Manila, rebel group sign landmark deal

Manila, rebel group sign landmark deal
Updated 28 March 2014

Manila, rebel group sign landmark deal

Manila, rebel group sign landmark deal

MANILA: The Philippine government signed a peace accord with the country's largest Muslim rebel group on Thursday, the culmination of years of negotiations and a significant political achievement for President Benigno Aquino III.
The deal grants largely Muslim areas of the southern Mindanao region greater political autonomy in exchange for an end to armed rebellion. But it will not stop all violence in a part of the country long plagued by lawlessness, poverty and insurgency. Implementing the ambitious accord also will be challenging.
Aquino and leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front witnessed the signing of the agreement in the presidential palace in Manila. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose country brokered the peace talks, attended the ceremony.
"In signing this agreement, the two sides have looked not to the problems of the past, but to the promise of the future," Najib said. "After so many years of conflict, and so many lives lost, it is a momentous act of courage."
About 1,000 people attended the signing ceremonies, including guerrilla commanders wearing business suits instead of military uniforms who were stepping into the palace for the first time.
"For generations, fellow Filipinos in the southern Mindanao region were embroiled in a cycle of poverty, injustice, and violence," Aquino said. "If we are to truly address the root causes of conflict, we must close the gap between the region and the rest of Filipino society."
Some in the crowd wiped away tears as presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles said in a speech, her own voice breaking: "No more war! ... Enough!"
The peace accord concludes formal negotiations that began in 2001. A cease-fire agreement had been in place since 1997 and has been largely observed by both sides.
More than 120,000 people have died in separatist violence since the 1970s in Mindanao, the main southern Philippine island. It is home to most of the country's 5 million Muslims, but Christians remain the overall majority.
Previous presidents, including Corazon Aquino, Aquino's mother, tried but failed to resolve the conflict, which has stunted growth in the region and helped foster militancy in the country and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
Other insurgent groups in the south have vowed to keep fighting for full independence. The region is also home to the Abu Sayyaf, an extremist network with international links that the Philippine army is battling with American support.
"I will not let peace be snatched from my people again," Aquino said. "Not now, when we have already undertaken the most difficult and most significant steps to achieve it. Those who want to test the resolve of the state will be met with a firm response based on righteousness and justice."
Under the accord, called the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front agreed to end violence and a demand for separate state in exchange for broader autonomy. An existing five-province Muslim autonomous region is to be replaced by a more powerful, better-funded and potentially larger region to be called Bangsamoro.
Bangsamoro is the term used by the rebels to refer to Muslims as well as other ethnic groups in the southern Philippines.


US gun lobby NRA declares bankruptcy, plans to incorporate in Texas

US gun lobby NRA declares bankruptcy, plans to incorporate in Texas
Updated 52 min 10 sec ago

US gun lobby NRA declares bankruptcy, plans to incorporate in Texas

US gun lobby NRA declares bankruptcy, plans to incorporate in Texas
  • NRA execs are facing charges of illegally diverting funds for lavish personal trips and other questionable expenditures
  • New York Attorney General Letitia James said she would not allow the NRA to “evade accountability” or oversight

AUSTIN, Texas: The National Rifle Association announced Friday it has filed for bankruptcy protection and will seek to incorporate the nation’s most politically influential gun-rights group in Texas instead of New York.
The announcement came months after New York’s attorney general sued the organization over claims that top executives illegally diverted tens of millions of dollars for lavish personal trips, no-show contracts for associates and other questionable expenditures.
The coronavirus pandemic has also upended the NRA, which last year laid off dozens of employees. The group canceled its national convention and scuttled fundraising. The NRA’s bankruptcy filing listed between $100 million and $500 million in assets and between $100 million and $500 million in liabilities. Still, the NRA claimed in announcing the move that the organization was “in its strongest financial condition in years.”
The NRA filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court in Dallas and said it planned to incorporate in Texas, where records show it formed a limited liability corporation, Sea Girt LLC, in November 2020. Sea Girt LLC made a separate bankruptcy filing Friday, listing fewer than $100,000 in liabilities.
In its filing, the NRA said its longtime leader, Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, made the decision to file for bankruptcy protection in consultation with a “special litigation committee” comprised of three NRA officials that was formed in September to oversee its legal strategies. The NRA board voted Jan. 7 to clarify LaPierre’s employment agreement, giving him the power to “reorganize or restructure the affairs” of the organization.

National Rifle Association executive Wayne LaPierre and other officials of the gun lobby are facing charges of diverting the gun lobby's money for lavish personal expenses. (AFP file photo)

“The move will enable long-term, sustainable growth and ensure the NRA’s continued success as the nation’s leading advocate for constitutional freedom – free from the toxic political environment of New York,” the NRA said in a statement.
A message seeking comment was left with a Dallas lawyer who made the bankruptcy filings on behalf of the NRA and Sea Girt LLC.
Shortly after the announcement, New York Attorney General Letitia James said she would not allow the NRA to “evade accountability” or oversight. Her office’s lawsuit last year highlighted misspending and self-dealing claims that have roiled the NRA and LaPierre in recent years— from hair and makeup for his wife to a $17 million post-employment contract for himself.
“The NRA’s claimed financial status has finally met its moral status: bankrupt,” James said.
The gun-rights group boasts about 5 million members. Though headquartered in Virginia, the NRA was chartered as a nonprofit in New York in 1871 and is incorporated in the state. Going forward, the NRA said a committee will study opportunities to relocate segments of its operations to Texas and elsewhere.
The NRA’s largest creditor, owed $1.2 million, is Ackerman McQueen, which is the group’s former advertising agency that was behind the now-shuttered NRA TV service. The NRA sued the Oklahoma-based company in 2019, alleging it was being overbilled and said in Friday’s bankruptcy filing that the debt it is owed is disputed. The lawsuit is pending. A message seeking comment was left with Ackerman McQueen.
In the New York lawsuit, Ackerman McQueen was accused of aiding lavish spending by LaPierre and other NRA executives by picking up the tab and then sending a lump sum bill to the organization for “out-of-pocket expenses.”
“No financial filing can ever shroud the moral bankruptcy of Wayne LaPierre and his wife and their lap dogs on the NRA board,” said Bill Powers, an Ackerman McQueen spokesperson and former public affairs director for the NRA.
Court records also show more than $960,000 owed to Membership Marketing Partners LLC, a firm that lists its headquarters at the same address as the NRA. Another $200,000 is owed to Speedway Motorsports, the North Carolina-based company that owns and operates NASCAR tracks, according to the records.
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott quickly welcomed the news, tweeting: “Welcome to Texas — a state that safeguards the 2nd Amendment.” The NRA said it has more than 400,000 members in Texas and plans to hold its annual convention in Houston later this year.