Thursday, December 27, 2012

24 ‘hero’ Army soldiers honored

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 28): 24 ‘hero’ Army soldiers honored

The Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division (10th ID) honored on Thursday 24 soldiers who risked their lives in evacuating typhoon victims in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley during the surge of super typhoon "Pablo". A bronze cross medal was awarded to each of the 24 soldiers, who belong to the Charlie Company of AFP's 66th Infantry Battalion (66th IB) under Lt. Col. Antonino Florendo. The awarding ceremony was held at Camp Panacan Station Hospital in Davao City for the 15 soldiers who suffered minor injuries while another awarding rite was held simultaneously at the V. Luna General Hospital in Quezon City for the nine other soldiers who are recovering from severe injuries.

Maj. Gen. Ariel Bernardo, 10th ID commander, in a press conference, said the soldiers deserved to be honored as they had risked their lives in conducting preemptive evacuation in Barangay Poblacion. "During the disaster, they were tasked to conduct preemptive evacuation. Unfortunately, naging biktima din sila ng flashflood doon sa battalion quarters sa Barangay Poblacion," Bernardo said. Posthumous awards were also given to the seven soldiers who died during the search operations for four missing soldiers.

Cash assistance coming from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV will also be given to the soldiers who were hit by the flashfloods. AFP is set to give a total of P8-million to the soldiers and will be divided based on the seriousness of the injuries. Trillanes, on the other hand, will shell out P10,000 each for the families of the fallen soldiers while P100,000 will be divided to the 24 injured soldiers. The 10th ID is continuing to work with different government and non-government agencies in conducting relief, rehabilitation and livelihood programs in the areas affected by the typhoon.

Grenade thrower killed, pal arrested in Tacurong City

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 28): Grenade thrower killed, pal arrested in Tacurong City

A suspect was killed while his companion arrested following a shootout with policemen after they tossed a grenade at the house of a Sultan Kudarat town mayor Thursday night here, police said. Senior Supt. Juny Buenacosa, Tacurong City police director, said the two suspects engaged policemen in a running gun battle minutes after they lobbed a grenade into the residential compound of Mayor Emilio Salamanca of President Quirino, Sultan Kudarat around 7:45 p.m. Thursday.
Buenacosa identified the arrested suspect as Nasser Abdullah, 40, a resident of Kabacan, North Cotabato while his unidentified companion was killed by responding lawmen.

Buenacosa said two men riding tandem on a motorbike passed by the house of Mayor Salamanca located along Lapu-Lapu Street, Tacurong City and lobbed a fragmentation grenade. But Salamanca’s personal bodyguards who were outside the house engaged the attackers in a running shootout. Responding policemen joined the manhunt against the suspects who tossed another hand grenade to pursuing lawmen that went off and wounded a civilian named Jona Parenio. Buenacosa identified the wounded escorts of Salamanca as Nilo Malcontento and Junfer Icalina. The suspects were cornered at Fernandez subdivision. Police seized another grenade from Abdullah, a caliber .45 pistol and the getaway motorcyle.

Buenacosa said the grenade attack, the second on Salamanca’s house this year, could be politically motivated. Last October, unidentified men also lobbed a grenade at the mayor’s house but nobody was hurt. It was the second explosion that rocked Tacurong City in two days. On Wednesday night, an improvised explosive device was set off at the city proper that left three persons wounded.

MILF: BLMI & BDA Conduct 4-day Training-Workshops on Leadership and Management

From the MILF Website (Dec 28): BLMI & BDA Conduct 4-day Training-Workshops on Leadership and Management

The Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) in partnership with the Bangsmoro Development Agency (BDA) held a 4-day live in seminar-workshop on “Leadership and Management at the BLMI Training Center, Crossing Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao from December 23-26, 2012. The main objective is to capacitate and infuse knowledge and skills to young Moro leaders including some members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF); top brass senior and junior officers of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on the aspect of leadership and management which included among others, coaching; planning; delegation; community organizing; communication; and Islamic Concept on Leadership. The activity was funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) an international organization who is extending unwavering support to the Bangsamoro in the conflict affected Mindanao Region.

The twenty (20) participants came from the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Davao, Sarangani and Maguindanao Province. In the evening, the participants were urged to discuss among themselves matters they can contribute to the vision, mission, and goals of the BLMI as well as the MILF as an organization through brain storming or exchange of valuable ideas.

On the first day, the program started at 9:00 am. Mr. Zamin Unti, Administrative Officer of the institute delivered his welcome address while Sheikh Mahmod Ahmad, BLMI Executive Director made the opening remarks and thanked the participants for their attendance. He said that he expects that the activity will somehow enhance participants’ abilities and skills in the field of leadership and management.

The training was facilitated on by members of the BLMI Steering Committee and staff. Some members of the steering committee were also the resource speakers who presented and discussed their topics thoroughly and substantially. The facilitators emphasized the salient features of leadership & management principles, theories and the differences between secular and Islamic perspective and its applications. The sponsoring entities expect that the four-day activity could be of great help to the participants who in coming years will become responsible in leading and managing the affairs of the Bangsamoro. The numerous activities already conducted by the BLMI in the past are just the initial of lined-up activities in capacity building; and transforming members of the MILF into highly skilled and knowledgeable individuals.

Mohagher Iqbal, the Chairman of the BLMI Oversight Committee made a visit to institute on the 3rd day of the activity to oversee the on-going sessions. Despite his hectic schedule when he is in the homeland, he found time to monitor the activities of the institute to ensure its success. With him were Ali Camlian, a member of the MILF Peace Panel and Datu Ali Sangki, erstwhile member of the MNLF and former Manager of the Lake Buluan Development Authority. In a brief message to the participants, Iqbal said, “the essence of the capacity building activities at the institute is to train leaders who are fit to the Front; one who has strong faith in the Almighty, humble that can relate to ordinary people and with wisdom”. He said that “leaders are not born but rather they are made”. “Leadership is difficult; and is not being applied for”. “A leader is one that rises from the rank and emerge in hardships and in sacrifice; and can persuade people to follow even if they resist”, Iqbal continued. He told the participants that if one “cannot do a job, let others do it”.

On the other hand, Sheik Ahmad expressed his observations during the closing program before noon time of December 26, 2012 and said that “the participants are still learning so that good listening and proper understanding while the sessions are going on is important”. Sheik Muhammad Yacob, Executive Director of the BDA told the participants that “the MILF as an organization had shifted from armed struggle to intellectual warfare that is why Front members are trained on the basis of the institute’s vision, mission and goals to capacitate them and becomes capable and competent leaders of the future Bangsamoro Region.

MILF: Bangsamoro medical mission helps Typhoon Pablo victims

From the MILF Website (Dec 28): Bangsamoro medical mission helps Typhoon Pablo victims

After its landfall on December 4, 2012, Typhoon Pablo (Bopha) brought massive devastation in the eastern portion of Mindanao. Davao Region is one of the seriously stricken areas with approximately 4.7 million individuals affected. Relief and rescue operations are in full-swing and massive help has been continuously called for especially by the victims. In response to the emergency situation, the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA), Bangsamoro Medical Society (BMS), academe, and other Bangsamoro civil society organizations jointly carried out relief distributions and a JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) – funded medical mission to more than 1000 affected families in Davao Oriental last December 21 to 24, 2012. A total of 662 families in Barangays Central and Kinablangan, Municipality of Baganga were provided with relief assistance (food and non-food).

To heap on the relief efforts, medical assistance and psychosocial interventions were also extended to at least 440 patients in Barangays Kinablangan and Dapnan in the same municipality. Dr. Ibrahim Pangato, Jr., Dr. Sherjan Kalim, and Dr. Zhamir Umag were physicians from BMS and Dr. Rizaldy Piang, also a BMS member and at the same time Vice-Chairperson of the BDA spearheaded the medical team. A pool of volunteers from the BDA, BMS and Bangsamoro Disaster Information and Response Center were also mobilized to serve and contribute to the relief efforts.

Envoys upbeat on PH-US ties in coming year

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 28): Envoys upbeat on PH-US ties in coming year

Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia Jr. (left) and US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr.: Upbeat on Philippines-US ties
The apparent upswing in longstanding relations between the Philippines and the United States is bound to continue in 2013, with both parties hoping to boost ties in the coming year. In a New Year message, Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia Jr. said 2012 was a year that saw deepening relations between the two countries, adding that he looked forward to an even more productive new year. “We continued to exert efforts to widen and deepen relations between the Philippines and the United States on all fronts, including people-to-people ties. As recently noted by a US official, the two countries’ relationship is in a ‘renaissance,’” said Cuisia in his message posted on the website of the Philippine Embassy in the United States. He said 2013 bodes well for the Philippines with continuing political and economic reforms under the administration of President Aquino.

Critical juncture

“Filipinos have many reasons to welcome 2013 with open arms. The country is at a critical juncture. Under the leadership of President Aquino, the Philippines has undergone a significant transition that establishes a direction of change that will shape our nation for years to come,” said Cuisia. “Reforms in the political and economic arena are bearing fruit and the President’s continued high approval ratings are a testament to the people’s trust and satisfaction in his administration. I look forward to another fruitful year, one filled with peace and blessings,” he added.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. was also upbeat, expressing his optimism on microblogging site Twitter. “I want 2013 to be even stronger for US-Philippines alliance. It’s going to be a great year,” Thomas said. The United States is among the Philippines’ strongest allies and has been supporting government’s defense and law enforcement programs, disaster preparedness, mitigation and response, human rights promotion and antitrafficking initiatives, among others.

In its yearend report, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) credited the Philippines’ relations with the US in upgrading the Philippines’ military and police forces through new equipment and training.

Partnership with US

“The Department continued to engage its international partners in helping the country improve its defense capability and achieve a minimum credible defense posture. Vital to this engagement is the Philippines’ strategic and defense partnership with the United States, which affirmed its commitment to honor its obligation under the Mutual Defense Treaty,” said the DFA report. As the Philippines’ leading defense partner, the United States this year doubled its funding commitment from $15 million to $30 million under its Foreign Military Financing program. The allocation was programmed to support the Philippines in the areas of “maritime security, maritime domain awareness and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.”

The United States is also among the biggest donors to victims of disasters in the Philippines, most recently Typhoon “Pablo,” which hit eastern Mindanao. The US government has pledged nearly P300 million to the Philippines for emergency assistance in hard-hit communities in Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental and Negros Oriental. The amount is on top of rice supply and transport assistance being provided by the United States Agency for International Development and the US military to Philippine authorities.

Suck it up, whiners in uniform told

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 28): Suck it up, whiners in uniform told

“Suck it up and shut up.” This was the advice that Sen. Gregorio Honasan would give police and military officials who grumble about being ignored by President Aquino who has a penchant for filling up the top security posts with officers who served in the Presidential Security Group during the presidency of his mother, the late Cory Aquino. Honasan said there was no reason for some of his fellow graduates from the Philippine Military Academy to complain about being ignored or passed over for the juicier military and police posts. “These posts are a position of trust and confidence and it is the President’s prerogative to appoint those he wants around him with just the basic requirement of competence and integrity,” the senator said in a phone interview.

Newly appoined police chief Alan Purisima is the third member of the first Cory-era PSG to lead this administration’s security team. The first two are Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces Chief Jessie Dellosa. Another PSG officer during the Cory era, retired general Jose Honrado, now serves as general manager of the Manila International Airport Authority. Honasan said that if any officer feels slighted by, or disagrees with, the President’s choices, he should take it up personally with the Chief Executive.

Most approachable

“Our President is the most approachable among all leaders we’ve had. There is practically no cordon sanitaire surrounding him and soldiers and officers with legitimate gripes talk to him,” said Honasan. Honasan, who led a number of bloody coups d’etat against the Cory Aquino administration, said that “gone were the days” when young officers were burdened with fighting rebels on the ground and while their officers were busy waiting for their turn to be the next leader of the military due to seniority. “I think there are still officers who act like `idealists and seguristas’ who turn a blind eye to military reforms to protect their way up to the top,” he said.  “At this point, anybody complaining about the President’s choices should just suck it up and live with the President’s choices. They have a duty to perform with no need for more distraction like whining and complaining,” said Honasan.

China's economic boom threatens coral reefs in West PHL Sea

From GMA News (Dec 27): China's economic boom threatens coral reefs in West PHL Sea

China's economic boom has seen the coral reefs off its southern coast — including waters claimed by the Philippines and other neighboring countries — shrink by at least 80 percent over the past 30 years, a joint Australian study found Thursday, with researchers describing "grim" levels of damage and loss. The so-called South China Sea is strategically significant, home to some of the world's most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in resources China claims most of the sea, including waters near the shores of its neighbours. Rival claimants include the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam, and tensions over the issue have flared in recent years.

West Philippine Sea

Earlier this year, Philippine president Benigno Aquino III signed Administrative Order No. 29, which reinforced the country's claim over a portion of the disputed waters by renaming the area the "West Philippine Sea". "The maritime areas on the western side of the Philippine archipelago are hereby named the West Philippine Sea. These areas include the Luzon Sea as well as the waters around, within and adjacent to the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo De Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal," the order declares. “[Ang] tawag natin West Philippine Sea; may parte nito tawag nila East Sea. Kanya-kanyang tawag e. I-klaro lang natin alin ba dito ang inaangkin natin,” Aquino had told reporters.

Damage in disputed waters

Scientists from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology said their survey of mainland China and nearby reefs showed alarming degradation. "On offshore atolls and archipelagos claimed by six countries in the South China Sea, coral cover has declined from an average of greater than 60 percent to around 20 percent within the past 10-15 years," said the study, published in the latest edition of the journal Conservation Biology. "We found that coral abundance has declined by at least 80 percent over the past 30 years on coastal fringing reefs along the Chinese mainland and adjoining Hainan Island," it added.

'Grim picture of decline'

Coastal development, pollution and overfishing linked to the Asian giant's aggressive economic expansion were the major drivers, the authors said, describing a "grim picture of decline, degradation and destruction". "China's ongoing economic expansion has exacerbated many wicked environmental problems, including widespread habitat loss due to coastal development, unsustainable levels of fishing and pollution," the study said. Coral loss in the South China Sea — where reefs stretch across some 30,000 square kilometres (12,000 square miles) — was compounded by poor governance stemming from competing territorial claims. Some marine parks aimed at conservation had been established but study author Terry Hughes said they were too small and too far apart to arrest the decline in coral cover.

Closing window of opportunity

"The window of opportunity to recover the reefs of the South China Sea is closing rapidly, given the state of degradation revealed in this study," he said. More than 30 years of unbridled economic growth has left large parts of China environmentally devastated, with the nation suffering from some of the most severe air, water and land pollution in the world, global studies have shown. Such destruction has led to widespread local frustration and a number of protests, some of which have succeeded in getting proposed new factories and facilities cancelled or postponed. The government has laid out a road map to transform China's development mode to one that is more environmentally friendly and less dependent on headlong economic growth.

ASG crowdsourcing ransom for Australian?

From Rappler (Dec 27): ASG crowdsourcing ransom for Australian?

Shortly before midnight of December 26, a YouTube account identifying itself as the “official channel of the Al-Harakatul Islamia” – the formal name of the Abu Sayyaf - uploaded a proof-of-life video of Australian Warren Rodwell, kidnapped more than a year ago from his home Zamboanga City. A few hours later, a Facebook account shared the video with this message: “Attention!!!! … Warren Rodwell Australian kidnapped victim.” Then it gives a mobile number saying, “He is in need of help.”

Authorities are now investigating the mobile number, which also appears on the YouTube account. Intelligence sources told Rappler they are certain the YouTube account belongs to the Abu Sayyaf because of past activity – it was created May 11, 2010 with video seen more than 25,000 times - and because of the accounts it connects and the network it has created. The Facebook account which shared the video uses the same symbolism as the YouTube account and goes further, incorporating the black flag, which taps into a motivation of al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups. Authorities discovered the black flag in the Philippines after they raided two terrorist training camps in Mindanao this year.

Al-Qaeda believes its black banners herald the apocalypse that would bring about the triumph of Islam. Its symbolism is linked to a “narrative that convinces them that they’re part of a divine plan,” according to former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Ali Soufan in his book “The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda.” The owner of the mobile number is prepared to bargain, according to a source in touch with him. He said the asking price is US$2 million, but if half of that is delivered, the kidnappers are willing to hand Rodwell over to anyone, including a middleman who is then free to demand the full amount. This is the way things work with the Abu Sayyaf. In some past kidnappings, smaller groups have handed over their victims to larger groups, who then charge higher amounts for ransom. This is the first time the kidnappers have turned to social media for ransom – seemingly looking for anyone who will pay a price.

Negotiations for Rodwell’s release have been going on since January, but transcripts of conversations seen by Rappler show a confusing process that lack a clear leader. Others familiar with the negotiations said there seem to be differing tactics among Australian agencies like the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service. “I’d point out that the Philippine government is leading the response to Mr. Rodwell’s kidnapping, assisted by Australian Government agencies as appropriate,” Andrew Byrne, Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in Manila, tells Rappler. “The Australian agencies are working to the same objective and their efforts are tightly coordinated. Any suggestion that they are taking different or separate approaches simply has no basis in fact." Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr said "confirmation of Mr. Rodwell's welfare is welcome," but "his prolonged captivity is a major concern."

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.

Other hostages

Other foreign hostages, including a Dutch and Swiss birdwatcher, a Jordanian journalist and his Filipino cameraman and a Japanese, are held by the Abu Sayyaf on the island of Jolo.  Kidnap-for-ransom is a cottage industry for the Abu Sayyaf, a group once funded and supported by al-Qaeda in the early 90's. Since then, it has gone through 4 waves vacillating between ideology and crime: from 1991-1998, it was driven by ideological goals, funded and trained by al-Qaeda (including the architect of 9/11, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed). The second wave spanned from 1998 to 2002, when the group turned to crime after the death of its founder - using kidnapping-for-ransom and extortion to raise money. The third wave was from 2002-2008 - when Jemaah Islamiyah leaders, who fled Indonesia after the Bali bombings, helped reorient the group again towards terrorism. Finally, from 2008 to the present, the group degenerated back into kidnapping-for-ransom.

Rodwell, in his video recorded December 16, seems angry but resigned. “I do not expect to be released before the year 2013 at the earliest,” he says. “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.”

[Maria A. Ressa is the author of Seeds of Terror and 10 Days, 10 Years: From Bin Laden to Facebook.  She led negotiations against the Abu Sayyaf in the 2008 kidnapping of Ces Drilon, Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderrama.]

Police to nab remnants of Jemaah Islamiyah

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 27): Police to nab remnants of Jemaah Islamiyah

The police have identified the remnants of the alleged regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah whose suspected Malaysian member was gunned down in Davao City, southern Philippines two weeks ago. Deputy Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said the police were gathering evidence before making the arrests. "We are giving top priority in suppressing terrorism activities. The suspects involved in militancy are already on our radar," he told reporters here Thursday. Mohd Noor Fikrie Abd Kahar, 26, from Kedah was killed by the Philippine police at a hotel in Davao City Dec 14 after he threatened to blow up an explosive device in a rucksack. In another incident, Khalid warned the public not to get involved in smuggling and drug trafficking locally or abroad for every country is armed with legal provisions for each offence.

PAF now capable of repairing C-130 planes and helicopters

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 27): PAF now capable of repairing C-130 planes and helicopters

For the first time, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) is now capable of refurbishing its C-130 “Hercules” aircraft instead of sending them abroad for major repairs, saving the government millions of dollars. The first major repair done by the 410th Maintenance Wing will be formally turned over to Air Force Chief Lt. Gen. Lauro Catalino Dela Cruz at Villamor Air Base in suburban Pasay City on Friday. This is the first time that the Air Force overhauled C-130 transport plane in the country following the acquisition of high-tech equipment from abroad. Through the years, the PAF sent their C-130 planes to the United States or Malaysia for major repair. The PAF Public Information Office (PIO) said the last C-130 that was repaired in California was in October this year.

 At the height of the Mindanao war in the ’70s and ‘80s, the Air Force had a dozen C-130 planes in its inventory in addition to several C-123 aircraft but the number slowly went down to just one due to wear and tear and lack of spare parts. C-130 planes are the main workhorse of the PAF in transporting military troops and supplies across the country.

The additional Hercules plane that will be turned over Friday will boost the Air Force’s lift capability a little bit though still far short from the 12 C-130s it had before. Also to be turned over Friday is one refurbished LC-210 (Rainmaker) aircraft, a UH-1H helicopter and 12 M-35 trucks donated by the United States for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Twenty-four other M-35 vehicles are scheduled for refurbishing.

The PAF’s refurbishing capability is part of its self-reliance defense program, saving the country millions of dollars. Earlier, the Air Force started repairing UH-1H “Huey” helicopters instead of sending them to other countries. However, what the Air Force needs badly now is the acquisition of modern jet-fighter interceptors to replace the F-5s fighter jets which were phased out in 2005. The PAF has no jet fighter aircraft in its arsenal, denying the country to secure its airspace from foreign intruders. Air Force pilots interviewed by PNA have expressed hope that the PAF will soon have new supersonic jet fighters to protect the country’s vast airspace and territorial waters.

MILF: BIAF in Socsargen oriented on Bangsamoro Framework Agreement

From the MILF Website (Dec 27): BIAF in Socsargen oriented on Bangsamoro Framework Agreement

Close to three thousand elements of Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) from the 107th Base Command in Brgy. Pananag, Maasim Sarangani Province were oriented on the GPH-MILF Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro during the culmination of the General Assembly that was held on December 20-25, 2012 at the base camp. The activity was geared to educate members of the MILF armed forces on the progress of the GPH-MILF peace process particularly on the framework agreement.

Von Al Haq from the Central Committee oriented the audience on the salient points of the said agreement which will pave way for the creation of the Bangsamoro New Political Entity. Al Haq reechoed the statement of MILF Chief Negotiator Mohager Iqbal that Bangsamoro People have gained some important points after more than a decade of negotiation with the government such as identity, territory, wealth-sharing, power sharing and the Bangsamoro governance. He also mentioned that there are some powers exclusive to the Bangsamoro, reserve powers of the Central Government as well as shared power.

One of the topics on the discussion of the two panels on the annexes, he said, is how big will be the share of wealth that will be retained to the Bangsamoro. Al Haq was optimistic there will be bigger share for the Bangsamoro. The speaker said he can not disclose the details because it is still being discussed by the two peace panels. He pointed out that one of the most important gains of the negotiation is the crafting of Bangsamoro Basic Law for the Bangsamoro People. Al Haq said

Al Haq related also that last November 23, he met at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia the former IMT Head of Mission Datu Julkipli bin Mohamad who said, “protect the framework agreement, if not that may doom to fail.” Al Haq enjoined the audience to take care of the FAB. The framework agreement was signed on October 15, 2012 at MalacaƱang Palace and was attended by the MILF, Malaysia, government officials, and other foreign dignitaries. “The framework agreement was agreed upon by the two parties and it gives a clear direction,” he said in Maguindanaon dialect.

He added that the new government for the Bangsamoro will be a way to normalize the abnormal situation. The speaker sampled normal situation to a Moro farmer that can till his land without carrying gun to protect himself or a Moro woman will sell in the market without the feeling fear to be robbed. Al Haq said good governance and development that will give better life for the Bangsamoro may be achieved should the framework agreement will succeed. He urged the Moro people to support the accord.

Do not travel to Mindanao, Australia advices citizens

From the Mindanao Examiner (Dec 27): Do not travel to Mindanao, Australia advices citizens

Australia on Thursday warned its citizens against travelling to Mindanao following the release of a video of kidnapped Sydney adventurer Warren Rodwell, who is being held by al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines. Rodwell was kidnapped by gunmen disguised as policemen on December 5, 2011 in his seaside home in the town of Ipil in Zamboanga Sibugay province.

Maj. Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said Rodwell is being held in Basilan province off Zamboanga City and that efforts are going on to rescue the former soldier. “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 Mindanao Examiner. In the latest video clip, Rodwell, wearing a black sweat shirt appeared cleanly shaven, but frail and holding a copy of a newspaper dated December 16, 2012.

“The Australian travel advice for the Philippines continues to recommend no travel in central or western Mindanao and warns of the danger of kidnapping in that area,” Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said in a statement. Carr said the prolonged captivity of Rodwell remains a major concern. “The Philippines Government has the lead in response to this case and is devoting significant resources to securing Mr Rodwell's release. The Australian Government is assisting Philippines authorities where appropriate. We are also in regular communication with Mr Rodwell's family. It would not be helpful to Mr Rodwell to comment further,” he said.

Rodwell, in his 2 minute video clip, said: “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.”

The Abu Sayyaf has demanded $2 million ransom for Rodwell’s safe release, but his Filipina wife, Miraflor Gutang, said they cannot afford to pay the kidnappers.

Video: Philippines shores up Spratly Islands' defence

From Al-jazeera (Dec 26): Video: Philippines shores up Spratly Islands' defence


Japan is in a territorial tussle with China over disputed islands in the East China Sea. There is also conflict surrounding islands in the South China Sea. The Spratly islands are claimed by China and five other countries, including the Philippines. Al Jazeera's Jamela Alindogan reports.

Labuan kidnap teacher freed in Sulu

From the Zamboanga Today (Dec 27): Labuan kidnap teacher freed in Sulu

Family pays P4M ransom

Teacher Flordeliza Ongchua Ramones of Barangay Labuan, west coast of Zamboanga City, was freed Monday morning after being held captive for 40 days, police said. "Ramones, 48, was safely released by his armed abductors at the Market Site, Marina Street, Jolo, Sulu Province the day before Christmas," the police report said. Police Regional Office 9 (PRO9) director Chief Supt. Atty. Napoleon Estilles confirmed her release in an interview by local reporters.

A joint forces of the Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG), Philippines Center on Transnational Crime (PCTC) with the military counterparts got hold of the teacher at about 8:30 in the morning last Monday. "Ongchua was brought to the Special Action Force (SAF) headquarters in Sulu for proper custody and presently under trauma," Estilles said, adding that Ongchua was airlifted to Zamboanga City and was reunited to her family before Christmas Day.

The PRO9 chief also said the government remains firm in the no ransom policy but some sources confirmed the alleged payment of ransom for the safe release of the victim. An information reaching Zamboanga Today showed that the victim was freed by her abductors along the highway of Indanan, Sulu and transported later to Jolo by an unidentified emissary. It also revealed that the Ongchua family initially paid P2,000,000 million on the first week of December then followed by another P2,000,000 prior to her release on Monday. Last November 13, 2012, at about 7:00 p.m., Ongchua was inside her house when abducted by 13 armed men and dragged her to a waiting pumpboat then sped off towards an unknown direction. Police Officer 3 Romeo Quillo, assigned with the police assistance center, was disarmed of his 9mm handgun and the compound security guard Benjamin Titing was also snatched of his M16 Armalite Rifle by the kidnappers.

It will be recalled eight suspected fully-armed kidnappers who were wearing camouflage and PNP uniforms went to the house of Labuan barangay chair Rolando Maravilla while five other suspected kidnappers stayed at the two pumpboats docked along the shoreline of baranbay Labuan. The police report disclosed the barangay chieftain was out of his residence at the time of the incident which prompted the suspects to look for an alternative victim. The police continued that the suspects then went to the adjacent house owned by the victim and forcibly opened the door of her residence and dragged her towards the waiting seacrafts that sped towards the north possibly to Zamboanga del Norte. According to police report, the armed suspects disarmed Ongchua’s security guard Benjamin Titing of his M16 rifle including a policeman identified as SPO4 Romeo Quillo before the incident took place.

Due to the incident, all the policemen assigned at the Labuan Police Station were ordered recalled by Police Regional Office 9 commander Chief Supt. Napoleon Estilles. The kidnapping was the second to have occurred in Labuan. In March 2011 Olivia Barredo of the same barangay had also been kidnapped by armed men and was freed after her family also paid some amount to the kidnappers. Residents in the community have clamored the authorities to field Navy ships in the Labuan waters to prevent a repeat of the incident.

IED recovered near police station in Cotabato

From ABS-CBN (Dec 27): IED recovered near police station in Cotabato

An improvised explosive device (IED) was safely recovered beside a police station in Cotabato City. The explosive made out of a 60 millimeter mortar was found on a tree beside the Cotabato City Police station 2 along Don Rabago Street, Mother Barangay Rosary Heights at around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday. Elements of the army's explosive ordinance disposal team immediately responded to the area and used water to disrupt the IED. Police said two bystanders discovered the IED, which was placed inside a plastic bag with a timer. A cellphone was supposedly used as the triggering device. Probers have yet to determine the motive and the suspects behind the incident. On the same day, at around 6:30 p.m., a grenade exploded at Barangay Rosary Heights 4, which injured a man identified as Gani Uy.

3 hurt in Tacurong City blast

From the Philippine Star (Dec 27): 3 hurt in Tacurong City blast

Three residents were injured in a blast that ripped through a busy intersection in Tacurong City Wednesday night, just hours after a grenade explosion rocked a residential area here, leaving a villager wounded. The improvised explosive device planted near an outlet of a roadside money transfer and remittance establishment at the city proper of Tacurong went off just as Army bomb disposal operatives were trying to defuse an IED found near a police precinct at the Rosary Heights area here. Supt. Junny Buenacosa, chief of the Tacurong City police, said the blast victims, Christian Cabangon, 36; James Salinda, 26; and Jessa Marcelo, 23, who sustained shrapnel wounds in different parts of their bodies, were rushed to a hospital for medication. The victims were near the spot where the IED was set off by unidentified bombers, according to Buenacosa.

Investigators are still clueless on the identities of the bombers and the motive for the attack. Tacurong City has repeatedly been rocked by bomb attacks in recent months, some blamed on extortionists reportedly trying to scare local traders and force them into shelling out “protection money”. Buenacosa said he has deployed more policemen in various areas in Tacurong City to forestall a repeat of the incident. The IED explosion came just hours after an unidentified man hurled a fragmentation grenade along the supposedly busy Don E. Sero Street here, slightly wounding an occupant, Gani Uy, a former barangay councilor.

The grenade explosion preceded the deactivation by an Army explosives disposal team of an IED found near a police precinct near the Rosary Heights area here. The IED was defused using a controlled liquid disruptor explosive to destroy its blasting mechanism.

The spot where the IED was found is not far from where gunmen ambushed a Toyota van Wednesday morning, killing two passengers and wounding six others, among them Amil Sula, who is chairman of Barangay Rosary Heights 5 here. Sula is now undergoing medication at a local hospital. The ambushers, armed with assault rifles, scampered away riding motorcycles after they opened fire at the vehicle carrying the victims. The scene is only a block away from the Rosary Heights police precinct. Investigators have yet to get a lead on the identities of the gunmen.

DND signs P1.6-B purchase deal for choppers, ambulances

From the Philippine Star (Dec 27): DND signs P1.6-B purchase deal for choppers, ambulances

The Department of National Defense (DND) has signed contracts for the acquisition of three naval helicopters and 60 units of field ambulance worth P1.6 billion. The three AW 109 Power Helicopters cost P1.34 billion while the 60 units of 1.25 ton field ambulance cost P300.78 million. The two contracts were signed last December 20 by security officials and representatives of the suppliers. The naval helicopters were acquired from Anglo-Italian firm AugustaWestland S.P.A. through negotiated procurement under emergency case. Such mode of procurement is provided under section 53.2 of the implementing rules and regulations of the procurement law.

“We are now louder and clearer in our intent to upgrade the capability of our Armed Forces to address its constitutional duty to secure the sovereignty of the state and the integrity of the national territory,” DND Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said in a statement. “The acquisition of these naval helicopters is one concrete step towards the fulfillment of our goal to modernize the Philippine Navy, and our Armed Forces in general,” he added.

Last month, AugustaWestland was declared as the single calculated and responsive proponent by the Naval Helicopter Acquisition Project Negotiating Committee. The Italian defense ministry then conducted a review of AugustaWestland’s proposal for the procurement of the helicopters. The DND said the Italian government had found out that the price per helicopter “seems to have been progressively reduced,” meaning they were sold cheaper.

Meanwhile, the 60 ambulance units were purchased from Korean firm KIA Motors Corp. to provide medical assistance to soldiers in the field. “The purchase of these field ambulances will greatly help in saving the lives of our soldiers who are out there fighting for our nation and the Filipino people,” Gazmin said. “In the same sense, we can use these to help in our disaster rescue and relief operations to aid our beleaguered countrymen and help save a lot of lives,” he added.

The acquisition of twelve units of five-ton trucks for the Army was also included in the contract. The procurement was done under the Memorandum of Understanding on Logistics and Defense Industry Cooperation between the Government of the Republic of Korea and the Philippines. The DND has been trying to fast-track the military’s capability upgrade program by entering into negotiations with foreign governments. Other assets it seeks to acquire through government-to-government transactions include attack helicopters, fighter jets, warships, small boats and ammunition.

Government Hooks Top Rebel Leader in Central Visayas and Negros Island

From the Negros Daily Bulletin (Dec 27): Government Hooks Top Rebel Leader in Central Visayas and Negros Island

The joint forces of 302nd Infantry Brigade, Philippine Army, and the Negros Oriental Provincial Police Office, have collared the number 6 most wanted NPA leader in the country. Reports from Col. Francisco Patrimonio, commanding officer, 302nd Inf. Brigade reveal that with elements from the Negros Oriental Provincial Police office and the army were armed with warrant of arrest against Felimon Mendrez, alias Tatay/Edon for criminal case numbers 2116 for robbery in band, and CC 00-662 for rebellion with no bail recommended.

As number 6 top NPA leader who heads the NPAs in Central Visayas and Negros Island, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Department of National Defense (DND) is included in the reward list where his arrest has a reward of P5.25 million. Mendrez is now detained at Negros Oriental Provincial Police Office.  Military record shows that Mendrez was the former secretary of the Front Committee 2-Central Visayas Regional Party Committee who became the Deputy Secretary of the same regional committee operating in Central Visayas, and the current Commanding Officer of Regional Strike Force-Komiteng Rehiyon Negros, a major regional NPA unit responsible for the conduct of large tactical offensives.

Mendrez led various NPA violent actions and the most significant was the raid of Pulopangyan Detachment in Brgy. Bug-ang, Toboso Negros Occidental on 28 August 2010 wherein he was directly involved in the planning and execution. His group is also responsible for the exploitation of the poor masses and in extortion activities that severely violated the human rights of residents both in Central Visayas and Negros Island.

Patrimonio said the successful arrest of Mendrez can be attributed to the concerted efforts of the Philippine Army, PNP and other stakeholders involved in the security sector and the general public. It is a clear manifestation that the residents of said communities are now more aware, open to provide information and they have realized that armed struggle is a futile idealism to address the peace and security challenges in the country.

Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta, Jr., commanding general, 3rd ID said, "Law enforcement operation shall continue even as we observe a Suspension of Offensive Military Operation and ceasefire. This is part of the activities of security forces’ duties in protecting communities, government and private establishment." He also said, "the arrest has given a better opportunity for us in Central Visayas to celebrate the holidays more peacefully."

Rebel leader linked to raid in Toboso falls

From the Visayan Daily Star (Dec 27): Rebel leader linked to raid in Toboso falls

The alleged top leader of the New People's Army, who was arrested on Christmas day in Manjuyod, Negros Oriental, by a combined team of police and military personnel, also led the raid and burning of a military outpost in Brgy, Bug-ang, Toboso, Negros Occidental, two years ago, the military said. Felimon Mendrez, who was tagged by the military as the deputy secretary of the Central Visayas Regional Party Committee, was apprehended by state security agents in Brgy. Tubod, Manjuyod, Negros Oriental, by virtue of arrest warrants for rebellion and robbery-in-band, military spokesman Capt. Aniceto Naz said.

Naz, 302 nd Infantry Brigade Civil Military Operations Officer, said that Mendrez, with the aliases of Tatay and Edon, led various NPA violent actions in Negros island and other areas of Central Visayas, of which the most significant was the raid of the Polopangyan detachment in Brgy. Bug-ang. Toboso, on Aug. 28, 2010.  The rebel attackers, disguising themselves as members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, seized 23 high-powered firearms after killing the detachment commander, SSgt. Efraim Bagonoc, in front of his horrified daughter and government militiamen, military records show. Before withdrawing, the rebels also burned the detachment.

Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta Jr., commanding general of the Army's 3 rd Infantry Division, justified the arrest of Mendrez, saying that, law enforcement operations will continue even as they observe a suspension of military operations and ceasefire. Military records also show that Mendrez ranked number six among the most wanted persons in the country, with a reward of P5.25 million for his capture. Aside from being the CVRPC deputy secretary, Mendrez also occupied the position of commander of the Regional Strike Force-Komiteng Rehiyonal Negros, Naz said. Mabanta attributed the successful arrest of Mendrez to the convergence of efforts among the Philippine Army, PNP, other stakeholders involved in the security sector, and the general public.

Philippine military 'verifying' YouTube video of kidnapped Australian

From InterAksyon (Dec 27): Philippine military 'verifying' YouTube video of kidnapped Australian

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is in the process of confirming the authenticity of YouTube video where kidnapped Australian Warren Rodwell expressed hopelessnes over his situation, Major Emmanuel Garcia, deputy public affairs chief of the AFP, said Thursday. "We are asking the help of people who know the whereabouts of any kidnapped personality or any information that might lead to the rescue of such individuals so that they may be reunited with their loved ones. The AFP, PNP, concerned govt agencies and the civilian populace must always work together mutually supporting each other in keeping the peace, maintaining order and enforcing the law for the safety and security of everyone," Garcia said.

Rodwell, a former Australian Army, was taken by suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits last December 5, 2011 in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay. In the video posted on December 25, Christmas Day, a visibly thin and tired Rodwell said he was not expecting his freedom any time soon. He also said he distrusts both the ASG bandits holding him and the Australian government. "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 the Abu Sayyaf, I do not trust the Australian government, I just do not trust anyone," he said. "Personally I don't care," Rodwell added.

In the video, which runs for 1 minute and 58 seconds, Rodwell was holding a December 15 copy of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He said that the video was taken on December 16. The video was uploaded by a certain "chemalful," which claims to be the "Official channel of the Al-harakatul Islamia in souther (sic) Philippines." Rodwell said he was kept as a "prisoner in isolation" and that he was still waiting for his freedom. "I have no idea what's going on outside, I'm just kept held prisoner in isolation. Again I'm alive. It's 378 days I think, something like that," he said.

With 3rd C-130 commissioned, Air Force boosts cargo assets

From InterAksyon (Dec 27): With 3rd C-130 commissioned, Air Force boosts cargo assets

PAF commissions on Friday its newly refurbished C-130B, a UH-IH and a rainmaking plane (LC-210). JAIME SINAPIT, INTERAKSYON.COM

Forced by circumstance to do with only one C-130 as its “work horse” for four years, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) will continue to redress its fleet scarcity with the commissioning of a locally refurbished C-130 on Friday at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City. It’s the third cargo plane to become operational since the military started to reverse the pathetic one-workhorse plane status, a project with a price tag of P579-million. Leading the formal turnover and blessing of the first ever locally maintained C-130B Nr 3633 is PAF commander Lt. Gen. Lauro Catalino Dela Cruz.

The plane’s first mission suits the challenge of climate change well: it will be used for disaster response such as the delivery of relief goods, medicines, food supplies and construction materials to areas ravaged by the recent super-typhoon “Pablo” in Davao Oriental and Compostela. “Our newly refurbished C-130 will take its first official flight to deliver food and construction materials in the typhoon-stricken areas in Mindanao,” Dela Cruz said.
Other assets also turned over
PAF spokesman Col. Miguel Ernesto Okol said other air and ground assets will also be turned over Friday. “Aside from the C-130B, we will also have one LC-210 Nr 227 – a plane for rainmaking, a refurbished UH-IH nr 370 and 12 M-35 trucks,” Okol said. The project, he said, costs a total of P579.4 million.
“As to our newly refurbished C-130B, in 2010 we ventured for an in-country Depot Level Maintenance Capability using available manpower and resources with the conduct of Structural Maintenance Program of C-130B. A Project Management Team and a Task Force composed of personnel from Air Logistics Command, 200th Air Lift Wing and 410th Maintenance Wing, was organized for this critical yet rewarding project,” Okol said. According to Okol, the cargo plane was refurbished in Clark Air Base in Pampanga, the Headquarters of the 1st Air Division, by PAF’s technicians with the supervision of Lockheed.
With the completion of the C-130 project we have now three cargo planes. If you remember, kamakailan lamang ay dumating ‘yung isa natin na refurbished din from the United States. So medyo gumaan na ang trabaho ng dating nag-iisa nating C-130 dahil tatlo na sila [recently we saw the arrival of one refurbished cargo plane from the US. So the load of our solitary C-130 has been eased; now there are three],” Okol said.

Philippines to buy three new naval helicopters as part of military modernization

From InterAksyon (Dec 27): Philippines to buy three new naval helicopters as part of military modernization

The Philippines is expected to buy three of these AugustaWestland Power helicopters, as part of its military modernization program. (

The Philippines said Thursday it would buy three naval helicopters from an Anglo-Italian manufacturer as part of its military modernization program amid a territorial dispute with China. The three AW 109 "Power" helicopters from AgustaWestland will be acquired for 1.337 billion pesos ($32.5 million) under an emergency procurement program, the defense department said in a statement. "The acquisition of these naval helicopters is one concrete step towards the fulfilment of our goal to modernize the Philippine Navy and our armed forces in general," Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin was quoted as saying. He said that through this acquisition and other planned equipment purchases, the armed forces was demonstrating its intent to "secure the sovereignty of the state and the integrity of the national territory".

In recent months, the poorly-equipped Philippine military has been trying to boost its capabilities amid a standoff with China over disputed territory in the South China Sea. It has been ordering or eyeing new patrol boats, fighter jets, transport planes, and attack helicopters while seeking to improve defense ties with western nations like the United States. These efforts have accelerated since the Philippines and China began a standoff in April over over the Scarborough Shoal, a group of islets in the South China Sea. The Philippines says the shoal is well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone. China claims the shoal as well as nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coasts of neighboring countries.

China deploys oceangoing patrol vessel to West Philippine Sea - report

From InterAksyon (Dec 27): China deploys oceangoing patrol vessel to West Philippine Sea - report

China has deployed its oceangoing patrol vessel equipped with a helipad to monitor maritime activities in the disputed West Philippine Sea, state-owned English language daily newspaper China Daily reported on Thursday. China's Maritime Bureau of the Ministry Transport deputy head Huang He said the patsrol vessel, Haixun 21, would “monitor maritime traffic safety, investigate maritime accidents, detect pollution, carry out search and rescue work and fulfil international conventions”. “In the past, Hainan provincial maritime law enforcement entities could only cover coastal waters and never reached the high seas. The newly enlisted Haixun 21 ends the history of no large oceangoing patrol vessels in the South China Sea,” Hainan Maritime Safety Administration Ruan Ruiwen was quoted by China Daily as saying. The report said Haixun 21 was the first of its kind to be deployed in the island and waters of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). Haixun 21 is 93.2 meters long with a maximum sailing distance of 4,000 nautical miles or 7,408 kilometers, without refuelling. Its maximum sailing speed is 22 knots or 40.74 kilometers per hour while the helipad, located at the stern, is about 21 meters long and 11 meters wide.

The deployment of Haixun 21 was made after Hainan province annouced last month that it had approved new rules and regulation wherein foreign vessels illegally entering the disputed waters can be boarded, inspected, detained, confiscated, immobilized and expelled, among other punitive actions. Hainan province, which has jurisdiction over Sansha City, is set to implement these rules by January 2013. Sansha City was established in June to administer more than 200 islets, sandbanks, and reefs in Paracel (Xisha), Macclesfield Banki (Zhongsha), and Spratly (Nansha) islands and two million square kilometers of surrounding waters. The waters and islands that cover Sansha City overlap with the territories being claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.

Australia welcomes proof hostage is alive

From Rappler (Dec 27): Australia welcomes proof hostage is alive

Foreign Minister Bob Carr welcomed news on Thursday, December 27, that Australian Warren Rodwell was alive after being held hostage for more than a year in the Philippines, but said his prolonged captivity was a "major concern." Rodwell, a 54-year-old former soldier from Sydney, was seized by suspected Muslim extremists from his home in the southern Philippine town of Ipil on December 5, 2011.

In the video he confirms he was captured by Abu Sayyaf, a group founded in the late 1990s with seed money from Al-Qaeda and who are linked to the YouTube channel on which the video was posted.  For more information read Seen on Facebook: Kidnapped Australian by Rappler CEO Maria Ressa. Rodwell says the date is December 16, 2012 and holds up a newspaper from the previous day. He says he was kidnapped 54 weeks ago. "I'm being held prisoner, kidnapped by (the) Abu Sayyaf Muslim terrorist group for over one year -- actually 53, 54 weeks today," Rodwell says in the two-minute video. "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 kept held prisoner in isolation."

Captivity 'major concern' for Australia

Carr said the "confirmation of Mr Rodwell's welfare is welcome" but described his prolonged captivity as a "major concern." "The Philippine government has the lead in response to this case and is devoting significant resources to securing Mr Rodwell's release," Carr said in a statement. "The Australian government is assisting Philippines authorities where appropriate." Carr said government officials were also in regular contact with Rodwell's family and it would "not be helpful to Mr Rodwell to comment further".

AFP verifying clip

The Philippine military said it was working to verify whether the video was legitimate. "The Armed Forces of the Philippines will take measures in support to the Philippine National Police... to fully ascertain the identity and if possible, the whereabouts of the individual if he is a kidnap victim," said Major Emmanuel Garcia, the military's deputy chief for public affairs. Rodwell last appeared in a video in May that was believed to be dated from the end of March.

In another video in January, reportedly sent to his Filipina wife Miraflor Gutang, Rodwell said his captors were demanding US$2 million in ransom. Numerous armed Islamist groups operate in the southern Philippines, spawned by a bloody Muslim separatist insurgency that has raged for decades. Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history and has previously kidnapped foreigners and Christians for ransom.

Army settles ‘rido’ in Lanao del Sur

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 27): Army settles ‘rido’ in Lanao del Sur

The 103rd Infantry (HARIBON) Brigade of the Philippine Army has managed to settle on December 19 the long standing political feud (rido) between Butig town’s current mayor Ibrahim R. Macadato and former mayor Atty. Dimnatang P. Pansar. In a simple ceremony held at the Brigade Social Hall, the two contending parties who are running for mayoralty in the said municipality swore before the Holy Qur’an and signed a peace covenant to end their long standing family and political feud that caused the loss of 13 lives and the wounding of 11 persons from both sides. 

The Macadato – Pansar political rivalry is one of the long standing and most intense feuds in the province especially during elections. Both have maintained a solid number of followers for years which oftentimes created chaos and fear among their constituents. The two parties, however, remained calm during the meeting. With only few supporters with them, both came willing to finally put an end to their rift in the interest of giving primacy to the welfare of the people of Butig.

Meanwhile, Provincial Board Member Ansary P. Maongco expressed gratitude to the 103rd Brigade for initiating the rido settlement. Maongco, who witnessed the settlement together with the members of the 103rd Multi-Sectoral Advisory Board, is elated with how the 103rd Brigade is leading the way in attaining true peace in the province especially that 2013 elections is nearing. He said the event is worth emulating and should serve as an example to other municipalities and prominent personalities to come forward and end existing feuds. (103rd Brigade,PA/PIA-10)

302nd Brigade adjudge as Centcom best Brigade

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 27): 302nd Brigade adjudge as Centcom best Brigade

The Philippine Army’s 302nd Brigade in Negros Oriental was awarded as the Central Command, Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) best brigade for 2012 among the army units in Regions 6 and 7 in the Visayas. Captain Anacito Naz, Army information officer, said the award was received by brigade commander Francisco Patrimonio during the 11th Central Command Founding Anniversary this week with AFP Chief of Staff General Jessie Dellosa, as the guest of honor at the CenCom Grandstand in Camp Lapu-lapu, Lahug, Cebu City.

Naz said that with the successful triad operations and accomplishments together with personnel administration, resource management and the disaster rescue and relief operations, the brigade obtained the recognition as one of the best army units of Central Command. The operations conducted by the unit include intelligence, combat and civil military enabling it to get a sound cooperation among civilians, non-government organizations among others.

AFP Central Command covers Regions 6, 7 and 8 with Rear Admiral Jose Luis Alanano, AFP Commander. It has two divisions -- the 3rd Infantry Division based in Camp Peralta, Jamindan, Capiz where 302nd belongs and the 8th Infantry Division based in Catbalogan, Samar.

In his acceptance message, Col. Patrimonio extended his warmest congratulations to the commanders and staffs of the line battalions, the 79th IB and 11th IB and the staff officers and enlisted personnel of the 302nd Brigade for having been adjudged as the best brigade of 3ID of the Central Command. “Our accomplishments coupled with excellence leadership are clear manifestations that we can certainly achieve our aspirations to become a professional army serving the Filipino people and securing the land” Col. Patrimonio said.

US Marines, embassy officials bring cheers to kids in NCR

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 27): US Marines, embassy officials bring cheers to kids in NCR

Celebrating the season of giving, the members of the United States Marine Security Guard Detachment stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Manila together with the United States Embassy Club (USEC) recently distributed over 2,100 pieces of toys to children in the National Capital Region. In a release, the gift-giving event is in line with the Toys for Tots program. Thousand of toys collected from the U.S. Embassy community and participating local businesses were distributed to children in 17 different orphanages and charities throughout Metro Manila.

The US Marines annually support said program in the United States. The Marines here in Manila decided to carry on the tradition of giving gifts to underprivileged children. For this year, the Marines teamed up with the charity arm of the U.S. Embassy Community to extend their reach for the gift-giving program. “Our goal was 1,000 toys this year, well beyond what has been done in the past. We were happy that we received over 2,100 toys,” said Gunnery Sergeant Waltman. He also thanked those who donated toys for the children.  “We have now seen how large an impact we can make with the Toys for Tots program. Next year, we hope to have even more children involved,” Waltman added.

Meanwhile, USEC President Dustin Bradshaw also thanked the people and local businesses who donated toys for this cause. “The response was overwhelming. Many businesses were excited to help benefit the children in Metro Manila during this holiday season,” said Bradshaw. In addition to the toys collected from the U.S. Embassy Community, United Airlines, Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines, Hyatt Hotel, InterContinental Manila, Voltage Electrical Contractor Corporation, P&G Philippines, Holiday Inn & Suites, and RCG Global Services also donated gifts.

The Toys for Tots program began in 1947 wherein a group of U.S. Marine Reservists collected toys and distributed them to children. The group’s mission is to collect toys and give them as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children across the globe. (U.S. Embassy, Manila-Public Affairs Section/RJB/JEG-PIA NCR)

Cotabato mayor condemns rash of violence, orders police to dig deeper

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 27): Cotabato mayor condemns rash of violence, orders police to dig deeper

Cotabato City Mayor Japal Guiani Jr. has condemned the rash of violence that rocked the city on Wednesday as he ordered the police to thoroughly investigate and prevent recurrence of attack. Guiani said there are people trying to disrupt the prevailing peace and order in the city.

On Thursday, police here have launched a city-wide manhunt against gunmen who ambushed a village official and his family Wednesday morning that left two dead and six wounded. Supt. Marlow Martinez, deputy city police director, said the ambush against Barangay Chairman Amil Sula at about 6:00 a.m. took place a few meters away from police station No.2. No one has claimed responsibility and Martinez quoted initial police investigation report that the ambush was due to a long-standing family feud.

Meanwhile, Ghani Uy, a former village councilman in Barangay Rosary Heights 4, was wounded on his feet when unidentified men tossed a hand grenade in his house along Ramon Rabago Street here at 6:00 p.m. Wednesday. No one has claimed responsibility.

At about 9:00 p.m. Wednesday, police found an improvised explosive device left unattended beside police station No. 2 along Don Ramon Rabago Street. The IED, fashioned from 60 mm mortar with mobile phone as trigger mechanism, went off while a bomb sniffing dog was checking on it, Martinez said. The K-9 dog was slight hurt and is being treated by a veterinarian.

3 hurt in Tacurong City blast

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 27): 3 hurt in Tacurong City blast

Three people were injured in a bomb explosion late Wednesday evening at a section of the commercial district in Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat province, an official said Thursday. Supt. Junny Buenacosa, Tacurong City police chief, said the improvised bomb exploded at around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday by the roadside infront of a Western Union outlet and the Fit Mart department store at the city’s downtown area. He said the scene of explosion was just a few meters away from the city’s main rotunda and a waiting area for passengers of public utility vehicles. “The explosive was planted by the roadside and there were some people situated near the area when it went off,” he said. Buenacosa identified the injured victims as Christian Jay Gabaon, 26; Jessa Marcelino, 23; and, James Salen, 26. He said Gabaon and Marcelino were brought to the Tamondong Hospital in Tacurong while Salen, who was in critical condition, was rushed to the General Santos City hospital.

 Citing a technical report filed by the city’s explosives and ordnance disposal (EOD) team, the official said the explosive was fashioned from a 60mm mortar that was attached to a battery pack and a mobile phone. He said the EOD team recovered fragmented pieces of 9-volt batteries, an unspecified mobile phone and a 60mm mortar.  Buenacosa admitted that they had received numerous reports on threats of bomb attacks in the city, specifically during the area’s celebration of the Inugyunay Festival. He said they have tightened the area’s security and was able to avert any attack during the Christmas festivity, which ran from Dec. 7 to 23, and in the Christmas Eve celebrations. “We’re still on full alert and we have reinforced our security measures in the entire city,” he said.

Last month, an improvised bomb also exploded near a ticketing office along the national highway in the area but no casualties were reported. Local police operatives then arrested a suspect identified as Abdul Usman, who allegedly admitted his involvement with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) under a certain Commander Gani. The BIFM, a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), was organized by MILF rouge leader Ameril Umra Kato.

More villages in Mindanao to have access to livelihood funds

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 27): More villages in Mindanao to have access to livelihood funds

More conflict-affected villages in Mindanao will have access to livelihood and basic services from the national government, an official from the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Peace Process (OPAPP) said on Wednesday. OPAPP Secretary Teresita Deles said that funds would be poured in 21 conflict-affected towns in Mindanao to help speed up reconstruction and provide jobs to unemployed residents to these areas. The assistance, Deles said, is made possible with the recent approval of a US$ 5.251 million additional grant for the Mindanao Trust Fund (MTF).

The fund is designed to improve social and facilitate economic recovery in at least 65 villages in these conflict-torn communities. Deles explained that the additional financing for the MTF will help the country’s efforts to heal, rehabilitate and develop conflict-affected areas. “It will also strengthen the constituency for peace and citizen's participation on the ground,” she said.

The World Bank and other international development partners established the MTF in 2006 as a mechanism for pooling funds and coordinating support for conflict-affected areas in Mindanao. So far, the MTF has completed 240 reconstruction and development projects in 154 conflict-affected communities in 75 municipalities across Mindanao. Under the program, residents of these communities choose and implement their own projects that enable them to recover from the conflict and improve their living conditions.

50 NPA rebels face multiple, frustrated murder raps

From the Philippiine News Agency (Dec 27): 50 NPA rebels face multiple, frustrated murder raps

 Police officials recently lodged multiple charges against 50 suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels before the Isabela prosecutor’s office in connection with the killing of seven Army soldiers and wounding of eight others in an ambush on Nov. 17 in Mabbayad, Echague, Isabela. The communist guerrillas were indicted before the prosecutor’s office for seven counts of murder, eight counts of frustrated murder, five counts of attempted murder and robbery-in-band with violence and intimidation.

Among those charged were Sangay ng Partido Platoon-Gani rebel leader Romeo Cudal, Delilah Padilla, Maricel Remon, Harold Castillo, Joey Ramos and Sonny Pajarillo. Also indicted were Jomar Dela Cruz, Omit Impiel and Lakong Salvador, all surrenderees and placed under military custody at the 5th Infantry Division. Eleven others were named with aliases while other accused were still unidentified. The rest are still at large. Police attached verified complaints of witnesses and pieces of evidence.  Killed in the said ambush were seven soldiers. The Army soldiers were reportedly on patrol when waylaid by the rebels.

DFA: China plan to fortify disputed territories in WPS violates int'l law

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 27): DFA: China plan to fortify disputed territories in WPS violates int'l law

China’s plan to develop and fortify an expansive area of the resource-rich South China Sea lacks merit under international law, the Dept. of Foreign Affairs has said. Beijing has established a new city called Sansha under its southern Hainan province to politically administer its claimed territories in the disputed waters known as West Philippine Sea in the Philippines.

In a move that could stoke tensions anew, China this week said it will invest at least US$ .6 billion for the construction of a harbor, an airport and other facilities in the areas, where the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims. “This is giving a lot of concerns among nation states not only in the region but as far as the international community is concerned,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told reporters. China's recent move to bring all its claimed territories under the ambit of a recently-established "Sansha City" was “a way of reinforcing their nine-dash line claim which is considered excessive and a violation of international law,” Hernandez said. “This action will not gain validity for China,” he said.

China’s so-called nine-dash line is a U-shaped map that covers nearly 90 percent of the waters believed to be rich in oil and natural gas. Many have feared the conflicts could be Asia's next flashpoint. In their latest spat, Asian neighbors Beijing and Manila engaged in a standoff in April this year when Chinese vessels sailed into into a shoal called Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal, which Philippine officials say is an integral part of its territory.

Vietnam likewise protested what it calls increasing Chinese aggression in the resource-rich waters after Beijing tendered bids for several gas and oil exploration areas within Hanoi’s waters. China has frowned on bringing the territorial disputes to any international forum such as the Association of South East Asian Nations where the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei are members along with non-claimants like Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar are members. Beijing prefers to negotiate with each of the other smaller rival claimants, giving them an advantage because of its sheer size and dominant military force.

CPP: CPP to Aquino: Issue reciprocal ceasefire order, or else...

From the CPP Website (Dec 27): CPP to Aquino: Issue reciprocal ceasefire order, or else...

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) today demanded that the Aquino regime immediately order an extension of his earlier ceasefire declaration to reciprocate the one issued by the CPP Central Committee a week ago, in accordance with an agreement forged in a meeting on December 17-18 in The Hague, The Netherlands between special representatives from the Aquino government and special representatives of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

The temporary ceasefire covering the period from December 20 to January 15 was agreed upon to create favorable conditions for the resumption of peace talks in January. It was contained in a joint communique dated December 18 and authenticated by Ambassador Ture Lundh, special envoy of the Royal Norwegian Government to the NDFP-GPH Peace Negotiations.

A ceasefire order for the said period was consequently issued by the CPP Central Committee on December 20. The National Democratic Front-Mindanao had by then already declared a ceasefire from December 5 to January 3 to units of the New People’s Army (NPA) in the island’s calamity-stricken areas to allow for unhampered relief and rehabilitation work and facilitate the NPA’s own efforts to assist the victims, especially the impoverished masses in the guerrilla zones. The CPP’s ceasefire order extends the ceasefire period of the revolutionary forces in Mindanao to January 15.
“More than a week has passed and Aquino, as principal of the GPH and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, has yet to issue a reciprocal ceasefire order that would extend his earlier declaration covering the period from December 16 to January 2,” pointed out the CPP.

“Aquino’s failure to promptly issue his own unilateral ceasefire order in accordance with the agreement reached between the NDFP and his government’s special representatives raises serious questions about his government’s sincerity in pursuing peace negotiations. If he does not issue a corresponding ceasefire declaration soon, the CPP and the NDFP would have to consider the option of cutting short the duration of its unilateral ceasefire order.”

“Compounding the regime’s failure to reciprocate the CPP’s extended ceasefire declaration, the AFP continues to brazenly commit human rights violations in outright disregard of its own Yuletide ceasefire order,” pointed out the CPP. The CPP cited the arrest and torture on December 21 of five residents of Mulanay, Quezon by elements of the 74th IB. The victims are being falsely accused of being NPA members.

The CPP also cited the reported arrest last December 25 of Filemon Mendrez in Manjuyod, Negros Oriental. Mendrez is said to be among those listed in the DILG’s secret list containing the names of 235 alleged leaders of the revolutionary movement which serves as a virtual Order of Battle for the AFP and other state armed agents.

“Despite its own ceasefire declaration, the AFP continues to carry out counter-guerrilla operations under the guise of peace and order operations. AFP soldiers continue to set up checkpoints and maintain an armed presence in communities to conduct intelligence operations and intimidate the people, in pursuit of the AFP’s Oplan Bayanihan war of suppression.”