Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Who is Datu Agbimudin Kiram, former Sabah officer?

Posted to the Malaysian Chronicle (Mar 21): Who is Datu Agbimudin Kiram, former Sabah officer?

KUALA LUMPUR - The discovery of a government document listing a certain "Datu Agbimudin Kiram" as having been employed at the Kudat District Office in Sabah, in 1974, has raised a poser about whether he is the same man who is leading the armed invasion in Lahad Datu.

Pakatan Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) strategic director Rafizi Ramli said the discovery was made following a tip-off from local residents in Kudat, based on photographs of Agbimudin Kiram, brother of the Sulu chieftain Jamalul Kiram.

Rafizi particularly referred to a family photograph of Agbimudin and Jamalul Kiram, as published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer recently.

"The initial information we received indicates that he (Agbimudin) had once worked at the Kudat district office and that he is a Malaysian citizen," said Rafizi during a joint press conference with PKR deputy secretary-general Darell Leiking, at the party headquarters today.

"We talked to a few people (in Kudat) and their stories have been consistent. So we decided that we need to find documented evidence," he said.

Rafizi said Darell searched the Sabah state archives on Monday and found that one "Datu Agbimudin Kiram" (born Sept 9, 1941) was listed as a pegawai pentadbir muda (junior administrative officer) in the Kudat district office, beginning March 1, 1974, with a starting salary of RM610.

Meanwhile, in Manila, a spokesman for Jamalul confirmed that Agbimudin had served as assistant district officer in Kudat.

Abraham Idjirani said Agbimudin's wife had worked at the public hospital during that time, Philippine news portal Interaksyon reported.

He said the Kirams were in residency in Sabah after the Jabidah massacre of 1968.

He, however, denied that Agbimuddin was a Malaysian citizen and that he had been given a Malaysian identity card.

Rafizi and Darrel urged the authorities to verify Agbimudin's identity, after allegations that Pakatan Rakyat was the mastermind behind the intrusion.

Apparently, Agbimudin was a "familiar face" in Kudat at the time due to his position, equivalent to an assistant district officer in the peninsula.

Rafizi also stated that Agbimudin's position in the state government was under the direct appointment of the Sabah chief minister.

Armed men launch separate attacks in Region 12

From MindaNews (Mar 20): Armed men launch separate attacks in Region 12

KORONADAL CITY – Unidentified heavily armed men launched separate attacks in different parts of Region 12 on Wednesday, leaving one person wounded, officials said.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, 6th Infantry Division spokesman, said armed men harassed elements of the 46th Infantry Battalion and Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit in Barangay Tual in Bagumbayan, Sultan Kudarat at around 10:45 a.m., triggering a 30-minute gunfight.

He said days before the attack, the local government unit and the military uncovered illegal logging activities in the area that led to the confiscation of 3,000 board feet of Lawaan lumber flitches.

“Apparently, the attack was in retaliation to the stopping by the authorities of illegal logging activities in the area,” Hermoso said.

Nobody was injured on the side of the government security forces, he said, adding the armed men withdrew with their “injured comrades” towards the Daguma Mountain Range.
Reports said the armed men allegedly belong to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter, the armed wing of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Hermoso said they were still checking the information, with elements of the joint government-MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities also checking the situation there.

In T’boli, a town in South Cotabato rich in gold deposits and also hosting large multinational agricultural companies, suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels also attacked a police detachment noontime Wednesday.

Dominador Siloterio, T’boli information officer, said some 20 armed men attacked a community police assistance center (Compac) in Barangay Sinolon.

“They were on board a white elf truck and strafed the Compac that left a person wounded,” Siloterio, speaking from the site of the incident, said.

He identified the wounded as Aurelio Dao, a Civilian Volunteer Organization member.

Siloterio said that bomb explosive experts have responded to the scene after one of the two grenades allegedly lobbed at the Compac did not explode.

He said authorities were still investigating if the armed men are members of the NPA.

In a local radio interview, one of the police officers in the Compac, identified only as Herman Golingay, said they fought back when the armed men fired at them.

“But we were forced to withdraw because they were heavily armed,” he said, adding the suspects’ firearms include AK-47, M-14 and Armalte rifles.

The firefight lasted for about 15 minutes, Golingay said.

T’boli hosts pineapple and banana plantations of Dole Philippines, Inc. and Sumifru Philippines Corp., respectively. It also hosts the gold-silver project jointly pursued by Canadian firm Cadan Resources Corp. and local firm Tribal Mining Corp.

The attack in T’boli town came the same day that leadership at the South Cotabato provincial police command changed hands.

Senior Supt. Romeo Ver took over from Senior Supt. Randolf Delfin, who was reportedly reassigned at Camp Crame.

Japan Funding 8 Dev’t Projects

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 21): Japan Funding 8 Dev’t Projects

COTABATO CITY — Japan has lined up eight fresh grant projects for conflict-affected areas in Southern Philippines in addition to existing Tokyo-funded programs supportive of the Mindanao peace process, the Japanese Embassy in Manila announced yesterday.

Ambassador Toshinao Urabe signed the eight grant contracts with officials of recipient organizations at a symbolic ceremony Tuesday morning in Pasig City, his embassy’s information and cultural office said in a press statement.

The signed contracts covered projects funded under the Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects (GGP) through the Embassy as part of the Japan-Bangsamoro Initiatives for Reconstruction and Development (J-BIRD).

The signing rite was witnessed by major Mindanao peace process stakeholders like Presidential Adviser on Peace Process Secretary Teresita “Ging” Quintos-Deles, Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) executive director Mohammad Shuaib Yacob, and Chair of Government Peace Negotiating Panel for Talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (GPH-MILF) Miriam Coronel-Ferrer.

Ambassador Urabe’s signing of the contracts came four days after his visit here and in parts of Central Mindanao where he inspected existing Japan-funded projects after meeting MILF Chair Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

The new assistance worth US$885,204.00, or about P36 million, is “part of Japan’s commitment to peace and development efforts in Mindanao,” the statement said.

The package includes the construction of three school buildings; a post-harvest facility with agricultural equipment; an agricultural training center; a training center; a shelter home for women and children, and a hospital.

Since its launching in 2006, the J-BIRD has already supported 66 grassroots projects in Mindanao costing $5.5 million or about P285 million, the Japan embassy said.

Japan has two senior advisors to the International Monitoring Team (IMT) assisting reconstruction and development interventions in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.

It is a member of the International Contact Group (ICG), which helps guide the concerned parties in the Mindanao Peace Process and sits as observer in peace talks.

US Committed to Working with PH Gov't in Strengthening

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 20): US Committed to Working with PH Gov't in Strengthening Military

The United States is committed to working with the Philippine government in strengthening its military and its ability to defend the country.

At the same time, visiting US Department of Defense Deputy Secretary Dr. Ashton Carter reiterated that the US stands solidly behind the efforts of the Philippines to resolve the maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) in a peaceful manner and consistent with the rule of law.

Dr. Carter gave the assurance during his call on Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario Tuesday afternoon at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) headquarters in Pasay City.

The Deputy Secretary is the second highest ranking official in the US Defense Department. He is accompanied by accompanied by a number of US Defense and Military officials in a short visit to the country.

"I welcomed Dr. Carter’s strong support for our efforts at peacefully settling the maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea. We are committed to seeing this through,” said del Rosario in a statement issued Tuesday night after the meeting.

He is referring to the arbitration case that the Philippines recent filed against China under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

According to the DFA chief, he and Dr. Carter had a good discussion on intensifying defense cooperation and the current challenges in the region during their meeting.

He said they both agreed that to support the military training and capacity building efforts of the Philippines, it is important that there be an increase in number of exercises and other approved activities between the military and defense establishments of the two countries.

“This increased rotational presence will be crucial in allowing us to maximize our own investment in our defense,” del Rosario pointed out.

“We will be able to increase and maximize the value and returns of the P75 billion the President has allocated for our defense for the next five years the increased rotational presence, exercises, training and other activities with US forces,“ he added.

Dr. Carter has served the US government in different capacities, has been a member of the academe and think tanks, as well as private corporations.

He holds a doctorate in theoretical physics from the University of Oxford and bachelor’s degrees in physics and medieval history from Yale University.

Dr. Carter always had an interest in the Philippines, del Rosario disclosed, starting when he first met and interacted with Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., father of the President, when both of them were members of the academe in institutions of high learning in Massachusetts.

Hit squad vs Kirams a tall tale — Palace

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 21): Hit squad vs Kirams a tall tale — Palace

The administration on Wednesday played down the likelihood that a Malaysian hit squad was in the country to assassinate Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and the members and supporters of the royal family.

“Verification made by the intelligence community has yielded negative results so far. Verification is still going on, but off hand, the intelligence community is giving this report a very low probability,” said National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia.

Garcia said intelligence agents had checked the names of the people allegedly billeted at the Maxim’s Hotel at Resorts World in Pasay City but “came up with negative results.”

A source at the National Bureau of Investigation also told the Manila Standard that they had received no reports to support the sultanate’s claim of an assassination plot.

In a television interview, a spokesman for the Philippine National Police, Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo Jr., said they, too, had not been able to verify any threats against the Kirams.

“Our policemen are regularly monitoring Kiram’s home,” Cerbo said.

On Tuesday, Abrahim Idjirani, spokesman of the sultanate, said a Malaysian colonel named Sunny Ng had entered the Philippines with four Malaysian commandos to kill the sultan and members of his family.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda criticized the Kirams for allegedly concocting the story of the Malaysian assassins.

“[This is] another tall tale coming from the Kiram family,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda earlier criticized the sultan’s daughter, Jacel, for providing the media a photograph of alleged Malaysian casualties in Sabah that turned out to be a photograph of Thai soldiers killed in 2007. Jacel later denied Lacierda’s claims, saying someone at the press conference had asked her to examine the photograph.

Garcia, while discounting reports of a Malaysian hit squad, said the government would not allow any harm to come to the Kiram family.

“The Philippine government does not tolerate assassins whether local or foreign, and it will proceed against any wrongdoers if and when the evidence warrants,” Garcia said in a text message.

Idjirani earlier said the Malaysian commandos enlisted the help of New People’s Army recruits from Quezon to carry out the assassination.

Idjirani said the information was relayed a Filipino lawyer whom he did not name but described as a legal counsel of Pastor Saycon, Kiram’s political adviser.

The lawyer was reportedly approached by a Malaysian businessman named Kenneth Lee to talk to the hit squad.

The Sulu sultanate said it has tightened security in the Kiram residence.

“We will be having our own security measures but of course we will let the police and military do their jobs to protect us. This is the proper time that President Aquino must show his sincerity in protecting his constituents,” Idjirani said, describing the assassination plot as “a very serious matter.”
In Malaysia, military officials dismissed the guerrilla tactics used by the sultan’s followers who remained in Sabah, the Malaysian state news agency Bernama reported.

The news agency quoted Army Field Commander Lt. Gen. Datuk Seri Zulkiple Kassim as saying the guerrilla tactics were no match to the tactics of the Malaysian security forces.
“This is proven by the 62 terrorists shot dead,” he said.

Armed Forces Chief Gen. Tan Sri Mohd Zulkifeli Mohd Zin said security forces fired mortar and heavy artillery before entering areas occupied by the sultanate’s forces.

“This tactic is used to ensure the safety of security forces and because of the challenging terrain including forest, swamp and farms. The terrorists who use snipers are familiar with these areas,” he said.

He said the sultan’s men used Garand and M-16 rifles, which could be used to snipe at targets from 550 meters.

Also on Wednesday, United Nationalist Alliance senatorial candidate Richard Gordon questioned the motives behind President Aquino’s first commemoration of the Jabidah Massacre on Corregidor Island.

Gordon said commemorating the bloodbath from 45 years ago was very suspicious and only appeared to be the government’s attempt at covering its blunder in handling the present issue in Sabah.

“Why is the government only celebrating it now? It’s been three years since President Aquino assumed the presidency and he could have started doing it on his first or second year,” Gordon said.

“The timing is very suspicious and awkward. Are we doing it now because we have a problem with Malaysia? Because the government committed a monumental blunder in the manner that the issue has been handled? Is the president trying to assuage the hurt of the people whose kin were killed in Sabah – this is why he is now trying to resurrect something that has not been proven?” Gordon said.

The former senator also slammed the President for sending out mixed signals in going to Corregidor to lead the commemoration rites.

He said President Aquino’s spearheading the commemoration constitutes an admission that the late President Ferdinand Marcos was really going to invade Sabah and the Aquino administration was now bending over backwards to placate Malaysia over the present standoff in the disputed territory.

Malaysia files terror charges vs 8 Pinoys

From ABS-CBN (Mar 20): Malaysia files terror charges vs 8 Pinoys

Malaysia has filed terrorism-related charges against 8 Filipinos in relation to the conflict in Sabah.

The 8 are members of a group of armed men who clashed with security forces after landing in a remote coastal area and pressing a 19th century claim to the land.

Security forces are still hunting down the remnants of the group that sailed in mid-February to Sabah state on Borneo island, eventually triggering battles that left up to 71 dead. Nine of the dead were Malaysian security personnel.

Bernama news agency said 8 men, aged between 17 and 66, were chaged with terrorism and waging war against Malaysia's king after appearing in a heavily guarded court in the coastal town of Lahad Datu, site of most of the fighting.

Death penalty

Waging war against Malaysia's king carries a possible death penalty while they could face life imprisonment if found guilty of terrorism.

The men entered no plea.

Neither police nor the attorney general's office could be reached for comment.

Masidi Manjun, Sabah state tourism minister, told that local lawyers want to defend the 8 men.

"[They were] charged under provisions under Malaysian Law & local Bar Association has offered legal counsel," he said on Twitter.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been under pressure to take a tough stand after security forces took no action against the intruders for two weeks. Najib must call a national election in weeks and his party, in power since independence from Britain in 1957, faces a tough contest.

Ties with the Philippines, periodically strained by security and migration issues, could be further soured by the case.

The group of about 200 engaged in weeks of negotiations over their claim to the region before Malaysian forces mounted an all-out assault in oil palm-fringed coastal areas.

Militants who escaped the onslaught went into hiding, surfacing occasionally for gun battles with Malaysian forces.

The Filipino group is demanding recognition and increased payment from Malaysia for their claim to Sabah, part of Borneo leased by the Sultanate of Sulu to British colonialists in the 19th century.

Members say they are a part of the Sultan of Sulu's army and offered a unilateral ceasefire rejected by Najib.

US regrets Sabah incident

Meanwhile, the US government has expressed regret at the violence in Sabah, according to the Department of National Defense (DND).

Visiting US Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin discussed the issue in their meeting in Camp Aguinaldo Tuesday.

"It was mentioned in passing," DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said on Wednesday.

"They feel sad of the incident happening. They regret that it occurred," he added.

Carter did not say if Washington will intervene to end the conflict.

Troops, illegal loggers clash in Sultan Kudarat

From the Mindanao Examiner Blog site (Mar 21): Troops, illegal loggers clash in Sultan Kudarat 

Security forces clashed with suspected illegal loggers on Tuesday in the southern Philippines, but there were no reports of casualties on both sides, officials said.

Officials said army soldiers and pro-government militias were securing illegally cut logs and lumber in the town of Bagumbayan in Sultan Kudarat province when they came under fire.

Army Col. Edmundo Pangilinan said dozens of armed men fired on the troops and tried to retrieve the logs, but they failed. He said villagers have previously tipped off the military and the police about the illegal logging in the area, particularly in hinterland village of Kabulanan.

Because of the reports, soldiers, headed by Lt. Col. Marlou Guloy, of the 46th Infantry Battalion, were sent to patrol the area along with the police and governmet foresters until they tumbled on the logs estimated around 300,000 board feet.

The piles of logs occupied a stretch eight kilometers long and due to the huge number of logs, authorities have requested cargo trucks to haul it all off.

It was not immediately known who wa behind the nefarious activities, but the military deployed more soldiers to track down the illegal loggers.

FAB wins support in Cebu and the Visayas

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 20): FAB wins support in Cebu and the Visayas

Displaced Moros who are presently living in Cebu and the Visayas expressed strong support for the immediate implementation of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and called on the Philippine Government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to address their plight.

This expression of support was done during a well-attended Partners’ Forum with the theme “Addressing the Plight of Internally Displaced Moros in the Light of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro” spearheaded by the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF-7) and held at the Grand Convention Center in Cebu City last March 13, 2013 from 9AM to 4PM.

“If there is real love towards one another in the hearts of every Filipino, then, there could be no conflict and displacement. My personal advocacy is geared towards caring for mother earth, loving one another and promoting peace and it is in this context that I welcome all the participants in this partners’ forum,” said Hon. Michael Rama, Mayor of Cebu City, in his welcome address.

Dr. Saffrullah M. Dipatuan, Chairman of the Bangsamoro Development Agency, delivered a message as official representative of Hon. Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim, Chairman of the MILF Central Committee, who was not able to grace the forum as guest speaker due to his very hectic schedule and prior commitments.

Dr. Dipatuan thanked the people of Cebu and the Visayas and respective local government units for their patience and hospitality in hosting this big number of displaced Moros who were forced to leave their homeland as a result of the conflict in Mindanao.

“The Framework Agreement hopes to finally bring an end to the centuries-old conflict in Mindanao as it will address the injustices committed against the Bangsamoro people right in their homeland.” Dr. Dipatuan said. The succeeding Filipino colonial regimes that occupied MalacaƱang after the exit of the Americans aggravated their situation by putting up settlements and non-recognition of the sultanates. The FAB therefore, was carefully crafted to correct those injustices and aims to restore the honor and dignity of a nation that long suffered from colonialism and oppression. It will also restore the identity of the Moro people as a nation deprived of them by foreign and local colonizers.

“The fruits of a just and lasting peace and sustainable development will not only be reaped by the Bangsamoro, in particular, but by the entire Filipino people, in general. This is not only for us (the Muslim community), it is for everybody regardless of whether you are a Muslim, a Christian or a Lumad,” Dr. Dipatuan further said.

Undersecretary Bae Yashmin Busran-Lao, Presidential Adviser on Muslim Concerns, a member of the GPH Peace Negotiating Panel and a longtime advocate for gender sensitivity, underscored the sincerity of the government under H.E. President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III in putting an end to the conflict in Mindanao through the completion of the negotiation on the annexes to the FAB and the sincere; meaningful implementation of the said accord.

“Presently, there are around 280,000 internally displaced Moros in the entire Visayas, 60,000 of whom are in Cebu city, who are marginalized and experiencing severe difficulties in finding dignified livelihood because they are victims of the protracted war in Mindanao that includes the year 2000 all-out war,” launched by then President Joseph Ejercito Estrada”, said Acting Regional Director Malo Manonggiring of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF-7).

The more than 250 participants of the forum came from different government line agencies, interfaith groups, academe, non-government organizations such as the Rotary Club International, national and regional officials of the NCMF, and the Bangsamoro communities in different parts of Metro Cebu and the Visayas.

Before the end of the program, the representatives of various groups signed unanimously a resolution of support to the GPH-MILF Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, called on both parties to address the plight of the hundreds of thousands of displaced Moros who are now living outside of the Bangsamoro territories and asked the government to include the NCMF in the different government agencies that were mandated to participate in the Task Force Bangsamoro Development.

The representative of the Rotary Club International expressed their plan to replicate this forum in Davao City in two months time. They will invite a representative from the MILF to present their perspective on the FAB.

The issue of so-called internally displaced Moros or those who opted to reside and are now residing in Luzon and the Visayas due to economic reason; or are engaged in trading or business ventures is explicitly mentioned in the FAB under VI. Basic Rights, Paragraph 4 states that, “The Central Government shall ensure the protection of the rights of the Bangsamoro people residing outside the territory of the Bangsamoro and undertake programs for the rehabilitation and development of their communities. The Bangsamoro Government may provide assistance to their communities to enhance their economic, social and cultural development”.

Once in place, the Bangsamoro Government will not lead them astray and shall provide assistance if ever necessary or when situation calls for it. Outpouring of domestic and foreign assistance; grants including investments is inevitable once the Bangsamoro Region takes-off. The opportunity for everyone especially those residing outside the proposed new political entity are for them to return to their homeland so they can partake on the fruits of the success of decade of Moro struggle and peace negotiation.

AFP official denies alleged Kiram kill plot

From the Philippine Star (Mar 20): AFP official denies alleged Kiram kill plot

A military official on Wednesday denied that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has information on the alleged assassination plot of Malaysia against Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and members of the sultanate.
"We don't have any intelligence reports regarding that matter, maybe it's just rumors," AFP vice chief-of-staff Lt. Gen Alan Luga said.

Sultanate spokesman Abraham Idjirani told reporters on Tuesday that a certain Sunny Ng, whom he said is a Malaysian colonel, has arrived in the Philippines along with four commandos to carry out an assassination plot against members of the Kiram family and their supporters.

Idjirani also alleged that Ng's group has also hired three members of the New People's Army fro Quezon province to help them carry out the assassination.

He said the plot was revealed Monday by a former lawyer of Pastor Saycon, the sultanate’s political adviser, who was also one of the alleged targets of assassination.

The sultanate spokesman said that the lawyer is currently working for Kenneth Lee, a Malaysian businessman based in the country, and a business partner of Ng.

Idjirani said the lawyer was with Lee when the businessman met Ng’s group at Genting Palace, a restaurant at the Resorts World in Pasay City around noon Monday.

The Malaysian group allegedly checked in at the Maxim's Hotel at Resorts World.

In a radio interview on Wednesday, Saycon claimed that the Intelligence Service of the AFP has also checked the report and has found out that Ng's group has already checked out of the hotel.

Raja Muda a Malaysian, says political party; Sulu princess asks PNoy about ties to Johor sultan

From InterAksyon (Mar 20): Raja Muda a Malaysian, says political party; Sulu princess asks PNoy about ties to Johor sultan

A list of Malaysian civil servants from 1975 shows the name of Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram (photo from

A leading opposition party in Malaysia said Agbimuddin Kiram, the crown prince of Sulu who led more than 200 followers to press their claim to Sabah, is a Malaysian citizen and once served as assistant district officer of Kudat, Sabah. The sultanate confirmed he once worked there decades ago, but denied he is a Malaysian citizen.

This developed as the daughter of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, challenged President Benigno Aquino III to explain what she claimed were his close ties to the sultan of the “very powerful” Malaysian state of Johor.

The independent news site Malaysiakini reported that Parti Keadilan Rakyat director of strategy Rafizi Ramli said: "A search by PKR deputy secretary-general Darrel Iking at the national archives on the list of Civil Servants 1975 revealed the name 'Datu Agbimudin Kiram' stated there as an assistant district officer."

"I want Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to explain whether (Agbimuddin) is truly a Malaysian who was naturalized under 'Project IC' and whether he is an Umno member as most Sulu people in Sabah are," Rafizi said, noting that rumors about Agbimuddin had been making the rounds since the Sabah crisis started because he seemed to be familiar to residents there.

Worked in Sabah, but Filipino all throughout

In Taguig City, the Philippines, Abraham Idjirani, sultanate spokesman and secretary general, confirmed that Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram used to serve as assistant district officer in Kudat, Sabah but denied that the latter was a Malaysian citizen.

Raja Muda Kiram was also not issued a IC card by Malaysia.

"That time they said bigyan nyo kami ng IC, sabi ng Sabah authorities kahit hindi kayo bigyan, kayo ang may-ari ng Sabah [they said, ‘give us IC cards, but Sabah authorities told them, ‘even if we don’t give you, you own Sabah anyway]," Idjirani said.

He said even the wife of Raja Muda Kiram worked at the public hospital during that time.

Idjirani said the Kirams were in residency in Sabah after the Jabidah massacre of 1968.

UMNO in hot water over card-for-vote scheme

Umno, or the United Malays National Organization, is Malaysia’s ruling party and counts Prime Minister Najib Razak among its members.

“Project IC,” on the other hand, was a controversial program during the term of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad that critics say saw many erstwhile illegal Filipino migrants in Sabah given Malaysian identity cards and citizenship in an alleged scheme to woo their votes.

Since the situation in Sabah worsened, both UMNO and PKR have accused each other of instigating the crisis.

Aquino consulting Johor sultan?

Meanwhile, Princess Jacel Kiram claimed Malacanang “insiders” informed her Johor Sultan Ibrahim Ismail was acting as Aquino’s “adviser” in handling the Sabah conflict.

She claimed the Johor sultan lived with the Aquino family in Boston when the late Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., the President’s father, went into exile in the United States during the Marcos dictatorship.

"Who is Sultan Ibrahim Ismail of Johor, Malaysia to you?" Princess Jaccel asked Aquino. "Is he the person responsible (for) why the President wouldn't listen to any advise from any of his local counsel?"

"Who is he to you Mr. President? What does he have to do with your act regarding this issue?" she added.

Soldier killed in encounter with 20 NPA rebels in Isabela

From InterAksyon (Mar 20): Soldier killed in encounter with 20 NPA rebels in Isabela

A soldier was killed in an encounter with around 20 suspected New People's Army (NPA) rebels in Jones, Isabela on Monday, belated reports showed.

Colonel Loreto Magundayao Jr., public affairs office chief of the 5th Infantry Division, said troops from the 53rd Division Reconnaisance Company encountered the rebels while conducting security patrol in the vicinity of Barangay Dicamay Dos at 6:12 a.m. Monday.

After a ten-minute firefight, the rebels fled, only to encounter government rebels again that led to another clash. As a result, soldiers were able to arrest three civilians at the encounter site. Magundayao said if the three were proven to be not involved or associated with the rebels, they would be immediately released.

The slain soldier was identified as Private First Class Mhael Soriano. He was airlifted to Isabela Doctors General Hospital but was declared dead by doctors.

Pursuit operations were launched against the rebels.

AFP urges public to help stop NPA from collecting poll fees from bets

From InterAksyon (Mar 20): AFP urges public to help stop NPA from collecting poll fees from bets

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday called on the public to help stop communist rebels from collecting poll fees from candidates, calling the practice a "culture of corruption."

“Let us all work together to put a stop to the NPA (New People's Army)’s armed violence and culture of corruption, which only spells more problems and harm to our peace-loving citizens. The more the candidates and our voters are made aware of this extortion scheme the more we can guard ourselves against it,” military spokesman Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr. said.

On Tuesday, Senator Franklin Drilon assailed the Communist Party-NPA-National Democratic Front for allegedly perpetuating criminal acts through the imposition of poll fees such as permit to campaign (PTC).

Drilon said some candidates under the Liberal Party were being threatened by communist rebels because of their refusal to pay the fees.

“The AFP assures Sen. Drilon that it will continue to undertake serious actions to put a stop to all of NPA’s extortion schemes and terrorist activities," Burgos said on Wednesday.

"We likewise encourage our election candidates, owners of businesses, economic establishments, as well as ordinary citizens to speak out and immediately report to the proper authorities if they encounter similar incidents of extortion,” he said.

“The AFP appeals to all of them that giving in to the NPA’s demands will only bolster their means to further conduct terroristic activities which will hinder us from having a free, safe, and honest election. For its part, the AFP will continue to perform its duties and responsibilities together with the Philippine National Police as deputized by the Commission on Election to ensure a secure and fare elections,” he added.

Earlier, Burgos claimed that the rebels imposed a P5-million PTC fee on every gubernatorial candidate who wanted to campaign in NPA-controlled areas.

According to AFP Civil Relations Services chief Brig. Gen Rolando Jungco, the military has documents containing information on the alleged poll fees being asked by communist rebels from poll bets.

“NPA members of belonging to the Samar Provincial Party Committee unde the Easter Visayas Regional Party Committee have been reportedly soliciting permit-to-campaign fees from local candidates since February 22, 2013. The corresponding fees are as follows: mayor, P750,000; voce mayor, P500,000; and councilor, P5,000. Accordingly, the SPPC assigned PTC collectors with instructions that payments can be paid completely or in installment basis,” stated one of the documents.

The NPA collects lower PTC fees in Southern Mindanao, according to military documents.
“In line with the forthcoming 2013 elections, the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee’s (SMRC) GF-51 reportedly impose the following permit-to-campaign fees on politicians running for local seats in Davao del Sur: mayor, P100,000-P150,000; vice mayor, P50,000-P100,000; and councilor, P10,000-P20,000,” a second document stated.

The documents also noted that the NPA collects PTC fees from designated areas while the “white area committee personalities will serve as conduits and facilitators”. The so-called white area in the revolutionary lingo refers to legal fronts of the CPP-NPA-NDF such as personalities from left-leaning organizations.

Earlier, Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima warned that charges would be filed in court against electoral candidates if it would be proven that they paid rebels PTC fees.

U.S. deputy defense secretary talks to PH execs on 'maritime domain awareness'

From InterAksyon (Mar 20): U.S. deputy defense secretary talks to PH execs on 'maritime domain awareness'

United States Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on Tuesday visited the Philippines where he met with key government officials to discuss "maritime domain awareness" and defense modernization, among others. 

A statement released by Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Carter first met with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City where the two discussed the importance of U.S.-Philippines alliance.

Carter also reaffirmed the U.S.' commitment to enhance maritime domain awareness in the region, defense modernization and continued assistance in counter-terrorism.  

Carter also met with Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and key DFA officials. The discussion revolved on U.S.-Philippine efforts to enhance cooperation across security, diplomatic, and economic sectors, ASEAN and the Code of Conduct among other topics.

Carter concluded his Manila visit by meeting with Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa in Malacanang. Topics discussed were the US re-balance to Asia and other concerns on the possible impact of defense budget cuts.

Carter's stopover to Manila was part of his Asian visit.

Standoff leader a Malaysian citizen?

From Rappler (Mar 20): Standoff leader a Malaysian citizen?

PINOY OR MALAYSIAN? Agbimuddin Kiram's citizenship is not clear. Graphic by Teddy Pavon

PINOY OR MALAYSIAN? Agbimuddin Kiram's citizenship is not clear. Graphic by Teddy Pavon

Agbimuddin Kiram, the leader of the Sabah standoff and brother of the self-proclaimed Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, is a Malaysian civil servant, a Malaysian newspaper said on Wednesday, March 20.

Agbimuddin was appointed a junior administrative officer in Kudat, Sabah, in March 1974 and awarded Malaysian citizenship in the 1980s, according to official records dug up by the opposition-linked Malaysia Chronicle.

In the report, Rafizi Ramli, a senior official from the opposition People's Justice Party, claimed that the brother of the sultan obtained a national identification card under a controversial citizenship award program launched by former Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir from 1981 to 2003.

Ramli asked current Prime Minister Najib Razak to "clarify" how 72-year-old Agbimuddin and other Filipino militants won Malaysian citizenship.

The People's Justice Party is led by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, accused of instigating the standoff by meeting with the Kirams before Agbimuddin crossed over to Sabah from Tawi-Tawi.

Malaysia last week claimed that the standoff leader had escaped Lahad Datu and was able to cross over the Philippines, but this was denied by the sultan's spokesman.

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov Mujiv Hataman also insisted on Tuesday that there had been no sightings of Agbimuddin in the country.

U.S. Ambassador leads opening of new embassy facility

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 20): U.S. Ambassador leads opening of new embassy facility

United States Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas, Jr. today led the inauguration of the new embassy annex facility in Manila.

Ambassador Thomas and other U.S. Embassy representatives cut the ribbon together with representatives of Manila city government and officers of the Ayala Group of companies, including Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Chairman and CEO of Ayala Corporation, Bernard Dy, Executive Vice President, of Ayala Land, Inc., and Dante Abando, President of Makati Development Corporation.

According to the U.S. Embassy, the new annex facility, designed and built by the Makati Development Corporation, is the culmination of a six-year, two-phase project totaling $166 million that includes the construction of three annex facilities, a utility building, access control structures, and a parking garage built on the existing U.S. Embassy complex. 

The new annex incorporates numerous sustainable features most notably solar reflective roofing, the use of indigenous trees and shrubs for landscaping, and on-site treatment of wastewater that is reused for irrigation. These features conserve resources and reduce operating costs. The new facility has been registered with the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) certification.  

"These improvements in U.S. Embassy facilities in Manila mirror the state of U.S.-Philippines relations: our relations are dynamic, growing, and adapting with the times and to the needs of our two peoples,” said Thomas adding that their government’s relationship with the Philippines has grown and matured.

Also present in the event are Filipino talents like Stephanie Reese, Zendee and Jett Pangan.

The new four-storey building is the last of the three new main office annex buildings that the Department of State is constructing for the U.S. Embassy in Manila as part of six-year facilities improvement project. Two other new buildings inaugurated in 2011, currently house the Embassy's Consular Section, and the Department of Veterans Affairs offices and out-patient clinic.

The new building will serve as the workplace for representatives of 24 different Embassy Sections and U.S. Government agencies including the United States Agency for International Development, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and several law-enforcement agencies. It will also house the Public Affairs Section, and the Thomas Jefferson Information Center. (U.S. Embassy Manila-Public Affairs Section/RJB/JEG/PIA-NCR)

Army, LGU sign pact for an NPA-free town in Davao del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 20): Army, LGU sign pact for an NPA-free town in Davao del Sur

The Philippine Army (PA) and the local government unit of Sta. Cruz town in Davao del Sur signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) Wednesday morning to stamp down the insurgency problem in the area.

Lt. Col. Norman Zuniega, commander of the Army’s 39th Infantry Battalion based in sitio Cogon, Barangay Tuban, Sta. Cruz, and Mayor Joel Ray Lopez, being the chair of the Municipal Peace and Order Council, led the signing held at the Municipal Training Center.

Zuniega and Lopez both committed to prevent the resurgence of insurgent influence in the municipality so as the military and the LGU can continue to provide socio-economic development and progress to communities in remote areas.

Zuniega said as part of their strategies they are launching the Internal Security Effort (ISE) as a tool to harmonize the intensified fight against communist rebels while implementing livelihood projects to the residents.

Meanwhile, in Davao Oriental, two battalion commanders claimed that the insurgency problem in the province is already reportedly a thing of the past.

Lt. Col. Krishnamurti Mortela of the 67th IB and Lt. Col. Francisco Lorenzo Jr. of the 28th IB were one in saying that their areas of responsibility were already cleared of the presence of the New People’s Army.

“We are now on our peace and development efforts with the people in Davao Oriental,” said Mortela, whose AOR (area of responsibility) covers the second district of Davao Oriental. Lorenzo’s battalion is assigned at the first district.

Civilian hurt as armed men storm police outpost in South Cotabato village

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 20): Civilian hurt as armed men storm police outpost in South Cotabato village

A civilian was wounded after armed men believed to be members of the New People’s Army (NPA) stormed a police outpost in an outskirt village in T’boli town in South Cotabato Wednesday noon .

Sr. Supt. Romeo Ver, newly assigned South Cotabato police director, said at least 20 heavily armed men aboard a white Isuzu Elf truck entered a portion of Barangay Sinolon in T’boli at 12:10 p.m. and attacked a community police assistance center or Compac in the area.

He said a bystander was hit after the gunmen suddenly opened fire at the outpost, which was located around 10 meters away from the national highway.

The police official said the attackers then entered the outpost and took a .45 caliber handgun before hastily leaving the area through another nearby village.

“They threw two hand grenades at the outpost but one of them did not explode after its pin was not detached,” he said.

The injured civilian only sustained minor hits and is now recuperating at a private hospital in the area, he said.

Dominador Siloterio, T’boli information officer, identified the wounded civilian as Aurelio Dao, a member of the village’s Civilian Volunteer Organization.

He said authorities were still investigating if the armed men were NPA rebels.

AFP offers P50, 000 ‘cash gift’ to NPA who would surrender with high-caliber firearm

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 20): AFP offers P50, 000 ‘cash gift’ to NPA who would surrender with high-caliber firearm

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has a program that offers “cash gift” amounting P50,000 in exchange for every high-caliber firearm that members of the New People’s Army (NPA) will turn over to the government when they surrender, according to the Philippine Army (PA).

The NPA surrenderers can use the amount as seed money in starting a new life, Lt. Col. Michael Buhat, the commanding officer of the PA’s 49th Infantry Battalion (IB) here said on Wednesday.

Those who will surrender without firearms, however, are still accepted and placed under the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP), a program of local government units (LGUs) that provides livelihood opportunities to NPA rebels who are returning to the folds of law for them to be able to live decent lives together with their love ones, Buhat said.

“We are disseminating this cash-for-gun program of the AFP not to entice NPAs with money into giving up their hopeless cause against the government but to inform them that should they surrender now, they have something to start with in forming a new life for their families in a peaceful society,” Buhat said.

Part of the efforts for peace that his command is initiating in the province, according to Buhat is the continuous activities being conducted by the Bayanihan Team that goes around barangays to find out the needs of communities and attend to issues villagers are raising.

The Team includes representatives from the departments of agrarian reform (DAR) and of environment and natural resources (DENR), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and Presidential Agrarian Reform Committee (PARC).

“We have also invited representatives from the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) into the team for them to attend to problems involving agrarian reform beneficiaries who are encountering difficulties in the payment of amortizations for their Certificate of Land Owned Awards (CLOAs),” Buhat said.

Malaysia will win claim over Sabah 'hands-down' - historian

From the Philippine News Agency/Bernama (Mar 20): Malaysia will win claim over Sabah 'hands-down' - historian

PUTRAJAYA -- If the Philippine and Malaysian governments agree to take their claim over Sabah to the International Court of Justice, Malaysia would "win hands-down," says the country's leading historian.

Prof. Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim said, Malaysia would win the case, based on historical records and evidence which clearly showed that Sabah belonged to Malaysia.

He said, if there was another round of self-determination in Sabah, "all records are in our favor".

He added: "If the Philippine Government intends to take the claim of Sabah to the International Court of Justice, it will lose (the case), just like they lost Sipadan.

"They (the Philippines) have not been in charge of the island since 1873.

"More importantly, the people of Sabah have agreed to be part of Malaysia. This was the finding of the Cobbold Commission before the formation of Malaysia."

There was no immediate reaction to the historian's claim from the Philippines.

Khoo was speaking to reporters after giving a talk at the Leadership Forum of Razak School of Government titled, 'Multiculturalism in Malaysia: Are things as they should be' at Menara Prisma here Wednesday.

He was asked to comment on a report that the Philippine Government had hired a team of top lawyers to review the country's dormant claim over Sabah.

Debates over the Philippine Government and the self-proclaimed Sulu Sultanate's claim on Sabah had re-surfaced, following a recent incursion into Sabah's east coast.

According to Khoo, the so-called sultanate could not bring the case to the ICJ as it was not a sovereign nation.

Khoo said: "Sulu by itself, cannot take on is difficult to go to the ICJ, unless Manila wants to help them.

"I'm not sure Sulu and Manila are able to work together (on the claim over Sabah). They have never been able to work together."