On the alleged PNP killings of young people 

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The killings of two young people, Kian and Carlos, remind me of an incident in a City in Mindanao that involved young people mostly minors who protested, on the day the President delivered his SONA, the extension of martial law in the region. We learned about it directly from two young people.

Their group, around 30 in all, were not several minutes at a spot on the main street with their placards when police came and hauled them into the waiting police vehicles (there were some in the group who were able to get away unobtrusively which caused the rest of the group to, later, accused them privately because “didn’t we say that we’d stick together no matter what?”). They were brought to the central precinct and held up there for almost four hours.

In the precinct, the police (except for one who they said treated them humanely) proceeded to verbally harass them, pressing them to own up “c’mon, who”s really behind this protest?” Media people were there but were basically useless. This treatment stopped when, first, somebody, a City resident who’s on the government’s peace panel, arrived to assist the youth group, and soon after, the lawyer for the youth group whose presence earned them their release.

The two young people had been recounting this to us in a light and humorous manner. In fact we laughed at some of their accounts while the head of my host organization interspersed the air with “congratulations!” He meant it as compliment for them being able to come out of that first experience in relatively good spirits. Still the young people’s group concluded it was the President’s mandate, that he was going against his own assurances of non-abuse during martial law.

Me, I was busy thinking. I was bothered and piqued that those policemen dared to act out of character to what no less than the President constantly reminds them to be especially during martial law. I probed the two young people further. I learned that the order to round up protesters on that particular day, the SONA, emanated locally, from the LGU, which purportedly didn’t want potential PR disasters in their backyard on such a day. A blanket official backing is cover that could justify the means, means that national government, the Office of the President or the PNP, may not be privy to. There were no similar orders from the LGUs in other areas. which points to discretion.

This is what I’m reminded of with Kian’s and Carlos’ death, the politicians’ and media people’s knee-jerk reaction, convinced as if they’ve all witnessed each and every incident first hand, as to who is behind the deaths: the President. A very dangerous and damaging thought considering

(1) the CCTV recording of what clearly are the backs of, was that, a couple of men, accosting, what appears as a younger man, is not conclusive. One wonders where the story of cops dragging someone named Kian blah blah blah popped out from. Anybody with clear vision and a brain will tell you it sure does not come from that recording;

(2) Senator Hontiveros appearing on the scene to take away the witnesses in order to protect them herself along with “another institution” promising “they’ll appear in Congress at the right time” is highly questionable, given that there are their families, the Barangay LGU, and the local social welfare office as the proper custodians. Next, we see the Senator at the Senate grilling the PNP, pressuring them to own up to their policy to kill indiscriminately, the authority coming from the President. In any case, my God, even if it was true, who is dumb enough to own up to something that’ll put your own head on the block? 

(3) the female witness who appeared in Congress has material information missing in her account, that anybody with a brain could tell. Materially incomplete accounts do more harm than good, as, one, people who are watching or listening are propelled toward wrong conclusions. 

Nothing therefore of what the politicians and media people said since the death of the teenager named Kian made sense. Who is to tell it was actually 10 men and 4 women (remember, the recording only shows the edge of the dragging scene such that there could be more than what appears on screen), two of whom were in police uniform the lucky ones caught on screen, who accosted a teen named Gian after a gang fight and brought him to a nearby alley where…in a corner they saw a dead body their age, which gave them such a scare they took off on all directions. What if that’s the true story of Kian, whose already dead body was found? Remember that reforms are like disturbing the mounds housing armies of red ants. 

On the other hand, what became clear out of these young people’s deaths are the relentless attempts to confuse the nation, to shake the people’s trust, to switch off the sunshine, to nail the country in perpetual third world mode, to usurp a legitimate Presidency. What’s even more disturbing is, this is not just in Duterte’s time, but true in past administrations as well. The first responders, citizens’ first line of defense, are the Barangay LGUs thus when residents get murdered in or abducted from their own villages the Barangay LGU is the first one accountable- what measures did they put up to make the alleys safe? to secure and protect residents? do they actually believe that CCTVs on every corner is enough? Citizens are working hard to pay their salaries but they, for instance, tanods couldn’t even put themselves in between residents and their attackers? Why are LGUs not called on the Senate hot seat? We’re moving in circles when it comes to failures of LGUs.

What is clear is, those behind these attempts are traitors, not only to the legitimate leader, but also to the republic. They’re just lucky that while the law is hostile to such acts, this government, unlike those in the rest of the world, tolerates treachery and treason. Real impunity is when people and institutions get away with words and actions that debase, divide, demoralize, and destabilize the nation and government rather than promote reflection and learning for reform and growth.

The people’s eardrums are near bursting from continously hearing of accusations against one individual, the President, Duterte and past ones, of human rights violations. What about institutionalized – politicians’ and civil servants’ compounded – violations of people’s human rights as a result of dirty politics and plain laziness?

What is clear is, no politician truly cares who or how a citizen dies as their bodies are mere playgrounds for political power.

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In the end, ang kawawa, those essentially ripped off of respect and dignity, victimized many times over, used, are people like Kian, the families they left behind, as well as the witnesses dragged into the public eye who have had no access to proper legal procedures hence justice.

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How does one pick up 1001 kinds of shit?

I’ve been off the news (except for the SONA which I replayed) the past weeks, partly for my own well-being. You see, there is so much more to the Philippines and the Filipino than what’s in the news. That is the truth. What gets in the news are – I will be blunt – biases of this and that editorial team from this and that agency. Featuring a 30-second statement out of an hour of speech or report is like zooming in on just a brow out of an entire person’s face– it doesn’t help audiences form right decisions and opinions. What if the person is actually blind in both eyes but the news is talking about his brow? Does that make any sense?

Inside a taxi late one night, my companions and I were listening to the news through the radio. The anchor was reporting about a drunken man in so-so neighborhood in so-so City  One drunk. On air for a good 10 minutes. I couldn’t help myself and blurted out, “how do these people do it? why that drunk out of probably fifty million Filipino men drinking out there? and why always about drunkards? what about the other half who are sober?” There was a few seconds of complete silence and then my companions burst out laughing. I realized it was because one of them, the executive director who was sitting in front, was once infamous for his drinking ways among local partners. He has since sobered up after a health scare. But, seriously, though, whose story gets published or reported? and what about the other half of the story?

So I was taken aback when on meeting my host after the weekend, he asked if I’ve heard the news- the raid in Ozamiz City that led to the Mayor’s death. “How?” I asked (it has been an interesting time since I came here. the news about the Marawi City siege and then Martial Law and everything in between). The response was that the Mayor’s security detail fought back. Soon as I got back to my place, I re-connected and replayed the news. Here are my thoughts:

This war on drugs stems from the repeated failure of local government especially Barangay and Municipal/City Local Government Units and citizens to address community issues before they morph into monsters. Once these are out of the community’s control, it’s not just the locals who suffer but also the wider community. Like what we have right now with this. And, look, the resolution to this drug abuse problem is being commuted back to the originating communities through the community-based MASA MASID (Mamamayang Ayaw Sa Anomalya, Mamamayang Ayaw Sa Iligal na Droga) program in which local teams that also include barangay volunteer-members are put in charge of managing the rehabilitation of drug abuse-surrenderees.

community based rehabilitation program masa masid

When I was told this, I was “oh.my.god. so many years gone to waste. if only the barangays and the people did this the first time the problem popped out instead of closing their eyes to the problem and believing that it can’t be solved thus allowing the problem to grow, grow, and grow out of proportion and control. we’re all so back to square one.” If I were the President, listening to this, I would’ve gone and grab the useless Barangay Captain and his cohorts by their ears and drag them a mile. Because- my god, my god, years and years of tax money gone to waste! Not to mention wasted years of otherwise productive lives.

National government DILG’s MASA MASID program is news-worthy topic that news agencies have not given equal air time to so that all people (and other countries) know is that the drug abuse problem in the country is being resolved through EJKs (which we should note were in the news as early as then former President Noynoy Aquino’s term). This begs the question, how is journalism – the ethical search for and telling of the entire truth – helping the nation to resolve the drug problem? Whose side are news agencies on? Their investors? Their businesses? What sells? Truth should not be sold as if it were a good nor chopped into pieces that make it impossible for audiences to understand the complete whole. Truth is integral to the personhood of human beings. Journalists messing with truth is like them chopping up the human body into unrecognizable pieces that anyone buying cannot distinguish it from minced livestock meat.

Finally, the people. The masses. What’s funny about the masses is that they continue to have fiestas and dancing on the streets even when they know where the money that funded the dancing came from. They dance long and hard for fiestas but not for basic medicines and equipments for their village health centers. They sing long and hard at neighbors’ birthday parties but not for roads in their villages. They approach the throne like very meek sheep for, like, maybe, food, clothing, shelter, and curse the same throne once they’re far away and have gotten the goods. Well, this is the sort of attitude and behavior that produces shit, not freedom, as the outcome.

And so, 1 + 1 = 1001. Elected local officials who live as if they will live forever + citizens not in the proper state of mind + media that keep their cameras on perpetual zoom mode = 1001 kinds of shit.

What is the proper way to go about picking up shit like this?

In any case, the weekend incident in Ozamiz City is yet another call for the nation to reform. Something we should’ve done a long time ago, since the time of Rizal and Bonifacio. To reform, at the core, means to be authentic. STOP using the people’s money to buy collections of Birkins or Hermes bags, luxury cars, or children’s tuition into Harvard or Oxford. STOP using the masses as if slaves, your errand boys and girls. STOP knighting family members as second-liners to a throne that’s not there. We are a republic. STOP the desire for quick and easy money. We have long ago turned our backs to Juan Tamad. Let’s faithfully till the land this time to it’s full potential. STOP the thinking that this nation is comprised of just one class or tribe of Filipinos. We are many. We urgently need to learn how ‘many’ could actually become a strength. STOP everything that has gotten us to this point of in-fighting, back stabbing, and fakery. STOP trying hard to be Americans or like Americans. Let us START to embrace our identity. We are Filipinos. Let us START to listen to old folk songs if only to re-call the life of honor that Filipinos before us strove to live. Let us START to live our positive values of maka-Diyos, maka-bayan, pagtutulungan, pagkakaisa, hiya.

De-constructing IS or ISIS in the Philippines

For the many of us here who have not given a fug about IS (or, ISIS as popularized here), because why should the topic muddle our daily conversations, until the Marawi City incident, IS or Islamic State is none other than the former al-Qaida in Iraq. ISIS is acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, the self-styled Islamic caliphate that the (former) al-Qaida group “overran huge chunks of Iraqi and Syrian territory” after the demise of bin Laden.

Al-Qaida (now IS), according to several independent studies, such as J.Milligan’s Islamic Identity, Postcoloniality and Educational Policy: Schooling and Ethnoreligious Conflict in the Southern Philippines and Samira Gutoc’s Causes of “Terrorism”: The Philippine Case had “thoroughly penetrated” the country by the late 1990s. Purportedly, in 1980 the MILF “had begun sending mujahideen for training and combat experience in Afghanistan. One result of this effort was the establishment of ties with the al-Qaida network of Osama bin Laden which began…recruiting soldiers for the war in Afghanistan”.

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a splinter group from the MNLF and Filipinos who fought in Afghanistan, appearing in the mid-90s, has been linked to the al-Qaida network. However, when this link weakened in the late 90s, the group connected with Indonesia-based Jeemah Islamiyah (JI) that has “ideological origins in the Darul Islam (DI) movement of the 1950s and 1960s” also networked with al-Qaida. JI aims to establish a pan-Islamic State in South East Asia.

Another group affiliated with the al-Qaida network which appeared around the same time, in 1991, is the RSM (Rajah Solaiman Movement). The group is comprised of Christians from Northern Philippines who converted to Islam, supports violence against Filipino Christians and maintains base in Metro Manila. Reportedly, it gets funding from JI and training from ASG. It has been alleged that the group was behind the 2004 Superferry bombing that killed 116 people

Yet another group, AKP (Ansarul Khilafah Philippines) founded by a former MILF member disgruntled by the collapse of the peace talks in 2008. It is reported that the group has direct connections to ISIS fighters and has it’s base in Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat.

Last, but only so far as this post goes, the Maute Group also known as IS-Ranao or IS-Lanao. The IPAC Report writes of the group,

The Maute Group based in Lanao del Sur has the smartest, best-educated and most sophisticated
members of all of the pro-ISIS groups in the Philippines. It is largely ethnic Maranao, and its
stronghold is Mindanao State University (MSU) in Marawi City, where it has been able to attract
students and teachers.

The Maute group reportedly began as a training unit set up by Marwan around 2011 or even earlier, called al-Ghuraba and briefly Jamaah Tawhid wal Jihad – the name used by the late Abu Musa Zarqawi in Iraq and later by the supporters of radical Indonesian cleric Aman Abdurrahman in Indonesia.

By 2012, it had become Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM), initially reported to be led by one Ust. Humam Abdul Najid alias Wai but in fact the Mautes are believed to have been the organisers even then.56 KIM was said to have been responsible for the 26 July 2013 bombing at a Cagayan de Oro bar and bistro that killed six.57 After ISIS’s recognition of Isnilon as amir, the Mautes began using the name “IS-Ranao” to indicate a division of the new as-yet-undeclared province of ISIS – just as BIFF became IS-Maguindanao and Isnilon Hapilon’s territory was IS-Basilan.

Locals call these groups “spoliers of peace”. 

But why all these splinter groups and their more extreme views relative to their more principled former organizations? Synthesizing their histories, we come to see that they have become disenchanted over the inconsistencies in the decades-long peace talks that appear to have no end, like drawn-out criminal cases in corrupt courts and we can site the massacre of journalists in Mindanao, and have taken matters into their own hands, the hard way or no way. Looking deeper, the root of their struggle is continuing injustices to the Moro/Muslim people. When you go to Mindanao, the mass of the Moro/Muslim people remain living on the edges of villages, sa laylayan as VP Robredo calls it. Mawawalan ka talaga ng dignidad living in these places, and the Moro are proud people.

” Attention grabbers” the armed groups are also called. Precisely, in the sense that their violent acts underlie and point toward the real ills in Mindanao society. Remember that once in the lives of these terrorists they believed, trusted and allied themselves with government or the rule of law. But at one point, abandoned that because of not being able to take anymore government’s failures. Pity, because their talents have been misdirected. How does one resolve such a misdirection of people? 

Government, national and especially local government, needs to re-boot it’s style and system of governance in the region. It also needs to undergo healing as what it has been extolling people in the region to do. It can start by making a sincere apology. Recall when the Australian PM offered an apology to the aborigines, “unfinished business of the nation”, for the mistreatment the natives suffered under past governments, in order “to remove a great stain from the nation’s soul”. The Filipino nation is inextricably bound to the decisions and actions of the State as the resources behind State decisions and actions come from the people. The people share in the consequences, good or bad, arising from the decision or action of their elect.

Further, when you go around the villages the common statement locals make is that government’s promises made to the people in the region have remained just promises. Nagkapatong-patong na over the decades. What do villages in the region need? Land (many migrants as well as marginalized Moro/Muslims remain without titles to the lots they occupy), jobs and access to training and capital for the masses to establish and sustain their livelihoods, barangay roads, health centers (many are without staff and equipment), inclusive education (ie. the use of Maranao as mother tongue for Maranao children and not Cebuano/Bisaya), adult education, rules and processes that do not disenfranchise the already poor, upholding the rule of law as well as TA and respect for positive traditional mechanisms eg. council of elders, etc.  Recognition of the unique culture and beliefs of the Moro people and provide for their integration in national policies. Presently, policies regard Filipinos as a homogenous people. The Cordillera is better off in the sense that each tribe has their own land or territory eg. Mountain Province for the Bontoc people, or Kalinga and Apayao for the Kalingas. This the Moro people don’t have. From their perspective, it’s now the non-Moro who’ve occupied much of their land or at least the best or most fertile portions of it. Religion is incidental.

The above , basically the MDGs or the SDGs now  are what more progressive Mindanao areas like Davao enjoy. And, with Davao, it was not national government extending it’s arm to the City that made it a premier city in the South, rather it was local government. In many provinces, however, it is local officials who are obstacles to good governance and therefore contributed to the opening up of a space right under their noses in which extremism has taken over.

The road problem in CAR

The Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) remains among the top five poorest regions in the country, primarily because it’s relatively closed off from the lack of good roads that should connect it’s towns and villages to one another, the rest of the region, and ultimately the country.

The recent typhoon, Ineng/Goni which brought non-stop extreme rain for three days has again caused damages to Halsema (Mountain Trail), the main highway connecting interior towns to Baguio City.  This is the only route available to local traders of vegetables, poultry, and other cottage based products which means if Halsema is closed for a week for repair, traders are forced to wait it out, a decision that impacts on the market and ultimately on their incomes.

It is not only Halsema.  Tadian has been closed off because landslides blocked it’s main road to Bontoc.  A colleague hiked six hours, and even counted 13 landslides along the way, to get to Bontoc.  The town is still closed to vehicular traffic as I write.  The road connecting Tadian to Ilocos Sur (via Cervantes), a project under former President GMA, is also rendered unpassable.

The Kayapa portion of the Baguio-Nueva Vizcaya Road was also closed off and then opened and just recently closed off again, prompting participants from Ifugao to an activity in Baguio City to go around via Mountain Province making their travel twice as long.

Roads are basic prerequisites for economic development.  The national government and local government units in the region must address this perennial issue once and for all.  Within the region, planning to address the problem of roads can be an avenue for cooperation among the mostly “warring” LGUs.  As mentioned in a previous post on the road repair along Loakan Road in Baguio City – which is by the way still at turtle pace – much of the road problem in this country will be addressed when anti-corruption measures are put in place and observed.

Also, required reporting of assessments after the onset of emergencies is also quite slow and only afterward did Mountain Province declared itself a calamity area in order to access emergency funds.  The news, sadly, has not provided a realistic picture of events post-Ineng.

The regional OCD on the other hand can do better to support the LGUs, given that at these times access to emergency response funds through appeals here and abroad is already standard operating procedure.  Moreover, how is it that staff of CSOs / development organizations are able to quickly deploy and produce rapid assessment reports and consequently response plans and assistance even if it meant walking through hell and putting off sleep but staff from public offices whose staff are on the people’s payroll not, relying on others’ reports instead?  If it should get a top-of-the-line chopper in order to conduct aerial assessment given the regularity of landslides in the region, then it should, or perhaps this is an instance when drones are a necessity.

On the Bangsamoro Basic Law Part I

This is my contribution to the ongoing debate over BBL, the first in a series.  I am for an independent Bangsamoro State or sub-State but it’s creation and organization need to be fleshed out with care.

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The first order of the day is for the Parties to define what the ‘status quo’ that both regard as unacceptable, because the status quo is:

1.   Who is a ‘Bangsamoro’?  The Parties define ‘Bangsamoro’ as

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‘Bangsamoro’ in it’s historical, social, cultural and political dimensions however continues to be relatively unknown by majority of Filipinos.  Plenty of speculative definitions of who they are are in circulation and much of it not good.

Moreover, this people’s political orientation as shaped by their culture would define the kind of government to be put in place .  The Framework suggests that a ministerial form of government is the right one, but is it considering that Bangsamoros govern themselves differently?

2.   The continued silence and minority status of the Bangsamoro people.  The MILF has assumed the role as representative.  If the Bangsamoro people elected the group, fine.  But the concern is, there’s no word from these people that such is indeed the case; in other words, the consent of the governed, the source of legitimacy in this undertaking, in the same manner as the Philippine Government is legitimate in so far as it is supported by the Filipino people.

Wanted: Managers in Government

I wrote in an earlier article that local public officials often cite insufficient or depleted budget as reason for why development in their place isn’t happening. This may be because public officials are not managers.

In the private sector, in general, the case is made toward the “bottom line” which implies performance in order to achieve the end result (desired profit level). In government, performance is measured mostly in terms of how many visions are created for the country (the country’s wallowing in these did you notice?).

If managers in the private sector fail to get results done it’s out of business for the business. In contrast, government remains in business even if it doesn’t produce results. Borrowing the criticism made by a former US Senator of his colleagues, senators (people in government) get paid even if it’s the phone book they’re reading (at the podium).

The tension between staff at headquarters and those at the frontline, at least in my experience is that the latter, so focused on the trees, can’t see the forest; that staff at headquarters don’t understand what’s really going on “on the ground.” So is the tension between leaders and managers, true even within the individual who has both the capacity for leadership and management. Leaders, clearly seeing and caught up in the totality of the vision, don’t seem to know where in that vision to put in the nuts and bolts or in practical terms how to go about achieving the bottom line. That’s when the managers in them ought to emerge, because managers would know.

I guess this is where agency-level support ought to step in, the DILG or the Civil Service Commission. These agencies should make a case for creating managers (not administrators!) out of public leaders, through training and development. By providing leaders in government with support that matters, the agencies in effect are enabling the environment in which the motivation often-cited by public officials ‘to be of service’ can take root, deep and wide and for this service to produce results.

But what’s happening is that the MLGOO (supposedly the local representative of DILG whose mandate is to exercise general supervision over the local government units and strengthen the capability of LGUs in the delivery of devolved services) has become too involved in local politics – even becoming the “little Mayor”. He or she has become too much of an insider that he or she like the rest “on the ground” can’t anymore see the trees for the forest. He or she has become among those in need of (re)training and development. And no one is the better for it. But I empathize with MLGOOs in their dilemma. Many would rather join the club – including suffering the position and nickname of “little Mayor” – than be thrown out as permanent outcasts. I think they ought to be circulated among the LGUs so that no one LGU would have undue influence on them. And by going around the LGUs, MLGOOs should be able to discern how each tree put together defines the shape of a forest. Local officials under their care then should be better for it.