Archive for August, 2008

What’s common in C-130 plane crash, Sulpicio Lines’ sinking & the “MOA-ancestral domain” controversy

August 31, 2008

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) symbolic coffins of people presumed dead in a C-130 cargo plane crash bring a message. Barely a week has passed that the 9 military personnel went missing. Many think it’s too soon to dismiss them as dead, much more mourn with a posthumous memorial when no exhaustive search for their bodies have been done.

The flag-draped tribute for the brave soldiers was emotionally-moving. (Photo Credit: Philstar) The same day as the Philippine Navy (PN) announced having found the site of crash, the glum spectacle of honoring those who “perished,” went on. Nobody reported having retrieved a body. No one knows from whom the pieces of human flesh found in the crash site belong to. Only a lonely badge of “Armadong Kusog ng Pilipinas,” ID cards, and an assortment of personal effects stand as evidence of death, convincing high-ranking military officers to “close” the grim case.

Declaring a quick closure on missing persons has become too common in the Philippines. When Abu Sabaya was allegedly swallowed by the sea during a bloody confrontation with the military, a pair of sun-glasses was all that was needed to tell the world, the notorious Abu Sayyaf hostage-killer of Christian missionary Martin Burnham with a hefty cash bounty on his head, was dead. Fabled money was exchanged swiftly as the news rolled in, confusing the public with embarrassing inconsistencies in government statements and media reporting.

Many passengers of the Princess of the Stars were presumed to have passed on almost immediately when the ferry ship was found grounded near Sibuyan Islands. Similarly, the Dona Paz collision with tanker Vector brought fast presumption of deaths, including those not included in the ship manifest.

It seems the military authorities rushed beyond their call of duty by presuming these people were all dead. Military bravery and “efficient” swiftness were perhaps what they wanted to project. But they ignored the medico-legal ramifications of declaring a missing person dead—-something reminiscent of the gaffe behind the bungled memorandum of agreement-ancestral domain (MOA-AD,) tossed to the Supreme Court when Philippine peace negotiators (military men involved) didn’t do enough to ascertain the applicability and legality of giving away territorial concessions to the MILF.

The distribution of cash awards to relatives of unverified dead victims of Sulpicio Lines (Princess of the Stars.) was another thing. Without waiting if the “dead” people involved were truly among the passengers in the boat which sank at the height of Typhoon Frank, there were offers to silence the victims’ relatives with cash. For sometime now, the uproar raised by the mishap had died down quickly as the lawsuits that followed.

Certainly, there are laws governing the declaration of death of a missing person. They have serious practical applications which cover diverse issues such as settling of a decedent’s estate, the awarding of inheritance, indemnity claims, insurance benefits, the exercise of a citizen’s rights to vote, accountability for a crime or contracting marriage.

Let us take contracting marriage as an example. To the best of my knowledge the Philippine Family Code stipulates in Article 41 a 4-year wait before a missing person to be declared dead for the purpose of re-marriage. The waiting time is shortened to two years for a spouse, if the missing person presumably passed on in a sea voyage—- like the sinking of the Sulpicio Lines ferry or in a the falling of an aircraft from the sky like the missing persons of the C-130 plane crash.

At a glance, one can see how often the law is brushed aside. With out following the judicial rules, empty coffins are paraded which seem to perturb the silent public. No one raises any objection— not even the grieving victims’ relatives who took P60,000 (less than $2,000) as “financial” aids for the “death” of their loved ones. =0=

UPDATE: September 2, 2008, a day after the military’s posthumous tribute was held, 7 bodies out of 9 were allegedly recovered. Though not all bodies were complete, waiting for some time was more appropriate so taht the remains of those who perished in C-130 plane crash could be included in the memorial. In keeping with the law, a premature declaraion of death could be avoided.

Land domains and the language of peace

August 31, 2008

As pretty as the sea shells that dangle in the wind along pristine shores of Gubat, Sorsogon, the sound of Bicol is as musical as Waray. It’s the language of neighbor-islands that is as wonderful as the photo of polished cowries adorning the shell décors crafted by Gubatnons in the Southern tip of Luzon.

To me, it’s not the differences in how we speak that counts, but the similarities that can help us move on as a nation. By the similar language we speak, we must be blessed in harmony the Warays.

In Apolonio Baylon’s insightful explanation why geography is important in the ultimate solution of the Mindanao strife, I find language as a plus factor for peace. Do Moslems and Christians speak the same language too? We all must seek such commonality more than our difference. We must transcend beyond ethnicity and religion to overcome the barriers of bias and hate.

Sharing a language and redefining territorial boundaries as proposed in MOA-AD may determine how much gold the earth’s bowels can give us, but in finality, the initiatives for peace between us is the way to go in coming to terms with each other— in banishing animosity in our soul. Greater than ourselves and undoubtedly more precious, we must all work for peace. =0=

Bicol Gubatnon or Southern Sorsogon Bicol

August 31, 2008

Decades ago i dread going to Bulan, Sorsogon. Though fluent in many Bikol dialects I really can’t follow what the residents of Southern Sorsogon speak. I came to know later that residents of that area also have difficulty following the spoken dialects of Daraga, Albay and Legazpi City once they go in those places. I just told myself, “Hah, Bikol dialects are really much different from each other.”

Decades later I came across the website “Ethnologue” which is one of the most-known language classification services, widely-cited and used by some official agencies.  And, lo and behold, (surprise! surprise!) it classifies Bikol Gubatnon or Southern Sorsogon Bikol as a Waray dialect. I asked myself, “How can that be?”.

Trying to resolve the puzzle I texted a friend in Gubat, Sorsogon. I asked her if she can understand Samarnon. She answered, “Yes, almost entirely.” Wow! “We can talk with Samarenos directly without translation.” “Do you realize Ethnologue classifies your dialect as Waray?”. “Oh, I didn’t know that!”.

I am wondering now what Ibalonians coming from Southern Sorsogon have to say on this.

(Map credit: globalpinoy)

A Primer On Lanao del Norte Geography (Why The Christians Doesn’t Want To Lose Territory)

August 31, 2008

Iligan City serves as the gateway to Lanao del Norte on its eastern end. Approaching it by sea (Lanao has no plane flights) one will have the immediate impression of hills and mountains rising just from the water’s edge. Entering Lanao del Norte via Tubod (the capital and secondary seaport) or Mukas, Kolambugan (the gateway from Ozamis City) which are both located near its western end the impression of a visitor will be the same. Lanao del Norte possesses just one small coastal plain centered around the town of Kapatagan (what a suggestive name!) on its western end.

Lanao del Norte’s main road hugs its northern shore and it is part of the Cagayan de Oro City-Pagadian City highway. It passes through Iligan City, Linamon, Kauswagan (scene of the recent fighting), Bacolod (namesake of the city in Negros Occidental), Maigo, Kolambugan (another scene of recent fighting and the biggest Moro town in the northern Lanao shores before but now Christian-dominated), Tubod (the new capital after Iligan City), Baroy (the site of the provincial high school), Lala and Kapatagan (where surrendered Huks were relocated in the ’50s). All of the mentioned town are now Christian-dominated.

Another main road branches south from Iligan City connecting it to Marawi City, the capital of Lanao del Sur. It passes through Balo-i (a half-Christian, half-Muslim town which is the site of the moribund airport and most of the generating plants of the Maria Cristina hydroelectric power complex) and Pantar (which is Muslim-dominated).

Outside of the highways the towns of Tagoloan (which is accessible during the dry season only using mainly 4-wheel drives), Poona Piagapo, Pantao Ragat, Munai, Tangcal, Nunungan, Sapad and Sultan Naga Dimaporo (formerly known as Caromatan and lair of the legendary Ali Dimaporo, the grandfather of the current governor and father of the congressman) which are all Muslim-dominated and needs “visas” (special permits from powerful persons) before one can visit. Aside from these towns the off-the main-road, half-Christian, half-Muslim towns of Matungao, Magsaysay and Salvador exists.

The Muslim-dominated towns normally provide the electoral cushion for the Dimaporos to continuously rule the province though the Muslim are the minority in the province. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that Iligan City, as a Highly Urbanized City and 90% Christian doesn’t vote in provincial elections though it constitutes 36% of the population of the province.

The Muslim-dominated towns and the Muslim portion of the half-Christian, half-Muslim towns are also the strongholds of the MILF. But I will hasten to add that the Dimaporos and the MILF do not see eye-to-eye since the Dimaporos fought on the side of Marcos since he came into power. The roads to these towns are generally very rough. It is not an unusual sight to see weapon carrier-type of jeeps in these localities.

Aside from the towns centers, in general the flat portion of the province is only one barangay deep. And once the elevation climbs it is already Muslim territory. Hence, aside from the town centers and the small coastal plain of Kapatagan-Lala the Christian territory only encompasses the barangays alongside the main road that hugs the northern coast. And in many places along the main road especially along the mouths of the rivers (a historical gateway to the interior Muslim towns) a cluster of Muslim barangays exists, localities that they controlled since the Spanish times. In these enclaves it is usually the crescent flag that flies and some of the checkpoints are not government checkpoints. In times of fighting this is the reason why evacuees prefer the sea route in going to Iligan City or Ozamis City which are government strongholds.

If the MOA-AD is followed and the Muslim-dominated areas are transferred to the BJE it is clear that Lanao del Norte will lose about 80% of its territory and more than a third of its population (like in Iligan City which stands to lose 84% of its territory if its 8 upland barangays is transferred to the BJE). This is not as simple as it sounds since the size of the IRA (Internal Revenue Allotment) is calibrated using the population size and territory as factors. In short it would also mean penury to the remaining entity and Lanao del Norte will probably look like a collection of enclaves in a map.

I suspect this will also be the situation in the other provinces where there is a sizable Muslim minority. They might be a minority in number but they sit on the bigger tracts of land. And in that bigger tracts of land probably lies the exploitable natural resources. And it seems  part of the vociferous opposition to the MOA-AD by Messrs. Lobregat, Pinol and Cruz resides in these.

(Map credit: globalpinoy)

Dispelling doubts & rushing “closure” in the C-130 plane crash

August 30, 2008

As the brass band played a funereal tune for the pilots and crew that were presumed dead following the downing of the C-130 cargo plane, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) seemed eager to rush the closure of the tragic crash. Against the collective hope of relatives that their loved ones would be back, the pilots and crew were given posthumous Distinguished Aviation Cross awards and their grieving loved ones, P60,000 each as financial assistance.

This is now the closure. Otherwise, we are prolonging the agony [of the families]… I cannot afford to give them false hopes. It was my tough decision to declare [that there could be no more survivors] based on what were recovered,” said PAF chief Lt. Gen. Pedrito Cadungog. Inquirer (08/30/08, Quismundo, T.)

But what has really been recovered? Is this the way we treat the missing? On the bases of a few personal effects, bits of human tissue, and location of the ill-fated plane, PAF has almost totally ruled out sabotage and terrorism because “tight” security measures,” were in place before the plane took fight. Was it true?

Soon after the crash, the military immediately suggested mechanical error, and at worst human error. This unfairly ascribed the “error” to the “dead” pilot and crewmen who couldn’t deny or prove it. With no convincing evidence, the military authorities had been asking the public to take their word for it.

It is misleading and downright faulty to rule that the missing persons died. Where are their remains? A few slivers of human flesh whose owner(s) isn’t identified do not automatically mean the person(s) died. It’s possible they could be still there—-waiting, badly injured in a remote island. There are many instances when missing persons return after sometime, no matter how hopeless their situation may be before their disappearance.

For the cause of truth and credibility, authorities must not rush into judgment. Search and rescue have been done for only 4 short days. With no time to wait, PAF authorities do not help themselves nor the missing persons’ family in “closing” the incident so quickly. So long as shortcuts in the investigation do not dispel doubts, the case isn’t closed.

What the military can do is to work on the root of the mysterious crash and gather evidence. DNA testing must be done on human tissues found to clarify from whom they came from. Investigators must collaborate with witnesses to help build a credible conclusion. Whatever impels the military to be too fast on conclusions is something the establishment knows by heart. =0=

Miss Bicolandia 2008 Search is On!

August 30, 2008

The Penafrancia Fiesta heats up with the presentation of candidates for the Miss Bicolandia 2008, the traditional search which highlights the famed annual festival of the Bicol region. On August 23, 2008, 20 hopeful candidates from different cities and provinces have been chosen from in an exciting poolside selection held at the Naga City Civic Center. In a dazzling evening pageant-competition, the winner will be crowned at the UNC Sports Palace on September 17, 2008.

According to Bicol Mail, a leading newspaper of the region, the young beautiful ladies vying for Miss Bicolandia 2008 are: Norify Kristal, Alexandra Raro, Mae Liezel Ramos, and Suserain Algura from Naga City; Alexis Joyce Beldon, Kelly Obligacion, and Amanda Powell from Legazpi City; Melody Adelheid Gersbach and Irene Loterena from Daraga, Albay; Katrina Villanueva (Cabusao), Ariane Natalie Lim (Canaman), Glaiza Reveza (San Fernando), Cherry Rose Juico (Caramoan), and Jean Babor (Baao), all of Camarines Sur; Margie Perena of San Andres, Catanduanes; Maricel Manzano of Masbate City; Honeyly Maninang of Iriga City; and Krystel Joy de los Santos, Ma. Farah Lopez, and Ma. Czarina Paita, all of Camarines Norte. Bicol Mail (08/30/08) (PhotoCredits: JerryLimLee)

The Narciso Ramos Highway:A Highway Of Peace Or A Highway Of War?

August 30, 2008

Last summer I went to Zamboanga City for a vacation. Upon the advice of my brother I took the long overland route via Lanao del Sur passing by the renowned Narciso Ramos Highway, named after the former President’s father. This is the new highway connecting Cotabato City in Sultan Kudarat and Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur. Before the opening of this highway one has to backtrack to Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental and Lanao del Norte before one can proceed to Pagadian City. The new highway cut travel distance by more than three-fourths. The alternative was to take the non-scheduled light plane or the overnight motor boat (when the fastcraft suspended service).

An offshoot of the opening of the highway is the opening of the Cotabato City-Marawi City-Iligan City van route which before did not also exist. Several new jeepney routes also came into existence serving the small Lanao del Sur towns.

I undertook this travel also as a present to myself because I will viewing sceneries and places that were formerly closed to the outside world (meaning Christian world). It means passing through Campo 1, the gateway to fabled Camp Abubakar of the MILF which they lost in the 2000 war. The highway also passes through Malabang, Lanao del Sur and Sultan Naga Dimaporo (formerly Caromatan), Lanao del Norte, two places that heretofore needs a “visa” (an unofficial permission by some powerful person) to be visited. Christians in Lanao del Norte normally spend their whole lifetime not being able to see these places.

The van I took in Cotabato City took an eternity to fill . There were only a few Christian passengers but the Muslims, just like my experience before, were courteous and non-threatening. Upon reaching a certain point they mounted their red roof light, an indicator they paid the right “taxes” and has the “proper” authority to travel. They turn on these lights during night travel to prevent strafing. No wonder that the fare was unusually high.

Along the way we passed through the known MILF towns including the town whose former mayor employed MILF fighters as security when he ventures into Iligan City. He was the first town executive to receive the symbolic key as the government’s gesture of “returning” the town to the “fold of law” during the 2000 war. And he was teary-eyed in the local TV when this happened. But I do not think it was from joy since he is generally known as a MILF mayor.

Many in Luzon and in Visayas do not know that the completion of the highway is one of the proximate cause of the 2000 AFP-MILF war. The government rerouted the highway so that it will pass through higher ground to which the MILF opposed since it will be cutting through the entrance of their central base, the Camp Abubakar. The AFP general in charge said they do not want to be passing in the lower ground as possible sitting ducks for ambuscades. The war “settled” who was “right.” The road passed through the higher ground.

Between Cotabato and Malabang and especially after Barira, Sultan Kudarat the terrain was generally hilly and forested. After Malabang it was generally flat and the land was obviously rich and not over-utilized. Crossing over to Zamboanga del Sur we passed over the legendary tunnel built by the Japanese during World War II. Afterwards we came over to Tukuran, seat of the former Iranun (a linguistic group related to the Maranaos) sultanate but now a half-Christian, half-Muslim municipality and then to Labangan, seat of a Muslim sultanate in earlier times (Pagadian City is a former barrio of Labangan). But in Tukuran and Labangan the Muslims are already a minority. And that is the long history of Muslim Mindanao. Once opened in a few decades time the Muslims become a minority in their native land.

A month ago a van carrying passengers along the Narciso Ramos Highway was waylaid. The gunmen let the Muslim passengers off but hijacked the van along with the 5 Christian passengers. The next day the 5 were found executed in a not-so-distant place. Together with the ongoing war I suspect that possibly civilian travel along the Narciso Ramos is now stopped.

That highway will be a marker in the future if it is again “peacetime” in Muslim Mindanao.

Was The MILF Suckered Into War?

August 30, 2008

In 2000, I was a keen observer of Erap’s war against the MILF. I was then living in Iligan City and information was readily available because  to forestall accusation of bias the media in Northern Mindanao practiced real free press where all sides were free to ventilate their side unrestricted. Showing of “hot” videos of the fighting and destruction and free discourses became the order of the day. That happened for a week until the government can no longer take the heat and  clamped down on the media by threatening to file sedition charges against the TV and radio stations.

But comparing the 2000 war and today’s war I am amazed by the current speed and comprehensiveness of the military advance. It is as if they have been ready all along to take the offensive. In 2000 though the military has already 38 batallions in Mindanao (by Erap’s own admission) they had to wait for several more batallions before attacking headlong the MILF strongholds.

Or is this the case of the military taking advantage of advanced technology provided to them by the US like satellite imagery, GPS tracking and sigint (signal intelligence)  tracking? News reports of the recent past shows Moro fighters in Sulu and Tawi-tawi complaining about this and as a result they find themselves being outmaneuvered in their own lair. Even Ka Roger, the CPP spokesman became media-shy after his close escape where he charged it was due to his being monitored through his interviews by media through his cell phone.

The government knows knows very well the psychological profile of Commander Bravo of being a hothead and having a history of defying their central leadership. Lanao residents won’t be surprised by his show of force following the cancellation of the MOA signing. Was the government counting all along on this so that there will be a ready excuse? Is the order to capture Commanders Bravo and Kato just a ruse to attack the other bases as the MILF is now charging?

If this is true then it means the MILF was suckered into war, a war that they cannot win. Will this mean that they will again lose territory like in 2000? The irony of this is that they are now at the losing end of the propaganda war and a perfect excuse was found to raise new paramilitary units.

It seems that GMA’s government promised the MILF something that really cannot happen if the reaction of the Supreme Court and the Christian body politic will be the gauge. And what the MILF got was not a signed document of peace but war.

Frog on the cross: insensitivity that they can’t do to the Moslems

August 29, 2008

In an environment of rising religious insensitivity, intolerance and persecution, a museum in northern Italy approved the display of a frog on a cross, the sacred symbol of suffering and redemption among Christians. (Photo Credit: AP/Seehauser,O.)

Negating religious sensitivity, the museum keepers insist on art freedom for showing a tasteless crappy “sculpture” that cause revulsion and sadness to many— not only to Christians worldwide, but to people of all backgrounds. They seem proudly convinced they are doing the right thing.

For fear of being nuked or killed, they couldn’t do such cowardly act and double standard with the Moslems if Islam’s Prophet Mohammed were to be portrayed in that insulting manner. Such affront to a particular religion must not be tolerated. Hyping a controversy that is likely to cause divisions, is the last thing responsible people need at a time when the world seeks unity, charity, and peace. =0=

Sen. McCain picks Gov. Sarah Palin as Republican veep candidate

August 29, 2008

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, 44, a working mom of 5 children, one afflicted with mongolism, has been chosen by Sen. John McCain as his vice-presidential running-mate in the Republican party for the November 4, 2008 US election.

A strong pro-life conservative who is against abortion and gay marriage, and favors oil drilling, Palin the first woman ever named in a Republican presidential ticket has a strong support from her constituency who gained prominence when she fought corruption in Alaska. A surprise choice, Palin will invigorate public scrutiny and realign voters as the campaign tightens when the voting date draws near. =0=