THE GRP-NDFP talks: Seeking peace in the land of Vikings

If it was a portent of things to come, peace in the Philippine countryside may come earlier than expected.

Inside the hotel function room aptly named Nobel – he of the Alfred Nobel Peace Prize fame – halfway around the globe, men and women in their resplendent Barong Tagalog milled around and exchanged pleasantries.

Most of them traveled more than 30 hours and 9,681 kilometers to end 48 years of armed rebellion that has killed more than 150,000 and displaced millions of Filipinos.

It was the start of the formal resumption of peace negotiations between the Philippine government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), a process that started in 1986 but yet has to see a a final and lasting conclusion.

In fact, it has never reached the more substantive agenda of the peace process.

But on August 26, at the end of the 5-day peace negotiations that began on a Monday (August 22), the two parties in the armed conflict agreed to six major points in the first round of formal talks under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Shoulder to shoulder, negotiators from both the GRP and NDFP panels in their national costume at the opening ceremony of the formal resumption of the peace talks in Oslo, Norway.
Shoulder to shoulder, negotiators from both the GRP and NDFP panels in their national costume at the opening ceremony of the formal resumption of the peace talks in Oslo, Norway.

Although the final peace agreement is still a long way to go, both parties agreed to accelerate the process and before they left, ended it with a high note with a joint statement.

The NDFP also declared a unilateral and indefinite ceasefire of its own effective upon the expiry of its August 21-27 limited ceasefire declaration to match President Duterte’s own re-imposition of a similar announcement.

It was something the GPR panel had wished for before flying to Oslo.


Jovial, passionate  

Norwegian facilitator Elizabeth Slattum was pleasantly surprised with the ease with which both panels breezed past some of the contentious issues in the first round agenda.

She noted how much respect both panels have to each other.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende, at the closing ceremony of the 5-day talks, remarked that it was the ‘most kind and warm’ negotiations he has ever witnessed.

Much of the close-door sessions were spiked with jokes and anecdotes prompting the facilitators to wonder if the two parties were indeed at war with each other for over 4 decades.


On the main, it was the NDFP panel who submitted the draft and language of the content of the joint statement with the GRP improving on some points.

What was thought to be hard and contentious negotiations turned out to be, in the words of Presidential Assistant for Peace Process Jesus Dureza, a ‘no-sweat’ affair.

The swift but substantial agreement reached during the formal rounds of the Oslo talks was undoubtedly made easy with the ‘unprecedented and historic releases’ of NDFP consultants, among them Benito and Wilma Tiamzon reportedly the chair and secretary general respectively of the Communist Party of the Philippines at the time of their arrest in March 2015.

Past peace negotiations hosted by Norway – notably between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Israeli government – were so hostile opposing camps cannot be seated across each other in one room.

But in Oslo, both the GRP and NDFP panels wore their national costume, exchanged tokens, shook hands and embraced each other before sitting apart across the table.  It was a surreal scene, making one think it was a cabinet meeting in the Philippines – sans the Philippine president – rather than negotiations between two warring adversaries.

The peace talks were without their tense moments.

Notable among them is the list of 87 NDFP consultants who are assuming pseudonyms.

But it took only one 5-minute break before both agreed that GPH panel head and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III be allowed to randomly pick 5 names with accompanying photos to ensure that the encrypted list contains data.

Government chief negotiator and Labor Secretary Silvestre 'Bebot' beloo is hoping a more permanent truce will be reached when the parties meet again in Oslo on October 4-10.
Government chief negotiator and Labor Secretary Silvestre ‘Bebot’ Bello III is hoping a more permanent truce will be reached when the parties meet again in Oslo on October 4-10.

Talks between the Philippine government and the NDFP collapsed after the rebels demanded the release of a consultant included in the JASIG list who was arrested by the military while formal talks were ongoing before it was suspended in 2011.

The previous JASIG list, which stands for Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantee, deposited in a bank vault in The Netherlands was reportedly corrupted when both panels tried to verify the identity of the arrested NDF consultant.

Former government panel member Alexander Padilla claimed the first JASIG list did not contain any data at all.


Paradigm shift

The release of detained NDF consultants proved to be the decisive factor in the resumption of the peace talks and a paradigm shift in the government’s tact and approach to the peace process has allowed both parties to easily build the needed trust to move the negotiations into the next level.

President Duterte had made it known, even during the presidential campaign period, he would re-open talk with the communist rebels and he would like to see an end to the war in the countryside at ‘all costs.”

Peace negotiations with rebel forces were tops in the campaign agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte in the last election.
Peace negotiations with rebel forces were tops in the campaign agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte in the last election.

While previous administrations anchored their peace campaign to pacification and ‘surrender’, Duterte has said he is willing to walk the extra mile to achieve lasting peace – including amending the Constitution to accommodate the aspirations of all rebel forces and to include the Moro rebels in Mindanao.

To prove his commitment, Duterte appointed several known personalities of the Left to his cabinet and many former communist rebels have found positions in the mid and low rung levels of the bureaucracy.

To cap it, he reappointed and added progressive personalities to the government negotiating panel who were given wide latitude and freehand to organize and recruit members of the different reciprocal committees that would negotiate with the NDF.

With a commitment to grant amnesty to all detained NDF and CPP-NPA members, the condition and atmosphere of the peace talks have gone from adversarial and animosity-laden to candid, jovial and optimistic.

It helps that the backdoor channeling was stepped up in the days leading to the formal resumption of the peace process.

And the Skype conversation between President Duterte and Communist Party of the Philippines founding chair Jose Ma. Sison in May after the president won the election set the tone for the resumption of the formal peace negotiations.


Ceasefire holding

As the next round of talks approaches, the armed hostilities between government forces and the New People’s Army appeared to have subsided and the unilateral ceasefire declarations by both parties seem to be holding.]

“It is indicative of the sincerity of both parties in the (peace) process which augurs well for peace,” Bello said of the lull in the fighting in a press release.

It can be recalled that President Rodrigo Duterte re-imposed a unilateral and indefinite ceasefire on the eve of the formal resumption of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) on August 22 to create a favorable condition for the negotiations.

The NDF in return extended its weeklong goodwill ceasefire (August 21-27) to also declare its own unilateral and indefinite ceasefire when the first round of talks in Oslo ended on August 26.

Both parties are expected to agree to an interim ceasefire agreement while the peace talks are ongoing when the next round of formal talks resumes in Oslo on October 4-10.

Bello, however, is hoping “this will ripen to a bilateral and permanent ceasefire and finally the end of hostilities.”


Balance of forces

The Philippine military has placed the armed strength of the NPA at 4,000 fully armed regulars.

It is down from the alleged high of 25,000 regulars during the height of its combat strength in the 1980s before the 1986 EDSA Revolt.

The military said internal strife and dissention, coupled with intense military operations have reduced the armed strength and capabilities of the communist rebels.

While acknowledging that they were hit by internal ideological debates that led to numerous battlefield defeats and dissension, the NPAs has since “fully recovered.”

The communist-led NPAs are the oldest active insurgents in Asia

In 2012, NPA national operational command head Jorge Madlos, a.k.a Ka Oris, said they have regained their armed strength and are now operating in more than 126 guerilla fronts spread out in 72 provinces.

At that time, Madlos declined to reveal the total number of their armed regulars.

But in Oslo, NDFP chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni said the total armed strength of the NPA has now reached an all time high of 10,000 armed combatants, more than half of which are in Mindanao.

(In an earlier interview, CPP founding chair Jose Ma. Sison claimed the NPA never reached the 10,000 mark of armed regulars going up only to as high as 8,000 combatants during its 1980s peak)

The NPAs are up against a 120,000-strong Armed Forces of the Philippines spread in all of six major commands.

In addition, the Philippine government has more than 120,000 police personnel of which some special forces units are often deployed against the communist rebels.

The AFP and the PNP are far more superior and better equipped than the rebel forces.

But the NPAs have proven to be resilient over the years, waging a Maoist-inspired guerrilla war since 1969 when it was founded on March 29.



Standing, or rather sitting in between, the two contending parties in the peace negotiating table is the Royal Norwegian Government who has been brokering the talks for over a decade already.

The RNG has in fact underwritten the cost of travel of the NDF consultants and the cost of hosting the talks in Norway.

It created a fast lane for the speedy issuance of visas to all delegation members from both panels.

Norwegian envoys Elizabeth Slattum and Borge Brende (right) at the end of the first round of Oslo talks.
Norwegian envoys Elizabeth Slattum and Borge Brende (right) at the end of the first round of Oslo talks.

Norwegian envoy Elizabeth Slattum lauded both panel and delegation members for creating the atmosphere and conducting themselves in a manner that bodes well for the peace process.

She said it was their first time to host a negotiation where contending parties are actually exchanging jokes and anecdotes and are seated together during meals.

They also share the same hotel.

In fact, both parties joined the city tour organized by the host country.

During the opening ceremonies of the talks, Foreign Minister Brende gave his assurance that the Norwegian government will continue to support and host the negotiations for as long as it will take before a negotiated political settlement is reached by both parties.

RNG Ambassador to the Philippines Erik Forner, who witnessed the signing of the agreements reached during the first round, said he was amazed by the conduct of the talks and is looking forward to a final peace settlement.

In a press conference in Davao City Sunday evening (September 18) upon the release of kidnapped Norwegian tourist Kjartan Sekkingstad, President Duterte thanked the Norwegian ambassador for offering to facilitate and providing ‘office’ for the peace talks in the Scandinavian country.(ALL PHOTOS BY EDWIN G. ESPEJO)

Local fish catch up but overall landings down


GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Local tuna catch has risen during the first half this year but overall fish landings dropped by 11 percent, according to the data from the Philippine Fishport Development Authority office here.

The decline in the overall fish landing at the fishport complex in Tambler was triggered by a 42 percent decline in frozen tuna imports from January to June this year over the same period last year.

Philippine tuna catch is having a down year in 2015, a global trend, prompting producers to seek greater regional cooperation. PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO
Philippine local tuna catch is up this year but overall landings are down.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

Frozen tuna imports was anemic at 51,273,208 metric tons (MT) during the first half this year compared to 72,875,010 MT over the same period last year, or a drop of 21,600 MT.

The drop in frozen tuna erased the 23 percent spike in local fish catch during the same period.

Total local catch went up from 42,064 MT from January to June 2015 to 52,299 MT in the first half this year, bringing the overall fish landing at 103,572 MT for the period, down from last year’s record 114,939 MT catch.

jan-june tuna landings

General Santos City fishport manager in Luisito-Romeo Correa, speaking through his spokesperson said the decline is attributed to the low demand of tuna canneries for frozen raw materials.

The decline in imports also brought the percentage of frozen tuna landings to 49.5, a significant drop from last year’s figure of 63.4 percent of total fish landings at the fishing port complex.

But Correa said he expects tuna fish landings to pick up in the second half.

“The vessel arrivals and unloading of frozen tuna have already picked up in June,” he said in a text message.

Frozen tuna imports last month (June) was at 13,979 metric tons, 27 percent of the total for the first semester of this so far.

An industry source who declined to be named said they are looking closely to the current situation and development in the European Union following the exit of United Kingdom.

The source also added that buyers still have full inventory but they expect the demand to increase I the second of this year.

Another development the local tuna industry is keeping an eye on is the landings in Thailand, the country’s main rival in canned tuna production.

“There is a major shift in brands in the EU.  More and more Bangkok giants (Thailand canneries) are buying brands to add to their already dominance in world canned tuna production,” the source further added.

More than 85 percent of fish landings in General Santos City are tuna and tuna-like species of which almost 65 percent goes to canned tuna production.

Frozen tuna imports are exclusively for canned tuna processing.

In defense of Mocha and the Dutertards

The phenomenal rise and eventual dominance of the digital warriors of then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte during the campaign period have dramatically altered the political horizon and left many debating whether or not the social media has supplanted the primordial role of traditional media and is now the primary medium of communication and information.

With over 42 million Facebook and 6 million Twitter accounts and handles crowding the digital space in the country, their potentials as shapers of public opinions and platforms for campaigns and mobilizations are limitless, not bounded by time and more importantly cost effective.

Social media influencer Mocha (middle), whose father-judge was slain by gunmen, is one of the avid supporters of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO
Social media influencer Mocha (middle), whose father-judge was slain by gunmen, is one of the avid supporters of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

This phenomenon however has also triggered the rise of passionate and partisan debates and discourses between and among those who are actively engaged in the digital world. To sum up: very much welcome to many, worrisome to not a few.

The 2016 elections gave the digital space and the social media unprecedented leverage and influence that many are admitting they may have made and unmade a president.

When before TV, radio and print media dominated as popular platforms for information, social media has risen to become their fierce competitors this time.

Where traditional media are governed by deadlines, prime times and distribution, social media are accessed in real time, anywhere and in any place where there is internet connection.

Many traditional mass media have adapted to the rapidly changing technologies in the digital world.  They have invaded the digital space by putting up their online versions.  But they are always, to a large extent, ‘controlled’ and editor/desk-centric  and the influence of their publishers and owners continues to be felt.  Their news is, by and large, filtered through the process of a newsroom.  It is bereft of the interactivity of the social media where the ‘netizens’ become their own journalists, reporters and opinion makers.

The rise of social media forces was also attended by their eagerness to vent ire and give space to stories and opinions not carried and often too glaringly ignored by the traditional media.

Initially given little credit, social media became the alternative ‘news source’ the way the ‘xerox’ and ‘mosquito’ press were during the dying days of the unlamented Marcos dictatorship.

In the case of President Rodrigo Duterte, his followers were soon labeled as Dutertards – being the most widespread, passionate and engaged among supporters of presidential candidates.

The word Dutertards was initially meant as Duterte diehards but the label was later given a pejorative twist – retards.

The Duterte camp said its digital army under the sphere of influence of Mugstoria alone has a reach span of 14 million account owners, pages and communities.

Mugstoria became the tool for organizing the Bisaya Napud, one of the most vociferous campaign groups of candidate Duterte.

Impassioned as they were, the diehards of candidate Duterte became both the boon and the bane in the 2016 presidential campaign.

They provided the platform to generate the desired bandwagon effect by airing and showing the growing multitude attending the rallies and sorties of candidate Duterte which were largely ignored if not deliberately downplayed by the traditional mass media.

Their posts, blogs, memes and vines bordered on the passionate to personal, from intellectually stimulating to downright threatening.  But nobody got away with hitting candidate Duterte without getting bashed, bullied and pilloried.  To the non-Duterte supporters, they were the personification of their candidate who they pictured as brass, crass and uncouth.

Many non-Duterte supporters however did not see this, or chose to ignore the rise of social and digital netizens, as a necessary cause and effect of the failures of the traditional mass media.

So when social media influencers like Mocha Uson posted an apparent exclusive interview of the president who shunned the media after a section of the press threatened to boycott him, many rose up to say one interview does not make a journalist.

They were right but also they were wrong.

In fairness, Mocha Uson did not pass herself as a journalist.  But her feat proved social media influencers can serve as a powerful medium to send messages across.

For that matter, the mass media is now hard pressed to be creative, be sensitive and to rise beyond their biases and prejudices lest they find themselves lumped with the discredited past governments.

And mercifully, be suspected as protecting particular interests – not the least the targets of the campaign of the Duterte administration against crime and corruption.

That is one additional positive of the contribution of the digital and social media in the arena of news and information – citizen participation.


Hello…they have been there for a long time

After ignoring the power and influence of social media and the internet, the camps of the Liberal Party, UNA and Grace Poe are now realizing they have lost this battleground by default.

Now, they are counterattacking by unleashing insidious and sustained propaganda, using all shades of them – black, grey, yellow and everything.

Positive Duterte memes and testimonies far outnumbers negative attacks on Davao City mayor who is now on the rise and threatening to pull away from the rest of the presidential candidates
Positive Duterte memes and testimonies far outnumbers negative attacks on Davao City mayor who is now on the rise and threatening to pull away from the rest of the presidential candidates

They are now trying to paint the runaway leader in the digital space, the hundreds of thousands of Duterte supporters, as a bunch of irresponsible internet platform users, accusing them as fakirs.

Hello there…

The internet is the platform of cash-strapped Duterte supporters who are seeing how big networks have been ignoring what is happening on ground zero in the Duterte camp.

If Duterte supporters are creating memes derisive of other candidates, they should not frown about it. They can always hit back.

But it is not all about hitting back, it is all about believing your candidate.

And the Duterte supporters are not wanting of stories about their candidate. In fact they are flooding the digital space.

It is not remotely possible other camps will try to sabotage the excellent use of the internet by Duterte campaign supporters.

They could plant somebody else – employ hundreds – to mimic Duterte bloggers, users of FB, Instagram and Twitter and destroy them from ‘within’.

Why, because they could not hope to match, the intensity, passion, commitment and sheer number of Duterte’s internet army.

New Duterte ad goes viral

The timing could not be more perfect.

Just as a new Pulse Asia survey showed Davao City Mayor Duterte is trailing Vice President Jejomar Binay, a very unconventional Christmas message is going to be shown in theaters nationwide starting this week although its audio version is already out in the airwaves.

In it, Duterte issued very loaded message for drug traffickers, corrupt officials, criminals and those who made life very hard for the Filipinos.

Kung ayaw ninyong huminto at patuloy pa rin ang karahasan, ito na ang huli ninyong Merry Christmas.” (If you will not stop and the violence continues, this will be your last Merry Christmas)

Davao City Mayor's latest ad is back to the basic: fighting corruption and criminality. Photo Screenshot from FB page of Mocha Uson
Davao City Mayor’s latest ad is back to the basic: fighting corruption and criminality. Photo Screenshot from FB page of Mocha Uson

Five hours after sexy dancer Mocha Uson posted it on her Facebook page, the 30-second ad already generated over 800,000 views and shared by well more than 40,000 viewers.

Shoot apparently inside his office at the City Hall of Davao, Duterte went back to the messaging which endeared him most to his supporters: fighting crime and corruption.

This time, he opted to make his otherwise strong message very veiled.

Choose your wild. Either this will be your last Christmas as a free man or a man alive.

This is the only second advertisement the Duterte camp has produced. The first one was the “Tapang at Malasakit” which also drew millions of viewers and generated popular support. But that was more than 8 months ago when the ad was more of a trial balloon for him.

The ad, which is reportedly produced by an action star who is an avid supporter, has yet to appear on prime time slots.

Duterte relied on being a good copy for the one-liner hunting press eager to draw the biggest headline for media mileage.

Indeed, on the deadline for the filing of COCs, it was his non-running that made all the splashes.

The maverick Davao City Mayor formally threw his hat into the presidential derby on the week Pulse Asia conducted its periodic survey on presidential contenders for next year’s general elections.

Duterte did not announce his decision to join the race until after a month of the October 16 deadline of the filing of certificates of candidacies (COCs) set by the Commission on Election (Comelec).

Duterte now is second to vice President Jejomar Binay who leads the Pack with 33 percent of the respondents interviewed.

Duterte has a 23 voter preference, just two notches above erstwhile poll survey leader Grace Poe.

Grace Poe’s disqualification apparently affected her poll leadership. She was ahead of Binay during the week of the Comelec deadline for the filing of COCs.

Duterte was then ranked fourth.

Administration bet Mar Roxas slipped to 4th place from third over the same period.

Pyrotechnic competition to lighten Gensan Xmas dig

Seven entries have already signed in for the 2nd Pyrotechnic Competition which will also highlight this year’s Paskuhan sa Gensan celebration.

Event organizer Poppy Altoberoz Rillo said competitors each from Manila, Bohol, Dumaguete, Matalam, Tacurong will vie for the P100,000 first prize, up from last year’s P80,000 grand prize winner.

Host General Santos city has two entries.

Total cash prize for the competition is P330,000 with the second prize winner going home with P80,000 and P60,000 for the third prize winner. A P30,000 consolation prize for 3 others will also be awarded.

More and bigger fireworks display will be up in this year's 2nd Pyrotechnics Competition which will run trough December 20 to 22 at the Oval Plaza.  Photo taken from last year's closing ceremonies of the Paskuhan sa Gensan.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO
More and bigger fireworks display will be up in this year’s 2nd Pyrotechnics Competition which will run trough December 20 to 22 at the Oval Plaza. Photo taken from last year’s closing ceremonies of the Paskuhan sa Gensan.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

The annual Paskuhan sa Gensan kicked off Thursday with the Light-a-Tree contest of Department of Education at the Plaza Heneral Santos and the opening of the Oval Plaza bazaar.

On Monday, December 14, grand opening will be held at the Oval Plaza where select competitors of the fireworks display will show their wares.

The city government is no longer spending for the fireworks display for this year’s grand opening and closing ceremonies as per advised by government auditors, a report said.

General Santos City is aiming to become the fireworks display capital of Mindanao by holding the pyrotechnic competition the second straight year.

Mayor Ronnel Rivera said he hopes the competition gains momentum and will become an annual attraction for the city.

“Especially that Davao City has banned all kinds of firecrackers and pyrotechnics,” Rivera said.

The mayor however said he has issued an order to the event organizers to ensure that the safety of the audience and the city is guaranteed.

The fireworks are set up at the grounds of Mindanao State University and are off limits to spectators.

Last year’s inaugural competition was won by an entry from Manila.

The competitors will show their fireworks displays on December 20, 21 and 22 at 8:00 o’clock each night.

Meanwhile other activities lined up for this year’s Paskuhan include Lantern Parade Contest, Battle of the Band, Larawan Paskuhan Photo Contest, Christmas Carol Competition, Swag Christmas Dance Competition, Campus idol Competition and Drum and Lyre Competition.

Nightly movies will also be shown at the Oval Plaza adjacent to the bazaar and Christmas Carnival that is now offering more and bigger rides.

The Paskuhan will close on December 23 to allow government employees and competitors to enjoy Christmas with their families.

Prices of Philippine canned tuna down but export volume up

Despite a drop in price of canned tuna exports, total receipts for the first 8 months (January to August) still went up due to increase in export volume, according to PhilExport in central Mindanao 12.

Average price per ton for Philippine canned tuna for this year is down to US$3,127.48 per ton from US$3,474.68 last year bringing the total 8-month export receipts to US$113,513,764 with still 4 months to go.

Also falling down in price are frozen whole tuna (down by US$648,65 per ton) and pouched tuna (US$1,036.50 per ton).

The drop in prices of these tuna products was however offset by a huge spike in the prices of frozen tuna exports.

Frozen tuna exports according to PhilExport in Central Mindanao, registered a receipt of US$22,081,963.57 over the increase of US$3,087.35 per ton.

Total monthly receipts from tuna exports this year is also slightly better with a average value of US$22,921,172,91 up by US$1,152,938.46 from an average of  US$21,768,234.45 last year or an increase of 5.3 percent.

Bingo! Sashimi!-2
Despite the continuing decline in the volume of local tuna catch, Philippine tuna export receipts continue to grow.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

Total export revenues of tuna products coming from this city from January to August has already reached US$183,369,383.26.

In 2014, the overall value of tuna exports from General Santos was pegged at US$261,218,813.35, according to the records of the Bureau of Customs (BoC) here.

PhilExport Central Mindanao regional director Ismael Salih Jr said based on data supplied by the BoC in General Santos City, total volume of tuna exports for the first 8 months has already reached 60,125.38 metric tons for a monthly average of 7,515.67.

Average monthly tuna export volume in 2014 was only at 6,784.18 metric tons or an increase of 731.49 every month.

Tuna industry sources in the city said despite a 24 percent drop in local tuna catch, local tuna producers were still able to increase the volume of tuna exports largely due to the increase in frozen tuna imports.

Frozen tuna imports for the first 6 months of 2015 already reached 72,875.01 metric tons, up from just 48,464.62 MT over the same period last year for an increase of 50 percent.

The figure for frozen tuna imports this year already represents 63 percent of tuna landings in General Santos City, a new record high since the Philippine fisheries Development Authority (PFDA) office at the  General Santos City Fishing Port Complex began releasing data on local tuna landings.

Local catch however has been on a steady decline over the last couple of years with the first 6-month figure this year dropping by 24 percent over the same period in 2014.

Industry sources said the recurring El Niño phenomenon, fishing ground restrictions and overall decline of tuna stocks have contributed to the decrease in local tuna catch.

General Santos City is widely acknowledged as the Tuna Capital of the Philippines with 6 of the country’s 8 canning plants located in the city.



Davao’s Duterte continues to baffle

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte continues to be in the mix in the 2016 presidential derby despite failing to file his certificate of candidacy at the October 16 deadline last month.

At the birthday of Senator Allan Peter Cayetano who is running for vice-president over the weekend, Duterte reiterated his non-interest in the presidency citing again the same reasons why he is not interested in the presidency.

But he also spent more than 30 minutes laying down what he would do if he becomes president.

To make it more complicated, he said he still has until December 10 to appear before the Commission on Election office to file his certificate of candidacy as a substitute for Martin Diño, a member of the political party PDP-Laban.

Under Philippine election rules, a candidate nominated by a political party may substitute for another if the latter withdraws or is disqualified or incapacitated.

Duterte is a member of the PDP-Laban.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte

The PDP-Laban is set to nominate Duterte as its substitute presidential candidate.

Duterte’s three children by his first wife last week also come out to support their father who earlier claimed that daughter and former Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio was against his presidential bid.

A close family source also hinted that the delicate medical condition of his estranged wife and mother of her grown up children is keeping Duterte from pursuing the presidency.

With several surveys pointing to a tight chase, Duterte’s joining the race will ensure a minority president will again be elected as the 16th president of the Republic.

The maverick Davao City mayor however said running and winning the presidency will be a ‘gamble for his freedom.’

“You are asking me to gamble for my freedom,” he told guests at the birthday party of Cayetano.

Duterte has vowed to go after criminals and has repeatedly said he will go to the extent of killing drug pushers himself.

He also swore to abolish Congress and declare a revolutionary government if lawmakers will stand on his way towards drastic reforms.

At the height of the laglag bala controversy (bullet-in-the-bag scam) at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Duterte said if corruption and criminality persist, he announced that might be tempted to run.

Two previous presidents had been charged for plunder and corruption with President Joseph Estrada impeached and was ousted from office by a popular revolt.

Estrada was later convicted by a Philippine graft court for plunder.

His successor, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, however pardoned him a few years later.

Arroyo was herself also indicted by the same graft court that convicted Estrada.

She is now under house arrest while on undergoing trial.

Duterte is said to be wary that he may not be able to institute genuine reform during his presidency without violent reactions from the elite politicians and government officials that are well-entrenched in Congress and the bureaucracy.

In an interview with Philippine online news website Rappler, Duterte was quoted as saying, “The presidency, it is not without limits, that’s the Constitution. (The present structure) doesn’t want me to have so many doors, so many windows.”

Despite his radical views on governance under his watch, the clamor for him to run has not subsided.

His former close-in aides and advisers are still meeting and moving around the country like he is already a shoo-in candidate.

Cheap, steady power supply for General Santos in 2016

Cost of electricity is expected to go down in General Santos City and nearby towns of Sarangani and South Cotabato next year when the first of two 105-MW coal-fired power plants of Sarangani Energy Corporation (SEC) begins commercial operation in the 1st quarter of 2016.

Acting manager Crisanto Sotelo of the South Cotabato II Electric Cooperative (SOCOTECO II) said power rate will go down by a conservative estimate of Php0.60 per kilowatt hour (kwh) when energy from SEC is bundled into the power supply mix of the cooperative.

SEC is committed to supply 70MW of its power output to Socoteco II at a contract price starting at P4.20 per kwh.

Construction at the 105-MW coal fired power plant of Sarangani Energy Corporation is nearing completion as the company races to meet the March 1, 2016 target for full commercial operation.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO
Construction at the 105-MW coal fired power plant of Sarangani Energy Corporation is nearing completion as the company races to meet the March 1, 2016 target for full commercial operation.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

The average cost of electricity of Soceteco II is now more than P8 per kwh, up by more than P3 per kwh when negotiations between the cooperative and SEC began in 2010.

Socoteco II has a peak demand of 130MW, 25 MW more when SEC and the cooperative signed a power sales agreement in 2012.

The PSA is for the supply of 70MW of base load capacity.

In 2010, Socoteco II was forced to implement as much as 12 hours of rotating brownouts when supply from the National Power Corporation (NPC) dropped to as low as 55 MW.

The power distributor eventually contracted power supply from the diesel-fired power plants of Sol Energy, Peak Power, Therma South and Mapalad Power Corporation to fill the deficiency in supply as power coming from NPC further dropped to between 35-40 MW on the average.

Sotelo said they are contracting the supply from these power plants by as much as P12 per kwh ($0.35).

He added that they will terminate the contracts of some of these power plants once SEC is already energized.

On Wednesday, November 4, SEC fired the boiler engines as a calibrated step towards the full operation of the power plant when the main furnace is already fired to generate combustion for the turbines of the plant.

Marino Gamutin Jr said they have targeted a March 1 commercial operation date for regular supply from the power pant to be fully connected to the power lines of Socoteco II.

Synchronization however will begin as early as December.

The SEC also announced that it has already secured a notice to proceed construction for the next phase of its multi-billion peso project.

Construction of the 2nd 105-MW power plant could begin in the second half of next year.

SEC officials said they expect to finish the next plant in 30 months.

The twin power plants of SEC had an initial price tag of P19 billion ($569 million), the single biggest investment in Region 12 since it was separated from Region 11 (Davao region).

Region 12 is comprised of the provinces and cities of South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani and General Santos City.


Rivera faces personal challenge

Incumbent City Mayor Ronnel Rivera is not taking his opponents lightly but he has more serious business to address.

His eldest brother Ryan is running for congress in the First District of South Cotabato where the re-electionist is Rep. Pedro Acharon Jr.

Not only did Ryan break the unspoken commitment that there will only be one in the Rivera family to be involved in local politics.

Mayor Ronnel Rivera (middle) is endorsing party mate Dominador Lagare III against his brother Ryan who will be contesting the 1st congressional seat against re-electionist Rep. Pedro Acharon.
Mayor Ronnel Rivera (middle) is endorsing party mate Dominador Lagare III against his brother Ryan who will be contesting the 1st congressional seat against re-electionist Rep. Pedro Acharon. Also in photo is Vice Mayor Shirlyn Bañas-Nograles.

Ryan is running against the official bet of the People’s Champ Movement of which mayor Rivera is the standard bearer.

“Yes, it has put me in the awkward position.  I cannot turn my back on Domdom (outgoing councilor Dominador Lagare III) who is the party nominee,” Rivera said Friday after it was confirmed that his brother filed a certificate of candidacy under the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan ticket.

Family members have failed to prevent Ryan from filing his certificate of candidacy.  Ryan is reportedly estranged from the vast family business of the Riveras who own the largest tuna fishing company in the city.

Ryan once ran for congress but lost to Darlene Antonino-Custodio in 2001.

Outgoing Councilor Richard Atendido
Outgoing Councilor Richard Atendido

Mayor Rivera is facing challenge from outgoing City Councilor Richard Atendido and unknown independent Panfilo Alvarez.

Seeking a second term, Rivera is again running in tandem with party mate Shrilyn Bañas-Nograles who is facing lawyer Loreto Acharon, younger brother of re-electionist Rep. Pedro Acharon Jr.

Rep. Pedro Acharon Jr
Rep. Pedro Acharon Jr

The Acharons have kept the local party Achievers with Integrity Movement aligned with the Nationalist People’s Coalition-Liberal Party coalition in the city after the Antoninos decided not to contest any electoral seat in city.

Rivera upset Darlene Antonino-Custodio in the 2013 mayoral race.

AIM is fielding re-electionists and incumbent city councilors Beth Bagonoc, Eduardo Leyson IV and Dr. Marius Oco.  It is likewise fielding former city councilors Jose Orlando Acharon, Jose Mariano Gonzales, Lourdes Casabuena, Nepthalie Natividad and Minardo Avila.  In addition, AIM is fielding Eliseo Rock Garay, Arvin John Tiongson, Jose Dinopol and Jacinto Omila.

On the other hand, PCM is again fielding all incumbent city councilors under the party which include Ramon Milleza, Franklin Gacal Jr, Rosalita Nuñez, Brix Tan, Arturo Cloma and Shandee Llido Pestaño.  Rounding up PCM’s candidates for the 12-seat city council are Alberto Pacquiao, Jose Edmar Yumang, Vandyke Congson, Jonathan Blando, Love Ladrera Jr and Dominador Lagare Jr who is replacing his elder brother Domdom.

Rounding up the candidates for city councilors are independents Cristeto Dinopol, Benjamin Rivera, Harris Diamad, Edilberto Jamora, Ernesto Quisay and Norberto Andres.

The Kilusang Bagong Lipunan is also fielding candidates for city councilor.  They are Maria Isabel San Mateo, Ramon Fredeluces, Ruel Sibal, Francis Martinez, Rommel Catolico and Bonifacio Doria.