The stop-and-go peace talks with the CPP-NDF-NPA, the extension of Martial Law, and the closure of Salugpongan schools hogged the headlines this year.
Here are some of the major events to close down 2019, and usher us to the year ahead.
DepEd XI orders closure
of Salugpongan schools
The Department of Education (DepEd) XI announced the “total closure” of 55 Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center Inc. in the region.
DepEd Davao spokesperson Jenielito Atillo said the closure order was the result of the investigation conducted by the five-man fact-finding committee, which found “substantial evidence” that the center committed various irregularities and offenses, including non-compliance of the curriculum standards set by the DepEd.
Addressed to Salugpongan executive director Ma. Eugenia Nolasco, DepEd assistant regional director Evelyn Fetalvero
sent the Sept. 5 resolution of the fact-finding committee, which also directed the center to turn over all the records of the students to the DepEd School’s Division office for proper custody.
The Salugpongan already received a copy of the order last Monday morning. Copies of the order were also furnished to all school division superintendents in the region, the chair of the Regional Development Council and the chair of the Regional Peace and Order Council XI.
Atillo said DepEd created the fact-finding committee because “we do not want to limit our efforts to the complaints of National Security Secretary Hermogenes Esperon against Salugpongan.” The committee was formed after DepEd issued a temporary suspension against the Salugpongan on July 10.
“We want to dig deeper more and expand the horizons of the investigation,” Atillo said.
The committee was chaired by Maria Ines Asuncion, CESO V, and co-chaired by Atty. Arvin Antonio Ortiz, with Roy Enriquez, Janette Veloso and Isidra Despi as members.
On Aug. 14, the tribal chieftains in areas where Salugpongan operated testified. A former student and a former Salugpongan organizer narrated their experiences during their stay at the center the following day.
On Aug. 27, the team conducted a conference with the Salugpongan officials for them to counter the allegations.
After the investigation, the team found out the following:
a. Salugpongan did not comply with curriculum standards set by DepEd;
b. Salugpongan brought its students away from their home without the consent of their parents and used them to generate funds by making them perform the plights of the Lumad in violation of the DepEd’s child protection policy;
c. Teachers of Salugpongan are not passers of licensure exam for teachers;
d. Salugpongan operates within the ancestral domain of the indigenous peoples (IP) community without obtaining the mandatory consent of the concerned IP communities and certification from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples;
e. Some Salugpongan students did not have Learners Reference Number, in violation under DepEd Order No. 26, 2015;
f. Salugpongan has misrepresented its enrollment data. The data contained in the documents it submitted did not match the data found in the Learners Information System.
Atillo said the Salugpongan even taught its students “Bayang Mahiwaga,” not the “Lupang Hinirang,” as the national anthem, in violation of Sec. 35 of the Republic Act No. 8491.
He said Salugpongan also engaged in historical revisionism. Based on the testimony of Asenad Bago, a former student, the school taught them that a certain Fr. Faustino Victorino is the national hero, supplanting Dr. Jose Rizal.
“Salugpongan, as a school, should make the education of its students as its priority. However, the revelation of the students would point to the fact that it is not the case,” the resolution said. “The students are instead not only encouraged, but even commanded, to attend rallies.”
Martial Law to end
Malacañang is not extending martial rule for the fourth time in Mindanao. The announcement pleased the private sector and the city government as local officials have been rooting for the city’s exemption should martial law be extended for another year.
Early this year, City Mayor Sara Duterte sent a letter to President Duterte to reconsider and review the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
The City Council also passed a resolution on August 6, authored by Councilor Mabel Sunga Acosta, committee chair on peace and public safety, requesting the President to exempt Davao City should martial law be extended.
President Rodrigo Duterte heeded the military ground commanders and Philippine security officials’ recommendation not to extend martial law, following the drop in crime incidents in the southern Philippines, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.
“The Office of the President wishes to announce that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte will not extend martial law in Mindanao upon its expiration on December 31, 2019,” Panelo told Palace reporters.
“The Commander-in-Chief made the decision following the assessment of his security and defense advisers of the weakening of the terrorist and extremist rebellion, a result of the capture or neutralization of their leaders, as well as the decrease in the crime index, among the factors considered,” he added.
The siege laid by the Islamic State-inspired Maute group on May 23, 2017, prompted Duterte to place the whole of Mindanao under martial law.
Section 18, Article 7 of the 1987 Constitution provides that a President can declare martial law and suspend the writ of habeas corpus for a period not exceeding 60 days, in case of invasion or rebellion.
“The Palace is confident in the capability of our security forces in maintaining the peace and security of Mindanao without extending martial Law,” Panelo added.
Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. earlier expressed opposition to any proposal to extend the military rule in Mindanao.
On Oct. 25, Esperon stressed that there was no need to further extend martial law in Mindanao if the Congress can pass a measure that amends Republic Act 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007.
RA 9372, which took effect on March 6, 2007, seeks to provide law enforcement and judicial authorities with the legal tools to confront terror threats in the country.
Meanwhile, The Task Force Davao is recommending a conditional gun ban in Davao City if the Martial Law in Mindanao will finally be lifted.
Mayor Sara Duterte earlier submitted for the exemption or lifting of Martial Law in Davao city.
“We need to have prepared actions on the effect of the lifting of Martial Law,” Task Force Davao commander, Col. Consolito Yecla, told reporters yesterday during the AFP-PNP press briefing held at The Royal Mandaya Hotel.
A conditional gun ban means the permit to carry is suspended in Davao City. Owners may still apply for documents to legalize their firearms. For non-city residents, they need to leave their guns when they plan on entering Davao City. For residents, they should leave their firearms when they go out of their house.
The proposal for a conditional gun ban was raised during the Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Council (JPSCC) meeting at Police Regional Office XI on Monday. It is part of the culture of security that the Task Force Davao has been espousing.
Maximum Security Zones
Earlier, the Task Force Davao recommended that maximum security zones be established, particularly in high-traffic areas. For instance, they are thinking of limiting the number of vehicles that can park in the areas surrounding City Hall, San Pedro Cathedral, and the Sangguniang Panlungsod. They are also thinking of adopting the same measure at the Roxas night market.
“There should be an ordinance institutionalizing that effect,” he said. “And we should increase parking violation to ensure that there would be no vehicle-borne IED that will be used by terrorists in Davao city.”
Yecla said they are already preparing for the possible lifting of Martial Law in the city, but they need the cooperation of the local government and the public. “We need to back it up with policy pronouncement to ensure that we will not become a soft target for the terrorists,” he added.
NPA now down to
598 active rebels
The 10th Infantry Division said the New People’s Army (NPA) population in the region continues to shrink, as it estimated that the rebel group only has 598 active guerrillas.
“Not only in Davao region, but also some parts of North Cotabato, South Cotabato and portions of Sarangani province, Agusan Del Sur, Surigao, and Bukidnon,” Capt. Jerry Lamosao, the spokesperson of the 10th Infantry Division, said during the AFP-PNP press conference held in The Royal Mandaya Hotel.
From the 11 guerrilla fronts, Lamosao said the NPA is now down to four guerrilla fronts operating in 46 barangays.
“There are many groups that dissolved,” he said. “There are only four guerrilla fronts that were numbered to 20 to 25 members and eight weakened guerrilla fronts composed of 10 to 15 members, ” he added.
He also said that there are only three remaining Pulang Bagani Commands of the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee.
Based also on their record, they estimate that the NPA has a total inventory of 722 firearms.
“Records from operations and Intelligence branch and, at the same time, the report from concerned citizens regarding the validation of the number of casualties because there are some encounters that we’re not able to determine but we can identify after two to three days,” Lamosao said.
He attributed the increasing number of surrenderees and the diminishing number of NPAs to the whole-of-nation approach of the government to pursue inclusive development projects.
Lamosao said they partnered with the local government units and non-government agencies for the implementation of peace and development. He also emphasized that to prevent the rebels from shoring its militant force, the concerned agencies should address the root cause of rebellion.
Davao City tribe declares
NPA ‘persona non grata’
Close to 600 members of the Obu-Manobo tribe in the far-flung village of Tambobong, Baguio District, here declared the communist New People’s Army (NPA) as “persona non grata” in their ancestral lands.
The “persona non grata” declaration — literally meaning “unwelcome person” — came during Monday’s culmination activity of the three-day peace-building seminar attended by the tribe.
Datu Joel Unad, chairman of the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Council of Elders, said the three-day seminar also resulted in the passing of a joint barangay and tribal council resolution calling for the closure of an alleged NPA-supported school run by the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. (MISFI) in the area.
Unad said the villagers also hailed the surrender of 30 members of the Militia ng Bayan, a mass-based support group of the NPA and its mother organization, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.
On June 1, Residents of Sitio Puting Bato in Barangay Ngan, Compostela Valley joined hands in demolishing a Salugpongan school, which they accused of teaching communist ideology.
This as the provincial government turned over a newly constructed two-classroom school building, just fronting the old Salugpongan school, to the residents.
The sitio, near the boundary of Compostela and Cateel in Davao Oriental, used to be a stronghold of the New People’s Army (NPA). It is under the area of responsibility of the Philippine Army’s 66th Infantry Battalion.
In an interview at the site, Gov. Jayvee Tyron Uy said he was happy that the school building requested by the community is finally completed and ready to be used to serve the children in the area.
“The community is involved in constructing,” Gov. Uy said. The local government and national government agencies joined hands with the military and police for the realization of the school.
The governor said the two-classroom building cost P1.2 million pesos was constructed in 22 days.
Uy led the blessing and turnover ceremony with Reynante Solitario, the officer-in-charge of the Schools Division Superintendent in Compostela Valley.
Renanto Soliterio, the schools division superintendent, said two teachers, both from neighboring New Bataan town in the same province, will be assigned in the area.
In an interview, teachers Michelle Mangko, 22, and Rhea Rojas, 24, said they accepted the task because they want to “teach the children.”
“As teachers, our goal is to teach those who are in need,” Mangko said. “We pray to God to put us in a place where we are needed and this is His answer.”
“The children need us here and we know that they are the future of our country,” Mangko added.
Initially, there will be 75 students in the sitio.
The school will have a multigrade: Grade 1 to Grade 3 in one classroom and Grade 4 to Grade 6 in another classroom.
Soliterio said they prioritized the elementary students because the Bango National High School is just adjacent.
However, they are targeting high-school education by next year in Sitio Puting Bato.