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/ 12:09 AM November 24, 2014

Last week, I came across an announcement from the Armed Forces of the Philippines that the Abu Sayyaf problem would be finally solved by 2016.

Note that AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang will be retiring by the middle of next year. A number of senior personnel will also be part of the “revolving door” process that will see new commanders assuming key positions in Mindanao and elsewhere.

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It has been a month since two German hostages were released by the Abu Sayyaf upon payment of ransom. In spite of the presence of additional brigades and K-9 units in the area, none of the other hostages have been recovered. Abu Sayyaf encampments have been reported as being destroyed, but this provides little comfort considering the casualties that we have suffered in encounters with the enemy. We also know that Abu Sayyaf camps can easily be rebuilt elsewhere.

The fact remains that we are no closer to eliminating the Abu Sayyaf problem than we had been in the past. And unless we are prepared for more decisive action and greater sacrifices, nothing will change by 2016. The only sure change will be a new AFP chief of staff who will probably stay in office for a couple of months before retirement.

* * *

Rep. Frederick F. Abueg (second district, Palawan) has sponsored House Bill No. 4664 titled “An Act Increasing the Grant Given to Senior Citizens from Twenty Percent to Thirty Percent Discount, Further Amending Republic Act No. 7432, As Amended, Otherwise Known As An Act to Maximize the Contribution of Senior Citizens to Nation Building, Grant Benefits and Special Privileges and For Other Purposes.”

In his explanatory note, Representative Abueg observes that “the Filipino people value family more than anything. Our family remains the basic unit of society.” Abueg cites a National Statistical Coordinating Board report that there are 6.3 million elderly Filipinos who are 60 years old and above. This number is estimated to reach 23 million

by 2050.

The sector to which the senior citizens belong has the sixth highest poverty incidence from among the eight basic sectors in Philippine society; only a small percentage of this sector is covered by pensions.

* * *

The United States will be returning dozens of rare artifacts to Peru after US Immigration and Customs authorities seized the artifacts during investigations into the smuggling of cultural relics.

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In ceremonies held in Denver, Mayan artifacts were returned to the Peruvian consul general. In a statement, acting Immigration and Customs Director Thomas Winkowski said, “The cultural treasures returned today belong to the people of Peru, where they can be displayed and serve as a reminder of Peru’s rich cultural heritage.”

Since 2007, more than 7,500 items including paintings, manuscripts and other treasures have been returned by the United States to some 27 countries.

Last September, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott returned to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi two statues taken from ancient Indian temples ending a long-running battle over the pieces. In returning the objects,

Abbott’s office issued a statement that the action taken “is testimony to Australia’s good citizenship on such matters and the importance with which Australia views its relationship with India.”

When will the United States return the Bells of Balangiga that were taken by US troopers and shipped home during the Philippine-American War?

* * *

Pope Francis is due to visit the country in January next year. He is scheduled to make a stopover in Tacloban City, one of the hardest hit localities by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” By virtue of a widely publicized display of immaturity and pettiness by rival political factions, Tacloban has become a symbol of the deep divisions that continue to plague the nation even in the face of disaster and much suffering among the people. It is a place that President Aquino has, of late, avoided like a plague. Perhaps Pope Francis can work out some miracle to bring people to their senses. Somehow I am confident that he will save the day for everyone.

* * *

It is not often that “wellness” in the military organization is the subject of any discussion by active or retired personnel. But during the last senior advisors meeting of the BIRCI (Business, Industry and Retired Cavaliers Inc.) chapter of the PMA Alumni Association, Cavalier Alfredo L. Filler raised the subject noting the increasing number of colleagues suffering from various illnesses or who had just passed away. A good number of them were much younger than himself, with some even healthier. This led him to wonder what wellness programs are currently in place and are being implemented in our defense and military establishment.

Filler suggested three areas for proactive measures to be undertaken by defense authorities: diet, smoking of tobacco, and drinking alcoholic beverages. He also offered several recommendations in support of programs to attain wellness objectives:

  • Convene Deputy Chief of Staff Personnel (J1), Deputy Chief of Staff Operations (J3), Deputy Chief of Staff Education and Training (J8), Office of the Chief Surgeon and the Chief of Special Services. Require them to draw up a new multiyear comprehensive wellness program with detailed implementable projects and doable family and community-based wellness activities. Require all commands and subordinate units to draw up their own implementing plans.

Require senior commanders at all levels of command to lead and be visible during activities.

  • Allocate more budgetary resources for wellness programs, projects and activities.
  • Incorporate healthy diet education in all training education at all levels.
  • Prohibit smoking in all camps and stations of the AFP.
  • Prohibit the selling and consumption of alcoholic beverages in all camps and stations.

The no-smoking order would make the AFP a smoke-free organization. We are all aware of the dangers of smoking to the health of the soldier as well as the members of his family. This would be a giant step in improving and maintaining good health habits leading to better performance and efficiency.

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TAGS: Abu Sayyaf, Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, Military, nation, news, Pope Francis
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