Wednesday, April 30, 2008

No to Artificial Solutions! Yes to Decent Work and Pay!

MANILA, Philippines - As the nation prepares to commemorate Labor Day, the Arroyo administration has certainly been busy conjuring artificial solutions to appease the growing frustration and resentment of workers nationwide over its anti-poor and anti-labor policies and programs.

GMA has declared that on May 1, she will be implementing a package of benefits to address workers’ concerns such as tax exemptions for minimum wage earners and provision of non-wage benefits for workers. But these plans barely touch on the real issues confronting the working class, both in the private and public sector.

Wages have never been as unacceptable, unjust and irreconcilable as they are now under the present regime which has indefatigably neglected the cries of workers for decent work, decent pay and decent life for all.

Working conditions continue to deteriorate and not enough decent jobs have been created for the people. Worse, the administration has even promoted the export of labor as a national policy, instead of working towards enhancing domestic employment and investing in human resources development.

We in the Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK), a national union representing more than 80,000 government workers from national government agencies, local government units, and government-owned and controlled corporations, will not be mislead into accepting quick, artificial solutions which are obviously political stunts meant to cover up GMA’s piling atrocities against all Filipino workers and project an image of a seemingly responsive and concerned president.

We will not be duped into accepting her so-called package of benefits which are merely poor substitutes for genuine decent work and job creation.To adequately address the concerns of government workers and help them cope with the worsening energy and food crises due to rising cost of oil and basic commodities, we workers in the public sector call for the following:

* Increase the salary bracket for tax exemption of government workers (tax exemptions to include at least those receiving Salary Grades 1 to 15)

* Moratorium on withholding the income tax of government employees to increase their take home pay for at least a year

* Instead of the planned 10 percent increase in the salaries of government workers which will hardly impact on their take home pay as it will only be eaten by tax, the government should push for the passage of the proposed Government Classification and Compensation Act—a bill that will not only make salaries of workers in the government comparable to those in the private sector but will also appropriately value work based on performance and a set of identified compensable factors.

It seeks to address the distortions and inequities plaguing the present compensation system and consequently reduce corruption and ease the outmigration of government nurses and teachers that has already led to the closure of several hospitals and health facilities.

* Increase budgetary allocations for basic public services such as health and education
* Condonation of the loan penalties for the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) to ease the financial burden of government employees

* Reform of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) Transparency and accountability must be brought back to the state pension fund. The gross mismanagement of GSIS must be stopped by instituting a revamp of its current Board of Trustees and sacking its President, Winston Garcia

* Creation of plantilla items for the casual or contractual workers in the government including Barangay Health Workers and Day care workers who are merely recognized as volunteers in the government

* Allocation of funds for the implementation of the different laws covering different sectoral groups in the public sector such as the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers, Magna Carta for Public School Teachers and Magna Carta for Disabled Persons Unless these calls are met, government workers who form the backbone of the bureaucracy will continue to bear the burden of meager and inequitable pay, failing investments in public services, corruption, deteriorating professionalism, and demoralization. This does not bode well for the millions of Filipinos now driven to poverty and dependence on public services.

It is high time the administration institute genuine measures for the sake of the 1.5 million-strong workforce it employs. Government workers will not any more tolerate artificial solutions by an artificial president!

General Secretary
Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK)
#15 Clarion Lily St., Saint Dominic Subdivision I
Congressional Avenue, Project 6, Quezon City

Barter Traders' Building Demolished In Zamboanga City

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - Backed by a Supreme Court decision, the city government Wednesday demolished the Zamboanga Barter Goods Retailers Association, Inc. (ZAMBAGORA) building in downtown Zamboanga City.

City Administrator Elias Enriquez, who supervised the demolition, said some 288 stall owners cooperated with the demolition crew. The second phase of the demolition is set on Friday.

Enriquez said the Supreme Court affirmed with finality the orders issued by the Regional Trial Court favoring the city government’s plan to occupy the property. The demolition marked the end of a 10-year legal battle on the property which started way back during the time of the late Mayor Maria Clara Lobregat, the mother of the current mayor.

“There was no resistance from the occupants, everything went on smoothly,” Enriquez said.
He said the demolition will pave the way for the proposed construction of a multi-level parking building, one of the priority projects under the City Development Strategies.

In 1998, the city government wanted to take over the property for the construction of a fire station. However, due to court litigations initiated by the ZAMBAGORA, the city failed to beat the deadline set by the Bureau of Fire and Protection for the identification of the site.

The funding for the purpose was also reverted by the national government for other purposes due to the delay in the identification of the lot. Erniquez is confident that the proposed project of the city government would push through this time in view of the support and cooperation of the ZAMBAGORA building occupants. (Sheila Covarrubias)

Philippines' DEA Gets New Building

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat inaugurated on Wednesday the newly renovated building of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) regional office financed by the Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (JIATF)-West and the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

“This new building is a testimony of the agency’s dedication and commitment to sustain the momentum in the fight against the drug menace,” Lobregat said in his speech during the unveiling ceremony in Calarian village.

PDEA Director General and Senior Undersecretary Dionisio Santiago and US DEA Country Attaché Timothy Teal graced the PDEA-9 building inauguration. Also present were Greg Mc Coy, representative of the JIATF-West, Naval Forces Western Mindanao chief Admiral Emilio Marayag, City Police Director Col. Jonathan Perez, PDEA-9 Director Adzhar Albani, Health Regional Director Dr. Aristedes Tan and representatives from the different agencies and sectors in the city.

Lobregat said the new building also manifests the strong support of the US government to the fight against illegal drugs.

“Like terrorism, the drug problem has become a global threat and we are very grateful that the United States has extended its support to us”, he said.

The construction of the building, costing about $250,000 was the result of a memorandum of understanding between the US government and the PDEA.

According to Lobregat, the difficulties faced on account of limited space or cramped environ of the old PDEA building are now a thing of the past. “With the inauguration and blessing of this new structure today, a new chapter is to begin in the history of the PDEA in Western Mindanao. This new structure signifies renewed efforts to combat drugs.”

He also praised PDEA-9’s accomplishments, the most recent of which was the discovery of shabu laboratories in Lamisahan, Tetuan and Talon-Talon villages and the consequent arrest of a Taiwanese suspect.

Lobregat vowed to continue supporting to the campaign against illegal drugs and called on all agencies concerned to work together for a drug-free Zamboanga. (Sheila Covarrubias)

Summer Sports Clinic Kicks Off In Zamboanga City

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - While most employees across the country are off to observe the May 1 Labor Day celebration, hordes of young Zamboangueños and their parents, are expected to fill the Joaquin Enriquez Sports Complex for the city-sponsored Summer Learn to Play a Sports program.

The program, a top priority of the administration of Mayor Celso Lobregat, is a month long free training on 26 sports events for children aged 7-15 years old.

City Sports Division, reported CSD Director Bernardito Patiño said some 4,000 young children have secured registration forms.

The 26 sport disciplines offered for free to youngsters include aikido/arnis, athletics, badminton, basketball, baseball, body building, boxing, chess, dancesport, fencing, football, gymnastics, judo, karate-do, lawn tennis, muay thai, pencak silat, sepak takraw, softball, swimming, table tennis, taekwondo, volleyball, weightlifting, wrestling, and wushu.

All disciplines will be hosted at the Enriquez Sports Complex. However, Patiño detailed, table tennis will also be conducted simultaneously at the Mercedes Elementary School. Weightlifting will also have classes at Boalan, Talon-Talon and San Roque.

The sports program, now on its 13th year, had produced some of the city’s top athletes who perform exceptionally both at national and international competitions.

The 13th Summer Learn to Play will officially open with a short ceremony at the Enriquez Sports Complex at 1 p.m. with Mayor Celso Lobregat as keynote speaker.

Sangguniang Kabataan President Joefel de las Peñas and Councilor Roel Natividad will also grace the event. (Claudine Uniana)

National Guard On Their Way To Southern Philippines

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 30, 2008) – More US troops are expected to arrive soon in the Philippines to support hundreds already deployed in the southern part of the country aiding Filipino troops in battling terrorism.
At least 30 soldiers, part of the Guam Army National Guard's 1st Battalion under the 294th Infantry Regiment, are heading to support the "Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines," the Guam-based Mariana's Variety newspaper reported Wednesday.

It said the soldiers will serve as security, at least for six months, for a unit of the Special Operations Command-Pacific that is conducting joint civilian-military operations and training with the Philippine military.

US soldiers deployed in the south are under the Joint Special Task-Philippines which is based in Zamboanga City, but its "area of operations", according to a US military publication, spans 8,000 square miles, covering the entire island of Mindanao and its surrounding islands and seas. With various military facilities now being constructed for their use, members of the unit refer to their bases in Mindanao as "forward operating base-11" and "advanced operating base-921".
Though US and Philippine government officials have consistently claimed that the unit is not involved in actual combat, US troops themselves describe their mission as "unconventional warfare" and "counter-insurgency" operations in the country. US troops join Filipino soldiers on patrol, provide them with intelligence, and assist in various aspects of their operation.

American soldiers are also active in many development and humanitarian activities in the southern Philippines, especially in Sulu province where they built roads and schools and join medical missions with local troops and provincial government mostly in poor areas.

The humanitarian missions is part of the Balikatan, which means "shoulder-to-shoulder," an annual Philippine and US bilateral military humanitarian assistance and training activity.

Sulu Governor Sakur Tan said the humanitarian missions helped many poor families in the province.

Just earlier this year, about 600 US troops worked with civilian authorities and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in various humanitarian projects that included free medical, dental and veterinary care in Sulu province and also in central and Western part of Mindanao.

US and Philippine soldiers, many of them construction engineers, built schools and other community infrastructures in those areas.

In 2006, the United States Navy hospital ship Mercy had treated more than 60,000 mostly poor Filipino patients in separate medical missions in Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi islands, including Zamboanga City, as part of the Project Bayanihan. (Mindanao Examiner)

Philippine Rebels Hold 2 Army Soldiers In South

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 30, 2008) – Philippine communist rebels on Wednesday said they are holding two government soldiers captured during a raid on a southern town.

Rigoberto Sanchez, a rebel spokesman, said the two soldiers Napoleon Gerasmio and Huberto Corbita are both sergeants in the Philippine Army. They were captured at a rebel checkpoint on April 24 in the mountain village of Upper Ulip in Compostela Valley’s Monkayo town.

He said the captives are being investigated by a rebel court of any human rights abuses and crimes against civilians.

“The two prisoners of war are undergoing investigation to find out any culpability for serious violations of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and other war crimes that they may have committed in the conduct of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ past and present counter-revolutionary war and anti-people campaigns of repression,” Sanches said.

Maj. Raymundo Aguada, spokesman for the Army's 10th Infantry Division, said government soldiers have mounted a massive operation since last week to free the duo.

The rebels warned the military that any attempt to rescue the two soldiers will put their lives at risk. “Attempts by the AFP to rescue the prisoners will only heighten the worry for the POWs' families as it will put their security in jeopardy,” Sanches warned.

Last year, the New People’s Army rebels also seized an army soldier Sgt. Raul Reyes in Compostela Valley and freed him three weeks later on humanitarian grounds after his family appealed to rebels to spare his life.

Reyes was seized with two other militiamen Glorieto Mahumas and Rudy Villaflor, also a village chieftain, in October 7 after NPA forces raided a government post in the village of Canidkid in Montevista town. Mahumas and Villaflor later escaped from their captors.

The NPA said it seized the soldier after villagers complained that military units deployed in the town had been notorious in committing human rights abuses and violations. The rebels previously said the three would be tried for crimes committed against civilians. They had in the past kidnapped military and police officers, but also freed them to the International Committee of the Red Cross after negotiations.

The rebels, armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front, are fighting the Filipino government for the establishment of a Maoist state in the country. (Mindanao Examiner)

Soldiers Harass, Threaten Union Leader, Workers: AHRC

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has learned that soldiers continuously threatened and harassed a union president and her fellow workers. The workers, presently holding a picket line in front of their factory, were questioned in separate occasions about personal details of their president.

The soldiers were falsely accusing their leader as leftist; thus, anyone who associates with her would also be pursued. Two of the workers had been briefly taken into soldiers' custody where they were questioned in absence of their legal counsel about their union's activity. The soldiers have had their detachment set up close to their picket line.

CASE DETAILS: (According to information received from the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR)).

On 10 March 2008, some elements of 7th Infantry Division (ID), Philippine Army, had established a detachment at the Barangay (village) Hall in Cruz, Guiguinto, Bulacan. Though the municipal mayor has admitted giving consent to the soldiers' deployment supposedly for maintaining peace and order, one of the councilors in the area claimed this was not coordinated with them. Also, the soldier's presence is questionable as maintenance of peace and order should have been a police duty, not by soldiers.

Even before the soldiers established their detachment, there have been similar military deployments in different parts of the province of Bulacan where the soldiers have likewise set up detachments. Some observers testified that the deployments could be part of Oplan Bantay Laya, the government's counter-insurgency program. Since it was implemented, the province of Bulacan had its communities become one of many provinces nearly entirely militarized.

The 7th ID's detachment in Cruz, Guiguinto is about few meters away from where the picket line of the union Nagkakaisang Samahan ng Footjoy (United Association of Footjoy) is located. On the same day the soldiers setup their detachment, at around 2pm to 3pm, an unidentified soldier wearing camouflage pants and T-shirt was seen roaming close to the picket line.

The following day, March 11, at 9am another unidentified soldier accompanied by a certain Carlito, a villager whose house is close to the picket line, also visited at the picket line purportedly to conduct a census. Upon reaching the picket line, Carlito had introduced the military man to Satur Maraganas, one of the workers of Footjoy.

The military man then asked another worker Edgardo Hernandez, some details about their union president, Mercy Santomin. The soldier asked her last name, her address, when she usually visits their picket line and what her activities are when she's at the picket line. They were also asked if there are other groups or organization which provides support to their union.

Edgardo has confirmed that Mercy is their union president. He, however, told the soldier that he does not know her place of residence; that Mercy only visits when she has updates about their case to tell them and that there are no other organizations providing them support. But despite Edgardo's explanations, the military did not believe him.

The soldier insisted that there should be other organizations that provide support to their union and their strike. Edgardo told the soldier that they were not actually on strike but rather were forced to form a union and set up a picket line because their company, Footjoy Industrial Corporation, where they were formerly employed, had been slowly taking out the machines from their factory without paying their separation pays and other benefits. The factory is owned by Antonio Tan.

Mercy is indeed the union president; however many of her fellow workers and union leaders had to either conceal or deny this information as they fear for her own safety. Her colleagues had also refused giving personal details about her. The denial by some of the workers' that they are holding a strike was also purposely done to avoid being questioned further by the soldiers.

On March 12, at around 10am another four soldiers had come to the picket line. At the time, only two of the workers were present at the picket line; they were Aldrin Lipa and Erlando Ricohermoso. The soldiers then asked Aldrin to produce his identification card (ID) with picture.

As Aldrin was busy looking for his ID card in his wallet, one of the soldiers suddenly grabbed his ID card from Anakpawis. Anakpawis is a political party actively involve in social, economic and political issues in the country.

When the soldiers saw Aldrin's Anakpawis ID, they asked him who had given it to him. They, once again, also questioned Aldrin and Erlando about the details of their president, Mercy and why they are on strike.

Aldrin then patiently explained to the soldiers the reason why they are on strike. Meanwhile, Erlando also intervened and asked the soldiers a hypothetical question whether they would allow him to pay them only Php50 (USD 1) per day had he been their employer. The soldiers however did not pay attention to Erlando's question and instead left but without returning back Aldrin's ID card.

At about 12nn, the soldiers came back and asked for another worker, Enrico Lastimado. When asked about their identity, the soldiers refused to give their names.

On March 13, another three soldiers came to the picket line again at around 9am purportedly to conduct a census. There they questioned another worker, Rosalinda Villavicencio. Once again, the soldiers asked her about their union president and the whereabouts of another union leader, Rolando Nicol (a.k.a. "Teng-Teng").

To avoid being questioned further, Rosalinda played dumb denying their union has a president. The soldiers likewise asked her if Mercy stays at the picket line. Rosalinda however told them that Mercy is living in Barangay Tuktukan and that if they wanted to confirm if she's telling the truth, she could accompany them to her house.

Another worker, Jovy Isid, who was also in the picket line at that time, was also questioned by the soldier. Jovy said the soldiers asked her name, age, civil status, job and her group affiliations. Jovy told the soldier they do not have any affiliations but they instead forced them into admitting that they have. One of the soldiers asked her if she knew someone whose house is located close to the picket line. Jovy told them that her sister-in-law's house is close by and that if they have questions about her, they could ask her instead as she is busy with her job at the time. The soldiers then asked Jovy about Mercy. When Jovy asked why they were looking for Mercy, the soldiers told her Mercy is a leftist.

On the same day at around 11am, another worker, Elena Hernandez, also said that a soldier she had described as tall, dark, and tough looking had also interviewed her and her husband supposedly for census purposes. Elena and her husband were both at the picket line at that time. The soldier had asked their names, ages, birthplace and their organization and the reasons for their strike.

Elena, however, like Edgardo told the soldiers they are not actually on strike. The picket line that they have set-up was purposely to prevent their employer from taking the industrial machines out from the factory. Elena also told the soldier that she and her husband had no other choice but to stay in the picket line because they could no longer afford to pay rent should they decide to occupy an apartment.

The soldier then asked Elena whether there are other groups that instigated them into going on strike. She told him there was none and it is their own decision to form their union for lack of other choice when their employer started taking out some of the machines and transferred them to another place.

In the Philippines, it is the practice of some owners of factories to close down unannounced and without properly informing their employees. The employees, too, are not being paid their separation pays, salaries and other benefits. Thus, what the workers could only do is to prevent industrial machines inside the factory from being taken outside by setting up picket line in front or close to the factory. They closely monitor the activities of the factory to prevent the machines from being taken out or transferred. This serves at least as the workers' de facto collateral until their employers pays them what is due them.

The soldier then asked Elena if she knows Mercy, whether she is living in Sta. Rita, Guiguinto, and that if she still comes to the picket line. Elena told him that Mercy only comes at the picket line when she has any updates to tell them about their case. The soldier then asked her if she knew Rolando Nicol (a.k.a. "Teng-Teng").

The soldier then told the workers to cooperate with them in maintaining the peace and order. The soldier also added that it is common that when the communists know that a certain business is doing well, the communists would do anything to ensure its bankruptcy as that is what makes them happy.

Thus, it is for these reasons they are not convinced that the Footjoy workers have no supporters. Additionally, the soldier also asked if their union is a member of Kilusan ng Manggagawa sa Bulacan (KMB or Bulacan Workers' Movement) or Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May One Movement).

Then, at around 12nn to 1pm, a soldier now identified as Yonel dela Cuesta, had returned to the picket line telling Rosalinda that they wanted to speak to Mercy because they are going to give her a house and lot. However, before they could do so they wanted to question her and take her to Fort Magsaysay. Yonel also warned Jovy that anyone who is seen with Mercy would also be pursued. The soldiers have since visited the picket line almost everyday looking for Mercy.

On March 23, Edgardo had a conversation with one of the soldiers who had introduced himself as commander of the 7th ID. He, however, could not recall his name. It is in Shoetown, a branch of Footjoy, where this conversation took place, which is located in the same village.

According to this soldier, they have a list of their union members which was given by the factory's keeper, Domingo Obal. Leading on the list was the union's president, Mercy. The existence of the supposed list though is yet to be confirmed.

This soldier also claimed that whether the workers admit or not, they have been surely infiltrated by the communists. He also mentioned that the workers knew where Mercy is but they hid her from them. Edgardo told him it's up to them whether they want to believe the workers. Edgardo told him that it just so happened that Mercy is the one who always speaks during their meetings because she could grasp easily what their lawyer wanted to say. The soldier also mentioned that they are wondering why Mercy was also always present in rallies.

Edgardo's experience was then followed on March 25 when two soldiers entered the Footjoy factory and asked him to accompany them inside around 4:45pm. While Edgardo was accompanying them, the soldiers asked him whether he has anything to say about Domingo.

Edgardo however answered that Domingo was the keeper of their employer's fish pond. The soldiers then corrected their own question and asked him again about Domingo's involvement in their case. Edgardo answered that his co-workers were mad at Domingo because he had colluded with the factory owner in taking the machines out from the factory.

In another incident, on March 24 at around 3pm four soldiers visited the house of other Footjoy workers, Zenaida Magabo and her husband, Ronaldo, in Barangay Tabe, Guiguinto, Only Ronaldo was at their house at that time. According to the accounts of Ronaldo relayed by Zenaida, the soldiers asked her husband if he knows Mercy and the other officers of their union.

They also confronted Ronaldo for being a speaker in some rallies. But Ronaldo reasoned out patiently answering their questions but never believed him. Instead, they quoted a line from the bible stating that Judas was killed because he was a liar. They then told him that he and his wife should report to the detachment the following day, March 25, and if they fail to do so it would mean that they are hiding something.

However at around 11:30pm on the day, while Zenaida and Ronaldo, were asleep the soldiers arrived and pounded their gate. They also forced them to report to their detachment. When they arrived at the detachment, a certain Major Barnas/Vargas introduced himself telling the couple that he is the second high-ranking official in Bulacan. He also claimed that the barangays in Bulacan and Pampanga are under his command. He also told them that they had already given lecture to the "mother leaders" of their barangay--referring to the coordinators in the village--telling them that union organizing is Mercy's way of money making.

This military major also said that Mercy is Satur Ocampo's disciple and that communists wants to undermine the country's economy that is why they are urging the workers to go on strike. He also claimed that it is their way of recruiting members of New People's Army (NPA), a rebel group.

The soldier also added that with regard to the Php10 million (USD 2.3 million) monetary awards for the workers, the Php 2 million (USD 47,000) have been already taken by Mercy that is why their case is not making any progress and that there is no assurance if the workers would be able to get their share. He also added that even if the workers get their separation pay, some of them would still die. The couple was interrogated for about an hour and a half.

On March 25, at 1pm, Ronaldo and his wife Zenaida were again told by the military to report to the detachment and ordered Ronaldo to fill-up a form with a heading address of Panasahan, Malolos. He was then offered to become a member of Barangay Intelligence Brigade (BIB), but they were able to refuse by making excuses reasoning that they are very busy with their tiangge business (store of surplus products being sold with lower prices).

The couple also said the soldiers also visited their fellow workers living in Barangay Tabe. Like them they were also questioned about Mercy. On March 26, at around 1pm to 2pm, a man who introduced himself as a buyer from Shoetown had come asking workers Chito Ibardolaza and his fellow worker Satur to accompany him going to the Footjoy's building. However, upon reaching the place, the man, whose movement was seen suspicious, did not get out from his car. He instead gave Chito and Satur food to eat telling them he would come back some other time.

After a while, as the two were together with a neighbor Boyet having a rest under the tamarind tree near the picket line, when a man, carrying a gun, approached them introducing himself as an NPA member. He then asked who are the strikers and their president, and how long they have been holding their picket line. They told the said man that they have been on strike for seven years.

The man then commented that Antonio Tan, the owner of the company, has already left outside the country. He then asked if there are any "pulahan" (leftist) in their group. He also asked them about Mercy's whereabouts and told them that she was evil. After that, he left and went straight to the soldiers' outpost nearby.

Up until now, the threats and harassment perpetrated by the soldiers against the workers is still continuing. The soldiers also continue to pursue Mercy. During the incidents, Mercy was not at the picket line, but her fellow workers had immediately informed her once they are being threatened and harassed. For the time being, Mercy has since gone into hiding and could no longer be located. She was last known to have worked as a laundrywoman.

The Footjoy Industrial Corporation, owned by Antonio Tan, is a company that produces shoes and slippers. It began its operation in 1991 in Cruz, Guiguinto, Bulacan. It has almost 15,000 employees including those employees in other branches of Footjoy such as Front Runner/BRC, Shoetown, KTP, Discovery Luggage, Bon Voyage, Cathay Luggage and Pulilan Footwear.

On 2 February 2001, the factory owner claimed they needed to temporarily shutdown their company due to financial losses. The workers, however, noticed that the management had been gradually taking their machines out from the factory which should have not been allowed.

Because of this unannounced closure, the workers had no choice but to hold a strike within the same month. They set up their picket line outside the factory which eventually became the residence of many of the workers after losing their jobs. They could no longer afford to pay for rent should they decide not to stay at the picket line.

On March 19, 2001, almost 505 workers have filed charges of Illegal Closure, Illegal Dismissal and Non-Implementation of the Wage Order No. 8 for underpayment before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) in Region 3, against the owner of the factory. The NLRC is under the Department of labor and Employment (Dole). On October 2001, the NLRC ruled in favor of the workers granting them a monetary compensation of about Php51 million (contrary to the soldiers' claim of only Php10 million).

The owner, Antonio Tan, appealed the NLRC's decision on 14 December 2001 but was eventually dismissed due to his failure to complete the appeal bond. On July 2002, Antonio then filed another appeal before to the Court of Appeals (CA). On 29 November 2002, the CA ruled in favor of Antonio's appeal and ordered the case to be sent back to NLRC. He was also allowed a Php10 million appeal bond.

On 15 September 2003, the workers filed a Petition for Review before the Supreme Court (SC) with regards to the CA's decision. However, on 27 July 2007, the SC affirms the CA's earlier decision in favor of Antonio. At the present, the workers are still waiting for the SC's Entry of Judgment in order to set a hearing at the NLRC.

SUGGESTED ACTION:Please write letter to the concerned authorities requesting for their appropriate intervention into this case. A credible investigation must be conducted regarding these allegations against the soldiers. The soldiers should also be investigated regarding the actions they are taking against the union leaders and workers and that must be held responsible if found to have committed this violation.

The AHRC has also written to the Special Representatives of the UN Secretary General for human rights defenders; on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. We have also endorsed the union's complaint to the Secretary General of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

To support this appeal, please write:

Dear __________,

PHILIPPINES: Soldiers continuously harass and threaten a union leader and her fellow workers
Name of victims: 1. Mercy Santomin, union president of the Nagkakaisang Samahan ng Footjoy (United Association of Footjoy) and her fellow workers; 2. Rolando Nicol (a.k.a. "Teng-Teng"), union officer 3. Satur Maraganas 4. Edgardo Hernandez5. Aldrin Lipa 6. Erlando Ricohermoso7. Enrico Lastimado 8. Rosalinda Villavicencio 9. Zenaida Magabo and her husband; 10. Ronaldo11. Chito Ibardolaza(All of them are union members and former workers of the factory Footjoy Industrial Corporation) Date of incident: Since 10 March 2008 to presentPlace of incident: Barangay (village) Cruz, Guiginto, BulacanName of alleged perpetrators: Yonel dela Cuesta, Major Barnas/Vargas and several soldiers attached to the 7th Infantry Division (ID), Philippine Army.

I am writing to raise my grave concern regarding the soldier's actions by continuously threatening and harassing a union president, Mercy Santomin, union officer Rolando Nicol and at least nine of their companions mentioned above. Mercy, Rolando and their fellow workers, all are members of Nagkakaisang Samahan ng Footjoy (United Association of Footjoy), had been holding a picket line in front of their factory since February 2001.

I am aware that after their factory shuts down unannounced, the workers were left without choice but to ensure that the factory's industrial machines kept inside would not be taken out until they are paid their separation pays and other benefits. The workers have lost their jobs and their factory closed down without paying their financial obligations due them. Some of them, too, were left without choice but to stay at their picket line despite enormous inconvenience as they themselves are no longer able to pay for a house rent after losing their job.

However, as the workers' compensation claims from their former employer remains pending, I have learned that the soldiers, whose names and unit is mentioned above, have continuously been employing threats and harassment against the union's leaders and members. They also falsely accused Mercy of either being leftist and insinuated they had been influenced by communists to justify their actions; for instance, of questioning them in absence of their legal counsel.

This incident began on 10 March 2008 when the soldiers had come to the village close to where the union's picket line is located and set up their detachment there. The soldiers, without any substantial reasons or explanation, have since been routinely going to the union's picket line and questioning the workers staying there. They have repeatedly questioned them regarding the whereabouts and personal details of Mercy and their union's activities since then. One of the workers was also asked details about Rolando.

Although the soldiers do not have any business with the pending labor dispute between the workers and their former employer, the soldiers nevertheless interfere claiming the workers' decision to go on strike since February 2001 could have been influenced by the communists. In doing so, the soldiers are making justifications to their obviously illegal actions. The civic service and census they are conducting with the workers is in fact a smokescreen in this case.

Also, there have been instances wherein the workers are held and questioned in absence of their legal counsel. This is what had happened to Zenaida Magabo and her husband Ronaldo on March 24. The couple, who are also workers and union members, were briefly held at the soldiers' detachment after having been forcibly taken from their house while they were asleep.

They were questioned regarding Mercy's details and other leaders. The soldiers likewise attempted to employ the couple's service into the Barangay Intelligence Brigade (BIB) organized by soldiers but they refused.

Apart from that, I am deeply concerned with the soldiers' action which is effectively undermining these workers rights to freely associate and to exercise their right to create union in pursuing their labour rights. The soldier's presence in the area, did not only counter the police' duty of maintaining peace and order, but have also threatened the very heart of the union's activity itself.

or soldiers to interfere with union activity on the pretext of civic service and fighting insurgency is completely unacceptable. I could not find any substantial reason that could justify the soldier's continuing actions against the workers.

It is extremely shocking that these soldiers continuously threaten and harass these workers on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. Their interference with the exercise of the workers' right to freely associate must be stop immediately. The soldier's actions have in fact contradicted the very purpose of their deployment there. The soldiers' intervention into the workers' union activities does neither fall within the civic service nor maintenance of peace and order they supposedly ought to do.

I am deeply concerned by the misrepresentation, misleading and illegal actions taken by the soldiers as they perform their duties there. I therefore, urge you to ensure that the soldiers involved must be investigated to answer the allegations against them. The soldiers must give sufficient explanation as to why they should not be held accountable for continuously threatening and harassing these workers. Their failure to do so should hold them accountable.

Furthermore, I urge you to ensure that the workers affected are also afforded with adequate and immediate assistance. I urge you to consider providing some arrangement to ensure their security and protection.

It is disappointing that some of these workers had to go into hiding for unsubstantiated illegal acts. These workers have long suffered from lost of livelihood and homes due to the failure of their employer to pay separation pay and other benefits. On top of this, they suffer threats as they continue to make these rightful claims.

Yours sincerely,



1. Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, President, Republic of the Philippines, Malacanang Palace, JP Laurel Street, San Miguel, Manila 1005, PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 736 1010 Tel: +63 2 735 6201 / 564 1451 to 80 E-mail:

2. Commissioner Lourdes Quisumbing, Commission on Human Rights, SAAC Bldg., Commonwealth Avenue, U.P. Complex, Diliman, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 929 0102 Tel: +63 2 928 5655 / 926 6188

3. Deputy Director General Avelino Razon, Chief, Philippine National Police (PNP)
Camp General Rafael Crame, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2724 8763 Tel: +63 2 726 4361/4366/8763 E-mail:

4. Mr. Emilio Gonzalez, Deputy Ombudsman, Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices 3rd Floor, Ombudsman Bldg., Agham Road, Diliman, 1104 Quezon City, PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 2 926 9032Fax: +63 2 926 8747

5. Mr. Ronaldo V. Puno, Secretary, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG)
A. Francisco Gold Condominium IIEDSA cor. Mapagmahal St., Diliman, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 925 0332 Tel: +63 2 925 0330 / 31 E-mail:

6. Mr. Raul Gonzalez, Secretary, Department of Justice (DoJ), DOJ Bldg., Padre Faura
1004 Manila, PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 521 1614 E-mail:

7. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) AFP-GHQ Offices, Camp Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 911 6436Tel: +63 2 911 6001 to 50

8. Mr. Marianito Roque, Acting Secretary, Department of Labor and Employment (Dole)
7/F DOLE Building, Intramuros, Manila, NCR 1002 PHILIPPINES
Tel No: +63 2 527 2131 E-mail:

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals ProgrammeAsian Human Rights Commission (

Troops Shell Militant Lairs In Southern Philippines

Government troops on board a convoy of trucks and armored carriers pass through a crowded village in Indanan town in the southern Philippine province of Sulu, where fighting Wednesday, April 30, 2008 breaks out in the village of Cagay between security and Abu Sayyaf forces, backed by renegade members of the Moro National Liberation Front. At least one marine was wounded in the fighting that also left a still undetermined number of gunmen dead and injured. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 30, 2008) – Government forces clashed with militants in the southern Philippine province of Sulu, leaving one soldier wounded and a still undetermined number of gunmen dead and wounded, officials said.

Military choppers fired several rounds of rockets at strongholds of the Abu Sayyaf in the town of Indanan, aimed at weakening the militant group, but renegade members of the Moro National Liberation Front aided the gunmen.

The human rights organization called Suara Bangsamoro said troops also fired canons around a major MNLF base in the village of Cagay, an area controlled by Khaid Ajibun, a senior leader of the former rebel group which signed a peace deal with Manila in 1996.

It said dozens of civilians have fled the village because of the bombings. “At least 28 howitzer canons were fired to that area and after the bombardments ground troops mounted an attack, sparking a firefight,” Amirah Lidasan, the group’s leader told the Mindanao Examiner.

She said seven soldiers were either killed or wounded in the fighting, but the military said only one marine was injured in the clash.

The military said the fighting only involved the Abu Sayyaf and that the operation was aimed to arrest the leaders of the group tied with al-Qaeda and blamed for past bombings and kidnappings for money in the south.

“Troops clashed with the Abu Sayyaf group. The operation began at dawn Wednesday and targeted the lairs of the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya. We have reports the area is being used to manufacture IED (improvised explosive device),” Maj. Eugene Batara, a spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command, said in a separate interview.

He tagged Abu Pula, alias Doctor Abu, as the leader of the group that soldiers clashed in Indanan town.

“The intelligence-driven operation is aimed to apprehend, neutralize, and bring to justice the remaining leaders and members of the Abu Sayyaf, as well as the Jemaah Islamiya bombers, who forged alliances with the former in the name of terrorism and violence,” Batara said without identifying the Jemaah Islamiya bombers,” he said.

In Sulu, local military chief Brig. Gen. Juancho Sabban, said the offensive did not target the MNLF. “The operation is not against the Moro National Liberation Front. No way, this operation is meant against the MNLF. They are not our targets. We are primarily after the ASG and the JI,” he said.

“The ultimate reason of this operation is for the people to finally live in safety without the fear that they could be held captive at any time in any place,” Sabban said.

Sabban previously said the Abu Sayyaf is fragmented and is on the run because of sustained military operations in Sulu province. (With a report from Mark Navales)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Zamboanga City Launches Programs To Sustain Rice Supply

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Zamboanga City has began demonstrations on farming upland rice in different villages in an effort to help sustain the supply of grains here
City Agriculturist Diosdado Palacat recently bared the various programs that his office has embarked to steady the rice situation in the city.

He said they are now conducting demonstrations on farming upland rice, a variety that can withstand high temperature with minimal demand for water, especially in the villages of Balinsungay and Mercedes.

Similar demonstrations were also conducted in other areas where water is scarce like Curuan, Buenavista, and Ayala villages.

He said some irrigation canals are plagued with debris and weeds that thwart the free flow of water to the rice fields. To impede further infestation of such weeds, several city agriculturist personnel have been deployed to numerous areas to help with the cleanup of the waterways.

Palacat is optimistic that water can more generously flood the fields now that most debris that obstructs the waterways has been removed. Another issue that besieges farmers and might be contributory to the rice crisis, Palacat said, is the loss incurred in post-harvest facilities.

In the city, 15% or 150 in every thousand sacks of palay is lost in such facilities. “We are monitoring and orienting our farmers on how to handle the palay to reduce the rate of loss,” he said.

He said his office is also campaigning for the planting of white corn as a substitute to rice. Corn, he said, is rich in protein and sugar. “In the past, only about 14-15% of Zamboangueños eat rice. Now, 90% of the population is rice-eaters. This also contributes to the present rice crisis,” Palacat said.

Palacat maintained that there is no rice shortage in the city. More than enough sacks of rice are housed in many warehouses around the city, particularly the National Food Authority, to provide for the requirements of the population.

Rice production in the city can only account for 30% of the demand for rice. However, the city is able to import rice from nearby areas such as Zamboanga Sibugay to fill up the 70% deficit. (Claudine Uniana)

Blame Manila If Peace Talks Fail, MILF

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 29, 2008) – Muslim rebels negotiating for a separate state in the southern Philippines warned that peace talks may collapse unless Manila honors its commitment to grant them their demand for ancestral domain.

Peace talks have been stalled since last year after government negotiators reneged on its deal to grant the Moro Islamic Liberation Front its demand.

MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the Filipino peace panel last year agreed on the scope of the ancestral domain, but later reneged on the accord that will constitute a separate homeland for over 4 million Muslims and indigenous tribes in Mindanao.

Malaysia which is brokering the peace talks said it would start pulling out its truce observers deployed in Mindanao if there is no progress in the negotiations.

“The Philippine Government bears the responsibility to comply with its commitment to adhere to the consensus points and agreed Memorandum of Agreement draft proposal on ancestral domain. Such moves will avert the peace process from falling apart,” said Murad Ebrahim, the chieftain of the MILF.

“Let me reiterate to all, including the international community that the MILF leadership is very serious and fully committed to resolve the conflict between the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines through the current peace process,” he said.

Ebrahim said Manila is to be blamed should the peace talks collapse. “If the peace process fails as a result of the GRP's dilly-dallying and spoiling, we are left with no choice, but to seek other means of achieving our objective. Should that happen the government is to blame for failing to settle the conflict through diplomatic means,” he said.

The MILF previously appealed to rebels and supporters for patience as the talks stalled over demands for a separate Muslim homeland. The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Kuala Lumpur wanted progress in the peace process. Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim also said Kuala Lumpur will not be sending any more truce observers to Mindanao after the mandate of its current team ends in September. 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 MILF said government negotiators headed by Rodolfo Garcia completely disregarded the agreement on the ancestral domain and insisted again that the granting of homeland to Muslims in Mindanao would solely be through Constitutional process which the rebel group previously opposed. But the Philippine Constitution prohibits the dismembering of the country.

"This stance of the GRP peace panel has virtually jeopardized the integrity of the peace process and to continue with the talks would virtually turn it into a circus," Iqbal said.

The ancestral domain which covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago.

President Gloria Arroyo opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001 and signed a cease-fire agreement, but some rebel commanders see the negotiations as a strategy which is aimed at temporarily stopping the hostilities in Mindanao until her term ends in 2010 and pass on the secessionist problems to the next president. (Mindanao Examiner)

Zamboanga Draws Up Plan For Food Security

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - The City government is now laying the groundwork for the convening of a “food summit” next month which aims to put a comprehensive plan to ensure food sufficiency amidst the threat on global warming.

Mayor Celso Lobregat met with concerned agencies to discuss about rice production measures, climate change and food summit and other issues affecting the residents as an offshoot of global warming.

“We want to get everybody involved. We will discuss climate change and more importantly what each and every one of us as citizens—individually and collectively can do to delay the impact of global warming and what can be done by each and every individual to address the food security aspect,” Lobregat said.

Lobregat on Monday held a meeting with the City Planning and Development Office (CPDO), the City Environment and Natural Resources Officer (OCENR), City Human Resource Management Office (CHRMO), City Legal Office, City Agriculturist Office and the City Administrator’s Office to plan the mechanics for the proposed food summit.

He cited the need to involve the academe, the civil defense, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Science and Technology-PAG-ASA, National Food Authority and the Department of Agriculture among to ensure a ripple effect of the things to be discussed during the summit.

Lobregat said Zamboanga is an importer of rice and that it produces 30 percent of the rice demand. “We have to look at measures to either increase the production or decrease wastage on the demand side,” he said.

He said the city should help in the global campaign to help control climate change. Zamboanga City, he said, has experienced two storm surges last year that brought devastating effects.

The effects of the series of events that happen worldwide due to climate change put a lot of pressure on food supply, the mayor stressed. “Many countries are experiencing food shortage and there are areas where crops are destroyed,” he said.

Lobregat stressed that while the problem is a worldwide concern, measures to resolve the same should start from the individual community and each and every citizen. The proposed food summit, he said, is tentatively set for May 20. The mayor hoped that the participants to the forum will re-echo the things that will be learned to their individual sectors. (Sheila Covarrubias)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Government Pro-Poor Projects, Criticized

MAKATI CITY, Philippines - The United Opposition (UNO) dismissed the Arroyo government's much-ballyhooed P5-billion aid program for poor families as "another publicity gimmick," echoing the position of the Catholic Church and civic groups that the fight against poverty would require "an honest to goodness campaign against graft and corruption in government and not mere politically-motivated dole out."
Instead of giving dole out to the poor, UNO President and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay said, the Arroyo government should provide jobs and efficient social services to poor Filipinos and take strong steps to prevent further increases in the prices of basic commodities such as rice and other food items.
"It is unfortunate that no amount of publicity gimmicks will improve the approval ratings of President Arroyo," Binay said in a statement. "What she must do is provide good governance that will give better social services to the poor and job opportunities to the unemployed. This can only be achieved by eradicating graft and corruption in this government."
"The P5B government aid program is good primary as a public relations tool," said UNO spokesperson Adel Tamano, adding that "Malacañang failed to acknowledge is that the poverty and food crisis were caused by official corruption and misgovernance."
"The first step that must be done in an authentic poverty alleviation program is to rid the Arroyo administration of corrupt and inept officials who got us into this mess on the first place," Tamano added.
Tamano explained that the so-called Ahon Pamilyang Pilipino was designed by palace publicists to improve the plunging approval ratings of President Arroyo among the poor, noting that a provision in the program requiring that Malacañang should identify the beneficiaries of the aid.
"The entire scheme was obviously politically motivated," Tamano said. "What are alarming are reports that Malacañang's qualification and identification of poorest of the poor would target only 300,000 families. This is much too low and implies that only a minuscule number of poor families deserve attention."
For his part, San Juan Mayor JV Ejercito, UNO National Capital Region chairman, deplored the apparent lack of transparency and accountability in the implementation of the P5B aid program.
Ejercito warned that "the poor track record of the Arroyo administration in resisting graft and corruption tells us that this would only be another huge waste of government resources." "We in the united Opposition wish that this P5B aid program would actually benefit the poor.
But that would be wishful thinking under the Arroyo administration," the San Juan mayor said. Earlier, Caritas Manila Executive Director Fr. Anton Pascual criticized the aid program, saying it would only make the poor dependent on government doleout and would encourage them to be lazy.

"It is anti-poor, gives the poor no dignity, and only breeds dependency," Pascual. He explained that teaching the poor to be dependent was not part of the long-term solution to the soaring cost of basic necessities, especially food.

Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral said Malacañang had allocated P5 billion this year to fund a P500 monthly stipend for each of the country's poorest families to help them cope with the escalating prices of basic necessities.

Under the Ahon Pamilyang Pilipino (APP) program, a family will get an additional P300 for every child who logs at least 85 percent class attendance in a month. At most, three children per family could avail themselves of the stipend.

But due to budget constraints, the five-year APP program could cover only 300,000 families in the 20 poorest provinces, or 7 percent of the 4.7 million poor households in the country. (Marlene Salgado)

Pass The Affordable Medicines Bill Now, Trade Group Urged Congress

Statement of TUCP Secretary-General and former Senator Ernesto Herreraon the Delay in the Passage of the Proposed Affordable Medicines Act.

We urge Congress to instantly pass the Affordable Medicines Bill to provide relief to the working class, many of who are already suffering from high oil and food prices. The right to affordable medicines is our constitutional right. We should not be deprived this right by those who have vested interests in seeing this bill derailed.

If this bill is deferred, then what more can we look forward to from our legislators on Labor Day?

• Regional wage boards are still deliberating petitions for a wage hike;
• Tax exemption for minimum wage earners has yet to pass the House of Representatives;
• A reduction in the EVAT for oil is not even in the horizon.

Meanwhile, millions of workers suffer from work-related ailments that require medicines and treatment. Sadly, these workers are now being forced to choose between food on the table and medicines for their health. This bill will give them a fighting chance for better health.

The proposed Affordable Medicines Act is already at the bicameral conference committee.

Insisting on the inclusion of a drug price regulatory board at this late stage of the legislative process brings forth the question of motives. Why hold the entire bill hostage to this obsession for a drug price board? This can be a potential source of red tape and corruption.

We absolutely favor the Senate version, which gives the Secretary of Health the authority to review drug prices and to recommend to the President as to which medicines should be price-regulated for public good.

We renew our call on the House of Representatives and Speaker Prospero Nograles: Pass the Affordable Medicines Bill NOW!

Photo: Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group

A man wearing a t-shirt printed with the word “Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group” looks at passengers disembarking from an inter-island boat in Jolo town in Sulu province in southern Philippines. Authorities in Sulu are active in the government’s anti-smuggling campaign. President Gloria Arroyo has ordered the PASG to intensify its anti-smuggling campaign in the Philippines, which is losing an estimated P65 billion every year in revenues from unscrupulous traders. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

Special Report: Nur Misuari, Muslimin Sema And The Future Of The MNLF

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 28, 2008) – Freed former Moro National Liberation Front chieftain Nur Misuari will begin touring Muslim communities in the Philippines to campaign for peace.

His followers in Sulu province said they will prepare a big welcome party for Misuari, who is accused of rebellion after his forces attacked a major military base in Jolo town in 2001 in an effort to stop the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, to which he was governor.

“We are waiting for our one and only leader and we will give him a big welcome in Sulu,” Abdul Sahalul, one of Misuari’s loyal followers in Sulu, told the Mindanao Examiner.

Misuari’s other leaders here, among them Ustadz Habier Malik, are still in hiding after they clashed with security forces last year and held hostage a group of military officers in a failed effort to pressure Manila to free Misuari.

Misuari was granted a P50,000 bail by a court last week after spending more than five years under house arrest in Manila. He said he would not run for governor again in the autonomous region, whose system he branded as “dirty” and ran by Malacañang.

“I don’t want to be part of a system which is dirty,” said Misuari, who also ran as governor in Sulu province twice and but lost.

Misuari maintained the ARMM was created as part of a peace deal the MNLF with Manila in September 1996.

Zaldy Ampatuan, a former town mayor in Maguindanao province, is the current governor of the Muslim autonomous region after he won the polls against Parouk Hussin.

Hussin, a senior MNLF leader, was one of those that made up the so-called Council of 15 that deposed Misuari as chairman of the organization that was once the largest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines.

Ampatuan, as governor of the Muslim autonomous region, has introduced reforms and fought corruption in government. He also prioritized development projects in areas where there are MNLF communities in support to the peace agreement.

Just this month, the MNLF Central Committee named Muslimin Sema, the group’s Secretary General, as its new chairman, But Misuari did not recognize Sema as the legitimate ruler of the MNLF.

Misuari has been criticized for his tough stance and his refusal to abide by the MNLF decision that catapulted Sema into power. Sema, who originally belonged to the Council of 15, said Misuari should stop bickering and work for peace and unity in the southern Philippines.

“We should to put things in their order and work for lasting peace in the country. This is our direction now and we will make ourselves available to the government to achieve peace and unity and bring development to our people,” Sema said in a separate interview.

Sema also praised the current governor of the autonomous region because of his many accomplishments in the six provinces that comprise the ARMM – Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao, Maguindanao and Shariff Kabunsuan.

“Through these accomplishments, we can see his many achievements in the ARMM,” Sema said, referring to Ampatuan.

The MNLF, in a resolution, also criticized Misuari and branded him as a dictator and said he is no longer effective in running the group.

“We strive against the divisive dictatorial leadership, callousness and incorrigibility of Brother Nur Misuari that keep on weakening the MNLF and giving us the impediment to attain meaningful peace and development and against his disposition by repudiating senior MNLF members credibility and barring their participation in the tripartite meeting as members of the MNLF panel delegation because he enlisted non-MNLF members to replace them both in domestic and international forums,” it said.

The MNLF said Misuari appointed Yolanda Stern to represent him in meetings abroad instead of senior MNLF leaders. A streamer was also put up in Sulu saying: “Misuari has no right to send Yolanda, a Yahudi (Jew), to head the MNLF delegation to the last OIC summit meeting in Dakar, Senegal.”

Stern, head of an international foundation that helps the poor in the Philippines, said the sign is anti-female and an anti-Jewish remark directed at her name and husband, Dr. Tom Stern who is an American of Norwegian ancestry, but whose father was of Russian-Jewish heritage.

Misuari, as the official invitee to the Dakar summit of the Organization of Islamic Conference in March, was not allowed to go by the Philippine government for fear that he would never return. So he sent his emissaries, Ustadz Zain Jali and Abdul Muhaimin and Stern and her husband were the support team.

Stern said she is a senior adviser of the MNLF to the Americas. “My husband and I went as a support team because he speaks French and I know the Secretariat Staff. Dakar is a French speaking country.”

“I signed a memorandum of agreement with the MNLF in 1996 after the (signing of the) peace agreement (with the Philippine government). I will continue working with Chairman Nur Misuari towards peace for Mindanao until the leadership is determined by the Peoples Congress and not by underhanded treachery. Our foundation works hard to serve the people of the Philippines, especially Mindanao. I am a daughter of Mindanao, a free woman. Pity those who still resort to medieval thinking,” she said.

Aishah Fatima, of the MNLF, said Stern is not a member of the former rebel group and criticized her for underestimating the current leadership.

“That's reality and you had to accept it. Do not underestimate the new leadership now of the MNLF because without these leaders, Misuari is nothing and neither you have the right to scrutinize their decisions.”

“Misuari already made a big blunder by exchanging the struggle of the MNLF for a piece of paper where implementation never became a reality and where it only made rich foundations like yours, non-MNLF individuals who grab the opportunity of being close to Misuari and some government officials and NGOs,” she said.

Adler Heirman, a blogger who had followed Misuari’s political career, said the former rebel leader failed to bring unity to the MNLF.

“The problem with Nur Misuari is that he never values the efforts of those people who placed him to the top. The truth is, he is not the only founder of the MNLF, but just one of them and he now claims he’s the only founder of the MNLF. He should accept now that his excesses of dictatorial decisions and arrogance resulted to his situation now.”
“And Misuari’s allowing Yolanda (Stern) to represent the MNLF is a total betrayal of the noble cause of the MNLF. If we only follow Islamic way of punishing traitors of Jihad, what happened to Misuari now is not enough punishment for his treachery. Yolanda should call her boss the one perpetrating “underhanded treachery” not those leaders who were sincere in their Jihad Fi Sabillillah. Of course, you can’t understand this because you are not a Muslim and never became a Muslim,” he said.

The MNLF said Misuari is not interested in unity and neither is he interested in adopting a Charter (for the MNLF) that will govern the conduct and behavior of its members and set a clear direction to where the Front is heading.

“The worst thing that could happen to a ship full of passengers is to have a captain who is indifferent and hostile to them and does not have a compass by which to navigate the ship,” it said, adding, Misuari wanted a perpetual leadership with nothing to guide it and no one to question it.

Under the peace agreement, Manila would have to provide a mini-Marshal Plan to spur economic development in Muslim areas in the south and livelihood and housing assistance to tens of thousands of former rebels to uplift their poor living standards.

The 58-year old Sema has criticized Misuari for dragging the MNLF into disarray.
"Misuari wanted to bring down the MNLF with him and that's why we are all working hard to unify the MNLF and bring peace and development in Mindanao," he said.

Government peace adviser Jesus Dureza also welcomed Misuari’s temporary freedom. "We welcome the decision of the Makati Regional Trial Court allowing Chairman Nur Misuari to post bail. We hope that with his temporary liberty, Chairman Nur will continue to be an important player in the Mindanao peace process," Dureza said.

But Misuari’s fall had severely affected the MNLF which is now heavily divided and rift among its leaders is becoming more apparent. Misuari also supported President Gloria Arroyo's election bid and her allies in the Senate and Congress in 2004 in exchange for promises that he would be pardoned and freed.

Sema has vowed to "put into track the peace process with the government and make good the relations between the MNLF and government and convert it as vanguard of our people against exploitation and oppression and also as vanguard for good governance, transparency and accountability".

Sema said he intends to work further with local and international non-government organizations to bring peace and development in Muslim areas in Mindanao.

Sources close to Misuari previously said that he may be freed this year on condition that he will go to exile in Libya, which had previously supported the MNLF struggle for independence in the Philippines.

It was unknown whether Tripoli was aware or part of the plan, but Seif al-Islam, the son of the Libyan strongman Muammar al-Gaddafi and former Libyan ambassador to Manila, Salem Adam, were in Manila last year and met with government and MNLF leaders and discussed about Misuari’s case.

Seif’s Gaddafi Foundation said it would invite Misuari to a series of meeting in Libya next month to discuss the peace agreement it signed with Manila.

Under the peace agreement, Manila would have to provide a mini-Marshal Plan to spur economic development in Muslim areas in the south and livelihood and housing assistance to tens of thousands of former rebels to uplift their poor living standards.

The 58-year old Sema has criticized Misuari for dragging the MNLF into disarray. "Misuari wanted to bring down the MNLF with him and that's why we are all working hard to unify the MNLF and bring peace and development in Mindanao," he said.

The Organization of Islamic Conference is worried that the MNLF under Sema would further fragment the group and set back the efforts of the peace accord. The MNLF is a permanent observer to OIC. Misuari has repeatedly announced that the peace deal the MNLF signed with the Filipino government is long dead and buried and that he named himself as President of the Bangsamoro Republik. (Mindanao Examiner)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sulu Airport To Undergo Repair And Expansion

Passengers from Pangutaran Island disembark from a motorized boat as the other wait for their turn in the port of Jolo in Sulu province in the southern Philippines. Small ferries and boats such as this bring passengers and goods to island-villages off Sulu. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 27, 2008) – Filipino engineers are to begin a survey in Sulu province for the expansion of the airport and once finished, huge planes such as 737s and cargo aircrafts, will be able to fly and land safely.

Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan said the project, which will begin in a few months, cost about $ 3 million and is funded by the United States. He said the project was made possible because of President Gloria Arroyo who sought the funding for the rehabilitation of the airport.

"We thank President Gloria Arroyo and of course the United States' President George Bush and all the stakeholders in the project that will surely benefit our people. With a bigger airport, more aircrafts now can fly and land safely in Sulu and the project will surely hasten trade and commerce," Tan said.

The 1,800-meter runaway will be expanded to more than 2,000 meters so it could accommodate bigger passenger planes not only from Manila or Zamboanga, but from neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei that makes up the East Asia Growth Area, a sub-regional economic cooperation initiative in Southeast Asia that included the Philippines. The rehabilitation of the airport expected to be completed next year.

He said Arroyo has pledged more development projects for Sulu and so is Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao , to which Sulu belongs. "The President has promised us more projects for the people and so is Gov. Ampatuan, who has been very supportive and working hard for the development of Sulu and of the whole autonomous region," Tan said.

In October last year, US Ambassador Kristie Kenney handed over to Tan the P27-million Jolo market road and several projects in the province, including computers for the Sulu National High School and aquaculture materials for former Muslim rebels now engaged in lobster fattening.

They were on top of the $3.7 million airport expansion project and the construction of a potable water system in Sulu.

Last year, Tan launched the "Fruits of Hope program" in partnership with the international non-governmental organization called the Asia America Initiative and the Philippine National Red Cross and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The Fruits of Hope program was a model for reconciliation and terror prevention through creating livelihood opportunities in agricultural and fisheries-based communities. Because of the program, Sulu was able to shipped about six tons of assorted fruits bought from farmers and agricultural cooperatives and sold to supermarkets in Manila.

Just early this year, Tan led thousands of Muslims for a two-day peace caravan in Sulu.

He said the caravan was a collaborative effort of national government agencies and various non-government organizations to address the immediate health, education and livelihood needs of communities affected by conflict.

Dubbed as Health, Education, and Livelihood for Progress (H.E.L.P) Humanitarian Caravan, Tan said it was a mechanism designed to address the needs of communities in crisis due to the prevailing conflict in the area.

A second peace caravan, Tan said, would be held next month in Sulu. Tan said the H.E.L.P initiative is also aimed at consulting with the local communities on their medium and long term concerns particularly on livelihood and employment aspect. (With reports from Nickee Butlangan and Sulu Media Desk)

Sulu Airport Expansion, Sisimulan Na!

SULU (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 27, 2008) – Sisimulan na umano ang survey sa pagpapalawak sa airport ng Sulu upang mabuksan ang mas maraming mga ruta ng eroplano sa lalawigan.

Sinabi ni Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan na ang proyekto ay bahagi ng $3 milyong pondo na inilaan ng Estados Unidos matapos na humingi ng tulong ang Pangulong Gloria Arroyo kay President George Bush na palakihin ang naturang runway sa bayan ng Jolo.

“Malaki an gating pasasalamat kay Pangulong Gloria Arroyo at sa pamahalaan ng Estados Unidos dahil sa tulong na mapalaki ang ating airport at tiyak na ang mga mamamayan ang makikinabang dito sa proyekto,” ani ng pilantropong si Tan.

Maglalaan rin umano ng ilang ektaryang lupain si Tan para sa mahigit 200 pamilyang maaapektuhan ng expansion ng airport. At kung matatapos ang proyekto sa susunod na taon ay maaari ng makalapag ang masmalalaking eroplano sa Sulu tulad ng Airbus at iba pa. (Mindanao Examiner)

Homemade Bomb Explodes In Southern Philippines

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Of Zamboanga's Greatest Mayor Remembered

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 26, 2008) - Hundreds of people on Saturday gathered in Zamboanga City to commemorate the birth anniversary of the late Maria Clara Lobregat.

Lobregat, a known philanthropist who died from diabetic complications in January 2, 2004, was considered by the locals as one of Zamboanga's greatest leaders.

Droves of people gathered at the Jardin de Maria Clara in Pasonanca Park to offer flowers and to remember good memories of erstwhile mayor on her 87th birth anniversary dubbed as Dia de Madam Caling.

Maria Clara or Caling was born on April 2, 1921 in Zamboanga City as the second child of the five children of Spanish-Filipino Don Pablo Lorenzo who was a mayor of Zamboanga City, a representative to the first Philippine Assembly and a delegate to the Philippine Constitutional Convention, and Luisa Rafols of Cebu City.

Lobregat was the first woman mayor of Zamboanga and also served as representative to the Philippine Congress. Her son, Celso, became representative to the former lone district of Zamboanga City in 1998 and later a mayor in 2004 until the present.

"I thank the City Council for passing an ordinance making Dia de Madam Caling on her birthday, not on the day she died, because we want to have good memories and all of us remember our personal and collective memories of Madam Caling," he said.

The 21st mayor of Zamboanga City, Lobregat, started her political career in 1971 when she was elected as the city's delegate to the Constitutional Convention. She ran for the position of regional representative to the Batasang Pambansa in the early 1980s but lost to the more colorful Cesar C. Climaco. In 1987, she ran for Zamboanga City's congressional seat and won the election.

She was considered as one of the greatest political leader in the Philippines because of her many achievements and love for humanity. (With a report from Claudine Uniana)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rebels Seized Two Soldiers; Military Mounts Rescue Operation In Mindanao

Government troops onboard a military truck passes through a village in the southern Philippine province of Sulu on Saturday, April 26, 2008. The military mounted a massive rescue mission to free two army soldiers seized Friday by New People’s Army rebels in the province of Compostela Valley in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 2, 2008) – Philippines soldiers mounted a massive operation Saturday to free two infantrymen seized by communist insurgents in Compostela Valley province in Mindanao, officials said.

Officials said the duo, both army sergeants, was seized Friday in the village of Ulip in Monkayo town. Their fate remains unknown, but more troops were sent to track down the New People’s Army rebels and rescue the soldiers.

“There will be no negotiation and we have sent more troops to rescue the two abducted soldiers,” Maj. Raymundo Aguada, spokesman for the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, told The Mindanao Examiner.

He said the two soldiers Huberto Corbita and Napoleon Jerasmeo were onboard a vehicle on their way to the town when stopped by rebels at a road block. “The action of the NPA is a desperate attempt to pressure us to divert ongoing military operations in the province,” he said.

Two duo, Aguada said, were on an administrative duty and both unarmed. “The soldiers were attending to their administrative requirements during the time of incident. Because of the soldier’s incapability to defend themselves, the NPA took advantage of this and seized them,” he said.

Last year, communist rebels also seized an army soldier Sgt. Raul Reyes in Compostela Valley and freed him three weeks later on humanitarian grounds after his family appealed to rebels to spare his life.

Reyes was seized with two other militiamen Glorieto Mahumas and Rudy Villaflor, also a village chieftain, in October 7 after NPA forces raided a government post in the village of Canidkid in Montevista town. Mahumas and Villaflor later escaped from their captors.

The NPA said it seized the soldier after villagers complained that military units deployed in the town had been notorious in committing human rights abuses and violations. The rebels previously said the three would be tried for crimes committed against civilians. They had in the past kidnapped military generals and officers, but also freed them to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The rebels, armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front, are fighting the Filipino government for the establishment of a Maoist state in the country. (Mindanao Examiner)

Photo: Sulu Boatman

A fisherman paddles his small boat off Sulu province in the southern Philippines. Sulu is embarking on an ambitious tourism campaign dubbed as “Wow Sulu 2008!” aimed at attracting investments and local and foreign visitors in the province which is rich in marine resources. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

Friday, April 25, 2008

MNLF Praises Release Of Nur Misuari, But With Caution

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 25, 2008) – Former Muslim separatist rebel group Moro National Liberation Front has praised Manila on Friday for allowing its deposed leader Nur Misuari to post bail for his temporary liberty, but cautioned the Libyan firebrand against dividing the MNLF.

The Department of Justice said a court granted Misuari temporary freedom.

Misuari is facing rebellion charges after his forces tried, but failed to overrun a major military base in the southern Sulu province and another group held hostage over 100 people in Zamboanga City in 2001 in an attempt to stop the elections in the Muslim autonomous region where he was then the governor.

Misuari then escaped by boat to Malaysia, where he had been arrested and deported to the Philippines. He is now under house arrest and facing rebellion charges in Manila.

“We welcome the news of his release. And we hope this will bring unity and peace to the people,” Muslimin Sema, the new MNLF chieftain, told the Mindanao Examiner newspaper.

Misuari previously accused Sema’s group of removing him as chairman of the MNLF. His followers in Sulu said Misuari never recognized Sema as the new chieftain of the MNLF.

“Sema expects resistance to his leadership only by those whom he called as having different direction in the pursuit of the MNLF’s goals. He stressed that the Front is not fractured and that reorganization is in the offing,” Abdullah Cusain, Sema’s spokesman, said.

A former rebel leader, Sema, now the mayor of Cotabato City in Mindanao Island, has been elected earlier this month by the MNLF Central Committee as its new chieftain. It was the second time in nearly a decade that Misuari, who founded the MNLF, was removed by his own commanders.

In 2000, Misuari was also ousted by his Foreign Affairs chief Parouk Hussin, who along with Sema and other senior leaders, made up the so-called Council of 15. Sema’s group previously appointed Misuari as chairman emeritus, but he rejected the position.

The Council of 15 accused Misuari of being incompetent as governor of the Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao.

Misuari signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996 ending decades of bloody war. After the peace agreement was signed, Misuari became the governor of the Muslim autonomous region. But despite the peace accord, there was a widespread disillusionment with the weak autonomy they were granted.

Under the peace agreement, Manila would have to provide a mini-Marshal Plan to spur economic development in Muslim areas in the south and livelihood and housing assistance to tens of thousands of former rebels to uplift their poor living standards.

The 58-year old Sema has criticized Misuari for dragging the MNLF into disarray. “Misuari wanted to bring down the MNLF with him and that’s why we are all working hard to unify the MNLF and bring peace and development in Mindanao,” he said.

Government peace adviser Jesus Dureza also welcomed Misuari’s temporary freedom. “We welcome the decision of the Makati Regional Trial Court allowing Chairman Nur Misuari to post bail. We hope that with his temporary liberty, Chairman Nur will continue to be an important player in the Mindanao peace process,” Dureza said.

But Misuari's fall had severely affected the MNLF which is now heavily divided and rift among its leaders is becoming more apparent. Misuari also ran twice for governor in Sulu province even while under detention, but lost.

Misuari also supported Arroyo's election bid and her allies in the Senate and Congress in 2004 in exchange for promises that he would be pardoned and freed.

Sema has vowed to “put into track the peace process with the government and make good the relations between the MNLF and government and convert it as vanguard of our people against exploitation and oppression and also as vanguard for good governance, transparency and accountability”.

Sema said he intends to work further with local and international non-government organizations to bring peace and development in Muslim areas in Mindanao.

Sources close to Misuari earlier said that he may be freed this year on condition that he will go to exile in Libya, which had previously supported the MNLF struggle for independence in the Philippines.
It was unknown whether Tripoli was aware or part of the plan, but Seif al Islam, the son of the Libyan strongman Muammar al-Gaddafi and former Libyan ambassador to Manila, Salem Adam, were in Manila last year and met with government and MNLF leaders and discussed about Misuari’s case. (Mindanao Examiner)