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Survival Issue is a Political Reality, says Cong. Sarmiento

By GINA DEAN-RAGUDO, Samar News.com
July 12, 2010

CALBAYOG CITY  –  Nakabuhi na ak yakan kan SB (Cong. Sonny Belmonte), si GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) damo an naihatag nga proyekto sa Calbayog. Pag-anunsyo niya nga diri na siya madalagan ka speaker, nakuhaan ak sakit sa ulo. (I have given my word to SB, GMA has provided more projects in Calbayog. But when she declared she’s no longer running for speakership, I lost my headache.), says Samar First District Representative Mel S. Sarmiento in a press conference at Calbayog Sports Complex after Calbayog City officials and LP’s Sangguniang Panlalawigan members made their oaths of office on July 1, 2010.

Congressman Mel Sarmiento

Under the present administration, Cong. Sarmiento admitted that he eventually joined the Liberal Party.  From LAKAS-KAMPI-CMD under GMA, he said that the group (Samar/Calbayog local candidates) finally decided to go back to the mother party (LP) despite creating collateral damage to the former.  In Calbayog City or Samar, only two parties are being recognized by the people – the Liberal Party and Nacionalista Party. Though he further disclosed that the LP has encountered problems leading to political divisions such as the 1940’s Quirino-Avelino wings, 1980’s Kalaw-Salonga wings and Atienza-Drilon wings which was resolved recently. Under Atienza who opted to support former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, they were endorsed to the latter who was then under the LAKAS-KAMPI-CMD. To be assured of support from the national government, they were able to obtain certificates of nominations from LAKAS.

Survival issue is a political reality. Masakit nga an administrasyon an ginhaharass kontra san oposisyon. (It is painful that the administration is being harassed than the opposition). Many incidents took place prior to the elections ending up diffusion and have weakened the administration. There were people assigned in GMA’s office who were not loyal to her, Sarmiento revealed.

Knowing to be an ally of former PGMA, he appreciates the creation of the Truth Commission provided that due process shall be applied.

“Maupay iton nga pagcreate Truth Commission basta may due process. Kay kon sa katapustapusan hearsay la adto ug waray basehan nga mga alegasyon, it would be an advantage on her part. Kay kon mayda man gud basehan adton mga asunto, she has to answer all the charges filed in court. But look at the Marcoses! In the long run, the court had been sympathetic and in favor of them. If there is nothing to prove, justice will preferably be applied. However, if the court finds out that there are basis, then she has to face the reality”, Sarmiento said.

As a first termer in the House, he is appealing to the people that he be given enough time to focus. He expressed his interest on health, education, environment, agriculture and budget/appropriation committees in order to sustain the programs and projects of former Cong. Reynaldo S. Uy.  He would initiate in refiling the bill creating Calbayog District Hospital as an annex to Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center (EVRMC) under LGU-Calbayog. He would check on the good programs suitable for the city and the first district of Samar devoid of emotions.

Amidst the stiff political rivalry and enmity taking place between the governor and the first district representative as well as Calbayog City officials, Sarmiento is also preparing for the passage of the bill creating Northwest Samar Province. The alleged corruptible performance of the provincial government has affected the delivery of basic social services as a consequence of its shaky or non-implementation.

“Diri kunta ihulog an harampang sa politika. The area of the first district is not easy – kakuri imanage. Samar is the third largest island in the country. Kunta magin objective in the aspect of management and finances”, Sarmiento clarified.

On the other hand, the solon intends to consult the local officials particularly the chief executives of nine municipalities for the purpose of imparting his knowledge and expertise in governance. His nine-year experience in the executive department could be a tool for development – the local implementation of the programs which is consistent with the national level.

As a former RDC Chair, best valued for his accomplishments in the region raising considerable funds and implemented projects during his term, clarifies that he did not endorse anybody for the chairmanship but is hopeful that the next leader should be closed to the president.

Other bills pending in Congress that he expressed support are the Freedom of Information Bill, Reproductive Health Bill particularly on responsible parenthood, Implementation of Sex Education in the Elementary Level but he has to examine first its provisions, his support for a gunless society intensifying the Law on Gun Ban and his preference for the implementation of constitutional convention with time frame.

Click here to listen to the full interview





The facts re June 5 cocaine recovery in Eastern Samar

By Philippine Information Agency (PIA 8)
June 10, 2010

TACLOBAN CITY  –  Director Antonio Pagatpat of the National Bureau of Investigation informed that his agency was not part of the PASG operations that unearthed 17 kilos of cocaine bricks in three different areas of Easter Samar province.

The clarification was made by Director Pagatpat in reaction to local newspaper reports mentioning the NBI as part of the special operations and “took over and helped out in the shipping (of cocaine) in Manila.”

The good NBI 8 Director disclosed that he only came to know about the operations when the PASG team dropped by his office on Sunday, June 7 to ask him to account for the recovered items.

The PASG team returned to Manila in the early morning of Monday together with the recovered items. An NBI agent from the Central Office came to Tacloban to provide security, Director Pagatpat said.

Contrary to the earlier reports that the Civil Aviation Security in Tacloban denied the shipment, thus the recovered items were transported to Manila by land or by water.

The post operation report of the PASG team composed of SPO1 Tito Q. Macatugob, Atty. Lilibeth A. Llagas and PASG civilian agent Hilario Yalong stated that triggered by the nationwide news on the alleged cocaine packs thrown at the waters of Eastern Samar, the PASG started to gather information as to how the unrecovered packs of cocaine may be discovered. Contacting individuals in the area led the PASG to an informant claiming personal knowledge of some places where the cocaine packs were allegedly being hidden.

Armed with a mission order signed by PASG Head, Secretary Antonio A. Villar, Jr., the PASG team arrived in Tacloban City at 4:30 in the afternoon of June 5. The team proceeded to Mercedes, Eastern Samar and coordinated with the Mercedes Police Station at 8:25 in the evening. It was then, that the team learned that there was no office of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Eastern Samar.

The team then coordinated with the “informant” for the first target area. Several persons were sent to Barangay Hagnayan, Salcedo town to dig up the cocaine bricks in the area pinpointed by the informant. The team allegedly remained at Mercedes town.

The persons came back at 11:00 o’clock in the evening, turning over an orange Hersheys bag containing eleven (11) packs of cocaine bricks packed in plastics.

The team immediately reported the recovery to the Chief of PASG Special Operations Group who thereafter relayed and coordinated with the Dangerous Drugs Board and the PDEA.

At dawn of June 6, the Team coordinated again with the informant for the second target area turned out to be at Barangay Minanod in Llorente town. Again, some men were sent to the area to dig up the buried cocaine there.

While the recovery operation in Llorente was ongoing, the informant pinpointed the third and last target area at Sitio Jaklagan, Barangay Buyayawon in Mercedes town. Several persons were also sent to the place.

At 8:45 in the morning of June 6, a total of six (6) packs of cocaine in brick form, one pack of which is slightly damaged exposing the white crystalline substance which appeared to be cocaine, were delivered to the team. Three packs were recovered at Llorente while the other three packs were recovered from Mercedes.

The 17 packs of what appeared to be cocaine bricks which were recovered by the PASG team were brought to the PNP Mercedes Station where initial inventory and photograph-taking were made in the presence of Mercedes Barangay Chairwoman Josefina Macatugob, Mercedes PNP Chief Inspector Marino Estonio, and policemen SPO2 Julio Quilbio and PO1 Luis Ablay, Jr. There was no media representative known in the area. There was no DOJ representative who could be contacted considering that it was a Sunday.

The PASG team received instructions from PASG officials in Manila to take the first flight the following day, Monday, to Manila and to turn over the recovered cargoes directly to the Dangerous Drugs Board and the PDEA main offices in Quezon City considering earlier coordination with said offices.

The PASG team was likewise informed that the recovered items were already coordinated with the National Bureau of Investigation Anti-Illegal Drugs and that two NBI Agents will be sent to Tacloban to assist the team’s travel from Tacloban to Manila.

After the PNP Mercedes chief reported the recovery of cocaine to the PNP Provincial Director of Eastern Samar, the team was escorted by Mercedes and Quinapondan PNP to Tacloban using a patrol vehicle of the Mercedes PNP.

The team and the police escorts then proceeded to the NBI Region 8 Office to turn-over the physical custody of the recovered items for safekeeping until the PASG team’s flight. The recovered items were sealed and signed by Mercedes PNP Station chief, S1 Cyrus Alusan and a media representative in the person of Miriam Desacada of the Philippine Star. No DOJ representative was contacted.

At around 8:00 o’clock in the morning of June 7, by virtue of the memorandum of agreement between the NBI and PDEA, the PASG team escorted by the two NBI agents arrived in Manila and the recovered items were turned over to PDEA chief General Dionisio Santiago.





World Council of Churches to continue monitoring the HR situation in the Philippines; expresses deep concern and solidarity with Morong 43 Health Workers

June 8, 2010

GENEVA  –  In a clear signal of continuing solidarity with the churches and human rights defenders in the Philippines, the World Council of Churches through its Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA-WCC) invited the delegation of the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines (EVPHRP) to speak before an audience at the WCC headquarters here.

Atty. Edre Olalia (right, in black jacket), one of the legal counsels of the Morong 43, narrating the ordeal of his clients.

In welcoming the delegation, Dr. Mathews George Chunakara, Director of CCIA-WCC said the WCC has supported the human rights work in the Philippines “for as long as I can remember” and will continue to do so for as long as human rights violations go on. He said the WCC, through its General Secretary, is one of the international organizations that issued statements in support of the call for the release of forty three health workers who were arrested on February 6. He noted the strong partnership between the churches in the Philippines and non-government organizations that take a principled stand on human rights protection. Also, lending support was Ms. Christina Papazoglou, WCC’s Programe Executive for Human Rights.

A highlight of the presentation of the EVPHRP was the case of the illegal arrest, torture and continuing detention of the 43 health workers, more popularly known as the Morong 43. Mr. Jigs Clamor, a member of the delegation and husband of one of the medical doctors of the Morong 43, narrated how his family suffered and continues to suffer while his wife is under detention. He said his wife was told by the military officers of reprisals to her family unless she admits that she and the others are members of the New People’s Army. “This is the same story with the families of the other detainees,” Clamor said. For six days following their arrest, the Philippine Army denied them visitorial rights by their families and legal counsel. He thanked the WCC for calling for the release of the health workers.

Ms. Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Chairperson of the Philippine human rights watchdog, KARAPATAN, and a victim of torture during the Martial Law years, said that international pressure is important for human rights work in the Philippines. The number of victims shoots up, each time nobody is watching, she said. Atty. Edre Olalia, acting Secretary General of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and a legal counsel of the Morong 43 discussed briefly the legal twist and turns they are confronted with amidst the impunity. All kinds of human rights violations at every juncture were heaped on the Morong 43, he said as he enumerated the extensive grounds for citing the arrest and detention as illegal.

For his part, Fr. Rex Reyes, Jr., General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, underscored the necessity of living out the words of Jesus Christ who said “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly”. He said the defense of human rights goes beyond political boundaries as, in the process, one speaks and declares hope where it seems not to exist. He underscored the need to affirm the church’s self-understanding as being for and with people. “We do our best to preserve human dignity in that part of the world, conscious of the fact that we are your representatives there. It is an ecumenical task”, Reyes said as he reiterated the WCC’s definition of ecumenism. He thanked the WCC for its unwavering accompaniment to the churches in the Philippines.

Following the session, the delegation paid a call on WCC General Secretary Dr. Olav Fykes Tveit. In welcoming the delegation, Dr. Tveit expressed the WCC’s support to the work of the churches for the defense of human dignity and assured the delegation of his continuing interest on the case of the Morong 43. The delegation is in Geneva to attend the 14th Session of the UN Human Rights Council.





The Case of the Morong 43: emblematic of systemic and systematic human rights violations in the Philippines which are bred by social conditions

June 5, 2010

GENEVA  –  “The Morong 43 case is emblematic of the human rights violations occurring in the Philippines. The plethora of violations at every step of the way, the various legal shortcuts, the brazen abuse or total disregard of the law and the deliberate attempts to escape accountability are conclusive evidences of so much impunity in the Philippines.” Atty. Edre Olalia, one of the counsels to the Morong 43 and acting Secretary General of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), made these remarks at the side event highlighting the case of the 43 healthworkers, during the 14th session of the Human Rights Council held at the Palais des Nations at the United Nations.

Karapatan chairperson Marie Hilao-Enriquez (2nd from L) presents the over-all context of the case of the Morong 43 in a side event at the 14th session of UN Human Rights Council. Panel members included [from L-R] Mr. Roneo Clamo (Karapatan Deputy Secretary General and husband of Morong 43 detainee), Enriquez, Renate Bloem of CIVICUS (as moderator), Cecilia Quisumbing (CHR commissioner), Eric Sottas of the OMCT, and Atty. Edre Olalia (of the National Union of People’s Lawyers and legal counsel of the Morong 43).

Also testifying at the side event was Mr. Roneo ‘Jigs’ Clamor, husband of one of the detainees and Deputy Secretary General of the human rights alliance KARAPATAN.  He narrated the circumstances during and following the arrest of the 43 health workers.  Clamor described how his wife was threatened and that her family would be harmed if she refuses to own up being a member of the New People’s Army. The other detainees experienced similar threats and other forms of torture, he said. He added that relatives who visited were subject to harassment by elements of the military. Ms. Marie Hilao-Enriquez, KARAPATAN Chairperson, went on to detail how the Morong 43 was deprived of their rights.

Speaking at the same event, Commissioner Cecilia Quisumbing also rued the failure of the military to respect the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights. Quisumbing said the military does not respect human rights and does not see the difference between the mandate of the CHR and the investigative powers of the police. This is one reason, she said, the military defies the Commission.  Quisumbing also scored the “apparent impropriety of the warrant of arrest”.

In his response to the testimonies of the members of the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines, Mr. Eric Sottas, Secretary General of the World Organization against Torture (OMCT), noted that the Morong 43 is an example of the criminalization of social protest where the health workers are portrayed as criminals. Sottas said the social conditions in the Philippines, the vulnerabilities of the people and the great gap between the rich and poor and the fact that human rights defenders are advocating for these rights which are being denied, bear on human rights violations. Sottas said the Philippine government readily admits recommendations from the international community like the UN. But, it remains to be seen whether it has the political will to adopt and implement those recommendations.

Ms. Renate Bloem, representative of the World Alliance for Citizen Participation (CIVICUS) in the UN, reiterated that the international community of NGOs has been doing its share of supporting the case of the Morong 43 and will continue to link up and work for their release.

The side event entitled, The Morong 43 Case in the Philippines, was sponsored by the Ecumenical Voice for Justice and Human Rights in the Philippines and co-sponsored by the Civicus (World Alliance for Citizen Participation) and the World Organization against Torture (OMCT).





Group insists counter-insurgency policy behind attacks on lawyers and judges

June 4, 2010

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND  –  Members of a Filipino civil society delegation claimed that the  counter-insurgency policy of the outgoing Arroyo government is the culprit behind the spate of killings involving lawyers, judges and human rights defenders in the Philippines.

“The real problem lies in the outgoing Arroyo government’s counter-insurgency paradigm that employs polices that do not distinguish who are the combatants and who are not; who are armed and who are not…This is a counter-insurgency policy that just lumped together all the critics and all those who are critical of the government’s policies and programs as enemies of the state… and, considering that they are enemies these people must be eliminated, one way or another,” said lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate, vice president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and member of the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines (Ecumenical Voice for brevity). The group sent a five-member delegation to Geneva for the 14th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, which is being held from May 31 to June 18.

The other members of the delegation are: Rev. Fr. Rex Reyes, Jr., general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), delegation head, Marie Hilo Enriquez, chairperson of the human rights alliance KARAPATAN, Edre Olalia, acting secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and  Roneo Clamor, deputy secretary general of Karapatan and husband of Dr. Merry Mia-Clamor, one of the health workers dubbed as the Morong 43 now illegally detained by the Arroyo government.

Zarate made the statement during a forum attended by lawyers, jurists, academics and other members of different civil society organizations from the different countries at the Palais des Nations here.

The gathering – with the theme “Attacks on lawyers, Judges, and Human Rights Defenders: The Urgent Need for Protective Measures” – was convened by the Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, Dutch Lawyers for Lawyers Foundation, Judges for Judges and the International Commission of Jurists.  It was one of the side events of the ongoing session of the UN Human Rights Council

“We believe that to effectively address the problem of attacks faced by judges, lawyers and human rights defenders, we have to employ more long term solutions... long term protective measures that will have greater impact on the persons sought to be protected,” said Zarate who was one of the reactors of the said forum.

Since 2001, some 26 lawyers and 17 judges have already been killed in the Philippines. Some 51 other cases of lawyers being attacked, labeled and harassed were also recorded since 2001.

Zarate’s statement came as a response made by Brazilian Judge Gabriela C. Knaul de Albuquerque e Silva, the newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, who vowed to make herself available on a “full time“ basis.  She also said she will fully use her powers as a Special Rapporteur to work with members of the civil society organizations “to address the root causes that creates a scenario where threats and intimidations are happening.”

“We have to work together and do more to employ effective protective measures to help the judges, lawyers and human rights defenders,” she said.

“In the Philippine context, there is clear interconnection between the culture of impunity, the counter-insurgency policy of the government and the lack of protective measures to address the problems spawned by such a policy,” Zarate noted.

Zarate also criticized the penchant of the Philippine government to “misrepresent” the manner by which it addresses the problem of impunity in the Philippines. He pointed for example the claims of an official of the Philippine Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, who claimed that the Arroyo government immediately acted to “swiftly bring to justice those responsible” for the now internationally-condemned November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre in Maguindanao, Mindanao.  “What swift justice is he boasting about? The Arroyo government through Acting Secretary of Justice Agra even tried to exonerate two of the principal accused in the case while the attention of the Filipinos was focused on the recently concluded May national elections,” Zarate said.

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