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OpEd 2- Yolanda O. Stern

Wednesday, 30 December 2009 
December 19, 2009 – Manila, Philippines
Amb. Yolanda O. Stern – President, One World Institute

The number of armed government personnel in Mindanao has increased since Balikatan I.  Some of the best and most experienced men in uniform are assigned to Mindanao. I think it safe to say that there are no inexperienced US or other foreign military personnel in Mindanao.

The brokers and ambassadors of peace have increased in equal measure.  So have the angels of peace.  Many from the foreign embassies and NGOs  assigned to the Philippines are men and women with so much experience in conflict areas of the world. The archipelago offers great training grounds for military skills and use of weapons  on land and at sea.

There have been a proliferation of peace talks, peace summits, peace caravans, peace caddies as well as peace candies. Billions have been expended in the name of peace.

But conflict and peace in Mindanao see saws on the balance.  Law enforcement appears outgunned, outnumbered,  outwitted and outmuscled. In some places, aberrant partnerships have formed.  War as usual continues to be big business while peace maintains its huge burden.

Whatever the program, it has failed.

The Philippines has to decide between two things: Is it fighting global  terrorism  at  its backdoor? Or is it protecting its citizens from  harm ?

For the next President I recommend a new flexible program  –

1. Withdraw the military from all occupied territories contingent upon local government maintaining law and order;

2. Pull military personnel into strategic barracks for extensive training in population safety, riot control, and re-allocate maximum funds to equip  all branches for ready deployment in  emergencies.

3. Deploy visible military  border patrols to protect population centers from roving gangs and pirates.

4. Abolish all armed civilian militias and raise the standard for recruitment out of the military colleges and police academies.

5. Double the watch at Sibuto Straits and empower the Navy to monitor the 58+ tankers that ply the route daily. This will take operational Naval vessels and equipment.

6. Impose  minimum acceptance conditions for donated military vessels and aircraft .  Legacy vessels/aircraft s must come with a 10yr maintenance program on the donor’s account.  Funds saved from high maintenance costs of vessels and aircraft can be spent equipping  the men from the boots up.

7. Re-organize and improve ARMM  by switching to Sen. Pimentel’s recommendation of the Federal State so local government  can be better masters of their fate, enforcing orders at the state levels.  There should be separate ARMM governors for different regions i.e. Sulu, Basilan, Maguindanao, etc.

8. Establish a 5-yeart flood program to reinforce dykes, riverbanks,  and provide  underground overflow systems for reservoirs.

9. Revert provincial traffic control reinforcement and fines to the local governments as an incentive to control traffic flow, illegal immigrants and cargo at border crossings.

10. Enforce a strict provincial data base for Drivers Licenses,  Vehicle Registrations.

11. Enforce strict building codes along flood plains, consistent with the tropical character of storms and monsoons.

12. Require registration and accreditation for all madrasas consistent with a well rounded education, but taking into account the religion and culture of the individual regions, with an added goal of the preservation of the rich cultures of each, maintaining  freedom to practice their religion of choice within the constitution of the country.

13. Establish a consistent military medical triage system for national and local emergencies with strategic depots for quick and easy deployment of  life saving surgical teams to serve all victims of conflict and disasters side by side with PNRC, ICRC,  and other emergency medical NGOs.

14. Improve domestic travel infrastructure for domestic tourism and ramp up domestic tours. Only when local folks are unafraid to tour will the country get meaningful numbers of foreign tourists.

15. Allow 100% ownership of foreign companies but require 95% local employees subject to state and federal payroll taxes. Abolish tax holidays and instead impose a staggered and competitive corporate tax for the first 5 years.

(This opinion is strictly the author’s. Contact;

BAHALA NA?       
Monday, 30 November 2009 
November 23, 2009

Amb. Yolanda Ortega Stern    President -  One World Institute;   President Emeritus – FPACC

57 people have been massacred after they were kidnapped on their way to register a candidate for the 2010 elections in Maguindanao.  The victims of the mass murder were from the Mangundadatu group, former allies and now enemies of the Ampatuan group, thereby casting a lengthy shadow  on the Ampatuan clan. A  “State of Emergency”  now presides over Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and General Santos. The incident has been declared by media as the first political killings of the year and the biggest political massacre of journalists in history!

It is disgusting to say the least, but no less disgusting is that such an incident could so easily have happened.  Human security is in peril at every level of Philippine society today when no one can feel protected by law enforcement. Human rights has been distorted in favor of the free man with a gun and distorted justice protects the ones above the law. The Philippines makes a mockery of democracy by pretending free elections despite massive cheating. So it will pretend that the massacres were perpetrated by insanity, not by a hundred men and their leaders, but by two members of a terrorist group. Furthermore, in a country where the assassinations of journalists have gone unsolved, some may cheer the elimination of yet more honest and impartial journalists. It has become the most confusing country in the world, a country of lies in all sizes, a grand Hall of Mirrors.

 Strip the Philippines clean of all current political leaders from the top down, go for a makeover, will we get better? I asked 100 people this month and all of them said NO. A church leader told me the right leader has yet to be born. A leader of an organization said we have to kill all the Chinese first because they are the cause of our economic woes. A business owner said we should kill every Muslim quietly because they have been trained from birth to kill Christians to gain access to heaven and he blamed them for the lack of foreign investors and tourists. An Islamic scholar believes that Islamophobia blocked peace for centuries. A leader for a peace coalition blames the Muslims and their warring  clans. A baranggay captain thinks  that becoming a U.S. protectorate is the only solution. A member of the OIC thinks the MILF and the MNLF have to unite before peace is possible.  A soldier thinks the Philippines  invents conflicts for monetary benefit. A policeman thinks that professional rivalry between military factions slows down  peaceful settlement.  A rebel says separate territorries is the only solution. A revolutionary accuses the government  of lack of sincerity and will. A Tausog blames the Maranaw  monopoly in the fake autonomous regions.  A counter terrorism specialist blames the Christian converts. A retired communist says , “No, not while everyone is for sale!”.  A foreign correspondent  suspects Malacanan lacks the will. A housewife simply said, “Bahala Na!”. There is no room here for all the answers but I came away with such profound sadness each time. It isn’t just the leaders! It’s we, people,  as well!

Having now been in the Philippines trying to bridge mutually beneficial projects since 1987 as head of  two  US business organizations and now as president of a private foundation for health and education,  I know first-hand how fragile a Filipino’s life can be. I have seen peace agreements signed, fizzle, die natural deaths. I have sat in peace negotiations. Yet I am as frustrated as everyone else. I have become equally cynical as the man in Maguindanao  or  Sulu who sees no end in sight to the constant flight of villagers  from the areas of conflict. The aftermath of typhoon Ondoy rallied the country but almost no one talked about the 300, 000+  internally displaced people in Maguindanao.  Or the thousands of IDPs in Sulu.  I hear of no fundraisers for the mass of humans in the refugee camps created by war.  I am sure this frustration is felt by every humanitarian aid worker and by every new soldier for peace. Bahala Na?

Filipino, where are you headed? Do you know that unless you change, one person at a time, then one village at a time, that your country and all its leaders are doomed?  Stop saying YES Sir, YES Maam, I will sell my vote, my daughter, my neighbor’s goat, my loyalty, even my soul! Stop it man, you make me want to rap with rage! To put you in a little tiny cage! To whack you on the hard,  hard head! To trap my rage to help my dread!! To shake you awake kahit Dakila Ka, kahit mahal kita!

Where is the power of the people to change and cure what has ailed us since Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo? Where is the pride of the nation that constantly seeks outside intervention and help to fix what is broken in their tents? What is the re-sell value of this nation that was bought, freed, and now is selling itself? People Power for Sale is what a politician calls it.

A nation that breeds saints and murderers in equal  measure, is a nation in need of a new recipe, a new cocktail. Equally important is a new breed of diners who will refuse to eat poison, who will not tip bad service, who will practice good manners. Then the third component is a 5 Star Military and Police backed by swift justice to make sure the kitchen is shut down for violations with zero tolerance for those who break the law.

But wait, there is a “FREE LANCE MONSTER” in our midst - by the people, for the people, and of the people. It is “Violence For Sale” and what can be bought can be sold.  Will 2010 be any different?  The answer is blowing in the wind!

(This opinions do not reflect opinions other than  the author’s . Contact :;