will join us in Manila during the Second Global Forum on Migration and Development.

Our Overseas Filipino Workers are true global pioneers. There isn’t a ship abroad that doesn’t have a Filipino crew, or a nation without highly skilled Filipino workers. The movement of people for one country to another will surely increase as globalization continues to erase borders. This should be recognized as having implications on the growth and development of both sending and receiving countries.

Mr. President, in many troubled places of our world, the UN is the last great hope for peace and security. For this reason, the Philippines contributes one of the largest police contingents to UN Peacekeeping Operations.

Mr. President, your leadership is more vital than ever. The Philippines will fully support you as you lead our General Assembly for the coming year.In conclusion, Mr. President and friends, there are hundreds of millions of good people across this globe who are struggling as never before.

We must hear their cry for help. It is within the collective power of the leaders at this UN Assembly to fulfill the universal dream of better education, better health, food on the table and a dignified life.

Thank you.

Life on the Streets of Ermita Still Beats Life Back Home: Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project

Life in the streets of Ermita: Extreme poverty pushed it, but one says it could also be a matter of choice. (Photo by Arnel Gomez)
MANILA, Philippines (Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project / Sept. 25, 2008) - Mary Grace Pulido, 17, is from Ermita. She was born there, grew up there, and lives there. She even found her man there. Her life is on the street.

She and her family often move from one corner to another but Mary Grace has known no other home except the sidewalks of this tourist district of Manila, a stone’s throw from the US Embassy.

Her parents came to the Philippine capital in the 1980s from Baguio City, 240 kilometers north of Manila, with hopes of finding a better life. But like so many others before and after them, all they found instead were the realities of a harsh life and tried to survive in a city without work. Within days and with no money or prospects for returning home they ended up on the streets, begging, living and bringing up a family as best they could.

Their belongings comprise some folded cardboard they use as sleeping mats, pots, pans and plate for cooking, and some clothes. When the rains come, it is very easy to gather everything up together and run into a nearby church for shelter.

When they feel nature’s calling, they use a nearby public toilet costing PhP 10 (US cents 22) a visit. They also use the showers here while many other street families make do simply with the monsoon rains in the wet season and a hosepipe and soap in the dry months.

Perhaps because they always keep together and are always moving around, they have never been victims of violence nor recruited by criminal gangs.

Mary Grace claims she made it to Grade 3 in school, but was forced to quit because her parents could not afford to keep her in class.

“I earn PhP 50 to 100 a day,” (USD 1 to 2),” she told the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project. “On some days I get nothing save a handful of coins.”

Mary Grace wants a change in her life as she prepares to have her own family with her partner Chris Dela Cruz, 12 years her senior.

Chris is also a beggar, something that Mary Grace doesn’t want her children to become.
“I don’t want to have many children,” she says. “Maybe one or two will do, so they can all go to school.”

As she speaks, her eyes watch the children – half-naked and filthy -- playing in the street. Five of them are her sister’s children.

Foreign tourists

Mary Grace and her family are among the hundreds of street dwellers in Ermita, a district known for its pubs, clubs and restaurants frequented by foreign tourists who the police say unknowingly attracting the beggars to this part of the city.

Superintendent Rogelio Rosales, chief of Manila Police District Station 5, says many beggars choose Ermita because tourists would rather give a few pesos than be jostled or harassed.

It is a common tactic for beggars, particularly young children to crowd around a passing tourist in small groups, following him until he takes out some change. The police have received complaints from visitors who claim they have been surrounded and robbed by young gangs.

In response, the police have run operations to clear the streets, bringing the children and their families to government-run temporary shelters where social workers try and help them from returning back to the streets.

“But it seems though all our efforts are futile,” complains Rosales. “Within three days you see them again all back on the streets. It’s an endless cycle.”

Rosales adds that the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) needs to examine its programs and policies to see what is not working and why.

Responsible party

But the DSWD points to local government units (LGUs) which should give aid to street dwellers, calling these as the ‘first line of defense’ against homelessness. DSWD insists its role is simply to support LGU initiatives.

Ricardo De Guzman, chief of staff of Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, told the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project said the city has one shelter for child beggars and another for the aged beggars. These provide support on a long-term basis and address basic needs such as education for the children and health care for the elderly.

The problem however is that each shelter could only accommodate 200 persons. “Right now, all these shelters are full so we don’t really know where to put everybody else,” says De Guzman.

Alongside the two long-term shelters, the city provides temporary places where street families can stay, eat and rest free for up to a week only. Adults are provided livelihood trainings while those from the provinces are given tickets back home and a small allowance to help them start anew.

The city has set up a system to monitor the beggars as soon as they step out of the shelters. Unfortunately, some of those given assistance to go home have returned to the same streets where the police found them, says De Guzman.

Poverty

DSWD Undersecretary Alicia Bala says the proliferation of beggars is a basic issue of poverty. “These street dwellers go back to their province, try to start anew with their new skills, but there is no economic activity there so they come back to Manila.”

Bala says this is true not only for street dwellers in Ermita but for all those across Metro Manila. Other highly-urbanized areas around the country like Davao and Cebu have the same dilemma, she says.

The problem of delivering real and lasting change compelled groups such as Caritas Manila to redirect focus. Until 2004, the Catholic relief organization provided direct services to street dwellers all over Metro Manila.

But review of its program indicated that Caritas only reaped temporary and unsustainable results. It also faced difficulty in tracking and monitoring effects of its services due to the inherent mobility of street dwellers.

Caritas later decided to focus on specific social needs of the poorest families – housing and land tenure, justice, jobs and family, including health and education issues.

Not enough

The government’s Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) admits efforts of government and non-government agencies to provide services for those people and families living on the street “never seem to be enough.”

There are now about 350 of these agencies responding to an estimated 45,000 street children and their families nationwide, CWC says. Five per cent of the children are said to have suffered abuse or have engaged in illegal activities such as dealing drugs.

Services include health and nutrition, educational assistance, effective parenting sessions, livelihood and skills training, residential care, foster and adoption. CWC maintains that as long as there are not enough jobs being made available, children will continue to live on the street.

But De Guzman from the mayor’s office partly disagrees that poverty breeds begging and street dwelling. It could also be about choice, he adds.

“Sometimes, it’s not all about how much the government and other people have provided you, it’s also about how much you are willing to give to change your life.”

He recounts incidents where parents sit happily under a shade of tree to gamble or play cards while their children are out in the heat, begging. There are also a number of cases when parents are the ones pushing and teaching their kids to beg.

Just last week, the Manila City Council has passed a local law penalizing parents and guardians of children who were forced to beg or work in the streets.

“We never run out of options. All we need to do is think which one is better,” De Guzman says as he tries to tell parents to be responsible of their children’s welfare. (Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project / Claire Delfin, the author is a television news reporter of GMA Network, Inc. and a regular contributor of special reports on women, children, health, education, and the environment to the network's news and public affairs website, GMANews.TV.)