We hailed the UN experts then because they stood for people who needed as much help as they could get — even while we were already helping them.
President Rodrigo Duterte, with his long time affinity with the Lumad, knows more than most people that UN Special Rapporteurs are NOT enemies of the Filipino people. They’re not stooges, not agents by foreign powers.
Special Rapporteurs — independent experts and working group members – work on behalf of the United Nations within the scope of “special procedures” and they bear a specific mandate from the UN Human Rights Council.
There are two kinds of mandates from the council – a country mandate or a thematic mandate. As of 27 March 2015, there are 41 thematic and 14 country mandates (List below)
Special Rapporteurs need permission from a country to visit. (“At the invitation of States..”) To shorten the process, some countries have issued “STANDING INVITATIONS”. The Philippines is NOT among these countries.
“They undertake to uphold independence, efficiency, competence and integrity through probity, impartiality, honesty and good faith. The independent status of the mandate-holders is crucial for them to be able to fulfil their functions in all impartiality. A mandate-holder’s tenure in a given function, whether it is a thematic or country mandate, is limited to a maximum of six years.”
In 2015, UN Special Rapporteur for Internally-Displaced Persons, Chaloka Beyani, came to investigate the plight of the Lumad of Mindanao. Among the places he visited was the Haran sanctuary in Davao City. Here are some stories on that interesting episode:
“THE AFP STATEMENT PROVIDED IS CONSEQUENTLY A GROSS MISREPRESENTATION OF THE POSITION OF THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR” — Graham Fox, media officer of Dr. Chaloka Beyani, UN Special Rapporteur on Internally Displaced Peoples
This came after passage of the Commission on Human Rights resolution 20 (XXXVI). The first Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions reporting to Commission on Human Rights resolution 1982/35 begun work in 1982.
There are five United Nations regional work groupings: Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and the Western group.
What do special rapporteurs do?
“They can act on individual cases of alleged violations and concerns of a broader, structural nature by sending communications to States; conduct thematic studies and convene expert consultations, contributing to the development of international human rights standards ; engage in advocacy and raise public awareness ; and provide advice for technical cooperation. Special Procedures report annually to the Human Rights Council and the majority of the mandates also report to the General Assembly.”
So, yes, UN experts need an invitation — and can request for one — from states to visit.
Countries issue “standing invitations” to signify they are prepared to receive a visit from Special Rapporteurs.
What does it mean that Special Rapporteurs “act independently of governments and as such are free to circumvent sovereign nations and democratically elected governments and policies”?
They are not answerable to governments precisely because they are independent. Meaning, governments are not shown their notes (security of witnesses, etc). Governments do not sign off on their reports — because they are not employees of government.
However, there are mechanisms to follow, including the fact that they do talk extensively with government. “At the end of their visits, special procedures’ mandate-holders engage in dialogue with the State on their findings and recommendations and present a report to the Human Rights Council,” says the OHCHR.
There’s nothing sinister about Special Rapporteurs.
At the invitation of States, mandate-holders carry out country visits to analyse the human rights situation at the national level. Some countries have issued “standing invitations” to the Special Procedures, which means that they are prepared to receive a visit from any thematic mandate-holder. As of 1 January 2015, 109 Member States and one non-Member Observer State have extended a standing invitation to thematic special procedures. At the end of their visits, special procedures’ mandate-holders engage in dialogue with the State on their findings and recommendations and present a report to the Human Rights Council.
There is no reason to be scared of these experts. They won’t allow themselves to be used by any political party or any foreign power out to rock Digong. That’s where you — believers — can come in and clearly show why you support the President.
President Duterte has strong support — 90% of the population. I oppose many of his methods on the war on drugs but recognize that majority support it, right or wrong.
Disabuse yourself of the notion that “dialogue” needs to be strictly internal.
When you impose those conditions, it’s no longer called dialogue. Only North Korea and a few other weird countries have that kind of set up and their citizens continuously try to find ways around the blockade.
CPP-NPA ceasefire declaration orders a halt to all offensives but mandates guerrilla units to take “active defense” when faced with hostile actions by state security forces. The ceasefire order also defines “hostile actions.” But it is silent on paramilitary forces known to be trained and supervised by units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the National Operational Command of the New People’s Army (NPA) has declared a seven-day ceasefire “to celebrate and bolster the resumption of formal GRP-NDFP peace talks.”
The ceasefire will take effect starting 12:01 a.m. of August 21 and will last until 11:59 p.m. of August 27.
The CPP central committee said the NDF negotiating panel to peace talks with President Rodrigo Duterte’s government recommended the ceasefire. It said the ceasefire will take effect with or without reciprocal action from the government.
The directive came after an announcement that the NPA would release prisoners of war. NDF negotiating panel member Fidel Agcaoili said the NDF has six prisoners of war, all in Mindanao. Four are in the Caraga and Surigao regions; two, in the Southern Mindanao region.
The formal talks between the negotiating panels of the NDFP and GRP are scheduled for August 22-26 and will be held in Oslo, Norway.
“This ceasefire declaration is encouraged by the GRP’s facilitation of the release of nearly all NDFP consultants who are set to participate in peace negotiations in the course of the next several months,” said the CPP and NPA.
“With or without reciprocation by the GRP, the NPA must maintain a high-level of alertness against enemy troop movements,” said the CPP. “Even while ready to engage in defensive action, the NPA will exert efforts to carry out early counter-maneuvers to avoid armed encounters during the specified ceasefire period.
When Duterte met with consultants of the NDF in Malacanang last week, he told them to ignore the angry words unleashed in the last few weeks, whether in tit-for-tat exchanges with exiled communist leader Jose Maria Sison or during a round of visits to military camps.
NDF consultants interviewed following their release from prison acknowledged concern at Duterte’s rantings.
But speaking for his comrades, Adelberto Silva said they learned to tune out the President’s words and instead “focus on the actions moving the peace talks forward.”
The consultants seem to have gotten that right.
The ceasefire directive, which was furnished to media, ordered regular guerrilla units and people’s militia to cease offensive military operations against personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
But the communist leadership also told rebel units to “remain on defensive mode at both the strategic and tactical levels.”
Local commands, the statement said, should maintain a high degree of militancy and vigilance against any hostile actions or movements by enemy armed forces with the aim of encirclement and suppression.”
It defined hostile actions thus:
“The NPA shall consider as hostile action encroachments on the territory of the people’s democratic government by operating troops of the AFP and its paramilitaries to conduct surveillance, psywar and other offensive operations that are labelled as “peace and development”, “civil-military”, “peace and order” and “law enforcement” operations.
Active-defense operations by the NPA shall be undertaken only in the face of clear and imminent danger and actual armed attack by the enemy forces and only after exhausting counter-maneuvers to avoid armed encounters.”
It ordered local units to report hostile actions, provocations or movements to the concerned NPA commands and CPP leadership.
The ceasefire directive told NPA units not to arrest individual cops and soldiers with “no serious liabilities other than their membership in their armed units” and allow them to “enter the territory of the people’s democratic government to make personal visits to relatives and friends.”
Silence on paramilitary groups
The ceasefire order was markedly silent on paramilitary groups that abound in Mindanao. While officially not part of the AFP organisational structure, local government officials across Mindanao have exposed the military as the organiser, trainer and supervisor of these armed groups.
Human rights advocates and indigenous people’s organisations across Mindanao say the paramilitary are the AFP’s dirty tricks department. Partly funded by big mining and plantation firms under an executive order signed by former President Benigno Aquino III, these groups have killed dozens of indigenous leaders.
Paramilitary forces have also and stepped up their attacks since the proclamation of Duterte as winner of the 2016 presidential elections.
The CPP stated cited the case of Ka Eduardo Sarmiento, arrested in February 2009, convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2013.
The CPP reiterated its “deep appreciation of the determined efforts of GRP President Duterte to push forward and accelerate the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations as a means of addressing the roots of the civil war in the Philippines.”
“We hope that this ceasefire declaration will be reciprocated by the GRP as a show of all-out determination to move forward with peace negotiations,” said the CPP.
NDF peace negotiator Fidel Agcaoili shared the POW release announcement as top underground leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon walked out of Camp Crame, the headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and their place of detention since their capture in June 2015.
The POW release statement mentioned only two by name. One of them was Governor Generoso Police Chief Insp. Arnold Ongachen, captured during an NPA raid on their police station on May 28, before President Rodrigo Duterte’s assumption of power.
Agcaoili said the NPA was ready to release POWs in Caraga but facilitation was delayed by military operations.
“The GRP panel wanted to be at the turnover but as they’re here, maybe other officials can do it. Actually, those four were to have been released earlier but the big AFP operations delayed the release. Even the GRP panel said there was very heavy fighting and so they did not want to enter the area that time.”
Then still mayor of Davao City, Duterte immediately asked rebels to release the police officer. Duterte has accepted turnovers of captured cops and soldiers in the past.
But on June 2, citing a rebel report on the seizure of some drugs from Ongachen’s office, Duterte said he was leaving the cop to the mercy of the NPA and suggested, half in jest, a sentence of 20 years of hard labor.
The PNP and the AFP mounted operations to get the captured police officers and other soldiers captured in Agusan but have failed to make headway so far.
Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire during his first State of the Nation Address. While rebels welcomed it, they sought clearer details of its implementation.
Three days after, the NPA ambushed a joint paramilitary and AFP team. The action, which the NPA explained as part of its active defense measure, killed some soldiers and wounded others.
An angry Duterte rescinded his ceasefire order amid a series of angry exchanges with senior NDF consultant and CPP founder, Jose Maria Sison.
Later, in several visits to military camps across the country, Duterte would unleash diatribes on the NPA, insisting the use of command-detonated mines is a violation of the Genera Convention. The rebels insist the treaty only covers contact-activated mines.
NDF consultants acknowledged concern at Duterte’s tirades. But speaking for his comrades, Adelberto Silva said they learned to tune out the President’s rants and instead “focus on the actions moving the peace talks forward.”
The CPP statement said rebels will push their call for Duterte to “issue a general amnesty to pave the way for the release of all political prisoners.” Militant party-list groups have filed a measure in the House of Representatives. The President earlier said he will declare amnesty after a final peace agreement.
Rebels said they are also open to discussing a longer ceasefire “upon completion of the release of all political prisoners.”
Alexander and Winona Birondo have spent the last year gazing and waving at each other through a small opening that allows sightings among residents of different detention blocks in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.
For seven months after their March 2015 arrest, the couple managed to share soft-diet weekend breakfast meals in Camp Crame. Once they were transferred to Bagong Diwa, however, court hearings were the only opportunities for the couple to see and briefly touch each other.
“Aldub na aldub ang dating namin,” jokes Alexander, following their release as the Philippine government and Asia’s longest running insurgency prepare to resume stalled peace talks.
Alexander and Winona Birondo have spent a year waving and gazing each other across rooftops, with court hearings providing their only opportunity for physical closeness. Photo by Obet de Castro
The Birondos are middle-aged. Both suffer from diabetes and have been released on humanitarian grounds.
Hardly the spry, coy youngsters of the country’s most popular television variety show segment.
But Alexander says he identifies with the young lovers’ frustration at obstacles that stand in their way.
“Nasa magkabilang building lang kami, pero bawal kaming magkita,” he said. “Sa rooftop lang kami nagkikita, kaway, kaway.” (We were assigned to adjoining buildings but refused to let us meet. We could see each other only on the rooftop, waving at each other.)
“Ito yung masasabi mong napakalapit pero malayo,” he adds. “Talagang aldub na aldub ang dating.” (We were so near, yet so far. We could have been the stars of Aldub.)
In his excitement to finally see his wife, Alex’s blood pressure shot up. The reading during the mandatory medical examination required for release was 180/90.
“I had to reassure the doctor that it would easily do down,” said Alex , whose affectionate gestures towards wife draw grins from comrades.
Pet — and food taster
Mid-afternoon of Wednesday, August 17, Christina Palabay holds up a two-page document filled with dense text that detail the 46 criminal raps filed against Tirso Alcantara.
The secretary general of human rights group Karapatan is checking several mobile phone units for blow by blow updates on efforts to secure the 22 political prisoners who are covered by safety and immunity guarantees.
It is the third, nerve-wrecking day for Palabay and an estimated 100 lawyers and para-legal workers tasked with ensuring the releases. The hard work started on August 5, when the Supreme Court ruled that lower courts had jurisdiction on arrest proceedings.
“They actually camped out in the courts,” jokes Alcantara.
The military calls the 62-year-old detainee the deputy of Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal, the late chief of the Southern Tagalog Melito Glor Command of the New People’s Army.
Arrested on Feb. 14, 2011, Alcantara was incarcerated in isolation at the Philippine Army’s maximum security area at Fort Bonifacio.
He was eventually transferred to Bagong Diwa. There, he adopted a cat that once reportedly belonged to Rizal Alih, a leader of a rebellious separatist faction.
.”It’s my child,” says Alcantara. “It’s also my food taster,” he quips with black humor.
But the wisecracking Southern Tagalog rebel leader could not have imagined the coincidence that allowed him to reunite Wednesday with a grand-daughter he hadn’t seen in 12 years.
The last time Alcantara saw Nica, she was a rambunctious four-year-old visitor to the guerrilla front.
The revolution, however, separated him from family. His daughter, based in Palawan, spent eight years in jail. Alcantara lost touch with the child.
Nica grew up with an aunt with very little affinity for politics. She doesn’t even know about the peace talks. But on the wayto school at dawn, Wednesday, she saw a banner with a familiar name.
“She went up to the speaker. She said, ‘lolo ko yan’.”
It was dusk when Nica saw the tall, sturdy figure of her grandfather alight from a the van.
She charged at him, past alarmed security escorts, hurling herself into his arms with the cThere are some 500 political prisoners nationwide. Membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines is no longer outlawed, but most detainees are charged with common crimes.
Camp Bagong Diwa hosts the most number of political prisoners.
Ruben Saluta says conditions there are not much different from shocking photos of the Quezon City jail.
“Sometimes it gets so hot that my blood pressures goes up to 170/90,” Saluta noted. “We’re mixed with common criminals in areas that are so congested that we take turns sleeping or resting. If one of us stands up to use bathroom, someone will take our place.”
I oppose the candidacy of Rodrigo Duterte because of his views — and actions — that are inimical to human rights. I oppose the candidacy of the dictator’s son, who still pines for the bloody paradise of his father.
“If you allow them to oppress your fellow man and you do not speak up, you will be the next one to be oppressed.”
Aquino repeated the famous quotes of Martin Niemoller, a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken critic of Hitler and spent the last years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.
“First they came for the communists, but I did not speak out because I was not a communist… finally they came for me and there was no one left to speak up for me.”
Let me jog your memory, Mr. President. What did your government do while soldiers and para-military forces hounded Lumad to death in Mindanao?
When the Lumad sought sanctuary in Davao, your Liberal Party colleague tried to force their “rescue”.
Your Armed Forces earned a sharp dressing down from a UN expert when they tried to manipulate his words and the truth (yes, pretty much Goebbels-style, right?)
You snubbed the Lumad when they came to the capital to call attention to their plight.
Yet your allies in Congress and your AFP brass — and your national security office in Malacanang — hosted pet datus as they preached their belief that anyone with “alien” ideology was fair game for murder.
Nobody came to the aid of 15-year old Manobo boy from Sitio Mando, Barangay Mendis, Pangantucan, Bukidnon.
He didn’t just hear of the murders of his kin, Mr. President. He actually begged soldiers to spare their lives, appealing that his father, brothers and cousins be jailed if, indeed, they had done anything wrong. His father was 70 and blind; his brothers 20 and 19 years old. One of his cousins was 13 years old; the other was 17.
He begged the soldiers, Mr. President. And they shot father, brothers and cousins, one by one.
Remember them, Sir?
On September 1, in Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao Sur, the head teacher of a lumad alternative school was found murdered.
Emerito Samarca’s students at the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) discovered his body. The folk at Diatagon had no access to education until private efforts established Alcadev for Manobo, Banwaon, Higanon, Talaandig and Mamanwa youth.
You spurned Alcadev’s students when they were in town late 2014 to protest the militarization of their schools.
A year later, these same children saw Dionel Campos and his cousin Belio Sinzo murdered by paramilitary troops.
The three gentlemen’s crime — providing a safe space for the education of children neglected by government.
No one came to help the hapless Lumad, Mr. President. No one from your government. It took private citizens and people’s organizations and churches to come to their aid.
And don’t you talk of coming to the aid of people suspected of being communists.
There have been more than 300 cases of extra-judicial killings under your administration. Eighty of these involved indigenous people or tribal groups. Almost always, people your government suspects of being communist.
You couldn’t even be bothered over the death of hungry farmers, Mr. President. Spare us your warnings.
We know about tyrants and what they can do to the country.
You speaking on our behalf isn’t just silly and thoughtless as you often are. It is criminal, because it seeks to use legitimate fears to cover-up your government’s attrocities.
Your government kills teachers and children, Mr. President. WE WILL NOT FORGET.
What’s the difference between a joke and a dirty slip showing? How do you distinguish hyperbole from a person’s genuine worldview?
In the case of the Davao strongman Rodrigo Duterte, the offensive comments come too regularly to be dismissed as careless witticism.
Credit Duterte for defending indigenous peoples hounded by henchmen of corporations out to wrest their ancestral lands. Credit him for condemning the massacre of hungry folk in Kidapawan. Praise him for wanting to expand agrarian reform to ensure farmers get the support they need. Hail his commitment to resume stalled peace talks with communist rebels and provide meaningful autonomy to the Bangsamoro.
The Davao mayor has not admitted to any extrajudicial killings. He claims the criminals killed under his direct supervision were all gunned down in battles with law enforces. No case has been filed against Duterte for these extra-judicial killings.
His supporters stress this to debunk charges of selective justice. But there is no doubt that people have been summarily executed under Duterte’s watch.
Duterte may not have actually pulled the trigger. But speech after speech – to cheers and ovation – Duterte, a lawyer, spits on the nation’s laws, including the Constitution, presenting murder as legitimate law enforcement policy.
Who judges the innocent?
In his April 12 rally at the Amoranto stadium, Duterte said he has never killed an innocent person. But who judges innocence or guilt? The courts do, not the mayor, not the President. To deny suspects a chance to defend themselves in court does not solve the problem of injustice.
In the same rally, Duterte expressed sympathy for the plight of the Bangsamoro.
“I have to swear to the flag. My duty to the republic is to protect everybody, including the Moro people,” he promised disappointed leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
That’s impressive. But government officials swear to protect the rights of everyone, including people suspected of committing crimes.
The military routinely tramples on these rights where suspected militants are concerned, including the Lumad fighting to keep their lands free of abusive extractive industries. Officials of the Aquino government routinely justify these abuses. They are wrong. And so is Duterte in his equally selective notion of human rights.
Duterte talks about the evils of corruption, of how top leaders have made a rich, small segment of the population more equal than the rest.
His followers also cite the same – criminals coddled by lawmen, judges, other officials – as a reason for their impatience with legal niceties and their support for death penalty sans any check and balance, except a leader’s righteousness.
I will not disabuse them of the belief that injustice stalks the land. It does; my Facebook page is filled daily of examples, from tragi-comedy to full-blown horror.
Nor will I try to paint Davao City as the country’s crime capital. It isn’t.
But there is no excuse for murder. There is no reason on earth that justifies state-sanctioned murder.
My rights are everybody’s rights
Dutere asks, “anong mawala sa inyo kung patayin ko ang criminal?” (What would it cost you if I kill criminals?)
I have seen state security officials kill people on simple suspicion of being criminals. I have seen friends die, seen them arrested and tortured. I have seen people languish in jail even when the courts have cleared them of alleged crimes.
I cannot agree that others do not deserve the same rights I fight for, the same rights government officials are sworn to defend.
Duterte isn’t a neophyte politician. He has had decades as local chief to provide an alternative to instant-gratification, vigilante justice.
He offers higher wages for law enforcers. They certainly need it – like the rest of the country needs it.
But Duterte should be detailing steps needed to ensure that cops and soldiers do their job right, like trainings to lessen their use of shortcuts that then lead to lost cases.
He could list steps he’s done and will do to ensure the poor – defendants and plaintiffs – are guaranteed legal aid by efficient and honest government lawyers.
He could talk about workable rehab programs for young people who fall prey to drug abuse. He could talk about imposing harsher penalties for corrupt prosecutors who throw cases, or work with citizens’ groups to keep watch on hoodlums in robes.
It’s not that he hasn’t helped drug addicts. He has, as witnessed by Clarisse Le Neindre, who know runs a rehab facility after recovering from addiction with Duterte’s help.
Why then stress shortcuts as solutions to problems? Duterte is doing people a disservice by pandering to the worst of our instant gratification tendencies.
He presents the sona – the whole-scale round up of suspected addicts and community pushers – as the swift response to the scourge of drugs. That blueprint misses the fat cats who control the entry, the manufacture and the deliveries of drugs to affected areas.
Double standards, too
Duterte says poor Filipinos will come first under his presidency. He opposes contractualization.
Yet he promises to create an enclave where foreign investors can stay safe from the reach of the country’s laws.
He personally commits to keep them safe from inconvenient truths – like the fact that workers have the right to unionize.
For all Duterte’s talk about the poor’s right to prosper, he sees the struggle for economic rights as an enemy of development. And, indeed, in his first official campaign speech, he threatened to kill labor leaders who would not heed his “appeal” for a moratorium on union work.
He banners his credentials as a dear friend to the LGBT community. By all accounts, he treats them well.
Some gay friends who support him say they see nothing wrong with it.
If he uses it as an adjective that reflects your self-identity, there is nothing wrong with it. If you slam others for using bakla as a slur, why is Duterte suddenly exempt from those standards? His use of the word only encourages the bitter, hateful homophobia that have harmed so many of your peers.
And then there’s rape and his attitude towards women. He and his wife have a unique relationship and I will not impose my standards of fidelity on them. I must also acknowledge that, unlike ousted president Joseph Estrada, no one has charged Duterte with stealing public funds to subsidise his womanising activities.
Davao also has many pro-women policies.
And yet, he opens his mouth and something else comes out.
Duterte recently shared this tale of criminals in detention twice grabbing hostages. The second incident involved a bunch of Christian prayer warriors, including an Australian woman who was raped and then had her throat slashed, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune.
Duterte used the anecdote to stress how incorrigible some criminals are and also to show his willingness to risk life for the sake of victims.
Then he debased everything that mattered. His anger towards rape was almost secondary to dismay that criminals used the woman first before the mayor did.
He was joking? Maybe. But he also used the same line earlier in his talk.
Cops who commit crimes for personal reasons deserve to be punished, he said. He made an example of a cop who kills his mistress – especially a pretty one — and implied the mayor should have first dibs on the beauty.
It’s not the first time he used that anecdote on the hostage-taking, ending with a similar line. Watch Noemi Dado’s video at the 38:43 marker.
You can slog through the entire Duterte speech, including some moving performances by Freddie Aguilar here.
And this admittedly moving paean to change. Which, indeed, this country needs.
We all should be outraged that the haves in this country get away with all kinds of abuses while the rest of us suffer indignities daily.
Yes, innocent people get killed and innocent people rot in jail. Hungry people are left to starve; when they protest, they die.
We all should rage.
But in cheering for Duterte’s warped logic, in playing blind to his contradictions, we might just visit more of the same on this nation.
American operatives exercised lead roles in the planning, preparation and botched operations last year against a Malaysian terror suspect hiding in a southern Philippine stronghold of Muslim rebels.
The United States gave “real-time” intelligence assistance and training to members of the Special Action Forces (SAF) in the hunt for Malaysian terrorist Marwan and his Filipino accomplice, the sacked director of the elite cop unit told a Senate panel.
It also isolated the SAF from the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a bungled bid to ram through its war-on-terror goals at the crucial homestretch of peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
And the Philippine President was complicit in all this.
The lack of coordination has been blamed for the deaths of 44 SAF members. More than a dozen rebels and armed residents, and six civilians were also slain in the carnage that lasted till late afternoon.
US involvement went on through several oplans targeting Marwan, up until the Jan. 25 Mamasapano operation. The United States wanted Marwan for the deaths of American citizens in the 2002 Bali bombings. It offered a $5-million reward for information leading to the capture of Marwan, who had since moved to Mindanao and masterminded other bomb attacks.
That aid was filtered through a very small group focused on the get-Marwan mission, called in its Jan 25 version as Oplan Exodus.
Only President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, the suspended national police chief Alan Purisima, Napenas and PNP intelligence chief Fernando Mendez, Jr. were involved in the final planning. There was no oversight from other key Filipino officials who could have warned of grave unintentional consequences, including a breach of a ceasefire agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Peace a major casualty
Marwan, SAF troops, civilians, rebels. There was one other major casualty of Mamasapano: The peace legacy that President Benigno Aquino III and, yes, the US government had been touting as the key to progress and security in one of the world’s most volatile areas, a region prized by both big corporations and the rampaging ISIS.
Filipinos erupted in anger when a previous Senate probe indicated a reluctance by the military to deploy the artillery and mechanised armour Napeñas belated sought for his beleaguered forces.
Transcripts of previous hearings show Purisima informing Mr. Aquino early morning that the SAF had run into guards of Basit Usman, Marwan’s Filipino accomplice who managed to escape from Mamasapano. This was after he told the President that Marwan was dead and a SAF member wounded.
Despite US intelligence, instead of between 15-20 men from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway MILF group, there were scores within deployment range of the target area.
Purisima, text messages show, also failed to inform the President of that particular fact. He did not correct the Commander-in-Chief’s 7:59 am text:
If I remember correctly 160 SAF troopers were directly involved in this operation plus provisions for other PNP and AFP units to assist. The terrain is flat and clear as opposed to upland forested or jungle terrain. Why could they not contain and or overwhelm 15 to 20 members of opposing force. Are they still in contact with other targets? If not, and the opposing forces escaped, are we now back to square one?
As a result, Mr. Aquino ordered : “Basit should not get away.”
Aside from the BIFF, the area is also home to MILF supporters. A big formation of mainstream rebels were within a kilometre of the target. Alerted by gunfire — dozens of residents had joined the fray — MILF forces engaged the retreating SAF and a blocking force, exacting the most casualties.
The MILF ultimately became the scapegoat, blamed for the SAF slaughter. Politicians decried what they called the rebels’ treachery. They used Mamasapano as the bogey to crush the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, the key condition for forging a permanent peace with the MILF.
The government itself had signed an agreement with the rebels — praised by foreign states and development donors — on the conduct of military and police operations in its strongholds.
The ceasefire aimed to prevent ground clashes; the agreement is premised on an MILF pledge to root out extremists and criminal gangs in its areas.
Policy as main threat
The ceasefire monitoring body involves the Armed Forces. Military officials factor this in during operations.
The President did not bother to inform top AFP officers that he had approved a US-supervised plan that listed the MILF among the “enemy forces” in Mamasapano.
“The AFP has internalized the peace process and operates within this framework. It is an instrument of national policy, in this case the ceasefire with the MILF,” a retired AFP officer who has direct experience in the peace process stressed in an earlier interview.
“Had the President given a clear signal to ignore existing ceasefire mechanisms or exempt the January 25 Mamasapano operation from coverage, the military would have obeyed.”
But Napenas and American advisers viewed that same agreement and assimilation of former rebels in the AFP, the result of a previous peace pact with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), as the greatest threat to the hunt for Marwan.
Purisima said Americans had no involvement in the intelligence packet initially furnished by the PNP Intelligence Group.
Questioned by Sen. Ralph Recto, Napenas gave examples of where military involvement jeopardise the outcome of operations to hunt down terrorists. He cited one operation where the military reneged on a promise to loan mechanised units because of a ceasefire provision requiring coordination with the MILF.
In the hunt for Abu Sayyaf commander Purugin Indama of Basilan, Napenas said surveillance showed the targets of an aerial bomb moving away 15 minutes before attack.
“Nakita doon sa surveillance. Galling din sa liaison namin na Americano ang impormasyon na ‘yun. From the Seaborne and siya din mismo ang nagsabi sa akin na alam nya na before naibagsak ang bobmba sa kalaban, nakaalis na sila.” (Surveillance showed that. I was also told by our American liaison from the Seaborne. He knew that the targets left just before planned aerial bomb.)
While there is suspicion that the military-police rivalry may be rooted on the big rewards (there was also a P7-million reward for Marwan from the Philippine government), the real cause of the debacle may be the tug-of-war between doves and hawks from both governments.
MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal has the most clear-eyed reading of events: A collision between the government’s commitment to conflict resolution and its support for the United States’ global “war on terror” sparked the clash that derailed the Mindanao peace process.
Unlike the country’s communist insurgency, which is listed as a terrorist organisation by the US government, the MILF officially enjoys some support from Americans.
Like Philippine officials, the MILF was initially reluctant to focus on the US government role in Mamasapano.
But pressed at a peace forum, Iqbal expounded on the MILF’s balancing act with a supportive superpower viewed with hostility by Muslims who have experienced the fallout of its global war on terror.
“Ang trato namin sa Amerikano iba sa komunista,” Iqbal said. “May bilateral agreements. Kung nandiyan ang US troops, hindi mali sa amin.” (Our view on American presence differs from that of the communists. There are bilateral agreements between the Philippines and the United States. We see no problem with the presence of US troops.)
“But in Mamasapano, there were complications,” Iqbal acknowledged. He confirmed that Americans funded Oplan Exodus, gave intelligence, operated drones for real-time monitoring of the target and SAF teams, and evacuated government forces.
Two national policies — conflict resolution and supporting the US-led war on terror — “crossed paths” in Mamasapano, the MILF negotiator pointed out.
“Imbes na ang priority ay conflict resolution, naging war on terror, kaya nagka-leche-leche na,” Iqbal said. (Shifting the priority from conflict resolution to the war on terror caused the mess.)
Those conflicting goals led to the shut-out of the AFP, which Mr. Aquino approved. He ordered Napenas to increase the number of troops for Mamasapano, knowing it was a stronghold of the MILF.
Who ordered ceasefire?
Military officials have repeatedly said they could not deploy mechanised units or artillery for fear of hitting friendly forces and civilians. In any other situation, they would be applauded for this. (Elsewhere, they mow down civilians, especially those suspected of supporting communist rebels.)
AFP officers insist Napenas did not give clear locations of his men. SAF personnel testified that they regularly updated Napenas of their positions. The SAF commander, at least, knew where his men where. Yet more than half of close to 400 men were not moved from their highway waiting posts.
The biggest revelation of the latest Senate hearing answered the question: Who ordered a halt to reinforcements.
From ANC’s coverage of the hearing:
Napeñas: (Despite SAF asking for help via radio), Purisima ordered us to ceasefire, hold on to our position, and don’t move forward
Purisima: I contacted MILF persons to assist us in pulling out MILF troops. I was just giving Napeñas the info MILF gave me.
Purisima: I asked MILF to pull out their troops because our SAF forces were already at a disadvantage (“nahihirapan na ang SAF natin”).
The AFP had scrambled to convene the ceasefire body mid-day in a bid to halt the carnage. But it was apparently still Purisima who meddled — without coordinating with the AFP.
By this time, the President would have come to realise the horrible fallout of Mamasapano.
Mr. Aquino did not even discuss events with his AFP chief of staff or Interior Secretary Mar Roxas until late afternoon. Nobody bothered to shake him awake because he seemed to have been busy dealing with other persons — Purisima and some other still unknown parties.
Nobody seemed in charge — except for Purisima and the American companions of Napenas, who at one point was told off by a military officer for trying to order the firing of artilery.
Everything that followed — the dodging, the hedging during his speeches and that of officials during congressional hearings — were all premised on salvaging what the Commander-in-Chief and his men, enthralled with Americans, had jeopardised.
A lot of the shadow-boxing and outright lying in the weeks following Mamasapano were precisely aimed at hiding the US hand.
“The bloodshed triggered bitter recriminations in one of America’s closest allies in Asia, and put sharp new strains on Manila’s security relationship with Washington,” said a special report by the LA Times.
Within weeks, the Pentagon announced that it was withdrawing a special operations task force. It had been sent to the Philippines after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and had become a model for U.S. counter-terrorism teams later deployed around the globe.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III‘s government delayed plans to give U.S. troops, warships and aircraft wider access to military bases that the Obama administration sought for its strategic “pivot” to Asia. The planned expansion has been stalled since.
The botched raid also left a landmark 2014 peace deal between the Philippine government and entrenched Islamic rebels in tatters, sparking a renewal of violence by insurgent groups.
“It was a bungled operation and it has had major fallout,” said David Maxwell, a retired Army colonel who commanded the U.S. special operations force in the Philippines in 2006 and 2007.
CIA? Or FBI?
The LA Times quotes Pentagon officials insisting, “No Americans joined or issued orders to the assault team.”
But they gave orders from the command post. They were still trying to give orders to reinforcing military officers in the afternoon.
Napenas said his men underwent training in the US Joint Task Force facility in Zamboanga City.
Asked about the general identities of the trainers by Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, defense chief under two Philippine Presidents, Napenas said some were members of the US military, “but some are mere members of the Joint Task Force”.
Napenas later said he presumed the non-military members of the Joint Task Force were from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), since “they were giving us intelligence”.
However, BAYAN USA, an overseas chapter of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, announced that it has filed a Freedom of Information Act request before the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, to uncover the role of the agency in the bloody Mamasapano incident.
The FOIA request covers communications between the FBI and PNP , DNA tests results on Marwan, as well as details of the supposed bounty set up for the targets of the operation. Full text of the FOIA request can be found here: http://bayanusa.org/foia
Enrile offers an explanation for American reluctance to use the military. The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries does not include police operations. It covers defense against external threats, like China. Anti-terror covert operations, especially one with a potential to derail a major peace policy (also backed by the US government) is a particularly slippery slope.
The Senate hearing adjourned with no clear answers. If anything, senators play at the edges of the US question but show reluctance in directly accusing a superpower. Elections are, after all, in the offing.
The Senate’s original report on the Mamasapano incident raised the question: Who actually called the shots in Mamasapano.
Accountability is a requisite for Justice. While President Aquino is Commander in Chief, the US government can neither wash its hands of the blood of those it tapped to do its dirty work.
If the US was giving real-time info, did the relay or withholding of information affect the decisions to save or not, on that fateful day?
Did the relay or withholding of information affect the planning of the operation? Did the relay or withholding of information prompt the Philippine government to cut losses on a triumph that was crossing over to disaster category?
In other words, did information lead to a decision to sacrifice SAF men?
Information – the right information provided at the right time to the right people – plays a great factor in success.
The major disasters faced by the United States – including the Twin Towers bombing – were partly rooted in information being hogged (jealously compartmentalized by competing but allied organizations) and thus not passed on to key decision markers, or passed but ignored, or passed, weighed and then buried under other priorities.
Mr. Aquino, hPurisima and Napenas seemed to rely heavily on US military might, including advanced technology for intelligence.
Now Napenas is hinting that, for all intents and purposes, Philippine leadership may have been a farce in Mamasapano — although Filipino lives were at stake. That may be the greatest treachery of all.
*Featured image by Kathy Yamzon, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – National Capital Region
Thousands of Filipinos joined today’s global climate change march led by the Roman Catholic church to protest a mitigation program that they say favors big business.
As President Benigno Aquino Jr. readies for his talk in Paris on behalf of nations vulnerable to climate change, environmentalists in the Philippines say the race to build coal-fired power plans and start mining operations on indigenous peoples’ lands erode his credibility.
Environmental groups like Kalikasan, Caraga Watch and Greenpeace International say the push for coal sets back the country’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 70% within the next 15 years.
Even the government’s ambitious re-greening program covering more than 7 million hectares of denuded lands has come under fire because of the focus on plantation cash-crops that include oil palms, the source of the deadly Indonesian haze that recently blanketed Southeast Asia.
Caraga Watch, which monitors investment projects in Southern Mindanao, links these big development projects to the spate of attacks on Lumad.
More than 60 indigenous leaders in Mindanao have died in resource conflicts since 2010. Ten of the dead were children. The attacks, which almost always precede the entry of mining and plantations have displaced more than 40,000 Lumad, according to the human rights group Karapatan.
Many of the rights violations are traced to paramilitary groups that received funding, arms and training after Mr. Aquino allowed the creation of investment defense forces.
Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan forecasts Mr. Aquino’s short talk next week before the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as “grandstanding double talk that will ultimately toe the line of the United States and other top big polluter countries.”
He pointed out that coal and other fossil fuel power projects in the pipeline comprise more than 80 percent of all upcoming energy projects in the Philippines.
“In order to make climate solutions work for our nation, we need to put pressure not only on the world leaders, but most especially on our country’s leaders themselves,” Bautista said.
Sen. Loren Legarda has warned that the push for coal jeopardizes the country’s commitments to ease climate change.
“They say that coal is cheap. I say, coal is not cheap. Coal affects our health, kills biodiversity and the environment, affects our waters and pollutes the air we breathe,” Legarda stressed.
The government’s energy program originally called for a 30-30-30 energy mix with natural gas, coal and renewables each accounting for 30% with 10% reserved for alternative technologies.
Legarda, however, said coal now dominates the country‘s energy mix, accounting for for 42.5% of power generated. By 2020, she added, coal would account for 56% of the mix.
“Barring any intervention, this will further increase to 75% by 2030— the highest share of coal among countries in Asia,” Legarda said.
Twenty-three new power plans are starting operations in the next five years.
“By embracing coal, the Philippines loses its credibility in fighting for a good climate change treaty,” Greenpeace Southeast Asia said.
“From mining to combustion, coal is the most polluting of all fossil fuels. A third of all carbon dioxide emissions come from burning coal … Coal releases more carbon dioxide than any other fossil fuel and coal mining is responsible for 8-10% of human-made methane emissions globally.”
Threat to Lumad lives
Michelle Campos lost her father, Dionel, to a September militia attacked linked to coal mining. Soldiers acting on behalf of mining firms are demand a halt to Lumad resistance in the 60,000-hectare Andap Valley complex, she said.
While Lumad huddled in a displacement camp, mining firm Abacus brought in mining equipment and personnel into the valley, according to Caraga watch.
Data from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the environment department show half a dozen mining firms, including some responsible for horrific disasters, preparing to start operations.
Coal mining contracts cover 6,000 hectares in Lianga, Campos’ hometown, where militia killed her father, an uncle and the head of a Lumad school for “poising the minds” of IPs against extractive industries.
The town hosts the world’s biggest coal block reserve, according to Caraga Watch.
Coal, the country’s major lignite reserve, can be found in three of its provinces: Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur. The biggest bulk of coal reserve is said to be found in Bislig and the Andap Valley Complex which covers the municipalities of Tandag, Tago, San Miguel, Cagwait, Marihatag, San Agustin and Lianga in Surigao del Sur.
Aside from approving coal mine applications, the government is pushing construction of coal-fired power plants in Surigao del Sur and nearby provinces.
Mr. Aquino promises peace and greater economic standards from his development thrust.
The Ibon Philippines think tank, however, notes that most of the financial gains from mining — the country’s mineral reserves are valued USD 1.387 trillion or five times the country’s 2013 gross domestic product — go to the big private firms.
Resource conflicts, meanwhile, put much burdens on local government units whose please to disband paramilitary forces have been ignored by Mr. Aquino.
“When we protect our ancestral lands we also protect all Filipinos, especially Mindanaoans, from environmental devastation and food insecurity,” Campos stressed. “When President Aquino talks of development and peace, he means the peace of the graveyard for our people.”