Monday, January 31, 2011

Visit Sulu!

"Wow Sulu" is a tourism slogan of Governor Dr Sakur Tan, of the province of Sulu, the 15th largest island of the Philippine Archipelago in terms of the area, spanning 1,600 square kilometers. Sulu is a part of the Sulu Archipelago, which stretches from the tip of the Zamboanga Peninsula to the island of Borneo. The main island and also its islets are located between the island-provinces of Basilan to the northeast, and Tawi-Tawi to the southwest.

Sulu is located in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Its capital is Jolo and occupies the middle group of islands of the Sulu Archipelago, between Basilan and Tawi-Tawi. It is home to the historical Sultanate of Sulu.

(Photography & Creative Arts - Mindanao Examiner Productions)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Regional council to protect children set to organize in Mindanao

Two Filipino boys in Zamboanga City - the other drives a pedicab and the second collects garbage - both are helping their parents earn a living. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 30, 2011) – A regional council for the protection of children is expected to be organized soon in Mindanao in an effort to keep minors away from danger, abuse and maltreatment, especially in environment unmindful of their rights, the state-run media Philippine Information Agency said.

It said the Department of Interior and Local Government in Western Mindanao has called on other government agencies to join an organizational meeting of the so-called Regional Inter-Agency Monitoring Task Force in Zamboanga City.

Regional Interior Director Faisal Abutazil said it will be the responsibility of the task force to lead the monitoring and evaluation of activity with regards to the functionality of the Local Council for the Protection of Children at the provincial level and highly urbanized cities and to come-up with recommended actions based on findings.

He said once organized, the task force would be there for the continuous support as partners for the welfare and development of the Filipino children.

The United Nations Children's Fund which works for children's rights, their survival, development and protection, said child protection encompasses all processes, policies, programs, interventions, and measures that aim to prevent and respond to violence, exploitation, and abuse against children, with the ultimate goal of ensuring the overall development of children to their fullest potential.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that every child has the right to protection from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

It said the Local Council for the Protection of Children is responsible for planning and spearheading programs for children in the locality with the end in view of making the locality child-friendly.

But it said the big challenge is how to convince all local government units to organize their own Council for the Protection of Children and, more importantly, how to encourage them to activate, strengthen, and sustain the already organized Local Council for the Protection of Children.

In Zamboanga City, many poor children have abandoned their studies in exchange for begging in the streets. Many of them resort to working dangerous jobs to help their family earn money to buy food.

In the city’s garbage dumpsite in Lumbangan village, many children, some of them as young as four-years old, are already collecting scraps unmindful of the filthy environment and hazards to their health, just to help their parents earn a living.

Many street children are also addicted to chemical solvents and had been involved in petty crimes. In 2009, a 14-year old boy, Benjamin Mariga, was brutally murdered in Zamboanga City after he was arrested along with several street children accused of robbery. (Mindanao Examiner)

Garbage Boy in Zamboanga City

A Filipino boy collects garbage inside a filthy trash box in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines. Many poor children in Zamboanga City resort to working dangerous jobs to help earn money to buy food. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

Filipino boy abandons school to help parents earn a living

An unidentified boy drives a pedicab for a living instead of going to school to help his poor family in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines. Many poor children in Zamboanga City resort to working dangerous jobs to help earn money to buy food. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

Zamboanga Feline

A feline waits patiently for a rat to come out of this hole as passers by walk pass the animal in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

Brother of suspected Sulu bomber, 2 others fall in Zambo drug sting

Drug enforcement agents arrested three people, including a brother of an alleged bomber wanted by authorities and a sister of a politician in Sulu province in the southern Philippines, in an undercover drug sting in Zamboanga City, officials say Sunday, January 30, 2011. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 30, 2011) – Government agents arrested three people, including a brother of an alleged bomber wanted by authorities and a sister of a politician in Sulu province in the southern Philippines, in an undercover drug sting in Zamboanga City, officials said Sunday.
Officials said the trio - Ladimer Tulawie, Zam-Zam Tulawie and Inderapatra Adam – were all arrested at an apartment in the village of Tetutan over the weekend.

One agent of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency said at least 50 grams of suspected methamphetamine hydrochloride or locally known as shabu were seized from the three.

“They tried to fight off the arrest, but we all subdued them and we have recovered at least 50 grams of shabu,” the agent said.
The three were escorted by heavily armed drug enforcement agents at the Department of Justice where they had been brought for inquest.

One agent said one of the two men is a brother of Temogen Tulawie alias Cocoy Tulawie who is being hunted by authorities for his alleged role in the roadside bombing in 2009 in Sulu province in a failed attempt to assassinate Governor Sakur Tan.
The woman is said to be a sister of a politician in Sulu province. Neither the trio nor their relatives gave any statement to the press about the arrest, but drug enforcement agents said they have sufficient evidence to indict the three suspects. (Mindanao Examiner)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Speed Stacking in South RP

Filipino children outdo each other during a routine speed stacking contest in Kidapawan City in the southern Philippines. (Geonari Solmerano – Mindanao Examiner Photo)

Friday, January 28, 2011

MILF optimistic on peace talks with Manila

A Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighter guards a village in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 28, 2011) – The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said it is confident of signing a peace accord with Manila that would end decades of bloody fighting in the restive southern region of Mindanao.

The MILF is currently negotiating peace with the Aquino government in an effort of putting a stop to the fighting that had displaced tens of thousands of civilians in the largely Catholic region which is home to about four million ethnic Muslims.

“We are optimistic that peace can be achieved under the Aquino administration and we want the peace process to succeed,” said Eid Kabulu, a spokesman for the rebel group which is fighting for self-determination.

Kabalu said they have begun a consultative meeting among members and supporters in Maguindanao province, a known stronghold of the MILF, a breakaway faction of the larger Moro National Liberation Front which signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996.

He said thousands of MILF members were briefed by leaders on the progress of the peace process. Kabalu said the consultations which started on Tuesday will end on February 4 and that rebel chieftain Murad Ebrahim will hold a news conference at an MILF base next week.

“The consultations are going and there are mixed feelings among our members about the peace talks, but majority are optimistic that negotiators can sign an agreement under the Aquino administration,” Kabalu said.

The consultations are divided into four sessions corresponding to the major regions of Mindanao where rebel forces are actively operating, he said. (Mindanao Examiner)

Pyros, firecrackers explode in Zamboanga warehouse

Villagers flee as a warehouse full of pyrotechnics and firecrackers exploded Saturday, January 28, 2011 in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines. At least a dozen people are injured in the fire that burned also razed many houses, mostly shacks. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 28, 2011) – At least a dozen people were injured in a huge fire that broke out Friday in a warehouse containing pyrotechnics in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines, officials said.

But many were also hurt in a stampede after villagers ran for safety with their belongings after a series of explosions inside the warehouse owned by Pacific Hardware near downtown Zamboanga.

There were no immediate reports of casualties, but hardware workers said there could be people trapped inside the warehouse.

Officials said the warehouse was being use to stack the pyrotechnics and firecrackers. “The warehouse is owned by Pacific Hardware and it’s they all use it to put everything, including firecrackers,” said City Administrator Antonio Orendain.

Fire officials said the warehouse is being use to stack pyrotechnics.
At least 10 houses near the warehouse were burned and one woman said she was lucky to have escape alive. “I was almost trap in the fire and really lucky to escape in our burning house,” she said.

The fire triggered explosions from pyrotechnics and firecrackers and the blasts shattered glass windows and wooden ceilings of establishments and hospital near the warehouse.

Officials said it was illegal to stack pyrotechnics in the warehouse without proper documents from the fire department, particularly in residential areas. (Mindanao Examiner)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Trafficking complaint filed vs NBI intel officer: ABS-CBN

MANILA, Philippines - An intelligence officer of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) based in Zamboanga City was slapped with a complaint for violation of Republic Act 9208, otherwise known as the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, estafa, and violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Crizalina Torres was accused by 4 complainants of demanding P40,000 as “escort fee” to facilitate the departure of 2 of the 4 complainants for Bahrain via Abu Dhabi at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

The complainants alleged that Torres was paid an initial P18,000, the balance of which would be paid upon actual departure of the two complainants.

After receiving P18,000, Torres allegedly escorted the victims inside NAIA Terminal 1 and instructed them "where to go and what to do inside the airport."

"She likewise coached them to misrepresent some material facts to the immigration officer on duty that they would leave for abroad as tourists, when in fact they were in possession of an authenticated and scanned employment visa," the NAIA Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons report stated.

The complainants were eventually off-loaded and not allowed to leave for abroad following an interview with Bureau of Immigration officers where complainants were asked if they had pocket money and were not able to show any.

The complainants – a mother and her daughter - told ABS-CBN News they informed immigration officers during said interview that the father was already in Bahrain and would meet them there.

However, upon validation, no record of the father having left the Philippines for Bahrain could be found leading immigration officials to off-load the them.

"Sinabi lang po namin yung itinuro niya [Torres] sa amin, hindi po namin alam na ganoon ang mangyayari sa amin. Siya po ang nagturo kung anong sasabihin sa immigration, kung ano ikukwento namin," the elder complainant said.

When they were off-loaded, complainants confronted Torres, leading police intelligence and investigation division officers to invite them for investigation.

They later turned over the case to the NAIA Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons.

"This is a case of human trafficking because the complainants were being attempted to leave the country for employment abroad when in fact no employment was waiting for them and they were coached into lying to immigration officials to pose as tourists when their real intent was to work abroad," prosecutor Jonathan Lledo of the national task force on Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), told ABS-CBN News.

The NBI, meanwhile, assured it does not tolerate wrongdoing of its organic personnel.

"We are giving the assurance that the bureau does not tolerate these things and we will help prosecute those who have to be prosecuted, kasuhan sila kahit sino pa sila," said lawyer Dante Bonoan, chief of the NBI anti-human trafficking division.

Torres, who was brought to the Department of Justice for inquest, denied the allegations against her and told ABS-CBN News that she was just trying to help the complainants because one of them was sick.

"Tinulungan ko lang po sa pagpasok sa airport, wala ako hininging halaga. Wala din po akong tinanggap na pera. Twenty eight years na ako sa serbisyo, ni hindi ko sila kilala may nakiusap lang sa akin," Torres said.

A certain Mario Obrero was also named as respondent in the complaint.

According to the complaint, Obrero is an alleged fixer and offered the help of Torres to facilitate the departure of the victims.

The claim was made by 2 other complainants who are relatives of the Bahrain-bound mother and daughter. (Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News)


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

For Sale: Framed Photos of magnificent Tulay Mosque and historical Bud (Mount) Daho in Sulu Province

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Troops kill 3 rebels in clashes in Southern Philippines

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 26, 2011) – Government troops killed three communist rebels and captured a minor member in separate clashes Wednesday in the southern Philippines, officials told the Mindanao Examiner.

Officials said two New People’s Army rebels also surrendered to the military in Davao del Sur province where the fighting broke out. The fighting erupted in the village of Manuel Peralta in Malita town where troops captured a young female rebel.

“The encounter initiated by the troops was due to the public clamor on the recent atrocities committed by the New People’s Army rebels who murdered Datu Danwata in Malita town,” said Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Santiago, a spokesman for the Army’s 10th Infantry Division.

Rebels killed the tribal leader, a known supporter of the military, early this month in retaliation for his active role in the military operation against the New People’s Army in the town.

Santiago said two rebels were killed in the town during a running gun battle. He said soldiers also recovered a firearm and an improvised explosive, including medical kit and anti-government propaganda, left behind by fleeing rebels.

He said troops also clashed with another band of rebels and killed one of them in the village of Manay in Davao Oriental province.

“The civilians are continuously providing us information and location of New People’s Army rebels and we are responding to their reports,” Santiago said.

The New People’s Army is the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines which is currently negotiating peace with the Aquino government, but despite this fighting still continues in many parts of the Philippines because both sides have not signed a cease-fire accord.

The rebels are fighting for decades for the establishment of Maoist state in the largely Catholic country. (Mindanao Examiner)

Max's Restaurant Opens In Zamboanga City

Max's halo-halo and its own brand of ketshup and the staff of the restaurant pose during a news conference Wednesday, January 26, 2011 in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines. (Jung Francisco - Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 26, 2011) – The beautiful Zamboanga, branded as Asia’s Latin City, has become the birthplace to the 119th branch of one of the Philippines’ leading fast-casual dining restaurant – Max’s – that traces its roots to a family’s generosity and passion for good food.

Max’s, “the house that chicken built,” continues to innovate and expand worldwide with plans to open branches in Dubai and Australia. It currently has 8 branches in the United States and another in Canada.

Zamboanga is the second branch to open in the culture-rich Mindanao region in the southern Philippines. The other is in Cagayan de Oro, known as the “City of Golden Friendship.”

Today, Max’s Restaurant has established itself as a household name, an institution, and a proud Filipino tradition, zealously upholding the values passed on from its early beginnings in 1945 to the present–day generation of food aficionados, said Arnie Demerin, Franchise Area Manager for Max's Visayas and Mindanao.

He said Max’s Zamboanga also brings to the table heartwarming flavors that are sure to resonate in the mouth of customers. Filipino favorites like Max’s sarap-to-the-bones fried chicken and a mélange of flavors in menu additions that perfectly complement the chicken.

“These are all meticulously prepared using heirloom recipes that have been in the Max’s tradition for more than six decades,” Demerin said at a news conference.

He said the food ingredients of the restaurant conform to the highest standard Max’s is popularly known and is also “Halal” certified. Halal is a term designating any object or an action which is permissible to use or engage in, according to Islamic law.

“The Islamic Da’wah Council of the Philippines has granted Max’s Zamboanga its Halal certification as guarantee that all of Max’s ingredients and food preparations are not only fresh but permissible under the Islamic law, for the benefit of Max’s avid customers in Zamboanga,” Demerin said.

Demerin also introduced the home-brand Max's Ketchup and their "giant" halo-halo and special salmon cooked in tamarind soup and the ever-popular fried chicken with fried sweet potatoes on the side.

Bobby Simobrio, Corporate Communications Officer for Max’s Group of Companies, said: “People come together because of something they all share – the love for good food. We bring this experience to a higher level by offering something new, yet distinctly homegrown to pique our customers’ appetites.”

“Max’s continuous growth is spurred by its passion to reinvent itself without losing its sense of tradition. For more than six decades, Max’s has remained unfazed by challenges and has maintained its solid position as an innovative, continuously evolving and thriving brand both in the Philippines and abroad.”

Max’s Zamboanga also offers amenities and packages ideal for business meetings, weddings, christenings, debuts and children’s parties.

Among those who also attended the news conference were Cathy See, Assistant Marketing Manager for Regional and Franchise; Jessa Bien, Marketing Services Officer; Michael Tacadena, Branch Manager for Max's Zamboanga, and Maui Terrado, of the Bright Idea Events Management. (Jung Francisco and Noel Deles)

Philippine Muslim rebels condemn deadly bus bombing

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Wow Sulu 2011

"Wow Sulu" is a tourism slogan of Governor Dr Sakur Tan, of the province of Sulu, the 15th largest island of the Philippine Archipelago in terms of the area, spanning 1,600 square kilometers. Sulu is a part of the Sulu Archipelago, which stretches from the tip of the Zamboanga Peninsula to the island of Borneo. The main island and also its islets are located between the island-provinces of Basilan to the northeast, and Tawi-Tawi to the southwest.

Sulu is located in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Its capital is Jolo and occupies the middle group of islands of the Sulu Archipelago, between Basilan and Tawi-Tawi. It is home to the historical Sultanate of Sulu.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

4 killed in Philippine bus bombing

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 25, 2011) – At least four people were killed and more than a dozen other wounded in a powerful bomb explosion Tuesday in the Philippine financial district of Makati City, police said.

Police finally confirmed that a bomb had exploded in the bus at around 2 p.m. The bus was carrying more than 30 passengers when the explosion occurred tearing a hole on the floor.

Initially police report said two passengers were killed and at least 15 people wounded in the blast.

Director Nicanor Bartolome, commander of metropolitan police force, said the death toll has risen to four and that 14 others were wounded. He also confirmed that the blast was caused by an improvised explosive device planted underneath a seat in the middle of the bus.

“It was an IED, an improvised explosive device. Four passengers were killed and 14 more are wounded,” Bartolome said.

Makati City Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr said the amount of destruction caused by the explosion pointed to a bomb. Binay, who inspected the area, said he saw body parts inside the bus and a dying passenger gasping for breath.
He said the explosion occurred near Buendia Avenue.

No group has claimed responsibility for the blast, but a local militant group Abu Sayyaf and the Indonesian Jemaah Islamiya had previously bombed civilian targets in Manila. (Mindanao Examiner)

Police trace gun used in killing of Palawan broadcaster

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 25, 2011) – Police have traced the gun used in the killing of a Filipino broadcaster in Palawan to a former provincial official.

But the ex-official, Romeo Seratubias, who was the former provincial administrator, said he had sold the gun a long time ago and denied any hand in the murder of Dr Gerardo Ortega.

Palawan Governor Abraham Mitra said that Seratubias had resigned last year to run for mayor in one of the town’s in the province. And that he had sold his gun and submitted documents to back up his claims, Mitra said in a television interview Tuesday.

Ortega, who worked for the Radio Mindanao Network, was shot in the head on Monday as he was shopping for clothes at a thrift shop in Puerto Princesa City, police said.

The gunman, Marlon de Camata, was captured as he tried to flee after the shooting, but his accomplice remains at large. Camata, who originally is from Taguig City, admitted he was contracted to kill the broadcaster because of his criticism of some people in Palawan.

Police said it is still investigating the gunman and would not say who ordered the killing of Ortega, a known environmentalist, who had criticized illegal mining activities in Palawan.

More than 140 journalists had been killed in the Philippines since democracy was restored in 1986, but most of the murders remain unresolved. In 2009, gunmen also killed at least 32 journalists who were among 57 people at a political convoy in Maguindanao province in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

Alcohol as alternative cooking fuel in Kidapawan City

A man shows off his portable cooker which uses alcohol as alternative fuel in Kidapawan City in the southern Philippines. Petrol prices in the Philippines have risen three times this year sparking massive protests from militant groups. (Mindanao Examiner Photo - Geo Solmerano)

Bus explosion kills 2 in the Philippines

A man sells potted flowers on a busy street in Makati City in the Philippines. Police say a bus explosion killed 2 people and wounded over a dozen passengers on Tuesday, January 25, 2011. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 25, 2011) – An explosion Tuesday ripped through a passenger bus in the Philippine financial district of Makati City and killed two people, police said.

Police said more than a dozen passengers were also wounded in the afternoon blast.

“We still cannot determine the cause of the explosion, but two passengers were killed and 15 more are injured,” said Police Director Nicanor Bartolome.
He said the blast tore a hole on the metal flooring of the bus.

But the mayor of Makati City, Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr said a bomb was probably the cause of the explosion.

“The amount of destruction caused by the explosion points to a bomb,” Binay, who inspected the bus, told reporters.

The mayor said he saw body parts inside the bus that exploded near Buendia Avenue. The bomb was believed planted under a seat of the bus.

No group has claimed responsibility for the blast, but a local militant group Abu Sayyaf and the Indonesian Jemaah Islamiya had previously bombed civilian targets in Manila. (Mindanao Examiner)

Philippine anti-mining activists remain defiant

A Subanen tribal boy at a protest that aims to stop mining activities in Midsalip town in Zamboanga province. (UCAN)

ZAMBOANGA DEL SUR, Philippines - Anti-mining activists in the southern Philippine province of Zamboanga del Sur have vowed to continue opposing mineral exploration in Midsalip despite threats and lawsuits leveled against them.

“It’s ironic that we are the ones being sued. In this struggle to preserve our community’s livelihood, we are on the defensive,” Jose Catamco of the Alliance to Save the Integrity of Nature told

Catamco and nine others are facing legal action for hindering the exploration activities of Geotechniques and Minerals Inc., which holds a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement with the Philippine government.

Also facing charges with Catamco are several Church people including Irish missionary priest Sean Martin, Sister Patricia Andonaire, and Father Arsenio Marane.

The case was lodged before a regional trial court in Aurora town. Catamco said they received the writ last month.

Under the law, anyone who prevents or obstructs the holder of any permit, agreement or lease from undertaking mining operations faces a maximum P5,000 (US$112) fine or a year in jail.

Catamco’s group has led an attempt to try and prevent equipment being delivered to designated drill sites, since October 5.

Meanwhile, the provincial government of nearby Zamboanga del Norte province is expected to ban open-pit and open-cut land surface mining after the local Catholic Church led a march last week to call for a stop to mining activities in the area.

Provincial legislators are preparing a proposed ordinance that will “protect and conserve the integrity of the land and water resources.” The proposed measure takes note of previous ecological disasters at mine sites in the province. (UCAN)


Islamic bank opens branch in Sulu

Officials of the Al-Amanah Islamic Investment Bank of the Philippines headed by Enrique Bautista, chairman and CEO, and lawyer. Nabil Tan, director, and AVP Jose Villano, head of the Branch Banking Services Department poses with Sulu provincial executive led by Administrator Erwin Tan. The local branch is headed by Rehamna Espinosa. (Al Salinas)

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 25, 2011) – The Philippines’ sole Islamic bank has opened a branch in the Muslim province of Sulu in the region of Mindanao, officials said Tuesday.

Officials said the opening recently of Al-Amanah Islamic Investment Bank of the Philippines, a subsidiary of the Development Bank of the Philippines, is expected to lure locals to open an account and save money instead of keeping them in their houses.

“We welcome the opening of the Al-Amanah Islamic Investment Bank in Sulu and we encourage everyone to open an account and save money for their future. The coming of Al-Amanah Islamic Investment Bank to the province is a reflection of the continuing peace and progress in our beautiful province of Sulu,” said Dr Sakur Tan, the provincial governor.

It was formed as the Philippine Al-Amanah Bank in 1973. It was reestablished as Al-Amanah Islamic Investment Bank in 2000 to promote and accelerate socio and economic development of the Autonomous Regions of Muslim Mindanao.

It is the first and only Islamic bank in the country whose mandate is to serve the banking needs of the Muslim community. Its head office is located in Zamboanga City and maintains an executive office in Makati City and nine other branches located in the cities of Makati, Cagayan de Oro, Cotabato, Davao, General Santos, Iligan, Marawi and Zamboanga. (Mindanao Examiner)

Monday, January 24, 2011

New Philippine counter-insurgency strategy fails to address the causes of conflict

A new, purportedly human rights-orientated counter-insurgency strategy has little chance of success in the Philippines if the clientelism of a flawed political and economic system is not simultaneously addressed, argues Mark Dearn...

2011 marks the dawn of a new strategic approach to combating insurgencies that have long bedevilled the Philippines. An internecine conflict, bred by a political system that entrenches the segmental concentration of power in the archipelago, has resulted in a catalogue of state-led extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

The new tactic - ‘Oplan Bayanihan’ (‘Operation Community Volunteerism’) – purportedly promotes the protection of human rights within a framework of community-centred development, drawing on the American Counter-Insurgency (COIN) Guide of 2009 [pdf] composed under General David Petraeus.

Bayanihan succeeds ‘Oplan Bantay Laya’ (‘Operation Freedom Watch’), which lumped together in one bracket armed insurgents, student activists, priests, teachers and anyone else who gave tacit support to countervailing ideologies. However, without direct recourse to addressing the systemic politico-economic underpinnings of conflict which encourage new cadres to oppose the state, Bayanihan may represent only a cosmetic shift in addressing insurgency.

A year on from the Maguindano killings, a starkly visceral evocation of an endemic culture of political violence, much is claimed to have changed in the Philippines, yet, much remains the same.

Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino, son of 1986 ‘democratisation’ heroine Corazon Aquino, won office in May 2010 from outgoing president Arroyo, widely castigated for her legion of human rights abuses, alleged electoral fraud and corruption. Aquino’s electoral platform, as with many predecessors, was reform. Within ten days of ascending to the presidency, five extrajudicial killings spurred a group of leading bishops to question his commitment to eradicating the prevalent “culture of impunity”, while by September the tally was sixteen extrajudicial killings and two enforced disappearances.

Aquino’s commitment to human rights has also been questioned by the decision to avoid the 2010 Nobel Prize ceremony, passed off as a diplomatic double-booking error. Yet few should be surprised at the president’s willingness to capitulate to his most influential overseas patrons: Aquino decided, against the grain of regional diplomatic niceties, to snub Asean in favour of a first overseas visit to America.

While initially endorsing and renewing Bantay Laya - which as a former Philippine army officer admitted to this author led directly to the conflating of civilian activists and armed rebels by frontline soldiers - Aquino has now endorsed Bayanihan. The shift is reflected by a growing discontent and recognition in Philippine society of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killing, with the film ‘Dukot’ (‘Disappearance’), which chronicles the abduction of a student activist and his girlfriend by the military, winning at the Famas (Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences Awards) awards.

The language of Bayanihan is designed to inspire renewed belief in the military’s attitude to insurgency while concurrently placing blame for past violations on low-ranking soldiers and absolving the military hierarchy of responsibility. It is tagged as a ‘people-centred’ strategy focusing on development and protecting human rights; notably, a soldier’s handbook on human rights has been produced, while soldiers’ wages will double.

However, as Anakpawis representative Rafael Mariano argues, the policy, “promises so-called development while maintaining the status quo...the monopoly and control of the few of the country's resources”. It is the potential to reverse this economic and political status quo, in existence for as long as the structures of the modern Philippine state, which will determine the success or otherwise of Bayanihan.

While the Philippines has enjoyed strong economic growth averaging more than five percent per year since 2001 and is currently matched only by Thailand in the Asean region, some thirty percent of people livebelow the poverty line: growth has markedly failed to alleviate the poverty, inequality and disenchantment that fuels the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology of Philippine communists and other insurgents.

Why then, in a democracy, do the populous not vote for a change in governance that would bring greater socio-economic equality and opportunity? Put simply, Philippine ‘democracy’, hailed for its vibrancy with scant regard to its efficiency, lack of a functioning party system, and predilection for provincial co-optation, does not give this option.

While democratic governance reaches back to the colonial era, it ensures now as it did then that for provincial elites and the presidents who manage to co-opt them, political power and its concomitant of economic wealth and further ‘electoral’ success will be guaranteed in an un-virtuous circle, regardless of society’s wishes.

It was colonial rule that ensured the predominance of effectively party-less provincial ‘caciques’ (‘chiefs’) over the Philippine state and the manner in which national leaders are beholden to provincial clans and warlords enmeshed in a factional system promoting violence and fraud to gain the spoils of office.

American democracy, installed with the colonial rhetoric of benevolent assimilation after the massacre of some 500,000 Filipinos, failed in producing policies of note to benefit wider society. However, the system did, as planned, enrich caciques eager to lithify their provincial power through collaboration with their colonial masters.

Legislation such as the Payne-Aldrich Act led to massive cacique enrichment through having in-demand tropical crops produced under a tax-free tariff wall providing access to American markets; concurrently, the majority were ostracised from a system in which national power was rotated among provincial rulers, none of whom would consider undercutting local power.

Andal Ampatuan of Maguindanao, the man accused behind the 2009 massacre, is a shining example of the colonial inheritance of provincial power and national-provincial clientilism.

Ampatuan was well known to be close to Arroyo: Arroyo’s closest rival recorded no votes at all in three towns he controlled in the 2004 presidential elections. In return, he held a private army of 500 men, ran uncontested in gubernatorial re-election bids, his son was permitted to stand for governor in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao – becoming the first governor with no rebel links – and he held a government memorandum authorising his civilian volunteer organisations to bear arms.

Against this backdrop, well understood by anti-state actors, the potential success of a policy which seeks to halt conflicts which have their roots in political and economic inequality without addressing the systemic causes of that inequality is questionable at best.

As insurgency expert Robert Kilcullen notes, the aim of counter-insurgency is to “return the insurgency’s parent society to its normal mode of interaction.”

In the Philippines it is the normal mode of interaction itself which promotes insurgency, with the veneer of Philippine ‘democracy’ and economic growth sating only the relatively few who benefit from it. (By Mark Dearn. The author is a freelance journalist who has written and researched for the Independent, the Chunichi Shimbun and Tokyo Shimbun)


Wow Sulu

Photography and Creative Arts - Mindanao Examiner Productions

MILF links cemetery weapons to Maguindanao clan

A Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebel mans his machine gun at a village in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 24, 2011) – Philippine Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, have tagged Monday the powerful Ampatuan clan as the alleged owner of a huge cache of weapons buried at a cemetery in Mindanao.

The clan was linked by the police and military to the 2009 gruesome murders of 57 people, at least 32 of them journalists who accompanied a political convoy in Maguindanao province.

Police commandos recovered high-powered weapons after intelligence reports pointed to its location at a cemetery in Cotabato City in Maguindanao last week.

Among the weapons recovered by the police were five machine guns, mortar tubes and munitions, among others.

“The arms found in the cemetery in Cotabato City on January 20 are part of the 3,000 or so firearms of a private army belonging to a powerful Moro politician who are now behind bars in connection with the massacre of 57 people mostly members of the media on November 23, 2009,” said Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila.

The rebel group said it obtained the information from a former member of the clan’s private army in the Ampatuan hometown of Shariff Aguak. “The arms were part of the firearms supplied or bought from unscrupulous dealers from the military,” it said.

Security forces had seized hundreds of high-powered weapons and munitions the clan allegedly hid in various places in Maguindanao after its patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr, the governor of Maguindanao; and his sons – Zaldy Ampatuan, the regional governor of the Muslim autonomous region; and Andal Ampatuan Jr, the mayor of Datu Unsay town, and their relatives were arrested three days after the brutal murders.

There were no immediate statement from the Ampatuan or their lawyers about the allegations, but the clan had previously denied owning the weapons seized by the authorities in Maguindanao and the killings. (Mindanao Examiner)

Fish drying in Sulu province

Villagers in Jolo town in the southern Philippine province of Sulu attend to their primary source of living - fish drying - while kids watch them work. (Mindanao Examiner Photo - Mark Navales)