Touching base – Rivera describes US envoy visit

GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Meeting up with local government officials and businessmen.

This was how General Santos City Mayor Ronnel Rivera described the visit today of US Ambassador Philip Goldberg.

General Santos City Mayor Ronnel Rivera (right) welcomes US Ambassador Philip Goldberg (middle) at the city hall.Pic by Edwin Espejo
General Santos City Mayor Ronnel Rivera (right) welcomes US Ambassador Philip Goldberg (middle) at the city hall.Pic by Edwin Espejo

Goldberg arrived here on board a US embassy airplane and quickly proceeded to the General Santos City Fish Port Complex before making a courtesy call to the office of the city mayor.

The 30-minute meeting was off limits to the media with only Mayor Rivera, Vice Mayor Shirlyn Bañas, City Administrator Arnel Zapatos and City Legal Officer Armand Clarin holding conference with Glodberg and 3 other embassy officials.

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg (in blue shirt) holds a closed door meting with Mayor Rivera and Vice Mayor Shirlyn Bañas (left).Pic by Edwin Espejo
US Ambassador Philip Goldberg (in blue shirt) holds a closed door meting with Mayor Rivera and Vice Mayor Shirlyn Bañas (left).Pic by Edwin Espejo

He did not field questions from the media who waited at the city hall lobby.

“The ambassador wanted to personally see General Santos City after reading and hearing about our place,” the city mayor said.

Rivera said the visit was also a result of an invitation he extended to the US Ambassador when they were introduced together at a function of the American Chamber of Commerce and Industry several months ago.

Goldberg also had a luncheon meeting with members of the General Santos City Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the Greenleaf Hotel.

He later told the local station of ABS-CBN that the US is upbeat on the potential of Mindanao in agriculture and mining but also expressed concerns over delays and obstacles in obtaining licenses and permits for mining companies.

The US ambassador likewise said grants and aids from the American government are now geared towards areas in Mindanao recovering from armed conflict.

“In a way,” banker Orman Manansala said, “we have become victim of our own success.”

General Santos was recipient of one of the largest grants from the US government by way of funding the construction of the city’s airport facilities.

It was part of the international pledging session during the early years of the Cory Aquino administration.

Construction of the airport began in 1993 and was finished in 1996.

Built at the cost of US$47.6 million largely funded by USAID, it was inaugurated for commercial flights shortly thereafter.

Tuna industry robust on PH inclusion in EU GSP+

A possible inclusion in the European Union generalized system of preferences plus (GSP+) will provide the Philippine tuna industry the much needed shot in the arm, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Inclusion in the list of GSP+ countries will mean lifting of the tariffs on hundreds of export products from the Philippines, including canned tuna.

“With GSP+, we hope to improve our share of EU’s fresh and processed tuna market as it will give our products a better fighting chance,” said Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.

At present, tuna exports to the European market are subject to 20.5% duties while tuna exports from competitor countries such as African, Caribbean and Pacific countries have been enjoying a zero tariff.

Workers at a Philippine tuna canning plant.PIC BY EDWIN ESPEJO
Workers at a Philippine tuna canning plant.PIC BY EDWIN ESPEJO

According to Francisco Buencamino, executive director of the Tuna Canners Association of the Philippines, canned tuna exports to Europe in 2012 reached 3,202,659 cases or 42.5 percent of the country’s export volume of 7,538,093 cases.

The value of canned tuna exports to Europe reached US$123,295,407 or 44.8 percent of the total US$275,295,399 export receipts of the country.

“In terms of availment, there is no doubt that GSP+ will increase capacity utilization of canned tuna processing capacity, now estimated only to be about 55%-60% of daily capacity of +1,300 tons per day,” Buencamino said in the 15th National Tuna congress last year.

Industry sources said the inclusion of the Philippines in the EU GSP+ will mean at least additional US$15 million in export revenues or P660 million.

Department of Trade and Industry Undersecretary Adrian S. Cristobal Jr. recently reported that the European Union has posed no objection into the application of the Philippines to be included the list of beneficiary countries of the EU’s GSP+ system of tariff preferences.

The application is now reportedly headed to the European Parliament for deliberation.
The Philippines must however continue to observe and comply with 27 specified international conventions in the fields of core human and labour right, the environment and good governance.

It must also strictly follow ratified conventions by the world tuna governing body – the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

Among them is traceability and HACCP compliance.

Industry sources from the local tuna industry said the lifting of tariffs and duties on Philippine tuna export to EU could come as early as the second of next year.

“Definitely, this will be a big boon to the tuna industry which has seen the tapering down of growth in the last decade,” the source who requested that his name be withheld.

The source said the industry must face strong lobby from tuna-producing countries in Europe who are likely to resist the inclusion of the Philippines in the EU GSP+

White corn production eyed in Gensan

3 killed in buy drug bust operation

GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Three alleged drug dealers were killed in a buy-bust operation in Fatima Village Friday evening as police campaign against illegal drugs continue to step up here.

Slain in the sting operation were Julie Bustamante, Lloyd Diesta and Ron Panes.

Police Chief Inspector Maximo Sebastian of the regional special investigation and detection team in Region 12 (RSID 12) told reporters the three slain suspected drug dealers engaged police operatives and elements of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in a shootout after sensing they were being set up.

Police Chief Inspector Sebastian of the police regional intelligence unit.ABS-CBN screengrab photo from YouTube
Police Chief Inspector Maximo Sebastian of the police regional intelligence unit.ABS-CBN screengrab photo from YouTube

The encounter took place near the residence of Bustamante who was reportedly hit on the leg but died on arrival at the General Santos City District Hospital.

His other slain companions were also declared dead on arrival.

Reportedly recovered from the suspects were a .45 cal pistol and a .38 cal revolver and a hand grenade.

Also found were 9 sachets of suspected methamphetamine or shabu.

Sebastian also said the 3 were also believed behind the series of holdup and robbery incidents in the city.

He said the slain suspects are part of a bigger crime syndicate operating in the city.

The police intelligence chief also said they are ascertaining if one of the slain suspects is the same alias “Boyong” that has been a subject of massive manhunt operations by police authorities.

Police have stepped up anti-drug campaign following a strongly worded appeal by City Mayor Ronnel Rivera to clean up the city from illegal drug syndicates by December.

In his State of the City Address in August, the city mayor threatened to cut off support to the police illegal drug syndicates and unexplained killings remain unabated.

On Thursday, police also arrested two suspected drug dealers also in the same barangay. Twelve sachets of shabu were also seized from the suspects.

On October 1, a suspected drug pusher was also slain in a shootout in Barangay after he held a child hostage when cornered by police operatives. (with reports from Jojo Bacalanmo)

Bridge programs crucial to success of Bangsamoro

The government will have to set aside or look for additional funding amounting to P109.6 billion to ensure the success of the new Bangsamoro region that will be created following the submission of the draft basic law in Philippine Congress.

“The short-term implementation is crucial because this is where we are managing the high expectations of the people in the communities,” Dr. Saffrullah Dipatuan, chair of the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) said during the Philippine Development Forum held at the SMX Convention C enter in Davao City.

The additional funding requirement is on top of the P116 billion already appropriated for the different agencies under the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Dipatuan said.

The proposed Bangsamoro Development Program, he added, has already been submitted to President Benigno Aquino III.

The bulk of the funding will go to short and medium term programs that are designed to jumpstart and pump-prime the Bangsamoro ‘economy’ and in “strategic interventions and investments to build a strong foundation for the new region.

Dipatuan however also said that “majority will be funded by the government but this will be determined after a pledging session with the donor agencies.”

“The Philippine government assured us that this plan will not remain a plan but will be implemented, especially for the short-term,” he said.

Dipatuan stressed there is a need for a sustained support from the government for the long-term.

Alam nila pag hindi nasustain, wala din (They know that if it won’t be sustained, nothing will happen),” he said.

Meanwhile, Aquino briefly graced the Philippine Development Forum held in Davao City where the BDP was to be presented to him. The president however thanked those who helped make the government-MILF peace process successful.

The Philippine government and the MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), ending more than 4 decades of internecine war in predominantly Muslim areas in Mindanao.

The creation of the Bangsamoro region, which will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, is the key feature of the CAB..

“The value of lasting peace for a region like Mindanao ‘is beyond measure.’ For years, our countrymen in areas affected by conflict had been shackled by violence, injustice, and impunity; they were deprived of opportunities to succeed; and prosperity was seemingly reserved only for a few,” Aquino said.

Aquino called on foreign development partners to help the government in the rehabilitation and recovery of Mindanao.

MILF chair Al Haj Murad and other senior leaders of the MILF attended the forum, as well as representatives from the World Bank, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, United Nations Development Programme, United States Agency for International Development, the European Union and other donor agencies.

Pacquiao Watch: People to miss in Macau

Three longtime fixtures in Manny Pacquiao fights will be sorely missed on November 23 in Macau.

Eminent boxing guru Hermie Rivera says he is skipping this fight in view of advices from his doctors to refrain from strenuous activities. A 13-hour or so flight from LA to Hong Kong or Macau indeed will be stressful for the witty man of boxing sidelines.
Manong Hermie, as I defer to him, Ka Recah Trinidad and me had beautiful moments and exchanges in the media room in Macau last year while we covered the Pacquiao-Rios fight. Unlike in General Santos a few years back (in 2010), however, Manong Hermie and me did not have the luxury of being with the company of the Philippine’s favorite beer –San Miguel Beer and SML – in Macau.

Somebody took this blurred image of us three: Manong Hermie (left) and Ka Recah (right) last year in Macau
Somebody took this blurred image of us three: Manong Hermie (left) and Ka Recah (right) last year in Macau

I however take solace that, with Ed Alinea thrown into the crowd, I was the youngest gatecrasher to the company of sports writing greats.

Another fixture, longtime Pacquiao lawyer Franklin ‘Jeng’Gacal Jr, will also be missed for the 3rd straight fight of the Filipino boxing icon. Gacal suffered a near fatal stroke weeks before the November 25 Pacquiao-Rios fight. I was among the early visitors of Gacal when he was rushed to the intensive care unit at the St. Elizabeth Hospital.

Gacal also failed to watch the Pacquiao-Bradley II fight in Las Vegas.

Before he was admitted to a clinical trial for a medical breakthrough in Arizona, Jeng said he will definitely go to Macau. Many are hoping to see him there for the first time since his medical case. Unfortunately, he had to leave for the US early this month for a 2-month clinical care.

Another permanent figure whose incisive reporting will be sorely missed is Chino Trinidad.

Chino and Pacquiao had a falling out weeks after the Pacquiao-Rios fight in Macau last year. Me and Chino, whose father Recah was the first sports writer I followed when I was growing up idolizing Rolando Navarette and Robert Jaworksi, first personally met in Macau after having been long time Facebook friends.

After that falling out, Chino said he has had enough of anything that has to do with Pacquiao.

Their presence or absence will surely not go unnoticed and unlamented.

With a new coterie of advisers, hangers on and entourage, Pacquiao will obviously not bother his self in missing them.

Pacquiao is slated to make his grand arrival in the Venetian on November 18 and will hold a press conference shortly thereafter along with Chris Algieri. The weigh in will be held at Cotai Arena, venue of the fight on November 22, a Saturday.

Pacquiao will leave on a chartered Philippine Airlines flight on November 17 and will immediately fly home after the post-fight press conference.

Army admits spike in gov’t-NPA clashes

A daily average of one encounter between government forces and communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in eastern Mindanao has been noted over the last 2 months, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) chief Lt. Gen. Aurelio Balabad.

Balabad also added that 2 daily armed encounters have also been reported during the last ten days in eastern Mindanao which covers the Caraga Region, Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon, Davao Region and the provinces of South Cotabato and Sarangani in Region 12.

The latest was the fierce gun battle involving elements of the Philippine Army’ 27th Infantry Battalion who clashed with some 40 NPA rebels in Barangay Nomoh in Maasim, Sarangani Wednesday morning.

Three NPA rebels were killed while 11 high power firearms were recovered by government forces.

Philippine Army commanding general Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri inspecting the firearms recovered from the Wednesday clash between the NPAs and government forces. Three NPA rebels were killed in the fierce encounter.Photo by Edwin Espejo
Philippine Army commanding general Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri inspecting the firearms recovered from the Wednesday clash between the NPAs and government forces. Three NPA rebels were killed in the fierce encounter.Photo by Edwin Espejo

It was the second clash between the same platoon of the Philippine Army led by Lt. Bryan Bacaling who also engaged the NPA rebels in a running gunbattle Tuesday.

The slain NPA rebels were identified as Rendel Ryan Cagula, reportedly a resident of Bago Gallera in Davao City; Johnny Camag of Magsaysay in Davao del Sur; and Fredi Ayog of Islome in Maasim.

Rebel stronghold

Lt. Gen Baladad said 53 percent of the 4,600 NPAs throughout the country are in Mindanao with the eastern part of the island – particularly in Caraga and Davao regions – hosting the most number of NPA guerrilla fronts and armed regulars.

Lt6. Gen. Aurelio Balabad of the AFP's Eastern Mindanao Command.Photo by Edwin Espejo
Lt. Gen. Aurelio Balabad of the AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command.Photo by Edwin Espejo

The Eastmincom chief said eastern Mindanao alone has 1,996 fully armed rebels “as of the third quarter of this year.”

Baladad also disclosed that there are 33 NPA guerrilla fronts under his area of responsibility.

He however said the AFP has emerged victorious in most of the armed clashes between government forces and the NPA rebels.

Jorge Madlos, spokesman of the National Democratic Front in Mindanao, claimed they have established 49 guerrilla fronts in Mindanao.

Balabad said the respite of fighting between the military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has enabled the AFP to reposition their forces and focus on dismantling the guerilla fronts of the NPA.

The Philippine government and the MILF signed a peace agreement in October last year.

Balabad has two Army divisions under his command the 10th Infantry Division (ID) stationed in Mawab, Compostela and the 4th ID in Cagayan de Oro City.

Military citation

Meanwhile, Philippine Army commanding officer Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri conferred the military merit medal to the members of the platoon under Lt. Bacaling for neutralizing the NPAs.

Iriberri, who hails from Surigao City where the NPAs in Mindanao area their strongest, said proper training, community support and superior intelligence were keys to the recent success of the AFP against the communist rebels.

Cash rewards were also given to the 1002nd Brigade and the 27th and 73rd infantry battalions for recovering a total of 21 high powered firearms in less than a month of operations against the rebels.

Iriberri said they are aiming to reduce the NPAs into irrelevance by 2016.

Pacquiao Watch: Will Manny pay tribute?

Two significant events will happen on November 23.

It will be D-day for 8-division boxing champion Manny Pacquiao as he tries to re-stock himself for a possible clash with Floyd Mayweather Jr in his last few remaining fights.

Pacquiao returns to the scene where he picked up the pieces after his shock defeat to nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez.

Fighting in Macau for the second time in as many years, Pacquiao will be a heavy favorite against the New Yorker with Argentinian roots Chis Algieri.

Pacquiao (in orange running shoes) does the roadwork to build up stamina.  Image taken during training for his Rios fight.Pic by Edwin Espejo
Pacquiao (in orange running shoes) does the roadwork to build up stamina. Image taken during training for his Rios fight.Pic by Edwin Espejo

As in the past, all media attention will again be focused on him.  Pacquiao, over the last decade, has become a great equalizer when in comes to television viewing – at least for those who cannot afford to pay live cable TV feed. Regardless, he becomes a unifying figure when he fights for his own glory – and country.

One only wishes coverage over his fight will not drown the one inglorious crime in all history of journalism in the world.

On the same day five years ago and practically the same hour he fights Algieri in Macau, some 32 members of the local media here in Region 12 and 26 others were wailing, crying and begging for their lives.

Their cries were forever muted – silenced – with a prolonged staccato of automatic fire.

At least 14 of those journalists had covered Pacquiao.

They were victims of the Ampatuans whose patriarch, Andal Ampatuan Sr, Pacquiao used to play ‘mahjong’ with when the Filipino boxing icon was still a confessed high roller.

That blood-soaked date in Philippine history – November 23 – came days after Pacquiao recorded his last knockout victory against Miguel Cotto.

Pacquiao paid visit to the wake of the General Santos City-based journalists and media workers who lost their lives and console with their families when he returned triumphantly.  He also handed out cash assistance even if some of the victims were sympathetic to the other camp in local politics.  By that time, Pacquiao had already filed his certificate of candidacy.  He was then running for a seat in the Philippine House of Representative.

A lot has changed since then.  Pacquiao is now a congressman, albeit almost part time only.  He is well on his way to further political heights and could one day become senator.

But there are things that have not changed.

Among them, justice continues to elude the victims of the Ampatuan massacre.

On the day the whole nation watches him as journalist pay homage to their departed colleagues, will Pacquiao pay the victims of his former ally and friend tribute and dedicate his fight for them?

Pacquiao has confessed he is a changed man. Will that extend to the way he dedicates his fight?

After all, the media and the press have also greatly created the image he is now cultivating for himself.

DA eyes export of pork products

GENERAL SANTOS CITY — The agriculture department in Region 12 said it may start exporting cut pork meat products from the region to various foreign markets.

Amalia Jayag-Datukan, Department of Agriculture (DA) Region 12 executive director, said among the possible export markets are Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore.

She said negotiations with these countries and local producers in the region are ongoing.

“We are working on this (pork exports) now and hopefully it will materialize soon,” she said in their regular television program Agri Tayo Soccsksargen.

Region 12 is the country’s leading producer of “pork-in-a-box” producers.

“We want our pork-in-a-box products to also reach the foreign markets just like our premium rice,” Datukan said.

Region 12 comprises the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, North Cotabato and the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong and Cotabato.

Data from the DA Region 12’s Veterinary Quarantine Services showed that the region produced a total of 124,366 heads of excess hogs in 2013 that were valued at around P1.09 billion.

In terms of pork, the area produced around 12,347 metric tons last year that were valued at P1.97 billion.

About 28 percent of the area’s hog produce ended up at the Matutum Meat Packing Corp (MMPC) based in Polomolok town in South Cotabato, 26 percent to Metro Manila and 13 percent to Cebu.

DA initially forged a deal with Singapore in early 2007 for the shipment of fresh cuts and processed pork meat products to the area from the Makar port here.

The area was chosen by the national government to initiate the country’s pork exports since Mindanao had been certified free from the dreaded foot-and-mouth disease by the Office International des Epizooties or World Organization for Animal Health.

DA had tapped two Mindanao firms — the MMPC and the Davao City-based Nenita Quality Foods Corp. — to pilot the pork exports then.

MMPC, a sister company of Cebu-based Sunpride Foods Inc. which produces Holiday corned beef and Sunpride canned goods, had invested around P200 million for a state-of-the-art processing plant in Polomolok town.

But the agreement eventually fell through without any single shipment making it to Singapore due to problems with the national government’s policies and the detection of the Ebola Reston virus in a hog farm in Luzon.

NPA suffers heavy losses

GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Successive losses in the battlefield have put the New People’s Army (NPA) on the defensive as 3 more communist rebels were slain in Maasim, Sarangani Wednesday, November 5.

NPA rebels belonging to the Far South Mindanao Regional Command of the rebel group.Photo by Edwin Espejo
NPA rebels belonging to the Far South Mindanao Regional Command of the rebel group.Photo by Edwin Espejo

The latest NPA casualties came a day after another rebel was also killed in Barangay Lumasal as government forces launched pursuit operations against the retreating communist rebel band.

Police said 9 high-powered firearms were recovered during the encounter that resulted into the death of the NPA rebels.

Military sources said the slain rebels belonged to the same NPA unit which they encountered Tuesday.

The dead rebels are still to be identified.

This came as police authorities in Maasim identified the NPA rebel slain in the Tuesday encounter in Lumasal as one Freddie Ayog.

Ayog is reportedly a resident of nearby Barangay Nomoh.

An M-16 rifle was likewise recovered from Ayog.

Military operations are still ongoing to flush out the remaining rebels belonging to the Front 73 of the NPA’s Far South Mindanao Regional Command.

Only last month, 3 NPA rebels were also killed in Malita, Davao del Sur including Mark Bryle Garduque, said to be the platoon leader of the rebel group, in a series of running gun battles with government forces.

Garduque headed one of the NPA platoons under the Front 75 guerrilla unit of the Far South Mindanao Regional Command.

A rebel source confirmed the death of one of their top ranking commanders, including the loss of several firearms.

Capt. Ernest Carolina, spokesman of the Army’s 10th division, said 11 high-powered rifles were seized from the rebels during the October encounters in Malita.

This brought the total firearms recovered from the rebels under the Far South Mindanao command of the NPA to 21 rifles in a span of less than one month.

The spokesman of 1002nd Brigade declined to give further details of the encounter in Maasim.

He said Army Chief Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri is arriving tomorrow, November 6 and will hold a press a conference.