Thursday, January 31, 2008

Press Freedom In Philippines

A t-shirt and sticker print designed by the Mindanao Examiner Productions in support to press freedom in the Philippines. Please feel free to download and share. Mabuhay!

Villagers Band To Protect Mangrove Forest In South RP

Sarangani Vice-Governor Steve Chiongbian Solon (middle, wearing a cap) leads villagers in planting more than 3,200 mangrove seedlings in the Tinoto in Sarangani's Maasim town in southern Philippines. (Photo by Gandhi C. Kinjiyo)

SARANGANI, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 31, 2008) – Driven by common will to protect the marine resources of Sarangani bay, more than 3,200 mangrove seedlings were planted in the coastal village of Maasim here.
Some 600 residents, young and adults, including local government officials and other stakeholders, from the village of Tinoto concerted their efforts and resources to rehabilitate more than 88 hectares of mangrove forest, home to hundreds of species of marine animals.

“The activity is in line with the observance of the Coastal Awareness Month,” Rolando D. Tuballes, Municipal Environment and Resources Officer (MENRO) of Maasim said.

The Coastal Awareness Month is being held every January.

Tuballes said besides the villagers, the following organizations and also helped in the rehabilitation of the mangrove forests – the RD Foundation, Muslim Business Forum, ABS-CBN Gensan, Notre Dame of Dadiangas University Business Resource Center, and the offices of Governor and Vice-Governor of Sarangani, the Provincial Barangay Affairs Unit, the Local Government Unit of Maasim and the Barangay Council of Tinoto.

The MENRO, which spearheaded last week’s reforestation program, provided the seedlings from Maasim Municipal Mangrove Nursery. Tuballes said a forum on “Coastal Management and Protection” was also held in the compound of Datu Abdul Bale Elementary School in the village last week. It was followed by a medical mission.

“Mangroves serve as barrier against strong wind and current. It also prevents erosion of the coastal areas,” he told the forum attended by hundreds of villagers. “Mangrove forests serve as a breeding ground for bigger fishes and haven for smaller fishes and other marine organisms and we must protect this ground.”

He also warned the locals not to catch smaller fishes because it may break the “food chain” of marine ecosystem. “Smaller fishes are the food for bigger fishes,” he explained. “If we break the food chain in the marine ecosystem, time comes fisher folks would have nothing to catch.”

Karl Vincent Quiepo, executive director of RD Foundation, said they are committed to supporting other activities on environmental protection in the future.

Sarangani Board Member Anecito Lopez III looks said the mangrove rehabilitation in the village of Tinoto would be sustained and eventually other towns would also duplicate the reforestation and protect their mangrove areas.

Vice-Governor Steve Solon stressed the need to protect the mangroves. He added that the activity is an “intergenerational responsibility” that would benefit the people and give “hope to the succeeding generations.”
Tuballes said the locals were active in protecting their environment. “I am delighted by the positive response from our people. They thanked us for giving them awareness on the crucial role of mangrove in the economy and in ecology,” he said.
Last year, a similar activity was also held in the village by the Philippine Environmental Governance project of the United States Agency for International Development, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the local broadcasters' association and the local municipal government. (Gandhi C. Kinjiyo)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Blast Kills 3 In Southern Philippines

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 30, 2008) – Three people were killed and over a dozen other wounded when a motorcycle rigged to an explosive was detonated late Wednesday in the southern Philippines, police and military reports said.

At least 22 people were wounded in the blast outside a tuna canning factory in General Santos City, southwest of Davao. Authorities said the explosive was rigged to a parked motorcycle outside the Philbest Canning Corporation in the village of Tambler.

No individual or group claimed responsibility for the blast and police is still investigating the motive of the attack.

The 2.5-hectare cannery complex houses a power plant, a boiler area, a wastewater treatment facility, microbiology and chemical laboratories and a warehouse. It was not immediately known whether the attack targeted the cannery, which shipped canned tuna products to the United States, Japan and Europe.

General Santos City was previously bombed many times in the past by the Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels. (With a report from Mark Navales)

Negros Farmers Appeal To Arroyo

Negros farmers and their families hear mass Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at the San Diego Cathedral in Silay City. The farmers, who march around the provinces beginning Monday, have appealed to Philippine leader Gloria Arroyo to prolong Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. (Photos by VJ Villafranca)

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 30, 2008) - Peasant federation Task Force Mapalad (TFM) has called on President Gloria Arroyo to certify as urgent the bill that will extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) to compel Congress to stop delays and hasten its enactment.

Some 3,000 people, mostly farmers, marched on Wednesday for third straight day to dramatize their appeal for extension of the CARP law.

“President Arroyo should certify the bill as urgent. Some congressmen are making alibis to delay CARP extension. Some have proposed to hold a series of public hearings. All they wanted was to delay, so that when CARP expires in June, they can forget about the legislation,” TFM president Jose Rodito Angeles said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.

Farm workers and advocate groups, including representatives from the religious sector and civil groups and the youths from all over Negros island joined the 200-kilometer march to Bacolod City.

Farmers called on the three Negros solons, Representatives Monico Puentebella of Bacolod City, Jeffrey Ferrer of 4th District, and Ignacio Arroyo of 5th District to help in the passage of the bill. (Lani Factor and Heidi Fernandez)

Police Patrol Ambush In Zamboanga Town

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 30, 2008) – Suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels attacked Wednesday a Philippine police patrol, wounding four, on a farming village in the southern province of Zamboanga del Norte, officials said.

Officials said the attacked occurred before dawn near a village called Lakiki in Sibuco town, a known MILF stronghold west of Mindanao island. The attack on police forces sparked a running gun battle in the area.

Troops from the Army’s 44th Infantry Battalion on a nearby village were sent to pursue the attackers, but gunmen split into smaller groups and fled to the hinterlands.

“We received reports that several gunmen were wounded in the fighting and troops were sent to pursue the attackers,” Major Eugene Batara, a regional army spokesman, told the Mindanao Examiner.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the local police blamed the MILF for the ambush. The motive of the attack is still unknown, but rebels have previously assaulted security forces patrolling near their camps.

The MILF, which has been fighting the government for almost four decades for a separate Muslim homeland in Mindanao, is currently negotiating peace with Manila. (With a report from Ely Dumaboc)

5 Soldiers Killed In Southern RP Clash

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 30, 2008) – At least 5 soldiers were killed and six more wounded in fierce clashes Wednesday with communist insurgents in the southern Philippines, army commanders said.

The fighting broke out near the village of Campawan in the seaside town of Baganga in Davao Oriental province where troops attacked a stronghold of the New People’s Army (NPA). It was not immediately known how many insurgents were killed in the fighting, but General Ernesto Boac, commander of the 10th Infantry Division, said security forces were pursuing about 70 gunmen.

“Five of my soldiers are killed and there is an ongoing operation in the area. We are pursuing NPA terrorists,” Boac told the Mindanao Examiner.

He said villagers were also helping authorities by providing information about the NPA, blamed for the string of attacks on government and civilians targets in the province the past years.

Col. Benito de Leon, a regional army spokesman, said at least six soldiers were also wounded in the fighting and that villagers have reported undetermined number of enemy casualties. “We are awaiting reports from our ground commanders in Baganga town. Six soldiers are wounded in the fighting,” he said in a separate interview.

There was no immediate statement from the NPA about the clashes or its casualties, but Philippine military chief General Hermogenes Esperon has previously ordered a heightened offensive against the insurgents, which are fighting to overthrow the democratic government and install a Maoist state in the country.

The Philippine government opened peace talks with the insurgents, but negotiations collapsed in 2004 after the United States listed the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA and its political arm, the National Democratic Front, as foreign terrorist organizations on Manila's prodding.

The NPA is estimated to have about 7,500 armed members, but the military said the number has dwindled to a little over 5,000. Aside from communist insurgency, Manila is also fighting Muslim secessionist rebels and Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the southern region.
(Mindanao Examiner)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jeep Collides With Truck In Southern Philippines

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 29, 2008) – More than a dozen people were killed and many others injured, many seriously, after a commuter jeep collided Tuesday with a cargo truck in the southern Philippine province of North Cotabato, police said.

Police said the accident occurred in the town of Carmen. The jeep rammed the truck after overtaking another vehicle at around 8.40 a.m. The jeep’s driver was instantly killed in the crash, including children and women, many were heading to work and schools.

At least 15 other passengers were injured in the accident, police said, adding, most of the injured victims are at a hospital in Kabacan City. (With a report from Mark Navales)

Peasants March In Negros, Seek Longer CARP Life

Task Force Mapalad farmers in Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental march to dramatize their calls for the immediate passage of a law extending the government’s agrarian reform program which will end this year. (Photos by V.J. Villafranca)
BACOLOD, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 29, 2008) – Close to one thousand farmers and their families and supporters marched for the second day in the central Philippine province of Negros Oriental to dramatize their calls for immediate passage of a law extending beyond 2008 the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Jose Rodito Angeles, president of the peasant federation called Task Force Mapalad (TFM), which spearheaded the pilgrimage, said more and more people were joining four-day march which began Monday.
“The enthusiastic reception to the march is attributed not only to its being the first of its kind to be held in Negros but also to the strong desire of the rural community for extension of CARP with reforms,” Angeles said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.
He said many of the marchers are holders of certificate of land ownership award (CLOA) who remain uninstalled in their land because of landowner resistance.
“Uninstalled CLOA holders are quite a phenomenon in Negros. That is one of the reasons why CARP must be extended. Otherwise, the fate of these CLOA holders would be left hanging,” he said.
Edna Sobrecaray, TFM-Negros spokesperson, said: “Our congressmen should see for themselves how the people in Negros are desirous to own land under CARP. It would be a disservice to them if the three solons representing Negros continue to delay or work against its extension.”
Sobrecaray was referring to Representatives Monico Puentebella of Bacolod City, Jeffrey Ferrer of the 4th District, and Ignacio Arroyo of the 5th District whom the farmers have accused of campaigning against extension of CARP, which expires on June 30.
Two groups of marchers, one coming from the north and the other from the south, will converge on Thursday in Bacolod City to hold various mass activities that dramatize their call on Congress for the immediate passage of CARP extension law. “Owning land through CARP is the farmer’s last hope to feed his family, send his children to school, and finally break the cycle of poverty” Sobrecaray said.
In the north, some 400 marchers stopped for lunch at Eusebio Lopez Elementary School in the village of Pabrika in Sagay City, then proceeded to Cadiz City, around 24 kilometers away. At the boundary, they were joined by a group of some 150 farmer and farm workers.
Three marchers – Amparo Caontoy, 66, of Hacienda Minakalao; Milagros Estrada, 54, of Hacienda Caridad; and Narciso Canete, 48, of Hacienda Rose Marie --collapsed from exhaustion due to heat and were immediately given first aid by the medical team. By mid-afternoon the marchers reached Central Cadiz where the municipal agrarian reform officer sent them 500 plastic bags of ice-cold water.
Before dusk, some 20 youths, mostly high school students, joined the march along with their parents, who were also farmers. By the time the marchers reached the municipality of Manapla at around 9 p.m., they had walked 38 kilometers. They spent the night at the municipal gymnasium.
On Tuesday, the marchers, now numbering almost 500, proceeded toward Silay City. At around 9 a.m., the marchers stopped at the public plaza in Victorias to take breakfast. Several policemen arrived to tell them they could not eat at the plaza, but the marchers argued that they were in a public place and their assembly was peaceful.
In the south, some 100 farmers from contentious lands in Negros Oriental gathered in Kabankalan City where they were joined by 30 farm workers from Negros Occidental, mostly from Arroyo-owned Haciendas Bacan, Grande, and Paraiso.
The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) provincial office in Negros Oriental donated two sacks of rice, noodles, and packs of cigarettes. The DAR municipal office in Hinigaran, through MARO Myrna Mercano and her staff, also sent 3 kilos of dried fish, 500 sandwiches, 4 boxes of juice, and 5 boxes of iced water.
Fr. Robert Cermona of Kabangkalan Parish held a liturgical service and blessed the group before they started to march at around noon. After an hour, they stopped at Barangay Tuoy to take lunch and proceeded afterward to Himamaylan.
Two women marchers from Elizalde Roxas (ELRO) landholding fainted under the sun’s heat and were immediately assisted by paramedics. They were identified as Carmen Raydan, 52, and Elizabeth Balingit, 49.
In Isabela, where the 157-hectare Hacienda Bacan owned by First Gentleman Mike Arroyo is located, the marches were joined by another 100 farmers. Some 20 children came to deliver prayers for their parents then later joined the march.
After walking 30 kilometers, the marchers stopped to spend the night at Plaza Miranda in Hinigaran, where they were joined by 70 more farmers. Some 320 marchers from south represented farmers and farm workers from Montenegro , Goni, Lagpasan, and Tirambalo lands in Negros Oriental, and the Arroyo lands, Tunsay, and Manalo in southern Negros Occidental.
The next day, the marchers were joined by 35 farmers from Payao and 10 CLOA holders from Hacienda Dumancas. Before they resumed the march, Hinigaran Mayor Hermie Lou Aguilard gave them 5 kilos of sugar, 3 kilos of ground native coffee, 5 kilos of dried fish, and 300 pieces of breadl, TFM said. (Lani Factor and Heidi Fernandez)

Military Convoy Attacked In South RP

Military forces secure a highway in southern Philippines. Unidentified gunmen ambush Tuesday, January 29, 2008, a military armored vehicle similar to these transport carrier in Lanao del Norte province in southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 29, 2008) – Unidentified gunmen attacked Tuesday a Philippine Army convoy in the southern province of Lanao del Norte, where US and Filipino troops are to begin a joint anti-terror training exercise, officials said.

A Simba armored personnel carrier was hit by an M203 grenade fired by gunmen near a bridge in Pantar town, but there were no reports of casualties. Troops pursued the attackers, but lost them when they scampered to civilian areas, said Major General Nehemias Pajarito, commander of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division.
“The Simba was part of an army convoy heading to Iligan City from Marawi. There were no casualties,” he told the Mindanao Examiner, adding the vehicle's wheels were damaged from the attack.

The attack occurred ahead of the Balikatan 2008 joint military training exercises in Lanao del Norte, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces in the Muslim autonomous region. No group claimed responsibility for the ambush, but the area is a known stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is currently negotiating peace with Manila.

But aside from the MILF, the province is also a lair of the communist New People’s Army rebels waging a secessionist war in the Philippines.

“We are investigating the motive of the attack and who were behind it. General Nelson Allaga has ordered more patrol in the province to prevent future attacks on military vehicles,” said Army Major Eugene Batara, spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command, referring to the regional military commander.

It was unknown whether the attack would have an effect on the joint military training which will simultaneously begin on February 18. US and Philippine troops involved in the Balikatan 2008 would also embark on a humanitarian and development projects in the provinces.

Balikatan, which means "shoulder-to-shoulder," is the codename of the joint anti-terror drill held each year since 2001. The Balikatan demonstrates US resolve to continue the commitment to train, advice and assist the Philippine military to build capacity to counter terrorism.

The Balikatan includes support for comprehensive defense reform; security assistance modules for counter-terrorism training; operations intelligence fusion; and aspects in education programs, logistics, and engineering, equipment, and maintenance and helicopter programs.
It will also enhance the skills and capabilities of Filipino and American forces in combating terrorism and other internal and external security threats. And improve inter-operability between RP and US forces through the exchange of training skills and techniques.
The training is part of Washington security assistance to the Philippines, a key US ally in Southeast Asia in the so-called global war on terrorism. (Mindanao Examiner)

Waging Peace Through Laughter And Magic In Southern Philippines

AAI in action during the HELP Caravan in Sulu province in southern RP. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

SULU, Philippines - Nurhikma, eight years-old, is among the nine children of Fatima. They live in the war torn village of Pang, Kalingalang Caluang in Sulu, Philippines, the scene of recent battles between government troops and guerilla forces.Nurhikma is among thousands of children in Mindanao who live in the shadow of fear due to the continual threat of armed conflict.

He was among more than 3,000 children who participated in four days of Kids Fun activities in Sulu and in Basilan war zones, from January 18 to 23, 2008 created and conducted by the Asia America Initiative (AAI).The surprise arrival of a clown, magician and face painters, along with an enthusiastic band of volunteer organizers was part of the first HELP (Health, Education and Livelihood programs) Humanitarian Caravan organized by the Office of Presidential Adviser for Peace Process (OPAPP).

According to Presidential peace adviser, Jesus Dureza, "This effort focuses on health, education and livelihood to provide development in the areas affected by conflict." The caravan was a partnership of national and provincial government agencies including the Departments of Health, Education, Social Welfare, Trade and Employment, with logistical support by the Philippines Armed Forces.

The Asia Foundation contributed thousands of school textbooks. On site non-government agencies were represented by Asia America Initiative. Over a six year period, AAI has fostered "peace zones" and twenty "Model of Excellence" public schools and livelihood projects in Sulu, and has intervened in Basilan. "The Caravan is a venue of peace and thousands of local people are joining our efforts to spread peace in the whole of Sulu," says Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan.

Like a typical party for children anywhere, the fun days were packed with games, magic shows, a cheerful clown, face painting, cupcakes, and gifts-give-away of dolls and Spider Man toys. It was the first time that the children of Pang village in Kalingalang Caluang and Tugas of Patikul in Sulu, and the towns of Tipo-Tipo and Sumisip in Basilan experienced such fun-filled activities.

AAI Philippines conducted the Kids Fun Days as part of its campaign of "Building peace: one child at a time." The festive programs aim to build support for the peace process by bringing smiles to the children and their families in the war zone of Mindanao.

Reflecting on Fun Day events, AAI Program Coordinator, Ms. Rohaniza Sumndad, says, "The children's smiles and laughter were indescribable. The teachers, parents and entire villages all participated. They kept thanking us for making their children happy. The first step in ending conflict is all of us working together for our children, Christians and Muslims, and not abandoning people in communities full of uncertainties.

That is how a culture of peace begins."AAI activities were supported by grants from Mr. Don Marshall of SALVTUG in Manila and the Shelby Cullom Davis Fdtn. in Washington, D.C., Mary Lanier and Bruce Pilley in California, and with medical donations from MedPharm in Virginia and the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor in Naga, Philippines.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sayyaf Strikes Again In South RP

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 28, 2008) – Suspected Abu Sayyaf militants on Monday kidnapped a female trader in the southern Philippine province of Sulu.

Gunmen seized the trader outside her house in Jolo town at around 5.30 p.m. Monday and relatives were said to be negotiating for her safe release. It was unknown whether the kidnappers demanded ransom.

The woman, who buys and sells Malaysian goods in Jolo, is a Filipino Muslim with Chinese ancestry.

But government intelligence reports said two other women were kidnapped Monday in Jolo town, although their names were not immediately known. The reports said the women were being held in the hinterlands near Patikul town.

The kidnappings came ahead of a joint RP-US military training in Sulu. US and Philippine troops are set to begin this month the Balikatan 2008, codename for the annual joint anti-terror training. Hundreds of US troops are deployed in Sulu since last year where they also held an anti-terror training with local soldiers.

Last week, Abu Sayyaf gunmen shot and killed a man while eating on a roadside restaurant in Jolo town. Gunmen shot in the man in the head.

One Muslim trader, suspected of helping the government's anti-insurgency operation, was also kidnapped in Jolo last Tuesday and briefly held him in Patikul town. He was tortured before being freed, his relatives said.

Abu Sayyaf also held several passengers of a commuter van at a highway near Patikul town last week, but freed all of them after one of the victims turned out to be a Muslim cleric. But the group seized a local engineer and freed his after he allegedly paid money in the village of Taung in Patikul town, a known stronghold of the militant group ties to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya.

The heightened Abu Sayyaf activity on Sulu began when the military ordered thousands of infantrymen, including an army brigade, deployed to Lanao province on January 18. Only two marine brigades, composed of about 5,000 soldiers and a few hundred army troops, are left to quell a growing insurgency and terrorism, especially at a time that peace is slowly returning to Sulu.

Provincial government officials fear the Abu Sayyaf may be active again after months of silence. Officials were worried about the implications of the kidnapping and new threats of terrorism to Sulu's economy and the peace and order situation at a time the province is being promoted as a new cultural and tourism destination in southern Philippines.

Sulu has recently embarked on a tourism campaign called "Visit Sulu 2008" in an effort to attract visitors and investments in the province, whose pristine beaches, dive sites and beautiful tropical islands are one of its attractions.

Village leaders were also asking the military to send additional troops to Sulu to address the threats of the Abu Sayyaf, blamed on the spate of terrorism and kidnappings in the province, about 950 kilometers south of Manila.

Last week, Sulu launched its own version of the citizen ID system in Patikul town aimed at protecting villagers against terrorism. Mayors and business groups and citizens supported the ID system which will eventually launch in other towns. Sulu is one of five provinces under the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

Estudyante, Hirap Na Sa Patuloy Na Pagtaas Ng Matrikula

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 28, 2008) - Sa kabila ng mga programa sa edukasyon ng gobyernong Arroyo ay hindi maitatanggi na ang edukasyon sa ating bansa ay nahaharap sa isang matinding krisis.

Ang krisis na ito'y pinatutunayan ng lumulobong bilang ng mga kabataang hindi nakakapag-aral, lalung – lalo na sa kolehiyo. Sumasalamin ito sa kasalukuyang mukha ng komersyalisadong sistema ng edukasyon sa bansa.

Ang sistemang ito ay kitang-kita sa pagiging inutil ng mga tanggapan ng gobyerno na syang namamahala sa edukasyon kabilang na ang Commission on Higher Education na nagbubulag-bulagan sa mga hinaing ng mga estudyante patungkol sa paraan ng pagtaas ng matrikula.

Sa mga State Colleges and Universities, patuloy ang proposal ng mga administrador, alinsunod sa polisiya ng gubyerno, na magtaas ng matrikula at iba pang mga bayarin. Sa University of the Philippines, nagtaas ng 300% ang tuition.

Ang mga nasabing pagtaas ng mga bayarin ng mga iskolar ng bayan ay nakabatay sa Long Term Higher Eduacation Program of 2010 ng Arroyo regime kung saan isa sa mga mayor na katangian nito ay gawing self – reliant ang mga pampublikong pamantasan sa kung anong paraan man basta makapagbibigay ng pondo sa institusyon. Isa sa mga manipestasyon nito ay ang ipinasang Senate Bill 1399, isang panukala ni Sen. Francis Pangilinan.

Isa sa mga probisyon nito ay ang pagbibigay ng karapatan sa mga administrador ng pamantasan na magtaas ng matrikula at iba pang bayarin at ang paggamit ng pera ng pamantasan sa kung ano mang paraan na nakikita nitong dapat paglaanan ng pondo at hindi na binibigyan ng karapatan ang mayor na bahagi nito gaya ng mga estudyante na makonsulta hinggil sa mga pagtataas ng matrikula.

Kasabay ng mga pinagmamayabang ng gobyerno na pagbibgay ng malaking pondo sa edukasyon ay ang patuloy at hindi makatarungang pagtaas ng matrikula, pribado o pampublikong pamantasan man. Sa patuloy na pagtaas ng matrikula ay tumataas din ang bilang ng mga kabataan hindi makapag aral.

Pebrero na naman, panahon na naman ng mga konsultasyon at huwad na mga konsultasyon sa pagtaas ng matrikula sa iba't ibang paaralan. At bilang pag-alala at pagdiriwang ng sigwa ng unang kwarto ng dekada 70, nararapat lamang na muling manindigan ang mga kabataan at estudyante para sa karapatan nito sa edukasyon.

Kung susuriin, ang dinadanas na pagyurak sa mga karapatan ng kabataan lalo na sa edukasyon sa kasalukuyan ay higit pa sa dinananas na paglapastangan sa karapatan ng kabataan noong dekada 70. Ang sigwa ng unang kwarto ng dekada 70 ay isang napakalaking bahagi ng kasaysayan ng pakikibaka ng kabataan at mga estudyante.

Kung ating matatandaan, ang nag udyok sa mga kabataang estudyante na kumilos at mag alsa noong dekada 70 ay ang hindi makatarungang pagtaas ng matrikula at iba pang mga bayarin sa loob ng paaralan at iba pang porma ng panggigipit ng administrasyon sa loob at labas ng paaralan.

Inaasahang daragsa ang mga estudyante at kabataan sa paglahok at pakikiisa sa isasagawang walkout sa Pebrero 1 bilang protesta sa lumalalang komersyalisasyon ng edukasyon sa bansa, ayon kay Makpil Camacho, ng University Student Council, University of the Philippines–Mindanao.

Watch Out For Balikatan Training, MILF Urges Civil Groups

Muslim women protest the presence of US troops in Southern Philippines. (Photos by Consortium Maulana for the Mindanao Examiner)

SULTAN KUDARAT, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 28, 2008) - The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is negotiating peace the Philippine government, urged civil society organizations to be vigilant on the resumption of a joint RP-US military training exercises in Mindanao.

Philippine officials announced the resumption next month of the Balikatan 2008, codename of this year’s military training in Cagayan de Oro City, Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur and Sulu provinces despite a series of protests from Muslim villagers and civil groups.

American troops will arrive in Cagayan de Oro City, Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte starting February 18 as part of Balikatan, and will be deployed in Sulu, Western and North Eastern Mindanao.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said the MILF committee ceasefire has written to the Philippine government about the Balikatan 2008 to get an assurance that the rights of the Muslims and indigenous people would not be violated during the training.
“We are not able to get the response of the GRP as of this time,” Iqbal said “[but] we told our in Lanao to coordinate with NGOs (non-government organizations) and non-partisan groups to do something in response to these exercises, such as human rights violations. NGOs play a vital role in these issues confronting the areas,” he said.

Last month, the US threatened to cancel this year’s Balikatan after a Filipino court denied to return an American Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, who was convicted of raping a Filipina, to American custody. The decision has temporarily caused severe strains in diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the US.
The Arroyo administration, bowing to the pressure caused by the worsening bilateral relations, asserted that Americans have the right of custody over Smith by virtue of 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which governs American soldiers participating in the military exercises.

The US announced resumption of Balikatan after Smith was transferred from Makati City Jail to the US Embassy without a court order.

Smith was found guilty and sentenced to 40 years in jail for raping “Nicole,” as the victim is publicly known, when the US troops conducted war games in Subic in 2005.

A number of groups have attacked the VFA in “giving US authorities legal jurisdiction over American soldiers who commit crimes in the Philippines” and called it a “US strategy in setting up a permanent base in Mindanao.”
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) has called for a full disclosure of the status of the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) that allows US forces to use Philippine facilities as bases and forward stations.
Renato Reyes Jr., BAYAN secretary general, said they have urged Congress to shed light on how the VFA and the MLSA “actually operate in Mindanao.” Under the VFA, American troops are allowed to stay in the Philippines for an unspecified length of time. They are also allowed to use Philippine facilities for storage of supplies and pre-positioning of equipment under the MLSA, Reyes said.

“We believe that the presence of armed US Special Forces in Mindanao, under whatever guise, poses a threat to local security. We also believe that their continuing engagement in Mindanao undermines national sovereignty,” Reyes added.

Some 10,000 demonstrators in an interfaith peace caravan-rally in Iligan last week assailed the return of the Balikatan as “anti-Mindanawons” and expressed fear that it may “severely add damage to injury” in the talks between the government and the MILF.

“This interfaith peace caravan-rally intends to prevent possible conflict and to show to the parties that the Bangsamoro is in solidarity with the Christians and the Lumads” said Lacs Dalidig of the Islamic Movement for Electoral Reform and Good Governance (IMERGG) and Muslim Multi-sectoral Movement for Peace and Development (MMMPD).

“If this acts are not enough to catch the attention of the government, the interfaith civil society organizations will organize the walk for peace from Marawi City to Malacanang Palace to show to the government that we are indeed very serious in our fervor to attain just and lasting peace in Mindanao,” Dalidig added.
“We are one with the Bangsamoro in the call for lasting peace. After all only those who declared war win; we are all victims,” said Fr. Chito Sugano of the Marawi Catholic church. “The Bangsamoro homeland, our bread and butter are happily utilized as battlegrounds, leaving its inhabitants with dime of hope.”

During the military offensives in Sulu and Basilan last year, fully-armed American soldiers were spotted leading an armed Philippine military convoy. This was seen as a violation of the VFA which does not allow US troops to engage in actual combat in the Philippines, critics said. (Norodin Makalay)

Pinoy Out-Of-School-Youths Get Education In Mindanao

Education administrators from Region 9, 12 and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao attend recently the DAP workshop together with project implementers of EQuALLS OSCY programs in Mindanao. DAP, a profiling tool from the USAID’s EQuALLS project uses positive questions to gain insight into the child’s personal experiences and assets. EQuALLS hopes to increase OSCYs’ chances of success by building on these assets while engaging them in livelihood skills trainings. The Developmental Assets Profile (DAP) introduced by USAID’s EQuALLS project can produce results that indicate an out-of-school youth’s strongest positive assets. These assets will enable him to live a healthy and responsible life. (Photos by USAID-EQuALLS)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - How fare the youth in Mindanao? Are they growing up as responsible adolescents? Are they making healthy choices? Are they potential leaders of their communities? It would be interesting to get a glimpse of the youths’ plight along these lines.
To this day however, there has been no known profiling of Mindanao youth based on personal assets. But very soon, this gap shall be filled – at least for the out-of-school youth (OSCY) sector in Region 9, 12 and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Thanks to Education Quality and Access for Learning and Livelihood Skills (EQuALLS), an education project from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), kids who have dropped out of school and are now engaged in EQuALLS’ basic literacy and livelihood skills trainings will undergo a survey so as to get their profile.
The new profiling tool, Developmental Assets Profile (DAP), surveys children ages 11 to 18 years basing on 40 developmental assets – personal experiences and qualities that they need to become responsible members of the society. Children respond to a test instrument which will reveal how much of these assets they possess.

Earlier this month, DAP was introduced to EQuALLS implementing partners and Department of Education (DepED) administrators from the Bureau of Alternative Learning System. It gained positive reactions from the DepED administrators in Region 9, 12 and ARMM who work closely with EQuALLS in the implementation of its Alternative Learning System (ALS) programs.

They tried the survey at youth centers, among these the Social Development Center in Zamboanga City. What came out was a learner-centered profile of the youth conveying mostly the difficult growing up experiences of OSCYs. One of the administrators, Emie Kiblatain, Division ALS Supervisor of Sulu 2 in ARMM, was deeply touched when a child respondent sought an explanation of “family” when the word cropped up in the survey.

“I have no difficulty with DAP as a tool. But it can be difficult for this learner who has to answer questions about her family when she herself doesn’t know what a family is. She doesn’t know what a house is because for her the house is the Social Development Center,” she said.

“The DAP tool can also be an instrument to foster a closer relationship among Instructional Managers (IMs) and their learners,” Kiblatain added.

IMs are supervisors of ALS classes at EQuALLS community learning centers. With information on the learners’ abilities and personal assets, they will be in a much better position to help the learners achieve their goals – such as passing the government’s Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E) test.

OSCYs undergo intensive basic literacy training in preparation for this test. The goal is to help them re-enter formal schools, since A&E passers will get a certification comparable to a diploma of an elementary or high school graduate. But the latest figures from DepED showed only 24% of 51,979 succeeded in the last A&E test.
Understanding the youth based on their strongest positive assets and building on these could be the key that will transform them from drop outs to achievers.

The DAP tool is only one of the many tested approaches USAID-EQuALLS has introduced for the development of the youth in Mindanao’s most volatile regions. EQuALLS aims to uplift the lives of 100,000 more OSCYs through various literacy and livelihood skills trainings until 2011. (Floreen Anne Bartulaba)

IMT Pullout Threatening Peace In South

Muslim women prepare to pray in southern Philippines. Muslim rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, is worried over the stalled negotiations. Manila reneged on its earlier agreement over the issue an MILF demand of Muslim ancestral domain. (Mindanao Examiner Photo/Mark Navales)

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 28, 2007) - The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), fears that the pull out of international truce observers would have an effect on the peace process in Mindanao.

The Malaysia-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) has threatened to pull out if there is no progress in the seven-year old peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF.

Manila is currently negotiating peace with MILF, but talks were stalled since last year after both sides failed to agree on the issue of Muslim ancestral domain.
Lawyer Datu Michael Mastura, a member of the MILF peace panel, said the talks would be affected should the IMT pulls out this year.

“If the MILF is threatened, then the GRP should be threatened more. We need a third party as facilitator in negotiation. The element of violation is worked by the IMT, as a result of the CCCH (Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities). We have to push them to the truth… MILF is rebel; the pull out of IMT should threaten the GRP more,” Mastura said at a recent peace forum in Cotabato City.
Speaking before representatives of non-government and peoples’ organizations at the forum, Mastura responded to reports that the stalled peace process could be more imperiled once the IMT pulls out of Mindanao or Malaysia stops mediating in the negotiations.

The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail or if Malaysia pulls out its contingent from the IMT in Mindanao. Since the IMT arrived in 2004, armed conflict between government and rebel forces significantly decreased, observers said.

Maj. Gen. Datuk Mat Yassin bin Mat Daud, head of the Malaysian contingent, said they would return home by August unless the stalled peace talks between the Philippine government and MILF resumes.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Malaysia wanted progress in the peace process, but Malaysia’s involvement in the mission to monitor the armed conflict in Mindanao might be extended but not indefinitely. Members of the Malaysian Defense Forces had been in Mindanao since 2004 as part of the International Monitoring Team (IMT).

The monitoring team is composed of 41 officers from the Malaysian Defense Forces, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Prime Minister’s Department and is also supported by 10 military officers from Brunei Darussalam and 5 from Libya. Canada and Japan have also members on the team.

“The deployment of an IMT in Mindanao is authorized under the provision of Chapter 8 of the United Nations Charter which allows peace settlement to be managed under a regional arrangement and upon the invitation of the host government.”

“In this mission, the Malaysian peacekeepers form as a major contingent in the IMT together with other participants from Brunei and Libya. The IMT plays a critical role in supporting the current GRP-MILF peace negotiations and in continuing the momentum for the resolution of the conflict in Mindanao,” said Ayesah Abubakar, the coordinator of the Mindanao Peace Program at the Research and Education for Peace of the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, Malaysia.

“Malaysia has contributed immensely to our peace efforts and we are confident it will continue to be with us and other nations in our peace and development work,” said Secretary Jesus Dureza, the presidential adviser on the peace process.

Talks between the government and the MILF hit a snag in December over disagreements on the coverage of ancestral domain and subjecting it to constitutional process.

Dureza assessed the impasse as “among the most serious to stall the rocky talks, a big hump” upon which the GRP has no “magic formula” while “looking for a way out”.

The MILF negotiating panel refused to meet its government counterpart during the 15th exploratory talks last December 15-17 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia because the GRP draft of a proposed memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain supposedly did not contain certain consensus points earlier agreed by the two parties.

The government negotiating panel recently inserted a provision which states that the implementation of the agreement will have to follow “constitutional process.” The setting up of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) was agreed upon by government and MILF negotiators during exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur last year.

This was aggravated by statements from some of the president’s key officials threatening the MILF with sanctions.

Secretary Ronaldo Puno was quoted by the Philippine media saying the government should not give in to the MILF’s demand for a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) without a plebiscite, while Armed Forces deputy chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Romero stated that peace talks will not resume unless the rebels lay down their weapons.

Negotiations between the two parties progressed because of mutual agreement that government should not refer to Constitution and the MILF would not demand independence.

Foreign observers from the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and donor community have expressed concern on the instability in the peace process.

Various groups described the present setback in the peace talks as the most serious impasse to stall the peace talks since negotiations started in 1997. Thousands of people have marched in the cities of Cotabato, Marawi, General Santos and Iligan the past weeks to press the government and the MILF to resume their talks and eventually to sign a peace accord.

Rallies are also to be launched in Basilan, Pagadian, Zamboanga and Sulu these coming months, organizers said.

Talks between the government and the MILF started in 1996 but it was in 2001 when the Malaysian government intervened as their official facilitator and host to the negotiations.
Some of the significant agreements facilitated by Malaysia were the Agreement on Peace between GRP and the MILF of June 22, 2001 (Tripoli Agreement), the Implementing Guidelines on the Security Aspect of August 7, 2001, and the Implementing Guidelines on the Humanitarian, Rehabilitation and Development Aspect of May 7, 2002.

“The IMT is not only tasked to monitor the upholding of a cease fire from both camps but is also mandated to monitor the implementation of the above signed agreements and ensure that the peace process progress to the stage of rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development of the conflict affected areas. These two conditions are equally important for confidence building measures as the peace talks are being pursued and a final peace agreement is yet to be signed,” Abubakar said.

Abubakar said that the IMT operations are carried out according to the following roles and responsibilities: “To observe and monitor the implementation of cessation of hostilities, as well as the socioeconomic development of the agreements. This includes receiving reports from the joint CCCH, LMT (Local Monitoring Team), Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA), and other stakeholders.”

“Also, the IMT should assess and determine the validity of specific reports, protests or complaints of cease fire violations. These alleged violations and any actions taken should be coordinated with the Joint CCCH and LMT. Lastly, the IMT should determine if a particular report, protest or complaint has been acted upon substantially and satisfactorily at the level of the Joint CCCH or LMT, or whether there is a need for further verification investigation.”

And “to conduct field verification and validate any reported violation; to coordinate closely with the Joint CCCH and LMT on the conduct of the field verification and validation of the reported violation; to report to the GRP-MILF Peace Panels its findings and assessment of the reported violation; and to ensure that all reports are classified and treated accordingly.” (Norodin Makalay)

Retiring Philippine Military Chief Gets 3 More Months

Philippine military chief General Hermogenes Esperon is flanked by reporters. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 28, 2008) – Philippine leader Gloria Arroyo has extended the term of Armed Forces chief General Hermogenes Esperon for three months so he can continue operations against terrorism.

Arroyo made the announcement during her visit in Switzerland. Esperon is due to retire February 9 at age 56. He vowed to crush the Abu Sayyaf and New People’s Army rebels before his mandatory retirement.

Esperon’s extension has been welcomed by soldiers and Sulu provincial officials, led by Governor Sakur Tan, saying, he has done a good job as Philippine military chief and drastically cut threats of terrorism.

Army chief General Alexander Yano is said to replace Esperon. (Mindanao Examiner)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Basic Services, Infra Projects Worst Hit By IRA Reduction

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 26, 2008) - Local Mayor Celso Lobregat said any cut by Manila in the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) will have a big effect on the government's delivery of basic services and implementation of infrastructure projects in Zamboanga City.

Manila announced that it would cut by P115 million the IRA share of Zamboanga City and other cities to provide funding to 16 municipalities which have been converted to cities.

The 16 municipalities converted into cities are Batac (Ilocos Norte); Tayabas (Quezon); Catar (Cebu); Bogo (Cebu); Naga (Cebu); Borongan (Eastern Samar); Baybay (Leyte); Catbalogan (Western Samar); Lamitan (Basilan); El Salvador (Misamis); Mati (Davao); Cabadbaran (Agusan Norte); Boyugon (Agusan Sur); Tandag (Surigao Sur); Gijolngan (Negros Oriental) and Tabuc (Kalinga).
The IRA is a local government’s share of revenues from the national government. It is largely based on land area and population, but local governments also derive revenues from local sources. Typically, the IRA for municipalities accounts for 90% of total revenues, but cities have more sources of local revenues.

Lobregat said Zamboanga will join the League of Cities in protesting the conversion of 16 municipalities which did not meet the income requirements and the consequent IRA reduction effective this year.

On Monday, city officials and employees will wear black armbands. The Philippine flag will also be flown in half mast as a sign of protest. Mayors of 119 other cities will replicate the move in their areas during the flag raising ceremony.

"The impending decrease by P115 million in the IRA share of the city this year due to the conversion of 16 municipalities into cities will greatly affect the delivery of services including the implementation of infrastructure projects," Lobregat said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.

The League of Cities, the alliance of the 120 existing cities in the country declared its protest against the conversion of the municipalities sans the requirements as mandated in the Local Government Code of 1991.

According to the League of Cities, the law requires “among others a P100 million locally generated income in order to be a city but the 13th Congress in 2007 enacted city hood laws which exempted 16 cities from this requirement”.

“We are not against the conversion of municipalities as long as they meet the requirements”, Mayor Lobregat said.

Zamboanga City is the third hardest hit by the IRA reduction at P114.971 million. Supposedly, the city would receive P1.166 billion in IRA share this year but this was reduced to P1.051 billion after the conversion of the 16 municipalities.
As compared to the 2007 figure of P1.015 billion, Zamboanga City’s IRA increase was supposed to be P150.8 million but after the conversion, the increase became P35.87 million or a difference (in increase) of P114.97 million.
The League of Cities said the 2008 IRA share of the 120 existing cities is reduced from P14.3 percent to only P4.7 percent or a loss of P4 billion.
Davao City is number one in the list with a potential loss of P194 million; second is Puerto Princesa with a loss of P144.4 million. Santiago City is 4th with a loss of P81.8 million; 5th is Iligan City with a loss of P68.8 million; 6th is Butuan City with a loss of P68.1 million and 7th is Calbayog with a loss of P65.8 million.
Worst, it said, House Bill 24 which seeks to convert all capital towns of province into cities and exempting them from income requirements, has been passed at the committee level in Congress that will in effect result to an additional 27 new cities.
The League of Cities earlier called for a moratorium on the creation of new cities until a more in-depth study “is undertaken for a more rational basis for city hood”. (With a report from Sheila Covarrubias)

Exodus Of Pinoy Nurses Continue

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 26, 2007) - More than 21,000 new Filipino nurses sought employment in the United States last year and the exodus continue, draining the country of much needed hospital professionals.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) said a total of 21,499 Filipinos took the US National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for nurses for the first time -- excluding repeaters -- from January to December 2007.

This represents an increase of 6,328 or 42 percent compared to the 15,171 Filipinos that took the NCLEX for the first time in the whole of 2006, TUCP spokesperson Alex Aguilar, said.

He said the 2007 NCLEX statistics, released Jan. 24 by the US National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), only shows the Philippines' position as America's top provider of foreign nurses.

Aguilar said the Philippines readily topped the five countries with the most number of nationals taking the NCLEX for the first time in 2007. India came second, with 5,370 examinees; followed by South Korea, 1,906; Canada, 888; and Cuba, 673.

Passing the NCLEX is usually the final step in the nurse licensure process in the US. Thus, the number of people taking the examination is a reliable indicator of how many new US-educated as well as foreign-trained nurses are trying to enter the profession in the US.

TUCP's disclosure came a day after the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) expressed confidence that global demand for Filipino workers would remain robust despite fears of an economic slump in the US.

Many foreign countries, particularly the developed ones, are still approaching the Philippines wanting to recruit Filipino workers, particularly professionals and other skilled personnel, POEA chief Rosalinda Baldoz said.

"Foreign employers come to us because they are short of capable workers and their nationals refuse to handle the dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs," Baldoz said.

Even in the US, where there are fears of a looming recession, Baldoz said they see a growing demand for nurses as well as temporary workers in hotels.

Buoyed by record high crude oil prices, Middle Eastern countries also need thousands of foreign workers to support heightened economic activity in that part of the world, she added.

The TUCP has been pushing the deployment of surplus nurses and other highly skilled workers to lucrative job markets overseas.

"Our sense is, if we must advance the export of services, we might as well consciously encourage the deployment highly skilled surplus professionals such as nurses, who are generally immune from employer mistreatment," Aguilar said.

He said the government should "purposely discourage" the overseas deployment of unskilled workers such as domestic helpers. "Their skills are easily replaceable. This is why they are undeniably far more susceptible to employer abuse," he added.

Aguilar said Filipino nurses looking for greener pastures could definitely count on greater employment opportunities in the US, where more than 800 new hospitals would be put up until 2012.

He said some 78 million American baby boomers -- those born between 1946 to 1964 -- now comprise 26 percent of the 300-million US population. The oldest baby boomers started turning 60 years old in 2006, he added.

"These seniors and the deluge of migrants from Mexico are creating a huge demand for hospitalization and health care in the US," Aguilar pointed out.

Aguilar played down fears of a brain drain with the continuing deployment of Filipino nurses to overseas labor markets.

"We are now producing nurses at a rate of 100,000 to 150,000 every year, and less than five percent of them are getting employed locally, either by the government or the private sector. So we definitely have a large surplus of nurses," he said.

Just last August, he noted that the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) admitted to the local nursing profession a total of 31,275 candidates who passed June 2007 licensure examination.

This does not include the thousands of candidates who took the December 2007 nursing eligibility examination, the results of which will be released soon.

On top of those who took the December examination, the PRC earlier said it expects anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 nursing graduates to take the June 2008 licensure test.

Meanwhile, TUCP renewed its objection to a House bill that seeks to require nurses who obtained government-subsidized schooling to render at least two years of compulsory local service before they can leave for overseas employment.

The labor group was referring to a bill that seeks to oblige nursing graduates of state colleges and universities to perform 24 months of mandatory service here before they may be lawfully recruited to work abroad.

Aguilar said the bill was "totally counterproductive and uncalled-for," considering the massive oversupply of nurses in the local labor market.

Traders Seek NBI Help In South RP

KIDAPAWAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 26, 2008) - Traders in North Cotabato have asked the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate a mayor who allegedly confessed to paying “protection money” to the notorious Al-Khobar extortion ring.

Kidapawan City Mayor Rodulfo Gantuangco was said to have paid some P200,000 to the Al-Khobar after the gang had threatened to mount terror attacks if he did not pay up.

Gantuangco, who is also the chairman of the local peace and order council, allegedly admitted paying the gang, but insisted the money did not come from the government coffers.

The money was said to have been deposited to the bank account of a man identified as Nacir Abison. The first remittance of P100, 000 to Abison’s ATM account 1177-06531-1 at the Equitable PCI Bank in Ipil, capital town of Zamboanga-Sibugay, was allegedly deposited Nov. 26 by Insp. Benjamin Mauricio of the Kidapawan City police. The second installment of another P100, 000 was facilitated December 10.

But despite the payment, a powerful bomb exploded Nov. 26 at the Kidapawan Mega Center Corporation Mall, killing one worker and wounding 8 others.

Abison was said to have demanded the amount from the city government of Kidapawan City on behalf of the Al-Khobar, an extortion ring composed mostly of rogue Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, blamed for the spate of bombings of buses and commercial establishments in Central Mindanao over the past years.

Traders were incensed by Gantuangco’s alleged admission Tuesday over a local radio station dxCA that money was paid to the gang for the purpose of penetrating the Al-Khobar in an effort to arrest its members.

“That was a clear violation of the government’s policy criminal gangs of ransom for kidnapped victims and protection money in exchange for the safety of business outfits,” one trader said in a text message sent to reporters after hearing Gantuangco’s interview.

Local officials in North Cotabato said Gantuangco should be probed on the real source of the funds he paid the Al-Khobar.

“The objective of paying the Al-Khobar money may be justified, but just the same, paying the group money is virtually giving in to its extortion racket. The NBI should investigate on it,” One mayor in North Cotabato, said.

Dozens of people were killed and injured in Al-Khobar bombings in recent years and most of the victims were traders and provincial bus operators who refused to pay extortion money. (Jerick Wee)

Negros Farmers Gearing For Big March

CEBU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 26, 2008) - At least 5,000 farmers from all over Negros in central Philippines will march across the island starting Monday to call on Congress and the Arroyo administration to pass a law extending the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) beyond 2008 along with its land distribution component.

Dubbed “Lakat-Negros: Lakbayan sang mga Mangunguma para sa Reporma sa Duta kag Katarungan” (Walk-Negros: Farmers’ March for Land Reform and Justice), the march will start from two convergence points—Sagay City in the North and Kabankalan City in the south—and will converge in Bacolod City on January 31 for a general mass action. Jose Rodito Angeles, president of peasant federation Task Force Mapalad, said that along the way, the marchers will be joined and reinforced by other farmers’ groups and support organizations that have formed themselves into a broad coalition called Negros CARP Reform Movement (NCRM).

“Lakat Negros intends to dramatize the demands of the Negros farmers for immediate extension of CARP with land distribution. We emphasize on land distribution because some groups, including those in government, are pushing for CARP extension with provisions only for support services component and none for land distribution,” Angeles said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.

He said it is very important for the farmers to ensure that the land distribution component remains intact in extended CARP because there are hundreds of land cases in the island of Negros that have yet to be resolved under CARP.

“Ini nagapakita sang determinasyon sang mga mangunguma agud angkunon ang duta sa idalum sang repormang agraryo sang gobyerno (This shows the determination of the farmers to have their own land through the government’s agrarian reform program),” said Jose Rodito Angeles. TFM-Negros spokesperson Edna Sobrecaray said that aside from land, Lakat Negros is also about justice.

“In a larger sense, this is also a campaign for social justice that has yet to be fully realized in the province,” she said.

Sobrecaray said the route itself is symbolic as the farmers in the south will pass through the towns and cities under the Fourth and Fifth Districts whose congressional representatives are “intent on delaying or scrapping CARP extension.”

The Arroyo properties in Negros Occidental, mostly owned by First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, have yet to be placed under CARP coverage.

Friday, January 25, 2008

7 Prisoners Escape From Zamboanga Jail

IPIL, Philippines – Seven inmates facing various criminal charges from robbery to rape have escaped from a provincial prison in the southern Philippines, police said Friday.

Police said the jailbreak occurred late Thursday in the town of Manukan in Zamboanga del Norte province. Several prison guards have been suspended from their duty because of the escape.

The prisoners bolted out from their cell after destroying its window grills. Police and jail officials said there is an ongoing investigation into the escape.

Police have mounted a manhunt in the town and appealed to relatives to convince the escapees, if they return home, to surrender peacefully. (Mindanao Examiner)

Retiring RP Military Chief May Be Extended, Gets Strong Supports In Mindanao

Philippine military chief General Hermogenes Esperon answers questions from journalists Friday, January 25, 2008 in Zamboanga City after inspecting troops in Basilan and Sulu provinces. Troops in the southern Philippines and Sulu provincial officials led by Governor Sakur Tan have expressed strong support on proposals to extend Esperon's term. A veteran army commander in Mindanao, Esperon is due to retire on February 9, 2008 at age 56. Governor Tan and his mayors have passed a joint resolution Friday urging President Arroyo to extend Esperon's term so he can continue his programs and reform in the military. (Mindanao Examiner Photo/Arthur Abasolo)

AMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 25, 2008) – Government soldiers deployed in Mindanao have expressed support to the possible extension of the term of Philippine military chief General Hermogenes Esperon.

Esperon, a veteran army commander in Mindanao, is set to retire on February 9 at age 56, but government sources said President Gloria Arroyo is likely to extend his term so he can continue his programs and reforms in the military.

Arroyo is in Switzerland since Tuesday for a series of meetings with the officials of the Aragon Financial Group (AFG) and the Swiss Chamber of Commerce. The AFG could help the Philippines in its policy to ensure continuous and adequate supply of energy through integrated and intensive exploration, production, management and development of the country's indigenous energy resources such as oil and natural gas.

The President may announce Esperon’s extension when she returns to Manila, sources said on Friday. It is unknown how long Esperon would be extended.

Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano is said to be the next AFP Chief-of-Staff.

“The soldiers are in favor of the continuation of General (Hermogenes) Esperon as CSAFP (Chief-of-Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines). We have our reasons in supporting him and we believe in his able leadership and capacity as our Chief-of-Staff.”

“We want him to continue implementing reforms and programs for the AFP and the soldiers,” an army platoon leader, who gave his name only as “Dela Cruz,” told the Mindanao Examiner.

Sulu provincial officials are also supporting the extension of Esperon’s term. “General Esperon has done a very a good job and as you know he is one of the proponent of many AFP-related humanitarian program in Sulu. We are very supportive of General Esperon and will support his extension as Chief-of-Staff,” Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan told reporters.

He said business and religious leaders and the mayors in Sulu are also supporting Esperon’s possible extension. “We have a relatively good peace and order condition in Sulu because of AFP and other stakeholders of peace. The AFP is our partner in peace and progress and we are the government’s partner in nation building,” Tan said.

Tan has previously hailed Esperon for creation of the National Development Command, a new unit in the AFP that especially focus on the basic socio-economic development and infrastructure projects in conflict-affected areas.

Through the NDC, the AFP hopes to contribute in the convergence of efforts by the different line agencies of government in the repair and construction of schools, health centers, sources of potable water, roads and bridges and in the process rebuild lives that have been disrupted by terrorist activities and violence.

Radio reports on Friday quoted Esperon as saying: “Di ko alam kung magkakaroon ng announcement. But kung magkaganoon man, tulad ng sinasabi ko, I'd be very honored to serve for some more time kung gaano katagal ibibigay sa atin na extension lalong lalo na, kailangan nating pursue ang ating momentum nagawa natin against the New People’s Army and Abu Sayyaf terrorists.”

(I don’t know if there will be an announcement (by the President), but if there will be as I have said, I would be very honored to serve for some more time. We need to pursue the momentum (of what we have already achieved) against the New People’s Army and the Abu Sayyaf terrorists.)

Esperon on Friday inspected troops in Sulu and Basilan provinces and Zamboanga City as part of his farewell visit in southern Philippines, where he started his military career.

In Zamboanga City, Esperon expressed gratitude to Tan and the mayors in Sulu and said the locals are supportive of AFP efforts in the province. “I would take it (support of Sulu provincial officials) as their oneness to the Armed Forces of the Philippines because of the sacrifices of our soldiers in the province.”

“We brought a lot of changes in Sulu, from how it was in the past years. I take that as a compliment and I would like to take that as recognition of the efforts of the Armed Forces in Sulu. I have always said that any extension must reflect on the kind of operations that our men in the field are doing,” he said in a press conference.

Esperon later spoke with troops inside the Western Mindanao Command headquarters where officials also expressed their support for his extension. (With reports from Nickee Butlangan and Arthur Sakaluran)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Photo: US Military Plane Flies Over Southern Philippines

A US military cargo plane flies Thursday, January 23, 2008 over Zamboanga City in southern Philippines, where American and Filipino troops are to begin a new joint military training next month. Thousands of Muslims and militant groups are opposing the presence of US troops in Mindanao and Sulu Archipelago. Last month, US troops forcibly ordered the nightly closure of a government hospital in Sulu's Panamao town for fear that rebels would target their camp near the hospital. (Mindanao Examiner Photo/Jun Delgado)

Agrarian Headquarters Attacked In Central RP

CEBU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 23, 2008) – Unidentified men exploded a grenade in an attack early Thursday at a provincial office of the Department of Agrarian Reform in Negros Occidental in central Philippines.

Police said the men tossed a grenade at the DAR compound in Bacolod City in Negros Occidental before dawn, but it reported no casualties in the attack that shattered glass windows and doors.
No individual or group claimed responsibility for the blast blamed by farmers to private gangs of landowners opposed to the extension of the government's Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

The peasant federation Task Force Mapalad (TFM) condemned the attack. "We condemn in the strongest possible terms the attack on the provincial office of the DAR. While the police are still investigating the incident, there is no doubt for us that this is the start of another round of harassment by landlords opposing the extension of the CARP," Edna Sobrecaray, TFM spokesperson, said.

Police is still investigating the motive of the attack.

"Those behind the blast may be the same landlords who were behind the series of killings of TFM farmers. Now, these landlords are out to threaten even government officials supporting the extension of the CARP," Sobregacay said without further elaborating.

The attack occurred ahead of a schedule meeting between farmers and agrarian officials over the implementation of the CARP in the province. Sobrecaray said farmers would not be cowed by unscrupulous landlords hindering the implementation of the agrarian reform in Negros.

"We are ready to defend our ranks. We will not be cowed by landlords who want to hinder justice. We had shed blood to ensure that justice would reign. We will do this again, if this is the only way to fight for our rights to the lands we till," she said.

The government's agrarian reform program may be extended after President Gloria Arroyo certified as urgent a bill seeking a 10-year extension of the CARP, which is set to end in June 2008, ten years after it was passed. CARP was the result of the passage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) in 1988.

The passage of the CARL under Republic Act 6655 in 1988 was hailed as a historic occasion. CARL promised to redistribute agricultural lands -- in several phases -- to those who actually till them.

The CARP is primarily a social reform measure and addresses the need for a more equitable distribution of land ownership. Its end-goal is to improve the standards of living of beneficiaries and promote greater economic activity in the rural areas.
Most of the government funding for CARP came from the recovered P50-billion of the so-called Marcos' ill-gotten wealth; however, only P10 billion was allocated to the DAR, the rest of the money was distributed to other agencies, including P8-million for human rights victims under then President Ferdinand Marcos. Belgium, Spain and Japan among the countries that are supporting the CARP. (Mindanao Examiner)

So Much Ado About US Bases Statement - Zambo Mayor

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - Local Mayor Celso Lobregat expressed surprise over negative reactions articulated by various sectors concerning his supposed statement on the US Bases, which he said is a non-issue, government media said.

"This is so much ado about nothing", Mayor Lobregat declared referring to statements issued by various sectors hitting him for allegedly offering Zamboanga as the site for US bases.

The issue, he said, stemmed from his message during the turnover of computer units at the Zamboanga State College of Marine Sciences and Technology (ZSCMST) in Rio Hondo this city where American Ambassador Kristie Kenney and US Senators Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and Ted Stevens of Alaska were the guest of honors.

"I was relating a footnote in history", he said. "I was misquoted and I was taken out of context".

Mayor Lobregat explained that in his speech, he merely related about the long standing relationship between the city government of Zamboanga and the US.
I said when the Philippine Senate voted not to ratify the Bases Extension Agreement, the people of Zamboanga at that time (17 years ago) were saying that if people in Luzon don't want the bases in Luzon, the US could have the bases here (in the city) but the Constitution does not allow it".

Also, at the height of the controversy of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) in 1996, the Zamboanga City Council asked the Regional Development Council in Western Mindanao to "study, assess, evaluate and recommend the possibility of making Zamboanga or any part of Western Mindanao as site for the US bases".

"This is so much ado about nothing because I did not offer Zamboanga City as a site for any bases, first of all the constitution does not allow it and this is a non-issue," the mayor reiterated.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer, a daily newspaper of national circulation and its website including the tabloid Bandera on Tuesday published a news item stating that the mayor has offered Zamboanga as the site for US bases triggering negative reactions from numerous sectors.

In a meeting with members of the City Council at the City hall Conference room Wednesday afternoon, the mayor replayed the video of his message delivered during the affair at the ZSCMST to prove his point. Nowhere in the video did the mayor say that he is offering Zamboanga as the site of the US bases. (Philippine Information Agency)

Tire Path Proves Productive For Remote Southern RP Village

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 23, 2008) - A village in the southern Filipino province of Lanao del Sur, whose Maranaw name literally means “risky” is risky no more.

Its newly-built indigenous “tire path,” constructed by Maranaw residents in the village called Pagalamatan, a hinterland community in Tubaran town, ushered reconciliation of feuding clans and brought considerable improvements to the local economy.

“Pagalamatan” means “risky,” or ”dangerous,” or “hazardous,” in the local Maranaw dialect.
The construction of the tire path, which is made of two separate strips of concrete pavements fit only for wheels of jeeps and motorcycles, was bankrolled by the World Bank through the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Social Fund Project (ASFP).

Conaifah Amerol, Tubaran’s facilitator for ASFP projects, said the tire path traverses communities whose farm-to-market roads were impassable during rainy days. The village of Pagalamatan has is inhabited by more than a thousand mostly marginalized Maranaws surviving only on farming as their main source of income.

“In the past, Maranaw farm products rot in their houses during the rainy days, but that was before. Now, Maranaw farmers can transport their harvest to markets in nearby towns because of the all-weather tire paths,” Amerol said.

It was for the dramatic improvements in the productivity of farmers that many feuding clans in the village -- some of them locked in decades old “rido,” or family feud -- have agreed to reconcile and venture peacefully into communal agricultural projects instead.

“More than a hundred people have been killed in previous hostilities among feuding clans in Pagalamatan alone,” Amerol said as he recalled the bitter war that had affected many people in the village.

Farmer Mustapha Arimau, 45, said his income from corn farming increased by three folds during the past two cropping seasons since the construction of the tire path. “Now, our village is finally linked by the tire path to the market in Tubaran’s town proper,” he said.

Arimau said he and hundreds of farmers did not hesitate to help build the tire path when its implementation concept was introduced by the ASFP, which is jointly managed by lawyer Mustapha Sambolawan and Gov. Datu Zaldy Ampatuan, of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

He said they are thankful and grateful for the efforts of Ampatuan, under whose administration many ASFP projects for poor communities have been implemented in the ARMM.

Amerol said the newly-built tire path also made the village of Pagalamatan accessible to their municipal health workers. “Municipal health workers now reach the village even during the rainy days to serve the people,” Amerol said. (Jerick Wee)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Photo: Fr Jesus Reynaldo Roda, OMI

Members of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate carry Wednesday, January 23, 2008 the casket containing the remains of their slain companion, Fr Jesus Reynaldo Roda, to their congregation's private burial ground in Datu Odin Sinsuat town in Shariff Kabunsuan province in southern Philippines. Roda, killed on January 15 in a botched kidnapping in Tawi-Tawi province is laid to rest in an emotional ceremony attended by some 20,000 Muslim and Christian mourners. (Mindanao Examiner Photo/Jerick Wee)