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OFWs in peril in Saudi-Yemen war, Migrante warns

A Filipino migrant group warned that thousands of Filipinos are facing danger after Yemeni Houthi fighters fired missiles at an airport in Abha, Saudi Arabia earlier this week.

Migrante International said that it may already be unsafe for close to 36,000 overseas Filipino workers to be airlifted to safety after Houthi fighters again targeted Abha’s Najran airport with missiles.

Migrante International photo.

Migrante said the Rodrigo Duterte government in the Philippines failed to put in place contingency measures to assist OFWs working in southwest Saudi Arabia close to the Yemeni border.

“Now that airports and control towers are being targeted, it will no longer be safe for Filipinos to be airlifted to safety from these regions,” Migrante said in a statement Thursday.

Migrante said that the Philippine consulate in Jeddah lists about 15,000 Filipinos work in Jizan and 7,850 are in Najran.

It added that in the Asir region, there are 13,000 OFWs in the city of Khamis Mushayt alone.

The city is close to the King Khalid Air Base which earlier suffered airstrikes from Yemeni fighters.

“We are outraged that the Duterte administration remains stone-deaf in hearing our calls to ensure the safety of Filipinos in Saudi Arabia as the Philippine government displays the same ineptitude it has shown during the previous outbreak of armed conflict in Libya, Iraq and Syria,” Migrante said in its statement.

The group accused the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs of merely re-echoing “almost the same consulate advisory issued by its office in Jeddah last month.”

“In light of reports from Saudi authorities on the interception of two alleged Houthi ballistic missiles over Taif, one heading toward Makkah and the other toward Jeddah, on Monday morning, 20 May 2019, the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wishes to advise our kababayans in the city and its neighboring areas to remain calm but vigilant for any eventualities,” the Consulate said in its Public Advisory No. 44.

“Will the government wait once more for thousands of Filipinos to be caught up in the deadliest last minute before it even lifts a finger?” Migrante asked.

The group said signs of escalation in the fighting have been clear but the Duterte government “wasted several weeks” in merely campaigning for its senatorial candidates in the region.

“This vile apathy demonstrates how much weight the Duterte government places on its lust for power than looking after the welfare of imperilled OFWs,” Migrante said.

Migrante again called on the Duterte government to ensure that concrete actions are already in place to readily assist OFWs in need of immediate evacuation in all locations of Saudi Arabia within missile range.

“It should draw lessons from similar periods in the past when it only responded upon the moment when lives have already been lost,” it said.

The fighting in the Arabian Peninsula escalated March 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states intervened and backed the Yemeni government against the Shiite Houthis, bitter rivals of the Saudi Sunnis.

The United Nations earlier said that as many as 50,000 may have already been killed in the Saudi-led and US-backed war in Yemen in the past four years.

Recently, however, Houthis had been firing ballistic missiles deep into Saudi territory that signify the escalation of conflict where tens of thousands of OFWs are stationed. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Sison warns against Duterte’s ‘war panel’

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison warned that President Rodrigo Duterte’s plans to constitute a new government negotiating panel with at least three military officers as members is for “militarist purposes.”

“[The NDFP] and the Filipino people should be alert to Duterte’s militarist purposes in announcing that he wishes to reopen the peace talks with the use of a militarized negotiating panel under the militarized office of the presidential adviser, General [Carlito] Galvez,” Sison said.

Sison was reacting to Duterte’s speech at the PDP-Laban campaign sortie in Bukidnon Saturday, when the president talked about looking for members for a new peace panel, most of whom would come from the military.

“I’ll look for a new one, new methods, new people to talk to. Maybe one, two, three of them are from the military. Maybe around five. Two civilian members, three from the military,” Duterte said.

The president said he dissolved the previous peace panel last March 20 because it took them too long to negotiate with the NDFP.

“It took too long. Nothing happened in three years,” he claimed.

The previous Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) negotiating panel was composed of labor secretary Silvestre H. Bello III as chairperson and members Hernani Braganza, Angela Librado-Trinidad, Rene Sarmiento and Antonio Arellano.

‘Willing and committed GRP panel’

Records, however, show that Duterte’s first negotiating panel produced groundbreaking draft agreements with the NDFP on substantive agenda as well as the longest bilateral ceasefire between both parties that lasted five months.

In June 2018, the GRP-NDFP panels and reciprocal working committees and groups drafted the following:

  1.  Stand Down Agreement,
  2. Guidelines and Procedures towards an Interim Peace Agreement and the Resumption of Talks and its attached timetable,
  3. The Initialled Interim Peace Agreement, and
  4. The NDFP Proposed Draft of the Amnesty Proclamation which was given to the GRP and the Third Party Facilitator.

The documents were ready for Duterte’s approval when he again cancelled the formal round in Oslo, Norway scheduled a week after the both panels initialled the documents.

Earlier, both panels have already approved land reform and rural development as well as national industrialization and economic development subsections of the substantive social and economic reforms substantive agenda the parties mutually described as the “meat of the negotiations.”

NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili in fact acknowledged that the Bello-led GRP panel were willing and committed negotiators upon learning their counterparts were fired last March 14.

“The GRP should be wise enough to choose those who are willing or committed to address the roots of the armed conflict in order to attain a just and lasting peace as Sec. Bello has shown in the long years that he has been a consultant, member and then chairperson of the GRP panel since 1994,” Agcaoili said. 

Duterte, however, brushed aside the results of two years of hard work by both panels when he cancelled for at least the third time last June 2018 the formal round after meeting with his Cabinet’s security cluster.

“That the suspension comes after a command conference with the Armed Forces of the Philippines shows the power that warmongers wield over the civilian branch of this government,” the group Kapayapaan Campaign for a Just and Lasting Peace said at the time.

Presidential peace adviser Galvez, former Armed Forces chief of staff explained that the dissolution of the first GRP peace panel last month was aimed for the creation of a new panel that will focus on the so-called localized peace engagements.

Galvez added they will reconstitute the panel that will implement the government’s whole-of-nation approach.

‘War panel’

Sison, however, said the NDFP does not want to be baited into accepting a war panel of the Duterte regime, “whose purpose is merely to seek the impossible, such as the surrender of the revolutionary forces, especially the New People’s Army.”

“The NDFP must remind Duterte that he cannot dictate the terms of whatever kind of negotiations he seeks from the revolutionary movement of the people,” Sison said.

He added that Duterte must also explain why he terminated the peace negotiations and annul all agreements painstakingly made since the The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992.

Sison also asked why Duterte terminated and dismantles the GRP section of the Joint Monitoring Committee formed under the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Humans Rights and International Humanitarian Law tasked to receive and investigate complaints of human rights violations allegedly committed by either party.

“By all indications, Duterte is merely play-acting in the name of peace while carrying out an all-out war and scheming to rig the May 2019 elections in order to pave the way for a fascist dictatorship through charter change to a bogus federalism,” Sison said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Lumad group: Duterte’s ‘Manobo leader’ is fake, crooked

A Lumad alliance warned that President Rodrigo Duterte’s invitation to a paramilitary leader to join the fight against the New People’s Army has dire consequences against indigenous peoples’ communities in Davao.

In a statement, the PASAKA Confederation of Lumad Organizations in Southern Mindanao Region said Mindanao Indigenous People’s Conference for Peace and Development chairperson Joel Unad is only seeking to benefit from the entry of large scale mining in their ancestral lands.

“Joel Unad is a fake tribal leader who claims thousands of hectares through faulty Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADT),” PASAKA said.

The group also accused Unad of leading “his bunch of crooked paramilitary,” which was formed in 2006 under the counter-insurgency program of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Oplan-Bantay Laya 2.

The group said the MIPCPD was formed on the same year that the 10th Infantry Division was established under the supervision of the Eastern Mindanao Command and whose office is located inside Camp Panacan, Davao City.

Duterte thrust Unad into the limelight Monday (November 26) when the President acknowledged the leader’s presence during the inauguration of Davao City’s Bulk Water Supply Project and asking him to join the war against revolutionary forces.

Kita ko si Joel Unad, tribal leader ng Manobo tribe. Buti ‘yan, andito ka. Kasi the earlier we finish this insurgency, the better for us all,” Duterte said.

Kailangan talaga, Joel, Datu Unad, na tapusin natin ang giyera dito. Tumulong na kayo,” he added.

PASAKA, however, said Unad Joel “is nothing but a fake and a full-pledged tribal dealer.”

“Unad, along with his military cohorts, [are] responsible for the relentless attacks against the schools and communities of the Lumads in Davao Region,” the group added.

PASAKA said that Duterte recognizes he could not defeat the revolutionary forces but still pushes for a “futile militaristic plan” with Unad which only exposes the President’s role as “patron of environmental and economic plunderers in IP communities especially in surrounding areas in the Pantaron range.”

“Duterte regime’s real intent is to pave the way to big companies’ intrusion to Lumad’s rich ancestral domain for mining, logging and expansion of trans-national plantations,” PASAKA said.

“Unad, after all, has a long history of being a tribal-dealer (not a leader) bringing and defending the interest of the military and big companies,” the group added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

AFP blocks humanitarian aid to Marawi evacuees

A humanitarian mission with 400 relief packs for evacuees was denied entry to Marawi City today by the military, its leaders announced.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan spokesperson and former Bayan Muna representative Teddy Casiño said an Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) checkpoint at the entrance to the city proper stopped the National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission at around 8:45 today.

“We were told to turn back because the relief goods were supposedly not needed by the evacuees anymore,” Casiño said.

The mission, principally organized by the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Region, was scheduled to distribute more relief packs to civilian evacuees and meet with local government officials to know what other forms of assistance was needed in the war-torn city, he said.

Gabriela Women’s Party representative Arlene Brosas was among the mission participants.

Casiño said prior permission had been secured from Marawi local government officials and the military ground command through a Captain Clint Antipala of the Philippine Army.

He explained Marawi officials assured them beforehand relief packs are needed in the evacuation sites in the city.

“Local government officials later told us that under martial law, it was the military that had the final say on such matters,” Casiño said.

“Essentially, the military prevented humanitarian aid from reaching the displaced families in Marawi City.  This is unacceptable,” Casiño said.

He added that they are still seeking an explanation on the AFP’s decision. # (Raymund B. Villanueva/Photos courtesy of the National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission)

 

Relief packs of food and medicine ordered to turn back by the military at the entrance to Marawi City.

NPA releases two POWs in Davao del Sur

WITHOUT waiting for a copy of the announced Suspension of Military Operations order from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the New People’s Army (NPA) released two of its prisoners of war (POWs) this morning in Matan-Ao, Davao del Sur to a third party facilitator and local government officials.

The NPA’s Front 74 Mt. Alip Command turned over Philippine Army’s Sgt. Solaiman Calocop and Pfc. Samuel Garay to Rev. Redemeer Yañez, IFI of Koronadal and of the group Sowing the Seeds of Peace as well as Davao del Sur provincial administrator Marc Anthony Cagas.

The NPA reportedly held the turnover ceremony at Matan-Ao because it was not as militarized as Sultan Kudarat where Calocop and Garay were captured.

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines-Far South Mindanao for its part said the release of the POWs was in accordance to the NPA’s commitment to comply with the Geneva Convention.

The NPA National Operations Command earlier complained it could not effect its announced release of five POWs because of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police’s refusal to suspend operations.

“Continuing offensive military and police operations in the Socsargen area have impeded the New People’s Army (NPA) from releasing two prisoners of war,” NPA spokesperson Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos, in an April 12 statement, said.

The NPA said it planned to turn over Calocop and Garay to the third party facilitator last April 11 but cancelled because continuing military and police operations put the safety of the POWs, their families and third party facilitators at risk.

The POWs are soldiers of the 39th Infantry Battallion of the Philippine Army.

They were captured by the NPA in Columbia, Sultan Kudarat province last February 2.

The NPA is also set to to release three other POWs in Bukidnon and in the Caraga region. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Davao del Sur provincial administrator Marc Anthony Cagas (in green shirt) congratulates the two soldiers on their release. (Photo by Radyo ni Juan Network)