Saturday, March 9, 2013

Kiram camp says Sultan brother still safe as Malaysia steps up assaults

From GMA News (Mar 10): Kiram camp says Sultan brother still safe as Malaysia steps up assaults

Hunt for elusive Sulu gunmen continues in Sabah

Malaysian soldiers search house-to-house at an area where Filipino gunmen are believed locked down in Tanduo village in Sabah on Friday. Malaysian forces expanded its hunt for armed Sulu invaders who dodged a military assault meant to crush them. Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III has declared a unilateral ceasefire on Thursday and ordered his followers in Sabah to observe evasive and defensive postures. Malaysia has rejected the ceasefire offer. AFP/Malaysian Defense Ministry

The brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III remains safe amid intensified efforts by Malaysian forces to flush him and other followers out of their hiding places in Sabah, the sultan's camp said Sunday.

Princess Jacel Kiram, the sultan's daughter, said in a radio interview Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram is "safe" and in good condition.

"Nasa Lahad Datu siya, nakausap natin siya kahapon (He is still in Lahad Datu when we last talked to him Saturday) ... He's so safe," she said in an interview on dzBB radio.

She said God is protecting him because he has "a good heart."

Meanwhile, Malaysian forces intensified their hunt for the Kiram followers, according to a report on Malaysia's The Star online.

On Saturday, elite forces returned to Kampung Simunul to conduct a house-to-house search, as they swept rugged terrain between two coastal villages.

The report said the search by 100 personnel from the Special Branch, General Operations Force and Marine Police at Simunul started 7 a.m.

Simunul headman Panglima Ramli Sarahman said he instructed village security personnel to help the police locate houses that had been vacated.

Also on Saturday, Malaysian security forces intercepted three boats off Tanjung Batu and detained 27 men.

"Excluding the latest arrests, security forces have detained 79 people since the offensive against the armed Sulu group began on March 5," The Star online said.

Photo: U.S. Philippine conducted joint humanitarian assistance operations in Negros Oriental

Posted  to the Negros Chronicle (Mar 3):

U.S. and Philippine Army  personnel  in cooperation of the 302nd  brigade conducted a joint medical, health , optometry and reconstruction operations in Negros Oriental as they arrive with a plane load of assistance goodies for victims of disaster and earthquake in Negros Oriental.

U.S. and Philippine Army personnel in cooperation of the 302nd brigade conducted a joint medical, health , optometry and reconstruction operations in Negros Oriental as they arrive with a plane load of assistance goodies for victims of disaster and earthquake in Negros Oriental.

Photo: U.S. and Philippine soldiers unload supplies in Negros Oriental

Posted to the Negros Chronicle (Mar 3): Photo: U.S. and Philippine soldiers unload supplies in Negros Oriental

Plane loads of boxes of medicine, food and construction items were flown by U.S. troops with assistance from the 302nd bridgade  for typhoon, landslides and earthquake victims of Negros Oriental. (By F. Baesa)

Plane loads of boxes of medicine, food and construction items were flown by U.S. troops with assistance from the 302nd bridgade for typhoon, landslides and earthquake victims of Negros Oriental. (By F. Baesa)

Sultan debunks casualty report

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 9): Sultan debunks casualty report

The Sulu Sultanate on Friday disputed casualty figures released by Malaysian security forces, saying its “royal army” in Sabah had suffered only 10 fatalities, with 10 others captured and four injured.

“The royal security forces only clashed with Malaysian police commandos once and that happened on March 1. That’s why we call it the ‘March 1 Massacre,’” the sultanate’s spokesman Abraham Idjirani said in an interview with radio station dzMM.

Idjirani based his figures on reports from the brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, Agbimuddin Kiram, who led the sultanate’s 235-member force that took over a remote village in Lahad Datu town in Sabah Feb. 9.

Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and daughter Princess Jacel Kiram address reporters at the sultan’s house in Taguig City. MANNY PALMERO

Idjirani said the 10 Sulu fighters died during the firefight on March 1, but after the clash Malaysian security forces claimed the violence spread the following day to the town of Semporna and 18 others, purportedly Filipino gunmen, were killed.

In the latest assault on Wednesday, Malaysia said they killed 32 followers of the sultan, bringing the total fatalities to 60, including 52 militants. Eight Malaysian policemen were killed in skirmishes last weekend.

But Idjirani said Agbimudding dismissed the Malaysian reports as propaganda, and said some of the deaths might have been innocent Malaysian civilians. He said the sultanate did not suffer additional fatalities because they became extra careful after the March 1 assault.

Philippine Navy officials on Friday said they rescued 121 Filipinos on board two motor launches escaping Sabah toward Tawi-Tawi as Malaysian security forces intensified their attack against the sultan’s forces and rounded up their suspected Filipino supporters.

“The two-motor launch convoy was spotted by our BRP Sultan Kudarat patrol ship at around 6:30 a.m. some 10 nautical miles off Taja Island in Tawi-Tawi. They were coming from Sabah. Our patrolling personnel immediately assisted them and escorted them to Bongao,” Lt. Commander Gregory Gerald Fabic said.

The Navy deployed patrol ships in the territorial boundaries of the Philippines and Malaysia to block possible reinforcements of the Sultanate forces from Mindanao.
“All of them came from Sandakan, Sabah fleeing to Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. They are expected to arrive there tonight,” Fabic said.

The Foreign Affairs Department, meanwhile, asked Kuala Lumpur for access to the 10 followers of the sultan who had been captured last week in Sabah, to ensure their humane treatment.

Department spokesman Raul Hernandez said the request was in line with the Vienna Convention on consular relations.

Malaysian security forces launched the offensive to evict Kiram’s supporters who entered Sabah’s coastal town of Lahad Datu by boat to assert the sultanate’s claim on the territory.

Kiram, whose ancestors once owned several islands in Mindanao and Northern Borneo, purportedly sent his followers to Sabah to reclaim their homeland.

Kiram has declared a unilateral ceasefire but said his men will remain in defensive mode. Malaysia rejected the temporary truce and demanded unconditional surrender of the Filipinos.

Hernandez said the Philippine government will continue to explore all avenues to reach a peaceful solution to the crisis and avoid further loss of lives.

But as Malaysia rejected Kiram’s call to reciprocate their declaration of ceasefire, Hernandez said “it appears the “only option left” for the sultanate to save lives is “to lay down their arms.”

From the Palace, a presidential spokesman said President Benigno Aquino III would not ask Malaysia to reconsider its decision to reject the unilateral ceasefire declared by Kiram.

“The decision has already been made by the Malaysian government. Prime Minister Najib Razak has already spoken on that matter,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

Lacierda said Mr. Aquino was looking into “possible avenues still” of letting Najib know that there were “ringleaders.”

“There were others who were deceived. We’ve seen in some reports in media, that some members of the Royal Sultanate forces were promised to be paid six hundred dollars and positions in the Sultanate. That is not being denied [by the Kirams],” he said.

He, however, denied that Mr. Aquino and Najib came to an agreement that the Kirams must “surrender without preconditions.”

The two leaders had the same position on the followers of the sultanate who remain holed up in Sabah.

“Our concern is for a win-win solution for them as well as for us, for them to be able to preserve their lives. And that’s the reason why we have asked them to lay down their arms and that continues up to now,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda said the most the government can do at this point is to seek full access to 10 Filipinos who are reportedly detained by Malaysian forces in Sabah.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Friday expressed hope that the problem in the Malaysian state of Sabah could be resolved soon after fighting there had already claimed several lives.

As a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Indonesia will encourage diplomatic means to resolve the problem, the head of state said.

“I will pursue a diplomatic approach in the near future, because it`s bad (if the incident is prolonged). (But) it does not mean that Indonesia will intervene in Malaysia`s internal affairs. No,” Yudhoyono said.

Also on Friday, two Mindanao-based bishops urged the President to soften his stand against the armed group in Sabah and help them solve the issue.

Jolo Bishop Angelito Lampon said that Aquino should open the lines of communications between the sultan and his followers and stop criticizing them.
Bishop Lampon chairs the Episcopal Commission on Interreligious Dialogue of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

“I know the government is trying to focus in Mindanao and its different community development projects but the claim of the Tausugs has long been there. We need a little attention,” the prelate said.

“The Aquino administration must do something to address the grievances of the Tausugs who are currently fighting against Malaysian security forces,” he added.

Cagayan De Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma added that he was hoping for a more compassionate response from the government due to the issue’s sensitivity.

“To MalacaƱang, they should handle the issue with sensitivity and with regard to the discipline of our Muslim brothers,” Ledesma said.

The church leaders feared that the escalating violence in Sabah might affect the ongoing peace talks in Mindanao between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

“I hope this will not affect the Bangsamoro framework agreement because it’s so important for Mindanao today,” he said.

In an interview aired over the ANC cable news channel, Julkipli Wadi, dean of the University of the Philippines’ Islamic Studies said Southeast Asian countries should deploy peacekeeping forces to the area to stop the violence.

Wadi also said international institutions should help the parties involved in the crisis to abide by the United Nations’ call for the implementation of humanitarian law.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged all parties to end violence and resolve the dispute through dialogue.

In Tawi-Tawi, Philippine National Police chief Director General Alan Purisima urged police to intensify their security efforts amid the ongoing conflict between the sultanate’s followers and Malaysian security forces.

“Your familiarity with every name and face, of family and blood relations, of every nook and cranny of the province will be essential in maintaining an atmosphere of calmness and sobriety in order to prevent this issue from being blown out of proportion,” said Purisima, who visited the Sultanate Royal Army camp, accompanied by local officials and respected elders led by Tawi-Tawi Gov. Sadikul Sahali.

Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya said the Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur remained open despite a number of protests staged over the Sabah incursion.

“We have a job to do, particularly to extend humanitarian assistance to those who have been displaced or otherwise adversely affected by the incident, and to ensure humane treatment to those who have been wounded and captured,” Malaya said.

“The officers and staff of the Philippine embassy are working doubly hard and are focused on these tasks,” he added.

Squad Challenge Marks Army Anniversary

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 10): Squad Challenge Marks Army Anniversary

The 7th Infantry (Kaugnay) Division of the Philippine Army has kicked off a number of activities in this camp, leading up to the 116th Anniversary of the Philippine Army on March 22, a military general said yesterday.

Major General Gregorio Pio P. Catapang Jr., commanding general of the 7ID, said part of the celebration was the conduct of a three-day Infantry Rifle Squad Challenge.

Catapang said the competition was participated in by different field units of the army, including the 3rd Infantry Battalion, the 24th Infantry Battalion, the 48th Infantry Battalion, the 56th Infantry Battalion, and the 81st Infantry Battalion.

The infantry rifle squad is the smallest unit of the army but they are called the “cutting edge” of the organization because they are the ones who are in the frontline and execute the plan in the accomplishment of a mission.

The Infantry Rifle Squad Challenge was conducted to test individual readiness, execution of squad movement techniques, determine technical proficiency of the squad leaders in the performance of his duties as well as the individual members as part of the team and to assess their collective competency and cohesiveness as a unit in any situation that arises.

The challenge also tested capability readiness, esprit de corps (common belief in attaining a goal), teamwork, physical stamina and mental capabilities to test the best infantry rifle squad of the Division.

“This was also a chance for our non-commissioned officers (NCOs) to improve their leadership skills in leading the squad. It is a way to empower our NCOs and give them the responsibility in leading their squad during combat and non-combat operations. Our NCOs comprises the most number in the organization and they are called the ‘backbone’ of the army,” said Catapang.

The Army general said the challenge was divided into three independent phases.

The first phase of the competition focuses on the required individual readiness skills of the squad members. This phase includes the following; Physical Fitness Test (PFT), General Knowledge / Information, Communications (Harris Portable Radio, Manpack and Handheld) and Weapons (Semi Automatic Weapon (SAW) M249, SAW K3, M4, M16, M14 & M203).

Pacific Angel Descends On Guihulngan

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 10): Pacific Angel Descends On Guihulngan

Residents of a mountain area in Guihulngan town, Negros Oriental worst hit by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in 2012 received free medical care from joint Filipino and American soldiers who partnered in undertaking the Operation Pacific Angel - Philippines (PACANGEL Philippines) mission. A US Pacific Command humanitarian mission that sends primary care, dental, optometry and civil engineer experts to different countries each year to partner with their militaries and NGOs.

The earthquake survivors, who have been without medical clinic in their area since the devastating earthquake in February last year, travelled four hours on board a Philippine Army truck to avail of the free medical services offered by Philippines and US military personnel.

The humanitarian medical and civil engineering mission, kicked off last March 4 at five worksites throughout Negros Oriental Province, is comprised of 55 service members from the US Air Force, US Navy and US Marines and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), as well as a number of local non-government organizations.

Residents from said earthquake-affected as well as from conflict-affected parts in Negros Oriental were given free medical and dental check-up while others received eye glasses.

The Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division spokesman, Maj. Ray C. Tiongson said the many of the patients were malnourished and suffering from illnesses such as goiter, ulcer and blindness

Medical service corps officer from Osan Air Base, South Korea Capt. Eddie Donovan said they came to the Philippines to offer help in however they can.

For his part, Pacific Angel-Philippines mission commander from the Hawaii National Guard, Lt. Col. Alvin Alana, said, “Within our resources, we want to care for those who need our help most. These families have lost a lot, and if we can make their life a little better, that is the right thing to do; this is what Pacific Angel is all about.”

AFP 2nd Lt. Ruth Sandra said the medical services offered by the mission is so important for the earthquake survivors that they rode in the military trucks for four hours just to make it to the mission site.

"They are so thankful for the medical treatment," added Sandra, who came to Negros Oriental from a neighboring island to participate in the operation.

The added workload didn't seem to faze the mission whose two medical sites provided primary, dental and optometry care, as well as physical therapy.

"There was always a Filipino doctor working alongside his American counterpart," said medical administrator from Misawa Air Base, Japan, Master Sgt. Kimona Woodward. "It was good to see them team up like that."

US military personnel noted that the patients who received treatment did not avoid expressing gratitude for the assistance.

"It was amazing how much reading glasses can make someone's day," said Staff Sgt. Dwain Tolvert, an optometry technician from Kadena Air Base, Japan.

Local government officials likewise expressed their gratitude to both the AFP and US military personnel for the humanitarian mission,

"We are very honored to have you here in Negros Oriental,” said Negros Oriental Governor Roel R. Degamo. “You are making a difference throughout our province.”

Operation Pacific Angel is a US Pacific Command humanitarian mission that sends primary care, dental, optometry and civil engineer experts to different countries each year to partner with their militaries and NGOs.

The US Pacific Command humanitarian mission undertakes primary care, dental, optometry and civil engineer experts to different countries each year to partner with their military counterparts and local NGOs.

VIDEO | Killed Sulu 'general' not Agbimuddin, says Malaysia

Posted to InterAksyon (Mar 8): VIDEO | Killed Sulu 'general' not Agbimuddin, says Malaysia

Malaysia Inspector-general of police Ismail Omar on Friday said the Sulu “general” who was earlier killed by Malaysian forces was not Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, the leader of the followers of the Sulu sultanate and the brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

PROFILE | Raja Muda: athlete, fisherman, tribal leader on 'mission impossible' in Sabah

From InterAksyon (Mar 9): PROFILE | Raja Muda: athlete, fisherman, tribal leader on 'mission impossible' in Sabah

Sultan Jamalul Kiram III gestures in a press conference to explain the mission that his younger brother, Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, had embarked on. BERNARD TESTA, INTERAKSYON.COM

The fresh explosions near the defensive positions of Raja Muda Agbimuddin’s group in Sabah may seem far from the Astanah Kiram in Taguig City, but inside the modest home of his older brother Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, family members closely monitor the latest news about him and his small contingent.

As unconfirmed news of more deaths among the Filipino sultanate followers who went with the Crown Prince continue to filter in through social media, news websites and text messages from Malaysian and Filipino sources, sat down Saturday with several family members. We wanted to know the man who, with his elder brother’s blessing, undertook a courageous, but still-vague mission to reclaim their "homeland" in North Borneo.

The sultanate’s spokesman and the sultan’s family first of all strongly denied reports in the social media—which they blamed on Malaysian government propaganda—that the Raja Muda had finally been killed since Malaysian forces started their assault on the Sulu force one week ago.

As of yesterday, we spoke around 2:30 p.m. Friday March 8, the Crown Prince Raja Muda is alive and well but always on the run, they are mobile,” according to the sultanate’s spokesman Datu Abraham Idjirani. The sultan also spoke with his brother later Friday, according to some reports.

Asked about the Raja Muda’s journey to Sabah, Datu Shayeed or “Dats,” second child of the Crown Prince, replied, “Siempre magkahalong lungkot at bagabag ang nararamdan ko dahil sa kabiglaan sa insidenteng ito [I feel a mixture of sadness and anxiety over the sudden turn of events].”

Who is the Raja Muda and what makes him still a warrior when, at his age (72), he should be simply a venerable man who has retired, reads books, writes his memoirs and plays with his grandchildren and great grandchildren?

According to Dats, they were all brought up like the typical children of a Filipino household. “We grew up in a normal setting; we played football, soccer and volleyball; we played all sorts of the typical Filipino children’s games.”

His father is very athletic. “My father loves to box, he is also a star player in their basketball team, But never a violent person, always diplomatic.” A fisherman and a farmer, his athletic bent and cool demeanor made him ideal to lead the Royal Sulu Forces, he added.

They grew up quite distant from their father, whom they treated with utmost deference and respect, he says, adding, “I am closer to my mother Haj Nurkisa.”

Their father is a man of few words. “He won’t speak unless you address him, but he always exudes the air of authority and dignity. He has a certain appeal to those he rules. He is often busy attending to the needs of the people. That is also why we [his children] don’t bother him so much.”

Raja Muda knows many people, because after studying at the Sulu Trade School in Jolo, he landed a teaching job in a Tawi-Tawi school.

His wife Haj Nurkisa is also a teacher. They have 10 children, five girls and five boys.

Dats said it’s his father who initiates calls to them, and leaves short updates on their situation in Lahad Datu, where a full-scale assault by air and land has been mounted by Malaysian security forces, despite an appeal by the United Nations for an end to violence and a dialogue among parties; and the response of Sultan Kiram last Thursday for a unilateral ceasefire.

“They [Suluanons in Sabah] are okay. Their decisions are like law to us, they bind us. If they say they won’t come back here, they won’t.”

“It’s okay with all of us because we have submitted our fate to Allah.”

Meanwhile Datu Abdilnasser, a younger brother, told they have always treated their older siblings [Sultan Jamalul, Raja Muda] with respect. “Way back when we were young and they were still unmarried, they have guided us and provided for us [younger siblings].”

“We rarely spoke with them at length because of their public roles,” said Abdilnasser, the 11th child among the 13 Kiram siblings.

A grandson recalls

Datu Jamal Ruddin Kiram, 23, HRM student at the Unibersidad de Zamboanga, is the son of Datu Nashz Ruddin Kiram, eldest son of Sultan Kiram Jamalul III. Married with an infant son, he recalled the soft side of his grandfather (Sultan Jamalul).

He says the sultan wept as he was getting married in 2011, because he had married young.

He hopes to work abroad.

Despite their lineage, he recalls living a normal childhood, tagging along with his grandmother in their small businesses in Jolo, among others.

When the Sultan went home with some family members to Jolo in 2012, he recalls they led a humanitarian caravan to help poor communities.

Jabidah: The Pinoy fighters trained in the 1960s to 'reclaim' Sabah

From GMA News (Mar 9): Jabidah: The Pinoy fighters trained in the 1960s to 'reclaim' Sabah

An elite group of fighters were secretly trained in different parts of the Philippines in the 1970s with only one mission in mind – to reclaim Sabah from Malaysia.

They were called the Jabidah, a contingent of Moro fighters from Sulu, Basilan, and Tawi-Tawi who were trained in Manila, Corregidor, and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.

The mission failed, ending in the Jabidah Massacre or Corregidor Massacre on March 18, 1968, nearly 45 years ago.

According to a report of the news site Pinoy Weekly, the Jabidah Massacre "refers to the massacre of a number of young Moro recruits from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, with estimates ranging from 28 to more than 200, by their military handlers in the island of Corregidor."

The report said the infamous massacre "triggered the Muslim uprising in recent time and reawakened their quest for self-determination."

Jabidah members from Tawi-Tawi

Meanwhile, on "State of the Nation," reporter Ian Cruz said Major Eduardo Matelino led the training of roughly 200 Jabidah members in Camp Sophia, Siminul, Tawi-Tawi.

Two of the men Martelino trained were Hadji Abdul Hakim Akbar and George Usman.

They were not part of the Jabidah contingent who were massacred in Corregidor in 1968.

Returning to the Sophia camp site for the first time since their training in 1967, Hadji recalled that the two-hectare camp had a simple layout, with most of the structures being Jabidah barracks. A water well was located in the center of the camp.

Today, the camp is overgrown and the well where the fighters used to get their water from is now empty, forgotten, and covered in rubble.

Usman and Akbar said they first thought that they joined a training camp to become members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

However, they found out later that what they joined was actually a military operation to reclaim Sabah with the codename: Operation Merdeka.

Luckily for them, their group managed to return to Tawi-tawi without the operation commencing.

When asked what they would do if they were sent to Sabah to commence operation Merdeka, Akbar replied, “Hindi kami papayag. Bakit kami kailangan pumunta doon? Gusto namin mag army kami. Hindi namin gusto pumunta doon."

Extensive training

Usman recounted how the former Jabidah recruits were trained extensively.

“Jogging lang every morning,” Usman recalled.

He said they were made to do rounds of laps in the area and when they returned did gun firing exercises.

Mike Maduas who was nine years old during the establishment of Camp Sophia recalled seeing the Jabidah fighters in training.

“Every morning nagjojogging sila from this camp papuntang mga barangay. Ang aga pa naririnig ninyong nagsasabi silang Jabidah – ha – ha [while jogging],” Maduas recalled.

Camp Sophia was said to be named after the girl that Col. Martelino fell in love with in Simunul – Sophia Mirkusin, who was at the time a hird year high school student.

In Muslim, Sophia means “stunningly beautiful woman.”

The two eventually got married and a few months after their marriage, Martelino left for Jabidah training in Luzon and never returned.

Shadhana Mirkusin, the daughter of Sophia with another man, said in an interview with Cruz that Martelino never got in touch with her mother again.

“Wala ng tawag, wala namang sulat,” Shadhana said.

“Hindi din siya nagkwento sa akin kung bakit umalis na si Martelino. Hindi na siya binalikan,” she continued.

Lone survivor

Meanwhile, the lone survivor of the massacre in Corregidor was Jibin Arula, who became an instant celebrity after escaping from a hail of bullets.

The MindaNews site reported that Arula "died in a vehicular accident in Trece Martires, Cavite, sometime in August or September (2010)" but his death was made known only a year later.

Pinoy Weekly cited how Arula, who was from Siasi, Sulu managed to tell about the massacre, triggering a Senate probe.

The late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., father of the incumbent President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, even delivered a privilege speech, denouncing the massacre of the Moro trainees.

Arula had claimed that the plotters led the Jabidah trainees out of their Corregidor barracks and taken to a nearby airport, where "the military mostly from the Philippine Army mowed the trainees down with gunfire, according to Arula," the Pinoy Weekly report said.

Arula said when he saw his fellow Jabidah trainees fall, he ran toward a mountain and rolled down until he reached the sea. He clung onto a plank of wood until a fisherman rescued him the following day.

US, PHL Coast Guards to hold maritime enforcement training

From GMA News (Mar 9): US, PHL Coast Guards to hold maritime enforcement training

Starting Monday, March 11, the Coast Guards of the Philippines and United States will undergo in Manila a 10-day training on maritime law enforcement.

The Philippine Coast Guard said the joint maritime enforcement curriculum development course is part of its aim to prioritize maritime security in the country.

A news release on the PCG's website quoted commandant Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena as saying the course's goal is to "help prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their missile delivery system, conventional weapons, and related items by assisting foreign governments to establish and implement effective export control system that meet international standards."

Isorena said he expects the training to enhance the PCG’s capability in maritime security and increase levels of awareness for better performance.

The training will be funded by the US Export Control and Related Border Security Program (EXBS) and will be facilitated by USCG experts to step up the PCG standards in the conduct of export and border control.

It will be held at the Coast Guard Ready Force (CGRF) Headquarters in South Harbor, Manila.

Chinese surveillance ships, choppers patrol West PHL Sea

From GMA News (Mar 9): Chinese surveillance ships, choppers patrol West PHL Sea

A marine surveillance fleet that included three surveillance ships and a helicopter left Hainan province in China Friday afternoon to conduct regular patrols in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

China's Xinhua news agency reported the marine surveillance fleet departed from Sanya in South China for the "regular patrols."

The report posted on China's government portal quoted Chen Huaibei, head of the patrol team, as saying the patrolling missions will include
inspecting the islands and marine resources and ecology, and setting up a profile for each island."

He added this is the first time for the Chinese maritime helicopter and ships to be dispatched to patrol the Xisha Islands at the same time since Sansha City was officially set up in July last year.

Sansha City is located in an area of the Spratlys where a 34-year-old Philippine town in Palawan province has a claim, particularly the Pag-asa Islet.

The Xinhua report said the team includes three China Marine Surveillance (CMS) ships: Haijian 83, Haijian 262, and Haijian 263. Joining the patrol will be a Haijian B-7103 helicopter.

"Haijian" is the Chinese equivalent of "marine surveillance," the Xinhua report said.

It added the fleet will patrol waters around the Xisha Islands for nine days.

"The CMS ships are under the administration of the State Oceanic Administration. They have performed regular patrols and law-enforcement activities in waters under China's jurisdiction since 2006," it said.

Malaysian police: Another Kiram follower killed in Sabah firefight

From GMA News (Mar 9): Malaysian police: Another Kiram follower killed in Sabah firefight

Another follower of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III was gunned down in another encounter early Saturday in Sabah, a Malaysian official said.

Malaysia's New Straits Times (NST) and The Star online quoted Malaysian police Inspector General Tan Sri Ismail Omar as saying this brought the number of slain followers of Kiram to 53.

The Star online quoted Ismail as saying the firefight between security forces and Kiram's followers occurred at 8:00 a.m., "and a gunman was killed."

NST added Ismail Omar and Armed Forces Chief Gen. Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin said a total of 79 suspects have been detained as of Saturday.

Earlier state-run Bernama news agency said explosions were heard in Lahad Datu at 1 and 7:30 a.m. as the Malaysian forces' effort to flush out Kiram's followers entered its fifth day.

Malaysia has taken an all-out stance against Kiram's followers since a deadly shootout last March 1. Before that, Kiram's followers engaged security forces in a three-week standoff.

While the sultan had offered a unilateral ceasefire last Thursday, Malaysia has rejected it and demanded that Kiram's followers lay down their arms without condition.

Marine detachment bombed

From the Philippine Star (Mar 9): Marine detachment bombed

An unidentified bomber pulled off what could be the “highlight” of his career when he blasted a grenade at a fenced detachment of Marines at a public market here last Thursday night.
The attack came just two days after motorcycle-riding men bombed the house here of the municipal treasurer of Talitay town, Maguindanao.

No one among the combatants of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 1 manning the detachment was injured, but the grenade attack sowed panic in nearby communities.

Last Tuesday, a grenade was hurled at the house of Talitay treasurer Norodin Samaon, who luckily was out along with members of his family.

Entire base of US ship’s smokestack removed

From the Philippine Star (Mar 9): Entire base of US ship’s smokestack removed

Salvors have removed the entire base of the smokestack of the USS Guardian, the United States (US) Navy warship that ran aground in Tubbataha Reef in Palawan province, a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) official said yesterday.

Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista, PCG Palawan District commander, said favorable weather allowed the salvors to continue working on the dismantling and cutting of the USS Guardian.

“Yesterday, they worked on removing the rest of the funnel or smokestack of the ship. Pipes that were part of the base of the funnel were removed. The whole base section of the ship’s funnel was removed,” Evangelista said.

The salvor teams include the SMIT Borneo, the US Navy, and the Malayan Towage and Salvage Corp.

So far, they have taken the entire funnel, mast, bridge, and Level 01-B, or the whole superstructure at the main deck of the US minesweeper.

They are currently preparing and rigging Level 01-A section that covers the cabins of the commanding office, executive officer and the officer’s wardroom, before it would be lifted by the crane from the M/T Jascon 25.

The 68-meter USS Guardian left Subic on Jan. 15 at 9:55 a.m. and ran aground at the atoll on Jan. 17 between 2:30 and 3 a.m. while traveling toward Indonesia.

There were 79 crewmembers on board. The ship was reportedly carrying 15,000 gallons of automotive diesel oil but this had been extracted to prevent a possible oil spill.

The incident has damaged an estimated 4,000 square meters of coral reefs. The Tubbataha Reef is a World Heritage Site of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The Tubbataha Reef, covering an estimated 10,000 hectares, is home to at least 600 species of fish, 360 species of corals, 11 species of sharks, 13 species of dolphins and whales, and 100 species of birds, and also serves as nesting ground for hawksbill and green sea turtles.

Burauen village chief welcomes Army aid

From the Leyte Samar Daily Express (Mar 9): Burauen village chief welcomes Army aid

A village chief from a rebel-infested barangay, isolated by bad road, has welcomed the presence of military as a way of bridging their needs to the national government.

Barangay Villa Corazon chairman Jesus Portillo said that the military has brought many services to our village, which was seemed to be neglected by the central government.

The village inhabited by 525 residents, is located near the border of Albuera, Leyte. The area can be reached through an hour of single motorcycle ride from the town center.

The Department of Public Works and Highways is currently implementing road construction linking Burauen and Albuera, a project that would benefit far-flung area like Villa Corazon.

“The presence of military makes us feel that we are safe,” Portillo said. According to him, the last time they saw armed rebels roaming their barangay was in 2005.

Members of the 78th IB based in Barangay Abuyogon are in this remote village to assist residents in availing of government programs, namely, land distribution, agriculture, rural employment, sanitation, livelihood, entrepreneurship, barangay governance, and farming.

The Philippine Army is strengthening its civic military operations (CMO) in remote villages of Leyte known as affected by New People’s Army (NPA) presence as a strategy to reduce rebel’s influence.

Captain Ian Fabillon, CMO officer of the 78th Infantry Battalion based this town, said they want to completely win the hearts of people in the barangay.

CMO groups in different barangays will stay in the area for a month before moving to other villages.

Villa Corazon and 14 other villages in the mountainous areas of Burauen, Albuera, and Baybay City have been identified as areas with NPA influence.

Tubbataha fact-finding mission slams off-limits policy of Coast Guard

From InterAksyon (Mar 9): Tubbataha fact-finding mission slams off-limits policy of Coast Guard


Salvage operations on the USS Guardian, as seen in file photo from the US Pacific Fleet Flickr account.

Third-party groups seeking to mount on Sunday a fact-finding mission to Tubbataha Reef, where a US Navy minesweeper remains stuck amid a difficult operation to dismantle and extract it, have denounced an alleged off-limits policy imposed by the Philippine Coast Guard.

Organizers and participants of the four-day Sovereignty and Environmental Mission said their groups are simply after the real score on the grounding of the USS Guardian on the UNESCO declared World Heritage site.

"We just want the truth. What is wrong with that? But the Coast Guard are threatening to intercept us if we get near Tubbataha for flimsy and highly questionable reasons.

They reminded Philippine authorities “that we are not from the USS Guardian nor do we belong to any American military war [unit] therefore, we are not destroyers of corals and biodiversity. We just want to know the real score and we have a score to settle with the extrajudicial killers of Tubbataha reef.”

Fernando Hicap, vice chairperson of Anakpawis party list and one of the organizers of the mission in Palawan, issued the statement after PCG-Palawan commander Enrico Efren Evangelista said members of the fact-finding team will be intercepted once they get near Tubbataha, where salvaging of the American minesweeper is going on.

Hicap also chairs the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), the main organizer of the mission.

The PCG-Palawan cited an existing 500 meter-radius exclusive safety zone around the USS Guardian because of the salvaging operations. It is a no-sail zone and the PCG maintained it would be dangerous for mission participants to enter this area because there are crane movements and there could be an accident.

If that is the case, said Hicap, “then the PCG should provide us all the necessary support to get near Tubbataha. As taxpayers and as one of the affected and concerned sectors, we deserve assistance or support and not threats from the coast guard.”

He described the off-limits policy as a “wholesale violation of our sovereigns rights as Filipinos and direct infringement on our constitutional rights to information.”

Anakpawis party-list and Pamalakaya will be joined by a team of marine and environmental experts from Earth Island Philippines, the Iloilo-based Fisheries Marine and Environmental Research Institute (FMERI), Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center (FIDEC), marine experts from the University of the Philippines (UP), the umbrella group Bagong Alyasang Makabayan-Southern Tagalog (Bayan-ST), the para-legal group Sentro Para Sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra), Pamalakaya-Palawan chapter, Save Tubbataha Movement, Junk VFA Movement and the International Fisherfolk and fishWorkers Coalition (IFWC).

Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France insisted that the mission only wants to have more details beyond the information fed to the Filipino public from the US Embassy in Manila and Malacanang.

The mission, he said, will consult local fisherfolk, environmental groups and local government officials on the proposed omnibus demand that seeks to address the current environmental disaster in the 130,000-hectare coral reef.

The demands which will be presented to a public forum on March 12 include the urgent, effective and safe retrieval of USS Guardian from Tubbataha reef park, the proposal to extradite and charge officials and the 79 crew members of USS Guardian, the demand for rehabilitation of Tubbataha, the setting of a US compensation fund for future claims of small fishermen who are going to suffer the brunt of the Tubbataha environmental disaster, the urgent pullout of all US troops, warships and aircraft in the Philippines and the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

Last week, officials of the United States Navy’s 7th Fleet said the extraction of USS Guardian from Tubbataha Reef could take more than a month.

The 7th Fleet, in a statement, also said that the Guardian, which was part of its armada and was earlier declared to be “beyond economical repair,” had been “decommissioned and stricken” from the US Naval Registry as of Feb. 15.

Pamalakaya insisted that despite the absence of the formal charges against the officials and crew of the US Navy minesweeper, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III should order the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Justice to notify the US government through its US Embassy office in Manila to bring back the 79 crew members of USS Guardian to the Philippines while waiting for formal charges to be filed against them.

The reef damage impacts extensive fishing grounds in Mindanao and the Visayas, affecting the livelihood of about 100,000 fisherfolk, said Pamalakay.

Filipino peacekeepers released

From Rappler (Mar 9): Filipino peacekeepers released

Filipino UN peacekeepers seized by Syrian rebels on the Golan arrived in Jordan on Saturday, March 10, hours after their captors released them from an ordeal of more than 3 days.

"They arrived in Jordan; they are on Jordanian land now," Jordanian government spokesman Samih Maaytah told AFP in Amman.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon welcomed the release of 21 Filipino peacekeepers but said all sides in the conflict must respect the UN's "freedom of movement.

Ban "appreciates the efforts of all concerned to secure their safe release," said a statement released by his press office after the 21 crossed from Syria into Jordan.

The Philippines ambassador in Amman, Olivia V Palala, also confirmed that the peacekeepers had arrived in Jordan from neighbouring Syria where rebels battling the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seized them on Wednesday.

"They are apparently inside Jordanian territory now. I am heading to the borders to meet them," Palala told AFP.

Earlier, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the soldiers, who were abducted in the Golan Heights, had been released and were on their way to the border with Jordan and freedom.

'Cautious welcome'

Authorities in Manila gave a cautious welcome to the news.

"We cannot confirm yet. We are hearing it from television but they have not even shown a video. So we sent our men there from the UN force to verify," said military spokesman Colonel Arnulfo Burgos.

"Of course that would be great news but we have to be careful," he told AFP.

The abduction of the 21 peacekeepers was condemned by world powers and triggered a flurry of diplomatic action to secure their release.

It also sparked fears that more governments would withdraw their contingents from the already depleted UN mission.

Israeli officials warned that any further reduction in UNDOF strength risked creating a security vacuum in the no-man's land between the two sides on the strategic Golan plateau, which it seized in the 1967 Six-Day War.

The Filipinos, members of UNDOF monitoring the armistice line between Syria and Israel that followed the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, were abducted just a mile to the Syrian side of the line.

Rebels from the Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade who seized them demanded that Syrian troops move 20 kilometres (12 miles) back from Jamla.

The Observatory said the rebels were also demanding that the International Committee of the Red Cross "guarantees the safe exit from the strife-torn area of Jamla of civilians," Abdel Rahman said.

On Friday a UN convoy attempted to pick up the Filipino peacekeepers but had to abort the operation and was forced to pull back by a barrage of Syrian army shelling.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said the village where the soldiers are being held was coming under intense shelling but the Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari insisted that everything was being done to get them out safely.

Late on Friday, Abdel Rahman quoted the rebels as saying a deal had been reached between the Syrian regime and the UN for a truce between 0800 and 1000 GMT on Saturday to allow the Red Cross to evacuate the men.

It was the first abduction of its kind since the conflict erupted in Syria nearly two years ago.

Ladsous and Philippines officials had said the peacekeepers were safe during their ordeal.

In video clips posted on the Internet, the men also said they were cared for by local villagers and given water and food.

Meanwhile, Syrian troops bombarded several rebel-held areas near Damascus, where 10 people, including three children, were killed in clashes between troops and rebels, the Observatory said.

In the northwest, near the Turkish border, several areas were the target of regime bombings that also left three children from one family dead in the village of Deir Sita.

The violence on Saturday comes after a day that saw at least 146 deaths across the country, according to the Observatory.

Candidate Soldier Course application opens

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 9): Candidate Soldier Course application opens

CAMP EVANGELISTA, Cagayan de Oro City -- The 4th Infantry “Diamond” Division is accepting and processing applicants for Candidate Soldier Course (CSC) for the first Quarter Calendar of Year 2013 on March 15.

The Philippine Army has a quota of 100 candidate soldiers for this Division.

Applicants must have at least 72 units in college (if High School Graduate only, he or she must possess a special skill needed in the military service and certified by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority or TESDA).

Interested applicants must be at least five feet in height for both male and female with ages from 18 to 26 years old on the start of the training. They must also be physically and mentally fit and has no pending case in any court.

Further, applicants may advise to bring along with them their supporting documents with proper tabbing during registration on March 15. Supporting documents includes the following:

A. Whole body picture
B. Bio-data with 2X2 ID picture
C. Original copy of National Statistics Office Birth Certificate with official receipt
D. Original copy of National Statistics Office Marriage Contract of Parents with official receipt
E. Certificate of Legal Beneficiaries
F. Original Transcript of Records (College/Vocational) or Form 137 and 138 (High School) with visible School Dry Seal
G. Diploma (with School Dry Seal)
H. Philippine Army Aptitude Test Battery Result (Official Result Authenticated by the examiner)
I. Physical and Medical Examination Results (Authenticated and signed by the Commanding Officer of Medical Service Unit Station Hospital)
J. Physical Fitness Test Result (Authenticated and signed by the PFT Officer)
K. Drug Test Result
L. Hepatitis B Test Result
M. Local Clearances from the place of residence for at least 10 years
1. Barangay
2. Police
3. Mayor
4. Regional Trial Court
5. National Bureau of Investigation
6. Residence Certificate
N. Affidavit of Being Single
O. Original Copy of Certificate of Non-Marriage (CENOMAR) with Official Receipt

There is also an ongoing pre-processing of applicants in 401st Brigade at New Leyte, Awa, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur which ended Friday.. Other pre-processing venues are at 402nd Brigade at Bancasi, Butuan City on March 10-11, and at 403rd Brigade at Camp Osito Bahian, Impalambong, Malaybalay City on March 12-13.

Those who will qualify on the pre-processing conducted in the above mentioned venues will be advised to proceed here at Camp Evangelista, to undergo the next stages of processing of applicants.

Qualified applicants who will be selected among the pool of applicants will undergo CSC to be handled by the 4th Division Training Unit (4DTU) at Battalion Retraining Facility, Kibaritan, barangay Malinao, Kalilangan, Bukidnon.

Candidate Soldiers while on training will receive monthly pay and allowances of P14,205.

Once enlisted in the regular force of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) with a rank of Private, they will receive a monthly salary of P20,404 with insurance and healthcare benefits, billeting and housing privileges, job security, leadership and other skills trainings, opportunity for career advancement based on performance, opportunities for Post graduate studies both within the country and abroad, and will enjoy the opportunity and privilege of serving in the Army for our country.

Lieutenant Colonel Eugenio Julio C Osias IV, 4ID spokesperson said, “We would like to encourage everybody, especially those who are coming from the provinces covered by the Division to take advantage of this opportunity and eventually become a member of the regular force of the Armed Forces of the Philippines who will be receiving a decent salary and benefits and assured of a stable job. Aside from the fact that this is an employment opportunity, you will also enjoy the privilege of serving our country, which is not given to every Filipino.” (4CMO/4ID/PA/PIA10)

MILF now active in community driven projects in ARMM

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): MILF now active in community driven projects in ARMM

Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are now confident to come out in the open and participate in the implementation of community driven projects in their respective areas.

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Social Fund Project (ASFP), the region’s development arm, observed such following the Oct. 15, 2012 signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro entity by government and MILF peace negotiators in MalacaƱang.

“Even before the FAB adoption, small groups of (MILF) rebels had been part of the process, kasama sila sa pagpili ng mga projects para sa kanila,” revealed ASFP chief Abba Kuaman in a Friday press conference here.

Kuaman added that it is only now that the MILF has openly supported government projects in their communities.

In Maguindanao alone, the government has acknowledged certain MILF-influenced areas in the towns of Datu Piang, Shariff Aguak, Mamasapano, Datu Saidona and Datu Anggal Midtimbang.

The ASFP was created on Sept. 2, 2002 by virtue of Executive Order 124 and later amended by Executive Order 518 dated March 21, 2006 transferring the management of the office from the Central Fund Management Office to ASFP Project Management Office under the supervision of the autonomous government.

Established as an offshoot to the Sept. 2, 1996 final peace accord between the national government and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the ASFP was designed to foster sustainable development in the ARMM through reducing poverty and establish a support mechanism for the promotion of peaceful and safe environment in war-torn areas.

Funded by the national government through a loan from the World Bank (WB) and supplemented by the Japan for International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the project implementation is coursed through its three major components: the Community Development Assistance, Strategic Regional Infrastructure and Institutional Strengthening and Governance.

Due to its suitable performance, the WB through the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), an international financial institution which offers loans to middle-income developing countries, granted the Philippine government and additional US 30-million dollars in November 2010 for the ASFP’s continuing projects in 596 barangays in the region.

Now on its 11th year, the ASFP has managed to aid 2,490 barangays with only 871 villages remaining “unserved”.

“We plan to serve the remaining barangays after the next assessment of the WB and JICA on our current performance,” Kuaman said.

He noted that so far the ASFP has seen no divergence with projects that would be undertaken under the Sajahatra Bangsamoro that aims to uplift the health, education and living condition of MILF communities in the region.

“In the advent of the Bangsamoro entity, we expect the ASFP to elevate to the expectation of the WB on becoming the model for national driven community programs,” Kuaman said.

3 die in North Cotabato shooting

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): 3 die in North Cotabato shooting

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao -- A man armed with Armalite rifle shot dead three persons on Friday night in a remote village in Mlang, North Cotabato.

Reports reaching here said the man who was carrying an M-16 Armalite rifle contracted Ismael Talusan, 35, a motorcycle driver to bring him to the town of Mlang from nearby Kabacan town, also in North Cotabato.

Talusan was then accompanied by his brother Alamid, 23, and a friend named Guiambang when they left Kabacan at around 10:30 p.m.

At midnight, residents in Barangay Lika, Mlang heard a series of gun bursts in the highway.

The Mlang police, led by Inspector Rolando Dillera, immediately went to Barangay Lika and found two men lying dead on the concrete pavement of the Mlang-Matalam highway.

The two were later identified as the Talusan brothers based on their identification cards. About 50 meters away was the lifeless body of Guiambang.

The suspect took the victims' motorcycle.

Dillera said investigators are now coordinating with the Talusan family to help identify the suspect.

Army offers security to poll bets campaigning in NPA-infested areas

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): Army offers security to poll bets campaigning in NPA-infested areas

The Philippine Army here has asked candidates in the upcoming May 13, 2012 mid-term elections not to give in to the “permit to campaign” and “permit to win” fees imposed by the New People’s Army.

Lt. Col. Lyndon Paniza, spokesperson of the 10th Infantry Division, said they are willing to provide security to candidates who would be campaigning in areas considered strongholds of the communist rebels.

“If the reason of paying PTC or PTW is to be secured in the campaign sorties in NPA-infested areas then we are here to provide them security,” Paniza said.

He said Army battalions under the 10th ID were already tasked to monitor politicians paying these “extortion” fees to the rebels “but so far we have not yet monitored these candidates to have paid these fees to them.”

In Davao region, hinterlands of Davao City, Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental and Davao del Norte were known to have NPA sightings.

Paniza said they have already heard about the varying “tariff” fees being imposed by the rebels on candidates vying for the different positions.

He said that once the local campaign period starts last week of March, some candidates are likely to give in to the rebels\ demand to court voters in remote areas of the countryside.

2 rebels killed in clash with Army rangers in Catanduanes

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): 2 rebels killed in clash with Army rangers in Catanduanes

Two suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA)were killed late Friday afternoon in a gun battle with members of an Army Scout Rangers unit in Barangay Manambrag, a remote village of San Andres town in Catanduanes, a Philippine Army (PA) officer said Saturday.

The slain rebels were turned over to the town’s Philippine National Police office for proper identification and disposition, according to Army Maj. Angelo Guzman, PA Bicol spokesperson.

Guzman, quoting a report from Lt. Col. Bernardo Fortez, commanding officer of the 83rd Infantry Battalion, said a platoon of Scout Rangers was on an internal security operation at around 5 p.m. Friday when it encountered a group of rebels led by one Ka James of the NPA Nerissa San Juan Command operating in Catanduanes, an island province at the eastern side of the Bicol peninsula.

Fortez said a 10-minute intense firefight ensued that led to the killing of the two rebels and the wounding of a number of their companions as manifested by blood stains seen in their escape routes.

Recovered from the fight scene was an M-14 baby Armalite rifle.

The Army Scout Rangers were on an offensive patrol after receiving reports from military assets that the rebels were sighted roaming at the boundaries of the coastal towns of Caramoran and San Andres.

Fortez said they launched a tactical offensive to track down and stop the communist rebels from terrorizing civilians and carrying attacks against government forces.

Philippine Army starts recruitment of candidate for soldiers

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): Philippine Army starts recruitment of candidate for soldiers

The 4th Infantry “Diamond” Division has started accepting the processing of applicants for Candidate Soldier Course (CSC) for first quarter of 2013 on March 15, 2013, an army official said Friday.

Lt. Col. Eugenio Julio Osias IV, spokesperson of the army’s 4th ID, said the Philippine Army allocated a quota of 100 candidate soldiers for the Fourth Infantry Division this year.

He said applicants should have, at least, 72 units in college while secondary or high school graduates, should submit certification from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for completion of special skills needed in the military service.

Ages of interested applicants should ranged from 18 to 26 on the start of the training, 5 feet in height for both male and female, must be mentally and physically fit with no pending case in any court.

Osias said that applicants should bring clearances from the city mayor, regional trial court, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), certificate of residency for a least 10 years in their place of origin.

Those who will qualify on the pre-processing will be advised to proceed at Camp Evangelista, Cagayan de Oro City to undergo the next stages of processing of applicants, he said.

Qualified applicants would undergo Candidate Soldier Course to be handled by the 4th Division Training Unit (4DTU) at Battalion Retraining Facility, Kibaritan, Brgy Malinao, Kalilangan, Bukidnon.

While on training candidate soldiers would receive pay and allowances at gross P14,205 per month. When enlisted, a rank of private would have a monthly salary of P20,404 with insurance and health care benefits, housing privileges, job security, and other opportunities for advancement here and abroad.

Osias encouraged able bodied individuals to take advantage of the opportunity of becoming a member of the regular force of the Armed Forces of the Philippines including the opportunity to serve the country.

No gun battle at ground Zero in over 24 hours

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): No gun battle at ground Zero in over 24 hours

No gun battle has been reported in Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu, in the last 24 hours, four days after security forces launched an offensive against Sulu militants.

In fact, top police and military officers had time for Friday prayers and 'sunat hajat' prayers with about 200 Muslims at Masjid Al-Hudah, Felda Sahabat 16.

Felda Sahabat 16, the headquarters of security forces in Op Daulat is located about 20 km from Kampung Tanduo which became the fortress for Sulu militants since February 12.

Day four Op Daulat Friday involves the use of helicopters to ferry security forces to locations in search operation while fighter jets hover in the skies.

Since there are no signs that the Sulu militant group would disarm unconditionally, security forces continue the hunt for the remaining militants.

The situation in Lahad Datu has returned to normal with the people starting their daily routine.

"After the gun battle in Kampung Tanjung Batu (about 15 km from Felda Sahabat 16) at 11.30am Thursday which killed 31 militants, there is no indication they want to lay down arms," Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Ismail Omar told a joint press conference with Armed Forces Chief, Gen Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin in Felda Sahabat 16 Friday.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak who inspected the Op Daulat headquarters in Felda Sahabat Thursday said Malaysia rejected a ceasefire and stressed the militants must lay down arms and surrender unconditionally.

During the operation by security forces since February 1, police arrested 79 people suspected to be linked with the intrusion in Lahad Datu.

Ismail told a press conference this afternoon over 50 people were detained under the Security Offences Act (Special Measures) that was enforced last year.

"They were arrested under the new act and read together with several section of the Penal Code," he said.

Najib who went to ground zero Thursday and announced the establishment of a Special Security Area for Kudat, Tawau, Kunak, Sandakan and Lahad Datu has given the people confidence about safety on the Sabah east coast.

On Tuesday, security forces launched air strikes using F18 and Hawk fighter jets to end the intrusion by Sulu militants since February 12.

So far, 52 militants had been killed since the intrusion in Kapung Tanduo, about 130 km from Lahad Datu town.

Eight police officers were also killed, two in a gun battle in Kampung Tanduo on March 1 and six more in an ambush in Kampung Sri Jaya, Simunul, Semporna the next day.

Peacekeepers held in Syria to be freed Saturday: UN

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): Peacekeepers held in Syria to be freed Saturday: UN

Arrangements have been made for release of all 21 of the UN peacekeepers being held in Syria near the Golan Heights, a spokeswoman for the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations told Xinhua here Friday.

However, the Filipino members of the UN observation mission in the Golan Heights (UNDOF) taken by armed Syrian rebels on Wednesday were not expected to be released until Saturday, she said.

They were all reported to be safe.  "Arrangements were made with all parties for the release of all 21 peacekeepers," Josephine Guerrero said when reached by Xinhua on the phone, quickly adding "due to late hours and darkness," efforts to free the military observers of a cease-fire between Israel and Syria were put off out of safety considerations.

Only hours earlier Friday, the UN peacekeeping chief, Herve Ladsous, said he hoped a possible brief ceasefire would enable negotiations for their release. "There is a possibility that a ceasefire of a few hours can intervene, which would allow for our people to be released."

The peacekeepers were detained by armed elements linked to the Syrian opposition on Wednesday within the area of limitation on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.  Ladsous said that the peacekeepers were being held in the basements of various houses in a village named Al Jamla.

He added that UN officials, both in the region and at the headquarters, had been working around the clock to help the peacekeepers regain freedom.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's permanent representative to the UN who holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council for March, said before the release announcement on Friday: "The members of the Council expressed their strong continued support for the efforts of the United Nations to have the captured UNDOF personnel released immediately."

"We only can keep our fingers crossed and hope that it will happen very quickly," he added.

Meanwhile, Bashar Ja'afari, the permanent representative of Syria to the UN, denied claims that Syrian government forces were shelling the village of Al Jamla, saying that Damascus has been committed to the release of the UN peacekeepers.

"We are even sacrificing the lives of our own soldiers in order to bring these peacekeepers safe to their headquarters," said Ja' afari.

The Security Council created UNDOF in May 1974 in the wake of the fighting between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights region. UNDOF is mandated to maintain a ceasefire between the parties, and monitor the implementation of a Disengagement of Forces Agreement signed by both sides, which calls for an area of separation and areas of limited forces and armaments between the two parties.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council on Wednesday strongly condemned the detention of the peacekeepers and demanded their immediate release.

Captured 21 Filipino peacekeepers in safe location - AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): Captured 21 Filipino peacekeepers in safe location - AFP

At least for now, the 21 Filipino peacekeepers captured by Syrian rebels last Wednesday are not at risk of being hit by any stray bullet or artillery round as they are kept in a secure location in the Golan Heights.

Col. Arnulfo M. Burgos, Jr., military spokesperson, said Saturday this information is based from their source at the group who is now negotiating with the rebels for the immediate release of the Filipino soldiers.

"They are in a secure location in the Golan Heights. They are being treated well and unharmed," he said. Burgos declined to comment on when the 21 soldiers will be eventually free but stressed that efforts to do this are being intensified.

Earlier, Syrian rebels expressed their intentions to release the Filipino peacekeepers to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Burgos said this is a good indication that the rebels indeed plan to free their captives who include three AFP officers and 18 enlisted personnel.

But the AFP spokesman said that freedom for the 21 Filipino soldiers would come only if their demands are met.

Burgos also stressed that the captured peacekeepers are unharmed and are in fact being treated as "guests". He said proof that the Filipino peacekeepers are safe is the video footage that has been uploaded in the Internet. The said video shows the Filipino peacekeepers in their uniform and vest with proper markings of the UN, and stating that they are safe.

Malaysian security forces continue operation as Sulu gunmen show no signs to back down

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): Malaysian security forces continue operation as Sulu gunmen show no signs to back down

LAHAD DATU, Malaysia -- Five days after launching an all-out assault, the Malaysian security forces have yet to secure a decisive victory to flush out the Sulu gunmen. The gunmen have so far shown few signs to back down from the claim over their ancestral land of Sabah in North Borneo.

Inspector General of Police Ismail Omar said one gunman was killed by security forces in a shootout early Saturday, bringing the death toll of intruders to 53. Eight Malaysian police have also been killed in the firefight. Seventy-nine were detained for alleged links to the militants. The authorities also confirmed that no security personnel or civilians were kidnapped by the gunmen.

The operation will end only when none of the intruders are left in Sabah, said Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.

The security forces put on overwhelming firepower on Tuesday, including air strike, mortar attack and some 2,000 security personnel on the tiny seaside Tanduo village where the gunmen holed up since last month, in a hope to end the standoff which so far claimed the lives of eight police.

However, the operation has yet to be brought to a decisive result except for driving the Royal Army of Sulu Sultanate into hiding in small groups. The full-scale attack turned into a search and mop-up operation with sporadic gun fights between the security forces and the intruders.

Many locals have been displaced or fled their homes. Malaysian government is cautious on updating the latest developments of the situation.

Reporters were asked to stay in a media center some 20 kms from the conflict zone for the most of time, waiting for official press conferences.

As the operation drags on, rumors are circulating on the social network, including one saying hundreds of militants had landed in Sabah. Police denied the rumors and asked the people to stay calm.

The Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III Thursday announced a unilateral ceasefire and called for negotiations, but stressed that he and his followers would not give up the claim over Sabah, once controlled by the Sulu Sultanate and was ceded to the British North Borneo Company in the late 19th century.

Kiram insisted the deal was a lease rather than a cession. Kiram's suggestion was soon rejected by Malaysian Prime Minster Najib Razak. During a visit to the "ground zero" on the same day, Najib stressed that the intruders must lay down their arms and surrender unconditionally.

Responding to a ceasefire call by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to avoid more bloodshed, Najib said his government had shown enough patience during the three-week negotiation that aimed to end the standoff peacefully.

The casualties of security forces left Najib, who will face a tough general election within weeks, with no choice but tough actions. The determination of Malaysia to defend its sovereignty over Sabah should not be underestimated, he said.

Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III has also urged Kiram 's followers to leave Sabah, but he is already facing internal pressure to rethink the strategy to shelve the dispute over Sabah, which became a state of Malaysia in 1963, for the sake of regional cooperation and peace process in southern Philippines facilitated by Malaysia. Aquino said there was conspiracy behind the incident.

Even if the security forces kill or capture Agbimuddin Kiram, Sultan's brother who led the group of some 200 into Sabah, the others may easily sneak into the local communities of Filipino immigrants and hide.

Meanwhile, Kuala Lumpur and Manila are talking about a possible extradition of the Sultan to Malaysia, but that would involve complicated legal obstacles and bring in more controversies both internally and internationally.

Kiram and his followers were those being marginalized during the peace talks between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said Danny Wong, director of global planning and strategy center at the University of Malaya.

The aim of the intrusion might either be wrecking the peace deal or trying to become part of it, Wong told Xinhua. "However, until the moment they speak out what they want, we will never know what the true purpose is."

A prolonged standoff will also be a blow to the Sabah economy, heavily depends on tourism. The United States and Hong Kong has already issued travel warning. A hotelier in the capital city of Kota Kinabalu said so far foreign tourists are still pouring in, but the trend will easily reverse if the Sulus staged a ugly guerilla war.

The Malaysian and Philippine governments should try to make the ongoing peace process in southern Philippines more inclusive by inviting more stakeholders, Wong said. "It is easier said than done, as each group will bring its own demands," he said, adding "but you still need to try."

Army helps distribute CLOAs in Escalante

From the Sun Star-Bacolod (Mar 9): Army helps distribute CLOAs in Escalante

THE Philippine Army recently assisted the distribution of Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) in Sitio Martin, Barangay Hacienda Fe, Escalante City.

Isaias Solido, Escalante City Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer (Maro), assisted by Major Antonio Tumnog, commanding officer of 3rd Civil Military Operations Battalion, led the distribution of CLOAs to the agrarian reform beneficiaries at the Maro Escalante Office.

Both Solido and Tumnog have been active partners in implementing and in supporting different agrarian reform services in the area.

The land, covering 80.4397 hectares of agricultural land, was handed by the Bureau of Education in Escalante City.

All of the farmer-beneficiaries said they were happy that they are now the owner of the land they have been tilling for so long.

CLOAs are given as proof of ownership to identified agrarian reform beneficiaries under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (Carp) or Republic Act 6657.

The Carp is a Philippine state policy of agrarian reform that ensures and promotes welfare of landless farmers and farm workers, as well as elevation of social justice and equity among rural areas. It aims for a nation with equitable land ownership and empowered agrarian reform beneficiaries while, at least, improving social lives.

The Carp implementation procedure involves the Department of Agrarian Reform and other agencies, such as the Land Management Services of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Land Bank of the Philippines, Register of Deeds and the Armed Forces of the Philippines through its different branches of service like the Philippine Army, among others.

After the CLOA distribution, Maro and the 3rd Civil Military Operations Battalion affirmed that they will continue to provide the necessary support services to determine and achieve agrarian reforms to the different sitios and barangays in the city.

As lands were given, farmers will have their own sense of ownership and responsibility to cultivate their own lands as they tend to meet their family needs every day. Farmers will no longer need to worry about paying rent for the utilization of land and for the fear of being driven out as its tenant.

Explosion rocks farming village in Zambo Sur

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Mar 9): Explosion rocks farming village in Zambo Sur

AN EXPLOSION has rocked a farming village in the provinces of Zamboanga del Sur, a police official reported Saturday.

Zamboanga Peninsula police spokesman Ariel Huesca said the incident occurred around 1:05 a.m. Thursday in the village of Lourmah, Mahayag municipality.

Huesca said no one was either killed or wounded and no properties were damaged although the explosion was just in front of an unoccupied house owned by Edina Lacson, 53, a caretaker of a 4.8-hectare rice field.

Huesca said land dispute is being eyed as the motive of the incident as Lacson has reported that two unidentified persons have harassed and threatened her last February 25 to vacate the place.

Lacson was told the rice field she oversees was already bought by a certain Dodo Navarro from the heirs of Pedro Abuton, the original owner, Huesca said.

The rice field was formerly cultivated by one Encarnacion Blancia, who employed Lacson as overseer, he said.

He said the police of Mahayag town are conducting an in-depth probe to unmask the perpetrators of the bomb explosion.