Insights and opinions from our contributors on the current issues happening in the region

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Press Statement of the City Government of Catbalogan on cityhood issue

Where will a Tacloban HUC get its water supply?

Military terrorizes residents of San Jorge, Western Samar and San Jose de Buan, Samar

When peace is an elusive victim

The internet reaction on the wrath of Santo Niño

RP government’s report to the UPR inconsequential to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances

CCJP calls for immediate release of Ka Randy

Bias for Life vs. Demands of (National) Security?

Let us continue our march for progress

The story of Samar congressman-elect Doloy Coquilla




MGen. Arthur Tabaquero’s response to the open letter of Atty. Kathrina Castillo

March 17, 2009

Atty. Kathrina R. Castillo
Head Legal Services Committee
Tacloban City

Dear Madame Castillo,

This has reference to your open letter addressed to the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which appeared in the internet last March 11, 2009 at Samar [see article]

Every Monday, the 8th Infantry Division, Philippine Army is inviting guests to grace our Monday flag raising ceremony. This is our way of bringing the military closer to the people and to effectively work hand in hand with our civilian counterparts in the government and non-government sectors of society. This occasion gives us the opportunity of informing the people on the present thrust, plans and programs of the 8th Infantry Division, Philippine Army and at the same time, to have an open discussion on how to better serve the people based upon our respective mission and vision. Among the guests that we have already invited are Local Government Officials, Directors of Line Government Agencies, NGOs, POs and members of the Religious and Education Sectors, to name a few.

It is our honor to invite you as one of our guests during our Monday Flag Raising being the former Secretary-General of KATUNGOD-SB-KARAPATAN and presently the head of its legal services committee, because I believe that we are both cavaliers of peace. As a matter of fact, just recently, Atty. Paquito M. Nacino, the Director of the Commission on Human Rights, Region 8, was our guest and we discussed on how we can work hand in hand, to sustain our advocacy for human rights and how to protect children involved in armed conflict. Moreover, we have also invited two prominent religious leaders namely Archbishops Emmanuel C. Trance and Isabelo C. Abarquez and conferred with them on how we can protect the youth and the uneducated few from being deceptively recruited into the rank and file of the New Peoples Army. This is the primary reason that we have thought of inviting you also as one of our guests so we can have an open discussion on how we can effectively serve the people that we, members of the AFP, have sworn to protect.

Firstly, let me touch on the issue of human rights which you have mentioned. Since my assumption of command as Commander of the 8th Infantry (Storm Troopers) Division, Philippine Army last June 4, 2008, I had emphasized to all my men of my cardinal rule: TO RESPECT THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE AND PROTECT THEM AT ALL TIMES. It is enshrined in the Philippine Constitution to which we took our individual oaths when we entered the military service to adhere to the constitutional mandate that civilian authority is supreme over the military and that the Armed Forces of the Philippines is the sole protector of the people. It is however very sad to note that the good image of the military has been tarnished by unscrupulous and mostly unfounded complaints of alleged extra-judicial killings, forced disappearances, illegal arrests and detention, torture, etc. I do not deny that the military of yesteryears had its shortcomings during the martial law era. But the Armed Forces of the Philippines as of the present is now more professional and we firmly believe that our insurgency problem cannot be solved solely through the barrel of a gun. That is why, we are trying to cut the roots of the poisonous tree by addressing the causes of insurgency through poverty alleviation, introduction of the alternative learning system to the uneducated and eradicate injustice. Be that as it may, as the sole protector of the people, we have both the social and moral mandate to maintain peace and order as the cornerstone to development. Insurgency is the stumbling block to development and we are mandated to reduce our insurgency problem at an inconsequential level in order to achieve lasting peace and development in our Region.

You have alleged that the military is trying to cover up mistakes by concocting stories and fabricating lies in order to give our actions a simulation of legality or legitimacy. I won’t make an argument on this because we would just endlessly toss the ball on each other as we hold on to our individual convictions. The untruthful allegations lodged against the military can only be addressed in the proper legal forum. I still believe in the sanctity and impartiality of our judicial system as part of our democratic way of life. As a human rights lawyer, you very well know that we could not condemn a man, no matter how notorious a criminal he may be, until he is given his day in court.

On the second issue, you made mention of the military always challenging your Alliance to conduct an investigation on cases allegedly committed by the New Peoples Army. You said that your mandate emanates from CARHRIHL and the Philippine Constitution, and as such, you are investigating cases of human rights violations committed only by the agents of the state. With utmost respect, all human beings are afforded human rights which are enshrined not only in the fundamental laws of the land but also in the divine and moral laws of God. Even “agents” of the state as you call us, are human beings too and therefore should be afforded equal protection and basic human rights. We are fully aware that as members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, civilians may look at us with a tinge of “superiority” but we are trying to correct this misconception. As members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, we are on call 24 hours a day. We sacrifice a lot to be away from our families, so that the citizenry can sleep in peace and be with their families. We conduct combat operations, to protect the people from the evils of terrorism and in the process, we are willing to sacrifice even our own lives for the sake of freedom and democracy which both of us aspiring for.

On the third issue, you claimed that since time immemorial, the military had been condemning your alliance for not condemning the killings of members of the AFP made by the New Peoples Army. You cited that according to the provisions of the International Humanitarian Law, a member of any armed group actively participating in an armed conflict is considered as an active and legitimate target of their armed counterpart. So this is not within the ambit of your advocacy because it would tantamount to condemning killings made in a legitimate encounter. But let me cite to you a recent case. Last February 8, 2009, a certain Pfc Hospecio S. Timola Jr., a member of the 62nd infantry Battalion, was shot to death by two NPA rebels on board a motorcycle while he was jogging at Brgy. Calutan, Gen. McArthur, Eastern Samar. This is not considered a legitimate encounter because the soldier was unarmed. Truly you cannot say that this is beyond the ambit of your advocacy yet, has your alliance condemned this barbaric act of the NPA against your Armed Forces?

On the issue of Oplan Bantay Laya II, you made mention that we maligned and discredited your alliance and that we made futile attempts to discredit your documentation of human rights abuses. Let me stress that one guidance of the Commanding General of the Philippine Army, Lieutenant General Victor S Ibrado AFP is that in any armed undertaking, THERE SHOULD BE NO COVER UP. The public must know the truth and we must give them facts. I believe that in most instances, you become the unwitting victim of this CPP/NPA’s deception and lies on what is actually happening on the ground, especially in hinterland barangays. Based on CPP/NPA documents in our possession, it is stated that a major part of their strategy is to mobilize their mass base supporters to file cases against the military whether the case is factual, fictitious or imaginary in order to derail the conduct of military tactical and civil-military operations in guerilla zones and bases. In so doing, it pains me to say, that you and I are both victims of the nature of insurgency that is besetting our country today.

Communism here in the Philippines was conceived in mischief. Today, it is tossing and floundering in a sea of inequity and falsehood. It is a promise with no future. It is running on the engines of greed through criminal activities, atrocities, lies and extortion perpetrated by the New Peoples Army. Would you believe that the Internal Revenue Allotment at the barangay level is now being taxed by the NPA? Is this not an indirect human rights violation committed against the poor barangay residents?

Again, may we reiterate the privilege of inviting you as our honored guest in Brgy. Maulong, Catbalogan, Samar so we can have an academic discussion on the issues you have raised. Any Monday flag raising in the whole month of April 2009 is open to you. We look forward for your favorable response to this humble invitation.

Very truly yours,

MGEN                        AFP
Commander, 8ID, PA





An Open Letter to the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines

March 11, 2009

Last February 9, 2009 I received a letter-invitation from LTC Roldan A. Radaza, writing in behalf of the Commanding General of the 8th Infantry (Storm Troopers) Division, Philippine Army to be your Guest of Honor and Speaker in your Awarding Ceremony last February 16, 2009. Since I have a hearing at that date, I never had the chance to attend and to deliver my speech. This open letter is addressed to all of you as a substitute of the very rare opportunity given to me.

You are a member of the Philippine Army duty-bound to look after the good, safety, and welfare of the people. “Civilian authority is supreme over the military” this is supposed to be your guiding principle. You have to set aside your own interest for the interest of the people; even if your life is on the line in protecting the people still you must not arrogate with the guns you are carrying. You must bow down to the people who are the reason why you have a job and why you have the necessary compensation. You are considered as lucky and brave enough to take on this duty upon your shoulders.

As your speaker, I am a human rights lawyer and a human rights activist who have been the Secretary-General of KATUNGOD–SB–KARAPATAN since 2006 until the end of 2008. I have been in the forefront of this broadest and most militant human rights alliance in the Region. I know you know me by name and some by face. I also know you have your perceptions and misconceptions.

Regardless of what you are thinking and what is instilled in your thoughts about me, allow me to take my part as your invited guest speaker and guest of honor.

First on the issue of human rights. I know you have taken a course on this matter in your training and upon enlistment. But I am not sure if this concept of human rights goes down in your thoughts or just goes down to the drain. I am saying this because your spokesperson seems not to understand. Human rights is not just a concept, this is a hard-earned victory of the people of the world. Human rights came into being when the people started to assert and victoriously assert their rights against the powerful hand and machinery of the State.

Being an agent of the State, sad to say, you are viewed differently from a civilian. The civilian populace is guaranteed with rights and protection which he can set up against the State in order to advance and promote these rights. These guarantees are guaranteed by law to civilians and the reason why there exist the Police and the Military.

When you are conducting military operations, you are not allowed to stay within the Barangay, use the Barangay Hall or Day Care Center as your temporary shelter. This is not allowed under the Comprehensive Agreement for the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). Under the same Law, which by the way was signed and agreed upon by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as part of the peace talks, it is reiterated that the civilian populace must be respected and protected at all times. Even if this Agreement exists, so as the International Human Rights standards, our Constitution, and other laws of the Philippines, it is utterly disappointing that we (our Office) are receiving more and more complaints against you from the people specially those in the hinterlands. Cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance, forcible evacuations because of massive militarization, bombing, hamletting, illegal arrests and detentions, mauling and torture, harassments and interrogations, destruction and divestment of properties, to name a few. You don’t seem to respect the people whom you are duty-bound to protect and defend. To make things worse, instead of admitting your mistakes and taking actions for reparation and indemnification, you tend to cover up your mistakes by concocting stories and fabricating lies in order to give a simulation of legality or legitimacy of your unforgiveable actions. Let me cite a few example, to wit: (1) the Palo Massacre; long have you been misleading the people that it was a legitimate encounter. All of us know, just like looking on crystal-clear water, it was a glaring massacre of farmers including a seven month pregnant woman, (2) the Villaba Massacre; you still perpetrated the same lies by tagging it as an encounter but the facts remained untainted that it was a massacre killing a couple with their 11-year old son, (3) the triple killing in Pinanag-an, Maydolong, Eastern Samar; you alleged that those three were member of the New People’s Army vilifying our Alliance’s claim that those were farmers. These three (3) were claimed by the Municipal Mayor backed up by their families. If they were really combatants, do you think the Mayor will be going to the Commission on Human Rights and accompanying the families to lodge a case if they were indeed combatants?, and (4) the killing of Nonito Labong; he was the former SK Chairperson of Barangay Bay-ang, San Jorge, Samar who was mercilessly peppered with bullet and his remains was burned. You readily claimed that he was a member of the New People’s Army to legitimize his brutal murder. And the list goes on… These cases were glaring indication that you are not observing the existing protocols on human rights and you are not respecting the primary and basic human right of the people: the Right to Life.

Second, on the issue of always challenging our Alliance to conduct an investigation on cases which you allege committed by the New People’s Army. Let me set it straight, we are working within the bounds of existing laws, the International Human Rights Standard (the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on Socio-Economic and Cultural Rights), the CARHRIHL, and the Philippine Constitution. We are a Human Rights Watchdog. Our mandate emanates from these and as such, we are investigating cases of human rights abuses committed only by agents of the state. In case you don’t know how is this so, let me give you a short history. Human rights advocacy and human rights struggle came into being because of the fact that it is established that the State, with all its component and machineries ready at its disposal, possesses an iron-clad fist when not monitored can be used against the people who have nothing compared to the powers of the State. This is the reason why all Constitution of all countries has the so-called Bill of Rights in order to regulate the powers of the State when it comes to dealing with the people, the civilian populace. You and your actions, being agents of the State, are always monitored by Human Rights Watchdogs and the Commission on Human Rights. All eyes are on you especially in the discharge of your duties.

You have this attitude of presenting a case of human rights violation allegedly committed by the New People’s Army and yet not extend any effort to formally endorse the same except through malicious pronouncements over the radio and the media. You condemn us first without giving us the benefit to know the facts or turning over to us the victims and their families. You must know the fact that we investigate a case when referred to us by the victim or family of the victim. We don’t have the superhuman instinct of knowing all cases committed in any part of the Region unless it is referred by our provincial counterparts and the victims themselves.

Third, in condemning killings of members of the Armed Forces. Since time immemorial you have been condemning us, the Alliance, of not condemning the killings of your comrades in arms made by the New People’s Army. I cannot however fathom the logic of this. If you know the Rules and the Laws, I bet you will not be dwelling on this line of questioning. This is highly ignorant of you, I tell you. This would tantamount to condemning killings made in a legitimate encounter. We don’t do that kind of advocacy. I know and you equally know for a fact that upon swearing in as a member of the Armed Forces you know the risks to your life because there is a war and that you have a definite enemy that is equally armed: you know that your life and security is on the line. In International Humanitarian Law, a member of any armed group actively participating in an armed conflict is considered as an active and legitimate target of their armed counterpart. This is the Law of War and this is not within our mandate. The degree of assertion of human rights on your part is not as broad as those of a civilian. Even in cases of a hor’s de combat on your part is not within our mandate to investigate. We have different agencies and institutions which are mandated to investigate: we have the courts, the Joint Monitoring Committee, and the Commission on Human Rights. If you will be pushing us further to investigate cases of human rights abuses allegedly perpetrated by the New People’s Army, it is as good as you saying that the Communist Party of the Philippines have a status of belligerency and that they are also existing as a separate state separate and distinct to the Government of the Republic of the Philippines.  Even if this is the case, on your part, we still cannot do your “challenged investigation” because of the fact that we are operating under the context of the Philippine Government because this is the duly constituted authority, unless this is not the case today.

Lastly, let me remind you that human rights is an inherent right which emanates not from a grant by any State but emanates from the fact that we are human beings. Said rights can only be limited with due process of law. They cannot be denied arbitrarily.

All this brouhaha is all part of Oplan Bantay Laya II which you religiously obey from orders of your higher-ups. This propaganda is all made in order to malign and discredit our Alliance. You continued your futile attempt to discredit our documentation of human rights abuses which directly points to you as the number one violator of the basic and sacred human rights of the people. Sad to say, you are not winning but rather putting yourself in constant scrutiny. A mistake can never be cured by web-like mistakes.

As a parting message, I would like to remind you once again that the people can never be silenced by the use of violence and force. For as long as the basic needs of the people, genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization are not realized, the struggle continues. And even if you are able to kill, silence, and neutralize hundreds of people still million more will rise to continue the struggle.

You are a part of this struggle for genuine liberation and democracy. Be aware of the real reasons and serve your real masters: the people.

For Human Rights in the Region,

Atty. Kathrina R. Castillo

Head, Legal Services Committee






Vice-Gov. Redaja’s letter to SP members

March 9, 2009

The provincial legislative body of Samar meets every Thursday for its regular session.  Except for non-working holidays, this august body of honorable members convenes on the average four times – meaning, for four Thursdays – each month.  That has been the normal case until the last Thursday onto November 10, 2008 when the suspension of Governor Milagrosa T. Tan was served, to take effect for 90 days.

During the suspension period, the seat of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s presiding officer was temporarily vacated, effective upon the day when Vice-governor Jesus B. Redaja assumed as acting governor after taking his oath of office as the temporary chief executive of the province of Samar.  In his stead was sworn in Board Member Nancy Rosales.

Some things changed at the SP during such suspension period.  Perhaps for “undefined motives”.

Two days into his last day as acting governor, Redaja vacated the top post in the province.  The last two days, to him, being “insignificant”.   For his first day on his return to the legislative body at the Capitol’s session hall, he sent out a letter, dated February 12, 2009, addressed to the honorable members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

Right in the opening statement of that letter, he lamented what he found out:  the SP met only four times since he left that body.

“During the entire 90-day period of my incumbency as Acting Governor of the Province, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan has only convened four (4) times.  Even until the last week of my short term as Acting Governor of this Province, this has manifested the Board’s seemingly undefined motives of not being convened for reasons I dare not openly state for this may cause senseless arguments.”

There. The elegance and eloquence of JBR suavely put it.  He has advised against stirring up “senseless arguments”.

JBR’s letter has meant to many Samarnons as a fresh eye-opener to the members of the ordinance-enacting body of the province.  The vice-governor did what was consequentially right.  He has the right and authority to do and say what his 12 February 2009 letter contained even if it somewhat sounded didactic.  He is the boss in the provincial legislature.  A father in that home of lawmakers, one who must wield discipline when needed, or just express that point even through laments, he has also seemed to be in that letter.

For everyone’s information, reference and guidance, here’s the rest of that letter that was addressed to the Honorable Members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan:

“First and foremost, all of us in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan have a duty to the Province and to its people who have put their trust in us.  Maybe most of us are only conscious of our responsibility towards our people shortly after the election.  From then on, most of us must have been swayed with the winds of politics and the lures of the powers that be that we allow ourselves to distance from our sense of patriotism and responsibility and dance to the tune of whoever holds the baton and the reins of power so that we too, can enjoy for a while the perks and the privileges given us.

“Be that as it may, and as it has been in this system for quite sometime, let us however keep a little dignity within us.  Our Province has been wanting of the real governance that should cater to the many needs of the people, and not to the needs of only a few.  Let us open our eyes to the truth that we should play a great role, as a legislative body, in the Province’s development for the welfare of our people.  Let us listen to the cries and complaints of the poor and the destitute, the helpless and the homeless, the undeserved and the underprivileged that are all wanting of the basic services that our local government is duty-bound to deliver.

“Must we become a part of this Province’s history when people would on to the mouths of every generation that our term as elected officials has done nothing much for Samar and its people?  Can we be proud enough that our names would be etched in the governance book of Samar and yet we have been a party to its fate as being one of the poorest Provinces for several years but then we have done nothing to alleviate its condition?  Can we walk around this Province and meet the eyes of every Samareño questioning within them if the people they have voted for have really worked for the welfare of every individual?

“My fellow colleagues in this Sangguniang Panlalawigan, it is my prayer that we all be conscious of what being an honorable member means in this August Body.  Let us work on what we are being paid for and on what we were voted for.  Let us not be dictated by selfish and political motives bur rather let us move because we are expected by the people to do our respective responsibilities and duties as members of this Honorable Sanggunian.

“Time has given us enough to face the great challenges that lie before us. We are individuals in this Sanggunian but we are expected by the people to bring out within us a Board that works together aggressively, not as competitors but collaborators who are supportive of the welfare and development of the Province that has long been waiting for real and effective governance.

“Ladies and gentlemen, let us show our people a sense of urgency in what we are supposed to do as members of this Sangguniang Panlalawigan.  Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.  Tomorrow is always ahead of us, and we might regret by then if we have not done anything today when that tomorrow comes.”





NDF-EV condemns abduction and demands immediate release of NDFP peace consultant Eduardo Sarmiento

A Press Statement by National Democratic Front of the Philippines - Eastern Visayas
March 3, 2009

The National Democratic Front-Eastern Visayas today strongly condemned the abduction and detention by government forces of Eduardo Sarmiento, NDFP consultant in Eastern Visayas in the peace negotiations with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines. The NDF-EV also called on the GRP to immediately release Sarmiento because he is accorded protection and lenient treatment under the terms of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, as well as the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. Sarmiento was abducted on Feb. 24 in Manila [see news] while he was attending consultations, and the military has said that he will be brought to an undisclosed location in Samar to face trial.

“NDFP peace consultant Eduardo Sarmiento was abducted and detained in violation of the JASIG and the CARHRIHL, by government forces who moreover had no warrants for his arrest and merely planted a grenade and fabricated alleged crimes after he was taken into custody,” said Fr. Santiago Salas, NDF-EV spokesperson. “We have reason to believe that he was also tortured because he was kept hidden for some days before his arrest was announced. He remains incommunicado and denied access to legal counsel, medical check-up and visits by his family. The NDFP peace consultant is also in frail health after decades of self-sacrifice and arduous struggle in service to the people, contrary to malicious statements by the military that he was in Manila for “rest and recreation” in an attempt to equate him with the corrupt generals and officials of the Arroyo government.”

The NDF-EV spokesperson also said that Sarmiento's arrest was an act of treachery by the GRP. “GRP peace adviser Gen. Avelino Razon has been posturing recently about the resumption of peace negotiations between the NDFP and the GRP. But the continuing attacks on the peace consultants of the NDFP such as Sarmiento show that the GRP is not an honorable party to the peace negotiations. This is another addition to the GRP's vicious record of violating human rights and international humanitarian law. While government spokesmen pretend to be for peace, the military and police forces engage in all-out war through Oplan Bantay Laya by brutally attacking civilian communities and unarmed activists, and torturing and killing  NDFP leaders and members, or illegally arresting and misportraying them as common criminals. The prospects for peace are very dim indeed as long as the devious and desperate Arroyo regime remains in power.”

Fr. Salas clarified that the Arroyo government's Oplan Bantay Laya is a complete failure in Region 8, and there is nothing more than arrogant government posturing over the arrest, which the military exploited to also vilify Sarmiento as a common criminal. “Not a single guerrilla front has been dismantled by Oplan Bantay Laya; it remains a complete failure in Eastern Visayas. The Arroyo regime is battered by the global and domestic crises, daily grows more isolated from the people, and is therefore unable to stop the surging revolutionary movement.”

The NDF-EV stressed that the GRP should show sincerity rather than pay lip service to the peace negotiations. “We remind the GRP of its obligations under the JASIG and the CARHRIHL: stop treating Eduardo Sarmiento like a criminal and immediately release him. He should be allowed to see his legal counsel and to receive medical attention and visits from his family. He should not be accused of common crimes and tried as a criminal because these alleged offenses are in the context of the armed conflict between the NDFP and GRP. Eduardo Sarmiento is entitled to immediate release by the GRP as a gesture of respect for the JASIG and the CARHRIHL, there is no reason to detain him.”

Fr. Salas also said that the GRP will be held responsible if any harm befalls Sarmiento in its custody. “The GRP's unprincipled and dishonorable conduct has worsened the effects of war not only on the participants but on the civilian populace as well. It is high time that the GRP delivers its obligations to show its willingness for peace talks. The obliviousness and arrogance of the GRP under the Arroyo regime only strengthens the people's resolve to do away with it to pave the way for the resumption of the peace process.”

Reference:  Roy Santos, NDF-EV Media Liaison Officer





Omnibus Reply: in response to the never-ending politically incorrect challenge

A Press Statement by the KATUNGOD-SB-KARAPATAN
February 26, 2009

Since the first part of this month, the military has been consistent in throwing malicious issues against the alliance. This is in response to their never-ending politically incorrect and highly malicious propaganda.

First, on the challenge of the military (through Major Tocalo and Capt. Egos) [see news] for the Alliance to conduct an investigation regarding the alleged human rights violation of the New People’s Army. We have long been answering this. First point, we investigate cases which are personally referred to us by the relatives of the victim or the victim themselves. This is to ascertain the authenticity of the reports and at the same time to personally talk to the victims and their family. In the case of the Paranas killing, we are challenging the Army since they are the ones who are most eager for us to conduct a investigation to refer to us the bereaved family member so that we could investigate the incident. Second point, and the most important point, we are a human rights watchdog; we investigate cases perpetrated by agents of the State. We are monitoring the adherence of the State to the principles of International Human Rights and human rights which they are duty-bound to observe and follow. In the case of the killing of one enlisted military personnel we are not in the position to conduct an investigation. For the information of the military, this challenge is out of ignorance and malice. A member of an armed group is a legitimate target of their equally armed enemy. This is based on the Rules of War. Whatever you are doing, you are an active target by your enemy. Each member of the military should have known this as a fact, I don’t know in the case of Major Tocalo. What is not allowed is killing a member of an armed group in a situation where he is not capacitated to fight as in the case of a hor’s de combat (sick and wounded).

Second, on the allegation of the military that we are crying human rights violation in case were a member of the New People’s Army is killed and we are complacent in case a member of the Armed Forces is killed, we are condemning this statement in the highest possible term. We never tag cases of those killings while in the course of a legitimate encounter. We would be very ignorant if this will be the case. In cases were a member of the Armed Forces or the New People’s Army is killed, we are not in the position to condemn this killing and tag it as summary execution or extrajudicial killing. This is because members of armed group are legitimate target of their equally armed counterpart/enemy. This is well within the Rules of War. A member of the armed group is well aware that their life is always in the line since they have a clear and legitimate enemy.

This propaganda espoused by the military is aimed at nothing more that discrediting the long line of extrajudicial killings under their bloody hands. All cases of extrajudicial killings which we have reported, documented, and condemned are all killings of civilians. We have verified these reports and have reported this to the Commission on Human Rights. These long line of cases include the killing of Atty. Fedilito Dacut, Atty. Norman Bocar, Rev. Edison Lapuz, Samuel Bandilla, Pax Diaz, Prof. Jose Ma. Cui, Nonito Labong, the Labrador Couple and their 13 year old son Anthony, the victims of Palo Massacre to name a few of those numbering to 109 individuals killed: victims of extrajudicial killing and summary execution.

The military should stop this non-sense once and for all. This only shows that they are looking down to the people of Eastern Visayas as ignorant and who knows nothing about human rights.

We are calling on to the people of Eastern Visayas to be vigilant and to scrutinize the malicious statements espoused by the military to dissuade us from seeking justice and calling on for the prosecution of the military men responsible for these killings. Let us unite and be one in our quest for justice. Let us work together in achieving peace based on justice.

For Human Rights in the Region,

Atty. Kathrina R. Castillo

Secretary – General






An RH advocate’s stand on House Bill No. 5043

A Statement of the FPOP-Samar and the WARAYA
January 28, 2009

We, the staff, council officers, members and volunteers of the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines-Samar Chapter and the Waray-Waray Youth Advocates are expressing our support for House Bill 5043, which is more commonly known as the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill.

We believe that this bill comprehensively addresses a wide scope of issues that include gender equality, women and youth empowerment, human rights and health. Hence, its passage in the House of Congress will be a step towards ensuring every Filipino’s rights to information, choice and a quality way of life.

We wish to correct the claims of pro-life groups that RH Bill promotes abortion. Nowhere in the bill was there a provision that expresses support for abortion. Rather, it seeks to prevent it by curbing its lead cause which are unwanted pregnancies by making health services and information on natural and modern family planning methods more accessible to the masses.

However, we do not reject the idea of post-abortion treatments because we believe that women suffering from complications due to abortion are still entitled to their health rights. They should not be subjected to moral judgments but should be regarded with compassion and understanding because of certain factors that drove them to such an option.

In the second place, the bill awakens us to the fact that there is more to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights than just plain libido and that information about “the birds and the bees” do not affect procreating couples only. It is a legitimate medical, social, economic and political concern that can affect all of us.

We see this in the high maternal mortality rate in our country in which, most of the maternal deaths are caused by induced abortion due to reasons like not having enough resources to raise another child, already having more than enough children and the pregnancy occurring soon after the birth of the last child. Behind this scenario is an even grimmer reality that some of the unwanted pregnancies – that often lead to abortions, induced or not – are results of forced sex. We also see it in every teenage pregnancy, birth death, in every family sinking further into financial expenses with every unplanned pregnancy and even in our twisted patriarchal society that sees the number of children as a measure of one’s manhood.

All these problems have the same roots: lack of information and education on reproductive health rights and responsibilities. It is about time that we stop thinking about the subject of sex as vulgar, immoral or indecent. We have to consider that given the proper venue and equipped with correct data, sex can also be a basis for an intelligent and relevant discussion. It can also serve as a foundation for a well-informed and empowered citizenry, which we believe is the key to every individual’s physical, social, emotional and spiritual development. It is by having this state of well-being that people can make responsible decisions about themselves and their family.

Knowing how important this bill is and being fully aware of its implication on our society, we are therefore saddened about the way it is being treated in public discussions – how its significance is becoming limited to such derogatory labels as ”abortion bill,” “anti-family,” “anti-poor” and “anti-life.” Instead of engaging in intelligent and factual arguments and discussions it was summed up by a five-letter word – DEATH which stands for Divorce, Euthanasia, Abortion, Total population control and Homosexuality.

These claims only reaffirm long-established biases and prejudices that only limit our perspective of social realities. The RH Bill’s emphasis is not simply on propagation but on the manner and circumstance whereby each life is brought to the world, that each individual will have a chance at a better life if he or she has access to the government’s services and the nation’s resources. This can only be guaranteed by proper population management, not total population control, and its success is anchored on informed choices, not contraceptive use alone as some detractors might claim and definitely not on empty threats uttered from the pulpit, which has been the Church’s recourse lately.

We therefore appeal to the bill’s detractors with a single message: READ BEFORE YOU JUDGE! If you do, you might just find out that there is really nothing to argue about. The bill is also pro-poor, pro-family and most importantly, pro-“quality” life. Its impact on our society are far greater than the half-truths and misconceptions that you keep throwing in its path. By focusing on the bill’s potential mistakes, we are depriving ourselves of its many advantages and are only limiting ourselves in the process.

We are for House Bill 5043!

Read it!     Support it!     Uphold it!





Statement of the Press Photographers of the Philippines (PPP) - Iloilo Chapter

The Press Photographers of the Philippines (PPP) Iloilo Chapter condemns in the strongest term possible the callousness and insensitivity of retired Chief Insp. Dionisio Duco, chief security of the Iloilo City Mayor’s Office, and several policemen in physically removing internationally acclaimed photojournalist Joe Haresh Tanodra, also President of PPP Aklan-Boracay chapter, and Ricky Alejo of Pinoy Parazzi from the Iloilo Freedom Grandstand while covering the festivities.

Even if Mr. Tanodra and Mr. Alejo had failed to secure accreditation from the festival organizers to cover events at the Iloilo Freedom Grandstand, this does not justify the harsh treatment they suffered from the hands of Duco and his men, an act that befits only criminals and those who are threats to national security.

The physical removal of Mr. Tanodra from Iloilo Freedom Grandstand is a blatant display of contempt and disrespect to the Fourth Estate which has been an indispensable partner of the Iloilo Dinagyang Foundation and the Iloilo City Government in promoting Dinagyang and other tourism events in this part of the Philippines.

This sends a wrong signal that the press can be bullied by anyone with power and authority from top guns to the lowly chief security officer like the brute Mr. Duco, that they can be hogtied and thrown out like pigs, or worse, can be slaughtered like the scores of journalists killed in the Philippines since the restoration of democracy in 1986.

While keeping order at the Iloilo Freedom Grandstand is a must during the holding of the Dinagyang festival, the role of security personnel is not above the role of the press in covering it. Having an orderly conduct of the Dinagyang may be a welcome sight, but such tourism spectacle can never achieve its ends without the reporters writing about it and without photojournalists capturing its colors and grandeur.

Dinagyang may be the best tourism event in the Philippines, but if the likes of Mr. Duco are allowed to spoil the spirit of the festivities, then festival organizers – the Iloilo Dinagyang Foundation and the Iloilo City Government – there is really nothing to be proud about it.

We therefore call on Mayor Jerry Treñas and Chief Supt. Isagani Cuevas to mete necessary disciplinary actions on Mr. Duco and the policemen involved in this unfortunate incident, without prejudice to our right to file appropriate legal actions not only on the harm that Mr. Tanodra has suffered but also on the damages incurred on his camera.

Signed this 25th day of January 2009 in Iloilo City, Philippines.



PPP Iloilo Chapter


PHOTOJOURNALIST OUT, PRETTY LADY STAYS. Retired policeman Dionisio Duco, chief security of Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas in white shirt, and several policeman talked to international photojournalist Joe Haresh Tanodra to get out of the Judging Area No. 1 in front of the Iloilo Freedom Grandstand a public area during the staging of the Dinagyang Festival, for the simple reason that his accreditation indicates that he should be in Judging Area No. 2 but not taking into consideration that a pretty lady who is not a member of the press is also busy taking photos and yet allowed to stay in her post. Tanodra was later dragged out physically by the men out of the area.  (JESSIE CASABAR / PNS)





Inspiring note on agrarian reform

January 11, 2009

It’s nice to know that up to this point in time, there still are people in Leyte and Samar who wish to avail themselves of the good returns from the now extended-to-June agrarian reform program.  They are offering their lands for acquisition under this government program and for payment by the Land Bank of the Philippines via the voluntary offer to sell (VOS) scheme.  This is a welcome response to the resolution jointly passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives that extends the program to accommodate more VOS offers.

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A letter reaching me says that its senders wish to consult me about their agricultural lands in Basey. Samar where I am now concentrating on helping develop a plan for the Samar Settlement area of which more than 10,000 hectares are said to be found inside the territory of Basey, north of the town proper.   I opened the letter only this week and I immediately wondered if the lands of the letter writers are located somewhere in this area.  If these are on the outskirts of barrios Mabini, Old San Agustin, Cogon, Cancaiyas, Villa Aurora and Balante, towards the poblacion of Basey.  If they are, then, the proper official of the Department of Agrarian Reform to consult is municipal agrarian reform officer Norma C. Gutierrez who holds office at the two storey residential home of Augusto “Romeo” Padua at Lawaan, Basey, along Bungansakit street.  The letter writers did not indicate, though, where their lands are located.

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 I had other mails opened also just this week. Although some of them were postmarked as early as July, I had not bothered myself about them, all from private persons.  I didn't those letters to take my time away from my work.  During the past months, I was too busy with my field work and data gathering for the Settlement.  With the help of God the Almighty, despite security threats and failing health (they say it’s normal for one getting older - a friend in Malaysia has suggested that I retire from government service this mid-July so that I can join him in the foreign land of his choice), I was able to almost reach my quota until December 22, except that most of the Basaynon individuals that I was able to document as applicants for free land title to lands inside the Settlement do not come from the barrios that I have mentioned above.

Two major reasons prevented many Basaynons from applying for the land title.  One: the continuing threat of presence of members of the New People’s Army whom they have known to have somehow managed to exercise some control on certain movements and activities in those areas.  Two:  non-Basaynons have kept coming down to the Basey side of the Settlement, to farm, and to claim ownership of the lands which they began showing interest in when Basaynons started showing fear for the roaming armed NPA members. (The area nearest to the outskirt towards the poblacion that had been intruded by the non-Basaynons is known to local farmers as Kamalig, which is nearer to sitio Guinpongduan of Cogon, or thereabouts.)

The killing last year of a former sangguniang bayan member right at the time when he was visiting his big farm (restored to him from being a "communal farm" of the NPA, by then 62nd Infantry Battalion commander Lt. Col. Jonathan Ponce) to attend to a survey team, excited fear to own lands in the interior parts of Basey even among Basaynons who have preferential right to those lands.

Accounts to this effect had been expressed in various occasions, including in pulong-pulongs called by those from the government, the latest transpiring during the last few weeks of November.

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Greetings of a happiest birthday to Francisco “Gorbie” Maraya, Jr. from Joschie and his closest friends.  Gorbie turned 30 last January 9.  This trustworthy account specialist of San Miguel Corporation who is now on his newest assignment in Kalibo, Aklan of Panay province, was formerly a varsity tennis player of Leyte Normal University and sangguniang Kabataan official of Brgy. 5, Tacloban City.

Happy fifth wedding anniversary, too, to you and your pretty wife, Shirley “Ging” Maraya, nee Nicolas, the sales information assistant for Eastern Visayas of San Miguel Corp.. (They exchanged vows on the 9th of January in 2003.) - Greetings from Well-wishers Forever.




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