Saturday, October 25, 2014

AFP chief to Sulu: Sorry for 'secretive' release of Germans

From Rappler (Oct 25): AFP chief to Sulu: Sorry for 'secretive' release of Germans

The apology comes after Sulu officials complained that they were kept in the dark on the release of two German hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf Group

'SORRY.' Military chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr meets with Sulu officials led by Governor Abdusakur Tan II on October 24, 2014. Photo from Sulu Capitol

'SORRY.' Military chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr meets with Sulu officials led by Governor Abdusakur Tan II on October 24, 2014. Photo from Sulu Capitol
Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr flew back to Sulu on Friday, October 24, to personally apologize to Sulu officials and stakeholders for not coordinating with them on the release of two German hostages of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) the previous week.
Catapang personally apologized to officials led by Governor Abdusakur Tan II for what the AFP chief called a "misunderstanding," said military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc.
"We would like to apologize to the people of Sulu for any shortcomings during the law enforcement operations in pursuit of the Abu Sayyaf Group to retrieve German and other hostages in their custody," a statement from the Sulu Capitol quoted Catapang as telling the officials.
Catapang also vowed improved military coordination with the local government unit as the troops in Sulu launch a full scale combat rescue mission to save at least 10 more remaining Abu Sayyaf hostages.
It was the "fog of war," said Cabunoc, explaining the oversight. The military supposedly forgot to inform the governor about the release of the hostages, in their rush to transport one of the hostages to Zamboanga City due to his ailment.
Apology accepted
The Sulu governor accepted Catapang's apology and praised him for his humility, added the statement of the Sulu provincial government. The governor noted that it's the first time that an AFP chief ever apologized to the people of Sulu.
"Umaasa kami na magiging maganda na ang sitwasyon sa mga darating na panahon (We are expecting the situation to get better in the future)," the Sulu statement quoted Tan.
After 6 months in captivity, Germans Viktor Okonek and partner Henrike Dielen were released on October 17. The military first brought them to the hospital inside the military headquarters in Jolo before a naval vessel transported them to the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) in Zamboanga City, where they waited for their flight to Manila.
The Sulu governor said they only learned about the release through the media. The Special Action Committee (SAC) created to oversee law enforcement operations for the release of the German hostages was supposedly bypassed.
The Abu Sayyaf claimed that a P250-million ransom was paid to secure the release of the Germans. Denying knowledge about the ransom, the military claimed that the pressure exerted by its troops had forced the Abu Sayyaf to release the hostages.
During the meeting on Friday, both Catapang and Tan denied knowledge about the ransom payment, according to Cabunoc.
The governor's father, Vice Governor Abdusakur, government officials, civil society, and religious groups were present at the meeting. Catapang brought with him the Westmincom chief and the military commanders in Sulu including island commander Colonel Allan Arrojado.
Catapang told them he wants to change the image of Sulu and "erase the stigma of kidnapping."
The Sulu provincial government and civil society organizations met on Monday, October 20, to discuss their disappointment with the military's handling of the release of hostages. One of the attendees even called for the pullout of troops in the province.
"We were not informed that the hostages were already rescued, it was only through media reports that we became aware that they were already rescued Friday night and in the custody of the Armed Forces," read the statement of the governor.
The statement quoted an unnamed member of the academe say that "the use of Sulu citizens for their own telenovela must be put to a stop."
Arrojado and the battalion commanders met with the governor on October 22 and promised better coordination.

Pemberton in PH camp 'confidence-building move'

From Rappler (Oct 25): Pemberton in PH camp 'confidence-building move'

'We went beyond, I think, our obligations under VFA by reaching an agreement with the Philippines that allowed the suspect to be moved to a facility at Camp Aguinaldo,' says US Ambassador Philip Goldberg

'UNUSUAL STEP.' Ambassador Philip Goldberg says the US has gone beyond its obligations under the VFA. Photo by Mark Cristino/Rappler

'UNUSUAL STEP.' Ambassador Philip Goldberg says the US has gone beyond its obligations under the VFA. Photo by Mark Cristino/Rappler
US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said the US decision to take the "unusual step" of transferring US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton to a Philippine military camp is a confidence-building measure meant to assure Filipinos that the US "understands the situation."
"We took this step allowing – within our custody under the VFA – a suspect to be moved to sovereign Philippine soil. It is an unusual step, one meant to build confidence that we understand the situation here. We’re sympathetic to the family. We’re sympathetic to the Filipino people," Goldberg said on Friday, October 24.

In a roundtable with select journalists from media groups, including Rappler, Goldberg said public opinion was a factor in the decision, which goes "beyond" the US obligations under the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) though Pemberton – suspected of killing transgender Filipino woman Jennifer Laude – remains under US custody while detained in Camp Aguinaldo.

"We went beyond, I think, our obligations under VFA by reaching an agreement with the Philippines that allowed the suspect to be moved to a facility at Camp Aguinaldo that maintain the principles of VFA – remaining under US custody," he said.

The US envoy added that the decision was made "in a way that's sympathetic to public opinion here, that is sympathetic of the government and judicial process here, and that assures the people that the suspect will be here for the length of hearings and, possibly, if it will come to a trial."
The VFA provides that Philippine courts will have jurisdiction over erring US troops, but custody will remain with the US. Pemberton's transfer to Camp Aguinaldo shows a difference in US action compared to the 2006 case of US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, who underwent trial for the rape of Filipina Suzette Nicolas.

In Smith's case, the US insisted on detaining him inside the US Embassy for the duration of the trial and even after his conviction, pending appeal. He was acquitted after Nicolas recanted her allegations against Smith. (READ: EDCA, Olongapo murder, and the old case of Daniel Smith)

Goldberg said the US government also has the obligation to protect the rights of Pemberton and all Americans who join the US military.

"This is the commitment we make to the American people and American Congress to do those things as government representatives," he said.

Goldberg said the US has also protected Laude's right to get the justice she deserves. He said the same treaty allowed the involvement of the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) which led to the quick identification of the suspect, and the cooperation of the witnesses.

"Quite frankly, I don't know if that would have happened if it hadn't been for our cooperation with investigators from the NCIS," said Goldberg.

He added: "This case may not have been resolved as quickly or as effectively without our cooperation. It is a very important point. It is our obligation, obviously, but it is also our instinct. Our instinct is to actually pursue justice." (READ: US envoy: VFA makes Laude probe 'quick, successful)

AFP to pursue complaint against Sueselbeck

From InterAksyon (Oct 25): AFP to pursue complaint against Sueselbeck

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Gregorio Pio P. Catapang Jr awarded a plaque of recognition to an Army non-commissioned officer detailed as security personnel to murder suspect US PFC Joseph Scott Pemberton, an American soldier implicated in the killing of a Filipino transgender in Olongapo City.

Technical Sergeant Mariano Pamittan was cited for his professionalism and restraint during an incident on Wednesday (October 22) at the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board facility where PFC Joseph Scott Pemberton was being detained.

Pamittan was the on-duty soldier guarding the facility when Mr Marc Sueselbeck and Ms Marilou Laude, the fiance and sister of the murder victim,  Jeffrey Laude, intruded and and forcefully shoved Pamittan after climbing the perimeter fence.


While Pamittan expressed sympathy to Laude's family members who forcibly entered the compound that he was guarding, he stood pat on his duty and mission.

"I sympathize with the family because they lost a loved one. I also want them to have justice and closure for their loss. However, I have a duty I must fulfil, which is to secure Pemberton, who also has his rights. That is why despite their misbehavior, I exerted tolerance," Pamittan said of the incident.

"Our camp commander, Brig. Gen. Arthur Ang, directed us to exercise maximum tolerance," Pamittan added.

He said that he tried to reason with Mr Sueselbeck that he was entering a restricted area and, therefore, could get arrested for it. Foreign nationals have to undergo a rigid clearance process before being allowed to enter a military base.

"I told him and Marilou that they are intruding into a restricted area. I warned them that I could arrest and detain them in our stockade," Pamittan said.

Pamittan said he was also conscious that Filipinos could observe the incident through news and media teams present in the vicinity.

With the intercession of Brig. Gen. Ang, the intruders and their supporters submitted themselves to a peaceful dialogue.

A native of Enrile, Cagayan, TSg Pamittan, 44, a Scout Ranger, belongs to a clan of soldiers, where over 20 of his relatives have joined the military to serve the country. He is married to Myrna Pamittan (38) and they have six children.


Meanwhile, the Armed Forces said on Saturday that it is bent on filing a complaint against Marc Suselbeck, the German fiancé of transgender murder victim Jennifer Laude despite his making an apology for scaling a perimeter fence and assaulting the Filipino guard at the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) detention center inside AFP General Headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Laude was killed on October 11 in Olongapo City and the principal suspect was the US Marine, Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, who is detained at MDB-SEB.

On Wednesday, members of the Laude family, Suselbeck and private counsel Atty. Harry Roque illegally entered the area on grounds that they want to see Pemberton.

AFP Chief-of-Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang wants the German deported as his action "assaulted the dignity of the country."

"The AFP will still send the letter (detailing Suselbeck’s misdemeanors) to the German Embassy and the Bureau of Immigration," AFP Public Affairs Chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said.

If the BI should rule that what Suselbeck did was wrong, he stands to be deported and possibly prevented from returning again.

For the meantime, Cabunoc said, the AFP is keeping tight watch on the MDB-SEB to ensure that Suselbeck will not repeat his actions there again.

He was assigned in various conflict areas all over the country, particularly in Northern Luzon, Visayas, Sulu, and in Central Mindanao.

Pamittan was the 90-RR gunner during the all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2000.

He was in a heavy fighting against the numerically superior and entrenched MILF members during the siege of Camp Abu Bakar during which his company commander, then Captain Samuel Manzano, was bleeding profusely after being hit by an enemy sniper.

Pamittan in another heavy fighting in Brgy Dicamay Uno, Jones, Isabela against New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in 1993 where his executive officer, then Col Lawrence Mina, was badly injured.

The Scout Ranger units where he belonged at that time emerged victorious in these encounters.

He also learned valuable experiences out of these violent incidents in his life.

“I’m lucky because even after my years in the service and these encounters, I did not sustain even a minor injury,” Pamittan said.

“I was also able to reflect that, as Filipinos, we shouldn’t be fighting each other. We should just talk about our problems,” he added.

MY PEACE project launched in Zambo City

From the Philippine Information Agency-Zamboanga Peninsula Region (Oct 24): MY PEACE project launched in Zambo City

Madrasah Youth Promoting English Advancement for Community Empowerment or MY PEACE project was launched in Sarang Bangun Learning Center, Zamboanga City, Tuesday, October21, 2014 with Mr. Macon Philips, visiting U.S Department of State Official and Coordinator of the U.S Dept. of State Bureau of International Information Program along with other U.S officials gracing the event.

MY PEACE is  a year- long project of the U.S Embassy in Manila, in partnership with the Voice of Mindanao-Zamboanga Peninsula and the support of American Field Service, Fatwah Foundation and the HMIJ Islamic College. It empowers at risk-Madrasah students in Mindanao by providing English language and life skills training as positive alternatives to joining armed groups.

According to Ms. Frenzie Carreon, Voice of Mindanao project director, “this project is being implemented by a local youth NGO in Mindanao, Voice of Mindanao, Inc., in partnership with the Department of Education in Zamboanga City, and USG Alumni.  The project has two outcomes: teaching English to Madrasah students (Islamic schools); and providing the students with life skills training.”

“This project takes a two-pronged approach, combining English language learning with life skills.  The project began with a training of trainers (TOT) for 30 trained teachers from Zamboanga City with a high level of English proficiency, who participated in intensive 5-day training on English teaching methods.  Following the TOT, the MY Peace Teachers will provide 10 hours per session of English language instruction and 8 hours of English Language Application activities through social enterprise workshops and other lifelong learning to 60 students for one (1) year,” Ms. Carreon explained.

The project consists of 13 sessions which will be conducted on one to two weekends a month. During the project period, the 60 Madrasah students will receive two (2) hours of life skills training per session also delivered by U.S. government exchange program alumni, and entrepreneurial/
business/work skills for six (6) hours based on curricular programs of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), under the guidance and supervision of TESDA-certified trainers from MEIN College.

Carreon informed that Sarang Bangun Learning Center will serve as the base of implementation of MY PEACE project.  “This center is furnished with internet connectivity and computer equipment.  In the final three months of the project, the students will be encouraged to put what they have learned to use by creating and implementing community projects,” she concluded.

Rebel returnee receives financial aid through CLIP

From the Philippine Information Agency-Zamboanga Peninsula Region (Oct 24): Rebel returnee receives financial aid through CLIP

A rebel returnee here was recently granted livelihood assistance by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) through its Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) implemented by the provincial government.

Marilyn Salvacion,(not her real name) 19-year old former New People’s Army (NPA) rebel who surrendered to the 10th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army headed by Lt. Col. Leonel Nicolas was given Php 50, 000.00 to help her start a business or any livelihood. The turn-over was held on October 20 at the Conference Room of the Governor’s Office.

The check was presented by Vice-Governor Senen O. Angeles, Brigadier General Apolinario Y. Alobba with ZNPPO Deputy Provincial Director PCI Rockie C. Laungayan,  Grace Sabal and Leila Realiza of the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO), and Conrod A. Capitania of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG)-ZN.

“CLIP is tasked to focus on integration program for the members of the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, and National Democratic Front who will surrender and return to the rule of law,” Brig. Gen. Alobba stressed.

This program provides socio-economic interventions to former rebels and their families which may facilitate the healing process including the management and disposal of surrendered firearms.

The said rebel returnee thanked the government for the care while she was under government’s custody and for the incentives she received which will be used by the family to buy their neighbor’s lot so that they can start farming.

She added that she will go back to her studies since she only finished Grade 3.

The CLIP committee in the province was created on August 29, 2014 through Executive Order No. 108 signed by Governor Roberto Y. Uy, which is composed of the provincial government of Zamboanga del Norte, PSWDO, PNP, AFP, DILG and Center for Social Concerns and Development (CESCOD).

Residents return home after deadly clashes in Maguindanao

From GMA News (Oct 25): Residents return home after deadly clashes in Maguindanao

Residents who were displaced due to recent encounters between government forces and members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Central Mindanao have returned to their homes.

In a phone interview with GMA News Online,  Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman for the Army's 6th Infantry Division said the families who were affected have returned home a day after the clashes, and that security forces have set up patrol bases in barangays Katiko and Bagumbayan.

"May mga nagpa-patrol na rin 24/7 sa areas na 'yan, he added.

At least four people were killed in firefights that erupted last Wednesday and Thursday.

In the first incident, two soldiers were shot dead while guarding a hospital in Datu Hoffer town in Maguindanao. Hermoso was quoted as saying at least seven suspected BIFF members were behind Wednesday evening's incident.

On the other hand, Thursday's incident that involved troops of the 33rd Infantry Battalion and the BIFF, was sparked by an attack on a militia detachment in Barangay Katiko in President Quirino town in Sultan Kudarat. In that incident, a barangay peacekeeper and a BIFF member were killed.

The BIFF is a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is engaged in peace efforts with the Philippine government.

P87-M compensation for Tubbataha Reef damage not enough — militant group

From GMA News (Oct 25): P87-M compensation for Tubbataha Reef damage not enough — militant group

Militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) on Saturday said the P87 million reported compensation of the United States government for the damage of the Tubbataha reef due to the grounding of minesweeper USS Guardian a year ago is not enough.

In a press statement, Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said the fine for the US should be 12 times the initial estimate of the Philippine government.

"Comparing valuations in the 2009 grounding of the USS Port Royal in Hawaii, the petitioners peg just and reasonable compensation for the damage to Tubbataha between $16.8 and $27 million, which is still bigger than the $2 million or P87 million that we are getting," he said.

"Five years ago under similar circumstances, the US Navy paid the state of Hawaii a total of $15 million for restoration and settlement, for damage to an Oahu reef; which while larger than Tubbataha, has not been identified as a World Heritage Site. In our petition, we cited that Tubbataha’s biodiversity concentration is 2.3 times more than that of the Hawaii reef," he added.

Reyes added that aside from fines, US forces responsible for the damage should be prosecuted under Philippine laws.

With that, he also stressed that the US Navy officers would be immune from any form of accountability as the Visiting Forces Agreement has no environmental guidelines.

"Our investigators could not even conduct face-to-face interviews with the officers responsible for the grounding of the ship. We could not even prevent the crew from leaving Philippine waters so that they could face a proper investigation," he said.

"More importantly, the VFA allows an unlimited number of US vessels to enter the Philippines and conduct an unspecified range of activities. This becomes worse under EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) because these vessels will have their own bases in the country," he added.

On Friday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario announced that the US has agreed to pay P87 million for the damage of the Tubbataha Reef, a biodiversity-rich area.

"I received correspondence just yesterday [Thursday] that the US has agreed to pay the compensation," del Rosario said in reponse to Senator Loren Legarda's question if the US government had paid the fine for the destruction of the reefs.

Legarda asked the question at the Senate hearing on the proposed Department of Foreign Affairs budget for 2015.

For its part, Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) welcomed the news.

TMO park manager Angelique Songco said the amount would cover both the P58.4 million fine imposed by the Philippine government for the restoration of the marine park and the expenses of the Philippine Coast Guard during the salvage operations.

The coast guard sought P28 million to cover its costs, she said. It took at least 10 weeks of salvage operations to haul away pieces of the USS Guardian.

Tubbataha is a World Heritage Site in Palawan, and is one of the top scuba diving destinations globally.

Earlier this year, park management said the reefs have yet to fully recover from the damage. A long wait is expected before the once productive area again flourishes.

For his part, Presidential Communications Operations Office head Herminio Coloma Jr. on Sunday said the P87 million is the figure being sought by the Philippine side as compensation for the damage to Tubbataha Reef.

However, he noted that the Palace is still waiting for the finalization of the arrangements, and that is still in the documentation stage.

The USS Guardian on January 17, 2013 ran aground at the South Atoll of the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea, damaging at least 2,345.67 square meters of the reef area. It took at least 10 weeks for salvage operations to haul away pieces of the USS Guardian.