Thursday, March 21, 2013

3CMOBn new commanding officer formally takes over

From the 3rd Civil Military Operations Battalion (CMOB) Blog (Mar 20): 3CMOBn new commanding officer formally takes over

Lt Colonel Patrick E. Cinco of Davao City has been designated as the new commander of the 3rd Civil Military Operations Battalion based in Escalante City, Negros Occidental effective Tuesday.

Called to active duty as a junior officer on January 13 1992, Cinco obtained a bachelor’s degree in commerce from the University of Mindanao.

He then pursued a masters degree in Public Administration at the University of the Southern Philippines.

Cinco succeeded Major Antonio Tumnog who is projected to occupy a position in the 3rd Infantry Division, Philippine Army at Camp Peralta, Jamindan, Capiz.

Cinco spent his career in Luzon as a company grade officer at the 71st Infantry Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, Philippine Army from 1993 – 1999 before becoming a student officer at the Training and Doctrine Command, Philippine Army last 1998.

He was re-assigned to various field grade positions in Mindanao from 1999 to 2010 before being re-assigned to the Civil Relations Service (CRS), Armed Forces of the Philippines as its Assistant of the Chief of Staff for Logistics, C4 last 2011.

Prior to his present designation, he was the Brigade Executive Officer of the 303rd (Brown Eagle) Brigade, 3rd Infantry (Spearhead) Division, Philippine Army based in Barangay Minoyan, Murcia, Negros Occidental.

“The designation of Ltc. Cinco to his position will sustain the gains this unit has achieved. I am confident that his leadership will continue to usher changes in this command as we pursue to reform initiatives in connection with our Army Transformation Roadmap,” said 3ID commander Major Gen. Jose Mabanta Jr.

I know that we have our dedicated and devoted stakeholders to work and collaborate with. It is the synergy of all the efforts that will lead us towards the realization of our objectives in winning the peace,” he added.

In his assumption speech, Cinco stressed to the officers and men of 3CMOBn to remain committed and steadfast on accomplishing the unit’s objective.

As new challenges and new beginnings await the new commanding officer, he further assured the stakeholders concerned of his full support in providing the best leadership, direction, motivation and example in continuing the efforts of winning the peace in Escalante City.

Palace asked: Why is US taking charge of Tubbataha probe?

From InterAksyon (Mar 22): Palace asked: Why is US taking charge of Tubbataha probe?

A private fact-finding mission asked President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday why the US government has taken charge of the investigation on the January 17 grounding of USS Guardian in the Tubbataha Reef and that Philippine authorities were left out of the investigation.

"This is very, very unfair. How come the Philippine authorities are left behind the investigation and that the investigation will be solely dispatched to Washington D.C.?” said Fernando Hicap, of Anakpawis party-list, one of the main organizers of the 15-man Sovereignty and Environmental Mission that was initiated last week.

“Please allow us to set the record straight. The US government should be the subject of investigation and the political object of criminal cases which the Philippine state should file against officials (and) crew members of the American minesweeper and the US government," said Hicap.

The Anakpawis party-list leader issued the sharp response to the statement issued by the US government on Thursday announcing they would invite officials of the Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard to participate in the US-led probe on the grounding of the warship USS Guardian in the UNESCO declared World Heritage site.

Lt. Col. Jason Chamness, deputy chief of the Joint US Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG), said Philippine officials would be invited to the JUSMAG headquarters in Japan.

He said the American investigators would bring Philippine officials to Japan and brief them on the status of the investigation undertaken by US authorities on the Tubbataha incident.

"We will not accept the results of the US-led probe on Tubbataha. That Washington probe is a triple platinum insult to the national sentiment and collective intelligence of the Filipino people. The US orchestrated probe on Tubbataha is a sham," added Hicap.

For his part, Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France insisted that an independent investigation should be undertaken asserting that the US has no legal, moral and political right to carry out an honest-to-goodness and objective investigation of the January 17 environmental chaos in Palawan.

"The US lead role in the investigation has no moral, legal and political basis and it is bereft of any objectivity. We will not subscribe to any Washington fabricated report on Tubbataha that would eventually exonerate imperial America from its crimes against the people and the environment," said France.

The March 11-14 mission in Tubbataha is composed of Pamalakaya, Anakpawis, Earth Island Institute, Sentro Para Sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra), International Fisherfolk and fishWorkers Coalition (IFWC), Fisheries Marine and Environmental Research Institute (FMERI) and Palawan chapters of Katribu partylist, College Editors Guild of the Philippines and Anakbayan.

The third-party group had recommended the filing of criminal and other appropriate charges against officials and 79 crew members of USS Guardian and officials of the Aquino administration regarding the environmental disaster.

The mission argued that President Aquino and the Government of the Philippines failed to assert Philippine sovereignty and were reduced into lame duck entities.

They said President Aquino could have charged those responsible for the disaster according to domestic laws but he never exercised this decisive sovereign right to claim justice.
Lawyer Jobert Pahilga of Sentra said aside from violating the constitutional provision
on the right of the Filipino people to healthy and balance ecology with the destruction of the 130,000 hectare marine reef park network, the grounding of USS Guardian was a clear violation of an international law and that the Tubbataha incident fell under Internationally Wrongful Act that compels that US government to pay for damages and ensure the full-realization of the rehabilitation of Tubbataha Reef park.

"The Aquino administration should have prevented the release and grand escape of USS Guardian officials and crew members and instead, detain them in any regular jail in the country, while waiting the US government to finish the retrieval of the USS Guardian and pay in full amount the damage and just compensation determined and assessed by independent bodies. The President is not inclined to pursue justice and sovereignty," said Pahilga.

3 U.S. vessels to arrive in the Philippines for routine port calls

From InterAksyon (Mar 22): 3 U.S. vessels to arrive in the Philippines for routine port calls

Three United States Navy vessels will arrive in the Philippines on Friday for "routine port calls," the U.S. Embassy in Manila announced. 

Docking in Subic is the submarine USS Ohio, in Manila, the destroyer USS Decatur and in Cebu, the submarine tender USS Frank Cable. The three will undergo "routine maintenance, replenishment of supplies, rest and recreation and community assistance and outreach activities," the U.S. embassy said. 

USS Decatur (DDG 73) is a 505-foot long destroyer named after Commodore Stephen Decatur, a U.S. naval hero during the U.S.-Britain war of 1812. The Arleigh-Burke class destroyer was commissioned in 1998 with over 300 crew and soldiers, several of whom were Filipinos.

Meanwhile, the USS Frank Cable (AS 40) has a crew of about 1,500 and serves as the 7th Fleet's mobile repair and support platform. USS Frank already visited Subic last year and will dock in Cebu this time.

The USS Ohio (SSGN 726) is the lead ship of the Ohio-class submarines of the U.S. This 560-foot long submarine will dock in Subic and has a crew of about 150 officers and sailors. It is the fourth vessel to bear the name of the U.S. state.

The visit of the three ships will "highlight the strong historic, community and military relations" between the U.S. and the Philippines, according to the embassy.

The visit comes amid the continuing efforts to salvage U.S. Navy minesweeper USS Guardian, which ran aground on Tubbataha Reef in Sulu Sea on January 17.

U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas said investigation on the cause of the grounding remains ongoing. He, however, declined to disclose any updates at this time. He reiterated U.S. apology over the incident.

Palace sees no intrusion

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 22): Palace sees no intrusion

Despite Chinese ship’s entry in Kalayaan isle

Malacanang confirmed on Thursday that a Chinese ship entered Philippine territory early this week, but denied that it was an “intrusion” into the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

Military sources said on Wednesday that the ship, which was “large” and “bearing Chinese markings” as described by fishermen, was seen dumping construction materials in one of the islets in the Kalayaan Island Group near Palawan.

The KIG is part of the Spratlys, one of three major islands being contested by China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam Brunei and Taiwan.

Valte, however, said that the ship was not a landing ship tank but a fishing vessel, as confirmed by the National Defense Department.

The Department of National Defense has verified the report and the alleged landing type vessel supposedly unloading plywood is actually a fishing vessel with ‘paways’ or smaller boats,” she said.

But when asked to reconcile her admission that there was indeed a Chinese fishing vessel in the area, while saying that its presence could not be considered as an “intrusion,” Valte instead said the Palace was only adopting the statement of the Foreign Affairs Department, which claimed that the fishing vessel did not “intrude” into Philippine territory.

Foreign Affairs, however, apparently had a different view about the incident compared to its position on the Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal.

Chinese fishermen had “intruded” and were caught poaching in the Shoal in April, sparking a standoff when Chinese maritime officials prevented Philippine authorities from arresting the Chinese fishermen. The DFA had protested the Chinese action, and the recent moves by Beijing, including the establishment of Sansha City in June to ‘administer’ the activities in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

To date, the Chinese continues to “intrude” into the shoal, as at least three Chinese maritime vessels had remained in the area, apparently to prevent local fishermen from fishing I the area.

Manila Standard later tried to contact Chinese embassy spokesperson Zhang Hua but she could not be reached for comment.

On Wednesday, military sources, quoting local fishermen who saw the ship, described the vessel as “large” and bearing “Chinese markings.”

“These intrusions were monitored during the night and these vessels believed to be Chinese were unloading construction materials on the island that we owned because it is part of the KIG,” said the source.

The Western Command based in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan has already sent reconnaissance planes and patrol ships to check on the report that a Chinese landing tank ship unloaded materials soomewhere in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), according to Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo, the designated spokesman for security concerns in the West Philippine Sea and special disposition of forces of the Philippine Navy.

“We are validating that information. Navy aircrafts and ships under the operation control of the Naval Forces West continue sovereignty patrol missions in its AOR (area of responsibility, including KIG,” Arevalo said.

Maj. Oliver Banaria, commander of the 6 Civil Relations Group of the Armed Forces’ Civil Relations Service (CRS), also confirmed the course of action being undertaken by Westcom.

Banaria, however, neither confirmed nor denied the report about the intrusion.

“Sorry, I cannot confirm anything until we got feedback from the teams that were sent to verify the report,” he said.

The report about the new intrusion of Chinese ships in the KIG during nighttime early this week and the alleged dumping of construction materials in one of the KIG islets was “very much similar” to what the Chinese did in the Mischief Reef, which is located very near Spratlys.

“The Chinese operate at night, brought their construction materials to the Mischief Reef by dropping them inside the lagoon until we woke up one day that the Chinese had already established underwater the foundations of the structures that we saw at present on that part of the sea that we originally owned,” a senior officer from the Philippine Air Force (PAF) said.

The KIG is composed of seven islets and two reefs is a municipality of Palawan which is currently under the leadership of Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon. It is located in the WPS where the Spratly Islands (South China Sea) is found.

China had rejected international arbitration to address the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea, prompting Manila to file a case before the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas tribunal.

Beijing, however, rejected Manila’s move and insisted that China has indisputable sovereignty over the entire waters and formations southeast of China encompassed by its nine-dash line claim.

China’s refusal to participate in the proceedings, however, will not derail the arbitration, and the tribunal can still proceed with an ex-parte trial and make a binding decision, according to arbitration rules.

The KIG is composed of seven islets and two reefs is a municipality of Palawan which is currently under the leadership of Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon. It is located in the WPS where the Spratly Islands (South China Sea) is found.

US assures PHL of defense assistance

From the Business Mirror (Mar 21): US assures PHL of defense assistance

UNITED States Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. said the US is committed to continue defense-related assistance to the Philippines despite spending cuts that would be implemented by Washington starting this year.
“We don’t know where sequestration is going to take us; we have to leave that to the President [Barack Obama] and Congress to work out, but there has been no effect, current effect on our operations throughout our embassy as of this date,”
Thomas said after a “boodle fight” with reporters on Thursday. Sequestration is a procedure in US law that puts a high cap on how much the government can spend on federal programs such as education and defense.
In its official web site, US Department of Defense officials on March 20 expressed apprehensions over the consequences of the sequestration on American troops and military readiness.
“Under the 2011 Budget Control Act, the Defense department was required to cut $487 billion from its budget,” the US DOD said, quoting Frank Kendall, undersecretary of Defense for acquisitions, technology and logistics.
However, Thomas cited as example his experience in 1995 when there were deep cuts in US spending.
“When I was a middle-level officer in India, we had the government shut down, but we survived it. So we’ll survive this also.”
Thomas reiterated that the Philippines would continue receiving support from the United States.
“I’m sure you know that in the last 11 years, the Philippines has been the largest recipient of US military aid in Southeast Asia, and that continues.”
Thomas cited as example the Coast Guard cutter that would be delivered to the Philippines “in a couple of months.”
He also emphasized US support in disaster relief and need for humanitarian missions.
“We are in the ring of fire and you have to be the first responders. Clearly, the United States will always come in if needed.” Thomas said that it’s his concern on how the US can help forward the current Philippine government’s defense policy.
“That’s another sign of our support. So what we do is ask [your government officials] what they want, what they are trying to do, how can we partner with them, how can we get other allies in the region to partner with the Philippines.
Thomas also said that the US would continue sending military assets here.
“We just had the Blue Ridge here and we have another ship coming in this weekend. It’s [visits] not been affected by sequestration so we’ll have to see where we go.”

Kidnapped Australian freed in Basilan: reports

Posted to ABS-CBN (Mar 21): Kidnapped Australian freed in Basilan: reports

 An Australian man kidnapped in Zamboanga Sibugay last December was freed by his captors Thursday afternoon, initial reports from the military said.

The Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) said in a press statement that Warren Rodwell was released in Basilan.

Rodwell, 53, was snatched from his residence in Ipil town last December 5.

As of posting, he was being brought to Wesmincom headquarters, according to a dzMM report by ABS-CBN Zamboanga's Jewel Reyes.

The military did not give further details on Rodwell's release, including answering questions on whether ransom was paid for his freedom.

Wesmincom later had apparent second thoughts in confirming Rodwell's release.

Wesmincom spokesman Col. Rodrigo Gregorio, who issued the earlier press release, said they are "hopeful" that Rodwell has been released by his kidnappers.

Local officials are mum on the issue.

Moro rebels earlier joined the hunt for the kidnapped Australian.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) formed a tracking unit to help authorities recover Rodwell, rebel spokesman Vol Al-Haq said.

He said the MILF was checking unverified reports that Rodwell was in the hands of the smaller Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group in their southern island territory of Basilan.

Rodwell, who is married to a Filipina, had been living in Ipil for 8 months prior to his abduction.
Authorities imposed a news blackout on the search, although various sources had said his abductors likely took him across to Basilan, a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf.

Local press, citing police sources, have reported that Rodwell's abductors sent his wife photographs to prove he was alive and demanded an initial ransom of P1 million.

The Abu Sayyaf is a small band of Islamic militants which was formed with seed money from Al-Qaeda in the 1990s.

It has carried out numerous kidnappings for ransom, often targeting foreigners and Christians and a spate of high profile bombings over the past two decades.

It is not included in the peace talks between Manila and the 12,000-strong MILF, which had agreed to help government forces go after criminal gangs and terrorists in areas where it operates.

Malaysia kills 2 more Sulu army members in Sabah clashes

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Mar 21): Malaysia kills 2 more Sulu army members in Sabah clashes

A purported wanted poster - which shows Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and his brother Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram - in Malaysia.
Malaysian security forces killed two followers of the Sultanate of Sulu and captured a female member in separate clashes in Sabah’s Lahad Datu town.
Malaysian authorities said one of its soldiers was also wounded in the fighting that erupted Wednesday in the village called Tanjung Batu where security forces are pursuing the sultan’s men.
The identities of those slain in the fighting since hostilities began this month remain unknown, although Malaysia initially said that one of those killed was General Musa Abdulla, of the Royal Sulu Army.

It said there were two clashes in the village – one at 11.30 a.m. and the other at around 2 p.m. – and the operations are still going on in an effort to flush about 50 remaining followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram.
The ailing 74-year old self-proclaimed sultan sent about 200 followers - headed by his brother Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram - on February to Sabah to exert their claim and historical rights over the island, which is also being claimed by Malaysia.

More than 60 of the sultan’s men had been killed and over 300 Filipinos arrested on suspicion they were supporting or aiding the group of Raja Muda Agbimuddin.
Malaysia has put Sultan Jamalul and his brother on its wanted list and branded them as terrorists for intruding into Sabah and killing and decapitating 10 policemen and soldiers in separate clashes on the island.
It is also investigating reports that somebody was financing Sultan Jamalul to destabilize Sabah ahead of elections this year.

The Philippines, which is also holding its midterm polls in May, has began a probe into the same reports and pointed to political opposition and former Muslim rebels, opposed to the peace talks being brokered by Malaysia, as behind the destabilization efforts aimed at derailing the government negotiations with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

There were also reports that several Malaysians allegedly met with Sultan Jamalul prior to the Sabah intrusion, but it was not immediately known whether the meeting had anything to do with the destabilization or not.

Sultan Jamalul has recently bared an assassination plot by a Malaysian group to kill him and other personalities tied to the Sultanate of Sulu for a still unknown reason, but President Aquino’s spokesman Edwin Lacierda branded the report as “tall tales.”

“This is getting ridiculous and every day they are coming out with tall tales. People should stop listening to tall tales,” Lacierda said, adding Philippine authorities have no reports about the slay plot.

Sayyafs free Malaysian fish merchant after 17 months in captivity

From the Mindanao Examiner Blog site (Mar 21): Sayyafs free Malaysian fish merchant after 17 months in captivity

Suspected Abu Sayyaf militants have freed a Malaysian fish merchant they seized 17 months ago in Tawi-Tawi province in the southern Philippines, reports said on Thursday.

The 48-year old Pang Choon Pong, a native of Sandakan in Sabah Island, has returned to his family, the Malaysia’s online newspaper The Star said.

Malaysian officials negotiated for Pang’s safe release in Sulu province where he was taken following his kidnapping in October 5, 2011 in Tawi-Tawi province.

Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said the release was secured through careful and tireless negotiations with the kidnappers. “We empathise with the family and the trauma they must have gone through. As such we decided to intervene and assist in securing Pang's release,” he said.

The report quoted the Chief Minister as saying that the family should thank Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak for his concern over the plight of Pang and his family.

“As you can see the leaders of the day are those who listen and reach out to the people regardless of race and religious background,” he said.

Following his release, Pang was flown to Kuala Lumpur before heading to Kota Kinabalu on Thursday, where he reunited with his family members at the Chief Minister's official Seri Gaya residence.

“I am very thankful to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, our Chief Minister and all the leaders who helped reunite me with my family,” Pang said, adding “I have been away for so long and am just happy to see my family.”

The report said among those who welcomed Pang at Seri Gaya were Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Yee Moh Chai, Industrial Development Minister Datuk Raymond Tan and Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister's Department, Datuk Edward Khoo, as well as Kota Kinabalu Chinese Chamber of Commerce President, Datuk Michael Lui.

Pang was seized by five gunmen in the village of Larap on Sitangkai Island. The Philippine military also linked Pang’s Filipino trading partner to the kidnapping.

Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra, the Sulu police chief, said the Abu Sayyaf is still holding a Japanese treasure hunter, Toshio Ito, 66, since 2010 and was last reported to have been helping the rebel group in cooking food for them and freely moves around.

He said aside from the Japanese, the Abu Sayyaf is also holding Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani, 43, who went to Sulu province along with two Filipino assistants in June 2012 to secretly film the Abu Sayyaf for a documentary on Al Arabiya News Channel. The Filipinos were both freed this year.

Prior to his detention, Atyani has had previously travelled to the province in secrecy to interview terrorist leaders, the Philippine military said.

The military has previously said it would arrest Atyani for espionage should he be released by the Abu Sayyaf. Atyani had also clandestinely interviewed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

Freyra said two European wildlife photographers Ewold Horn, 52, from Holland; and Lorenzo Vinciguerre, 47, from Switzerland, kidnapped in February 2012 in Tawi-Tawi province had been brought to Sulu. Police in Tawi-Tawi said the duo was allegedly seized by members of the Moro National Liberation Front.

6 AFP troops killed, 4 firearms seized in a series of armed encounters

Posted to the CPP Website (Mar 18): 6 AFP troops killed, 4 firearms seized in a series of armed encounters

Allan Juanito
NPA-Northcentral Mindanao Region
March 18, 2013
The New People’s Army – North Central Mindanao Region meets the forthcoming celebration of the NPA’s 44th Anniversary this March 29 with a series of military actions killing 16 reactionary troops and seizing four firearms.

Afternoon of March 13 – an NPA unit put up a checkpoint in Brgy. Bonbon, Butuan City and disarmed PNP officials SPO1 Walter Suralta and PO3 Romulo Lagarde. A 9mm pistol was confiscated from the police officers.

The operating unit then ambushed the reinforcements sent by the 58th IB PA and the PNP Regional Mobile Group. Three soldiers and five policemen of the responding troops were killed. One other policeman was wounded. The operating NPA unit withdrew to safety without a single casualty.

March 14 – another NPA unit confiscated a shotgun and a .22 caliber rifle from a henchman of the barangay chairman of Cahayagan, Carmen, Agusan del Norte.

March15, 6:00 am – an NPA unit seized the firearm of NBI agent Cesar Labitad in Sitio Mahayahay, Brgy. Lunotan, Gingoog City. A .38 caliber revolver and assorted ammunition were confiscated from his ex-CAFGU henchman, Toto Torion. Many complaints were raised by the local residents against Torion for indiscriminate firing and gun-toting using Labitad’s gun.

March 15, 3:00 pm – an NPA unit encountered troops of the 58th IB in Sitio Minlangit, Rojales, Carmen, Agusan del Norte. Five soldiers were killed in the heat of the firefight. The next morning, the mercenary troops forced the motorists plying the route to transport decomposing corpses in their motorcycles. There are no casualties on the NPA side, except for 20 military uniforms, an explosive device and eight bags containing personal belongings left behind.

March 17, 8:00 am – an NPA unit harassed operating troops of the 58th IB in Sitio Alicapawan, Manoligao, Carmen, Agusan del Norte. Three were killed among the reactionary troops. The NPA unit suffered no casualties.

This series of military actions of the NPA in North Central Mindanao is our response to the national call to intensify the people’s war and advance to the strategic stalemate stage.

NPA raid in Sinolon, a big slap on AFP

Posted to the CPP Website (Mar 21): NPA raid in Sinolon, a big slap on AFP

Ka Efren
NDFP Far South Mindanao Chapter

The most recent tactical offensive launched by the Red fighters under the Junito Banda Command of NPA Guerrilla Front 73 against PNP troops in Brgy. Sinolon of T’boli town, South Cotabato is an additional proof of the inexorable resurgence of the revolutionary armed struggle in the province. This newest successful raid of NPA Red fighters against a fully armed squad of the T’boli PNP lambasted the propaganda offensives of the 27th IB and 1002nd Brigade of the Philippine Army that the province of South Cotabato is “free” from their so-called communist-insurgents. This also proves the futility of Noynoy Aquino regime’s Oplan Bayanihan.

The NPA Red fighters of South Cotabato has proven once more of its daringness and ingenuity of employing guerrilla tactics amidst sustained combat, intelligence and civil-military operations of the Task-Force 73 of the 1002nd Brigade in the towns of T’boli, Lake Sebu, Banga, and Surala. The guerrilla fighters surprisingly attacked PNP troops stationed at Brgy. Sinolon – a lowland barangay of T’boli bordering Surala town – while Task Force 73 is conducting massive combat operations in the hinterlands of South Cotabato, Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat provinces. The tactical offensive was successfully launched by the NPA in the said area based on its ever widening and deepening revolutionary mass base.

Under Noynoy Aquino’s deceitful, ruthless and anti-people military campaign, dubbed as Oplan Bayanihan, 1002nd Brigade of Philippine Army created Task Force 73 mid last year. This was after AFP troops under 27th IB suffered several casualties in the three consecutive encounters with Red fighters in the towns of T’boli and Surala in the months of June and July last year, and the torching of Materiani boom sprayer truck of Sumifru in May of the same year. Task Force 73 is composed of some troops from 27th IB, 73rd IB, PNP South Cotabato and CAFGUs.

AFP’s Task Force 73 is backed and financed by the big foreign and local agribusiness plantations and mining companies operating in the area. It is tasked mainly to protect the Dole Philippines, Sumifru and San Miguel Energy Corporation (SMEC), terrorize the local populace and prevent the continuing resurgence of the revolutionary mass movement in the area under the pretense of their so-called peace and development outreach program.

Dole Philippines and Sumifru monopolize vast lands in the municipalities of Banga, Surala, T’boli, Tupi, Tampakan, Tantangan and Polomolok as pineapple and banana plantations. Moreover, Danding Cojuangco’s SMEC is pushing away the T’boli natives and the peasant settlers out of their land in Brgy Ned, Lake Sebu for the operations of its coal mining. These three corporations are notorious of grabbing the lands of the peasant masses in the province, and in some other places, using both deception and coercion thru the reactionary state apparatuses including the AFP and PNP.

The NPA’s tactical offensive against a squad of PNP in Brgy Sinolon was carried out as punitive action for the relentless subservience of the latter, as a mercenary armed force, to the vicious and greedy foreign and local big businesses. The said military action of NPA also serves as caution to some local bureaucrat-capitalists, especially Congresswoman Daisy Avance Fuentes, for their active and direct participation in the implementation of the devious and anti-people counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan. Miss Avance – Fuentes, a rabid counterrevolutionary, facilitated the rapid expansion of Dole Philippines and Sumifru in the towns of Banga, Surala, T’boli and Lake Sebu 12 years ago. At the expense of the local populace especially the peasant masses, the then governor in collaboration with the 27th IB and 1002nd Brigade, unleashed the vicious Oplan Purple Heart, a local version of the Oplan Bantay Laya under the US-GMA regime just to ensure the multinational agribusiness corporations to take root in the said municipalities. Now, running again for governor, Miss Avance – Fuentes is singing again the same song of deception, as if she’s pro-poor and pro-masses in her public appearance and pronouncements, but in real sense a militarist, conspiratorial, monstrous and greedy.

However, the NPA in South Cotabato vows to continue carrying its tasks of defending the peasant masses and other poor people of the province against the continuing intrusion and landgrabbing of big local ang multinational agri-corporations and mining companies and as well as against the onslaught of Oplan Bayanihan. By intensifying its tactical offensives against AFP, PNP, paramilitary troops, foreign and big local agribusiness plantations and mining companies and their private armed goons, the NPA in South Cotabato is rendering justice to the dispossessed peasants and other aggrieved people of the province. Thus, paving the way for the attainment of the peoples demand for genuine national freedom and democracy.

1 more Sulu gunman killed in clash with Malaysian forces

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 21): 1 more Sulu gunman killed in clash with Malaysian forces
A Sulu gunman was killed and a Malaysian soldier was wounded in a clash between Malaysian security forces with remnants of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III’s so-called “royal army” in Tanjung Batu on Wednesday, Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib reported Thursday.

Hamza told a Sabah-based radio station, monitored via shortwave radio here, that the soldier sustained only minor injuries on the left wrist and was recuperating at a hospital.

He said that the body of the unidentified “terrorist” had been removed from the scene of the clash, along with the cadaver of another Sulu gunman, which was discovered earlier.

According to the radio station Malaysian Armed Forces Chief Gen. Zulkifeli Mohamad Zin, told a news conference in Felda Sabahat that the latest casualty on the “terrorist’s” side brought to 63 the number of Sulu gunmen slain since Operasi Daulat (sovereignty) was launched on March 5.

Zulkifeli also announced the arrest of a woman, estimated to be in her 40s, following the Tanjung Batu clash.

“A total of 108 persons are now being detained under the Security Offenses and Special Measures Act (Sosma),” he said.

Hamza said so far, 30 bodies of slain Sulu gunmen have been recovered and 29 of them will be temporarily buried because of the failure of the Philippine government to claim them.

Malaysian held by Abu Sayyaf for almost 2 years back in Sabah

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 21): Malaysian held by Abu Sayyaf for almost 2 years back in Sabah

Chinese Malaysian Pang Choon Pong returned home to Kota Kinabalu on Thursday and was reunited with his family, five days following his release by Abu Sayyaf gunmen who held him for nearly two years in Jolo, Sulu, a Sabah-based radio station reported.

Pang, 48, was flown into Malaysia from the Philippines by Malaysian authorities who accompanied him home on Thursday after some debriefing in Kuala Lumpur, the radio station said.

Pang is engaged in the fish breeding business and was visiting Sitangkai in Tawi-tawi with a Filipino business partner when he was abducted by Abu Sayyaf gunmen on Oct. 5, 2011. It turned out that the Filipino business partner, whose identity was not disclosed, had a hand in the kidnapping, the station said. Pang was transferred to Sulu, where he was held for the next 17 months.

The radio station quoted Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman as saying Pang’s freedom was brought about by a series of negotiations with the Abu Sayyaf. But Musa was mum on whether money changed hands, the station added.

Pang said he was thankful to Malaysian officials led by Prime Minister Najib Razak and Musa for their efforts to secure his liberty.

Kidnapped Australian Rodwell remains in captivity—military

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 21): Kidnapped Australian Rodwell remains in captivity—military

Kidnapped Australian national Richard Warren Rodwell remained in captivity as of 10:30 p.m. Thursday, the military claimed.

This was contrary to earlier claims made by Col. Gregorio Rodrigo, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command, who said Rodwell was on his way to the Don Basilio Navarro Hospital after he was released by his abductors.

Rodrigo had told journalists to cover the arrival of Rodwell at the hospital.

Refusing to give details of the release, Rodrigo only said, “Journalists must be at the Wesmincom at 6 p.m.”

At around 10:30 p.m. Thursday, however, Rodrigo said “negotiation is still ongoing on the ground.”

“We are hopeful that anytime soon, Rodwell will be freed. This is due to a new development taking place,” he said.

Rodwell was abducted by armed men from his home in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay, last Dec. 5, 2012.

Earlier, Basilan Vice Gov. Al Rasheed Sakalahul told the Inquirer of the possible release of Rodwell Thursday.

Sakalahul had been requested by the victim’s family to negotiate for the release of Rodwell.—

Abu Sayyaf still worries authorities

From the Philippine Star (Mar 21): Abu Sayyaf still worries authorities

The United States (US) remains concerned about the Abu Sayyaf even as it cited the gains made by Philippine authorities against the terrorist group.

Commander David Cole, deputy commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTF-P), said the Abu Sayyaf “is still an organization that bears watching.”

“We are still concerned,” Cole said when asked to assess the capabilities of the group.

“We will continue to advise and assist our Philippine partners as long as the invitation from the government of the Philippines here is still open to us,” he added.

Cole said Philippine authorities have made gains in the fight against the terrorist group.

“If you took a snapshot from now back in 2002 and compare both, I think you’d be very pleased with the progress of our Filipino partners,” he said.

JSOTF-P has been in the Philippines since 2002 and is based in Zamboanga City. The unit conducts training and development programs in the area but is barred from engaging in actual combat.

NPA squad leader yields in Misamis Occidental

From the Philippine Star (Mar 21): NPA squad leader yields in Misamis Occidental

A leader of the New People’s Army (NPA) surrendered to police forces of a village in Misamis Occidental, a security official said on Thursday.
Senior Superintendent James Mejia, Zamboanga del Norte police provincial director, said Paterno Sagadrata Cantutay Jr. known with the aliases Ram and Jolie, 35, single, surrendered to police forces under Senior Inspector Robert Esparagoza at Sapang Dalaga town Tuesday afternoon.

Cantutay, a resident of Barangay Lapangan, Don Victoriano town Misamis Occidental, is a squad leader of the Samahan Yunit Propaganda (SYP), a propaganda arm of the NPA Front ’89 based at Malaybalay City, Bukidnon province.

Police said Cantutay claimed he voluntarily surrendered to clear his name from the recent attack by NPA rebels at the pineapple plantation of the DOLE Philippines where a company guard was killed.

Cantutay also wanted to avail himself of the government’s ‘balik masa’ program, the police said.

MILF slams MNLF leader over Bangsamoro tirades

From the Philippine Star (Mar 21): MILF slams MNLF leader over Bangsamoro tirades

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Thursday lambasted Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) for insinuating that Malaysia is using the MILF to bolster its claim on the resource-rich Sabah.
The Malaysian government has been helping facilitate the government-MILF talks since 2003.

Malaysia also leads the 60-member International Monitoring Team (IMT), which monitors the enforcement of the 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the MILF and the government.

The MILF central committee was also slighted by Misuari’ scriticisms of the Franework Agreement on Bangsamoro that were aired on foreign media as well as other published reports.

Mohammad Ameen, chief secretariat of the MILF central committee, branded Misuari’s insinuation as unfounded.

“Malaysia's participation in the Mindanao peace process is for the good of Muslims in Southern Philippines,” Ameen said.

He said Misuari has committed a blunder with his statement attacking both the MILF and Malaysia.

Malaysia is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an influential bloc of more than 50 Muslim states, including wealthy petroleum-exporting countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

The OIC helped broker the September 2, 1996 final government-MNLF peace agreement.

“This is a total lie and completely fabricated,” Ameen said, referring to Misuari's statements.

Misuari’s latest tirades against the MILF have been uploaded on YouTube, according Ameen.

Misuari said Malaysia has been interfering with the domestic affairs of the Philippines through its “third party facilitation” of the GPH-MILF talks.

According to Ameen, it was the Philippine government, under then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, that sought Malaysia's help to revive the GPH-MILF talks in 2003 following the suspension of the negotiations in 2000 as a consequence of then President Joseph Estrada’s all out war against the rebel group.

Ameen said there is also no truth to Misuari’s contentions that Malaysia has been sowing dissension among Moro sectors in Mindanao by focusing attention only on the government-MILF talks.

“How can Malaysia use the peace talks when the Sabah issue is not even an agenda of the on-going negotiations?” Ameen said.

He said Malaysia initiated the Bangsamoro Solidarity Conference in 2002 in a bid to unite the MNLF and the MILF to resolve the decades-old Moro issue.

“Why is Misuari so eager in backing up the Sabah claim now when he, throughout his 21 years of peace negotiation with Philippine government, never raised that issue and that even the government-MNLF Final Peace Agreement in 1996 never had any reference to the Sabah claim?” Ameen said.

While Misuari’s group has been critical of the Sabah issue, the largest and most politically active MNLF faction, led by Cotabato City Vice-Mayor Muslimin Sema, has expressed support to a peaceful resolution to the Sabah crisis.

Sema’s group also said Malaysia is like a ‘big brother” to the MNLF.

“We even ought to thank Malaysia for giving us sanctuary, as MNLF members, in some of the islands in its territory, when we were still fighting the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Sema said.

US to invite Phl officials to join Tubbataha probe

From the Philippine Star (Mar 21): US to invite Phl officials to join Tubbataha probe

The United States (US) will invite officials of the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard to participate in the probe on the grounding of the warship USS Guardian in Tubbataha Reef.
In a press briefing yesterday, Lt. Col. Jason Chamness, deputy chief of the Joint US Military Assistance Group, said the Philippine officials would be invited to their headquarters in Japan.

“They (US investigators) are bringing Philippine officials over and we are coordinating that and they will probably go back a couple more times as the investigation continues,” he added.

Chamness did not say when the probe would be completed. He, however, said the retrieval operations of the USS Guardian may be finished next month.

Asked if the crewmen of the USS Guardian would be slapped with administrative sanctions, US officials said they cannot speculate.

“They will be considering all things in it. If there is any violation of the uniformed code of military justice, I’m sure they will be handled in the appropriate manner.” Chamness said.

“I invite you to look at the uniformed code of military justice to see what is included in the code but to answer the question directly, that would be prejudging the investigation,” said Steve Weston of the US embassy’s political section.

US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. said they would help the Philippines rehabilitate the Tubbataha Reef, which is known for its extensive coral network.

“We have been working carefully with the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard to remove the ship without additional damage to the reef,” Thomas said.

“We know honestly it will take years to repair that part of the reef,” he added.

The 1,300-ton, 68-meter-long USS Guardian ran aground in the reef’s south atoll last Jan. 17.

The US Navy has attributed the incident to “faulty navigation chart data” but some sectors believe it was caused by human error.

Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya earlier said he had been hearing theories that US sailors manning the ship might have had too much “rest and recreation” in Subic.

The reef spans 130,028 hectares and has been named a World Heritage Site.

US reiterates call for dialogue on South China Sea dispute

From InterAksyon (Mar 21): US reiterates call for dialogue on South China Sea dispute

The United States on Thursday reiterated its appeal to claimant countries in the South China Sea, which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea, to sit down and negotiate a peaceful resolution of their territorial disputes.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas also said the US remains keen on its plan to "rebalance" its forces to Asia, which many see as an attempt to contain China’s growing strength.

Thomas said the South China Sea remains a vital economic lane through which "trillions of dollars of trade" passes, thus it is imperative that "sea lanes have to be opened to everyone."

"We call on China and all other countries to act in a responsible manner, to work with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to forge a serious code of conduct and to sit down at the negotiating table and do this in a peaceful manner," Thomas said.

He also said the US pivot to Asia would benefit not only the Philippine military but the region’s economy as well.

"The rebalance or re-pivot to Asia is not about any one country. It is about the economic engine, becoming the economic engine of the world," he said.

The US and Philippine military regularly hold joint military exercises as part of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the two countries.

This year’s Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises start on April 5.

Lone cop repels 15-man NPA raid on police station in South Cotabato

From InterAksyon (Mar 21): Lone cop repels 15-man NPA raid on police station in South Cotabato

Non-commissioned Police Officer 1 Roel O. Armecin will be promoted after single handedly repelling a raid by 15 communist rebels all armed with assault rifles on a police precinct in T'boli, South Cotabato on Thursday.

“I will be recommending Armecin for meritorious promotion. He is a source of pride and inspiration for all of us in the Philippine National Police,” provincial police director Senior Supt. Romeo Ver said.

Armecin had just graduated from a handgun marksmanship training, according to Ver.

“His training surely increased his confidence level, that was why he was able to maintain his cool and perform well under great pressure. Truly, Armecin makes the PNP organization proud. Always outnumbered, but never outfought,” Calima said.

The firefight between Armecin and New People's Army (NPA) rebels happened at about 11:45 a.m. at the Community Police Assistance Center (Compac) where the lone cop was on duty.

The rebels, all armed with AK-47 and other assorted firearms, arrived on board a white Isuzu Elf truck, according to Ver.

Armecin said the rebels had lobbed a grenade and fired inside the Compac and forcibly destroyed the cabinets in the station, carting away the .45-caliber pistol issued to PO3 German Golingay, another Compac duty officer.

Also, the NPAs seized three sets of PNP uniforms, wallet, and the mobile phone of Armecin, personal money amounting to P1,000, identification cards, ATM cards, and personal items owned by Golingay and Armecin.

The center's base radio was also damaged by gunfire. The shotguns issued to the two policemen were likewise damaged and rendered useless after being hit by enemy fire. Golingay and Armecin were able to seek cover and were unhurt.

Despite the superior strength and firepower of the enemy, Armecin was able to exchanged fire with the raiders using his personally owned licensed .45-caliber pistol.

“I saw two of the raiders fall down after I hit them with my...pistol,” Armecin said.

After robbing the policemen of their personal belongings, the NPA raiders lobbed three more fragmentation hand grenades then withdrew on board the same white Isuzu elf truck that they used in getting to the police station. But all the three grenades failed to explode. The raiders later shouted, “Mabuhay ang NPA [Long live the NPA]!”.

Witnesses saw at least two of the raiders lying wounded on the getaway truck. Witnesses also reported seeing at least 10 other NPA rebels who were positioned several hundred meters away, waiting to ambush government forces who were on their way to the Compac.

After receiving reports about the incident, Chief Supt. Charles Calima Jr., regional director of Police Regional Office 12, immediately proceeded to the Compac.

“I ordered the immediate reinforcement of the COMPAC and the blocking of all possible exit points of the NPA raiders. We proceeded to the COMPAC to check on our troops and personally direct hot pursuit operations,” Calima said.

Pursuing policemen recovered one dead body confirmed by Armecin to be one of the NPA raiders that he shot. Found from the rebel's body were live rounds for AK-47 and a mobile phone that contained video footage of NPAs undergoing tactical training. The body, currently at Saint Peter Funeral Homes in Surallah town remains unidentified.

“The raiders are believed to be members of Front Committee 73 led by Antonio Albotra alias Warren and Southern Alip Regional Guerilla Unit-Far South or SARGU-FS led by Ronie Nayre alias Joy-Joy,” Calima said.

Agbimuddin in PH, Malaysia insists

From Rappler (Mar 21): Agbimuddin in PH, Malaysia insists

Sabah standoff leader Agbimuddin Kiram escaped from Lahad Datu 10 days ago and has since been hiding in the Philippines, Malaysia insisted on Thursday, March 21.

"Azzimudie [how Malaysian authorities refer to Agbimuddin] is believed to have done so to avoid his location from being detected by the Moro people, and for fear that he will be arrested by the Philippine authorities," Malaysian Armed Forces chief Gen Zulkifli Mohd Zin told reporters, according a report by state news agency Bernama.

The standoff leader and younger brother of self-proclaimed Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III is no longer being pursued by security forces in Sabah as he is now "out of our jurisdiction," Zulkifli added.

Malaysia last week claimed that Agbimuddin had crossed over to 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 the standoff leader in the country.

US will stay out of Sabah issue

From Rappler (Mar 21): US will stay out of Sabah issue

SABAH NOT OUR PROBLEM. US ambassador Harry Thomas (center) takes questions from the media during the annual Kapihan sa Embahada informal chat with defense reporters. Photo by Carlos Santamaria

SABAH NOT OUR PROBLEM. US ambassador Harry Thomas (center) takes questions from the media during the annual Kapihan sa Embahada informal chat with defense reporters. Photo by Carlos Santamaria

The United States will stay out of the Sabah dispute despite claims that Washington is bound to protect the Sulu Sultanate under a century-old treaty.

"We're not looking to respond in any matter to the invocation of the treaty," US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas said during the annual Kapihan sa Embahada informal meeting with defense reporters on Wednesday, March 21.

Days after his followers crossed over to Sabah, self-proclaimed Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III asked US President Barack Obama for help in their quest to reclaim the territory from Malaysia.

The 1915 Kiram-Carpenter Agreement assures the sultan American protection “should a problem arise in Sabah between the Sultan of Sulu and other foreign countries” according to Kiram's spokesman Abraham Idjirani.

Idjirani later insisted that and Washington has a "historical obligation" to the Sultanate.

Tubbataha repair will take 'years' - U.S.

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 21): Tubbataha repair will take 'years' - U.S.

SALVAGE SITE. Aerial view of the Jascon 25 crane ship and Archon Tide tugboat beside the USS Guardian on March 12, 2013. Photo by US Navy

SALVAGE SITE. Aerial view of the Jascon 25 crane ship and Archon Tide tugboat beside the USS Guardian on March 12, 2013. Photo by US Navy

Repairing the damage caused by the USS Guardian to Tubbataha Reef will take years even if the ship is removed as early as next month, US officials said on Wednesday, March 21.

"We will assess the damage with the Philippine Navy, but we know honestly that it will take years to repair," US ambassador Harry Thomas admitted during the annual Kapihan sa Embahada meeting with defense reporters.

The US Navy, Thomas explained, has been working carefully with the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard "to ensure the ship can be removed without causing any additional damage to the reef."

"This is a very difficult and delicate operation to remove the ship in this manner. We are spending lots of funds to do this," he added.

The USS Guardian ran aground on January 17 inside the protected area of the marine park, a UNESCO World Heritage site considered one of the best diving spots in the world.

Pulling the minesweeper out of the reef will cost the US Department of Defense at least US$25 million, according to the contract signed with the Singapore-based private company hired to lead the salvage operation in the Sulu Sea.

MEET THE PRESS. Ambassador Harry Thomas (center) and other US officials take questions from defense reporters at the embassy. Photo by Carlos Santamaria

MEET THE PRESS. Ambassador Harry Thomas (center) and other US officials take questions from defense reporters at the embassy. Photo by Carlos Santamaria
 Salvage operation on schedule

A month after the salvage operation finally began following many delays due to bad weather, progress is being made and workers are getting ready to start cutting up the hull, another senior American official confirmed.

"Things are progressing pretty well," said Cdr David Cole, Deputy Commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines.

Cole noted that if the weather cooperates, the USS Guardian may be fully removed from the reef "sometime next month, on schedule."

Three weeks ago the Coast Guard said that salvage teams had been able to remove the funnel, a major step toward pulling out the minesweeper.

Also pulled out were pieces of sensitive equipment like the sonar winch.

Sensitive equipment from the USS Guardian will be re-used but most of the ship will have to be scrapped after its hull was breached when the ship ran aground.

The wood-and-fibreglass hulled boat, estimated to cost about $277 million, was too badly damaged to be towed away.

DISMANTLING SHIP. An American sailor grinds through steel in the engine room of the USS Guardian to prepare cutting up the hull. Photo by US Navy

DISMANTLING SHIP. An American sailor grinds through steel in the engine room of the USS Guardian to prepare cutting up the hull. Photo by US Navy
 PH officials invited to Japan

Cole also announced that Philippine Navy and Coast Guard officials have been invited to Japan to be briefed on the US Navy's ongoing investigation of the crash.

The incident --- which has fueled anger in the Philippines against its former colonial power -- was initially blamed on faulty navigation charts.

Asked if the commanding officer or crew members will face administrative charges for their roles in the events that led to the crash, Cole and other US officials refused to speculate on the results of the ongoing probe.

Vessels sailing into Tubbataha need permission, but Philippine authorities claimed the crew of the USS Guardian made no request to enter and even ignored radio messages that it was about to hit the reef.

Cole only said that after the USS Guardian is extricated, officials from both countries will conduct a joint assessment of the damage which will be used to determine compensation demanded by President Benigno Aquino III.

Thomas recalled that the United States has repeatedly apologized for the incident and stressed that Washington will "clearly compensate the government and the people of the Philippines for the harm caused."

Abu Sayyaf agrees to free Australian

From Rappler (Mar 21): Abu Sayyaf agrees to free Australian

DECEMBER VIDEO. A screen shot of the video of Richard Rodwell posted on Facebook in December 2012.

DECEMBER VIDEO. A screen shot of the video of Richard Rodwell posted on Facebook in December 2012.

Kidnappers of Australian Warren Richard Rodwell have agreed to release him Thursday, March 21, two senior intelligence officials told Rappler.

As of 7 pm, "negotiations" for Rodwell's release "are over...and he might be released" to a local Basilan official in Barangay Cabangalan, in the remote town of Tipo Tipo, according to a military intelligence officer.

The Abu Sayyaf kidnapped Rodwell, 54, from his home in Ipil, Zamboanga del Sur on Dec 5, 2011. The kidnap group initially set a P1-million ransom, but raised it to US$2-M by early 2012.

According to another intelligence official, local officials and the police are "just working on the process to transfer custody" from kidnappers to local executives. As of posting, however, our sources said Rodwell was not yet in the hands of the local executives.

In December last year, accounts on Facebook and YouTube posted and shared a video of Rodwell, holding a copy of the Philippine Daily Inquirer from Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012. Wearing a black t-shirt, his hair is cropped short, his cheeks sunken. He spoke with a weary air.

“This video clip today is to say that I am alive,” Rodwell tells the camera. “I am waiting to be released. I have no idea what’s going on outside. I am just being held in isolation.”

He added: “I do not expect to be released before the year 2013 at the earliest. I personally hold no hope at all for being released. I do not trust the Abu Sayyaf. I do not trust the Australian government.”

Sources in western and Philippine intelligence earlier told Rappler negotiations have been difficult largely because it’s unclear who will lead it. Leadership has shifted, and there seem to be differing goals and tactics employed by at least two agencies: the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.

Excluding Rodwell, there are 7 foreigners in the hands of kidnappers in Mindanao -- one Japanese, one Swiss, one Dutch, one Jordanian and 3 Malaysians.

Last February 2, kidnappers released the TV crew of Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani of the Dubai-based Al Arabiya network. The ASG released Atyani's cameraman Ramil Vela and audio technician Roland “Buboy” Letrero on Jolo island; but Atyani remains in captivity. The 3 were kidnapped in June 2012.

MILF lambasts Misuari's claim Malaysia promotes disunity among Muslims

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 21): MILF lambasts Misuari's claim Malaysia promotes disunity among Muslims

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Wednesday claims by Moro National Liberation Front chair Nur Misuari that the government of Malaysia had used the MILF to strengthen its claim on Sabah and Malaysia is responsible for promoting disunity among Moro people.

Mohammad Ameen, head of the MILF secretariat, said Malaysia, the Philippine government and the MILF, believed that Malaysia's participation in the peace process was for the good of fellow Muslims in southern Philippines.

“This is a total lie and completely fabricated. Misuari has committed a serious sin for making such an irresponsible and callous statement against both the MILF and the Malaysian government. He should rectify and atone for this grave sin,” Ameen said Wednesday.

This was Misuari’s latest verbal assault on the MILF and Malaysian government carried by Al-Jazeera YouTube and several Malaysian mainstream media in Kuala Lumpur.

Misuari has repeatedly criticize the government and the MILF for coming up with the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro.

He also lambasted Malaysia for interfering in the internal affairs of Philippine government by joining the peace process and acting as third party facilitator to maintain its hold over Sabah which is being claimed by the Sultanate of Sulu.

Ameen stressed that Malaysia is promoting unification of Moro fronts in southern Philippines and not disuniting it as claimed by Misuari.

Ameen reminded Misuari that it was Malaysia which called for the formation of the Bangsamoro Solidarity Conference (BSC) in 2002 in order to unite the factions of the MNLF and the MILF and to promote common position among them especially in their dealing with the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

“How could Malaysia use the MILF to strengthen its claim over Sabah when Sabah is never made part of the agenda of the peace talks since 2001?” Ameen asked.

Ameen also told Misuari that Malaysia did not volunteer to facilitate the GPH-MILF peace negotiation, but it was President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2001 who requested it to act as in-between the two parties when the negotiations resumed after President Joseph Estrada’s all-out war against the MILF in 2000.

Then President Arroyo, in her first foreign trip since becoming president after the ouster of President Estrada, traveled to Kuala Lumpur and officially asked Malaysia to facilitate the GPH-MILF peace negotiation.

Malaysia merely responded sincerely to the request of a good neighbor,” he explained, adding that the Sabah issue has never been part or issues of the peace talks.

“Why is Misuari so eager in backing up the Sabah claim now when throughout his 21 years of peace negotiation with the Philippine government, he never raised that issue and the GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement on 1996 never had a reference on the Sabah claim?”

Short of saying that Misuari is now disgruntled for his own making thus the peace agreement with the government he entered into did not work, sourgraping now, Ameen said the MNLF chair is making noise because he does not want the GPH-MILF to succeed.

“It is a pity that Misuari is blaming everybody for the failure of his leadership and growing irrelevance to the Bangsamoro struggle to self-determination,” Ameen said.

“As leader, Misuari has nothing more to prove; it is better for him to rest, write his true memoirs, and allow the new breed of leaders to lead the Bangsamoro people towards the fulfillment of their true aspirations,” Ameen stressed.

NPA field commander yields in Zamboanga del Norte

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 21): NPA field commander yields in Zamboanga del Norte

A field commander of the New People’s Army (NPA) has surrendered to the police of Zamboanga del Norte, an official reported Thursday.

Senior Supt. James Mejia, Zamboanga del Norte police director, identified the surrenderee as Paterno Cantutay, Jr. alias "Ram" and "Jolie," 35, a resident of Barangay Lapangan, Don Victoriano, Misamis Occidental.

Mejia said Cantutay surrendered to the Provincial Intelligence Branch (PIB) under his command.

Cantutay is a squad leader of the NPA’s Samahang Yunit Pangpropaganda (SYP) Front ’89, which is based in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, Mejia said.

Cantutay decided to surrender to clear his name and avail the government’s Balik Masa Program, he said.

Troops seize P5-M illegally cut logs, lumber in Sultan Kudarat town

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 21): Troops seize P5-M illegally cut logs, lumber in Sultan Kudarat town

Government troops seized around 300,000 board feet of illegally-cut logs and lumber worth an estimated P5 million in a series of operations in the last three days in an illegal logging site and lumberyard located along the Daguma Mountain Range in Sultan Kudarat province.

Col. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade, said Thursday they recovered the logs and lumber products in an abandoned logging area at a portion of Sitio Balugo, Barangay Kabulanan in Bagumbayan.

He said the seized forest products mainly comprised Lawaan hardwood and other tree species that were indigenous to the area.

The upland areas of Bagumbayan town, specifically those located within the Daguma Mountain Range, are part of the watershed forest reserve of the 92,450-hectare Allah Valley Protected Landscape.

Pangilinan said they launched the operations after receiving information regarding the rampant illegal logging activities in the area that were reportedly protected by an armed group.

He said that while proceeding to the site on Tuesday, their troops were initially met with bursts of gunfire supposedly coming from the group but they were able to fight back and forced the illegal loggers to withdraw.

At the logging site, he said they found huge volumes of abandoned lumber cuts and logs as well as gasoline fuel, a log loader and various logging equipment.

He said they later found an abandoned lumberyard near the area where volumes logs and lumber cuts were stockpiled.

“Based on our assessment, the illegal logging operations there may have been ongoing for over a year now. There were some cut trees there that already dried up,” Pangilinan said.

The official said the logging activities in the area appeared to have started on a small-scale basis but eventually turned large-scale when it became a lucrative business.

Citing their initial estimates, Pangilinan said the logged area now extends to about six kilometers in diameter.

“The damage to the site was very extensive as shown by the recovered logs and lumber as well as the actual logged area,” he said.

The official said their troops have remained in the area to secure the recovered forest products along with personnel from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Sultan Kudarat.

“They continue to hear some occasional gunfire, possibly coming from the illegal loggers who might be planning to take back the site,” he said.

Pangilinan said they are currently strengthening their positions at the site and assured that they would not abandon the area until the illegal logging activities are effectively stopped.

“We’re presently gathering information regarding the armed group and all personalities who were involved in this illegal activity,” he said.

Meantime, Jerry Dalauta, acting head of the DENR’s Community Environment and Natural Resources Office in Tacurong City, said they are set to transfer the recovered forest products to a safer site so they could conduct a proper inventory and evaluation.

He said they are initially eyeing the 601st Brigade’s main camp in Barangay Kalandagan in Tacurong City as temporary holding area for the recovered logs and lumber cuts.

“It will depend on our higher officials later on as to how and to whom they would be disposed,” Dalauta said.

The cutting of indigenous naturally–grown tree species like Lawaan is prohibited by the national government as provided for in Executive Order (EO) 23 issued in 2011 by President Benigno S. Aquino III.

EO 23 specifically declared a “moratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in the natural and residual forests” in the country.

The order was issued in light of widespread flooding and landslides in various parts of the country, which the national government blamed on the rampant illegal logging activities.(

4 killed, 3 soldiers wounded in Misamis Oriental firefight

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 21): 4 killed, 3 soldiers wounded in Misamis Oriental firefight

Four militiamen were killed while three soldiers of the Army’s 58th Infantry Battalion were wounded when government troopers and New People’s Army (NPA) rebels clashed in the hinterlands of the municipal town of Claveria here Wednesday.

Lt. Col. George Banzon, commander of the Army’s 58th IB based in Claveria, on Thursday said that the running gun battle started about 7 a.m. Wednesday and ended late in the afternoon.

Banzon confirmed the death of four members of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) during the firefight. He did not release the names of the militiamen.

He said that three regular members of the Army’s 58th IB wounded in action were flown to the Army hospital in Camp Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro City. Banzon also did not release the names of the soldiers.

Lt. Col. Eugenio Julio Osias IV, spokesperson of the Army’s Fourth Infantry Division, did not release details of the encounter, saying all reports were forwarded directly to the Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio in Manila.

Osias, however, confirmed that the firefight was “going on” with an “unknown” armed group when contacted Wednesday about the gun battle in the hinterlands of barangay Pelaez, Claveria, Misamis Oriental.

The Claveria firefight was one of the major clashes that took place in Misamis Oriental after the NPA rebels attacked the Del Monte Philippines, Inc. (DMPI) Main Camp Philipps in Manolo Fortich last month.

In a statement emailed to the Philippines News Agency Thursday, the NPA-North Central Mindanao Region said it is conducting military actions in the region in response to a nationwide call to commemorate the NPA’s 44th founding anniversary on March 29.

The NPA statement signed by Allan Juanito as the spokesperson of NPA-NCMR, also claimed responsibility in the attack of 58th IB unit in Manoligao, Carmen, Agusan del Norte on March 17, killing three government troopers.