Quote for the Week..

"Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are allergic to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?" - Marvic Leonen,Dean of the UP College of Law, in a keynote address delivered at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao; March 16-18, 2009 in Davao City, Philippines.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Moro groups seek UN intervention

COTABATO CITY—Moro civil society organizations (CSOs) have asked the United Nations to take an active role in the peace negotiations between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) should talks resume.

Both the government and the MILF have said they are willing to resume negotiations on certain conditions.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wants the rebel group to surrender rogue commanders Ameril Ombra Kato and Abdullah Macapaar, alias Bravo, said to be responsible for the violence in North Cotabato, Sarangani and Lanao del Norte. The MILF wants the talks to center on the memorandum on agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD), which the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional.

“Toward our collective end of addressing the conflict in the Southern Philippines, we earnestly appeal to the Office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for its continuing support to the civil society’s efforts at peace-building, conflict prevention and transformation,” said the letter, faxed on Oct. 23, to UN headquarters in New York.

The CSOs said the appeal was the result of consultations held in Davao City and General Santos City. They noted the military’s punitive actions against Kato and Bravo had displaced more than 600,000 people.

“It is on this premise and, above all, the suffering of the people in this part of the world that we are appealing to the Office of the UN Secretary General to effect, at the soonest possible time, the intervention of the UN Department of Political Affairs as the most valuable contribution of the international community to our people’s age-old aspiration for a peace settlement in the Southern Philippines,” said the letter, which was signed by representatives of some 50 CSOs.

Guiamel Alim, chair of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society Organizations, said the people had the right to seek UN intervention under the international body’s mandate of partnership with civil societies in their common quest for world peace.

Alim said they would also welcome other peace-related undertakings by international agencies, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), European Union, Australian Aid, Local Governance Support Program in the ARMM under the Canadian International Development Agency, and the UN Act for Peace. (Nash B. Maulana, Inq.net)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Nur sees MILF leaders’ return to MNLF

MATI CITY—Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chair Nur Misuari on Saturday said a number of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leaders, dismayed by the Supreme Court’s trashing of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA) with the government, had signified their intention to rejoin his group.

The MILF was born of the MNLF in the 1980s when several leaders, disgruntled with Misuari, left his side.

“There’s a lot of them (MILF leaders), even the big players, and before you know it, they will all be back in the fold of the MNLF,” said Misuari, after his meeting with Mati Mayor Michelle Rabat.

MILF civil-military affairs chief Eid Kabalu, however, belied Misuari’s claim.

Kabalu said the MILF was intact and no one was defecting to any group, including the MNLF.

Misuari said those who wanted to change sides had realized the peace agreement the MNLF signed with the government in 1996 was the best option for resolving the Moro problem.

The peace pact between the government and MNLF paved the way for a plebiscite that voted to create the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao comprised of five provinces – Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur – and the cities of Marawi and Isabela.

A sixth province, Shariff Kabunsuan, was carved from Maguindanao and became part of the ARMM, but the legality of its creation has been placed in doubt.

“They began to realize the MNLF formula was the best under the present circumstances,” said Misuari. He, however, did not identify the MILF leaders who wanted to rejoin his group.

He would only say they would soon be formally readmitted to the MNLF. (Dennis Jay Santos, Inq.net)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"Kato, Bravo may be suspended" MILF chief negotiator says

Two Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commanders wanted by the government may be stripped of their positions if found guilty of attacks on civilian villages in central Mindanao in August, the rebel group's chief peace negotiator said Friday.

Since August, senior members of the MILF's military wing have been investigating Ameril Ombra Kato, who heads the 105th Base Command, and 102nd base commander Abdullah Macapaar alias Bravo, of the 102nd, Mohagher Iqbal said.

Two investigation panels have been formed: one covering the areas of North Cotabato and Maguindanao, the other investigating Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur.

Iqbal, however, did not name the members of the investigating panels.

But at the moment, Kato and Macapaar "are still part of the organization of the MILF," Iqbal said.

He said the interview of Macapaar aired by television network ABS-CBN television network, in which the rebel commander supposedly admits having ordered the attacks in Lanao del Norte "may be taken into consideration, but it is not the heart of the issue."

Iqbal said the investigation was internal to the MILF to help the organization decide the appropriate “disciplinary action if somebody committed a crime."

If suspended, Kato and Macapaar will lose direct command over their unit and will be treated like ordinary members of the command for an undetermined period of time, said Iqbal.

In 2006, the MILF leadership suspended Kato for more than a year after finding him guilty of attacking government forces in Cotabato and therefore violating the ceasefire agreement which was being implemented then, Iqbal said.

He stressed their investigation has nothing to do with their intentions of reviving peace talks with the government.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres, Jr. said the MILF leadership should have initiated the investigation earlier but nevertheless welcomed the rebel group's move.

"As peace keeping and law enforcement agencies however, the actions of the MILF central leadership will not halt nor affect the operations of the AFP and the [Philippine National Police] to hunt down these lawless MILF groups," Torres said.

(By Katherine Evangelista; INQ.net)

Malaysian PM agrees on Mindanao dialogue

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Friday agreed that the negotiations between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front should be anchored on “multi-sectoral acceptance.”

Abdullah voiced this sentiment during a meeting with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on the sidelines of the 7th Asia-Europe Meeting here, the Filipino President’s spokesman said.

“Prime Minister [Abdullah] agreed that dialogue must be held so that a multi-sectoral acceptance of any moving forward later on (in the peace talks) will be there,” Press Secretary Jesus Dureza told reporters after the meeting.

Malaysia has been mediating peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF.

The lack of dialogue with other sectors contributed to the collapse of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain that was to have been signed between the government and the secessionist rebels.

Several Mindanao leaders asked the Supreme Court to dump the agreement on constitutional grounds and because of the government negotiators’ apparent failure to sufficiently consult stakeholders over the proposed creation of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.

In the meeting, Dureza said Arroyo briefed Abdullah on the status of the peace talks with the MILF, which were shelved because of the Moro rebels’ attacks in North Cotobato and Lanao del Norte after the Supreme Court stopped the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.

Arroyo was joined in the meeting at the Kerry Center Hotel by Presidential Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon.

“She personally relayed to him the status he knows already, about where we are in the peace process, the dialogues that we are conducting,” he said. “She assured everybody that the continuation of the peace process was still a high priority.”

In turn, he said Abdullah told Arroyo that he would continue supporting the Philippine government’s effort to end, through peaceful means, the decades-old Moro insurgency in Mindanao.

“The President thanked him for all the support in the peace process,” Esperon said.

The cordiality between the two leaders did not appear to have been diminished by a proposal for Malaysia to stay out of the Mindanao peace process.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon was pushing for another third party such as Indonesia, saying the Malaysian participation involved “conflicts of interest.”

He said allowing Malaysia to continue mediating between the government and the MILF would compromise the Philippines’ claim over Sabah and parts of the disputed Spratly group of islands.(By Christian V. Esguerra;INQ.net)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Arrest of Esperat slay brains ordered

Journalist blew whistle on agri scam

GENERAL SANTOS CITY – The local court in Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat has ordered the arrest of the two agriculture officials who allegedly masterminded the 2005 murder of journalist Marlene Esperat.

Esperat blew the whistle on a P700 million fertilizer scam allegedly involving former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante.

Nena Santos, private prosecutor in the Esperat murder case, Thursday said that Judge Melanio Guerrero of the Regional Trial Court Branch 20 issued the warrants against Osmeña Montañer and Estrella Sabay, finance officer and accountant of the Department of Agriculture in Central Mindanao on Tuesday.

Santos said the issuance of the warrant was swift as it came a day after prosecutors from the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed the information-complaint against Montañer and Sabay.

The suspects’ lawyers had filed a motion to quash the murder charges when the court asked them to file their answers.

In their motion, the lawyers said a similar complaint against Montañer and Sabay had already been dismissed and that there was no ground to charge them anew.

They even tried to block the DOJ from re-filing the charges by asking the Court of Appeals to issue a certiorari and prohibition order.

Santos said the petition for certiorari was dismissed by the CA on Oct. 15.

The decision, a copy of which was received by Santos only on Thursday, stated that the secretary of justice has not committed “manifest error, grave abuse of discretion or prejudice” in ordering the reopening of the case on Oct. 8, 2007.

Montañer and Sabay were implicated by Army Sgt. Rowie Barua in the murder of Esperat, the whistle-blower on the multi-million peso fertilizer scam.

Despite his confession, the court ordered Montañer and Sabay’s names stricken off the charge sheets for alleged lack of evidence that would link them to Esperat’s murder.

Earlier, the Esperat family welcomed the move taken by Gonzalez.

In the course of the trial, Santos, on several occasions, lambasted government prosecutors for bungling the Esperat murder case.

Santos blamed the DOJ for creating one panel of prosecutors after the other.

A DOJ-formed prosecution panel led by Cotabato City prosecutor Tocod Ronda, a known ally of Montañer, endorsed the dismissal of charges against the two officials on June 29, 2005.

A month after, the DOJ created another prosecution panel, now excluding Ronda, that eventually re-filed the murder charges.
On July 4, 2005, gunmen Ex-Army Sgt. Estanislao Bismanos, Randy Grecia, and Jerry Cabayag all pleaded guilty to Esperat’s murder.

Rowie Barua, who claimed he was the one who hired the three gunmen allegedly on orders from Montaner and Sabay, was not included in the case as he turned into a state witness.

The case took a bizarre twist when each panel of prosecutors made different recommendations to the court. (By Aquiles Zonio; INQ.net)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Interfaith humanitarian mission starts today

The five-day National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission focus on the looming humanitarian disaster in Mindanao begins today. Leaders from different religions convene the mission founded on the deteriorating situation of more than half a million internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to the ongoing police-military operations of the government against forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), as well as the unabated and increasing human rights violations being committed particularly by government authorities against innocent civilians and non-combatants.

Respect of human rights is a foremost obligation of the government but failure on this responsibility makes a failing or failed state, said a human rights expert.

The mission involves various activities to include provision of relief assistance to IDPs, documentation of human rights violations, forum with the war victims, psycho-social intervention and stress debriefing.

International and local non-governmental organizations and party list representatives from the Philippine Congress concerned on human rights issues, together with some medical groups, join hands for the mission.

The World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP) and its regional affiliate the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace (ACRP), which also have ongoing interreligious dialogue in the Philippines this week, pledged to support the National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission in Mindanao.

WCRP and ACRP will make appeal to the ASEAN Nations to discuss the Mindanao humanitarian crisis in the upcoming ASEAN Meeting in Bangkok in December 2008.

Relatedly, the Asian Human Rights Commission, a participating group to the National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission in Mindanao, will elevate their findings to the United Nations.

The police-military actions against MILF started in the first week of August this year.

Government authorities, police and military officials and elements had been blamed of using excessive force in its operations, violating human rights by committing illegal arrests, killing of civilians, destroying civilian properties, schools and religious symbols, burning houses, raid and torture, food blockade, selective relief assistance, bombing civilian communities, committing collective punishment, indiscriminate shelling and air strikes, inability to protect and uphold the rights of civilians and non-combatants in times of war, and violating International Humanitarian Laws.

Oxfam of the Great Britain, United Nations World Food Program (UNWFP) and the International Committee of the Red Cross recently pronounced that the humanitarian crisis in Mindanao is real, which is in contrary to the persistent claim by the government.

Recently, more than ten persons were arbitrarily arrested by government authorities in the province of Maguindanao and Cotabato, including those who were forcibly taken by government soldiers from refugee sites. Some of the victims were physically abused by the lawless government soldiers, and one victim was brought to a hospital due after severely beaten up by government soldiers.

Starting 6pm until 8pm last night until, the Philippine Army heavily and indiscriminately bombarded with mortar and artillery shelling barangays Nimao, Gawang, Tee and Andabit in Datu Piang, Maguindanao and some villages in Guindulungan, Maguindanao. (Source: luwaran.com)

Basilan kidnappers threaten to cut finger of captive aid worker

Kidnappers holding two aid workers in Basilan have threatened to inflict physical injury to one of their captives if ransom would not be paid within the day, a peace advocate in Zamboanga said Wednesday.

Fr. Angel Calvo said the kidnappers has threatened to cut the finger of non-government organization worker, Esperancita Hupida if ransom will not be paid within this day.

Hupida and Milet Mendoza, workers of Nagdilaab Foundation Incorporated which caters to social and educational works in far-flung areas in Basilan, remain in the hands of their captors for more than a month now.

Calvo said the kidnappers directly contacted Hupida's husband Tuesday night and reiterated their demand for P5 million in exchange for Hupida's freedom.

Calvo said however that the Hupida’s family is not financially incapable of meeting the demand of the kidnappers.

He said they are not sure if the kidnappers would extend the ultimatum for a few days, since they are quite serious in cutting off the finger of Hupida if their demand was not met.

Calvo appealed for help in rescuing the two NGO workers and insisted that the case is not an isolated one. He said that the abductions keeps repeating in the province of basilan.

The priest said he believes Basilan’s provincial government should now come into the picture and try to control the local lawless group who have been victimizing innocent and cause-oriented groups in the province.

He said however that military operations should always be the last option that could be considered by the family and putting the security of the captives should be the priority.

Amidst the crisis, the Bishop-Ulama council, police, military and some NGOs in Zamboanga organized a peace forum to discuss important issues affecting the peace and order situation in Mindanao.

Calvo said however that the conduct of a peace forum would not be enough to resolve the crisis in Basilan. Instead, he said, a realistic approach or action must be planed out to eventually rescue the two NGO workers. (By RJ ROSALADO, ABS-CBN Zamboanga)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cops hold 3 Bravo followers in kidnap

COTABATO CITY – Police are holding three suspected followers of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Abdullah Macapaar, alias Commander Bravo, who seized a Mindanao State University official last week in Lanao del Sur.

Senior Supt. Danilo Bacas, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao police spokesperson, told the Inquirer by phone that the suspects, identified as Yusoph Rangar of Iligan City; Sahaludin Suong and Jaber Sultan, both residents of Saguiran town, admitted that they were hired by men identified with Commander Bravo to kidnap Hipolito Miñoza, MSU budget officer.

Bacas said the suspects’ getaway vehicle, a Toyota Corolla with license plate PLN-507, was also recovered.

Bacas said the three suspects were arrested during a pursuit operation hours after the abduction of Miñoza on Oct. 16 in Saguiran town, but their arrest was only made known to media Monday.

Miñoza, 54, was driving home with his wife to Iligan City from the MSU campus in Marawi City when armed men flagged him down in Barangay Bubong in Saguiaran. (By Jeoffrey Maitem; INQ.net)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

MILF suspect slain in Zamboanga Sibugay encounter

ZAMBOANGA CITY – An suspected member of the separatist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was killed in an encounter in Tungawan, Zamboanga Sibugay.

Col. Rodel Alarcon, 18th Infantry Battalion commanding officer, said a squad of civilian volunteers and some troops encountered five armed men in Barangay Timbabaoan last Tuesday.

Firefight ensued between the two groups, resulting in the death of a guerrilla identified as Tumali Misuari.

Alarcon claimed that the armed men were MILF guerrillas from Camp Salman Alfarishi, Datu Tumangong in Tungawan.

The Army officer said the clash took place during a combat patrol after residents complained of alleged extortion activities in the area.

Other suspects who managed to escape were identified as Munib Aukasa, Amisain Unding, Halim Bacondo and Abdulasa Sali.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

MSU exec seized; Moro rebels eyed

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines. Suspected Moro rebels under Abdurahman Macapaar, better known as Commander Bravo, seized an official of the Mindanao State University on Thursday afternoon, police said Friday.

Chief Superintendent Bensali Jabarani, director of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) police, said Hipolito Miñoza, MSU budget officer, was on his way here when armed men flagged him down at 3:45 p.m. in the village of Bubong in Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur.

“We have not yet identified any group but we are not discounting the involvement of Commander Bravo in the incident,” Jabarani said referring to the commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), being hunted down for the Lanao del Norte attacks in August.

Several kidnapping incidents in Lanao have been blamed on Bravo and his men or on other MILF forces in the area.

They include the June kidnapping of 21 MSU teachers. The 20 teachers were freed shortly after the incident while the last one was released only after a few weeks.

Allegations that the MILF were into kidnapping in Lanao had been strongly disputed by the MILF hierarchy.

An Army official, who wasn’t authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone that MSU officer Miñoza was actually with his wife, Yolanda, when he was kidnapped.

He said the gunmen purposely left Miñoza’s wife behind. She traveled back to Marawi and reported the incident to authorities.

Lanao del Sur Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr. said he already ordered the police to work with the military for the safe recovery of Miñoza, who is 60 years old.

Jabarani said they were investigating the motive behind the abduction as no ransom demand had been sent.

In Maguindanao, the military said MILF rebels strafed the house of a militiaman in Barangay Tambunan, Guindulongan town on Thursday evening.

Major Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command based in Davao City, told the Inquirer by phone that Manguda Bibingan was killed in the 8:35 p.m. attack, while his wife was wounded.

Cabangbang said the suspects were under Commander Ameril Ombra Kato, who is also being hunted down for leading attacks in North Cotabato in July and August. (Richel V. Umel and Jeoffrey Maitem, INQ.net)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Esperon contests SC ruling on domain pact

Presidential peace adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr on Wednesday contested the Supreme Court’s decision to rule the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain between the government and Moro rebels as unconstitutional.

Esperon particularly belied the high court’s allegation that the government abused its discretion when it did not conducted consultations prior to the preparation of the MOA-AD.

In a chance interview at the National Defense Colleges of the Philippines inside Camp Aguinaldo, Esperon, a former military chief of staff, said they had dialogues with various stakeholders during the peace negotiations.

“I must say that in our record at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process from 2005 to 2007, there were 140 consultations with various sectors and organizations, including, if I may add, one that lasted for six hours in Zamboanga City. So there were indeed consultations,” he said.

Esperon said the issue regarding the MOA-AD is already moot because the government had already declared beforehand that it is not going to sign the document on its present form.

“We have even said we are withdrawing the MOA from the peace process itself. So it (MOA-AD) is moot,” he said.

On the inclusion of several villages in the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity or expanded Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, Esperon said they agreed to the idea because the Moro Islamic Liberation Front was willing to subject it to a plebiscite.

Esperon said they have strictly followed President Arroyo’s instructions in negotiating for the MOA-AD. He said among the instructions included strict adherence to the Constitution and upholding the territorial integrity of the country.

“The negotiation panel saw to it that we never went out of the Constitution or that we made sure there was a provision that would refer to the legal framework or the Constitution itself,” he said.

Esperon – along with Rodolfo Garcia, chair of the now disbanded government panel negotiating peace with the MILF - was supposed to sign the MOA-AD last Aug. 5 in Kuala Lumpur. But a day before it, the SC issued a temporary restraining order against it.

The TRO was in response to the petition filed by several local government officials in Mindanao who are opposed to the ARMM expansion. - GMANews.TV

Monday, October 6, 2008

EU allots €7M for Mindanao

The European Union has earmarked seven million euros for two separate projects aimed to help civilian victims of the ongoing Mindanao conflict, EU Ambassador to the country Alistair MacDonald told reporters in a press conference Monday.

The allotments, which were decided by the European Commission in Belgium last week following a needs assessment last September, were made despite the worldwide financial crisis that also saw the bailout of some European banks.

Four million euros from the total will go to immediate humanitarian assistance for the estimated 500,000 people who were displaced by the fighting that erupted soon after the Supreme Court stopped in August the signing of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

MacDonald said the four million euros, to be channeled through EU partners like the United Nations, the International Red Cross, and non-government organizations, would be spent on emergency items like food, water, sanitation, non-food items, basic shelter, health care and psycho-social support, and livelihood rehabilitation and protection.

He said this emergency humanitarian assistance would cover the needs of the displaced civilians from six to nine months.

The rest of the grant will be for two-year rehabilitation assistance from now until 2010.

The three million euros "has already been under preparation for some time, even before the renewed outbreak of violence, and was intended to address the problems facing civilians who had been displaced by fighting over recent years, but who had not been able to return fully to their former way of life," the ambassador said.

This second amount, to be implemented by the United Nations Development Programme as part of its Act for Peace program, will provide for both the displaced and the host communities.

MacDonald said the multi-sectoral assistance of this allocation would also address the psychosocial problems of long-term and repeated displacement, and work to rebuild social cohesion in affected communities in 14 provinces.

Over the last 10 years, and including this latest assistance, the EU has provided 126 million euros in development, humanitarian, and rehabilitation assistance to Mindanao.

EU is also the largest donor for the Mindanao Trust Fund, which was established in 2005 by the World Bank following a request by the Philippine government to strengthen assistance to conflict-affected areas in Mindanao. It provides about half of the current total MTF of $8.9 million.

(EU contributions to the Mindanao Trust Fund total 2 million euros. The other donors are Sweden, 1 million euros; Australia, $370,000; Canada, $1.56 million; New Zealand, $200,000; the United States, $750,000; and World Bank, $1.5 million.)

(Veronica Uy - INQ.net)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Peace caravan for Mindanao kicks off

More than 100 people from different religious groups gathered in Quezon City on Thursday morning to kick off a one-day peace caravan calling for the cessation of hostilities in Mindanao.

Organizers of the interfaith event met at Miriam College and called on the leaders of the national government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels to go back to the negotiation table and end the war in Mindanao which, they said, had displaced thousands of residents, most of them children who were forced to stop going to school.

On board several vehicles, the group will go to a Muslim community in Taguig City and hold a mass at St. Joseph’s Church later in the day. (By Marlon Ramos; INQ.net()