Philippines State of Emergency

Controversial National Security Adviser (NSA) Norberto Gonzales, who has been agitating for the creation of a council or junta government with President Arroyo as its head to bring about reforms in the country, yesterday said the Arroyo administration is ready to use its “iron fist” by way of the President’s declaration of a state of emergency due to the bombings in Mindanao, even as he claimed that there is yet no need, at this time, to declare emergency rule.

“Government is ready to use its iron fist when needed,” Gonzales said, even as he failed to elaborate on the conditions that would have the Arroyo government use its claimed iron-fist approach.

He also said that the bombings will likely escalate, insinuating that emergency rule may be at hand.

As if on cue, the military’s National Capital Region Command yesterday warned of a possible bombing spillover to Metro Manila of the series of bombings in Mindanao areas during the past days as the NCRCom disclosed to reporters that the military discovered the presence of militants with expertise in bombings in the capital region (see Metro for related story).

According to the NCRcom chief, three or four militants with specialty in bombings are now in Metro Manila.

“I cannot say when but what I know is they are coming in on different dates,” he claimed, adding that it has been their plan to be involved in bombings here in Metro Manila and we are monitoring them closely.”

NSA Gonzales also admitted the possibility that more bombings might take place before authorities can stop those who are planning to do more bomb attacks.

It is widely believed that the bombings in Mindanao are being orchestrated by Malacañang, to create an atmosphere conducive to Mrs. Arroyo’s plan to impose emergency rule, thereby increasing her chances of staying in power indefinitely.

Bombing incidents and claims by the President’s military and police of insurgents and terrorists already in the metropolis are yearly claims, coming just before Mrs. Arroyo’s delivery of the State of the Nation Address (Sona).

Some 9,000 members of the police force are assigned for Sona duties, with an additional 2,000 members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The United Nations World Food Program is suspending its operations in the restive region of Mindanao following the incidents of bombing blamed on Muslim guerrillas and foreign terrorists.

UNWFP acting director Alghassim Wurie said it will temporarily halt its food distribution in Mindanao due to the volatile security situation in southern Philippines.

“Due to the spate of bombing in Cotabato City, Iligan, Jolo and Maguindanao, we are suspending the travel of our staff to these areas,” Wurie said in a telephone interview.

“We hope and pray that the security situation there would calm down in the weekend and if this will happen, we will resume our operations next week. If not, it will remain suspended,” Wurie said.

The UNWFP has 63 local and international staff in the Philippines. Of this figure, six are foreign staffers.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. yesterday said he is not aware of the agenda of the lightning visit of United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Leon Panetta in the country.

Teodoro also neither denied nor confirmed the reported Sunday morning arrival of Panetta amid the string of bomb attacks in southern Philippines and continuing talks of possible declaration of emergency rule by the Arroyo administration.

But he claimed it was wild conjecture “if Panetta’s visit has something to do with recent bombings in Mindanao region and persistent talks of possible implementation of emergency rule.”

He admitted however that he is not aware of the agenda.

Panetta’s visit also comes following reports of Operation Plan August Moon, a supposed Malacanang-initiated coup aimed at putting military generals loyal to President Arroyo to top positions of both the AFP and Philippine National Police (PNP) to perpetuate her to power beyond 2010.

Senators are now having second thoughts in Congress infusing annually billions in intelligence funds to the Executive, specifically the security agencies.

“It’s telling us there is a need for us to examine the priority of the government in the utilization of these intelligence funds, because these bombing incidents will require a strong intelligence effort from the government if we are going to mitigate the consequences of these activities,” Sen. Rodolfo Biazon said in an interview with reporters, amid the recent bombing attacks, bringing to 62 the number of bombing incidents in the country since January this year.

“We continue to receive no explanations, no clear reports from the government. Even the government agencies that possess the mandate, the organization, trained specialists that should be able to give us a clear picture of what is happening, continue to fail to do this and because of this failure, there is a fueling of different perceptions in the minds of our people that continue to contribute to the uncertainties, maybe even fear,” he said.

Biazon pointed out that government security agencies are given an estimated P1.3 billion intelligence funds annually, with the Office of the President being appropriated five times the amount allocated to the Department of National Defense (DND).

The senator said the Office of the President is being given P650 million, the Philippine National Police (PNP), P270 million and the AFP, only P118 million. “The Executive department must explain. They have the funds, the expertise, they have to give us a clear picture,” he said.

Allegations that these series of terroristic acts are politically motivated is further enhanced by the fact that the Executive fail to provide answers as to whether these are isolated cases or indeed perpetuated by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the senator said.

“That’s 62 cases in six months, more than 10 cases a month. Is it still considered isolated cases?” he noted.

Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Teddy Casiño lashed at the Arroyo administration for the apparent breakdown on its multi-billion peso intelligence program which he said could have prevented the bomb attacks.

“It’s either a failure of intelligence or a deliberate obfuscation,” said Casiño, who was guest speaker at the Mindanao State University in Marawi yesterday to take part in the launching of the People’s MARCH (People’s Movement Against Charter Change) – Lanao.

“We condemn the series of bombings and bomb scares that injured and killed civilians as acts against humanity, and we sympathize with those who have been affected by this deplorable string of events,” said Casiño.

“Now, we have more reason to think that either there is failure of intelligence on the part of the military and police, or there is an ongoing cover-up and obfuscation meant to confuse the public,” said Casiño.

“With all the speculations circulating about the possible motives and perpetrators responsible for the bombings, we are appalled and alarmed about the lack of credible information from authorities. There still seems to be no official statement that points away from the Arroyo administration as the chief beneficiary of a chaotic scenario leading to repressive measures and emergency rule,” Casiño laments.

“Billions of pesos of people’s money go to the intelligence funds of Malacañang, the military, police and their attached departments. Instead, earlier we heard the military and police saying that the bomb scares were “ordinary” prior to Sona. Congress should look into where these funds are exactly used vis-a-vis the spate of bombings that remains to be solved,” Casiño said.

For his part, Speaker Prospero Nograles called on the people, especially Mindanaoans, to extend their full cooperation and report all possible information to authorities that would lead to the identification and the arrest of the perpetrators of the series of bombing incidents that victimized innocent civilians.

“Regardless of creed or religion and political inclinations, we all must act to end these series of criminal acts,” Nograles said, adding that “the whole country itself is the ultimate victim.”

The House leader urged every citizen to be more vigilant and report to the nearest officers of the law any suspicious characters in their localities. “Complacency and indifference could even be worse that the crime itself. Let us all be actively involved in our common quest for peace,” Nograles said.

“Our police and military personnel can’t possibly set their eyes on every nook and corner of the archipelago. We need the full cooperation of the citizenry. We all have a stake in our quest for peace and development,” he stressed.

While condemning these inhuman acts, House Majority leader Arthur Defensor, expressed optimism that the perpetrators of these bombings will never go scot-free for long.

“Justice will surely catch up with these criminals. With the help of our people, authorities will be able to follow their tracks to give justice to the innocent victims,” Defensor said. With Angie M. Rosales, Michaela P. del Callar, Mario J. Mallari, Gina Peralta-Elorde and Charlie V. Manalo

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