Monday, February 4, 2013

Ranking NPA member in Camarines arrested

From the Philippine Star (Feb 5): Ranking NPA member in Camarines arrested

The military on Tuesday announced the arrest of a ranking communist rebel based in Camarines Norte during an operation on Monday night.

Col. Richard Lagrana, Commander of the 902nd Infantry Brigade stationed in Labo, Camarines Norte, identified the New People's Army commander as Nancy Ortega, who is known in the communist hierarchy as Nads and Sads.

Initial reports said joint elements of the military and the police apprehended Ortega in Barangay San Roque, Iriga City around 8:30 p.m. Monday. The suspect is facing multiple frustrated murder charges.

"She led various attacks on military/PNP posts in Cam Norte as well as directed the killings of many innocent civilians," Lagrana said.

Ortega was visiting her relatives in Iriga when she was arrested. She did not resist arrest, the military said.

'MNLF fighters prepare for bigger offensive'

From the Philippine Star (Feb 5): 'MNLF fighters prepare for bigger offensive'

Fighting in the jungles of Patikul, Sulu has halted as fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) prepared for a bigger offensive against the Abu Sayyaf bandits, a senior official of the rebel group said Tuesday.

Habib Mujahab Hashim, chairman of the MNLF's Islamic Command Council (ICC) said that Moro fighters under the command of Ustadz Habier Malik are regrouping in the mountains of Patikul, Sulu.

“There is no firing taking place, but hundreds of forces of Malik are regrouping...,” Hashim said.

He said that as of Tuesday, at least 16 fighters under Malik's command have been confirmed killed, with some of them beheaded.

There was still no official figure on the casualties on the side of the Abu Sayyaf group under Radullan Sahiron, believed to be holding Jordanian journalist Baker Abdulla Atyani captive. Earlier reports said that at least 14 bandits have been killed in the clashes that started over the weekend.

Hashim, meanwhile, raised fears that the fighting between the groups might intensify as it was the first time that MNLF fighters were beheaded by fellow Muslim figters.

He said that he has talked with senior MNLF leaders and Ulamas or highly-respected Muslim religious leaders to intervene and stop the hostilities, but was told that they could only interfere with the go-signal of MNLF chairman Nur Misuari.

He said that Misuari gave the instruction to pursue Sahiron's group after the bandits refused to release Atyani.

Atyani's crew members, cameraman Ramel Vela and audio technician Rolando Letriro, were released by the bandits on Saturday night in the jungles of Patikul.

"I would call on brother Misuari to stop the operation. The only way out is to talk brother to brother,” Hashim said.

“If [the fighting] will not stop, this will tend to annihilation of race. I have serious doubt na maubos nila lahat mga Abu Sayyaf,” Hashim said. “Nakakalungkot Muslim nagpapatayan kapwa Muslim. We don’t also condone Muslim killing Christians.” he said.

NPA-North Negros Command Issues Arrest Warrants for 3 Involved in Landgrabbing, Murder

From the Negros Daily Bulletin (Feb 5): NPA-North Negros Command Issues Arrest Warrants for 3 Involved in Landgrabbing, Murder

Warrants of arrest have been issued by the NPA’s Roselyn Pelle Command of the North Negros area against three principal accused in alleged landgrabbing, murder and frustrated murder, it said have been accused by several villagers in Calatrava and Toboso towns in far northern Negros, its spokesperson, who goes by the nom de guerre Ka Cecil Estrella, said in a written statement made available to members of the Negros media.

This is the third successive declaration, two written and one tape-recorded, issued by NPA guerilla fronts’ spokespersons within two weeks. Political analysts opined that this shows that the NPAs all over the island are consolidating their political and armed components which have become a strong basis for their actions.

The case of landgrabbing and murder have long been the subject of a complaint by barrio folks who have filed cases against respondents in the government’s court, which is part of its judicial system.

Accused by villagefolks of landgrabbing, murder and frustrated murder were former PC soldier Raul Baterna, landowners Roberto and Rowena Lumayno. Without any action from the government’s court, the villagefolks filed the complaint before the Roselyn Pelle Command’s Northern Negros Guerilla Front against the three landowners.

After an evaluation and investigation based on the testimony of those affected consisting of 213 families in Cambayobo, Mina-utok in Calatrava town and in Bug-ang Village in Toboso town, the revolutionary court were able to establish the guilt of the respondents and therefore, elevated the case to the Revolutionary People’s Court (RPC).

The Revolutionary Court after its evaluation and investigation found probable cause to accuse the three of landgrabbing which it said started in 1989, yet. In addition, through the years, other subsidiary cases have been attributed to the three including issuing threats, harassments and strafing of villagefolks’ houses. The three have also been using government armed components such as the former Philippine Constabulary (PC) then, the Regional Mobile Group (RMG), the AFP and armed paid goons such as the RPA-ABB. Those accused were also responsible for destroying the villagefolks’ planted crops, destroying houses and properties, using tractors and framing them up with illegal possession of firearms using planted evidences, to force residents to leave the area and their farms.

Those accused are also principals in the second degree in the crime of murder and as accessories in the killing of Arnulfo Vaflor Jr. in Vergara Subvillage, Maxilum Village, Bug-ang Village in Toboso town. They are also principals in the second degree and accessories in this crime committed against several victims.

Based on these cases filed against them, the three have been issued warrants of arrest and that they are to face the people’s Court. On the other hand, other cases against other suspects in the cases filed are being processed such as those against armed goons, the RPA-ABB members involved in the charges, policemen belonging to the RMG and soldiers belonging to the AFP. They are to be issued the necessary warrants of arrest for their participation in the alleged crimes committed. The NPA said, Ka Cecil Estrella is fully determined to give justice to the victims through the Revolutionary Court.

At this point in time, all NPA units under the Roselyn Pelle Command are operating to ensure that the warrants of arrest are carried out. Those also involved are also enjoined to peacefully give up or surrender.

On La Castellana Ambush, Guv to NPA: ‘Discipline Your Men !’

From the Negros Daily Bulletin (Feb 5): On La Castellana Ambush, Guv to NPA: ‘Discipline Your Men !’

CASH ASSISTANCE & PNP WOUNDED PERSONNEL MEDAL TO PO3 VILLEGAS. Police Regional Office-6 director Police Chief Superintendent Agrimero Cruz Jr hands the check as financial assistance from PSMBFI and pins the Medalya ng Sugatang Magiting to Police Officer 3 Constantino Villegas of the La Castellana Police Station during last Friday’s visit at Camp Montelibano.

Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. yesterday said the New People’s Army (NPA) leaders should discipline their men, following the January 27 brutal killing of nine people in Brgy. Puso, La Castellana, an incident which the military and the police called the "massacre of civilians."

The NPA leaders should also surrender the perpetrators to the police so as to give justice to the victims and their families, the governor stressed.

Marañon, who had long been encouraging the rebels to go back to the fold of the law, also criticized the NPA statement on the La Castellana ambush as "irresponsible."

Six days after the ambush, the NPA issued a statement admitting the crime and lapses on their part, but stressed they did not plan to stage an ambush.

In an audio-recorded statement furnished the media Friday last week, Ka JB Regalado, spokesman for the NPA’s Leonardo Panaligan Command, said their only plan was to disarm the policemen and armed BPAT (Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team) members.
Marañon said, "With their (NPA) admission, that only shows they are irresponsible."

Regalado said the NPA is trying to keep in touch with the families of the victims to extend their condolences and give them financial assistance. But the families of the victims have rejected the compensation money offered by the NPA for killing their loved ones. Their financial aid can’t pay what was lost in the family, the governor stressed.

Eight of the nine victims have been buried over the weekend, with their families still crying for justice.

Ma. Cecilia Dingcong, wife of slain truck driver Enrique Dingcong, said no amount of money could bring back the life of her husband. "I want justice and not their financial assistance," she said during the burial Saturday. She described the massacre as very brutal and inhumane.

Buried at the public cemetery in Brgy. Cabacungan, La Castellana were slain civilians Joselito Lucban, Virginia Ordoñez, and truck driver Enrique Dingcong; barangay tanod (watchmen) Timoteo Esplegera and Ulysses Tamayor; and Ramil Compleza, Mario Ricablanca, and Jonathan Mateo, all members of the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team (BPAT).

The slain policeman, PO1 Richard Canja, will be buried on Feb. 9, his family said.

The victims, together with 12 others injured and some civilians, were aboard a Fuso Canter truck on their way home from securing the fiesta in Brgy. Puso, La Castellana when they were ambushed by a still undetermined number of NPA rebels.

The burial of the five victims last Saturday and three others last Sunday turned out to be a rally with a combined number of 1,700 mourners and family members carrying placards expressing outrage over the incident.

Meanwhile, Regalado claimed that the NPA fired a warning shot to stop the truck but those in the truck opened fire at the rebels which triggered the shootout.

Regalado also denied they fired the victims at close range. But Senior Superintendent Celestino Guarra Jr., acting Negros Occidental police director, refuted Regalado’s claims. He said autopsy reports showed that the victims were shot at close range in the head.

Guarra also said the policemen and BPAT members could not have fired first. "Who can fire first - the firearms held in ambush position or the firearms which are still in the holster?" he asked.

The NPA said it regrets that the civilians became collateral damage to what could have been a simple and quick process of disarming the BPAT members and the policemen. The NPA will take disciplinary action against their military unit responsible for the incident and its head under the principle of command responsibility, Regalado said.

Regalado apologized only for the death of civilians Ordoñez and Dingcong, and the wounding of a 14-year-old boy and 11 others, during the incident in Brgy. Puso.

Col. Oscar Lactao, commander of the Army’s 303rd Infantry Brigade based in Murcia, Negros Occidental, also slammed the monetary payment of the NPA, saying, "It is not about money we are talking about here; it is about the loss of a loved one, of the victims’ right to live, and it is about justice." "If they (NPA) just pay damages to the victims’ families, will this justify that they can kill people unarmed and just compensate them with money?" he asked.

Guarra said they are filing murder charges and attempted murder charges this week against at least 20 NPA members who are suspects in the brutal killing in La Castellana.

Posthumous Award for Canja, Medalya Ng Sugatang Magiting for Two Wounded Cops
For his heroic act of conspicuous courage and commitment to the service which cost him his life, the late Police Officer 1 Richard Canja of La Castellana town was awarded the Philippine National Police Medalya ng Kadakilaan (PNP Heroism Medal) during last Friday’s simple awarding rites at Camp Alfredo Montelibano in Camingawan, Bacolod City.

According to Police Chief Inspector Rico Santotome Jr., spokesperson of the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office, Canja was fatally shot during an ambush staged by suspected dissident terrorists last January 27 in Barangay Puso, La Castellana which also resulted to the death of eight others.

He is survived by his wife Jolemar, 22, a native of Silay City, and their only daughter Krich Ember who is just two years old according to Santotome, who is also NOPPO’s Police Community Relations Branch chief.

No less than the Police Regional Office-6 director Police Chief Superintendent Agrimero Cruz Jr. awarded the PNP Heroism Medal to Canja’s wife in a solemn ceremony held at the Kanla-on Hall of the PNP Provincial Headquarters in Barangay Estefania.

Earlier, the PRO6 chief likewise pinned the Medalya ng Sugatang Magiting (PNP Wounded Personnel Medal) to Police Officer 3 Constantino Villegas and Police Officer 2 Jeffrey Alvarez, both of the La Castellana Police Station, who were wounded during last Sunday’s (Jan. 27) early morning ambush in Barangay Puso.

The 33-year old Villegas has three children aged 15, 11 and eight months while Alvarez has a three-year old daughter. Both are from La Castellana town just like Canja and are now recuperating from their gunshot wounds at the NOPPO Medical Clinic inside the camp, said Santotome.

Cruz, together with NOPPO director Police Senior Superintendent Celestino Guarra Jr. and regional personnel and human resource chief Police Senior Superintendent Milko Lirazan led the awarding of the medals as well as in the turnover of financial support to the wounded cops as well as to the family of Canja, the lone PNP fatality shot during the attack.

Lirazan, who read the orders for Canja’s Medalya ng Kadakilaan, said that the devotion PO1 Canja had displayed to the police service to the extent of sacrificing his own life earned honors and credit not only to the PNP, but to the entire nation as well as contained in General Orders No. 32 dated January 28, 2013 and issued by PRO6, added Santotome.

The Public Safety Mutual Benefit Fund Incorporated also provided P10,000 financial assistance to the police officers belonging to the La Castellana PNP under Police Senior Inspector Gary Alan Resuma, the town’s police chief.

Rebels expel 4 ‘traitors’

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 5): Rebels expel 4 ‘traitors’

The New People’s Army Roselyn Pelle Command in northern Negros has expelled four of its members from the Partido Komunista sa Pilipinas, whom they accused of being “traitors” for collaborating with the Army’s 62nd Infantry Battalion.

Rebel spokesman Cecil Estrella said that in a statement he issued, that the four expelled members, identified as Bonnie Tapang Baynosa, with aliases of Ka Red, Moreno and Je-an, of Brgy. San Isidro, Toboso; Dindo Lusadas, with aliases of Ka Dondel and Lobyen, of Brgy. Libertad, Escalante City; Erving Benas, with aliases of Ka Totong, Rio and Erol; and a certain Eugene, with aliases of Ka Reden and Milan, both residents of Brgys. E. Lopez and Guimbalaon in Silay City, respectively, joined the military operations of the 62IB after their surrender.

Estrella said they have issued an arrest warrant against the four former NPA members, who are also being accused of extortion and of taking properties owned by the revolutionary movement. Estrella also claimed that Lusadas and Baynosa are accused of murder.

Four other former members of the Roselyn Pelle Command, including Ka Piolo, Ka Jed, Ka Bunso and Ka James, also have pending arrest warrants, the rebel spokesman added.

Estrella also said they have issued arrest warrants against former Constabulary officer Raul Baterna, Roberto and Rowena Lumayno, allegedly for land-grabbing in barangays Cambayobo and Mina-utok, Calatrava, and Bug-ang in Toboso, among others.

Earlier, the NPA Armando Sumayang Command also issued an arrest warrant against a suspected drug lord in southern Negros.

Meanwhile, Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. yesterday challenged the NPA leadership in Negros Island to discipline those behind the Jan. 27 ambush in Brgy. Puso, La Castellana, that claimed the lives of eight civilians and a police officer, and caused injuries to 12 others, including 10 more civilians and two policemen.

Marañon said no amount of financial assistance can pay for the loss of lives.

In a tape recorded statement furnished to the media Friday, rebel spokesman Ka JB Regalado explained they had no intention to stage an ambush, but only to disarm policemen and armed BPAT members. He claimed that they had seized seven firearms.

However, Regalado apologized only for the deaths of civilians Virginia Ordoñez and Enrique Dingcong, and the wounding of a 14-year-old boy and 11 others.

Marañon said the NPA admission of the ambush goes to show that they are irresponsible.

Seven of the nine fatalities were buried Saturday and Sunday at a public cemetery in Brgy. Cabacungan, La Castellana, while Police Officer 1 Richard Canja is scheduled to be buried on Feb. 9 with full military honors, and Ulysses Tamayor on Feb. 11.

Admitting lapses by their fighters, Regalado said they will extend financial assistance to the civilian victims and initiate disciplinary action against their members.

Regalado also said the NPA rebels are not drug addicts, and called Marañon’s declaration “not responsible and lacks thought.” He also denied claims that his group executed some of the victims by finishing them off with a shot to the head.

Families and relatives of the victims, however, rejected the offer of financial assistance of the NPA, stressing that what they want is justice.

Crane ship bound for Tubbataha, says PCG

From Rappler (Feb 5): Crane ship bound for Tubbataha, says PCG

 TUBBATAHA BOUND. The SMIT Borneo, a floating crane from a Singapore-based salvage company, left Puerto Princesa on midnight and is on its way to Tubbataha. Photo courtesy of Philippine Coast Guard

TUBBATAHA BOUND. The SMIT Borneo, a floating crane from a Singapore-based salvage company, left Puerto Princesa on midnight and is on its way to Tubbataha. Photo courtesy of Philippine Coast Guard

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) agreed to the US Navy's plan to extricate the USS Guardian stuck in Tubbataha Reef Natural Park by cutting the ship into pieces, a spokesman said on Tuesday, February 5.

PCG spokesman Cmdr Armando Balilo told Rappler that the plan to pull out the minesweeper by dismantling it and then transferring the sections to a barge using giant cranes is still under review but it has generally been agreed upon by all the stakeholders.

Final approval of the salvage operation however has not yet been given as there are still concerns regarding how one of the floating cranes will be anchored, he added.

Balilo explained that the Singapore-based SMIT Borneo -- which arrived in the Philippines on Sunday, February 3, and is currently on its way to Tubbataha from Puerto Princesa, Palawan -- may not be allowed to anchor close to the USS Guardian.

"It may cause even more damage, so now we are discussing if [the floating crane] should be anchoring on the reef or just go near [the American vessel] without anchoring," he said.

A 2nd crane also from Singapore is expected to arrive in the next few days to assist in the salvage operation of the USS Guardian, which ran aground on January 17 inside the protected area of the UNESCO World Heritage site and paradise for divers.

Crane ship used in similar maritime accidents

The Dominica-flagged SMIT Borneo, a 110x30 m work pontoon built in Germany in 1974, belongs to the Singaporean branch of SMIT Salvage, one of the world's leading salvage company based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

SMIT Salvage provides emergency response, wreck removal and environmental care services all around the world and has additional global offices in Houston, Texas and Cape Town, South Africa.
The salvage company has been hired to work on a number of high-profile maritime accidents, such as the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia, which crashed off the island of Giglio with over 4,000 passengers on board in January 2012.

As for the SMIT Borneo, the floating crane was last used in a major salvage operation in October 2011, when the MV Rena, a Greek container ship ran aground near Astrolabe Reef in northern New Zealand.

The oil spill that followed the crash is considered New Zealand's worst ever maritime environmental disaster, but American authorities have ruled out a possible fuel leak from the USS Guardian.

In order to prevent a spill, the US Navy pumped all the fuel and removed potentially toxic substances like lubricants or paint before a salvage plan was even drawn up.

More than 15,000 gallons diesel oil and other chemicals were safely transferred to the Vos Apollo, a Malaysian tugboat hired by the Americans.

Clashes displace 2,000 in Sulu

From Rappler (Feb 5): Clashes displace 2,000 in Sulu

About 2,000 persons were displaced from clashes between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sulu, police said Tuesday, February 5. They are now in evacuation centers in Patikul town. The displaced 349 families, or 1,870 persons, are from the remote villages of Danag (261 families), Kaunayan (66 families) and Buhanginan (22 families), according to Sulu provincial spokesman Sonny Abing III.

The MNLF said at least 50 have died in the clashes that began Saturday night, February 2, following the release of two Filipino kidnap victims in Patikul. The police and the military however are saying that 21 were killed, 13 of whom were members of the ASG.

Abing said 4 of the wounded MNLF fighters who were rushed to the provincial hospital have died.
Abing said Sulu Gov Abdusakur Tan has appealed to both groups to prevent the violence from further escalating.

"The instruction was for both groups to clam themselves so fighting would not spillover to other towns and to pacify the fighting. We don't really know the source of the fighting," Abing said.

Misuari should intervene

A senior leader of the MNLF's Islamic Command Council called on their chief, Nur Misuari, to intervene in the unrest. Habib Mujahab Hashim, chief of the MNLF's Islamic Command Council, told a local radio station that Misuari, founder of the MNLF, himself gave order to his field commander, Habier Malik, to make war with Abu Sayyaf once negotiation for the release of hostages fail.

Kidnap victims Rolando Letrero and Ramelito Vela were freed from the Abu Sayyaf camp in Patikul town but the victims’ companion, Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani, is still in the ASG's hands.

Atyani and two Filipino companions declared "missing" in Jolo, Sulu since June 13, 2012.
The MNLF, which signed a final peace agreement with the Philippine government under then President Fidel Ramos, has been helping in the release of Abu Sayyaf hostages.

Hashim believes that only Misuari can break the hostilities between their colleagues and Abu Sayyaf. “We are worried because if he will not take any action now, there’s possibility it will get worse and the number of deaths may go up,” he said.

Hashim said to date they have 23 dead, including a field commander and seven beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf. At the same time, he said about 31 fighters died on the enemy side in the fierce fighting.,000-in-sulu

"Gardening for peace" launched in Maguindanao

From the Mindanao Cross (Feb 4): "Gardening for peace" launched in Maguindanao

ELEVEN Maguindanao towns and a public school received January 28 various farm tools, chemical sprayers, assorted vegetable seeds, and organic fertilizers as initial logistical tranche for a province-wide gardening project involving housewives and school children.

Dubbed “Gulayan sa Maguindanao,” the project, to be tested in the 11 towns and at the Mangudadatu Elementary School in Mangudadatu town in the second district of Maguindanao, is parallel with the activities of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

The project aims to take advantage of the now improving security situation in Maguindanao, which provincial and OPAPP planners said can help encourage Maguindanaon women and school children to engage in backyard “food sufficiency efforts” without disruption.

“Our people were not motivated to engage in this kind of project in the past because even before they can harvest, armed conflicts occur. They move to evacuation sites and when they return home they find their gardens destroyed,” said Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu.

Mangudadatu led Monday’s release, in a simple rite in Buluan town, of the farm tools, assorted vegetable seeds, chemical sprayers, and “environment-friendly organic fertilizers” to the municipal agricultural officers of the 11 recipient towns.

The 11 towns --- Rajah Buayan, South Upi, Datu Saudi, Sultan sa Barongis, Buluan, Talitay, Parang, Buldon, Barira, Matanog, and (North) Upi --- are hosts to government-acknowledged enclaves of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Mangudadatu said the gardening project is in support of the Masagana at Mapayapang Pamayanan program of the office of OPAPP chief Teresita Quintos-Deles.

Deles and the office of Mangudadatu have more than a dozen projects in Maguindanao, mostly involving impoverished Moro communities in far-flung areas.

Upi, which is Maguindanao’s top producer of corn, was represented in the launching of the Gulayan sa Maguindanao by women representing the area’s Moro, Teduray, and Christian sectors led by Amelita Piang, spouse of the incumbent mayor of the municipality, Ramon Piang.

An ethnic Teduray timuay (chieftain), Mayor Piang, who is a member of the government panel negotiating with the MILF, said indigenous, non-Muslim groups in Maguindanao have a centuries-old tradition of maintaining gardens in their farms, but peace and security constraints have overtaken the practice, which requires continued stay in their tribal enclaves.

“Because we have peace now, it’s good to let our people have their gardens again. There is certainty they would no longer have to abandon their villages and leave their gardens because the government-MILF talks continue to gain momentum,” Piang said.

A staff of Mangudadatu, Lea Sagan, who is overseeing all projects of OPAPP in Maguindanao, said they are to expand the Gulayan sa Maguindanao projects in other towns in the province soon.

GPH, MILF form “third party” monitors

From the Mindanao Cross (Feb 4): GPH, MILF form “third party” monitors

The government’s peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) continues to achieve gains as both sides ended their 35th round of formal exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur with “many issues resolved and agreements reached.”

In a joint statement, the parties said they achieved something that made the process move forward. “A milestone with the signing of the Terms of Reference for the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT), the body that will review, assess, evaluate, and monitor the implementation of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its Annexes,” both sides said in a joint statement.

“The Parties also agreed to extend the respective tours of duty of the International Monitoring Team and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group for another year in recognition of their important roles in the peace process, without prejudice to adjustments that may be needed pursuant to developments in the crafting of the Annexes to the FAB,” it further said.

Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the GPH panel, said the four Technical Working Groups have “arrived at good compromises on many of the remaining issues,” adding that these tangible results were reaped six months after the panels formed their first two TWGs in August 2012.

Before the talks closed, the working drafts produced by the TWGs on the Annexes on Wealth-Sharing, Power-sharing, Normalization, and Transitional Arrangements and Modalities were reported to the panels for discussion and referral to their respective principals.

In all, Coronel-Ferrer said the talks had been very challenging but the two parties “have a clearer process now, and a more definitive estimate of our timeframes to complete the comprehensive agreement.”

The TPMT, whose members will be identified within one month, will be composed of representatives from local and international non-government organizations to be nominated by the GPH and the MILF. It will continue to function until an Exit Agreement between the two parties is reached.

Ferrer explained that the TPMT is different from the IMT, the former composed of nations that will help assess, review, and monitor the implementation of the agreement while the IMT monitors only the cease-fire agreement.

“Once the final peace pact is signed, the cease-fire will become permanent,” she said.

The TPMT could be composed of but not limited to the members of Organization of Islamic Conference. Several developed nations have already been participating as members of the International Contact Group.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal shared the same sentiment, saying the panels are “moving towards the right direction.”

“Hopefully, very soon, we would be able to conclude our negotiations on the substantive issues,” he stated.

“I think, for now, the light at the end of the tunnel is no longer flickering, it’s very clear,” Iqbal said.

“And the continued commitment and decisiveness of all the parties, I think, God willing, we will be able to finish the process,” he added.

Iqbal expressed the MILF’s determination to arrive at a comprehensive agreement with the government despite the challenges. “We are not entertaining any failure in these negotiations. Our minds, our hearts are focused that we must be able to conclude this process successfully.”

“Lastly, I would like to appeal to both sides – the GPH panel and the MILF panel – to start due diligence from the moment we return to our respective places and be able to report to our respective principals,” he added.

Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohammed said that both sides were able to achieve “a great step forward.”

“Initially, we are a bit pessimistic because of the slowness of the progress, especially on the working groups. But as it turned out, I think the working groups are moving fast, especially in the last two days to the conclusion of the agreement,” he said.

Reporting on the progress of the discussions on the annexes, Ghafar said that three more items need to be completed on wealth-sharing and two more on power-sharing.

The draft Transitional Arrangements and Modalities Annex has already been completed by the TWG and received by the Panels for final review of their principals.

Ghafar thanked the Philippine government for delivering its first political commitment as stated in the FAB, the creation of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (TC) through the passage of Executive Order (EO) 120.

Last December, President Benigno Aquino III issued EO 120 creating the TC that will draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law to replace the Organic Act that created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The Congress and Senate issued their respective resolutions of support to the EO.

Both the government and the MILF have continued its information campaign in various areas in Mindanao about the Framework Agreement.“third-party”-monitors

Top bandit leader, aide captured in Zamboanga

From the Mindanao Examiner Blog (Feb 5): Top bandit leader, aide captured in Zamboanga

PAGADIAN CITY  – Security forces captured early Tuesday a notorious bandit leader and one of southern Philippines’ most wanted fugitives in an operation in Zamboanga Sibugay province, officials said.

Officials said soldiers and policemen captured Munib Aukasa and his unidentified aide in the village of Langon in Tungawan town. Troops also seized two .45-caliber pistols and a hand grenade from the duo, said General Ricardo Rainier Cruz III, commander of the 1st Infantry Division.

“This is the result of a long intelligence operation and the capture of Aukasa will bring great relief to the people of Zamboanga. Aukasa is a notorious criminal who had killed many innocent people and we are glad that he was finally captured,” Cruz told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

Cruz did not say how security forces tracked down Aukasa, saying it could jeopardize the ongoing operation to locate other members of the gang. “The operation against his other gang members is still going on,” he said.

Cruz said Aukasa is currently being interrogated by authorities. He said Aukasa has long been wanted by authorities for a string of murders, highway robberies, abductions, and arson, piracy and extortion activities, and other criminality in Zamboanga Peninsula.

Cruz said Aukasa was also responsible for the killing of Staff Sergeant Aquilles Demecillo and Private First Class Ronald Toledo in December 2008; the burning of Rural Transit Bus on April 2011 and the execution of its passenger Major Julistidi Arasid, of the 18th Infantry Battalion and his wife; and government militia Lito dela Cruz.

“From January 2010 to June 2012, Aukasa is also a prime suspect in five murders; three frustrated murders; five highway robberies, nine shooting incidents; three arson cases and abductions of villagers in Tungawan town,” Cruz said.

In July 2011, Aukasa’s group stormed the village of Tigbanuang in Tungawan town and seized 6 people, including a five-year old girl, and used them as leverage for the release of his wife, who was arrested by the police for carrying illegal weapons.

Police eventually freed Aukasa’s wife in exchange for the freedom of the hostages.

Moro NGO pilots Islamic micro-financing in Socsargen

From the MILF Website (Feb 4): Moro NGO pilots Islamic micro-financing in Socsargen

Kartiyakap, Inc., a Non-Government Organization comprised of Moro peace advocates pilots Shari’a compliant micro-financing in South Cotabato, Sarangani and General Santos City (Socsargen).The financing is geared to increase the income of targetbeneficiaries and to test the viability of profit-sharing or “Islamic” financing in the region and in the country in general.
“The absence of Islamic financing is one of the factors why many Muslim constituents in the country are not able to engage in entrepreneurship or small business.” WahidaAbtahi, President of Katiyakap disclosed.

She added that financing scheme offered by banks and lending firms in the Philippines is “interest-based,” and “therefore it is Haram (forbidden) because it is not complaint with Shari’ah (Islamic jurisprudence),” she explained.

“That is why many Muslims here do not avail the opportunity to become economically stable by starting with small business or any economic activity because the capitalization that is available is interest-based or usurious in nature” she elucidated.

The woman leader saidRibba (Arabic for interest) is “strictly forbidden” in Islam and any Muslim which engages in transaction that involves interest commits amajor sin.

Last year, Katiyakap obtained funding assistance of one million pesos from Peace and Equity Foundation (PEF) as seed capital to operationalize Islamic micro-financing.

PEF is an institution which promotes social enterprise in the Philippines. Some organizations and cooperatives have tapped the foundation for financial assistance. It believes that strengthening the grassroots or ground economy contributes a lot to economic stability of the country.

Abtahi claimed Katiyakap is very lucky being entrusted of such an amount and she considered it a “rare opportunity” for a Muslim organization.

“That is why we are very careful that beneficiaries who borrow or partner with us really have the will to pay back or else if we will end up bankrupt and the trust of funders towards the Muslims shall dwindle,” she revealed.

She further disclosed that some of the beneficiaries comes from their group since they are also in need and they want to make it sure there will high rate of paying back.

Katiyakap implementsMusharakah (profit-sharing), Murabaha (cost-plus or mark-up) and Ijara (rental scheme), business transactions that are allowed in Islam.

Part of the application process is attending seminar on Islamic values, orientation on Islamic financing and passing the screening and interview by the credit committee of Katiyakap. Moreover, the trustworthiness and honesty of the borrowers or partners is checked.

Abtahi said Katiyakap needs to establish good record so that other funding institutions shall trust other Muslim organizations which intend to facilitate Islamic micro-micro-financing to benefit the Muslims constituents.

The organization, which primarily engages in peace advocacy activities in support to the peace process, believes that while waiting for the peace pact to be signed by the government and MILF, stakeholders should also do something to alleviate the Moro communities from poverty.

“We look forward that this micro-financing project will succeed so that it will serve as learning experience for possible replication by any institutions, firms or even by the local government units,” Abtahi said.

IMT, AHJAG duty extension completes security mechanisms

From the MILF Website (Feb 5): IMT, AHJAG duty extension completes security mechanisms

The extension of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) made complete still the security mechanisms on the ground of the Government of the Philippines – Moro Islamic Liberation Front (GPH – MILF) Peace Process.

Chairman of the MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), Said Shiek, expressed that when interviewed after the 35th GPH – MILF Exploratory Talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia last week. “With the mandate of the IMT and AHJAG extended for one year, the ceasefire mechanisms on the ground remains intact,” Shiek stressed.

He said the ceasefire essentially will not be as strong as had been the past years if the IMT and AHJAG will cease to function.

In the Joint Statement issued during the 35th Exploratory Talks by Mohagher Iqbal, Chairman of the MILF Peace Panel, and Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, and witnessed by Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tnegku Mohamed, the Malaysian Facilitator, pointed the extension of the tour of duty of IMT and AHJAG in recognition of their important roles in the peace process.

The IMT composed of Malaysia, Brunei, Japan, Norway, European Union, Indonesia, Nonvioent Peaceforce (NP), Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC), Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) and the Moslem Organization of Government Employees and Professionals (MOGOP) monitors on the ground the implementation of the security, socio-economic, civilian protection, and humanitarian / rehabilitation / development components of the GPH – MILF Peace Process.

AHJAG is the government and MILF mechanism for the isolation and interdiction of criminal elements that tend to undermine the peace process. The CCCH is the mechanism that works for safeguarding and promoting the GPH – MILF ceasefire accord.

For the whole year 2012, a record of zero armed encounter between government and MILF forces was realized. This could be credited to the effectiveness of the IMT, CCCH, AHJAG and the Local Monitoring Team – the fourth ceasefire mechanism.

In the past years the IMT was not with the ceasefire mechanisms on the ground, the incidents of ceasefire violations and armed confrontations were high, a situation that adversely affected that peace talks over the negotiating table.

MILF wants funds set for Bangsamoro

From the Business World (Feb 4): MILF wants funds set for Bangsamoro

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has called on participants of the ongoing Philippine Development Forum in Davao City to preserve funds intended for the Bangsamoro and not divert these to other areas in Mindanao.

In a statement posted on its Web site, the Front yesterday said it wants to avoid past incidents of projects intended for Moro areas that were rechanneled to other communities in Mindanao.

"In previous administrations, the government had sourced millions of dollars intended for conflict-affected areas in Mindanao, which were mainly in Moro-dominated provinces, but when it came to implementation, those were rechanneled to other areas," said Muhammad Ameen, chairman of the MILF secretariat.

The MILF wants to state its policy, he added, in response to "reported growing interests of many states and international aid agencies as well as investors to come to the Bangsamoro and participate in the rehabilitation and development of the new political entity."

"It is time the issue of Bangsamoro should not be dealt through the larger ambit of the Mindanao agenda," Mr. Ameen said.

Murad Ebrahim, chairman of the MILF, was invited as a speaker in the Davao event.

In a separate statement, Budget Secretary Florencio B. Abad, who also attended the event, said the forum is geared towards focusing Mindanao’s development "in view of the Bangsamoro peace framework and the region’s overall growth potential."

The peace deal, called Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, was inked in Malacañang last October. Government and Moro peace panels are finalizing key annexes of the deals on wealth and power sharing and decommissioning of rebel forces preparatory to a final peace agreement.

22 dead in MNLF-Abu Sayyaf clash after release of two captives — military

From GMANews (Feb 4): 22 dead in MNLF-Abu Sayyaf clash after release of two captives — military

(Updated 3:59 p.m.) More than 20 combatants were killed in a clash between Abu Sayyaf and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members in the hinterlands of Sulu province following the release of a kidnapped TV crew, military and police officials said Monday.

Col. Orlando de Leon, commander of the Sulu-based 2nd Marine Brigade, said that according to civilian sources, at least 22 fatalities — 14 from the Abu Sayyaf and eight from the MNLF — have been recorded so far from Sunday's gunbattle.

“Unverified reports indicated that both sides suffered casualties. On the side of the MNLF, reports that reached us show that eight died on their side. On the Abu Sayyaf, more or less 14 died on their side,” he said.

In an interview on GMA News TV Live, Sulu Police director Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra, said: "Ngayon po, tumatakbo pa rin ang mga figure na 'yan. Maaaring tumaas pa 'yan."

The clash occurred after the release of two Filipinos on Saturday, more than six months after they were abducted with a Jordanian journalist. Ramil Vela and Buboy Letriro had been kidnapped on June 12, 2012 with Jordanian TV reporter Baker Atyani of the Al Arabiya news channel. The whereabouts of Atyani remain unknown.

Fighting between the MNLF and the Abu Sayyaf broke out around 8 a.m. Sunday and lasted until 11 a.m. at the boundary of Kabuntakas and Buhanginan villages in Patikul town, the military said.

Four beheaded

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos said four of the fatalities from the MNLF were beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf.

"One of the casualties was identified as Wahab Omar and four of those killed MNLF members were beheaded while four firearms were recovered by the ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group),” he said in a statement.

The MNLF had been in the area since January 14, negotiating for the release of the hostages, Freyra said. However, the Abu Sayyaf did not want to release the hostages without a ransom.

"Nagkatagalan, nagpatuloy 'yung standoff sa magkabilang grupo," Freyra added.

When the hostages were released on Saturday, the two groups came within "seeing distance" of each other, he said.

"Talagang nagkaroon ng viewing o seeing distance na maaaring nag-ignite kung bakit sila nagkaputukan. So na-trigger siguro po ng tension sa katagal nilang pag-istambay sa lugar na 'yun kaya nagpalitan ng putukan," Freyra said.

Kidnapped foreigners still missing

Apart from the Jordanian journalist, security officials said the Abu Sayyaf is still holding a number of hostages in Sulu including Dutchman Elwold Horn and Swiss national Lorenzo Vinciguerra, who were snatched while bird-watching in Tawi-tawi in February last year, and Japanese treasure hunter Katayama Mamaito, who was kidnapped in July 2010 in Sulu.

Some 250 Abu Sayyaf men and 300 MNLF members were involved in the clash that stemmed from the Abu Sayyaf's refusal to heed the MNLF's appeal for the bandit group to stop its kidnapping activities, De Leon said.

Burgos said the military deployed troops from 2nd Marine Brigade to avert more violence.

“The AFP through the 2nd Marine Brigade, and PNP (Philippine National Police) units have prevented a spillover of the armed clash,” Burgos said. “The situation is now under control.”

Some 60 families were displaced due to the firefight and are now in the care of the municipal government and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, he said.

Photo: USS Stockdale guided missile destroyer to visit Subic Feb. 5

Posted to GMANews (Feb 4): Photo: USS Stockdale guided missile destroyer to visit Subic Feb. 5

The USS Stockdale (DDG-106), an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer of the US Navy, will arrive in Subic Bay on Tuesday, Feb. 5, for a routine port visit. This will be the Stockdale’s first visit to the Philippines. The visit is part of the ship’s nine-month deployment to the Western Pacific that began in January 2013. US Navy photo

Video Report: 2 Pinoys freed from Abu Sayyaf reunited with kin

Posted to ABS-CBN (Feb 5): Video Report: 2 Pinoys freed from Abu Sayyaf reunited with kin

2 Pinoys freed from Abu Sayyaf reunited with kin

2 Pinoys freed from Abu Sayyaf reunited with kin
02/05/2013 1:25 AM
Matapos ang halos walong buwan, nakalaya na ang dalawang Pinoy cameramen na nabihag ng Abu Sayyaf. Bumuhos ang emosyon sa muling pagkikita nila at kanilang mga pamilya. Magba-Bandila si Jay Ruiz. Bandila, Pebrero 4, 2013, Lunes
[After nearly eight months, the ordeal of two Filipinos freed cameramen who were captured by the Abu Sayyaf is over. Emotions poured out from them and their families during their reunion. Magba-Jolly Jay Ruiz. Jolly, February 4, 2013, Monday]

Video Report: 22 killed in Abu Sayyaf-MNLF clashes

Posted to ABS-CBN (Feb 4): Video Report: 22 killed in Abu Sayyaf-MNLF clashes
22 killed in Abu Sayyaf-MNLF clashes
02/05/2013 1:22 AM
Walong miyembro ng MNLF ang patay at tatlo ang sugatan sa bakbakan sa mga miyembro ng Abu Sayyaf sa Patikul, Sulu. Pinugutan at tinaga pa ang isa sa miyembro ng MNLF. Ayon sa militar, patay din sa bakbakan ang labing-apat na miyembro ng Abu Sayyaf. Magba-Bandila si Rod Macenas. Bandila, Pebrero 4, 2013, Lunes
[Eight members of the MNLF are dead and three wounded in the attack on members of the Abu Sayyaf in Patikul, Sulu. A member of the MNLF was beheaded. According to the military, fourteen members of the Abu Sayyaf were also dead. Rod Macenas. Bandila, February 4, 2013, Monday]

Photo: The crane barge SMIT Borneo arrived in Palawan on Sunday to help dismantle the grounded USS Guardian

From the Images section of ABS-CBN (Feb 4): Photo: The crane barge SMIT Borneo arrived in Palawan on Sunday to help dismantle the grounded USS Guardian

Crane barge arrives in Palawan

The crane barge SMIT Borneo, commissioned by the United States to dismantle the USS Guardian, which is grounded at Tubbataha Reef, arrives in Palawan on Sunday. The U.S. government promised to pay the fine damaged by the grounding which has now increased to 4,000 square meters.  Photo by Val Cuenca, ABS-CBN News

Photo: CPP Front Groups Conduct Protest on 113th Anniversary of the Philippine-American War

From the Images section of ABS-CBN (Feb 4): Photo: CPP Front Groups Conduct Protest on 113th Anniversary of the Philippine-American War

US-Philippine war remembered

Activists on Monday marked the 113th anniversary of Philippine-American War with protests near the US embassy along Roxas Boulevard in Manila against the continuing presence of the U.S. troops in the Philippines.The protest came amid the row on the grounding of the minesweeper USS Guardian at the Tubbataha reef.  Photo by Lito Diaz for

'US assistance to damaged reef not compensation'

From the Philippine Star (Feb 4): 'US assistance to damaged reef not compensation'

The Philippine government clarified today that the assistance that the United States vowed to provide for the rehabilitation of the Tubbataha Reef is on top of the compensation that the Aquino administration will ask following the damage brought by the stuck USS Guardian on the reef.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that the government has yet to determine the amount of fines to be imposed against the USside."That's not compensation, that's assistance. We still have to determine the amount of fines that are going to be imposed based on a final assessment on the damage caused to the reef and that has not been done yet," he said.

A statement from the US Embassy in Manila said that America, through the US Agency for International Development's (USAID) Coral Triangle Support Partnership, will provide $100,000 to a Philippine university to support coral restoration research at Tubbataha Reef in Sulu Sea.

Lacierda said that Malacanang, the presidential palace, has seen the US commitment to preserve the World Heritage site.

He said that Filipino divers will continue to conduct assessments to determine the extent of the damage made by the minesweeper.

"The final measurement of the extent of the damage will be done after the ship has been extricated," he said.

The USS Guardian has been stuck in the reef since it ran aground on Jan. 17. Philippine and US authorities have made efforts to remove the ship from the area.

Massacre Victims’ Kin Continue to Slam NPAs

From the Negros Daily Bulletin (Feb 4): Massacre Victims’ Kin Continue to Slam NPAs

"We reject money offer"

Families of the La Castellana massacre heve condemned what they called as an excuse on the part of the New People’s Army rebels as the latter justified the killing of eight civilians and one policeman and the wounding of 12 others.

Five of the victims were laid to rest Saturday amidst cries for justice by the families who have expressed disapproval of the press statement released by the lawless New People’s Army (NPA) yesterday, calling it a lame excuse.

Buried Saturday at the Barangay Cabacungan, La Castellana town were civilian massacre victims Ramir Complesa, Joselito Lucban, Virginia Ordoñez, Tiotimo Esplegera and Enrique Dingcong.
In a audio statement emailed to some media outfits here Friday, JB Regalado the NPA spokesperson blamed policemen on board the civilian canter truck as the first to have fired which allegedly prompted them to fire back not knowing there were civilians on board.

Regalado said the NPA is willing to pay damages to the bereaved families of slain innocent civilians. However, one of the widows of the victims who requested not to be named expressed disappointment on the NPA statement, saying she could not accept any money from NPA rebels as payment for the death of her husband. She said the life of her husband has no cash equivalent.

Gema Dingcong, wife of Enrique Dingcong, driver of the Canter truck, expressed condemnation on the manner her husband and other victims were shot on the head "to finish them off" quoting the perpetrators. She also claimed that the P9,000 cash in her husband’s wallet, which they were supposed to use for down-payment on a motorcycle, was lost during the ambush.

On his part, Colonel Oscar T. Lactao, Commander of the Army’s 303rd Infantry Brigade, also scored the monetary payment by the NPAs,

"It is not about money we are talking about here; it is about the loss of a loved one, of the victims’ right to live, and it is about justice." he said.

"If they (NPA) just pay damages to the victims’ families, will this justify that they can kill people unarmed and just compensate them with money?" he asked.

Lactao added that the Army and the PNP in Negros will continue working hard and soliciting local government, non-government and private individuals’ support for the families that were left behind by the victims of the unfortunate incident. "We are willing to support and assist all initiatives that will help bring justice to the victims and alleviate the sufferings of their families." he said.

Aid won’t bring dead back, NPA told

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 4): Aid won’t bring dead back, NPA told

The burial of five of the nine ambush victims, the responsibility for whose deaths has been claimed by the Leonardo Panaligan Command of the New People’s Army, was held Saturday at a public cemetery in Brgy. Cabacungan, La Castellana.

The rites turned out to be a rally, with about 1,200 mourners, some of them carrying placards, denouncing the rebel atrocities and the families rejecting an offer of assistance from the NPA.

Maria Cecilia Dingcong, wife of Enrique Dingcong, who was driving a local government vehicle to deliver the three policemen, barangay tanods and members of the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team and civilians, to Brgy. Cabacungan, La Castellana, from the fiesta, said no amount of money could bring back the life of her husband.

“I want justice and not their financial assistance”, Dingcong said during the burial of her husband Saturday.

Also buried Saturday at the Cabacungan cemetery were Ramil Complesa, Mario Ricablanca, Virginia Ordonez and Teotimo Esplegera and Joselito Lucban, whose mourners and families carried placards, expressing outrage at the incident.

Joselito Lucban and Jonathan Mateo were also buried yesterday at the Cabacungan cemetery, with about 500 residents present.

Dingcong, who described the killing of her husband as brutal and inhumane, claimed that the P9,000 her husband had in his pocket, supposedly to be used as a down payment for a motorcycle, was missing.

In a tape recorded statement furnished to the media Friday, Rebel spokesman Ka JB Regalado explained that they had no intention to stage an ambush, but only to disarm policemen and armed BPAT members. He claimed they had seized seven firearms.

Regalado apologized only for the death of civilians Virginia Ordonez and Enrique Dingcong, and the wounding of a 14-year-old boy and 11 others, during the Jan. 27 incident in Brgy. Puso, La Castellana.

Admitting lapses by their fighters, Regalado said they will extend financial assistance to the civilian victims and initiate disciplinary action against their members.

In 2009, the NPA, through National Democratic Front-Negros spokesman priest-turned rebel Frank Fernandez, also apologized for the deaths of three civilians, and injuries of four others, in an ambush perpetrated by their fighters in Brgy. Salamanca, Toboso, Negros Occidental.

The families of the victims, however, described the statement of Regalado to the media, as a “lame excuse”.

Col. Oscar Lactao, commander of the Army’s 303rd Infantry Brigade, also slammed the offer of monetary payment of the NPAs. “It is not money we are talking about here; it is about the loss of loved ones, of the victims’ right to live, and it is about justice.” he said.

“If they (NPA) just pay damages to the victims’ families, will this justify that they can kill people unarmed and just compensate them with money?” he asked.

Twelve other persons, including two policemen, six BPAT members and four civilians, were injured in the ambush on Jan. 27 in Brgy. Puso, La Castellana. The incident was described by the military and local government officials as a massacre.

If they claim to have had no intention of staging an ambush, how come that the action of the NPA rebels during the incident was so brutal? Col. Francisco Patrimonio, 302nd Infantry Brigade commander, asked, pointing out that most of the fatalities were shot in the head to ensure their instantaneous death.

Survivors of the massacre, including PO3 Constantino Villegas and PO2 Jeffrey Alvarez, however, disputed rebel claims that they were the ones who fired first, and that the victims were not shot in the head.

Villegas said the rebels were even laughing after shooting the victims in the head, including Dingcong and PO1 Richard Canja.

Patrimonio said the apology of the NPAs leadership and the alleged investigation of their members involved in the massacre is not enough to indemnity the victim’s families and affected communities.

He also dared human rights group Karapatan and its allies in Negros to denounce the massacre perpetrated by the NPA.

Lactao said the Philippine Army and the PNP in Negros will continue working hard and soliciting local government, non-government and private individuals’ support for the families left behind by the victims.

NPA admits to Negros Occidental firefight that killed civilans, but insists victims fired first

From InterAksyon (Feb 4): NPA admits to Negros Occidental firefight that killed civilans, but insists victims fired first

The New People's Army (NPA) has admitted to killing nine people, mostly civilians, in La Castellana, Negros Occidental, on January 27, but insisted that the victims fired at them first.

A report from the Visayan Daily Star quoted Ka JB Regalado, spokesman of the NPA's Leonardo Panaligan Command, as apologizing for the incident, including the wounding of a 14-year-old boy.

Regalado, in the report, said the NPA would undertake disciplinary actions against their military unit responsible for the incident as it was a violation of the NPA rules and the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Laws (CAHRIHL).

The NPA even offered "assistance" to the relatives of the victims.

He said the rebels had no intention of killing the people on board the truck that morning. They only wanted to disarm the people but were fired upon first, Regalado said.

The relatives of the victims, however, rejected the offer of the NPA. The wife of slain truck driver Enrique Dingcong said the killings were brutal and inhumane. She said P9,000 in her husband's wallet was apparently also stolen by the rebels.

Regalado denied reports the victims were all shot in the head.

Colonel Oscar Lactao, commander of the Army's 303rd Infantry Brigade, slammed the offer of assistance by the rebels.

"It is not money we are talking about here; it is the loss of loved ones, of the victims' right to live, and it is about justice," he said.

Kin of NPA victims in Negros Occidental ambush won't accept apology

From InterAksyon (Feb 4): Kin of NPA victims in Negros Occidental ambush won't accept apology

The relatives of those killed in an ambush by the New People’s Army in the central Negros town of La Castellana last week are not yet ready to accept the rebels’ apology for the death of nine people, including two civilians. This was a week after the incident that has drawn condemnation from various sides of the political spectrum.

“I have talked to the families and they said it’s really hard to accept the NPA’s apology,” Puso village chief Florencio Nellis told after the rebel group’s Leonardo Panaligan Command issued a statement admitting that one of its operating units was responsible for the incident. “It was supposed to be a disarming operation,” the command’s spokesman, JB Regalado, said in an Ilonggo tape-recorded statement sent to media outlets here.

The NPA spokesman said the rebels were able to confiscate seven firearms, among them two M16 assault rifles with serial numbers 181540 and 183397, a submachine gun with serial number 45N3, an M2 Carbine with serial number 690874, a shotgun, a 45 caliber pistol, and a .357 revolver. They were also able to retrieve night vision goggles, magazines, and ammunitions. More firearms were not recovered because it was dark at the time, Regalado said.

The NPA official also said the rebels started firing only after they heard shots from the truck in response to the warning shot fired by an NPA guerrilla.

‘We just fired back’

Killed that early morning of January 27 were Police Officer 1 Richard Canja, and Teotimo Esplegera and Mario Ricablanca, all members of the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team; the driver, Ricky Dingcong; Lito Lucban, Jonathan Mateo, Ulysses Tamayor, Ramil Complesa, and the lone female fatality, Virgenia Ordoñez.

The nine who were wounded were PO3 Constantino Villegas, PO2 Jeffrey Alvarez, Bonifacio Bayate, Cristoto Perolino, Jerry Lacquedo, Roger Bajar, Jamil Roma, Victoriano Donasco, Jason Ocsimar, all residents of the village of Cabacungan.

Apologies and assurances of punishment

We are sorry for the deaths of Virginia Ordoñez and Ricky Dingcong and the wounding of a 14-year-old teenager,” Regalado added as he assured the families of the victims that there the NPA will conduct its own investigation and punish the fighters and commanders responsible for the deaths. He said the process will follow the provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and the International Humanitarian Law.

CARHR-IHL is a landmark agreement signed between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, representing the NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines, as a result of peace negotiations on the first substantive agenda, respect for human rights and the IHL.

Regalado said the rebels will talk to the families of the civilian victims and indemnify them even as he scored Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon, Jr and acting provincial police chief, Senior Supt. Celestino Guara. “To call it a massacre is ‘non-rational’ and illogical,” he said, referring to Guara’s statement. Regalado added that the NPA rebels are not drug addicts, describing Marañon’s declaration as “not responsible and lacks thought.”

No executions

The NPA spokesman also denied claims that his group executed some of the victims by finishing them off with a shot to the head. “That is not true,” Regalado said.

But this claim that was quickly contradicted by Guara who went to the crime scene hours after the incident.

(Didto) gid ko ya sa crime scene, (eight) cadavers wasak ulo (I was there at the crime scene, eight cadavers had their skulls blown off),” he said in a text message to when asked if the results of the post-mortem autopsy had already been released by the Philippine National Police.

Radio reports had earlier quoted Berino Ordoñez that the rebels could have fired at some of the victims even though they were already sprawled dead.

He said he heard gunshots but did not see if the rebels finished off some of the victims, including one who crawled under the truck but was seen after one of the attackers shone a flashlight on him.

“I told one of the rebels we are civilians but he shot back: if you are civilians, why are you with the police?” he added.

Ordoñez survived after his wife reportedly covered him with her body.

He also took off his BPAT uniform during the firefight, which he believes is the reason why he is still alive.

“If I was still using it when they were doing the clearing operations they could have also killed me,” he said in the vernacular in an interview with dyEZ Aksyon Radyo-Bacolod.

Regalado also reminded police and military personnel not to allow civilians to ride with them in vehicles because they are simply using them as “shields.”

Armed BPAT members?

But were the members of the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team really armed?
Officials are unsure about it.

Guara told that while he might be sure that the policemen – Canja and PO3 Constantino Villegas and PO2 Jeffrey Alvarez – were armed, it has not been established in the police investigation that the BPAT members were also carrying firearms.

The three policemen brought with them the BPAT members from the Cabacungan police sub-station to help guard the benefit dance during the village fiesta of Puso.

Nellis, on the other hand, said he has not seen the Cabacungan BPAT members carrying firearms or if they were, were simply carrying them for the policemen.

Guara said BPAT members are not allowed to carry firearms unlike members of the Police Auxiliary Unit that are supposed to be established in “red areas” or places where there are armed elements of the CPP or the NPA.

The BPAT is only for those in the “white areas” or places where there are no armed elements of the rebel movement. It is also possible that officials in the two villages could not have known about whether BPAT members carried arms.

Intelligence reports have indicated that Canja was a target by the rebels for being active in setting a counter-insurgency network in the area, Guara had said days after the incident.

What is BPAT?

Launched in 2009 during the term of then PNP chief Director General Jesus Versoza, the BPAT’s mission as described in a PNP manual is “to conduct peacekeeping activities in association with the various sectors of the community and ensure their continuous support towards the maintenance of peace and order and safety.”

The manual also contains a discussion on the concept of the BPAT that: “It is along this line that a peacekeeping concept responsive to the unique peace and order condition in the Philippines needed to be crafted. The concept basically calls for PNP members to lead in the fight against all forms of criminality (including insurgency) distinct to their areas of responsibility, utilizing active citizen involvement and community empowerment.”

It also pointed out that the BPAT is also “…in response to the CPP-NPA Barangay Module being implemented by left-leaning groups in their community campaigns; their activities are characterized by deception as they profess noble intentions but actually seek to destroy the democratic institutions of our country.”

Regalado said in the same statement that they have received reports that some members of the BPAT are also being used to spy on the CPP-NPA operating in the two villages.

While Guara cannot comment if some of the BPAT members are ex-rebels, a resident of barangay Puso told dyEZ Aksyon Radyo-Bacolod that some of them could have become targets of the NPA because they “surrendered” to authorities and were made to carry firearms.

The woman, who asked not to be named, is an aunt of Canja who added that these BPAT members “strutted about” after they were allowed to carry guns.

Destroyer due in Subic amid protests vs rising US presence

From InterAksyon (Feb 4): Destroyer due in Subic amid protests vs rising US presence

Militant groups wage another protest outside the US Embassy in Manila on Monday, burning the US flag, denouncing the presence of US troops and mounting a call to save Tubbataha Reef, the marine sanctuary damaged by a US minesweeper earlier this month. PAULO VECINA, INTERAKSYON.COM

As militant groups continue to protest what they perceive to be a disguised stepping up of US military presence in the country, yet another vessel, the destroyer USS Stockdale, is set to make a “routine visit” to Subic Bay in Zambales.

The United States Embassy said the USS Stockdale (DDG-106) due Tuesday is scheduled to replenish supplies and provide its crew opportunities for rest and relaxation.

The Embassy said the visit is Stockdale’s first to the Philippines. “The visit is part of the ship’s nine-month deployment to the Western Pacific that began in January 2013,” it said.

The Stockdale was commissioned on April 18, 2009, and is home-ported in San Diego, California. The ship is named after Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale, the highest ranking US naval officer to be held as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam.

“Visiting Subic Bay provides us with a great opportunity to continue the long-term relationship between the Philippines and the United States and that is very important to us,” Commander Lex Walker, of USS Stockdale, said.

“We have quite a few Filipino-American sailors among our crew, and I hope that the citizens of the Philippines can look at our ship and see that their people and their culture are well represented and respected in the US Navy,” he added.

On board the warship are 15 Filipino-Americans, some with family ties to Baguio City, Manila, Marikina City, Orion, Olongapo City, Quezon City, and Santa Monica.

“Some, like Geno C. Uy (GSM2) and Ryan Angeles (AM2), were born in the Philippines and immigrated to the US in recent years. Others, including Joel Marsigian (AM2) and Dean Rivera-Villanueva (ADAN), were born in the United States but still have relatives in the Philippines. Many of the Stockdale’s Sailors plan to visit family while in port,” the US Embassy said.

According to Walker, the US servicemen are also scheduled to conduct community relations projects including visits to local orphanages.

Port calls raise alarm

The increasingly frequent visits of US warships to Philippine waters and facilities, especially Subic—once the US’s largest naval base outside the mainland until the bases treaty lapsed in 1991---has lately struck a raw nerve among some Filipino sectors.

The alarm raised by some groups, that the US may be using the aggressive Chinese moves in disputed waters in the South China Sea as an excuse for muscling in, was aggravated by the January 17, 2013 accident involving the minesweeper USS Guardian in Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea.

The minesweeper, for still unclear reasons, strayed into the marine sanctuary, a protected area tagged in all maps as a no-navigation zone, damaging over 1,400 square meters of coral reefs. Tubbataha is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the last rich marine biodiversity areas on the planet.

As strong currents keep sending the warship scraping deeper into the reefs, US authorities have said they will dismantle the Guardian, an operation seen to last till March.

US and Philippine authorities invoke the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which came into force seven years after the bases treaty expired, to justify the port visits of US warships and the long-term stay of US troops.

5 more foreigners being held hostage by Abu Sayyaf, police say

From InterAksyon (Feb 4): 5 more foreigners being held hostage by Abu Sayyaf, police say

The Al-Qaeda-linked extremist group Abu Sayyaf is holding at least five more foreigners hostage in the island-province of Sulu, police said.

Senior Superintendent Renato Gumban, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Anti-Kidnapping Group, said that aside from Jordanian journalist Baker Abdulla Atyani, also being held hostage are Australian Warren Rodwell, European birdwatchers Ewold Horn and Lorenzo Vinciguerra, two Malaysians and a Japanese.

The Japanese kidnap victim, however, reportedly refused to leave the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)'s stronghold as he was facing numerous charges both here and in Japan, Gumban said.

Authorities are still working for the rescue of the victims.

The ASG is reportedly demanding $3 million for Atyani while undisclosed amount of ransom was also being demanded from the other victims.

Meanwhile, the Abu Sayyaf reportedly posted a photo of Australian kidnap victim Rodwell on the internet and warned the Australian government that the victim would suffer an "unusual way of death" if the ransom would not be paid immediately.

In an article posted on British news website Daily Mail on January 31, the kidnappers warned that without a ransom, Rodwell would be executed.

Accompanying the threat was a photo of an emaciated Rodwell, seated, holding a copy of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and surrounded by three armed men whose faces were covered by balaclavas.

Rodwell, a former member of the Australian Army, was taken by the ASG in December 2011 in Zamboanga.

Freed ASG hostages: 'We don't know anything'

From Rappler (Feb 4): Freed ASG hostages: 'We don't know anything'

FINALLY OVER. Hostage victims Ramilito Vela and Rolando Letrero face media for the first time since their release with Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas. Photo from PNP-PIO.

FINALLY OVER. Hostage victims Ramilito Vela and Rolando Letrero face media for the first time since their release with Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas. Photo from PNP-PIO.

After 7 months and 20 days as kidnap victims, the long turmoil of cameraman Ramilito Vela and audio man Rolando Letrero comes to an end -- but the explanation for their release is still unknown.

In a press conference on Monday, January 4, the freed men faced media upon their arrival in Manila from Sulu to briefly recount their release. According to Vela, he and Letrero, who were hired by Jordanian journalist Baker Abdulla Atyani to do a documentary on Muslims in Mindanao.

On the night of their release Saturday, February 2, they were given horses by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which the victims rode down the mountains.The ride brought them to the capital, Jolo. Vela and Letrero then checked into a hotel, and called authorities.

"We don't know if there was money given or a negotiation, we don't know anything, we were just surprised. We were shocked that all of a sudden we were in the province of Sulu. I was shocked," Vela said in Filipino.

Interior Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas said the details surrounding the release remain unclear, but said the two will undergo a debriefing. Their accounts will help law enforcers get a better picture of how they were first taken captive, the kidnapping ordeal, and their release.

"We don't know if ransom was paid, we don't know the reason why they were let go… so it's very important for us to have a thorough debriefing in order for us to get operational details on what happened," Roxas said.

In June 2012, Vela, Letrero and Atyani were kidnapped by the ASG. The crew had met up with the extremist group for an interview, but were no longer allowed to leave.
Atyani is still with the ASG.

Atyani's status

Anti-Kidnapping Group chief Senior Supt Renato Gumban confirmed Atyani is still alive, and regularly calls his family in Dubai through a cellphone. Their last conversation, though, was in December 2012.

Gumban said the ASG has refused to change their ransom demand of US $3-M or about P122-M. He said they are constantly communicating with Al-Arabiya network, Atyani's employer. ASG members are also reportedly in touch with Atyani's family, their last communication having taken place in January.

Aside from accounts of Vela and Letriro, Roxas said PNP intelligence are working to help the police find Atyani. Vela also shared that Atyani was deeply angry at his captors over the kidnapping. "If Muslims were allowed to kill other Muslims, Baker would've already tried to kill the ASG," he said.

Tough ordeal

Vela and Letrero briefly recounted their days with the ASG.

Sitting in a wheelchair, Vela, who is suffering from severe cramps, told media they were guarded by about 400 ASG members who treated them well. "They treated us like children. They were good, they didn't hurt us. Whatever they ate, we ate. Whatever fruits we wanted to eat, we were permitted to take as long as we asked for their permission," said Vela.

Vela and Letrero said they traveled around the area on foot and sometimes were asked to wear military fatigue.