You’re napping. Suddenly horns start blaring. You sit up, rub your eyes and see your car is not moving while the lanes on both sides stream forward.
Your best buddy is oblivious, sending a text to a beloved.
Call them intexticated.
Most of us have probably experienced riding with kin or friends who text or check their social media pages or email stream while driving. We grasp our seat belts and pray for deliverance as the one-handed drivers struggle with multi-tasking.
“The likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a 0.8 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting the behavior is safe,” the agency notes.
The penalty is a joke — P200 from first to third offense. Driving without slippers gets more than double the penalty for driving while using a handheld phone or mobile radio.
Only when you’ve actually caused an accident does reckless driving come into play.
Well, brace yourselves. Change is coming. The House of Representatives adopted en toto the Senate’s version of the “Anti-distracted Driving Act” Monday, during the last session of the 16th Congress.
This means the measure doesn’t need bicameral committee proceedings to consolidate versions by both chambers, doing a way for the ratification requirement.
In 2011, former President and Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo shepherded her bill to approval, but it lacked a similar Senate push.
The measure should now be on its way to President Benigno Aquino III’s desk.
It’s highly unlikely he’ll veto it — but you never know with him. Unless vetoed, an approved bill that has been transmitted to the Chief Executive will lapse into law within a month.
President-elect Rodrigo Duterte also comes into office on July 1 with enough time to sign it. If I were a betting gal, I’d put my money on Mr. Duterte — who’s allowed himself to be ticketed for traffic violations — taking the law very seriously.
The measure covers the gamut of distracted driving. This includes the use of mobile devices as a means of communication either through texts or calls and the use of electronic gadgets for playing games, internet browsing and watching movies.
Also covered are wheeled agricultural machineries, construction vehicles and other forms of transportation such as bicycles, pedicabs, trolleys, “habal-habal”, “kuliglig”, human and animal-powered carriages.
The penalty: P5,000 for the first offense, P10,000 for the second offense and P15,000 for the third offense. Higher than for drag racing, one of Mr. Duterte’s pet peeves.
The final offense shall mean cancellation of the driver’s license and a penalty of P20,000.
The bill exempts drivers using the aid of a hands-free function and vehicles that are not in motion except those who are temporarily halted by the red light and by traffic enforcers.
The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Land Transportation Office (LTO), Philippine Information Agency (PIA), Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Philippine National Police (PNP) shall initiate a six-month, nationwide information, education and campaign.
Hunger that drives people to madness and despair is tragic. Ignoring needs of hungry folk and answering demands for food with a hail of bullets is criminal. Launching a parade of lies to defend the indefensible is obscene. It strips President Benigno Aquino’s government of legitimacy.
The President is missing in the face of crisis, as usual. His spokespersons and alter egos, and local stooges, swerve and lurch from one falsehood to another.
Philippine National Police (PNP) Spokesman Wilben Mayor claimed cops didn’t carry guns. Photos show armed cops were there from the start of the protest.
Then the PNP said armed cops were sent because of the reported presence of rebels. They got a search warrant against the protesters’ church-owned sanctuary, but came out of the United Methodist Church compound with only one sports cap.
It didn’t surprise anyone who’d already seen video footage of the dispersal. The (pleasant) surprise was to find that some government officials remain committed to truth-telling.
Watch: Bullets for Rice by Kilab Multimedia
Suddenly, functionaries who had demanded the public wait for a government probe decided CHR Region 12 Director Erlan Deluvio. was not a person of authority.
The government ignored Deluvio and turned right to focus on a new tack: communists were to blame for “duping” the farmers.
Farmers didn’t know why they were there, said these spokespersons.
Who fed them? demanded Malacanang factotums and lapdogs. There would have been no protest if nobody fed and encouraged these poor farmers, they said.
Liberal party standard bearer Mar Roxas has joined the chorus, as if he didn’t see the outpouring of support for the Lumad he and his patron refused to help.
Filipinos responded to the callous spin with an outpouring of rice donations for the farmers.
Officials staged more tantrums. The donations were aimed at embarrassing the government, they said.
Cops barred food from reaching protesters. They also tried to bar lawyers, rights workers and kin from access to the wounded, even to the dead.
National Union of People’s Lawyers Edre Olalia said cops kept arrested protesters in a gym way beyond the legally prescribed time — and then, in the absence of a lawyer, made them sign away their rights.
Every right had to be fought for. In the city of Kidapawan, the Philippines has its first display of urban hamletting — mass illegal detention and denial of the most basic needs.
The government even tried to scare off local businesses. Tudla Productions reported on April 5:
Kidapawan City Councilor Lauro Taynan, Jr. recieved a call from a trader that 300 sacks of rice to be donated to farmers were held up in the warehouse for the police refused that the sacks be taken out. The sacks were purchased by Becky Vidanes, Robin Padilla’s manager.
The persistent outcry and appalled statements from multilateral agencies and international groups and most media outfits prompted an about face that finally allowed the flow of aid today.
But not before the most obscene act opened.
The budget secretary, responding to reports that it had slashed P2-billion off requested El Nino mitigating funds, said agencies had been told to source whatever was needed from the budgets for other programs.
It truly needs people living on a different plane of reality would think it is right to cut an urgent request in half, and then stealing funds from allocated programs to cover up.
That’s a shell game, pure and simple, using people’s money – and you wonder what they’re covering up because they’ve been throwing money left and right to their pet legislators and local government officials.
National government started an outpouring of technocratese to numb the debate. But one of the ruling coalition’s most powerful members decided spice things up by suddenly becoming a security spokesman for the government.
Prospero Alcala, President Aquino’s untouchable agriculture secretary – a slew of graft charges, his congressional slush fund ending up in ghost NGOs that used farmers without ever giving them the benefit of taxpayers’ monies – told media:
Things aren’t so bad; the communists only want it to sound bad, because they wanted a big shebang to celebrate the March 29 anniversary of the New People’s Army. The entire protest, says Alcala, was just a show. There wasn’t much hunger. There was, in fact a bumper crop.
That made for a collective puke heard around the country.
And that’s how you know it’s over, when the government starts botching up even the simplest rules of logic.
Government neglect and inefficiency and hubris were responsible for the Kidapawaan tragedy. Everything else that follows is just proof that this is a government without soul and, thus, without legitimacy. #30
The gods of Congress, those lapdogs of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, did their best. As this Congress goes, their best often has to do with dastardly deeds. Pork for one, and then resurrecting a zombie twice killed by the Supreme Court, in a million and one mechanisms that scream “discretionary funds”.
They are at their best sitting on the corpses of what could have been landmark legislation. The first was the Freedom of Information bill. The other, a long-delayed, P2000-monthly pension hike for Social Security System (SSS) members.
Apologists of this administration will tell you that Congress is a co-equal branch of government, that it’s foibles should not be blamed on the executive.
That is theoretically correct, except that these very same people ranted and raved when Congress was a lapdog of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They were also silent when Congress turned its back on the Mamasapano probe when that hacendero screamed, enough!
Night of dishonor
On Wednesday, February 3, the lords of lard were following the wishes of Mr. Aquino, who vetoed the SSS pension-hike bill that Congress passéd with overwhelming votes.
Congress guards tussled with senior citizens who came in the hundreds to see a showdown.
There was none. Faced with the spectre of a veto override, Mr. Aquino’s congressional henchmen cut short their last working day before this year’s electoral campaign period.
They adjourned early in the night, a far cry from other years when sessions lasted till dawn just to ram through administration legislation.
The cowards were so scared they wouldn’t even allow proceedings to start, following hours of waiting for a quorum. At least 57 legislators had signed a resolution to override the veto.
And when the main author of bill, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, stood up to demand a hearing, they cut off the microphones.
The SSS pension-hike bill is dead. Or so Mr. Aquino and millionaire executives hope.
The funny thing is, hardly anyone is boasting of their “victory”. But only madmen own to a massacre. The administration people aren’t mad, they’re craven; they can’t be bothered to even make a stand.
To mask the reality of SSS members sold down the river of dirty deals, they had to kill the pension hike. How many billions were lost to bad investments of friends? How many millions exchange hands yearly so that employers get away with non-payment of premiums already deducted from workers’ salaries?
The art of Noynoying
It’s no use telling Mr. Aquino about the lives of a father and son who struggle with disease and a job that can’t even bring home the equivalent of minimum wage. They walked (and continue to walk) the straight path with premium payments. The son takes regular breaks from ferrying neighbors to check on a father laid low by stroke.
The crown prince of the kingdom of entitlement knows nothing about the daily travails of people. Nor would he care.
Mr. Aquino isn’t content with killing the SSS bill.
He wants the victims to kiss his hand as he scatters crumbs from his table.
Come, you unwashed hordes. Kneel at his feet and thank him for an offer of P500.
If Malacanang was really sincere about that, it could have negotiated while congressional hearings were going on.
Then again, if he couldn’t even be bothered doing that with the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, he wouldn’t over the SSS bill.
You see, Noynoying isn’t just the art of doing nothing.
It’s pretending to do nothing while your peons do the dirty job. Purisima and Rico Puno taught us that Mr. Aquino is a master of this art.
Mr. Aquino’s bloated pets know what exactly they engineered on February 3.
The dictionary tells us:
“A Pyrrhic victory is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. Someone who wins a Pyrrhic victory has been victorious in some way. However, the heavy toll negates any sense of achievement or profit. Another term for this would be “hollow victory”.
Nanay Salve, a retired school teacher, NGO worker and trainer of people disabilities, told Ted Failon about her experience.
They gave the elderly a hard time to get in hanggang nagkakasigawan na. They were under the heat of the sun, tired and hungry old people. Then when they were allowed to get in, they were prevented to enter the main session hall until after a few more minutes. They entered the session hall, only to wait for hours and watch legislators loitering abt. Session was suspended to wait for a quorum. Late afternoon, nagutom na ang iba, lumabas. Bumalik ng alas-6. Di nila namalayan, maya-maya, bigla na lang session was resumed and declared adjourned, when neri came running to the podium to speak and contest the adjournment. He got in a sentence or two before his mic was shutdown and he was told the session was closed.
One man in a barong tagalog wept.
Fighter Ng Bayan
This is what I love about Neri Colmenares: a fighter with the courage and heart to shed tears.
Because you do not fight for decades without feeling deep down, in your guts and in your soul, what it is that makes grown men and women cry themselves to sleep at night. (That’s Morris West, in “The Shoes of the Fisherman”.)
Episodes of defeat are nothing new to Colmenares, who is running for the Senate in the 2016.
You can’t have a life as student activist, human rights lawyer and militant legislator without knowing that some battles can’t be won.
Not immediately — as the ouster of a dictator and other major landmarks have taught us.
All the gains that we now take for granted were won because some people refused to give up despite the deaths, the blows, the harassment, the mighty forces arrayed against them.
All those gains because some people did the tasks we’re either too busy or too scared to do.
Aside from the line from West, there is another that forever sticks in the mind: “Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.”
There are hard things you do even when soul weary. But you do it. Because it is right. Hindi yan nababayaran. Nasa iyo yan o wala.
American operatives exercised lead roles in the planning, preparation and botched operations last year against a Malaysian terror suspect hiding in a southern Philippine stronghold of Muslim rebels.
The United States gave “real-time” intelligence assistance and training to members of the Special Action Forces (SAF) in the hunt for Malaysian terrorist Marwan and his Filipino accomplice, the sacked director of the elite cop unit told a Senate panel.
It also isolated the SAF from the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a bungled bid to ram through its war-on-terror goals at the crucial homestretch of peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
And the Philippine President was complicit in all this.
The lack of coordination has been blamed for the deaths of 44 SAF members. More than a dozen rebels and armed residents, and six civilians were also slain in the carnage that lasted till late afternoon.
US involvement went on through several oplans targeting Marwan, up until the Jan. 25 Mamasapano operation. The United States wanted Marwan for the deaths of American citizens in the 2002 Bali bombings. It offered a $5-million reward for information leading to the capture of Marwan, who had since moved to Mindanao and masterminded other bomb attacks.
That aid was filtered through a very small group focused on the get-Marwan mission, called in its Jan 25 version as Oplan Exodus.
Only President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, the suspended national police chief Alan Purisima, Napenas and PNP intelligence chief Fernando Mendez, Jr. were involved in the final planning. There was no oversight from other key Filipino officials who could have warned of grave unintentional consequences, including a breach of a ceasefire agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Peace a major casualty
Marwan, SAF troops, civilians, rebels. There was one other major casualty of Mamasapano: The peace legacy that President Benigno Aquino III and, yes, the US government had been touting as the key to progress and security in one of the world’s most volatile areas, a region prized by both big corporations and the rampaging ISIS.
Filipinos erupted in anger when a previous Senate probe indicated a reluctance by the military to deploy the artillery and mechanised armour Napeñas belated sought for his beleaguered forces.
Transcripts of previous hearings show Purisima informing Mr. Aquino early morning that the SAF had run into guards of Basit Usman, Marwan’s Filipino accomplice who managed to escape from Mamasapano. This was after he told the President that Marwan was dead and a SAF member wounded.
Despite US intelligence, instead of between 15-20 men from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway MILF group, there were scores within deployment range of the target area.
Purisima, text messages show, also failed to inform the President of that particular fact. He did not correct the Commander-in-Chief’s 7:59 am text:
If I remember correctly 160 SAF troopers were directly involved in this operation plus provisions for other PNP and AFP units to assist. The terrain is flat and clear as opposed to upland forested or jungle terrain. Why could they not contain and or overwhelm 15 to 20 members of opposing force. Are they still in contact with other targets? If not, and the opposing forces escaped, are we now back to square one?
As a result, Mr. Aquino ordered : “Basit should not get away.”
Aside from the BIFF, the area is also home to MILF supporters. A big formation of mainstream rebels were within a kilometre of the target. Alerted by gunfire — dozens of residents had joined the fray — MILF forces engaged the retreating SAF and a blocking force, exacting the most casualties.
The MILF ultimately became the scapegoat, blamed for the SAF slaughter. Politicians decried what they called the rebels’ treachery. They used Mamasapano as the bogey to crush the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, the key condition for forging a permanent peace with the MILF.
The government itself had signed an agreement with the rebels — praised by foreign states and development donors — on the conduct of military and police operations in its strongholds.
The ceasefire aimed to prevent ground clashes; the agreement is premised on an MILF pledge to root out extremists and criminal gangs in its areas.
Policy as main threat
The ceasefire monitoring body involves the Armed Forces. Military officials factor this in during operations.
The President did not bother to inform top AFP officers that he had approved a US-supervised plan that listed the MILF among the “enemy forces” in Mamasapano.
“The AFP has internalized the peace process and operates within this framework. It is an instrument of national policy, in this case the ceasefire with the MILF,” a retired AFP officer who has direct experience in the peace process stressed in an earlier interview.
“Had the President given a clear signal to ignore existing ceasefire mechanisms or exempt the January 25 Mamasapano operation from coverage, the military would have obeyed.”
But Napenas and American advisers viewed that same agreement and assimilation of former rebels in the AFP, the result of a previous peace pact with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), as the greatest threat to the hunt for Marwan.
Purisima said Americans had no involvement in the intelligence packet initially furnished by the PNP Intelligence Group.
Questioned by Sen. Ralph Recto, Napenas gave examples of where military involvement jeopardise the outcome of operations to hunt down terrorists. He cited one operation where the military reneged on a promise to loan mechanised units because of a ceasefire provision requiring coordination with the MILF.
In the hunt for Abu Sayyaf commander Purugin Indama of Basilan, Napenas said surveillance showed the targets of an aerial bomb moving away 15 minutes before attack.
“Nakita doon sa surveillance. Galling din sa liaison namin na Americano ang impormasyon na ‘yun. From the Seaborne and siya din mismo ang nagsabi sa akin na alam nya na before naibagsak ang bobmba sa kalaban, nakaalis na sila.” (Surveillance showed that. I was also told by our American liaison from the Seaborne. He knew that the targets left just before planned aerial bomb.)
While there is suspicion that the military-police rivalry may be rooted on the big rewards (there was also a P7-million reward for Marwan from the Philippine government), the real cause of the debacle may be the tug-of-war between doves and hawks from both governments.
MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal has the most clear-eyed reading of events: A collision between the government’s commitment to conflict resolution and its support for the United States’ global “war on terror” sparked the clash that derailed the Mindanao peace process.
Unlike the country’s communist insurgency, which is listed as a terrorist organisation by the US government, the MILF officially enjoys some support from Americans.
Like Philippine officials, the MILF was initially reluctant to focus on the US government role in Mamasapano.
But pressed at a peace forum, Iqbal expounded on the MILF’s balancing act with a supportive superpower viewed with hostility by Muslims who have experienced the fallout of its global war on terror.
“Ang trato namin sa Amerikano iba sa komunista,” Iqbal said. “May bilateral agreements. Kung nandiyan ang US troops, hindi mali sa amin.” (Our view on American presence differs from that of the communists. There are bilateral agreements between the Philippines and the United States. We see no problem with the presence of US troops.)
“But in Mamasapano, there were complications,” Iqbal acknowledged. He confirmed that Americans funded Oplan Exodus, gave intelligence, operated drones for real-time monitoring of the target and SAF teams, and evacuated government forces.
Two national policies — conflict resolution and supporting the US-led war on terror — “crossed paths” in Mamasapano, the MILF negotiator pointed out.
“Imbes na ang priority ay conflict resolution, naging war on terror, kaya nagka-leche-leche na,” Iqbal said. (Shifting the priority from conflict resolution to the war on terror caused the mess.)
Those conflicting goals led to the shut-out of the AFP, which Mr. Aquino approved. He ordered Napenas to increase the number of troops for Mamasapano, knowing it was a stronghold of the MILF.
Who ordered ceasefire?
Military officials have repeatedly said they could not deploy mechanised units or artillery for fear of hitting friendly forces and civilians. In any other situation, they would be applauded for this. (Elsewhere, they mow down civilians, especially those suspected of supporting communist rebels.)
AFP officers insist Napenas did not give clear locations of his men. SAF personnel testified that they regularly updated Napenas of their positions. The SAF commander, at least, knew where his men where. Yet more than half of close to 400 men were not moved from their highway waiting posts.
The biggest revelation of the latest Senate hearing answered the question: Who ordered a halt to reinforcements.
From ANC’s coverage of the hearing:
Napeñas: (Despite SAF asking for help via radio), Purisima ordered us to ceasefire, hold on to our position, and don’t move forward
Purisima: I contacted MILF persons to assist us in pulling out MILF troops. I was just giving Napeñas the info MILF gave me.
Purisima: I asked MILF to pull out their troops because our SAF forces were already at a disadvantage (“nahihirapan na ang SAF natin”).
The AFP had scrambled to convene the ceasefire body mid-day in a bid to halt the carnage. But it was apparently still Purisima who meddled — without coordinating with the AFP.
By this time, the President would have come to realise the horrible fallout of Mamasapano.
Mr. Aquino did not even discuss events with his AFP chief of staff or Interior Secretary Mar Roxas until late afternoon. Nobody bothered to shake him awake because he seemed to have been busy dealing with other persons — Purisima and some other still unknown parties.
Nobody seemed in charge — except for Purisima and the American companions of Napenas, who at one point was told off by a military officer for trying to order the firing of artilery.
Everything that followed — the dodging, the hedging during his speeches and that of officials during congressional hearings — were all premised on salvaging what the Commander-in-Chief and his men, enthralled with Americans, had jeopardised.
A lot of the shadow-boxing and outright lying in the weeks following Mamasapano were precisely aimed at hiding the US hand.
“The bloodshed triggered bitter recriminations in one of America’s closest allies in Asia, and put sharp new strains on Manila’s security relationship with Washington,” said a special report by the LA Times.
Within weeks, the Pentagon announced that it was withdrawing a special operations task force. It had been sent to the Philippines after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and had become a model for U.S. counter-terrorism teams later deployed around the globe.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III‘s government delayed plans to give U.S. troops, warships and aircraft wider access to military bases that the Obama administration sought for its strategic “pivot” to Asia. The planned expansion has been stalled since.
The botched raid also left a landmark 2014 peace deal between the Philippine government and entrenched Islamic rebels in tatters, sparking a renewal of violence by insurgent groups.
“It was a bungled operation and it has had major fallout,” said David Maxwell, a retired Army colonel who commanded the U.S. special operations force in the Philippines in 2006 and 2007.
CIA? Or FBI?
The LA Times quotes Pentagon officials insisting, “No Americans joined or issued orders to the assault team.”
But they gave orders from the command post. They were still trying to give orders to reinforcing military officers in the afternoon.
Napenas said his men underwent training in the US Joint Task Force facility in Zamboanga City.
Asked about the general identities of the trainers by Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, defense chief under two Philippine Presidents, Napenas said some were members of the US military, “but some are mere members of the Joint Task Force”.
Napenas later said he presumed the non-military members of the Joint Task Force were from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), since “they were giving us intelligence”.
However, BAYAN USA, an overseas chapter of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, announced that it has filed a Freedom of Information Act request before the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, to uncover the role of the agency in the bloody Mamasapano incident.
The FOIA request covers communications between the FBI and PNP , DNA tests results on Marwan, as well as details of the supposed bounty set up for the targets of the operation. Full text of the FOIA request can be found here: http://bayanusa.org/foia
Enrile offers an explanation for American reluctance to use the military. The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries does not include police operations. It covers defense against external threats, like China. Anti-terror covert operations, especially one with a potential to derail a major peace policy (also backed by the US government) is a particularly slippery slope.
The Senate hearing adjourned with no clear answers. If anything, senators play at the edges of the US question but show reluctance in directly accusing a superpower. Elections are, after all, in the offing.
The Senate’s original report on the Mamasapano incident raised the question: Who actually called the shots in Mamasapano.
Accountability is a requisite for Justice. While President Aquino is Commander in Chief, the US government can neither wash its hands of the blood of those it tapped to do its dirty work.
If the US was giving real-time info, did the relay or withholding of information affect the decisions to save or not, on that fateful day?
Did the relay or withholding of information affect the planning of the operation? Did the relay or withholding of information prompt the Philippine government to cut losses on a triumph that was crossing over to disaster category?
In other words, did information lead to a decision to sacrifice SAF men?
Information – the right information provided at the right time to the right people – plays a great factor in success.
The major disasters faced by the United States – including the Twin Towers bombing – were partly rooted in information being hogged (jealously compartmentalized by competing but allied organizations) and thus not passed on to key decision markers, or passed but ignored, or passed, weighed and then buried under other priorities.
Mr. Aquino, hPurisima and Napenas seemed to rely heavily on US military might, including advanced technology for intelligence.
Now Napenas is hinting that, for all intents and purposes, Philippine leadership may have been a farce in Mamasapano — although Filipino lives were at stake. That may be the greatest treachery of all.
*Featured image by Kathy Yamzon, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – National Capital Region
Thousands of Filipinos joined today’s global climate change march led by the Roman Catholic church to protest a mitigation program that they say favors big business.
As President Benigno Aquino Jr. readies for his talk in Paris on behalf of nations vulnerable to climate change, environmentalists in the Philippines say the race to build coal-fired power plans and start mining operations on indigenous peoples’ lands erode his credibility.
Environmental groups like Kalikasan, Caraga Watch and Greenpeace International say the push for coal sets back the country’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 70% within the next 15 years.
Even the government’s ambitious re-greening program covering more than 7 million hectares of denuded lands has come under fire because of the focus on plantation cash-crops that include oil palms, the source of the deadly Indonesian haze that recently blanketed Southeast Asia.
Caraga Watch, which monitors investment projects in Southern Mindanao, links these big development projects to the spate of attacks on Lumad.
More than 60 indigenous leaders in Mindanao have died in resource conflicts since 2010. Ten of the dead were children. The attacks, which almost always precede the entry of mining and plantations have displaced more than 40,000 Lumad, according to the human rights group Karapatan.
Many of the rights violations are traced to paramilitary groups that received funding, arms and training after Mr. Aquino allowed the creation of investment defense forces.
Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan forecasts Mr. Aquino’s short talk next week before the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as “grandstanding double talk that will ultimately toe the line of the United States and other top big polluter countries.”
He pointed out that coal and other fossil fuel power projects in the pipeline comprise more than 80 percent of all upcoming energy projects in the Philippines.
“In order to make climate solutions work for our nation, we need to put pressure not only on the world leaders, but most especially on our country’s leaders themselves,” Bautista said.
Sen. Loren Legarda has warned that the push for coal jeopardizes the country’s commitments to ease climate change.
“They say that coal is cheap. I say, coal is not cheap. Coal affects our health, kills biodiversity and the environment, affects our waters and pollutes the air we breathe,” Legarda stressed.
The government’s energy program originally called for a 30-30-30 energy mix with natural gas, coal and renewables each accounting for 30% with 10% reserved for alternative technologies.
Legarda, however, said coal now dominates the country‘s energy mix, accounting for for 42.5% of power generated. By 2020, she added, coal would account for 56% of the mix.
“Barring any intervention, this will further increase to 75% by 2030— the highest share of coal among countries in Asia,” Legarda said.
Twenty-three new power plans are starting operations in the next five years.
“By embracing coal, the Philippines loses its credibility in fighting for a good climate change treaty,” Greenpeace Southeast Asia said.
“From mining to combustion, coal is the most polluting of all fossil fuels. A third of all carbon dioxide emissions come from burning coal … Coal releases more carbon dioxide than any other fossil fuel and coal mining is responsible for 8-10% of human-made methane emissions globally.”
Threat to Lumad lives
Michelle Campos lost her father, Dionel, to a September militia attacked linked to coal mining. Soldiers acting on behalf of mining firms are demand a halt to Lumad resistance in the 60,000-hectare Andap Valley complex, she said.
While Lumad huddled in a displacement camp, mining firm Abacus brought in mining equipment and personnel into the valley, according to Caraga watch.
Data from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the environment department show half a dozen mining firms, including some responsible for horrific disasters, preparing to start operations.
Coal mining contracts cover 6,000 hectares in Lianga, Campos’ hometown, where militia killed her father, an uncle and the head of a Lumad school for “poising the minds” of IPs against extractive industries.
The town hosts the world’s biggest coal block reserve, according to Caraga Watch.
Coal, the country’s major lignite reserve, can be found in three of its provinces: Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur. The biggest bulk of coal reserve is said to be found in Bislig and the Andap Valley Complex which covers the municipalities of Tandag, Tago, San Miguel, Cagwait, Marihatag, San Agustin and Lianga in Surigao del Sur.
Aside from approving coal mine applications, the government is pushing construction of coal-fired power plants in Surigao del Sur and nearby provinces.
Mr. Aquino promises peace and greater economic standards from his development thrust.
The Ibon Philippines think tank, however, notes that most of the financial gains from mining — the country’s mineral reserves are valued USD 1.387 trillion or five times the country’s 2013 gross domestic product — go to the big private firms.
Resource conflicts, meanwhile, put much burdens on local government units whose please to disband paramilitary forces have been ignored by Mr. Aquino.
“When we protect our ancestral lands we also protect all Filipinos, especially Mindanaoans, from environmental devastation and food insecurity,” Campos stressed. “When President Aquino talks of development and peace, he means the peace of the graveyard for our people.”
PH leaders ignore cost of ‘development’ on social margins
(First of 4 parts)
As the Philippines rolls out the red carpet for leaders of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation member-states, its own indigenous peoples are in the spotlight as advocacy groups worldwide ponder how to stop “development” from bulldozing society’s margins.
A decades-long battle for the rich earth and the minerals beneath lies at the root of the upsurge in conflict across a huge swathe of Mindanao’s heartland in southern Philippines.
At the center are the Lumad, non-Muslim indigenous peoples. The Lumad, with a population estimated at 7 million, have fought for centuries against new migrants, retreating in the face of superior arms and socially engineered influx.
On the last frontiers of the Philippines’ “island of promise,” they are making their last, fierce, desperate stand against government-approved mining operations and plantations.
Above them are crags unfit for the cultivation of food. Below them are the teeming urban centers that annually reap the deadly harvest of runaway development. Around them, armed groups of all stripes, battling for their hearts and minds.
Of the more than 60 indigenous folk killed under the Aquino administration, 53 are lumad, from the last parcels of pristine highlands that are targets of applications for mines and plantations.
The Philippine government largely frames the Lumad problem as an offshoot of Asia’s longest-running communist insurgency. Peace and social welfare national executives fret over the ballooning number of Lumad evacuees but are mum on the causes of displacement.
There have been 14 victims of four massacres. Four of the slain were minors, according to the human rights group Karapatan.
Throw in Lumad advocates, rights workers and environmental activists and the number of extra-judicial killings in Mindanao jumps to 144.
Joan Carling, secretary-general of the Thailand-based Asia Indigenous People’s Pact (AIPP), says at least 13 Lumad, indigenous peoples of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, have been killed this year — four every three months — by either state soldiers or paramilitary troops.
Forty thousand people, more than half of them minors, have been displaced by military and paramilitary operations. There have been 188 attacks on schools, hundreds of reported cases of harassment, including and arbitrary detentions, illegal arrests and torture, with children among the victims. Around 8,000 Lumad are now in evacuation camps. Read: Children are war targets in PH’s last frontiers
These grim figures barely hint at the real cost of the war for occupation of the indigenous people’s lands.
From 46,000 to 50,000 government troops – 55 battalions, excluding engineering and intelligence units and those involved in civilian-military relations – are stationed in Mindanao.
The AFP, after decades of officially taking a back seat to the Philippine National Police (PNP) on matters of internal security, have taken the helm once more in the last phase of President Aquino’s term.
Their official goal: to break the backbone of the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army.
Under the Whole of Nation approach, lifted right out of the US Special Forces’ manual of operations, almost the entire civilian bureaucracy has subsumed the delivery of basic services to fit the military agenda.
In the last year of Mr. Aquino’s rule, Mindanao’s landscape looks no different from the war laboratories under the Marcos dictatorship or his scorned predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Military officials alternate between calling the victims of rights violations rebels and claiming the killings are an offshoot of a tribal war between anti-communist and pro-communist rebels. To an economist and consultant of the AFP’s pacification campaign, any lumad killed must be considered an NPA rebel.
The national government’s peace and social welfare executives fret at the “unsanitary” conditions of the Lumad evacuation camps and the presence of children. But they remain silent on the cause of evacuations.
Lumad have thumbed down the solution broached by the social welfare secretary– resettlement – saying this comes straight from the playbook of those out to take their lands. Read: Lumad nix resettlement
Birds of prey
Mr. Aquino pledged to overturn or “straighten” the errors of the Arroyo administration. Yet his government has adopted his predecessor’s vision of turning one of Mindanao’s most impoverished and conflict-prone region into Asia’s mining capital.
To the embattled lumad, the main difference is that even more land now is controlled by big corporations.
Mining concessions sprawl across more than 500,000 hectares of Mindanao. Eighty percent of these mines are on lumad lands. Plantations account for 700,000 hectares, 12% of the island’s agricultural land. A million hectares more are up for grabs.
Areas that seldom experienced floods in the past now annually suffer deaths in the thousands, with huge boulders and felled logs crashing down into entire townships.
In the Caraga province of Surigao del Sur, reports of violence against the Lumad happen in the areas of the fiercest resistance to mines and plantations.
“In the last three years, every time the soldiers come to our villages, they always demand that Mapasu, our organization, gives up its resistance against mining,” according to Michelle Campos, daughter of slain Lianga Lumad leader Dionel Campos.
Michelle also lost a mentor on the same day her father died. Emerito Samarca, the head teacher of Alcadev, an award-winning Lumad alternative school, was found dead in the school’s main building on September 1. Campos killers’ had held him back as they forced students and teachers out of the compound.
Mapasu means “persevering struggle for the next generation” in English. The 22 communities under it are among the last holdouts against mining and plantation concessions in the 60,000-hectare Andap Valley complex.
The Andap Valley, which sprawls across nine municipalities, hosts the biggest remaining coal block reserve in the world. It is also rich in gold ore.
More than 6,200 hectares in Lianga are counted in the blocs of approved mining applications for mineral production sharing under Philex Gold Philippines Inc. and Rosario Mining Development Co., Rosario Consolidated Mining Corporation, and Sta.Irene Mining Corporation.
Philex, is known to have caused the Philippines’ historically largest mine disaster in its mining project in Padcal, Benguet.
Another mining giant, Benguet Corp also has a coal contract that includes Lianga, aside from Marihatag and San Miguel towns.
Aside from Surigao del Sur, the provinces of Surigao del Norte and Agusan del Sur are also rich in coal, according to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau. The Department of Energy has given the green light to the establishment of coal plants in Surigao del Sur.
Rich earth, poor folk
The Mapasu community around Alcadev was famed for its self-sufficiency, which came courtesy of the counsel of Samarca and fellow agriculturists.
The school’s 16-hectare compound produces enough crops to feed more than a hundred boarding students and teachers the whole year round. Two other farms, including a village cooperative, produce the surplus that have allowed Lumad to start livelihood in crafts.
The Lianga Lumad have trained a big number of indigenous health workers who volunteer in remote communities that have never seen government medical units. They even sent relief volunteers to provinces hit by super typhoon Haiyan, bringing food from their farms.
Yet that model has always been under siege. Mapasu has paid a high price for its independence and resistance. On Oct. 24 last year, Campos’ predecessor, Henry Alameda, was killed, also in front of his child.
One of the paramilitary men identified in Alameda’s killing surfaced in the aftermath of Campos’ death at a press briefing inside the AFP’s headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.
Malacanang’s national security cluster also hosted a gathering for bloggers to present Belandres and three other pro-government datus.
Belandres blamed communist rebels for the Lianga massacre. The ex-rebel, who admitted having killed former comrades, demanded that Mapasu turnover its “communist datus” for an “internal Lumad peace pact” so that indigenous peoples could live in peace again.
Yet Belandres does not distinguish between the NPA and civilians, insisting supporters fall under the category of combatants.
When bloggers raised the possibility of Mapasu members standing firm against the entry of mining firms, Belandres called it a communist ploy.
The other pro-military datus in the gathering echoed the message repeatedly heard by Michelle: Mining is good for development and only communists would refuse that. A senior AFP commander in Mindanao also complained to an international human rights worker about stubborn Lumad who do not see the benefits mining firms can give to their communities.
There is little doubt that the Andap Valley hosts communist rebels. A study by a church group in the1980s said a loose alliance between the NPA and Lumad was able to limit the entry of extractive activities and logging concerns.
Some timber concessions remain in the Andap Valley but Lumad resistance – strengthened by rebel presence – have kept their gold, copper, chromite and coal reserves intact.
Now plantations are making greater inroads into the area. Belandres said his group has asked the government to reward them with livelihood – rubber and palm oil plantations.
Palm oil plantations of Filipinas Palm Plantation Incorporated (FPPI); Agusan Plantation Inc. (API); Dole-Philippines & Sumitomo Fruits (SUMIFRU) already cover almost 15,000 hectares in Caraga.
The new anti-plantation alliance, REAP, says oil palm plantations have doubled their spread in Mindanao from 23,478 hectares to 42,731 hectares in the last 10 years.
Rubber plantations expanded threefold, from 81,667 hectares in 2005 to 214,314.6 hectares by 2014.
On paper, Caraga is a “model for development.” It has eight wood-based companies and15 hydropower projects. It hosts 23 of the country’s 48 large operating mines — 20 nickel mines, 2 gold mines, 1 chromite mine and 1 cement quarry.
Kalikasan reports that seven percent of the region’s land area is covered by mineral production sharing agreements (MPSA). The government has also granted 23 existing exploration permits. Thirty applications are pending for production sharing agreements.
Yet, the indigenous populations earlier displaced by existing mining concerns remain on the margins. They make do with seasonal work while struggling with damage to the environment and the loss of their culture — supplanted by the politics of patronage imposed by government and big business.
Those who labor to present an alternative to the government’s approved models, in turn, find themselves facing the barrels of its guns. (Next: Bai Bibi’s long fight to protect Mindanao’s heart)
As the Manilakbayan, the Lumad protest caravan, crossed the waters to Luzon today, students and teachers of another school for indigenous children in Bukidnon fled after a village official padlocked the institution.
“Get out. We don’t want you to be victims,” White Culaman barangay captain Felipe Cabugnason told the teachers after breaching a portion of the wall around the boarding school in Kitaotao town.
His band also confiscated cell phones of students and teachers, taking SIM cards to ensure no documentation of the incident. Some went undetected.
Cabugnason’s move followed a warning from the Kitaotao local government and the Department of Education that he does not have the power to close schools.
Reporters received a text for help mid-morning. Teacher Evelyn Cabangal’s mobile phone was answered by a man claiming to be Juan Canotan, a parent of a student at the Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School in Sitio Dao.
He confirmed the barangay captain had arrived but said no demolition was happening, pending negotiations.
Later, however, Junance Magbanua, administrative staff of the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc (MISFI), which operates the school, said the man on the phone was actually Cabugnason.
Cabugnason, who had earlier threatened to close the school, was in the company of several men carrying crowbars and other heavy tools, Magbanua said.
In a phone interview, Magbanua said she and 20 students, three teachers and another child had no choice but to evacuate Dao, taking the school’s livestock. The trek to Arakan, North Cotabato takes three hours.
(UPDATE: at just past 4 pm, Magbanua said the group had reached the highway and managed to get a ride to Arakan. She added that Cabangal had managed to reclaim her phone.)
When they left, the school was still standing, Magbanua said.
“But I’m afraid they will demolish or burn it down now,” she added.
The school is named for an Italian missionary murdered by paramilitary forces in October 2011. Some of those identified as his killers are reportedly under the protection of a legislator, Nancy Catamco, who ironically heads the committee for indigenous peoples in the House of Representatives.
Magbanua said she responded to a call for help from the school. She arrived around 10 am and saw children crying as men broke down the school fence. Three of men sported haircuts and bearings of soldiers but were in civilian clothes, she added.
It is not the first attack on the village.
Tension gripped White Culaman last month when 200 government troops swooped in to arrest 13 leaders of lumad organizations.
The military accused the Lumad of being communist rebels. But a trial court in Bukidnon threw out the case and ordered all 13 Lumad released.
During that same operation, villagers told a fact-finding mission, soldiers threatened to burn down their school.
(UPDATE) Arakan’s assistant parish priest Fr. Peter Geremia is a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. He has survived several assassination attempts. He called the attack in White Culaman as an insult to the memory of Tentorio and everyone who has helped Mindanao’s indigenous peoples.
Attacks against lumad schools are always accompanied by military claims that these institutions – often the only ones accessible to lumad children – are both training grounds for future guerrillas and logistics hub for communist rebels.
The barangay captain would later write MISFI, ordering it to voluntarily close the school or face demolition.
The Kitaotao local government itself and the Department of Education warned him, saying such action was beyond his authority.
But only this summer, the barangay captain spoke at the school’s moving up ceremony, praising its role in the education of Lumad children. It was after the military arrived that Cabugnason had a change of heart, teachers at the school said earlier.
(UPDATE:) Captain Norman Tagros, 8th IB officer gave this convoluted denial to Davao Today.
Hindi po totoo na yung mga sundalo natin ang nagpasara ng school sa Sitio Dao sa Barangay White Culaman, itong Father Pops Tentorio Memorial School. Ang desisyon ay galing sa community, barangay council. We made the effort naman po na magkaroon ng isang mapayapang closure sa issue, we had a peace dialogue with the barangay councilo pero unfortunately di nakapunta ang taga misfi, sometime in the early part of October.
Very clear ang gusto ng community na ipasara ang school dahil sa posed na danger ng school dahil ginagawa daw itong tinutuluyan ng NPAs ang school. Ang alam namin nakapagpadala rin ng sulat ang barangay council at barangay kap Cabugnason sa DepEd.
Queried about the DepEd saying Cabugnason had no authority to close the school, the military officer said:
Regarding that matter we’re still looking into it. Ang gusto lang natin, yung Bayanihan team natin (AFP teams) nandun para magkaron ng peaceful, para maiwasan ang kaguluhan, para mabigyan ng security ang community, kasi ilang beses na ring inatake ang community ng NPA dahil sa defiance nila, sa pag-aaklas nila.
Daan lang sana tayo sa mapayapang pamamaraan. Yun nga kanina nagdecide na ang mga tao, karapatan naman po nila yun community nila yun. Di totoong dinemolish at walang sundalo na nandun. Antay pa namin ang details about that (sa mga nasirang cyclone wire).. I believe hindi totoong ganun ang nangyari kasi kung ganon na may pananakot siguradong makikialam ang mga sundalo sa pagpapasara ng schools. Sitio Dao is roughly 3 kilometers from the center of Barangay White Culaman, di totoong may pananakot.
The Manilakbayan caravan arrives in Manila Monday to highlight the killings of Lumad defending ancestral lands from the encroachment of mining and plantation firms.
Fifty-six of the 71 indigenous peoples killed under President Benigno Simeon Aquino administration are lumad. Of the 56, a dozen were minors, according to records of the human rights watchdog Karapatan.
More than 40,000 Lumad – half of them children — have been forcibly displaced by joint operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the more than 20 paramilitary groups, some of which are being underwritten by mining companies.
Save Our Schools network has recorded 233 cases of human rights violation against Lumad children.
Nine of ten Lumad children have no access to schooling. And yet the government has ordered the closure of three lumad school networks, affecting more than a thousand students.