The most important in the Kingdom by Shay Cullen


Recently I was talking to a group of forty young boys who had been taken out of filthy jails and sub-human conditions in the so-called youth detention centers of Metro Manila. I told them, ‘You are the children of God and the most important in God’s family. That’s why you are here. You are free and have rights and dignity’.
They stared wide-eyed with incredulous looks of awe and bafflement. Jason, ten years old, jumped up, spread out his arms and began to spin around in a playful demonstration of ‘being free’. Everyone laughed and enjoyed the moment.
The boys between 9 and 16 are living happily in a beautiful home in the countryside and finding and experiencing their basic rights and joys that we, who have never suffered an injustice or been in conflict with the law or lost our freedom, take for granted and so hardly ever cherish and celebrate. You may never value it until it is taken away.
A large majority of the boys at the Preda Foundation’s New Dawn Home for Boys in conflict with the law are not convicted and not on trial. They are sent to get treatment and therapy and help for troubled lives. They are free to run wherever they want in the grounds. There are no guards, steel bars, wire cages and brutal treatment which they experienced in the jails and youth detention and so-called reformatory centers where they were locked up like animals without light, exercise, education or entertainment, affirmation or legal process.
It is the first time for them to experience such rights and respect and for them it is an amazing wonder. The Preda staff and I tell them the truth about themselves – ‘You are good, you have rights and dignity, you have had a hard life and made mistakes under the bad influence of adults but you can choose now to live another positive way’.
They listen with wide-eyed wonder and can scarcely believe this good news since they have hardly ever experienced being loved, wanted, valued, supported, fed and cherished. Instead they have been rejected all their lives and told they are a burden and a pest to their family and society and deserve punishment and imprisonment. They might as well have been on death row.
Now at Preda this bad experience and negative conditioning is being turned on its head. Now they are told – ‘You are free here at the Preda New Dawn Home for Boy to stay or leave. Know that you are of importance, value and are good in yourselves. Do not believe or think of yourselves as bad, criminal or useless young people. You are God’s children and the most important in God’s family. Jesus said so.’
Hearing and knowing this good news, each one, free of fear, reprimand and punishment, they can develop self-awareness, self-consciousness and begin to grow as persons. It is a vital part of being fully human and something they have hardly ever experienced. They feel respected and valued and can have a dream to reach a positive goal. They are assured that they will be helped to achieve a better, happier life for themselves and their future families when they grow up. What attitudes they have today will be how they will treat others in the future. They must learn and grow for the better.
It takes time for all this to sink in, so conditioned are these 9- to 16-year-old boys. We have to undo the harm and negativity that has been heaped on them from childhood by parents, relatives and local authorities. They have been branded by parents and society as worthless thieves, drug dependents and social outcasts. But they are not.
Normally good children who are misunderstood and unloved and branded as bad will likely become what they are called. Adults and parents must be careful never to physically, verbally or emotionally abuse children. They will rebel and find ways to retaliate. They feel injustice like everyone else.
At times I challenge parents of troubled, unruly and drug-taking children by asking how it is that they were born innocent but have become like this. I ask them, ‘Why do your children take pain-killers? Who is causing the pain? How have you treated and spoken to them as they were growing up?’
Inevitably the parents will respond defensively. ‘It’s not us, he (she) never listens to us, has no discipline, never obeys, steals, takes drugs, seldom goes to school, is a computer games addict, does not come home and prefers to be with the street gangs.’
Some parents admit that they voluntarily turned their child over to the detention center, ‘To teach him/her a lesson’, they say. Punishment is no cure for troubled and hurt children. It hurts and alienates them all the more.
To parents like that I usually respond, ‘How is it then that your son is here at Preda for two months and has never run away, does not steal, does not take drugs, is never violent, is helpful, does his duties, attends classes daily and respects the staff and other boys? Perhaps there is a problem in the home? With you he is a wild rebel. Here he is a normal respectful boy. Who needs to change, you or him?’ And so the parents have to reflect on their family life and ask if there is a lack of loving parenting.
What inspires and motivates the youth is to know that their parents are willing to cooperate and attend parenting seminars and to accept and admit that they too have made mistakes and are willing to reconcile with their child. The hope of family reconciliation and peace-making and acceptance back into the family is what motivates the boy to continue in the Preda home. The loss of love and friendship with parents and family is the greatest hurt and loss. Peacemaking and acceptance is the greatest gift.


On September 12 a 18-year-old chinese Li Peizhi, was seized by unidentified gunmen in the town of Kabasalan, Zamboanga Sibugay province in strife-torn Southern Philippines. The kidnappers  could be the same group who had kidnapped Australian Richard Rodwell in 2011.

From January to August this  year, there were 33 incidents of kidnapping across the country  17 of them Filipino-Chinese.

On September 11, a midwife,  Leilani Bernabe was freed.  She was kidnapped on August  28  on her way to Luuk District Hospital when she was seized by a group of men in the village called Lihbug Kabaw near Panglima Estino town, Sulu Island, on Thursday morning

The abduction occurred a day after Abu Sayyaf militants freed a kidnapped mechanic Ronald Pelegrin, 39, who works for the provincial government.

Pelegrin, a native of Zamboanga city, was kidnapped on August 16. 30 armed men kidnapped Pelegrin, but his assistant Dante Avilla, 29, was killed while trying to escape.

Kidnapping for ransom has become common over the past three decades , with small-scale “freelance” kidnappers aiming to make money. Kidnappings in the Philippines nearly doubled in 2013—and there were more than 20 kidnap-for-ransom cases alone, based on media reports and government figures.

Pirates trolling the Sulu Sea, which separates the Philippines islands from Malaysia’s Sabah region, have been the scene of numerous abductions over the last decade. Just last November, armed gunman took a Taiwanese tourist from an island just off Sabah after killing her husband. The tourist was rescued a month later.

What’s fueling the kidnapping: Criminals and separatist groups that operate in the region treat foreigners, particularly wealthy visitors from China. Abu Sayyaf, a prominent militant Islamist group has been responsible for numerous tourist abductions over the past years. Some figures suggest the group has collected over $35 million in ransom fees. It also reportedly uses kidnapping to recruit local children.

Aside Abu Sayyaf .. Pentagon, a gang active among Muslim communities on the southern island of Mindanao was blamed for a series of abductions in 2002, including two Chinese engineers working on a Japanese-funded irrigation project who were late killed.


New Archbishop in Zamboanga City

Monsigñor Crisologo Manongas, administrator of the Archdiocese of Zamboanga, said Papal Nuncio Guiseppe Pinto, the Apostolic Nunciature to the Philippines, will lead the installation of Bishop Romulo Dela Cruz on May 14, 2014. Manongas said the installation ceremony will be held at the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Concepcion. Dela Cruz, 66, was named by Pope Francis as this city’s archbishop last March 15.

Prior to his appointment, Dela Cruz served as bishop of Kidapawan City since June 2008, replacing Bishop Romulo Valles when the latter was named archbishop of this city. Valles was made archbishop of Davao City last 2012 and since then Zamboanga did not have an archbishop. Dela Cruz had also served as bishop of nearby Basilan province from 1988 and of Antique in the Visayas from 2001 until his appointment as bishop of Kidapawan.

He was born on June 24, 1947 in Iloilo but at an early age he and his parents migrated to Mindanao. Dela Cruz is currently a member of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Episcopal Commission on Social Communications and Mass Media and vice chairman of the Episcopal Office on Women. Dela Cruz’s appointment is Vatican’s second major act this year for the church in Mindanao. The first one was last month wherein Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo was elevated and named as member of the Vatican’s College of Cardinals, the eighth Filipino to be named to the high office. Dela Cruz, as the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Zamboanga, will have supervision over the Prelature of Isabela in Basilan, Prelature of Ipil in Zamboanga Sibugay, and the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo in Sulu.


Agreement in Bangsamoro after 30 years

After 17 years of negotiations, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Thursday signed a peace agreement that seeks to end more than 30 years of the secessionist movement in Mindanao.

It is called :  Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB).

The CAB has 5 component documents. They are the framework agreement signed in 2012 and separate annexes on revenue generation and wealth sharing, normalization, power sharing, and transitional arrangement. The CAB outlines the general features of the political settlement, defines the structure and powers of the Bangsamoro government that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and sets the principles processes and mechanisms for a smooth transition until the election of Bangsamoro officials in 2016. Signed in 2012, the FAB paved the way for the creation of a 15-man transition commission that will draft a proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that will institutionalize and give teeth to the final peace agreement. Unlike the ARMM which is led by a governor elected at large, the Bangsamoro will have a ministerial government. Voters in a regular Bangsamoro election will elect parties whose members will sit in the Bangsamoro assembly. The assembly members will then elect from among themselves a chief minister who will serve as the head of the Bangsamoro. The chief minister will choose the deputy and other ministers that will form the cabinet from the assembly. The assembly will have at least 50 members. The Bangsamoro will have an autonomous relationship with the national government.

The Bangsamoro geographical coverage will be determined by a plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in the existing ARMM areas, as well as other areas that want to join so long as 10 percent of the registered voters in those areas file a petition for inclusion. The BBL will also likewise define the relationship of the Bangsamoro and central governments and existing local government units — which powers will stay with national, shared with Bangsamoro, or devolved to Bangsamoro exclusively. The Bangsamoro will have a council of leaders chaired by the chief minister and composed of local government unit officials and a representative of the non-Moro indigenous communities. The BBL shall also likewise spell out the creation of a judicial system wherein existing civilian courts will continue to exercise jurisdiction over non-Muslims, and Shariah courts will cover Muslims.

The Bangsamoro judicial system will be under the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

The CAB also calls for a gradual laying down of arms by MILF. It likewise spells out the timetable for the crafting of the BBL. The central government will retain powers on defense and external security, foreign policy, common market and global trade, coinage and monetary policy, citizenship and naturalization, and postal service.

Controversial provision

One controversial provision of the CAB is the function of the transition commission to work on proposals to amend the Constitution for the purpose of accommodating and entrenching in the Constitution the agreements. While the Bangsamoro has exclusive powers over trade, registration of businesss names and other items relevant to trade, the national government retains powers to enter into international agreements. Likewise, loans requiring a sovereign guarantee must be done by the national government. The annex on revenue generation and wealth sharing gives the Bangsamoro powers to exercise powers over taxes and revenue generation already devolved to the ARMM.

In addition, they may impose capital gains tax, documentary stamp tax, donors’ tax and estate tax. Income derived from Bangsamoro GOCCs and GFIs go to it. The Bangsamoro will be funded from a bloc grant from the national government that will be automatically appropriated from the annual national budget. The BBL will provide the formula for computing the amount which should be no less than the last budget of the ARMM. Around 75% of national taxes collected by Bangsamoro goes to it and 25% goes to the national government. It covers income taxes, VAT and percentage taxes but excludes tariff and customs duties. For natural resources, 100% of revenues from non-metallic minerals will go to the Bangsamoro. For metallic, 75% goes to Bangsamoro, 25% for central, and for fossil fuels, it’s 50-50. Revenues from additional taxes beyond those devolved and the share in revenues derived from exploration, development and utilization shall be deducted from the bloc grant.

Transition to peace

The annex on normalization provides for the MILF’s transition to a peaceful civilian life, including putting their weapons beyond use, redress of grievances, and rehabilitation of conflict-affected areas. It provides that an independent decommissioning body will oversee the decommissioning, with the time frame in 2016. The Bangsamoro will have a police force civilian in character and responsible to both Bangsamoro and the national government. Law enforcement will be transferred from the Armed Forces to the Bangsamoro police. However, the agreement doesn’t explicitly say that it will be under the PNP—even if the 1987 Constitution says there shall only be one national police.

During the transition, a joint peace and security team of the PNP, AFP, and MILF will maintain peace and order. The annex on transitional arrangements and modalities provides for the transition from the ARMM to the Bangsamoro.

It has 4 bodies: the Transition Commission (TC), the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the third-party monitoring team, and the joint normalization committee. The TC will draft the BBL, submit it to the Pesident who will certify it as an urgent bill, and submit it to Congress. Once enacted, the BBL will be put to a plebiscite. The TC may also work on proposals to amend the Constitution. The ARMM will then give way to a BTA that will govern the interim ministerial government. Local governments and local government officials will stay in place. Civil servants with tenure will also remain. The BTA officials will be appointed by the President. The 5-man third party monitoring team will be composed of representatives from international and domestic groups. Their main task is to monitor the agreement’s implementation. The joint normalization committee will ensure the coordination between the government and the MILF during the transition. The exit document terminating the peace negotiations will be crafted and signed only once all the provisions are implemented.

It is hoped that the BBL will be enacted by year end to pave the way for a plebiscite in early 2015 and the regular elections of the Bangsamoro in 2016.