Friday, December 30, 2016

Bomb explodes near Lamitan city hall; no one hurt

From ABS-CBN (Dec 31): Bomb explodes near Lamitan city hall; no one hurt

A loud explosion rocked Lamitan City, Basilan, Friday night.

Lamitan city Vice-Mayor Roderick Furigay said the explosion happened near city hall, about 3 to 4 meters away from its concrete fence.

The blast left no visible damage to property and no one was hurt, Furigay said.

Chief Inspector Tauf Abdurahim, head of the Lamitan police, said the blast was caused by an improvised explosive device.

The explosive ordinance disposal unit recovered bomb fragments, which were placed in a container shaped like a pipe and wrapped in paper.

While authorities have yet to identify a suspect, Furigay believed that an urban terrorist group linked to the Abu Sayyaf group was behind the explosion.

The group is accused of extorting money from local officials and businessmen.

Security in Lamitan has been tightened following the group's threats to plant bombs around the city, the mayor said.

Before Christmas day, another bomb went off near the Poblacion. Nobody was injured there.

Terror alliance bared

From The Standard (Dec 30): Terror alliance bared

DND chief links Maute, BIFF to bombing plots

DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Friday linked two recent bomb attacks to the terrorist Maute group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, saying they had formed a tactical alliance to spread terror.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Rizal Day commemoration at Luneta, Lorenzana said the explosion in Leyte Thursday could have been carried out to divert the government’s intensified military operations against these groups.

“We have this suspicion that the Maute and the BIFF, had this sort of an alliance. Maybe they’re sharing the technology in bomb making,” Lorenzana told the Manila Standard.

“It’s a tactical alliance wherein the two groups are helping each other,” he added.

Lorenzana said materials used in making the improvised exposive devices could have come from the BIFF.

ICONIC CEREMONY. President Rodrigo Duterte, with former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Special Assistant to the President Christpher Go, National Historical Commission acting chairman and commissioner Dr. Rene Escalante and other government officials, leads the traditional flag-raising rites Friday morning during the 120th anniversary of Jose Rizal’s martyrdom at the Luneta.

“It’s not farfetched because their home bases--Lanao and Maguindanao are very near. Some members of the Maute group are from Maguindanao, so that’s the connection maybe,” he added.

The Maute group was said to be behind the Davao City night market bombing last September that killed 15 people and wounded 70 others.

President Rodrigo Duterte linked these attacks and the Christmas Eve bombing in Midsayap to the Islamic State.

“The ISIS seems to be everywhere. Samal, there was an explosion. In Midsayap, while the priest was giving a sermon on extrajudicial killings, his church was bombed,” Duterte told an online news service.

When pressed if the Midsayap bombings were connected to ISIS, Duterte linked them also to the “Davao bombing.”

Earlier, however, Duterte had said that “turf wars” between “Moro people” belonging to rival drug syndicates were behind the recent explosions in Hilongos, Leyte and Midsayap, North Cotabato.

So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the latest blasts.

“I hope it will not get out of control. I had conference with top guys of the government, military. I saw them with the police. You have to not only appear strong, you have to be strong because this is another problem, it’s no joke,” he said.

Lorenzana affirmed that the recent attacks may be part of diversionary tactics by local terror groups, as government troops continue their offensive against those who have supposedly pledged allegiance to ISIS, such as the Maute group, and the Abu Sayyaf.

In a separate interview, the President noted that it could be possible that the terrorist operations could be directed from “inside jail cells.”

Lorenzana also said the blasts may still be related to the drug war being waged by the President.

He added that both the Maute group and the Abu Sayaff were capable of doing harm “anywhere in the Philippines.”

“Especially now that we’re heading to the New Year,” he added.

On Thursday, Duterte said he did not intend to declare Martial Law, saying the state of lawless violence was enough.

Duterte said it was Senator Panfilo Lacson who spoke to him about possibility of Martial Law that triggered “loose talk.”

“If anything could go wrong in Mindanao, Lacson said, it would go wrong. Murphy’s Law. If it gets worse, tell Rody, suggest it to the President, to declare Martial Law for Mindanao,” Duterte told GMA-7 in a live television interview.

Following an explosion that ripped through a popular night market in his hometown Davao City, Duterte had earlier declared a “state of lawless violence” in the country which would allow the increase of military and police presence throughout the country to combat not just terror threats, but also to step up his campaign against illegal drugs and to curb the recent rise in extrajudicial killings.

The President had earlier said that he wanted the constitutional provisions on the declaration of Martial Law relaxed to make it easier for the chief executive to impose it.

This triggered heated criticism from his opponents, including Vice President Leni Robredo.

Gov’t ready for 3rd round of peace talks

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 30): Gov’t ready for 3rd round of peace talks

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III  --ANTHONY Q. ESGUERRA/

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III –ANTHONY Q. ESGUERRA/
The Philippine government has finished drafting its version of a proposed pact on social and economic reforms to be presented to communist rebels in the next round of peace tallks, scheduled in Rome next month, chief peace negotiator Silvestre Bello III has said.

Details of the 33-page  Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (Caser) however were not made available to the press, because it was still to be presented and discussed with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

The NDFP is the political wing of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has been waging more than four decades of rebellion that has left thousands dead and stunted economic growth.

Points of assertion
“Caser (government draft) is ready. We are ready to rumble,” Bello, who is also labor secretary, told the Inquirer during the 48th anniversary of the CPP.

The NDFP said that the major points of assertion from their side included agrarian reform, national industrialization, labor rights and environmental  protection.

The NDFP said it was also keen on tackling the issue of foreign ownership of businesses in the country, especially under the context of expanding  industries—including mining and plantations.

NDFP senior adviser Luis Jalandoni said the revolutionary movement was also  particular in responding to the concerns of the Moro people and indigenous peoples, specifically about their right to self determination.

While both parties agreed during the exploratory talks in Oslo last June to accelerate the peace process, the NDFP said it wanted to ensure that the  quality of the agreement would not be compromised.

NDFP peace panel member Coni Ledesma said the Caser would be the “meat of  the process” and it should address the roots of the armed conflict in the  country.

Commentary: The political legacy of the Filipino Sixty-Eighters

From the Question Everything column by Mong Palatino in the pro-CPP/NDF/NPA online propaganda publication Bulatlat (Dec 29): The political legacy of the Filipino Sixty-Eighters

Mention the year 1968 and what comes to mind are the youth uprisings across the world. The year of student strikes, anti-war rallies, and Chinese Red Guards bombarding the headquarters. In the Philippines, the political landscape during that time was dominated by Marcos. But another political event was the reestablishment of the Communist Party (CPP).

When people discuss the anti-Marcos struggle, the popular view highlights the impact of Senator Ninoy Aquino’s assassination in 1983. Meanwhile, the alternative perspective rightfully underscores the substantial role of the First Quarter Storm (FQS) of 1970 and the growth of the Maoist-inspired New People’s Army (NPA).

Indeed, the CPP-NPA gained nationwide following during the Martial Law years. Analysts attribute this to the emergence of the Left as the most consistent and formidable political force opposing the Marcos dictatorship.

But the CPP-NPA continued the fight after 1986 when Martial Law was already defeated and a so-called democratic space was offered by post-Edsa regimes. Because of this, mainstream commentators previously sympathetic to the Left accused the CPP-NPA of being a recalcitrant and dogmatic movement, a political nuisance which refused to acknowledge that Edsa brought change in society.

Three decades later, the CPP-NPA is still thriving and even resurgent in many islands of the country. If the communist opposition movements in neighboring countries are either defunct or defeated, the CPP remains a relevant political force in the Philippines. This cannot be explained by merely accusing the CPP of being stubborn and doctrinaire. What is the secret to the longevity of the CPP?

To answer this question, we must go back to 1968. Marcos was not yet a dictator, the Philippines was a model democracy in the Asia-Pacific, and businesses (read: oligarchs and cronies) were booming.

The CPP was founded not simply because it wanted to oust Marcos; its principal political aim was the smashing of the semi-feudal and semi-colonial system. It named imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism as the three basic ills afflicting society. To get rid of these social evils, no less than a people’s revolution is required for a protracted period of time.

This is the radical legacy of the sixty-eighters, the pioneer generation of revolutionaries who defended and continues to defend the principles of the national democratic movement.

Through the sixty-eighters, we understood what it means to wage a revolution even at a time when the political situation seems stable. We grasped the urgency to expose the sham democracy and the systemic exploitation of the people even as the ruling elite insists and boasts that things are normal and progressing for everybody. We realized that revolutionaries should not hesitate in naming the political moment as ripe for seizing, and more importantly, they should be aggressive in organizing.

The sixty-eighters have the reputation of being grim and determined revolutionaries. This is a compliment, although some academicians think it is a vulgarity.

There were numerous Marxist groups before the sixty-eighters but many of them were intellectuals with little or no experience of organizing among the workers and peasants. In contrast, the sixty-eighters excelled in praxis, as they resumed the unfinished work of earlier Philippine revolutionaries.

The FQS was a massive broadcast of the revolutionary political line, and its program, strategy, and tactics were already defined in 1968. The NPA was a powerful resistance weapon against Martial Law and US imperialism but the necessity of conducting an armed revolution in an archipelagic country like the Philippines was already invoked in 1968.

New People's Army fighters walk before their movement's standards as they take their positions for the start of the Communist Party's anniversary celebrations. (Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte)

New People’s Army fighters walk before their movement’s standards as they take their positions for the start of the Communist Party’s anniversary celebrations. (Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte)

The enduring legacy of the sixty-eighters is hope. The communist party was almost an obscure entity in the 1950s and early 1960s before the sixty-eighters launched a rectification movement which paved the way for the revival of the proletarian party. Before 1968, the people had no army, the oppressed had no party, and resistance was limited to holding scattered and sporadic rallies. The sixty-eighters changed the course of the country’s history by making revolution a practical reality.

Thus, the annual festive celebration of the CPP’s re-establishment. Both activists and CPP cadres use this occasion to review the status of the national democratic struggle, analyze the local and global political situation, and renew the fighting tasks of the revolution. This is the day when we are reminded about the historic decision of the sixty-eighters to lead the struggle for national liberation and socialist construction.
Joining the commemoration are the organized masses who recognize the political
symbolism of 1968 and its subversive potential to change and create history. They know that 1968 is more than just a CPP anniversary; that it is a crucial moment in Philippine history, and that it links the anti-colonial revolt of the Katipunan and the modern proletarian revolution.

Thus, the state-led demonization of the CPP, the use of terror and fascist tactics to crush CPP-led dissent, and the formulaic attack against the politics of the CPP.
Contemporary Philippine politics may make us depressed and angry, but we have the militancy of the sixty-eighters as a constant source of inspiration.

And also of lessons: that even if despotic politicians reign supreme, there exists a group of revolutionaries who are fiercely committed to end injustice and inequality. That even if some prefer compromise to win instant reforms, the sixty-eighters have already succeeded in establishing the validity of militant collective action – and even armed struggle – as a viable revolutionary path. That political victory in the 21st century cannot be achieved by ignoring the legacy of 1968.

At a time when moderation is glorified in mainstream society, we should be more assertive in embracing the radicalness of the sixty-eighters.

DOST scientists receive AFP 'Gawad sa Kaunlaran'

From Rappler (Dec 30): DOST scientists receive AFP 'Gawad sa Kaunlaran'

The awardees are DOST Executive Director Dr Mahar Lagmay, and geologists Peter Khallil Figueroa Ferrer and Carmille Marie Escape

AFP AWARD. The AFP's 'Gawad sa Kaunlaran' is the second to the highest distinction given to citizens and government officials in accordance with socio-economic and other non-combat activities. Photo courtesy of Peter Khallil Figueroa Ferrer

AFP AWARD. The AFP's 'Gawad sa Kaunlaran' is the second to the highest distinction given to citizens and government officials in accordance with socio-economic and other non-combat activities. Photo courtesy of Peter Khallil Figueroa Ferrer
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) awarded the “Gawad sa Kaunlaran" medal and ribbon to 3 scientists from the Project Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (Project NOAH) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
They were recognized on Tuesday, December 27, for working with the AFP and helping prepare residents of Calayan, Batanes, against typhoon hazards during the “All-in-One Bayanihan in Calayan Group of Islands,” a 4-day training held from July 24 to 29, 2016.
The commander of the AFP Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom), Lt Gen Romeo Tanalgo, handed the award to DOST Executive Director Dr Mahar Lagmay, and geologists Peter Khallil Figueroa Ferrer and Carmille Marie Escape. Tanalgo was also with the Project NOAH team when they visited Calayan, Batanes in July.
During the 4-day training, Project NOAH lectured the residents about storm surges and landslide-prone areas, and distributed hard copies of hazard maps to the community. According to Lagmay, the project was spearheaded by GoShare and AFP Nolcom.
AWARDEES. Bayanihan volunteers and 'Gawad sa Kaunlaran' awardees pose for a photo opportunity during the awarding night. Photo courtesy of Rolan Garcia
AWARDEES. Bayanihan volunteers and 'Gawad sa Kaunlaran' awardees pose for a photo opportunity during the awarding night. Photo courtesy of Rolan Garcia

“The bayanihan was composed of a big group. It happened few months before Typhoon Ferdie (Meranti) and Typhoon Lawin (Haima). Since maps were distributed by Project NOAH, locals found out that the recent evacuation area was in the danger zone. They decided to transfer to another area. When the typhoon struck, that evacuation area was damaged. People were able to spare their lives from the danger through the maps,” Lagmay added.
The AFP’s Gawad sa Kaunlaran is the second to the highest distinction given to citizens and government officials in accordance with socio-economic and other non-combat activities.
For the awardees, the recognition only inspired them to help more communities prepare for disasters.
“To receive the Gawad sa Kaunlaran medal is an honor for Project NOAH because it shows that we are truly passionate in our mission to provide communities open access to accurate and reliable hazard maps for a disaster-free Philippines,” Ferrer and Escape said. 

AFP vows no repeat of Rizal Day bombings

From GMA News (Dec 30): AFP vows no repeat of Rizal Day bombings

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday promised to never let any act of terrorism prosper during the holidays, in light of the recent bombing in Hilongos, Leyte and in commemoration of the deadly Rizal Day bombings in 2000.

 “The Armed Forces of the Philippines is on guard in support of the Philippine National Police to frustrate any possible attempts of terrorists groups to do a repeat of the attack,” said Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of AFP Public Affairs Office, in a statement.

“We will not allow any threat to dampen this year’s commemorative celebration of Rizal’s example of physical and moral courage,” he added.

Exactly 16 years ago, 22 people died while close to a hundred were hurt when simultaneous bombings rocked five areas across Metro Manila: LRT and Plaza Ferguson in Manila; a bus in Cubao, Quezon City; NAIA in Pasay City; and an area near a gas station in Makati City.

The bombings were led by self-confessed Jema’ah Islamiyah bomber Fathur Roman Al Ghozi.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, more than 30 people were hurt in an explosion caused by a pair of improvised explosive devices during a boxing match near the Hilongos Municipal Plaza in Leyte.

Given these incidents, AFP chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año vowed to exert all efforts in order to prevent terrorist groups and criminals from pursuing their plans.

“We are, as a nation, beset with the challenges from unscrupulous individuals and groups that are bent to kill, maim, and terrorize our people,” Año said.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines, in tandem with the Philippine National Police, will do its level best to ensure that they will not succeed. That their nefarious and criminal activities— chief of which are illegal drugs and kidnapping for ransom —will be met with superior force and calibrated responses,” he added.

Año then urged the public to help the AFP in countering these incidents.

OPAPP hopes to start work on new Bangsamoro law in January

From Rappler (Dec 30): OPAPP hopes to start work on new Bangsamoro law in January

President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to name in January 2017 the members of the expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission that is tasked to draft the Bangsamoro bill

WAITING FOR THE NAMES. Photo shows President Rodrigo Duterte and MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim during the signing of the executive order creating the expanded Bangsamoro Transition Council on November 7, 2016. OPAPP file photo

WAITING FOR THE NAMES. Photo shows President Rodrigo Duterte and MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim during the signing of the executive order creating the expanded Bangsamoro Transition Council on November 7, 2016. OPAPP file photo
Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza is hoping to begin in January 2017 formal work on a new law that will create the Bangsamoro region to implement the peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Dureza said President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to finally name in January the 21 individuals who will make up the new and expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the panel that will draft the proposal that will be submitted to Congress.
“By January, baka lalabas na ang appointment ng pangulo (the president is expected to appoint the members),” Dureza said.
Dureza said the Bangsamoro Basic Law that failed to pass in the previous 16th Congress will "probably be the basic document, among other pertinent legislations, of the new enabling law."
Address constitutionality issues
Lawmakers who opposed the bill argued that the draft violates the constitution by allocating too much power to the new region, a claim that the members of the BTC then denied. Duterte is now proposing a shift to federalism to allow the new region to have those powers.
Napag-aralan na rin ang old BBL, hindi lang napasa dahil may dumating na Mamasapano [incident], which put doubts on the level of trust in the talks. There are also issues about constitutionality pero may sectors na nagsasabi na constitutionally-compliant naman ang mgaprovisions na ‘yan. So, all of these will be taken noted," Dureza said. (The old BBL already underwent scrutiny but failed to be passed because of the Mamasapano incident, which put doubts on the level of trust in the talks. There were also issues on its constitutionality, but there are sectors affirming that the old BBL is constitutionally-compliant)
Deadline: July 2017
The BTC is expected to submit a draft to Congress before Duterte's State of the Nation Address in July 2017.
Duterte signed Executive Order no. 8 on November 7 to overhaul the BTC under the previous Aquino administration.
The BTC was expanded from 15 to 21 members to accommodate more stakeholders, an attempt to "bring together all key peace actors and stakeholders in the implementation of all Bangsamoro accords."
The new 21-member panel will have 11 members appointed by the MILF and 10 members appointed by the government.
The panel will include representatives from one faction of the MILF rival group Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Muslimin Sema.
The indigenous peoples, sultanates, local government units, and the regional government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao will also be represented at the BTC.
Duterte has also persuaded the MNLF faction led by its founder Nur Misuari to support the peace process but it will not join the BTC. The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) will have a separate peace table to address Misuari's concerns. (READ: 2 separate panels for MILF, MNLF-Nur)
Misuari's faction was responsible for the 2013 Zamboanga Siege that protested the peace process with the MILF. Misuari, who is facing rebellion charges, was granted temporary liberty to join the peace talks.

Russian warships to visit Manila

From Rappler (Dec 30): Russian warships to visit Manila

The visit comes as President Rodrigo Duterte seeks to forge closer military ties with Russia to demonstrate a foreign policy that is independent of the country's longtime ally, the US

DUTERTE'S FOREIGN POLICY. President Rodrigo Duterte sits between Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (L) and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo at the gala dinner during the ASEAN Summit in Vientiane on September 7, 2016. Photo by Noel Celis/AFP

DUTERTE'S FOREIGN POLICY. President Rodrigo Duterte sits between Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (L) and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo at the gala dinner during the ASEAN Summit in Vientiane on September 7, 2016. Photo by Noel Celis/AFP
Two Russian Navy warships will make a stop at the South Harbor in Manila on January 3 for a 4-day goodwill visit that will include activities to be attended by the Russian ambassador to the Philippines.
Anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs and Sea Tanker Boris Butoma will call at the harbor's Pier 15 Wednesday morning next week, January 3, according to an advisory from the Philippine Navy.
The visit comes as President Rodrigo Duterte seeks to forge closer military ties with Russia – along with China – to demonstrate a foreign policy that is independent of the country's longtime ally, the US.
Russian warships occasionally dock in the Philippines, but this is the first time that the Russian Navy officers will have a series of interactions with their Filipino counterparts.

"A Russian Pacific Fleet Hydrographic Vessel docked at South Harbor Manila from May 19-23 only for resupply, replenishment and crew rest. There was no Navy-to-Navy interaction," said Lieutenant Commander Marineth Domingo, director of the naval Public Affairs Office.
Russian Navy Pacific Deputy Commander Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov will lead the fleet as they participate in goodwill games with the Philippine Navy. The Russian Marines will also have a capability demonstration.
Russian ambassador Igor Khovaev will hold a press conference onboard one of the ships, which will be opened to civilians who want a tour.
Russian President Vladimir Putin personally invited Duterte to visit Moscow during their bilateral meeting at the APEC Summit in Peru last month.
Duterte also sent Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr to Moscow earlier this month to hammer out details of possible cooperation.

Duterte has made pronouncements that he is considering holding joint military exercises with either Russia or China, while threatening to end the decades-long tradition of war games between the Philippines and the US.

Last month, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed that war games with the Americans will be reduced. The annual Balikatan exercises will continue but they will be limited to counterterrorism, humanitarian relief and disaster response, engineering projects, and civic actions.
Two other major exercises – the Philippine-US Amphibious Landing Exercises (Phiblex) and Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) – were scrapped.

(FEATURE) Rizal, the wielder of pen and patriotic ideas

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 30): (FEATURE) Rizal, the wielder of pen and patriotic ideas
The Philippine’s great national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, wielded a weapon far mightier than a sword -- a pen that sparked the flame of revolution against Spanish colonialism.

Rizal propagated the idea of independence and national unity finely captured in his two renowned books -- the “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” -- thus inspiring the likes of the valiant Andres Bonifacio, the “Father of Philippine Revolution”.

On the 30th day of December, the whole nation commemorates the hero who advocated freedom, who pushed for social reforms and progress, who embodied true nationalism.

Jose Rizal was shot at Bagumbayan on Dec. 30, 1896. Two years later, on Dec. 20 1898, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo issued a decree proclaiming Dec. 30 as a “national day of mourning” in honor of Rizal and the other martyrs of the revolution against Spain.

This year’s theme for the 120th anniversary of the national hero is “Rizal: Bayaning Global, Aydol ni Juan”, according to the National Historic Commission of the Philippines.

The visionary Rizal may have lived a century earlier, but modern day Filipinos still could learn a thing or two to shape up our patriotism in this globalized world.

(1) “He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination.” This is one of the famous quotes of Rizal, which reminds us to stay grounded and never forget our origins.

(2) “There can be no tyrants where there are no slaves.” Before, this served as a wake-up call for Filipinos to put an end to the three century- long tyranny of the Spaniards and fight for our long-awaited freedom. Now, this impels us to take the wheel and be the masters of our own ships, of our own lives.

(3) ”To foretell the destiny of a nation, it is necessary to open a book that tells of her past.” Rizal sheds light on the importance of history. We should view the present through a historical lens as it offers us a context of events and answers to our existing problems. It also provides us the control wheel to our future, to veer away from our past mistakes.

(4) “The people do not complain because they have no voice; do not move because they are lethargic, and you say that they do not suffer because you have not seen their hearts bleed.” Injustices and oppression still pervade our society and Rizal tells us not to turn a blind eye to these evils. We might not realize the extent to which oppression is still pervasive, we might not even know the struggle, but we must take it upon ourselves to combat it.

(5)”The youth is the hope of our future.” Rizal expects a lot to the future leaders of our country, the youth. Young people are the backbones, the building blocks of the nation and just like Rizal, one day they could spark a flame that could change other lives.

One hundred and twenty years after his martyrdom, Rizal’s writings still ring true, his legacy creating ripples in every generation.

South Cotabato PNP eyes cattle rustlers in cop's murder

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 30): South Cotabato PNP eyes cattle rustlers in cop's murder

Police authorities in South Cotabato on Thursday said Army and police personnel are hunting down about four gunmen who shot dead a police officer Wednesday dawn.

Senior Supt. Franklin Alvero, South Cotabato police provincial director, said the suspects in the murder of Police Officer 2 John Mark Escobillo of Tupi PNP were suspected cattle rustlers.

Escobillo, son of Vice Mayor Noel Escobillo of Tupi town, was heading for home on board a motorbike at dawn when he noticed about four men pulling a cattle along a dirt road.

Alvero said Escobillo stopped and asked what the four men were doing with the cattle during the wee hours of the morning.

But one of the suspects pulled a 12 gauge shotgun and opened fire on Escobillo. They then hurriedly left with the cattle.

Responding villagers rushed the victim to the hospital where he was declared dead on arrival due to multiple gunshot wounds in his abdomen.

Escobillo heads the Tupi PNP Community Police Assistance Center (COMPAC).

Identities of the attackers remained unknown.

(YEARENDER) Pres. Duterte’s roadmap to peace marks hope, trust, confidence

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 30): (YEARENDER) Pres. Duterte’s roadmap to peace marks hope, trust, confidence

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has drawn a road map to peace that offered road signs of confidence, hope, and trust of the Filipino people in general and for the people in Mindanao in particular.

Duterte was elected as the country’s 16th Philippine president during the May 2016 national and local elections with a vote of over 16 million and a majority vote of over six million over his closest rivals.

The first elected Philippine president from Mindanao, the largest island of over 20 million people 800 miles south of Manila, Duterte’s election eclipsed all major events in a country where bombings, carnage, and street killings is part of the daily grind.

Six months into office since he assumed the presidency in July 2016, Duterte carved a niche in the war against the illegal drug trade, criminality, and corruption in a country of 100 million people.

Duterte said that about three million Filipinos in the country had been reported hooked into the illegal drug with more than 990,000 users/addicts turning themselves to the law enforcers at the height of “Oplan Tokhang” (Knock and Plead), a nationwide anti-illegal drug campaign, as of December 29, 2016.

In Northern Mindanao, the regional police command reported that over 81,000 self-confessed drug addicts and users voluntarily turned themselves in various police and military camps in the region.

P/Chief Supt. Noel Constantino, erstwhile regional police director in Northern Mindanao, has reported that the criminal activities had gone down by almost 50 percent - credited to the no-nonsense drive against the illegal drug activities in the region since July 2016 compared to the crime index recorded in 2015 during the same period.

Ernesto Dancalan, a 48-year-old father, said that he is now confident that his teenage children could now walk around the city streets without fear of being waylaid or molested by muggers high on drugs.

Julie Radut, 17, a sophomore student of a local university here, said she was happy that the government has adopted an iron-fist approach in the fight against illegal drugs in the country.

“Unlike before where I had to call my dad or elder brother to fetch me, I now feel safe going home alone after my night classes. Thanks to Pres. Duterte’s serious campaign against the drug addicts, the streets, once lorded over by bystanders seemed empty now,” she said.

Aside from the fight against illegal drugs, corruption, and criminalities, the Duterte administration has offered a roadmap to peace among the communist rebels in the country and in the strife-torn Moro land in Mindanao.

Ombra Gandamra, the regional director of the National Commissions on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) in Northern Mindanao, said that the NCMF fully supports Duterte’s peace initiatives in Moslem-dominated areas in Mindanao where the terror groups, claiming to be sympathizers of the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), reportedly operate.

“It is very disheartening that what the terror groups were doing were against our Koran. The peace-loving Moslems condemn the terroristic activities and hope that the terror groups would be enlightened and give peace a chance,” Gandamra said.

He said that Duterte’s thrusts to prioritize peace, unity, reconciliation, and development through the peace process have gained the trust and hope among the Filipino people, particularly the Moslem community in the country.

A member of the National Democratic Front (NDF) panel has also expressed the optimism that the peace process being hammered by both the government and the NDF would end the country’s almost 50-year insurgency, Southeast Asia’s longest armed insurgency.

Alfredo Mapano, also known as “Paris,” one of the Northern Mindanao-based NDF consultants, said that the NDF has trust President Duterte’s obsession to reach a peace agreement with the communist New People’s Army (NPA), the armed-wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

During the regional observance of the 48th founding anniversary of the NPA last Dec. 26 in a remote village in Misamis Oriental, Mapano told the media here that the NDF-CPP-NPA believes that lasting peace could be attained in the country before Duterte ends his term.

Mapano described the “unilateral ceasefire” declared by the Philippine government in August 2016 as the “longest ceasefire” since the government and the NDF entered into various peace agreements in the past in a bid to forge a viable formula that could lead to the cessation of hostilities.

Next year, in mid-January 2017, the NDF and government panel would hopefully nail the peace process in a scheduled meeting in Rome, Mapano said.

“The discussion in Rome would focus on the social and political issues like the comprehensive agrarian reform and the political justice involving the rich and the poor,” he said.

Actually, the discussion in Rome is the last phase of the peace process since the NDF and the government declared a “unilateral ceasefire” in August this year, Mapano said.

The NDF trusts that the government and the NDF-CPP-NPA could attain a lasting peace agreement that could provide confidence among the Filipinos in the future, he said.

'Destabilization plot’ bound to fail, says army brass

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 30): 'Destabilization plot’ bound to fail, says army brass

CAMP EVANGELISTA, Cagayan De Oro City -- A top military official has issued an assurance that any plot to destabilize the government would not prosper for as long as the army is united.

Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda, the commanding general of the Philippine Army (PA), issued the statement during a visit to this army camp Thursday where he met with senior military officials in the region.

Without disclosing the entire message, Miranda confirmed that he received text messages, which tried to threaten the PA's integrity.

He said that the PA has remained united and a solid team and belied insinuation that some officers in the armed forces hierarchy are cooking a destabilization plot.

During the visit, Miranda also denied the accusation that despite the ongoing peace process, the military has continued to commit human rights violation in conflict areas of the countryside.

Miranda reiterated that the military fully supports the ongoing peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front.

The army brass, however, defended the presence of the government troopers in the countryside as part of the army’s mandate to assist the local government units in bringing development to far-flung areas in the country.

Miranda said that aside from assisting the local government units, the PA’s presence in rural villages was also to augment the Philippine National Police (PNP) in law enforcement.

“I think it’s still our job to support the PNP in the pursuit of their mission. Law and order are non-negotiable. Our communities must not be disturbed [by criminal activities],” he said in an interview after addressing the troops here.

Palawan cops appeal for tips on suspect in Taytay bombing

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 30): Palawan cops appeal for tips on suspect in Taytay bombing

Police authorities in Palawan on Thursday called on witnesses of the December 28 Taytay bombing to surface and help solve the incident.

Chief Insp. Ric Ramos, spokesperson of the Palawan Provincial Police Office (PPO) said witnesses, who might know who the suspect or suspects are, should cooperate with the Taytay Municipal Police (TMP) investigation to determine why the crime was perpetrated and who should be brought to justice.

“Witnesses who might know who the suspect is, or suspects are, should not be afraid to come forward and cooperate with us. Their statements are important so we can solve this incident,” Ramos said.

He furthered that if the witnesses want anonymity, they can rest assured that the TMP and the PPO would ensure their safety.

Based on initial findings, the improvised explosive device (IED) that was detonated in front of the bakery owned by Jerald Perje, 34, at Sitio Montevista, Poblacion, Taytay, was almost similar to those being used in illegal blast fishing.

Ramos said they are still investigating the reason behind the blast, and one of the theories they are looking into is personal grudge against the bakery owner.

On December 28 at around 1:20 a.m., a blast occurred along the National Highway of Sitio Montevista, Poblacion, Taytay.

Perje told police investigators he was sleeping when he was awakened by a loud blast that came from an IED that was placed outside his bakery. The incident resulted to still undetermined amount of damaged to property.

Luckily, according to Ramos, no one was injured in the blast. Investigation remains ongoing regarding the incident.

Taytay is a first class municipality in the province of Palawan, an island of the Philippines. According to the 2010 census, it has a population of 70,837 people.

North Cotabato town deploys more cops, soldiers to ensure peaceful New Year revelry

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 30): North Cotabato town deploys more cops, soldiers to ensure peaceful New Year revelry

KABACAN, North Cotabato -- The local government here has deployed more police personnel and police force multipliers to secure far-flung villages as the town prepares for New Year's revelry.

Mayor Gerlo Guzman of Kabacan also ordered the establishment of police outposts in crime-prone areas following two separate ambuscades that left four persons dead.

He said elements of the 34th Infantry Battalion were sent to augment the Kabacan police.

Police and military personnel are hunting down two men armed with automatic rifles who shot dead four persons in separate ambuscades in remote villages here, Senior Inspector Randy Apostol said.

Senior Inspector Randy Apostol, police chief of Kabacan, said the two gunmen have been identified based on CCTV of the town gallery where the victims and the suspects had participated in an afternoon cockfight.

Apostol identified the victims in the first ambush as Franz Villanueva, 28, Jerry Uyanguren, 52, and his 48-year-old brother, Roland.

They all died instantly due to bullet wounds in the head and body.

The victims were on motorcycles en route to Barangay Aringay in Kabacan from a cockpit in a nearby village when masked men armed with M-16 assault rifles attacked while them atop a bridge in Barangay Aringay.

Two of their companions, Calixto Villasor, 41 and Richie Daniles, 32, were seriously wounded in the shooting.

The gunmen hurriedly left when they noticed village watchmen and members of Barangay Police Action Team (BPAT).

Apostol said the victims were carrying more than PHP20,000 they won in the cockfight. The cash and mobile phones of the victims were recovered by responding police.

Kabacan Mayor Herlo Guzman has convened the town peace and order council to prevent a similar incident in the future. The council also agreed to establish a police detachment in Barangay Aringay, especially on a dirt road leading to the village from the town center.

The Aringay ambush was followed by another ambush an hour later in Barangay Kayaga, also in Kabacan, that resulted in the death of 32-year-old farmer Jess Francisco.

Aposto said Francisco was on his way home to nearby Carmen town, also in North Cotabato, riding a Yamaha DT motorcycle when two men armed with .45 caliber pistols flagged him down and opened fire.

Francisco sustained eight bullet wounds in different parts of his body.

Apostol said the victim was a police informant and the suspects in his murder were believed to be involved in illegal drugs.

Joint Batangas, Lemery police team tracks arsonists who torched 5 DLTB buses at Lemery, Batangas terminal

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 30): Joint Batangas, Lemery police team tracks arsonists who torched 5 DLTB buses at Lemery, Batangas terminal

LEMERY, Batangas -- A joint team from the Batangas Provincial Police Office (BPPO) and Lemery Police Station on Friday conducted hot pursuit operations to identify and arrest the other suspected arsonists who torched five buses of the DLTB Bus Company terminal in Lemery.

Senior Inspector Hazel P. Luma-ang, chief of the BPPO information office, in a report to BPPO acting director Senior Supt. Leopoldo E. Cabanag, said the rallying workers of the DLTB Bus Company here who joined the nationwide “tigil pasada” (strike) Thursday were believed to be behind the burning incident at the BLTB bus terminal in Barangay Malinis in this town.

Scene-of-the-crime operatives (SOCO) who conducted the technical investigation of the crime scene estimated property damage at around Php30 million.

According to the Lemery police, the BLTB employees kicked off with their strike around 2 p.m. Thursday in support to the Manila-based rallyists and strikers who protested to hike provincial pay rates equivalent to those earned by their Manila counterparts.

Initial report by PO2 Camilo A. Manguiat of the Lemery police station who conducted police team visibility operation in the area later in the afternoon disclosed they have spotted a fire incident at the bus terminal in front of Xentro Mall.

This prompted Chief Inspector Rodel Sibalo Ban-o, Lemery Police Station officer-in-charge to immediately dispatch his police personnel at the terminal to investigate.

Early Thursday evening, three buses were already totally damaged by fire while two others were partially burned at the DLTB bus terminal, the police reported.

Investigators quoted residents living near the terminal that they heard a loud explosion from the terminal parking area and witnessed that one bus was in flames.

A composite fire marshal team from the neighboring town immediately responded to control the fire and declared the fire out by 7:44 p.m. Thursday.

Police said they apprehended five suspects who were positively identified during the DLTB workers’ mass action.

Lawmen named the five suspects, mostly bus drivers as Albert San Presentacion Gabriel; Lloyd Nicolas Ocares; Wilmar Biaca Caro; Arvin Arrellano Soliven and Joselito Santiago Guevarra.

The sixth suspect Ernesto Garcia Villanueva Jr. was arrested following the hot pursuit operation in Alitagtag, Batangas.

Police are now preparing the pertinent documents for filing appropriate charges against the six suspects.

President Duterte visits, gives cash aid to Leyte explosion victims

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 30): President Duterte visits, gives cash aid to Leyte explosion victims

President Rodrigo Duterte visited this town on Friday and gave additional cash assistance to the victims of the December 28 town plaza explosion.

The Chief Executive arrived past 10 a.m. on board a presidential chopper at Hilongos National Vocational School campus and walked for about 50 meters to the Hilongos District Hospital.

Duterte talked to the six blast victims still confined at the state-run health facility. All the patients already discharged from the hospital also came for a 40-minute meeting with the President.

He distributed PHP10,000 cash to the 10 victims, who are still recovering in the district hospital, including those admitted in Tacloban City and Maasin City. Outpatient victims got a PHP5,000 cash gift from President Duterte.

The cash aid is on top of the PHP5,000 assistance from the Department of Social Welfare and Development and PHP3,000 from the office of Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Dino distributed on Thursday.

Mary Grace Nemis, 12, who was hit by bomb shrapnel during the attack, received a new mobile phone from the President.

After an interaction with victims, President Duterte attended a security briefing with local police officials, military officers, Leyte Governor Dominico Petilla, Southern Leyte Governor Damian Mercado, and Hilongos Mayor Albert Villahermosa.

He was about to leave the hospital complex past noontime when he got off from the car and delivered a two-minute message to a large crowd who warmly welcomed him at the hospital’s parking lot.

“Trust your law enforcers because they know what they are doing. I was impressed that they are able to immediately identify the perpetrators,” Duterte told the crowd in vernacular. The town is just 38 kilometers north of Maasin City in Southern Leyte, the President’s birthplace.

The President earlier claimed the bombing that wounded 32 residents here, was “drug-related, and involving Moro people.”

The President stopped by this town after leading the Rizal Day commemoration rites at Rizal Park in Manila and before heading home to Davao City to spend the New Year holidays with his family.

About 500 people were gathered at the town plaza to watch an amateur boxing match on Wednesday night when two improvised explosive devices went off around 9:30 p.m., wounding 32 people. The attack coincided with the town’s annual fiesta celebration.

(YEARENDER) AFP Modernization not taking a backseat in Duterte administration

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 19): (YEARENDER) AFP Modernization not taking a backseat in Duterte administration

With the country undergoing a massive campaign to eliminating the illegal drugs menace, criminality and corruption, the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is not taking a backseat amidst these initiatives as the six-month administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has given the green-light for the construction and acquisition of the nation's first two missile-armed frigates.

Contract signing for this project took place last Oct. 24. The winning bidder is South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI).

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana formally inked the contract for the project as principal signatory along with ranking officials and delegates from HHI.

Signing took place at the Philippine Navy (PN)'s headquarters in Naval Station Andrada, Roxas Boulevard, Manila.

The project involves the construction and delivery of two missile-firing frigates to the PN.
The signing of the contract signals the start of the construction and is the culmination of the long and tedious procurement process for the project.

As background, the Notice of Award was approved, issued and was duly conformed by HHI on Sept. 13 with the amount of US$ 336,912,000 or PHP15,744,571,584.

Another PHP2 billion was also allocated for the acquisition of assorted anti-air, anti-sub, and anti-surface weapon platforms and munitions for the two frigates.

Lorenzana said the project is of utter significance to the DND and to the PN, in particular. It is the single most expensive modernization project signed by the Duterte administration as of this time.
Signing of the missile-firing frigate contract demonstrates the willingness of the Duterte administration to go ahead with projects started by its predecessors provided no evidence of anomalies are unearthed or discovered.

The DND chief earlier said the AFP Modernization Program remains a priority of the new defense leadership.

This is because the program jibes with the Duterte administration's plan of having a credible deterrence to secure Philippine territory especially the maritime ones.

"In the long run we will still follow our modernization because you know it jibes with what our long term plans (of) having credible deterrence to secure our territory (especially the) maritime plan," he said.

And while some projects may be fast-tracked to address criminality, terrorism, and insurgency threats in southern Philippines, Lorenzana said they will follow the plans laid for the AFP Modernization Program.

"The 15-year modernization program of the AFP will continue as scheduled," he earlier stated.

Some of the equipment acquired in this period include the three Hamilton-class cutters, the latest of which is the BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17) who arrived last Dec.9, six multi-purpose assault craft, 114 armored personnel carriers, three brand-new C-295 medium lift aircraft, three C-130 heavy transports, four FA-50PH light-interim fighter aircraft, the last two jets arriving last Dec. 1; five utility versions of the AgustaWestland AW-109 helicopters, eight of its attack versions, five landing craft heavies, three multi-purpose attack craft, and two strategic sealift vessels to name a few.

As this develops, plans to acquire modern weapons from other countries like Russia and the Pe
ople's Republic of China are now in the works as ranking DND officials are coordinating with their counterparts to see what types of equipment can be sourced from these two countries.

Lorenzana said he is scheduled to meet with ranking Chinese officials to discuss China's firearms offer to the country.

These officials are Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jinhua and the Chinese Defense attache.

Lorenzana said the meeting is to determine what type of firearms China is willing to provide to the country

"If its already available, we will look into it and see if we need it," he added.

The DND chief also said he sees no problem for Filipino troops in handling Chinese firearms especially if it etched with Chinese characters.

"(Firearms are) mechanical. One doesn't need to read the guide to operate it. All you have to do it operate it manually. That will not be a problem," he said.

With regards to quality, the DND chief said they will know it once they see the weapons first hand.
The DND chief also said they are gearing to acquire sniper rifles from Russia.

This was based on the orders by President Rodrigo Duterte, he added.

"The President told us to look into the sniper rifles being produced by Russia as these are good. Although we are still to see anything yet, they (Russians) will show us some models for testing to (determine whether are suitable for our needs)," Lorenzana said in Filipino.

Earlier, DND undersecretary for finance, munition, materiel Raymund DV Elefante said the country is open to acquire weapons of all kind from Russia but said these are dependent on the nation's capabilities to handle these equipment.

Capabilities refer to the funding and manpower capable of handling these weapons.

"It depends. As long (as) we have capabilities (i.e funds and manpower) but this is still a long-term (plan)," he added.

Elefante made this statement when asked if the Philippines is interested in acquiring attack helicopters, diesel electric submarines and fighter jets from Russia aside from small arms like the AK-47 automatic rifle and longe-range sniper rifles.

Aside from upgrading the AFP, the Duterte administration also made significant headway in bringing peace to the countryside due to ongoing peace talks with the New People's Army (NPA).

Armed confrontation between the AFP and the NPA finally ceased after PRRD restored the declaration of ceasefire on Aug. 21 after lifting it noting violations from the rebel group.

President Duterte's gesture in restoring the erstwhile unilateral ceasefire declaration effectively reimposed the suspension of military operations earlier issued by the AFP to its field units.

Further, peace-building efforts were exerted to ensure that line units are aware of the advocacy of the Commander-in-Chief, including the dissemination of the proposed reconstituted JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees) list and the release of detained alleged political prisoners.

The original JASIG list was meant to identify communist members who will figure in the peace negotiations with the CPP-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front) and will aid in the implementation of the ceasefire with the rebels.

On the other hand, the AFP attended the workshop of the combined Secretariat of the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Davao City on Aug. 28.

The workshop reviewed the signed agreements/guidelines of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities that will aid refresh talks with the MILF as well as the Moro National Liberation Front to come up with a more inclusive peace plan.

In the ongoing war against illegal drugs, the military's participation in the campaign was propelled by the signing of the Joint Letter of Instruction on Aug. 24, prescribing the mission, concept, and tasks of the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the war on drugs.

It also activated on July 24 with the PNP, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and other law enforcement agencies also activated Task Force Noah mandated to conduct intelligence and counterintelligence operations.

These inter-agency efforts enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of the steps taken to implement President Duterte's order to end the proliferation and use of illegal drugs in the country.

To manifest its adherence to the campaign, the AFP conducted random drug testing within its ranks.
Through Task Groups Jacob, Midas, Joshua, and Salamander, the AFP conducted random drug tests on 19,163 military and civilian personnel, allowing the identification of 44 individuals who tested positive to the use of certain illegal drugs.

With the purpose to establish a drug-free country leading towards a peaceful and secure environment conducive for sustainable development, the AFP also supported the implementation of "Oplan Tokhang" of the PNP through the conduct of 169 anti-illegal drugs operations, resulting to the arrest and apprehension of 191, surrender of 689, and killing of eight drug suspects.

Meanwhile, three AFP personnel offered their lives in this campaign while five others were wounded during the joint operations with Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency against the group of Moks Masgal in Barangay Nabalawag, Midsayap, North Cotabato in Aug. 14.

The AFP opened its camps to host the rehabilitation facilities for drug dependents. The Philippine Army committed areas in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija; Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela; Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal; Camp Alfredo Santos in Calauag, Quezon; Camp Peralta in Jamindan, Capiz; Camp Kibaritan in Kalilangan, Bukidnon; Camp Lucero in Carmen, North Cotabato; Camp Paulino Santos in Alamada, North Cotabato; and the 401st Brigade Headquarters in Prosperidad, Agusan Del Sur.

The construction of the drug rehabilitation facility in Fort Ramon Magsaysay on a 10-hectare land in Nueva Ecija is nearing completion. The project, a joint venture of the Department of Health and the Army Real Estate Office, is expected to accommodate around 1,200 individuals.

(YEARENDER) Peace process moving forward dramatically

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 21): (YEARENDER) Peace process moving forward dramatically

President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed his determination to achieve an enduring and sustainable peace in the country as it is willing and ready to go back to the negotiating table with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the CPP/NPA/NDF.

The President, in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 25, said: "We will strive to have a permanent and lasting peace before my term ends. That is my goal. That is my dream."

Even during the campaign period, Duterte already made the promise to talk peace with the CPP/NPA/NDF and to implement the peace agreements with the MILF and the MNLF.

He hit the ground running that even before his assumption to office, the President named Secretary Jesus Dureza and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III as the government's chief peace negotiators.

In the almost six months of the Duterte administration, efforts to achieve peace resulted to two rounds for the government and the National Democratic Front(NDF), and three rounds for the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“One of our major advocacies now – and our intention really is to move the peace process forward. So far, for the six months of the Duterte administration, we have moved forward dramatically,” Dureza has said.

From August 22 to 28, Negotiators from both sides(GPH-NDF), held peace talks in Oslo, Norway in an attempt to hammer out an acceptable solution to end the armed struggle that has claimed thousands of lives since 1969.

After two rounds of peace talks with the Leftist group, the secretary remains optimistic about the positive outcome of the talks as he believes a “level of trust has been reached between the Leftist groups and the Government.”

“Our talks with CPP-NPA-NDF, which were stalled for four years in the previous administration… we have just finished the second round of talks and will resume the third round next January.

Communities affected by conflict have been quiet, with the NPA and AFP no longer squeezing their weapons,” Dureza said.

Dureza said his optimism in the success of the peace talks stems from his belief that President Duterte's strong political will is helping the peace process to move forward and ensuring all parties come together in the peace process.

Dureza said President Duterte has already declared a unilateral ceasefire of offense operations against the CPP-NPA and also released 20 political prisoners based on humanitarian grounds to help facilitate the talks.

During the Oslo talks, both peace panels agreed on six major agenda. These include the reaffirmation of previously signed agreements, reconstitution of the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) list, acceleration of the formal talks in the peace negotiations, release of political prisoners, amnesty proclamation by President Duterte and mode of interim ceasefire.

The session reaffirmed all previously signed agreements namely, The Hague Joint Declaration in 1992, the JASIG in 1996 and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in 1998. All three documents were signed under the Ramos administration.

“The panels also agreed to reconstitute the JASIG list after the first document was corrupted.  The encrypted list will contain the photos and identities of NDF consultants who are still underground who will be immune to arrest while the peace process is undergoing,” the government statement said.

“The Philippine government will issue documents of acknowledgment for the NDF consultants still in hiding and for the 54 ‘publicly known NDF personalities’,” it said.

It added the parties agreed to accelerate the peace negotiations and set timelines for the completion of the remaining substantive agenda.

Still to be discussed in detail are socioeconomic reforms; political and constitutional reforms; and, end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

The parties also have to tackle the details of the amnesty proclamation, joint monitoring committees, further releases of detained NDF personnel, and the modality and mechanics of the ceasefire.

Dureza called the Oslo round a milestone under the Duterte administration, and “an accomplishment that would be welcomed by the Filipino people.”

“Not only has President Duterte walked the extra mile. He has also taken a step back to give the NDF space under his democratic and inclusive government,” he said.

“We will go home with a promise of a just and lasting peace and our soldiers and the combatants of the NDF finally coming to terms that the war must end,” he added.

Bello, said they are looking towards “a final peace agreement with the NDF to end almost half a century of armed hostilities across the Philippine countryside.”

For his part, NDF peace panel head Luis Jalandoni acknowledged the determination of President Duterte of ending the almost 50-year old armed conflict in the country and forging peace with the rebel forces.

“Good news to the Filipino people that the political prisoners would be released, and land reform and other social and economic reforms will be seriously undertaken. So, the farmers of Hacienda Luisita and Hacienda Look may be gladdened that these steps are going forward,” Jalandoni said.

“But we need the people to continue building their strength to defend their rights and to work with us in bringing about a just and lasting peace in our country,” he added.

Dureza however said that what comprises the bigger part of their peace work is "no longer just negotiations, but it is to improve the lives of the people on the ground, especially in conflict-affected areas or fragile communities that face challenges because of armed conflict in their area.”

He said the Philippines needs support from the international community in order to achieve that.
Thus, he recently met with officials from the World Bank in Washington, DC, and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark in New York to discuss the development aspects of the peace process.

According to the World Bank, over 60% of the world’s poor population will be found in countries dealing with conflict or areas experiencing issues of fragility. In the Philippines’ case, areas in Mindanao, the southern region of the Philippines that has long been embroiled in insurgency, hold the highest poverty levels in the country. Poverty in the region is almost twice the national average.

As to the Muslims in Mindanao, Dureza said that there is a need to address the historical injustice to the Muslims and the setting up a federal system will be the end game.

"If it happens. But before that, we are able to entrench a new Bangsamoro government unit that will be very close to a federal state for the Bangsamoro,” Dureza said.

The Duterte is exerting efforts to save a peace deal with Moro separatist rebels clinched by the Aquino administration.

The President Duterte has signed an order reconstituting the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that will draft a new Bangsamoro law.

The new draft law will be a combination of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which failed to get Congress' nod as the term of the Aquino administration ended earlier this year, and major provisions of the government’s 1996 peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

The President had met with leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed a peace agreement with the Aquino administration in 2014 and helped draw up the BBL.

Dureza said some members of the MNLF faction led by the group’s founding leader Nur Misuari were appointed to the BTC.

Misuari has emerged from three years of hiding to help push the peace process.

And, on government’s request, a court in Pasig City suspended the warrant for the arrest of Misuari, wanted for the three-week siege of Zamboanga City in September 2013 that left 220 people dead, 254 others wounded, and more than 100,000 people displaced. More than 10,000 homes were destroyed in the fighting between government forces and Misuari’s followers.

The President also met Misuari in Malacañang and promised to cooperate with the government in the quest for peace in Mindanao.

Dureza said the BTC will harmonize the BBL and the 1996 peace accord with the MNLF to produce a new draft law that would establish a Bangsamoro autonomous region in Mindanao.

“Hopefully, we can input all of these harmonious provisions in all the agreements and come up with a new enabling law,” he said.

“The peace process in Mindanao is on track with both the MILF and the MNLF on board for a more inclusive resolution to the conflict. They are now willing to sit at the peace table and work together with the government to address the historical injustices committed against the Moro people,” the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace process has said.

The move, according to Dureza, was an unprecedented and historic development."

But beyond talking with the MILF and the MNLF, Dureza said he planned to win support from the public as well as from lawmakers for the effort to bring peace to Mindanao.

He said he did not want a situation similar to Colombia, where citizens has rejected in a plebiscite a peace agreement between the government and communist rebels.

He also said he wanted to prevent a repeat of Congress’ rejection of the proposed BBL.

Is the elusive peace in the country be finally achieved during President Duerte's term?

(YEARENDER) Prospect of achieving lasting peace brightens under Duterte administration

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 22): (YEARENDER) Prospect of achieving lasting peace brightens under Duterte administration

While the six-month administration of President Rodrigo Duterte is well-known for its massive campaign to eliminate the drug menace, corruption and criminality, equally significant is the President’s quest for permanent and lasting peace.

Ever since he took over the helms of government, the President has made all effort to reach out to Muslim insurgents and communist guerrillas alike to end decades-long warfare and bloodshed.

During his first state of the nation address last July 25, President Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire in the government’s campaign against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), its armed wing, New People’s Army (NPA) and its political umbrella group, National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in a bid to end a decades-long conflict that he said was “getting bloodier by the day.”

The CPP/NPA has been waging a Maoist-inspired guerrilla warfare against the government since 1969 making it the longest running communist insurgency in Southeast Asia and one of the longest in the world.

“All of us want peace, not the peace of the dead, but the peace of the living,” he said.

“To immediately stop violence on the ground, restore peace in the communities and provide an enabling environment conducive to the resumption of the peace negotiations, I am now announcing a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP/NPA/NDFP effective immediately,” Duterte said.

He subsequently authorized the release of at least 21 detained consultants of the NDFP who were covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) paving the way for the resumption of peace talks.

The talks were suspended in 2011 by then President Benigno Aquino III over a stalemate on the release of political prisoners.

The first round of talks was held last August 22 to 28 in Oslo, Norway with the NDFP declaring its own unilateral ceasefire during its conclusion.

For the first time since 1986, the government and the NDF declared a separate unilateral ceasefire as a goodwill measure.

The indefinite unilateral ceasefire issued by both parties are still holding up to this day.

Meanwhile, the second round of talks was held from October 6 to 10, also in Oslo, which coincided with the President’s 100th day in office.

The talks ended with both parties agreeing on the framework and outline of the proposed agreements on socioeconomic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and the end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

But there are also several factors that contributed to the success of President Duterte’s peace initiative with the Left.

Among them is the President’s decision to appoint left-leaning leaders to his Cabinet, his pursuit of an independent foreign policy and his nationalistic outbursts -- all of which are publicly supported by the NDFP.

Meanwhile, President Duterte has also made big strides in the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro people as a whole.

Being the first president from Mindanao and of Maranao-Kamayo ancestry from his mother’s side, Duterte called on Moro insurgents to set aside centuries of “mistrust and warfare” and vowed “to correct the historical injustices committed against the Moro people.”

Duterte said he ran for President “on the platform that there will be a structure that must be acceptable to the people of the Republic of the Philippines… one that must be adopted willingly by the Moro people of Mindanao.”

“The best structure that would be acceptable to all would be a federal setup,” he said.

Thus, he committed to immediately step down from power if the shift to federalism is done before the end of his six-year term, and a new Constitution is ratified.

In the meantime and while waiting for Congress to hammer out the needed changes in the Constitution to effect the shift to federalism, Duterte has issued an executive order that increases the membership of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that would draft a revised Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Duterte signed the EO last November 7 in Malacañang in the presence of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, and Irene Santiago and Mohagher Iqbal, chairs of the government (GPH) and MILF peace implementing panels.

The BBL failed to pass during the 16th Congress following the Masasapano massacre which left 44 Special Action Force troopers dead in a lopsided fight against members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the MILF.

The slain SAF commandos were part of a Philippine National Police operation to get Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, on January 25, 2015 in Maguindanao.

The BBL is supposed to pave the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity that the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had agreed upon in the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. (ARMM).

The passage of the BBL is crucial in moving forward the decommissioning of combatants and weapons and the other aspects of the CAB.

Meanwhile, the government’s quest for peace got a big boost when Misuari emerged from three years of hiding and vowed his full support to help push the peace process. The President also met Misuari in Malacañang.

This was made possible after a court in Pasig City suspended the warrant for the arrest of Misuari on the request of the government.

The arrest warrant stemmed from Misuari’s alleged involvement in the three-week siege of Zamboanga City in September 2013 that left 220 people dead, 254 others wounded, and more than 100,000 people displaced.

More than 10,000 homes were destroyed in the fighting between government forces and Misuari’s followers.

When Duterte took over the helms of government in the middle of the year, among his first statements was to say that his “first job as an elected leader and commander-in-chief was not to go to war but to bring peace.”

Just six months into the six-year term, the Duterte administration has already outperformed its immediate predecessors in terms of achieving the lasting peace that has eluded the Philippines for generations.

And with five and half years more to go before President Duterte’s term end, the prospect for permanent and lasting peace has indeed grown brighter.

(YEARENDER) President Duterte's independent PHL foreign policy taking off

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 29): (YEARENDER) President Duterte's independent PHL foreign policy taking off

President Rodrigo Duterte is introducing a significant foreign policy shift, particularly with China and the United States.

In his almost six months in office, the President has repeatedly said that he will work on an independent foreign policy for the country as he continues to blaze the trail in forging closer bilateral relations, including economic cooperation and partnership with China and Russia, and enhancing further the country's relations with his ASEAN and Asia neighbors.

Even when he was still campaigning for the presidency, Duterte has already emphasized his preference for a more “independent” foreign policy, which means less reliance on America.

And, shortly after his victory in the May polls, he declared: “I will be chartering a new course for the Philippines on its own and will not be dependent on the United States."

It is quite clear the Duterte administration's thrust is for the Philippines to rekindle and redefine its links in Asia, a region where its peoples share a historic legacy of peace, harmony and friendship.

Thus, for its part as the government's frontliner on foreign relations, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), through the leadership of Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr., said an independent foreign policy is "hardly new."

"It is prescribed in our constitution (Section 2, Article II) – the fundamental law of the land on matters of state policies. Like any nation, the Philippines intends to pursue an independent foreign policy. It is a policy based on national interest, where decisions are made solely on the determination of what is in the best interest of the country and its people. It is also a policy that fosters respectful friendships and facilitates meaningful cooperation," the DFA spokesperson Assistant Secretary Charles Jose said in a message sent to PNA.

Jose further said that an independent foreign policy is "respect for each country’s independence and the recognition of the principle of sovereign equality provide the underpinnings for stability and security in international relations."

He cited that the United Nations (UN) was built on these principles and the Philippines, as one of the founding members of the UN, "firmly advocated for the principle of self-determination of peoples."

"The Philippines can only benefit from a stable and secure international environment in every aspect of national existence – political, economic, social and cultural – particularly at this time when we seek to hasten economic growth and development to uplift a large part of our population from poverty. Maintaining an independent foreign policy will serve that purpose," Jose further said.

As such, the President ventured into state and official visits to neighbors in ASEAN and Asia.
In his state visit to China, he was able to secure USD4 billion in investments and soft loans, which political analysts said is no small measure for rebuilding relations with Beijing aside from similar commitments including military equipment in the country’s revitalized ties with Russia.

Also, President Duterte’s initial bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Peru is in harmony with Moscow’s new foreign policy initiative – “Turn to the East.”

As to the future of the Philippines-US relations, Jose stressed that the country continues to engage the US in productive collaboration on various areas of cooperation, from enhancing law enforcement to supporting sustainable goals.

"We have continued to affirm to the US that our alliance with them will remain strong and relevant," he said.

Jose further said that the President has enunciated in his State of the Nation Address last July that the Philippines will honor and abide by all treaty commitments and obligations.

"Both Philippine and US officials have remained positive about the future of PHL-US relations and are committed towards continuing the productive areas of cooperation," he said.

Jose also said the election of Donald Trump as US President offers an opportunity for a reset or restart in the Philippines’ relations with the US.

"President Duterte said that we will rebuild our relationship with the US. The President’s pronouncements regarding pursuing an independent foreign policy means re-orienting or recalibrating the focus towards the more immediate threats such as drugs, climate change, and violent extremism," he also said.

He added that the Duterte administration will continue to find new and better ways to strengthen PHL-US relations in various areas of cooperation, from enhancing defense capabilities to supporting sustainable development goals.