Big swing vote…and I’m one of them


In very tight electoral contests, analysts like to peer at the swing votes — the undecided, uncommitted voters.

The latest Pulse Asia survey results show six percent of 5,200 respondents having no presidential or vice presidential choices. They could make a difference given that the top bets are in neck-to-neck races.

The survey section dealing with second preferences also shows that an overwhelming number of those without original candidates also do not have alternate bets — 84% for the presidency, 78% for the vice presidency.

I’ve never been interviewed for these surveys. But I’m in that swing vote demographic. The NOTA (none-of-the-above) crowd.

But I have pledged to vote and continue to wrestle with conscience and study the candidates.

Do I vote so that particular candidates don’t win? Every voter will dislike some candidates more than others. Do I vote for the least evil? Those are questions for one’s conscience. I have no answers yet.

But there’s no point in bashing other voters. Each Filipino has the right to vote, according to that personal light. Even while disagreeing with other people’s choices, some part sees where they are coming from.

Just how real are these wannabe presidents?

#4, Mar Roxas

Roxas, former transport and interior government secretary, has spent the most in campaign ads, according to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) — P969,173,267 in the pre-campaign period as of Jan. 31 this year. That’s ad time, not including the government resources poured into getting media mileage for Roxas.

Yet there he languishes, despite Edwin Lacierda’s hopeful noises, and despite a switch to a combative campaign image at the start of the official campaign season.

Most people just don’t get Roxas. I’m one of them. He claims to be pure — “hindi magnanakaw” (not a thief, an obvious reference to Vice President Binay’s plunder raps).

But it’s not enough to claim you’re not corrupt. A real enemy of corruption speaks out, consistently, against anomalies and shortcuts in governance. Roxas is zero on this point.

He attacks Binay but fails to mention that Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, his ally, has been untouchable despite links to pork barrel scandals and a host of other complaints filed with the Ombudsman. He also backed the administration’s insistence on doling out pork, even with two defeats at the Supreme Court. His department was among the biggest beneficiaries of discretionary funds.

Roxas claims to be pro-poor (well, his wife claims he is, by way of tattered house shirts). He claims to be pro-environment. But he has defended his miner friends, as if oblivious to documented cases of abuses that reached the Supreme Court. Roxas, infamous for the line, “kung alam ko lang” (had I known…) probably doesn’t know that the Supreme Court ruled against his friends. That puts in question his vaunted high IQ and educational pedigree.

Roxas is also silent on  the involvement of a Liberal Party governor who rewarded Shenzhou Mining Group — whose nickel mining operations were suspended after it created a waste pond right on the shoreline of Claver town, Surigeo del Norte — by petitioning the Mines and Geosciences Bureau to allow shipment of ore worth P179 million.

mar shenzou1

He may not be a brute — his word for Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte — but he hasn’t raised a pinky finger to stop the brutalities of this administration. Again — he pretends not to know. He’s so ignorant he once told a lumad evacuee to seek help from his military tormentors. And Roxas was in the company of Surigao del Sur governor, Johnny Pimentel, who’d long sounded the alarm over military and paramilitary atrocities.

Roxas loves to parade his technocrat abilities. He headed the Transport Department and hand-picked his successor. MRT, LRT, airports, traffic — ’nuff said. A former MRT executive has named him and DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya as responsible for anomalous deals responsible for repeatedly stranding millions of commuters in the national capital.

He slams Sen. Grace Poe for theatrics. And yet Roxas is the butt of jokes for all those awkward, laughable attempts at presenting his pro-poor credentials — by posing as a pedicab driver, stevedore, traffic aide, rescuer, even a carpenter.

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Graphic from politico.com

Roxas is not just saddled with the absence of a backbone. He’s an opportunist who has ignored the most atrocious deeds just to stay in the good graces of a tantrum-prone President. Despite public weeping, he couldn’t even be bothered to confront the President on the deaths of 44 elite cops in Mamasapano.

#3 Duterte

Duterte has overused that hyperbole excuse. He’s given too many threats, spat at civil liberties too many times.

Now he claims a Binay victory will usher in a dark age for the country. He may be right there. But how can he slam Binay’s corrupt ways and proclaim affection for the Marcos dictatorship? He apparently has double standards for corruption, the same way he does for human rights.

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Read: Killing for Peace in the Philippines

#2 Binay

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The vice president has taken to criticising the inefficiencies of the Aquino administration. Check. We agree.

He has also attacked corruption in the Aquino administration. Check. We agree.

But he, too, faces very serious corruption charges. That huge hacienda. The overpricing of building contracts. Sweetheart deals. We’re not talking spare change. We’re talking big, big money.

Read: Senate probe on Binays: ‘Plunder through grand conspiracy’

And he has responded to these with a strategy of evasion, hoping the largesse he gives to local government officials across the country will allow him to rack up their command votes.

Many people say better an efficient master of corruption than a bumbling one. Good god. And we wonder why young people sneer when we lecture them about martial law.

As retired journalist  Alex Allan notes:

A parallel situation to voting for Binay is smoking. One has been given tons of evidence that smoking causes cancer and kills and yet one continues to smoke? That’s akin to committing suicide. In the same vein, we have already been shown tons of evidence that Binay’s billions have been gained from graft and corruption and we still would want to vote for him? That, too, is akin to committing suicide.

Read my story: Source of Binay funds a puzzle (and that’s not even covering all aspects of the raps he faces)

#1 Poe

Poe is bright. She’s sharp. On many governance issues, she is ready with figures and analysis. I like her platform of governance and don’t agree with others who urge her to junk every policy of Mr. Aquino.

The Supreme Court has handed her a victory, giving her the legitimacy needed to rev up her campaign. (I have no issues on grounds of citizenship or residency.)

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But I’ve been troubled by the stance Poe has taken on several issues — her response to the INC’s efforts to stop the investigation of its leaders, for one.

Read Grace Poe and the INC

She shows some problematic tendencies in the face of negative reports — always chalking these to malicious enemies, dodging straightforward responses, ignoring opportunities to provide clear proof in the face of silly reports and thus, giving detractors a longer shelf life.

My biggest reservations, however, have to do with a penchant for ingratiating herself with power blocs. There was the INC And then the Marcoses, obviously to gain some northern Luzon votes.

There’s a strong taint of slip-sliding morality in her fluffy stance to give Bongbong Marcos space to decide on whether the nation is owed an apology for his father’s rapacious regime.

Charles Englund on Facebook disagrees:

“You may be missing the need to ally and talk in campaign speak during this period to appeal to broadest segment possible. The PNoy role was clearly a throwaway olive branch, as is the BBM comments.”

He believes people won’t vote for Binay. But that’s not what Pulse Asia says, unfortunately. If people will go for him in the unlikely event that Poe can’t finish the campaign, they could go for him if they find her playing cutesy too many times.

We’ve lost the strong, steely woman who topped the last senatorial race. Grace Poe needs to find her moxie again, be firm, be strong, be true. Babae ka, Grace. Show us true grit.

 

 It’s about us, friends

The most common question these days is, “who are you voting for.” The question is often posed as a challenge for every critique of any candidate.

The honest answer is, I have no choice yet. But even if I did, it would make no difference. My vote doesn’t confer sainthood on anyone. Nor does your vote.

My vote won’t deprive me of critical faculties. Nor should yours.

We’re so preoccupied at latching on to politicians, seeing them as saviors. We don’t believe in ourselves as citizens.

That’s why we cannot bear to acknowledge our bets’ weaknesses, before and after victory. That is why we are where we are today, with youth so disenchanted they’re raring to throw egg on our faces.

Should we blame them? No, in many ways, they’re right. We need to regain their trust.

Having a candidate is no excuse to play blind, deaf and dumb to their failings. We mock the Yellow Army for dropping the first, crucial word in “critical collaboration”. And yet almost all of us are doing the same thing all over again.

These politicians are not going to save the nation. It’ll be up to us — all of us, it doesn’t matter who your bet is — to rein them in. Silence is the greatest friend of the abuser. Let’s not forget that.

House bungles on PPP; why they didn’t dare push it on last day of session


The better title would be, “Drive Out The Clowns” — the real clowns.

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We all saw the news on Monday night.

The House of Representatives has approved on third and final reading the proposed institutionalization of the Aquino administration’s Public-Private Partnership (PPP) scheme. 

It was one of the bills approved by the Lower House during its plenary session Monday.

The bill was approved with a vote of 126 in favor and eight against.

Bugles and drum rolls, right? Public-private partnerships, after all, rank high on President Benigno Aquino III’s list of priorities.

Looks like the hosanna chorus was premature.

The House on Tuesday had to recall plenary approval on third reading of the much ballyhooed measure. (Yes, I noticed very few media outfits came out with this update.)

Why? Because Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares did his homework.

Colmenares takes the Constitution seriously. In his sweet, sing-song, Ilonggo-accented Tagalog, he moved to recall the third reading vote on HB 6631.

Colmenares pointed out that the third reading approval  violated Section 28, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution.

What does the Constitution say?

SECTION 28. (1) The rule of taxation shall be uniform and equitable. The Congress shall evolve a progressive system of taxation.

(2) The Congress may, by law, authorize the President to fix within specified limits, and subject to such limitations and restrictions as it may impose, tariff rates, import and export quotas, tonnage and wharfage dues, and other duties or imposts within the framework of the national development program of the Government.

(3) Charitable institutions, churches and parsonages or convents appurtenant thereto, mosques, non-profit cemeteries, and all lands, buildings, and improvements, actually, directly, and exclusively used for religious, charitable, or educational purposes shall be exempt from taxation.

(4) No law granting any tax exemption shall be passed without the concurrence of a majority of all the Members of the Congress.

Colemares voted against the bill, one of only eight nays.

One of his reasons: “It grants tax exemptions and deprives both the national government and LGUs of taxes, fees, and charges. This will deprive the people of accessible public service and take away billions in public funds from our people’s needs.”

He checked the Monday rolls. Only 136 congressmen voted to pass the measure.

The House of Representatives has a membership of 291. For constitutional fealty, HB 6631 needs 146 members voting on third and final reading.

Gonzales say other legislators quickly realised the #FighterNgBayan was right. He did not contest. And so the House recalled approval Tuesday night.

They were going to push for it again Wednesday night. Elections are coming; some guys can’t afford a tantrum by that petulant guy in Malacanang.

Congressional staff say Gonzales tried to get Colmenares to push his SSS-pension hike veto override AFTER they rectified the results of their carelessness and negligence.

They probably thought Colmenares was the kind of fool their subalterns are. Of course, he’s not. As notes, news website Interaksyon’s sweet, back-handed compliment:

Funny how the President’s defenders now accuse Colmenares of “playing politics”, as if a socialist who actually knows how to work in a House dominated by the bourgeoisie is more frightening than a President who ignores what is happening in his co-equal branches of government until a paper with a deadline lands on his notoriously clean desk.

Colmenares, of course, said, nyet.

  • The lard-bloated lapdogs of Mr. Aquino found themselves facing a nightmare:
  • It looked like the 57 signatures on Colmenares’ override document were just for starters;
  • A little bird from a top House leader’s office told me that some phone calls to representatives got nervous responses (there was a gallery  filled with what Quezon City 3rd district Rep. Bolet Banal notes were elderly people “fooled” (nauto) by the militant legislator.

SIGNERS OF THE OVERRIDE RESOLUTION **Note: five more have since added their signatures.SIGNERS OF THE OVERRIDE RESOLUTION

With a quorum, how could  solons who voted for the SSS bill explain their refusal to override the veto? By claiming they were irresponsible enough to sleep walk through three years of hearings? By claiming they were hypnotised into voting?

SSS voters

When Speaker Feliciano Belmonte says they didn’t want to embarrass the President (who deserves it, as the Interaksyon editorial clearly shows), the unspoken half of his thought was:

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

They didn’t want the public to see how cavalierly they take their tasks given the gazillions we contribute for their upkeep. They didn’t want the public to be reminded that this is a President who can’t exercise coherent leadership, especially where and when it counts. They didm’t want yet another example of the right hand going opposite the left hand — remember #Mamasapano?

The truth was simple. Aside from their fear of losing the perks of being presidential pets, they couldn’t let the nation’s last memories of the 16th Congress be that of buffoons.

So they sidelined the PPP bill just to cover that up. They cut off the microphone as Colmenares spoke.

That is why there was silence from Malacanang the day after.

When Belmonte, Gonzales and Banal (who voted for Colmenares’ bill and whose senior citizen father was one of those who spoke on behalf of the bill) rant and rave about Colmenares’ alleged politicking, they’re desperately trying to convince people that he’s like them. Tough luck.

Now we know who’re the real clowns and fools. One mistake following the other, one solution dragging them deeper into the muck.

 As Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the San Beda College Graduate School of Law, said the  House could pay for forcing session adjournment just to avoid tackling important unfinished business.

He pointed out:

Under Sections 15 and 16, Article 6 of the Constitution, Congress sessions are predetermined and cannot be adjourned arbitrarily, especially in a bid to avoid taking up important measures.

House leaders may be charged with dereliction of duty before the Office of the Ombudsman, he warned. Of course, they can always contest this. But that would mean another nightmare and, certainly, embarrass the President (and his handpicked successor who is, after all, among the Liberal Party bosses).

 

Belmonte says they’ll ram it through when they next convene after the elections.

Guess what? There are now 62 signatories to the override resolution. And more representatives are calling to add to say they’ll be signing, too.

One of those additions told me there are some things you cannot swallow. Public displays of amazing stupidity for one. And public displays of dishonour.

As for Banal, he may have caused his dad a helluva number of votes. Guess which party-list many senior citizens will be voting for?

And that’s how cookies crumble in the Neverland we call Congress.

 

 

When tears are a badge of honor


neri crying
Neri Colmenares weeps. Photo by Darius Galang of PinoyWeekly

KAGABI: Di maiwasang maluha si Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares sa tila pambabastos ng mga kongresistang alyado ni…

Posted by Pinoy Weekly on Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The gods of Congress, those lapdogs of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, did their best. As this Congress goes, their best often has to do with dastardly deeds. Pork for one, and then resurrecting a zombie twice killed by the Supreme Court, in a million and one mechanisms that scream “discretionary funds”.

They are at their best sitting on the corpses of what could have been landmark legislation. The first was the Freedom of Information bill. The other, a long-delayed, P2000-monthly pension hike for Social Security System (SSS) members.

Apologists of this administration will tell you that Congress is a co-equal branch of government, that it’s foibles should not be blamed on the executive.

That is theoretically correct, except that these very same people ranted and raved when Congress was a lapdog of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They were also silent when Congress turned its back on the Mamasapano probe when that hacendero screamed, enough!

Night of dishonor

old folk by mon ramirez
Senior citizens lined up for hours on the grounds of Congress to push for an override of President Aquino’s veto on the P2000-monthly SSS pension hike. Photo by Mon Ramirez 

 

On Wednesday, February 3, the lords of lard were following the wishes of Mr. Aquino, who vetoed the SSS pension-hike bill that Congress passéd with overwhelming votes.

Congress guards tussled with senior citizens who came in the hundreds to see a showdown.

There was none. Faced with the spectre of a veto override, Mr. Aquino’s congressional henchmen cut short their last working day before this year’s electoral campaign period.

They adjourned early in the night, a far cry from other years when sessions lasted till dawn just to ram through administration legislation.

The cowards were so scared they wouldn’t even allow proceedings to start, following hours of waiting for a quorum. At least 57 legislators had signed a resolution to override the veto.

And when the main author of bill, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, stood up to demand a hearing, they cut off the microphones.

The SSS pension-hike bill is dead. Or so Mr. Aquino and millionaire executives hope.

The funny thing is, hardly anyone is boasting of their “victory”. But only madmen own to a massacre. The administration people aren’t mad, they’re craven; they can’t be bothered to even make a stand.

To mask the reality of SSS members sold down the river of dirty deals, they had to kill the pension hike. How many billions were lost to bad investments of friends? How many millions exchange hands yearly so that employers get away with non-payment of premiums already deducted from workers’ salaries?

 

The art of Noynoying

father and son
Stroke patient Renato and son and caregiver Racquel Montero were hoping for a small ease in their hardships from an SSS pension hike

 

It’s no use telling Mr. Aquino about the lives of a father and son who struggle with disease and a job that can’t even bring home the equivalent of minimum wage. They walked (and continue to walk) the straight path with premium payments. The son takes regular breaks from ferrying neighbors to check on a father laid low by stroke.

The crown prince of the kingdom of entitlement knows nothing about the daily travails of people. Nor would he care.

Mr. Aquino isn’t content with killing the SSS bill.

He wants the victims to kiss his hand as he scatters crumbs from his table.

Come, you unwashed hordes. Kneel at his feet and thank him for an offer of P500.

If Malacanang was really sincere about that, it could have negotiated while congressional hearings were going on.

Then again, if he couldn’t even be bothered doing that with the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, he wouldn’t over the SSS bill.

You see, Noynoying isn’t just the art of doing nothing.

It’s pretending to do nothing while your peons do the dirty job. Purisima and Rico Puno taught us that Mr. Aquino is a master of this art.
SSS

Mr. Aquino’s bloated pets know what exactly they engineered on February 3.

The dictionary tells us:

“A Pyrrhic victory is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. Someone who wins a Pyrrhic victory has been victorious in some way. However, the heavy toll negates any sense of achievement or profit. Another term for this would be “hollow victory”.

Old people shouted in rage. Old people cried.

Actor Robin Padilla narrated what happened on his Facebook page.

Nanay Salve, a retired school teacher, NGO worker and trainer of people disabilities, told Ted Failon about her experience.

They gave the elderly a hard time to get in hanggang nagkakasigawan na. They were under the heat of the sun, tired and hungry old people. Then when they were allowed to get in, they were prevented to enter the main session hall until after a few more minutes. They entered the session hall, only to wait for hours and watch legislators loitering abt. Session was suspended to wait for a quorum. Late afternoon, nagutom na ang iba, lumabas. Bumalik ng alas-6. Di nila namalayan, maya-maya, bigla na lang session was resumed and declared adjourned, when neri came running to the podium to speak and contest the adjournment. He got in a sentence or two before his mic was shutdown and he was told the session was closed.

One man in a barong tagalog wept.

Fighter Ng Bayan

This is what I love about Neri Colmenares: a fighter with the courage and heart to shed tears.

Because you do not fight for decades without feeling deep down, in your guts and in your soul, what it is that makes grown men and women cry themselves to sleep at night. (That’s Morris West, in “The Shoes of the Fisherman”.)

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Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares. For SSS pension hike warriors, miles and miles to go to win the war.

Episodes of defeat are nothing new to Colmenares, who is running for the Senate in the 2016.

You can’t have a life as student activist, human rights lawyer and militant legislator without knowing that some battles can’t be won.

Not immediately — as the ouster of a dictator and other major landmarks have taught us.

All the gains that we now take for granted were won because some people refused to give up despite the deaths, the blows, the harassment, the mighty forces arrayed against them.

All those gains because some people did the tasks we’re either too busy or too scared to do.

Aside from the line from West, there is another that forever sticks in the mind: “Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.”

There are hard things you do even when soul weary. But you do it. Because it is right.
Hindi yan nababayaran. Nasa iyo yan o wala.


Sa lahat ng senior citizens at kabataan na naki-isa sa laban ni Neri, isang saludo at pasasalamat. PADAYON! ‪#‎KaraniwangTao ‪#‎FighterNgBayan

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.

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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.

Walden Bello on Duterte: Burden of proof on us


The perversion of the law by double standards, says Walden Bello, resigned representative of Akbayan, a partylist with close ties to the Aquino government, is what attracts the disillusioned to Duterte. Those who like to talk of human rights must first convince the public that “the rule of law is not just empty rhetoric.”

Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte struts around like an urban cowboy, a gunslinger on a motorbike. He is the beloved strongman of a city famed for its surface gloss of peace and order. He talks like some TV wrestling god — threats and sexist lines galore. He even has a made-for-TVwrestling tag, “The Punisher”.

Most people either love him or hate Duterte. On both sides lie legitimate viewpoints.

Those who feel helpless amid the flood of crime and corruption say soft leaders will hand over the country to drug lords, gambling lords, smuggling lords and  those who, with finesse and elegant language, siphon off the people’s taxes and the nation’s wealth in the service of their friends.

Others believe there is a reason for the term, “basic human rights.” They note that killings ascribed to Duterte — who has never been charged for these — only involve poor sewer rats. They believe his solution to problems — the promise of a bullet going the way of the wrongdoer — will gift the country once more with the peace of the graveyard.

new - twitter image by JC GrapiX (@JCGrapiX)The din is loud and will grow louder.

Duterte knows playing nice now won’t convince the latter group. So he shuns nuance and serves up the logic of raw, desperate survival. Don’t lecture the Davao city mayor about how democracies have no place for the law of the jungle. He’ll come back with a Tarzan yell — and millions of true believers will echo back the sound.

But that is a topic for another column. Today, let’s hear from Walden Bello, former member of the House of Representatives and senatorial candidate for #Halalan2016.

walden belloBello resigned as representative of the party list Akbayan because it had become too uncritical, too subservient to the dictates of President Benigno Aquino III.

Here is a reminder from the man:

Some quarters have expressed dismay that Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is running for the presidency.  I can certainly understand their concern with Duterte’s terrible record on human rights and due process.

My response to Mayor Duterte’s candidacy, however, is to borrow from Voltaire and say to him, I may vehemently disagree with what you stand for but I will defend your right to run for office based on what you believe in.

Indeed, Duterte’s running should be seen as a challenge by human rights advocates to educate the electorate on the value of human rights and due process, which some have complacently assumed there is a national consensus on.

It will also challenge us to prove to the people that the rule of law is not empty rhetoric; that our laws can, in fact, be used to prosecute and punish the criminals and the corrupt; and that the pursuit of law and justice is blind, meaning it is not perverted by double standards.

The burden of proof, in short, is on us to prove Duterte wrong.

 

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.”

 

 

 

Duterte chose right #Halalan2016 running mate


In choosing Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano as running-mate in the 2016 elections, Davao City Mayor Duterte wins points with Filipinos who want iron-hand governance to include corrupt government officials.

Duterte last week filed his certificate of candidacy (CoC) as presidential candidate for the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), replacing anti-crime activist Martin Dino. Just minutes earlier, his daughter, Sara, replaced him as lone mayoralty candidate of the major southern Philippine city. 

CoC
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s certificate of candidacy as substitute presidential candidate of the PDP-Laban. ABS-CBNNews photo

Whether or not the Commission on Elections (Comelec) approves Duterte’s presidential bid is still up in the air.

But already, he’s set the political landscape aflame. Revelations that his wife’s ongoing battle with cancer was the cause of early dithering over electoral plans can only win sympathy for the feisty Duterte, known as “The Punisher”.

Aides and supporters believe those disillusioned by months of shadow boxing will come back once campaign season starts.

WATCH Duterte says sorry, won’t run for president 

Wooing Duterte

Since they expressed intentions of running for higher office, Cayetano and fellow senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. have wooed Duterte.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, another presidential aspirant, picked Marcos as her running mate, but the son of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos has yet to name her as his principal.

Surveys on vice presidential bets show Marcos and Cayetano in a tie, behind Senate colleague Francis “Chiz” Escudero.

Why Cayetano?

Those figures made it easier for Duterte to choose Cayetano, despite Marcos’ clout in northern Philippines and his lead in Metro Manila.

Duterte is close to both men. But he cites Cayetano’s doggedness in courting him. He also acknowledges the younger man’s capabilities. Marcos was once a governor; Cayetano, like Escudero, has a solid legislative record.

University of Sto. Tomas political science professor Edmund Tayao believes the lawmaker from Taguig City provides “finesse, a soft touch, which many think is lacking with the mayor.”

Duterte won’t lose sleep over finesse. The shadow of the Marcos dictatorship gave Cayetano the edge.

While Duterte was a former activist and is close to the underground Left, he has his own human rights baggage. A section of Filipino advocates against corruption oppose his candidacy on these grounds.

On the other hand, many who like his strongman persona dislike Marcos because of his family’s record for massive corruption. Part of Duterte’s charm is due to his perceived distaste for corruption.

Mindanao Issues

And there is the Muslim vote.

Cayetano was very hostile towards the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the biggest Muslim rebel group, during hearings on the 2015 Mamasapano clash that killed 44 elite cops.

But Marcos is no different. The chair of the Senate committee in charge of the draft Bangsamoro Basi Law authored a version that turns the measure to slush. Many Mindanao Muslims still remember massive bombings and attacks on their communities during his father’s two-decade rule.

“Cayetano is a good prop,” Norodin Alonto Lucman said in a Facebook exchange.

“Honestly, do we have a choice?,” said Lucman, a former guerrilla now running for the Senate. “Bongbong Marcos is a liability in Mindanao although it was assumed that he will deliver the North and Western Visayas votes.”

“Visayans and Mindanaoans will vote for Duterte, hands down,” he added. Cayetano is a good prop but he might learn a thing or two about humility with Mayor Duterte.”

Free for all

Escudero – also not a friend of the MILF — has more than double the preference rate of Marcos and Cayetano in Mindanao and enjoys an even bigger lead in the Visayas.

Few voters see their votes for the country’s most powerful posts as a package deal.

MILF-influenced voters can always choose Rep. Leni Robredo, staunch backer of the BBL. But the Bangsamoro under the MILF’s influence also dislike Mar Roxas despite their leaders’ ties to President Benigno Aquino III.

Cayetano’s ratings may get a boost from Duterte. Duterte may cement the support of Filipinos who like him but are leery of the Marcos name. Then again, those who like Marcos may be expected to vote for him, too. #30