Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Of compassion and justice


By Val G. Abelgas
One would think someone who is no longer in power would be less arrogant. But such is not the case with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Instead of continuing to plead for compassion so that the government would finally allow her to travel abroad supposedly for medical treatment of a rare bone disease, her spokesperson is now threatening to bring the matter to court.
Even Sen. Ping Lacson, who blames his one-year stint last year as a fugitive to alleged political harassment by Arroyo, was willing to allow his tormentor to leave, if she would first submit her counter-affidavits refuting charges of plunder and poll fraud. But no, Arroyo would rather spend precious time trading barbs with her critics over her request to travel abroad than respond to the allegations.
If she’s not guilty, why is it so difficult to gather her lawyers and answer the charges point-by-point? When she has submitted her counter-affidavit, then perhaps it would be easier for Justice Secretary Lilia de Lima to recommend to President Aquino that she be allowed to seek medical treatment abroad.
The problem is every time charges are brought against her or her husband Mike Arroyo, they both fall ill from some ailment that almost always needs medical attention from doctors abroad. How many times has this happened? Is this latest rare or critical medical problem a case of the “boy who cried wolf?” Or is this another of those shallow excuses the couple had come up each time they were in trouble in the past?
It’s hard to believe that despite the accolades brought upon Filipino doctors from all over the world, there is not a single doctor who can perform the bone biopsy to find out if she is suffering from a “rare metabolic bone disease,” as her most avid ally, Rep. Danilo Suarez, claims she needs.
It would seem medical practitioners in the Philippines have been left behind, if the former Philippine leader were to be believed. This is certainly a bad pitch for the government’s medical tourism, coming from a leader in whose term the program was conceived.
Even if we were to believe the Arroyo camp’s claim that no doctor has the experience and knowledge to conduct the bone biopsy that she is claiming she needs, what’s stopping her from bringing the doctor that she wanted to the Philippines, as suggested by San Juan Rep. JV Ejercito? Being multi-millionaires in their own right, it shouldn’t be difficult for the Arroyos to ask the doctor to come and conduct the bone biopsy in the Philippines.
Contradicting the Arroyo spokesperson’s claim, a ranking official of the Philippine Medical Association said Arroyo has the option of a non-invasive medical diagnostic procedure called radioisotope scan, instead of a bone biopsy for her hypoparathyroidism illness. Dr. Leo Olarte, PMA Board of Governors for Manila, said the country has many radioisotope scan that can take the place of a bone biopsy.
Her own doctors have repeatedly said that Arroyo was recovering very well, and Health Secretary Enrique Ona, who visited Arroyo in her home in La Vista, said while she looked pale and haggard, she didn’t appear to be in a life-threatening condition.
If Arroyo’s medical condition were indeed critical, one that could be considered a life-threatening situation, why is that in two separate letters requesting permission to travel abroad for critical medical treatment she said she would make two side trips to attend a Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York and the International Commission Against the Death Penalty in Switzerland? These are in two different sides of the globe, wouldn’t the long travels worsen her condition?
Arroyo also included Germany, Singapore, Spain and Italy in her two-month proposed itinerary. Of the seven countries she planned to visit, only the US and Switzerland have extradition treaties with the Philippines. The DFA said last year the Philippines has extradition treaties with only 10 of the 192 member countries of the United Nations, namely Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Korea, Micronesia, Switzerland, Thailand, and the United States.
Arroyo, of course, vowed to return after a maximum of 60 days. But how can you believe someone who promised on the day she was honoring our great hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal on December 30, 2003 that she would not run in the 2004 presidential elections and that she would focus on putting back the Philippines on the path to economic recovery, and without explaining why the sudden turnaround, she did run and even pulled off the biggest election fraud in history?
How can you trust the word of someone who has, for political expediency, consistently lied to the Filipino people and who tried so many times to subvert the people’s will? How can you trust someone who has been named in so many corruption and cheating scandals? Why even give compassion to someone who has not shown a sincere understanding of the word?
The Department of Justice should press the arraignment of Arroyo in the poll fraud case, which has already been filed by the Department of Justice, and demand the submission of their counter-affidavit on the charges before even considering allowing Arroyo to leave the country.
Once she has been arraigned, even the Supreme Court, which has been tagged as an “Arroyo Court,” cannot ignore the fact that plunder and poll fraud are non-bailable offenses. Even if the Supreme Court lives up to its billing and still allows Arroyo to leave, the Sandiganbayan can proceed with the trial in absentia.
Once convicted, the Arroyos will live as fugitives for the rest of their lives, always worrying that the country that granted them refuge would someday become less hospitable and turn them over to Philippine authorities. I’m certain that’s not the kind of retirement they would want.
As Aquino had said about reconciliation, there can be no compassion without justice.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dole-out or fall-out?


By Perry Diaz
MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim and President Benigno Aquino III in Tokyo
I can understand why the Aquino administration allocated P39 billion for the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) to be doled out to 2.3 million poor households.  But to give P5 million to Muslim rebels and another P31 million to the dreaded Alex Boncayao Brigade is beyond reason.  What is President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III up to?  What did he plan – or hope — to achieve?  Peace?  Forget it!  He’s got a Chinaman’s chance in seeing peace during his presidency. He is only wasting taxpayers’ money.  He could have put the P36 million to good use in helping the poorest of the poor.
Shortly after P-Noy gave the Muslim Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) the P5-million dole-out, a platoon of Army special forces soldiers were ambushed by “lawless elements” of the MILF in Basilan province in which 19 soldiers were killed.
The Aquino administration justified the P5-million dole-out by saying that the Arroyo administration promised to provide the MILF with funds to set up the Bangsamoro Management and Leadership Institute (BMLI) in 2006.  However, the project never got off the ground.
Buying peace
According to news reports, P-Noy gave the P5-million check to MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim when they secretly met in a Tokyo hotel last August 5, 2011. But where did the P5 million go?
Some people have aired their concerns that the P5-million dole-out may have been misused to purchase arms and ammunition.  This led Malacañang to demand for a full accounting of the money.  To date, none was made.
Meanwhile, the “lawless elements” continue their attacks on government troops while government forces continue to hunt for MILF Commander Dan Asnawi, the leader of the “lawless elements” in Basilan.  But in an act of defiance, the MILF told the government negotiators in Kuala Lumpur that MILF is protecting Asnawi and that he “enjoys safe haven in its camp.”  So, not only did the government squander P5 million, it lost the lives of 19 soldiers.
Peace with communist rebels
In the wake of the controversial P5-million dole-out, another prickly issue came out of the woodwork when one of the newspapers headlined, “Gov’t spending P31-M to help Alex Boncayao Brigade.”
In the early 1990s, the dreaded Manila-based Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB), the death squad of the New People’s Army (NPA), the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), sowed terror with the assassination of more than 200 government officials.
In 1992, another communist group operating in the Visayas, led by Arturo Tabara, broke away from the CPP-NPA.  Calling itself the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa ng Pilipinas (RPMP) or Revolutionary Workers Party, it formed its own military arm, the Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA).  In 1997, RPMP-RPA and ABB merged into one, the RPMP-RPA-ABB.
In 2000, during the presidency of Joseph “Erap” Estrada, P-Noy’s uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco brokered a peace agreement between the government and the RPMP-RPA-ABB.  The agreement was supposedly signed on December 6, 2000 by then Agriculture Secretary and now-Sen. Edgardo Angara and Nilo de la Cruz, the head of MRMP-RPA-ABB, in Negros Occidental where the Cojuangcos owned large tracts of land.  However, Erap – who was ousted on January 20, 2001 — denied that the agreement was signed during his time.
But the Cojuangco-brokered agreement did not push through because RPMP-RPA-ABB refused to turn over their weapons claiming that they had to protect themselves from the CPP-NPA who had targeted them for assassination.  Interestingly, according to De la Cruz, the “cessation of hostilities” between his group and the government is holding to this day.  However, incidents of armed violence involving members of RPMP-RPA-ABB are still reported in the news as recent as October 31, 2011.
The recent initiative of the Aquino administration to pursue peace with RPMP-RPA-ABB is questioned by various sectors.  Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita “Ging” Deles said that the purpose of the Aquino administration is to put an end to armed rebellion.  Using the peace agreement with the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) as a model, the government hopes that the deal with RPMP-RPA-ABB would transform it from an armed group to a socio-economic organization.  One of the conditions is for RPMP-RPA-ABB members to register their firearms but not necessarily surrender them.  However, they will not be given permits to carry firearms outside their homes.
On the surface, the peace agreement looks good.  But like any “peace” agreement, it’s only as good as the paper it was written on.  If peace is to prosper, there should be sustained economic progress; otherwise, the rebels – like in the past — would most likely go back to the hills to wage war against the government.
The price of peace
In my article, “The elusive peace in Mindanao” (October 28, 2011), I wrote: Ultimately, P-Noy has to deal with the biggest challenge of all: There will be no peace in Mindanao unless the issue of social and economic justice is resolved. However, even if peace were achieved, it would not last long without prosperity.”
In another article, “The Landed and the Landless” (October 21, 2005), I wrote: “The latest problem involving Hacienda Luisita has brought to the forefront one big issue that has caused societal and economic problems — and bloodshed — in the history of the Philippines. ‘Land ownership,’ the Filipinos’ ultimate dream, has been the exclusive domain of the rich. Truly, ‘land ownership’ separates the rich from the poor — the landed from landless.”
Lesson from history
In 1950, then-Secretary of National Defense Ramon Magsaysay turned the tide against the communistHukbalahaps or “Huks” when he adopted the Huks’ slogan, “Land for the Landless,” as the government’s own slogan in fighting the Huk rebellion.  In less than two years, he broke the back of the Huk movement. Those who surrendered their arms were given a large tract of land to own and a carabao and a plow to till the land.  In 1953, Magsaysay ran and won the presidency by a large majority of the voters.  His mantra, “Those who have less in life should have more in law,” became the hallmark of his administration.
President Aquino should – nay, must! – realize that it would take more than dole-outs to achieve lasting peace… and that economic and land reforms are inherent in the pursuit of peace and prosperity.  He seems to have the passion for peace.  But does he have the political will to achieve it?
At the end of the day, President Aquino’s attempt to buy peace with dole-outs could end in a fall-out that could push the insurgency back to where it all began… the colorums’ fight for social justice almost a century ago.

Monday, November 28, 2011

RPA-ABB hired guns of Danding, Arroyos


The Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB) has long “degenerated” into a private army of Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. and the Arroyos in the Negros provinces, according to members of the negotiating panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in the current peace talks with the government.
Fidel Agcaoli, a member of the NDFP negotiating panel, noted that aside from integrating itself as a paramilitary unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that was actively involved in attacking units of the New People’s Army (NPA), the RPA-ABB also served as hired guns of landlords in Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental.
“The ABB of Nilo de la Cruz has become a paramilitary unit of the AFP. Together with the RPA, the ABB of Nilo de la Cruz has been integrated into the AFP as paramilitary unit of the GRP/GPH [Government of the Republic of the Philippines] long before their formal surrender to the Estrada regime in 2000,” Agcaoili said.
“The RPA-ABB has also been hired as security guards of landlords, particularly on Negros Island in the haciendas of Danding Cojuangco and Mike and Iggy Arroyo, and as bodyguards and guns-for-hire of politicians, businessmen and mining companies,” he added.
Mike is Jose Miguel Arroyo, the husband of former President and now Rep. Gloria Arroyo of Pampanga province.
Iggy, Mike’s brother, is also a lawmaker representing Negros Ocidental.
Cojuangco, a major controlling stockholder of San Miguel Corp., has been cited as the person who brokered a peace agreement between the RPA-ABB and the government.
He owns vast tracts of land in Negros Occidental.
The Cojuangco-brokered peace agreement, noticeably, did not compel the RPA-ABB to surrender its arms to the government.
The agreement was inked on December 6, 2000 in Quezon City.
In attendance was then-Executive Secretary Edgardo Angara along with Cojuangco and Arturo Tabara, a former leader of the RPA-ABB.
According to the alternative online news magazine Bulatlat, the peace agreement gave the RPA-ABB a special license to carry firearms.
All charges filed against leaders of the RPA-ABB were also dropped.
In the agreement, moreover, the government pledged to give the RPA-ABB up to P510 million for “development projects” as provided for in Article IV, Section 4, and Article V, Section 1, of the cited agreement.
Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita, during the term of then-President Gloria Arroyo, urged Malacañang in 2002 to recognize the RPA-ABB as a paramilitary unit of the AFP.
The move, according to Karapatan, a human-rights watchdog, was backed by then-Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman as cited in Bulatlat.
Soliman is now also the Social Welfare chief of President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Meanwhile, Luis Jalandoni, the chairman of the NDFP negotiating panel, claimed, “In the alleged peace agreement between ABB and the [government], the ABB (were) allowed to hold on to their firearms. They acted as part of the security of then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when she visited Negros. They have carried out military actions against the NPA or suspected supporters of the NPA.”
Jalandoni said that the NDFP did not pursue any effort to reintegrate the RPA-ABB with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-NPA-NDF.
“There were no efforts to reintegrate them because by 1993 when they left the revolutionary movement, they had degenerated with anti-people activities and then later joined the GRP as a paramilitary unit. Their units in Negros also acted and are still acting as a private armed group for Eduardo Cojuangco (Jr.), the big comprador-landlord who exploits and oppresses the Negros farmworkers and peasants,” he explained.
Monetary reward
Jalandoni and Fidel Agcaoili, another member of the NDFP negotiating panel, also noted that the RPA-ABB was not a proper entity that could enter into any peace agreement with the government since the group had been fully integrated into the AFP as a paramilitary unit.
“There are no real peace talks between the [GRP] and the ABB. Since the late 1990s, the ABB (has been) part of the [GRP’s] armed units, just like the Cafgu [Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit],” Jalandoni said.
Meanwhile, Agcaoili asked, “What kind of negotiations could there be between the [GRP] and its own paramilitary unit? Unless one could call the discussions on the handing out of monetary rewards to a paramilitary unit as ‘peace settlement’?”
Earlier reports revealed that the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), under the leadership of Secretary Teresita Deles, disbursed P31 million reportedly for socio-economic development projects of the RPA-ABB.
A supposed peace pact between the government and the RPA-ABB called for financing of such projects for rebel returnees.
For Agcaoili, however, the P31 million was in the nature of a monetary reward for the assistance of the RPA-ABB in military operations against the Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA-NDF (CPP-NPA-NDF).
“I think this amount constitutes a monetary reward or payoff to this group for services rendered as paramilitary unit of the [government] in the latter’s ‘counter-insurgency operations’ against the revolutionary movement,” he said.
“The disbursement of this amount would also be a source of corruption in OPAPP,” Agcaoili added.
Jalandoni, moreover, believed that the peace agreement with the RPA-ABB merely served as a smokescreen for the improper disbursement of funds, which, according to various reports, were used to finance the campaign of Mrs. Arroyo for the 2004 elections.
She won the race for Malacañang that year over opposition standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr.
“[The disbursement of funds] is to nurture the illusion that there are peace talks between the [government] and the ABB and the granting of funds to ABB and their families is an alleged achievement of OPAPP and Secretary Teresita Deles,” Jalandoni said.
“This is done especially now that Secretary Deles is under severe criticism for using OPAPP funds in 2004 to campaign for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and wasting taxpayers’ money with Pamana [Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan] funds being given to false claimants like ABB and CPLA [Cordillera People’s Liberation Army],” he added.
Severed links
According to Agcaoili, there are absolutely no more links between the CPP-NPA-NDF and the RPA-ABB.
He also claimed that “The few elements of the ABB that [Nilo] de la Cruz was able to bring with him when he and Felimon Lagman left the revolutionary movement in 1993 — taking with them the name ABB—were individuals who had been involved in such criminal activities as extortion, holdups, robberies and kidnap for ransom.”
“At the time, these elements also had links with criminal gangs, such as the Red Scorpion Group that was responsible for the kidnapping of an American business executive,” Agcaoili said.
Subsequently, de la Cruz parted ways with Lagman and joined the RPA that was based mainly in Negros Occidental to form the RPA-ABB, according to Agcaoili.
“Since its formation, the RPA-ABB has been incorporated as a paramilitary unit of the AFP long before its so-called peace agreement with [the government] under the Estrada regime in December 2000,” he added.
Jalandoni, moreover, also noted that the RPA-ABB has been involved in various human-rights violations.
“People’s organizations and human-rights groups have accused the ABB of various human-rights violations in Negros, Panay and Metro Manila area,” he said.
Agcaoili, who also heads the NDFP-Nominated Section of the Joint Secretariat, confirmed, “There are complaints submitted to the NDFP-JS against the RPA-ABB for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Red splinter group splits into 2 factions

By Christine F. Herrera and Rio N. Araja

Manila Standard Today
Leaders of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army and Alex Boncayao Brigade, Nilo dela Cruz and John Lana, defend the peace negotiations with the government, which drew flak for allocating P31 million for a livelihood and housing program to benefit members of their group. MANNY PALMERO
Amid criticism for funding rebel groups, government peace negotiators say two groups are ‘armed but not dangerous’
THE communist splinter group with which the government is seeking peace has split into two factions, but an Armed Forces official said Thursday that would have no impact on the ongoing efforts to disarm the rebels.
Army Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, who worked with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process to profile the rebels, told the Manila Standard that the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa Pilipinas-Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade had split over a clash of personalities and differences in “revolutionary strategies.”
But Bautista, commander of the 3rd Infantry Battalion, played down worries that the two factions would clash over a P31-million government livelihood program.
“Some 400 armed members of the two rebel factions have already surfaced and will soon surrender their firearms,” Bautista said.
The Armed Forces had assigned Bautista to help the government “profile” the armed rebels who are covered by the agreement.
The general said the RPMA-RPA was headed by Carapali Lualhati (nom de guerre Stephen Paduano) and Veronica Tabara, wife of the slain Arturo Tabara who was based in Negros, while the ABB was being led by Nilo dela Cruz (nom de guerre Sergio Romeo) based on Panay island.
“The split has not impeded the ongoing peace negotiations for final closure and completion of the peace accord signed on December 6, 2000 under the Estrada administration,” Bautista said.
“They co-exist peacefully. We have not recorded any assault against each other.”
But Bautista said the two groups started clashing with their former comrades in the New People’s Army after the Communist Party of the Philippines declared them “anti-revolutionaries” for breaking away from the mainstream group.
Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles said the government was negotiating with both groups.
On Thursday, the Alex Boncayao Brigade confirmed the split in a press conference in Quezon City and said the peace process was not just about the P31 million that the government had allotted to help the former insurgents and their families.
“Peace is not purely about money,” De la Cruz said.
“We are not against the financial assistance as long as legitimate members would benefit from the program. After all, this [amount] is small compared to the P50 million allocated to one faction of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army,” De la Cruz said, referring to another rebel group that also broke away from the communists.
He said his group had no agreement on the P31-million allotment, but had called for the release of all political prisoners, electoral and judicial reforms, and progressive taxation.
He said his group had split over the Lualhati group’s decision to support the government under then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a move that the Alex Boncayao Brigade opposed.
Bautista on Thursday confirmed the claims of leftist lawmakers that the ABB had turned itself into “mercenaries, guns-for-hire and goons” for politicians, businessmen and the elite.
“This, unfortunately, indeed happened because the peace negotiations took so long to materialize. The government was not fast enough to provide alternative livelihood for the armed rebels,” he said.
But Bautista said the two factions were “armed but not dangerous.”
“They have turned their back on the armed struggle and we look forward to the day that they would also enjoy peace like any ordinary Filipino citizens do,” he said.
He denied talk that the military was using groups such as the ABB in its counter-insurgency campaign.
“What do we need them for?” he said.
“The Armed Forces have the resources. In fact, we want these rebels disarmed, disbanded and rehabilitated. We urge the NPAs to also give up the armed struggle.”