Monday, August 31, 2009

Army Engineers Finish Laguna Farm-to-Market Roads

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 31, 2009) – Army engineers have finished the construction of farm-to-market roads in five remote villages in the town of Liliw in the province of Laguna, southeast of Metro Manila, officials said on Monday.

The Army’s 51st Engineering Brigade headed by General Felizardo Simoy recently handed over the five roads worth more than P12 million to Liliw Mayor Cesar Sulibit and the five village chieftains in a ceremony attended by many residents and local government officials.

Colonel Daniel Lucero, commander of the Army’s Civil-Military Operations Group, said the total length of the five road projects is 10.2-kilometers and was funded through the government’s Kalayaan Barangay Program.

He said the recipients of the farm-to-market road projects were the villages Ibabang San Roque, Ilayang San Roque, Silangang Bukal, Kanlurang Bukal and Novaliches.

“The residents, most especially our farmers, will benefit greatly from these farm-to-market roads. Farm produce and other agricultural products can now get to the markets more easily and it will hasten the town’s economy. The five villages are only among the initial 500 pilot areas identified nationwide to benefit from the program,” Lucero said.

He said the Kalayaan Barangay Program is a national government’s peace building initiative intended to alleviate the living condition of the farmers in far-flung villages.

The program, conceptualized in 2005, hopes to bring peace and development in the poorest rural and conflict-affected villages in the country. (Mindanao Examiner)

4 soldiers killed, 6 more wounded in rebel ambush in South RP

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 31, 2009) – Four government soldiers were killed in an ambush by communist rebels in the restive region of the southern Philippines.

The weekend attack also left six soldiers wounded in the village of Dalagdag in Davao City’s Calinan district, said New People’s Army rebel leader Leoncio Pitao.

Pitao said rebel forces also seized a machine gun from the soldiers belonging to the Army’s 69th Infantry Battalion.

“This recent NPA military offensive against the newly augmented 69th Infantry Battalion and the 10th Infantry Division fascists is a punitive action for the serious violations to human rights and international humanitarian law perpetrated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines against civilians in Davao hinterlands and provinces in Southern Mindanao,” said Pitao, who heads the NPA’s 1st Pulang Bagani Company.

He said the NPA continues to inflict heavy casualties on the military, despite the massive deployment of troops and militarization in the provinces.

“That the 10th Infantry Division-Armed Forces of the Philippines troops suffered heavy blows versus the people's army, despite the increasing number of its soldiers, nakedly shows the failure of the counter-revolutionary Oplan Bantay Laya II. It has utterly failed to stem the tide of the growing revolutionary movement in the face of intensive and extensive NPA tactical offensives in the region and elsewhere in the country,” Pitao said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.

There was no immediate statement from the military about the ambush.

The NPA is the armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines which has been waging a secessionist war the past four decades for the establishment of a Maoist state in the country. Peace talks collapsed in 2004 after rebel leaders accused the Arroyo government of reneging on a deal, among others, that will free political detainees and stop extrajudicial killings of activists in the country. (Mindanao Examiner)

Troops recover IED in Jolo town

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 31, 2009) – Government soldiers have recovered an improvised explosive in the southern Philippine town of Jolo, where a homemade bomb exploded and wounded two army engineers over the weekend, officials told the Mindanao Examiner on Monday.

Major Ramon David Hontiveros, a spokesman for the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said the improvised explosive device was found near the Jolo airport an hour after a bomb went off at around 7 p.m. on Sunday.

“The bomb was detonated safely,” he said.

Hontiveros said the military is still investigating the type of explosive used in the attack and the second that was recovered. “We are still determining what type of explosive was used in the attack,” he said.

Hontiveros said a marine convoy passing near the area was likely the target of the explosion.

“Initial investigation revealed that the target of the attack was the convoy of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 6 which had just left Kampo Heneral Teofilo Bautista en route to Mount Datu. The IED exploded 75 meters in front of the lead vehicle of convoy,” he said.

No individuals or group has claimed responsibility for the failed attack, but Marine Major General Benjamin Dolorfino, a regional military commander, blamed the Abu Sayyaf for the explosion in Jolo.

The Abu Sayyaf has been blamed by the police and military for the spate of kidnappings for ransom and terrorism in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner)

Filipinos want US out of Mindanao

Protesters set fire to a modified US flag outside the US embassy in Manila. (Morning Star)

Progressive forces in the Philippines have urged Manila to scrap a military deal with the US after former officials testified that US soldiers have been fighting in Mindanao in violation of the country's constitution, according to a report by the British newspaper Morning Star.

Under a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), hundreds of elite US troops have been deployed in half a dozen locations in the southern Philippines since 2002, ostensibly to train and advise Filipino troops fighting Islamist militants and the Maoist New People's Army.

On Thursday retired Philippine navy lieutenant Nancy Gadian testified at a congressional hearing that US troops based on Mindanao were embedded with Filipino units in combat situations.

The Philippine constitution bars foreign troops from fighting in the country, which was a US colony until 1946.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who heads the foreign relations panel at the upper house of Congress, said that the government must end the VFA and renegotiate a new security deal with the US.

Ms Santiago said: "If the US wants to use Philippine territory in its alleged war on terror, they will have to negotiate a treaty with the Philippines.

"In the meantime, in my humble view, the presence of US troops in Mindanao, and even worse, their participation in combat operations, are illegal."

In a petition filed with the country's high court seeking the nullification of the VFA, former Senate president Jovito Salonga and the left-wing Bayan organisation claimed that "the purpose of the US troops' stay in the country is beyond training and capability building."

The petition cited an August 20 article in the New York Times stating that US Defence Secretary Robert Gates had decided to extend the stay of 600 US commandos in Mindanao.

Mr Gates was quoted as saying that US military support "has been instrumental in killing and capturing leaders of militant groups and anti-government organisations."

But US embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson insisted that "US forces are not involved in combat operations."

Ms Thompson said that the US troops on Mindanao were on "temporary deployment at the invitation of the Philippine military and government."

And Filipino cabinet chief Eduardo Ermita argued that the VFA should stand, saying that, since the deal was signed in 2000, Washington had poured an average of two billion pesos a year (£25 million) into the Philippines.

Mr Ermita, a retired army general, said: "For the moment, we are for the stay of the VFA - it provides proper security balance and stability in the Philippines."


Sunday, August 30, 2009

2 soldiers wounded in Jolo blast

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 30, 2009) – Two government soldiers were wounded when a homemade bomb exploded late Sunday in the town of Jolo in the southern Filipino province of Sulu, officials told the Mindanao Examiner.

Officials said the explosive was planted at a road near the Jolo airport outside a Philippine Air Force base.

“An IED exploded in the vicinity of the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Tactical Operations Group 9 in Jolo town,” said Major General Benjamin Dolorfino, chief of the military’s Western Mindanao Command.

Police chief Muhibuddin Ismail said the explosion wounded two soldiers – Nasir Asid, 38, and Jamil Sadjiron, 48 – both members of the Philippine Army’s Engineering Brigade.

"The wounded soldiers were rushed to hospital," Ismail said by phone from Jolo.

The duo was on a motorcycle passing near the area when the bomb went off. They were hit by shrapnel. There were no reports of damage to properties.

No group claimed responsibility for the blast, but Abu Sayyaf militants are actively operating in the largely Muslim province. The attack occurred just as Muslims were praying in mosques in Jolo town.

Muslims around the world are observing the fasting month of Ramadan which began last week. (Mindanao Examiner)

Malaysia detains 3 Filipinos on smuggling charges

TAWI-TAWI, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 30, 2009) – Malaysian authorities arrested six people, three of them Filipinos, in separate anti-smuggling operations off Sabah near the southern Philippines, reports said.

Reports said Marine police intercepted a motor boat called “jongkong” off Sahabat 16 and seized 1,000 liters of petrol and hundreds of packets of cooking oil. Three people were arrested in the operation conducted on Friday.

The Malaysia’s Star Online reported that the boat had come from Sabah’s eastern coast of Lahad Datu. It said the boat was heading to the southern Philippines when police intercepted the vessel.

Assistant Superintendent Rudin Banin, Lahad Datu marine police operations commander, said those arrested were between the ages of 20 and 40.

He did not say if those detained were Filipinos or not. But in another operation, three Filipinos were also arrested for allegedly smuggling some 6,000 packs of Philippine-made fireworks worth about RM 18,000 into Sabah.

The names of the Filipinos were not made public, but reports said they were between 24 and 44 years old.

Sabah is home to many illegal Filipino workers and migrants. (Mindanao Examiner)

House Speaker Receives Budget Documents

Speaker Prospero Nograles formally accepts from Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya, Jr., the proposed P1.541-trilion national budget for 2010 which President Gloria Arroyo said is the final budget of her administration. Through Sec. Andaya, the President said the budget looks beyond 2010, so that future generations can build on what the Arroyo administration is leaving as legacy.

Subsequently, the Speaker turned over the voluminous documents to House appropriations Chairman Junie Cua (3rd from right) in the presence of (first row, from left) Reps. Hermilando Mandanas, Neptali Gonzales II, Deputy Speakers Simeon Datumanong, Eric Singson and Raul del Mar. Also present at the turn over are (not in order) Deputy Speaker Ma. Amelita Villarosa, Reps. Trinidad Apostol, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, Juan Edgardo Angara, Thelma Almario, Reylina Nicolas, Jesus Crispin Remulla, and Reynaldo Uy. (Photo by Engelbert Engay).

Krimen sa Zambo, tumataas; patayan patuloy pa rin!

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / Agosto 30, 2009) – Kaliwat-kanan na naman ang mga pagpaslang sa lungsod ng Zamboanga at base sa ulat ng pulisya ay umabot na sa mahigit 20 ang bilang ng mga nasawi mula nitong buwan.

Inamin naman ng pulisya na karamihan sa mga patayan ay dahil sa personal grudge, ngunit naaalarma naman ang publiko sa patuloy na pagtaas ng krimen sa Zamboanga.

Isinisisi naman ng iba ang mga patayan sa gun-for-hire na siyang nasa likod sa karamihan ng mga krimen. Ngunit bigo naman ang pulisya na matunton ang mga kinaroroonan ng mga ito.

Bukod pa ito sa mga bangkay na natatagpuan sa ibat-ibang lugar sa Zamboanga.

Mataas rin ang bilang ng mga kaso ng nakawan ng motorsiklo sa lungsod at karamihan sa mga ito ay ibinibenta rin sa ibang lugar o kaya ay binabaklas at saka ipinagbibili ang mga piyesa sa murang halaga.

Mataas rin ang problema ng droga sa Zamboanga at kamakailan ay isang “shabu tiange” umano ang nabuwag ng mga awtoridad sa Barangay Recodo na kilalang lugar na kung saan ay Talamak ang bentahan ng ipinagbabawal na droga. Sinabi ng pulisya na puspusan ang kanilang kampanya upang magigil ang paglaganap ng krimen sa lungsod. (Mindanao Examiner)

Sulu Tourism: Wow Patikul

A shower of lights fill the coastal town of Patikul as the sun sets in the southern Philippine province of Sulu. Provincial Governor Sakur Tan says they are pursuing an ambitious
tourism program that will put Sulu in the map of world-class tourist destination.

Friday, August 28, 2009

House Ready To Tackle Proposed 2010 National Budget

MANILA, Philippines - Speaker Prospero Nograles said the House of Representatives will help ensure that President Gloria Arroyo’s proposed national budget for 2010 will sustain infrastructure and socio-economic productivity programs to promote a balanced national economic and human resource development.

“We are ready to receive the proposed 2010 General Appropriations Act which the President, through Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr., will submit by tomorrow, August 26,” Nograles said.

Under the Constitution, the President of the Republic has 30 days after the State of the Nation Address within which to formally submit to Congress the national government’s proposed national outlay for the coming year, Nograles noted.

“Together with Majority Leader Arthur Defensor and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Junie Cua, we have mobilized all the different subcommittees of the latter’s mother panel to be ready to take up the different budget proposals of the various departments, offices, Constitutional bodies and government corporations and agencies,” Nograles said.

Meanwhile, lawmakers crossed party lines to unanimously approved on final reading House Bill 6440 under Committee Report No. 2071 – “An Act defining the crime of child pornography, prescribing penalties therefore and for other purposes” to be known as the “Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009.”

Likewise, the House approved o n second reading nine (9) various measures of national scope and 13 local bills that mostly promote countryside education through the establishment or expansion of public high schools nationwide.

The House plenary also named the members of the House to the bicameral conference committee tasked to reconcile conflicting provisions in the House and Senate versions of the proposed Pre-Need Code of the Philippines under HB 6407 and SB 2077. Those named where Reps. Jaime Lopez, Juan Edgardo Angara, Luis Villafuerte, Jose Carlos Lacson, Roilo Golez, Rufus Rodriguez and Justin Marc Chipeco.

Among those bills approved on second reading are: HB 333 - “An Act prohibiting City Mayors, Municipal Mayors and Provincial Governors from making appointments two (20) months immediately before the next local election and pending assumption to office of the successor, and for other purposes.” Author: Edcel Lagman.

HB 6589 – “An Act providing for the mandatory appointment of cooperative officer in every local government unit, amending for that purpose R.A. 7160…..” Authors: Reps. Luis Villafuerte, George Arnaiz, Jocelyn Limkaichong, Diosdado M. Arroyo, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, Victor Ortega, Antonio Alvarez, Abraham Kahlil Mitra, Antonio Cerilles, Antonio Diaz, Ma. Isabelle Climaco, Elpidio Barzaga and Mauricio Domogan.

HB 4907 – “An Act abolishing the Philippine Veterans Assistance Commission…..” Authors: Reps. Antonio Diaz, Roman Romulo, Junie Cua, Erico Basilio Fabian, and Herminia Roman.

HB 1641 – “An Act to increase the penalty for theft or robbery committed within the premises of churches, temples, and museums.” Authors: Reps. Luis Villafuerte, Diosdado M. Arroyo, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and Giorgidi Aggabao.

HB 6514 – “An Act declaring May 7 of every year as ‘Healthy Workers’ Day.” Authors: Reps. Juan Edgardo Angara, Marcelino Teodoro, Victoria Reyes, Satur Ocampo, Teodoro Casino, Liza Maza, Luzviminda Ilagan, Rafael Mariano and Arthur Pingoy, Jr. MD.

HB 6512 – “An Act regulating the practice of Psychology, creating the Professional Regulatory Board of Psychology, and appropriating funds therefore.” Authors: Reps. Anna York Bondoc, Raul T. Gonzalez, Jr., Junie Cua and Thelma Almario.

HB 6431 – “An Act rationalizing the tax on winnings and documentaqry stamp tax on horse racing……” Authors: Reps. Abraham Kahlil Mitra, Exequiel Javier, Amado Bagatsing, Jeci Lapus, and Giorgidi Aggabao.

HB 6650 – “An Act chainging the name of the Province of Southern Leyte to Province of Leyte del Sur.” Author: Rep. Roger Mercado.

Filipino senator holds public hearing in Zamboanga City, calls for suspension of peace talks with MILF rebels

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 28, 2009) – A Philippine Senator Rodolfo Biazon on Friday held a public hearing on the proposed suspension of the government’s resumption of peace talks with Muslim rebels following fierce clashes in Mindanao that killed 23 soldiers and injured more than a dozen more.

Biazon, the chairman of the Senate’s Committee on National Defense, on August 17 filed Resolution Number 1281 which calls for the suspension of the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front until the Arroyo government could thoroughly study how the negotiations should be handled.

The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting the past three decades for self-determination in the southern Philippines.

Eid Kabalu, a senior MILF leader, said government troops in Basilan attacked rebels which sparked a fierce fight that killed ten of their members.

He said the military attacked rebel forces despite a cease-fire deal and ahead of the resumption of the peace talks in October.

The military’s Western Mindanao Command said the operation in Basilan targeted the Abu Sayyaf and not the MILF. It also insisted that it coordinated with the MILF to avoid clashes between rebels and security forces.

Major Benjamin Dolorfino, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said troops raided an Abu Sayyaf camp in the province.

Biazon said he met with soldiers who clashed with rebels in Basilan province on August 12 and interviewed them about the fighting.

He said he was shocked when he learned that the military failed to provide artillery support to the soldiers who were fighting more than 100 Abu Sayyaf militants in the village of Silangkum in Ungkaya Pukan town. The soldiers later clashed with MILF forces in nearby village of Baguindan.

Pamsy Tioseco, the senator’s media officer, said they invited mayors and governors of Mindanao in the public hearing held at the Garden Orchid hotel. Soldiers and policemen guarded the hotel during the hearing.

The military said about 31 militants and rebels were killed in the daylong fighting, but only 10 bodies had been recovered. The Stars and Stripes, in an article published on August 26, reported that U.S. special operations troops deployed in Mindanao, assisted Filipino soldiers in the raids in Basilan and helped treat the injured, but were not directly involved in combat.

The report, which quoted the U.S. Embassy, said the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task-Force Philippines, which has worked in the country since 2002, supported those raids "by sharing information and providing technical capabilities to assist (Armed Forces of the Philippines) leadership in communicating with their forces in the field."

Stars and Stripes is an independent news source that operates from inside the United States Department of Defense but is editorially separate from it. In addition to its website, Stars and Stripes reports on matters affecting military service members and publishes five daily newspaper editions for the United States Armed Forces serving overseas.

The U.S. military is helping the Filipino troops in defeating local terrorism. The Pentagon has recently announced some 600 American troops deployed in Mindanao will remain in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner)

Zamboanga village hit by landslide

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 28, 2009) – A landslide occurred on Friday on a village in the southern Philippines, but there were no reports of injuries or casualties.

The landslide in the village of Quiniput left half of a road linking other villages impassable. Rocks from the mountain rolled down the slope, blockading the road.

It was unknown what caused the landslide. (Mindanao Examiner)

Philippine Football Team To Milan Calls On House Speaker

HOMELESS BUT NOT HOPELESS: Speaker Prospero Nograles, (left), cheers the Philippine football team to the Milan 2009 Homeless World Cup, accompanied by avid supporters and patron, Paranaque Representative Eduardo Zialcita (2nd from right) and his son, Paul (3rd from right), and Urban Opportunities for Change Foundation CEO Wiliam Shaw (right) (RP Team organizer), during their recent courtesy call at the House of Representatives.

The RP team composed of homeless youngsters hopes to better its performance (37th last year) when it competes with over 500 players from 48 nations in the 7th Homeless World Cup in Italy from September 6th to 13th. Aside from Zialcita and Shaw, the RP is sponsored by Amici Restaurants, The Henry V. Moran Foundation and the Jeepney Magazine. Other Supporters include ATR KimEng Securities Inc., Rider Sandals, Gatorade, HSBC, DoTC, R&D Tec Design Inc., Kids International Ministries, Sbarro, Mariposa Travel, SR Metals Inc., Smart Communications, Peterson Productions, Pagcor, Virtusio Public Relations Inc., and Paul Zialcita and Nina Terol.

'We can't afford a re-enacted budget,' says House Speaker

MANILA, Philippines - Speaker Prospero Nograles said there will be no re-enacted budget for 2010, stressing that the proposed General Appropriations Act contains the funding for the 2010 elections.

"The country cannot afford such a scenario," the Speaker said a day following the formal submission by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of what she calls a "decisive" budget that "stands on solid ground."

"The timetable could be tight but early passage is not impossible. We will be deliberate but thorough in the consideration of the P1.541-trillion legacy budget," Nograles said.

Nograles, at the same time, assured that Congress, during its GAA deliberations will make sure that enough funds are allotted and focused on infrastructure, education, agriculture, health, poverty reduction, and good governance.

"We want to see that vital ongoing programs and projects would see completion by next year so we can promote productivity and economic competitiveness of the country," Nograles said.

The House leader, however, expressed confidence that the members of the majority coalition, the party list members and independents and the minority group will, in the end and soon, agree on "what is best for the country."

The House leader could not but agree with the President who, in her budget message, said that "the global turmoil has made the deficit a necessary evil."

The President revealed that from an original target of P40-billion deficit for 2009, it was increased to P250-billion "to counter the detrimental effects of the global recession which started in 2008."

"In 2010, our fiscal strategy is to reduce the deficit to P233.4-billion, from this year's 3.2 percent of GDP top 2.8 percent of GDP, which implies an absolute decline in the deficit level," the President said.

"We will closely study these figures presented to Congress by the Palace. We will make sure that policies are relevant to the dictates of the times," Nograles concluded. (Gil Bugaoisan)

Gunmen kidnapped ex-mayor grandson in Zamboanga province

ZAMBOANGA DEL NORTE, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 28, 2009) – Security forces mounted an operation Friday to track down a grandson of a former southern Philippine town mayor kidnapped by gunmen in Zamboanga del Norte province, officials said.

Officials said four gunmen seized Jayjay Uy Capili late Thursday afternoon in the coastal village of Baybay in Liloy town. “We are exerting efforts to rescue Jayjay Uy Capili,” said Major Ramon David Hontiveros, a regional military spokesman.

He said 19-year old Capili is a grandson of Belchu Uy, a former mayor of Liloy. “The victim was brought towards Sitio Lawis in the village of Baybay and transferred to a motorized pump boat,” the spokesman told the Mindanao Examiner.

Hontiveros said two other motorized boats with gunmen onboard were reported escorting the Capili’s boat.

No group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but bandits and Moro rebels are actively operating in the province.

Other reports said at least 6 gunmen kidnapped Capili near a gas depot in the village and dragged him to the shore where three motorized boats were waiting. (Mindanao Examiner)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

House Speaker, Son Pledge More Projects For Davao City

Lawyer Karlo Nograles during a humanitarian mission in Davao City in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Geo Solmerano)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 25, 2009) – Noted lawyer Karlo Nograles, son and chief of staff of House Speaker Prospero Nograles, has pledged more humanitarian and development projects for Davao City that will benefit the poor.

Nograles said he and his father have lined up various projects this year that includes a P60-million, 7,000-seat air conditioned Sports Center inside the University of Southeastern Philippines campus.

He said Davao City, a prime tourist destination in the southern Philippines, could be like Makati City, the country’s financial center, only if the locals would strive harder and work together for the common good.

Nograles said Davao City could even be more progressive than Makati which boasts of free hospitalization, health care and education to local residents.

“We are already doing that in Davao City. The House Speaker has many programs for the poor, not only on education, hospitalization or health care, but even more. We have pro-poor programs because we know that a lot of people needed help,” the young lawyer said.

The Nograleses have more than 15,000 scholars and for medical care, the father and son tandem already distributed thousands of PhilHealth cards aside from various improvements and rehabilitation of the regional hospital.

The solon also helped fund road network and other infrastructure projects in Davao City, especially in the first congressional district where the House Speaker belongs. (With reports from Geo Solmerano and Romy Bwaga)

NPA rebels ambush army patrol in Surigao province

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 25, 2009) – Communist rebels in the southern Philippines ambushed an army patrol and killed one soldier in the attack staged on Tuesday, reports said.

New People’s Army rebels opened fire on the soldiers on a village in the town of Lianga in Surigao del Sur province, a known stronghold of the communist group which is fighting for the establishment of a Maoist state in the country the past four decades.

There was no report of casualties on the part of the NPA and army officials said one infantryman added to the long list of those killed by rebels since early this year.

The attack occurred days after the NPA accused Manila of reneging on a deal to free more than a dozen political detainees, including rebel leaders accused of murder and rebellion, as a condition for the resumption of the stalled peace talks.

Peace negotiations between the Arroyo government and the communist rebels collapsed in 2004 after the NPA accused Manila of failing to honor several agreements they forged, among them the release of dozens of captured guerrillas and political prisoners.

The presidential peace adviser, Avelino Razon, said the National Democratic Front, the political wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines, has virtually abandoned the peace talks.

He said the NDF is demanding the government to drop all criminal charges against two senior CPP leaders - Rafael Baylosis and Vicente Ladlad – so they can join the peace talks.

But both men refused to surface despite a government guarantee that they will not be arrested. Two other arrested rebel leaders - Randall Echanis and Elizabeth Principe – had been released by the government.

“We regret the virtual decision of the National Democratic Front to abandon the peace negotiations table. It is unfortunate that the NDF has easily and quickly belittled the efforts of the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) to pursue confidence building measures such as the lifting of the suspension of the JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantee), which led to the release from detention of two of its alleged consultants, Randall Echanis and Elizabeth Principe,” Razon said in a statement posted Tuesday on a government website which can be accessed on this URL:

“The refusal of Rafael Baylosis and Vicente Ladlad to surface despite the JASIG is entirely their personal decision. But for the NDF to ask the GRP to withdraw charges of multiple murders against them because the NDF thinks the charges are false or trumped up, and dictate on the judicial and administrative mechanisms that government must take to deliver their consultants to them in Utrecht are clear modes of conflict escalation to prevent the resumption of the talks,” he said, adding, the infighting among rebel leaders have affected the peace process and that the NPA is only using the peace talks to advance its armed struggle.

“This is clear indication that the debate within the CPP-NPA-NDF has turned in favor of simply using the peace process as a tool in advancing its armed struggle agenda,” Razon said.

He said the government has bent backwards to make space for peace. “But it cannot violate or short circuit the operative justice system to save the NDF’s consultants from being answerable for the crimes they are accused of. This is a blatant abuse of the peace table to get concessions they cannot get anywhere else,” he said.

“As expected, the NDF is already cooking up on excuse to end peace talks and blame the government for it. This propaganda line will surely be played up for their intended local and international audience to further CPP-NPA-NDF support,” Razon added.

The NDF said Razon was lying when he claimed that Echanis and Principe have been released in compliance with the JASIG.

“Principe was released by virtue of her legal victories in court and the military even tried to block her release. The conditional release of Echanis for six months is a violation of JASIG and not in compliance with it. The sham safe conduct passes issued in the cases of Rafael Baylosis and Vicente Ladlad incriminate and convict them, serve as their death warrant and are a brazen violation of the JASIG,” said Marissa Palo, of the NDF. (Mindanao Examiner)

Monday, August 24, 2009

'Basilan Beloved' By Tranquilino Gregorio

Enviromentalists rally vs. aerial pesticide spray in Davao

Members of Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spray and National Task force Against Aerial Spraying protested Monday, August 24, 2009 at the Department of Health and urged DOH Secretary Francisco Duque to urgently "end poison rain" by banning aerial spraying in banana plantations in Davao. The DOH recommended earlier that aerial spraying of pesticides be stopped based on a study they commissioned showing traces of pesticides and carcinogenic substances in the blood of residents affected by the spray. (AKP Images / Gigie Cruz)

Indonesia frees 31 jailed Filipino fishermen

Mayor Enrique Yap Jr.,of Glan town in Sarangani province in the southern Philippines, welcomes Saturday, August 22, 2009 the 31 jailed Filipino fishermen freed by Indonesia. (Photo by Bobby Saya-ang)

SARANGANI, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 24, 2009) – Jakarta has repatriated 31 Filipino fishermen after pardoning them from various violations against fishing laws of Indonesia.

The Filipinos arrived in Sarangani province from Manado over the weekend, said Glan town Mayor Enrique Yap Jr., who is also the chairman of the Jose Abad Santos-Glan-Sarangani Cooperation Triangle (JAGS-CT).

In a statement, the mayor said the latest batch of freed Filipino fishermen to have been repatriated to the town of Glan brought to 403 the number of those released from Indonesian jails since 2005. The releases, he said, were facilitated by JAGS-CT.

JAGS-CT is a cluster of southern Philippines towns formed in 2003 in support to the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-the Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA). It aims to increase trade, tourism and investments by enhancing cross-border linkages with the northern provinces of Indonesia.

Yap said the Indonesia released the fishermen after their wives appealed for their release. Most of the fishermen were arrested in 2008 for poaching inside Indonesian waters.

“The appeal of the fishermen’s wives prompted him to request the government of Indonesia for the fishermen’s pardon and release,” Yap said.

Yap identified the freed fishermen as Allen Aranas, Alberto Cambal, Ronilo Tagpuno, Ponciano Suralta Jr., Rocky Suralta, Jessie Suralta, Samalito Suralta, Joel Plenos, Gerry Colaste, Victoriano Sumampong, Arturo Donaire, Bobby Rivera, Bonifacio Baleroso, Mervin Lebano.

And Emoksan Diva, Jose Alfuerto, Berto Alegre, Vicente Salabsab, Noel Magbanua, Alexis Abellar, Anthony Abellar, Peter Paul Lamanilao, Jaime Tagalog, Lito Montillano, Danacio Lapis, Rene Palero, Panfilo Orio, Ranny Pilapil, Zaldy Cabilao, Armando Pilapil and Michael Enad.

Majority of them were from General Santos City and three from Davao Oriental and Davao del Sur and Sarangani.

Yap said Indonesia would release 23 more Filipino fishermen next month. (With reports from Beverly Paoyon and Geo Solmerano)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

New Israeli Ambassador to Manila meets with Filipino solons

RP-ISRAELI COOPERATION– Speaker Prospero C. Nograles (center) andsenior leaders of the House of Representatives received new IsraeliAmbassador to the Philippines, H.E. Zvi Aviner Vapni, during acourtesy call on the Speaker who lauded the efforts of both Israel andthe Philippines in promoting global harmony. Shown (from left) areHouse Foreign Relations Committee chairman Antonio Cuenco,Inter-Parliamentary Relations and Diplomacy chairperson LornaSilverio, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Crispin Remulla, SpeakerNograles, Ambassador Vapni, Rep. Antonio Cerilles , and Committee onDangerous Drugs chairman Roque Ablan.

Gunmen attack police post in North Cotabato, 3 wounded

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'US troops' stay didn't help solve insurgency in South': Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said yesterday the decision of the United States government to keep an elite 600-soldier counterinsurgency group in the Philippines could indicate an unsuccessful anti-Muslim insurgency campaign.

Santiago stressed that with US forces deployed in Mindanao for almost seven years now, Philippine officials should be able to prove that they had been successful in at least weakening, if not eradicating, the Abu Sayyaf and other rebel groups in the area.

“But the (rebel movements are still there) and they seem to be strong and vibrant. So the question is whether they succeeded or not,” Santiago said.

“If they succeeded, they should not be staying, isn’t that so? It’s an indication that they are failing, so they are asking for extension,” she said.

“But for how long?” she asked.

“Up to now, the military is saying that there are still many Filipinos being killed and the civilian collateral damage remains high,” she added.

There are reportedly pressures to reassign members of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines to more urgent missions elsewhere such as in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Santiago said although there was no overt violation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the US, she would like to call a hearing before the congressional break in October regarding the benefits of the accord.

She said the temporary nature of US troops’ stay in the Philippines, as stipulated in the Constitution, might already be circumvented by the nature of the VFA.

Santiago, who chairs the Senate committee on foreign relations, said that in the campaign against Muslim rebels, Filipinos must be told how long the US intends to stay in the country.

Santiago said the military exercises have become open-ended and US soldiers are being sent to the Philippines on a changing basis.

“I am really troubled, this is for me a cause for serious concern. It’s because they have been here for so long,” Santiago said.

She said if the US forces would be here for more than 10 years, it would already be a permanent presence rather than temporary.

“It might create a culture of dependency. They are not in combat but training, but how come the Filipino soldiers could still not stand on their own after all these years?” she added.

Santiago said she would like to get all sides in a hearing and help President Arroyo make proper judgment as to what should be done, depending on the sentiments of the people.

“They (US) cannot dictate so it will be up to us Filipinos if we still want this. So maybe I should really conduct a hearing. I should find a venue to study this,” she said.

Santiago said there was nothing wrong with being friends with the US but that a survey may have to be conducted to determine if Filipinos still want the Americans in Mindanao.

“We invited them for cooperation but they should not engage in combat operations because it will diminish our sovereignty,” she said. “There might also be a culture of military dependency on foreign powers already.”

Santiago said she would ask anti-VFA forces to present an alternative to the accord as the inherent flaws of the agreement had become obvious.

She added that while the Philippines should be grateful for US aid, it had been getting only obsolete weaponry and junk from the American defense department.

US stay gets backing

Meanwhile, Speaker Prospero Nograles and opposition Rep. Roilo Golez supported the stay of 600 Americans on counterterrorism mission in Mindanao, citing mutual benefits to both countries.

“Mindanao needs all the help because of terrorist atrocities. And we are part of the international community against terrorism,” said Nograles, a congressman from Davao City, one of the highly urbanized cities in Mindanao.

“Any place in the Philippines that will breed or train terrorists will be a threat to the world and we need all the help and sophisticated equipment we can get hold of from any country, including the US,” he said.

Nograles issued the statement following the decision of US Defense Secretary Robert Gates to keep an elite contingent of 600 counterterrorism troops in the Philippines.

He said the country needs US expertise in battling terrorists in war-torn Mindanao.

For his part, Golez – who was the first national security adviser of President Arroyo – also welcomed the continued stay of US troops belonging to the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, saying they can stay “for as long as they don’t engage in actual combat.”

“International terrorism requires transnational and international cooperation. The US task force provides us training in modern counterterrorism tactics and equipment. This is allowed as long as they don’t engage in combat,” he said.

He pointed out that the continued presence of the US troops here is mutually beneficial.

“They (US troops) also benefit from interacting with battle-hardened Filipino troops, especially in dealing with rugged terrain like that in Jolo and Basilan,” he said.

Golez belongs to the opposition bloc and is designated as House deputy minority leader.

A left-leaning lawmaker, however, branded the stay of American soldiers as “illegal.”

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares called on the government to immediately expel the US troops. This is one of the reasons why the VFA should be scrapped, he said.

“Firstly, the entry of foreign troops is prohibited under the (1987) Constitution in the absence of an enforceable treaty. Participation in counterinsurgency operations is erstwhile prohibited,” he said.

“US intervention, in the manner of stationing troops for counterinsurgency operations against the Abu Sayyaf and the MILF, is therefore not allowed by the Constitution and even in the VFA,” he added.

According to the party-list lawmaker, “foreign participation in counterinsurgency operations is illegal and an intervention that is detrimental to Philippine sovereignty, human rights and the peace process.”

“Even the MILF must immediately condemn this intervention, considering that the US admitted to lumping them with the Abu Sayaff and terrorism and that US troops have participated in operations against the MILF,” he said.

Meantime, the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) urged yesterday the Senate to investigate what it perceived as the prolonged stay of US forces in Mindanao, citing it as a possible violation of the VFA.

In a statement, Renato Reyes, Bayan secretary general, said US troops have been based in the Philippines since 2002 without any basing treaty, in violation of the Philippine Constitution.

“They have been engaged in other activities that go against the Constitution. Eighteen years after the Philippine Senate rejected a new bases treaty with the US, the American forces are again well entrenched in the country,” Reyes said

“The retention of US troops in the Philippines is an affront to our sovereignty, disguised as some questionable humanitarian mission. They have based themselves in the Philippines, particularly in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga since 2002, without any basing treaty. There’s not even a time frame for the deployment. It’s open-ended. It could be forever,” Reyes said.

Bayan said that the continued presence of foreign troops, even if only 600, sets a dangerous precedent.

“The US troops might decide to stay longer. They might decide to deploy more troops, maybe thousands. What’s to stop them from doing that? What’s to stop them from setting up de facto bases in Mindanao?” Reyes said.

The militant group said it would raise before the Supreme Court these new developments as part of their petition to declare the VFA unconstitutional.

Bayan, along with Gabriela and Bayan Muna, were among the petitioners questioning the validity of the VFA.

“What we know is that 1) the American troops have overstayed beyond the period supposedly contemplated by the VFA, 2) they have set up de facto bases and permanent structures in Mindanao, and 3) they are engaged in combat functions,” Reyes said.

“All these violate the Constitution and are an insult to our sovereignty. They have managed to get basing rights even without a treaty concurred in by the Senate. If the US and the Philippines invoke the VFA as the basis of the prolonged stay, then the Senate has been duped when it ratified the VFA. The Senate should then seek the termination of the VFA,” he said. (Aurea Calica, Delon Porcalla and Perseus Echeminada / Philippine Star)


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ramadan in Zamboanga City

Filipino Muslims wash their faces, feet and hands Saturday, August 22, 2009 outside a mosque in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines before praying at the start of Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Jung Francisco)

Friday, August 21, 2009

2 killed in foiled kidnap of Koreans in southern Philippines

KIDAPAWAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 21, 2009)–Policemen killed two gunmen in a firefight early Friday after they stormed a small hotel in a failed attempt to kidnap two South Korean holidaymakers in the southern Philippines.

Police said three gunmen managed to escape and that security forces were tracking down the trio in the town of Santo Nino in South Cotabato province.

The gunmen stormed the Signature Place where the foreigners and local guests were staying, but policemen who were notified about the siege foiled the possible kidnappings of the Koreans.

“There is a pursuit operation and soldiers and policemen are tracking down the gunmen,” Colonel Jonathan Ponce, a spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, told the Mindanao Examiner.

Ponce said the security forces pursuing the gunmen are members of the newly formed anti-terror and anti-kidnapping group called Task Force 12-Alpha.

“We still do not know what group these armed men belong, but we are sure they are planning to kidnap the two Koreans,” Ponce said without further elaborating. (With a report from Geo Solmerano)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Philippine soldiers blamed for killings of MNLF gunmen in Palawan province

Former Moro National Liberation Front rebel leader Nur Misuari gestures to his supporters in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines in this photo taken last year. Misuari has blamed the military for the killings of 7 MNLF members in a firefight on an island off Palawan province on Wednesday, August 19, 2009. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 20, 2009) – Former Muslim rebel chieftain Nur Misuari on Thursday blamed the Philippine military for the killings of seven of his followers in a firefight on an island off Palawan province.

Marines have killed 7 members of the former Muslim rebel group Moro National Liberation Front in a firefight Wednesday on a small island they occupied.

Three others were reportedly killed by soldiers when they tried to escape the security forces sent to liberate civilians allegedly held by MNLF gunmen on Mantagule Island.

The military said MNLF gunmen by Abdullah Abdurajak occupied the island and held hostage dozens of civilians for a still unknown reason. It said the gunmen also extorted money from the villagers.

The hostages were later freed, but the rebels, numbering about five dozens, refused to surrender peacefully and opened fire on soldiers, sparking a fierce firefight. One soldier was also wounded in the fighting.

Many gunmen were also able to escape from the soldiers and are being pursued by the military in Palawan.

Misuari has denied allegations by the military that Abdurajak’s group extorted money or held hostage villagers on the island. “The MNLF is (composed) of a very disciplined soldiers of peace. We are not involved in any shenanigan,” he said, branding the killings as massacre.

He said he tried to convince the military to resolve the crisis peacefully, but security officials did not listen to him.

Misuari said most of the people living on the island are Muslims and relatives of Abdurajak. He blamed Abdurajak’s foes for giving false information to the military about the former MNLF leader.

He said most of those killed by the soldiers were fishermen. The military has demanded the MNLF on the island to surrender and lay down their weapons.

But Misuari said soldiers could kill the MNLF if they lay down their arms.

“If they lay down their arms, the more they will be massacred. Even when they are armed they are also being massacred. So it’s better if they have something in their arms to protect themselves because they are entitled to right of self-defense.”

“The government should not push with their plan to arrest all members of the Abdurajak family. They are innocent and even children are arrested,” he said in a television interview.

Misuari said the arrested children were not combatants. “They should release them quickly,” he told the ANC.

The MNLF, under Misuari, signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996 and 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 accord, 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.

Misuari is facing rebellion charges after his followers tried, but failed to occupy a major military base in Sulu province in the southern Philippines 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.
Misuari fled to Sabah, his former refuge, but was arrested by the Malaysian authorities and sent back to Manila. Misuari is currently out on bail.

The MNLF Central Committee removed Misuari as chairman of the former rebel group and installed Muslimin Sema, the Front’s Secretary-General. But Misuari insisted that he is still the chieftain of the MNLF and accused Sema, also the mayor of Cotabato City, as traitor and so were those who supported Sema. (Mindanao Examiner)

Philippine Center for Photojournalism: Probe, Prosecute Those Behind Assault Of News Photograpers

The Philippine Center for Photojournalism demands a thorough investigation into the assault on photojournalists and their consequent manhandling during the dispersal of a protest action near the Presidential Palace on Wednesday.

Even as we condemn the attack, we call on the Armed Forces and the National Police to immediately recall elements of the Presidential Security Group who were involved in the incident.

We also urge the Commission on Human Rights and the Justice department to look into the incident, which was a clear violation of freedom of expression and attack on media, for the appropriate filing of charges against those behind the attack.

There is no need for us to explain the brutality of the attack. The photographs, video footage, testimonies of our colleagues and statements of various media groups can attest to that. We can submit all these to the proper body to prove our case.

What we demand is for the government to take swift action by prosecuting those behind the assault, indemnifying the victims and assuring us that indeed there is press freedom in the country, contrary to what we have seen the other day.

We await immediate action.

Joan Bondoc
Chairman - PCP

House Speaker Prospero Nograles is 2009 Kabalikat awardee

DAVAO CITY, Philippines - House Speaker Prospero Nograles has been chosen as the 2009 Kabalikat Awardee for Davao Region.

The Kabalikat Award is an annual institutional honor bestowed by Technical Eduction and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) to mark its August 25 anniversary, recognizing its outstanding partners in the promotion and enhancement of technical education, skills development and job generation.

His son and chief-of-staff, Atty. Karlo Nograles, said the Speaker personally receive the Kabalikat Award at the Tesda Women's Center in Taguig City on Tuesday morning.

"With this latest recognition and honor, we could only promise greater efforts to promote technical education and skills in order to generate more jobs," the young Nograles said.

The elder Nograles, the first ever House Speaker from Mindanao, is a recipient of various awards in the past, including the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) for Justice & Human Rights in 1986 alongside Senators Miriam Santiago and Gregorio Honasan.

A topnotcher in 1971 bar examinations, placing second with an average of 90.92%, Nograles is a also a recipient of Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) from two universities.

Tesda said the Kabalikat Award will be given to Nograles for his outstanding contributions in the promotion and development of the country's middle level manpower.

Before he rose to become House Speaker, Nograles was strongly behind Tesda's I-CARE, or Invigorating Constituent Assistance in Reinforcing Employment Program that was designed to assist the people in every barangay to be skilled and empowered.

"Nograles's undying support is clearly aligned to his thrust of promoting skills enhancement and at the same time increasing the number of the employed," said an article by the Philippine Information Agency on I-CARE wrote. "This man is greatly concerned in giving his people the capability to be empowered, which would lead them to be productive."

Eureka Patalinghug of Barangay Dumoy is one of the graduates of the I-CARE training backed by Nograles. She applied her learning by putting up a family business.

Believing on her newly-acquired skill, Eureka started a meat processing livelihood. Instead of merely attending to household chores, she tried something different which she loved doing in the long run. The training did not just introduce her a new hobby but also to an income-generating activity.

After the meat processing training, Tesda revisited the barangay to introduce welding skills to the barangay folks. This was one way of offering to the men an alternative livelihood apart from the most common job - fishing.

The training was supposedly designed for men but their wives couldn't help but join the lecture as well as the hands-on activity. Even the children of those men participated that made the activity a week-long family training.

"Nakat-unan namo nga dili mi angay magsalig sa pangisda. Nadungagan na ang among kahibalo parte sa pag-welding mao nga nadungagan pud among kita adlaw-adlaw." (We learned that we should not just depend on fishing. Now we have learned a new skill on welding which has really helped us increase our income),” said Ernesto Baclaan, one of the graduates of the said training.

Out-of-school youth were even displaced from being "kanto boys" to "welders". After the training they felt proud for getting a certificate for undergoing such training. Even though they were deprived from getting into high school or college, somehow they felt how it is to accept a diploma. Now, they can apply for a job related to the skills training they underwent without having to fear rejection and discrimination.

A technical certificate could now bring them somewhere even in the international job market.

Nograles's son also has continued pushing for the program because of the solon's busy routine as a top national leader and the lawyer's own personal commitment to Davao City’s first congressional district.

The young lawyer has noted that most graduates of their training programs now apply the skills acquired in looking for a job. Some of them have landed in manufacturing firms by merely taking advantage of the Skills Certificate they received from TESDA.

Barangay councils have been supportive to the initiative of Nograles and Tesda. Through the funds of provided Nograles, certain barangays acquired welding machines that helped the Barangay folks practice such skill and at the same time use or rent those machines when they get into contracts.

"Makita ninyo nga kanunay puno ang barangay hall og mga tao nga ga-welding. Nakita gyud nila ang kaayo kung duna silay laing skill nga nahibal-an. Daghan sa mga tambay ang nagbag-o ug panglantaw ug duna nay panginabuhi karon. (You can observe that the barangay hall is filled with people doing welding stuff outside. They have really seen the benefits of acquiring a new skill. A lot of jobless residents here have changed attitude and they now busy themselves with work), said a barangay staffer Ellen Perez of Dumoy, Davao City.

1 killed, 20 wounded in North Cotabato grenade blast

KIDAPAWAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 20, 2009) – One person was killed and at least 20 others wounded in a grenade explosion Thursday in North Cotabato province in the southern Philippines, an army spokesman said.

Colonel Jonathan Ponce, of the 6th Infantry Division, said the blast occurred at around 2.10 a.m. in the village of General Luna in Carmen town.

He said a 26-year old man, Kairekay Minanga, was killed in the explosion and that at least 20 more people were wounded in the attack.

“A grenade throwing transpired in the village of General Luna resulting to the death of Kairekay Minanga, a farmer, and wounding of at least 20 people. The incident is still being investigated,” Ponce said.

But police reports said Minanga was carrying the fragmentation grenade when it exploded. (Geo Solmerano)

Tausug lass wins ‘Hiyas sa Kadayawan’ in Davao City

DAVAO CITY, Philippines - Faizal Ampilani, representing the Tausug tribe, won this year’s search for the “Hiyas sa Kadayawan” in Davao City in the southern Philippines.

Ampilani on Wednesday topped the search where ten tribal women, representing ten ethnic tribes of Davao City, competed with their wits, knowledge and talent in the quest for this year’s festival symbol.

The ten tribes of Davao include the Sama, Maranao, Ubo-Manubo, Crisalyn Bangcas, Klata, Ata, Maguindanao, Matigsalog, Kalagan, Tagabawa and Tausug tribes.

As “Hiyas sa Kadayawan”, Ampilani hopes she can help provide musical instruments to the Tausug community in Davao City so that she will be able to help sustain and preserve her tribe’s rich culture.

Ampilani won P50,000 cash prize and an additional P30,000 for her chosen community development project.

Placing second and third are Mary Le-Lainie Coronel of the Tagabawa tribe, who won P40,000, and Amera Amal Ameril of the Maranaw tribe, who won P30,000. The women were bestowed the titles “Hiyas sa Kauswagan” and “Hiyas sa Tingusbawan”, respectively. They were also given P30,000 for their chosen community development projects.

Senator Pia Cayetano, the chairwoman of the board of judges, announced in the program that she will be adding P50,000 more to the community development project of this year’s “Hiyas sa Kadayawan”.

The “Hiyas sa Kadayawan”, one of the main highlights of the Kadayawan Festival, is an annual search for the festival symbol, an indigenous woman who is knowledgeable of her own culture and wisdom. (Ian Garcia)

Youth Federation Join Clean-Up Drive In Sulu

The sun shines over Sulu's minarets. Sulu is one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 20, 2009) – The Federation of the Tausug Youth Organizations conducted a cleanliness drive called "Project M.I.B" (Men in Broom) in the capital town of Jolo in the southern Filipino province of Sulu.

Armed with brooms, tens of dozens mostly youth and students participated in the recent campaign in an effort to help maintain cleanliness in Jolo. Members of the Federation of the Tausug Youth Organizations have pledged to help advocate cleanliness in Sulu.

Tim Ijiran, an adviser to the Federation of the Tausug Youth Organizations, said an Islamic Da'wah is also ongoing in Jolo.

Many youth groups in Sulu are active in different advocacy campaigns.

Filipinos rally to preserve country's organic farming capital

Greenpeace volunteers unfurl a banner during a protest action in front of the Negros Occidental Provincial Capitol on to press members of the Sangguniang Panglalawigan (SP) to uphold the ban on GMOs. Greenpeace is encouraging the Provincial Council to look into real solutions like organic farming, instead of unreliable, unproven techno fixes like agrochemicals and GMOs, to address food security and safeguard public health. (Photos by Greenpeace/Gigie Cruz - AKP Images)

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – Some 150 farmers and members of church and civic groups trooped to the Negros Occidental provincial capitol to press members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) to uphold Provincial Ordinance 007, which bans the entry of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and secure the future of Negros as the organic farming capital of the Philippines.

Greenpeace also put up two doors Wednesday signifying an organic, GMO-free Negros and a GMO-contaminated future, and requested members of the SP to take a stand and pass through the door that signifies their position.

Negros Occidental pioneered the ban on GMOs when it passed the ordinance, also called the “Safeguard Against Genetically Modified Organisms,” in 2007. The province, along with Negros Oriental, has been putting measures into place to turn Negros into an organic food island. Last April, the local government upheld the ban by rejecting shipments of illegal GMO corn at the capital’s port in Bacolod City.

This prompted GMO producing companies to field lobby groups to challenge the ordinance. The provincial government reiterated that it is maintaining the ban. Last month, however, anti-organic farming parties were able to sway the SP into holding hearings to reconsider the ordinance.

"It is now time for members of the provincial council to show their support for a future of agriculture that provides real solutions to food security and does not depend on unreliable, unproven techno fixes such as agrochemicals and GMOs" said Daniel M. Ocampo, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Sustainable Agriculture campaigner. "We are calling on the SP to look into lasting solutions that provide income and growth for the province without compromising the health of people and the environment."

Organic farmers in Negros are looking towards the SP to uphold the ban protecting their means of livelihood – and their way of life – from contamination. “We are spending less on materials to get the same yield of crop when using organic means rather than the chemicals that some entities are pushing,” Jose Winston Cordoba of the Canaan Farmers Association (CFA) said in Ilonggo, his native tongue.

“We, and especially our children, are also safe from harmful chemicals when there are no GMOs,” added Arturo Artucilla, also a board member of CFA, an organization of grassroots farmers in the Municipality of Magallon in Negros Occidental.

Greenpeace has documented projects on millions of farms in more than 50 countries around the world, and findings reveal that switching to sustainable farming methods increases harvests by an average of 73% -- showing that the world’s poor can feed themselves by using cheap, locally-available technologies that will not damage the environment.

Greenpeace is an independent, global campaigning organization that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment, and to promote peace.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Troops liberate Philippine island after firefight with gunmen

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 19, 2009) – Marines have killed 7 members of the former Muslim rebel group called Moro National Liberation Front in a firefight Wednesday on a small island they occupied in Palawan province in western Philippines, the military said.

It said soldiers stormed the island of Matangule off Palawan province and liberated villagers held by former rebels. It was unclear why the gunmen led by MNLF leader Abdullah Abdurajak occupied the island, but the military said the former rebels had held hostage dozens of civilians since Sunday for a still unknown reason.

The hostages were later freed, but the rebels, numbering about five dozens, refused to surrender peacefully and opened fire on soldiers sent to liberate the villagers and a firefight ensued. One soldier was also wounded in the fighting.

The military said two gunmen were also captured during the fighting, but others escaped despite the presence of navy patrol boats around the island, home to a few thousand Muslims, mostly fishermen.

The MNLF, under Nur Misuari, signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996 and 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 accord, 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.

Misuari is facing rebellion charges after his followers tried, but failed to occupy a major military base in Sulu province in the southern Philippines 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.

Misuari fled to Sabah, his former refuge, but was arrested by the Malaysian authorities and sent back to Manila. Misuari is currently out on bail.

The MNLF Central Committee removed Misuari as chairman of the former rebel group and installed Muslimin Sema, the Front’s Secretary-General. But Misuari insisted that he is still the chieftain of the MNLF and accused Sema, also the mayor of Cotabato City, as traitor and so were those who supported Sema.

Last year, Misuari earned the ire of the Malaysian government after he renewed calls of the claims of the Philippines to Sabah. In retaliation, Sabah Progressive Party President Datuk Yong Teck Lee, furious over the rumblings from Misuari, has called for stricter laws on Filipinos traveling to the oil-rich state. (Mindanao Examiner)

Davao Media Interview Philanthropist Karlo Nograles

Philanthropist Karlo Nograles, son and chief of staff of House Speaker Prospero Nograles, is interviewed by members of the Davao City media. Like his father, Nograles, a lawyer by profession, is active in humanitarian missions in Davao City in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Geo Solmerano)

Rebels raid budget hotel in Mindanao

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 19, 2009) – Philippine communist rebels raided a budget hotel and restaurant and seized weapons allegedly being by its owners to threaten peasants in the southern province of Bukidnon.

Isabel Santiago, a spokeswoman for the New People’s Army Herminio Alfonso Command, said rebel forces also ambushed pursuing soldiers and policemen in the village of Kipolot in Kitaotao town, but there were no reports of government casualties.

She said the rebels raided the Travelers Inn and Restaurant on Monday as a punishment for its owner, the Nietes family, for allegedly threatening peasants in the village.

“The Nietes family was disarmed as punishment for keeping high-powered firearms they used to threaten peasant civilians,” Santiago said.

“Violations of regulations on business operations inside guerrilla territories were the reasons for the punitive action on the Nietes establishment. The action was undertaken mainly to confiscate firearms, of which, one Uzi machine pistol was seized,” she added.

But the Army’s 10th Infantry Division said rebels raided the inn and robbed its owners of more than P20, 000 in cash and a pistol.

Captain Rosa Maria Cristina Manuel, an army spokesperson, said the rebels also took a civilian hostage who was later freed. “These people are terrorists who would take advantage of the weak. Troops are tracking down the NPA terrorists,” she said.

The NPA denied Manuel’s accusations and said rebels did not take any money. “As a matter of policy, the NPA do not take cash from punished targets. The allegations of are all lies,” Santiago said.

Major General Reynaldo Mapagu, commander of the 10th Infantry Division, condemned the raid. “The evil tactics employed by these terrorists show their inhuman and ungodly motives. The use of improvised explosive device as landmine and the use of civilians as human shields are clear violations of International Humanitarian law and against every conceivable moral standard worldwide. More so, robbing a fast food is pure felony.”

“We can clearly see that these local terrorists do not have any ideology at all. They are plain criminals who fester on the weak and take advantage of issues to advance their selfish motives,” he said.

He said the rebels last week also held hostage four civilians, including an 11 year-old girl, and used them as shield against government troops before they ransacked a military detachment in the village of Napungas in Davao Del Norte’s Asuncion town.

The NPA is the armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines which is currently negotiating peace with Manila. The rebels have been fighting the past four decades for the establishment of a Maoist state in the country. (Mindanao Examiner)

Mindanao Examiner TV Week In Review August 9-15, 2009



Two Warring Sulu Muslim Clans End Fighting; Sign Peace Covenant

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 19, 2009) – Two prominent Muslim clans engaged in bloody feud in the southern Filipino province of Sulu have signed a peace covenant ending four years of hostilities.

The Caluang-Halun clans signed the peace covenant during a thanksgiving ceremony held in Zamboanga City over the weekend. The ceremony was attended by over 200 mostly clan elders and members led by former Mayor Al Hussein Caluang and Hajji Peping Halun, village chieftain of Pitogo in Kalingalan Caluang town.

Both Caluang and Halun are prominent clans in the towns of Kalingalan Caluang and Luuk in Sulu, according to Commissioner Mukattil Adjail, of the Regional Reconciliation and Unification Commission in the Muslim autonomous region.

“The covenant signed by the Caluang and Halun clans will surely bring peace in Sulu and stop the hostilities between the two sides,” Adjail told the Mindanao Examiner.

He said the feud started when in November 2005, Don Caluang, who was a former mayor in Kalingalan Caluang town, was killed in Zamboanga City. The succeeding retaliations between the two clans left two dozen people dead and 14 injured from both sides.

“This reconciliation was made possible through the efforts of Governor Zaldy Ampatuan, the Regional Reconciliation and Unification Commission of Sulu province and local non-governmental organizations, the United Youth of the Philippines–Women, Inc. and Sakayan Mindanao, with the support of The Asia Foundation and United States Agency for International Development,” Adjail said.

Ampatuan, who is actively involved in the settlement of clan feuds, is the governor of the Muslim autonomous region to which Sulu belongs. While The Asia Foundation funded meetings and other activities related to the peaceful resolutions of clan feuds, Adjail said.

In a separate statement, Dr Steven Rood, Country Representative of The Asia Foundation said: “As the Holy Month of Ramadan approaches some time next week, this celebration of reconciliation between the Caluang and Halun families is truly a blessing and an inspiration for all of us.”

“This reconciliation of the two families is inspirational because it is a shining example of a path to peace attained through hard work, sincere dialogue, and genuine forgiveness,” he added.

Clan war or locally known as “rido” is common in many parts of the southern Philippines and so far had resulted in the killings of more than 5,000 people over the past seven decades. (Mindanao Examiner)

Under Oath, Under Threat: Committee to Protect Journalists Special Report

Images: Family photo of Dennis Cuesta and Marcelo Pintac, director of police for General Santos City, who says that apprehending the lead suspect is not as easy as it might seem. And a banner outside Cuesta’s radio station calls for justice. Station manager Alex Josol says he is skeptical of police work in the case.(CPJ Photo / Shawn W. Crispin)

In the Philippines, witnesses to journalist murders face extreme pressures and grave risk. The government’s protection program, while valuable, falls short of ensuring justice.

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines (CPJ / August 19, 2009) - When motorcycle-riding assailants shot and fatally wounded Dennis Cuesta along a busy, tree-lined highway here last year, friend and fellow Radio Mindanao Network reporter Bob Flores was walking by his side.

Flores recalls Cuesta’s body being flung into his own as one gunman fired three times at close range. As Cuesta dropped to the side of the road, a second assailant fired twice more, inflicting head injuries that contributed to the 38-year-old journalist’s death five days later, on August 9, 2008.

In a twist familiar in journalist killings in the Philippines that allegedly involve wayward public officials, local police initially labeled Flores a suspect rather than a witness. “They said I was the No. 1 suspect in the crime,” Flores told CPJ, recounting what police told him in the immediate aftermath of the murder. “I knew then my life would never be the same.”

Within days, Flores received an anonymous text message threatening to harm his family if he testified in the murder case. Fearful but determined not to back down, Flores entered the government’s Witness Protection Program (WPP) on August 15, 2008, and he, his wife, and three young children were placed in a safe house in the capital, Manila.

It was only there and then, in hiding with state-appointed bodyguards more than 1,000 kilometers from the crime scene, that Flores felt secure enough to make a sworn statement to investigators identifying Police Chief Inspector Redempto “Boy” Acharon, first cousin of the mayor of General Santos City, Pedro Acharon Jr., as the second gunman in Cuesta’s killing.

"An unserved arrest warrant"

A local court issued an arrest warrant in April for Redempto Acharon and two other suspects, but as of August, police in this city of 500,000 on the island of Mindanao had yet to carry out the order.

Since the warrant was issued, local journalists said, Acharon has been spotted dining in local restaurants and doing chores at his residence in General Santos City. “He’s not free to roam around, but he doesn’t want to surrender or be arrested until all legal issues are resolved,” said Rogelio Garcia, Acharon’s lawyer, who insisted that his client was not guilty of the crime. “We are exploring all legal avenues to protect the interests of my client.”

Fear of reprisals causes many potential witnesses to look the other way in violence-prone areas of the Philippines, allowing for a culture of impunity to thrive. The island nation placed sixth on CPJ’s 2009 Impunity Index, which ranks countries in which journalists are slain regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes. According to CPJ research, at least 24 Philippine journalists’ murders have gone unsolved over the last decade.

The circumstances surrounding Cuesta’s murder conform to a disturbing pattern in this country: a journalist is shot and killed; local police manipulate the evidence to protect influential people accused in the crime; potential witnesses are intimidated, bought off, or killed so that they never appear in court; the defense employs stalling tactics to break the will of remaining witnesses; the case goes unsolved and the culture of impunity is reinforced.

One key to breaking the cycle of violence, public prosecutors and media freedom advocates say, is better care and protection of witnesses. According to Senior State Prosecutor Leo Dacera, who heads the WPP, about 40 witnesses to media-related killings and another 120 of their family members are now enrolled in the program. That constitutes about a quarter of the nearly 600 people enrolled overall in the program, which covers witnesses to crimes involving criminal syndicates, terrorism, narcotics, and human trafficking. He said the WPP is under-financed, receiving 83 million pesos (US$1.7 million) in 2008.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has acknowledged the financial shortfall and promised this year to increase the program’s funding to more than 140 million pesos. But the promised funds have not materialized because of political squabbling in the legislature, which has the final say over budget allocations, according to Dacera. The lack of funds, WPP administrators say, makes witnesses vulnerable to threats or bribes intended to have them recant their testimony or simply not appear in court.

The Cuesta case underscores the importance and shortcomings of the Philippine protection program. It also highlights the wider need to transfer murder cases in which local officials are implicated from local courts to more neutral and secure jurisdictions. Public prosecutors in the Cuesta case have already filed a motion with the Supreme Court to transfer the case to Manila, which would allow for better protection of witnesses in the case.

That security, however, comes at a heavy price: Witnesses must be willing to make extraordinary sacrifices in the pursuit of justice. The Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility has recently spotlighted the crucial role of witness protection in combating media killings. “When we got involved with the prosecution of cases, it opened a whole new area of advocacy concerns,” said Melinda DeJesus, the center’s executive director. “These people actually lose their lives. They don’t—and won’t—know life as they knew it before, once they enroll in a witness protection program.”

"Sacrificing their lives"

Flores is a dramatic case in point. He and his family now live in a WPP-maintained safe house that they share with two other witnesses to media-related killings. Barred by the program from keeping a mobile telephone that could be used to trace his whereabouts, Flores has had to stop working as a journalist. Protected by bodyguards, he spends his time watching television, reading books, and worrying about the safety of his children, who attend a nearby school. He regrets that the 8,000 pesos (US$160) he receives monthly from the program is seldom enough to meet his family’s daily needs.

“I have sacrificed my family, my job, everything for justice,” said the 49-year-old Flores, who worked with Cuesta for more than a decade before his murder. Even if Acharon and the other two suspects were eventually convicted in Cuesta’s killing, Flores said he would never feel safe returning to his home in Davao City, about 120 kilometers from General Santos City. “When the case is over, we will have to start a new life somewhere else,” he said.

The meager lifestyle afforded by the WPP has jeopardized the testimony of at least one other witness in the Cuesta case. Referred to by WPP officials as “Lance,” the young male witness said he was riding his motorcycle on the highway when he saw Cuesta’s killing. Local journalists were the first to publish the young man’s statement; he was later located by WPP officials and encouraged to enroll in the program.

But he has twice left WPP safe houses and, according to Department of Justice officials, was on his own somewhere in Mindanao when CPJ researched this report in July. “We’re afraid if we don’t find him first, the other side will,” said Al Calica, a public prosecutor and WPP administrator in central Mindanao who travels with four armed bodyguards of his own. “We’re afraid they’ll either try to buy him off or kill him off.”

If history is a guide, Calica’s concerns are well warranted. The case of radio journalist Edgar Damalerio, who was shot and killed in 2002, demonstrates the danger of serving as a witness in a media killing. Two witnesses in the case were killed before they could testify, and a third survived an assassination attempt. One of the slain witnesses had been first approached with a bribe to dissuade him from testifying. The gunman in the case, former police officer Guillermo Wapile, was finally convicted in 2005 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

In other instances, witnesses are paid by powerful defendants to change their testimony. The ongoing court proceedings in the murder of journalist Herson Hinolan may be a case in point. Two state witnesses who initially identified former Lezo Mayor Alfredo Arcenio as Hinolan’s assassin have since recanted their testimony. One of those witnesses had enrolled in the WPP, but later dropped out of the program. In February, the Visayan Daily Star quoted public prosecutor Dacera as saying that the defense had intimidated and offered money to witnesses. Arcenio disputed the accusation.

Witnesses who stay in the WPP are not necessarily out of harm’s way. When assailants shot and severely wounded radio journalist Nilo Laberes in March, he became a witness in his own case. After identifying one of the gunmen as a protector of a local gambling racket, Laberes took refuge in a WPP safe house—only to have local police overrun the sanctuary to press charges against him for illegal gambling. (In his reports, Laberes had not only exposed the gambling operation, he had accused police of being involved.)

Laberes has since filed a request with the Supreme Court to transfer the attempted murder trial of his assailants from Cagayan de Oro City to Manila. The journalist, who lost a kidney as a result of injuries suffered in the attack, now lives in another WPP-administered safe house. The gambling charges against him were not pursued.

Government attempts to address impunity in journalist killings have fallen short thus far. A national police initiative known as Task Force USIG was created on the orders of President Arroyo in 2006 to investigate and resolve media killing cases. Although task force records show that police have filed charges in most journalist killings since 2001, the records also show authorities have gained convictions in only three cases.

Police Chief Inspector Henry Libay, a task force member, said in an interview with CPJ that the mishandling of evidence and the lack of willing witnesses are the main impediments to success. He said witnesses shy from testifying out of fear of reprisal, lack of financial support, and a distrust of law enforcement.

"You’ll be next"

That lack of trust is apparent in General Santos City, said Alex Josol, the 42-year-old manager of the Radio Mindanao Network station where Cuesta worked and reported until his death. Showing CPJ the exact spot at the side of the road where Cuesta was slain, Josol noted that several coconut vendors were within sight of the murder that day. “They were all gone the next day and never returned,” Josol said. “Nobody wants to testify for fear of retaliation.”

That was also the case when Jo Jo Morales, another reporter at his station, was shot and killed on the way home from work in 2005. “Just like in Cuesta’s case,” Josol said, “the accused was not arrested.”

Because Cuesta reported on a wide range of sensitive issues, Josol said it was hard to pinpoint which report might have prompted the murder—although he noted that Cuesta’s reports on illegal gambling touched on potential police involvement. Cuesta also criticized the mayor for city hall’s slow implementation of flood prevention projects, he said.

“After one year, the police have done nothing to arrest the suspect because the accused is connected to the mayor,” Josol said. “There have been many instances when the suspect was seen inside his house, at restaurants, on the street, and he still remains free. We report this on the radio and call on national authorities to intervene because we can’t rely on” the local police. Josol said his station’s journalists were receiving new anonymous threats, including text messages that say, “You’ll be next.”

Marcelo Pintac, director of police for General Santos City, takes issue with such criticism. He said Acharon was dismissed from police service in December 2008 when it became clear the officer was a suspect in the killing. Pintac also insisted that, despite public sightings of Acheron, his officers have not been able to track down the suspect to serve the arrest warrant.

Cuesta’s widow, Gloria, who now travels with two state-appointed bodyguards, has come under pressure to “settle” the case outside of court. She told CPJ that soon after her husband’s murder, she received anonymous text messages offering up to 100,000 pesos to drop the case. In more recent weeks, she said, a longtime acquaintance who claimed to represent the suspects approached her to ask how much it would take to halt the proceedings.

Amid such strong political pressure, many are deeply skeptical that a fair trial can be held in General Santos City courts. Josol noted that the salaries, allowances, and vehicle privileges of local judges are all at the discretion of city hall. Although Mayor Acharon has publicly urged local police to arrest his cousin, many local journalists saw a regional court’s decision in February to reassign the case to another branch as politically motivated. The reassignment, done at the behest of defense, effectively delayed the issuance of an arrest warrant for several weeks. Now, defense lawyer Garcia told CPJ, he will challenge the legality of the current warrant.

WPP head Dacera said defendants often seek to delay proceedings with the intention of breaking the will of witnesses. “We have witnesses that have been in the program for years, and the cases are just gathering dust,” said Dacera, noting that two or three years of delays can produce “procedural nightmares” for the witnesses involved. “By the time the witnesses do finally testify, they often can’t even remember what they put in their affidavits.”

But that’s not the case with Flores, who said that he will never forget the details of the day his colleague was killed at his side. “I will not quit,” he said, “no matter how long it takes.” (By Shawn W. Crispin. The author is CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative.)

CPJ’s recommendations to Philippine authorities:

* The legislature and executive branch should ensure adequate funding for the Witness Protection Program. The legislature should appropriate the 140 million pesos sought by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to fund the program.

* The judicial system should promptly review and approve motions seeking changes of venue in journalist murder cases. In several cases, public prosecutors and attorneys representing victims’ families have filed these motions to ensure neutral and secure venues.

* National police should take assertive and timely enforcement action in response to all reports of intimidation or bribery of witnesses.

* These steps must be part of a broad, nationwide strategy to aggressively prosecute the killers of journalists. Task Force USIG and local authorities must not only file charges, they must apprehend wanted suspects and build strong evidentiary cases against them.