Sunday, July 13, 2008


The MILF, which is fighting for an autonomous state in Mindanao and has been engaged in peace negotiations with the GRP since 1996, sees a renewed escalation of its conflict with the Philippine government following a number of encounters with the military in the last three weeks.

Vol. VIII, No. 23, July 13-19, 2008

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is fighting for an autonomous state in Mindanao and has been engaged in peace negotiations with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) since 1996, sees a renewed escalation of its conflict with the Philippine government following a number of encounters with the military in the last three weeks.

Fighting broke out between MILF fighters and government troops in three villages in Maitum, Sarangani early on June 25. The fighting took place in the villages of Ticulab, Maguling, and Mindupok. Hundreds of residents fled to the town center.

That same day another armed encounter transpired between the MILF and government troops in Tugaig, Barira, Shariff Kabunsuan.

“Frustration with the dilatory tactics of the government in the peace talks mainly caused the fighting,” said MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal.

Contentious ancestral domain issue

The GRP-MILF peace negotiations have been stalled since December last year. Negotiations reached a deadlock over the ancestral domain issue.

The ancestral domain issue, which was first discussed only in 2004 or some eight years after the talks started, has turned out to be the most contentious issue in the GRP-MILF peace negotiations.

The MILF last year was proposing a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) that would be based on an ancestral domain claim of the Bangsa Moro over Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan.

The GRP had insisted that areas to be covered by the BJE other than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) should be subjected to a plebiscite. This repeatedly led to an impasse in the peace negotiations with the group.

The impasse was broken only in November last year, when the GRP and the MILF reached an agreement defining the land and maritime areas to be covered by the proposed BJE.

Things seemed to be looking up after that, prompting lawyer Eid Kabalu, then MILF spokesperson, to make media statements to the effect that they expected a final agreement to be signed by mid-2008.

But all hopes for forging a peace pact between the GRP and the MILF were dashed last December, when the peace talks hit a snag following the government’s insistence that the ancestral domain issue be settled through “constitutional processes” – a phrase which, according to Iqbal, had been inserted into the agreement without their consent.

Renewed armed clashes

On June 30, MILF fighters and government troops clashed in Aleosan, North Cotabato. The fighting caused some 200 families from the town’s Barangay (village) Paganan to flee, based on reports from the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

Col. Julieto Ando, spokesperson of the 6th ID, said it was the MILF who started the fighting. “We were the ones being attacked here,” he said.

But Iqbal denied this. “Beyond all doubt, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) started the fighting; fighting took place 2.5 kilometers away from the Cotabato-Davao National Highway,” he said.

Iqbal said that coming as they did in quick succession, these skirmishes appear to indicate a renewed escalation of the conflict between the GRP and the MILF – a potential threat to the peace negotiations. “But the MILF flexed its muscle to make everyone in the organization toe the line by giving the peace talks every opportunity to continue,” Iqbal however added.

The MILF, meanwhile, has also been accused of attacking power transmission lines in North Cotabato. They have been accused of bombing a steel tower of the National transmission Corporation in Brgy. Bagontapay, M’lang; and of firing rocket-propelled grenades at a power facility of the Cotabato Electric Cooperative in Matalam.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita accused the MILF of perpetrating these bombings “to pressure the government into agreeing into a peace agreement that would violate the Constitution” –- an accusation Iqbal denied.

“Ermita has never appeared to be sincere in addressing the root causes of the conflict in Mindanao; he is always in favor of the counter-insurgency approach to the problem,” Iqbal said when asked to comment on Ermita’s statement.

“The MILF is not asking the government to violate its constitution; far from it,” Iqbal added. “But we say the government should not use the constitution to forego compliance with its commitment or signed documents.”

Iqbal also said Ermita could have made such statement to win “sympathy” from the people and the international community. “In short, he wants to picture the MILF as an unreasonable group,” he said.

Roots of the conflict

Moro historian Salah Jubair traces the roots of the present conflict in southern Philippines to the U.S. annexation of Mindanao and Sulu into the Philippine territory in 1946. Jubair argues that the Bangsa Moro is a people with a socio-political, economic, and cultural system distinct from that of the Filipino people.

The inclusion of Mindanao and Sulu in the scope of the 1946 “independence” granted to the Philippines paved the way for large-scale non-Muslim migration to the two islands. This large-scale migration, which began in the 1950s, brought with it the problem of land grabbing.

At some point the government even instituted a Mindanao Homestead Program, which involved giving land parcels seized from Moro peoples to landless peasants from the Visayas islands and Luzon and also to former communist guerrillas who availed of amnesty.

This was intended to defuse the peasant unrest and the revolutionary war that was staged in the late 1940s and early 1950s by the communist-led Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB or People’s Liberation Army), which was basically a peasant army.

The Jabidah Massacre triggered widespread outrage among the Moros and led to the formation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that same year. The MNLF, led by former University of the Philippines (UP) professor Nur Misuari, waged an armed revolutionary struggle against the GRP for an independent state in Mindanao.

The Marcos government, weighed down by the costs of the Mindanao war, negotiated for peace and signed an agreement with the MNLF in Tripoli, Libya in the mid-1970s. The pact involved the grant of autonomy to the Mindanao Muslims.

Conflicts on the issue of autonomy led to a breakdown of talks between the GRP and the MNLF in 1978, prompting a group led by Dr. Salamat Hashim to break away from the MNLF and form the MILF. Since then, the MILF has been fighting for Moro self-determination.

In 1996, the MNLF signed the Final Peace Agreement with the GRP, which created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as a concession to the group. That same year, the MILF began peace negotiations with the GRP.

While the peace agreement with the MNLF supposedly holds, armed skirmishes between the AFP and MNLF did not stop. On Nov. 19, 2001, Misuari declared war on the Arroyo government for allegedly reneging on its commitments to the Final Peace Agreement. The MNLF then attacked an Army headquarters in Jolo. Misuari was subsequently arrested in Sabah, Malaysia for illegal entry and was turned over to the Philippine government by Malaysian authorities. He is currently under house arrest.

Meanwhile, the GRP-MILF peace talks have repeatedly bogged down on the issue of ancestral domain, mainly because the GRP has frequently insisted on resolving it within “constitutional processes.” This does not sit well with the MILF.


Still, the MILF is optimistic that a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) may be signed sometime this year.

“As of today (July 9), only two points remain unresolved by the Parties namely, the word freedom and effectivity of those (provisions) in the MoA-AD that require legislation,” Iqbal shared. “We insist that if they decide to pass it through legislation it should not derogate prior agreements. If the government is serious, we can sign it before August this year.” Bulatlat

Sunday, July 06, 2008


After more than two years of being abducted and detained, the Tagaytay 5 finally had their day in court as the latter started hearing their petition for bail.

Vol. VIII, No. 22, July 6-12, 2008

The Tagaytay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 18 has started hearing the Tagaytay 5’s petition for bail after more than two years of their being abducted and detained.

Judge Erwin Larida Jr. started hearing the case last July 4 and is expected to hold hearings in the succeeding Fridays of July. The Tagaytay 5 is composed of Axel Pinpin, a consultant of the Kalipunan ng mga Magsasaka sa Kabite (Kamagsasaka-Ka or Association of Peasants in Cavite) and a poet who was a fellow in the 1999 University of the Philippines (UP) National Writers’ Workshop; Riel Custodio, a Kamagsasaka-Ka member; Aristides Sarmiento, a freelance researcher for various non-government organizations; and Tagaytay City residents Enrico Ybañez and Michael Masayes.

The series of hearings follow their June 16 arraignment for the crime of rebellion, to which the five entered a “Not Guilty” plea.

The five were abducted by a composite Philippine Navy and Philippine National Police (PNP) team on April 28, 2006 in Tagaytay City.

Pinpin, Custodio and Sarmiento had just come from a meeting with coffee farmers in the city and were on their way to Manila for the forthcoming Labor Day rally. They had hired Ybañez as their driver while Masayes accompanied Ybañez.

Three days after, they were presented to the media as “communist rebels” who were conspiring with “dissident soldiers” in an alleged plot to “destabilize” the Arroyo administration. They were subsequently charged with rebellion.

Pinpin, Custodio, and Sarmiento said that they expect the prosecution together with their PNP “abductors-torturers” to “demonize” them to secure a conviction –- which, under the Revised Penal Code, carries a penalty of reclusion perpetua (20 years and one day to 40 years in detention).

“The prosecution and the PNP will again publicly peddle their pack of lies and life-threatening intrigues,” they said. “They will again cover up the truth about the case of the Tagaytay 5 in order to get their much-awaited judicial victory against ‘bomb-wielding communists-terrorists out to destabilize’ the corrupt and fascist Arroyo regime. They will repeatedly gloss over substantive issues and matters of judicial principles such as the human rights violations committed by government authorities during our abduction, interrogation, incommunicado status, prolonged detention, and delays in the judicial process, in order to consign us to perpetual silence and public oblivion.”

They vowed, however, to assert “rigorously” the following “truth(s) and substantive issues”:

· That they were waylaid and abducted by more or less 60 heavily armed men without necessary warrants on April 28, 2006; hence violating their basic right against arbitrary arrest;

· That they were not carrying guns or explosives of any kind at the time of their abduction, yet the list of evidence showed that they were in possession of one handgun; but all their personal belongings (including dentures and flashlights) and money totaling almost P800,000 (or ¥1,904,700 or $18,300) were missing and never accounted to them, an act which they said is “tantamount to highway robbery by law enforcement agents” and which violates their right against unlawful search and seizures;

· That they were shuttled to various military camps and safe houses, where they were repeatedly interrogated against their will and without counsel –- acts which violate the basic rights of arrested persons under the Miranda Doctrine and judicial guarantees against illegal detention;

· That they were physically and psychologically tortured, having been hidden from their families, lawyers and friends for seven days and nights, to enable their abductors to extract extrajudicial confessions, again without the aid of counsel of their choice; thus violating their rights against torture and self-incrimination;

· That they were “persecuted” in a court after being held for more than 100 hours without charges, thus violating basic rights against illegal detention;

· That they we were detained and padlocked 24/7 in a police camp with no provisions for sunlight and outdoor exercises for 10 months, thus endangering their health and welfare; and that it took a 67-day fasting/hunger strike to gradually improve their detention conditions; and

· That their court hearings are few and far between, and are often postponed “for whatever flimsy reason,” thus prolonging their hardships, and “effectively silencing some critics and dissenters of the current regime.”

Pinpin, Custodio, and Sarmiento also said that on several occasions during the 26 months since their being charged with rebellion, the prosecution and the PNP were asked to present all necessary evidence and affidavits.

“But all the prosecution can show are three joint testimonies packed with lies and half-truths on what really happened on that fateful night of April 28, 2006 –- full of loopholes, self-serving alibis, pock-marked with hearsays and afterthoughts, and coached assertions,” they said. “The prosecutors haven’t produced in court any credible evidence to buttress their trumped-up rebellion charge –- for they have none, and have nothing to hold on to; for it is cardinal rule in criminal proceedings that any illegally obtained evidence is inadmissible in court, and that planting of evidence against any suspect is punishable by law as incriminatory machination.” Bulatlat