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Bloody morning: 3 civilians killed in Negros

Three more civilians were killed in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental in the early hours of Thursday.

Farmer Romeo Alipan was shot several times at home at around 1:40 AM. He was 64 years old.

The victim was chairperson of Guihulngan’s Barangay Buenavista and used to facilitate medical missions on behalf of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura and other allied peasant organizations, Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo announced.

Alipan was the 215th peasant killing under the Duterte regime, and the fourth in a string of murders in Guihulngan in the last three days.

His murder was preceded by that of a school principal and his sister, also a Department of Education official at around 1 AM.

Siblings Arthur and Ardale Bayawa were shot dead inside their home in Barangay Hibaiyo by unidentified assailants.

Anthony Trinidad, a lawyer who had represented political prisoners as well as peasants in the region, was killed by gunmen last Tuesday.

Prior to his murder, the lawyer was accused of being a communist supporter and sent death threats by the anti-communist group Kawsa Guihulnganon Batok Komunista.

In response to the killings, San Carlos Bishop Gerard Alminaza called on the local clergy and lay leaders to think of ways to end the bloodshed.

“What’s happening to our Island? When will these killings ever stop?” Alminaza asked.

“I’m asking our priests and lay leaders serving in the area to meet and discern together what collective action to take in response to this worsening situation so we don’t give in to despair, complacency and numbness and put an end to this!” the prelate said.

Alminaza earlier issued a pastoral statement calling for an end to the killings and the resumption of peace talks between the government and communist rebels following Trinidad’s murder.

Activist groups and human rights defenders blamed Duterte’s Memorandum Order 32 of November 2018 ordering additional troops to Negros as well as Bicol and Samar for the increasing number of attacks against civilians. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

CPP: ‘The NPA does not torture its enemies’

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) denied the New People’s Army (NPA) tortured the four police officers killed in Ayungon, Negros Oriental last July 18.

In a statement, the CPP’s Information Bureau said that based on reports of the NPA’s Mt. Cansermon Command that claimed responsibility for the attack, the four armed personnel of the Philippine National Police (PNP) were killed in an ambush.

Those killed were not tortured, contrary to claims made by President Rodrigo Duterte, the CPP said.

“They were armed adversaries of the NPA and died in a legitimate act of war. Duterte and the police are making up stories in a vain attempt to gain public sympathy,” the CPP added.

The group said, the NPA strictly prohibits the use of torture, “[u]nlike the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines] and PNP.”

“The NPA’s rules prohibit even lifting a finger against its captives or prisoners. The policies of the NPA are much unlike Duterte’s cruel war that targets civilians with extreme brutality,” the CPP said.

‘No ordinary ambush’

In a press conference last Friday, Police Regional Office-7 (Central Visayas) director PBGen. Dobeld Sinas said he does not believe the casualties died in an ordinary ambush.

Sinas alleged the four police officers were dragged, hogtied, mauled and even hit with butts of rifles by the NPA.

Sinas identified the fatalities as Corporal Relebert Beronio and Patrolmen Raffy Callao, Patrolman Ruel Cabellon and Patrolman Marquino de Leon.

Based on police reports, the four police officers were on board two motorcycles were waylaid and fired upon by at least 11 unidentified NPA fighters.

They were intelligence personnel of the 704 Mobile Force Company of the Regional Mobile Force Battalion in Central Visayas.

The NPA’s Mt. Cansermon Command (MCC) spokesperson, Dionisio Magbuelas, said the four officers were killed for acting as spies to implement police operations that had led to civilian deaths in Negros Oriental.

“Based on our intelligence report, the four police operatives were gathering information and surveilling the area for another round of Oplan Sauron or Synchronized Enhanced Management of Police Operations where innocent civilians are killed by uniformed personnel in the guise of counter-insurgency efforts,” the NPA said in a statement.

‘Series of successful tactical offensive’

In another statement Thursday, the NPA unit claimed no less than 43 soldiers and police were either killed or injured in three separate offensives it conducted between June 22 and July 18.

Aside from the Ayungon ambush, the MCC also conducted what it called a sniping operation in Sitio Bulo, Brgy. Bantolinao, Manjuyod, Negros Oriental last June 22 that resulted in the death of three soldiers of the 94th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army (IBPA) and the wounding of 20 others.

Last July 2, the MCC said it foiled a raid attempt by the 11th IBPA in Sitio Small Samac, Brgy. Nalundan, Bindoy, Negros Oriental and launched a counter offensive that killed 10 and wounded six government troopers. 

“The series of successful tactical offensive was conducted by MCC-NPA to need the call for justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings especially for the innocent victim’s of Oplan Sauron 1 and 2,” Magbuelas said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Again, possession of guns and explosives charges vs NDFP peace panel staff members

The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) alleged that arrested National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel staff members Alexander and Winona Birondo kept guns, ammunition and explosives when they were arrested early Tuesday morning, July 23.

As they did with the five NDFP peace consultants arrested since President Rodrigo Duterte cancelled the peace negotiations in November 2017, the PNP and AFP charged the couple with violations of anti-gun and anti-explosives laws.

The couple were arrested in an apartment building in Barangay Mariblo, San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City despite protesting that the warrant of arrest shown them was from a case that was already dismissed last year.

After the couple were brought and detained at Camp Caringal, headquarters of the Quezon City Police District early yesterday morning, the police and the military conducted a search of their apartment  more than 16 hours after their arrest.

“[A]t about 10:00 PM, July 23, 2019, the same personnel from AFP and PNP implemented search warrant No. 5898 (19) and 5899 (19) issued by Hon. Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert for violation of RA (Republic Act) 10591 and RA 9516 at the safe house of the arrested couple after validated information that they are keeping firearms, explosives and ammunition in the said place,” the police and military press release said.

RA 10591 is the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act while RA 9516 is the Unlawful Manufacture, Sales, Acquisition, Disposition, Importation or Possession of an Explosive or Incendiary Device law, violations of which are non-bailable.

The police and the military said they seized a .45 caliber pistol, a magazine with seven live ammunition, a holster, a hand grenade, a 40mm high explosive rifkle grenade, and a roll of detonating cord from the couple’s apartment.

They further alleged that Alexander is a staff of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) “National Education Commission” while Winona is the secretary of the CPP-New People’s Army’s “National Propaganda Commission”.

The Birondos were also arrested for obstruction of justice and direct assault after they allegedly blocked police officers from arresting a certain Rolando Caballero, alias Jet, who was reportedly wanted for murder.

This morning, however, the Birondo’s lawyers said the charges against thje couple were contrived “eerily similar to imaginary ‘buy-bust’ operations” of the police.

“Having verified that there are no standing warrants against the two, the police in an ill-prepared complaint, said that they did have one against a third person totally unknown to the Birondo spouses,” Public Interest Law Center managing counsel Rachel Pastores said in a statemet.

Pastores said there was no trace or evidence of a third person in the small studio-type apartment.

“This premise is dangerous; the police concocted the charges on the claims of a confidential informant, who may not be compelled to show up in court and may not exist at all,” Pastores said.

Since January 2018, the police have filed the same charges against NDFP peace consultants Rafael Baylosis, Adelberto Silva, Vicente Ladlad, Rey Claro Casambre and Frank Fernandez.

Baylosis, however, was freed last January after being cleared by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court of the charges.

NDFP Negotiating Panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili demanded the release of the NDFP peace panel consultants and staff members, saying all should be immune from surveillance and arrests under their Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

GRP arrests NDFP staff Alex and Nona Birondo

Two National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel staff members were arrested early Tuesday morning, July 23, human rights lawyers of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) announced today.

Couple Alexander and Winona Birondo were arrested by combined elements of the District Special Operations Unit and the Criminal Investigation Detection Unit of the Quezon City Police District of the Philippine National Police at an apartment building in Barangay Mariblo, San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City at around 5:30 in the morning.

Alex and Nona served as members of the NDFP’s peace talks secretariat from the second round of formal talks in 2016 up to the time the Rodrigo Duterte walked away from the negotiations in 2018.

They were supposed to join the NDFP delegation as early as August 2016 but the Department of Foreign Affairs failed to provide them new passports in time for the resumption of the negotiations in Oslo, Norway.

Before their arrest Tuesday, the couple were charged illegal possession of firearms and explosives, but released in August 2016 for the peace talks. Their case was eventually dismissed in June 2018.

The police made the couple believe they had warrants of arrest and brought them to Camp Caringal, the PILC said.

Winona Birondo at Camp Caringal. (PILC photo)

“Even after they argued that the warrant was outdated and showed the dismissal order, they were taken to Camp Caringal where the Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit and the District Special Operations Unit desperately scrambled to add charges,” PILC managing counsel Rachel Pastores said in a statement.

Pastores said that new and unfounded cases of obstruction of justice and direct assault were filed against the Birondos at the Quezon City Prosecutors’ Office.

“Having verified that there are no standing warrants against the two, the police in an ill-prepared complaint, said that they did have one against a third person totally unknown to the Birondo spouses,” Pastores said.

The police said that the Birondos were harboring a fugitive in their apartment and allowed him to escape when the police were about to arrive.

Pastores said there was no trace or evidence of a third person in the small studio-type apartment.

“This type of contrivance is eerily similar to imaginary ‘buy-bust’ operations. This premise is dangerous; the police concocted the charges on the claims of a confidential informant, who may not be compelled to show up in court and may not exist at all,” Pastores said.

Alex Birondo preparing his medicines at Camp Caringal yesterday. (PILC photo)

The Birondos are the sixth and seventh who participated in the peace talks in 2016 to be arrested and charged by the Duterte government.

NDFP Negotiating Panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili condemned the latest arrests, saying the couple should be immune from surveillance and arrests under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).

“Alex and Nona acquired JASIG protection because of their stint as NDFP staff in the peace talks,” Agcaoili told Kodao.

“We condemn the government’s arrest of persons without warrants and whose cases have been dropped, as in the case of the Birondos,” he added.

Both in their 60s, the Birondos are known to be suffering from illnesses. Alex takes insulin shots for his severe diabetes. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Miradel walks free, unites with son she gave birth to under detention

After five years behind bars, Maria Miradel Torres will finally reunite with her son she gave birth to in prison.

Miradel walked out from Camp Bagong Diwa Tuesday afternoon, July 23, no longer wearing an inmate’s orange garb but an aquamarine shirt and a huge smile.

Miradel while leaving Camp Bagong Diwa yesterday. (Photo by Jose Mari Callueng/Karapatan)

She was acquitted of murder and frustrated murder charges her lawyers and supporters said are trumped up.

Miradel was four-months pregnant when she was arrested by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the Southern Luzon Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on June 20, 2014.

The police and the soldiers did not present a warrant of arrest and searched the entire house without a search warrant when she was snatched.

Later, an alias warrant of arrest was presented,  issued by the court on the very day of her so-called arrest.

A Gabriela member in Mauban town, Miradel was charged with murder and frustrated murder at the Infanta Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Quezon.

Miradel denied that she was a murderer.

 “I cannot even kill a mosquito. There is no truth to the crime they are accusing me of,” she told Bulatlat.com in 2014.

When the police swooped down on her relatives’ house where she was staying, Miradel was suffering from profuse bleeding and was seeking medical treatment.

Her difficult pregnancy was exacerbated by the poor maternal and pre-natal health care inside the country’s prisons.

Miradel and her then newly-born son Payter. (Bulatlat file photo)

Miradel gave birth to her son Payter on November 17, 2014, at the Philippine General Hospital. She was only allowed to be with her child for six months, two months in the hospital and four months in jail thereafter.

Miradel’s bail petitions to allow her to take care of her infant had been repeatedly denied by the Infanta RTC.

When her infant son was taken away from her, what followed was five years of agony.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay witnessed how Miradel suffered but chose to fight her unjust imprisonment.

“We saw her pain with her difficult pregnancy while in detention, her joy when she nursed little Payter in the hospital, their heartbreaking separation when jail officials decided to disallow Payter’s stay in jail despite his need for his mother’s breastmilk and care, her parents’ unbending determination to support their daughter, and Miradel’s own resolve to fight on,” Palabay said.

Human rights worker Jose Mari Callueng visited Miradel at Bagong Diwa’s “female dormitory” several times.

“[During]…the many times I visited Miradel at the female dorm of Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig, she would always talk about her son and how she looked forward to the day when she can give him countless hugs and kisses,” Callueng said.

Finally, though, Miradel is reunited with her son. But many women political prisoners, some of whom mothers with little children, still languish in jail.

“There are 545 political prisoners in the Philippines, 65 of them are women, some are mothers with little children. There are 13 couples who are political prisoners, with children and/or grandchildren longing for their immediate release,” Palabay said.

Miradel’s freedom, however, is a cause for celebration for human rights workers.

“At most times, we witness the sorrows of the families of political prisoners when their loved ones get arrested, tortured, and detained for years. It is excruciatingly painful to see how they are given the run-around by the police and military to locate their loved ones, how they have to work doubly hard to have enough money for pamasahe (fare money) to see them in jail and to bring some bread or medicine that they need, how they hear the false testimonies in court accusing these dedicated and courageous individuals of crimes they did not commit, how their loved ones are maliciously painted as common criminals and terrorists,” Palabay said.

“But there are times that we witness big smiles, hearty thank you’s, joyful tears and pleasant hellos and goodbyes. Since yesterday, we witnessed these big smiles, hearty thank you’s, joyful tears and pleasant hellos and goodbyes,” she added of Miradel’s release.

“Let us not allow another good mother or father, or son or daughter, them who fight for the rights of the people, to be separated from their families again, and suffer anguish as the state imprison them on baseless trumped-up charges,” Callueng added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Lawyer shot dead in Negros Oriental as chief of village where 4 cops killed allegedly commits suicide

By Visayas Today

A lawyer was shot dead while his wife and a pedicab driver were injured when the couple was attacked by two motorcycle-riding killers in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental Tuesday afternoon, July 23.

The same day, the chief of the village in Ayungon town where four policemen were killed by communist rebels in a July 18 ambush also died in a hospital, one day after allegedly drinking pesticide, Negros Oriental police director Colonel Raul Tacaca said.

Barangay Mabato chairman Sunny Caldera (Photo from Visayas Today)

A police report said lawyer Anthony Trinidad and his wife Novie Marie, both 53 and residents of San Carlos City, Negros Occidental, were in their SUV when they were fired on in the center of Guihulngan.

Their vehicle hit the pedicab driven by Guillermo Magdasal, 52, before hitting a concrete wall.

The three were rushed to the Guihulngan District Hospital where the lawyer was declared dead.

Last year, Trinidad was reportedly among the names in a hit list by an alleged anti-communist group called Kawsa Guihulnganon Batok Komunista (KAGUBAK), according to Defend Negros #StopTheAttacks Network.

Defend Negros condemned the senseless killing of the lawyer.

Meanwhile, Tacaca said Barangay Mabato chairnan Sunny Caldera, 51, had been found vomiting by the roadside with a pesticide container near him on Monday.

He was brought to Bindoy District Hospital then transferred to the Silliman University Medical Center in Dumaguete City where he expired the next day.

Earlier, police Region 7 chief Brigadier General Debold Sinas said they were looking into Caldera’s possible involvement to the deaths of the four personnel of the Regional Mobile Force Battalion.

Sinas said the village chief, who had reportedly been seen talking to one of the policemen before they were killed, had not warned them that the area was a “mass base” of the rebels.

Tacaca acknowledged they had yet to talk to Caldera’s family.

The Mt. Cansermon Command of the New People’s Army owned responsibility for the ambush on the policemen.

“Based on our intelligence report, the four police operatives were gathering information and surveilling the area for another round of Oplan Sauron or Synchronized Enhanced Management of Police Operations where innocent civilians are killed by uniformed personnel in the guise of counter-insurgency efforts,” the rebels said in a statement released Monday.

“These police officers have been long harassing the residents of the area for allegedly supporting the revolutionary movement,” they claimed. “In fact, the residents were forced to evacuate because of continued intimidation.”

Multiple murder and theft charges have been filed against 20 suspected rebels for the ambush.

Also charged was Victoriano Anadon, a reported contact who the policemen were supposed to meet but who was later found to be allegedly linked to the rebels. #

‘A little bit bigger’ is not enough, teachers tell Duterte

Teachers are unhappy with Rodrigo Duterte’s announcement of a salary increase, saying they find no confort in the President’s latest promise of a pay hike that that is only ‘a little bit bigger.’

“We find no comfort in President Duterte’s announcement of a pay hike that is ‘a little bit bigger than before’ for teachers, nurses, and all other government employees under another SSL (salary standardization law), which he urged Congress to pass,” the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said immediately after Duterte’s fourth State of the Nation Address last Monday.

Duterte urged lawmakers to pass a new SSL to benefit teachers, nurses and other government employees.

“To the teachers who toil and work tirelessly to educate our young, what you have been asking for is included here. It may not be so big but it will tide you over,” Duterte said in a mix of English and Filipino.

ACT expressed disappointment over the President’s announcement, saying it was not what Duterte promised three years ago.

“If anything, it raises further anxieties among teachers who are hardly making ends meet due to very low pay amid incessantly soaring prices, and who have waited restlessly over the last three years for the fulfilment of President Duterte’s promise to give due recognition to the value of our service and profession,” ACT said.

The group said new promise of a pay hike that is “a little bit bigger than before” is best exemplified by Senator Bong Go’s proposed bill of a Php588 increase in the pay of salary grade 1 employees, with the rest of the grade levels following accordingly.

“Such an amount is an insult to our service and contribution to national development,” ACT said, adding a minimal salary increase will fail to feed their families and bring their children to school.

“It will not free us from the chains of debts which our economic situation has forced upon us,” ACT said.

The group added that Duterte’s latest promise will not raise the standards of living of more than a million civilian employees, afford them decent lives nor bring dignity to the teaching profession.

“’A little bit bigger’ is not what he promised us. Hence, we pledge to remain steadfast in our demand for a substantial salary increase because we deserve a lot more than what this administration is offering us, and we shall not cease until we get what is rightfully ours,” ACT said.

Duterte has more than doubled the salaries of soldiers as well as police, jail and fire protection officers in January 2018. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Army holds, harasses Lumad protesters in Surigao Sur

Nearly 200 Lumad are being held by the Philippine Army in Surigao del Sur to prevent them from participating in a rally on the occassion of President Rodrigo Duterte’s fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Tandag City today, human rights group Karapatan said in an alert.

The group said 36th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army soldiers in full battle gear put up a check point at Barangay Gamut, Tago town to prevent the Lumad from attending the local People’s SONA protests Surigao del Sur’s capital city today.

Rico Maca and 36th IBPA soldiers at this morning’s checkpoint. (Karapatan-Caraga photo)

Around 15 soldiers in full battle gear put up the check point and were joined by intelligence officers in civilian clothing and Philippine National Police officers, Karapatan’s Caraga chapter said in its alert.

The soldiers ordered the Lumad to alight from their habal-habal motorcycles and told to assemble on the side of the road from four to eight o’clock this morning, the group said.

Karapatan said the soldiers later called up controversial local Indigenous People Municipal Representative to the National Commission on the Indigenous Peoples Rico Maca who arrived on board a white van after just 30 minutes.

Maca confiscated the Lumad’s identification cards and proceeded to check each from his book of photos of alleged New People’s Army rebels.

“Ah, nakaila ko ani. Mga pulang araw man mo! Mga rebelde mo! Solid na sila didto sa Purok 8 [Tambonon, Bolhoon, San Miguel,” Maca reportedly exclaimed. [A, I know you people. You are “red suns”. You are rebels. You are already solid here in Area 8.)

Maca was alleged to be connected to the paramilitary group led by a Hasmin Acevedo operating in barangays Umalag, Saigao, Caromata in San Miguel town, Surigao del Sur.  He frequently joins patrol missions of the 36th IBPA that harasses Lumad communities in San Miguel.

He was among the three self-declared datus presented by Malacañan Palace to the media last September 2015.

Rico Maca (Second from left), with his fellow Malacañan-declared datus and their handler Arthur Tariman of the National Alliance for Democracy (Third from left). [File photo/R. Villanueva]

Photos and videos of the Lumad were taken and their names were listed in a military logbook, Karapatan said.

Many of the participants are still being held at the checkpoint while their motorcycles have been impounded, the group reported.

Progressive groups all over the country are conducting protest rallies against Duterte today. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

(This is a developing story. Refresh for updates.)

Joma asks Isko: ‘What are your plans for the poor vendors?’

Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairperson Jose Maria Sison asked Manila Mayor Isko Moreno his plans for the poor vendors of Manila who many fears are being swept aside in the ongoing campaign to clear the capital city’s streets of obstruction.

In a video message shown at the end of Moreno’s speech before the Rotary Club of Manila at the New World Hotel in Makati City last Wednesday, Sison asked if Moreno is looking after the poor vendors.

“I have only a simple concrete question: No doubt that it is highly commendable that you have cleared the major streets of Manila of the graft-laden anarchy of vendors. But are there provisions for the poor vendors to peddle their goods in some permissible areas or to have alternative means of livelihood?” Sison asked.

Moreno gamely replied to the question, addressing Sison as “Manong Jo,” an honorific used by both government and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace negotiators.

“What we did was to clear the backbone of the city. Then ang tinatanong po ni Manong Jo, saan natin inilagay ang mga naapektuhan ng pag-aayos? Sila yung inilagay natin sa mga…side street,” Moreno said.

“That is why, when you go to Quiapo, when you pass by Carriedo, open ang Plaza Miranda. You can see Hidalgo and Villalobos, naroroon ang mga mahihirap natin na nagtitinda,” the mayor said.

“So sa inyo ang Carriedo, ang Plaza, sa gilid naman ang mga vendor,” he added.

Before winning in last May’s election, Moreno served as an NDFP peace consultant for the urban poor in its peace negotiations with the Duterte government in 2016 and 2017.

In 2018, Moreno was appointed by President Duterte as Department of Social Welfare and Development assistant secretary.

Screen-grabbed from Isko Moreno’s FB page.

In his video message, Sison recalled it was him who introduced Moreno and Rotary Club of Manila president Jackie Rodriguez in The Netherlands at the time of the fourth round of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines-NDFP peace negotiations in 2017.

Rodriguez is a prominent businessperson from Davao City.

“I wish that they would help each other to bring changes for the benefit of the people of Manila,” Sison said. Sison also recalled another connection between himself, Moreno and Rodriguez in the late showbusiness icon German Moreno who groomed the young actor into stardom early in his acting career.

“I wish to share with ‘Ka Isko’ the fact that German Moreno, or Kuya Germs, his adopted father, was a classmate of Jackie and myself in Letran,” Sison said.

Sison also congratulated Moreno in his “resounding success” in becoming Manila mayor.

“In so short a time, he has done so much to impress the people of Manila and the entire Philippines with his determination and effectiveness in serving the people,” Sison said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘NAGAUGTAS AKO’: Approval of BACIWA-Prime TOR ‘hurried,’ ‘without proper study’ – GM

Visayas Today

The decision to approve a “certificate of successful negotiation” for ongoing talks between the Bacolod City Water District and Prime Water Infrastructure Corp. for a controversial 25-year joint venture agreement was “hurried” and done “without proper study,” the general manager of the water utility said.

“Naga-ugtas ako (I am exasperated),” Juliana Carbon declared in an interview.

Carbon stressed that, while she saw nothing inherently wrong in allowing private sector participation in improving BACIWA’ s services and systems, the local utility has, given the needed funding and direction, the capacity to accomplish the task.

A joint venture, she said, “is only one of the solutions and it is not the best; there are many other options.”

From daily noontime rallies staged by the BACIWA Employees Union, opposition to the proposed deal, which many consider “privatization,” has grown steadily, joined by various sectoral organizations. As of this week, four barangay councils – those of Sum-ag, Pahanocoy, Tangub and Barangay 21 – have passed resolutions against the joint venture, with others expected to follow suit.

The joint venture, says the BEU and others against the joint venture, would turn water from a natural resource to a profit-generating commodity, to the detriment of consumers. For starters, the union says, a 12 percent Value Added Tax will be automatically tacked onto water bills once the deal is closed.

The BEU, like Carbon, has pointed to other options, most of which, it says, can be carried out by BACIWA itself – for example, entering into agreements to purchase abundant surface water from neighboring water districts like those of Murcia, Bago or Talisay.

While Carbon acknowledged that BACIWA does not have the funds for expansion, she pointed out that the Development Bank of the Philippines “has written us, offering us standby credit of P3 billion.” The Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce and Industry has urged BACIWA to take advantage of this.

Yet, in the end, “the board makes policy and it is their decision to go into the (joint venture agreement) as head of the procuring entity” even as she stressed that the governing body created the Joint Venture Selection Committee to study and evaluate (offers) if these are for the good of BACIWA, the people and the workers.”

Carbon said she herself has “practically no role.”

But even if a joint venture were really necessary, Carbon said, the one being negotiated with Prime Water is fraught with problems, not only for BACIWA but, more important, its employees and its consumers.

In fact, Carbon said that, in comments she was asked to make on the negotiation report following the Joint Venture Selection Committee’s last meeting on July 4, she concluded that “the negotiations are not over yet and in fact failed in some aspects.”

Despite these findings, the board approved the issuance of the certificate of successful negotiation.

While admitting she had yet to receive a copy of the certificate, “I understand that there were refinements based on some of my comments.”
However, she noted that these changes were “most likely done by the board” outside the regular JVSC meeting and should, therefore, be subject to a board decision.

The issue of BACIWA’s earnings from the joint venture readily stood out as a major problem.

Carbon said BACIWA, which she stressed “has never been losing,” had asked Prime Water for P80 million a year, “which is our current average net income.”

“But Prime would agree to only P35 million a year from year 1 to 5, and P36 million a year from year 6-10,” she said. “This includes money for wages.”

Under this arrangement, BACIWA will hardly earn anything, Carbon said, something the Commission on Audit would surely question.

Another major flaw Carbon sees is the lack of detail in many of the proposed agreement’s provisions which, she says, could make the deal grossly disadvantageous to the government.

“If they say they will build a building for BACIWA, the dimensions – the floor area, the number of stories – should be specified” otherwise, Prime Water could build a small building and claim it as compliance with its commitments, she explained.

“If you enter into a partnership, you have to lay down all your reasonable goals and then convince the partner to agree and comply with these. It cannot be only what the partner wants. We cannot leave this to Prime Water to decide,” Carbon stressed.

She pointed out that in the terms of reference, Prime Water committed to supply a minimum of 10 psi (pound-force per square inch) during the first year of the joint venture.

“But in the new TOR, this has been moved to the fourth year,” she said.

The BACIWA general manager notes that while Presidential Decree 198, which created local water districts, mandates that water districts acquire, install and facilitate water systems, the joint venture hands over management and operations to Prime Water and “relegates BACIWA to a mere regulating and monitoring unit,” a point critics of the deal raise to argue why it is privatization in all but name.

Carbon also questioned why Prime Water is not obliged to assume BACIWA’s obligations, like the P400-million balance of its original P507-million debt to the DBP.

Although Prime Water will give BACIWA the funds to meet its annual payments, “what if somehow it becomes unable to do so? Since all revenues go to Prime Water, what happens to BACIWA since, in the contract, BACIWA remains the debtor?”

In contrast, she said, Metro Pacific paid off the debt of the Metro Iloilo Water District.

Another snag Carbon saw is Prime Water’s use of BACIWA’s assets, which she said COA has opined “should be considered asset rentals and subjected to a separate agreement.”

“But the negotiation terms provide that Prime Water will pay net usufruct – a legal term meaning to use and enjoy a thing and which is usually free – payments of P25 million a year. This is really still rental,” she said.
But what riled Carbon most are the provisions covering BACIWA’s personnel.

BACIWA executives have given assurances that employees will be “absorbed” under the joint venture, a claim disputed by both the BEU and Carbon since what they say will happen is that the personnel will be transferred from government to private employment. The union says this is evident since their social security coverage will shift from the GSIS to SSS.

“I cannot understand how a mere contract can change the status of employees from public to private,” Carbon wondered.

“Under the agreement, the employees have only two options,” she said. “Be absorbed and become private sector employees, or retire.”

Also, the proposed agreement is silent on the fact that permanent employees have to resign and go through the pre-hiring process all over again, which she said is definitely not absorption.

And even if employees opt for retirement, “there is another problem.”
This has to do with “propriety – some even call it a bribe,” she said.

Carbon was referring to an admittedly generous offer of financial assistance equal to 250 percent of an employee’s current wage.

“But why should Prime Water, a private entity, give BACIWA employees, who are government workers, this incentive and then pass it on to the consumers? Is the employee even allowed to receive this?” she asked.

And then, she added, there is a third question: “What if the employees choose to remain with the district as government employees? Can BACIWA force them to resign or retire?”

Aside from these and other problems in what the BACIWA board has declared a “successful negotiation,” Carbon said “there are so many horror stories of what happened to the districts that partnered with Prime Water.”

“I wonder why the representatives of the water district did not see this and instead signed the certificate of successful negotiation,” she said.