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

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Rizal Park is not for sale

What’s in a name?: Take 2

Why Torture Is Wrong?

Torturers and their victims: how the Anti-torture law is failing, and why

PCID Statement on the signing of the Annex on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing

Professional independence of judges and lawyers central to the protection and promotion of human rights, the rule of law and democracy in Asia

MPC Statement on the 45th Anniversary of the Jabidah Massacre

Statement on the Lahad Datu situation

Problems in enforcing Anti-Torture and Cybercrime Laws

The Express Publications, completing a Silver Jubilee of media service





Historical moment for Filipinos – signing of peace agreement ending the conflict in Mindanao

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
March 27, 2014

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to congratulate the Filipino people, notably the people of Mindanao, for the landmark signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) today. The MILF is the biggest rebel group in Mindanao.

After 17 years of protracted negotiations, the MILF and the Government of the Philippines (GPH) have finally agreed to end the conflict in Mindanao in lieu of the creation of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), a Bangsamoro region with greater structure and form of autonomy. This would-be Bangsamoro region will absorb the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The establishment of the BJE is anchored "on the recognition of the right of the Bangsamoro to have their own government." The BJE will be governed by a Basic Law, containing the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people, their fundamental freedoms and rights to self determination, under the Philippines Constitution.

The island of Mindanao and the people living in it, who, not only suffer but have witnessed decades of wars – by the loss of their fathers, mothers, siblings, children and neighbours – due to war, will now have a chance to enjoy peace. The people and the island have shown to us that despite fear, distrust and deep divisions in the past, by way of dialogue and negotiations, political, social and cultural differences will always have a place for a political solution.

Today is not only a historical moment for the Bangsamoro, whereby their long struggle, their aspirations for self determination, have now become a reality; but also for the Filipino people – inside and outside the country – who continue to dream for the end of the conflict in Mindanao.

As the AHRC welcomes this political settlement, ending four decades of insurgencies in Mindanao, it urges both parties to ensure that the institutions of justice, to which the aspirations of the Bangsamoro's would be realize, are developed, function and work. The signing of agreement is only the beginning. The tedious and hard work to ensure the people's aspirations are transformed into a reality lies ahead.

For now, the entire Filipino people, notably the people in Mindanao, should enjoy and be congratulated on achieving this historical moment for peace.





Pursue the peace talks and genuine post-Yolanda reconstruction, free Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria

A Press Statement by the National Democratic Front (NDF) Eastern Visayas
March 26, 2014

In behalf of the worst-hit region of the Supertyphoon Yolanda, we in the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Eastern Visayas express our strongest condemnation of the illegal arrest by the Aquino regime's security forces of Comrade Benito Tiamzon and Comrade Wilma Austria, senior leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), together with five other comrades last March 22. We join the peace advocates in demanding their immediate release in accordance with the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) between the NDFP and the Government of the Philippines (GPH). We condemn the Aquino regime for fabricating criminal charges against the married couple and their companions, and for falsely claiming that such common crimes will negate the JASIG, among other contemptible excuses to deny the comrades their freedom.

To refresh the public's mind, after the supertyphoon hit last Nov. 8, the national leadership of the CPP declared a unilateral ceasefire in the affected regions in solidarity with the suffering people and for the facilitation of humanitarian aid. In Eastern Visayas, the NPA strictly observed a unilateral ceasefire that lasted for 60 days even while the Armed Forces of the Philippines carried out its brutal Oplan Bayanihan. The CPP leadership also directed the New People's Army (NPA) and other revolutionary forces to carry out relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in the affected regions. The NPA continues to help in the tilling of communal farms, promotion of quick-growing food and cash crops, rebuilding of ravaged communities, and other struggles to uplift the people's conditions in the wake of Supertyphoon Yolanda.

It is therefore a gross insult to the survivors of Supertyphoon Yolanda for the GPH to arrest Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria while they were performing their duties as CPP leaders overseeing how revolutionary work was helping the recovery in the storm-stricken areas in the Visayas. We are outraged at the depths that the Aquino regime can stoop to in bastardizing the peace process and the post-Yolanda reconstruction. While the NPA observed a unilateral ceasefire after the storm to concentrate on helping the people, the Aquino regime was sending armed troops to Tacloban City to quell the people's dissatisfaction at the absence of immediate relief. Without any shred of sympathy for the plight of the people, the GPH also refused a reciprocal ceasefire with the NPA whom it scorned as the “enemy of the state.” The Aquino regime also used the calamity to give license to the violation of national sovereignty by thousands of foreign troops using the pretext of humanitarian aid, as well as justify the forging of a new military agreement with the US allowing the virtually permanent basing of the latter's troops.

The Aquino regime also faces increasing criticisms, if not over the lack or wastage of relief goods, then over the distribution as well of rotten and worm-ridden goods in Eastern Visayas, among its other sins to the victims. The regime is engaged in high-level corruption with the private sector comprising the firms of the comprador big bourgeoisie and the imperialists that are monopolizing the post-Yolanda reconstruction. Even the so-called Reconstruction Assistance for Yolanda is a sell-out program diminishing, among others, the P75 billion damage to agri-fisheries, and thus denying the people's economic well-being. Meanwhile, the high government officials, compradors and imperialists are happy with the government reconstruction program assuring them of fat public works contracts. Coastal communities are also banned from rebuilding, thus displacing hundreds of thousands of urban poor and fisherfolk in favor of big business. If the people were already suffering even before Supertyphoon Yolanda struck, they are certainly worse off today and not just because of the storm. Survivors of calamity, they are now victims of the Aquino regime's anti-people reconstruction program.

The refusal to release Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria as NDFP peace consultants highlights the grim social conditions where the Aquino government's fascism and criminal negligence oppress the Yolanda survivors and the Filipino people. Even while the Yolanda survivors struggle to rebuild their lives in Eastern Visayas, the Aquino government pursues widespread militarization through Oplan Bayanihan to oppress the struggling people and retain exploitative conditions. Furthermore, the Yolanda survivors will not truly recover when government reconstruction means the further entrenchment of the big landlords, compradors, foreign mining capitalists and other imperialist interests.

The arrival at an agreement for socio-economic reforms is long overdue in the peace talks between the NDFP and GPH. Thus, if the Aquino government is at all interested in genuine recovery for the Yolanda survivors, it should speedily release Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria along with other peace consultants to resume the peace talks and tackle the highly significant subject of post-Yolanda reconstruction, among other socio-economic reforms. All political prisoners must likewise be released as a matter of justice. The longer the Aquino regime refuses to resume the peace talks, the more indignant will the Yolanda survivors and the people become, and the more militant in advancing their interests through the revolutionary armed struggle and the revolutionary mass movement.





PCID Statement on the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement for the Bangsamoro
March 26, 2014

The Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID) welcomes the historic signing of the Comprehensive Agreement for the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the national government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The agreement sets the parameters for the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the drafting of which is anticipated to be completed before Congress opens. After over 17 years of the peace process between the government and MILF, sustainable peace seems to be within reach and with it, the transformation of Bangsamoro and Mindanao dreams to reality.

Through the years, we have seen the initiatives and efforts to establish a peaceful and democratic relationship between national government and the Muslim liberation movements, from the MNLF to the MILF. We have been witnesses to the Bangsamoro’s struggle for their identity, for fair and good governance, and for inclusive growth and development. We hope that with this agreement in place, the government can now work on the convergence of the two peace agreements forged with the MNLF and the MILF, and proceed to focus much needed attention on the socio-economic and political development of the region to attain genuine autonomy.

We at PCID believe that this agreement, if realized, will provide a strong foundation for prosperity and inclusive growth, not just for the Bangsamoro but for all peoples of Mindanao and the entire country as well. We pray that the spirit of the Agreement will permeate the Bangsamoro Basic Law. We congratulate and thank our government, the MILF, the Bangsamoro and peace advocates, Malaysia for facilitating the negotiations, the ICG as well as all of those who supported the GPH-MILF peace process to its the successful conclusion.

We give special thanks to the men and women of the negotiating panels for their unwavering commitment to peace, patience and perseverance as well as the men and women in the Office of the Presidential Adviser of the Peace Process.






Let’s surrender to win

By Fr. Roy Cimagala,
March 26, 2014

MANY people today, sad to say, are having difficulty sleeping, eating and, worse, achieving a certain balance and stability in their life because of the many new things that lead them to long bouts of distraction, self-seeking and eventually utter self-exhaustion.

They are losing the proper focus in life, and their sense of priority has practically become a big mess, since they are slowly realizing that they are getting enslaved by gadgets and held hostage by the strong, almost irresistible impulses of the flesh and the varied allurements of the world.

Many of them know these impulses and allurements go against reason and their common sense, let alone, their Christian faith. They know they are showing symptoms of addiction.

Depending on the degree of severity, some can handle this predicament and can manage to come out of it. But there are others who find it hard, if not impossible. They seem to be under the total control of these errant impulses and deceptive allurements.

It’s time to remind ourselves of the truth that we need to surrender ourselves to God if we want to live our life properly. We cannot serve two masters, we are told, and God is the only Master we have.

Christ precisely told us: “He who is not with me is against me. And he who gathers not with me scatters.” (Lk 11,23) In short, we need to be with Christ if we want to avoid dispersion and dissipation, and to achieve unity, coherence and effectiveness in life.

A case in point are the many young people hooked to games in the computer and in their mobile phones. Many times they lose sleep, they eat at odd times, fail to study, pray and live normal family life. They fail to carry out even their basic duties, like keeping good hygiene.

Older people are not exempted from this predicament. Many have fallen into activism, ‘professionalitis’ and similar discrepancies, and all kinds of vices, difficult to extricate from. There is now a clear surge of inordinate, immoderate attachment to technology that fascinates people externally but impoverishes them internally.

We have to be wary of these developments and learn to take up the appropriate antidote. This is none other than learning the art of surrendering ourselves to God from whom, we are told, “all good things come.”

We should not be afraid to be “servants” of God, yielding ourselves to him rather than to our flesh, world and the devil. We have to be convinced that it is in surrendering to God that we would have our true joy and peace. He is the true source and keeper of life, power, wisdom, rest, etc.

This art of surrendering to God echoes what Christ himself constantly taught: that we need to die to ourselves or to lose our life to allow the life of God to take root and blossom in our life.

As intelligent and free beings, we always have to make a choice between God and ourselves, between good and evil, etc. This choice is done every step of our earthly life.

May we always make the right choice and know how to detect the subtle tricks of our wounded flesh, the fugitive world and the clever devil. We have to be clear as to whom we ought to be beholden. We need to feel indebted, because obviously we were not the ones who gave what we have.

Is it God, or is it ourselves, the world, or worse, the devil? Our problem is that we tend to feel self-sufficient, to make ourselves our own god, the standard and measure of things. We tend to think that our freedom begins and ends with ourselves, otherwise it would not be freedom.

That’s why there is a great need for us to surrender ourselves. The most difficult enemy that we have is our own selves, and specifically our will that often refuses to be subjected to God’s will, its creator and lawgiver. We prefer to make our will absolutely our own.

This is obviously a distortion of reality. Our will is a creature. It is not self-generated. It cannot simply be by itself. It has to submit itself to its Creator who gives it its proper law and direction.

Many people, especially the saints among them, have testified that it is when they surrender their will to God’s will they enjoy true joy and peace in spite of the unavoidable sacrifices involved.

Those sacrifices serve as purifying and expiating agents that would put our will in its proper orbit with God at the center.





Sense of sin

March 25, 2014

IT is inherent in our rational nature that we develop an idea of what is right and wrong. As soon as we are old enough to use our reason, aside from perceiving and knowing things, we start to distinguish what is good and evil.

Obviously, our capacity to distinguish good from bad starts in a primitive stage, kind of shallow and very limited in scope, based solely what we see and feel, and not much more. But with time, experience and education, this capacity grows and hopefully matures.

It is for this reason that we all have the need to base ourselves on the very foundation of reality, the very source of what is moral and immoral. This is none other than God, the author and creator of the universe.

Grounding our capacity to distinguish between right and wrong on another basis would set us on the offside. Sadly, this is what is happening these days. There seems to be a systematic distancing from God and a growing dependence on our own ideas, ideologies, philosophies, and other methods that practically ignore or are even hostile to God.

We need to remind ourselves strongly these days that we need God for us to know and judge properly. We just cannot depend entirely on our legal and technological systems, for example, no matter how sophisticated they have been developed.

For this to happen, we need faith to give substance and direction to our reason. Reason cannot stand on its own. It is incomplete without faith. In practical terms, this means we need to overcome our tendency to make ourselves the standard, the ultimate lawgiver.

It is God who is all of these, and we need to enter into an intimate relation with him to know and judge things properly. Thus, we need to pray, to talk to him and get to know and love him more and more. We need to study his teaching, now the doctrine of the Church. We need to develop virtues, have recourse to the sacraments. Only then can we be intimate with God, and live and work always with him.

One big problem that the world today faces is the loss of the sense of sin. Many people do not anymore know what sin really is. Many think sin is only a matter of what is legally prohibited, socially tabooed, politically incorrect, or what is unpopular, what turns out to be a failure in some sense, etc.

This loss of the sense of sin, greatly lamented by many saints and popes, is mainly due to our drifting away from God. Thus, we are now even legalizing what are actually outright sins like abortion, contraception, many forms of sensuality and corruption, etc.

These developments reflect what St. Paul once said: “For many…are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” (Phil 3,17)

To have the proper sense of sin, we need to meditate on the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. There we can see both the ugliness of sin as well as the unending mercy of God, since as St. Paul also said, “where sin has abounded, grace has abounded even more.” (Rom 5,20)

Yes, it’s our faith more than our reason alone that captures the true essence of what is sinful. It’s also our faith that gives us hope where reason tends to plunge us into despair whenever we consider our attitude toward our sinfulness.

Our faith teaches us how to deal with sin. It tells us that whenever we are tempted, let us be tempted always with Christ and not simply by ourselves, so that we would know how to overcome the devil with Christ also. We cannot do this just by ourselves.

Let’s be convinced that in this life we cannot avoid temptations. But as St. Augustine once expressed it, if we are with Christ, the temptations can serve to occasion spiritual progress, since “no one knows himself except through trial, or receives a crown except after victory, or strives except against an enemy or temptations.”

As St. James said in his letter, we are put to the test to make us patient, since patience would make us “fully-developed, complete, with nothing missing.” (1,4)

We just have to humbly accept our guilt, but neither should we forget the unfailing mercy of God. We should not be afraid or ashamed to acknowledge our sin. But we should neither be despondent of God’s mercy. His delight is to forgive us!





Cruising the digital world

March 20, 2014

WE have to learn how to cruise the digital world. It’s practically part of everyone’s life now, offering a lot of good but also a lot of dangers. We should know how to make use of it without compromising our dignity as persons and children of God.

This highly technological world introduces us to a virtual environment that is like a super-superhighway with much heavier and more complicated traffic than what we experience in our busiest thoroughfares. Its range and scope is not local but global, and it touches on practically all aspects of our life.

If in our transport systems, we need regulations like registration of vehicles, licensing of drivers with their respective periodic renewals, and other things like traffic road signs and traffic aides, etc., we have to realize that we need more or less the same set of regulations in our digital world.

Obviously, the regulations here would be more extensive and comprehensive than what we have in our transport systems. They should cover not only considerations of practicality and convenience in our needs of knowledge and communication, but also and more importantly, considerations of appropriateness, morality and spirituality.

Everyone knows that the digital world can have two effects. It is good to those who are good, and in fact, it will improve them. But it is bad also to those who are bad or weak, and it tends to worsen them.

Digital citizens and users should therefore be clear about their identity and dignity as persons and children of God who are supposed to be ruled by truth and love, and all their consequences of justice, mercy, compassion, and of concern for one another and for strengthening our relation with God, etc.

The ideal would be that every time they are in the digital environment, they should learn to see God there and to be motivated only by love for God and for others. They should ask themselves after using the Internet, “Am I now a better person and child of God with what I have seen and done in the Internet?”

Unless this basic requirement is met, one would enter into a highway that is a slippery slope toward all forms of self-seeking with their usual company of greed, envy, vanity, lust, gluttony, sloth, etc. Conflict and contention would not be remote in this arena. Unrestrained competition and rivalry would surge.

That is why, this identity of the digital citizens as persons and children of God who are necessarily connected with everybody else and governed by truth and love should always be protected, maintained and strengthened.

Toward this end, it stands to reason that digital citizens and users should be men and women of prayer, of virtues, of clear criteria based on sound human and Christian moral principles. They should know the true nature and meaning of freedom, avoiding using freedom as “a cloak for malice,” as St. Peter said in his first letter. (2,16)

Otherwise, they would be confused and lost, and an easy prey to the many subtle conditionings all of us are exposed to – physical, emotional, psychological, social, cultural, historical, economic, political, etc.

And since many young people are very much involved in the digital world, the elders and others of authority and influence should do everything to inculcate in them very deeply this proper identity and dignity of being persons and children of God, brothers and sisters with one another, ruled by truth and love.

These youngsters are typically highly driven by their curiosities, but with curiosities that spring and are maintained usually by unpurified impulses and peer pressure. They really need to be taken care of, but in an appropriate way, since they also do not like to be treated like babies.

If before a youngster is allowed to drive a car in our public road system, he has to have the proper age requirement, the appropriate physical and health condition, and has to be trained and tested, then it stands to reason that this youngster all the more would need a similar kind of requirements before he is allowed to cruise in the more dangerous digital thoroughfares.

This attitude toward the digital world should be developed first of all in the family, then in churches and schools, and then in other public places like offices, hospitals, etc.

We should understand that the digital world is not a free-for-all world. It would be a deadly understanding of freedom if that is how we understand the freedom we enjoy in our digital world.

It has to be properly regulated so we can cruise it safely and fruitfully.





In the face of government neglect, Yolanda survivors clamor for continuing aid

A press statement by the People Surge
March 3, 2014

In five days, this March 8, the Yolanda survivors will be marking the fourth month of the disaster. And genuine help from the government remains bleak. The recent news show the real state of the survivors. In one the most badly-hit areas, the municipality of Guiuan, Eastern Samar, all the survivors could do is pin their hopes on the micro-lending facilities promised by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

But why would the government need to lend money to the survivors? Why make profit out of the dire conditions of the survivors? Why won’t the government simply give survivors financial capital to start their lives anew, such as in the immediate cash assistance for the survivors that People Surge is demanding?

In Eastern Samar where 59% of the population is poor, there is too little possibility that the survivors would be able to pay the interest rates and even the capital of the credit that would be loaned to them. What is more alarming are the consequences the survivors will have to pay in case they would not be able to pay back their debts.

The President’s recent visit to the calamity-stricken areas should have shown him the depth and gravity the disaster had wrought upon the citizens, and how these conditions continue to worsen with each day that the government is not implementing genuine help for the survivors. Had he truly looked closely at the survivors, he would have realized the justness of the demands of People Surge for the distribution of the P40,000 immediate cash relief for every affected family, and the need for continuing relief operations.

It is of great help to the survivors that there are members of the Lower House who feel the need to support the campaign of the survivors for the said demands. The survivors hope there will be more lawmakers who will support their cause and pass the necessary bills and resolutions to directly hand over to the survivors the funds that were raised in their names. It is the survivors who know what they truly need and they have every right to claim what is theirs. And what they have long needed is sufficient government aid to get back to their feet.

The continuing help from international agencies are most welcome to the survivors. But their presence is not a valid reason for the government to be largely absent. The survivors persist in their clamor for the accountability of the Aquino government to identify and address the most immediate needs of the survivors, and strongly condemn its continuous negligence and lack of sincerity in alleviating the lives of the survivors. The President should know that the survivors will persevere in their clamor until true justice and genuine help from the government will materialize.



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