Sunday, February 17, 2013

Firefight leads to massacre suspect arrest

From ABS-CBN (Feb 17): Firefight leads to massacre suspect arrest

COTABATO - A gun battle between soldiers and car passengers at a military checkpoint led to the arrest of a suspect in the Philippines' worst political massacre when he was spotted among onlookers, an army spokesman said Sunday.

Although the suspect was not involved in Saturday's shootout he was recognized by soldiers at the scene as wanted in connection with the 2009 killing of 58 people, allegedly by a powerful political clan, said Colonel Dickson Hermoso.

Talimbo Masukat was one of many curious civilians who had gathered at the scene of the firefight before he was spotted and arrested, Hermoso said.

The soldiers had been searching passing cars at a checkpoint in the strife-torn southern island of Mindanao when passengers in one vehicle opened fire, sparking a firefight that left one gunman dead and a soldier wounded.

Masukat's family said he was innocent and had been arrested due to a case of mistaken identity. Hermoso said if that were the case then authorities would soon release him.

Masukat is alleged to be one of dozens of followers of the powerful Ampatuan political clan that is accused of carrying out the massacre of 58 people, including women, lawyers and journalists, in November, 2009.

The clan is accused of carrying out the slayings to prevent a rival candidate from running against an Ampatuan in elections in May 2010.

Although key Ampatuan clan members are now being tried for the crimes, dozens of other suspects remain at large, raising fears they will intimidate witnesses while attempting to protect the clan's interests.

The trial is seen as a test of whether the Philippines can abolish the "culture of impunity" surrounding powerful figures who feel they can commit crimes without fear of punishment.

Government lawyers and human rights advocates warn that the trial could take years due to delaying tactics by some of the wealthy defendants and an overburdened legal system.

Waves, wind delay salvage of USS Guardian

From the Philippine Star (Feb 18): Waves, wind delay salvage of USS Guardian

The Malaysian tug Vos Apollo (foreground) prepares for defueling operations near the grounded USS Guardian Jan. 24, 2013 while a U.S. Navy small boat approaches with a salvage team. Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. James Stockman said Wednesday Jan. 30, 2013 that dismantling the USS Guardian was determined to be the solution that would involve the least damage to the Tubbataha Reef, a protected marine sanctuary where the ship got stuck Jan. 17. - AP

Although the crane ship commission to lead the salvage of the US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian is now in Tubbataha Reef Natural Park in Palawan, the operation has yet to begin.

In a TV interview, Lieutenant Commander Armand Balilo, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman, said the rough waves and strong wind are preventing the M/T Jascon 25 from beginning the salvaging operation.

"This is why we say that we will begin the operation as the weather permits it. It all depends on the weather, and once the weather clears, we will begin," Balilo said.
He added that the ship that ran aground the World Heritage Site is no longer incurring further damage as it has remained "stable".

"The PCG assesses that the damage remains at 1,500 square meters," Balilo said.
The US has assured the DFA that Washington will "provide appropriate compensation for the damage" to the Tubbataha Reef caused by the grounding of the USS Guardian.
The USS Guardian will be salvaged to prevent it from causing further harm to the World Heritage Site.

The US Embassy has earlier said the US Agency for International Development will grant P4.1 million to a Philippine university to support coral restoration research at Tubbataha Reef.

CHR condemns NPA for landmine attack in Tagum City

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 18): CHR condemns NPA for landmine attack in Tagum City

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has condemned the New People’s Army (NPA) for the continued use of landmines to attack government forces.

During her recent visit here, CHR chairperson Etta Rosales said that using of landmine is a violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and the International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).  “This is definitely a condemnable act. The NPA should be punished of this,” Rosales said.  A government soldier was wounded after communist rebels planted a landmine in Barangay Magdum in Tagum City Saturday morning.  Major Jake Thaddeus Obligado, chief of Army's 10th Infantry Division's Civil Military Operation Battalion (CMOBN), said the victim is still being treated at a hospital in Tagum City.  Obligado said the landmine exploded around 10 a.m. Saturday as the vehicle of soldiers belonging to the Army's 66th Infantry Battalion was passing through Barangay Magdum.  "The troops led by First Lieutenant Nabora were tasked to get materials needed in a rehabilitation of New Bataan in Compostela Valley by the Task Force Tambayayong (TFT)," Obligado said.  Lt. Col. Lyndon Paniza, spokesperson for the Philippine Army's 10th ID, said the incident caused delay in the rehabilitation efforts in Compostela Valley affected by the Typhoon Pablo.  "The rebels are not thinking of the safety of the travelers for they can afford to lay landmine along the national road," Paniza said.

NPA member surrenders to 26th IB

From the Philippine  Information Agency (Feb 17): NPA member surrenders to 26th IB

A member of the New People’s Army (NPA) whose name was withheld for security reason voluntarily surrendered to the 26th Infantry Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, based in Barangay San Nicolas, Talacogon, Agusan del Sur on February 11.

Report from the army said the surrenderee was a team leader of the NPA’s Guerilla Front 34 under Maximo Catarata a.k.a. Ka Boyet Tindugan of the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee.

The army added that subject was convinced to return to the folds of the law to cooperate with the government after series of symposia and information drives conducted by the AFP, the local government units (LGUs), local government agencies (LGAs and rebel returnees in the areas in Agusan del Sur. He (the surrendered rebel) brought along with him his M16 rifle with one magazine and ten live ammunition, according to the negotiating teams of the 26th IB.

“Nagpasalamat ako sa tanan nga nagpaluyo niining programa sa gobyerno kay nahatagan ako og husto nga tubag sa tanan nga issues batok sa atong gobyerno. Mitahan ako tungod kay dili na gayod kaya sa akong konsensya nga makita ang atong mga igsoon diha sa akong lugar nga nagkalisod tungod sa among sige pangayo og kwarta og pagkaon nga sa among hunahuna, maoy ilang tabang sa kalihokan. Sa kasamtangan, daghan pa gayod sa akong mga kaubanan nga NPA ang gusto nga motahan sa ilang kaugalingon kay wala nay klaro ang among armadong pakigbisog. (I am thankful to all those who are behind this program of government because I was given the right and correct answer to all the issues against the government. I surrendered because I can no longer resist the torture that my conscience is telling me, seeing the people in my area suffering from hardship in life because of our extortion activities, while we believe it was one way they could help our wrong arm struggle. At present, there are many of our former comrades who wish to surrender because they are already confused what are the purpose of our armed struggle),” the surrendered rebel said.

Lt. Col. Jose Leonard Gille, Commanding Officer of the 26th IB meanwhile thanked the concerted efforts of the troops, the LGUs, the LGAs and the rebel returnees who heartily exert their efforts in encouraging the NPAs to lay down their firearms and cooperate with the government make the country peaceful. He assured the surrendered rebel of the bes treatment from the government.

Col. Cresente Maligmat, Officer-in-Charge of the 402nd Infantry Brigade also said they will double their efforts in helping our misguided fellow Filipinos in their area of responsibility to lay down their arms. “This is also what we wanted to happen so that there will be no fighting, no bloodsheds and no lives will be wasted,” added Col. Maligmat. (1LT Joe Patrick Martinez & 1LT Krisnen Peter Sarsagat, 402nd Inf. Brigade/David Suyao/PIA-Agusan del Sur)

AFP find ways to make sure rebel returnees don’t go back to the mountains

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 15): AFP find ways to make sure rebel returnees don’t go back to the mountains

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is tracking New People’s Army (NPA) surrenderees or rebel returnees to ensure they do not go back to the mountains.

“We track them person-to-person kung asan na sila to make sure they are back in the mainstream,” 10th Infantry Division Commanding General Major General Ariel Bernardo said during the Hermes Club press conference held at the Waterfront Hotel Friday.

“We had a total of 442 surrenderees and 220 regular surrenderees in 2012,” Bernardo said. He clarified that regular surrenderees are not armed but are involved with the movement.

He said the AFP was very successful in the implementation of its program to encourage rebels to surrender. However, he added, “Nililimas nga namin ang surrenderees eh marami naman ang bumabalik (we scrounge for surrenderees and many do come back).”

The campaign was very centralized before so we are looking at this now to make sure that they do not only surrender but also remain with government, he said. We are confident that we will have more surrenderees who will really stay, considering the involvement of the local chief executives in the program, he added.

Bernardo said they are working with other government agencies like Tesda to ensure that the rebel returnees are trained in livelihood programs. “We teach them tilapia raising and we get them involved in agri-gulayan sa barangay,” he said.

Army invites young Siquijor residents, join the army

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb17): Army invites young Siquijor residents, join the army

The Philippine Army (PA) calls on young Siquijor residents to join the army and register for the examinations on March 2 at 8 a.m. at the Siquijor Capital Square, Siquijor, Siquijor.

Army Recruitment Office-Visayas, Sgt. Wenceslao Cainglet, said this is the first time that the PA comes to Siquijor to offer the exam because it saw in the past, young residents had been coming to Manila to take the exam. "We want to help interested individuals from spending much for their travel,” Cainglet added.

So instead of applicants going to Cebu or Manila, officers of the Philippine Army bring the exam to the island.

For Officer Candidate Course (OCC), qualifications are: Baccalaureate Degree, Single without child, 21—24 years old at start of training, at least 5 feet in height both male and female, physically and mentally fit, and with no pending case in any court.

For Candidate Soldier Course (CSC), he/she must have 72 units in college, if high school graduate (male only), must possess skills needed in the military service, single without a child, 18 to 26 years old at start of training, at least 5 feet in height both male and female, physically and mentally fit, and with no pending case in any court.

Officer Preparatory Course (OPC) are for commissioned in the Reserve Force as 2nd Lieutenant, single without a child, Not more than 31 years old on date of Call-to-Active Duty, at least 5 feet in height both male and female, physically and mentally fit, also with no pending case in any court.

Requirements during examination are College Diploma or Transcript of Record for college graduate or high school diploma and Form 137/138 for high school graduate (male only), NSO birth certificate, valid identification card, pencil number 2 and should be in white T-shirt and pants.

Sabah set to deport 300 armed Filipinos

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 18): Sabah set to deport 300 armed Filipinos

Malaysia is not recognizing the 300 armed Filipinos who illegally entered Sabah last week as legitimate residents of the territory, and has decided to deport them back to Sulu in southern Philippines.

Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib on Sunday said the gunmen had agreed to be deported but asked for a meeting with a prominent figure before deportation.

Hamza did not name the prominent figure, but said the police were making concerted efforts to arrange the meeting.

Speaking to reporters in Kota Kinabalu on Sunday, Datuk Seri Salleh Mat Rasid, director of the Bukit Aman Internal Security and Public Order, said talks with the intruders were over and that deportation proceedings would begin soon.

The armed group styling itself as the “Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo” is holed up in the seaside village of Tanduao in Lahad Datu town, where they landed in speedboats on Feb. 12 after crossing the sea from Simunul Island in the Philippine province of Tawi-Tawi.

Their leader, Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of a descendant of the sultan of Sulu, claimed that he and his group, Tausug like most residents of Sabah, were returning to their “homeland” and demanded that they be recognized as the Sulu sultanate’s royal army and not be deported from the territory.

“We are not entertaining any demands. Actually, we are not giving them any kind of recognition,” Salleh said.

“We were there to ensure everyone’s safety. We are now finalizing the details of the deportation process,” he said.

Sabah claim

As reported in Manila, Agbimuddin’s group is pressing the claim of the Sulu sultanate to Sabah, which the administration of President Aquino appears to have put aside to avoid complications in the Malaysia-brokered peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

But in Malaysia, the government and the security agencies report no relation of the Sulu sultanate’s claim to Sabah to the intrusion by Agbimuddin’s group.

“There has been a lot of untrue reports and speculations about this incident,” Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein said on Saturday, referring to reports that the intruders were militants or supporters of the Sulu sultan.

“I wish to stress that we will not in any way compromise the safety of Sabahans and the security of the state. Allegations that the government has compromised on this are not true,” he said.

Hamza denied that a descendant of the Sulu sultanate and a relative of Agbimuddin, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, was assisting the talks with the gunmen.

“There is no such personality with such a name involved,” Hamza added.

If the Manila reports are true that Agbimuddin and his group traveled to Sabah to press the sultanate’s claim to the territory, they did it the wrong way, Hamza said.

“They came in illegally so this is the wrong platform. We advised them to go through the right channels and told them that we are sending them back,” he said.

In Manila, Malacañang said it was “disturbed” that Agbimuddin’s “journey,” supposedly authorized by a “royal decree” issued by Jamalul in November last year, happened at a time when the Aquino administration was threshing out a final peace agreement with the MILF.

“We find it disturbing that these incidents are occurring just as we are nearing a deal that will bring peace and development to Muslim Mindanao,” Strategic Communication Secretary Ricky Carandang said in a text message to the Inquirer.

Carandang refused to comment on reports that Agbimuddin’s so-called journey had to do with the Sulu sultanate’s claim to Sabah, saying the claim was a “delicate and sensitive issue.”

“[W]e will deal with it in a way that upholds our national interest. Beyond that it would not be prudent to discuss specifics,” he said.

Go to the UN

Also on Sunday, Harry Roque, a professor of law at the University of the Philippines, said Agbimuddin’s action should prod President Aquino to bring the Philippines’ claim to Sabah to arbitration in the United Nations.

Senatorial candidate Ernesto Maceda, a former Philippine ambassador to the United States, also said the government should consider bringing the Sabah claim to the UN.

Roque said Agbimuddin’s entry into Sabah was symptomatic of a long-pestering issue that the government had ignored in view of Malaysia’s role as facilitator in the peace talks with the MILF.

“Under international law, the Sultanate of Sulu should not have been the party pressing this claim, but the Philippine state,” Roque said. “This is something that the government seems to have forgotten. They have a right and they’re enforceable under international law.”

Maceda, a former senator, said a more vigorous pursuit of the Philippine claim could help resolve the territorial question involving the eastern Malaysian state.

“Renewed government effort is the only way to stop the followers of the sultan of Sulu from taking up arms and invading Sabah to press their claim,” he said.

Malacañang deferred comment on the Inquirer’s report Sunday about Jamalul Kiram’s 2010 letter to President Aquino on the Sulu sultanate’s stand on the peace negotiations with the MILF.

But Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process was looking into reports that the Kirams felt left out of the peace negotiations.

MILF: Editorial--Education and the Moro ‘Problem’

Editorial posted to the MILF Website (Feb 15-21): Education and the Moro ‘Problem’

There is general truth to the view that education is the final clincher to solving the Moro Problem, nay ‘Question’, in Mindanao. There’s hardly any contrary view to it, because without education, no one can find the proper right path in this world, because it puts one’s potentials to maximum use.

Basically, the importance of education are two-fold: 1) it makes man a right thinker. Without education, no one can think properly in an appropriate context. It tells man how to think and how to make decision; and 2) it is only through the attainment of education that man is enabled to receive information from the external world. Without education, man is as though in a closed room and with education he finds himself in a room with all its windows open towards the outside world.

The first verse of the Qur’an starts with “iqra”, an Arabic word for read; and in its larger context, it is education. This showcases how Islam puts education as key to man as God’s vicegerent of God on earth.

However, to over-stress education as the long term solution to the Moro Question is to miss the point already settled by the Parties in the current negotiation that this “Problem” is political in nature. It is about negotiation to restore back to the Bangsamoro people their right to self-governance in a state-substate asymmetrical relationship.

Even if all Moros are sent to schools and get the best education possible, their assertion of their right to self-determination will continue. In truth, the more they are schooled, the more their assertion becomes more intense and intellectually upright. It is a cardinal truth in almost all revolutionary struggles in the world that they are invariably led by people of understanding or those who attained some degree of education?

Examine the MILF, MNLF and its various factions, the NDF, and other struggles such as in Cuba, Vietnam, China, Algeria, Palestine, South America, etc. Perhaps the only exceptions were the Katipunan led by Andres Bonifacio and the jihadic struggle by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon) who cannot read and write.

To recall, the government and the MILF agreed at the start of their negotiation in 1997 to have only one agenda: How to solve the Bangsamoro Problem. They have identified nine issues and concerns and education was one of the finer details of social and cultural discrimination.

 Education amongst Moros had been generally neglected and a high school graduate was and is only equivalent to grade six graduate in Metro Manila. This is the reason the MILF had listed education as second priority in its list when it agreed to partner with Aquino administration, as part of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the Sajahatra Bangsamoro Program. It could have put this in the number one spot but people cannot go to school with empty stomachs and for which reason, basic livelihood projects got the premier spot in the list.

The MILF is fully aware that good and correct education is key to solving most of the ills of society that can propel them to development and progress. But again to put education as the all-embracing solution to the Moro Problem is to gloss over the fact that this problem is political.

MILF: MILF to send 2 to UN ceasefire mediation in Norway

From the MILF Website (Feb 17): MILF to send 2 to UN ceasefire mediation in Norway

The MILF is sending two members of its ceasefire committee to participate in the 2013 United Nations Ceasefire Mediation and Management Course in Norway on February 25- March 8, this year.

The training is jointly sponsored by the Norwegian Defence University College (NDUC), Norwegian Defence Command and Staff College (NDCSC), Norwegian Defence International Centre (NODEFIC), and the United Nations Department of Political Affairs.

The members of the MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) or simply ceasefire committee nominated to participate in the training were Rasid Ladiasan, secretary of the MILF CCCH, and Abbas Salung, also MILF CCCH member, who hails from Basilan.

Organizers disclosed that negotiations and management of cessation of hostilities and ceasefire arrangements are a critical part of war to peace transitions.

They also admitted that currently there exists limited guidance or experts to assist mediators and their teams to navigate this aspect of peace-making. This situation is further compounded by the fact that ceasefire arrangements have become much more complex in their objectives and their approaches. Today, ceasefire arrangements no longer only seek to stop the military engagement between opposing forces, but also to protect civilians, as well as lay the foundations for a political process.

They also explained that the key objectives of this training course are: 1). Skills development: the training seeks to provide the participants with: a) improved skills in general mediation; b) understanding of the different typologies of ceasefires; c) specific skills of planning and carrying out ceasefire negotiations; d) drafting skills of ceasefire agreements; and e) tools on implementing ceasefires and linking them to the general support to a post conflict country; 2) Forming a community of practice: the training will contribute to the development of ceasefire expertise in different institutions and with diverging backgrounds. The aim of the training is to allow for the sharing of experiences and to build a small but substantive community of highly skilled experts on the mediation of ceasefires; and 3) This training course will cover the following substantive areas of ceasefire negotiations and management: (i) understanding the context or conflict environment; (ii) identifying the key actors,.....

MILF: Moros in Egypt gather on FAB; Murad as guest

From the MILF Website (Feb 18): Moros in Egypt gather on FAB; Murad as guest

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim Moro students, workers in Cairo Hundreds of Moro students and overseas workers in Cairo, Egypt organized a forum on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) last February 4 where no less than MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim was the guest of honor. The Moro society in Cairo sponsored said forum.

Chairman Murad and two other MILF officials were in Cairo to attend the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit held on February 2-7.

“The FAB is a road map to establish our own government, the Bangsamoro government,” Chairman Murad said.

He said the Bangsamoro people must be thankful to Allah for it is one of the fruit of their struggle in more than four decades of continuous struggle and this be preserved, saying the payment is the blood of our martyrs and fellow strivers (mujahideen) who sacrificed their lives in order to regain our identity, rights, and freedom.

He said the FAB is the first agreement which was supported by the international community, such members of the European Union, the United States, Japan, Islamic world, and the United Nations.

On the issue of annexes, Chairman Murad disclosed that the remaining issues of the four Annexes (power-sharing, wealth-sharing, transitional arrangement and modalities, normalisation) might be finished by next round of the talks so that the signing of comprehensive agreement will follow immediately.

On his part, Ustadz Muhammad Shuwaib Ya’acob, Executive Director of the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA), has urged the participants to acquire more knowledge and skills in order to face the challenges ahead.

Meanwhile, MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari also attended the summit but he didn’t sit in the meeting with the MILF delegation for reason still not known.

One of the Moros, an official of the Society, denied what was have been posted in Misuari’s Facebook that ‘all’ students & workers in Cairo attended the meeting called by Misuari, saying only about 30 attended.

He also advised Misuari not to implant the culture of ‘hate and aversion’ among the Moros, citing his bitter criticism against Chairman Murad.

Pinoys to leave Sabah

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 18): Pinoys to leave Sabah

Police set up meeting with ‘prominent figure’

Malaysian authorities on Sunday said the process of deporting the 100 Filipinos who crossed over to Sabah from Simunul Island in Tawi-Tawi to press their claim on the island had started as the negotiations were “over.”

Bukit Aman Internal Security and Public Order director Datuk Salleh Mat Rasid said the authorities were ready to deport the Filipinos.

“We are in the process of deporting them home,” Malaysia’s The Star quoted Salleh as saying.

Sabah Police chief Datuk Hamza Taib said the group would be deported “soon” but did not elaborate.

He said the Filipinos had asked for a meeting with a prominent figure before deportation.

Taib said the police were making concerted efforts to arrange the meeting. “We can’t say when they will be deported, but they have accepted it,” Taib told reporters in Felda Sahabat.

The Filipinos, led by Sultan Muhammad Faud Kiram, and claiming they were heirs of the Sultan of Sulu, had holed up at the seaside village of Tanduo after landing in the area on Feb. 12.

Their arrival resulted in a standoff with Malaysian authorities who urged them to surrender their weapons.

But the Filipinos on Friday refused to leave Lahad Datu, a coastal town in Northern Borneo, despite the appeals from Philippine and Malaysian governments as the standoff there entered its second day.

The Star on Sunday said police, army and maritime security forces had tightened their circle around the village within Felda Sahabat 17 after the negotiations stopped.
Salleh said Malaysia was not entertaining the Filipinos’ demand that they be recognized as the Sulu Sultanate army and not be deported from Sabah.

Salleh made his statement even as former Senator Ernesto Maceda on Sunday said the Philippines should now consider bringing its claim to Sabah before the United Nations because the people of the Sultanate of Sulu have a legitimate claim on it.

“Renewed government efforts is the only way to stop the followers of the Sultan of Sulu from taking up arms and invading Sabah to press their claim,” said Maceda, a former senator and ambassador to the United States and a candidate for senator of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance.

“The Philippine government should now seriously consider bringing its claim to the United Nations,” Maceda said.

“It has been neglected and sleeping for a long time. It’s time to act to regain what is rightfully ours.”

Maceda said the people of the Sultanate of Sulu had a legitimate claim to Sabah, noting that the British and Malaysian governments used to pay rent on Sabah to the Sultan of Sulu.

He said the Sultanate of Sulu ceded to the Philippine government its title and sovereignty to the President Diosdado Macapagal in 1962.

There are an estimated 150,000 Tausugs in Malaysia, most of them Malaysian citizens living in Sabah, while another 12,000 live in the Kalimantan provinces of Indonesia. There are about 900,000 Tausugs in Sulu province, the traditional territory of the Sulu sultanate.

The sultanate leased, in perpetuity, much of the eastern part of North Borneo to the British North Borneo Company in 1878 for 5,300 Mexican dollars a year, an amount continuously paid until 1963.

But the British turned over the territory, allegedly without the consent of the Sultan of Sulu, to the Federation of Malaysia on its creation in 1963.

A few years before the creation of Malaysia, the British and Malay governments purportedly held a survey on Borneo about the residents’ sentiments on joining the Malaysian federation, and that the supposed survey showed that most residents wanted to join the federation.

The survey was rejected both by the Philippines and Indonesia, which has also claimed ownership of northwestern Borneo, which is now the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

On Saturday, Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said the military will conduct more patrols on the Philippine borders with Malaysia to avoid aggravating the situation in northeasters Borneo.

Alliance To Serve Maranao Villages

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 16): Alliance To Serve Maranao Villages

The convergent program of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) dubbed Health, Education, Livelihood, Peace and Synergy (HELPS) was launched in Lanao del Sur and Marawi City over the weekend, enabling ARMM executives to immerse with Maranao leaders and villagers in pursuit of the government’s peace overture in Southern Philippines.

Heads of implementing line agencies led by ARMM caretaker-Governor Mujiv Hataman kicked off personally the program in the villages of Rantian in Ditsaan-Ramain, Lanao del Sur, and Cabingan in Marawi City.

Though belonging to opposing political parties in the upcoming elections, host officials including City Mayor Fahad “Pre” Salic and provincial Governor Mamintal “Bombit” Adiong Jr. welcomed the convergent program, saying it would boost their respective thrusts in the localities.

Hundreds of mostly Maranao residents in the two villages received Philippine Health Insurance membership cards, free pneumococcal and tetanus toxoid vaccinations, and eye examinations alongside high-bred seeds of vegetable and orchard plants. Their children were also served with nutrient foods in separate supplemental feeding ceremonies.

Hataman also turned over to the villagers the management of warehouses and solar dryers, which the ARMM government built earlier in the recipient villages, Regional Interior and Local Government Secretary Macmod Mending Jr. said.

Mending alongside ARMM OIC-Vice Governor Bainon Karon, concurrent social welfare regional secretary, and Dr. Kadil Sinolinding Jr., regional health secretary, accompanied Hataman in the launching ceremonies.

The HELPS program, which the Hataman administration conceived last year to synchronize line agencies’ services in preselected communities, was first launched in the stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Albarka, Basilan, early this month.

Hataman said the program will also be launched in selected towns of Maguindanao on February 25.

He said HELPS is a regional version of what President Aquino kicked off on February 11 in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao for the MILF communities. The local version is focused primarily for poor civilian villages, he said.

Philippine rebels ready to free 2 prisoners-of-war

From the Mindanao Examiner (Feb 17): Philippine rebels ready to free 2 prisoners-of-war

Communist rebels holding a captured government soldier and a policemen in the southern Philippines have declared a four-day unilateral truce in preparation for the safe release of the prisoners, the New People’s Army said Sunday.

It said the suspension of military offensives takes effect on February 19 in the towns of Kapalong, San Isidro, Asuncion, New Corella, all in Davao del Norte and Laak in Compostela Valley.

Rubi del Mundo, a rebel spokesperson, said the suspension of NPA offensives is in response to the decision of the National Democratic Front in Southern Mindanao to free Private First Class Jezreel Maata Culango, of the 60th Infantry Battalion, and Police Officer 1 Ruel Pasion who were captured separately on January 17 in Compostela Valley province.

“While on temporary ceasefire in the aforesaid areas, the NPA remains in active defensive posture against the enemy’s attack,” Del Mundo told the Mindanao Examiner, adding the Philippine Army should also reciprocate the truce to pave way for the early release of the prisoners.

Del Mundo said the NPA investigated the duo to determine whether they were involved in human rights abuses or anti-people military operations in the provinces.

“As an act of humanitarianism, the NDF deems it appropriate to archive the documentation pertaining to its preliminary investigation against the two POWs who were involved in the 60th Infantry Battalion and Philippine National Police's counter-revolutionary and anti-people military operations in Compostela Valley and Agusan boundaries,” Del Mundo said.

“The investigating body formed by the NDF found the two POWs to have committed lesser offenses, and thus recommended for their release. This, however, does not prevent the revolutionary forces from initiating future arrest against the two POWs should they be found to commit crimes against the people and other human rights abuses.”

There was no immediate statement from the military about the planned release of the prisoners, or whether the army would reciprocate the NPA truce.

The NPA, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been fighting for decades for the establishment of a separate state in the country.

AFP: Civilian wounded in Samar ‘encounter’

From the Business Mirror (Feb 17): AFP: Civilian wounded in Samar ‘encounter’

THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said a civilian was wounded in an “encounter” last Tuesday between government troops and paramilitary forces in a village in Samar.
In its official statement, the AFP said initially that an undetermined number of “NPA insurgents fired upon Army troops and paramilitary forces conducting a dialogue with residents of Barangay Guindaulan, Rosario, Northern Samar.”
The attack, the AFP said, led to the death of a Pinarican Cafgu Active Auxilliary (CAA) member and the wounding of a resident, two military troops and one CAA.
While the AFP did not name the deceased, it said the wounded civilian was one Raul Estellero, a resident of Barangay 3, Rosario, Northern Samar.
The other wounded were: SSgt. Dionald Opilanda, Sgt. Arnold Miranda and CAA Jonar Estellero.
The AFP claimed an “undetermined number of NPA insurgents was also wounded” in what the government military institution later said was an “encounter.”
The AFP statement said the “encounter” is “another attempt to harass military personnel.”
The statement came nearly a week after the NPA Leonardo Panaligan Command (NPA-LPC) said they are “deeply saddened that civilians were hit” in an ambush that killed eight civilians and a policeman in La Castellana town, Negros on January 27.
“We assure you that those in the NPA unit responsible for what has occurred will be subject to disciplinary action,” the NPA-LPC said in a statement issued on February 9.
The AFP said it “denounced the attacks against civilians perpetrated by the NPAs” that led to the death of 10 and wounding of nine civilians for the month of January alone.
The AFP said in 2012 “the NPAs were responsible for 374 violent incidents that caused the death of 53 civilians over the country. Rounding up the statistics, an innocent civilian was killed by the NPA every week last year.”

NPA hikes ‘fees’ it charges candidates

From the Business Mirror (Feb 17): NPA hikes ‘fees’ it charges candidates

COMMUNIST rebels have increased rates they charge to politicians who are seeking support or asking to campaign in areas where the New People’s Army (NPA) has significant presence.
The Army’s 8th Infantry “Storm Troopers” Division operating in Eastern Visayas reported that it intercepted documents indicating that the fees for the “permits to campaign” and “permits to win” (PTC-PTW) being charged by the NPA to all local candidates have increased by as much as 150 percent.
Those seeking congressional seats or running for governor are now being charged P5 million, or P3 million more than what the Armed Forces said the NPA was charging gubernatorial and congressional candidates in 2010.
During that year’s elections, “the NPA issued PTC-PTW cards to candidates in exchange for payment of their ‘Electoral Alliance Fee,’” the Armed Forces said in a statement.
Citing the 8ID report, Col. Arnulfo Marcelo B. Burgos Jr., Armed Forces Public Affairs Office chief, said that “these cards were color-coded according to the price and the office the politician was running. The blue card, worth P2 million up, was being offered gubernatorial and congressional candidates.”
“The yellow, green and red cards, priced between P10,000 and P500,000, were intended for other candidates.”
The 8ID said that for this year’s elections, the NPA is charging candidates running for vice governor P500,000; for provincial board member and mayor, P100,000; for vice mayor, P75,000; and for councilor, P50,000.
“The NPA is still actively pursuing this scheme,” the 8ID said.
The division said the cards bore serial numbers and the signature of the
local NPA leader.
“It is usually during the election season that the NPA exploits the political ambition of certain candidates by vigorously imposing this scheme,” said the Armed Forces.
Burgos said military records show that in 2010, the NPA collected some P25 million through extortion.
However, the National Democratic Front-Eastern Visayas said in a statement issued last month that “the alleged price list by the revolutionary movement for PTC-PTW fees ‘is an invention’ by the 8ID.”
“The 8ID is maliciously trying to reduce into a mere financial transaction the otherwise highly significant reality of politics,” the statement said, quoting a spokesman named Santiago Salas.
Salas added that “politicians recognize there are two governments in the country today.”
“In negotiating for electoral access, they thereby accept the authority, territory, and the laws and policies of the people’s democratic government.”
The Armed Forces said the NPA has started sending these “rates” to politicians, specifically those in Northern Luzon and Eastern Visayas.
Burgos added that the Armed Forces “will continue to perform its mandated task in line with the election period by intensifying its security patrols and random checkpoints with the National Police and Commission on Elections.”

Salvage of US Navy ship to start

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 17): Salvage of US Navy ship to start

The US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian, which is stuck in the Tubbataha Reef in Palawan, will be “chopped up” beginning Monday, a ranking Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) officer said on Saturday.

PCG Palawan District commander Commodore Enrico Evangelista said the crane ship MT Jascon 25 was expected to arrive at 11 p.m. Saturday while salvaging operations for the Guardian would begin Monday.

“For the past month, we prepared the USS Guardian for removal and the best way to remove (it) is through cutting,” Evangelista said in an interview.

“We have already removed the things that can be removed so now (the ship) is ready for removal. We will begin cutting (tomorrow),” he added.

Evangelista said they removed “50-caliber machine guns, small guns and ammunition but no missiles.”

The United States earlier hired the services of salvaging ships MT Trabajador 1 of Malayan Towage and Salvaging Corp. and the Vos Apollo of a Malaysian company based in Singapore. The US Navy’s USNS Salvor and the PCG’s BRP Romblon are also at the site.

Evangelita said the chopped up parts of the ship would be placed on the Vos Apollo and transferred to a barge from Subic Bay.

“This is a warship of the US Navy so they will determine where it will be disposed. I still don’t know what they intend to do with it. The ship may have a design that is a trade secret,” he said.

He said that the Philippine government no longer needed the ship parts in its investigation into the grounding incident.

In Baguio City, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya on Saturday ruled out the possibility of sending the crew of the USS Guardian to jail for running aground on Tubbataha Reef.

“It becomes tricky in that respect,” Abaya told reporters when asked if the US Navy personnel could be imprisoned for destroying the coral at Tubbataha as provided in Republic Act No. 10067, the law that established the Tubbataha Reef National Park.

Abaya said it was accepted in the general practice of international law that “men of war, foreign naval vessels enjoy immunity, especially if it is in the line of duty.”

“So that has been practiced nationwide, so it would be difficult on that part,” Abaya said on the sidelines of the Philippine Military Academy homecoming in Fort del Pilar. Abaya is a member of PMA Class ’88.

Nonetheless, Abaya said the US Navy would still be sanctioned for the damage its minesweeper caused to the reef that has been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations.

The USS Guardian, which ran aground at Tubbataha on Jan. 17, destroyed some 4,000 square meters of coral.

But Abaya said the overall damage to the reef had yet to be “assessed” because the ship was still stuck there.

The only way to have an “accurate picture” of the damage is if the ship is removed, he said.

US Navy sanctions Subic contractor

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 17): US Navy sanctions Subic contractor

The United States Navy has disqualified its contractor in the country from joining future bids after a Philippine Senate inquiry established the firm’s liability and recommended sanctions for dumping sewage into Philippine waters off Subic Bay.
The US Navy also warned Glenn Defense Marine (Asia) Pte. Ltd. (GDMA) that should its violations continue, its current contract would be terminated.

“The US Navy’s contract with GDMA requires that it comply with applicable laws, codes and regulations as part of performing the work in the contract and provides remedies the contracting officer can take if GDMA fails to meet those requirements,” Sky Laron, director of corporate communications at the Naval Supply Systems Command (Navsup) Fleet Logistics Center Yokosuka, said in a statement sent by e-mail to the Inquirer.

Laron cited the results of the investigations conducted by Philippine government agencies following the uproar over the dumping issue last year.

“As a result of the contracting officer’s review of the investigation report of late November 2012 by the Marine Environmental Protection Command of the Philippine Coast Guard, the US Navy’s contracting officer cited GDMA for noncompliant work (work that was performed that did not comply with Philippine laws, codes or regulations) and noted its failure to comply with contract terms for consideration in future competitions,” he said.

He said the US Navy had followed the Senate investigation of the waste dumping incidents involving GDMA and had reviewed the result of the probe.

In a Feb. 5 report, the Senate committees on foreign relations and on environment and natural resources said GDMA violated the country’s environmental and marine protection laws when it unloaded 200,000 liters of sewage it had collected from US Navy ship USS Emory Land near Subic Bay in October last year.

The report, sponsored by Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the committee on foreign relations, said GDMA failed “to comply with the government’s permitting process” and was liable for dumping the untreated sewage in sea waters that had not been designated for that purpose by Philippine marine authorities.

The report also cited GDMA’s failure to acquire “the necessary accreditation as a hazardous waste collector and transporter.”

Laron said the US Navy was aware of the report from the Senate investigation “and intends to fully cooperate with the Philippine government in its enforcement of its laws, codes and regulations.”

He said the US Navy was also monitoring whether the Philippine government would initiate cases against GDMA for its offenses.

“[The US Navy] will be following with interest actions that may follow from the report’s recommendation that the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) initiate administrative proceedings against GDMA for its failure to comply with applicable environmental and marine protection laws and regulations,” he said.

“The US Navy remains a committed steward of the environment and places a high priority on the protection of ocean water quality and marine life,” Laron said.

The Senate report also said GDMA’s case highlighted the government’s failure to protect the marine environment despite an extensive body of laws.

“The laws and policies governing marine pollution control in the Philippines are anchored on at least 25 legislative and policy mechanisms,” the report said.

“The case at hand is a classic illustration of how legislation remains good on paper, but is unable to achieve the policy goals defined in these laws,” it said.

“There is no formal coordinating mechanism between and among the DENR, PCG and SBMA with respect to the enforcement of marine protection laws, particularly in areas under the administrative supervision of SBMA. It is precisely in the absence of such coordinating mechanism that Glenn Defense was able to impose its own interpretation of our laws, rules and regulations, with neither the SBMA, DENR nor PCG intervening in ways that public interest will be upheld,” it said.

PH to pursue national interest in Sabah claim – Palace

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 17): PH to pursue national interest in Sabah claim – Palace

Malacañang was “disturbed’’ by the journey of an armed group from the Sultanate of Sulu to Sabah amid significant developments in the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but it vowed to uphold national interest in the country’s dormant claim to Malaysia’s eastern state.

University of the Philippines Law Prof. Harry Roque said the journey, which has led to a standoff between the sultanate’s forces and Malaysian authorities, should prod President Aquino to bring the country’s claim to Sabah to an arbitration before an international court.

And unless the country’s claim to Sabah is put to rest, it would always stick out as a “nuisance’’ in Philippine-Malaysian relations, according to Roque.

“We find it disturbing that these incidents are occurring just as we are nearing a deal that will bring peace and development to Muslim Mindanao,’’ Strategic Communication Secretary Ricky Carandang said in a text message when sought for comment.

In talks facilitated by Malaysia, the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has been hoping to forge a final peace agreement before the end of March in 2013, preparatory to setting up an autonomous Bangsamoro territory.

Last Monday, the President launched a socio-economic program for the 12,000-strong rebel group inside their stronghold in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

Roque said the entry of Crown Prince Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram and armed members of the sultanate’s royal armed forces into Sabah was symptomatic of a long-pestering issue that the government has ignored in view of Malaysia’s role as facilitator in the peace talks.

“This has been the elephant in the room. This should have been discussed after the Ramos administration,’’ said Roque, director of the UP Law Center’s Institute of International Legal Studies, said by phone.

The Philippine government has the right to press the Sultanate of Sulu’s proprietary claims to Sabah, but several administrations have failed to do so, mainly because Malaysia has been brokering talks with the Moro insurgents, Roque said.

“Under international law, the Sultanate of Sulu should not have been the party pressing this claim, but the Philippine State. This is something that the government seems to have forgotten. They have a right and they’re enforceable under international law,’’ he said.

But if anything good could come out of the standoff in Sabah, it should be the realization by the Philippine government that “there is an interest to be espoused,’’ he said.

Carandang characterized the country’s claim to Sabah as a “delicate and sensitive issue.’’

“And we will deal with it in a way that upholds our national interest. Beyond that it would not be prudent to discuss specifics,’’ Carandang said.

Rajah Mudah and hundreds of his followers from the Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo set off for Lahad Datu in Sabah by speedboats last Monday, in what the Prince called a “homecoming.’’

Malaysian security forces surrounded them after they landed on the shore of the village of Tunduao in Lahad Datu.

The entry of the Rajah Mudah’s group into Sabah and the Sabah claim are now being seriously studied by the Office of the President and the Department of Foreign Affairs, according to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, senior political adviser to the President.

Roque said the President could bring the country’s claim to Sabah before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and hoped that Malaysia would agree to such an action.

If the government filed a claim with the United Nations to compel China to respect Philippine rights to explore and exploit resources in the West Philippine Sea, it could do the same with its claim to Sabah, Roque said.

“If we’re able to challenge China, why not Malaysia? It doesn’t involve a superpower,’’ he said.

The problem is that such an action would prosper if both parties agree to it. But Roque pointed out that Malaysia has agreed to similar actions in its island disputes with Indonesia and Singapore.

“That’s a good indication Malaysia will agree to bringing it to the ICJ,’’ he said.

Just because it facilitated peace talks with the MILF, Malaysia should not expect the Philippines to stop pressing its claims to the island state on the northern tip of Borneo, Roque said.

“The only foreign affairs issue here is the Sabah claim. Mindanao should be a domestic issue. As far as Malaysia is concerned, it has internationalized the domestic issue thinking that its involvement in the peace process may lead to the issue being forgotten. I don’t think we should fall for that ploy,’’ he said.

“Malaysia should deal with the issue. It should not expect the peace process to affect the country’s Sabah claim,’’ he added. He said since it has interest in the Sabah issue, Malaysia should not have been involved in the peace talks from the start.

Both Malaysia and the Philippines are claiming ownership of Sabah. The dispute, however, can’t be brought before ICJ unless both sides agree to this.

Foreign affairs officials said that the government has not completely abandoned its claim to the Malaysian state. The claim has been put in the back burner because of the Philippines’ bilateral relations with Malaysia, which has been brokering talks with the Moro rebels.

The Philippines made its claim to Sabah in 1962 after the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo gave the government, then under the late president Diosdado Macapagal, legal authority to negotiate on their behalf.

The Sultanate of Sulu obtained Sabah from the Sultanate of Brunei as a gift for helping put down a rebellion. It leased Sabah to the British North Borneo Co. in 1878, but Sabah became part of Malaysia when it gained independence in 1963.

While Sabah became part of Malaysia in 1963, Kuala Lumpur pays an annual rent of 5,300 ringgit ($1,600) to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu.

Malacañang declined comment on the possibility of sending an emissary to Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, the acknowledged leader of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo who issued a royal decree authorizing Rajah Mudah, his younger brother, to be in Sabah.

Jamalul, who is in Manila undergoing dialysis treatment, said he had written Mr. Aquino about the sultanate’s “noble dream’’ when he assumed office in 2010. He said he was open to sitting down with officials of the administration.

“We’d like to defer comment on that, and the DFA will be the one who will give us updates on the situation in Sabah if and when they deem it to be necessary,’’ Undersecretary Abigail Valte, deputy presidential spokesperson, said over government-run radio.

Sulu sultan won’t budge

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 17): Sulu sultan won’t budge

Undaunted amidst mounting pressure from both the Philippine and Malaysian governments, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, the acknowledged leader of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo insisted that his royal decree that authorized the presence of his younger brother, crown prince Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram and the combined civilian and armed followers in Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia, stays.

“My decree is not about war. We are not waging war. I sent my brother in Sabah in the name of peace and in exercise of our historic, ancestral and sovereign right over Sabah,” Jamalul told the INQUIRER in a phone interview facilitated through members of his family who were beside him as he was resting after undergoing his regular dialysis treatment.

Jamalul is in Metro Manila and is guarded by family and close relatives.

Asked as to until when his decree stays? Jamalul said, “For as long as necessary. Sabah is our homeland and the international community acknowledges this. If we have to go to the United Nations we will do so. It is upon us, the leaders of Sulu to claim back what is ours,” the sultan added.

Does he have any message for the Philippine government?

“Everything I want to tell the President, I already told him in a letter sent to him, shortly after he assumed the presidency in 2010. I told him in that letter that it is the noble dream of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo to achieve unity, peaceful survival and economic prosperity and to be able to achieve that, the Sabah issue cannot be ignored,” Jamalul said.

Jamalul is 74 years old, the eldest among the Kiram brothers who are direct descendants of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo. He ran and lost for senator in the 2007 National Elections under the Team Unity of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Abraham Julpa Idjirani, secretary general and spokesperson for the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo said, Jamalul was supposed to meet on Saturday afternoon with some officials of the Aquino administration but was not able to do so because of the dialysis treatment.

Jamalul’s wife Fatima Celia told the INQUIRER that her husband has been undergoing dialysis treatment for more than a year now.

Open to talks with Palace

Idjirani said, they are open to talks with any official sent by Malacañang as he was already contacted by several officials of the Aquino administration since the standoff in Lahad Datu, Malaysia, was reported in the media. He did not identify the officers who got in touch with him but mentioned the agencies these officials are attached to. “Magpahinga lang si Sultan Jamalul, at pag naka-pahinga na siya, puwede na naming harapin ang sinumang opisyal na gustong makipag-usap sa kanya (After resting, Sultan Jamalul can face any official who wants to talk to him),” Idjirani said.

The INQUIRER also learned from another independent source who wished not to be identified that President Benigno Aquino III was informed of the presence of civilian and armed supporters of the Sultanate of Sulu in Lahad Datu, Malaysia, as early as the morning of Feb. 11 through one of his Cabinet members. “But at that time, the report was still sketchy and we had no idea who the group was. But the President was alerted about this on Day 1 of their landing in Sabah,” the source said.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser in the Peace Process had no comment on Saturday on the Kirams’ claim that they were taking back Sabah.

In Lahad Datu in Sabah, Agbimuddin told the Inquirer that he only follows and receives order from Jamalul and no one else. No one can force us to leave. Even if I, as crown prince of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo is guarded by armed men belonging to our royal security forces, we will never provoke any encounter,” Agbimuddin said.

Assorted arms

Members of the royal security force are armed with assorted long firearms, Agbimuddin said. “M-14, M-16, M203, Baby Armalite, basta assorted ang dala namin (we have all kinds),” he explained when asked what type of firearms they were carrying.

The active recruitment for members of the royal security force of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, according to Agbimuddin, began in 1999 but training only began in 2001 in Simunol, Tawi-Tawi, Isabela, Basilan and even in mainland Zamboanga. “Sa Grand Stand pa nga kami ng Zamboanga nag-physical fitness exercise at alam ng Southcom ’yan (We do our physical fitness exercises at the Zamboanga grand stand, and the Southcom knew it),” Agbimuddin added.

The Southcom he is referring to is the Southern Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines based in Zamboanga City and the Grand Stand is the one near Cawa-Cawa Boulevard.

Relatives on board

Who takes care of their logistics? Like food and other basic necessities since their landing in Lahad Datu?

Agbimuddin said, most of the residents of Tanduao, Lahad Datu, are Tausugs and relatives of the ones who went with him on board a motorboat from Tawi-Tawi. “Hindi kami magugutom dito at ang mga babae na kasama namin, sila ang nagluluto para sa amin (The women who are with us are doing the cooking).”

Will other groups with the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo follow him in Lahad Datu?

More coming

Agbimuddin answered that was his understanding, but he said he didn’t know when. There might even be more, he said.

Another source from Sulu told the Inquirer that a group identified with a local political clan with a stronghold in one municipality there is reportedly getting ready to follow Agbimuddin in Sabah. The source identified the political leader as a relative of the Kirams and also a former mayor and a former member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) known then as the “Tiger of the MNLF.”

“The mayor is getting ready and waiting for the order from Sultan Kiram III to proceed [to Sabah],” the source said in Filipino, adding that the influential leader in Sulu, now in his early 60s, command a force of more than 200 men.

Air Force obtains last batch of 8 new W-3 Sokol helicopter

From the Philippine Star (Feb 17): Air Force obtains last batch of 8 new W-3 Sokol helicopter

With the arrival of two helicopters in Manial early this morning, the Philippine Air Force has received all the eight brand new W-3A Sokol helicopters purchased from Poland, the military said.

The Philippines spent P2.8 billion ($70 million) for the acquisition of the helicopters. Air Force spokesman Miguel Ernesto Okol said, "With the complement of the eight (Sokols), these will greatly improve our search and rescue capability."

Okol said the senior leadership, including Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Air Force chief Lauro Catalino dela Cruz, decided last year to utilize the Sokol aircraft for search and rescue missions because they are twin-engine and have more modern avionics.

The Polish firm delivered the four Sokols in February last year while two others were flown in to the country nine months later. All the six previously-delivered Sokol helicopters are now being used by the Air Force.

The PZL W-3 Sokol helicopter is a medium-size, twin-engine and multipurpose model made by Polish helicopter manufacturer PZL-swidnik.