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.

Silsilah Wins First Prize in the WIHW 2014 Contest

The Media Center of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement broke into shouts of jubilation early this week when an email came in informing Silsilah that it had won First Prize in the World Interfaith Harmony Week 2014. H.M King Abdullah II of Jordan sponsors the annual WIHW Prize.

The email was sent by Mr.  Aftab Ahmed, Office Director of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, and one of the judges for the contest. The web site of the WIHW says that “The prizes will be awarded to those events or texts that are judged to have been most successful in promoting interfaith harmony, and impacting religious understanding. “The United Nations Interfaith Harmony Partners of Zamboanga headed by the Silsilah Dialogue Movement has been spearheading the celebration of the WIHW in Zamboanga City since 2012. The annual celebration is in response to a UN General Assembly Resolution setting aside the first week of February of every year for various activities to promote interfaith harmony. Interfaith Harmony week promotes the use for dialogue among different faiths and religions and their contribution for peace in the world.  It encourages the spread of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship.  The celebration is based on the love of God and love of one’s neighbor according to their own religious traditions and convictions. The honor comes on the heels of a period of unstable peace and order in Zamboanga City especially the siege on September 9, 2013 by the MNLF Misuari faction which left the city with thousands of evacuees that continue to be a problem to the city government. This year’s events were largely planned by Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, Founder of Silsilah and implemented by the Silsilah Media Office in coordination and collaboration with groups that make up the UN Interfaith Harmony Partners-Zamboanga with the Silsilah secretariat headed by Professor Alih Aiyub. The prizes will be awarded in Amman, Jordan next month.