Mindanao Times » Jesus Dureza http://mindanaotimes.net Wed, 19 Sep 2018 01:50:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.25 Peacetalk | Work for peace does not come overnight http://mindanaotimes.net/peacetalk-work-for-peace-does-not-come-overnight/ http://mindanaotimes.net/peacetalk-work-for-peace-does-not-come-overnight/#comments Thu, 26 Apr 2018 10:04:35 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=57196 ]]> (Transcript of the remarks by Philippine Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 24 Apri 2018. Transcript courtesy of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process)

MR. PRESIDENT, your Excellencies, good afternoon. First of all, let me bring to you the warm greetings of the Filipino people and their honored President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. I have a long speech because it talks about the lifetime that we’ve been doing peace work and so I decided to throw away my speech and perhaps just tell some of the narratives that we have been doing today in our work for peace.

First of all, the President who is boldly trying to address deep issues in the country – issues of corruption, drugs, and criminality – but high in the agenda of the Philippine president is how to deal with the peace efforts today, and rightly so, because you know very well that as I speak today, we’re doing a lot of work towards addressing unease and issues of conflict in the country.

As we speak today, we are now in the process of picking up the pieces in our work in negotiating just and sustainable peace with the Communist Party of the Philippines.

I say that ‘as we speak today’ because the President had cancelled the peace talks (in November 2017) because he felt that at that time, there was no enabling environment conducive to resume the negotiations. Today he had found time and effort to already start resuming the negotiations.

We’re also addressing our issues with the Bangsamoro people – the Muslim people in our country who are at the Southern part of the Philippines. We have already signed the agreements before but the implementations did not push through. We are now picking up the pieces again and our Congress now is addressing work towards entrenching what agreements have been signed by passing a law, and that is now a work in progress.

But there are certain things that we align ourselves with. As we’ve heard from the other speakers today, we aligned with the concept of peace and development as a nexus towards bringing sustainable peace.

As you all know very well, you cannot have peace – or you cannot sustain peace – if there is no development; and you cannot also sustain development unless there is peace.

All of these refer to my narrative about the dilemma of the chicken and egg. Which comes first? Should it be the chicken, or the egg? Some will say it’s the egg. Another person is saying it’s the chicken. But the whole issue of peace and development is in the nexus of that narrative.

Which should come first? An ….  of peace and development roadmap – they must both come hand in hand and at the same time, not one after the other. We also have to look at peace lens in doing development. We cannot undertake projects that are also triggers of conflict. That is why it is very important that there must be inclusivity in our work for peace.

We know about the urban language of the so-called moral hazard. We cannot address sustainable peace if you only attend to people who are triggers of conflict, or are involved in conflict. Because the bigger table – which is the public – will say why are you taking care closely of those who are fighting the government? We, your peace constituents, are being left out. Shall we also take up arms in order to get the attention of the government? That is also very important in our work for peace.

We have also organized peace tables because in our negotiations with rebels across the table, we always tell them, “we are dealing with you, but you are a smaller table.”

You know why? There’s a bigger table outside – and that is the public itself. Because if you will address the concern of the smaller table, you will have a problem of implementing agreement as what we have seen In our country very recently.

You have to therefore address the bigger table. The bigger table is the general public. We have experienced, for example, of the non-passage of a law that would implement and entrench the peace agreement with the Bangsamoro. Why? – Because the public did not buy into the agreement. So the plebiscite and the members of the Congress did not approve it.

Now we are addressing the bigger table as we address the smaller table. We also have to recognize a very basic thing about unity and diversity. The Philippines is so diverse: we have Muslims, Christians, indigenous peoples. They have their own identity and way of doing things. We don’t want to mainstream them into one body, and their culture in one practice. We must accept that we are different, understand that we are different – because it is in unity in diversity that we can bring about a sustainable peace in the country.

Remember, when we sign peace agreements, it is not already the end. In fact, signing of peace agreements provides more challenges to be implemented on the ground. There is a reason why we have the 1996 Peace Agreement with the Moro group. Up to now we are still in the process of working towards full implementation of peace agreements.

Agreements are only an initial step. They provide challenges even and it is how we are able to come up. And in these challenges that will bring us further towards sustainable peace.

We would also like to take this opportunity to thank the United Nations and the foreign nations who have kept faith with our work for peace. Many mechanisms for peace have been in place in the country today are being supported strongly by the UN systems and the UN agencies. But aside from financial support, I’d like to mention the importance of the presence of mediators who are facilitators of our peace meetings. We have noticed that when there are foreign nations supporting the peace process, it is not too easy for the rebel groups in times of challenging situations in the process of the negotiation that they will walk away from the table.

We consider our foreign partners as our umbilical cords that will keep us intact together. Now we are facing violent extremism as a big challenge not only to the Philippines but to the whole world as well. We have a recent incident wherein violent extremism occurred in a place called Marawi. There are many lessons to be learned from that, and we are still handling that now. We are trying to rebuild the results of conflict and the destruction because of the incident but as you know very well, and from our own experience, and I think every country experiences this, it’s very easy to reconstruct buildings and structures. But it is very difficult to put back again the structure of social cohesion.

The idea of social healing is very important. We would like to thank again the United Nations in bringing about this new paradigm shift – not only putting a lot of effort and focus on rebuilding the aftermaths of conflict, but also in investing in preventing the onslaught of conflict.

This is where we are thankful because we, the Philippines, had experienced such problem. And you know very well that addressing this early on without waiting for incidents of unease to arise, is something that is more meaningful and valuable in our work for peace.

Our work for peace is something that does not come overnight. I call it peace by piece – one step at a time. If you will listen to Colombia saying brick by brick – we cannot be an overnight structure that we can see immediately before us. But each year, each country, each administration works in every brick. Sometimes one brick was put down, broken, but we have to repair it so we can reach the final destination.

The work for peace is not an easy to road to travel. There are roadblocks. There are many ways, however, to peace. We cannot avoid roadblocks, find way, but we have to stay in the course.

And so it is where we thank our foreign partners with our work. The challenge in the Philippines is continuing, and we hope that we will continue to get support and operation most especially by the United Nations.

Thank you very much. Maraming salamat po at mabuhay kayong lahat.

 

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EDITORIAL| Handover Day http://mindanaotimes.net/editorial-handover-day/ http://mindanaotimes.net/editorial-handover-day/#comments Thu, 23 Nov 2017 17:20:24 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=50853 ]]> (NOTE: This is the last installment of a four-day series authored by Peace Secretary Dureza on the Maguindanao massacre.)

D-DAY, Nov.26, 2009 (Thursday)

Before daybreak, without warning, government forces as planned took over and occupied the ARMM facilities in Cotabato City including other buildings and premises in Maguindanao province. Armed elements loyal to the Ampatuans were taken by surprise and gave up their firearms without resistance.

8:00AM—I had little sleep and it was already 8 o’clock but my body refused to rise immediately. I was nervous a bit but confident. The “what if” scenarios kept popping up in my mind. I motored to the 601st brigade for the final briefings. Two military choppers from Awang, Cotabato would pick me up from there on time for the agreed 10 a.m. pickup. In between sips of coffee and some final points,   Gen Ferrer and I watched from the grounds as more newly arrived troops from Samar with armor and all were jumping off towards designated areas.

9:00AM – I was informed that something went wrong with the Huey helicopters from Cotabato . The Davao choppers were instead dispatched but would not be able to arrive by 10AM. It was a full hour flight from Davao airport to my location. I was worried. I would not want the Ampatuans to abort the pickup and blame my failure to come at the agreed time.

9:55AM – About 5 minutes to pickup time in Shariff Aguak but my choppers from Davao had not arrived yet. But a good break came. I got a call from Col Geslani whom we tasked to liaison with the Ampatuans that they were requesting for a little time as they were waiting for their lawyer who was still on the road to arrive. It was a great relief! They were the ones asking for more time.

10:45AM, the helicopters finally arrived. We were ready to jump off but we were waiting for word from Col Geslani when to take off. We reviewed again with the helicopter crews the exit procedures and the abort or trouble scenarios, like landing and taking off avoiding low elevation approach and departure due to reports of possible ground fire, etc. It would be a short 35 minute hop from the brigade to Shariff Aguak. My staff Cecil Desisto said she’s getting nervous but insisted on joining. My assistant, Yo Montenegro was busy texting, perhaps reassuring lady love Venus everything was okay. But another problem suddenly cropped up. As we were boarding, one the 2 PNP officers tasked to escort the suspect   said they could not use the handcuff on Ampatuan as the KEY WAS MISSING! What about the other handcuff with your buddy, I asked. “Ganon din po sir”, he replied. I almost fell from my seat! I jumped out of the helicopter and looked for something to use to “restrain” the suspect. I found a fighting cock nearby and started removing its string – to the cock’s great resistance.   But there was no more time. We then agreed that Unsay would instead be strapped with the seat belt and the two policemen on his sides would firmly clasp the seat belt buckles to prevent any unexpected situation while airborne. When I was asked later by reporters why Ampatuan was not handcuffed, it would be a long story and I was too embarrassed to disclose why. But I had a ready curt answer with a straight face: “He is adequately restrained!”. I reckoned Sec Agnes promptly responded with the same line when she was asked upon landing in Manila about the absence of handcuffs.   Of course, the critics went to town saying it was one indication that Ampatuan was getting VIP treatment. Cool!

11:20 AM Two Hueys landed on the Maguindanao province capitol grounds. I saw that friendly troops were already in control of the area. The Huey engines were not shut off as agreed in case a sudden exit maneuver was necessary. I waited for 20 minutes on the ground. I was getting worried. We were there in center field, Hueys’ propellers whirling noisily and a crowd watching with anxiety, most of them media crews covering and documenting every move. Finally, I saw my staff Ollie Dagala with his thumbs up sign. Col Geslani who was with the Ampatuans in another building outside the capitol grounds signaled on his cellphone that they were on their way. Suddenly, my “what if” scare disappeared. The capitol gates opened. The Ampatuan family arrived on board vehicles from another location nearby. I stood and waited for Gov Zaldy who approached me and while clasping my hand said: “Ipanapaubaya ni amah si Datu Unsay sayo” and turned over Datu Unsay to me. I walked him towards the helicopter and then suddenly hell broke loose. Ampatuan relatives and supporters, as a parting gesture started wailing and some clutching on Unsay seemingly preventing him from boarding the aircraft. Others tried to clamber aboard the helis. We boarded the aircraft with Atty. Cynthia , insisting she had to ride with him. We had to eject my aide Nonoy Orgo and he joined another aide, Enu Domingo in the 2nd chopper.

11:40AM, Helis took off. We were heading for Gen Santos City where Sec. Agnes and her crew were waiting for an inquest proceeding. The original plan was to hold the inquest in Manila but Sec. Agnes decided to do it at the Gensan airport so the complaining parties could be present in the “confrontation”.   Unsay was looking relaxed. The Huey seats were rearranged so I was facing him. As we were gaining altitude, he motioned forward towards me and to my surprise asked: “Sec Jess, sa-ang hotel ako e check-in sa Manila? Para mapahabol ko pamilya ko”. I suppressed any reaction to that question and simply I told him that I had no idea where he would be eventually brought but all I knew was that we would go to Gensan and I would turn him over to Sec. Agnes. From there, I would have no more role to play as the DOJ would take over. But I would escort him up to Manila as I committed to his family to see to it that nothing untoward would happen to him during the trip, I assured him.

Again, something happened.     About a few minutes airborne and while still climbing and gaining altitude, I first noticed some flapping sound outside. I thought, maybe some loose parts of the chopper hitting the underbelly. The noise kept coming, intermittent. I looked down and maybe I saw flashes but I was not sure. Suddenly the Huey banked sharply to the right and simultaneously, several short bursts from our two Huey gunners at the back. The bursts from our own gunners startled all of us. The evasive maneuver by the pilot also jarred us. Atty. Cynthia was close to hysterics. All of us kept our heads low as the Huey steeply climbed. My staff Jerry Dureza and Col Macario who were seated beside the open Huey doors moved their bodies inward and ducked.   The soldier at the back shouted, “ground fire, sir”. We still climbed. The flapping sound from outside could not be heard anymore. The gunners later told me ground fire sounded like flapping from the air. At 2,000 feet safe elevation, we cruised. That’s when I saw on the Huey floor an empty shell (not slug, as some quarters said ) from the bursts of the M-60 machinegun on board.

I picked up the empty SHELL, then pocketed it for good luck . I now recall some doubting thomases saying my story about the aerial firing was hard to believe. Picking up on the heli floor a SLUG from the ground fire would indeed be a tall tale. But it was an empty shell –not a slug, not from the ground fire but from our own gunner at the back firing a few bursts to ward off hostile fire, a standard operating procedure. On hindsight, my assessment was that it was not hostile fire from the ground. I surmised some Unsay followers fired their firearms to bid him goodbye.

We landed at the Gensan airport and I handed over Datu Unsay to Sec. Agnes Devenadera. Another problem surfaced. The inquest could not proceed unless Atty. Fortun, the Ampatuan lawyer was present. A quick check showed that Atty Fortun was actually at Awang Airport by that time ready to fly by commercial flight   from Cotabato back to Manila where he thought the proceeding would take place. I had to ask the Airforce station chief to fly the lawyer to Gensan on board a small Layanglayang bomber plane. It was so small and “shaking all over”   that Atty. Fortun swore he would not take a similar flight ever in the future.

By sundown, we were seated aboard an Airforce plane enroute to Manila with Sec. Agnes with Unsay and some companions, including some PNP officers and men who were taken into custody.

Upon disembarking at Villamor air base, media crews and reporters who were cordoned off, went into action. I sported a smirk lest someone again would spot an out-of-place smile. Then I heard someone shouting out a question: “Why is he getting VIP treatment. He is not handcuffed?” I turned to Sec Agnes. She murmured something. Then and there, I could not suppress a smile. I even laughed.

From Villamor airbase, we motored to the NBI detention area. It was there that Datu Unsay was “billeted”. Not at some hotel. (jessdureza@gmail.com)

 

(Note: Dureza had successfully handled past crises situations notably the detention by MNLF Jaber Malik of Marine Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino and OPAPP Usec Ramon Santos in Sulu in 2007; the handover of Misuari from Malaysian authorities to face rebellion charges in 2002; the surrender of convicted priest-killer Manero in 2001; the release of Gen. Obillo and Capt. Montealto by NPA Commander Parago with the Capalla humanitarian team in 1999; the Cebu Pacific plane crash in Misamis Oriental in 1998; the Mindanao El Nino crisis in 1998; the Davao Penal Colony hostage situation in 1998; and surrender of several other Muslim rebel commanders.)

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EDITORIAL| MAGUINDANAO, 8 years hence http://mindanaotimes.net/editorial-maguindanao-8-years-hence-3/ http://mindanaotimes.net/editorial-maguindanao-8-years-hence-3/#comments Thu, 23 Nov 2017 02:04:09 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=50805 ]]> (Note: This is the 3rd installment of a 4-day series authored by Peace Secretary Dureza)

DAY THREE , Nov 25, 2009 ( Wednesday)

830 AM, I visited a funeral parlor in Marbel. Some bodies were not identified yet. I talked with the relatives, many parlor-hopping, visiting every funeral parlor and looking at mangled bodies hoping to identify missing loved ones.

I motored back to the 601st army brigade headquarters. We were frantic for some sworn statements so the legal process could start. It was the third day and there were no arrests yet and the public was getting angry – although I had no first-hand information on this as I was not reading any of the newspapers and not even watching the TV during the whole period. I was just getting text messages. I knew from experience that a crisis manager could be affected one way or the other by external public pressure coming from those who were not on the ground, far from the venue of action and usually unaware of the many facts and nuances of certain developing events. I preferred to stay focused on my game plan.

I reconvened the crisis committee and tasked the PNP team to go and visit the Mangudadatus in Buluan and take the affidavits of the witnesses they could immediately present.   The PNP team returned empty handed. They were told to come back the following day as everyone was engrossed with the search and retrieval operations. Also, the Mangudadatu lawyers would handle the documentation. We understood. I knew parallel investigation and documentation work was also ongoing in several areas. But again, no single document was at hand. Anxious and desperate in having some “paper” in my hands to get Unsay in the event he would not surrender as earlier agreed, I suggested to the NBI team which came from Manila to issue a summons of sorts. Even the NBI team at that moment said they   had no basis yet to issue summons. As a lawyer, I understood perfectly. But how about the public that was already crying for blood? The PNP said it could issue an invitation but I bucked. Knowing the public sentiment already building up, people would surely mock and say: you “invite” those criminals ONLY?, etc).

                12 NOON –Over lunch at the brigade, I consulted with the crisis committee on my plan, which also coincided with the suggestion of Col Geslani that it was time to contact the Ampatuans and call in Datu Unsay to voluntarily surrender. As they committed to me the previous day. Without any document in my hands, I thought diplomacy or negotiations would fill in the gap for the moment. I was also confident that Bapa Andal would be true to his commitment to give Unsay to me.

While this was on my mind, I was already getting a briefing on the operational plans that would be launched to forcibly take Unsay in custody. There was need for time for the augmentation forces to arrive from other parts of Mindanao and even as far as Samar. Disarming the well-armed Ampatuan forces was necessary before any operations was to be launched to minimize resistance and casualties.

                2:00PM – I motored back to Marbel to dialogue with all the families of the victims and brief the media on latest updates. My handling of previous crisis situations taught me that as equally important in dealing with criminal elements was properly dealing with families or those affected by the incident. Dealing also with the media and providing transparent information flow was also very important. Although there were operational matters that could not be made public in the meantime, explaining this to media and the public would be received favorably through frequent briefings.

I made several calls while enroute to the family dialogue. I first called ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan. I told him it was time to bring in Datu Unsay. He told me he would consult the father, Gov. Andal. I said I had only until 5 pm that day to work on this plan. After 5pm, the scenario would no longer be the same, I told him. I sent a soft and veiled warning that if Datu Unsay would not surrender,   things would be out of my hands. The military formula would be applied and it would unnessarily result to lose of lives. I knew Gov Zaldy (Datu Puti to others) was a mild-mannered man and would understand my plan.

While on my way to downtown Marbel, I got a call from the father, Gov Andal telling me that he would turnover to me Datu Unsay but requested that the deadline be moved from 5pm that day to 10 AM, the following day. I immediately told him I could not guarantee things if the deadline were moved. He said the Ampatuan clan would meet that evening and discuss things and bid goodbye to Datu Unsay. I told him I would get back to him by phone.

Up to this time, the Palace was periodically informed of actual developments on the ground. I then made a call to palace officials with whom I had been consulting and informed them of Bapa Andal’s proposal that he would give to us Unsay the following day instead of that afternoon.

There were objections. And understandable reservations. What if the extension was a ruse to give opportunity to Unsay to escape that evening? What were the guarantees that he would voluntarily surrender during the new deadline? People were becoming outraged not only on the crime but on the perceived slowness of government, so why waste more time? The forces were ready to strike, so why delay? One palace official said he would agree to move the deadline to surrender the following day but Unsay must be in my personal custody and   spending the night with me in the same room. Their concern was understandable. They were getting the public pressure to act swiftly. But I stayed the course.

I also reasoned back: How sure are we that we would get Datu Unsay in the operations? From yesterday’s visit to the Ampatuans, I was certain that he was not there in the immediate vicinity but came from somewhere far and surely physically secured considering that it took him almost 1 hour to arrive after he was called by the father. I wanted as much as possible a bloodless event. There was too much blood spilled already. An assault would surely cost lives knowing the armaments and the culture. And there was no guarantee we could take Datu Unsay that way. I also said I believed Gov Andal was sincere when he told me he would bring out his son when needed. To wrap up my point, I said: I would take full responsibility for whatever outcome.

My new timeline was adopted. I called Bapa Andal. Everything was set: 10 a.m. Nov 26 at the Maguindanao capital grounds in Shariff Aguak, the handover would take place.

That night, we reviewed the “pickup” scenario several times and mapped out contingencies just in case things would not go as planned. In the meantime, government troops moved according to operation plans. That evening, I got a call from Atty. Cynthia getting an assurance from me that nothing would be launched that evening until the 10 AM pickup time the following day. I told her that I had full control of the scenario for as long as the Ampatuans would be true to the agreement. Any troop movement they must have noticed was to ensure that the handover the following day would proceed without incident. I knew the troops were prepositioned and in place to ensure our safety if things went wrong , ready to hit if the pickup failed. That same evening, as planned, the troops were moving to neutralize early any resistance. The Ampatuans must have noticed. Or were tipped off.

Later in the night, another complication suddenly arose. Gen Serapio and Col Geslani informed me that they got information that Toto Mangudadatu, as a show of defiance and determination to continue his fight, would motor with his followers to file his certificate of candidacy the following morning in Shariff Aguak. That would endanger the smooth flow of our”pickup” operations in the same venue: Shariff Aguak. I immediately called Gov. Teng Mangudadatu. I told him that there was something afoot the following morning and that, without disclosing what it was all about, I requested if he could convince Toto to move his filing to another day. It was close to midnight and the ground operations were underway. A defiant caravan would mess things up. A few minutes later, Gov Teng called and said the clan agreed. There would be no movements on the Mangudadatu side the following day, except Gov Teng’s going to Buluan to join the rest of the clan there.

I did not get some good sleep that night.

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EDITORIAL| MAGUINDANAO, 8 years hence http://mindanaotimes.net/editorial-maguindanao-8-years-hence-2/ http://mindanaotimes.net/editorial-maguindanao-8-years-hence-2/#comments Wed, 22 Nov 2017 01:43:20 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=50736 ]]> (NOTE: Part 2 of a 4-day series recalling 4 critical days of the Maguindanao massacre authored by Peace Secretary Dureza)

DAY TWO – Nov 24, 2009 (Tuesday)

At the break of dawn, Sec Bert Gonzales and I took the earliest flight to Gen Santos City. The medical checkup can wait, both I and Beth agreed. She’s been used to this kind of “sudden take off” schedules since my work as newsman in the 70’s and worsened by being in the presidential beck and call since President Ramos up to President Arroyo.

We motored from Gensan to Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat. It’s less than an hour drive. At the 601st Army brigade headquarters in Tacurong, a noisy crowd was milling within the barbed wire premises. Hoardes of mediamen whom I personally knew were there at the gate. I told the guards to let everybody in.

10 a.m. –Briefings were held. Also present were PNP Chief Jess Versoza, EASTMINCOM Commanding General Ding Ferrer, Deputy AFP Chief of Staff Maclang, PNP Regional Chief Serapio. Brigade commander Col Geslani was our host. Initial photos of the carnage were flashed on the screen. Gruesome! At that time, only a few bodies were retrieved from the backhoed area. Sec Bert told the crowd that we were personally dispatched by the president to attend to the situation. The Mangudadatus were there seated across the long conference table: Toto Mangudadatu, his brothers Jong and Mayor Dong of Pandag, Sultan Kudarat Gov. Teng Mangudadatu, Toto’s cousin and others.

They were tense and angry but otherwise trying hard to suppress and control their anger and anguish. They wanted to retrieve the bodies immediately. They demanded justice, immediately. The Ampatuans did it, they said. After Bert and I expressed government’s resolve to do everything possible, Toto Mangudadatu spoke and related the events, how he spoke to his wife on the phone before she was murdered, identifying Datu Unsay Ampatuan as the lead perpetrator. But he ended by saying that, in the meantime, he had appealed to his relatives and followers to refrain from committing any retaliatory action and would leave the matter to the authorities to handle.

12 noon – A teleconferencing call connected Bert and me to the Palace where the President was presiding over a hastily called cabinet security cluster meeting. They aborted the planned cabinet meeting in Boracay. This had been trademark President Arroyo. She personally would monitor crisis situations with her cabinet members providing inputs. Although I was “crisis manager,” she was always there through texts and calls. She was giving specific instructions to me, Sec Bert, PNP Chief Jess and AFP Vice CS Maclang. Suggestions from the other cabinet members came. The main task was to do a swift investigation, bring in Datu Unsay and the perpetrators, attend to the victims and assist their families, and do preemptive steps to prevent all-out fighting from erupting among the contending parties.

1 p.m. – The crisis management committee was activated. Assisting me were Eastmincom’s Gen Ferrer and PNP 12 Director Serapio. DOJ Usec Ric Blancaflor’s name was in the box to handle investigation through the NBI.

2 p.m. – Bert left to fly back to Manila. I set up base camp at the brigade HQ. A conference room (functional but hot), a small room with a bed to sleep in, etc. were provided by Col Geslani, the commander. Anticipating that I might be in for a long haul, we bought two aircon units so the staff would stand the heat.

It was at this time that I operationalized an action plan which I initially formulated that evening for the crisis. It was an old-fashioned plan from past experiences.

3 p.m. – Having talked with the Mangudadatus, I decided to go see the Ampatuans in Shariff Aguak. I felt confident. Both families were my friends. And I had direct access to them. Some quiet arrangements were made for my visit. Only with my staff and without military escorts, except for one military officer as guide, I motored to the Ampatuan enclave in Shariff Aguak. The media group which earlier wanted to join me did not follow my vehicle. I was relieved as I would not be able to help them in case something bad would happen along to way. I was not even sure of our own safety due to the tense situation with so many armed elements along the whole route.

3:45 p.m. –I entered the Ampatuan fenced premises and the patriarch Gov. Andal Ampatuan, Sr was there waiting for me. It was my first visit to that house which was a bit interior in location unlike the big palatial house along the main highway in the center of town. With him seated in a native kiosk on the sprawling grounds were several ARMM and Maguindanao officials and relatives. Armed followers were everywhere in full battle gear with armored personnel carriers parked in strategic areas.

As I got seated and with some brief pleasantries, I told Gov. Andal that my purpose in coming was because of the incident and that his son, Datu Unsay Mayor Ampatuan, Jr. was implicated. I said that while the Mangudadatus had given me their assurance that they would leave the matter to the authorities to solve, I told “Bapa” Andal that it would be best that the Ampatuans also “cooperate” and bring him in (Unsay) for an investigation. He immediately said: “OK. Kausapin mo sya. Basta kayo secretary walang problema.” I then asked for the whereabouts of the son and he said he would call for him to join us. I told him I wanted to see Datu Unsay as I got reports that he was missing or had escaped. Bapa said: “Hindi yan totoo. Darating si Datu Unsay. Magpakita sya sayo secretary”. Bapa Andal as usual, was a man of few words.

The last time I saw Mayor Unsay was several years ago when I personally went to his Datu Unsay town (evidently named after him) and led in the distribution of relief goods to evacuees due to intermittent fighting with MILF elements.

We waited at the kiosk but Unsay did not come. We then went inside the house to wait for his arrival. In the meantime, ARMM Gov Zaldy Ampatuan and Cong. Digs Dilangalen arrived from the airport. Energy Usec Sam Ampatuan, Atty Cynthia Guani Sayadi, ARMM attorney general and relative of the Ampatuans among others were there too. I felt a bit tense and uncomfortable. But I did not want to start talking about the incident until Unsay would arrive. We were chatting for about an hour trying to divert the issue and loosen up. A lively conversation centered on how many children some of their relatives sired. One relative had 70 children, etc. While we were chatting about other subjects, I sensed that we all shared some discomfort and unease.

4:30 p.m. – We waited. I noticed that Atty. Cynthia, an aunt of Unsay was using her cellphone and taking pictures while we were chatting about that relative who had 70 children “but of course from several mothers”. We would laugh although traces of tension were evident. It was while we were bantering when Unsay arrived and got seated to my left.

GMA7 that same evening showed some still pictures on TV, me with the Ampatuans smiling. That was taken by Atty. Cynthia when we were bantering about that prolific Ampatuan relative. My wife Beth whom I suddenly had to leave behind in Manila and had since glued herself to the TV, texted me and called my attention immediately when she saw it: “That picture on TV makes you look insensitive” I agreed. That was not the end of it. The following morning, the president herself forwarded a text of similar tenor, some viewers criticizing my smiling photo. I did not respond anymore. (I shared President Noynoy’s discomfort when he got the same treatment with his famous smile inspecting the hijacked tourist bus recently, remember?)

5 p.m. – I was becoming worried that darkness would overtake my return trip to Sultan Kudarat. I noted many armed and uniformed men on the highway. One could not tell from what group or unit. Mayor Unsay arrived a little past 5 p.m. It was about an one hour since the father Bapa Andal talked to him on the phone asking him to come to the house where I was. He arrived sweating and his pants dirtied. He first went inside to freshen up. I knew then that he came from afar and not just within the vicinity. (This observation was material in my insistence later that I should exhaust all means to convince him to peacefully turn himself in. A premature assault without being sure that he was around and within range would be futile.)

When Unsay got seated, I immediately told him that I came because of the serious incident and that initial reports mentioned his name as involved. I told him my purpose in coming was only to be assured that he would cooperate and submit himself to an investigation. He looked at the direction of Gov Andal, evidently seeking guidance how to respond. But the father immediately said: “ Walang problema, magcooperate kami, secretary”. Then taking that cue, Unsay himself echoed saying: “Mag cooperate po kami”. Forthwith, I then stood up and said I would contact them again soon. I also told them that they could get in touch with me anytime as I was staying in the area and not returning to Davao for the night. I gave my cellphone number.

On the way out, it was like “shooting the rapids”. We motored back as if we were running scared. We arrived in Marbel already dark and stayed there for the night.

For all those hours that day, 4 PNP officers were subjected to restrictive custody and slated for investigation, 46 bodies were already retrieved, and a series of confidential action points were underway. PNP operatives were fielded to start documenting evidences etc. but none had been submitted as yet. Media briefings were conducted. Then I got a text message that the president issued a proclamation declaring a state of emergency in the area. She was becoming impatient at the slow progress of things.

In the meantime, the outrage over the incident had peaked as more bodies were recovered and a clearer picture emerged about the macabre mass murder. People were already getting angry and asking government why there were no arrests yet. I was nonchalant. Some even asked later: “why did you not arrest Unsay right there when he came to talk to you?” Funny thought but I was not even sure I could get back to Marbel safe and sound that night.

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EDITORIAL| Maguindanao, 8 years hence http://mindanaotimes.net/editorial-maguindanao-8-years-hence/ http://mindanaotimes.net/editorial-maguindanao-8-years-hence/#comments Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:39:11 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=50652 ]]> This space reserved for the editorial gives way to the personal account of Publisher-on-leave Atty. Jesus G. Dureza who was one of those who first responded to the distress call of journalists when they learned the convoy going to Ampatuan, Maguindanao was missing on November 23, 2009.

DAY ONE –Nov 23 (Monday. I was in Davao City that day and was finalizing arrangements for me and wife Beth to fly to Manila in the late afternoon flight for her usual medical checkup. By noon, I was getting text messages from several sources about the missing convoy. I started inquiring.

General Santos Inquirer Correspondent Aquiles Zonio told me over the phone that he was supposed to be with the convoy from Buluan to Shariff Aguak on board the Mitsubishi Lancer of Mindanao Bulletin Editor Joseph Jubelag, who was driving. But Joseph decided to peel off from the convoy and proceeded to the pension house in Tacurong where they stayed the previous night to pick up some belongings. They did not try to catch up with the convoy anymore.

At 9:30 a.m., Joseph said he called by phone Bulletin Correspondent Bong Reblando who was ahead in a rented van with the convoy en route to Shariff Aguak. He told Bong that they decided not to proceed anymore as they were delayed in Tacurong but would catch up with the group when they return to Buluan from Shariff Aguak for the scheduled press conference after the planned filing of the certificate of candidacy of Toto Mangudadatu. That was to be the last phone call with Bong.

Bong was a close friend and a kumpadre, being ninong to one of his sons. I found close kinship with Bong because both of us had similar beginnings. I was Bulletin correspondent too during my early days as a journalist. He was always supportive of my work in Mindanao, in the peace process, as press secretary, etc. I recall Bong’s naughty practice of calling me by phone and telling me that his article about my latest statement was published in the Manila Bulletin issue that day. When I asked what it was all about since I had not issued any new statement, he would simply say: “Just confirm it, Kumpadre. It’s about moving the peace talks forward”. He knew me so well that press statements I issued a long time ago he would be able to re-cycle and spin aligned with current events. I would always caution him though: “Pakiusap lang kumpadre. Please always tell me ahead what statements I had supposedly issued to you before you report. It may trigger a war!” And we would laugh together.

From all accounts, the Mangudadatus knew of the dangers they were facing in opposing the Ampatuans. They were political allies before. The filing of the certificates of candidacy was a declaration of war. The media delegation to be part of the convoy was a security cordon. Most of them were from Gen. Santos City.

Joseph later related to me that on November 22, he stayed overnight with some media men, together with Bong, Aquiles, etc. at a pension house in Tacurong in preparation for the activity organized by the Mangudadatus. The following day, at 6:30 a.m. Monday, he drove his vehicle to Buluan where the convoy was supposed to assemble before the jump off.

Joseph said there was some discussion, before the convoy left Buluan about the security concern as they learned that there was no security escort provided by the authorities. Joseph said they contacted by phone Gen. Cayton, then 6th division commander based in Awang, Cotabato City who said that while there were no security escorts, there should be no concern. Joseph however got worried. That’s when he decided to just let the convoy go ahead and instead drove to the Tacurong pension house to first pick up his belongings. On board his vehicle were media friends Aquiles and Paul Bernardo. His close buddy, Bong rode in a van and went ahead with the group. There were 6 vehicles in the caravan. Joseph’s Lancer would have been vehicle No. 7.

Aquiles remembered that while they were at the hotel lobby, and while Joseph went up to the room for his belongings, one of the waiters approached him. The waiter was nervous. He told Aquiles that when they left the hotel early that same morning, some unidentified and suspicious-looking men arrived and asked about the identities of those who joined. Aquiles suspected something was wrong and got nervous.. He recalled that they were not able to catch up with the convoy as Joseph stayed in the comfort room for a long time. “Thank god for that bad stomach, I survived,” Aquiles in hindsight told me. Unknown to Aquiles, Joseph had already decided not to proceed to Shariff Aguak and his upset stomach was due to tension and fear. Being an old hand in the area, he trusted his instincts. He decided not to go. That’s when they called Bong at 9:30 a.m. and told him about the decision that they would not be able to catch up and join. The next call at 10:30 a.m. to Bong’s cellphone and all the frantic calls that ensued were no longer answered, except for one call to another media man’s phone and someone with a Moro accent answered briefly then cut the line.

Later that day, the gruesome massacre of the Mangudadatu convoy including the media contingent was confirmed. At first it was a feeling of denial. Almost all of the media men in the group were my close friends. Every time I made trips to Gensan or Cotabato before that, many of them would always be there covering my events. To some of them who joined the Mangudadatu delegation, perhaps, it was another opportunity to do a job. And I can tell you, media work especially in the provincial press, although exciting at times, is a hard, dangerous grind. For one, it does not pay well. But many stick to it for what I call “psychic income” – not the cash rewards, but of course it also counts — but more for the adventure and the excitement of getting a good story out. That’s why they are a special breed – and for all of their faults too. That was the reason why when I was press secretary, to the discomfort of some sectors in Manila, I was giving priority to the provincial press. I recall changing the format of presidential coverages. Where the usual practice was the accompanying Manila press took the front seats and got the first shot of asking the first questions with the provincial media at times sidelined or even excluded from the event, I revised this giving the locals priority even in the physical arrangements. For a change, Malacanang hosted Christmas parties on a regional basis for the provincial press while I was there. I knew how it was as I was once one of them.

By the way, the tragedy befalling our media victims could not be sufficiently vindicated, even if all the perpetrators were sent to jail. For some sectors to even say or suggest that I received bribe money from the Ampatuans to help quash the cases is mercifully wrong. Even my visit at the military hospital as part of my work as in charge of Mindanao affairs to check on reports that Bapa Ampatuan was reportedly getting VIP treatment was dramatized as another telltale evidence that there was bribery. I was fortunate that the emissary of the Ampatuans who was always sent to me during the whole period came out and gave his full story of how I even declined to lift a hand on the case, knowing that many lives of my friends were lost aside from the fact that it was ridiculous – if not dangerous — for me to get a payoff to quash a case totally outside of my control. I asked for a separate investigation but nothing happened up to now. But I guess that’s par for the course for public officials like me. Too bad for me. So you will all understand why being back now in the private sector is so liberating! But it’s another story altogether. TO BE CONTINUED.

 

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STATEMENT|We will not be deterred http://mindanaotimes.net/statementwe-will-not-be-deterred/ http://mindanaotimes.net/statementwe-will-not-be-deterred/#comments Thu, 04 May 2017 00:55:03 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=42358 ]]> WE ARE dismayed that although peace negotiations with the CPP/NPA/NDF are now making some substantial headway, their forces still continue to wage attacks that victimize civilians and inflict damage on the civilian sector.

Although a bilateral ceasefire is not yet in place, the public’s common reaction to these incidents questions the sincerity of those whom we talk and deal with across the table. The public also questions their capacity to manage and control their forces on the ground. There are even calls now to stop the talks altogether and pursue an all-out military offensive against their armed groups.

There is no doubt at all that our security forces — the AFP and the PNP — with the support of the civilian communities must and can deal with these contingencies.

On the other hand, we who are tasked to seek a peaceful and principled settlement must pursue, with more vigor , these peace engagements with the communist rebels. Our expectation is that our unrelenting efforts in addressing the issues, bridging the ideological divide and finding a common ground may eventually pay off and bring about just, sustainable and enduring peace in the land.

No doubt, the task is not easy, taking every necessary step, but we will continue. We will not yield in our resolve. We will not be deterred.

Secretary Silvestre Bello III, government panel chair and his panel are now preparing for the forthcoming 5th round of talks on May 27 to June 1 in the Netherlands. The working committees of both sides have been meeting continuously in the country for the purpose.

President Duterte’s aspiration is to end this tragedy of Filipinos fighting Filipinos. While he boldly deals with those who bring harm to the people, his dream is to bring peace through a just and principled settlement with all rebel groups in the land. Let us all close ranks and stay the course with him.

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PEACETALK| Our shared aspirations for Peace http://mindanaotimes.net/peacetalk-our-shared-aspirations-for-peace/ http://mindanaotimes.net/peacetalk-our-shared-aspirations-for-peace/#comments Sun, 22 Jan 2017 07:44:12 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=38427 ]]> (Opening statements of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus G. Dureza and Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr. at the third round of the GRP-NDF peace talks in Rome, Italy on 19 January 2017).

It is with great honor and privilege that we open again today jointly the third round of our negotiations. We thank here immediately the international champion for peace, the Royal Government of Norway, for being with us and providing to us all the support.

We were able to meet up with His Holiness, the Pope yesterday and we’d like to share the papal blessings to everyone here, hoping that our shared aspirations for peace will not take long for everyone and that it would ultimately be for the good of the whole nation.

I had the privilege of inviting personally our Foreign Secretary Perfecto Jun Yasay to be with us. For many of you who may not know him and for those who have travelled from the Philippines to come here, he is mostly the one responsible for making all these travels possible as our Foreign Secretary. In this light may I share with him with the permission of everyone, my part of opening, making an opening statement and may I invite Secretary Jun Yasay to please say a few words.

SECRETARY YASAY: Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat. Thank you very much Jess, I was not prepared to be here before you to even say or make any statement, I must confess that I came here to the city of Rome to attend to an official function primarily which was to meet with my counterpart the Foreign Minister of Italy, to engage him in bilateral talks yesterday and to sign a few agreements aimed at strengthening the relationship between our two countries.

But I must also confess that my trip has brought about the fulfillment of two of my top bucket list, one is to be able to meet Joma Sison and that is more than enough for me, to justify my trip to be here and that also justifies why I am dumbfounded and speechless, Joma thank you for this occasion of meeting with you.

I had look(ed) up to him and continue to look up to him even when I was still a young college student at the Central Philippine University in Iloilo City and we have a lot of mutual friends. I know Joma to be a very dedicated leader and Filipino who works greatly and singly for the welfare and benefit of the Filipino people. I know him and it is one of the reasons why I admire him most is because when he wants to get things done for the good of the country, he will be relentless and he will not end until that is done.

Number two on my bucket list is to be able to have an audience with the Pope yesterday and I handed over the letter of President Rodrigo Duterte to him. A letter of solicitation and greetings but I do recognize the significance of this event and the process that we’re going through today.

Despite of my presence, I know I could not add or retract from the importance of this event or even its outcome but I bring the hope, the faith and the confidence, not only of those who are here but of our Filipino people left behind and their longing for enduring and lasting peace. And of this if that faith, that hope, that trust, that confidence could somehow add to what we have here as our hope and our confidence that we would be having a lasting and enduring peace soon then that is worth of all of the travels and the difficulties and the struggles that we have made.

On my job as the Foreign Affairs Secretary, as Jess had mentioned to you earlier, was just to facilitate immediately and promptly the travel of those who play a very important role in this process and I’d like to say that this was the direct instructions of the President to me. This is the role that I play, please make sure that all of those who play an important role in the process, facilitate the issuance of the passports, and I am glad that I have not wavered on that.

Thank you very much Joma, Luis Jalandoni is here, one guy that I also admire, let me reiterate my strong belief and shared belief with what had been said by the good ambassador that dialogue is always important when things cannot be achieved, it is always important that we get to talk.

Let me also extend my personal gratitude of thanks to the Norway’s Government support and assistance to make this process possible. Thank you and good luck to all of us!

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STATEMENT|On release of CPP/NPA/NDF prisoners http://mindanaotimes.net/statementon-release-of-cppnpandf-prisoners/ http://mindanaotimes.net/statementon-release-of-cppnpandf-prisoners/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 01:47:51 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=36561 ]]> EARNEST efforts have been ongoing on the releases of prisoners. But necessary legal processes take awhile as cases are within the jurisdiction of the judiciary, an independent and co-equal branch.

We understand their angst and impatience but we are all forgetting that these efforts were never possible nor even imaginable in the previous times. it is only in the Duterte administration that these releases are all happening.

We are appalled why some sectors are now even publicly attacking government for “not delivering enough” and for the perceived delay. Those mass actions and media attacks serve as good reminders for us in government that we need to do more. But putting undue public pressure on the government which has already taken unprecedented steps may not yield their intended results.

President Duterte has exercised bold political will to quickly resuscitate the peace process from where it was. And he does so also mindful that there is a need to balance things taking into account the processes that must be observed and the whole citizenry that he must also engage and  serve.

As the President always says and does, this administration will walk the extra mile for peace. Yes, let’s all be in a hurry but let’s all keep the pace and be in step with him so we don’t stumble.

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GUEST EDITORIAL| MAGUINDANAO ONE YEAR AGO (DAY TWO) http://mindanaotimes.net/guest-editorial-maguindanao-one-year-ago-day-two/ http://mindanaotimes.net/guest-editorial-maguindanao-one-year-ago-day-two/#comments Fri, 25 Nov 2016 03:05:53 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=36113 ]]> (NOTE: Part 2 of a 4-day series recalling 4 critical days of the so-called Maguindanao massacre authored by Dureza , former presidential adviser for Mindanao. He is now back in government as Peace Secretary)

12 NOON – A teleconferencing call connected Bert and me to the Palace where the President was presiding over a hastily called cabinet security cluster meeting. They aborted the planned cabinet meeting in Boracay. This had been trademark President Arroyo. She personally would monitor crisis situations with her cabinet members providing inputs. Although I was “crisis manager”, she was always there through texts and calls. She was giving specific instructions to me, Sec Bert, PNP Chief Jess and AFP Vice CS Maclang.   Suggestions from the other cabinet members came. The main task was to do a swift investigation,   bring in Datu Unsay and the perpetrators, attend to the victims and assist their families, and do preemptive steps to prevent all-out fighting from erupting among the contending parties.

1:00 PM – The crisis management committee was activated. Assisting me were Eastmincom Gen Ferrer, PNP 12 Director Serapio. DOJ Usec Ric Blancaflor’s name was in the box to handle investigation through the NBI.

2:00 PM – Bert left to fly back to Manila. I set up base camp at the brigade HQ. A conference room (functional but hot) , a small room with a bed to sleep in, etc were provided by Col Geslani, the commander. Anticipating that I might be in for a long haul, we bought 2 aircon units so the staff would stand the heat.

It was at this time that I operationalized an action plan which I initially formulated that evening for the crisis. It was an old-fashioned plan from past experiences.

3:00PM – Having talked with the Mangudadatus, I decided to go see the Ampatuans in Shariff Aguak. I felt confident. Both families were my friends. And I had direct access to them. Some quiet arrangements were made for my visit. Only with my staff and without military escorts, except for one military officer as guide, I motored to the Ampatuan enclave in Shariff Aguak.   The media group which earlier wanted to join me did not follow my vehicle. I was relieved as I would not be able to help them in case something bad would happen along to way. I was not even sure of our own safety due to the tense situation with so many armed elements along the whole route.

3:45PM –I entered the Ampatuan fenced premises and the patriarch Gov. Andal Ampatuan, Sr was there waiting for me. It was my first visit to that house which was a bit interior in location unlike the big palatial house along the main highway in the center of town. With him seated in a native kiosk on the sprawling grounds were several ARMM and Maguindanao officials and relatives. Armed followers were everywhere in full battle gear with armored personnel carriers parked in strategic areas. (To be continued)

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GUEST EDITORIAL|Maguindanao one year ago (Day Two) http://mindanaotimes.net/guest-editorialmaguindanao-one-year-ago-day-two/ http://mindanaotimes.net/guest-editorialmaguindanao-one-year-ago-day-two/#comments Thu, 24 Nov 2016 01:29:37 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=36051 ]]> (NOTE: Part 2 of  a 4-day series recalling 4 critical days of the so-called Maguindanao massacre authored by Dureza , former presidential adviser for Mindanao. He is now back in government as Peace Secretary)

NOV. 24, 2009 (TUESDAY)  - At the break of dawn, Sec Bert Gonzales  and I took  the earliest flight to Gen Santos City.    The medical checkup can wait, both I and Beth agreed. She’s been used to this kind of “sudden take off” schedules since my work as newsman in the 70’s and worsened by being in the presidential beck and call since President Ramos up to President Arroyo.

We motored from Gensan to Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat. It’s less than an hour drive. At  the 601st Army brigade headquarters in Tacurong,   a noisy crowd was milling within the barbed wire premises. Hoardes of mediamen whom I personally knew were there at the gate.  I told the guards to let everybody in.

10 AM  –Briefings were held. Also present were PNP Chief Jess Versoza,  EASTMINCOM Commanding General Ding Ferrer, Deputy AFP Chief of Staff Maclang, PNP Regional Chief Serapio. Brigade commander Col Geslani was our host.  Initial photos of the carnage were flashed on the screen. Gruesome! At that time, only a few bodies were retrieved from the backhoed area. Sec Bert told the crowd that we were personally dispatched by the president to attend to the situation. The Mangudadatus were there seated across the long conference table: Toto Mangudadatu, his brothers Jong and Mayor Dong of Pandag, Sultan Kudarat Gov. Teng Mangudadatu, Toto’s cousin and others.

They were tense and angry but otherwise trying hard to suppress and control their anger and anguish. They wanted to retrieve the bodies immediately.  They demanded justice, immediately.  The Ampatuans did it, they said. After Bert and I expressed government’s resolve to do everything possible, Toto Mangudadatu spoke and related the events,  how he spoke to his wife on the phone before she was murdered, identifying Datu Unsay Ampatuan as the lead perpetrator. But he ended by saying that, in the meantime,  he had appealed to his relatives and followers to refrain from committing any retaliatory action and would  leave the matter to the authorities to handle. (To be continued)

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