Reds declare unilateral 7-day ceasefire

CPP-NPA ceasefire declaration orders a halt to all offensives but mandates guerrilla units to take “active defense” when faced with hostile actions by state security forces. The ceasefire order also defines “hostile actions.” But it is silent on paramilitary forces known to be trained and supervised by units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

northern samar
New People’s Army rebels in Northern Samar during the 44th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Photo courtesy of

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the National Operational Command of the New People’s Army (NPA) has declared a seven-day ceasefire “to celebrate and bolster the resumption of formal GRP-NDFP peace talks.”

The ceasefire will take effect starting 12:01 a.m. of August 21 and will last until 11:59 p.m. of August 27.

The CPP central committee said the NDF negotiating panel to peace talks with President Rodrigo Duterte’s government recommended the ceasefire. It said the ceasefire will take effect with or without reciprocal action from the government.

The directive came after an announcement that the NPA would release prisoners of war. NDF negotiating panel member Fidel Agcaoili said the NDF has six prisoners of war, all in Mindanao. Four are in the Caraga and Surigao regions; two, in the Southern Mindanao region.

The formal talks between the negotiating panels of the NDFP and GRP are scheduled for August 22-26 and will be held in Oslo, Norway.

“This ceasefire declaration is encouraged by the GRP’s facilitation of the release of nearly all NDFP consultants who are set to participate in peace negotiations in the course of the next several months,” said the CPP and NPA.

“With or without reciprocation by the GRP, the NPA must maintain a high-level of alertness against enemy troop movements,” said the CPP. “Even while ready to engage in defensive action, the NPA will exert efforts to carry out early counter-maneuvers to avoid armed encounters during the specified ceasefire period.

When Duterte met with consultants of the NDF in Malacanang last week, he told them to ignore the angry words unleashed in the last few weeks, whether in tit-for-tat exchanges with exiled communist leader Jose Maria Sison or during a round of visits to military camps.

NDF consultants interviewed following their release from prison acknowledged concern at Duterte’s rantings.

But speaking for his comrades, Adelberto Silva said they learned to tune out the President’s words and instead “focus on the actions moving the peace talks forward.”

The consultants seem to have gotten that right.

Active defense

The CPP-NPA ceasefire directive mandates guerrilla units to main ‘active defense’ of their territories.

The ceasefire directive, which was furnished to media, ordered regular guerrilla units and people’s militia to cease offensive military operations against personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

But the communist leadership also told rebel units to “remain on defensive mode at both the strategic and tactical levels.”

Local commands, the statement said, should maintain a high degree of militancy and vigilance against any hostile actions or movements by enemy armed forces with the aim of encirclement and suppression.”

It defined hostile actions thus:

“The NPA shall consider as hostile action encroachments on the territory of the people’s democratic government by operating troops of the AFP and its paramilitaries to conduct surveillance, psywar and other offensive operations that are labelled as “peace and development”, “civil-military”, “peace and order” and “law enforcement” operations.

Active-defense operations by the NPA shall be undertaken only in the face of clear and imminent danger and actual armed attack by the enemy forces and only after exhausting counter-maneuvers to avoid armed encounters.”

It ordered local units to report hostile actions, provocations or movements to the concerned NPA commands and CPP leadership.

The ceasefire directive told NPA units not to arrest individual cops and soldiers with “no serious liabilities other than their membership in their armed units”  and allow them to “enter the territory of the people’s democratic government to make personal visits to relatives and friends.”

Silence on paramilitary groups


The ceasefire order was markedly silent on paramilitary groups that abound in Mindanao. While officially not part of the AFP organisational structure, local government officials across Mindanao have exposed the military as the organiser, trainer and supervisor of these armed groups.

Human rights advocates and indigenous people’s organisations across Mindanao say the paramilitary are the AFP’s dirty tricks department. Partly funded by big mining and plantation firms under an executive order signed by former President Benigno Aquino III, these groups have killed dozens of indigenous leaders.

Paramilitary forces have also and stepped up their attacks since the proclamation of Duterte as winner of the 2016 presidential elections.


Consultants released

Wilma Tiamzon and Concha Araneta-Bocala embrace with joy  following their release from separate places of detention.

The CPP information bureau emailed journalists the statement a few hours after the National Democratic Front – Southern Mindanao said it was set to release some prisoners of war as a goodwill measure.

Read: NPA to release POWs as gesture of goodwill

As of press time, Karapatan executive director Christina Palabay said 19 of 22 declared NDF consultants have been freed from detention.

1. Ma. Concepcion Araneta-Bocala
2. Tirso Alcantara
3. Ariel Arbitrario
4. Kennedy Bangibang
5. Alex Birondo
6. Winona Birondo
7. Pedro Codaste
8. Renante Gamara
9. Eddie Genelsa
10. Alan Jazmines
11. Ernesto Lorenzo
12. Alfredo Mapano
13. Ruben Saluta
14. Jaime Soledad
15. Adelberto Silva
16. Loida Magpatoc
17. Benito Tiamzon
18. Wilma Tiamzon
19. Porferio Tuna

Three others have been convicted. Lawyer Edre Olalia, who helps the NDF panel in the peace talks, said they would be moving soon to help facilitate the release of the remaining consultants.

Read: Tears, hugs and NDF consultants walk free

The CPP stated  cited the case of Ka Eduardo Sarmiento,  arrested in February 2009, convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2013.

The CPP reiterated its “deep appreciation of the determined efforts of GRP President Duterte to push forward and accelerate the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations as a means of addressing the roots of the civil war in the Philippines.”

“We hope that this ceasefire declaration will be reciprocated by the GRP as a show of all-out determination to move forward with peace negotiations,” said the CPP.

Captured cops

NDF peace negotiator Fidel Agcaoili shared the POW release announcement as top underground leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon walked out of Camp Crame, the headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and their place of detention since their capture in June 2015.

The POW release statement mentioned only two by name. One of them was Governor Generoso Police Chief Insp. Arnold Ongachen, captured during an NPA raid on their police station on May 28, before President Rodrigo Duterte’s assumption of power.

Agcaoili said the NPA was ready to release  POWs in Caraga but facilitation was delayed by military operations.

“The GRP panel wanted to be at the turnover but as they’re here, maybe other officials can do it. Actually, those four were to have been released earlier but the big AFP operations delayed the release. Even the GRP panel said there was very heavy fighting and so they did not want to enter the area that time.”

Then still mayor of Davao City, Duterte immediately asked rebels to release the police officer. Duterte has accepted turnovers of captured cops and soldiers in the past.

But on June 2, citing a rebel report on the seizure of some drugs from Ongachen’s office, Duterte said he was leaving the cop to the mercy of the NPA and suggested, half in jest, a sentence of 20 years of hard labor.

The PNP and the AFP mounted operations to get the captured police officers and other soldiers captured in Agusan but have failed to make headway so far.

Ceasefire woes

Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire during his first State of the Nation Address. While rebels welcomed it, they sought clearer details of its implementation.

Three days after, the NPA ambushed a joint paramilitary and AFP team. The action, which the NPA explained as part of its active defense measure, killed some soldiers and wounded others.

An angry Duterte rescinded his ceasefire order amid a series of angry exchanges with senior NDF consultant and CPP founder, Jose Maria Sison.

Later, in several visits to military camps across the country, Duterte would unleash diatribes on the NPA, insisting the use of command-detonated mines is a violation of the Genera Convention. The rebels insist the treaty only covers contact-activated mines.

NDF consultants acknowledged concern at Duterte’s tirades. But speaking for his comrades, Adelberto Silva said they learned to tune out the President’s rants and instead “focus on the actions moving the peace talks forward.”

The CPP statement said rebels will push their call for Duterte to “issue a general amnesty to pave the way for the release of all political prisoners.” Militant party-list groups have filed a measure in the House of Representatives. The President earlier said he will declare amnesty after a final peace agreement.

Rebels said they are also open to discussing a longer ceasefire “upon completion of the release of all political prisoners.”


On the eve of APEC summit, spotlight on Lumad

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.

Deployment of government military units in Mindanao has traditionally followed the path of big-ticket encroachment into indigenous peoples' lands. Graphic courtesy of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan
Deployment of government military units in Mindanao has traditionally followed the path of big-ticket encroachment into indigenous peoples’ lands. Graphic courtesy of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan

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.

In this section of Caraga's Andap Valley complex, Lumad had built a thriving, self-sufficient community despite government neglect. Now, armed men on a killing spree have driven them out of their homeland.
In this section of Caraga’s Andap Valley complex, Lumad had built a thriving, self-sufficient community despite government neglect. Now, armed men on a killing spree have driven them out of their homeland.

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.

Global support

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.

In these areas, Lumad leaders have been massacred. The root cause: their struggle against development projects encroaching on ancestral lands
In these areas, Lumad leaders have been massacred. The root cause: their struggle against development projects encroaching on ancestral lands

More than 70 indigenous people’s organizations across Asia have signed a statement, calling on Philippine government– host to this year’s APEC summit – to end the killings. 

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.

AFP deployment in Mindanao
AFP deployment 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.

It is a claim that flies in the face of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) acknowledgement that the August and September incidents in Pangatucan, Bukidnon and Lianga, Surigao del Sur were clearly extra-judicial killings.

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.

These landmarks of economic development, combined with the Marcos government’s logging concessions-award binge to cronies, have gobbled up Mindanao’s forestcover, from 70% in 1900 to just six percent in 2011.

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.

Graphic from
Graphic from

“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.

MINING - EXISTING OPSThe 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.

alcadev_harvest_0004The 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.

They farm, they learn to love the land. And they eat better than peers in unorganised communities. (Photo courtesy of Alcadev)
They farm, they learn to love the land. And they eat better than peers in unorganised communities. (Photo courtesy of Alcadev)

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.

MARCIAL BELANDRESMalacanang’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.

Even back in 2009, military operations served the interests of mining firms. A report by said cited Lodestar Consolidated Holdings as recipient of the rights to mine 6,000 has. in Andap Valley. Opposition by Mapasu led to massive military deployment – and major evacuations by the Lumad.


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.

REAP - PALMINFOTARPThe 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 

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.

The department of environment in 2011 reported that mining projects in Caraga generated more than 1B taxes and fees. Official government statistics say poverty incidence dropped to 34.1% in 2012 form 43 % in 2009, raising its rank from poorest region to sixth poorest.

Photo courtesy of Caraga Watch
From the highway joining Surigao del Sur and Surigao del Norte, all around are scarred, red earth, the offshoot of nickel mining. Photo courtesy of Caraga Watch

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)


Maybe I should have acted like Queen Victoria. Maybe, I should have been at my grim and determined best.
davao cowboy
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. All photos here from his Facebook page,

Because social media is a fast and furious panorama of movement, many people who saw the photo of my bald self, and the shared posts on the frenzy over Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (including the now-closed Miriam-Duterte petition), asked if I was a Digong fan.

I am glad he isn’t running. Hopefully, that’s the last word on this issue. I do not want to see a Duterte presidency.
Davao City Rodrigo Duterte has heaps of charisma.
A beauty salon’s entire staff have pledged their votes to Duterte — never mind that they don’t know anyone who actually knows the guy.
Many taxi drivers are for Duterte, says Mae Paner, veteran of that mode of transport.
My household companions tell me staff at the nearby supermarket and the vendors at the Talipapa are mostly for Duterte, though Vice President Jejomar Binay still has some grip on these sectors.
It’s not just the poor. A Duterte stroll in Greenbelt turns into a circus — fast.
Like Imelda Marcos, he keeps you fascinated. Pretty much the same way dancing cobras attract crowds.
Like Joseph Estrada, he has mastered one-liners, the made-for-TV quips, the mercurial changes of mood.
My Davao-based friends and relatives — most of them anyway — swear fealty to Duterte. He keeps the city clean and orderly and peaceful, they say.
I am not about to dispute that sentiment, though the last two visits had me stranded in traffic jams much like what we suffer in Metro Manila.
He loves the Lumad! says a friend.
He supports the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL)! says another friend.
He defends the human rights of the Left! says a third friend.
He sent aid early to Yolanda victims! says another.
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
These are some things that make me like Duterte very much.
But I have said this and won’t tire of saying this.
There is a reason the phrase says, “BASIC human rights”.
I cannot campaign for the rights of the Lumad, or the rights of the Bangsamoro people, or the rights of activists and journalists, rights workers, lawyers and judges and, yes, victims of crimes …  and then shrug off the basic right to life of other folk.
I am not accusing Duterte of killing people. I am saying he has a very selective concept of justice.
I am very glad Carlos Conde, now with Human Rights Watch, documented stories for years.
Here is one of the stories, “Teenagers Perish in Davao’s Killing Fields.” 
In late September last year, Duterte described the series of killings of suspected criminals as unlawful. But he also made it clear he was hardly sorry that they were happening. “I do not have any tears for you if you die, you idiots!” he said, referring to drug pushers. “You all deserved to die.”
Last March, Duterte once again declared war against teenage gangs, which the local police say are responsible for most of the crimes committed in the city. “If they offer resistance,” the mayor told reporters here, “I will not hesitate to kill them. I don’t care about minors.”
Such declarations have upset child-rights advocates, including Councilor Angela Librado. The chair of the City Council’s committee on women and children, Librado notes that while the mayor “hasn’t really violated any law,” his statements “send the wrong signal to the public. The signal is that, it’s okay for these people to die because they are useless anyway.”
If anything, Duterte’s contempt for teenage gangs and his encouragement of extra-judicial methods to deal with them have made children in conflict with the law fair game. Two weekends ago, three minors who had had brushes with the police were killed in separate incidents by unknown assailants.
The Signal. I take that very seriously, having heard the very same line from Norberto Manero, who was convicted of killing of Italian priest Tullio Favali on April 11, 1985 in Tuluan, North Cotabato.
In an interview shortly before he was released (pardon revoked after a public outcry) by former President Macapagal-Arroyo, Manero — also a very charismatic man — said his followers, including his brother, literally took matters in their own hands, when he joked he wanted to see Tuvali gone from the face of the earth.
He was convicted because witnesses placed him at the scene of the crime. He has since changed colours, according to this poignant story. But you want to read the narrative on Favali’s death to appreciate how much one man can have the power of life and death over others:
Welcoming home soldier taken prisoner of war by the New People's Army
Welcoming home soldier taken prisoner of war by the New People’s Army
The HRW has also issued a report on the Davao death squads.
I followed those stories closely, gratified to see the groups often tagged “Left” and thus also prone to being victims of extra-judicial killings, confronting their friend Digong on the issue. I remember one very angry Duterte tirade addressed to Karapatan.
This, I think, is a principled stand. You work together on some issues but there are lines on the sand you do not cross. And there are things that brook no silence, because the latter only encourages more abuse — or deliberate neglect of situations.
Especially because we are talking of the land’s highest office.
I totally agree that systemic murders and systemic crimes should be exposed.
I also say that every line of Digong’s quotable quotes encourages these very same crimes, no matter his actions on other issues.
I can also see where Duterte fans are coming from. Too much violence, too much crime; too many state enforcement agents moonlighting as protectors or enforcers of crime gangs. Thus, the need for a tough cowboy.
My Davao friends, save a handful, love Duterte. Not all will vote for him. From them, I have heard the same arguments raised by Conde in his PCIJ article.
“The public’s tacit support for the killings is one reason local authorities, including the police, do not appear interested in finding the killers. Many Davaoeños believe that the executions are helping keep their city safe and do not seem to care that minors are among those being killed as part of a campaign against youth offenders, many of whom are petty thieves.
This is why Davaoeños support Rodrigo Duterte, their tough-talking mayor, who has made it well known that he will stop at nothing to fight criminals.
Sending off aid workers bound for Yolanda areas
Sending off aid workers bound for Yolanda areas
My personal view is this: I don’t care if they are alleged criminals. When last I checked, suspects have rights.
I can rail against a person — Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for example — and still defend her right to due process. I can rail against a corrupt official — the former Chief Justice Renato Corona, among others — and call out the short cuts taken in the name of “justice”.
I must also point out that the onus to respect human rights weighs more on the state and its officials, precisely because they wield great power.
Murder done in the name of order and the rights of most of us peaceful citizens is still murder. It has no place in law enforcement. You cannot enforce the law by breaking the law.
Duterte’s fans say, rightly, that people should file cases against him. I agree.
And I also say, you cannot shrug off — nay, even cheer on killers. Not when you are a chief executive.
I cannot accept claims that he is just “joking,” that this is all an act.
He is an officer sworn to uphold the law. The Philippine President is the country’s most powerful man. Duterte’s words give me nightmares about the implications on the nation and our rights as citizens.
Don’t tell me only the guilty needs to be scared. That sounds like the incumbent Chief Executive. Hundreds of journalists and activists have been killed, tortured, jailed simply because some people think they make life inconvenient for the powers that be.
I take #NeverForget and #NeverAgain seriously. That is why I fight for Lumad Rights, among other things.
I still respect Government for all its faults. I cannot cast my vote with a hope that one man might just be joking.

TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE: How long does Eduardo Serrano have to wait for freedom?

It took Eduardo Serano 11 years to wait for freedom.

Eduardo Serrano. Photo by Karapatan
Eduardo Serrano. Photo by Karapatan

Serrano was arrested in May 2004 for what he says  are false criminal charges of multiple murder, frustrated murder, robbery, multiple frustrated murder, kidnapping. These cases all mentioned a different man —  Rogelio Villanueva. The military just insisted Serrano was Villanueva.

Eleven years. On Oct. 13, Serrano and staff of the human rights group Karapatan awaited what would have been the promulgation on his identity at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 98.

Eleven years and only then did the Court of Appeals decide to  “first resolve the issue of Serrano’s identity–whether he and Villanueva are the same—before proceeding to hear the primary case on trial,” says Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay.

Eleven years spent waiting. The prosecution had failed to present witnesses. And yet a man languished for more than a decade.

The October 13 should have been the promulgation on Serrano’s identity after the prosecution failed to present its witness.

“Yet, in haste, the prosecution filed a motion for reconsideration to allow them to present witnesses, and the court allowed it,” says Palabay.

justiceAnd at the end of that hearing, perhaps the judge also saw how futile to give way to those who would make a mockery of justice.

Palabay says  two army officers took the witness stand. One does not personally know Villanueva and Serrano; the other claimed he saw Villanueva during the ambush and in yesterday’s hearing, pointed to Serrano.

Major Alex Dalingay Ampati, former company commander of Bravo Company of the 68th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army, told the court that his submitted affidavit did not include Eduardo Serrano’s name.

Ampati also said he had no role in drafting the Order of Battle (OB) with 68 names of alleged  NPA rebels in the 68th IB Area of Responsibility (AOR). The list, he said, was just given by ‘intel’ (intelligence). Palabay notes:

In short, Ampati does not personally know Villanueva or Serrano, more so the involvement of the either of the two in the March 2003 so-called New People’s Army ambush. This ambush is supposedly the basis of the multiple murder and robbery case against Villanueva and the also the basis of Serrano’s arrest and detention.

Even stranger was the testimony of Sgt. Berlin Farinas. He told the court he was present during the NPA ambush in Pinamalayan, Mindoro Oriental. Farinas claimed he saw Villanueva commanding the NPA. That was the first time he saw Villanueva. The second? During yesterday’s hearing — as he pointed to Serano. He also said soldiers showed him a photo of Villanueva in the hospital after the ambush.

Then his tale unravelled. Karapatan narrates:

Asked whether his statement in court was in his affidavit, Farinas said yes. But when the judge again the same question for three times and Farinas still said yes, Judge Runes-Tamang challenged Farinas, “What if I said It was never in your affidavit? Why did you tell this court it was in your affidavit if it really wasn’t?”
Farinas took his statement back and said, “I just thought I wrote it in my affidavit.” The Judge told him to get out of the witness stand. 

The court has scheduled the promulgation on Serrano’s identity on October 22. Says Palabay,

“We call for the immediate resolution of Serrano’s identity and his immediate release. Serrano has been unjustly jailed for 11 years for crimes he did not commit.

Palabay cited the similar  case of Rolly Panesa who was mistakenly identified as “Benjamin Mendoza.”

PHOTO by KARAPATAN shows torture marks on Panesa’s face following his arrest.

That was a case worthy of Kafka.

Panesa, a security guard, was arrested and tortured by military men who insisted he was a communist rebel commander. A year after, the Court of Appeals ordered his release.

Panesa was arrested by the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division and the Philippine National Police on October 5, 2012, while he was walking home with his family on Aurora Boulevard.
The military alleged that Panesa led a double life as “Benjamin Mendoza,” a leader of the New People’s Army of the Communist Party of the Philippines in the Southern Tagalog region, who was wanted for various criminal cases in a Lucena City court, including rebellion and murder. The government earlier offered a P5.6-million reward for Mendoza’s capture.

justice-delayed-is-justice-deniedRead what the court had to say in this report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer:

“This court is convinced that this is a case of mistaken identity. The arrested and detained person, Rolly Mira Panesa, is not the same person as ‘Danilo Benjamin Mendoza,’ who is the subject of the order of arrest and commitment order,” according to the CA decision signed by Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang… The court also said it was “puzzled” by the charge because, during Panesa’s court appearances, “it was easily recognizable that the detained person … does not look like a 61-year-old man.” Mendoza was listed in the charge sheet as 61 years old. Panesa maintained he was only 48. It also noted that the two supposed informants were not with the police at the time of Panesa’s arrest, and that the documentary evidence submitted by the military never described what Mendoza looked like.”

“If there is any classic example of justice delayed and justice denied, this no doubt fits the bill,” according to the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), which handled Panesa’s defense.

Panesa’s side had presented official IDs and government records to establish his identity and the impossibility of him leading the said double life.

The two prosecution witnesses were not even worth listening to and there was hardly any supporting evidence to prove the military’s claim. The name Mendoza wasn’t even on the order of battle and there was no document citing an alias in the name of Rolly Panesa.

For the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Order of Battle is gospel truth — never mind from which trash heap they sifted for “intel”.

As Palabay notes: “The existence of Order of Battle proves that people merely suspected to be “enemies” of the state are targets for neutralization, whether through extrajudicial killing, disappearance, torture and in this case, illegal arrest and detention.”

g City.

These Arroyo terror tactics survive in the time of Aquino

Jovito Palparan, known as the butcher of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo simpered as she hailed as “hero” an officer called “the butcher” for his long record of human rights violations. His name: Jovito Palparan.

Under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, 470 political activists were killed by the state’s armed henchmen. They were either gunned down near their homes and place of work or arrested, tortured and then dumped somewhere. Some, like Jonas Burgos, remain missing.

In 2010, before he took his oath as President, Benigno Aquino III met with European ambassadors over the issue of human rights and vowed to bring “closure” to the one of the worst records for a democracy.

“Cases of extrajudicial killings need to be solved, not just identify the perpetrators but have them captured and sent to jail,” he told journalists after the meeting.

Mrs. Arroyo ruled for nine years. Mr. Aquino is entering the last of his six years in office.

Under the incumbent, the human rights group Karapatan has documented 262 incidents of extrajudicial killings and 292 victims of frustrated killings. Do the math.


Jonas’ mother, Edith, his wife and daughter, continue to look for him. One of the officers suspected of having a hand in his abduction – broad daylight, in a crowded Metro Manila mall – has just been appointed Army chief by Mr. Aquino.

Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año was among those charged by Mrs. Burgos for the abduction of Jonas. He was exonerated in what the family called a “whitewash.”

“I believe that at one point during Jonas’ disappearance, Año had custody of Jonas,” Mrs. Burgos stressed in a statement.

She warns that with Año’s appointment as army chief, “there is no hope at all that justice will be obtained for human rights crimes during the watch of Aquino.” Jonas’ mother adds,

I fear for defenders, victims and independent minded human rights workers. With so much power in the hands of a head of an Institution reputed to be a violator of human rights, we can only pray to the Lord Almighty to have mercy.

Like Mrs. Arroyo’s hero, Año’s record – latest as head of the 10th Infantry Division in Mindanao – is littered by a trail of allegations: extrajudicial killings, disappearances, illegal arrests, torture, hamletting and forcible exacuation of civilians, according to Karapatan. He probably accounts for a good share of the 60,000 persons displaced and dislocated due to military operations under Mr. Aquino’s administration.

Why is the son of democratic icons increasingly looking like his much-hated predecessor? There has been no halt to the killings of political dissidents (or journalists). There certainly has been no closure, despite the arrest of Palparan.

Terror tactics

What has happened in the last few months is an upsurge in rights violations. Aside from killings, the stalking of activists has become more pronounced, more brazen, more deliberate and broader in scope.

Several members and officers of COURAGE, the labor federation of government workers, have asked the Supreme Court a writ of amparo.

“It is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty, and security has been violated or is threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity. The writ covers extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof.”

Read the Courage petition, with a context on the writ of amparo’s historical background in the Philippines:
Amparo Petition by Courage

The stories behind their petition are chilling.

Men going to their homes, or offices, accosting them on the streets, on public transportation – in most cases there is a note with a mobile phone number to call. In all cases, there is one message: We know your (legal) organization serves the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army. Your life is in danger. You cooperate with us, or else.

At the National Food Administration, security staff took in for questioning on April 21 a man with a gun. He was asking for the whereabouts of for Hilario M. Tan, retired NFA employee and former vice president of the National Food Authority Employees Association (NFAEA) and Evelyn P. Garcia, , NFA employee and national assistant secretary general of the organization.

The man claimed to be a Sgt. Borres, liaison officer of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP). He could not produce a mission order for his gun. Why he was allowed to leave under these circumstances is a question the NFA should account for.
There are many other cases just in the summer of 2015. You can read about these here.

COURAGE documents stalking of PH government activists


Vehicles and men caught trailing Antonieta Setias-Dizon, former Deputy Secretary General of government workers' union COURAGE and still an adviser of the group.
Vehicles and men caught trailing Antonieta Setias-Dizon, former Deputy Secretary General of government workers’ union COURAGE and still an adviser of the group.

You’d think the filing of a writ of amparo petition in the Supreme Court would give harassers some pause.

What happened was the opposite.

Courage adviser and former deputy secretary-general Antonieta Setias-Dizon is among the petitioners. Twice this summer, a man had accosted her, making the same demand as those received by her peers.

Lately, Setias-Dizon documented the presence of a silver Toyota Innova vehicle always on her trail. The vehicle carries the plate number AAM 3129. More than one man are involved in what in military lingo is the surveillance.

That vehicle was parked near the Supreme Court when Setias-Dizon and company filed their petition. It followed her to  the Integrated Bar of the Philippines National Office in Ortigas where she sought refuge. In what seems to be an escalating operation, the Inova was joined by a Red Pajero, another Toyota Innova and three Honda motorcycles. 

I asked new Commission on Human Rights Chair Chito Gascon about the latest harassment case. His reply via Facebook:

Thanks for the alert… i had previously written to the AFP Human Rights Office about other reports of harassment of COURAGE leaders… BUT, this is a new development… will have the matter looked into as well… keep the faith!!! Press On

The CHR can monitor. It can issue statements and write letters. But it has no prosecutory powers. Still, if some former activists now in government can risk the ire of their touchy Boss, they would be doing the country a service.

Activists can be pesky for the powers-that-be. Their rallies could inconvenience commuters. But review their role in pushing for reforms: the legal victories leading to the rollback of power rates; the hue and cry and the petitions that led to the landmark SC victories against pork, both legislative (PDAF) and executive (DAP).

Most so-called democratic gains that Filipinos enjoy today were not gifts from the country’s powers. They were fruits of struggle. You let the silence of the grave blanket activists, you let darkness cover our society.

Pope Francis and the Song of Apad

“Namulat sya sa kandungan ng mahihirap at sunog sa araw na mga magulang… Kaya malinaw nyang naintindihan at naranasan ang hagupit at dahas ng kahirapan… habang lumaki, kanyang nasasaksihan ang pagwasak sa ninunong lupa at kalikasan.”

“Parang kalayulayo ng pagkaiba ng salitang katutubo at aktibista, ngunit ang panlulupig, pangangamkam at pangalipusta ang sing bagsik ng bagyong nagtulak sa kanya upang sumanib sa kilusang layong ay lumaya.”

(He woke up to the world, in the embrace of poor, sunburnt parents. He learned to understand the cruelty and lash of poverty and, as he grew, saw the destruction of his ancestors’ lands. There is a vast difference between the word lumad and activist, but oppression and thievery, plunder and humiliation were storm winds that drove him to the movement of people who seek to be free.)

The middle class audience stirred at the start of this poetry of rage, discomfort clear as they listened to the slight, 12-year-old boy. But as Apad Enriquez went on, kerchiefs came out to wipe eyes filled with tears.

This was a child, talking about blood spilled on the land of his people, the Manobo of Surigao del Sur. This was a child who cried himself to sleep at night, wondering whether his father would be given one more night of freedom or be caught in the enemy’s trap.

This was a boy, the same age as their own children, who had just made a 300-km trek from the mountains of his hometown to the national capital.

“My boy complains that he lacks ‘load’ for his cellphone,” said Tess, a banker. “Apad talks of schools burnt and bullets raining on their homes.”

apad-011415Despite regular disruptions to his schooling, the son of wanted indigenous leader Genasque Enriquez chatted easily about math and science (the stars and planets and the universe) to his new friends in Manila. He and his cousin, Ben, and 14-year-old Angeline also got praise for their flawless English and Filipino.

They thanked teacher Anabelle Campos, with them on their Lakbayan, for her dedication.

Work exacts a tough price from Campos, who was also schooled in alternative learning centers managed by faith groups.

Manobo women at the funeral rites for New People's Army commander, Leoncio Pitao.
Manobo women at the funeral rites for New People’s Army commander, Leoncio Pitao.

Campos has been threatened with arrest. Whenever forced to evacuate to the town center, she faces a barrage of taunts: “There goes the teacher of the children of the NPA.”

The communist New People’s Army is strong in the hinterlands of Mindanao, as it is in the country’s poorest provinces. Other rebel groups, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), traditionally find recruits amid a vacuum in governance and the struggle over land and natural resources.

Children ask, ‘Why?’

Despite the poverty of their lumad community, Campos and children managed to keep tabs on Pope Francis’ January visit to the Philippines.

In havens for children of militarized communities, rooms fell silent as the Pope embrace Glyzelle Palomara, a former street waif, who broke down asking why God allows children to suffer.

Campos’ Manobo wards come from a different milieu but they, too, struggle with emotional scars from early exposure to violence.

Ben’s brother was tortured.

One of the children had braved interrogation by armed men on the hunt for his neighbor.

A few minutes after Angeline wowed her Manila audience with a lyrical Filipino poem, she learned that parents and siblings had fled their village for the nth time. She would be going home to an evacuation center.

Apad laughed when asked why he was on the streets, not in school.

“Bakit doon, bakwit dito, walang katapusan” he replied. (There is no end to our flight.)

Like Gizelle, like the indigenous people of South America forced into subjugation by colonizers, the children of the Manobo wake up asking, “Why?”

Why does death haunt their people? Why do strangers want their land?

Why do fathers have to leave and mothers have to weep when husbands and children are brought home bloodied?

Why do their calls for help, for justice go unheard?

Pope urges action

Mother and child at the Guindulungan Evacuation centre. Photo courtesy of Marian Ching
Mother and child at the Guindulungan Evacuation centre. Photo courtesy of Marian Ching

Nardy Sabino of the Promotion for Church People’s Rights (PCPR) says that in Bolivia, Pope Francis spoke to all the world’s indigenous peoples.

The Pope, he says, did not just call for a stop to injustice. He actually asked Catholics – and anyone who cares to listen – to actively work for change.

The Pope, he adds, was emphasized the need for a “preferential, evangelical option for the poor”.

The world’s first Latin American Pope traced his call for Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Sabino asks, “Will the faithful follow Pope Francis?”

Marian Ching, a young development activist who has worked with lumad and Muslims, says Filipino IPs need Pope Francis.

“Reading Pope Francis’ support for indigenous peoples in his second encyclical, where he says ‘for indigenous communities, land is not a commodity, but a gift from God, a sacred space,’ meant a lot to me given my work here in Mindanao, where indigenous peoples are among ‘the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged’ and constantly subjected to human rights violations as they struggle for land and their rights. “

Taking testimony of 'bakwit', people forced to leave their homes due to conflict, in Sultan Kudarat. Photo courtesy of Marian Ching
Taking testimony of ‘bakwit’, people forced to leave their homes due to conflict, in Sultan Kudarat. Photo courtesy of Marian Ching

It is important to heed the Pope’s call to recognize those of the faith who dedicate their lives to the people’s struggles, “often standing alongside the native peoples or accompanying their popular movements,” says Ching.

She cites the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel that has “tirelessly supported the B’laan’s fight for land and rights in Tampakan, South Cotabato.”

That struggle against foreign corporation Glencore and its local allies has led to the murders of at least ten indigenous leaders in the area.

Ching also credits church leaders who “voice “their support for the peace process, which hopes to address injustices committed against our Bangsamoro brothers and sisters, who may also be considered a minority population in our country.”

Tradition of service

Clemente Bautista, the national coordinator of environmental group Karapatan has another question. “With the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) take up Pope Francis’ challenge?”

Philippine IPs face a crisis, say Bautina, Sabino and Ching.

Photo of Manobo elder courtesy at funeral honours for Leoncio Pitao of the New People's Army courtesy of Obet de Castro
Photo of Manobo elder courtesy at funeral honours for Leoncio Pitao of the New People’s Army courtesy of Obet de Castro

Karapatan reports that more than 30 of the 48 environmentalists killed in the last six years are indigenous leaders. The trail of killings sprawls from northern Luzon and Palawan and to the provinces of Mindanao.

In Northern Mindanao alone, 23 IP leaders have died since October 2014, according to the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. That’s three IP leaders every month. In most cases, the suspects are big corporations or political clans out to wrest IP land.

Sabino believes Pope Francis will galvanize religious of all faiths and the laity.

The Pope apologized in Bolivia for the Catholic Church’s role in the subjugation of indigenous people’s. But he also took pride in clergy who risked their lives to serve oppressed communities.

“We cannot believe in God the Father without seeing a brother or sister in every person, and we cannot follow Jesus without giving our lives for those for whom he died on the cross,” Pope Francis said.

Photo by Obet de Ca
Photo by Obet de Ca

The Philippine churches have a rich tradition of serving the rural poor. Priests, nuns and lay leaders in basic Christian communities have all fallen to death squads while campaigning against human rights violations and other abuses.

“When we give succor to communities, we do not ask if people are Catholics,” says Spanish Claretian missionary Angel Calvo, who has spent decades in the island-province of Basilan.

Thirty years ago, Bacolod Bishop Antonio Fortich thundered at military officials who accused his priests of feeding communist rebels.

“A hungry stomach knows no color,” said the prelate who braved threats, and even a grenade attack on his residence, and succeeded in convincing the more conservative Pope John Paul II to confront the Marcos dictatorship on the issue of human rights.

Listening with his soul

The religious continue to serve and they continue to minister under grave threats in Mindanao. No less than the Philippine Secretary of Social Work, Corazon Soliman, has attacked their work with the IPs.

Seeing lumad children among a crowd protesting militarization in Talaingod, Davao Oriental, Soliman accused the church groups of violating children’s rights.

Piya Macliing Malayao, secretary general of the indigenous alliance KATRIBU), said the official was trying to gloss over the government’s responsibility for lumad children’s plight.

“The children were at the rally because they had lost their schools,” Malayao pointed out.

Pope Francis, a hugger to all comers, is very much a people’s prelate, eschewing abstractions for messages that reflect on people’s daily lives.

Campos earlier said the Pope seems to have the ability to listen “at the level of soul.”

In Bolivia, he spoke of names and faces, of hearts breaking because of sorrow and pain. Praising community organizers and those to live with indigenous people, the Pope stressed the difference between “abstract theorizing” and the empathy borne of seeing and hearing the pain of others and absorbing this as one’s own.

“That emotion which turns into community action is not something which can be understood by reason alone,” said the Pope. “It has a surplus of meaning which only peoples understand, and it gives a special feel to genuine popular movements.”

He could have been talking of Apad of the Manobo and other youth of other tribes and ethnic groups across the country.

Apad may never get the chance to meet this Pope. But in his pain-wracked nights, this young man can take comfort knowing that Francis believes in what little people can do.

This is a Pope who hears Apad’s song and understands that his people need to fight for their land – or die as slaves.