Duterte declares suspension of military operations for Xmas

President Rodrigo Duterte declared Tuesday night a suspension of military operations (SOMO) from December 24, 2017 to January 2, 2018, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters Wednesday morning.

Meant to “lessen the apprehension of the public this Christmas season,” Roque said the government expects the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) to “do a similar gesture of goodwill.”

The Philippine Star reported that in a chance interview, Duterte was asked if his earlier decision not to declare a ceasefire with the communists was final.

“[I]f I declare a ceasefire, it is not addressed to the NPAs. Rather, I would want to celebrate Christmas with the rest of humankind or Filipinos, without stress,” Duterte replied.

“The ceasefire is a unilateral action of government to refrain from attacking. A lot of people are going around, even at night, enjoying Christmas day or whatever. Going to Masses,” Duterte said.

“I do not want to add more strain to what people are now suffering,” he added while attending the wake of a police officer in Pasig City.

Hours later, Malacañan released Duterte’s SOMO announcement, Star reported.

Turnaround

The move is a turnaround to earlier pronouncements that Duterte will not declare a ceasefire with the rebels, as the President is “tired of talking to the communists.”

“The decision not to declare a SOMO with the members of the NPA over the Christmas holidays stays,” Roque told reporters Sunday.

In the same interview, however, Roque revealed there was a slim chance Duterte would change his mind.

“We do not discount possibilities that there may be circumstances that may arise for government to reconsider its present position,” Roque said.

Duterte’s unilateral ceasefire declaration covers Christmas and New Year celebrations as well as the CPP’s 49th founding anniversary commemoration on December 26.

The CPP has yet to issue a response to Duterte’s SOMO declaration. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Police turns violent in anti-Trump rallies

Various rallies staged by nationalist organizations met President Donald J. Trump as he arrived for the 31st Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila Sunday, protesting increased United States military presence in the region.

Several activists were injured as Philippine National Police personnel violently dispersed protesters marching to the US Embassy, using high pressure water cannons to break the protesters’ ranks.

One activist, Rix Labalan, was seriously injured while several others suffered bruises.

No PNP officer was reported injured in the scuffle.

Meanwhile, members of youth groups Anakbayan and League of Filipino Students again slipped through tight security cordons near the SMX Convention Center last night to hold a protest picket near one of the summit venues in Pasay City.

The protesters said Trump’s visit is an attempt to further draw the Philippines deeper into the US’s conflict with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. # (Photos by  Efren Ricalde, Kathy Yamzon, Neil Ambion and CJ Despuez/Text by Raymund B. Villanueva)

Protesters marching towards the US Embassy in Manila.

“Ban Trump!” shouts a protester.

A police officer uses his shield to hit a protester.

Thousands of police personnel block the way to the US Embassy.

Placards ask the police, “Serve and protect who?”

Police shields reflect “Ban Trump” protest paraphernalia.

Protesters push back the advancing police.

Police use high-powered water cannons against the protesters.

A police officer scampers after being caught in the thick of the scuffle.

Police officers being helped to their feet by the protesters.

Injured protester Rix Labalan being attended to by medical first responders.

A symbolic US flag burned by the protesters.

Ang Mga Hirang

Gospel Poetry by Ferdinand Ong Dimarucot

 

Nilagot ang Tanikalang

Tumatakip sa Sansinukob

Naglagablab mga Tanging

Himig sa Bawat Sulok

Kinubkob ang Sigalot

Nalagot!

Ang Ukol sa katampatan

Karapatan at Suhol!

Sinakop bawat Kalsada

Himutok ng Bawat Uri

Lahi at Lipi Sininop!

Umagos ang Tuwirang

Daloy…..Saksi paglagom

Tagumpay ng Pagtatasa

Haplos ng Nagdaan

PagAsa ng Ngayon!

Nakakabighaning Kirot

Umaani ng Libong LIKOM!

Nananaganang Panaghoy

Nagsisimpan Ng Dami ng Tao!

Martial law may negatively affect peace talks

INSTANBUL, Turkey–President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to declare martial law over all of the Philippines will adversely affect his government’s ongoing peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), Jose Maria Sison, the group’s chief political consultant, said.

In an interview,  Sison said Duterte’s martial law declaration over the entire Mindanao may just be a trial balloon and his government may have plans to expand it to include all of the country.

“The martial law shall negatively affect the peace negotiations all the more if it is proclaimed throughout the Philippines after its apparent trial balloon in Mindanao,” Sison said,

“It will have the same bad effects if the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) would use martial law to try to scare (the NDFP) and force it to an interim joint ceasefire agreement ahead of a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms,” he added.

Sison’s predictions gained more ground yesterday after President Rodrigo Duterte announced upon his arrival from Russia it is possible he will extend his martial law declaration in Mindanao to Visayas and eventually to Luzon.

“I may decide to expand the area to include the Visayas because it is a walking distance actually,” Duterte said.

The President later said he is actually considering placing Luzon under military rule, saying Islamic State militants could already have gained foothold on the island.

The GRP and the NDFP are set to hold their fifth round of formal talks in Noordwijk Aan Zee from May 27 to June 2. # (Raymund B. Villanueva/Featured image courtesy of Malacañan Palace)

‘We’re back where we belong’–Norwegian facilitator

Royal Norwegian Government Special Envoy to the Philippine Peace Process Elisabeth Slattum welcomed the GRP and NDFP panels to the negotiating table after two months of impasse.

In her opening remarks, Slattum congratulated the parties and the president of the Philippines for “working through a tough crisis and for showing courage, perseverance and genuine commitment for the achievement of peace for the benefit of the Filipino people.”

Slattum added it is the Norwegian’s hope as committed third party facilitators the parties would continue to progress in their endeavors to reach agreement on socio-economic reforms with the aim of addressing the root causes of the conflict.

The Netherlands
April 3, 2017

LARAWAN: Pagpupugay at pamamaalam kay Cuban President Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz

Palma Hall Lobby, UP Diliman
December 1, 2016

STATEMENT: Treacherous burial mocks struggle for press freedom during Martial Law

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) shares the Filipino people’s outrage against the treacherous burial of the remains of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan Ng Mga Bayani.

The burial mocks the life-and-death resistance of the journalists and media workers in the struggle to expand the frontiers of press freedom during the dark days of Martial Law.

While it is true that the Libingan has long been desecrated as a sacred space for the national memory, the people still cling to its intended political and social symbolism, that is, to hold in high esteem the people whose deeds reflect the values we hold dear as a society.

Marcos’ filthy record of suppressing press freedom and attacking journalists at the onset of Martial Law, and then prostituting media practice through the operation of crony news organizations is anything but deplorable.

Press freedom was among the first casualties of Marcos’ vile adventurism with political power. Martial Law not only led to mass extrajudicial murders, it also attempted to kill the truth.

Marcos ordered the closure of newspapers. His government took control of radio and television stations.

Many media workers were imprisoned, tortured and died fighting the dictatorship. Others were forced to go underground or into exile to evade arrest.

To protect and maintain his monopoly on power, Marcos allowed the operation of crony-controlled newspapers, radio and television stations whose main purpose was to air and publish the “good and beautiful” about Martial Law or the so-called “Bagong Lipunan (New Society).”

Amid the tyrannical rule, Filipino media workers continued to fight for press freedom and exposed the truth through underground newspapers and alternative news media later called the “Mosquito Press.”

These papers were secretly distributed or passed from reader to reader by hand, detailing the massive human rights violations, plunder of our economy by the Marcos family and their cronies and calling for heightened resistance. These helped in galvanizing the resistance and unity against the dictatorship leading to Marcos’ ouster on Feb. 25, 1986.

The overthrow of the dictatorship also led to the restoration of democratic institutions including the independent press.

The burial of Marcos at the hero’s cemetery seeks to gloss over, erase or worse, reverse these historical facts. This is anathema to the very essence of our role as chroniclers of our country’s contemporary history.

We stand by the people in decrying this mockery. We are one with them in ensuring that this will not happen again.

After all, it is because of the people that we exist. And it is the interest of the people that we will tirelessly serve. #

NDFP, GRP open 2nd round of formal talks; present separate focus

OSLO, Norway — The second round of formal talks here between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) opened at six o’clock in the evening (Oslo time) after nine hours of delay.

Punctuated by a standing ovation by both parties to long-time and recently-resigned NDFP chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni, the opening ceremony was attended by more than a hundred panel members, consultants, staff and observers.

In his opening remarks, newly-appointed NDFP negotiating panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili demanded for a general amnesty for more than 400 political prisoners as “a matter of justice and compliance with the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).”

Agcaoili maintained that the continuing detention of political prisoners violates CARHRIHL, which upholds the Hernandez political doctrine. The doctrine is a Supreme Court jurisprudence that prohibits the criminalization of political dissent. Agcaoili said political prisoners are charged with “trumped-up common crimes.”

Agcaoili recalled GRP President Rodrigo Duterte’s offer of a general amnesty to political prisoners in a meeting on May 16.

“The most effective method of release is through an amnesty proclamation as offered by President Duterte himself,” Agcaoili said.

Agcaoili explained that “the proffered amnesty proclamation pertains to political prisoners and not to a general amnesty that is mutually extended to both Parties in the final settlement of an armed conflict.”

GRP Negotiating Panel chairperson Silvestre Bello III for his part focused on the approval of a joint ceasefire, along with the exchange of draft frameworks and outlines on socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms and end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

The joint ceasefire is being awaited by the public, Bello added.

Members of the media were immediately asked to leave the conference room after the speeches but were not informed of the schedule of the usual briefing after each opening and closing ceremony of the talks.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and NDFP Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison spoke before the panel chairpersons delivered their opening speeches.

While Dureza focused on thanking the Royal Norwegian Government, congratulating Agcaoili and introducing the House of Representatives delegation, Sison for his part also talked about the release of political prisoners.

“The release of all political prisoners, in accordance with the CARHRIHL, would also serve as a very big incentive for a stable kind of ceasefire,” Sison said.

Other substantive agenda

In a press statement, the NDFP said that social and economic reforms agenda would be discussed starting on the second day of the talks.

The parties exchanged proposed framework and outline for the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (Caser) , the second agenda of the peace negotiations set by The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992.

The NDFP said Caser’s main objectives are agrarian reform and national industrialization; advancement of the rights of exploited, oppressed, discriminated and disadvantaged sectors of society; economic sovereignty; and national patrimony and the protection of the environment. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

GRP chairperson Bello's Opening Statement

GRP chairperson Bello’s Opening Statement

Page 1 of NDFP Chairperson Agcaoili's Opening Statement

Page 1 of NDFP Chairperson Agcaoili’s Opening Statement.

Page 2 of Agcaoili's Opening Statement.

Page 2 of Agcaoili’s Opening Statement.

 

100 Days: Activists praise Duterte achievements, criticize shortcomings

Activists commended the achievements of the Rodrigo Duterte government in its first 100 days in office while pointing out its shortcomings in a report presented at the Quezon City Sports Club last October 5.

Groups led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said the Duterte government must be congratulated on its assertion of Philippine sovereignty and  its peace process with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines,  pointing out that he is the only Philippine president who has done both.

“These two accomplishments will allow us to make important reforms to our economy and push harder for nationalistic development,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr said.

“For us, it is very significant that he supports the interest of the Filipino masses against meddlesome and abusive foreign interests,” Reyes said.

Militant workers also praised Duterte for the president’s pronouncements against contractualization.

“We highly appreciate that it was more than a campaign promise and that steps are being taken,” Kilusang Mayo Uno chairperson Elmer Labog said.

Labog also told the gathering the Department of Labor and Employment is taking steps to prevent abuses by employers, especially manpower agencies.

Rep. Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis Partylist, on the other hand, called the policy reforms achieved under the Duterte adminstration “unprecedented, historic, and positive,” citing the reforms achieved under the progressives in the administration.

Casilao said Department of Agrarian Reform secretary Rafael Mariano is working to distribute hundreds of hectares in Hacienda Luisita and has convinced Duterte to convene the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council for the first time in nearly ten years.

“They implemented serious and agreeable reforms. They have proven that their appointment is more that simple rhetorics,” Casilao said.

More issues to address

Amid all the successes, however, were issues that the progressives felt were left hanging.

Dr. Joseph Carabeo, secretary-general of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), was disappointed in the Department of Health’s decision to further cut the budget for public hospitals.

“We were initially pleased by president Duterte’s mandate to improve our health system, even sending DOH secretary Paulyn Ubial to Cuba to learn from their strong public health care system. However, it seemed they learned nothing,” Carabeo said.

Carabeo bemoaned that privatization of public hospitals is still being implemented, citing as an example the ongoing demolition of Fabella Hospital.

“There is still no salary increase for health workers, and our doctors and nurses are decreasing in rural areas, in contrast to Cuba’s good example,” he added.

Benjie Valbuena of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers assailed the Department of Education for focusing more on the alternative learning system while the long-standing problems within the educational system remain.

“The dwindling amount of teachers and classrooms has not been paid much attention,” Valbuena said.   “There must be revisions to teachers’ salaries and the content of the current curriculum.”

Valbuena further revealed that DepEd Order No. 221, which allows soldiers to use schools are barracks is also still active.  “This continues to endanger students and holds our indigenous brethren back,” he said.

Reyes condemned the extrajudicial killings caused by the administration’s war on drugs.  “In this regard, we disagree with him.”

“The drug issue is not a police problem will not be solved by killing every drug addict and pusher. The Duterte administration must address and solve socioeconomic factors that cause it,” he said.

Contradictions

The progressives said that the people should be aware of contradictions from among the president’s allies, namely those who continue to push for neoliberal interests.

They cited recent pronouncements made by National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director general Erneso Pernia speaking against the Department of Agrarian Reform’s current programs, and cabinet secretaries constantly clarifying Duterte’s profanity-laden statements regarding several institutions and personalities, namely US president Barack Obama and the European Union.

Casilao, for one, does not see any reason for the president’s men to do so. “The secretaries should take what the president says as a policy statement. They, as his men whose power emanates from him, have no right to be changing his words and context,” he said.

Casilao believes that the various secrataries and spokespersons speaking out of turn stems from Duterte previously stating that he will give them leeway to do their job.

He added that it was important that people understand that the content and nationalistic reasons behind Duterte’s words were more important than his manner and phrasing.

Reyes reiterated that the progressive organizations will still take to the streets and hold demonstrations.

“In the first 100 days, the Duterte administration has achieved much. However, we are still far from true change,” he said. “There are positive steps being taken by the government, but there remains so much left to do.”

Reyes added, “the contradictions from within and outside the administration and getting worse, and the Filipino people must prepare and watch them closely. That is why we will remain in the streets, marching and holding protest actions.” # (Abril Layad B. Ayroso)

Taguiwalo’s MC9 and the fight against lawmakers’ pork barrel

A special report by Abril Layad B. Ayroso

 

“IT took eight months,” senior citizen Constancio Favor said of his attempts to get benefits from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) through his district congressman.

“I was only asking for medicine. I had to return to the office of Quezon City Third District Rep. Jorge Banal many times to complete the requirements for a guarantee letter,” Favor said.

When he was finally given an endorsement, the DSWD under then Secretary Corazon Soliman made him undergo a completely different process from the one he went through with Banal’s office.

Favor was among the tens thousands of poor citizens who were told to secure endorsements from their representative before the DSWD under previous secretaries attended to their requests.

When new DSWD secretary Judy Taguiwalo learned of their complaints she immediately sought to stop the practice through her Memorandum Circular No. 9 issued last August 6.  Among others, MC9 ordered the entire agency to act on requests from intended beneficiaries even without a letter from lawmakers. The circular also reminded DSWD employees that so-called guarantee letters from congressmen is not a requisite in the identification of beneficiaries.

Some lawmakers, thinking the circular was an attempt to disregard them, reacted strongly against it.

Well-attended budget hearing

Sixty lawmakers lined up to grill Taguiwalo at the two DSWD budget hearings of the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives earlier this month.  Many of them asked Taguiwalo about MC9, saying it prevents them from helping the poor in their respective districts through DSWD services.

At the first hearing last September 1, Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin claimed that congressmen were the first people that their constituents seek help from and that MC9 implies that their guarantee letters were in violation of the Supreme Court ruling against pork barrel.

Negros Oriental Representative Arnulfo Teves challenged Taguiwalo whether it was the DSWD or the lawmakers who know the poor’s plight better.

House Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Representative Rodolfo Farinas for his part threatened DSWD and its proposed budget.

“We are not asking money from you. You are asking money from Congress. No budget can be spent on your programs without the (Congress) granting it,” Fariñas said.

Other members of the committee suggested to have DSWD’s proposed 2017 budget drastically reduced from Php130 billion to Php500 million — good for only one month of its employees’ salaries.

Taguiwalo for her part repeatedly explained that MC9 does not prevent congressmen from issuing guarantee letters to poor constituents who seek services from the DSWD.  She said MC9 only clarifies that a guarantee letter is not a prerequisite to access to DSWD services.

“We have regional offices that can coordinate with you with the referrals. But there are people who have similar needs but do not have access to your referrals. We want to serve them also,” Taguiwalo said.

At the second hearing last September 13, Taguiwalo again clarified that congressmen may still make referrals to DSWD.  She said that she believes that these referrals should not be treated as instant passes to benefits.  She further said that MC9 is in compliance with Commission on Audit guidelines that executive branch agencies, like the DSWD, are the only authorities in identifying beneficiaries of government projects.

“MC9 was not aimed at relegating to the sidelines the prerogatives of the members of this (Congress) body to give referral letters to their indigent constituents who seek to avail of DSWD programs. Nor was it intended to shut the doors of DSWD cooperation with legislators, government officials, or private individuals. It was, however, aimed at democratizing access to services,” she said.

Taguiwalo’s circular received popular support from the government’s social service front liners.

Reform measure

The Social Welfare Association of Employees in the Philippines (SWEAP), the DSWD rank and file employees union defended what it called Taguiwalo’s “efforts for reforms towards better public service.”

In a statement, the group said that the memo “aims at preserving the dignity of social work by ensuring that key processes in program implementation are done by the diligent workers of the Department.”

SWEAP national president Manuel Baclagon called on the congressmen to stop the politicking, as they saw no reason for the lawmakers to react negatively to the memorandum.

“In principle, this MC is a policy aimed towards ensuring an efficient, fair and transparent provision of services to the needy,” Baclagon said.

Baclagon also emphasized that not all poor people can get endorsement letters from their respective congressmen.

“Secretary Judy is focused on ensuring that the programs and services of DSWD are indeed equally provided and made available to the needy. She wants those who are in need to have equal access to programs and services with or without a referral letter from politicians or government officials,” he added in response to statements by several of the congressmen.

Taguiwalo’s MC9 also received support from outside her agency.

Activists say that lawmakers' insistence on dictating the flow of DSWD services is a continuation of the unlawful 'pork barrel' system. (Photo by Raymund B. Villanueva)

Pork Barrel. Activists say that the lawmakers’ insistence on dictating on how the DSWD delivers services is a continuation of the unlawful ‘pork barrel’ system. (Photo above and featured image by Raymund B. Villanueva)

“Pork barrel”

Veteran journalist and opinion maker Inday Espina-Varona in a Facebook post said there is a deeper reason for the lawmakers’ frustration at Taguiwalo and MC9 and why “the fat, fat pigs in Congress are getting ready to sink their claws into Judy Taguiwalo.”

Varona said that the many congressmen are against MC9 because it seeks to stop the continuation of patronage politics that make the beneficiaries feel like they owe politicians and feel obligated to keep supporting and voting them.

“Simply put, Congress ‘piggies’ want to dictate the flow of DSWD services so they can force people to kneel in thanks and be able to extract voters for services,” she said.

Varona added that because the congressmen are not accountable for the funds being distributed by the DSWD, the lawmakers are free to send the money wherever they please.

The congressmen’s threats against DSWD drove progressive groups to the streets.

Activists defend a government agency

Last September 13, progressive organizations trooped to the House of Representatives to support Sec. Taguiwalo against the congressmen opposing her.

Gabriela-Quezon City chairperson Nerissa Guerrero said she believes the DSWD under Taguiwalo is changing for the better.

“Under previous administrations, I seldom went to the DSWD to seek help. As someone from the lower income brackets, I was not informed enough about all the benefits I should be receiving,” Guerrero said.

“Now, with Ma’am Judy as secretary, the DSWD is trying to inform the people about its programs and reach out to the beneficiaries, especially those affected by calamities. We can rely on the department now, because we know that its chief has a heart that is pro-poor and pro-people,” Guerrero added.

Among those who participated in the rally in front of the House of Representatives before the second budget hearing was Favor.  He said he supports Taguiwalo and DSWD’s MC9.

Later that night, the Committee on Appropriations approved at its level DSWD’s proposed 2017 budget.  But it will have to go through at least two more stages—the approval of the House of Representatives in plenary and the bicameral sessions with the Senate—before it can serve the millions of Guerreros and Favors faster. #