Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Community-based training on youth held in South Cotabato town

From the MILF Website (Dec 27): Community-based training on youth held in South Cotabato town

Members of the Youth Focal Points (YFP) completed a 3-day training on Journey Of Life (JOL) at the Punta Isla Resort in the municpality of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato last December 21-23. The training was spearheaded by Ali Zain, one of the staff of the Community Family Service International (CFSI), an International Non-Government Organization (INGO) based in Cotabato City. She was assisted by Ms. Rehonney H. Musa and Ms. Elsie Sala who are Community Organizers for Child Protection Component Program of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) representing the Regional Office of the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) in Southern Mindanao Region.

Around 50 youths, whose ages range from 13 to 18, participated in this training, which focused on how to protect and uphold the rights of the children in armed conflict. The facilitator cited various incidents in the past wars in Mindanao, which brought to light the cruelties of the conflict on children. The (YFP) was jointly organized by the BDA and UNICEF for the Child Protection Component Program of the UNICEF in Barangay Lam Lahak in the municipality of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. The training was attended by Ms. Evelyn, a representative of the CFSI.

Mayor wants teacher’s kidnapping thoroughly probed

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Dec 26): Mayor wants teacher’s kidnapping thoroughly probed

MAYOR Celso Lobregat, as chairman of the Crisis Management Committee, has strongly urged the police authorities to conduct a thorough investigation over the kidnapping of public school teacher to avoid repetition of the same incident.  Flordeliza Ongchua, 48, was released on Monday morning along Marina Street in downtown Jolo, the capital town of Sulu province, more than a month after she was kidnapped in a west coast village in Zamboanga City. A group of gunmen, who barged into the Ongchua’s house in Labuan village, 36 kilometers west of Zamboanga City, seized her in the evening of last November 13. She was dragged and forced to board on one of two waiting motorized bancas.

Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) personnel fetched Ongchua from Camp Bautista where she was brought by people who found her in downtown Jolo and arrived in Zamboanga City aboard a helicopter at 3:45 p.m. on the same day of her release. Together with the victim’s husband, Arnold, Ongchua was met by top military and police officials after she disembarked from the helicopter that landed inside Wesmincom headquarters. Ongchua was briefly presented to the media before she was brought to the Camp Navarro General Hospital for medical check-up.

Ongchua was released after series of negotiations initiated by the victim’s family with her captors. “The family has been doing all the negotiations. As we have said, we follow the no-ransom policy but we cannot prevent the family from negotiating, they have been negotiating and they wanted her released before Christmas,” Lobregat said.

Lobregat said Ongchua, after the medical check-up, will undergo debriefing by the police and other investigating units, to find out who are behind her kidnapping and to avoid repetition of the incident.  Lobregat also emphasized that the family, as in the past, is requesting that the media and the public respect their privacy.  He said the authorities are still determining the exact identities of the people who held Ongchua.

New proof of life of kidnapped Australian Warren Rodwell surfaces in the Southern Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner (Dec 26): New proof of life of kidnapped Australian Warren Rodwell surfaces in the Southern Philippines

A new video clip of kidnapped Australian adventurer Warren Rodwell has surfaced in YouTube and giving fresh hope that the former soldier is still alive and being held in the southern Philippines. Rodwell, 57, was kidnapped last year by armed men disguised as policemen who barged in his house in the coastal town of Ipil in Zamboanga del Sur province. Rodwell is married to a Filipina Miraflor Gutang, whom she met on the Internet. He is believed being held in Basilan province, although there were reports that Abu Sayyaf rebels tried, but failed to bring him to Sulu province.

Philippine authorities tied the Abu Sayyaf to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya and it has been largely blamed for the kidnappings of many foreigners for ransom in Mindanao. Maj. Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said Rodwell was last reported being held captive by the Abu Sayyaf. “Our efforts to locate Warren Rodwell are continuing, but the kidnappers have been constantly moving from one location to another and that is our problem now. He is also being used by the Abu Sayyaf as human shield and the safety of Warren is our top concern also,” Cruz told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner on Wednesday.

In the latest video clip, Rodwell, wearing a black sweat shirt appeared cleanly shaven, but frail and holding a copy of the Philippine Daily Inquirer dated December 16, 2012.  A white linen with a floral design served as back draft as Rodwell spoke to the camera – his eyes repeatedly blinked and he would randomly looked to his left and his right, and occasionally would stare directly above the camera as if he was trying to decipher a gesture or hand signal from his captors. In the entire 2 minute clip, a man was heard coughing repeatedly while Rodwell spoke about his ordeal and at the end expressed hopelessness about his situation. He at one point in the clip said he does not trust either the Abu Sayyaf or the Australian government.

The complete text of the clip is as follows: “My name is Warren Richard Rodwell from Australia, today is Sunday, December 16, 2012, and this newspaper is Saturday, December 15, 2012. I have been held prisoner, kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf Muslim terrorist group for over one year, actually 54 weeks today. I was kidnapped on December 5, 2012. This video clip today is to say that I am live. I am waiting to be released. I have no idea what’s going on outside. I am just kept, held prisoner in isolation.” “Again, I am alive. It’s 378 days I think, something like that. This newspaper is from the Philippines. If any, honestly and if there is some negotiation I do not get any information and the people around me don’t normally speak English and I understand something is happening but I don’t know when. I do not expect to be released before the year 2013 at the earliest. I personally hold no hope at all for being release. I do not trust the Abu Sayyaf, I do not trust the Australian government. I just don’t trust anyone, personally, I don’t care.”

There was no immediate statement from the Australian Embassy about the latest video clip of Rodwell.

In October, government troops clashed with Abu Sayyaf rebels in Sulu province following intelligence reports about the presence of kidnapped victims in the hinterlands of Patikul town. Aside from Rodwell, Abu Sayyaf and members of the Moro National Liberation Front are said to be holding two European wildlife photographers - Ewold Horn, 52, from Holland; and Lorenzo Vinciguerre, 47, from Switzerland - who were also kidnapped earlier this year in Tawi-Tawi province. The Abu Sayyaf is still holding a Japanese man and three Filipinos in Sulu. Philippine authorities have imposed a news blackout on the kidnappings of the foreigners, although there were reports that negotiations for the safe release of Rodwell and the other foreigners are going on.

Just in September, the Abu Sayyaf freed a kidnapped Chinese man Jian Luo, 48, in Zamboanga City after his family paid some P5 million ransom. His compatriot Jampong Lin-Yuankai, 38, was later rescued following a gun battle in a village also in Zamboanga City. The two men - who are natives of Guangdong province and are engaged in buying and selling of manganese and other minerals - were kidnapped by followers of Abu Sayyaf leader Khair Mundos in Kabasalan town near where Rodwell was snatched.

Mundos is wanted both by the Philippine and US authorities for his role in the transfer of al-Qaeda funds to the Abu Sayyaf which had been used to carry out terror attacks in Mindanao and other parts of the country. According to the US Rewards for Justice Program, Mundos is a key leader and financier of the Abu Sayyaf. He was arrested in May 2004 and confessed to having arranged the transfer of funds from al-Qaeda to Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khadafy Janjalani. But in February 2007, Mundos escaped from the Kidapawan Provincial Jail in North Cotabato province. It was unknown whether Mundos was also involved in Rodwell kidnapping.

College instructor killed in Basilan attack

From the Mindanao Examiner (Dec 26): College instructor killed in Basilan attack

Motorcycle gunmen shot dead a teacher in an attack in Lamitan City in the southern Philippine province of Basilan, police said. Police said Noel Bayno, 33, was shot twice while talking to his friends late Tuesday in the village of Maligaya. Bayno, who worked with the Mindanao Autonomous College, was rushed to hospital, but doctors failed to save his life. The attackers escaped after the shooting. Senior Inspector Kenette Balisang, the local police chief, said they are still investigating the motive of the killing.

Grenade blast rocks home in Cotabato City

From ABS-CBN (Dec 26): Grenade blast rocks home in Cotabato City

A grenade explosion rocked a home in Cotabato City at around 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, police said. Investigations showed that the explosion occurred inside the house of a certain Gani Uy, a former barangay kagawad of Rosary Heights 4, Cotabato City. Uy was slightly wounded in the incident and was rushed to a nearby hospital for medical attention. He suffered minor shrapnel wounds on his thigh. Uy’s wife, Rebecca, told ABS-CBN News that she heard the loud explosion while she was cooking dinner in the kitchen. She said she has no idea what the motive is for the blast, adding that her husband did not receive any death threats and does not have any enemies. Police are investigating how the grenade was lobbed inside the house. They are also looking into the angle of accidental explosion after they found the safety pin inside the house. Uy has 2 sons working in the Army and a daughter working for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

Year 2012 was a big challenge, says MILF

From ABS-CBN (Dec 26):  Year 2012 was a big challenge, says MILF

The year 2012 was a challenging period for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) but the year ahead will even be more challenging, MILF Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar said. Jaafar told ABS-CBN News that the organization faced countless challenges during their struggle for a separate government for the Bangsamoro people. He said some of these were the impasse in the talks between the MILF and the government peace panels, and the MILF's dialogue with the Bangsamoro leaders. He added that Ameril Umbra Kato's formation of a breakaway group was also hard for the MILF leadership.

However, Jaafar believes the MILF was still able to surpass all the challenges. He said the Bangsamoro people have started to slowly embrace the 10-decision points achieved by the MILF and the government in the framework agreement that was signed last October 15. But 2013 will even be more challenging, Jaafar said, as peace negotiations on the details of the framework agreement are still underway. He said the next challenge they would have to face is whether they would be able to meet the Bangsamoro people's expectations. "Dito sa framework agreement, dapat maibigay ang gobyerno na para sa mga Bangsamoro. Inaasahan nila na magiging maunlad ang buhay nila at gusto namin na ma-satisfy 'yun dahil kung hindi, baka ma-frustrate sila at kantiyawan nila kami," Jaafar said.

MILF not to meddle in 2013 polls

Meanwhile, Jaafar stressed that the MILF will not meddle in the national and local elections next year, even if some MILF officials have relatives vying for government posts. He said MILF political and military leaders will not be allowed to directly involve themselves in campaigning for a relative running for any government position. Jaafar also asserted that he will not campaign for his son Butch Abo, who will be running for city councilor under the ticket of Cotabato City Mayor Japal Guiani Jr. The official also urged candidates to respect each other, and maintain a peaceful and orderly elections. "Hinihiling namin na huwag naman sanang gamitin ang mga armas at huwag gumawa ng karahasan," Jaafar said.

Kidnapped Australian in PHL not hopeful of freedom

From GMA News (Dec 26): Kidnapped Australian in PHL not hopeful of freedom

Warren Rodwell, the Australian national who was kidnapped in southern Philippines last year, has expressed little hope that he will be released by his abductors who are believed to be members of the notorious Abu Sayyaf bandit group. In a video that was posted on the video-sharing site YouTube, a gaunt-looking Rodwell said: “I do not expect to be released before the year 2013 at the earliest. I personally hold no hope at all for being released. I do not trust Abu Sayyaf.”

Rodwell, who was 53 when he was snatched from his home in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay, on December 5, 2011, was shown holding the December 15, 2012 issue of the broadsheet Philippine Daily Inquirer. The nearly two-minute video was posted December 25, 2012. “This video clip today is to say that I am alive. I am waiting to be released. I have no idea what’s going on outside. I’m just held prisoner in isolation,” Rodwell said.

Reached for comment, Maj. Emmanuel Garcia of the Armed Forces' public information office said they have yet to verify the authenticity of the video, which Rodwell said was recorded on December 15, 2012. The Australian Embassy has yet to issue a statement regarding the video.


Rodwell said he is aware of the negotiations being conducted for his release, although he added that he has not been receiving updates on it. “I understand there are some negotiations. I do not get any information, updated information. The people around me normally don’t speak English. I understand something is happening but I don’t know when,” he said. The Australian government has thumbed down the Abu Sayyaf’s $2-million ransom demand in exchange for Rodwell’s freedom, citing its no-ransom policy. The Australian government, through its Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has also issued a “Do Not Travel” advisory on Central and Western Mindanao as a result of the kidnapping.

It was reported in May that Rodwell pleaded for his release in a video dated March 26. In the video released on January, he asked his family to “please do whatever to raise the two million US dollars they are asking for my release as soon as possible." In his recent video, Rodwell said he does not trust the Abu Sayyaf and the Australian government: “I just don’t trust anyone. Personally, I don’t care.” The footage ended after Rodwell looked at whoever was holding the camera and asked,“Is that it?".

NPA sets more attacks on wide scale

From the Manila Standard Today (Dec 27): NPA sets more attacks on wide scale

Malacañang has ordered the Armed Forces to remain vigilant despite a 27-day ceasefire agreement with the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front-New Peoples’ Army. The government made the statement on Wednesday after the CPP ordered the NPA to launch “more frequent tactical offensives on a wide scale” as it marked its 44th anniversary. “In the process, we must seize more arms from the enemy and increase the number of NPA fighting units. The NPA level of armed strength must reach 25,000 in order to advance from the strategic defensive to the strategic stalemate,” it said on a statement.

The CPP’s statement came on the heels of a two-day meeting in Oslo for a possible resumption of the peace talks which have been stalled for close to two years since the government panel and the NDF, the CPP’s political arm, last met in February 2011. The fresh directive from the communist group stood in contrast with the statement made by presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles who said that an “indefinite truce” can be reached soon.

“Our AFP remains vigilant even if there is a suspension of military offensives,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said. “We expect no less from the leadership of CPP-NPA-NDF to download the information on the ceasefire to their ground troops. We expect that the ceasefire will be observed,” he added. The ceasefire with communist rebels, which started on December 20, will last until January 15, 2013. In ordering the truce, the CPP said the ceasefire was being issued “in solidarity with the Filipino people’s traditional celebrations of Christmas and New Year holidays.”

But since the truce started, both the government and the communists accused each other of violating the agreement. The military said the communists twice violated the truce, with the most recent one happening in a recent clash between government and rebel troops in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta said the NPA fired on soldiers who were merely “facilitating” the surrender of a rebel at Bayotbot village on Thursday last week. Mabanta said no one was reported killed or injured on both sides as the soldiers and the rebels were far from one another.

Meanwhile, government forces arrested on Tuesday the sixth most wanted man in the country, ranking NPA leader Filemon Mendrez in Negros Oriental on Tuesday. Mendrez, who has a P5.25 million bounty on his head, was facing several criminal and rebellion cases in local courts. He was a former head of Front Committee 2 of the NPA before becoming the deputy head of the CPP Central Visayas Regional Party Committee.

Usual suspects issue the usual statement

From Malaya (Dec 26): Usual suspects issue the usual statement

The Communist Party of the Philippines said yesterday a planned intensified military campaign to destroy its armed wing, the New People’s Army “is a pipe dream.” The CPP made the statement for its 44th foundation anniversary yesterday. The CPP statement said the administration of Ferdinand Marcos was not able to destroy the NPA, then small and weak, when it forged a cease-fire agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front in 1976. The military places the number of NPA men at about 4,000.

The CPP said the military will not succeed in destroying the NPA as the AFP pursues its strategy of concentrating large forces in certain guerrilla fronts for extended periods, including Southern Mindanao, Samar-Leyte and Negros areas. The CPP criticized the Internal Peace and Security Plan “Bayanihan,” the military’s blueprint in winning the peace. Calling it a “vicious monster,” the CPP said Bayanihan’s main thrust “is to kill suspected revolutionaries.” It said the campaign plan calls for intelligence work and intimidation of families of suspected revolutionaries.

All Malacañang could say to all these is that said it expects the NPA to adhere to the holiday cease-fire that CPP-National Democratic Front leaders agreed on with the government but the AFP is ready in case the rebels celebrate their anniversary by attacking soldiers. The holiday truce started l December 20 and will last until January 15. Presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Deles, in her Christmas message, said the 27-day nationwide Christmas cease-fire is the longest between the two parties.

Government and CPP-NDF peace negotiators and representatives are scheduled to meet early next year to discuss the forging of a Common Declaration of National Unity and Just Peace. The two parties met last December 17-18 at The Hague and agreed to exchange comments on their respective drafts of the Declaration.

In Negros Oriental on Christmas Day, combined police and soldiers arrested Felimon Mendrez alias Tatay and Edon, an alleged ranking NPA leader.

Bronze Cross Medals For Storm Heroes

From the Manila Bulletin (Dec 26): Bronze Cross Medals For Storm Heroes

Twenty-one soldiers, who risked their lives in a bid to rescue a whole community at the height of typhoon “Pablo,” will receive today the Bronze Cross Medal, one of the highest combat awards in the military. The 21 soldiers belong to the Charlie Company of the 66th Infantry Battalion. Maj. Harold M. Cabunoc, the Army spokesman, said Army chief Lt. Gen. Emmanuel T. Bautista will personally pin the Bronze Cross Medal award on four injured soldiers now confined at the AFP Medical Center (AFPMC) in V. Luna, Quezon City.

Those who will receive the medal in an awarding ceremony scheduled at 10 a.m. today at the AFPMC are 1Lt. Marvin Miniano Deazeta, 2Lt. Jose Enrico Dela Rosa, PFC Albert Linasa Puyunan, and Private Ryan Magno. Cabunoc said similar awarding ceremony will be held at the 10th Infantry Division (10ID) where the rest of the awardees are also recuperating from their sustained injuries. The Bronze Cross Medal is one of the highest combat awards given to Army personnel. It is next in succession to the Medal for Valor award, being the highest, Distinguished Conduct Star, and Gold Cross Medal. It can be awarded for both combat and non-combat accomplishments, and is given to military personnel for acts that involve the risk of life other than those of actual conflict with the enemy. The cross symbolizes risk of life and sacrifice, and the wreath strands for honor which the awardee deserves.

Deazeta and his men were stationed in Barangay Andap, New Bataan town, on December 4 when they gathered residents and boarded them on two military trucks to bring them to safer grounds. But a sudden surge of floodwater with boulders, mud, and huge tree trunks suddenly engulfed the whole community and swept all of them, including the soldiers. Despite these, the soldiers were still able to rescue some of the residents. Seven soldiers died, many were injured, while four remain missing as of this day. The award states that “Deazeta and his troops courageously and fearlessly risked their lives, and evacuated the populace of Barangay Andap to higher and safer grounds at the height of typhoon Pablo…Their ultimate display of heroism, dedication, devotion to duty and selflessness greatly contributed to the great desire to save human lives whom the Battalion has sworn to secure and protect.”

Soldiers Bring Gifts To Children

From the Manila Bulletin (Dec 26): Soldiers Bring Gifts To Children

Officers and men of the largest Army division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Mindanao, the 4th Infantry (Diamond) Division (4th ID) conducted gift-giving activities for children in different villages in Northeastern and Northern Mindanao regions yesterday. The activity was conducted simultaneously by members of the group Propelling Our Inherited Nation Through our Youth Incorporated (POINTY) in an effort to make the children in remote barangays experience Christmas. “This is also a way of inspiring these children that there is more in life and they should not limit their dreams in their barangays,” said 4th ID spokesperson Lt. Col. Eugenio Julio C. Osias IV.

The gift-giving areas were at barangays Odiong in Esperanza town, Agusan del Sur; Magluyong in San Miguel town, Surigao del Sur; Bangayan in Kitcharao town, Agusan del Norte; Bang-bang in Medina town, Misamis Oriental; and Dalwangan in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon province. In these areas, people contented themselves in having a decent food for the family during Christmas Eve, while people in cities were busy buying gifts for their families and friends. “This tradition put a smile in the faces of the children and this tradition is what we brought to these areas for the children to experience the same joy as those children in big cities,” said 4th ID chief Maj. Gen. Nestor A. Añonuevo.

“The spirit of Christmas can best be seen in the faces of our children and it has been our practice to make them happy through the gifts we give them,” he said. He added: “This is also the time of the year that they are most excited expecting what they will receive from us, who they viewed as their Santa Claus. Your soldiers aside from their traditional roles as combatants may also be a brother, a sister, a father, and a mother to your children who will be happy to see them smile and be joyful this Christmas.” Col. Osias said, “The children and the youth should be experiencing happiness in their hearts and not hatred. This is the reason why we are giving this experience of joy to these children for them to be closer to the government and prevent them from being exploited by the NPAs.”

The soldiers of 4th ID also conducted a film showing at Gaston Park in Cagayan de Oro City few hours before Christmas Eve. During the activity, the audio-video presentation dubbed “Bayanihan” was shown to the people waiting for the Christmas Eve mass at Saint Augustine Church. The soldiers also distributed pocket calendars to churchgoers who stayed at the park and viewed the show. This same activity was also done in the province of Bukidnon and Caraga Region. Añonuevo said this is a simple way of making the Army’s presence felt and to make people feel the security and protection as they celebrate Christmas. "Your soldiers are ready to give their most precious time, effort, and their lives for the service of our country and people all year round," he said.

China Building $1.6-B Piers, Airport In Disputed Sea

From the Manila Bulletin (Dec 26): China Building $1.6-B Piers, Airport In Disputed Sea

China announced early this week that it will invest more than $1.6 billion to build infrastructure, including an airport and piers, on the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) as well as strengthen marine law enforcement in the region. In a report by the Guangzhou-based 21st Century Business Herald, Hainan Province Governor Jiang Dingzhi announced last Monday that China would build an airport, piers and other infrastructure on islands administered by Sansha, a prefecture-level city under Hainan’s jurisdiction that was created in July.

Located on Woody Island (also known as Yongxing Island), the largest island in the Paracels and 350 kilometers southeast of Hainan, Sansha “administers” more than 200 islets, sandbanks and reefs and their surrounding waters in the Nansha (Spratly) Islands, Macclesfield Bank (also called Zhongsha Islands) and the Paracel chains. Based on another newspaper account, some of the construction has already begun. It did not provide any additional details, however.

While serving to create facts on the ground to bolster China’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, the investment projects have also been a source of tension with other claimants, forcing Beijing to add a security component to the project. In July, China’s Central Military Commission approved the creation of a military garrison on Sansha. Chinese media also reported that construction and tourism investment companies received approval in August and September, respectively, to proceed with various commercial development plans in the city, including the establishment of a tax haven and casino resorts.

NDF assures relief workers of safe pass through areas hit by Pablo

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 26): NDF assures relief workers of safe pass through areas hit by Pablo

The National Democratic Front (NDF) has assured relief volunteers of their safety in hinterland villages devastated by typhoon “Pablo.” This as Jorge Madlos alias Ka Oris, spokesperson of the NDF, said many residents have not received relief assistance from either private or government organizations. “They don’t have to be afraid. They are free to go there,” Madlos told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone on the occasion of the CPP’s founding anniversary Wednesday.

The rebel group said it has decided to forego with their annual gathering in solidarity with those who were affected by the typhoon. “They (relief volunteers) can be assured that no untoward incident will happen to them, provided that they won’t bring any military with them,” Madlos said, adding that they have already instructed their comrades to facilitate those who wish to go to affected villages for relief distribution. The rebels have also declared a ceasefire during the holiday season. “We also told our forces not to launch any tactical offensive,” Madlos said.

He said typhoon Pablo created “a crisis so great” in the affected province of Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley that thousands of families have been bereft of livelihood. “So we really need to help each other,” he said. He said several areas in remote hinterlands have not received relief goods. “We see helicopters dropping off relief goods, but still there are lot of affected families who were not able to receive any,” he said. Madlos said some of their comrades sustained injuries during the onslaught of the storm, but nobody died.

He said New People’s Army members went out to help villagers, but can only do so much with their limited resources. He said it might take some time before people in the devastated land might be able to stand on its feet again. “It will take a lot rehabilitation and our call is that non-government organizations and media help in this too,” he said.

China’s plans to fortify Sansha City violate int’l law – DFA

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 26): China’s plans to fortify Sansha City violate int’l law – DFA

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday maintained that China’s move to strengthen and develop islands at the center of territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) was a violation of international law. “Sansha City has been a subject of Philippine protest as its administrative jurisdiction encompasses Philippine territory and maritime zones in the West Philippine Sea,” Hernandez said when asked for reactions to reports on China’s latest plan to develop the disputed area. “China’s action to fortify Sansha city is an attempt to reinforce its excessive nine-dash claim which is a violation of international law especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” he added.

Hernandez the Philippines would push through with its three-track political, legal, and diplomatic approach to deal with the territorial disputes and reiterated its hopes for China to reconsider its position in the issue. In a report Monday, business and financial news agency Bloomberg quoted the 21st Century Business Herald as saying that China had approved plans to invest at least $1.6 billion to build an airport, pier, and other infrastructures on islands involved in territorial disputes concerning China, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

The report quoted Jiang Dingzhi, governor of China’s Hainan province, as saying that the plans were intended as “a platform for Sansha’s development in the long term.” “Sansha’s immediate work is for airports, ports, piers and other important infrastructure, as well as law enforcement vessels, supply ships and other projects to be established,” Jiang was quoted as saying in a statement. “In the long term, we need to implement a platform for Sansha’s development,” Jiang added. Bloomberg, quoting 21st Century Herald, also noted that the funds for Sansha would also be spent on marine law enforcement and ocean fisheries and that construction of some facilities had already started.

The Philippines and Vietnam had expressed protests over China’s creation of Sansha. China created Sansha in June for the administration of the Paracels and the Spratlys, parts of which are also occupied or claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. Hernandez had also earlier said that Sansha’s jurisdiction covered the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratlys, which “is an integral part of the Philippine territory falling under the municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan province.”

“For this reason, the Philippines does not recognize Sansha City and the extent of its jurisdiction and considers recent measures taken by China as unacceptable,” Hernandez said, reacting to China’s decision to build a military garrison in the islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) early this year. Hernandez, meanwhile, said on Wednesday that the Philippines would push through with its three-track political, legal, and diplomatic approach to deal with the territorial disputes and reiterated its hopes for China to reconsider its position on the issue.

AFP, US Navy inaugurate school facilities in Bacungan

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 26): AFP, US Navy inaugurate school facilities in Bacungan

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United States Navy have inaugurated school projects in Bacungan National High School, Palawan. In a statement, the AFP's Western Command (Wescom) Public Affairs Office said these projects included the renovation of one unit three-door classroom, construction of one comfort room, and installation of water system. Wescom Commander LtGen Juancho M. Sabban said the ceremony is a reminder of the immense advantage that unity of efforts brings forth, which reflects the evolution of military’s heightened function as catalysts and partners of development. Sabban said the turnover is the result of the successful collaboration among the Armed Forces, local government units, school officials, other stakeholders, and the populace. “We are especially thankful to our US counterparts for their generous assistance and diligence,” he expressed, adding that with the dedication, the military is not only addressing illiteracy problem, but also ensures that children can learn in the best environment possible.

“Students are more likely to prosper when school facilities are encouraging to learning,” he said. “Our youth holds the key of the future. It is in schools, where the country’s hope is nurtured and is given tangible form. Thus, investing in education is a long term solution to the security and development challenges, especially because peace and progress come more easily to a community where people are educated and well-informed,” he added. US Naval Construction Battalion - 74 team leader LTJG Chris Willich USN hoped that the recipients will take accountability in the maintenance and proper use of the projects.

DepEd Assistant Division Superintendent Domingo Padul assured that they will take care of the school facilities and will use them as intended for in learning. “We are very grateful because we receive another set of gifts. We are rejoicing as these will help address the shortage of classroom,” Padul said. (RVC/Wescom/PIA9-ZBST)

Video: On Mindanao, Protecting Civilians in a Conflict Zone With Eyes and Notepad

From PBS News Hour (Dec 25): On Mindanao, Protecting Civilians in a Conflict Zone With Eyes and Notepad

Its lush, verdant fields act as food supplier for the Philippines, but Mindanao is also a tense, highly militarized place. Tens of thousands of residents have been forced to flee their homes for squalid camps. In our Agents for Change series, Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on a group of peacekeepers holding the fragile cease-fire.

Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

Video report can be viewed at the following URL:

GWEN IFILL: Next: protecting civilians in a conflict zone with eyes and a notepad.
The island of Mindanao in the Philippines, hit hard by a typhoon earlier this month, has seen separatist conflict for decades. Even though the government and rebel forces signed a peace treaty in October, sectarian tensions run high. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro takes a look at one unarmed group trying to keep the peace on the island as part of our series Agents for Change.\

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Mindanao remains one of the most militarized places in the world, with frequent outbreaks of violence. The 6-year-old child in this picture was caught in a crossfire, one of the latest victims of a decades-old civil war on Mindanao. Tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced from their homes into dilapidated camps.

MAN: Many families are still in Luanan?

MAN (through translator): There are still 104 families staying here. We go to our farms during the day, but come back here at night.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Surveying conditions in these camps is an individual group of civilians called Nonviolent Peaceforce. They register and relay these concerns to representatives of both sides of the conflict, holding each to the fragile cease-fire earlier and now to the peace treaty.
MAN: What did you hear?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They provide no material aid, just accountability on all sides for the plight of civilians, says co-founder Mel Duncan. He was in Mindanao during our visit.

MEL DUNCAN, Co-Founder, Nonviolent Peaceforce: There are many organizations that do medical care and food provision, never enough. But I -- what is new here is civilians protecting civilians, and that's where we can make our greatest contribution, because the vast majority of casualties in war today are civilians.

MAN: The military has set up a camp. Does that still not give you enough confidence to -- to be staying there at night?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: "No," the reply came from Abdul Manan Ali (ph). Armed groups continue to pose a threat, so people feel safer in the crowded camp refuge at night.

MAN: I think families are still insecure about the situation.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A few minutes later, the monitors were relaying the citizens' concerns to the Philippine military, which is in charge of security in this region.

LT. COL. BENJAMIN HAO, Philippine Army: Some of the members of community are suggesting to bring my platoons nearer. I have no problem with that. The problem is bringing military into the community might cause another problem, so we have to study this some more.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Nonviolent Peaceforce's annual budget of $7.5 million comes from the U.N. and the governments from several developed nations, though not the U.S., also from private donations. The group worked in Sri Lanka during its civil war and now also serves in South Sedan and breakaway regions in Georgia. Monitors are paid about 1,500 U.S. dollars a month, plus living expenses. In total, the group claims, their costs are about half. Their challenges in Mindanao have been daunting. When this island became part of a newly independent Philippines in 1946, Muslims, or Moros, were a majority here, and they resisted, demanding a separate state.  Over time, Christian settlers moved in. They now outnumber Muslims 3-1. Today, the leading insurgent group no longer seeks independence, but more autonomy from Manila.  Rashid Ladiasan is the secretary of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Do you consider yourself Filipino?

RASHID LADIASAN, Secretary, Moro Islamic Liberation Front: No, no. By citizenship, yes, by nationality, no. I am a Moro by nationality.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Journalist Glenda Gloria, who wrote a book about the Mindanao conflict, says it is as much about economic inequality as religion. She traces much of today's problems back to the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled from 1965 to 1986.

GLENDA GLORIA, Author: The Marcos government institute a lot of government policies that suppressed the minority Muslims, that took them away from the economic and political fight. And after that, the abusive military really violated human rights, just ran after these rebels who wanted to separate from the republic at that point.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That sowed the seeds for radicalization among some rebel fighters, she says. By the 1990s, a regional al-Qaida affiliate called Abu Sayyaf began to thrive.

GLENDA GLORIA: In Philippines future, inter-religion, for all sorts of things, namely to even help you understand why you're oppressed.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Is Abu Sayyaf growing?

MAN: As far as we're concerned, it's not growing. They're still confined.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Army Major Carlos Sole says Abu Sayyaf has largely been contained as a military threat, in part helped by U.S. advisers who remain in the region.

MAN: That's one of the success of our government security forces in that portion of Mindanao.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Philippine officials also note that the peace treaty gives the Moro more autonomy and control over resources. But factions on either side remain unhappy with the peace process, and there are frequent localized clashes, and trust continues to be in short supply. That's a void both the military and the main rebel group, the MILF, say foreign civilians can fill effectively.

RASHID LADIASAN: Only an armed civilian protection monitors would be effective, because our people have been traumatized. If they only see government and MILF working in civilian protection, there is no impartiality.

MAJ. CARLOS SOL, Philippine Army: Since they are foreigners, the perception could be they are neutral compared to local organizations that are involved in the Peaceforces.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Regardless of their faith?

MAJ. CARLOS SOL: Regardless of their faith. I think -- and the Nonviolent Peaceforce is a mixture of Hindus, Christians, and Muslims.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The unarmed peacekeepers also come for the long haul. Raghu Menon, trained as a lawyer in India, joined the group two years ago. He says the relationship with locals makes a big difference.

RAGHU MENON, Monitor: As you can see, there are no fences, no guards outside our office, in spite of the fact that Pikit, where we are based, is considered to be a dangerous place by most Filipinos. But because we are living in a community which supports our work, which understands our work, I think we draw a lot of our security from that.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Nonviolent Peaceforce is based in Belgium. Co-founder Duncan says his earliest inkling that the concept might work came in the '80s. The Iowa native was living in Nicaragua, where he had gone as a peace activist during that country's civil war.

MEL DUNCAN: And what we found over a seven-year period was none of those villages were ever attacked when there was an international presence. This was at a period of a war where 50,000 people were being killed.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Refining and putting the idea into practice took years of studying similar attempts, he says, including an ill-fated one during Bosnia's civil war.

MEL DUNCAN: People, primarily from Europe, had been recruited, many of them not trained. And they came into a situation where they in fact drew artillery, and drew artillery into the areas where they were trying to protect. And they made a lot of problems in terms of having to be taken out.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Now, long before they deploy, the group spends months in training, studying the conflict, meeting key players, and forging partnerships with citizen groups.

MEL DUNCAN: We have to engage with local partners, who can understand things in ways that internationals will never be able. War is complicated and so is peace, and we're always learning at this. And that's -- we have to remain humble, and this is not a tool that fits every situation and that will rid the world of war.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The group hopes to test that theory in more conflict zones, that unarmed civilians can be as effective as militaries in ensuring the peace and safety. All sides here say they have done that in Mindanao.

GWEN IFILL: A version of this story aired on the PBS program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.
Fred's reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary's University in Minnesota.

Army to honor 21 heroes of typhoon ‘Pablo’

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 26): Army to honor 21 heroes of typhoon ‘Pablo’

Twenty-one soldiers belonging to the Charlie Company of the Army’s 66th Infantry Battalion will be awarded for their “acts of heroism” during the onslaught of typhoon “Pablo” that swept away an entire village in Compostela Valley. Four of the soldiers led by First Lieutenant Alex Marvin Deazeta currently recuperating at the AFP Medical Center will be personally awarded with the Bronze Cross Medal by Army chief Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista on Thursday morning, said Army spokesman Major Harold Cabunoc. “Deazeta and his troops courageously and fearlessly risked their lives, and evacuated the populace of Barangay (village) Andap to higher and safer grounds at the height of typhoon ‘Pablo’…Their ultimate display of heroism, dedication, devotion to duty and selflessness greatly contributed to the great desire to save human lives whom the Battalion has sworn to secure and protect,” the award citation read.

Similar awarding rites will be conducted at the Army’s 10th Infantry Division based in Compostela Valley where the rest of the soldiers are recuperating from their sustained injuries. The Bronze Cross Medal is one of the highest awards given to military personnel for acts that involve the risk of life other than those of conflict with the enemy. The cross symbolizes risk of life and sacrifice, and the wreath strands for honor.

Soldiers stationed in Barangay Andap, New Bataan town were carried away by floods when they tried to rescue residents as Pablo battered the province on December 4. Seven soldiers were killed, while several were injured, and four remained missing to this day. “We are proud of our soldiers who continuously risk their lives while serving in the frontlines. During calamities, our soldiers are the first responders who performed disaster response operations to help the victims of natural calamities all throughout the archipelago,” said Cabunoc.

ASG faction behind teacher's abduction

From the Philippine Star (Dec 26): Police: ASG faction behind teacher's abduction

Police authorities have identified an Abu Sayyaf faction as behind the recent abduction of a teacher, but cases have not been filed yet to the court, a security official said. Senior Supt. Edwin de Ocampo said they have yet to wait for the cooperation of the victim – Flordeliza Ongchua – who was freed 40 days later by the Abu Sayyaf group in a town of Indanan town, Sulu on Christmas eve.

Ongchua, 47, who was abducted last Nov. 13 from her residence in Barangay Labuan this city by gunmen disguised as military forces. They headed toward Sulu on board motorized pumpboat.
Police said Ongchua, who was recovered by the operatives in Marina street, Jolo hours later on Dec. 24 after her release, was flown to this city and reunited with her family. A security official said that more than P2-million was allegedly paid in exchange for the release. The family declined to comment on the ransom issue.

De Ocampo said they have been waiting for the victim to cooperate in the investigation for the filing of kidnapping charges against her abductors. “We have not filed yet the case, we are still waiting for the victim to cooperate and submit her affidavit,” De Ocampo said. However, De Ocampo said they have already pinpointed the Susukan group, an Abu Sayyaf faction led then by slain leader Mujib Susukan, as responsible for the kidnapping. “We have the identity of the group but we need the definite identities of those behind the kidnapping through the cooperation of the victim so that we will have an airtight case to file,” De Ocampo added.

Seen on Facebook: Kidnapped Australian

From Rappler (Dec 26): Seen on Facebook: Kidnapped Australian

On Tuesday, December 26, accounts on Facebook and YouTube posted and shared a video of Australian Warren Rodwell, kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf from his home in the southern Philippines a little more than a year ago.  In the newest video recorded Sunday, December 16, Rodwell looks noticeably thinner than the last proof-of-life video taped exactly 9 months ago on March 26.  Rodwell holds up a copy of the Philippine Daily Inquirer from Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012. Wearing a black t-shirt, his hair is cropped short, his cheeks sunken. He speaks with a weary air. “This video clip today is to say that I am alive,” Rodwell tells the camera. “I am waiting to be released. I have no idea what’s going on outside. I am just being held in isolation.”

Facebook now connects more than a billion accounts globally while YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine. Both have been used by members of Filipino extremist groups, including the Abu Sayyaf and the Rajah Solaiman movement to recruit and spread their ideology.

Video can be viewed at the following URL:

According to intelligence sources in Southeast Asia, the region’s most wanted terrorist, Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, led a recently killed Malaysian JI member to his hideout in the southern Philippines through a Facebook account. A leader of Jemaah Islamiyah and Kumpulan Mujaihidin Malaysia, Marwan maintains a Facebook account through which he asks like-minded friends to join his jihad.

In the newest video taped Dec. 16, 2012, Rodwell speaks in front of a light, patterned sheet with light-blue flowers to hide his location. A Philippine intelligence document obtained by Rappler showed that as of Aug 15, 2012, Rodwell was being held by the Abu Sayyaf in Al-Barka, Basilan, the site of the controversial killing of special forces soldiers in November, 2010. Earlier in the year, there were reports he had been moved to Sulu. Authorities said the senior-most leader of the Abu Sayyaf, Radullan Sahiron turned him away. Sahiron has led many kidnap-for-ransom cases, including Ces Drilon and the ABS-CBN team in 2008. Authorities said he is involved with or provides protection to the kidnappers of 2 European birdwatchers, a Jordanian journalist who has interviewed Osama bin Laden, a Japanese and a Filipino, among others.

Warren Richard Rodwell, 54, was kidnapped from his home in the southern Philippine town of Ipil, Zamboanga del Sur on Dec 5, 2011. A photo was sent to his Filipina wife, Miraflor Gutang, in January. Authorities said the kidnappers initially demanded P1 million (about US$23,000) in ransom, but in the first video also sent in January, the demand went up to US$2 million. “I do not expect to be released before the year 2013 at the earliest,” Rodwell says in the video released a day after Christmas. “I personally hold no hope at all for being released. I do not trust the Abu Sayyaf. I do not trust the Australian government.”

Difficult negotiations

Sources in western and Philippine intelligence told Rappler negotiations have been difficult largely because it’s unclear who will lead it. Leadership has shifted, and there seem to be differing goals and tactics employed by at least two agencies: the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.  The Australian government refused to comment on this. Rodwell’s family in Australia said they have gotten little word about his condition. A cousin wishing to be identified only as Susan is asking for public donations for his ransom fund. “He had a tough upbringing and his military training would have equipped him with determination and resilience,” said Susan. “We are hopeful that those qualities will in some way wear down his captors.”

More than a year after his kidnapping, Rodwell seems angry but resigned. He ends his statement with 3 telling sentences.“I just don’t trust anyone. Personally I don’t care,” says Rodwell. Then he looks at the camera and asks the kidnapper shooting the video: “Is that it?” Here is his statement in full:

"My name is Warren Richard Rodwell from Australia. Today is Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012. This newspaper is Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012. I’m being held prisoner, kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf, Muslim terrorist group for over 1 year – actually 53, 54 weeks today. I was kidnapped on Dec. 5, 2011.

This video clip today is to say that I am alive. I am waiting to be released. I have no idea what’s going on outside. I’m just held prisoner in isolation. Again, I am alive. It’s 378 days, I think – something like that. The newspaper is from the Philippines. If any … – I understand there are some negotiations. I do not get information, updated information. The people around me normally don’t speak English. I understand something is happening but I don’t know when.

I do not expect to be released before the year 2013 at the earliest. I personally hold no hope at all for being released.

I do not trust Abu Sayyaf. I do not trust the Australian government. I just don’t trust anyone. Personally, I don’t care.

Is that it?"

Gov't expects communist rebels to observe holiday truce

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 26): Gov't expects communist rebels to observe holiday truce

The Philippine government made an assurance it will observe the ceasefire agreed on with the communist rebels for the celebration of Christmas and New Year and expects the insurgents to do the same, a Palace official said Wednesday. Both the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front have agreed to a bilateral ceasefire declaration for the holidays. With a bilateral ceasefire in effect, the government expects the leadership of CPP-NPA-NDF will notify its troops on the ground, Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing in Malacanang.

With regard to the possible eruption of violence as the communists celebrate their 44th anniversary, Lacierda said the Armed forces will remain vigilant in the midst of possible threats from the rebels. Lacierda noted there is a suspension of offensive military operations reached by both sides in recent talks at The Netherlands that should prevent clashes in the field. “The AFP is vigilant. There is a SOMO as agreed upon by the joint panel abroad. So we received that press release from, I think, the ambassador of Norway and Netherlands. But I just spoke to Col. (Arnulfo) Burgos, kahit naman may SOMO vigilant sila,” he said.

The communist rebels and Philippine government representatives held informal talks in The Netherlands last Monday, and agreed to keep the peace talks alive. At the same time they recommended a 27-day truce between guerrillas and soldiers. Both panels have agreed to a nationwide ceasefire from midnight of Dec 20 to midnight of Jan 15, 2013. Last year, the communist rebels and soldiers went into a truce from Dec 16, 2011 to Jan 2. The communist and government panels met Dec 17 in The Hague and agreed to continue discussing important items such as the common declaration of national unity and just peace, democracy and human rights, agrarian reform, rural development and national industrialization.