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Diversionary theory

Last January, President Noynoy Aquino went to Zamboanga City with a full complement of Cabinet and military officials, ostensibly to investigate a car bombing in that southern outpost. Only later were we to learn that Aquino had actually gone to Zamboanga to be closer to Maguindanao, where a large-scale, clandestine police operation to capture or kill the terrorist bomb-maker known as Marwan was under way.

It’s important to recall Aquino’s Zamboanga trip when considering his statement that an “alternative truth” to the incident that would gain infamy as the Mamasapano Massacre could be unearthed, this late in the day. I honestly think that the so-called alternative truth that Aquino is talking about— which is really lifted from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s report on the carnage that was submitted to the government of Malaysia—is a mere diversion.

Like in Zamboanga, the real story is also located in Mindanao. But instead of Maguindanao, the administration is really interested in covering up what is happening in Surigao del Sur.

That story is the killing and continued harassment for weeks now of members of the lumad Manobo tribe, allegedly by military men and members of a paramilitary organization used by the military to do its dirty work called the Magahat-Bagani Forces. And now that human rights organizations have decided to bring the case of the killing of three of their leaders to the United Nations, it’s perfectly understandable for Aquino to try to divert attention away from the lumad deaths to an alleged new truth that he has only now discovered.

If Aquino had not deliberately lied about the get-Marwan operation and the massacre of 44 members of the PNP Special Action Force that it brought about, I would not accuse him of trying to distort what happened in Mamasapano nine months after it happened. But a recent incident involving Interior and Local Secretary Mar Roxas, Aquino’s chosen candidate for President in the next elections, and members of the Manobo tribe who had fled the military operations to a resettlement area in Tandag makes his “alternative truth” theory all the more suspicious.

In a video taken of Roxas’ visit, the DILG secretary was told about the depredations of the military and the Magahat-Bagani force, which was why the refugees would rather remain in unsanitary and unsafe tents rather than return to their homes. The video was notable for showing Roxas’ surprise and his reaction of shooing away the media men who were covering the event, because he said he was conducting a “briefing” with the Manobos.

Of course, Roxas was thinking that he was merely glad-handing some tribesmen to gain campaign “pogi” points—until he realized what he had gotten into. And that is why, I think, only days later, Aquino unveiled his “alternative truth” theory.

Now, you tell me Aquino’s revisionist Marwan theory is not related to the Surigao lumad killings. I only ask that you remember Zamboanga before you do.

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If the recent sinking of the m/v Kim Nirvana off Ormoc City proved anything, it’s that inter-island sea travel is still a dangerous proposition. And that’s because, as anyone in the shipping industry will tell you, most of the 70 roll-on, roll-off vessels being used by local companies are, on average, 30 years old, having been bought second-hand from Japan, where they were designed to ply the relatively calmer inland seas of that country.

According to industry statistics, 16 local ro-ros are 41-45 years old, seven are 46-50 years old and 10 are 36-40 years old. Eight ro-ros are aged 26-30, eight more are 31-35, while only seven are in the 0-5 years bracket, while four are in the 16-20 and five are in the 21-25 brackets.

What the local inter-island shipping industry needs is more investors like Starlite Ferries, one of the few ro-ro operators that have newer units, and which launched last Sept. 2 the newest addition to its ro-ro fleet, the brand-new, all-steel Starlite Pioneer.

Starlite Ferries chairman Alfonso Cusi, with his daughter Patricia Cusi-Ramos, went to Hiroshima to see Starlite Pioneer leave the Kegoya Dockyards in Kure to churn sea water for the first time. This was the same shipbuilding facility that built the Yamato, the pride of the Japanese navy during World War II.

What sets Starlite Pioneer from all other ro-ros operating locally is that it is the first that’s been designed and manufactured to take on the challenge of Philippine maritime conditions. Cusi said that with Starlite Pioneer operating in local seas starting this December, a new era in inter-island travel in the country—safe, convenient and affordable—will be ushered in.

Arben Santos, a leading maritime authority advocating the phasing out of end-of-service ro-ros, sees the Starlite Pioneer as a significant development in the Philippine shipping industry. Santos said Starlite’s example of purchasing a brand-new ro-ro vessel designed from the ground up to meet Philippine needs should prove more cost-effective in the long run.

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