Archive for 2008

US, Europeans scramble to prevent Georgia-Russia war

August 9, 2008

Agence France-Presse
First Posted 10:41:00 08/09/2008

WASHINGTON — The United States and European Union led a diplomatic push Friday to prevent war between Georgia and Russia, calling for a ceasefire as Russian tanks rolled into a rebel Georgian province.

Envoys from the US, EU and Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were being deployed to Georgia to seek an end to the fighting in Russian-backed South Ossetia, a breakaway region of Western-backed Georgia.

“The United States calls for an immediate ceasefire to the armed conflict in Georgia’s region of South Ossetia,” US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.

“We call on Russia to cease attacks on Georgia by aircraft and missiles, respect Georgia’s territorial integrity, and withdraw its ground combat forces from Georgian soil,” she said.

The United States was working actively with its European allies to launch international mediation to end the crisis, Rice said, adding that senior US officials have spoken with the parties in the conflict.

“We underscore the international community’s support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, as articulated in numerous UN Security Council resolutions,” she said.

US President George W. Bush was being kept abreast of the crisis even as he attended the start of the Beijing Olympic Games, his spokeswoman said.

Russian tanks and troops surged into South Ossetia on Friday to repel a Georgian offensive to reclaim the region amid fighting said to have left hundreds dead.

South Ossetia broke from Georgia in the early 1990s. It has since been a constant source of friction between Georgia and Russia, which disputes Tbilisi’s hopes of joining NATO.

South Ossetia has long sought unification with North Ossetia, which is inhabited by the same Ossetian ethnic group but ended up across the border in Russia after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Georgian government, led by President Mikheil Saakashvili, announced it would withdraw 1,000 of its 2,000 troops who are part of the US-led coalition in Iraq to help the fight in South Ossetia.

The Pentagon said Georgia had requested aircraft to move its troops out of the Iraq.

The EU presidency said it was in contact with all protagonists and working to secure a ceasefire “so as to avoid an extension of the conflict.”

The EU “calls on all parties to cease hostilities and to resume, without delay, so as to secure a political solution to the crisis, which respects Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it said.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has been busy on the phone talking with, among others, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Georgia’s Foreign Minister Ekaterine Tkeshelashvili, a spokeswoman said.

At the United Nations, however, the Security Council failed to agree Friday on a statement calling for an immediate truce in South Ossetia. The 15-member body was scheduled to try again on Saturday.

Diplomats said a Belgian-drafted compromise text also urges the warring sides to “show restraint and to refrain from any further acts of violence or force,” calls for respect by the parties of past accords and for the provision of humanitarian aid to victims.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin insisted on the need for Georgia to agree to a formal renunciation of the use of force by either side.

Georgia’s reintegration minister, Temur Yakobashvili, told France’s Le Figaro newspaper’s website that Western diplomats would have a huge say over the outcome of the conflict.(PDI)

MILF rebels pull out but new ones arrive

August 9, 2008

By Inquirer Mindanao, Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:21:00 08/09/2008

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels on Friday started withdrawing from the areas they had occupied in the province of North Cotabato as the 24-hour deadline set by the government expired, Presidential Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said.

Esperon told the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Mindanao bureau over lunch Friday that the rebels had pulled out of the towns of Midsayap, Aleosan, Alamada and Pigcawayan.

The rebels were reported to have occupied nine villages in five towns in North Cotabato.

North Cotabato Governor Jesus Sacdalan said, however, that while some MILF forces had left the occupied areas, including Baliki village in Midsayap town, fresh rebel troops had begun arriving.

“We want a total pullout. If they will not leave by morning [Saturday], we will implement the law,” Sacdalan warned.

Brig. Gen. Reynaldo Sealana, co-chair of the joint Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), said the rebels “began to move” at around 4:30 p.m. Friday.

“We supervised their movement,” Sealana told reporters in the Camp Aguinaldo military general headquarters in Metro Manila by phone.

He said the joint CCCH had deployed a joint monitoring team to ensure that the military or civilian volunteer organizations would not enter the concerned areas until the MILF had made a complete withdrawal.

He added that the joint CCCH would return to the villages Saturday morning to check on the MILF troop movement.

MILF civil-military affairs chief Eid Kabalu also said members of the International Monitoring Team had been deployed to address problems that could aggravate the situation.

On foot or by boat

Sealana said that in the villages of Dualing and Dunguan in Aleosan town, he saw around 100 MILF rebels move by foot or on pump boats toward the neighboring province of Maguindanao.

He said the rebels were informed during negotiations that a resolution had been signed by the joint CCCH and the International Monitoring Team stating that the MILF should “reposition its forces” to their original areas prior to July 27, when five skirmishes occurred in North Cotabato between the rebels and government troops.

“We told them that we should honor the joint resolution, which indicated that the MILF chief of staff had signed a letter directing its forces, except for the local MILF, to pull out and return to where they came from,” Sealana said.

The MILF central committee had also given orders to its troops to “reposition.”

However, Kabalu himself admitted that there had been no “repositioning” of troops as yet.

“This is not easy,” he said. “The CCCH has a proposal submitted to the MILF leadership. We will set up a joint monitoring team. Measures are being drawn up. What we are more concerned with is the aftermath of this. If it’s repositioning for the sake of repositioning, it will only be a cycle.”

In Cotabato City, Ghazali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs, said both sides had agreed that rebel forces would “gradually” move out of the villages.

“It may take some time. We are doing it gradually, and both sides have agreed: No more firing of guns,” Jaafar told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, adding that the MILF had not forcibly occupied the villages.

“We are moving out slowly and we are doing it because we recognize the existence of a ceasefire agreement,” he said.

No force necessary

Maj. Gen. Armando Cunanan, chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said peace had been restored in the occupied areas.

Cunanan said the military did not have to use force in convincing the rebels to withdraw because diplomatic efforts aimed at preserving the peace process had succeeded. He said it had become Esperon’s policy “not to promote the culture of war.”

“There is a ceasefire committee that has to resolve the breakdown of law and order. We will act only upon instruction by higher headquarters,” Cunanan said, but added that the military had not abandoned the civilian population.

Earlier Friday, the opposing camps were in a virtual standoff in North Cotabato as they awaited the results of the CCCH negotiations to convince “recalcitrant” MILF troops to withdraw.

“If they will not leave, the signal will be given for us to go there. But as of now, we are waiting,” said Lt. Col. Diosdado Carreon, commander of the 40th Infantry Battalion, stationed in North Cotabato. He told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo by phone that the CCCH was “still talking” to the MILF troops.

Carreon said his troops were “just waiting for the order to cross the line of departure,” the military term for the invisible line that divides the two opposing camps.

“When the ‘go’ is given, we will move forward. If they are still there, there will be fighting,” Carreon said.

Restraint

In Cagayan de Oro City, AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano ordered government troops to exercise restraint.

Speaking at a command conference with officers of the Fourth Infantry Battallion in Camp Evangelista, Yano also said he had told North Cotabato Vice Governor Emmanuel Piñol that the AFP was “duty-bound to protect the people in all areas.”

Yano told the officers, “We are hoping for the best while expecting the worst. Let us continue our calibrated response to the situation in Mindanao. I commend you for showing exceptional restraint despite the heightened situation and alleged provocation from the other side.”

Director Silverio Alarcio of the Philippine National Police (PNP) also told reporters at the PNP general headquarters Camp Crame in Metro Manila that the PNP was giving way to negotiations for the rebels’ withdrawal.

Alarcio said the MILF leadership had ordered a pullout and that emissaries from its 105th Base Command had been sent to collect the rebels still in the area “to complete the pullout.”

“The deadline has already lapsed, but what is important is they leave the villages,” he said.

On the phone, Sealana said the “on and off fighting for more than a month” in North Cotabato had led to the occupation of the nine villages in the towns of Aleosan, Libungan, Midsayap, Pigkawayan and North Kabuntalan.

The MILF forces are under the 105th Base Command of Commander Umbra Kato, who remained in his camp in Liguasan Marsh, Sealana said.

‘3 Dodongs’

Esperon said among the things needed to resolve the situation was for certain officials to talk peace, not fight. He did not name the officials, but referred to them as the “three Dodongs.”

“There will be no end to this if we try to resolve everything through war,” he said.

Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that he and two like-minded other officials were not fighting but “asserting our constitutional rights.”

Lobregat said the seeming fighting stance presented by North Cotabato Vice Governor Emmanuel Piñol, Iligan City Mayor Lawrence Lluch Cruz and himself would not have happened “if only we were consulted” on the proposed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the government and the MILF “and they listened to the people.”

The proposed memorandum—the signing of which was temporarily stopped by the Supreme Court on the request of North Cotabato officials—lays down the provisions for a Bangsamoro homeland.

(During the peace talks with the Moro National Liberation Front, there were the so-called “Tres Marias”—then Representatives Ma. Clara Lobregat and Daisy Fuentes and Rep. Lualhati Antonino—who opposed the 1996 peace agreement between the government and the MNLF.)

Request for ammo

Esperon said he had no problem with the stance of the “three Dodongs” but added they should confine it to the legal process and not instigate their people to take up arms.

He cited his July 14 meeting with a North Cotabato official at which, he said, he was asked for ammunition.

He said the request was made even before North Cotabato executives had started questioning the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, or MOA-AD.

“They were asking for additional ammunition. ‘Why?’ we asked. I told them that we have to leave it to the security forces to defend the people and the state,” Esperon said.

He said that was the time when he learned about the three officials’ plan to contest the MOA-AD before the Supreme Court.

It was also during that time, he said, that he told Piñol it would be better for them to be prepared for the consequence of their action because “it is no longer 2000, when we were poised to attack for you.”

In 2000, then-president Joseph Estrada administration waged an “all-out war” against the MILF.

Lobregat said, however, that the meeting with Piñol and Cruz was aimed at consolidating the position of those opposing the MOA-AD. “I invited them for the reason that we want to come up with a concerted effort, a unified move, and to avoid duplication in our legal case,” he said.

Lobregat said the meeting was attended by Senator Manuel Roxas II, and other senators—including Juan Ponce Enrile, Rodolfo Biazon and Francis Escudero—indicated support for their cause. Julie Alipala, Charlie Senase, Jeoffrey Maitem, Germelina Lacorte, Jeffrey Tupas, Richel Umel, Aguiles Z. Zonio, Orlando Dinoy, Ma. Cecilia Rodriguez and Edwin O. Fernandez, Inquirer Mindanao; Alcuin Papa in Manila

Eraserheads Concert: Who’s Wagging the Dog?

August 9, 2008

Dave Gomez, the public affairs and communications manager of Philip Morris, was quoted in this report as saying that the Eraserheads reunion concert will push through. He revealed that Philip Morris is not sponsoring the event — in fact, he said, the tobacco company is organizing it.

“We’re not sponsoring the event. We organized it ourselves,” Gomez was quoted as saying. “The event is free for our valued customers. This is a little something we do for them to show them our appreciation for their continued patronage of our products.”

Gomez emphasized this because of a legal point that would seem to clear Philip Morris of accusations that it violated Republic Act 9211 (the Tobacco Regulation Act). Apparently, under this law, tobacco companies can organize events but they cannot sponsor it. Go figure.

(A bit of an aside: Gomez said he was surprised why anti-tobacco advocates are complaining against a tobacco-backed concert when, according to him, they had done this sort of thing in the past with other bands. Newsflash: The ban on sponsorship took effect only last July 1.)

We grant for a moment that the company’s ass is covered, legally speaking. And, moreover, it’s probably not its fault if this law seemed defective (although big companies are notorious for lobbying legislators to either kill a proposed law or water it down — just look at what they’re doing lobbying hard against a law that would mandate picture-based warnings on cigarette packs).

But where does corporate responsibility come in for Philip Morris?

Surely, they must know that the intent of the law is to protect the public, particularly teenagers, from smoking and that governments around the world have passed legislation banning or restricting the advertising and promotion of tobacco. Yet, here comes Philip Morris and it finds an apparent loophole in our law and then exploits it — disregarding completely the intent of the law. And for what? To be able to sell their products to teenagers and young adults, a market that tobacco companies have been targeting in order to replenish their ranks of smokers.

Isn’t the profit from existing smokers not enough, so that they had to lure more smokers, younger smokers? Is their any hope that Philip Morris would be decent enough to exercise some amount of responsibility?

Aside from finding loopholes in the law, regardless of its clear intent, Philip Morris, as I’ve pointed out in a previous post, has likewise been exploiting the viral-marketing potentials of the Internet. That can only be expected, of course, from a company that peddles a toxic product. What I find disturbing is Philip Morris’s ability to penetrate the mainstream press, the blogs and the mailing lists and apparently manipulate them. That, or there’s complicity on the part of these sectors in the mainstream press and the Internet, whether they knew it or not, to play the company’s game.

A bit of a background is needed here. News about the Eraserheads reunion concert was first reported publicly by Philippine Star entertainment columnist Ricky Lo. In his column, Lo did not name Philip Morris as the one organizing the event. But the column was enough to heighten the buzz.

Pretty soon, Philmusic, a music site whose owner, Jim Ayson, also moderates the largest Eraserheads mailing list (with more than 5,000 members), reported that it had learned from a source that, indeed, Philip Morris/Marlboro is behind the concert. As far as I could tell, philmusic and Ayson’s mailing list is the ground zero of the buzz. It was also there, again as far as I could tell, where people were directed to a website where one can join the “Red List” in order to get tickets to the concert.

In other words, if I were Philip Morris, philmusic and Ayson’s mailing list would be my logical target for planting information or tips that would generate the buzz. Now I’m not suggesting anything improper or unethical on Ayson’s or philmusic’s part. Anybody, after all, can join or post anything on the mailing list or that, knowing Ayson’s clout in the local music scene, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he has sources knowledgeable about the planned concert. In fact, it’s very likely that, it being an extraordinary piece of news and buzz, philmusic just reported what it learned, not knowing perhaps that it was being manipulated by Philip Morris in what was turning out to be a terrific viral marketing campaign.

My point is that, tobacco companies will do anything to sell their products. The Internet, because of its freewheeling nature and its enormous audience composed of precisely the demographic tobacco companies have been targeting, holds huge potentials for the marketing of tobacco. If anything, the buzz that Philip Morris generated for the Eraserheads reunion concert only validated this. (Carlos H. Conde/pinoypress.net)

More troops sent to ARMM

August 9, 2008

By Jaime Laude And James Mananghaya
Saturday, August 9, 2008

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The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is deploying more troops in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to ensure peaceful and orderly elections on Monday.

AFP chief Gen. Alexander Yano ordered troops from Luzon and the Visayas to move to Mindanao “to give priority to security operations in the ARMM elections.”

AFP Public Information Office (PIO) chief Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres Jr. did not say how many additional soldiers were sent to the ARMM or if soldiers were deputized by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to perform poll duties.

Seventy-eight candidates are vying for 23 positions in the ARMM elections.

Of the number, seven are running for regional governor while five are aspiring for the vice gubernatorial post.

The elections will also put to test the government’s poll automation program.

The troop deployment came in the wake of threats by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to disrupt the elections in ARMM after the group and the government failed to sign the ancestral domain agreement.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner said they would field about 600 troops from the 68th Infantry Battalion based in Quezon and the 46th IB in Samar.

The AFP has also activated special Task Force Halalan 2008, under AFP vice chief Lt. Gen. Cardozo Luna, to oversee the military’s security operations in ARMM.

But some quarters in the military criticized the deployment of more troops in ARMM, saying that there are already enough forces capable of thwarting attempts to disrupt the Aug. 11 polls.

They also expressed fear that soldiers could again directly interfere in the conduct of the elections in the guise of providing security for political warlords “known for their influence over the military.”

“What happened to the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Department of National Defense (DND) and the (Comelec) limiting the role of the military in the conduct of every poll exercise?” a military insider asked.

Yano earlier announced that the MOA forged by then Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz Jr. with the Comelec was aimed at isolating the military from engaging in political partisan activities.

It limits the role of the military to providing area security, setting up checkpoints and chokepoints to enforce the Comelec gun ban during and after elections, and barring soldiers from polling places.

The agreement also prohibits the use of military assets in transporting election paraphernalia before and after elections.

Despite this, several military helicopters were seen ferrying materials for Monday’s elections.

Yano said the AFP, the Comelec, and the Philippine National Police (PNP) will secure voting centers and machines as well as the 1.6 million voters who will troop to polling centers.

Disrupting polls serious offense in Islam

In Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, peace advocates urged the MILF not to embark on anything that can disrupt elections in the ARMM.

The MILF had earlier asked for the postponement of elections, apprehensive that the three-year tenure of elected officials would affect its projected timeframe for the implementation of a final peace with the government.

Members of the ARMM’s Madaris Education Bureau, some of them theologians trained in Cairo, Egypt; Tripoli, Libya; Fez, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia, said disrupting the electoral exercises, whether by Muslims or non-Muslims, is a serious offense in Islam.

“We’re optimistic that neither the MILF nor the Moro National Liberation Front will do anything to disrupt the ARMM polls,” said Ustadz Farid Solaiman Adas.

Protestant and Catholic preachers in Central Mindanao have also asked the MILF to restrain its forces on Monday from moving out of their enclaves with their guns.

The Supreme Court restrained last Monday government’s chief negotiator Rodolfo Garcia from signing the MOA-AD, aborting its supposed finalization by the GRP and MILF this month in Putrajaya, Malaysia.

“It would be disadvantageous for the MILF to do anything that can affect the supposed peaceful conduct of the ARMM elections on Aug. 11,” a Tausug school official said.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu said their forces on the ground have religiously been adhering to the ceasefire and that they would not embark on maneuvers that could derail the polls.

Comelec sees peaceful polls

Despite pockets of hostility in Mindanao, the Comelec remains confident that Monday’s election in ARMM will be peaceful and successful.

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said the poll body sees no reason that could prevent the peaceful conduct of the first ever automated elections in the country.

“Generally, the situation in ARMM is back to normal so except for minor violent incidents that may occur, we do not see any problem during the ARMM elections,” Melo said.

But he admitted that the Comelec was apprehensive that the hostilities in North Cotabato might spill over to neighboring provinces during canvassing of votes.

He, however, noted that the current situation showed that only a limited number of towns in North Cotabato may be affected by the ongoing fighting between the government and the MILF.

Melo said the Comelec now expects at least 50 percent of registered voters in ARMM to participate in the elections.

“Even low turnout of voters cannot result in failure of elections. Winners can still be declared even if only few people voted,” Melo stressed.

“What concerns us is not the low turnout, but the fact that if only few people voted, we will not be able to fully test the system of automated elections,” he added.

More than the armed conflict, Melo said the Comelec is concerned with the difficulty in transporting the machines and ballot boxes to the region’s far-flung areas.

The Comelec chief said the cost of transporting the automated machines and ballot boxes accounted for the larger bulk of the ARMM poll expenses.

Melo, however, assured that as of yesterday, most of the automated machines are already placed and sealed in counting centers.

Comelec Commissioner Lucinito Tagle said the situation in Sulu is normal but there may be some delay in the transport of machines in some areas, considering that it’s an island province and difficult to reach.

The Comelec said polling centers and counting centers in Sheriff Kabunsuan have been fully secured.

“Everything and everyone seems to be cooperating for the successful conduct of the ARMM polls, so we are urging the voters there to go out, look and try to use the new voting and counting machines,” Melo said.

Sulu recorded the highest number of candidates for regional assembly with 23 aspirants for the province’s two districts, followed by Lanao del Sur with 18, and Basilan with 14.

Tawi-Tawi and Shariff Kabunsuan have eight candidates each for the regional assembly.

“We expect many voters to come out and participate in the election because most of the candidates are their relatives,” Melo said.

He added that curiosity over the new voting and counting machines would also encourage a majority of the registered voters in ARMM to participate in the elections.

The Comelec chief said winners in the ARMM polls are expected to be known within 48 hours.

‘ARMM to start modern voting’

Sen. Richard Gordon called on the people of ARMM to exercise their right of suffrage and support the automation of the upcoming elections on Monday.

Gordon, author of the Automated Elections Law, said the Muslims should be the ones to show how modern voting could happen, stressing the threat of conflict in Mindanao should not derail the elections.

Senators do not see anymore reason to postpone the ARMM polls to give way to the peace talks between the government and the MILF as the signing of the agreement on ancestral domain had been bungled due to various oppositions and a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court.

“This is our golden opportunity to restore our people’s trust and confidence in our electoral process. Our holding of automated elections in ARMM will more quickly build a foundation for peace and cut deeper inroads for development, which is a core issue of conflict in the southern Philippines,” Gordon said.

“With fast, fair, and accurate elections, we can be more certain of political stability in the ARMM,” Gordon added as news reports indicated that the MILF had withdrawn its fighters from nine villages it allegedly occupied in North Cotabato.

Gordon noted that in other countries, elections push through despite ongoing peace negotiations. He cited that even in war-torn Iraq, Iraqis were able to conduct peaceful and successful elections.

“Holding the automated elections will fulfill the dreams of our countrymen of a true democracy where they would be able to choose the right elective officials and where elections will be fair, honest and clean. This continues on to the 2010 elections and we will have better elections,” he said.

Areas of concern

Deputy Director General Emmanuel Carta, PNP deputy chief for operations, said they have started coordinating with officials of the local government units and other organizations in ARMM to help them guard the election proceedings.

Carta said they have deployed two uniformed policemen in each of the 1,919 polling precincts in two cities and 113 municipalities in ARMM.

Records showed Tawi-Tawi has one barangay considered an election area of immediate concern (EAIC), while 32 barangays considered as election areas of concern (EAC).

In Basilan, there are seven EAIC and 60 EAC; Sulu, three EAIC and 177 EAC; Maguindanao, 10 EAIC-271 EAC; Lanao del Sur, 18-145; and Sheriff Kabunsuan 10-202.

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. said they are hoping for orderly and peaceful elections on Aug. 11, where sufficient forces have been deployed.

PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Nicanor Bartolome said government authorities are continuously discussing security operations for the elections.

‘Group sabotaging ARMM polls’

The United Opposition (UNO) said a certain group is sabotaging the elections in ARMM.

UNO spokesman Adel Tamano, however, would not name the group.

Tamano personally met with his province mates in the ARMM yesterday to explain the opposition’s stand on the aborted MOA on ancestral domain between the government and the MILF.

“Elections are the lifeblood of democracy and so we ask everyone to pray for peaceful elections in ARMM on Monday,” Tamano said.

He said “every Filipino must work to ensure that the ARMM elections will be safe and clean.”

“We should resist all attempts to sabotage the holding of free and honest elections,” he said.

Tamano cited that Malacañang earlier expressed its intention to suspend the ARMM elections, explaining that it would hinder the negotiations with the MILF in creating a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (JBE).

He said that the creation of the BJE is a backdoor effort by the Palace to open the possibility of amending the Constitution.

Earlier, the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) stopping the government and the MILF from signing the MOA on ancestral domain.

The High Court granted the petition filed by the officials of North Cotabato, led by Gov. Jesus Sacdalan, Vice Gov. Emmanuel Piñol, and Zamboanga City, questioning the legality of the MOA between the government and MILF, which, they claimed, would lead to the expansion of the coverage of ARMM.

The report saying that North Cotabato would be included in the expanded ARMM came as a shock or surprise to the people of the province.

It has caused alarm and concern to the people allegedly because of the vast powers and authority granted to the JBE, which, petitioners said, “is almost tantamount to ARMM becoming an independent state.” With Mayen Jaymalin, John Unson, Aurea Calica, Jose Rodel Clapano(PStar)

More lawmakers back family planning bill

August 9, 2008

By Jess Diaz
Saturday, August 9, 2008

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More members of the House of Representatives have endorsed the Reproductive Health Bill despite opposition expressed by the Catholic Church and El Shaddai to its enactment.

The bill aims to offer couples and women the choice to use natural or artificial family planning methods.

“The public debates on family planning and population have in fact encouraged more members of the House to make a stand by co-sponsoring the measure,” Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the bill’s principal authors, said yesterday.

“The bill has now a total of 67 authors, with 10 of the latest signatories signing up since the start of the second regular session of Congress two weeks ago,” he said.

This means that more lawmakers are defying the position taken by the “conservative Catholic hierarchy” on family planning, he added.

Lagman said the measure has also been endorsed by the House committee on appropriations, which he heads.

“This is significant because the bill has now been approved by no less than three standing committees of the House – committees on health, population and family relations, and appropriations. The bill will now be transmitted to the committee on rules so it can be calendared for plenary debates,” he said.

He pointed out that “with the steadily growing number of reproductive health advocates among House members, the measure will be finally passed by the House, nine years after the first similar bill was filed in the 11th Congress.”

Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte Jr., a former speaker and three-term congressman, has endorsed the proposed law on family planning.

The insistence of the bill’s authors to push for the enactment of the Reproductive Health Bill has triggered a word war between them and Catholic bishops.

Speaker Prospero Nograles has announced plans to call his colleagues to a caucus to get a consensus on whether to freeze or approve the measure.

While Lagman claims there were recent additions to the list of endorsers, there were also those who withdrew their support for it. Among them is Mark Mendoza of Batangas.

Three other House members – Rene Velarde, William Tieng and Ma. Carissa Coscolluela – have announced they would oppose it after Velarde’s father, Bro. Mike Velarde of El Shaddai, expressed opposition to artificial family planning methods.

The three are representatives of party-list group Buhay, which is closely associated with El Shaddai.

In her State of the Nation Address last July 28, President Arroyo said she prefers natural family planning.

Lagman said while the President’s choice deserves respect, “it should in no way deter reproductive health advocates in Congress from pursuing the enactment of a comprehensive, rights-based and national policy on reproductive health and family planning.”

He said freedom of choice “will be enhanced and truly promoted by providing women and couples information and access to the full range of family planning options, from the natural to modern methods.”

“Providing only one method to the detriment of all the rest dilutes the freedom of informed choice. Widening women’s and couples’ choices will help them decide more intelligently on what method to use to plan and space their children,” he stressed.

He cited studies showing that 36 percent of Filipinos prefer modern birth control methods, while only 15 percent favor natural family planning.

Lagman earlier blamed the government’s failure to pursue a clear population management policy for the country’s burgeoning population, which he said is hindering economic growth. (PStar)

Fireworks explode at CA probe

August 9, 2008

By Mike Frialde
Saturday, August 9, 2008

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Fireworks erupted at the first hearing yesterday on allegations of impropriety committed by some appellate court justices in their handling of a case involving the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco).

Court of Appeals Justice Jose Sabio openly expressed dismay at being questioned by Associate Justice Vicente Roxas on his reported insistence to remain with the CA’s Special 9th Division even after a reorganization last July 4.

Yesterday’s hearing was presided by a panel of retired Supreme Court justices: Carolina Griño-Aquino as chairman and members Romeo Callejo and Flerida Ruth Romero.

The panel was also tasked to look into allegations that Meralco, through an emissary, had tried to bribe Sabio with P10 million to make him inhibit from a case involving the power firm and the Government Service Insurance System.

“Can you explain to me why Justice Roxas has to move to the 8th Division but Justice Sabio can stay at the 9th Division?” Roxas asked Sabio. The latter refused to answer claiming the question was “repetitive.” Justice Aquino stopped Roxas from pressing the question saying it was “argumentative.”

Sabio earlier alleged that businessman Francis Roa de Borja acted as Meralco’s “emissary” in the bribery attempt. Also at yesterday’s hearing were CA Presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez, Myrna Dimaranan Vidal (6th Division), Martin Villarama (chairman, 3rd Division) and Edgardo Cruz, chairman of the 7th Division and head of CA’s Internal Rules Committee.

It was only Roxas, among the justices present, who questioned Sabio at length about the contents of his affidavit.

The investigating panel had also ordered the justices involved as well as De Borja to submit their respective affidavits.

After Sabio, it was Vidal’s turn to take the witness’ stand.

During questioning by the panel, Vidal admitted that she signed the 58-page “draft” decision of Roxas on the Meralco board election row without reading the memoranda submitted by Meralco, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the GSIS.

In the decision, the CA ruled that SEC had no jurisdiction over the Meralco board election row with GSIS.

Vidal testified that last July 8, Roxas went to her office with copies of the decision kept inside an “expensive looking” traveling bag. Vidal said Roxas handed her three copies of the decision for her signature. Vidal said the decisions already bore Roxas’s signature.

Vidal said she took the decisions home, signed them and gave them to Roxas the following day.

Asked by the panel why she signed the decision without the memoranda of the parties in the rollo or case records, Vidal said she was already familiar with the facts of the case.

Vidal got a rebuke when she admitted that she signed the decision because Roxas told her that a TRO earlier issued by the Special 9th Division would soon expire. Vidal got a dressing down from Callejo for her admission.

“You signed (the decision) without consulting the rollo and other memoranda? You are a justice of the Court of Appeals. You have your own mind. You are not a robot. You say you do not need the memoranda?” Callejo lashed out at Vidal.

Callejo also asked Vidal why she did not question Roxas for recommending that the SC take disciplinary action against the lawyers of the GSIS when the issue was not even raised by the parties in their pleadings.

“In that decision, he (Roxas) reprimanded the GSIS lawyers but it was not raised by the parties in their pleadings,” Callejo said. “Why penalize them?” he asked.

“It is for Justice Roxas to answer,” said Vidal.

“But you are a justice, for goodness’ sake. None of the parties raised the issue that GSIS lawyers be penalized. It jeopardizes the right of the lawyers to due process,” Callejo shot back. Vidal apologized.

“I hope that you have learned from this experience. Act on your own without relying on the assurances of a colleague,” Callejo told Vidal.

“We must assure the people that we can rule judiciously. It is tragic that these things happened at the Court of Appeals, the second highest court of the land,” Callejo said.

The hearings will resume on Monday and will continue until Aug. 21.

CA justices told to quit

Two crime-watch groups asked yesterday Vasquez and other CA justices to resign in the wake of allegations of corruption and impropriety.

The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and the Citizen’s Crime Watch (CCW) raised the demand in a letter, a copy of which was hand carried to the CA.

VACC founding chairman Dante Jimenez said that Vasquez should resign because of command responsibility. They also expressed their support for Sabio.

“There will be no end to these bickering and charges and counter charges of bribery of CA Justices if your Honor do not make the supreme sacrifice of leading by example for the other CA Justices by resigning as CA (Presiding) Justice,” Jose Malvar Villegas, Jr. CCW founding chairman-president, said.

“This could lead to a top to bottom reorganization of the CA and give the appointing power the opportunity to reappoint the justices who are not tainted with corruption,” he said.

Villegas reminded Vasquez that his father, the late Justice Conrado Vasquez Sr. was a man of honor, integrity, and dedication.

He said it would be best for the justices to quit because Sabio’s exposé could unearth other irregularities and further diminish the credibility of the CA.

If the CA loses its credibility, CCW said the public might resort to vigilante justice.

Jimenez said his group wants an executive session with the members of the panel hearing the CA case.

In the executive session, Jimenez said they would name members of the CA, SC and trial court judges who habitually receive bribe money or are engaged in selling temporary restraining orders.

He also urged those who have witnessed or experienced corruption from corrupt members of the judiciary to come out in the open. With Evelyn Macairan(PStar)

Ceremony opens Beijing Olympics

August 8, 2008

By Joe Havely in Beijing


China is hoping the Olympics will showcase three decades of progress [GALLO/GETTY]

After seven years of preparation, billions of dollars of investment, and a mammoth effort to clean up Beijing’s polluted skies, Chinese Olympics officials say they are staging one of the greatest Olympics ever.

The 29th summer games began at 8:08pm Beijing time on Friday – an auspicious time and date in Chinese culture which regards the number eight as lucky.

Details of the opening ceremony had been kept a closely guarded secret, but producers had promised a show that will “amaze the world”.

IN DEPTH

Coverage from the 29th summer Olympics

“We have prepared for the Beijing Olympics for seven years and now we are ready … we are very confident indeed that we will stage a successful Olympics,” Sun Weide, spokesman for the organising committee, told reporters.

“Of course we hope that these will be a great games, even the greatest.”

The day also saw thousands of Chinese couples getting married on one of the most auspicious dates in several years – 08/08/08.

“This day is very meaningful for us because finally the Olympics are here,” groom Peng Zhonghua, 23, told Al Jazeera as he signed his wedding vows with his smiling bride at a central Beijing marriage bureau.

The couple said that like many Chinese they planned to spend the evening at home with their families watching the opening ceremony.

Authorities have urged Beijingers without one of the 91,000 tickets to the opening ceremony to watch it at home, rather than try to travel to the Olympic green in the north of the city.

In an effort to avoid congestion, officials announced earlier this week that Friday would be a public holiday.

Repression

More than 100 world leaders and senior government representatives, including George Bush, the US president, will be in the Bird’s Nest National Stadium on Friday evening to watch opening ceremony.

Security is very tight in Beijing and other Olympic co-host cities [GALLO/GETTY]

Others attending include Russia’s Vladimir Putin and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who dismissed calls from  human rights groups to boycott the Beijing games.

On Thursday Bush, the first US president to attend an Olympics on foreign soil, delivered a blunt rebuke to China over its repression of dissidents and urged Beijing to grant its citizens greater freedom.

Bush has promised to raise the issue of human rights in meetings with China’s leaders, but he is likely to tread a delicate diplomatic line, aware that China’s leaders see the Olympics as their big moment.

More than 40 athletes due to compete in Beijing have signed a letter to Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, expressing their concern over the country’s human rights record and small groups of protesters have also been making their presence felt in Beijing in the run up to the games.

Reforms

For China’s government the hosting of the Olympics marks the opportunity to put the achievements of three decades of economic reforms in the global spotlight.It has spent $43bn preparing for the Olympics and deployed a massive security operation to ensure the games present a flawless impression to the world.

Also in the crowd for Friday’s ceremony will be dozens of CEOs from global business giants such as General Motors, Microsoft, McDonald’s and Volkswagen – a reflection of the huge economic weight China carries in the world.

Despite the massive investment, worries over pollution remains one of the biggest question marks hanging over the games.

China has been plagued by criticisms over its human rights record [AFP]

On Friday a thick haze continued to lie over the Chinese capital, although it was unclear whether the low visibility was a result of pollution or from seasonal humidity and still climatic conditions.

Another worry for games organisers came in the form of a new video, apparently released by an armed group based in western China, threatening an attack on the Olympic games.

The video, attributed to a group known as Turkistan Islamic party, shows graphics of an explosion over a venue and a burning Olympics logo.

More than 100,000 security personnel are guarding Beijing and other Olympic co-host cities, anti-aircraft missiles have been put up near the National Stadium while military and police are on alert in other parts of the country.

In central Beijing the historic Tiananmen Square was closed off for much of the day as world leaders gathered for a Chinese government reception in the neighbouring Great Hall of the People.

The square was largely empty except for hundreds of paramilitary police, while dozens of plain-cothed security officers mingled with the crowds on nearby streets.

Authorities are expected to put on a spectacular fireworks display later on Friday, immediately after the Bird’s Nest opening ceremony.

The stifling security measures introduced for the games have led a few critics to dub the event the Beijing Olympics the “no-fun games”.

But Chinese officials say their top priority is to provide a safe and secure Olympics – and with the eyes of the world on Beijing, they are eager to put on a picture-perfect show.

(Al Jazeera English)

Separation of two warring forces in Aleosan starts today (Full Text of the Joint Resolution on the “Separation” included)

August 8, 2008

August 8, 2008
Rasid T. Ladiasan, Correspondent

The Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) of the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) together with the Malaysia-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) will give way today for the repositioning of the warring forces in Aleosan, Cotabato Province .

In a special meeting last night, the GRP – MILF CCCH and IMT flesh out the facilitation for the withdrawal of forces belonging to the MILF and Civilian Volunteers Organization (CVOs) / CAFGU and military. This morning the Joint CCCH and IMT will go to Aleosan tojumpstart the repositioning of troops.


The non local residents who got entangled with the three-weeks long sporadic firefight between the MILF forces and government forces in the embattled barangays of Pagangan, Bago Libas, Dualing, and Dungguan in Aleosan and in barangays Baliki, Upper and Lower Labas in Midsayap shall be moved out from the area back to their places of origin.


The repositioning of warring troops, particularly those who not from of the area, is part of the Joint Resolution of the GRP – MILF CCCH and IMT forged last August 1, 2008.


The full text of the joint resolution is as follows:


JOINT RESOLUTION


WHEREAS, the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities (AGCH) in Cagayan de Oro City on July 18, 1997 with the primary intent of providing a conducive environment for the GRP – MILF peace process aimed ultimately at forging a negotiated political settlement of the conflict in Mindanao and the Bangsamoro problem.


WHEREAS, there has been an intermittent armed clashes and hostilities in some barangays in Aleosan, Cotabato between the armed local Civilian Volunteers Organizations (CVOs) and forces of the MILF which started on July 14, 2008 , which can potentially affect the bordering barangays at the adjacent municipality of Midsayap , Cotabato.


WHEREAS, the prevailing situation had rendered adverse effects and repercussions to the civilians, good relationships, and the GRP-MILF peace process.


WHEREAS, there is an immediate need to stop the aforementioned armed clashes and hostilities between the two contending forces in order to sustain the truce, preclude unnecessary loss of lives, destruction of  properties, displacements of civilians, effect restoration of normalcy in the area, and above all, uphold the primacy of the peace process.


THEREFORE BOTH PARTIES, resolve as it is hereby resolved:

A. That both the warring forces must immediately cease and desist from firing each other and strictly adhere to the Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities signed in Cagayan de Oro City on July 18, 1997, particularly and especially on the movements and activities of respective forces.


B. That a JOINT MONITORING and ASSISTANCE TEAM (JMAT) composed of representatives from GRP CCCH, MILF CCCH, IMT and Bantay Ceasefire be established immediately in a strategic area, mutually agreed upon, in Aleosan to maintain and monitor the ongoing Ceasefire Agreement; and that to strengthen the existing JMAT-Rangeban in Midsayap in order to prevent spillover of the conflict.


C. That the repositioning of warring forces be facilitated in order to preclude repetition of armed clashes and hostile acts that undermine the Ceasefire Agreement and the peace process.


D. That a Fact-Finding Committee to be composed of the International Monitoring Team (IMT), GRP CCCH, MILF CCCH and Bantay Ceasefire be created in order to verify the proximate cause of the armed clashes and come up with a viable solution / recommendations leading to the normalization of the situation.


E. That the return of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) must be facilitated through concerted efforts of duly constituted and concerned entities.


F. That relief and rehabilitation programs must be given priority for the affected areas / communities / families / individuals.


G. That peace advocacy, dialogue and reconciliatory programs must be undertaken particularly in the municipalities of Aleosan and Midsayap, both of Cotabato Province.


H. That advocacy and engagements, as far as practicable, with the concerned local government units must be initiated to ensure their support for the implementation of this resolution.


Meanwhile, the GRP – MILF CCCH and IMT appealed for the full cooperation of all concerned agencies and stakeholder in order to ensure the success of the resolution.They also expressed confidence that the 24-hour ultimatum given by the government for the withdrawal of the MILF forces from the area, who are non locals, will also give way for the smooth and successful implementation of the resolution.


JMAT, paragraph B of the Joint Resolution, was already installed last week August 2, 2008.

Editorial Cartoon: Media Attack

August 8, 2008

RMN got 1-2 punch from the terrorists.

Another RMN broadcaster shot and killed

August 8, 2008

A broadcast journalist of the Radio Mindanao Network (RMN) in Roxas City, Capiz, who is also an officer of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in the province, was shot and killed yesterday in a broad daylight attack.

The NUJP said the murder of Martin Roxas, 32, anchorman of RMN station dyVR and host of the station’s noontime program, “Targetanay sa Udto,” by two motorcycle-riding gunmen, came three days after RMN broadcaster Dennis Cuesta was seriously hurt in a shooting attack in General Santos City. Cuesta still lies in a comatose state.

Reports from Capiz said Roxas, who is auditor of the NUJP Capiz chapter, had just finished his program and left the radio station in Barangay Punta Tabuc at 1 p.m. riding his motorcycle when the gunmen pursued him.

“The gunmen shot him at a place some one kilometer from the city proper and fled,” said John Heredia, NUJP Capiz chairman.

Roxas died at past 2 p.m. at the Capiz Emmanuel Hospital, where he was taken. He died of a bullet that hit his spinal column, Chief Supt. Isagani Cuevas, Western Visayas police director, said.

Policemen questioned two persons who were intercepted at a checkpoint.

Cuevas said a task force headed by Senior Supt. Josephus Angan, Capiz police director, has been formed to investigate the murder. He also said the investigation will look into the possibility that the killing was work-related, noting that Roxas tackled various sensitive issues.(MB)

One more Hanjin fatal accident

August 8, 2008

Subcontractor’s worker in death fall from rooftop

By JONAS REYES

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — Another Hanjin shipyard worker died in the Redondo Peninsula here when he fell from the roof of a structure.

The latest fatality was the fourth death in the record of Hanjin shipyard subcontractor, Bodahh Inc., since last year.

Initial information gathered at the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) showed that 19-year-old Arvy Mahinay, resident of Pasig City, fell from the roof of a shelter under construction when he tried to go after his falling helmet.

The accident occurred at about 4:10 p.m. last Wednesday at Hanjin’s Dockyard No. 5.

SBMA investigators said the victim was wearing a safety belt hooked to a lifeline while at work on the rooftop. However, when his helmet accidentally dropped, Mahinay reportedly unhooked his lifeline as he tried to retrieve the hard hat.

The victim reportedly slipped and fell on the ground, some 29 meters from the roof.

SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza said SBMA is conducting further investigation of the incident. He announced that SBMA has ordered the suspension of the operation of the subcontractor.

Mahinay’s employer, Bodahh manager Suk Ho Kang, was given 72 hours to show cause why the company’s certificate of registration should not be revoked.

Arreza said that SBMA is also studying the possible permanent cancellation of Bodahh’s accreditation in view of its involvement in a number of accidents at the Redondo project site.

In the past, three other workers of Bodahh were killed in accidents at the shipyard. Two of the fatalities also fell from the rooftop.

The first fatal victim employed by Bodahh fell from the roof of an assembly shop on Feb. 22 last year.

The second victim fell from a nine-meter-high structure on March 11, 2008. The third died in a vehicular accident last June 11.

The accident last Wednesday is the 14th fatal mishap at the Hanjin shipyard here, where some 15,000 workers are employed by the South Korean shipbuilder and its subcontractors.(MB)

Probe of CA case starts

August 8, 2008

By REY G. PANALIGAN

Eight Court of Appeals (CA) justices and a businessman were ordered yesterday to submit their affidavits in the investigation involving the allegations of impropriety and offer of bribe in the case between the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) in connection with the power firm’s stockholders’ meeting last May 27.

Required to submit affidavits were CA Presiding Justice Conrado M. Vasquez Jr. and Associate Justices Jose Sabio Jr., Myrna Dimaranan Vidal, Bienvenido Reyes, Edgardo Cruz, Martin Villarama Jr., Vicente Roxas, and Apolinario Bruselas Jr., and businessman Francis de Borja.

The eight CA justices and De Borja — who were all present during yesterday’s start of investigation — were given until 4 p.m. yesterday to submit their affidavits to the SC clerk of court. They were ordered to furnish copies of their affidavits to those who may be alluded to in their statements, and those alluded to are given the option to submit their counter-affidavits.

Except for De Borja, the eight justices were directed not to engage the services of lawyers since they are lawyers themselves.

Legal observers said that during the hearings, it is expected that a CA justice would be pitted against a fellow appellate court magistrate during cross examinations or rebuttals of their respective affidavits.

The investigating panel composed of retired SC Justices Carolina Grino Aquino, Flerida Ruth Romero, and Romeo Callejo Sr. was given until Aug. 21 to submit its findings and recommendations.

Panel chairwoman Aquino said the submission of affidavits would expedite the proceedings.

The panel said it will hear the testimonies of Sabio, Vidal, and Vazquez starting at 9 a.m. today.

During yesterday’s proceedings that lasted for 30 minutes at the SC’s training center, Aquino requested members of the media “to refrain from recording the proceedings and giving interpretations on testimonies or affidavits presented.”

Aquino said that the proceedings would still be open to members of the media.

Callejo clarified that the affidavits to be submitted to the panel should contain certified true copies of the annexes, if there are any, so as not to belabor the panel later in requiring their submission.

Reacting to Callejo, Vasquez said that it would be hard for them to submit certified true copies, not only because of limited time given to submit affidavits, but also because all the original documents pertaining to the Meralco-GSIS case have been turned over to the SC.(MB)

Attack on broadcaster hit by media groups

August 8, 2008

By BONG REBLANDO

GENERAL SANTOS CITY — Chief Supt. Felizardo M. Serapio Jr., Central Mindanao police chief, formed Task Force “Cuesta” to solve the shooting and wounding of radio commentator Dennis Cuesta, now in critical condition at a hospital.

“I have created Task Force Cuesta to ensure a coordinated effort in the investigation and prioritized the immediate resolution of the attempt on the life broadcast journalist Dennis Cuesta,” Serapio said.

This developed as media groups condemned the shooting of Cuesta, program director of RMN and called for speedy investigation of this latest violence to suppress press freedom in General Santos City.

The call was aired by the PNP 12th Regional Press Corps led by Jeffrey Jubelag and Broadcasters and Group of Writers Integrated Service headed by Rolly Fabregar.

“We are calling on authorities to conduct full probe in the slay attempt of Cuesta and find out the motive for the assault and bring to justice the suspects. We are also asking witnesses who saw the violent incident to help solve the crime against press freedom,” Jubelag said in a statement.

Cuesta, a hard hitting radio journalist was shot at close range by one of three gunmen while he and a buddy, Bobby Flores, were walking on a highway towards Gaisano Mall at 4:30pm Monday.

Al Josol, RMN DXMD Radyo Agong station manager, said Cuesta and Flores alighted from the multicab vehicle they used in promoting that day the “Radyo Milyonaryo” nationwide promo in nearby Glan and Malapatan towns in Sarangani.(MB)

MILF agrees to pull out troops in North Cotabato

August 7, 2008

By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 22:50:00 08/07/2008

MANILA, Philippines—Less than 12 hours before government’s 24-hour ultimatum expires, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has agreed to pull out its troops from nine villages it allegedly occupied in North Cotabato province, a rebel official said Thursday evening.

“Repositioning, this means that troops occupying a certain area will be moved,” MILF Vice Chairman for political affaird Ghadzali Jaafar said in a phone interview.

Asked if the “repositioning” meant a pullout from the villages identified by government security forces, Jaafar said: “I think that is the meaning of that.”

The decision was reached Thursday evening after a meeting of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), a ceasefire implementing body jointly chaired by the government and the MILF in Shariff Kabunsuan province.

Jaafar was evasive when asked if the MILF’s move was in response to the government’s 24-hour ultimatum, which expires at 10 a.m. Friday.

He said the MILF had planned to “reposition” troops there as early as two weeks ago, but “they had a hard time enforcing it because emotions were running high” in the areas.

“I think they decided that now is the right time to enforce their decision, and the decision is repositioning,” he said.

Asked if the rebels’ decision would avert possible fighting when the ultimatum lapses, Jaafar said: “Tingnan natin [Let's see]. We hope.”

Security officials have warned the MILF that they would forcibly remove the rebels from the North Cotabato villages if they refuse to leave voluntarily. Three battalions of police commandos have been sent to the area.

The tension in North Cotabato rose as peace negotiations between the government and the largest Moro rebel group in the country hit a snag after the Supreme Court issued last Monday a temporary restraining order stopping the signing of a memorandum of agreement that would ultimately expand the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to include 712 more villages.

======================

My Take:

I think the MILF has come to its senses.  This move is really a repositioning of their forces, in anticipation to the possible armed confrontation, after the government-initiated deadline’s expiration tomorrow morning.

The war in some parts of Mindanao is about to start tomorrow.  It is inevitable.  Kung di man magsimula bukas, hindi ito nangangahulugan na wala nang digmaang magaganap.

AFP chief: ‘Armed conflict possible if deadline not met’

August 7, 2008

But situation ‘not that heated,’ says Yano

By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 16:19:00 08/07/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The chief of the Armed Forces on Thursday said armed conflict is “possible” if Moro rebels ignore a 24-hour deadline to leave nine villages they have allegedly occupied in North Cotabato, even as he said local officials described the situation in the province as “not that heated and tense.”

General Alexander Yano hastily flew to North Cotabato to assess the situation Thursday morning, following a meeting of the National Security Council the evening before.

Asked if hostilities could break out if the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ignore the deadline to leave the villages by 10 a.m. Friday, Yano said: “That could be possible. But we are still confident that these groups will understand that they are supposed to leave the area, and if they can leave peacefully, much the better.”

Earlier, the MILF denied making incursions into North Cotabato. While the rebels promised to withdraw any forces that have entered the province, they also said this was unlikely to be necessary.

MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar said their forces in North Cotabato have been there before, they are local MILF.”

“It is a delicate situation [that] requires a delicate balance of judgment,” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. told a news conference in Camp Crame.

Asked if troops were positioned in the contested villages ahead of the deadline, Yano said: “We can’t discuss operational details like that. Rest assured [that] this will be spearheaded, as I’ve said, by the Philippine National Police because this is an enforcement of our laws.”

Yano was also evasive when asked when the military would step in, saying, “I’d rather not discuss operational details for the protection of our operating troops.”

“I made clear [to the troops] the mandate of our Armed Forces to defend the civilian communities against any atrocities,” Yano said in a phone interview from the 6th Infantry Division headquarters in Awang town, Shariff Kabunsuan province.

At the same time, Yano clarified, “This operation is not merely against the MILF as an organization, but those individuals or groups that violated our laws.”

The events in North Cotabato unfolded after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MoA) on ancestral domain between the government and the MILF that would expand the Autonomous Region on Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) into the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).

“Yun nga nakapagtataka, wala pa nga yung BJE, eto na umaarte na itong militant na MILF [I wonder why, even before the BJE is set up, here comes the militant MILF acting up],” North Cotabato Governor Jesus Sacdalan said in a phone interview, also from Awang, where he met with Yano.

Sacdalan said three women were killed and two other civilians were wounded, while 82 houses were burned over the last two weeks in the nine remote villages in five towns of his province.

He said contingencies have been put in place in view of the 24-hour deadline.

Yano will be in Mindanao until Friday, when he will visit the 4th Infantry Division headquarters in Cagayan de Oro City, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres Jr. said.

SC unfazed by MILF threat to withdraw from peace talks

August 7, 2008

By Tetch Torres
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 16:06:00 08/07/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court is unfazed by the threat of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to withdraw from peace negotiations from government if the high court does not lift its temporary restraining order (TRO) against the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MoA) on ancestral domain by Friday.

High court spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said the Supreme Court will not reverse itself because of pressure exerted by the rebels.

“We are a government of laws and not of men…The court has to look at the argument of the petitioners and the government before the court issues its ruling on the case,” Marquez said.

He explained there is a need to maintain the “status quo because, if the signing [of the MoA] pushes through, [the] rights [of the parties involved in the dispute] might be violated. To prevent [the] violation of certain rights of the people, the court decided to issue a TRO. Again this is not a decision on the merits [of the case], this is just a TRO to maintain status quo,” he said.

Marquez added that the high court will thoroughly study the arguments raised by both parties before coming up with a decision.

He urged the MILF to respect the position of the Supreme Court, which issued the TRO on Monday, a day before the scheduled signing of the MoA, which would pave the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, envisioned to expand on the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The high court has scheduled an oral argument on Aug. 15.

=========================

My Take:

The SC is right.

Sadly the independence of the Court was used by the government to have an easy exit to the MOA-Drama they’ve created.  And they’re creating another door to exit.  Mindanao war.  And Piñol is one of its actors.  Piñol et al is now making noises down south to create an athmosphere of fear and make a big fuss out of some isolated cases, giving the government its needed alibi to issue the 24-hr deadline to the baffled MILF.

The MILF should see this.  Or start accepting the fact that this government is not sincere on attaining peace in Mindanao. Unfortunately, the feudal-lords in the MILF is too blinded by their “paper victory”.  And too dumb enough to believe what the GRP want them to see.

This is originally a SONA-drama designed to gain more applause to PGMA’s boring speech.  But the opportunists in the military and Malacañan, plus the die-hard US ass-lickers pushed the drama further, hoping to win more: defeat the MILF thru paper or by force, both thru deception.

And to whose expense?  To our innocent kababayans currently residing inside the so-called “Bangsmoro Juridical Entity”.

Editorial Cartoon: MILF-Deal is a Trick

August 7, 2008

Pity the MILF.

Satur, other strange bedfellows in KL

August 7, 2008

By Fe Zamora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:11:00 08/07/2008

MANILA, Philippines—No, it has nothing to do with past reports that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had forged a “tactical alliance” with leftist groups.

“We were invited by both panels,” Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo said, explaining his presence at the scuttled signing on Tuesday in Malaysia of what could allegedly have been a landmark agreement between the MILF and the government.

“I was there basically as a peace advocate and as a friend of the Bangsamoro,” Ocampo said in a telephone interview Wednesday. He said it was also his way of expressing “appreciation to their efforts to advance their principle of self-determination.”

Ocampo was with Mujiv Hataman of Anak Mindanao and other personalities whose presence in Putrajaya, the administrative capital of Malaysia just outside Kuala Lumpur, was deemed a statement by itself.

Ocampo blamed the government for its “lack of sincerity” in seriously pursuing a peace process with the MILF.

He noted, for instance, that as early as 2005, the MILF and government panels already discussed the inclusion of certain areas in Zamboanga City and North Cotabato.

“Even before, the government should have consulted with the LGUs (local government units), the stakeholders. It’s very apparent now that the government failed to do this,” Ocampo said.

Ocampo was a former spokesperson of the National Democratic Front, an umbrella organization for communist groups and the New People’s Army. The NDF has had a problematic peace process with the government.

On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order preserving the status quo requested by local officials in Zamboanga City and North Cotabato who questioned the proposed expansion of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Also in Malaysia upon the invitation of the Philippine peace panel were Sulu Rep. Yusop Jikiri, a former high-ranking official of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF); Lanao del Sur Rep. Pangalian Balindong, chair of the House committee on Muslim affairs; and Anak Mindanao party-list Representative Hataman.

Jikiri said that instead of witnessing a signing ceremony, lawmakers and members of civil society met with Presidential Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. to be apprised of what may be expected following the Supreme Court’s action.

A great embarrassment

“There is a great embarrassment,” Jikiri said, pointing to the presence in Malaysia of officials of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the US and Japanese ambassadors.

“The Supreme Court TRO was premature because while it is an agreement it is still subject to a plebiscite,” Jikiri said. “It is a disappointment.”

Balindong said that while he met with some officials in Kuala Lumpur after the cancellation of the signing ceremonies, he also went to see the sights in Kuala Lumpur, including the Petronas towers.

50-man delegation

In all, some 50 people were in the Philippine delegation, including invited diplomats, politicians and representatives of civil society groups and nongovernmental organizations.

There was Ruben Torres, former labor secretary and executive secretary under the administration of President Fidel Ramos. He helped broker talks with the MILF in 1996.

The ambassadors were led by Kristie Kenney of the United States, Makoto Katsura of Japan, Rod Smith of Australia and Sayed Al Masry of the Islamic Conference. World Bank country director Bert Hoffman also joined the group.

A way of saying thanks

A Filipino diplomat said that representatives of donor countries to development programs in Mindanao were invited as a way of “thanking them for their commitment and perseverance” to the peace process.

Among the accredited observers were Irene Santiago, chair and CEO of Mothers for Peace; Amina Rasul of Philippine Democracy for Islam and Democracy; and Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of Mindanao’s People’s Caucus. With reports from Norman Bordadora and Christine O. Avendaño

MILF given 24 hours to leave areas ‘forcibly’ taken in ARMM

August 7, 2008

By Thea Alberto, Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 10:40:00 08/07/2008

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE) The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has “24 hours” to leave towns it has “forcibly” occupied in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) or face police and military action, authorities warned.

“We are giving individuals 24 hours to vacate otherwise they will forcibly be separated from the area,” said Puno in a press conference in at the national police headquarters in Camp Crame Thursday.

Puno added that the military and police would be “authorized to undertake action” if the deadline would not be met.

Puno said some 800 members of the MILF had reportedly “forcibly” occupied several ARMM towns, including Aliosan in North Cotabato.

“It behooves on the MILF to do something to act on the situation because this is a litmus test on its good faith,” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said, adding, “We cannot wait longer than a reasonable 24-hour period.

Teodoro said Military Chief General Alexander Yano was in Cotabato province to brief commanders on the government’s action.

“We are announcing these operations to stabilize the situation and put back the rightful owners of those lands,” Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said.

Esperon said the government action was “not a declaration of war,” and would unlikely affect the peace process.

“This is not a declaration of war, this is a normal enforcement of the rule of law,” Esperon said.

================

My Take:

I watched the PressConference of DILG, DND, and the PNP, AFP nd Esperon.

The government is clearly toying with the MILF.  Now I understand why they are so confident that nothing bad will happen to the politicians interests in Mindanao despite of the MOA ek-ek with the MILF’s feudal lords.  The government’s real intention is to not sign the MOA, but to create confusion as they put their armed forces into position for the impending war in Mindanao.

The war will be their fair exit to the much criticized MOA with the MILF.

But if cooler heads persuade the hotheads, the MILF is not assured of getting a favorable plebiscite results because of the government’s mastery of polls fraud (dagdag-bawas etc).

Karapatan files raps vs Army, village officials

August 7, 2008

BACOLOD CITY – In what could be a retaliation for Linan-tuyan villagers declaring them “personae non gratae” and keeping them out, human rights group Karapatan and its allied organizations filed criminal and administrative charges against Linantuyan barangay leaders and police and military officials of Guihulngan, Negros Oriental before the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly attacking their persons and rights.

Karapatan-Negros secretary general Fred Cana said charges filed against barangay officials led by chairman Elpedio Villar, Lt. Col. Franco Nemesio Gacal, 11th Infantry Battalion commander; 1Lt. Joseph Buencamino and Chief Insp. Petronilo Gracia, Guihulngan police chief were for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Pubic Officials, Rules of Government Officials and Employees, grave coercion, grave threats and libel. He said the accused must be held accountable for their vicious systematic attacks on the person and right of leaders who participate in the investigative mission in the upland areas of Guihulngan.

He claimed the Army’s harassment, intimidations, vilifications and actions are among the first steps in the established pattern of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearance.

Gacal and Villar said Kara-patan’s move was pure harassment and propaganda. “The principal motive is to intimidate us, to slow down our efforts in exposing their criminal activities,” Gacal said. “If they think we are intimidated, they are wrong.

He said Karapatan is desperate over the criminal charges filed against them by Linantuyan residents – whose officials also barred them from the village – over its alleged role in the kidnapping, serious illegal detention, murder, grave threats and coercion of civilians. - Gilbert Bayoran(Malaya)

Warring CA justices face off before panel today

August 7, 2008

BY EVANGELINE DE VERA

WARRING justices of the Court of Appeals will face off today before a panel of retired Supreme Court justices who will look into an alleged bribery attempt and the propriety of their acts in connection with the adjudication of the Meralco case last July 23.

The panel, chaired by Carolina Grino-Aquino with Flerida Ruth Romero and Romeo Callejo Sr. as members, has summoned CA Presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez Jr. and Associate Justices Jose Sabio Jr., Vicente Roxas, Myrna Dimaranan-Vidal, Apolinario Bruselas Jr., Martin Villarama and Edgardo Cruz.

Also summoned was Cagayan de Oro businessman Francis de Borja, who Sabio claimed offered him P10 million in exchange for his inhibition from the Meralco case.

The SC panel is required to submit its report and recommendations by August 21.

SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said the protagonists will be confronted with the documents gathered by the panel and which were submitted by the CA for investigation.

Marquez said the panel will likely first get the affidavits of the parties and to schedule their appearances “to make sure that they are available at the time they are called by the panel.”

The administrative matter stemmed from the complaint of Sabio that an emissary of a prominent businessman came to him offering the bribe to ensure a favorable ruling for the Meralco. He later claimed the emissary was De Borja, while the prominent businessman was none other than Meralco president and chief executive officer Manolo Lopez.

On the other hand, De Borja executed an affidavit stating that Sabio was offered blandishments by the government such as a promotion to the high court and money if he would rule in favor of the Government Service Insurance System over the counting of the proxy votes during the stockholders’ meeting of the power firm last May 27.

Sabio and Vidal questioned the alleged irregularity over the transfer of the Meralco case from the Special Ninth Division to the Eighth Division.

The Special Ninth Division issued on May 30, 2008 a temporary restraining order enjoining the Securities and Exchange Commission from implementing its orders stopping Meralco from including proxy votes of the Lopez bloc during the stockholders’ meeting.

The TRO was signed by Sabio, who was then the acting chairman of the Special Ninth Division since Reyes, the regular chairman, was on leave.

However, due to the retirement of several justices, the CA underwent a reorganization which resulted in the transfer of Roxas to the Eighth Division along with Reyes.

Bruselas joined Roxas and Reyes in the Eighth Division, which on July 23 issued the controversial ruling which upheld the control of the Lopez group over Meralco.

Vidal was reassigned to the Sixth Division along with Sabio, as chair of that division.

Villarama, on the other hand, was asked to appear after Sabio admitted that he consulted him on whether he should relinquish the chairmanship of the Special Ninth Division in favor of Reyes.

Sabio has been insisting that under the committee on the Internal Rules of the CA the justices who issued the temporary restraining order should be the same justices who should render the decision.

Villarama, according to Sabio, agreed with his position and advised him to remain as acting chair of the Ninth Division.

Sabio, according to Borja, vowed that he would hold on as acting chairman of the division for the case even if he had to elevate the matter to the SC.(Malaya)

Princess capsize blamed on captain’s error

August 7, 2008

BY GERARD NAVAL

A MEMBER of the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) yesterday said an error in judgment on the part of MV Princess of the Stars master Florencio Marimon was the root cause of the sea tragedy last June.

Capt. Demetrio Ferrer, BMI member and spokesman, said Marimon failed to make the correct decision with regards to the capability of the ferry to withstand big waves and strong rains brought about by typhoon “Frank.”

Marimon is among those feared dead.

Of the 800 on board the ill-fated ferry, only 124 casualties and 60 survivors have been accounted for.

“What vessel could sustain that kind of weather condition? Forty feet sea and about 150 wind force. The very root cause: there was an error of judgment as what we have said on the part of the master. That is the primary root cause and the others are supposed to be contributory factors of negligence and complacency,” he said.

Maritime experts Capt. Rodolfo Estampador of the Conference of Maritime Manning Agencies, and Capt. (ret.) Michael Cuanzon shared Ferrer’s view.

“As the captain, we are forced to calculate risk against elements of nature. We don’t rely so much on the Pagasa. It is the right of the master to decline voyage if there is an approaching typhoon,” said Cuanzon, adding that the MV Princess should have sought shelter in Puerto Galera.

The passenger/cargo vessel left the Port of Manila last June 20 under Signal No. 1. By the time Frank changed its course and Pagasa had issued storm signal warnings the following day, MV Princess had run smack into the typhoon.

BMI chairman Rear Adm. Ramon Liwag said they will submit their report to Coast Guard commandant Vice Adm. Wifredo Tamayo tomorrow.

Liwag said they are looking at Monday as when the report will be made public by the Department of Transportation and Communication.

He said the report will not make findings of criminal liability as the probe merely determined the facts. - With Genivi Factao(Malaya)

=======================

My Take:

Now they’re using the classic “Dead Men Tells no Tales” tactic.

Pointing a possible dead man as the culprit and cleaning the shoes of the masters is one act pulled with a possible large amount of money involved.

‘Salceda: You ain’t seen nuttin’ yet’

August 7, 2008

BY ASHZEL HACHERO

ALBAY Gov. Joel Salceda, former economic adviser of President Arroyo, yesterday said the country has not yet seen the worst of inflation, saying it could reach 12.9 percent in October, from July’s 17-year-high of 12.2 percent

“No matter where I look, the inflation rate will continue to rise and might even reach 12.9 percent by October. It will definitely peak by October,” Salceda said in an interview on the sidelines of the launching of the UN Millennium Development Goals-Fund Joint Program on Climate Change at Edsa Shangri-La Hotel Mandaluyong.

Salceda said that the inflation rate could even go as high as 14 percent but for the government’s rice subsidy program for poor families funded by windfall revenues from the expanded value added tax.

The Arroyo government has allocated P32 billion for rice subsidies alone and another P13 billion for rice and other agricultural production.

Last month’s inflation was the highest since December 1991 when it stood at 13.2 percent. Inflation was 2.6 percent a year ago.

The NSO said that the inflation rate for food alone climbed to 18.6 percent in July from 17.4 percent in June.

Higher year-on-year inflation was posted by rice at 50 percent in July from 43.0 percent in June; corn, 40.6 percent from 34.3 percent; cereal preparations, 17.6 percent from 16.6 percent; fruits and vegetables, 13.8 percent from 12.5 percent; and miscellaneous foods, 8.9 percent from 8.3 percent.

Salceda said the country should brace for double-digit inflation until the first quarter of next year when the effects of the government’s efforts to address rising prices will start to be felt.

“We should expect the double-digit rate to last probably until April 2009,” the governor said.

He said that by July next year, he sees the inflation tapering to 5.7 to 6 percent.

He said the country is not alone in Asia facing rising prices.

“To those who criticize the government for this development, I say take a look at Vietnam where the inflation rate at 26.4 percent is more than double what we are facing,” Salceda said.(Malaya)

2 of 3 households eating, spending less, says Pulse Asia

August 7, 2008

BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR

TWO in every three households or about 66 percent of Filipino households are now consuming less food or spending less to cope with rising prices, a Pulse Asia survey from July 1 to 14 showed.

The results of the survey, which covered 1,200 respondents nationwide, show an increase of 22 percentage points over the March 2008 figure of 44 percent.

Reduced food consumption and spending was more pronounced in the Visayas (75 percent), Luzon (70 percent), and Mindanao (61 percent) than in Metro Manila (47 percent).

The Pulse Asia survey results came at the heels of the government’s report that the inflation rate in July reached a 17-year high of 12.2 percent. The June figure was 11.4 percent.

The survey also showed 24 percent are cutting back on their rice consumption or spending, while 55 percent said they are reducing expenditures on other food items.

More Filipinos are also cutting back on their spending for transportation or fuel (32 percent) which is five percentage points higher than in March (19 percent), and on liquefied petroleum gas (31 percent) which is 1 percentage lower than in the first quarter.

Filipinos also spent less for electricity (53 percent in July and 59 percent in March), cellphone loads (22 percent from 28 percent), water (18 percent from 28 percent), education (14 percent from 16 percent) and medicines and other health needs (13 percent from 21 percent).

About 3 percent said their spending on house rentals remained the same.

Eighteen percent said they have started to spend less for recreation like watching movies, eating out, vacations and similar outings.

One percent said they have cut down on other expenditures while 1 percent said they have not changed the way they were spending in the last three quarters.

Asked how the rising prices of commodities affected their families, 26 percent said they reduced their consumption of other products and services apart from food and education, while 23 percent said they cut back on food consumption.

Others said they were forced to find additional sources of income (19 percent), borrow money (11 percent), reduce their savings (10 percent), pawned or sold valuables (3 percent), ask help from relatives (3 percent), stop a child or family member from schooling (1 percent), and transfer their child from a private to public school (0.3 percent).

Three percent, however, said the increasing prices did not affect their household much as their income could handle high inflation.

Due to the high inflation, about 530,000 households or about 3 percent said at least one or more of their family members went without food for at least a whole day in the month preceding the survey, because they had no money to buy food (89 percent), no food could be bought (6 percent), were not feeling well (3 percent) or they were on diet (2 percent).

Presidential management Staff director general Cerge Remonde said Malacañang views the survey results “with very serious concern.”

“That is why the President is hastening the implementation of the national social welfare program so that government can help the poorest of the poor,” he said.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said he was not convinced that the 1,200 respondents could well represent the situation of the 80 million Filipinos.

He said they do not need a survey to know that the rising prices of the commodities, especially fuel, are taking a toll on the people.

He added that the government acknowledged the high 12.2 percent inflation rate and is doing all it can to address it.

Dureza has questioned earlier Pulse Survey results as he said questions were framed in such a way that would elicit negative answers.(Malaya)

‘Fend for yourselves if attacked by MILF’

August 7, 2008

C’bato exec bares threat by Esperon


BY VICTOR REYES

NORTH Cotabato Vice Gov. Emmanuel Piñol has accused Hermogenes Esperon, presidential adviser on the peace process, of threatening to leave the people of his province to fend for themselves in case of an attack by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Piñol made the statements Tuesday night in an interview over ANC’s Strictly Politics program.

Esperon, in a radio interview, denied telling Piñol that the military will not respond if the MILF attacks North Cotabato.

“Unang-una, yung Armed Forces ay tumatalima sa primacy of the peace process. Pino-protektahan ang mga communities diyan. Pa’no mo masasabi na hindi kayo pino-protektahan?” he asked.

Esperon, however, implied that the military will not respond against the MILF in the same way as it did in 2000 during the all-out war waged by the President Joseph Estrada , saying the situation is different now. “Ang ginagawa ng gobyerno ngayon ay isulong ang lasting peace sa Mindanao,” he said.

Piñol, in the interview, said Esperon made the threat before the Supreme Court issued Monday a temporary restraining order on the signing of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain between the government and the MILF.

Piñol said he called Esperon over the phone after they were interviewed by the same television station over the MOA signing, which Piñol had questioned before the Supreme Court.

“I sensed actually that there was anger in his voice so after the program I decided to call him up and I said, `You know, I heard that you are kind of peeved at me because you heard reports I insulted you in public,’” he said.

Piñol said he told Esperon that the next time he is offended, Esperon should verify it first with him “because we are friends.”

Piñol stood as a godfather to one of Esperon’s children, when Esperon was still a brigade commander in North Cotabato from 1999 to 2001.

Piñol said that after making the clarification, he informed Esperon that the tribunal might grant North Cotabato’s petition for a TRO. He said he also asked for Esperon’s understanding on the province’s refusal to be part of the expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which is contained in the MOA.

“I hope you will understand that I’m just representing the interest of my people. I want to protect their rights, gusto naming mabasa yung MOA and we would like to question the provisions of the MOA,” Piñol recalled telling Esperon.

“Pero ang sabi niya sa akin, `Pare, kapag na-TRO kami diyan bahala na kayo sa sarili niyo. We are not going to sacrifice the lives of our soldiers to defend you. Hindi isa-sakripisyo ang buhay ng aming mga sundalo para sa inyo,” Piñol said.

Taken aback, Piñol said he told Esperon, “If that is the government policy, then we will be forced to defend ourselves.”

He said he then composed a text message and spread it.

The text message read: “My beloved people. Tonight I was told by a top government official that if our opposition to be included in the ARMM will result in MILF attacks, the Armed Forces will not be able to help us all out because that’s the policy of this government. Let us be brave and stand firm. God is with us.”

PLEASING THE MILF

Piñol said he told his people to send the message to “our leaders so that they will understand that we should not expect a lot from the Armed Forces because right now, their (government) attitude is they are willing to sacrifice us just to please the MILF.”

Piñol said he had admired Esperon when he played a role in the government’s all-out war against the MILF in 2000.

“To us in the province of Cotabato at the time of the conflict in 1999 up to 2001, he was our hero… We were surprised by the dramatic transformation of Jun Esperon from the warrior that we knew him from the defender of the people of the province of North Cotabato to his new role of being a peacemaker,” he said.

He said Esperon appeared to have taken his new job to the point that “he forgot that what he is saying would already affect the trust level of the people in the province of North Cotabato to government.”

Esperon became a peace adviser in June, a month after retiring as AFP chief.

OPTIONS

Piñol stressed the need for the people of North Cotabato to prepare to defend themselves if they are attacked by the MILF. “What are our options if the Armed Forces will not defend us according to Secretary Esperon? We will be forced to defend ourselves. What else do we do?” he said.

Esperon appealed for a stop in the spread of text messages that he said tend to undermine the peace process. “Huwag ng magkalat ng mga text upang maghanda at lumaban. Di ito nakakatulong sa sitwasyon. Mabuti ng mag-usap tayo bago tayo maglabanan,” he said.

AFP chief Gen. Alexander Yano said there is no policy restraining the soldiers from protecting the people of North Cotabato and those in the other areas.

“We are duty-bound to protect the communities from rebel atrocities and we do not renege on our mandate… We would like to assure that any violation of law regardless of whatever group is perpetrating these violations, your Armed Forces of the Philippines will deal with it,” said Yano.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said: “It’s very irresponsible for a government official to even say that the government will desert us and we have to take up arms to defend ourselves. There could be some drama there.”

Dureza said Piñol continues to agitate his people despite knowing that his force is no match to the MILF.

“I think it’s stretching a little bit too far,” he said.

‘SACK ESPERON’

Sen. Manuel Roxas, former Senate President Franklin Drilon, and the United Opposition (UNO) called for Esperon’s removal.

Roxas said he talked with Piñol Tuesday night and the local executive told him of Esperon’s threat.

Makati Mayor and UNO president Jejomar Binay said Esperon’s statement “was irresponsible and very unprofessional, and betrays a mindset that ignores civilian rule.”

“A person who threatens to withhold military support to a civilian population out of spite has no business being the country’s leading peace advocate,” he said.

EXPLOITATING TENSION

Christian and Muslim lawmakers called on all Mindanao leaders to pacify the region as they warned that tension and misunderstanding arising from the suspended MOA signing could be exploited by extremists to start a conflict.

Speaker Prospero Nograles Jr. and Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Simeon Datumanong said the situation on the ground is not very tense although groups who are outside the ambit of the peace agreement, like the remnants of the Abu Sayyaf, might be tempted to make mischief.

Lanao del Norte Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo said the GRP and the MILF “have gone too far in the peace process” to turn their backs on this path.

Anak Mindanao Rep. Mujiv Hataman said all sectors must be vigilant saying, “It will take only one man out of 20 million Mindanaoans to create mayhem.”

Reps. Maria Isabelle Climaco (Zamboanga City), Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza (North Cotabato) and Darlene Antonino-Custodio (South Cotabato) urged transparency on the intents and provisions of the MOA.

They pointed out that much of the tension and misgivings are borne out of suspicions about how the agreement might affect the lives of the people and the political situation of the region. - With Wendell Vigilia, JP Lopez and Peter Tabingo(Malaya)

It’s a done deal, says MILF exec

August 6, 2008

But Esperon says gov’t can’t disregard judiciary

By Christine Avendaño, Alcuin Papa, Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:35:00 08/06/2008

MANILA, Philippines—It’s a done deal.

That’s the position of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front a day after the Supreme Court stopped the MILF and the Philippine government from signing a memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MoA-AD) in a bid to end four decades of the separatist war in Mindanao.

Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs, told reporters by phone from his base in Mindanao that the MoA became binding when it was initialed by the two sides on July 27 and Tuesday’s aborted ceremony in Malaysia was merely a formality.

“Our official position is that the agreement on ancestral domain has been signed, so it’s a done deal,” Jaafar said.

He dismissed as “purely an internal problem of the government” the Supreme Court’s issuance on Monday of a temporary restraining order (TRO) following objections by officials in North Cotabato and Zamboanga City over their inclusion in a proposed Moro homeland without consultations.

Not bound by order

“We are not bound by that order,” Jaafar said. “It’s an internal process in the government. What was committed by the government cannot be taken back.”

The MILF’s chief peace negotiator, Mohaqher Iqbal, said: “The act of initialing the agreed text of MoA-AD by the parties constitutes a signature of the Philippine government and MILF. Initialing was in fact done with a credible third-party witness, the Malaysian government as facilitator of the talks since 2001.”

He said that the court action was not a setback to the MILF. “We are on the upper hand especially in the battle for moral ascendancy.”

Iqbal said the MILF would “still pursue the peace process to bring an end to the conflict without, however, losing sight of alternative means to achieve freedom and justice.”

Esperon disagrees

Presidential Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. disagreed with the MILF position, telling reporters that affixing initials to the draft accord was meant to preserve the document and to ensure that it would not be altered or changed.

Esperon said this was the reason there was “an elaborate program to make (the MoA) official” with the help of Malaysia. He described as “unnecessary” MILF statements that the Philippines had “discredited” itself.

“It’s simply that we have to observe the democratic process of doing things involving three coequal branches of government,” he said. Esperon said Malacañang cannot disregard the judicial branch.

Nobody is giving up on peace

“Nobody is giving up on peace, we have not given up on peace, we will never give up on peace,” said Esperon, who put off his planned departure Tuesday for 24 hours to meet with the MILF panel in an apparent bid to ease tension.

But Iqbal put a damper on Esperon’s initiative, telling reporters: “We came here to sign the MoA and not to meet, not to argue … It’s as simple as that.” He said that if the Philippines wanted to sit down and talk, it should be communicated to Malaysian facilitators.

The draft MoA expands the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao that would be governed by a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) with broad political and economic powers, which critics said amounted to an establishment of a separate state.

The proposed deal was meant to formally reopen negotiations to end a near 40-year conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people, displaced 2 million and kept the country’s most resource-rich region dirt poor.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Rais Yatim, who held talks with his Philippine counterpart Alberto Romulo, called for peace in Mindanao.

“What should simmer in our minds is for peace and tranquility to exist. There ought not to be violence in any instance,” Rais told reporters in Malaysia’s administrative capital Putrajaya.

‘Purely temporary impasse’

Expressing his disappointment over the halting of the landmark deal, Rais said he hoped that it was a “purely temporary impasse.”

“This is a setback which should be overcome soon,” he said.

Romulo, who was due to witness the signing but instead held talks with Rais, said the pact was “within the constitutional authority and within the legal authority.”

“We stand by that, that is why we are confident our Supreme Court will find this to be resolved,” the Philippine foreign secretary said.

Malaysia, which has hosted peace talks between the two sides, reversed its decision to withdraw troops in Mindanao, where they are monitoring the ceasefire between the Philippine government and the MILF.

Representatives of civil society groups who flew to Malaysia to witness the signing held a news conference to announce they would oppose in the Supreme Court attempts by local Mindanao executives to scuttle the peace accord.

“We allowed our myopia, our recklessness, our xenophobia to take the better of us,” they said in a statement.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza denied claims by local government units (LGUs) in Mindanao that they were not consulted. Protests against the accord have been held in Zamboanga City, Iligan City, and Kidapawan, North Cotabato.

“These LGUs are provoking the people’s anger by saying that the deal was done in haste. They were participants to many of these consultations. Why aren’t they telling the people that there were consultations done?” Dureza said.

‘We might as well separate’

Sen. Edgardo J. Angara Tuesday issued a statement saying that the MoA should undergo rigid screening at three levels at the very least—the Supreme Court, Congress and the plebiscite.

“It’s fortunate that the Supreme Court has already stepped in because they can very well determine the legal boundaries and legality of this agreement, whether we are now giving up our territory in exchange for a peace agreement,” Angara said.

The administration senator said the public will also have to scrutinize each and every word of the agreement.

“Giving our Muslim brothers the right to govern themselves and the right to utilize and exploit their wealth is perfectly legitimate. But I would not allow the emerging entity to be able to conduct diplomacy and foreign relations, to be able to issue their own currency and to allow them to carry arms and raise troops,” Angara stressed.

If these three conditions are safeguarded and preserved for the Republic of the Philippines, then he is willing to concede practically anything to them so they will enjoy the benefit of their freedom, according to Angara.

3 marks of independent state

“Those are the three earmarks of an independent state and it would be incongruous that within our territorial boundaries, another state will be created. There’s no country in the world who can still maintain its self-respect and dignity by allowing that, might as well agree to separate.”

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez in a press briefing dismissed talk of allowing secession.

“It’s not a state within a state that is being recognized here, rather it’s the Muslim nation. It’s the people who will decide, that’s why there is a plebiscite, and before that there must be an enabling law passed by Congress. So before there is an enabling law, there is nothing,” Gonzalez said. With reports from Jerome Aning, Jeffrey Maitem, Edwin Fernandez and Julie Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao, Reuters, Agence France-Presse

Poverty in Mindanao is state-initiated – Gabriela solon

August 6, 2008

“Terrorism in Mindanao is state-initiated, therefore, it follows that poverty in Mindanao is also caused by the Arroyo government.”

This was the statement of Gabriela women’s party representative Luzviminda Ilagan, following President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s claim during the state of the nation address (SONA) that her administration’s failure to alleviate poverty in Mindanao is due to the endless conflict in the Philippines’ second largest island.

“The state-declared ‘war on terror’ supposedly aimed to maintain peace in Mindanao turned out to be a ‘war of terror’ intended to protect the US and Arroyo’s financial and political interests. She deployed members of the military even in conflict-free areas to silence the people who oppose her so-called development projects,” the solon from Davao said.

The massive military operations in the southern part of the Philippines effectively displaced thousands of families, who, for fear for their lives chose to leave their homes and their sources of livelihood behind. Small farmers have complained that in eking a living, they are constantly starting all over again.

Mindanao, the food basket of the Philippines, was reported to have six out of the ten poorest provinces in the country and has the highest incidence of hunger in the nation. The food crisis, which pegged the price of rice at an all-time high of 50 pesos per kilo, increased the number of people who can not meet their daily food needs to 64 percent this year from 62 percent in 2007. The rate of malnutrition among children also rose, especially in ARMM were it reached 35 percent from 31 percent in 1995, as children were forced to skip meals.

But according to Ilagan, the conflict and therefore poverty in Mindanao is not endless. If only the government will pursue negotiations on domain claims and respect the rights of the people living in ancestral lands, there is a chance to resolve the enduring conflict in the area.

“It is the government which quashes any hope of peace in Mindanao. Arroyo’s on-and-off peace talks and anti-terror policy are being used to bail her out of a sagging popularity due to her failure to resolve economic and political crises in the country,” Ilagan said.

The progressive solon also suggested that the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) push through with the elections, as postponement will benefit no one but the Arroyo administration, because it will extend the terms of her political allies in Mindanao.#

For Reference:

Rep. Luz C. Ilagan 0920-9213221

Abby Valenzuela (Public Information Officer) 0915-7639619

Arroyo policies makes life harder for IP women

August 6, 2008

Davao City- Lumad (indigenous) women attending a large gathering of indigenous people (IP) in this city criticized President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo economic policies which they say have done nothing for them in the eight years she has been in office.

Rather than improving their lives, the indigenous women say that Arroyo’s policies have only worsened their situation. This is because her administration’s targets, such as those presented during the latest state of the nation address (SONA), ignore the real needs of the people in favor of investment priorities.

According to the IP women, the flawed development policies impact directly on their communities, and are particularly felt by them.

“She is also a mother, she should know what burdens we already bear for our families. But rather than helping, her policies instead impose additional burdens on us,” Gina Malumpong, a B’laan from South Cotabato, one of the participants of the State of Indigenous Peoples Address held in Toril, this city, said.

According to the IP women participants, development projects such as large-scale mining and plantations have resulted in the massive displacement of lumads from their ancestral homes. For the lumads this has meant increasing incidence of hunger since displacement from their ancestral lands removes them from traditional sources of food.

“Indigenous women can no longer feed their children. As a result we are forced to come down to the lowlands to work as maids so we can at least earn some money to buy food for the family,”says Gina. “If the President truly cared for women and mothers like she said in her speech, she should at least help us feed our families. The 500 pesos subsidy of her government has never reached us.”

Norma Capuyan, a tagabawa-bagobo, say that Arroyo has not done anything for women. “What her government has brought to us is increased vulnerabilities to violence.” Norma said that as a community organizer, she has documented stories of rape and sexual abuse of B’laan women during military operations in Saranggani. “Poverty and militarization are what we get from her so-called development programs.”

“Arroyo should visit our communities so to see what our real situation is. Her SONA is only for Malacanang, it does not reflect the realities we lumad women face,” Malumpong added.

Gina and Norma are part of the 140 indigenous peoples particpants of the 3-day conference which will culminate in an Indigenous Peoples Solidarty March on July 31 at the Freedom Park where the participants will symbolically turn over the SIPA document to party-list representatives and local government officials.

LRC-KsK Davao Office

479-A General Luna St., Davao City

Tel No.: 082 221 3380

Email: dvo@lrcksk.org

Website: http://lrcksk.org/sipa/

Government told to rely less on rice imports

August 6, 2008

DAVAO CITY–It would have been cheaper for government to source rice in the domestic market instead of importing rice abroad if there had been enough supply of rice in the country, according to the leader of the National Food Authority Employees Association (NFAEA).

Roman Sanchez, president of the NFAEA, compared what the government has been paying for the lauded cost of imported rice in the last four years to the prevailing price of rice in the domestic market at the time of importation.

According to the data gathered by NFAEA, the country imported rice at a price of US$241 in 2004. At the foreign exchange rate 56.04 peso to a dollar at that time, the price of rice import easily reached P13, 550 per metric ton, or 21 per cent lower than the P17,300 per metric ton prevailing price of rice in the domestic market.

But the landed cost of rice – which covers other expenses aside from the purchased price – brings the cost of imported rice higher, making it more expensive for the government to source rice abroad than in domestic market.

Sanchez said that in 2004, the landed cost of imported rice reached P20,258 per metric ton, or 17 per cent higher than the prevailing domestic prices.

Landed cost is the total cost of a shipment from the point of origin, including the purchase price, freight, insurance and other costs incurred, up to the port of destination. The fluctuating cost of dollar against the peso also affects the price of imported rice.

Sanchez said that in 2005, the country imported rice at a price of US$285 or P15, 697 per metric ton but the landed cost of this imported rice reached P23, 546 per metric ton, which was 23 percent more expensive than the domestic price of only P19, 490 per metric ton.

In 2006, the landed cost of rice imports was only .08 per cent higher than the prevailing domestic price of P 19, 490 per metric ton while in 2007, the landed cost reached P25,200 per metric ton or 22 percent higher than the prevailing domestic price of P20, 660 per metric ton.

This year, the price of rice imports is even higher. The Philippines imported rice at a price of P 44, 731 per metric ton at a foreign exchange rate 41 peso to a dollar, which was already 33 percent higher than the domestic price of only P30,000 per metric ton.

The landed cost of this rice imports reached P67, 096 per metric ton, or 124 percent higher than the prevailing domestic price.

“This only showed us that importing rice is not cheaper and the world market can’t be trusted,” said Sanchez. He said that despite having the International Rice Research Institute, one of the world’s best agriculture school, it is very unfortunate that the Philippines placed now as the world’s top importer of rice.

Sanchez said that the government’s heavy reliance on cheap imports instead of building the country’s capacity for increased rice production threatens the country’s food security.

Now that rice exporting countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Pakistan, US and China restricted their rice exports to secure food for their country, the Philippines face difficulties because of its dependence on rice imports, Sanchez explained.

He said that aside from the high landed cost of rice, there is also a 50 percent rice import tariff on government security stocks which NFA also has to pay. NFA also has to pay interest payment on commercial loans for rice imports as well as other expenses like transport, handling, stevedoring and arrastre services, warehousing, pest management, among other things.

“Because of the rice imports, NFA incurred many losses,” Sanchez said.

He said that NFA paid a total of 20.97 million pesos for rice import tariffs from 2002 up to 2006. Sanchez also said that the money used to pay for these tariffs came from commercial loans, with interests.

But he said NFA cannot do away with importing rice because of the rice production shortfall in the country, which should have been addressed by the Department of Agriculture, according to Sanchez.

“Because of insufficient rice production, which is supposedly the area of concern of the Department of Agriculture, the NFA is made to import rice as an answer for the production shortfall,” he said. “NFA is made to pay for the tariffs and other related expenses. NFA is blamed for the rice crisis when actually it is not the culprit.”

He also recalled how NFA was blamed for the importation of substandard rice from India in 2002, where the government paid 9.5 billion pesos. But he said it was not the NFA but the Philippine International Trading Corporation or PITC that imported the rice.

Agricultural secretary Arthur C. Yap headed the PITC at that time.

In 2002, the government gave the private sector the authority to import rice to ensure domestic supply.

But NFAEA said the private sector failed to do its job. In 2004, the private sector only imported 14, 724 or 4. 75 percent of the 310,000 metric tons of rice it was allowed to import; in 2005, it imported only 11, 801 metric tons or 5.9 percent of the 200,000 metric tons allowed; and in May this year, only 13.23 percent or 21, 560 metric tons of 163,000 metric tons allowed.

The high market prices and the tariffs are the reasons why the private sector imported less than what they were allowed to import, according to Sanchez.

Research think tank Ibon Philippines pointed out that the government’s reliance on rice imports is not enough to ensure food security. Ibon said people can still go hungry even amidst the deluge of cheap rice in the market if they don’t have jobs or decent wages to buy.

“The Constitution ensure that food security is an integral part of a “just and dynamic social order” and a primary social responsibility of the government,” Sanchez said.

NFAEA said that to have real food security, the government should support the agricultural production instead of just relying on rice imports. Genuine agrarian reform should be carried out, complemented with subsidies on farm inputs and capital and investment in post-harvest facilities like the construction of irrigation systems.

According to Ibon, 1.7 million hectares of the 3.7 hectares potential land for agriculture remains have no irrigation system.

NFAEA also called on the government to withdraw from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade-World Trade Organization because of its unfair economic policies.

“There should also be adequate support to farmers and fisher folks through easy access to credit, marketing assistance, and extension services,” Sanchez said.

He said that in Thailand, a farmer gets 800 dollars subsidy per year while here in the Philippines, a farmer only have 13 dollars.

Sanchez said among the solutions to the rice problem is to strengthen the National Food Authority, intensify food production, impose a ban on the conversion of riceland to other uses and provide farm to market roads and other agricultural infrastructure. These measures, he said, would surely bring rice self-sufficiency and genuine food security in the country. (Grace S. Uddin/davaotoday.com)

Reaction to SONA 2008 and 2009

August 6, 2008

By DAVAO TODAY

The eighth state of the nation address (SONA) of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo elicited different reactions. Progressive groups staged their own version of the SONA, which they believe reflect the “real” condition of the Filipino people. People from the government, church, business and men on the streets also share their views. Some still believe in what the President said but others were not so impressed by her speech. Davao Today gathered their reactions:

“I happened to watch the Sona but it was not worth hearing at all because I didn’t believe in what she was saying. The poor are still hungry, lining up for rice everyday for a limited kilo. The expanded Vat is still there. Her speech had no soul, sad to say. Sona must provide direction on major concerns which depicts the state of the nation of the past year. Not to report on what has been perceived as accomplishments of the government which she does not need to tell us because we know already. No clapping is needed!”

–Sister Marietta Banayo, M.A., president, Assumption School of Davao, Cabaguio Avenue, Davao City

“Nothing really new but rehashed statistics that does not translate into food on the table of Mang Pandoy.”

–Mr. Allan Villanueva, board member/ project coordinator, Akbay Kalusugan, Inc.

“We do not need free education only. We need quality education at the elementary and high school level especially in public schools. Increase the number of class rooms, hire more ‘quality’ education graduate teachers, build schools in every barangay, and accommodate investments that will allow our graduates to work in their field of expertise (other than the call center industry).

According to Amartya Sen, a nation could only attain genuine development if the state develops the capabilities of its citizens. The Philippine government should focus more on improving the basic education system (as well as social protection program as health security) and make it available to everybody.

–Reine Kathryn Taya, professor, Department of Social Sciences University of the Philippines – Mindanao, Mintal, Davao City

“The Arroyo administration has just thrown out the window its austerity program. In proposing a P1.4 trillion budget for next year, it has likewise reneged on its promise to balance the budget. The current economic crisis is the convenient excuse for Malacañang to ask for a 15 percent increase in its budget in 2009. The increase in the budget next year is meant – not to prop up the economy – but to fatten the war chest of the administration in the 2010 elections. Oh, I can hear the trapos (traditional politicians) singing “the good times are here again!” ironically at a time when the number of poor families are rising. The call of the government to tighten our belts and live simply in these times of difficulties is pure hogwash. At the Senate, there is also a disturbing change of tune. Where before Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago was batting for a side agreement on the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Pact (JPEPA), now she is about to lead the second surrender of the Philippines to Japan. Her beef – hard to educate people who are afraid of the unknown. The feisty lady, staunch defender of the Constitution and candidate for the International Court of Justice, is giving up! This is harakiri!

–Peter Laviña, councilor, Davao City first district (as posted in his blog: http://ptlavina.wordpress.com/)

“If Vat was to be removed, lowering fuel prices by four to six pesos…Give oil companies a few weeks, and they will find excuses to increase fuel prices again and again and again until the decrease due to the removal of VAT will eventually be lost. So, there is still no effect.”

–Karlo Bello, councilor, Davao City third district

“Who made the speech? Hahaha”
– Paolo Duterte, president, Association of Barangay Captains

“The President spoke of what is happening. I was surprised about Mindanao being the fruit rather food basket of the nation yet a lot of population here are hungry.” — Susabel Reta, councilor, Davao City second district

“I did not hear her Sona up to the end. But I think that the good programs will not be effective if corruption issues are not handled. If businesses are not happy, we won’t get the foreign investment.” — Angel Puentespina, president, Davao Tourism Association

“I’m happy that the president is focusing on programs that will alleviate poverty and help our countrymen survive the global economic crisis.” –Margarita Montemayor-Nograles, distributor, Havaianas

” If GMA says that VAT stabilized the economy, the people did not feel that. People suffer more because of VAT. VAT is the reason why prices of basic commodities are rising. She says that VAT became source of subsidies but majority of the Filipino people did not benefit from it. According to data, Arroyo collected 86 billion from VAT but only5.7 billion was distributed. Where did the 80 billion pesos go? Vat has only become a source of corruption. –Makpil Camacho, deputy secretary- general, Bayan

” For the workers under the Kilusang Mayo Uno, what GMA is saying that the economy has progressed is not true. Wage only increased by 10-20 peso and most of it is the cost of living allowance. Progress is not felt by the people. If you look at what’s happening, the cost of fare is very high. Lines are very long in NFA outlets. What she said are mere ‘pogi’ points. The economy is in crisis. Survey shows that hunger is prevalent. Workers are deprived of the 125 across- the- board wage increase. Where can you see the progress in the economy? There is no logic with that. Many people are starving.” — Robert Lausa, spokesperson, KMU- Southern Mindanao Region

“What more can we expect from PGMA’s 8th SONA? It’s just another round of state rhetoric, empty promises and lack of political will to address the real state of the Filipino children. Since PGMA assumed power, the gap between children’s vulnerability and the fulfilment of their rights continue to widen. To some extent, there’s growing despair among children who are deprived of their basic rights to survival, development, protection, and participation. Poverty and hunger incidence is at its peak especially here in Mindanao which registers a poverty incidence of 40 percent. Peasant children (Lumad, Moro, Christian) are also being displaced because of intensified militarization in the countryside. If she really meant social programs for the poor in her Sona, what we want is a comprehensive approach and not palliative measures. Filipino children demands food not bombs, education not bullets, free and accessible health services and not militarization, basic social services for the disadvantaged and not exhorbitant taxes.”

— Honey May Idul-Suazo

executive secretary

KABIBA Alliance for Children’s Concerns, Inc,

“Vat is the reason why the people wallow in poverty. Vat should be removed especially the Vat in gasoline because it directly affects the poor. Big oil players are not affected by this. There is no progress as what she claims.” –Gabriel Dumayac, 23, laborer in Matina

” The subsidies she gave are only propaganda to cover up her crimes against the people. She wants Vat because of the kickbacks. It could be true that she distributed lands but only to a few. ” –Richmond Madraso, 22, husband in Buhangin

“GMA’s speech is same old story. I don’t feel any progress. There is no change in the clamor for wage increase. The prices of basic goods and fare are very high. Oil prices are being manipulated because if Shell and Petron are loosing in their business, why is it that plenty of small players in the oil industry are emerging?” –Jhong Abraham, 24, self- employed

” Why is she prioritizing building infrastructures? She should feed the people. She only wants to boast to foreigners that the society is progressing but deep inside many people are hungry.” — Mark Anthony Casquio, 18, mountaineer

“She says that she gave plenty of scholarships and yet public schools are not for free.” –Marc Roca, 17, student

——————

SONA 2009 reactions were posted as comment by our valuable readers.  Read-on and comment.

Improve people’s access to health services to fight leptospirosis, health group says

August 6, 2008

DAVAO CITY – A non government health organization said improved sanitation facilities and better access to health services among the people will reduce the risk of leptospirosis once heavy rains set in again.

Dr. Lynn Redoble, executive director of the Community Based Health Services Incorporated (CBHS), said efficient sewerage and garbage collection system would greatly decrease cases of leptospirosis while better access to health care and sanitation could mean early detection of the disease.

Leptospirosis is defined as a bacterial disease caused by the contact of broken skin with water contaminated with the urine or tissue of infected animals, which may include cattle, pigs, horses, dogs, rodents, and wild animals, according to the United States Center for Disease Control.

The Department of Health (DoH) monitored 21 cases of leptospirosis in the city in the first half of the year, which more than double the 10 recorded cases in the entire year of 2007. Dr. Rogelio Peñera, a DoH medical specialist, confirmed one death caused by leptospirosis although he said that deaths from leptospirosis are very rare.

Patients who are sick of the disease usually die from complications, such as renal failure, he explained.

He also said that health authorities can only count few cases that reach the hospitals. City hospitals are required to report a patient diagnosed with leptospirosis within a week.

Peñera said more than half of the cases of leptospirosis in the region were reported to have come from Davao city. He explained though, that six of the 10 hospitals that DoH monitors are in the city, which might have accounted for the high number of cases here.

Redoble said the poor are most vulnerable to the disease. “Slum areas are frequently flooded because there is no proper garbage collection,” she said. “Sewers are usually clogged and the residents are forced to wade in flood waters.”

”When the poor get sick, they cannot afford to go to the doctor for check up,” she said. She also said the poor will be worse off if the planned privatization of the Davao Medical Center, the region’s largest public hospital, will push through.

Only laboratory tests can accurately tell if a patient has contracted the disease or not. But the poor could not afford more medical procedures, so, oftentimes these are not detected, Redoble said.

Leptospirosis has a wide array of symptoms which make it possible for most people to dismiss it as flu. DoH said the symptoms for leptospirosis and flue are similar–high fever, chills, vomiting, calf pains and muscle aches.

Redoble said children have an increased risk for the disease because they like to play in the mud and murky flood waters.

Advanced symptoms of leptospirosis include jaundice and renal failure, or inability to urinate. Redoble said that at its advanced stage, the disease could easily lead to the collapse of major organs such as kidney liver and lungs and eventually, death. (CJ Kuizon/ davaotoday.com)

Corruption thrives in RP courtesy of gov’t officials

August 6, 2008

MANILA, August 4, 2008—Corruption thrives in Philippine government because many of its officials ignore or even engage in it.

This was the consensus of several Church, civil society and government leaders who participated in a conference on corruption at the Communication Foundation for Asia (CFA), July 26-27.

It was a fallow-up of a similar conference a month earlier convened by the Cebu-based Dilaab Foundation, according to a CFA statement.

CFA is a Catholic media center that is spearheading accountability and transparency in public and private sectors, besides educating people to use media for development.

The “Dear Peace” exhibit showcases the creative output and peace aspirations of young Christian and Muslim students who participated in the Peace Camp conducted by the CFA last May 2006 in Taytay, Rizal.
It was upon Museo ng Maynila’s invitation that CFA agreed to mount the Dear Peace exhibit for the Tertulia event. Tertulia is originally a Spanish word for social gatherings that serve as informal platforms for literary and artistic interaction or for sharing expertise and knowledge.

Even if government officials realize the social degradation resulting from corruption, they are reluctant to confront it. Many of them are being elected due to campaign contributions from jueteng lords, drug lords and other unscrupulous patrons, it was pointed out.

Their staying in power is dependent on bribes from the same sources. The former president Joseph Estrada plunder case was cited as proof that even the highest government position can be tainted when malefactors demand payback for their financial support.

Ordinary citizens partake of this unholy partnership when they sell their votes during elections. Or when they fail to probe deeply to check whether candidates have questionable connections.

Part of the solution to corruption may be the election of candidates whose qualifications include a demonstrated commitment against corruption.

The participants were in concurrence that the 2010 election would be the tipping point. They intend to scan the field and scout for alternative candidates who would be better candidates than the usual “presidentiables” and “senatoriables.”
They also agreed to bring together efforts at voters’ education, which they said was a natural complement of anti-corruption. Especially targeted are young voters, who make up the majority of both the electorate and the national population. (Santosh Digal)(CBCPNews)

Carmelite priest decries gov’t failure to address hunger

August 6, 2008

MANILA, August 4, 2008─The many proofs of good governance and good economy that peppered President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s State of the Nation address last July 28 are far from the truth according to the story of a Carmelite priest.

Fr. Jerry Sabado, O. Carm said the government is responsible in taking care of lives, nourishment and other basic needs of the Filipino children and the Filipino people as a whole.

“But penury, hunger and inhuman living conditions—that’s all that this government can give to the Filipino people,” lamented the priest.

Sabado said that days before Arroyo’s SONA, children in Payatas went hungry. And it was the same, days after the “historical” speech of the chief executive inside the Batasang Pambansa.

“In our church in Payatas, a child lined for the Holy Communion. But the problem is, he [was] not older than seven years old. The child cried when I told him, he [was] not allowed to take the Holy Host because he [has not taken yet] his First Communion. He cried and cried, begging me, saying ‘Father, sige na po! Gutum na gutom na po ako. Gusto ko po ng tinapay’,” narrated Sabado, a priest of the Order of Carmelite and a member of Kasimbayan (Kapatirang Simbahan para sa Bayan) and Promotion of Church Peoples Response (PCPR) in statement sent to CBCP News a day after the 8th SONA last July 28.

The priest said he was moved by the scene. Then he continued his story:

“Last Monday, July 21, there was a huge fire in Pandacan. Some of the victims were Aglipayans. Two children died, unable to escape the fiery blaze, while the mother [was] in [a] long line, waiting for her turn to buy some kilos of NFA (National Food Authority) rice. Not so long ago, there [were] siblings that have died also in the fire, here in Payatas, while their parents [were] working—scavenging in the huge piles of garbage.”

“A small bread can bring a lot of joy to that small boy. How many breads, bags of rice and other food items can be bought and distributed to millions of our poor kababayans, by billions of pesos that were stolen and planned to be stolen by this government?,” asked Sabado.

“There is no moral basis for anyone to remain in power, especially those in the highest position, if their positions are being used to make themselves rich, while the people are impoverishing and dying because of hunger,” added Sabado.

“As a church that promotes life, it is righteous for the Church to join the people in condemning, in the strongest terms, the plundering of people’s money and the abuse of power of those who is in authority,” said Sabado.

He declared it is an un-Christian to remain silent in the face of ongoing corruption, and it is not right for Church leaders to explicitly support Arroyo.

“Gloria is riding over the pro-Life position of the Church, it is rightful that the Church be in front, in condemning the policies and programs of a corrupt president, who’s number one in destroying and in depriving life and dignity to the millions of Filipinos,” said the priest.

He added that as ordinary church people, like any ordinary Filipino, they can feel the impoverished state of the country.

“We will not close our eyes on the immorality of this government. We are with you in fighting and in making the Arroyo government accountable, who untiringly looting the country’s chest and economy and continuously suppressing and massacring the people. On that note, hand in hand, let’s call for her resignation,” Sabado said.

High percentage living in poverty

According to the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS), 59 percent of the Filipino families, or 10.9 million people, say they are poor. This was nine (9) points higher than of last year, where the self-rated poverty had only recorded 50 percent.

Meanwhile, Pulse Asia, Inc., said that 66 percent of the Filipino population—or two out of three Filipinos—said that the Philippine economy have worsened, much worse than of 2005.

Still, the International Labor Organization (ILO) says that majority of the Filipinos still live for less than US$2 a day.

What is more saddening, before the SONA, the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said more than 11 million children are malnourished.

Poverty due to corruption

In the 2007 Corruption Perception Index released by Transparency International, the Philippines ranked 131, meaning that people perceive there is rampant corruption happening inside the government.

Earlier, in the height of investigation of the controversial national broadband network (NBN) deal with the Zhong Xing Telecommunication Equipment Company Limited or ZTE, a Chinese company, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a strong Pastoral Statement—Seeking Truth, Restoring Integrity—condemning “the continuing culture of corruption from the top to the bottom of our social and political ladder” and urging the “President and all the branches of government to take the lead in combating corruption wherever it is found.” (Noel Sales Barcelona)(CBCPNews)

Bishops stress transparency on controversial agreement

August 6, 2008

BACOLOD CITY, August 5, 2006─The controversial Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Ancestral Domain between the government and Moro Liberation Front (MILF) the signing of which was deferred by the Supreme Court today drew remarks from some Catholic bishops.

CBCP President and Jaro (Iloilo) Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo said he would recommend to the CBCP Secretariat and its permanent council, composed of eleven bishops and archbishops to study the said agreement before making any statement.

Kalookan Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, Jr. pointed out the failure of government to satisfactorily explain to the people the contents of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

He said he also want to be clarified on the concept of autonomy because to make Mindanao “another country or nation is too controversial.”

Interviewed at Bacolod Port August 4, Bishop Iniguez said “the government should explain every detail of the agreement because it is something that concerns the Filipino people especially with this long-standing problem of relationship with the Muslims.”

“We owe it to the Filipino people to explain the (agreement’s) details,” the prelate further said.

Butuan Bishop Juan De Dios M. Pueblos said “politicians should be more considerate this time for peace in the whole Philippines and especially in Mindanao.” He said the government should reveal the contents of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain so “it could be properly discussed and probably a compromise could be made to prevent any trouble in the future. “ (Melo Acuna)(CBCPNews)

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My Take:

Bulag ang simbahan ngayon sa isyung ito.  Mukhang naging mas abala sila sa pagharap sa ploy ng Malakanyang: ang Reproductive Health Bill.  Hindi agad nabasa ng ating ka-Obispohan  ang posibilidad ng CHACHA sa likod nito dahil na rin sa katangian ng MOA: imposible, mapanlinlang, inililihim ang laman.

Filipino scientist warns of diminishing groundwater supply

August 6, 2008

MANILA, August 5, 2008—A Filipino scientist warned of diminishing groundwater supply in some parts of the country.

Dr. Fernando Siringan of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute said excessive groundwater extraction or diminishing groundwater supply results in land subsidence, which in turn causes floods in coastal areas.

In the case of the Italian city of Venice (known as the “Sinking City”), he said it sank rapidly during the mid-20 century as a result of the over-abundance of wells pumping out large amounts of water to supply the needs of the entire region.

He was speaking during the Coffeehouse Environmental Forum held at the Communication Foundation for Asia (CFA) on July 25.

“Have you ever wondered why some areas in Bulacan and other parts of the Philippines are like Venice, becoming permanently submerged in water?” he asked.

We should pay attention to warning signs in our own country, where we see many towns experiencing floodwaters for weeks even without rain. These are indications of subsidence in places where artesian wells appear to rise up from the ground,” Siringan said.

The UP professor also pointed out that demand for groundwater rises as population increases. A large part of uncontrolled groundwater extraction is made by households and industries. He mentioned the Camanava area in Metro Manila, where land subsidence has deteriorated and floods have worsened.

Siringan offered some suggestions to limit land subsidence—1) limit the use of artesian wells. In this connection, people should encourage water companies to expand their pipe-laying projects to service more areas; 2) properly implement the rules under the Philippine Water Code; and 3) study and implement actions that would trap and store rain water for other use.

Over a hundred participants attended the Coffeehouse Forum from schools, government agencies, press, non-government organizations, church and development groups, according to a communiqué from CFA. (Santosh Digal)(CBCPNews)

Bishops laud SC decision stopping Palace-Moro signing of pact

August 6, 2008

MANILA, August 6, 2008— Catholic bishops have lauded the Supreme Court’s decision in stopping the government from signing a land deal with Muslim separatist rebels in Mindanao.

The general view is that the move made by the High Tribunal in issuing a temporary restraining order was the “proper thing to do.”

Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez said the SC is right in blocking the signing of the deal, supposedly aimed at ending nearly four decades of rebellion there.

“The Supreme Court is right because (after all), not everybody knows the content memorandum of agreement), he said.

The TRO issued yesterday was in response to a joint petition filed by Mindanao officials who had nixed the deal on ancestral domain, saying it was unconstitutional.

Under the agreement, large swathes of Mindanao will become part of a Muslim state to be controlled and run by Muslims.

The signing of the peace pact between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was supposed to be held August 5 in Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia.

The lack of transparency in making the deal also caused massive street protests in Mindanao and fears that non-Muslims areas could be covered by the ancestral domain.

“I admire the SC for being really independent… and the agreement must be made public too,” the bishop said.

Gutierrez, whose pastoral jurisdiction is included in the proposed Islamic homeland, said the Philippines is a “participatory democracy” and the pact needs participation of all stakeholders.

“They should be also informed because it will affect them. In other words, transparency and public participation is really needed,” he said.

For his part, Kalookan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez said the SC decision will provide all stakeholders—not only the government and the MILF—to clear all issues hounding the controversy.

“That’s (TRO) good because there will be opportunity for us to see and scrutinize the content of the agreement which is, of course, of national interest and concern,” he said.

Iñiguez agreed with some public clamor that there are a lot of questions hanging that needs to be cleared up first before the deal is officially signed.

Iñiguez said he is hoping that, in the end, the outcome of the negotiations will be for the common good and not just for some individuals or groups. (Roy Lagarde)(CBCPNews)

Editorial Cartoon: GRP-MILF MOA, Red Carpet for US

August 6, 2008

I think the US is behind this all.  They will benifit the most from this piece agreement.

TRO on MILF-GRP MOA Signing (Full Text)

August 5, 2008

You can read here the complete tro text.

Editorial Cartoon: On the SC’s TRO to the MILF-GRP MOA Signing

August 5, 2008

Temporary Spoiler

Theres The Rub: Wrong message

August 5, 2008

By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:03:00 08/05/2008

There were a couple of stories here last Saturday that drove home the point that those who can’t do preach. The first was Bayani Fernando warning the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) against touching his posters. “Unlike other billboards, they don’t pose danger to lives and property. They’re part of an intensified information and educational campaign of the MMDA to instill discipline among residents and restore order in the metropolis.” The DPWH, he said, should tear down instead the commercial billboards that flout the law.

What idiocy. The DPWH shouldn’t just touch his posters, they should touch him, preferable by mixing him in cement, and even more preferably not just metaphorically. More than the commercial ads, his posters are a threat to life and property, inviting as they do drivers to ram their vehicles into the offending posters. They are also a threat to health, his picture, like that of his boss, being enough to crowd hospitals with patients suddenly afflicted by hypertension and other diseases related to feelings of unbearable oppression.

At the very least, those posters subvert their professed intention. Discipline is the last thing they will encourage among the public—rioting is first. How can you instill discipline among the public when you yourself display cheekiness and irresponsibility beyond belief? Those posters were already an eyesore last year when Metro Manila residents could count whatever blessings in life they still had. They are an absolute abomination today when those same residents are reeling from the prices of rice and gas, the two most basic needs of an urban resident, that are rising faster than their leaders are falling. The fortune that went to making those posters could have been put to better use.

While at that, the fortune was harnessed only to fuel Fernando’s political ambitions. They are campaign posters, nothing more, nothing less. You know it, I know it, he knows it. The only comfort, a truly cold one, anyone may take from those posters is that they show the future voters exactly what would happen if they ever felt suicidal enough to put him in higher office. That is what he will do to their taxes.

I do know something that will assuredly instill discipline among the public. That is to throw Fernando in jail for a few years for illegal use of funds and campaigning well before the stipulated period. At the very least it would instill discipline in him. At the very most it would instill discipline in the rest of us by showing that lack of discipline, or plain abuse, won’t be tolerated in this country. It will be poetic justice as well: Finally Fernando will get a taste of what he has been giving undisciplined pedestrians to force them to keep to sidewalks. That is to fence him in.

The other story was the one about 13-year-old Rodney Berdin getting instant fame and fortune, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, from his introduction to the world through Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address. Berdin was the kid who saved his brother, sister and mother from drowning when their house in the village of Rumbang near San Jose, Antique, was swept by rampaging floodwaters at the height of Typhoon “Frank.” Rodney swam for them and rescued them one by one. For his exemplary action, he got mentioned in the State of the Nation Address and got a hero’s welcome when he came home.

I am happy for Rodney and his family. I am thrilled that they found it the most wondrous thing in the world that they set foot in Malacañang and got feted at the session hall of the House of Representatives. (Both belong to him and the other citizens of this country, not to those currently inhabiting them.) And I am elated that they now face a future, particularly with scholarships and livelihood opportunities flowing their way, less bleak than the one they did before Rodney did what he did.

But I am horrified that Rodney’s “discoverer” would want to bask in his glory, not to speak of suggesting he is a protégé of hers.

Rodney can never be Arroyo’s protégé for one simple reason: He is her superior, not her inferior. In every possible way. Rodney was the only class act in a roomful of crass acts, notwithstanding that he offered a pedestal for a government fallen so low to clamber up to. The poor have a right to do everything in their power to survive, if they have to claw their way through, if they have to beg, steal, or borrow their way through. The rich, and crooked, do not.

As with Fernando’s posters, Rodney refuted the message his presumed benefactor was trying to make, which was that she, or her government, was made of the same stuff as he. What Rodney did was a supreme act of altruism and self-sacrifice. Apparently, he had just learned to swim the year before, and though young and strong, he was by no means an expert swimmer. Yet he risked life and limb, having absolutely no thought for himself, throwing himself again and again to the swirling water to rescue his brother, sister and mother from a fate worse than poverty. That is not the stuff of which Aroyo and/or her government is made. Thinking of others first and themselves last is not their strongest suit. Rodney does not offer a comparison with them, he offers a contrast with them.

One of course can always say he never really made a choice at all, he just acted from pure instinct. His family was in danger, he had to do something. Indeed, the “had to,” which suggests compulsion, never even entered his head. He just dove blindly to come to the aid of his loved ones. But even if you put it that way, you still have to stand in awe before someone who possesses the instinct of not always putting himself first (and last). You still have to stand agape before someone who is driven unfailingly, unflaggingly, courageously, to act on it.

I know someone who doesn’t. I know someone who won’t.

3 retired SC justices to probe CA bribery case

August 5, 2008

By Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:18:00 08/05/2008

MANILA, Philippines—After a special en banc session, the Supreme Court Monday formed a panel that will investigate a scandal rocking the Court of Appeals in connection with irregularities surrounding the latter’s decision on the battle for control of Manila Electric Co. between the Lopez family and the Government Service Insurance System.

The panel, composed of three retired Supreme Court justices, was directed to hold daily hearings and submit its findings on Aug. 21.

Heading the panel is retired Associate Justice Carolina Griño-Aquino, with retired Justices Flerida Ruth Romero and Romeo Callejo Jr. as members.

Supreme Court spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez said the panel would determine whether the Court of Appeals justices involved in the Meralco-GSIS case acted improperly.

It would also look into the reported P10-million attempted bribery on Justice Jose Sabio Jr., allegedly by a businessman acting as a Meralco emissary.

“They will be tasked with investigating the proprieties of actions of the justices in the decision of the Court of Appeals and also the allegation in the attempt to bribe a justice of the CA,” Marquez told reporters.

Urgency

Marquez said the tribunal’s decision to hold a special en banc session showed that the issue hounding the second highest court of the land was important.

“The fact that the case was immediately calendared in a special en banc session … that already itself shows the urgency and importance of the matter,” he said.

The 8th Division of the Court of Appeals on July 23 voided the order issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) stopping and invalidating the Meralco elections on May 27, which was won by nominees of the Lopez family that controls the company.

The Court of Appeals order, which was released to the media the following day, was signed by the division’s head, Justice Bienvenido Reyes, and its two members—ponente Justice Vicente Roxas and Justice Apolinario Bruselas Jr.

The GSIS had challenged the Lopez family’s leadership of Meralco and sought the SEC’s intervention.

Management shake-up

The state-run pension fund, which owns 25 percent of Meralco, wants to shake up the management because it believes its majority stockholders, the Lopez family, have not done enough to bring down electricity prices.

Winston Garcia, GSIS president and general manager, demanded the validation of all the 4,483 Meralco proxies before voting could be allowed.

In its decision, however, the 8th Division ruled that the SEC had no jurisdiction over the case filed by the GSIS against Meralco, and that a regional trial court was the proper venue for controversies over elections in corporations.

The decision triggered scathing remarks from Justice Myrna Dimaranan Vidal, a member of the Special 9th Division, who said the 8th Division was not the proper body to rule on the GSIS-Meralco row.

Puno, Santiago, Carpio inhibit

Three Supreme Court justices inhibited themselves from the case.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno declined to participate because Sabio’s daughter is on his staff.

Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago inhibited herself from the case because her daughter works for Meralco, while Justice Antonio Carpio recused himself because he used to work for the Villaraza, Cruz, Marcelo and Angangco law firm, which represents the power utility.

Unceremoniously ousted

The controversy over the appellate court’s decision arose after Sabio and Vidal protested their unceremonious ouster from the case even though they were among those who heard oral arguments on it.

In his letter to Court of Appeals Presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez, Sabio called the circumstances surrounding the decision “fishy.”

Sabio also said that a businessman had attempted to offer him P10 million in exchange for inhibiting himself from the case and paving the way for another justice to chair the division that would decide on the case.

Feeling alluded to, businessman Francis de Borja executed a sworn statement saying that Sabio had informed him that the government had offered the associate justice a Supreme Court seat and money to favor the GSIS position.

When De Borja asked what it would take for Sabio to resist the government’s offer, the justice supposedly replied: P50 million.

Sabio said De Borja’s statements were all lies.

The Court of Appeals last week held a rare en banc session to discuss allegations regarding the Meralco case and decided to elevate to the Supreme Court the issue on the propriety of the justices’ actions.

CA internal rules

Over at the GSIS, its chief legal counsel Estrella Elamparo said the 9th Division chaired by Sabio should have decided on the Meralco case.

In a statement, Elamparo said that under the Internal Rules of the Court of Appeals, a case would stay with the original justices who heard it when the case had already been given due course and had already been submitted for decision.

She said the rules state: “When, in an original action or petition for review, any of these actions or proceedings, namely: (1) giving due course; (2) granting writ of preliminary injunction … the case shall remain with the Justice to whom the case is assigned for study and report and the Justices who participated therein, regardless of their transfer to other divisions in the same station.”

Elamparo added that when the oral arguments were concluded on June 23, the petition was deemed to have been given due course.

“There is no doubt that the special 9th Division gave due course to the petition after it set the same for oral arguments, required the parties to submit their memoranda and considered the petition submitted for resolution,” she said, quoting from the July 30 letter she sent Vasquez.

Elamparo also said the participation of the 9th Division’s justices in the case required in-depth analysis and were not just “token involvement.”

Supreme Court halts Moroland deal

August 5, 2008

SC ignores gov’t plea of executive privilege

By Tetch Torres, Leila Salaverria, Michael Lim Ubac, Christian V. Esguerra, Nikko Dizon
INQUIRER.net, Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:07:00 08/05/2008

MANILA, Philippines—The Supreme Court, ignoring a new plea for executive privilege to keep diplomatic negotiations secret, stopped the signing on Tuesday in Malaysia of an agreement that critics feared could lead to an independent Bangsamoro state.

Jose Midas Marquez, the high court’s spokesperson, announced that the tribunal by a unanimous decision Monday issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) to preserve the status quo after an en banc session called to act on petitions filed by local officials in Zamboanga City and North Cotabato.

The petitioners from North Cotabato are Governor Jesus Sacdalan and Vice-Governor Emmanuel Piñol. Those from Zamboanga City are Mayor Celso Lobregat, and Representatives Isabelle Climaco and Erico Basilio Fabian.

The local officials questioned the memorandum of agreement (MOA) establishing an expanded Bangsamoro homeland hammered out during negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and scheduled to be signed in Kuala Lumpur Tuesday. The local officials also demanded a copy of the agreement.

Marquez said the court ordered the solicitor general to furnish the officials a copy of the final draft of the MOA not later than Aug. 8 and scheduled oral arguments on Aug. 15 on the officials’ plea to be excluded from the deal. The parties were asked to submit comments within five days.

“When the signing has taken place … rights might be violated. So to prevent violation of certain rights of the people, the court decided to issue the TRO,” Marquez said.

“We submit to the sound discretion of the Supreme Court,” Press Secretary Jesus Dureza told reporters. “It is the ultimate arbiter of issues and so the signing will have to be canceled.”

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the court action should not be seen as a “setback” to the Arroyo administration. “It’s just a resetting [of the signing]. This is one of the dynamics of democracy,” he said.

MILF calls move a ‘setback’

“It’s a setback, but we will let the panels decide on whatever measures they want to take to address this recent development,” MILF spokesperson Eid Kabalu told reporters. He said the 12,000 MILF fighters remained committed to ending the separatist rebellion that has claimed more than 120,000 lives in Mindanao over the past four decades.

The government peace panel, in a 26-page comment filed earlier Monday by Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera, opposed the petition for a TRO, invoking executive privilege in an attempt to keep negotiations and the draft MOA secret.

Executive privilege

“These negotiations include definite military, national security and diplomatic concerns, and have involved the presence of a foreign mediator. This being so, the entire process—the negotiations involving the said MOA and the draft documents thereof resulting from said negotiations—is covered by the doctrine of executive privilege which prevents the disclosure of information that could subvert military or diplomatic objectives,” the panel said.

The government lawyers said while it recognizes the right of the petitioners to information, “they do not have an unfettered access to everything as these rights are subject to certain limitations.”

“Notably, there are matters which, despite their being of public interest and concern, are considered privileged in nature,” Devanadera said.

It was the third time in one year that the Arroyo administration had invoked executive privilege.

The court earlier upheld the President’s right to keep diplomatic negotiations secret when it supported former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri’s decision not to answer questions during a Senate hearing on an alleged bribery attempt surrounding the scuttled $329-million broadband network project with China’s ZTE Corp. and rejected demands to release negotiation documents on the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement.

Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo departed for Kuala Lumpur hours before the court handed down the TRO to witness Tuesday’s scheduled signing along with his Malaysian counterpart Rais Yatim. Malaysia brokered the peace negotiations.

Presidential Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and chief government negotiator Rodolfo Garcia also left for Malaysia without waiting for the outcome of the court hearing on the complaint by the Zamboanga City and North Cotabato officials that they were not consulted on the inclusion of their areas that would form part of the territory of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).

Copies of the MOA were circulated during a meeting of retired generals and leaked to reporters at the weekend, but the document itself has not been officially released.

Emotions get in the way

In contesting the TRO, the peace panel said North Cotabato would not be included in the expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) without the consent of its residents in a plebiscite.

“Petitioners do not stand to suffer any irreparable or material injury as the final decision on whether they shall be part of the expanded ARMM or not belongs to the people of North Cotabato,” the peace panel said.

The panel said that consulting the people did not mean they should be involved in every step because if this was followed, then “nothing would get done as numerous interests and heightened emotions would get in the way of compromise.”

It said the plebiscite that would be held after the signing of the MOA was sufficient consultation.

North Cotabato officials filed the first petition questioning the MOA two weeks ago. Monday, Zamboanga City officials joined the petition.

Zamboanga City Representatives Fabian and Climaco and Mayor Lobregat said the government’s peace panel should be compelled to give them copies of the draft MOA.

The officials asked that Zamboanga City be excluded from the Bangsamoro homeland or that the MOA be declared null and void if it would be signed.

According to them, the draft of the MOA was a matter of public concern. They said that the ancestral domain issue referred to the claiming of ownership of certain areas, and possibly even private property, which was why Zamboanga residents should be informed about the deal.

Travesty of justice

“The nondisclosure of the provisions of the MOA has deprived the people of its right to information and to participate in the decision-making process. This is a blatant violation of the constitutional rights of the people,” the Zamboanga officials said.

The officials also said national security could not be used as an excuse to withhold the MOA from them.

“To hide behind the mantle of national security so that the people would remain in the dark on matters affecting their lives and properties is a travesty of justice and of the constitutional rights of the people,” they said.

The MOA calls for an expanded ARMM and grants the BJE its own internal security force, a system of banking and finance, civil service, education and legislative institutions, full authority to develop and dispose of minerals and natural resources, according to a draft of the document secured by the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net).

The BJE also will be able to send trade missions abroad and enter into international agreements.

Administration officials have rejected criticism that the MOA amounted to ceding a portion of its territory to the MILF and granted the expanded Moro homeland the status of a state.

Dureza welcomed the TRO.

“We are confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the position of the panel in crafting this momentous and historical agreement that will address the longstanding problems of Mindanao and the country as a whole,” he said.

TRO a relief

Dureza, who had served as peace panel chair in previous talks with the MILF, even said that the TRO was a “relief.”

“This will allow a dispassionate, objective discussion of the merits of the issues that surround the said ancestral domain agreement. So it might be good that at this early stage, the Supreme Court will be part of that due diligence effort in taking a look at this agreement in its totality and also take a look at its provision,” he said.

Dureza also said he had told the President about the court action and she welcomed it as an opportunity to ventilate the issues.

Rep. Fabian, who filed the petition against the deal, said the ruling was “very good news for our people down south” who opposed the draft accord.

“We have won the first step,” said North Cotabato Vice Gov. Piñol. “This is an important lesson for government peace panels, that on matters that affect people’s rights, they must be consulted first.”

Former President Joseph Estrada also welcomed the TRO. “We all desire peace in Mindanao but it must not be obtained at the expense of our territorial integrity, and certainly not by methods that desire transparency and are in apparent haste,” he said.

Gen. Alexander Yano, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the AFP was ready to respond to any security threat that might result from the court’s TRO. He said the military was closely monitoring developments.

Indie Cinema bilang Kultural na Kapital

August 5, 2008

May retransformasyon ng kultural na kapital ang kaakibat ng mainstreaming ng indie films.  Ang dating indie filmmaker ay ngayon ay inaasahang maging astute marketers na rin ng kanyang pelikula.

NI ROLAND TOLENTINO
KULTURANG POPULAR KULTURA
Bulatlat
Volume VIII, Number 26, August 3-9, 2008

Kung bilang ang pagbabatayan, indie films na ang namamayagpag sa Pilipinas.  Sila na ang bumubuo ng bulto ng output taon-taon, nananalo ng awards sa loob at labas ng bansa.  Sila ang tinaguriang “shot in the arm” ng naghihingalong industriya ng pelikula.

Kung pagbabatayan ang ikaapat na Cinemalaya ng Hulyo 2008, ang 27,000 nanood sa higit sa 200 indie films ay nagbabadya na mayroon nang deboto, kundi man komunidad, ang indie films.  Ito ang tunay na box-office draw sa elitistang persepsyon at katangian ng Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

Ito lamang, maliban sa lingguhang pagtitipon ng El Shaddai, ang nakakapuno sa mga venue sa CCP.  Indie films ang lumalabas na tunay na ideal market ng CCP—kabataan, culturati na may interes sa pag-unlad ng lokal na sining, willing tumangkilik, at higit sa lahat, magbayad.  Ano pa ang hahanapin ng CCP?

Ang indie films ay nakalikha ng sarili nitong niche community.  Niche pa lang ito dahil Metro Manila phenomenon, sa pangkalahatan, ang indie films.  Bagamat mayroong pelikula mula sa rehiyon, mas ang itinatampok pa sa kompetisyon sa Cinemalaya ay ang sentrong nag-aaproba ng proyekto ng rehiyon o mga pelikulang may rehiyonal na flavor na pinondohan at nakakapasa sa panlasa ng sentro.

At dahil ang base ng komunidad—ang tumatangkilik—ay mga kabataang culturati na nakakapagbayad (kung gayon, gitnang uri na tulad din ng kasalukuyang audience ng lokal na sineng ang bayad ay P80 hanggang P140 kada tiket), hindi lamang sentrong phenomenon ang indie films, ito ay gitnang uring culturati na kaganapan.

Kumbaga sa pagsusuring pang-uri, ito ang pambansang burgesyang may interes sa pag-unlad ng lokal na industriya ng sining, kahit pa nga ito pinopondohan ng media na interes ni Tonyboy Conjuangco, ang patron ng Cinemalaya.

At kung ito ang katumbas ng pambansang burgesya, maliit ang bilang ng tumantangkilik ng indie films.  Matapos ng apat na taon ng Cinemalaya, mabibilang ang indie films na nakapasok sa komersyal na venue, ang cinema complex sa malls.  Tanging CCP, isang sinehan sa Robinson’s Galleria, at Cine Adarna ng University of the Philippines Film Institute ang may regular na programa ng screening ng indie films.

Ang empasis ng Cinemalaya sa naratibong pelikula ang nagpaunlad ng kasalukuyang “mainstream look” ng indie films.  Kalakhan ng sampung pelikula sa kompetisyon ay mayroong diin sa narrative continuity at suture, tulad ng classical Hollywood narrative cinema.

Ang Boses (Ellen Ongkeko Marfil, direktor) ay epektibong nagpaagos ng luha sa manonood, kasama ako.  Sino ang hindi maiiyak sa isang inabusong musmos na nakatuklas ng kapangyarihan ng musika ng biolin para makaagapay sa kanyang abang lagay?  Na mula sa pagiging walang magawang biktima ng karahasan ng kanyang ama, siya naman ay naging willing na disipulo ng isang demanding na henyo, ngunit may mababang EQ (emotional quotient)?

Nawala na ang jittery movement na gamit ay mumurahing portable video camera.  Napalitan na ng stilisadong off framing, panning at tilting movement para mag-simulate ng sinaunang dokumentaryo at new wave look.  Sinadya na ang indie look, hindi nanggaling dahil sa indie mode of production.

Ang kinalabasan ay well-polished indie films, o indie films na may mainstream look.  Ang tangi na lamang inaabanteng “indie spirit” ay ang paksa—batang inabuso at nakatuklas sa biolin, call center agents na inaanod (o nilulunod?) ng bagong buhay ng sunshine industry, sensualidad ng Ilonggo cuisine, at iba pa.

Wala na ang lingering camera movements ng poverty films at surrealist look na ang artist at manunulat ang pangunahing tauhan.  Na-Hollywood-ized na ang indie films, o nagmistulang indie films sa U.S. na nag-aantay ma-pickup ng major studio.  Na kaya na lamang indie films ang mga ito ay dahil hindi pa nga naipapalabas—bagamat kahit ngayon pa lang ay nangangarap na—sa komersyal na sinehan.

Sa awardings, nandoon si Mother Lily, ang anti-thesis ng indie films.  Hindi nga ba’t si Raya Martin ay gumawa ng pelikulang misogynista at racista ukol sa pagkatupok sa “Mother Lily” character?  Ano ang nangyari sa fantasy-ideal ng indie filmmakers na matupok ang Mother Lily-mainstream figure kung ang tunay na Mother Lily ay kabilang sa guest of honor ng pinakatampok na indie film festival sa bansa?

Ang mainstreaming ng indie cinema ay naghuhudyat ng reconciliatory position ng gatekeepers ng indie films—na may content na at kailangan na ng market.  Sila na resulta ng pang-aapi ng mainstream cinema ay ngayon nag-aalok ng olive branch.  Nakaka-touch, di ba?  Pero dahil na rin hindi na nakakasapat ang CCP, Robinson’s at UP bilang venue.  Kailangan nang makapasok ang indie films sa sinehan.

Kung gayon, ang kasalukuyang orkestrasyon ng indie films ay tungo sa mainstreaming nito.  Naka-check na ang international awards.  Muli nang nakapasok sa Cannes Film Festival Competition.  Kailangan na lamang may manalo sa isa sa apat na first-tier festivals.

Naka-check na rin ang kabataang culturati—silang mga filmmakers ay ngayon ay audience.  Kailangan na ng mas malakihang expansyon ng venue at market ng indie films.  At hindi komunidad ng maralitang tagalunsod o unyon ang inaakalang venue nito.  Ang oasis ng cinema complex sa tuktok na palapag ng malls.

May retransformasyon ng kultural na kapital ang kaakibat ng mainstreaming ng indie films.  Ang dating indie filmmaker ay ngayon ay inaasahang maging astute marketers na rin ng kanyang pelikula.  Kahit pa ang payo ng international programmers ay lumikha ng mga pelikulang orihinal, kakaiba at nanggagaling sa lokal na lipunan.

Sa 27,000 na nanood ng ikaapat na Cinemalaya, hindi iilan ang nangangarap maging filmmaker.  Na hindi tulad ng writer na maaring gumawa ng akdang ibuburo niya sa pahina ng itinatagong journal, ang indie filmmaker, tulad ng blogger sa internet, ay may ini-imagine na publiko.

Siya na manonood ay umaasang maging manlilikha ng produktong mapapanood.  Mayroong kultural na kapital ang indie filmmaker.  Nakakapanghatak ito sa fantasisasyon ng nasa ibaba—ang kabataang culturati na makita ang sarili nilang ideal, at mahigitan ito sa matagalan.

Kahit pa ang indie filmmaker ay naglalayon maging mainstream.  Na kung magpakaganito, siya na nag-iisip sa kanyang fantasya na nagsusunog kay Mother Lily ay siya palang nag-aalay ng bulaklak sa paanan nito, at nagpapakintab sa rebulto nito.

Kung magpakaganito, natupok na rin ang indie bilang kultural na kapital.  Natransforma na ang kultural na kapital—anti-establisyimentong gamit sa pelikula, kontraryong bisyon sa sining, at pagtatanghal sa direktor bilang artist—at naging social capital na lamang ito.

Nakakaakyat na sa baitang ng mainstream at industriyang pampelikula ang indie filmmaker.  Ang nagpakilos na rito ay hindi na dahil siya ay (ex-) indie filmmaker kundi kung sino na ang kanyang nakilala mula sa itaas na kaya ring maghaltak sa kanya sa higit pang panlipunan at pang-uring mobilidad.

Sa aking palagay, matapos ng ikaapat na taon, may krisis na ang indie films.  Ang krisis ay sa pagbibigay-diin sa market—hindi pa audience na hindi naman nesesaryong nakakapagbayad—ng indie films.  Ano ba yan?!  Hindi ba nga nakakapaglakad ay nalulumpo na ang indie cinema.

Ang ginagawang pantawid para sa nilikhang kakulangan ng indie films ay ang pag-market ng pelikula.  Kung ganito, pumaloob na ang indie films sa diskurso ng komersyalismo at industriya.  Hindi iilang beses kong narinig sa mga nagsalita at filmmakers na “suportahan ninyo (manonood) ang indie films” na ibig sabihin ay bumili ng tiket at manood nito.

Imbis na isipin ang problema ay audience development, ang itinatampok na diskurso ay pag-penetrate sa palengke (market).  Nagpapababa ito sa nakamit na kultural na kapital ng indie filmmakers—bilang propeta ng transformatibong sining.  Kaya hindi rin kataka-taka na ang kalahating milyong grant mula sa Cinemalaya ay iniisip na kulang pa para makamit ang bisyon.

Nakadikit na rin ang estado sa Cinemalaya.  Nandito ang karagdagang pondo at kredit sa Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) at National Commission for Culture and the Arts.  Na ang bisyon ng filmmaker ay dumadaan na rin sa kapital, kundi man sa lente na rin, ng estado.

Kaya rin hindi ako nagtataka kung bakit wala na ang legacy ng social realism ni Lino Brocka at modernistang critique ng gitnang uri ni Ishmael Bernal.  Nawala na ang  politikal na filmmaking sa bokabularyo ng indie filmmakers.  Ang piniling idioma ay halaw sa language ng mainsteam filmmaking.

Tanging ang indie filmmakers na piniling manatili sa laylayan ng laylayan (ang naunang posisyon ng Cinemalaya) ang may nalalabing bisang gamit ng kultural na kapital.  Na tila nagsasaad ng sumpa:  na kapag piniling maging (tunay na) indie filmmaker, kailangang magpakatotoo sa sarili, na ang sarili ay konektado, sa batayang antas, sa sining, at ang sining ay halaw sa lipunan.

Walang short cut dahil kina-cut short ng mainstreaming ng indie films ang pagpapanatili sa indipendiente at transformatibong sining.  Kaya rin hindi kakatwa na CCP ang venue at host ng Cinemalaya dahil tunay na tagapagpadaloy ang institusyong kultural ng estado sa nesesaryong kondisyon ng pangangapital ng estado.

Parang harsh, di ba?  Pero alin ang mas harsh:  ang kooptasyon ng CCP sa indie films sa direksyong tinungo nito sa paanan ng kapital—may audience pero bawas na ang integridad; may puri pero dulot na ng pagka-pickup nito ng international film festival programmer (kahit pa kinuwestiyun din itong purposiveness ng indie films sa pagiging circuitable sa foreign art market)–o ang kawalan ng market pero may mas angkop sa mas maliitang niche audience na sabayang tumatangkilik at trinatrasforma ng sining?

Dalawang magkausap na representatibo ang boundary markers nitong huli.  Sa isang banda, ang figura ni Lav Diaz na nagbukas at nagpanatiling bukas ng panibagong landas para sa indie filmmakers—ang pagtuon ng susing diin sa sining at politika ng pagsasaad nito para sa politikal na transformasyon, hindi man ng politika, kundi ng sining ng politika.

Sa kabilang banda, ang dokumentaryong politikal na film collectives na lumilikha ng indie films (hindi naratibo, hindi feature-length) para sa partikular na sektor ng kilusang masa.  Politikal ang panuntunan ng sining at ang sining ay gamit sa politikal na transformasyon.

Ang ipinagkaiba ng nakapaloob sa dalawang markers na ito sa Cinemalaya ay ang politikal na intent sa indie filmmaking.  Pinananatili ang politika ng sining at ang gamit ng sining sa politikal na transformasyon sa panuntunan ng mga figura ni Diaz at political film collectives.  Nilulusaw na ito sa Cinemalaya.

Kapag mainstream, wala nang gamit ang kultural na kapital.  Mismong kapital na ang impetu ng sirkulasyon ng pelikula, filmmaker at indie cinema.  Kung gayon, pangangapital na turing ang mainstreaming ng indie filmmaking.

Kaya sa huli, ang tunay na indie filmmaking ay wala na sa kamay ng estado, kahit may aspekto pa rin ng paggamit dito (FDCP, halimbawa, sa pagbibigay ng pondo sa mga natanggap na pelikula sa dayuhang festivals, at siempre, ang pag-claim nito sa produkto bilang kanya na rin).  Ang vanguards nito ay ay pagtungo sa pinakamalayong sulok ng estado, kung saan ito mahina at walang lubos na galamay sa pagpapatagos ng pangangapital nito.  Kung saan ang tao ay pinakadahop ang kondisyong panlipunan, at kung gayon, pinakahinog para sa pagbabalikwas.

Ang tunay na indie cinema ay ang pagpanig sa tao at bayang mas nakapanig sa interes ng indie filmmakers, at kasangga sa paglaban sa estadong puno’t dulo ng malawakan at malalimang kaapihan nilang lahat.  Ang tunay na indie films ay ang lumalaban sa interes ng estado, at nakakiling sa interes ng mamamayan.

Kaninong kwento ang ikinuwento at ikukwento mo? Alin rin kwento ang papaniwalaan at papanigan ng mamamayan? Bulatlat

Street Repertory: The Role of Art in the People’s SONA

August 5, 2008

Artists of various disciplines congregated to make the ‘People’s SONA’ a cultural affair as well. Theatrics, musical numbers and poetry-reading were performed. Enormous, hideous effigies stood side-by-side, creative banners and streamers were hung everywhere and the backdrop bore the color and image of people’s dissent. The cultural concept of the event intended to educate the people on the societal ills brought about by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s seven years in power.

BY JEFFREY OCAMPO
CULTURE
Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 26, August 3-9, 2008

The mass action dubbed by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan-New Patriotic Alliance) as the “People’s State of the Nation Address” was staged to counter what the protesters called “talumpati ng kasinungalingan” (a litany of lies) of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Aside from Bayan and its member-organizations, leaders and members of the United Opposition (UNO), Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Solidarity Philippines, Youth for Truth and Accountability Now! (Youth ACT Now!), Oust Gloria Coalition, Gloria Step Down! Movement and the White Ribbon Movement were also present.

The People’s SONA refuted Arroyo’s claim of progress and presented the real conditions of the Filipino people. Thus, the cultural design – the performances, visual ambiance and the whole artistic aura – of the event expressed the people’s outrage. Artists from different cultural organizations congregated to create an impressive artistic repertoire encompassing various disciplines.

Ma. Victoria Socorro de Ocampo of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) said, “The role of art in mass actions is an integral one.”
De Ocampo stressed that like the speeches of the leaders of groups and organizations, the cultural performances and the visual elements, which have been “part and parcel” of mass actions, possess educational value as well. De Ocampo, being one of the program directors of SONA protests and other mass actions, emphasized that art is a powerful tool for arousing, organizing and mobilizing the people to advance their interests.

She said that the strength of protest art lies in its capacity to educate and mobilize the masses.

Street ensemble

Different groups of musicians performed before thousands of protesters.

Chikoy Pura of The Jerks gave an acoustic rendition of two of the band’s popular pieces, “Sayaw sa Bubog” and “Rage.” (The audience, including Adel Tamano of UNO and Liza Maza of Gabriela Women’s Party sang along). The strength of the performance, said de Ocampo, was that the songs, which were written for a particular context more two decades ago, possess ‘truth value’ and pressing relevance hitherto.
Datu’s Tribe performed two songs – Karne and Wow Filipinas – the latter tackles the conditions of Filipino migrants.

Poet and musician Jess Santiago performed his song “Only in the Philippines,” eliciting chuckles from the audience.

Sinagbayan or Sining na Naglilingkod sa Bayan (Art for the People), meanwhile, presented an “experimental” piece transfusing poetry, music and theatrics in a “mini-performance”. Filipino-American poet-activist Philippe Javier Garcesto’s poem “Tadhana” talked about the privation and ‘atrocities’ harnessed by the ‘status quo’ and the people’s collective dream “for a better world.” Sinagbayan collectively laid music into the literary piece. According to Joan Lerio, Sinagbayan’s education committee head, the group aims to “popularize art forms that carry out the aspirations of the people for a freer society.”

People’s Chorale composed of individuals from different organizations performed as well. Trained by Felipe “Jun” de Leon, former National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Commissioner on Music, the group performs regularly in anti-Arroyo protests.

Rap musicians were also present. San Francisco-based Active Leadership to Advance Youth (ALAY), BAYAN USA and ANAKBAYAN Malabon chapter collaborated to come up with a performance that dealt with ‘imperialist ties’ between the country and the US.

De Ocampo said, “In the Philippines, rap music, which has a progressive origin, appeals mostly to youths belonging to the marginalized sectors since it can be played even without musical instruments that they cannot possibly afford.”

BAYAN USA performed an oratorical piece written by Armando Vencero entitled “SONA ng Panlilinlang: Ramdam ang Kahirapan” (SONA of Deception: Poverty is Felt). The piece ended with the lines: Ramdam ang kahirapan at hindi ang kaunlaran!/Ramdam ang pagnanasang rehimen mo ay wakasan!” (What is felt is poverty, not progress! The urge to end your regime is felt!).

All throughout the program, Musicians for Peace provided the ‘bridge music’ (music which fills the gap between the parts of the program) using percussion instruments. The group also used ‘found objects’ such as a water jug aside from the traditional percussion instruments.

Portrait of the Filipino family

The UP Repertory Company (UP Rep), meanwhile, staged a “tula-dula” titled “Ang Kasalukuyang Mukha ng Pamilyang Pilipino”. It deals with the daily predicaments of a Filipino family.

The father, Nante Poorita, worked in a factory for a very low salary and was eventually dismissed. His wife Nancy is a public school teacher who tries to cope amid the crisis of Philippine education. Their daughter Iska is trying to survive in a state university, which is becoming more elitist.

UP Rep’s Mimi Aringo explained that “the story of Poorita family is the story of countless Filipino families. Workers, government employees such as teachers and students are all oppressed and exploited in a systematic way.”

Visual exigency

Red emerged as the dominant color of the event.  The sky was painted red as flags of different organizations were waved. Similarly, the stage’s backdrop was a red tarpaulin containing the phrase ‘People’s SONA’ with an image of clenched fists printed below it. Red has been historically used to symbolize radicalism and opposition to the prevailing system.

The Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) made higantes (large images) representing three marginalized sectors in Philippine society — workers, peasants and the middle class.

Roel Anda of PCPR said it took them a week to finish the higantes. The faces of the higantes were made out of papier-mâché and bamboos were used for their frames. The PCPR said the higantes represent the people’s “higanteng protesta” (giant protest) against the Arroyo administration. This, according to PCPR, is one way by which church people support the struggles of these sectors.

Members of Salinlahi Alliance for Children Concerns also presented their own version of higantes. They made faces out of cardboards and water-based paints. They also used torn clothes to symbolize the impoverished condition of the people. Franstel Garcia of Salinlahi said they used their “kalawakan ng imahinasyon” (the vastness of imagination) to come up with and execute these ideas.

Another effigy, made by Bayan Muna Partylist, portrayed the president as a bat. Bamboo and black taffeta cloth were used.  The effigy portrayed the president as a blood-sucking creature feeding on the misery of the people through the value added tax (VAT) on petroleum products. The logos of oil companies such as Petron, Chevron and Shell were used as pendants adorning the bat. The earrings, on the other hand, were shaped as dollar signs.

An image burned, a war long-declared

Bayan’s effigy this year has been the largest ever done for a SONA mass action. According to Max Santiago of Ugatlahi, an organization of visual artists who administered the production of the effigy, it took them weeks of brainstorming and meticulous collective work to finish the 21-foot effigy.

The tradition of creating effigies in the Philippines began during the Spanish colonial period when the people of Angono, Rizal created enormous caricatures of hacienderos (Spanish landlords) to protest the unjust system in the hacienda (vast parcel of land).
This year’s effigy featured a sinking ship and the president escaping aboard a soaring aircraft. They used the recent Sulpicio Line’s MV Princess of the Stars’ tragedy as an analogy to represent the Filipino people drowning in the economic crisis. Meanwhile, Arroyo aboard the aircraft symbolized her evasion of her responsibility and accountability as the president. The Ugatlahi painted the aircraft with the American flag to symbolize Arroyo’s puppetry to the U.S. government.

At around 3 p.m., leaders of various groups burned the effigy as a sign of the people’s resolve to end the Arroyo administration.
Before the burning, members of indigenous people advocates group TAKDER (Tignayan Dagiti Agtutubo ti Cordillera para iti Demokrasya ken Rang-ay) performed a patong. Patong is a Cordilleran dance ritual, which uses gansa (gong) to announce wedding, death of a family member, truce between tribes and other important events. In this case, they performed the patong to remind the people of the long-declared war against the “corrupt, anti-people Arroyo regime.”

s the fire consumed the effigy, the people chanted “Makibaka, ‘Wag Matakot” and “Pahirap sa Masa, Patalsikin si Gloria” (Dare to Struggle! Oust Gloria, a Burden to the People!).

At the end of the program, the bat effigy of the president was also burned while the People’s Chorale sang “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa” (Veneration for the Motherland).

De Ocampo said that art – through the performances, visual components and the whole artistic assemblage of the event’s cultural design – had accomplished its role in the ‘People’s SONA’. She said it was able to expose the ills perpetuating under and the “crimes” of the Arroyo administration. “It had achieved its goal of showing the utter disgust of the people toward the president and her administration,” she concluded.

Group Urges Cordi Farmers to ‘Bear Arms’ vs Soldiers

August 5, 2008

A Cordillera-based activist group is urging the region’s farmers to bear arms to defend themselves from government soldiers who, two weeks ago, allegedly murdered a farmer in Lubuagan, Kalinga.

BY ACE ALEGRE
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 26, August 3-9, 2008

BAGUIO CITY (246 kms north of Manila) – A Cordillera-based activist group is urging the region’s farmers to bear arms to defend themselves from government soldiers who, two weeks ago, allegedly murdered a farmer in Lubuagan, Kalinga.

Windel Bolinget, a native from Bontoc, Mountain Province and secretary-general of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) which is the largest group of village-based organizations in the region, called on farmers and tribes in the Cordillera to defend themselves from soldiers who have been allegedly killing them.

Two innocent farmer-hunters have already been killed by soldiers from the 21st and the 77th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) in Kalinga, said Bolinget.

The latest victim was Rocky “Ungki” Aboli, a Barangay Kagawad (village councilman) of Upper Uma in Lubuagan town who was “executed” on July 20. Aboli’s family and villagers said the victim went to his farm in Mt. Bulos, Duyaas, Uma to check on his crops.

On that same day at around 4:15 in the afternoon, villagers heard gunshots from the area where the victim was headed.

Five young villagers were sent to check but were reportedly stopped by soldiers, who claimed that Aboli “is safe and he is being fed.”

The next day, Uma tribesmen went to check on Aboli and found him dead.

Maj. Gen. Melchor Dilodilo, commanding general of the Philippine Army’s 5th Infantry Division, denied that Aboli was summarily executed by his men. “It was a legitimate encounter with the NPA (New People’s Army),” he said. In fact, the officer said, “we recovered a U.S. carbine from him.”

Dilodilo claimed “this is all propaganda aimed at discrediting the military.”

Bolinget said that on April 4  this year, the same soldiers were allegedly involved in a killing of another innocent farmer-hunter in Mabongtot, Lubuagan.

Rey “Aginawang” Logao and another companion were reportedly on their way to get some cows in their pastureland in Mabongtot, to be butchered during a wake of their neighbor, when they met around 15 to 21 soldiers from the 21st and 77th Infantry Battalions based in Bantay, Tabuk City and headed by 2Lt. Aris Apduhan.

Logao was shot when he tried to raise his hands, Bolinget said.

Jude Baggo, an Ifugao native and secretary-general of the Baguio-based Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA), strongly denounced what he called as “the on-going atrocities, gross violations of indigenous peoples and collective rights being perpetrated by the 21st and 77th IBPA against innocent civilians in Kalinga.”

The victims, Baggo said, should be given justice and the perpetrators must be punished.

Based on data from the CHRA, at least 13 civilians have been killed in the Cordillera by the military since 2002.  “All these victims were falsely accused as combatants and members or supporters of the NPA,” Baggo said, as he also condemned the “culture of impunity” in the killing of civilians tagged as “NPAs.” Contributed to Bulatlat

Relatives, Supporters of Detained Peasant Leader Slam ‘Mafia-Style’ Transfer to Manila City Jail

August 5, 2008

Relatives and supporters of detained Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines) deputy secretary-general for external affairs Randall Echanis Aug. 2 denounced the “Mafia-style and highly irregular transfer” of the peasant leader to the Manila City Jail.

BY GERRY ALBERT CORPUZ
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 26, August 3-9, 2008

Relatives and supporters of detained Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines) deputy secretary-general for external affairs Randall Echanis Aug. 2 denounced the “Mafia-style and highly irregular transfer” of the peasant leader to the Manila City Jail.

KMP secretary-general Danilo Ramos said he received a call from one of their paralegal staff at around 9:30 a.m informing him that Echanis was hurriedly transferred from the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame to Manila City Jail in Manila in the morning of Aug. 2.

“Malacañang, the National Security Council (NSC) and the Department of Justice (DoJ) masterminded this highly irregular, Mafia-style and grossly diabolical transfer of Echanis. They have been planning something evil against our colleague,” the KMP leader said in a press statement.

“Let me remind the national security gang in the Presidential Palace headed by Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her security adviser Norberto Gonzales and the twin evil brother of Norberto, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez that Echanis is a political prisoner, a decent and principled man wrongly accused by this criminal regime of Mrs. Arroyo. He is not a common criminal accused of petty street crimes,” Ramos said.

The KMP also asked whether Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 32 Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina if she ordered the transfer of the detained KMP leader from Camp Crame to Manila City Jail.

Ramos said prior to this quick transfer, Echanis called his lawyer, Romeo Capulong, to inform him that the PNP has read an order from the judge approving his transfer from the PNP Custodial Center to Manila City Jail.

“Everything was done in a highly questionable manner. Did the PNP file any motion or request for Echanis’s transfer? Did Judge Medina approve the PNP request for Echanis’s transfer? How come the lawyers and relatives of Echanis were not informed about his transfer and of this latest legal twisting escapade of the Arroyo government? Why is everything kept like the best-kept secret of the National Security Council?” the KMP added.

The group maintained that Echanis should be held in the custody of the PNP Custodial Center while his case is being tried as previously ordered by Medina. “Echanis should stay with the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame while his case is being tried, that’s why we repeat, the transfer is highly irregular and absurd and it only revealed the national conspiracy and sinister agenda of Arroyo and her militarist advisers, which is to further persecute and make life more miserable for Echanis,” the KMP said.

Echanis, who was implicated in the case related to the alleged purge within the ranks of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in Leyte in the 1980s, was transferred Tuesday last week from the Leyte Provincial Jail in Palo to the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame. He was accused, together with Bayan Muna (People First) Rep. Satur Ocampo, of ordering the alleged purge in 1984.

Echanis was in detention at the time he was supposed to have ordered the purge. Government and military records, including court proceedings, showed that Echanis was being held in solitary confinement by the military at the time the alleged purge was supposed to have been ordered.

The Manila RTC had also dismissed all criminal charges filed by the Marcos government in the 1980s against Echanis. In 1992, a case of illegal possession of firearms was again dismissed by the Manila RTC for lack of merit.

On Jan. 28, Echanis was arrested in Bago City, Negros Occidental while attending a national conference called by the Unyon ng Mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA or Union of Workers in Agriculture) regarding the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) or House Bill 3059 authored by the late Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Rep. Crispin Beltran.

Arroyo, et al to be held liable

Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano said they will hold Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the National Security Council liable if something bad happens to the detained KMP leader.

“We fear for Ka Randy’s security considering his status as a political prisoner. We’re also afraid that he will be subjected to tremendous suffering given the prison conditions and his health,” the militant lawmaker said in a press statement, a copy of which was sent to Bulatlat.

“This politically-motivated case has been on hold since April 2007. The Arroyo government and its state security forces should have desisted from arresting those included in the questionable charge sheet,” Mariano said.

The arrest warrant served on Echanis, was issued a year ago in connection with a charge of multiple murder that Ocampo had questioned before the Supreme Court. In April 2007, the Supreme Court granted Ocampo provisional release on bail while the Court deliberated on his petition for certiorari and prohibition.

Mariano, concurrent KMP chair, described “the trumped-up charge” against Echanis, Ocampo and other leaders of the people’s movement as a “special project of the Palace-created Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG)” headed by the National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, which includes the military and the justice department as members.

“Gonzales and then AFP chief Hermogenes Esperon’s grave-digging stunt in Inopacan, Leyte is a special project of Ms Arroyo’s IALAG in a desperate bid to immobilize those who strongly oppose her anti-people political and economic policies,” says Mariano.

On March 2007, Ocampo accused the military top brass of lying and of falsifying the charges against him by using recycled skeletons as supposed evidence of a mass grave. Ocampo said five of the 15 skeletons allegedly found in Hilongos, Leyte, as evidence of mass killings had actually been also previously dug up in Barangay (village) Monterico in Albay in 2004.

The Anakpawis lawmaker called for the immediate and unconditional release of Echanis, and the subsequent dropping of all charges filed against him by the corrupt, bankrupt and immoral government of Ms Arroyo.  “The continuing injustice committed by the Arroyo government against Echanis should not be tolerated,” Mariano said.

‘Serve the People’

The farmer lawmaker said in the late 1970, Echanis was among the batches of activists who responded to the Kabataang Makabayan’s (KM or Patriotic Youth) call to “Serve the People.” He went to the countryside and helped in peasant education, propaganda, and organizing work in Cagayan Valley, Cordillera, and Ilocos regions until his arrest in July 1983.  He was arrested without warrant by elements of the then Ministry of National Defense Security Group under Cols. Gregorio Honasan, Red Kapunan, and Rodolfo Aguinaldo.

Rep. Mariano recalled that from 1983 to 1984, Echanis was detained under solitary confinement and held incommunicado in Camp Aguinaldo. Even his close relatives and lawyers were not allowed to visit him. From 1984 to 1986, he was transferred to Camp Adduru, Regional Command 2 Stockade in Tuguegarao, Cagayan until his release in March 1986. For two years, Echanis was under solitary confinement.

The human rights group Selda (Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Para sa Amnestiya) said the detained KMP leader was among the political prisoners released after People Power 1, and became one of the group’s pioneers.

Aside from Selda, Echanis co-founded the left-leaning political party Partido ng Bayan (PnB or People’s Party) and was one of the members of its preparatory organizing committee. In 1987, Echanis went back to peasant organizing until his second arrest in 1990 by combined elements of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP), the Naval Intelligence and Security Force (NISF), and the NCRDC.

Echanis’ wife, Erlinda Lacaba-Echanis, told Bulatlat her husband was held in a safe house for one week and subjected to physical and emotional torture before his transfer to Camp Crame Custodial Center along with their daughter Amanda Echanis, who two-years old then and the youngest political prisoner at that time.

Erlinda recalled his husband was released from detention in 1992 after a case filed against him for violation of Presidential Decree No. 1866 (illegal possession of firearms in furtherance of rebellion) was dismissed by the Manila Regional Trial Court.

“He became active once more with Selda and helped in processing claimants in a class suit against the Marcos dictatorship. He was also instrumental in establishing the human rights group Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights).

“My husband is a dignified, patriotic and pro-masses person, he has been a perpetual victim of state terrorism and government and military persecution,” Echanis wife added.

Echanis was appointed deputy secretary-general for external affairs of the militant peasant organization Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in its 5th National Congress in 1999.

In the year 2001, he was elected member of the national council of the First Quarter Storm Movement (FQSM) in its First Congress.

Since 2002, Echanis helped in the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as a member of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee for Social and Economic Reforms.

As KMP deputy secretary general for external affairs, Echanis attended and represented KMP in international peasant assemblies and conferences such as the World Farmers’ Assembly in France, the World Social Forum in Brazil, the World Anti-Imperialist Conference in Indonesia and a delegate to the 1st and 2nd Assembly of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) in The Netherlands. Contributed to Bulatlat

UN Officials Prompt Probe on Death Threats vs Right Worker

August 5, 2008

In response to the joint letter sent by two United Nations Special Rapporteurs, the Davao City police initiated an investigation on the death threats received by a human rights activist.

BY BULATLAT
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Volume VIII, Number 26, August 3 – 9, 2008

DAVAO CITY – A human rights defender appeared August 1 before the Davao City Police Office (DCPO), Investigation and Detection Management Section (IDMS) in connection with the investigation of the death threats he received.

Kelly Delgado, secretary general of Karapatan-Southern Mindanao, received death threats through a text message last May 16 following a radio interview on the assassination of peasant leader Celso Pojas.

The investigation was conducted in response to the joint letter sent by Mr. Ambayi Ligabo, Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and Ms. Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders of the United Nations (UN) to the Philippine government.

The UN has urged the government to take all necessary measures to secure and guarantee the rights and freedoms of Delgado against threats to his life. It also called for holding those responsible for the death threats accountable for their acts.

The case and the results of the investigation will be reported to the UN Human Rights Council.

Delgado said, “As human rights defenders, we are very thankful for the attention given by the United Nations that resulted to the urgent action of the government.”

“We are also pleased with our friends from other international human rights groups who have reported my case to the two UN Special Rapporteurs. We are somehow hopeful that something good will happen out of these efforts,” Delgado said.

The investigation made by DCPO-IDMS under Police Chief Inspector Antonio E. Rivera, Delgado said, only sought to obtain details and knowledge on the death threat and surveillance activities.

Police escort

Delgado, however, declined Rivera’s offer to provide him police escort. Instead, he asked for a direct line with the police so he could report directly incidents related to the threat and imminent surveillances.

Delgado explained, “I am not amenable to having a police escort as I need to protect the interest and safety of our clients.”

He said that most of the cases that they handle are human rights abuses perpetrated by state security forces specifically the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). “It would be inappropriate and unethical to work with such condition especially that our clients have given to us their trust and considering the confidentiality of the information they give us,” Delgado said.

He said he believes that the UN Rapporteurs will understand the validity of his refusal and will continue to look into his case.

Delgado said that he remains cautious of his security. “We have been very vocal in criticizing the Arroyo government and its implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2. This  poses dangers to our lives,” Delgado said. Bulatlat

No Justice, Impunity Prevails

August 5, 2008

Relatives of victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances deplore the fact that up to now justice still remains elusive and impunity still prevails even as the Supreme Court promulgated new remedies such as the writ of amparo. Worse, the Court of Appeals has dismissed the cases that they filed thereby providing the conditions for the “re-escalation” of human rights violations.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 26, August 3-9, 2008

That victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances have yet to receive justice is, their relatives say, could embolden the perpetrators of these crimes to “commit more of the same.” This, for them, shows that impunity still prevails. While the Supreme Court has made available to them new remedies such as the writ of amparo, the Court of Appeals has dismissed several of the cases they have filed, providing the conditions for what a lawyer has described as the “re-escalation” of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

Thus, even as the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances appear to have subsided, the relatives of those who have fallen prey to these find no reason to be happy.

“The relatives of the victims cannot be happy with that, because what is needed is that the killings and disappearances stop altogether,” said Erlinda Cadapan, mother of missing University of the Philippines (UP) student Sherlyn Cadapan, in an interview. “Also, the perpetrators must be punished.”

Lorena Santos, daughter of abducted National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultants Leo Velasco and Elizabeth Principe, expressed a similar view in a separate interview. “The reduction in the numbers does not matter so long as we don’t see our relatives given justice,” she said.

Sherlyn was abducted by soldiers together with fellow UP student Karen Empeño and farmer Manuel Merino on June 26, 2006 in Hagonoy, Bulacan. She was doing youth organizing work in a village there, while Empeño was doing research for her BA Sociology thesis. The two UP students remain missing, while Merino is reported to have been killed by their abductors.

Velasco was in the list of 50 persons charged by the Department of Justice (DoJ) with rebellion in the wake of the alleged “Left-Right conspiracy” to topple the Arroyo government in 2006. He was abducted in Cagayan de Oro City on Feb. 19, 2007 and has not been found since then.

Principe, meanwhile, was “arrested” on Nov. 28, 2007 in Cubao, Quezon City supposedly on the strength of standing arrest orders for six criminal cases. For almost three days after that she went missing, but was eventually presented by Army officials to the media as a high-ranking official of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

Most of these victims were seized by state security forces in 2006, when extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances were at their peak.

Data from Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) shows that there have been 910 victims of extrajudicial killings and 193 victims of enforced disappearances from January 2001 – when Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was catapulted to power through a popular uprising – to June 30, 2008.

In the first half of 2008, 20 people fell prey to extrajudicial killings while one was forcibly disappeared.

From 2001 to 2008, the three regions with the most victims of extrajudicial killings are Southern Tagalog with 165, Central Luzon with 137, and the Bicol Region with 128. Most of the victims are peasants (numbering 424) and indigenous people (85). Among political organizations, the party-list group Bayan Muna (People First) and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines) have the highest number of victims, with 132 and 106, respectively.

Meanwhile, the three regions with the victims of enforced disappearances are Central Luzon with 62, Southern Tagalog with 28, and Eastern Visayas with 24.

Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon, the Bicol Region, and Eastern Visayas are all marked as “priority areas” in the government’s counter-insurgency operations dubbed as Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL or Operation Freedom Watch).

United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston went on a mission to the Philippines in 2007 to investigate the spate of extrajudicial killings and came up with a report specifically pointing to the military’s involvement in these. “In some parts of the country, the armed forces have followed a deliberate strategy of systematically hunting down the leaders of leftist organizations,” Alston, who is also a professor at New York University (NYU), said.

Following are the yearly breakdowns for the numbers of victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances:

Victims of Extrajudicial Killings, 2001-June 30, 2008

Year

Total

Organized

Women

2001

99

35

11

2002

118

44

13

2003

123

32

14

2004

83

41

9

2005

187

101

14

2006

210

108

25

2007

70

35

12

2008 (1st half)

20

5

4

Total

910

401

102

Source: Karapatan

Victims of Enforced Disappearances, 2001-June 30, 2008

Year

Total

Organized

Women

2001

7

1

2

2002

9

3

2

2003

11

2

1

2004

26

10

5

2005

28

6

0

2006

78

26

16

2007

33

13

4

2008 (1st half)

1

1

0

Total

193

62

30

Source: Karapatan

In the rates of both extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, there are marked escalations in 2005 and 2006, after which these crimes noticeably slowed down after these caught the attention of the local and international community. The European Union, Finland, the US Senate, US corporations such as Wal Mart, among others expressed concern over the spate of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

For relatives of the victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, the drop in the rates of these human rights violations is not really something to be happy about.

“One one hand there is success in our campaign to stop the killings and disappearances, since there is a drop in their rates…but still, we are not happy because we haven’t seen our loved ones, and there is still no justice,” Santos said.

Among the legal remedies made available to the likes of Cadapan and Santos is the writ of amparo, the rules for which were approved by the Supreme Court in 2007.

A.M. No. 07-9-12-SC, which took effect on Oct. 24 last year, provides that the writ of amparo shall cover threats or actual cases of “extralegal killings” and enforced disappearances. The writ of amparo, among other things, seeks to provide protection for persons under threat of “extralegal killings” or enforced disappearances, as well as allows access to military and police camps where victims of enforced disappearances are suspected to be kept.

Several relatives of human rights victims, including Cadapan and Santos, have sought to avail of the writ of amparo.

The Court of Appeals, however, has recently dismissed four high-profile amparo petitions one after the other. These are the petitions for Jonas Burgos, Elizabeth Principe, Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño, and the Gumanoy sisters.

Jonas Burgos, a peasant organizer in Bulacan, was abducted by soldiers in a restaurant in Quezon City on April 28, 2007 and remains missing. The plate number of a van used in the abduction was traced to a vehicle impounded by the 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.

Rose Ann and Fatima Gumanoy, daughters of slain peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy, were recently abducted by elements of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) and placed under custody.

National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) secretary-general Neri Javier Colmenares, in a recent legal analysis of which Bulatlat received a copy, criticized this series of decisions. Wrote Colmenares:

“These decisions unfortunately disregard the actual state of human rights in the Philippines today that has prompted the promulgation of the new remedy in the first place. This spate of decisions will only encourage the re-escalation of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances because of the continuing impunity which has unfortunately and unwittingly been judicially engendered further.”

Cadapan and Santos, in their interviews with Bulatlat, expressed similar observations.

“The perpetrators of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances will surely be emboldened to commit more of the same,” Cadapan said. “The rates may have decreased, but because of what has been happening in the Court of Appeals, we can be almost sure that the killings and disappearances will again escalate.”

“Yes, in a way it encourages more human rights violations, especially extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, because it shows the impunity of the perpetrators, because the Court of Appeals shows that the perpetrators need not answer for their crimes,” Santos said. Bulatlat

Paralyzed OFW in Dubai Hospital for Almost a Year

August 5, 2008

Overseas Filipino worker Baikan Musa has been in a hospital in Dubai for almost a year now.  An organization of Filipino migrants has been putting pressure on the Philippine government to provide assistance to the victim.

BY BULATLAT
MIGRANT WATCH
Volume VIII, No. 26, August 3-9, 2008

The chapter of Migrante International in United Arab Emirates received a case endorsement from its counterpart chapter in Qatar chapter regarding an OFW who has been in a hospital in Dubai for almost a year now.

Nhel Morona, Migrante-UAE secretary general, identified the OFW as Baikan Musa. Musa who does not have anyBaikan Musa identifying documents with her when she was rushed to Rashid Hospital. A few days later, someone came up and identified her.

“Sad to say, we have been informed that until now, Musa could not talk so we could not get relevant information from her, including what happened. She is in a state of paralysis,” Morona added.

Morona criticized the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay and the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs (OUMWA) for their ‘dilly-dallying’ on Musa’s case.

“We suspect that if Migrante did not bring the case to the attention of the OWWA [Overseas Workers Welfare Administration] in Dubai, they would not be working hard for Musa’s immediate repatriation.  She should be given proper medical treatment in the Philippines,” Morona added.

He said that their group informed the OWWA office in Dubai about Musa. The OWWA is facilitating the repatriation of Musa and making the arrangements for her confinement at the Philippine General Hospital.

Migrante said that OWWA should shoulder all the expenses for the hospitalization and treatment of Musa, regardless of the latter’s status as an OFW.  Bulatlat

Online Petition Seeks to Scrap Remittance Charges

August 5, 2008

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have taken their struggle against remittance charges to the worldwide web. Their online petition also includes the demand to remove the value-added tax (VAT) on oil and power.

BY ANGIE DE LARA
MIGRANT WATCH
Bulatlat
Volume VIII, Number 26, August 3-9, 2008

Migrante International launched their online petition to scrap remittance charges last July 28. http://www.petitiononline.com/Ibasura/petition.html

The government charges a 0.15-percent documentary stamp tax for every transaction. Migrante said that for every billion-dollar remittance, the government earns $1.5 million or P62 million.

The group said that banks and private businesses also rake in gargantuan profits from remittances. For every $200 remittance sent monthly, $15 to $22 is charged as service fee. For 10 million OFWs sending remittances, banks earn a staggering $1 billion every month.

The petition reads, “This predatory practice of charging remittances is practically feeding off our blood, sweat and tears. Enough is enough!”

Migrante said that most OFWs have to tighten their belts to be able to send the same $200 they regularly send to their families at home. “The $200 monthly remittances have radically shrunk and continue to shrink with the spiraling prices of almost all basic goods and services. And the Arroyo government refuses to scrap remittance charges and fees,” Migrante complained.

The group is also calling for the removal of the value-added tax on oil and power.

Reactions

As of press time, 379 OFWs and relatives have signed the petition.

The petition elicited reactions from OFWs and supporters.

Jonna Baldres, a Filipino in the US, wrote, “We don’t even see and feel where the remittance charges go. They’re only being kept in somebody else’s pockets! Stop exploiting and exporting Filipino workers overseas!”

Berna Ellorin, secretary general of the USA chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance), commented, “We pay the Philippine government’s paycheck, yet we have no protection in return.”
Florchita Bautista said, “When will the government stop sucking the blood of migrant workers? You claim that they are the modern-day heroes because of the money they remit that keep the economy of the country going…Yet you still have the audacity to tax them for the money that keeps the government alive. Enough is enough! Scrap the remittance charges now!”

Others were so enraged. Linda Derije wrote, “Kawawa pamilya namin sa abrud kinokotongan pa ni Gloria! Sobra! Paalisin sa Malakanyang ngayon na po.” (Pity our family members who work abroad and yet they are being taxed by Gloria! Enough is enough! Let us remove her from Malacañang)

The United Filipinos in Hongkong (UNIFIL-HK) wrote, “Kinikikilan, Ginagatasan, Pinababayaan! Migrante at Pamilya, Patalsikin si Gloria!” (Their hard-earned money is being forcibly taken from them. They are being made as milking cows. To all migrant workers and their families, let us oust Gloria!) Bulatlat


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