Even as peace talks poised to resume, attacks on legal activists heighten

(First of five parts)

amelia pond  Even as National Democratic Front (NDF) consultants Wilma and Benito Tiamzon finally walked out of detention from Camp Crame today, reports from regions indicate that state security agencies are stepping up attacks against legal activists.

The Rural Missionaries of thePhilippines reported the arrest today (August 19), around noon, of 64-year old Amelia pond, the order’s regional coordinator for Southern Mindanao.

Pond is also the research and documentation officer for the Salugpungan School Network in Mindanao, which remain the only available opportunities for education of indigenous children.

The attack happened as peace panels of the government and the NDF were preparing for the resumption of long-stalled peace talks in Oslo, Norway.

Read: Tears, hugs as NDF consultants walk free

Pond was accosted by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) criminal instigation and detection group (CIDG) after a three day RMP assembly at the Living the Gospel Renewal Center on Archbishop Reyes Avenue, in Cebu City’s Lahug district.

Her arrest came as activists and peace advocates were hailing the release of the Tiamzon couple, which brought the number of freed National Democratic Front (NDF) political prisoners to 17.



Wilma Tiamzon (left) and husband, Benito (right) talk to supporters and peace advocates following their release from detention. They are flying  with 12 other consultants to join the National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panel in Oslo, Norway, where peace talks are set to resume on August 22. Photo by Obet de Castro

“They will join 15 others so far released in peace talks in Oslo on August 22 and for consultations with the NDF Negotiating Panel,” lawyer Edre Olalia said. Two of the released consultants are not joining the Oslo talks as they need urgent medical care, NDF sources said.

Planted evidence?

The RMP report said Pond was in a taxi with three other people when CIDG cops blocked them. They forced her out of the vehicle.

“The female CIDG held her by the arm and asked her with different names but she denied. This was followed by more questions showed photographs, and a supposed warrant of arrest, but they did not make her read the warrant,” the report said.

“One of Amy’s companion insisted that she should read the warrant for her to know what her case is but despite Amy and her companion’s insistence they failed to let Amy read the warrant. Amy vehemently resisted this illegal arrest.”

The witnesses said one of the CIDG men went near Amy and inserted two ID’s in her bag.

“Then they asked her to alight the car. She refused to go with them but they forced her. In this instance, Sr. Francis Anover and Sr. Marisol Garduno who were also in the center immediately went to her rescue.”

Pond was brought to Camp Sotero in Cebu City. and charged with double murder and frustrated murder in Compostela Valley under the name of Adelfa Toledo.

Increasing attacks

pajallaBefore Pond’s arrest, Quezon province cops nabbed a peasant leader identified with the military party-list group, Anakpawis.

Karapatan-Quezon spokesperson Alex Pacalda told Bulatlat.com that the arrest of Antonio Pajalla was illegal as, “the rebellion charge against him was long extinguished when he was granted amnesty under former President Fidel Ramos.”

Bulatlat quoted Pacalda as saying the peasant leader held with him his copy of the certificate from the National Amnesty Commission when he was arrested at around 9 a.m. Aug. 12. He was on a jeepney en route to the Anakpawis Partylist’s office in Catanauan town.

The rebellion charge against Pajalla, which is the ground for his arrest, was first filed in 1995. But Pajalla was granted amnesty by President Ramos in 1997, said Pacalda.

Karapatan and other rights groups  have warned that the continuing presence of paramilitary troops — trained and supervised by the military — represents a major threat to the peace process.

“We must watch out for saboteurs,” said Catholic Bishop (Caloocan City)  Deogracias Yñiguez on the eve of the Tiamzons’ release. He said church workers and civil society and people’s organizations must remain vigilant on human rights violations and other abuses, which could wreak havoc on the peace process.

The Ecumenical Bishops Forum and the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, Yñiguez said, worked hard with other groups “to find many ways to ensure that the crucial peace process resumes.”

Lumad victims

Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo confirmed that paramilitary troops strafed a lumad community on July 30 during holding a wedding in  San Fernando, Bukidnon, killing a pregnant woman and wounding seven other people, including five children.

Maytas Gauyran, chieftain of the Tigwahanon tribe, grieves at the coffin of his daughter, Marikit Gayoran, who was pregnant when shot dead during a community wedding. Photo courtesy of Kilab multimedia

A DSWD report said  a paramilitary group associated with the 8th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army. Taguiwalo said all victims beneficiaries of the DSWD’s 4Ps and Modified Conditional Cash Transfer Program (MCCT).

Taguiwalo also ordered an investigation into the provision of projects for suspected mastermind ‘Alde Salusad’ or ‘Butsoy’ despite a warrant of arrest for a previous killing of a lumad datu, Jimmy Liguyon, in front of his small children.




Vulnerable communities

The Save Our Schools  (SOS) network said attacks on indigenous schools in Mindanao have increased following then assumption of Duterte. The tough talking leader has close links to restive indigenous groups fighting against the entry of big mining firms and plantations into their ancestral lands.

In the areas around Duterte’s home city of Davao, teachers were forced to close down some schools because of death threats, according to SOS executive director Rius Valle.

He said paramilitary forces trained and supervised by military officials were hunting the teachers in the Pacquibato district of Davao City.

“They documented attempts to kill them,” Valle said in an interview.”The two teachers had to close down the school and seek sanctuary in Davao City.”

After the Paquibato incident, which happened just before Duterte’s  first State of the Nation Address (Sona), paramilitary troops also killed the leader of a parents’ association in a lumad school on the outskirts of Davao City. The community in the area have a long running feud with religious leader Apollo Quiboloy of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, a known supporter and friend of Duterte.

lumad444On August 13, six men, riding in tandem on three motorcycles, also strafed a group of lumad in Barangay Zillovia, Talacogon, Agusan del Sur. A woman, shot in the chest, had to be placed under intensive care.

The victims are indigenous claimants to land now covered by an forestry agreement granted to  Provident Tree Farms, INc.
The RMP said the incident is connected to an earlier series of attacks, including the murder of  Datu Mansulbadan, the former supreme datu of the Manobo community in the area.

Four other Manobo — including a 13-year old boy — who were the apparent target of the gunmen suffered less serious injuries. The attack also prompted an evacuation of residents.


#HindiManhid: Bring Them Home mission for stranded OFWs in Saudi

“Our kababayans are in serious crisis because their employers did not pay their salaries. They are also confronted by many difficulties caused by the expiry of their end-of-services benefits. Many were not given exit visas after they completed their contracts, and are being delayed for repatriation.”
Photo from abs-cbnnews.com
More than 11,000 stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWS) in Saudi Arabia are the subjects of an urgent government mission to bring them home by September 10, according to Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo.
Taguiwalo detailed her department’s participation in the multi-agency mission headed by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III as the latter announced a giant step in efforts to ease the crisis of 11,000 workers affected by setbacks in the Middle East country’s oil industry, the backbone of its economy.
Bello said the Saudi monarch has instructed the Ministry of Labor to waive immigration penalties for workers with expired working visas. The King has also directed Kingdom officials to provide food aid and start processing the money claims of the workers.
Taguiwalo said “Operation Bring Them Home” also aims to document situations of undocumented OFWs in crisis like women and children,  facilitate provision of appropriate services and referral to their respective regions for the needed services. The DSWD is earmarking P50 million to help the OFWs in crisis.
The labor secretary said the King has offered workers options: plane fare for those who want to return to the Philippines and re-employment aid for those willing to transfer to other firms.
Labor Secretary Silvestro III and Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo
Taguiwalo said the DSWD would provide psychosocial interventions like counseling and debriefing, help distressed OFWs in reintegration with families and communities and provide after-care and other material services.
The Foreign Affairs and Health departments are also part of the mission ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Many Filipino workers have said they are willing to stay on and be absorbed in other industries to going home and facing unemployment. But complex legal requirements and unhelpful employers have made for a difficult process.
While Saudi Arabia has some of the most onerous labor policies in the Middle East, the government of President Duterte has managed to wrest concessions from the Kindgom, in contrast to the performance of former president Benigno Aquino III’s administration.
The Saudi labor ministry has confirmed the King’s instructions “to guarantee and protect the rights of foreign workers,” according to Bello.
Taguiwalo appointed DSWD Undersecretary Vilma B. Cabrera, Assistant Secretary Hope V. Hervilla, Social Welfare officers Perlita V. Panganiban, Mely S. Pangilinan, Teresita L. Valentino, Victoria N. NAvida, Marygrail B. Dong-as, Franco V. Lopez, Bienvenido V. Barbosa and Ali B. Namia to the mission
Urgent queries from OFWS in crisis. Photo by abs-cbnnews
The affected OFWs were  previously employed by three multinational companies: Bin Laden, Saudi Oger, and Mohammad  Al Mojil, as well as by six (6) sub-contracting companies.
“Our kababayans are in serious crisis because their employers did not pay their salaries. They are also confronted by many difficulties caused by the expiry of their end-of-services benefits. Many were not given exit visas after they completed their contracts, and are being delayed for repatriation,” she explained.
The focus of the mission is the stranded OFWs in three major KSA cities, namely Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam/Al-Khobar.
“This is not the first time that Filipinos working overseas such as in the KSA have experienced severe crisis because of questionable labor policies imposed by their employers and because of the neglect of their contracting agencies,” Taguiwalo said.
“The DSWD sees it important to take part in this humanitarian mission so we can gauge the impact of such policies on the lives and welfare of our OFWs. We hope to come up with findings that can help guide us in the future when it comes to the implementation of the country’s export labor policy,” she stressed.
“As the government agency that’s primarily tasked to look after the welfare of Filipinos, the DSWD wants to also provide assistance to our OFWs the same way we also aim to help their families here at home when it comes to their emergency  needs,” Taguiwalo said.

PDAF ‘dead’? Well, gov’t has raised the zombie

MONSTER PIG FINALIt probably shouldn’t surprise us, given the government’s response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). For all it’s avowals about the death of pork, the Philippine government is trying its darn best to sustain patronage politics in this country. President Benigno Aquino III himself announced the death of PDAF. Well then, what’s doing the rounds of social media is the pork zombie. Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio released a recording of a recent meeting between legislators and Health Undersecretary Janet Garin, a former member of the House of Representatives. Audio and transcript show that the country’s leaders have been focused on resurrecting the infamous system that gave rise to the Napoles scandal.

The Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). That’s the system where legislators are given a lump sum (at least P70 million for members of the House of Representatives and P200 million for senators), which they are then free to endorse to any beneficiary worthy of their tender mercies. PDAF is found in the General Appropriations Act. The SC, however, found it unconstitutional for allowing legislators to “intervene, assume or participate” in post-enactment stages of the budget execution. The powers granted legislators under the PDAF include “project identification, modification and revision of project identification, fund release and/or fund realignment, unrelated to the power of congressional oversight.” Not too long ago, Budget Secretary Abad was urging reform-minded groups to target their fire on legislators and PDAF. We now know, of course, that Abad then crafted DAP — which also went to legislators and, incidentally, Napoles NGOs. Now the  recordings leaked by  Tinio shows the executive department bending way, way backwards to allow legislators a death grip on their pork privileges. The transcript of that meeting also shows why politicians (and their patrons) see pork as essential to their survival.

Patients share a bed at congested Fabella Hospital. The poor continue to need to plead with legislators to get health aid.
Patients share a bed at congested Fabella Hospital. The poor continue to need to plead with legislators to get health aid.

It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Garin as she seeks to appease legislators. The entire point of the meeting was to reassure them that, yes, they still are in control of their PDAF. They still have the power to dictate who gets to benefit from the funds they have allotted for health services. (Even when they, by order of the Supreme Court, should have given up this power.) Garin explains that a new order covering the medical assistance program (clearly PDAF as hidden in the DOH budget) has simplified requirements. Indeed, there is only one requirement to get benefits reserved for “indigent” patients — the benevolent nod of your representative. Officially, the endorsement should come from MAP officials.

“And who are the MAP officials? Kayo yan, these are the Congressmen or your designated personnel,” says Garin.

The SC  ordered that all unused PDAF monies should revert to the general fund and not be spent in any way that replicates the practices ruled as unconstitutional. Here’s what the Department of Health did instead:

“So the decision of the Department is to do away with all walk-in patients because in the first place it was made clear to us that these funds are not DOH funds but are actually funds of Congressmen who are there to assist their constituents.”

Garin apologizes for instances when DOH personnel told patients that there are no legislators’ funds — which was the true state of affairs until they swept back ‘reforms’. And she has a solution for any problems that may arise.

“if in case nagpadala kayo ng pasyente, pagkapadala ninyo ng pasyente sinabi ay wala po ditong pondo yung opisina ninyo …  we have a directory that will be given to you and that will be e-mailed to all your offices. In that directory, there are two persons in-charge of all hospitals, so makikita ninyo dun sa directory, andidito yung mga pangalan ng mga hospitals and then kung sino yung contact person na tatawagan ninyo. So for any problem, you immediately call, text or e-mail the persons in-charge of that hospital and automatically they will issue

To make sure that no pesky local government unit claims legislators’ pork, the DOH says  it will pay only for patients covered by a “guarantee letter” from legislators or their designated representatives.

Public service: Not an question of justice but of tribal strength,
Public service: Not an question of justice but of tribal strength,

The government has a good, noble reason for going around the SC decision: “You (legislators) know best and you know better sino ang nanganagilangan ng tulong sa distrito ninyo, Garin declares. And just like that, they’ve upended the checks and balances in governance. Garin makes the Executive Department seem clueless on matters of poverty. And if you follow her words to their logical conclusion, you should be very, very scared — because this supposedly clueless executive branch has been disbursing billions of pesos to people they have surveyed and verified as poor! According to Senate President Franklin Drilon, the government’s conditional cash transfer program or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program was alloted P62.6 billion in the 2014 budget and stands to get P64.7 billion next year. The program, which is administered by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has reportedly given funds to 4.3 million poor families. It is “conditional” because beneficiaries are supported to a) keep their children in school and b) ensure that they get proper government medical care, including regular vaccinations against infectious diseases. This means at least two agencies, the DOH included, keeps track of these poor people. So how does one square this with the claim that only legislators know who needs aid in their districts? If one were truly concerned with red-tape, then one could have ordered the local DSWD units to provide government hospitals of a list of indigents for verification of status. After all, the CCT is given regularly. But no, poor people have to get the blessings of legislators before they will be given the time of day. We’ve heard legislators moan and threaten about the sudden cut in health aid and scholarships because public funds have vanished. But there ARE public funds. The legislators just don’t want these out of their hands. And it is Garin herself who tells us why.

“We also understand na yung guarantee letter na unang nirelease, medyo yung format, I mean it’s good, it’s okay. Unfortunately the format creates a lot of questions kasi nga parang it’s, it’s an indigency program of the DOH. Nawawalan ngayon ng, let’s admit it the political points in, in the case of the office requesting it kasi ang nakapirma dun is Asec. Lagajid and it was placed there na hindi pwedeng i-honor pag Saturday and Sunday. “

That’s the truth. In fact, Garin adds some details tas she tries to plug any problems that could inconvenience legislators: “Our initial recommendation was actually, we’ll send the guarantee letters then bayaran agad para walang, walang tagal, walang maraming requirements kasi the hospital structure has a lot of requirements for indigency program natutu nga kasi diyan sila eh. So to solve that, yun yung prinopose namin.” (So much for reform measures to staunch corruption.)

“But then there were others naman we’re very comfortable with outright downloading so sabi namin okay naman yun. For those na wala kayong downloaded na pondo, actually it’s easier, better and more flexible kasi by the time na nagpalit ka ng isip, kunyare party-list congressman ka, dito ka naglagay ng pondo, then mayroon din dun kasamahan ninyo, kaibigan ninyo tumatakbo din, you want to concentrate on this area, so very flexible, all you have to do is look at our directory tell the person in charge you want a guarantee letter immediately to this hospital, this patient, ipadala agad. So hindi na yung na-download na dun, babawiin mo ulit, ire-realign mo.”

Cinderella should be so lucky! Everybody screams about patronage politics in this country. Where do you think the money for that comes from? There are two very good reasons to get rid of pork:

  • Government, or its executive branch, is mandated to ensure the efficient and rational delivery of basis services to the people, by way of proposing and then implementing the budget;
  • We know that elected officials, especially legislators, channel pork to reward their supporters or lure in new ones.

Through this miasma of discretionary power runs the infamous “weather-weather lang” character of Philippine governance. This rot is what makes decisions of both elected and voters a matter of tribal strength rather than of justice or efficiency. We scream against patronage politics and yet we shrug off the reality of millions of poor Filipinos having to throw themselves at the mercy of politicians to get what is theirs by right under the Constitution. We sneer at the poor about electing the governments they deserve. We sneer and then dance with the pigs we call friends.