Saturday, February 2, 2013

Jordanian journalist's Filipino companions released (Includes Video Report)

From ABS-CBN (Feb 3): Jordanian journalist's Filipino companions released
Posted at 02/03/2013 9:09 AM | Updated as of 02/03/2013 1:49 PM
MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - The Abu Sayyaf released the two Filipino cameramen of Jordanian journalist Baker Abdulla Atyani Saturday evening in Sulu.

Col. Antonio Freyra of the Sulu Police and Senior. Supt. Renato Gumban, director of the Philippine National Police Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG), confirmed that the two Filipinos were set free by the Abu Sayyaf around 6 p.m. Saturday.

The two Filipino captives, identified as Ramelito Vela and Rolando Letrero, were left by the Abu Sayyaf along a road in Patikul, Sulu. They rode a tricycle to the port, where they stayed overnight in a hotel.

ARMM police regional director Chief Supt. Noel delos Reyes told DZMM that they received a call from the wife of Letrero around 10 p.m. Saturday, who said that she had received a call from her husband.

The AKG and the Sulu Provincial Police Office found the two cameramen, who worked for Al Arabiya TV network, in the hotel.

ABS-CBN News correspondent Nickee Butlangan reported that the two men are now confined at the Sulu Provincial Hospital where they are undergoing medical exams.

They will be brought out of the province as soon as possible.

Vela said they have no knowledge of Atyani’s whereabouts since they were separated from each other five days after being abducted.

Delos Reyes also told AFP there was "no word" on the fate or exact whereabouts of the Jordanian journalist.

Delos Reyes said the exact circumstances of how the two were freed remained unclear, but denied that a ransom had been paid.

The two travelled with Atyani to Jolo island in June of last year, but went missing a day after they arrived.

Police on Jolo said the three had been held by the Abu Sayyaf, a gang of self-styled militants blamed for the country's worst terrorist attacks as well as other kidnappings of foreigners.

US special forces have been rotating in the southern Philippine for over a decade to train local troops in crushing the Al Qaeda-linked group which is on Washington's list of wanted foreign terrorist organizations.

MNLF members killed in clash with Abu Sayyaf

From Rappler (Feb 3): MNLF members killed in clash with Abu Sayyaf

Ten members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) were killed in an encounter with Abu Sayyaf bandits in Patikul, Sulu, initial reports said Sunday, February 3.

The MNLF was reportedly in talks with the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG), led by its senior leader Radullan Sahiron, for the release of Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani and his Filipino crew.

Intelligence officials told Rappler the ASG released around 7 pm Saturday Atyani's crew—Ramil Vela and Buboy Letrero—near Maligay in Patikul. They were brought to the ANR Hotel in Jolo and were picked up by police shortly after 10 pm.

The two served as cameraman and audioman, respectively, when the journalist from Dubai-based Al Arabiya visited Sulu for an interview with the ASG in June 2012.

Rappler sources said the MNLF was negotiating for the release of the captives. They said the ASG asked for a P20-million ransom, though it was not clear if the amount was for the Filipinos alone.

Abu Sayyaf holding kidnapped Jordanian journalist clash with rival group in Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner (Feb 30): Abu Sayyaf holding kidnapped Jordanian journalist clash with rival group in Philippines

Abu Sayyaf gunmen clashed Sunday with rival group Moro National Liberation Front, a day after the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group freed 2 Filipino assistants of kidnapped Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials said a still undetermined number of gunmen were killed in the fighting that erupted in Sulu’s Patikul town where the Abu Sayyaf released Rolando Letrero and Ramelito Vela.

“There were reported sporadic firefight between the MNLF and Abu Sayyaf in isolated areas of Patikul. We have deployed troops to secure neighboring communities to prevent possible spill over of the fighting,” Col. Rodrigo Gregorio, a regional army spokesman, told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

The MNLF, headed by Habier Malik, had previously demanded the release of all Abu Sayyaf hostages, but the group flatly rejected the demanded.

Atyani, Al Arabiya’s Pakistan bureau chief, has gone inside camps of the MNLF and Abu Sayyaf along with his two Filipino assistants on June 12 after an emissary fetched them at their hostel in Jolo town.

Police said the freed Filipinos tried to get a ferry for Zamboanga City, but failed and instead went to a small hotel. Policemen only learned the release of Letrero and Vela after their families informed authorities in Manila of their freedom.

Security forces tracked down the duo and brought them to hospital in Jolo town for medical examination, according to Chief Supt. Noel delos Reyes, the regional police chief.

“They are okay and are being taken care of at the hospital and would soon return to their family in Manila,” he said.

It was unknown whether ransoms had been paid for the release of the Filipinos, but the Abu Sayyaf originally demanded $3 million for the freedom of Atyani’s group.

There was a military intelligence report saying that Atyani was also freed, but no officials would confirm it.

Last year, a senior military commander Col. Jose Johriel Cenabre, the deputy commander of naval forces in southern Philippines, and head of the Task Force Sulu, was relieved from his duty a day after he told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner that they would arrest Atyani as soon as he is freed and charge him for espionage.

He was quoted as saying that the military is investigating the true intention of Atyani’s clandestine interview with terror leaders.

But Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda denied the report which was also published by The Manila Times, adding Cenabre also denied giving a statement with the Mindanao Examiner regarding initiatives in arresting Atyani and charging him with espionage.

Military and police said Atyani’s group arrived in Sulu on June 11 and went to the Abu Sayyaf the next day to secretly interview terror leaders and other rebel commanders, including Jemaah Islamiya militants hiding on the island.

The Jordanian journalist had made prior arrangement with the Abu Sayyaf to film a documentary about the terror group. Authorities said Atyani also deceived local officials after he claimed to be filming government projects in Sulu, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region.

Atyani, who had previously interviewed al-Qaeda terror leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan months before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, contacted his colleagues to say that they are being held against their will.

Provincial officials had repeatedly warned Atyani against interviewing the Abu Sayyaf, but the trio went ahead and secretly met with terrorist leaders, among them Nadzmie Alih. They were first reported missing after failing to return to their hostel in Jolo town, but phoned local officials two days later to say that they were still filming a documentary on the Abu Sayyaf.

Jordan insisted the trio was kidnapped, but Philippine authorities denied this and said Atyani’s group went to meet with terrorists on their own volition and despite being prevented by the police and military.

The military’s Western Mindanao Command said Atyani had previously filmed in secret the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu province.

The Abu Sayyaf is still holding at least 5 foreigners kidnapped separately in southern Philippines.

Al-Qaida-Linked Militants Free 2 Filipino Hostages

ABC News/Associated Press (Feb 3): Al-Qaida-Linked Militants Free 2 Filipino Hostages

Philippines Hostages Freed.JPEG

Roland Letriro, center, and Ramel Vela, Filipino members of a Jordanian TV journalist's crew believed to have been kidnapped by the al-Qaida-linked militants in June, talk to a police officer in their hospital room Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, after being freed the night before on the volatile island of Jolo, Sulu province in southern Philippines. Policemen found frail-looking cameraman Vela and audio technician Letriro late Saturday and brought them to a hospital in southern Sulu province, where they were kidnapped in June along with Jordanian Baker Abdulla Atyani, provincial police chief Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra said. Atyani is believed to still be held by the gunmen.(AP Photo/Nickee Butlangan)

Abu Sayyaf gunmen have freed two Filipino members of a Jordanian TV journalist's crew who were kidnapped by the al-Qaida-linked militants last year as they set out to interview the extremists in their jungle lairs in the southern Philippines, police said Sunday.

Policemen found frail-looking cameraman Ramel Vela and audio technician Roland Letriro late Saturday and brought them to a hospital in southern Sulu province, where they were kidnapped in June along with Jordanian Baker Abdulla Atyani, provincial police chief Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra said.

Atyani is believed to still be held by the gunmen in the jungles of Sulu's mountainous Patikul town, about 950 kilometers (590 miles) south of Manila.

"We're so happy. We never thought we'd make it out alive," a teary-eyed Vela said at his hospital bed, adding that he and Letriro have not seen Atyani since the Jordanian was separated from them by their kidnappers five days after they were taken hostage.

Visibly thinner, shocked and with overgrown hair and beard, the two were examined by doctors and given bread and water in the Sulu hospital, which was guarded by police and marines.
"They really lost weight because they were constantly under stress each day," Freyra told The Associated Press.

An unspecified amount was paid to secure the freedom of the two captives, according to three security officials who have been closely monitoring the kidnappings. The three spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Military officials have said Abu Sayyaf militants have demanded 130 million pesos ($3.1 million) for the release of Atyani and his two crew members.

Hundreds of rebels from the larger Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a 1996 autonomy deal with the government, have also been negotiating with the Abu Sayyaf for the release of Atyani and other foreign hostages, including two European bird watchers who were abducted last year.

Moro commander Khabir Malik said his group had taken the initiative to seek the freedom of the hostages to help the government clean up the image of Sulu, a predominantly Muslim province where the Abu Sayyaf has carried out deadly bombings, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings, primarily in the early 2000s.

U.S.-backed military offensives have crippled the Abu Sayyaf in recent years, but it remains a national security threat. Washington has listed the group as a terrorist organization.

Malik said last week that he met with an Abu Sayyaf commander, Jul-Asman Sawadjaan, to seek the release of Atyani and his two crew members, who were believed being held in the jungles of Sulu's mountainous Patikul town. But the extremists refused to release their captives to the Moro rebels, Malik said.

Malik had suggested that his armed group could consider other options, including a rescue, to secure the captives' freedom from the smaller Abu Sayyaf group.

Abu Sayyaf gunmen handed the two Filipinos to still-unknown negotiators, but not to Malik's group, angering the Moro rebels, according to the three security officials.

A gunbattle erupted between Malik's forces and the Abu Sayyaf militants Sunday in Patikul's jungles, Freyra said. There were no immediate reports of casualties, and police and the military went on alert amid the fighting.

Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan has said he will not allow Malik's group to take any drastic action like a rescue that could harm the Abu Sayyaf's hostages.

Atyani was working for the Arabic satellite channel Middle East Broadcasting Corp. when he interviewed Osama bin Laden and his aides in Afghanistan about three months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He said they told him that the coming weeks would hold "important surprises that will target American and Israeli interests in the world."

He later moved to Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV as its Asia bureau chief. He traveled to Sulu to work on a documentary about the country's volatile south and possibly interview Abu Sayyaf militants in the impoverished province, Freyra and other officials said.

The other hostages being held by the Abu Sayyaf include the two European men, who were seized from nearby Tawi Tawi province in February last year and are believed to have been taken to Sulu, a Japanese treasure hunter, a Malaysian national and a Filipino resident of Sulu, officials say.

On Friday, Washington renewed a longstanding warning to Americans not to travel to Sulu "due to the high threat of kidnapping ... and violence linked to insurgency and terrorism there."

The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 380 armed fighters in Sulu and nearby islands, is an extremist offshoot of a Muslim rebellion that has been raging in the predominantly Catholic nation's south for decades. The violence has been fueled by abject poverty, corruption, proliferation of illegal weapons and weak law enforcement.

Sayyaf frees 2 Filipino crew of kidnapped Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani - police

From InterAksyon (Feb 3): Sayyaf frees 2 Filipino crew of kidnapped Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani - police

Two Filipino crewmen kidnapped last year with Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani by the Abu Sayyaf Group in Sulu have been released, police confirmed Sunday. Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra, provincial police director, confirmed the release of Rolando Letrero and Ramilito Vela Saturday night.

Citing reports from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)&police, national police spokesman Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo Jr. said authorities received a call from Vela Saturday informing them that he and Letrero were released by their captors and were at the ANR Hotel in Jolo.

Members of the PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group were mobilized and at 10 p.m. Saturday, the two victims were picked up by police at the hotel.

Letrero and Vela were then brought to the Integrated Provincial Hospital Office for medical check-up and are now under protective custody of Sulu police. Letrero and Vela will be flown to Zamboanga City before being transferred to Manila.

Veteran Jordanian television reporter Baker Atyani, however, was not yet released. Atyani, a reporter of Al-Arabiya TV, went missing with his two Manila-based Filipino crewmen on June 2012 while filming a report on the ASG. The three left their hotel early morning June 12 to pursue their story about the terror group.

US warship's damage to Tubbataha Reef worsens to over 4,000 sqm

From GMA News (Feb 2): US warship's damage to Tubbataha Reef worsens to over 4,000 sqm

Dead and dying corals spanning an area of over 4,000 square meters (sqm) is the latest known extent of the damage the stranding of the USS Guardian has wrought at the Tubbataha Reef, the head of the marine park's monitors said Saturday.

Angelique Songco, Tubbataha marine park manager, said the most recent damage assessment showed that the area the US Navy's minesweeper ship has affected is worse than the initial estimate of 1,000 sqm.

“First time kasi 'yung sa harap lang. You see that picture? 'Yung may ano, so ngayon yung ibang impact areas nahanap na at na-assess na and so it is 4,000 plus,” Songco said in an interview with reporters that formed part of a report of GMA News' Bernadette Reyes on the '24 Oras' newscast.

Four thousand square meters is about the size of ten basketball courts. According to FIBA rules, the dimensions of a playing court for amateur basketball is 28 meters by 15 meters or 420 square meters, an area which when multiplied by 10, totals 4,200 square meters.

Songco told reporters that the latest damage estimates were based on data from the US Navy.
The stranded warship weighs 1,300 tons, according to its US Navy webpage. It has been atop the Tubbataha corals since January 17.
Earlier, the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau said that the US Navy may be fined for at least about P12,000 or $300 per square meter of damaged corals.

With the latest impact assessment, the minimum mandatory fine could be at about P48 million. The additional fine for rehabilitation efforts would be another $300 and could raise the total fine to about P96 million.
“Like a ticking taxi meter, the passing of each minute and hour raises the stakes,” World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) - Philippines vice chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan was quoted as saying in a post on the WWF Philippines website. Tan is a member of the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board.

“However, safety must be chosen over speed – hasty efforts might do further harm to the reef,” Tan also said.
The Philippine Coast Guard's Task Force Tubbataha said the first of two crane ships sent to help remove the USS Guarddian was supposed to have arrived at the reef Friday but was delayed by bad weather at Singapore. That crane ship is now expected to arrive at the salvage site on Sunday.
Much of the warship’s potentially harmful content – including 15,000 gallons of fuel – have been removed from the ship. The US Navy noted that no oil spill occurred.
Likewise, the US Navy said that it will dismantle and safely remove the 23-year-old ship from the reef, "in sections."
"Guardian is badly damaged and with the deteriorating integrity of the ship, the weight involved, and where it is grounded on the reef, dismantling in sections is the only supportable option," said Capt. Darryn James, US Pacific Fleet spokesman.
"We have the right team of experienced professionals to conduct this complex operation and to ensure that it is done safely while minimizing damage to the surrounding marine environment," James added. 

Reds bare US plans to establish drone base in Clark, Pampanga

From the Business Mirror (Feb 2): Reds bare US plans to establish drone base in Clark, Pampanga

THE outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) wants the government to disclose the mission of US Air Force (USAF) officers who met with top Philippine defense and security officials of the Aquino administration at the former Clark Air Field in Pampanga recently.
US Pacific Air Forces chief Gen. Herbert J. Carlisle met with Defense Undersecretary Honorio Azcueta, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista and Philippine Air Force (PAF) commander Lt. Gen. Lauro Catalino de la Cruz, but official statements released by the AFP and US Embassy only said the matters discussed “were of mutual interest.”
“Are the US government and its puppets planning to set up a drone air base at Clark?” asked the CPP. The party pointed out that US defense officials have long expressed their desire to build a facility in the Philippines to house and operate its military drones.
This plan was first raised during the discussions of the Strategic Defense Dialogue (SDD) held in Washington early last year and reiterated in a subsequent meeting of the SDD and the Mutual Defense Board in Manila.
“The Filipino people stand firmly against any plan to set up more military facilities in the Philippines. They demand an independent foreign policy and aspire for genuine national freedom and sovereignty,” said the CPP.
“In the drive to increase its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, the US government and military are more and more making use of the Philippines as one of its military strongholds which serve as a base and platform of operations for its naval and air forces,” CPP said.
“The plan to set up military facilities to house its drones has been one of the key items in the US agenda in the Philippines.”
“Plans to set up military facilities in Clark and Subic come on top of the permanent base of operations of the 700-strong Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines of the US Pacific Command inside Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City,” said the CPP.
“The US also wants to supply or facilitate the sale of refurbished or low-end jet fighters to the PAF in an effort to enable it to serve as an auxiliary to US Air Force operations in the Asia-Pacific region,” CPP added.

MILF fears Bangsamoro will be used by the government

From the Gulf News (Feb 2): MILF fears Bangsamoro will be used by the government

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has cautioned the government against using the Bangsamoro as a leverage to secure more funds from donor agencies.

“The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has made it clear as a matter of policy in dealing with the Aquino administration and foreign entities that any development programme intended for Mindanao should exclude the Bangsamoro to avoid confusion and to give justice to it,” Mohammad Ameen, chairperson of the MILF Secretariat said in an article posted on the front’s Luwaran website.

Last October 2012, the MILF has signed a “Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro” with the administration of President Benigno Aquino III as a prelude to a final peace pact. Along with the signing of the pact were statements of support from donor agencies that it will assist the Bangsamoro get an even footing.
Ameen said there are growing interests of many states and international aid agencies as well as investors to come to the Bangsamoro and take part in the rehabilitation and development of the new political entity.

Rough seas delay work on Guardian

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 3): Rough seas delay work on Guardian

Strong winds and rough seas have hampered salvaging work on the United States minesweeper which ran aground at the Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park, officials said on Saturday.

Coast Guard officials said they are not certain when the removal of the 68-meter USS Guardian will be completed because of the wind and sea conditions.

“There is no time table for the salvage operation. The controlling factor is really the sea condition,” said Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista, commander of the Coast Guard Palawan District.

He said bad weather also caused the delay of the arrival of one of the crane ships that were contracted by the US government to help extricate the US Navy minesweeper stuck in the World Heritage site since January 17.

But Evangelista said the Coast Guard is expecting the crane ship Smit Borneo to arrive from Singapore today and work should start soon after, but that will also depend on sea conditions since waters at Tubbataha Reef can be rough to very rough in the afternoon because the northeasterly winds.

“We are in full blast but it is hampered because of unfavorable sea condition. We [only] expect sea conditions to improve starting March,” said Evangelista. “US officials would not want to delay the operation because they will be the ones to pay the salvor ship.”

He said the diving season in Tubbataha Reef is from March to July. “The work for salvage operation will be favorable on March, but we will proceed this month. If there is a need to stop for safety reasons, we will stop,” he added.

No new bases in Asia: US commander

From InterAksyon (Feb 2): No new bases in Asia: US commander

The United States' pivot to Asia will not mean any new bases in the region, but existing alliances will be strengthened and modernised, the chief of US Pacific Command (PACOM) told reporters Friday.

"The US has no intention of establishing more bases" in Asia, Admiral Samuel Locklear told reporters in a telephone news conference from PACOM headquarters in Hawaii.

"What we hope to do with our partners... is to continue to operate closely," he said, adding "this part of the world has been pretty safe" in the past 60 years.

The comments came as Washington increases military exercises with allies and gradually moves its most advanced ships, weaponry and aircraft to Asia as part of a long-term strategy.

The shift comes as several Asian countries face friction with China over disputed territory and borders in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.

"There has been significant speculation, scepticism about the US rebalance towards the Asia Pacific region. Let me just say this: The rebalance is a strategy of collaboration and cooperation," Locklear said.

"And the keystone of our rebalance will be... the strategy to modernise and strengthen our five Pacific treaty alliances," he said.

He also said Australia is "a critical pillar" in the US rebalance and that the Asia-Pacific region cannot be considered in isolation from the Indian Ocean, while welcoming New Delhi's role in building security networks.

"There is no simple answer to one security organisation that will work" like NATO in Europe, because the region "is too diverse", he said.

"So the model that -- sometimes people ask me like this 'why don't you have a NATO in the Indo-Asia-Pacific?' -- I served in NATO before, it's a fine organisation but I don't see a parallel here," he said.

"I'd rather (see) what I refer to as a patchwork of security relationships in various parts of this vast region that work together to be able to sense and understand where the security moment is, and to work together to ensure the (security) environment is strong enough to withstand any shocks.

"India is taking a leadership role in working to build some of these security networks, and we welcome that," he said.

Asked about the ongoing tensions between China and Japan over territorial claims to a set of islands in the East China Sea, Locklear repeated that the US did not take a position on the archipelago's final sovereignty.

"What we do expect is these disputes will be done in a fashion without coercion, and that ultimately will be satisfying and decided between governments and without military interventions."

In the wider Asia-Pacific region, he said it was important to build "a code of conduct" in waters that every country, including China, will be obliged to follow.

He also noted the United States is encouraging the nations that have territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the East China Sea "not to introduce military hardware aspects that could lead to miscalculation".

Japan and China have repeatedly butted diplomatic heads over who owns Tokyo-controlled islands called the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China. Beijing separately has disputes with other regional capitals, including Manila and Hanoi.

CPP asks: Did any of Aquino's officials check US submarine for nukes?

From the CPP Website (Feb 2): CPP asks: Did any of Aquino's officials check US submarine for nukes?

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) today asked Malacañang’s spokesmen whether they or any official of the Aquino government actually boarded the US nuclear attack submarine USS Cheyenne in order to inspect it for nuclear weapons? Or for that matter, have they subjected any of the more than 80 US warships or submarines which have docked last year? Have they even officially asked the US government and military whether any of its warships or submarine is carrying nuclear weapons?

The CPP was reacting to statements yesterday by Malacañang asserting that the US submarine USS Cheyenne was granted a diplomatic pass to enter Philippine waters and dock at Subic Bay and that it is only a “nuclear-powered” ship and, thus, not covered by the prohibition of the 1987 reactionary constitution against the entry and stockpiling of nuclear weapons.

“Does Malacañang actually know first-hand whether the US submarine USS Cheyenne does not carry nuclear weapons,” said the CPP. “Does the Aquino regime subject US military naval vessels to thorough inspections to check whether or not these are carrying banned weapons?”

“To accomodate the increasingly frequent dockings by US naval warships and submarines, the Aquino government has set aside provisions of its own 1987 constitution prohibiting the entry and stockpiling of nuclear weapons and the setting up of foreign military facilities,” said the CPP.

“Judging by the way that the American military conducts itself in the Philippines, it is clear that US naval warships and submarines are beyond the authority of the Philippine government even when they are within the supposed sovereign territory of the Philippine,” added the CPP. The CPP pointed out how American naval soldiers aboard the USS Guardian took battle positions and aimed their high-powered weapons against the rangers of the Tubbataha Wildlife Park two weeks ago to prevent them from approaching the US warship which ran aground at the reefs.

“The puppetry of the Aquino government puts itself in no position to enforce the ban on nuclear weapons. Nor is the high-handed and arrogant US military willing to subject itself to such enforcement by the Philippine government,” added the CPP.

The CPP yesterday expressed protests over the docking of the nuclear attack submarine USS Cheyenne. “Every American warship that docks in the Philippines reduces the country to a military outpost of the US in the Asia-Pacific region and likewise reveals the farcical claims of Philippine sovereignty by the puppet Philippine government,” said the CPP.

3 Chinese warships enter West Philippine Sea

From ABS-CBN (Feb 2): 3 Chinese warships enter West Philippine Sea

Three Chinese warships pass through the Bashi Channel on their way to patrol and drill in the South China Sea, amid ongoing territorial disputes with Japan and other neighbours.

BEIJING, China - A Chinese navy fleet entered the South China Sea on Friday for patrols and drills after passing through the Bashi Channel, state media said quoting military sources, as tensions with neighbours over disputed waters remain high.

The official Xinhua news agency reported that the navy fleet including three Chinese warships entered the South China Sea at 03:40GMT after five hours sailing to pass through the Bashi Channel. The Bashi Channel, situated between Taiwan and the Philippines' Luzou Island, is an international sea route connecting the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

Official broadcaster CCTV (China Central Television) reported the three ships, all from the North China Sea Fleet of the PLA Navy, are scheduled to carry out patrol missions and multiple training exercises in the South China Sea in the next couple of days.

The PLA Navy fleet departed Qingdao port in east China on Tuesday (January 29) for training exercises and patrol missions in the country's territorial waters. The fleet has sailed more than 1,200 nautical miles so far.

Last year tensions flared between China and Japan after Japan purchased disputed islands from a private owner despite China's protests.

China has also has competing claims over islands with Southeast Asian neighbours including the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Chinese President Hu Jintao has made boosting the navy a priority, especially in trying to turn it into a blue-water fleet able to operate far from China's shore, and Chinese ships have participated in anti-piracy missions off Somalia.

But China's growing defence budget, military advances and perceived lack of transparency have alarmed its neighbours and the United States.

China says it has no hostile intentions and that it is simply updating its outdated forces.

Bad weather delays crane ship sent to extract USS Guardian

From GMA News (Feb 2): Bad weather delays crane ship sent to extract USS Guardian

Bad weather conditions have delayed the arrival of crane ships sent to help extract the US minesweeper USS Guardian from Tubbataha Reef. A report on "24 Oras" said the ships had been expected to arrive from Singapore as early as Friday, but may instead come on Sunday at the earliest.

The report said the SMIT Borneo is due to arrive in Palawan 7 a.m. from Singapore, but will have to travel almost a day before reaching Tubbataha. "From Puerto Princesa bibiyahe pa yan papunta site, that's about 90 miles. (Kung) tatakbo ng 5 knots, mga 18-20 hours bago makarating sa site," said Commodore Efren Evangelista, head of Task Force Tubbataha.

A second ship may arrive in the Philippines but its schedule is not yet definite, the report added.

The USS Guardian ran aground on Tubbataha Reef last Jan. 17 and could not immediately be extracted.

So far, much of its potentially harmful content – including 15,000 gallons of fuel – have been removed from the ship.

Meanwhile, the US Navy said it will dismantle and safely remove the 23-year-old ship from the reef, "in sections."

An article posted on the US Navy site said naval architecture and salvage experts have assessed that attempts to remove USS Guardian intact may cause more damage to the reef and the ship's hull, "and most likely result in the vessel breaking up or sinking."

"Guardian is badly damaged and with the deteriorating integrity of the ship, the weight involved, and where it is grounded on the reef, dismantling in sections is the only supportable option," said Capt. Darryn James, US Pacific Fleet spokesman.

"We have the right team of experienced professionals to conduct this complex operation and to ensure that it is done safely while minimizing damage to the surrounding marine environment," he added.

Also, the Navy said no fuel has leaked since the grounding and all of some 15,000 gallons aboard Guardian were safely transferred off the ship.

Dismantling plan

The US Navy also said it has presented a dismantling plan to the Philippine Coast Guard that maintains the floating cranes necessary for this operation in deeper water to minimize coral damage to Tubbataha Reef.

"We continue to work closely at all levels with the Philippine Coast Guard, Navy and government officials and we are grateful for the support we have received to remove Guardian and minimize further damage to the reef," said James.

Muslim bloc demands payment for US warship damage on reef

From the Manila Times (Feb 2): Muslim bloc demands payment for US warship damage on reef

COTABATO CITY: The Bangsa Moro Party on Friday demanded compensation for Sulu province over the damage inflicted on Tubbataha Reef by minesweeper USS Guardian. Dr. Firdausi Abbas in a statement sent to The Manila Times said that the reef is in Sulu Sea, hence, the province should be compensated.

However, Abbas emphasized the incident is not simply a question of how much damage the minesweeper caused to the reefs, which is a Unesco World Heritage site but why was the minesweeper in the area?

He argued that the statement of the US Naval authority that the vessel went off course is not credible—the vessel has sophisticated equipment to chart its direction and the depth of the sea. “Was this vessel there for military purposes, for espionage on the Moro rebels?” Abbas asked. “This is clearly an intrusion by the US on what is now purely a domestic affair and even on Philippine sovereignty,” Abbas explained.

The Moro lawyer in presenting his legal point of view said that presence of nuclear submarine such as the USS Cheyenne, a nuclear attack submarine is a violation of the Constitutional declaration that the Philippines is a nuclear-free zone.

But he surmised that it may be part of an agreement with the Philippine authorities to have the ship here to lend teeth vis-à-vis the Kalayaan (Spratlys) Group of Islands claim.

“If this the case, then is an act, which is counterproductive and highly provocative because China is aware that the US does not have a naval or military base in the Philippines anymore and will merely worsen the situation and relations between the Philippines and China,” Abbas added.

As far as compensation is concerned, Sulu is entitled to it and its claim is primary, which the Philippine government must acknowledge, he stressed.

NPA says sorry for killing civilians in La Castellana

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 2): NPA says sorry for killing civilians in La Castellana

They did it, they said. The New People’s Army yesterday admitted responsibility for killing nine persons, including a policeman, in Barangay Puso, La Castellana, on January 27. It also apologized for the death of two civilians, and the wounding of a 14-year-old boy and others.

In a tape-recorded message sent to the media, Ka JB Regalado, spokesman of the Leonardo Panaligan Command of the NPA, said they will assist the families of the civilian victims and take disciplinary action against their military unit responsible for the incident and its head under the principle of command responsibility.

Regalado said the LPC-NPA is saddened by the death of civilians Virginia Ordonez and Enrique Dingcong. The rebel group apologized and asked for the forgiveness of the families of their acknowledged victims, and Regalado said they would get in touch with them to provide assistance.

The LPC-NPA had no intention of killing anyone on the Barangay Puso canter truck that was carrying policemen, tanods and Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team members, Regalado said. Their purpose for stopping the vehicle was to disarm those on board of their high powered weapons, he said.


The rebel group charged that the BPAT and tanods were used by the Army and police as spies against the NPA in barangays Puso and neighboring Cabacungan in La Castellana.

Regalado said the NPA fired a warning shot to stop the Canter truck but heard a loud burst coming from it followed by successive gunfire, that, he said, prompted them to return fire.

He added that they then disarmed those on the vehicle of seven firearms -- two M-16 rifles, a sub-machinegun, M-2 carbine rifle, shotgun, .45 caliber pistol and .357 magnum revolver, as well as night vision goggles, magazines and bullets.


The LPC–NPA denied that the incident was a massacre, and that they finished off the casualties by shooting them in the head. It also claimed they withdrew from the scene of the incident without any casualties on their side.

Regalado scored Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon for saying that those who carried out the assault could have been high on drugs, calling it an irresponsible statement.

The governor on Monday said that, the way the ambushers finished their victims off by shooting them in the head to make sure they were dead, after they had already been shot, showed anger and hatred beyond human reasoning.

It looks like the work of people high on drugs. Finishing victims off, including civilians, with shots to the head does not sound like the usual work of the NPA, Marañon said.


Regalado also called the statement of Senior Supt. Celestino Guara, caretaker of the Negros Occidental Provincial Police Office, that the incident was a massacre “irrational and illogical.”

Thee government officials are answerable to the people for arming tanods and BFAT members with high powered weapons, he claimed.

He also questioned why the armed policemen, tanods and BPAT members rode on a civilian vehicle and asked if this was done to use civilians as shields.


The rebel group, however, admitted that the civilians victims were a mistake and a violation of the NPA rules and the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Laws.

Regalado cited Part 3 Article 2 No. 3 of the CAHRIL that states "The right of the victims and their families to seek justice for violations of human rights, including adequate compensation or indemnification, restitution and rehabilitation, and effective sanctions and guarantees against repetition and impunity."

The LPC-NPA is ready to answer for its obligations to its acknowledged victims, Regalado said, citing Article 4 of the CAHRIL that states that “The persons liable for violations and abuses of human rights shall be subject to investigation and, if evidence warrants, to prosecution and trial. The victims or their survivors shall be indemnified. All necessary measures shall be undertaken to remove the conditions for violations and abuses of human rights and to render justice to and indemnify the victims.”


BPAT volunteer Ronnie Lapiado, 41, had earlier told the DAILY STAR that when they left Barangay Puso on January 27, there were 22 passengers on the Canter truck they were riding - three policemen, the BFAT members, barangay tanods, Virginia Ordoñez and the driver.

But, as they were leaving, civilians walking home, including children, asked to hitch a ride, so there were more than 30 passengers as they proceeded.

When the ambushers opened fire on their vehicle, their passengers shouted "We're civilians, spare us," Lapiado said.

Those who were standing up in the truck were hit by gunfire, but those who lay on the floor were not hit as the bullets did not penetrate the wall of the truck, he said.

The shooters then shouted for the civilians to get off the truck and lie on their stomachs on the ground.


The children were allowed to flee.

Virginia Ordoñez, 50, threw her body over her husband to try to save him and was killed instead.

Avelino Ordoñez, 48, a BPAT member, said his wife thought the gunmen who staged the ambush would spare civilians but she was wrong.

He said that, as he lay on the ground with his wife on his back the gunmen continued to fire, shattering her back and arm with bullets, while he was unharmed.

Surrender those responsible, military says

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 2): Surrender those responsible, military says

 The military yesterday challenged the New People’s Army to surrender its members who were responsible for the massacre of civilians and policemen in La Castellana, to answer for the crimes they had committed. The ambush claimed the lives of eight civilians and a policeman, and caused injuries to 12 others, police records show.

Maj. General Jose Mabanta, 3rd Infantry Division commander, yesterday said that the government and the Filipino people want a justice system that is not served through killings. “We don’t want to go back to the barbaric era, and while the NPA took responsibility for the killing, they should bring those culprits from within their ranks to the courts of law”, Mabanta added.

Capt. Ryan Joseph Cayton, Army’s 3rd Infantry Division spokesman, also described the alibi of the NPA as “another diversionary tactics to clear their name and escape from their guilt”. In the end, the fact is they killed civilians, including those who pleaded for their lives, Cayton added.

Their admission, Col. Oscar Lactao, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, said, “shows that they (NPA) are no longer a revolutionary or criminal group, but plain and simple terrorists”. Lactao also noted what he calls the “deafening silence” of human rights advocates in Negros, to the latest atrocities of the NPA in central Negros, and welcomed the investigations by the Commission on Human Rights, that started yesterday.

In 2009, priest-turned-rebel Frank Fernandez, secretary of the Komiteng Rehiyonal-Negros, also apologized for the deaths of three civilians and injuries of four others, who were mistaken as soldiers during an ambush perpetrated by the NPA in Brgy. Salamanca, Toboso.

The NPA in Panay also claimed responsibility for the ambush of a ranking leader of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade in Tigbauan, Iloilo, on Jan. 25

Mabanta also said that Romeo Nanta, who is the Regional Operations Command of the NPA in Negros island, will be among the 50 respondents for multiple murder, in connection with the ambush in La Castellana.

Nanta, who was freed from jail after posting bail of P100,000 for robbery-in-band charges, is suspected of being involved in planning the La Castellana ambush, Mabanta, said in a statement he issued.

He also said, “Nanta had benefitted (from) our judicial system and given a chance to live a peaceful life,” he rejoined the NPA after posting bail.

Mabanta also dared the human rights group Karapatan who had facilitated the bail for Nanta, to bring him out, and help the Barangay Puso victims attain the justice due them.

Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz, regional police director of Western Visayas, yesterday conferred on the late Police Officer 1 Richard Canja the Medalya ng Kadakilaan (PNP Heroism Medal), that was received by his wife, Jolimar, in recognition for his heroic act of conspicuous courage and commitment to service, that cost him his life.

Canja succumbed to a gunshot wound in the head, as well as multiple gunshot wounds after he and his colleagues, as well as civilians, were ambushed by communist rebels in La Castellana last month.

Two other police survivors, PO3 Constantino Villegas and PO2 Jeffrey Alvarez, were also conferred the Medalya ng Sugatang Magiting (PNP Wounded Personnel Medal) by Cruz at Camp Alfredo Montelibano Sr. in Bacolod City.

Villegas told Cruz that their ambushers were laughing after shooting the fatalities in the head.

Two investigators and a lawyer of the Commission on Human Rights from Iloilo, met yesterday with Senior Supt. Celestino Guara, caretaker of the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office, and have started their investigations on the incident.

CHR provincial chief Romeo Baldevarona said they will conduct an independent investigation of the La Castellana ambush, and determine the assistance to be extended to the families of the victims.

The Public Safety Mutual Benefit Fund Inc. also gave P10,000 as financial assistance each to Villegas and Alvarez, and P83,500 to the family of Canja.

The Seventh-Day Adventist independent ministry said it is also extending financial assistance of P4,500 each to the families of the eight civilians.

100 high school studes join peace symposium

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 1): 100 high school studes join peace symposium

SURIGAO DEL NORTE -- Around 100 junior and sophomore high school students participated in the peace symposium conducted recently in Payapag National High School, Barangay Payapag, Bacuag, this province.

The peace symposium was spearheaded by members of the speakers bureau of the 30th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.

The symposium focused on the responsibilities of the youth in carrying out the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP), “Bayanihan,” and youth development of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Members of the speaker's bureau invited the sophomores and juniors interested to become cadets of the Philippine Military Acedemy in Baguio City to take the Philippine Military Academy’s Entrance Examination scheduled on August 25 at designated testing sites in Butuan City. (SDR/1LT. Stephen Basco, 30IB-PA/PIA-Surigao del Norte)

Troopers, NPA clash anew in Bukidnon

Philippine Information Agency (Feb 2): Troopers, NPA clash anew in Bukidnon

MARAMAG, Bukidnon -- Another fierce encounter between troops of 8th Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army headed by Lieutenant Colonel Jose Maria Cuerpo II INF (GSC) PA and NPA transpired at a remote village in Pantaron Range, Sitio Abakahon, Barangay Nacabuklad, San Fernando, Bukidnon, today at 7:30 a.m.

In flash report, members of Bravo Company of 8th Infantry Battalion led by Second Lieutenant Cirian B Rosero, while conducting combat clearing operation in the vicinity of Pantaron Range, sitio Abakahon, Barangay Nacabuklad, San Fernando, Bukidnon encountered around 20 NPA’s armed men believed to be members of Sandatahang Platon Pampropaganda 3, Front Committee 6, North Central Mindanao Regional Committee under Reynante Tumbalang also known as Kumander Jigger.

The firefight that lasted for about 20 minutes resulted to the recovery of personal belongings, assorted medical supplies and subversive documents. After the encounter, the NPA withdrew as government troops continued hot pursuit.

The encounters were made possible due to the strong support of the residents who gave information about the encampment and presence of the rebels who were collecting taxes and foodstuff from the farmers in the area.

LtCol Cuerpo, 8IB’s commanding officer, said the NPA rebels have no place in the peace-loving province of Bukidnon and troopers will continue to bring criminal activities such as extortion, collecting foodstuff, threats and abuses to the community to a halt. The only thing for them is to come down from the mountains, bring their firearms and surrender so that we can attain the sustainable peace and development in the Province. (8IB/403Bde/4ID/PIA10)

Army enjoins students to contribute to nation building

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 1): Army enjoins students to contribute to nation building

Soldiers of the army’s 30th Infantry Battalion urged high school students to focus efforts in nation building. Lt. Stephen G. Basco, the army’s 30th IB civil military officer, made the appeal during a teacher-student symposium on ‘Internal Peace and Security Plan’ at Payapag National High School in Bacuag, Surigao Del Norte.

Basco said that it was the responsibility of students to take active part in nation building by contributing efforts to maintain peace in their communities. He said the symposium was just a small part of the military’s effort in fostering students and youth awareness as law-abiding citizens. ‘No matter how big or small our contribution is, it will save our youth’s future by swerving them away from illegal activities,’ Basco said.

Basco also challenged students to take chances by taking the entrance examination for the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) on August 25, 2013. Passing the entrance examination qualifies a student to become a PMA cadet at the country’s premier military school.Some 100 Third and Fourth year students from the Payapag National High School participated in the symposium.

Suspected NPAs torch 18-wheeler truck in Surigao del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 2): Suspected NPAs torch 18-wheeler truck in Surigao del Sur

Suspected New People's Army (NPA) rebels torched an 18-wheeler truck in San Agustin, Surigao del Sur early Friday morning after its owner-company allegedly failed to pay the so-called "revolutionary tax."

The Surigao del Sur Police Provincial Office reported that an armed group believed belonging to the CPP-NPA under a certain "Ka Jing" fired at a truck in Sitio Sawogon, Brgy. Salvacion in San Agustin. The driver identified as Jovy Samarca, was forced to stop and jump out. Thereupon, the armed group approached the vehicle, poured gasoline and burned the vehicle.  The truck was allegedly owned by DOLE Philippines which reportedly failed to pay the so-called "revolutionary tax" to the rebels.

Police said two other NPA groups served as blocking forces ahead of the burning site. The Surigao del Sur police immediately ordered the Lianga and Marihatag police stations to be on alert should the burning be just a diversionary tactic of the rebels in harassing police stations. A composite Army-PNP team was also immediately organized for a counter operation, the police report said.

2 Communists in Region 2 surrender

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 2): 2 Communists in Region 2 surrender

Two Communist terrorists (CTs) have voluntarily surrendered to the Police Regional Office 2 (PRO2) on Thursday here.

PRO2 regional director, Chief Superintendent lawyer Rodrigo Purisima De Gracia identified the two CTs as Denmark Rigayan alias “Arby/Henry”, 22, of Barangay Sicalao, Lasam, Cagayan; and Julie Ann Telimban, alyas “Arni,” 23, of Barangay Inocensio Southville 2 in Trece Martirez, Cavite.

 The two, both members of the West Committee, Northern Front KR-HSL, were accompanied by Archbishop Sergio Utleg when they voluntarily surrendered without firearm to De Gracia. He said the surrender is a product of intelligence build-up and PRO2’s strengthened police community relations program.

The two are now under the temporary custody of the Regional Intelligence Division for debriefing. De Gracia congratulated his men for the accomplishment and thanked the Archbishop for supporting the PNP’s battle cry “to win the peace without a single gunfire.”

Army vows to help sustain peace, development in Albay

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 2): Army vows to help sustain peace, development in Albay

Members of the Philippine Army deployed in Albay have been ordered to sustain the thriving peace and development in the province. Brig. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, commanding officer of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division based in Pili, Camarines Sur, told the newly installed commander of the Albay-based 2nd Infantry Battalion that the improvements in security and development in the area must be sustained at all costs.

“The present situation in Albay that has been improving each day is a proof of our assurance to the people that we are here serving and securing their peace, and the New People’s Army does not want to stay in peaceful and progressing communities,” Visayas said.

He noted that since May last year, NPA rebels reportedly had left their camps in Albay and had been along the boundaries but nevertheless are always waiting for opportunities to strike and catch the soldiers flatfooted.

Visayas warned the soldiers never to allow any similar incident like late last year’s torching by NPA rebels of the heavy equipment being utilized at the onsite and offsite preparations of the Southern Luzon International Airport in Barangay Alobo in Daraga town.

That incident is believed behind the battalion’s ‘changing of the guards’, where the higher Army command installed Lt. Col. Andrew Costelo vice Lt. Col. Audrey Pacia despite the latter’s efficient performance in his 21-month stint as battalion commander. “It must not happen again. The people of Albay deserves our best,” Visaya said.

Costelo assured Visaya that under his command, no soldier in the battalion will be left behind in education and skills development in an effort to serve better the people and that, “no soldier will perform his duty for duty’s sake.” He was Visaya’s former chief of civil-military operations and among the military intelligence general staff corps of the Army division.

Costelo's expertise in intelligence operations will be put to test in this year’s election period against possible NPA atrocities and extortion activities, with Visaya giving a marching order to prevent and stop.

“The Army is cognizant of the various efforts done in Albay to bring in development and progress. We take pride seeing in the news various programs on tourism, economic development, disaster preparedness and human resource developments that are all gaining pace, and we want it sustained,” Visayas added, referring to the accomplishments of the provincial government led by Governor Joey Salceda.

‘No sorry for Negros ambush’, rebels told

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 2): ‘No sorry for Negros ambush’, rebels told

The tape-recorded public apology of the New People’s Army (NPA) for killing eight civilians and a policeman in La Castellana in Negros Occidental was unacceptable, according to officials of Philippine Army (PA).

“(It) is not enough to indemnify the victim’s families and the communities affected,” stressed Captain Anacito Naz, public information officer of 302nd Infantry Brigade in a statement.  NPA Leonardo Panaligan Command has claimed responsibility for the recent ambush but killing the civilians was allegedly beyond their plan.

Ka JB Regalado, the rebel’s spokesperson, said their original plan was to only disarm the policemen and members of the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team. But it did not work that way.

Naz, however, pointed out that NPA’s apology could excuse them from their crimes. They were not above the law nor they were exempted from it, he said. “Any person found guilty of any crime must be punished commensurate to their offense,” he said.

For his part, Brigade Commander Col. Francisco M. Patrimonio said NPA’s public apology and “confession” were unbelievable.  Patrimonio said NPAs could not be trusted since the ambush was a typical incident where they demonstrated their nature of violence.  He then urged the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), left-leaning or progressive groups like the Karapatan to look into matter.

NPA rebels burn container van owned by Dole Phil.

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 2):  NPA rebels burn container van owned by Dole Phil.

Communist rebels burned a truck loaded with a container van of Dole Phils. in San Agustin, Surigao Del Sur Friday, an army report said Saturday. Lt. Hazel A. Tabago, spokesperson of the army’s 401st Infantry Brigade, said the rebels flagged down the truck along the national highway in barangay Salvacion, San Agustin past 8 a.m. Friday. Tabago said the army’s 401st dispatched a team of soldiers to pursue the fleeing rebels believed to be members of the Guerrilla Front 19A, North Eastern Mindanao Regional Committee. Col. Romeo G. Gan, commander of the army’s 401st IB, condemned the burning incident and ordered troops to pursue the ‘criminals.’