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Even as President Rodrigo Duterte and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have noted a tapering off in the exchange of gunfires between government troops and terrorists in Marawi City, proposals have been made to extend the 60-day martial law in Mindanao and expand it to cover the entire country. One proposal coming from Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez was even to extend martial law up to 2022 which is the end of the term of Mr. Duterte, which immediately drew protests from members of Congress themselves and various sectors of the country.


The proposals were aired following the Supreme Court decision upholding the proclamation of martial law. Others pointed out the success of the martial rule in Mindanao especially in the peace and order situation, the campaign against armed groups and illegal drugs. This is borne out by a Social Weather Station survey which showed that 57 percent of respondents favoured martial law, although many oppose the expansion to the Visayas and Luzon.


Even the Armed Forces itself said the idea of expanding martial law has never crossed the collective mind of the military. AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said he himself does not see the need to place the entire country under martial law but at the moment, the AFP is reviewing the situation and coming out with its recommendation after its assessment. Once the assessment is done along with their recommendation, it will be then forwarded to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the Martial Law administrator, who will then forward it to President Rodrigo Duterte who will then review and act on it.


Martial Law in Mindanao was declared night time of May 23 shortly after the attack of the Maute Group terrorists in Marawi City.  Under the 1987 Constitution, Martial Law is only limited for 60 days or up to July 23 and needs the approval of Congress for its extension. Careful and thorough assessment of the situation and consideration of all factors, including that of the international community, should be ensured to be able to come out with a wise decision for the good of the majority of the people and that of the country.

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Last week, the government and terrorists belonging to the IS-inspired Maute Group observed an eight-hour truce brokered by Muslim leaders  in Marawi City. The ceasefire allowed the rescue of residents, especially the sick and those held hostage by the terrorists, as the Muslims observe the waning days of the Ramadan. Other Muslim religious leaders also reached out with the Mautes and tried to convince them to give up and end the siege which had tattered many parts of Marawi City and resulted to the death of more than 450 people, including soldiers, policemen and innocent citizens. The war also displaced some 200,000 Marawi residents who had to scamper to safety to nearby Iligan City and other towns, some who have the means fleeing to as far as Metro Manila.


But while there was this brief chance for peace, rapid firings and bombings from both sides readily resumed at the end of the truce as the terrorists, many of them Malaysians, Indonesians, Singaporeans, Yemenis, Saudi Arabians and others were firm on their mission to make Marawi a caliphate of the Islamists in the Philippines and Southeast Asia and refuse to give up. Thus, the Muslim community observed Eid’l Fitr, the end of Ramadan, with fears and concern that the war in Marawi City could still prolong.


Amidst the troubles in Marawi, President Rodrigo Duterte appealed to Muslim leaders and the people of Mindanao to help carve out a peace formula for the region that will ensure its full development that would benefit its people. In Malacanang where he led the Eid’l Fitr celebration, the President stressed anew his promise to the Filipinos that he would secure lasting peace in Mindanao. “To our brothers and sisters who have been affected by the violence and conflict in Mindanao, I assure you that the government is committed to securing just and lasting peace in the island,” President Duterte said in his speech before an audience of Muslim Filipinos, many of them former rebels themselves. Meanwhile, an inter-religious movement appealed for prayers and nationwide participation in its “Prayer for Peace in the Philippines” initiative to be held on July 7. The people should join and support this prayer initiative whatever faith they belong, whether they are Christians, Catholics or Muslims.

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A series of quakes that rattled Batangas, Laguna, Cavite, Mindoro, Metro Manila and other areas the past few days has heightened speculations that the Big One, a projected 7.2 magnitude earthquake on the West Valley Fault that could be destructive for Metro Manila, maybe in the offing. While the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has been warning that this could happen in the lifetime of many people, nothing has been invented so far to predict exactly when an earthquake could happen. As such, Phivolcs and other government authorities could only issue warning and call for caution and make the necessary preparation possible to cushion the effect of a big temblor.


Leaders of the Philippine Congress thus are calling for people, especially the students, to be prepared and trained for such disasters through the Disaster Risk Reduction, Management and Education programs in schools, colleges and universities. “In the wake of strong typhoons that hit the country, as well as the threat of other exposures such as the impending Big One that will lay waste in Metro Manila and the neighboring provinces, it is imperative that we educate our students with the proper decorum on the preparation and response to these kinds of disasters,” according to Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe as he filed House Bill 805 or the “Act Mandating All Schools and Universities to Establish an Area-Specific Disaster Risk Reduction Management and Education Program in their Respective Jurisdictions.” Sens. Loren Legarda and Juan Miguel Zubiri are supporting the measure in the Senate.


If the bill is enacted into law, schools and universities would be required to educate the students, parents, staff, and teachers on all possible vulnerabilities and disasters their areas are prone to. Schools will also be required to craft a comprehensive disaster preparedness and emergency plan. The current law already mandates the Department of Education (DepEd), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and the Technical Education Skills and Development Authority (TESDA) to incorporate a disaster risk reduction and management education in the curricula of secondary and tertiary education. But under the bill, the same agencies would also be directed to conduct risk assessment tools for the identification of capacities, vulnerabilities, and hazards present in the schools.


Preparing for the Big One, natural calamities and disasters should be the main concern not just of pupils and students and their teachers but of everyone as these phenomenon hit people unexpectedly just like the thief in the night. And preparations and vigilance should be everybody’s concern all the time, any time.

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Although former President Benigno S. Aquino III was at the People Power Monument, and former President Fidel Ramos, former Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Gregorio Honasan attended a mass to commemorate the EDSA People Power Revolution 31 years ago, judging from the few people who participated in the last month at the People Power Monument and in other venues, one would easily conclude that the spirit that led to the EDSA revolt of 1986 which led to the departure of then President Ferdinand Marcos and family from Malacanang has faded and the celebration has lost its luster. Former President, one of the supposed heroes of the EDSA Revolt, noted the simple celebration this year which he said he does not mind as long the EDSA People Power Commission (EPPC) does a better job next year. To make up for next year, Ramos said he proposed putting up the long-delayed EDSA Learning Center.


What has caused people to give less importance to the celebration?


There are many answers to the poser. One answer is that many people have become skeptical of EDSA than those who are enthralled by it. The reason is that the supposed unity of the people during the event was immediately broken when those who came to power after Marcos, instead of promoting unity, divided the country between the so-called “yellow” forces and the “loyalists.” This division started when governors, mayors and other officials were removed and replaced with new ones without the benefit of election. The division was more event with the coup attempts that marked the administration of then President Corazon Aquino. People are also asking – what happened after EDSA, are the Filipinos better off than under Marcos?


One editorial pointed out that the essential purpose of commemorating the event has been lost because some have mistakenly loaded on the annual remembrance goals and objectives that are not validated by what our people truly feel or believe. The official EDSA commemoration has also been distorted by incessant misrepresentation and false counts of the numbers who do attend. Some have also foolishly made the EDSA remembrance a mock battle between the administration and its critics – leading to frenetic efforts by both sides to load the numbers on their respective ends, in order to claim an illusory victory.


Whatever your position on the matter, we should all learn from the lessons of EDSA, promote unity instead of dividing the people further so the country can attain growth, development and prosperity.


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Has China taken over the Philippines?


With recent developments, this may well be a relevant question being raised by Filipinos who are concerned about the future of their country. For one, it is known that Chinese taipans have taken control of the Philippine economy from malls and supermarkets (Henry  Sy’s SM and John Gokongwei’s Robinsons) to airlines (Lucio Tan’s Philippine Air Lines, Gokongwei’s Cebu Pacific), to banks and financial services (Henry Sy’s Banco de Oro, Lucio Tan’s Philippine National Bank), to properties (Andrew Tan’s Megaworld, Double Dragons Properties, Henry Sy’s SM Development) to rice and food cartels, hotels and resorts, gambling casinos, among many other sectors.


And not content with its vast territory which hosts the world’s biggest population of over 1.6 billion, China is in aggressive military buildup and reclamation in the South China Sea claiming that all of sea, the air above it and the islands, shoals and reefs within that sea is all owned by China. Sadly, China has even encroached on Philippine territory and those within its exclusive economic zone such as Panatag Shoal, Kalayaan in Spratlys, among others. And reports have it that the gravel and sand used in the massive China reclamation may have come from the Philippines. What is worse is that China continues to ignore a ruling by the International Tribunal favouring the position and claims of the Philippines on the Panatag Shoal and others.


Lately, mainland Chinese businessmen are in the limelight for its controversial deal with the city government of Manila converting the over-a-century historical landmark Army and Navy Club building besides the US Embassy and within the Rizal Park into a hotel-casino, triggering the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption to file charges to all those involved. Then Chinese groups with ties with mainland China and allegedly with involvement in the reclamation in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, are being tapped again by the administration of Mayor Joseph Estrada to build a 408-hectare island in Manila Bay for the city’s proposed business and tourism expansion. According to an industry source, the reclaimed land, more than four times Makati’s business district, will rise next to the Baseco compound at the mouth of the Pasig River, with the dredging and land-filling works to be provided by China Harbor Engineering Co., the same contractor that had earlier been tapped to reclaim 214 hectares off Davao City.


There should no rush to give way to the Chinese groups to control further the country’s businesses and much worse to reclaim an island right in the mouth of the Pasig River in Manila Bay. There should be thorough studies and strict regulations against the Chinese “invasion.” If the trend continues, the Philippines may well end up a China territory one day without a single bullet shot. Do Filipinos like this to happen?

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America first and the country will be great again. This in gist is what US President Donald Trump unveiled as his vision and mission for the nation during his inauguration in ceremonies in Washington. Millions of Americans, some 4.5 millions of them of Filino descent, were glued to their television sets as the new US leader made it clear that his administration espouses a new beginning for America, a new line of approach in dealing with domestic and global issues. “We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America First —America First,” he stressed.


Mr. Trump moved on: “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.” Driving his point, he made clear what he intends to do. “We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth, and we will bring back our dreams. We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation.”


For true-blue Americans, Mr. Trump’s promise understandably is most welcomed. But for the Filipinos who have made America their home, especially the thousands who are undocumented, it could be tinged with some fears about their future – is it the time to leave or be deported? The same for their relatives and the millions of Filipinos in the Philippines who are largely dependent on their US-based relatives and the US economy, particularly on their cash remittances and material contributions to the Philippines. Remittances alone from US consist of half of the total remittances of $29 billion from overseas Filipinos. Another sector fearful of the dawning of a new era is the business processing outsourcing or more popularly known as the call center business which is employing millions of Filipinos. Are the American businessmen into BPOs closing shops in line with the America First policy of the Trump government? If that happens, millions of Filipinos would lose their good-paying jobs and their dependents would be in peril also.


It is actually too early to predict what will be the impact of the Trump pronouncements on Filipinos in US and in the Philippines. We could only hope for the best for them like Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte himself echoed banking on his early contact with the US leader. Communications Secretary Martin Andanar and Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, who joined the inaugural ceremonies in Washington, themselves said there was nothing to worry. In their own words “Wala po tayong dapat ikabahala, magiging maayos po ang relasyon natin, ang Pilipinas at Amerika. We have this long history of good relations, the United States being the big brother of the Philippines and with more than 3.5 million Filipinos who live in the US.”


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November 23, 2009 is a day that will forever live in infamy, not only for the Philippine media community, which lost 32 of its own in what is now acknowledged as the single deadliest attack on the press on record, but also the for the country’s body politic, for which the slaughter was the worst incident of electoral violence in the country’s recent history.


The massacre of 58 persons seven years ago on a hilltop in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town, Maguindanao showcased everything that is wrong in the rotten system of governance and disposition of justice in this country, where clans of warlords, criminal kingpins and corrupt politicians wield virtual powers of life and death in what amount to fiefdoms, their thievery and corruption tolerated by the centers of power that have to court their favors to effectively rule over the archipelago.


It is a testament to how entrenched this system of governance remains that, in a country that never tires of proclaiming itself the freest and most democratic in this corner of the globe, seven years after the orgy of violence, justice remains elusive for the Ampatuan 58 as on the day gunmen commanded by a madman who would brook no challenge to the almost absolute rule he and his kin enjoyed over their poverty-stricken province mowed them down in a hail of fire and steel.


Not even the shock and revulsion with which the carnage was greeted not just here but around the world has served to prod government to ensure that this blot to the nation be erased by the swift administration of justice to the dead and to those they left behind.


If anything, the State, which by rights should have taken on the burden of seeing to the futures of the widows, widowers and orphans of Ampatuan – after all its agents were responsible for this most heinous of crimes – has abandoned most of them, particularly those of our colleagues who were their families’ breadwinners, to lives of misery and uncertainty, reduced to wondering where to get their sustenance from day to day.


One orphan, that of Gina dela Cruz, died of illness because the family could no longer afford the treatment that would have saved its life. And her mother, Nancy wasted away alone after being left with no other choice than to make the grandchildren she could no longer support wards of the state.


This heartlessness of the State, this unconcern for the plight of the people whose grief it is primarily responsible for, is also what feeds the impunity that has emboldened those who seek to silence those brash enough to seek to unveil their abuses. It is, of course, the same kind of impunity that has marked the murders of hundreds more of our compatriots whose only crime was to dare speak truth to oppressive power.


Today, even as we commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre, we see a resurgence of threats and assaults on the independent Philippine press fueled by the open contempt and hostility of a leader who would brook absolutely no criticism of his person or his policies, not even if these have opened the floodgates to an orgy of bloodletting unprecedented in its savagery and its utter disregard for the rule of law and human rights.


Seven years after Ampatuan, we fear that the worst is yet to come and the seekers of truth will be faced with ever more danger from those who see our work as anathema to their pursuit of an order built not on compassion but brute force, not on the realities we all face but the distorted picture they would force us to accept. 


Yet even as we worry, so do we affirm that these are the best times to be journalists, to be the bearers of the knowledge and free thought that the centers of power would seek to suppress. It is in these times, as in the darkest days of the unlamented dictatorship, that the independent Philippine press is most needed by the people. We do not doubt that the Filipino journalist and the independent media community will prove themselves worthy of the calling. (National Union of Journalists of the Philippines)


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As we go to the press, we are hearing so many “positive” news being ranted by the media about China’s new dealings with the Philippines. For one, we heared that it will now lift all restrictions on all Philippine agricultural products like bananas and pineapples, more than half of whose consumption come from the Philippines. Then, Filipino fishermen will now be allowed to fish in the Scarborough Shoal, also known as Panatag Shoal, after China banned them for years as they engaged in massive reclamation and militarization in the entire South China Sea which it claims to be its own. Also, China promises to provide assistance and financing to projects worth billions of pesos like a bullet train from Subic and Clark to Manila and the railway system to Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Batangas and the revival of the Bicol Express. China also promises to finance an all-Mindanao railway network. There is even talks of a railway system that will connect Luzon to the Visayas and Mindanao with a bullet train trip from Luzon to Mindanao making it in only three hours!


We could not readily comment on those promises and pledges because President Rodrigo Duterte, accompanied by his Cabinet members and some 500 Filipino-Chinese businessman for a four-day state visit, has yet to sign or witness the signing of contracts or agreements in Beijing. What is very clear at this point is that for years, China, boasting its giant army, grabbed Scarborough Shoal and other territories within the Philippine territory and its exclusive economic zone and readily reclaimed them, built airstrips and ports and military stations in the guise of civilian posts. This action deprived thousands of Filipino fishermen of their means of livelihood and was a clear threat to international navigation and flights above them. This prompted the Philippine government to raise the issue to the UN arbitral tribunal which backed the Philippines in a unanimous ruling but which China refused up to this writing to recognize and follow. Thus, the issue remains a concern and a flashpoint for an armed confrontation among the nations using South China Sea to transport people and goods.


Another concern is that in the current drugs war of President Duterte, it has become clear that the illegal drugs being peddled in the Philippines comes from China and the biggest drug lords are Chinese nationals. It could dawned to many that the drugs could be actually a weapon being used by China to “destroy” and conquer the Filipino nation, especially the youth, and the Chinese nationals into it may just be witting tools to that masquerade to destroy the Philippines for their own selfish plans.  


The pronouncement of China that it will open up for Philippine agricultural products is laudable. However, China should rein in its people for smuggling billions of pesos worth of its own agricultural products to the Philippines like onions, garlic, carrots and vegetables who deprive the Filipino farmers of their livelihood and opportunities for growth. This is not to mention the massive smuggling of Peking ducks into the Philippines despite of a ban due to the avian flu in that country.


Filipinos are hoping for the success of the trip of President Duterte to China. They are hoping, too, that there will be no sell-out on the country’s rightful claims to certain islands, reefs and shoals and waters in the West Philippine Sea and that China should do something drastic about illegal drugs and smuggling of agricultural goods to the Philippines. Filipinos are not hoping for surprises that will blight their hopes for a brighter future for them and their beloved nation.


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The Philippines finally can fully implement a new law honouring Filipinos who have scored a milestone by reaching 100 years. This as the Implementing Rules and Regulations for the Centerians Act of 2016 (Republic Act No. 10868) was signed in ceremonies in Malacanang with no less than President Duterte witnessing the event. The signing of the IRR was made a few days before the observance of Elderly Filipino Week, which is annually held on Oct. 1 to 7. The National Respect for Centenarians Day is also held on the first Sunday of October.


Under the new law, it will now be mandatory for the national government to grant all 100-year-old Filipinos, whether living in the country or abroad, P100,000 as a birthday gift and a letter of felicitation from the President. The centenarians will also receive an additional cash gift and a plaque of recognition from their respective local government units. Actually, many LGUs like Makati City have been giving cash gifts to its centenarians in the past. Aside from the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Health (DOH) and Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) will also aid in carrying out the Centenarian Law.


The new law is expected to benefit some 3,000 centenarians who are in the country. The same will also boost the morale of thousands of seniors to make lives healthy and meaningful to be able to reach the milestone of 100 years. Already, thousands of seniors are receiving discounts on food and important purchases, fares for air, water and land transportation, free admission in cinemas, free parking and many other benefits. There are moves to also exempt them from value added taxes on their purchases and transactions.


The Centenarians Act of 2016 is in keeping with Article XV of the 1987 Constitution which states: "The family has the duty to take care of its elderly members but the State may also do so through just programs of social security." We laud the members of Congress for coming out with the new law honouring and supporting our elders. Perhaps, our leaders could also make mandatory the tradition of Filipinos kissing and saying “Mano po” to our elders to whom we owe our lives as many of the youth today has forgotten this golden tradition.  


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U.S. President Barack Obama has cancelled what could have been his first bilateral talks with new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at the sideline of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Laos due what was considered as personal attack on the US leader by the maverick Filipino president. Malacanang later apologized for Mr. Duterte’s acidic rhetorics even as it thanked Mr. Obama for supporting the Philippines in the tug of war with China over the West Philippine Sea and stressing that the US-Philippines alliance was strong as ever.


Former Philippine Ambassador to Washington Albert del Rosario and several leaders put Mr. Duterte to task for what they said as careless statements that resulted to the cancellation of the talks and thus the opportunities to voice out concerns on the sea disputes with China, campaign against drugs and terrorism, and the strengthening of military and defense relationship as well as trade and commerce, among others.


Others, however, understood where Mr. Duterte is coming from. The Philippine leader is barely three months in office and has yet to polish his speech and acts to be more diplomatic in the eyes of the world. Others believed that Duterte’s statements were totally blown out of proportion by the local and international media. In the United States, an independent group dissected an accurate transcript of President Duterte’s Q&A with Reuters correspondent Jerome Morales and explained what Duterte said point by point. Fil-Am writer Nizza Gueco, admittedly not a Duterte fan, for one said that the President was concerned more about the implications of soured US-Philippine relations. The statements clearly indicates that the President addressed the particular reporter who asked an offensive and out-of-line question despite Mr. Duterte’s plea that questions be limited to his ASEAN and working trips overseas, according to the group.


Foul or not, for sure, there will be another forum for Mr. Obama and Mr. Duterte to clear things up. Filipino reporters covering the event in Laos claim that the two may yet hold an informal talk when the American leader meets the leaders of ASEAN in a dialogue. This was confirmed by Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes who said the US leader will have an opportunity to interact with Mr. Duterte as with all leaders. So goodluck to Mr. Obama, Mr. Duterte, the ASEAN leaders and other delegates to various summits taking place in Laos.


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