Wake Up, Philippines!

ASG breaks vow to release 1 ICRC hostage

Posted in Kidnapping, Terrorism by Erineus on March 27, 2009
March 22, 2009, 6:06pm

JOLO, Sulu – The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) broke its commitment on a deal to free one of the three Red Cross workers they kidnapped here once the military force repositions its troops surrounding their hideout in Indanan, Sulu.

Senator Richard Gordon, chair of the Philippine National Red Cross, said the bandits promised him to release one of the three hostages if security forces surrounding their jungle lair in the town of Indanan would pull out.

Troops have repositioned away from the ASG lair on Thursday, but the group also demanded for the pull out of the armed village guards helping the military in the rescue operation.

Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino woman Mary Jean Lacaba are still being held hostage by the ASG. The trio were kidnapped on January 15 after inspecting a water and sanitation project at a prison compound in Patikul, Sulu.

Three soldiers had been killed and 19 more wounded in fierce clashes earlier this week after the bandits attempted to break through the military cordon.

Military officials were getting impatient over Gordon’s frequent calls to withdraw soldiers from the town to allow negotiations with the hostage takers. The Abu Sayyaf has threatened to behead one of its hostages if the soldiers get near them or if fighting breaks out again.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) does not regret repositioning its troops in Sulu even if the ASG did not fulfill its promise of releasing one its hostages in exchange for the pull out of soldiers, a military official said Sunday.

Brigadier General Gaudencio Pangilinan, military spokesman of the International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) Crisis, said the safety of three Red Cross staffers is on the mind of its top brass when the decision to slacken the military cordon was made. “Ano ba naman ‘yung umtaras tayo ng konti para sa safety ng hostages,” said Pangilinan in a phone interview.

On Thursday, Marine commandos manning the military cordon against the ASG were repositioned following the request of  Gordon for a pullback after bandit leader Albader Parad allegedly promised to release one of their ICRC hostages in exchange for loosening the cordon.

The pullback of troops was agreed upon during the meeting of top police, military and government officials in Camp Crame following the threats made by Parad that he would behead one of the hostages after the series of clashes that started on Monday that resulted in his wounding.

Amid the gradual pullback, the ASG did not release one of the ICRC hostages, with recent reports stating that it was because government troops are continuously closing in on them. (with a report from Aaron Recuenco)


Militarization by other means

MANILA, Philippines — Soldiers erecting checkpoints, entering communities, and rounding up and interrogating residents in various parts of the country have become so commonplace in Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s regime that we take for granted their lawfulness. Do soldiers have a right to do these things?

Not being a lawyer, I can only ask questions. The construction of the 1987 Constitution is easy enough to permit its commonsensical understanding by ordinary citizens. I turn to its words and the values around which it is woven whenever I am bothered by the actions of government. The Constitution is the self-defense and is a necessity of any democratic nation. Every citizen should keep a copy of his country’s Constitution in his pocket.

There is a division of labor between the military and the police that is recognized in every modern society and is upheld in the successive constitutions we have had in our country. The maintenance of peace and order within communities is basically the function of the police. Our Constitution states that such a police force is “national in scope and civilian in character.”

The same Constitution declares among its guiding principles and policies that “Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.” I understand sovereignty to mean the power to govern oneself. To defend a nation’s sovereignty is to protect the nation against foreign invaders. To secure the integrity of the national territory is to protect it against forces that seek its dismemberment. On this basis, one may understand the active presence of soldiers in parts of Mindanao where secessionist movements operate. But how does one account for the presence of military patrols in the streets of Barangay Commonwealth in Quezon City?

I quote from a report that appeared in the Inquirer yesterday (3/3/07): “The military said the deployment of soldiers in some areas of Metro Manila was part of civil military operations in certain barangays where issues like poverty can be exploited by communist insurgents …. Army spokesperson Maj. Ernesto Torres said the deployments had been going on since November last year and were mostly in depressed barangays. Troops are sent to barangays where they stay and ‘talk to (residents), ask them how they are doing and tell them there are programs of government which they can avail (themselves) of,’ Torres said in a phone interview. Torres said this was a ‘holistic approach’ in addressing the insurgency problem. AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro said such deployments were ‘normal’ as it was the AFP-NCRCom mandate to ‘protect Metro Manila’.”

Protect Metro Manila against whom? Against suspected communists? Sec. 18 (1) of the Bill of Rights is clear on this: “No person shall be detained solely by reason of his political beliefs and aspirations.” Last I heard is that no one can be penalized for mere membership in a communist organization. But as important, if Metro Manila is to be protected, whose function is this? I always assumed this belonged to the police.

There is basis for this assumption. The Constitution takes for granted that the maintenance of peace and order is not the normal function of soldiers but of the police. And so it specifies those exceptional instances when the government, through the President, may call out the military. Art. VII, Sec. 18 provides: “The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion, or rebellion.”

The last time Ms Arroyo invoked these Commander-in-Chief powers was on Feb. 23, 2006 when she issued Presidential Proclamation 1017 declaring a State of National Emergency. Recognizing that these are emergency powers, the framers of our Constitution made their exercise subject to very stringent qualifications. The most important of these is the provision that ensures the undiminished validity of the Bill of Rights even during such emergencies.

The Supreme Court held PP 1017 to be valid insofar as it was an exercise of the calling-out powers “to prevent or suppress lawless violence,” but struck it down as unconstitutional insofar as it claimed powers for the President that did not belong to her office. These are: the power to issue decrees, to direct the military to enforce obedience to all laws including those not related to lawless violence, and to impose standards on media.

The question we must now ask is: Does lawless violence exist today in our barangays, towns and cities to warrant the engagement of the military in the everyday maintenance of peace and order in our communities? If there is, what is its extent? What is the basis for this assessment? What limits are there, if any, to what the military can do in the course of “suppressing and preventing lawless violence”?

If one goes by the 1987 Constitution alone, there can be no doubt that with these recent troop deployments, the military has overstepped its mandate. My fear is that the antiterrorism law (now euphemistically titled “The Human Security Act of 2007”) is aimed precisely at preempting these questions. By routinizing an undeclared state of emergency, the government lays the ground for the militarization of our communities.

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By Randy David
First Posted 06:18am (Mla time) 03/04/2007

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