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.

 

 

tiamzons
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.

lumad333
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.

 

Duterte to scrap pork


*photo courtesy of Ariel Casilao

Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the country’s next President, has vowed to strip all vestiges of pork from the government, according to representatives of militant party-list groups.

Ariel Casilao, the first nominee of Anakpawis in the May 2016 elections said Duterte stressed his pledge during a two-hour meeting with Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and officers of Bayan Davao.

“Bawal na din ang congressional license plates and other signs of privilege,” he added.

Duterte also promised to persuade Congress to give departments the proper funds for necessary programs.

“He said lawmakers would no longer have powers to assign health services and scholarships,” Casilao said. The authority would return to agencies with aid from data provided by local governments.

If the promise holds, it would be a major victory for activists who have long campaigned against the massive use of discretionary funds by all branches of government.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the long practice of pork is unconstitutional, despite arguments from President Benigno Aquino III’s government. It also ruled against many aspects of Mr. Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP.

Both programs have been identified with widespread graft and corruption, including the P10-billion pork scandal of Janet Napoles for which several legislators have been charged with plunder.

While Mr. Aquino initially claimed to back the anti-pork movement, he swiftly shifted to a strong defense. He railed against the Supreme Court when it ruled on many salient points of DAP, which has taken away from congress-approved projects, shifting spending to pet projects of Malacanang. Activists have pledged to pursue criminal charges against Mr. Aquino and his top officials after they step down on June 30.

What Duterte wants, Casilao said, is for Congress to “triple the budgets of departments” so they can provide better service to citizens.

It has been a congressional practice to slash departmental and agency funds, to allow legislators’ powers to influence executive actions.

Duterte earlier said he would be selling off government assets, like the presidential yacht, to ensure funds for the welfare of soldiers and cops, and the deployment of health professionals to the countryside.

The incoming president said he would provide allowances to ensure that young professionals are encouraged to work for the government.

Casilao said Duterte believes there can be enough money with an austerity program where officials and government employees account for every peso spent.

“He wants greater focus on health and education services,” Casilao said.

Duterte has announced a ban on junkets by government officials, bringing experts to the provinces to save on training costs, and to impose simple lifestyles on all government officials.

Fiscal woes

Some economic experts, including former National Treasurer Leonor Briones, have warned that with the campaign expense blitz of the incumbent administration, there may be little cash leftover for Duterte.

“There will be practically nothing left of the 2016 national budget” when Duterte takes his oath as President on June 30, the Dumaguete Metro Post quoted Briones as saying.

She said the 2017 national budget is 3 trillion 350 billion pesos, and that it is almost entirely to fund the projects of President Aquino.

She said the new President will only have three weeks after he assumes the presidency to submit his 2017 budget.

“If he realigns funds, he will have to move very fast. He has to have a very strong Congress. He has to ensure a massive exodus of traitors who will go to his camp, and change that budget. He will be like Jesus Christ who will conduct a mass baptism in the river of Congress to change the budget. Otherwise, they will have to go around it. It’s a narrow space for ‘Captain Philippines’.

“He will have to resort to horse-trading, and he will have to work very very hard, and he will have to copy [the programs of other candidates] very vast,” Briones predicted.

Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP) founder Jose Ma Sison also said Tuesday the national government “is in crisis.”

“In last elections, the government spent na parang walang econ crisis,” Sison told a gathering of activists.

He expressed surprise that the presidential candidates in the May 2016 polls did not debate on the economic crisis.

“Due to this crisis, hot money has been going out since 2014,” Sison said.

“Parang walang malay sa pandaignidan antas ng krisis na nag-umpisa nang umepekto sa Pilipinas,” said Sison, who also chairs the International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS). (They seemed to have no knowledge about the global crisis that has already started affecting the Philippines.)

He said despite praise from investment bodies and multilateral lending institutions, Aquino worsened the country’s problems with heavy borrowing.

“But due to crisis, hot money has been going out since 2014,” he pointed out.

DBM defends Aquino fiscal performance

The Department of Budget and Management, meanwhile, defended the Aquino government’s  fiscal policies, saying Duterte would inherit a “robust, transparent and performance-based budget.”

The DBM confirmed Wednesday that that 84 percent of the P3-trillion budget for 2016 has been released to agencies as of end April 2016.

But it stressed, this does not mean that the incoming administration has been left with little resources for its priority programs.

“It is not true that only 16 percent of the budget is left, contrary to the claim of the camp of former Vice President Jejomar Binay. That is an incorrect and malicious claim. Allotment releases to agencies do not indicate actual spending of funds,” Budget Secretary Florencio B. Abad said.

An allotment gives an agency the authority to obligate funds for projects. When projects have been awarded, the funds have been obligated and it is only then that actual funds are disbursed to agencies to pay the contractors and suppliers.

Abad clarified that of the total P3.002 trillion general appropriation in 2016, P2.505 trillion in allotments have already been released to government agencies. The remaining allotments amount to P496.3 billion and this is slated to be released later this year.

For Special Purpose Funds (SPFs), as of May 2016, P157.4 billion has already been released out of the P446.4 billion total appropriation—a large share of which was for the Budgetary Support to Government Corporations at P43.1 billion and the Pension and Gratuity Fund at P41.6 billion. This still leaves 75 percent or P332.8 billion in SPFs to be utilized by the incoming administration—with P58.0 billion for the miscellaneous personnel benefits of government personnel and P42.1 billion still intact for calamities.

Abad said the comprehensive release of agency budgets was made possible through the GAA-As-Release-Document regime, a public financial management reform in 2014 that phased out the Agency Budget Matrices (ABMs) and Special Allotment Release Orders (SAROs) from the budget process to facilitate the swift and efficient implementation of the expenditure program. With the General Appropriations Act (GAA) as the primary fund release document, agencies are now able to obligate funds for their projects in the beginning of the year and thereby accelerate spending.

“Let me assure the people and the incoming administration that the 2016 national budget was not squandered in the last elections and the appropriations in the budget are being released and spent according to the specific purposes and guidelines in the General Appropriations Act,” the budget chief said.

“We are proud to say that the next administration will inherit not only a financially stable and robust budget, but also a transparent and performance-based budget. If you look at the GAA, and it is available online, it has detailed disclosure of agencies’ performance targets. Also, we have disaggregated the lump sum amounts in the agency budgets into component projects, intended beneficiaries and location in order for the GAA to function as a budget release document.”

“The Aquino administration, under a solid platform of good and effective governance, has been able to craft a national budget that reflects transparency and accountability in public financial management,” added Abad.

For a full breakdown of releases as of April 2016, you can refer to our website: http://www.dbm.gov.ph/?page_id=15576

#30

Ro-Ro and that funny survey


“Takot sila sa akin,” Mar Roxas, Liberal Party standard-bearer said in March after the second debate among #Halalan2016 presidential bets. He also said surveys didn’t matter and that rivals were ganging up on him because of fear.

But a certain survey does matter a lot to the Liberal Party and its followers.

A minor Twitter stir occurred on April 20. Accounts linked to Roxas loyalists erupted in jubilation, sharing  headlines on a miraculous survey surge that had President Benigno Aquino III’s candidate tied with Sen. Grace Poe at first place.

daang matuwid

 

The day before, Pulse Asia released the results of the ABS-CBN commissioned survey, showing Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte extending his new front-runner position, from 30% to 32%.

Pulse Asia said Duterte managed to capture “a sizeable plurality of Filipino registered voters.”

 

READ: Duterte extends lead in latest ABS-CBN survey

Had one of the two other big survey firms like the Social Weather Stations (SWS) or Laylo released the April 20 report, it would have been major news.

Both firms have displayed similar rankings, though with different percentages and margins of error.

The catcalls that followed were louder than the hosannas. Many Roxas supporters were too embarrassed to join the chorus, for good reason.

Only a few tabloids carried the momentous announcement. One report, credited to the Philippine Star, actually comes from its Filipino-language tabloid, and has since been taken down.

published Curious website

A simple Google search brings you to the website of  D’ Strafford Research & Strategies, Inc.

The firm claims it uses the language of the business elite.

Its site looks sleek but turns out to be a skeleton – no profile, projects, no clients. Not even an address.

When I visited mid-afternoon of April 20, it didn’t even have anything about an election survey. 

D’ Strafford’s first appearance on email accounts of newsdesks was after it got a deluge of phone calls from curious Netizens.

I called up two numbers. Several tries on the first only got a recorded voice saying Extension 6138 was not available.

A man named Mark Lim answered the other number. He gave their office address as Unit 1, Penthouse, on the 35th floor of EcoTowers on 32nd St., BGC. He said a JM Balancar presented the survey results during “a press conference for tri-media at the Shangri-la Fort.”

Who is Mr. Balancar? What are his credentials?

Lim described Balancar first as “project manager” then as “project director”.

When asked for the name of the CEO – the website does not list company officials –Lim pointed to Balancar. Prompted for the names of other company officials, he mentioned a Mark Tan and Anthony Seno.

I asked if any of them were statisticians. No.

He also said the survey was done in-house and not commissioned.They interviewed 2,800 respondents face to face from April 13-18, he added. The outcome has a +/-1.9% national margin of error.

Then, unprompted, Lim attributed the lead to Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial joke about the rape-slay of an Australian missionary in 1989.

Professional style

I asked for the education and professional credentials of Balancar and their survey leader.  Lim said their in-house, corporate survey lead was a Jeffrey Concio, but he was mum on credentials.

Mum on clients. Mum on most everything, except that the firm’s owners were businessmen with ages ranging from the 30s to the 40s. Lim said he’s 38 years old. He would not give me his education background.

D’ Strafford incorporators don’t come up on Facebook or even Google. They must be very, very private men.

Balancar’s email to news desks was a gem . Will share it as is:

balancar email

 

Nothing in their press release backs up the claim that Roxas surged because Duterte scared off some fans. Analysts say he may have lost some number of “soft voters;” but we’ll have to wait for the next surveys.

But Pulse Asia places Roxas fourth among voters’ second choice, with 14%, compared to Sen. Grace Poe’s 29%, Vice President Jejomar Binay’s 17% and Duterte’s 16% — though that category is premised on the condition of a favored bet not able to continue contesting the presidency.

pulse 2nd choice better

D’ Strafford’s press release shares the press release’s quirky writing style, especially the unique use of punctuation.

Even more curious was the passage on the undecided:

“Of the 4.2% undecided, 1.5% goes to Poe, 1.3% for Roxas, 1% to Duterte and .4% for Binay.” 

You make try to decipher that.

Discoveries

Roxas’ official Facebook account did not share the story. His vice presidential bet, Leni Robredo – D’ Stafford claimed she had a rating 32%, leading r Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (25%) and Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero (23%).

leni on d'strafford

After chatting with Lim, I called up Balancar. He was busy and just asked for a text query. I asked about the firm’s SEC registration.

He replied: “We will have another round of press conference this coming Friday. We will be sending invites. Thank you.”

A follow up text from him said: “All are invited even Duterte supporters, of GP and ke Binay. Thank you.”

Netizens Mariah Sanchez and Jae Manuel Sta Romana did separate searches and discovered that D’ Strafford’s website was registered only on April 14, a day after the claimed start of their survey.

website
Screengrab photo posted by Mariah Sanchez

It only registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission on April 11.

Sta Romana also found out that the firm borrowed i’s entire website template from a Chicago-based company. Unlike D’ Stafford, Omotosho and Associates details a range of services.

borrowed

So a very young firm of mysterious men decided to spend a caboodle of money for a nationwide survey because of the goodness of their hearts.

Don’t let those inconvenient truths divert us from this sure-fire reality, says an undersecretary.

Roxas will win, according to Malacanang, because the government has the most organized force.

This administration has a genius for twisting the meaning of words. Let’s parse out organized in the next installment, starting with the Palace downloading voters’ personal data stolen from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) website.

Hallucinating over Madonna


Only great artists need apply.

Mediocre performers send us to sleep. Great artists sweep us into kaleidoscope worlds where we either twirl in ecstasy – or cower in the darkness of our fetid minds.

eraserheadsMillennial youth with no memory of a dictator are probably also clueless on the history of Tito Sotto, who once slipped into a void where he mistook Eraserhead lyrics for satanic verses.

The Heads were in good company, right up there with the gods of rock and roll.

Sotto, even in delirium, wasn’t even capable of an original tale.

Led Zeppelin, for one, had been the subject of fervent denunciation by an evangelical broadcaster named Paul Crouch.

ledzepCrouch, probably a decrypter in some past life, translated “If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow” to this:

“Oh here’s to my sweet Satan. The one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan. He will give those with him 666. There was a little tool shed where he made us suffer, sad Satan.”

gagaMuch later, folk who called themselves Christians spied horns, hoofs and scaled wings on the famous figure of Lady Gaga. They demanded the cancellation of her Philippine concert to save the souls of the thousands who’d bought tickets.

And now, here’s a guy, Wyden King, who probably can turn to mist and go through concrete walls and steel trusses.

King emailed journalists, saying the Queen of Pop’s hotel room in Manila had walls painted black.

madonna2
photo from ABS-CBNNews.com

He heard from that room incantations and curses against our country, never mind that an entire arena rocked in harmony with Madonna Louise Ciccone. 

King’s X-ray eyes also saw fault lines beneath the MOA, with wicked imps dancing and jiving to shake the earth.

He blamed Madonna, not corrupt building contractors, for the deaths in big quake that rocked Taiwan during the week of her concerts there.

madonna
photo from ABS-CBNNews.com

He begged us all to pray and storm the heavens so God strikes down the woman he calls “high priestess of the Illuminati.”

He also called on people to trap Jesus’ blood in some giant shaker and rain down red on all of Madonna’s concert props.

I want whatever the guy’s been smoking.

“An intercessor saw huge demons with horns and tails covering that event venue and the place is filled with huge and small dragons and snakes.  He also saw that the satanists have created a HEXAGRAM ALTAR at MOA Arena.  He saw it in the spirit  that they placed sacrificial candles on each point of the hexagram and they are doing an abominable sexual act inviting Bafomet to that place.”

Baphomet
Bafomet or Baphomet. Photo from Wikipaedia commons

Bafomet was an idol the Knights Templar allegedly worshipped. He does look like a groovy concert prop.

King actually asked us to pray so that God would destroy the venue – and all the wicked people in there.

Last I checked, people were streaming out with dopey grins on their faces.

But Francis Tolentino wins the Delusion Medal. The Playgirls should shower him with twerks and kisses for placing them on the same plane with the Queen of Pop.

 

 

The Shadow of the Eagle over #Mamasapano


Slide1

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.

Getulio Napeñas, who is seeking a Senate seat in this year’s elections, also told senators his insistence on time-on-target information sharing was on the urging of American advisers.

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.

bff
President Benigno Aquino III and suspended (and now resigned) national police chief Alan Purisima go a long way back.

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.

Slide1Filipinos 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

Fallen 443 justice
The wake of the #Fallen44 (graphic courtesy of abs-cbnnews.com)

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.”

Read: AFP officials can’t usurp top-level policy

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.)

Conflicting goals

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.

iqbal1
President Benigno Aquino III and suspended (and now resigned) national police chief Alan Purisima go a long way back.

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.

Below is an excerpt of a piece I wrote for ABS-CBNNews.

“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.

Information gatekeepers

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.

PH climate change plans favour big business, threaten IP lands


*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.

Community farm - Lianga caraga1
Lumad of the Andap Valley complex in Surigao del Sur fear their farms will wither and die with the entry of coal mining firms .

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.

Dirty coal

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.

alsons saranggani bigger photo
Alson’s Power Group will start operating its new coal plant on the shore of Sarangani Bay by January next year. Environmentalists fear damage one of the country’s richest fishing grounds. The company counters that it is using “the latest clean coal technology.” 

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.

Government’s coal program ignores the Greenpeace’s warnings in its 2012 report:

“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.

MINING - EXISTING OPS

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.

MINING - AREAS OF CONFLICTS

“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.”

 

 

 

WHY I AM GLAD DUTERTE ISN’T RUNNING (SO FAR)


Maybe I should have acted like Queen Victoria. Maybe, I should have been at my grim and determined best.
davao cowboy
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. All photos here from his Facebook page,

Because social media is a fast and furious panorama of movement, many people who saw the photo of my bald self, and the shared posts on the frenzy over Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (including the now-closed Miriam-Duterte petition), asked if I was a Digong fan.

I am glad he isn’t running. Hopefully, that’s the last word on this issue. I do not want to see a Duterte presidency.
CHARISMA
Davao City Rodrigo Duterte has heaps of charisma.
A beauty salon’s entire staff have pledged their votes to Duterte — never mind that they don’t know anyone who actually knows the guy.
Many taxi drivers are for Duterte, says Mae Paner, veteran of that mode of transport.
My household companions tell me staff at the nearby supermarket and the vendors at the Talipapa are mostly for Duterte, though Vice President Jejomar Binay still has some grip on these sectors.
It’s not just the poor. A Duterte stroll in Greenbelt turns into a circus — fast.
Like Imelda Marcos, he keeps you fascinated. Pretty much the same way dancing cobras attract crowds.
Like Joseph Estrada, he has mastered one-liners, the made-for-TV quips, the mercurial changes of mood.
fans
WHY THEY LOVE HIM
My Davao-based friends and relatives — most of them anyway — swear fealty to Duterte. He keeps the city clean and orderly and peaceful, they say.
I am not about to dispute that sentiment, though the last two visits had me stranded in traffic jams much like what we suffer in Metro Manila.
He loves the Lumad! says a friend.
He supports the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL)! says another friend.
He defends the human rights of the Left! says a third friend.
He sent aid early to Yolanda victims! says another.
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
These are some things that make me like Duterte very much.
But I have said this and won’t tire of saying this.
There is a reason the phrase says, “BASIC human rights”.
I cannot campaign for the rights of the Lumad, or the rights of the Bangsamoro people, or the rights of activists and journalists, rights workers, lawyers and judges and, yes, victims of crimes …  and then shrug off the basic right to life of other folk.
I am not accusing Duterte of killing people. I am saying he has a very selective concept of justice.
I am very glad Carlos Conde, now with Human Rights Watch, documented stories for years.
Here is one of the stories, “Teenagers Perish in Davao’s Killing Fields.” 
In late September last year, Duterte described the series of killings of suspected criminals as unlawful. But he also made it clear he was hardly sorry that they were happening. “I do not have any tears for you if you die, you idiots!” he said, referring to drug pushers. “You all deserved to die.”
Last March, Duterte once again declared war against teenage gangs, which the local police say are responsible for most of the crimes committed in the city. “If they offer resistance,” the mayor told reporters here, “I will not hesitate to kill them. I don’t care about minors.”
Such declarations have upset child-rights advocates, including Councilor Angela Librado. The chair of the City Council’s committee on women and children, Librado notes that while the mayor “hasn’t really violated any law,” his statements “send the wrong signal to the public. The signal is that, it’s okay for these people to die because they are useless anyway.”
If anything, Duterte’s contempt for teenage gangs and his encouragement of extra-judicial methods to deal with them have made children in conflict with the law fair game. Two weekends ago, three minors who had had brushes with the police were killed in separate incidents by unknown assailants.
POWER
The Signal. I take that very seriously, having heard the very same line from Norberto Manero, who was convicted of killing of Italian priest Tullio Favali on April 11, 1985 in Tuluan, North Cotabato.
In an interview shortly before he was released (pardon revoked after a public outcry) by former President Macapagal-Arroyo, Manero — also a very charismatic man — said his followers, including his brother, literally took matters in their own hands, when he joked he wanted to see Tuvali gone from the face of the earth.
He was convicted because witnesses placed him at the scene of the crime. He has since changed colours, according to this poignant story. But you want to read the narrative on Favali’s death to appreciate how much one man can have the power of life and death over others:
Welcoming home soldier taken prisoner of war by the New People's Army
Welcoming home soldier taken prisoner of war by the New People’s Army
THE FINE LINE
The HRW has also issued a report on the Davao death squads.
I followed those stories closely, gratified to see the groups often tagged “Left” and thus also prone to being victims of extra-judicial killings, confronting their friend Digong on the issue. I remember one very angry Duterte tirade addressed to Karapatan.
This, I think, is a principled stand. You work together on some issues but there are lines on the sand you do not cross. And there are things that brook no silence, because the latter only encourages more abuse — or deliberate neglect of situations.
Especially because we are talking of the land’s highest office.
I totally agree that systemic murders and systemic crimes should be exposed.
I also say that every line of Digong’s quotable quotes encourages these very same crimes, no matter his actions on other issues.
I can also see where Duterte fans are coming from. Too much violence, too much crime; too many state enforcement agents moonlighting as protectors or enforcers of crime gangs. Thus, the need for a tough cowboy.
My Davao friends, save a handful, love Duterte. Not all will vote for him. From them, I have heard the same arguments raised by Conde in his PCIJ article.
“The public’s tacit support for the killings is one reason local authorities, including the police, do not appear interested in finding the killers. Many Davaoeños believe that the executions are helping keep their city safe and do not seem to care that minors are among those being killed as part of a campaign against youth offenders, many of whom are petty thieves.
This is why Davaoeños support Rodrigo Duterte, their tough-talking mayor, who has made it well known that he will stop at nothing to fight criminals.
Sending off aid workers bound for Yolanda areas
Sending off aid workers bound for Yolanda areas
My personal view is this: I don’t care if they are alleged criminals. When last I checked, suspects have rights.
I can rail against a person — Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for example — and still defend her right to due process. I can rail against a corrupt official — the former Chief Justice Renato Corona, among others — and call out the short cuts taken in the name of “justice”.
I must also point out that the onus to respect human rights weighs more on the state and its officials, precisely because they wield great power.
Murder done in the name of order and the rights of most of us peaceful citizens is still murder. It has no place in law enforcement. You cannot enforce the law by breaking the law.
Duterte’s fans say, rightly, that people should file cases against him. I agree.
And I also say, you cannot shrug off — nay, even cheer on killers. Not when you are a chief executive.
I cannot accept claims that he is just “joking,” that this is all an act.
He is an officer sworn to uphold the law. The Philippine President is the country’s most powerful man. Duterte’s words give me nightmares about the implications on the nation and our rights as citizens.
Don’t tell me only the guilty needs to be scared. That sounds like the incumbent Chief Executive. Hundreds of journalists and activists have been killed, tortured, jailed simply because some people think they make life inconvenient for the powers that be.
I take #NeverForget and #NeverAgain seriously. That is why I fight for Lumad Rights, among other things.
I still respect Government for all its faults. I cannot cast my vote with a hope that one man might just be joking.