Manila, Muslim rebels begin drafting law that may end conflict
Government representatives and the Philippines’ largest Muslim separatist group began drafting legislation on Wednesday to end 40 years of conflict and set up an autonomous structure to run the poor, but resource-rich, south.
The 15-member Transition Commission has until next year to devise a framework for Bangsamoro, the Muslim-dominated region made up of five provinces and gripped for decades by guerrilla violence.
But its real work can only begin once parallel talks by “peace panels”, due to start in Malaysia next week, are over.
Those talks will put the finishing touches on four annexes to a peace deal - including disarmament issues - signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in October.
Philippine President travels to rebel stronghold for peace talks
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said Monday a final peace agreement with Muslim rebels may be signed next month.
"I think we’re very, very close to agreements on all points," he said at a Muslim rebel stronghold in the country’s south, where he traveled to launch projects jointly with the guerrillas aimed at improving life in the area and bolstering the prospects of a peace deal.
Aquino said he did not want to give deadlines to the peace process but that he believes a comprehensive agreement can be signed “earlier than the end of March.”
Hundreds of soldiers, police and Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters guarded the ceremony in Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao province, where there have been recent battles between troops and insurgents, who were at times suspected to have been aided by al-Qaida-linked extremists.
Under the new projects, Aquino’s government is pledging to provide health insurance, assistance in finding jobs and funding for schools for rebel families.
The 11,000-strong Moro rebel group had been waging a rebellion for self-rule in the south. It signed a preliminary peace agreement with the government on Oct. 15 in a major breakthrough toward ending one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies.
The accord grants minority Muslims broad autonomy in the south in exchange for ending more than 40 years of violence that has killed tens of thousands of people and held back progress in the resource-rich but poverty-wracked region. It also created a roadmap for a final peace settlement.
The two sides have continued to negotiate over the extent of power, revenues and wealth to be granted to the new autonomous region, to be called Bangsamoro. The rebels have also agreed to dismantle their armed guerrilla forces, possibly with the help of international experts, under an arrangement still being discussed.
Philippines: UN lauds landmark bill protecting rights of internally displaced people
The United Nations refugee agency today welcomed a bill passed by the Congress of the Philippines to protect the rights of more than one million internally displaced persons (IDPs), making it the first Asia-Pacific country to have legislation safeguarding citizens against arbitrary displacement.
“This measure is a milestone for the protection of internally displaced people in the Philippines, where decades-long armed conflicts and many natural disasters have caused massive displacement, especially in the Mindanao region,” the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Adrian Edwards, told reporters in Geneva.
The bill seeks to prevent displacement and spells out rights during and after people have been forced to leave their homes. It also imposes heavy penalties against arbitrary internal displacement of any person, including non-combatants caught in the crossfire of internal armed conflicts.
According to UNHCR estimates, between January and October of 2012 alone, some 300,000 people were displaced throughout Mindanao due to natural disasters, as well as the conflict between Government and secessionist groups.
Natural disasters in particular are one of the main causes for displacement in the Philippines due to their frequency. In December, Typhoon Bopha left more than 1,000 people dead, displaced over 1 million people and affected 6.2 million in what was one of the deadliest storms in recent times. Thousands are still homeless and are in need of humanitarian and other assistance in southern Mindanao, Mr. Edwards said.
The bill, which still needs the endorsement of President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, also provides monetary compensation for lost or damaged property or for the death of family members, with the Commission on Human Rights, an independent agency of the State, having been designated as the focal point for the protection of displaced people.
Mr. Edwards noted that the bill guarantees the rights of IDPs in accordance with international standards, particularly the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, and added that the new legislation is considered as a model for other countries.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation will today host the inaugural meeting of the South Africa-Philippines Bilateral Consultative Forum (BCF).
The meeting comes after the signing of the agreement between the two countries on the side-lines of the 67th Session of the United Nations General Assembly that took place in September in New York.
The BCF serves as an instrument for structured bilateral consultations with the aim of advancing cooperation between the two countries, according to a statement by the department.
"The focus of the meeting will be on strengthening relations with the Philippines, specifically in the areas of trade, investment, tourism and culture.
"Further discussions are expected to centre on issues of mutual interest in terms of regional and multilateral developments, as well as on new areas of possible cooperation," the department said.
South Africa’s formal diplomatic relations with the Philippines date back to November 1993 with the Embassy of the Philippines in Pretoria established in June 1994. South Africa in turn established an Embassy in Manila 10 years later.
Both countries are influential in organisations of the South, including the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Group of 77 and China (G77).
Philippine government passes first major human rights legislation regarding enforced disappearances
Philippine President Benigno Aquino (pictured above) has signed a law imposing up to life imprisonment for state agents convicted of being involved in enforced disappearances, the first major human rights legislation under his nearly 3-year-old government.
Mr Aquino signed the law late on Friday, two months after it was passed by Congress, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
The human rights group Karapatan says more than 1,000 political activists and suspected supporters have disappeared since the 1972-1986 Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, including more than 200 under Mr Aquino’s predecessor, Mrs Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. It has documented 12 cases of enforced disappearance since 2010 under Mr Aquino.
US-based Human Rights Watch said the new law is the first to criminalise enforced disappearances in Asia and challenged Mr Aquino to “move quickly to enforce” it.
Philippines: Mobile phone app could help disaster preparedness
The Philippine government has launched a mobile phone application which can provide real-time information on rainfall and flooding to the general public.
The Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (NOAH), which aims to provide information about bad weather and thus mitigate disasters such as floods, typhoons and landslides, launched its website in July, and now a free mobile phone application has been added.
“When it comes to getting and accessing information, there is nothing more ubiquitous than the mobile phone,” Raymund Liboro, Department of Science and Technology project director for NOAH, told IRIN.
Using sensors, rain gauges, and weather monitoring systems installed by the government in various parts of the country, the application will provide information on rainfall probability over the next 1-4 hours in 200 sites, real-time information on water levels, and an overview of which areas are affected by rain and humidity.
“While this information is already available on the NOAH website, the mobile app accelerates the speed by which users can access this information,” Liboro said.
A 2011 World Bank study showed that 80 percent of Filipino households have a mobile phone, making the application convenient and accessible. The NOAH mobile application will initially be available only for Android smartphones. However, its sharing options will allow users to share information across different social media.
“Users can access Tweets sent out by PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services) [the Philippines weather bureau] as text messages to any mobile phone,” Liboro explained.
Future enhancements include incorporating a flood forecasting system. “This will really help us give advance warning to residents of flood-prone areas [and] if there is a need to evacuate,” said Vic Malano, acting deputy administrator of PAGASA.
According to the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, the Philippines - with its typhoons, floods, droughts, volcanoes, earthquakes and landslides, and home to over 100 million people - is the most disaster prone country in the world.
Muslim rebels ink Philippine pact as step to peace
Muslim rebels and the Philippine government overcame decades of bitter hostility and took their first tentative step toward ending one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies with the signing of a preliminary peace pact that provides both hope and challenges.
The framework agreement creates a roadmap for a final peace settlement. It grants minority Muslims in the southern Philippines broad autonomy in exchange for ending more than 40 years of violence that has killed tens of thousands of people and crippled development.
It was signed Monday in Manila’s Malacanang presidential palace by government negotiator Marvic Leonen and his counterpart from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Mohagher Iqbal. Also witnessing the historic moment were President Benigno Aquino III, rebel chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim — who set foot in the palace for the first time — and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose country helped broker the deal.
About 200 guerrillas and followers, all in dark business suits, joined the crowd of diplomats, officials, and police and army generals in a chandelier-lit hall to witness the signing. In their southern Philippine strongholds, thousands of guerrillas waved flags and gathered to celebrate.
‘‘The framework agreement before us will bring to an end the violence which claimed so many lives, and cut short so many futures,’’ Najib said. He said the deal would protect the rights of minority Muslims while preserving the Philippines’ territorial integrity.
‘‘After four decades, peace is within reach,’’ he said, adding that he hopes large numbers of Filipinos displaced by decades of strife, including many who fled to Malaysia, will be able to return to normal life.
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World Space Week exhibit opens at Mall of Asia: To infinity and beyond!
The thought of wearing a space suit and riding a rocket ship is an exciting prospect for any child. And short of enlisting in an international space program, this is most likely the next best thing.
From Oct. 4 until Oct. 10, kids and kids-at-heart can savor a week-long array of online and offline treats for the astronaut within as the world celebrates World Space Week.
The Nido Fortified Science Discovery Center in SM Mall of Asia (MoA) and the Department of Science and Technology-Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI) launched an exhibit that brings you that much closer to other planets, stars, and galaxies. The exhibit’s amazing photos were taken by astrophotographer John Nassr from his rooftop observatory in Baguio.
One particularly stunning photo takes the viewer 28 million light years away to an unbarred spiral galaxy named Sombrero, located in the constellation Virgo.
Anyone familiar with the constellation Orion will recognize the diffused “Great Orion Nebula” located on its belt also known as the “Tres Marias” with the other photo. The nebula is around 1,344 plus or minus 20 light years away but it is considered as the nearest region of star formation from the Earth. Another picture is a snapshot of the Venus transit which happened earlier this year.
DOST-SEI Director Dr. Filma Brawner said, “Space science isn’t always about telescopes, satellites, ‘heavenly rocks,’ and other things we might have encountered in our physics classes. The more familiar stuff about it come in Kuya Kim’s or Mang Tani’s weather forecasts or in the maps available in current smartphones, or in the newly-developed Project NOAH.”
Some 50 highschool students from Makati’s Tibagan High School, Paranaque National High School, Pasay City Science High School, Manila Science High School, and Ernesto Rondon High School in Caloocan City came in to see the exhibit. After visiting the exhibit, the students were taken to the biggest planetarium in the country to watch a breathtakingly realistic show about the cosmos.
"We did this as part of our commitment to promote S&T (science and technology) among our kids to hopefully invite them to pursue studies in astronomy and related sciences," said Brawner.
She also talked about world-renowned astrophysicist Dr. Reinabelle Reyes, and the various Pinoys at the National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration (NASA). Students were also taught how to use space science technologies in disaster management after the program.
Meanwhile, the celebration of World Space Week continues until Oct. 10 in various places all over the world. The annual celebration started through a United Nations General Assembly declaration in 1999 to commemorate the launch of the first ever human-made satellite, Sputnik 1, which also paved the way for space exploration. Sputnik 1 was launched in Oct. 4, 1957 —some 55 years ago.
A decade after the Sputnik 1 launch, various countries signed the “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activites of States in the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.”
The theme of this year’s Space Week is “Space for Human Safety and Security” to celebrate how space exploration have helped in our daily lives. The Philippines, also a participant for this year’s celebration, came out with various activities which are posted on the official website.
PICTURED ABOVE: Philippine President Benigno Aquino shakes hands with Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles after his speech on national television at the Malacanang palace in Manila October 7, 2012.
The Philippine government and Muslim rebels agreed on a deal to end a 40-year conflict, President Benigno Aquino said on Sunday, paving the way for a political and economic revival of the country’s troubled south.
The agreement begins a roadmap to create a new autonomous region in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country before the end of Aquino’s term in 2016, giving the Muslim-dominated area greater political powers and more control over resources.
Expectations are high that after nearly 15 years of violence-interrupted talks, both the government and the country’s largest Muslim rebel group will keep their pledges in the agreement, to be signed on October 15 in Manila and witnessed by Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
"This framework agreement is about rising above our prejudices. It is about casting aside the distrust and myopia that has the plagued efforts of the past," Aquino said via a live broadcast from the presidential palace.
The new entity, whose exact size will decided by plebiscites ahead of elections in 2016, will be called Bangsamoro — the term for those who are native to the region and which Aquino said honored “the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao”.
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The man who turned his home into a public library
If you put all the books you own on the street outside your house, you might expect them to disappear in a trice. But one man in Manila tried it - and found that his collection grew.
Hernando Guanlao is a sprightly man in his early 60s, with one abiding passion - books. They’re his pride and joy, which is just as well because, whether he likes it or not, they seem to be taking over his house. Guanlao, known by his nickname Nanie, has set up an informal library outside his home in central Manila, to encourage his local community to share his joy of reading.
The idea is simple. Readers can take as many books as they want, for as long as they want - even permanently. As Guanlao says: “The only rule is that there are no rules.” It’s a policy you might assume would end very quickly - with Guanlao having no books at all. But in fact, in the 12 years he’s been running his library - or, in his words, his book club - he’s found that his collection has grown rather than diminished, as more and more people donate to the cause.
"It seems to me that the books are speaking to me. That’s why it multiplies like that," he says with a smile. "The books are telling me they want to be read… they want to be passed around."
Guanlao started his library in 2000, shortly after the death of his parents. He was looking for something to honour their memory, and that was when he hit upon the idea of promoting the reading habit he’d inherited.
"I saw my old textbooks upstairs and decided to come up with the concept of having the public use them," he says.
So he put the books - a collection of fewer than 100 - outside the door of his house to see if anyone wanted to borrow them. They did, and they brought the books back with others to add to the collection - and the library was born. Such is the current turnover that Guanlao confesses he has no idea how many books are in his possession, but there are easily 2,000 or 3,000 on the shelves and in the boxes stacked outside his front door.
And that’s before you move inside, where books are rapidly encroaching into every available space. You can hardly get into the front room, the car has long since been moved out of the garage, and books are even stacked all the way up the stairs. The library is not advertised, but somehow, every day, a steady stream of people find their way there.
On the day we visited, some shop assistants came to browse during their lunch break, a local man borrowed a weighty tome about the history of St John’s Gospel, and some schoolchildren picked up some textbooks - although I noticed they were taking some fashion magazines as well. But it’s people like Celine who sustain the library. She lives down the road from Guanlao, and she arrived with two bulging bags of books - some of which she was returning, others of which she was planning to donate.
She says she loves the concept of the library, because Filipinos - certainly those who are not particularly wealthy - have limited access to books. “I haven’t been to any public libraries except the national library in Manila,” she says, explaining that it is quite far away - and it is not possible to borrow any books. If she wants to buy a book, the average price is about 300 pesos (£4.50, $7), she says. Imported books - especially children’s books - could easily be twice that amount.
"Considering the income here, I think parents have other priorities," she adds.
To help the poorest communities in Manila, Nanie Guanlao does not wait for them to find him - he goes to them, on his “book bike”, which has a large basket piled high with books. He’s also started to set his sights outside Manila. He’s already given several boxes of books to a man trying to set up a similar venture in Bicol province, a 10-hour drive from Manila, and his latest plan is to help a friend who wants to start up a library in the far south of the country.
She wants to set up a “book boat”, travelling around the islands of Sulu and Basilan - an area better known as a hideout for separatist rebels than for any great access to literature. As we sat outside Nanie Guanlao’s house in the midday sun, watching people browse through his collection, he tells me why he thought it was worth spending all his time - even to the point of giving up his job and surviving purely on his savings - to maintain the library.
"You don’t do justice to these books if you put them in a cabinet or a box," he says. "A book should be used and reused. It has life, it has a message. As a book caretaker, you become a full man."
Two new owl species have been identified in the Philippines, and researchers say the birds’ songs led them to the discovery."More than 15 years ago, we realized that new subspecies of Ninox hawk-owls existed in the Philippines," zoologist Pam Rasmussen of Michigan State University (MSU) said in a statement. "But it wasn’t until last year that we obtained enough recordings that we could confirm that they were not just subspecies, but two new species of owls."In fact, the researchers found that the Philippine hawk-owl (Ninox philippensis) consists of seven allopatric species, or those that emerge as a consequence of individuals being isolated geographically, or temporally. They also identified one subspecies.Two of the species had never been described nor officially named, until now. One of the newly identified owl species, now called the Camiguin hawk-owl, lives only on the small island of Camiguin Sur and has a very different voice and set of physical features than other owls in the region, the researchers said. It has blue-gray eyes and sings a long solo song at night that builds in intensity with a low growling tone. Pairs of Camiguin hawk-owls, meanwhile, sing short barking duets that kick off with a growl.The researchers, who reported their findings in Forktail, the Journal of Asian Ornithology, also identified the Cebu hawk-owl after studying its structure and vocalizations."The owls don’t learn their songs, which are genetically programmed in their DNA and are used to attract mates or defend their territory; so if they’re very different, they must be new species," Rasmussen explained in a statement from MSU. "When we first heard the songs of both owls, we were amazed because they were so distinctly different that we realized they were new species."
PICTURED ABOVE: Senator Loren Legarda (standing, center) with Marilyn Guimbatan, tribal affairs assistant of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples; Ruben Gumangan, weaver and Hudhud singer; and Carmen Accatan, also of Ifugao (at work on an Ifugao loom.)
Spain’s Queen Sofia views exhibit of indigenous textiles with Philippines Senator Legarda as guide
Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and Cultural Communities, toured Queen Sofia of Spain yesterday around the National Museum’s Hibla ng Lahing Filipino: The Artistry of Philippine Textiles, the first permanent textile galleries in the country.
Said Senator Legarda, “Her Majesty is a dedicated patroness of the arts and has been our staunch partner in initiatives to celebrate our opulent culture.” Sen. Legarda showed Queen Sofia how the indigenous artistry of Filipinos is told through traditional textiles.
The senator started with traditional materials and technologies that go into making cloth itself, the use of foot and backstrap looms, the stories behind various textile forms and their role as emblems of identities.
Further, the senator pointed out that beyond the intricate weaving technique and fine embellishments in our traditional garments, are cultural expressions that have endured the test of time.
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Philippines Indigenous’ right to vote affirmed
The country’s indigenous people have the right to vote, and this was made sure yesterday as the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to ensure their participation in the electoral processes, particularly in the May 2013 local and national elections.
DILG Secretary Jesse M. Robredo, COMELEC Chairman Sixto S. Brillantes, Jr. and NCIP Chairperson Brigida H. Pawid forged the agreement at COMELEC office in Intramuros, Manila in order to boost the implementation of COMELEC Resolution 9427,which provides for the registration of the members of the Indigenous Cultural Communities or Indigenous Peoples.
“This is a significant development in the government’s effort to promote and protect the rights of our indigenous peoples by enhancing their participation in governance,” said Robredo.
Following the promulgation of COMELEC Resolution 9427, certain local government units in 14 regions of the country were identified as pilot areas for purposes of registration.
An innovative initiative is taking place in the Philippines to bring sustainable lighting to homes in impoverished communities. Empty plastic bottles are installed in the roof, filled with water and bleach they refract sunlight. These “solar light bulbs” provide light equivalent to a 55watt light bulb.