Friday, March 22, 2013

Ordeal at hands of Abu Sayyaf

From the New Straits Times (Mar 22): Ordeal at hands of Abu Sayyaf

LAHAD DATU: It was 17 months of misery and depression at the hands of the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG), according to Pang Choon Pong.

But, the time the 49-year-old felt worst was when the Philippine army attacked the Abu Sayyaf base where he and others were being held.

"The Abu Sayyaf took us to the swamps and places with thick undergrowth to avoid detection by the army. We went several days without food and drink," he told the New Straits Times when contacted.

The hostages terror increased as they had to survive constant bombardment by the Philippine Air Force, who were attempting to wipe out the ASG bases on the island.

"I was constantly intimidated by my captors who held a parang to my neck and threatened to slaughter me if my family did not pay the ransom demand. My captors also regularly showed me video clips of Philippine soldiers who had been captured and slaughtered by ASG members," Pang recounted.

All that ended several days ago when he was released by the group.

Weeks of negotiations between the Putera 1Malaysia Club, the state government and the ASG via intermediaries paid off when Malaysian authorities secured Pang's release.

Pang was released by the ASG somewhere near Jolo Island in the Philippines and endured a 10-hour boat ride before arriving in Sandakan where he was met by Putera 1Malaysia Club members.

Pang was later flown to Kuala Lumpur where he was admitted to a hospital and had his statement recorded by authorities. Pang, who hails from Kuching, resides in Semporna with his wife and children. Pang, who operates a live fish farm in Semporna, was reunited with his family yesterday at the Sabah chief minister's official residence.

In October 2011, Pang and a worker left Semporna for the Lok Kang Ki Kampung in Sitangkai, the Philippines, to get fresh fish supply. They arrived the next day and spent the night at the home of his worker's friend. During the night, Pang was rudely awakened and assaulted by three armed men. The men claimed to be members of the ASG and took Pang to Kampung Puyu in Jolo Island where he was held captive with three other hostages.

Besides Pang, another Malaysian hostage who was also held in captivity with him was Nazarudin Saidin, who was freed in May last year. There was also an Indian national and a year-old infant who was believed to be the child of a Philippine soldier. The three men were constantly beaten by their captors.

"The breakthrough came when one of my captors took pity on me as I was between bouts of depression.

"My captors decided to let me go and I was able to seek the assistance of fishermen on Jolo Island. Luckily, the village head knew of the Putera IMalaysia Club and put me in touch with them.

"One of the fishermen took me back to Malaysia in his boat. The journey took about 10 hours."

It is understood that there are at least two Malaysians still in the hands of the ASG.

Half of police have no pistols: Aquino

From the Philippine Star (Mar 22): Half of police have no pistols: Aquino

President Benigno S. Aquino III said today that shortage of guns among the 148,000 personnel of the Philippine National Police (PNP) will be addressed before the end of the year.

Aquino, in a speech during the commencement of the Philippine National Police Academy, admitted that 50 percent of the PNP personnel do not own pistol issued by the PNP.

"That's why before the year ends, we are targeting to get hold of around 74,800 units of 9 millimeter pistol that we purchased under the PNP Capability Enhancement Program," he said.

With the delivery of these units, Aquino said the government could achieve the 1:1 ratio in the number of policemen and guns.

Cops who do not have service handguns issued by the PNP are being provided by the local government units where they are assigned.

Social workers monitor Pamana project implementation in Ifugao

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 22): Social workers monitor Pamana project implementation in Ifugao

LAGAWE, Ifugao -- The Ifugao Association of Social Workers, Inc. (IFASWI) will monitor all Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan Program (Pamana) projects implemented in the province under the Office of Presidential Affairs for the Peace Process (OPAPP).

According to IFASWI Board of Director Mario Indopia, OPAPP had approved recently the group's proposal for the community-based monitoring of Pamana projects for the Cordillera Bodong Administration-Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CBA-CPLA) now recognized and registered as a people’s organization called the Cordillera Forum for Peace and Development (CFPD).

He said the province of Ifugao had entered into a memorandum of agreement(MOA) with OPAPP last March 9 for the implementation of various projects of Pamana under the CBA-CPLA (now CFPD)-Government of the Philippines agreement. One of the salient features of the MOA involve the transparency and accountability arrangement that should be set in motion prior to the release of funds.

The IFASWI, as a civil society organization, has expressed its full support and willingness to take part in the attainment of transparency and accountability in the implementation of community-based projects for the CFPD members.

Indopia said that their involvement intends to facilitate participation of all sectors of the community in the attainment of good governance and proper implementation and monitoring of Pamana projects by organizing and mobilizing sectoral leaders as core watch group to ensure strict compliance of all winning bidders to the program of works and make sure their efficient implementation.

Moreover, it will encourage and facilitate the involvement of the community in the formulation of sustainability plans for all project components such as infrastructure, water system and livelihood programs their community.

IFASWI members have been implementing various similar projects in the municipalities of the province and have also been involved in social action and mass organizing of sectoral groups in Ifugao such as women’s group, Day-Care Center Workers Federation, senior citizens, solo parents, youth and other sectoral organizations.

The group is also a partner of the provincial government in designing, planning, implementation and monitoring of community development projects.

Beijing pushes sea aggression

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 23): Beijing pushes sea aggression

PH ‘strongly objects’ to Chinese naval drills

China continued its aggressive moves towards reinforcing its claim over the contested waters and territories in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), by conducting maritime patrols, both in the waters and in the air space above the contested areas.

The Chinese’ aggressive actions were made in defiance of other claims, especially from the Philippines, which had hoped to resolve the issue of its claim by bringing its case against China before an international tribunal.

China’s Xinhua News Agency reported on Friday that a Chinese helicopter patrolled parts of the disputed Spratly Islands on Monday.

The news website quoted an official of the Guangdong Maritime Safety Administration as saying that the chopper monitored part of the Islands.

“The helicopter took off from the Haixun 31, a marine surveillance ship, to monitor maritime traffic in waters near Dongmen Reef of the Nansha Islands,” it said.

The administration added that this was the first time a Chinese maritime helicopter was dispatched to patrol the South China Sea.

China refers to the Spratlys as the Nansha Islands, which is also being contested by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Xinhua said the Haixun 31 is one of three Chinese marine surveillance ships that left Sanya Port in Hainan province last Thursday.

China said the patrol seeks to boost China’s maritime law enforcement capacity and test the patrol team’s response abilities in the South China Sea.

The report said that the helicopter has “covered 800 nautical miles, monitored the navigation environment in waters near the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha Islands and conducted safety inspections for more than 40 Chinese and foreign vessels.”

Aside from the helicopter patrol, the Chinese continued to underscore its might in the waters, following the deployment of its largest fishery administration ship, the “Yuzheng 312,” which began its maiden patrol on the South China Sea on Friday.

The ship, the Chinese fleet’s largest in terms of displacement, left Guangzhou, capital of south China’s Guangdong Province, at 10:30 a.m. on Friday.

It sailed to the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea to carry out a law enforcement mission.

Xinhua said “routine fishery administrative patrols” around the Nansha Islands were being carried out to “better safeguard the legitimate interests of Chinese fishermen.”

Xinhua also reported that several Chinese vessels sailed to the South China Sea on March 19 and the Western Pacific Ocean to conduct combat readiness patrol and high-sea training.

The Foreign Affairs Department, said on Friday that it “strongly objects’ to the continuing naval drills in the Philippine maritime domain in the West Philippine Sea.”

Department spokesman Raul Hernandez said he was calling on China to respect the Philippines’ maritime zones facing the South China Sea amid reports of ongoing Chinese naval drills in the resource-rich waters that Beijing claims in whole.

At the same time, Hernandez said they were still ascertaining the exact location of the exercises.

“The government is in the process of determining the exact location of the exercises, which could fuel tensions anew if China would insist on holding it in areas being claimed by the Philippines and other claimants. Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan are also staking claims to the waters, in which some parts are called West Philippine Sea by the Philippines.”

He said the new Chinese intrusions violated a 2002 accord between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that discourages countries claiming parts of the China sea that could ignite tension or confrontations.

He said the Philippine Coast Guard will conduct a sovereignty patrol in the West Philippine Sea to ensure that there will be no Chinese Navy intrusions.

“As of yesterday, they don’t have a report of possible intrusions of Chinese ships in the area that was reported. Our Philippine Coast Guard will be doing its own sovereignty patrol at an appropriate time,” he said.

Aside from China’s naval drills, Taiwan, a province of China, said it also planned to conduct fire drills in Spratly Island.

An official of Taiwan’s coast guard said that they may stage the China, may stage the live-fire exercise next month, which would supposedly take place on Taiping Island in the Spratlys between April 9 and 11.

It will involve 40mm artillery and 120mm mortars, both shipped to the island last year to boost Taiwan’s defense capability there.

But Taiwan’s planned activity in Spratlys drew a tepid response from the government, which said it would only take action when the fire drills push through.

Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office head Ricky Carandang said that they would try to resolve the issue through the usual diplomatic channels.

The government made the same “wait-and-see” response when military sources said a Chinese ship “intruded” into one of the islets in the Kalayaan Island Group in Palawan, which is located within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

The sources quoted local fishermen who said that a “large ship with Chinese markings’ unloaded construction materials in the area.

Presidential deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte, however, denied that that there was the alleged intrusion of Chinese vessels into the country’s territory. She also said that what the locals saw was a fishing vessel, not a landing ship.

On Friday, Valte refused to comment further on the issue when pressed on whether there was an intrusion or not, saying that “we’ll leave that to the assessment of the [Department of Foreign Affairs].


From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 23): Insurgency-Free

ILOILO CITY, Iloilo — Two provinces in Panay Island are now free from the influence of communist insurgency.

Major General Jose Mabanta Jr., commander of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (3ID), said that Antique province has joined Aklan province wherein the forces of New People’s Army (NPA) have significantly dwindled.

Mabanta said the joint declaration he recently signed with Governor Exequiel Javier means Antique province is ready for full blown socio-economic development and investors will be more confident in the peace and order situation.

Mabanta explained that the NPA cannot thrive in areas where public-private partnership (PPP) exists.

Third Court hearing set next week for wife of JI bomber suspect

From the pro-CPP Davao Today (Mar 22): Third Court hearing set next week for wife of JI bomber suspect

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — The hearing for the case of Annabel Nieva Lee, wife of the suspected Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) leader killed in a special police operation last December, was set next week, March 25.

This was shared by Lee’s lawyer, Ben Joseph Tesiorna, to in a phone interview Friday.

A hearing was set Thursday but Tesiorna said the police officers who were the witnesses of the prosecution during the first court hearing last March 19 did not appear before the court.

“They were supposed to identify if the black bag which Fikrie was carrying is the same bag that was presented and marked as evidence during the second hearing last March 20, ” Tesiorna said.

In the hearing Tuesday, Senior Police Officer 1 Marcial Aplasca, one of the witnesses of the prosecutor said Malaysian National Mohammad Noor Fikrie Abud Kahar, the alleged JI bomber, “may have forced his wife to act as a human shield.”

“She was convincing him to surrender. She tried to resist but he had her neck locked with his right arm while his left hand was on the cellphone trigger,” Aplasca testified before the Regional Trial Court Branch 14 under Judge George Omelio.

When asked by the prosecution in a direct examination to narrate the circumstances he witnessed that night, Aplasca said that when Lee had the chance, she alighted and left Kahar.

“When they went down from their room to the hotel lobby, the suspect immediately threatened to explode the bomb,” said Aplasca who estimated that he was 10-15 meters away from the suspect.

He said that they got out of the hotel lobby and positioned outside while the couple attempted to board any passing vehicle.

“When the suspect released his right arm, the woman ran away. They ran separately. The woman towards Quirino, while the man ran towards Peoples Park,” Aplasca added.

Aplasca is assigned to the Technical Support Platoon of the Public Safety Company of the Davao City Police Office and a member of the bomb squad who joined the December operations against Kahar.

In an interview Tuesday, Tesiorna said that his client has a strong defense which was made “clear in the statements of the witness.” He also added that the prosecution must prove “prior knowledge” and “intent to possess” to fulfill “their obligation to prove guilt.”

Lee was charged with illegal possession of incendiary device after authorities allegedly recovered from her bag a “high-powered initiator container with a switch.” However, during her arraignment on January 11, she entered a not guilty plea.

Lee is currently detained at the Naval Intelligence and Security Group in Camp Panacan.

NPA rebels burn private heavy equipment worth millions in Davao City

From the Daily Tribune (Mar 23): NPA rebels burn private heavy equipment worth millions in Davao City

Heavy equipment amounting to millions owned by a private company was burned down by suspected communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Davao City Thursday night, belated reports reaching Camp Aguinaldo said yesterday.

Lt. Col. Lyndon Paniza, spokesman of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division (ID), said that the undetermined number of NPA rebels initially set ablaze two backhoes owned by Jammetrix Construction Co. along the Diversion Road near Iglesia ni Cristo in Panacan, Davao City at around 7:45 p.m.

Paniza said that the NPA rebels proceeded to nearby Barangay Buhangin in front of the cockpit area and burned down a payloader also owned by the same company.
The damage was estimated at at least P5 million.

The motive of the attack was not yet established but the NPA rebels usually burn down heavy equipment due to failure of private companies to give in to their revolutionary taxation.

Meanwhile, the NPA-North Central Mindanao Regional Committee yesterday claimed to have killed 16 soldiers and seized 14 firearms as the communist group intensifies its offensives against government forces for its forthcoming March 29 founding anniversary.

Allan Juanito, spokesman of the NPA-NCMR, claimed that the intensified offensives were launched in observance of the upcoming 44th anniversary of the NPA.

“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,” said Juanito.

CPP/Ang Bayan: The GPH is sabotaging the peace talks

Posted to the CPP Website: The GPH is sabotaging the peace talks

In the US-Aquino regime’s desire to entrap both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) into entering unjust peace agreements, Malacañang feigned interest in the “special track” which involves calling for an immediate ceasefire based on a general declaration of national unity and just peace signed by both the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the NDFP.

The NDFP has long been offering the “special track” in response to repeated demands by the Aquino regime for an immediate ceasefire. In line with the “special track,” the two parties may enter into a ceasefire agreement if an accord could be reached on further advancing national freedom, democracy and human rights; an alliance could be formed between the Aquino regime and the NDFP in the form of a Committee for National Unity, Peace and Development; and genuine agrarian reform, rural development and national industrialization are implemented. These form the bases for a temporary ceaesefire to be entered into by the New People’s Army (NPA) and its militia and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP) and their paramilitary forces.

Part of Malacañang’s ruses were to send “special emissaries” led by Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Ronald Llamas in the last quarter of 2012, and to offer a meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam in early 2013 between Benigno Aquino III and Jose Ma. Sison, NDFP chief political consultant, as well as detained NDFP consultant Alan Jazmines. To create a favorable atmosphere for the “special track,” the NDFP declared an extended ceasefire from December 20 to January 15.

But nothing came out of the talks on the “special track” held in December and February since Aquino’s “special emissaries” were not authorized to enter into agreements or sign documents. It became apparent that the GPH’s previous offer of a Hanoi meeting between Aquino and Sison was not a serious one either.

All the GPH wanted was to secure the NDFP’s surrender through a hastily drawn declaration of unity bereft of substance and for the NDFP to be caught in a ceasefire of indefinite duration.

Now that the “special track” has come to nought and there is no clarity in sight on the resumption of the regular peace negotiations, Aquino’s propagandists are spinning yarns about the regime’s supposed desire to continue the peace negotiations and heaping the blame on the NDFP for the stalled talks.

In any case, Aquino and his minions could not cover up the fact that they have paralyzed the peace negotiations. The Third Party Facilitator from the Royal Norwegian Government was witness to all the NDFP’s efforts to conduct serious negotiations and the GPH’s stonewalling and maneuvering to sabotage the talks.

The GPH’s conduct during the “special track” comes as no surprise. On the eve of the resumption of formal peace talks in February 2011, the Aquino regime showed contempt for the peace process by illegally arresting Alan Jazmines, one of the NDFP’s key consultants. Aquino and his minions likewise assailed The Hague Joint Declaration which sets the framework of the talks and the substantive agenda in their proper order.

Aquino also declared the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) as inoperative to justify their refusal to release from prison the JASIG-protected NDFP consultants and personnel and blocked the NDFP reconstruction of its list of JASIG-protected consultants, security officers and staff.

Nonetheless, detainees that are being linked by the GPH to the revolutionary movement and armed struggle are being slapped with criminal cases instead of political cases in violation of the Hernandez doctrine of the reactionary government’s own laws.

From the beginning, Aquino’s minions have avoided any discussion on the necessity of addressing the roots of the armed conflict through social, economic and political reforms. Instead, at every turn in every meeting of the negotiating panels and special delegations, they have demanded directly the capitulation and pacification of the people’s revolutionary movement.

It is obvious that the Aquino regime is not interested in peace negotiations to address the roots of the armed conflict and forge agreements on basic reforms. It is hell bent on waging war, carrying out the US-instigated Oplan Bayanihan and securing the NDFP’s surrender.

Despite Aquino’s utilization of the talks as merely for show, the revolutionary movement remains determined to tread this path to assert the resolution of the roots of the civil war through unity and alliance on the basis of a program that advances national sovereignty and democratic change.

At the same time, the Party and the NPA will continue to intensify the armed struggle and its program of advancing from the stage of strategic defensive to the strategic stalemate.

This is the people’s only guarantee that the firm economic, political and social foundations for a just and lasting peace are put in place. Whether or not there are peace negotiations, this remains an aspiration of the revolutionary movement.

3 rebels yield to Army in Kalinga

From the Baguio Midland Courier (Mar 23): 3 rebels yield to Army in Kalinga

TABUK CITY, Kalinga – Three members of the New People’s Army (NPA) operating in Mountain Province and Kalinga surrendered recently.

The Philippine Army identified the rebels as alias Ka Mena, alias Ka Abe/Max, and alias Ka Junjun. They were presented, Wednesday, before the Army’s 5th Infantry Division Headquarters in Upi, Gamu, Isabela.

Ka Mena and Ka Abe who are from Mountain Province, surrendered two M16 rifles while Ka Junjun who is from Kalinga, surrendered two M16 rifles, one cal. 30 springfield rifle, one cal. 5.56 homemade rifle, and one cal. 38 revolver.

The three surrendered to the government after negotiating with the army.

Col. Loreto Magundayao Jr., spokesperson of the 5th ID said the three are products of the government’s transitional integration program that invites rebels to be integrated to mainstream society.

The army has recommended social and economic assistance to the surrenderees after they have completed the integration process.

Kidnapped Australian adventurer freed in Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner Blog (Mar 23): Kidnapped Australian adventurer freed in Philippines

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Abu Sayyaf militants have freed before dawn Saturday a kidnapped Australian adventurer following a successful government negotiations in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials said the 54-year old Warren Rodwell, who was kidnapped in December 2011 from his seaside home in Zamboanga Sibugay’s Ipil town, was safely released in Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur province at around 1.30 a.m.
Army General Ricardo Rainier Cruz III, the commander of the 1st Infantry Division, has confirmed the release of Rodwell in Pagadian City and said Basilan Vice Governor Al Rashid Sakalahul helped in the negotiations to free Rodwell.

“Rodwell was released in Pagadian City and has been secured by the authorities,” Cruz, who was monitoring the negotiations, told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

Sakalahul said the leader of the kidnappers phoned him to say that they have freed Rodwell in Pagadian City.

“At exactly 1.30 a.m. March 23, I was called up by Puruji Indama (to say) that Mr Warren Rodwell, (the) Australian kidnapped victim, is being left by his abductor at Pagadian Fisheries Building. I immediately called up our (Basilan) Provincial Police Director (Senior Superintendent Mario Dapillosa) and the (Philippine Army Infantry) Brigade Commander Charlie Galvez to contact their counterpart in Pagadian City,” Sakalahul, an influential and respected political leader, said in a separate interview.

It was not immediately known whether Rodwell came from Basilan or held captive in Mindanao.

“I have done my part, my duty and responsibility as an elected official of the province. When the Filipino family of Rodwell sought my help three weeks ago, I told them that I will try all my best to help them and thank God that we succeeded in bringing out Rodwell safe and alive. God has rewarded us and heard our prayers,” Sakalahul said, referring to Rodwell’s wife Miraflor Gutang, 28, whom she met at a hotel in Zamboanga City.

Rodwell’s release came almost 8 weeks after the Abu Sayyaf threatened to kill the former soldier if ransom is not paid. The militants have originally demanded $2 million for Rodwell’s freedom.

Sakalahul said the family negotiated directly with the kidnappers and that he did not know how much “board and lodging” was paid in exchange for Rodwell’s freedom.

In January, the Abu Sayyaf released a video of Rodwell surrounded by masked gunmen as he pleaded for his life. In that clip, one of Rodwell’s captors read a statement: “To the Australian government, in behalf of the majlisus Shura of Alharakatul Islamiyya in southern Philippines, we officially inform you that your citizen Warren Rodwell is in our custody and control since he was abducted at Ipil, Sibugay Province, Mindanao Philippines last December 5, 2011 and now facing Islamic sharee’ah, if you have concerned with your men, we will give you a chance to save his life before it’s too late, as soon as possible time, otherwise he will suffer unusual way of death.”

Authorities had been searching for Rodwell in Basilan, but officials said security forces cannot locate him because the militants constantly moved from one hideout to another to evade detection by security forces.

In the last video, Rodwell was holding a newspaper dated January 25 and his captors – one holding a machine gun and the two others brandishing automatic rifles – stood by his sides.

“To our brothers in Islam we would like to make it clear that our activities like this are not for personal interests or just to gain money for personal use, let it be known to everyone we are on war against the forces of shaytan in the Philippines, its allies and supporters, and whatever we gain from this war is to be used for our future operations and other necessities,” the Abu Sayyaf said.

There was no immediate statement from the Australian Embassy or the Aquino government about the release of Rodwell.

Just on Thursday, Abu Sayyaf militants also freed a Malaysian fish merchant – Pang Choon Pong - they seized 17 months ago in Tawi-Tawi province in the southern Philippines.

The 48-year old native of Sandakan in Sabah Island has returned to his family after a successful negotiation by Malaysia. Pang was kidnapped by five gunmen in the village of Larap on Sitangkai Island on 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.

Philippine police 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.

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 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.

Police 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.

Sulu sultan disowns 8 accused in Malaysia

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 22): Sulu sultan disowns 8 accused in Malaysia

Are the eight men charged in Malaysia for the intrusion by followers of the sultan of Sulu into Sabah Filipinos or Malaysians?

After condemning on Thursday the filing of charges against the eight as “terroristic,” the Sulu sultanate on Friday disowned the suspects, saying they were not Filipinos but Malaysians.

Abraham Idjirani, spokesman for the sultanate, said the sultanate learned about the “fall guys” from a source in Sabah.

At least one of the eight arraigned at the Tawau High Court on Thursday admitted during the proceedings that he was paid to join the group from Sulu.

The Star newspaper of Malaysia identified the suspect as Holland (spelled “Holan” by Idjirani) Kalbi.

Speaking in court through a Badjao interpreter, Kalbi said he was asked by “someone” to join the group, but did not identify who it was. He also did not say how much he was paid to go with Agbimuddin’s group.

“I was just being foolish,” The Star quoted Kalbi as saying in court.

But Gani said Kalbi’s statement should not be recorded.

The judge reminded Kalbi not to say anything until he has a lawyer.

The SLA is providing legal representation to the eight accused.

Idjirani said Kalbi was one of Jamalul’s followers who were killed in the March 1 “massacre” in Tanduo village in Lahad Datu town.

Idjirani was referring to the police assault on Agbimuddin’s group in which 18, not 10, of Jamalul’s followers were killed.

Idjirani apologized for the earlier body count, which proved to be wrong, he said, because full information was not available at the time.

‘They are Filipinos’

But Syarulnizam Salleh, chair of the human rights subcommittee of the Sabah Lawyers Association (SLA), told the Inquirer by phone on Friday that the eight men charged with launching terroristic acts and waging war against Malaysian King Abdul Halim were Filipinos.

Salleh said he learned about the nationality of the eight men during his meeting with Malaysian Attorney General Gani Patail on Thursday night.

The SLA, however, said in a posting on its website that Malaysian authorities had arrested not only Filipinos but also Malaysians in the security operations to end the intrusion by followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

The Malaysian authorities have arrested 108 people suspected of links to the Sulu group led by Jamalul’s brother, Agbimuddin Kiram.

But they’re dead

Idjirani reiterated that Kalbi was one of the 18 “martyrs” of Tanduo.

“Now he is one of the eight accused. So what’s this?” Idjirani asked.

Another alleged follower of the Sulu sultanate charged on Wednesday and arraigned on Thursday was identified as Lin Mad Salleh.

But Idjirani said “Ling Mad Salli” (his own spelling) was also one of the 18 Tanduo “martyrs.”

“Have the Malaysians resurrected the two RSF men?” Idjirani asked, using the shorthand for the “Royal Security Forces” of the Sulu sultanate.

“Our basis for saying that they are not Filipinos is that our source from Sabah called us to say they are Malaysians. They are not Filipinos,” Idjirani said.

“To confirm this, they (Malaysian authorities) should divulge where they were caught. If they were caught outside Lahad Datu, they were [Malaysian] civilians,” he said.

“They were set up to make Filipinos afraid, because Malaysian security forces have become abusive because of their internal security act,” he added.

The accused

The eight alleged followers of Sultan Jamalul faced Judge P. Ravinthran of the Tawau High Court on Thursday to be arraigned of the charges brought by the Malaysian authorities against them the day before.

Kalbi, Salleh, Habil Suhaili and Timhar Hadir are accused of launching acts of terrorism in Sabah. They face life imprisonment on conviction.

Atik Hussein Abu Bakar and Basad H. Manuel are also accused of terrorism as well as waging war against the Malaysian king. If convicted, they will be sentenced to death.

Kadir Uyung and Lating Tiong are accused of harboring a terrorist group, and face life imprisonment. They were arrested on that charge in Tanjung Labian on March 4, a day before the Malaysian military launched air and ground operations to crush Agbimuddin’s group.

No plea was entered for the eight accused following an application by Attorney General Gani, who led the team of prosecutors.

The charges are nonbailable.

Gani told the court that though only two of the accused faced charges that carried the death penalty, the prosecution would see to it that all eight would have legal representation in the interest of human rights.

He said he had discussed legal representation for the accused with the SLA and the Bar Council of Malaysia.

Salleh of the SLA confirmed earlier information received by the Inquirer that some of the accused were placed in straitjackets.

Straitjackets for security

Gani applied to the court for the procedure and Justice Ravinthran granted his application “for security reasons,” according to a copy of the court proceedings obtained by the Inquirer.

Ravinthran subsequently ordered the trial of the eight accused to start on April 12.

Gani said some of the accused would be jointly tried while individual hearings would be held for others, as they were arrested at different places or time.

Of the eight accused, one is under 19 years old. Some are Badjao and others are Orang Suluk or Tausug.

In a statement issued Friday, the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur said it welcomed Gani’s assurance that the eight Filipinos would be given legal assistance.

The embassy and Salleh of the SLA said they were coordinating with each other for legal representation for the accused.

Mopping up operations

Mopping up operations continued in Lahad Datu Friday to clear the villages of Agbimuddin’s men.

Malaysian authorities said 68 members of Agbimuddin’s group had been killed in fighting since March 1.

But Idjirani said that by the sultanate’s reckoning, only 26 of the 235 members of Agbimuddin’s group had been killed. Four were wounded and 10 were arrested, he said.

Idjirani identified the 10 he earlier reported as killed in Tanduo as Kalbi, Salli, Ibrahim Suhudah, Junaidi Harain, Adulkader Jumaadil, Hawadi Jumaadil, Tar Undang, Sangkahan Ajan, and Datu and Mrs. Maharajah Sabandal.

He did not identify the eight others whose deaths in the police assault the sultanate learned about only later.

Other losses

In addition to the 18 killed in Tanduo on March 1, Idjirani said four were killed during the air and artillery attacks on March 5, and two others were killed later because they shielded Agbimuddin from soldiers’ fire.

Idjirani said 36 other sultanate followers were detained at the Philippine Naval Station in Tawi-Tawi after being intercepted at sea while trying to return to the Philippines and charged in a local court two weeks ago.

Of the group that sailed to Lahad Datu on Feb. 9, only Agbimuddin and 161 followers of the sultanate remain, Idjirani said.—

DFA determining areas of China sea drills in disputed South China Sea

From GMA News (Mar 22): DFA determining areas of China sea drills in disputed South China Sea

The Department of Foreign Affairs on Thursday called on China to respect the Philippines’ maritime zones facing the South China Sea amid reports of ongoing Chinese naval drills in the resource-rich waters that Beijing claims in whole.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the government is in the process of determining the exact location of the exercises, which could fuel tensions anew if China would insist on holding it in areas being claimed by the Philippines and other claimants. Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan are also staking claims to the waters, in which some parts are called West Philippine Sea by the Philippines.

“We would like to find out exactly where that military exercise is taking place before we comment on that issue but it is always important that other countries respect our maritime zone and our national territory because such exercises could not be undertaken without permission if they encompass part of our national territory,” Hernandez told a press briefing on Thursday.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua said several Chinese vessels sailed to the South China Sea on March 19 and the Western Pacific Ocean to conduct combat readiness patrol and high-sea training.

Hernandez said the Philippine Coast Guard will conduct a sovereignty patrol in the West Philippine Sea to ensure that there will be no Chinese Navy intrusions.

“As of yesterday, they don’t have a report of possible intrusions of Chinese ships in the area that was reported. Our Philippine Coast Guard will be doing its own sovereignty patrol at an appropriate time,” he said.

Overlapping claims to the contested waters, islands and reefs, has been feared to be Asia's next potential flashpoint for war.

Manila has taken China to a United Nations arbitration body to complain what it calls Beijing’s “excessive” claim to waters where undersea gas deposits have been discovered in several areas.

NPA says attack on T’boli police outpost punitive action vs MNCs

From MindaNews (Mar 22): NPA says attack on T’boli police outpost punitive action vs MNCs

The communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels’attack on a police outpost in T’boli, South Cotabato last Wednesday was intended as a “punitive action” for the presence of multinational companies in the area, a rebel official said Friday.

The attack came a month after the NPA attacked Del Monte Philippines, Inc. in Bukidnon on February 19. In that attack where a security guard was killed, National Democratic Front spokesperson Jorge Madlos said it was a “punitive action” against the MNCs.

“Ka Efren,” spokesperson of the National Democratic Front-Far South Mindanao Region, said members of the NPA Front 73 carried out the offensive.

“That’s a well-carried out plan while the military was busy scouring the mountains for our troops in the boundary of the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani. That police outpost was a vulnerable target,” he said in an interview over Bombo Radyo Koronadal.

Around 20 NPA rebels carried out the daring attack noontime Wednesday aboard an Isuzu Elf truck, leaving a member of the Civilian Volunteer Organization wounded.

The NPA spokesperson admitted that one of the communist rebels who attacked the police outpost was killed in the ensuing firefight that lasted for about 15 minutes.

Immediately after the February 19 attack in Bukidnon, Madlos had warned of more attacks if Del Monte and other agribusiness companies do not heed their call for moratorium of expansion of plantations. “If they agree not to expand their areas, we might reconsider the attacks,” he said.

“Ka Efren” said the attack showed that the NPA still has a presence in South Cotabato, contrary to the claims of the military that they have flushed out the communist rebels from the province.

He said the attack was a warning to multinational firms Dole Philippines, Inc. and Sumifru Philippines Corp, which he accused of monopolizing large tracts of lands in the area.

Dole and Sumifru operate pineapple and banana plantations, respectively, in the upper valley portion of South Cotabato that includes the towns of T’boli, Surallah and Banga.

He also said the attack should serve as warning to local politicians, singling out South Cotabato First District Rep. Daisy Avance Fuentes, who is running again for governor.

“Ka Efren” said Fuentes has economic interests with these multinational companies with her trucking services allegedly contracted to them.

In a separate emailed statement issued Friday afternoon, the NPA spokesperson accused Fuentes of actively and directly participating in the implementation of the “devious and anti-people counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan.”

She facilitated the rapid expansion of Dole Philippines and Sumifru in the towns of Banga, Surralah, T’boli and Lake Sebu 12 years ago, he said.

The NPA spokesperson added that “at the expense of the local populace especially the peasant masses,” Fuentes, then Governor, allegedly in collaboration with the 27th Infantry Battalion and the 1002nd Infantry Brigade, unleashed “Oplan Purple Heart,” which according to him was the local version of Oplan Bantay Laya, the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ counterinsurgency strategy now replaced with Oplan Bayanihan.

“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 and multinational agri-corporations and mining companies and as well as against the onslaught of Oplan Bayanihan,” he warned.

Sought for comments, Fuentes categorically denied that she had business interests with Dole Philippines and Sumifru.

“The NPA is lying, I don’t have even a single truck rented to those companies,” she told MindaNews in a telephone interview.

She wondered why this issue came out just as the local campaign season is drawing near.

Fuentes said the trucking company identified by the NPA official—Jingle Trucking—is owned by a former subordinate who had since resigned from government service.

But she said her husband used to rent a truck to B-MEG, which sells poultry feeds, in nearby General Santos City.

Fuentes, however, did not deny that she had supported the military and the police in the province when she was still the governor because “that’s my duty to help keep the peace and order in my area.”

These institutions are government agencies and I’m also a part of the government, Fuentes said.

'MILF members active participants in development projects'

From the Philippine Star (Mar 22): 'MILF members active participants in development projects'

COTABATO CITY, Philippines - Guerrillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have become more willing to participate in the implementation of donor-funded projects in areas that were previously known as "conflict flashpoints".

Abba Kuaman, manager of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Social Fund Project (ASFP) said MILF members have been participating in various projects in remote areas, working alongside local government units and community folks. The ASFP is the conduit of projects of the World Bank and the Japan International cooperation Agency.

“Even before the crafting of the FAB (Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro) small groups of MILF guerillas have already been coming out to help in the implementation of our `community driven’ projects...,” Kuaman said.

Kuaman, whose office is operating under the ministerial control of ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman, said MILF members became even more aggressive in participating in the community projects of the ASFP after the signing of the FAB last October 15, 2012.

The FAB, whose four annexes are now being completed by the government and MILF panels, aims to establish a new autonomous political entity, which the rebel group is to lead, replacing the ARMM.

Kuaman said the rebels are helping in projects in Maguindanao’s adjoining Datu Piang, Shariff Aguak, Mamasapano, Datu Saidona and Datu Anggal towns.

Maguindanao is a known bastion of the MILF, whose main enclave, Camp Darapanan, is located in Sultan Kudarat town in the first district of the province.

Experts from World Bank rated as “satisfactory” several times since 2005 the ASFP’s implementation of its projects in the autonomous region, which include post-harvest facilities, farm-to-market roads, small fishing ports and public watercraft berthing facilities, multi-purpose centers and water systems.

JICA also has identical projects being implemented by the ASFP in many areas in the autonomous region.

The projects of ASFP are categorized into three components --- the community development assistance; the strategic regional infrastructure; and the institutional strengthening and governance.

The World Bank has granted the Philippine government an additional $30-million in 2010 to enable the ASFP to continue with its projects for underdeveloped communities.

The ASFP has succeeded in assisting 2, 490 barangays in the ARMM since its inception more than a decade ago.

Most of ASFP’s JICA and World Bank-assisted projects were implemented in areas covered by 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the government and the MILF.

There are also dozens constructed in known enclaves of the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a peace pact with government on September 2, 1996.

Kuaman said there is “no conflict” between the ASFP projects and those to be implemented under Malacañang’s Sajahatra program, which President Benigno Aquino III launched in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao last month.

The Sajahatra project is a convergence of government services to be implemented directly in underdeveloped areas in MILF strongholds.

Source: Captive Aussie expected to be released anytime soon

From the Philippine Star (Mar 22): Source: Captive Aussie expected to be released anytime soon

Australian intelligence security service personnel were interfering and directing the Philippine security forces to avoid making public the release of its kidnapped compatriot who is expected to be freed in Basilan “anytime soon,” a senior government security official said.
The source, who was not allowed to make public statement but has been working closely in securing Warren Richard Rodwell, said “the release was already eminent late Thursday afternoon.”

“For what reason why there was no release that happened, that’s what we are trying to find out because the mediator was already inside and presumably to fetch the victim,” the highly placed source added.

The source added that a huey chopper was requested by the Australian security service personnel through the United States military based here to airlift the victim once freed to the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom).

However, the Australian security service personnel were dictating the military and police not to make public the release.

“Obviously, the Australian security service is already dictating the job of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the PNP (Philippine National Police). If they want to take the lead role then it is violation to the Philippine charter,” the Philippine security official said.

The incursion of the Australian security service was not the first as there were also squabbles between them and the local police and military intelligence units in the early stage of resolving the release of Rodwell.

As of press time, negotiation for the safe release of Rodwell has been ongoing, Col. Rodrigo Gregorio, spokesman of Westmincom said.

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

However. Gregorio said they were not privy and could not elaborate any specific development on the efforts on the ground.

He, however, assured the local media will be alerted to cover the arrival once the release of the kidnap victim is successful.

Rodwell, now 54 year old, was forcibly taken by six to seven gunmen from his home in Green Meadows Subdivision in Barangay Upper Pangi in Ipil town, Zamboanga Sibugay last Dec. 5, 2011.

The source disclosed that the family of Rodwell personally approached the negotiator to deal with the kidnappers as the kidnapping crisis has been dragging for more than 16 months.

The source added that the ‘mediator’ is known to by the kidnappers as he has peacefully worked for the release of the hostages of the previous kidnapping incidents without bloodshed.

Another security official said there were indications that the kidnappers have agreed on the $1 million-dollar ransom out from their original $2 million-dollar demand in exchange for the release of the victim.

Reports indicated that Rodwell has been kept by the suspected Abu Sayyaf militants in the mountains of Tipo-Tipo town.

The source, however, said Rodwell could not afford such huge amount attesting the victim was indeed poor.

“The victim, before he was abducted, was only taking rice congee or porridge with pandesal as his usual meal which sometime caused his quarrel with his Filipino wife,” the security official said.

Communist rebels surrender, want to be AFP soldiers instead

From the Philippine Star (Mar 22): Communist rebels surrender, want to be AFP soldiers instead

Three armed-to-the-teeth New People's Army rebels from Mt. Province and Kalinga gave up to authorities recently and soon might be becoming government troopers when integrated to the Philippine Army.
This hints that more and more rebels are going down the hills and leaving the communist movement, the military said, and are dreaming to become soldiers instead.

Giving up with their high-powered firearms and ammunitions, the NPA rebels who came from Mt. Province and Kalinga were named by Col. Loreto Magundayao, spokesperson of the Isabela-based 5th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army as Menard Cadap Habit alias Ka Mena, Abraham Caoili Anhibey alias Ka Abe or Max and and Pableto Habinia alias Ka Junjun.

Habit and Anhibey gave up with their two M16 assault rifles to the Philippine Army’s 54th Infantry Battalion last February in Bontoc, Mt. Province while Habinia surrendered to the 5th CMO battalion with his two M16 rifles, one (1) cal. 30 Springfield (Japanese rifle), one (1) cal. 5.56 homemade rifle and one (1) cal.38 revolver.

Magundayao said he personally fetched Habinia in upper Kalinga and turned him over to the Kalinga based 501st Infantry Brigade at Tabuk City.

Habit, 22, and a native of Barangay Monamon Nortein Bauko, Mt. Province was a courier of the Communist Party of the Philippines- NPA’s Kilusang Larangan Guerilla (KLG) Marco while Anhibey, 26, single, was a 2nd year Bachelor of Arts in Political Science student at the Ifugao State University, Lamut, Ifugao when recruited to become a full time member and a contact/courier of the NPA in Bauko and Sabangan, both of Mt Province and the tri-boundaries of Ifugao, Mt. Province and Benguet.

Habinia, according to Magundayao was “in a lie-low status” to the CPP-NPA but was serving as courier or “pasabilis” and recruiter of the NPA-Kalinga. He was reportedly with the underground movement from 1984 to 1988.

The trio opted to give up on the communist movement, Magundayao said, because they wanted to avail the AFP Transitional Integration Program for them to be integrated into the Regular Force, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Respecting this, Magundayao said, “they will have to undergo the integration process of the AFP.”

The trio reportedly said “staying in the underground movement with causeless ideology had destroyed their future and ruined their peaceful lives as law abiding Filipino citizens."

Number of NPA Rebs in Negros Continue to Dwindle

From the Negros Daily Bulletin (Mar 22): Number of NPA Rebs in Negros Continue to Dwindle

Col. Oscar Lactao, commander of the 303rd Brigade here said that the number of New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Negros Occidental continue to dwindle.

Lactao issued this statement yesterday, March 21, 2013 after another group of about 15 NPA rebels availed of the livelihood program of the provincial government.

The 15 NPA rebels received livelihood assistance from Negros Occidental governor Alfredo Marañon Jr., in his office yesterday morning.

Lactao said that from a strength of about 350, the NPA rebels are down to about 200 armed cadres.
He said this is an indication that more NPA rebels no longer subscribe to armed struggle as a means to effect change in society.

The recent group of surrenderees brought to at least a hundred the NPA rebels who returned to the mainstream of society.

Lactao further called on the NPA rebels who are still in the countryside to join their former comrades to lead a new life with the livelihood programs being extended by the provincial government.

15 Former Rebels Get Capitol Aid

From the Negros Daily Bulletin (Mar 22): 15 Former Rebels Get Capitol Aid

Fifteen former rebels (FR) received a total of P149,000 worth of livelihood projects from the Negros Occidental provincial government during turnover ceremony at the Provincial Capitol yesterday.

Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. led the distribution of the projects that included cash incentives of P5,000 each, free-range chickens, piglets, feeds, and veterinary medicines.

Marañon welcomed the FRs to the mainstream society and told them that the provincial government is always ready to assist them in their livelihood projects.

He also advised them to prioritize the education of their children because that is the best way to combat poverty.

All FRs will also be enrolled in the Negros Occidental Comprehensive Health Program (NOCHP), the governor said.

The FRs thanked the governor and the Philippine Army for giving them a chance to live a normal life.

The FRs were presented by 303rd Infantry Brigade commander Col. Oscar Lactao. Also present were provincial veterinarian Renante Decena, Provincial Planning and Development coordinator Marlin Sanogal, and Binalbagan Mayor Emmanuel Aranda.

Lactao said since the implementation of the military’s Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Oplan Bayanihan in 2011, there are now a total of 99 FRs in Negros Occidental who went back to the fold of the law.

In 2011, there were at least 350 New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Negros Occidental, but now, because of the active Oplan Bayanihan of the military, the rebels number only to 220, Lactao said.

Although the poverty level is high, and the number of rebels who are out-of-school youth is also high, the good news is that the number of rebels is decreasing, he said.

"We are improving. We are slowly eradicating the thought that if you are poor, you will become a rebel," Lactao said in Filipino.

Marañon said that in less than three years of his administration, 99 FRs have returned to the fold of the law.

This only means that they believe in our development agenda, their confidence on the government is high, because the 11-point NEGROS FIRST legislative agenda is really for the good of our poor constituents, the governor added.

Marañon said he expects that more FRs will return to the government’s fold soon.

More rebel returnees get aid

From the Visayan Daily Star (Mar 22): More rebel returnees get aid

Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. distributed P149,338.75 in livelihood projects and financial assistance to 15 former rebels at the Governor’s Office in Bacolod City yesterday.

The governor said since he assumed his post, 99 rebels have returned to the fold of the law in Negros Occidental amid growing confidence in the government.

Col. Oscar Lactao, commander of the 303rd Infantry Brigade, who presented the rebels to the governor, said that, in 2011, there were 320 New People’s Army rebels operating in Negros Occidental but are now down to about 220.

The 15 former rebels yesterday received 400 free range chickens worth P20,000, 15 piglets worth P33,000, three bags of hog grower feeds valued at P3,600, three bags of chick booster mash worth P5,400, 15 pairs of plastic feeder and water container, veterinary drugs worth P4,940, T-shirts, caps and umbrellas worth P5,700, and cash incentives of P5,000 each.

Marañon welcomed the former rebels back to mainstream society and told them the provincial government is always ready to assist them in their livelihood projects.

He also advised them to prioritize the education of their children because that is the best way to combat poverty.

All returnees will also be enrolled in the Negros Occidental Comprehensive Health Program of the provincial government, he added.

The former rebels thanked the governor and Lactao for giving them the chance to live normal lives.

Also present at the turnover of assistance were Provincial Veterinarian Dr. Renante Decena, Planning and Development Coordinator Marlin Sanogal, and Binalbagan Mayor Emmanuel Aranda.

Suspected rebels burn 2 backhoes in Davao City

From InterAksyon (Mar 22): Suspected rebels burn 2 backhoes in Davao City

Two suspected communist rebels entered the compound of a construction company in Davao City and torched two backhoes Thursday night, police said.

Davao police chief Senior Superintendent Ronald dela Rosa said the suspects, who were riding a motorcycle, arrived at the Jameetrix Construction Company, owned by Allan Zamora, in front of the cockpit along the Diversion Road in Barangay Panacan, Buhanginan district around 7:45 p.m.

Nagulantang na lamang itong si Leonardo Ondaloc, caretaker, na natutulog noon sa loob ng backhoe nang mangamoy krudo ang paligid. ‘Yun pala binibuhusan na ng krudo kaya nagkumahog siyang bumaba. Nagpakilala ang dalawa sa kanya na NPA (The caretaker, Leonardo Ondaloc, who was lseeping in a backhoe, was surprised when he smelled crude oil. He quickly went down when he realized that the oil was being poured on the equipment. The two introduced themselves as members of the New People’s Army),” Dela Rosa said.

He said the arson was triggered by Zamora to pay the so-called “revolutionary tax” demanded by the rebels.

Communist rebel with P400,000 bounty nabbed

From InterAksyon (Mar 22): Communist rebel with P400,000 bounty nabbed

An alleged member of the New People's Army (NPA) with a P400,000 reward was arrested in Kalinga province, the Philippine National Police said Friday.

Chief Superintendent Benjamin Magalong, Cordillera police director, said Jovencie Baluga alias Edgar, 46, alleged member of the Militia ng Bayan of the Kilusang Larangang Gerilya (Guerrilla Front) BAGGAS of the Ilocos-Cordillera Regional Command was arrested by joint personnel of the Balbalan Municipal Police Station, the 21st Infantry Battalion and the Regional Intelligence Unit.

The arrest was based on an arrest warrant issued by Judge Marcelino Wacas of Branch 25, Tabuk City for double murder and multiple frustrated murder.

Malaysia grants PH access to detainees

From Rappler (Mar 22): Malaysia grants PH access to detainees

For the first time, Malaysia finally gave the Philippines access to the more than 100 Filipinos detained in Sabah, in particular the 8 Filipinos facing terrorism charges over the bloody standoff.

"We want to give consular assistance to our people there. That's why we have been insisting to Malaysia to give access to these Filipinos under the Vienna Convention on consular relations," Foreign affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said in an interview with ANC.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has been seeking access to the detained Filipinos for more than two weeks now. It had sent at least 4 notes verbale to Malaysia regarding this request.

On Thursday, 8 Filipinos who were among the about 200 followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III who sailed to Sabah in February, faced the High Court. One of the accused, Holland Kalbi, claimed he was paid by someone to participate in the standoff.

Hernandez said they will assess the assistance to be provided to the detained Filipinos once the government gets direct access to them.

"We have not had any access to these eight. So when we are able to have access to them then we will be able to find out their conditions, health conditions, including the assistance that they will be needing from the Philippine government," Hernandez said.

As of Tuesday, March 20, a total of 107 Filipinos have been arrested under Malaysia's Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act while another 243 people are detained for immigration offenses, according to state news agency Bernama. It is not clear whether the 8 Filipinos who are facing terrorism raps are among the 107 arrested in Lahad Datu.

At least 62 have been killed due to the conflict, according to Bernama.

Malaysian authorities launched a crackdown on Kiram's followers after the firefight erupted, displacing some Filipinos in Lahad Datu, Saganak and Semporna. As of Tuesday, at least 3,568 people have fled Sabah and evacuated to the Philippines since hostilities erupted between Kiram's followers and Malaysian authorities.

2 Magdalo troops jailed after spurning pardon

From Rappler (Mar 22): 2 Magdalo troops jailed after spurning pardon

Two former Philippine soldiers who took part in a failed coup in 2003 were sentenced on Friday, March 22, to long prison terms, officials said, after both spurned President Benigno Aquino III's offer of pardon.

Ex-army first lieutenants Lawrence San Juan and Rex Bolo were found guilty of the crime of coup d'etat and both ordered to serve a maximum of 12 years in jail, court official Maria Rhodora Peralta told AFP.

"The judge found them guilty as participants of the coup, not as coup leaders," she said.

The duo were among several hundred mutineers who seized a hotel in Manila's financial district in 2003 in a failed bid by a group of junior officers to force Aquino's predecessor Gloria Arroyo to resign over alleged corruption.

Arroyo crushed the revolt, the first of 3 mounted against her during the nearly 10 years she spent in power, and later pardoned some of the participants.

She is now detained at a military hospital while on trial for allegedly plundering $8.8 million from state lottery funds during her years in office from 2001 to 2010.

Aquino, who came to power in 2010 after promising to fight corruption, granted amnesty that same year to all officers and soldiers who had risen up against Arroyo.

However San Juan and Bolo, on trial at the time, both rejected the new president's offer and chose to have their names cleared through the civilian court, military spokesman Colonel Arnulfo Burgos told AFP.

"They were both offered (amnesty), but they refused it," Burgos said, adding that they were the only two to reject the pardon.

Both men had been expelled from military service, like the officers who joined the revolts and later accepted the amnesty offer, said Burgos.

San Juan and Bola are currently out on bail, said Peralta, the court official.

Regional trial court judge Andres Soriano also ruled that both men may re-apply for bail if they planned to appeal the verdict, Peralta added.

Among those pardoned and freed from prison during Aquino's amnesty was former naval officer Antonio Trillanes IV, who had won a seat in the Senate in 2007 while campaigning from his military prison cell.

Senator Trillanes is now a close political ally of the President.

Tubbataha task force sets 2nd week of April as new timeline for completion of salvage operation

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 22): Tubbataha task force sets 2nd week of April as new timeline for completion of salvage operation

The Task Force Tubbataha (TFT), which leads and manages the ongoing recovery operation of the grounded USS Guardian minesweeper on the South Atoll of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP), has set the second week of April as new timeline for the completion of salvaging activities in the area.

Ens. Greanata Jude, spokesperson of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG)-Palawan District, told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) Friday that the task force will not be able to meet the March timeline that it has first set to complete the salvage operation due to problems in weather condition in the area in the past.

“If all goes well, by the second week of April, the task force would be able to complete the salvage operation, and then conduct the post-assessment on the damages to the corals in Tubbataha,” Jude told the Philippines News Agency.

Currently, crewmen of Jascon 25 and other salvor vessels by the Philippines and the U.S. governments in the Tubbataha are clearing out remaining pipes, vents, and other wreckages on the remaining hull of the minesweeper to be able to incise it into four sections for lifting.

Cut markers, she explained, will be placed Monday on the bow, the auxiliary machinery room, main machinery room, and the stern to serve as guide of Jascon 25 and the other salvors when they finally commence “structurally cutting” the mine sweeper.

“After the hull, which is the only remaining part of the USS Guardian in the area, has been lifted, the crewmen will begin taking off debris from the area where it got stuck stranded to ensure not a single wreckage is left behind,” Jude explained.

Holes have also been bored on different parts of the hull to be used as channels for cable wires when lifting becomes possible.

She added that as soon as the operation is completed, a major meeting involving all stakeholders will be called by the task force to explain all past activities, and to proceed in the discussion of how the post-assessment will be conducted.

From the Philippine government side, the post-assessment team will be composed of experts from the Tubbataha Protected Areas Management Board (TPAMB), Tubbataha Management Office (TMO), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), the PCG, and others, whose expertise are required.

Meanwhile, Jude said diving tourism activities in Tubbataha still continue despite the presence of the salvage operation following the imposition of a 500-meter exclusion zone (EZ).

The imposition of the EZ, she furthered, was an agreement made with the TMO to avoid any tourists from being affected by the salvage operation.

US funding agency visits Negros Oriental

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 22): US funding agency visits Negros Oriental

Executive Director Andy Moll of the Millenium Challenge Account Philippines (MCA-P), the office that handles the funds of the Millenium Challenge Corporation, a funding agency created by the United States Congress, visited and inspected the community driven projects of the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan and Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS) in the Municipality of Mabinay recently.

Kalahi-CIDSS uses a community-driven development (CDD) technology which harnesses the potential of people in the barangay to analyse their own situations, identify problems and issues in their communities and propose small-scale projects.

It is one of the flagship poverty reduction programs of the Philippine Government implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and has been internationally recognized as an effective strategy of reducing poverty, said Simeon Remata III of the DSWD Region 7 in a news release.

During the assessment meeting with Mayor Ernie Uy of Mabinay and his staff, Director Moll said that he noticed that the support of the local government unit of Mabinay is strong compared to the areas in other regions he has visited previously. “It is essential that DSWD and LGU, especially the beneficiary communities, have to closely work together as partners of the development process for the poverty reduction program to work – the LGU of Mabinay is a great model to that”, he said. He echoed the 3 major stakeholders of the Kalahi-CIDSS project which involves the social welfare agency, the LGU and the communities.

On the aspect of quality, Director Moll talked about sharing and learning the best practices from different areas. “Development is a continuous process and that there should be constant learning which will strengthen approaches and tactics in our social interventions”, he said.

One of the project sites the group visited earlier that day was Brgy. Samac which has a Water System Level II as community project that costs P6,824,689.00. Said Water System Project is the highest costing Water System Project out of the nine (9) Water System Projects currently being implemented in the province. The Water System project is projected to benefit more than four-hundred fifty (450) households in the barangay.

Samac Brgy. Capt. Ma. Rosario F. Ocay shared during the visit that the operation and maintenance of the water system project has also been deliberated by the community already even before the start of the construction of the community project.

“Part of the sustainability planning of our community project is to plant trees surrounding the reservoir to conserve and generate water”, she said.

Community Facilitator Maria Bermoy assigned in the said barangay said that the community had high participation rates during the barangay assemblies – a factor which helped the community get prioritized for the funding.

“They [community] initially had 92% participation rate in the first barangay assembly, 98 percent during the second assembly, and the preceding assemblies received 100 percent complete attendance of households in Brgy. Samac”, she said.

In the Kalahi-CIDSS Project, barangay assemblies are obliged to have at least 80 percent household participation rates to acquire the most urgent and felt needs of the barangay.

In Negros Oriental, there are currently fifty-six (56) sub-projects scattered in different municipalities being implemented which includes farm-to-market roads, water systems, school-buildings, foot-bridges, day care centres, barangay health stations, drainage and flood controls and even a rain-water harvester in Apo Island, Dauin.

15 NPAs proved no match to rookie cop in South Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 22): 15 NPAs proved no match to rookie cop in South Cotabato

Courage proved the decisive factor as a rookie cop successfully repelled the attacks of 15 New People's Army (NPA) rebels on a police station in T'Boli, South Cotabato Thursday morning.

The assault took place around 11: 45 a.m.

Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesperson Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo, Jr., identified the valiant officer as PO1 Roel O. Armercin.

The former was on duty on a sub-station of the T'Boli Municipal Police Station when 15 rebels, armed with AK-47 automatic rifles, hurled a fragmentation grenade at the police facility.

After this initial attack, the rebels forced themselves inside and looted the police precinct, carting away three sets of police uniforms, a .45 caliber pistol, various ATM cards and cash amounting to P1,000.

The rebels also succeeded in damaging the police radio and two shotguns issued to Armecin and another fellow officer.

Despite the superior enemy strength and firepower, Armecin battled it out with the raiders using his own .45 caliber pistol.

“I saw two of the raiders fall down after I hit them with my gun," he added.

At this point, the rebels lobbed three more fragmentation hand grenades and then fled aboard an Isuzu elf truck.

Fortunately, all the three grenades failed to explode.

Witnesses saw at least two of the raiders lying wounded on the floor of the getaway truck.

They also reported seeing at least ten other NPA members who were positioned several hundred meters away, waiting in ambush for the arrival of reinforcing government forces.

“I will be recommending Armecin for meritorious promotion. He is a source of pride and inspiration for all of us in the PNP,” South Cotabato Provincial Police head Romeo C. Ver said.

“Armecin just graduated from our Handgun Marksmanship Training. 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 added.

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.

Aquino says Army has come a long way since its inception 116 years ago

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 22): Aquino says Army has come a long way since its inception 116 years ago

President Benigno S. Aquino III underscored the giant strides the Philippine Army has taken to reach its vision of becoming a world-class army saying that what it is now is a far-cry from its humble beginnings more than a century ago.

Keynoting the 116th Founding Anniversary of the Philippine Army held at its headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City on Wednesday, the President said that although the PA, created in Tejeros in 1897, did not have the professionalism and training needed by a real “standing army,” the collective desire of the Filipinos then until now remains the same: to gain independence from fear and oppression.

“Kung titingnan ang hanay ng Hukbong Katihan nang itatag ito sa Tejeros noong 1897, hindi po masasabing propesyunal na mga sundalo ang mga kasapi nito. Hindi pa buo ang mekanismo para magsanay at bigyang-kagamitan ang isang tunay na tinaguriang standing army. Hindi pa hinog ang estadong popondo at kikilala sa kanila; bagkus, ang hukbo ay binuo ng mga karaniwang Pilipino—silang mga pinagbigkis ng kolektibong adhikain: Ang kalayaan mula sa pang-aapi, at ang kasarinlan para sa bayang Pilipinas,” the President said.

“Talaga nga pong kay layo na ng ating narating sa loob ng isandaan at labing-anim na taon. Mula sa pagkakapunla bilang isang kilusang militia, ngayon, tunay na propesyunal na ang ating Hukbong Katihan. Mula sa mga sinaunang kagamitang pinondohan mula sa sariling bulsa o kinuha sa mga nadaig na dayuhan, ngayon, nagsisimula na ring maabot ang pangarap nating magkaroon ng isang hukbo na kayang harapin ang mga hamon ng makabagong panahon,” he added.

He said that under the Armed Force of the Philippines Modernization and Capability Upgrade Program, the equipment, training and even housing benefits needed by the personnel of the PA will improve their capabilities to defend the Philippines and its people.

“Nariyan na, halimbawa, ang mga mobility equipment tulad ng mga troop carrier trucks, ang isang dosenang five-ton trucks pambitbit ng inyong mga howitzer, ang bagong Night Fighting System, ang apat na light support watercraft, ang animnapung mga field ambulance na magagamit ninyo hindi lamang sa engkuwentro ngunit pati na rin sa pagtulong sa mga komunidad, at marami pang ibang armas at kagamitang nakamit o malapit nang makamit sa tulong ng AFP Modernization at Capability Upgrade Program,” the President noted.

“Bukod sa mga kagamitang ito, kabilang din po ang hanay ninyo sa sampunglibo at siyamnaraang kasapi ng Hukbong Sandatahan na benepisyaryo ng Phase 1 ng ating AFP/PNP Housing Program, at sa mahigit labing-apat na libo pang benepisyaryo mula sa AFP na nakatala na sa Phase 2 ng programang ito,” he added.

“Lahat po ng ito ay kongkretong kumakatawan sa ating batayang prinsipyo: Ang giting, sakripisyo, at kahandaan ninyong isubo ang sarili sa panganib ay dapat lamang tumbasan ng karampatang kalinga at pagkilala mula sa Estado. Matapos nga po ang maraming pagkakatisod sa nakaraan, dala na rin ng pagkukulang sa pambansang pamamahala, ngayon, kitang-kita na ang pagpapahalaga ng nagkakaisang bayang Pilipinas sa ating Sandatahang Lakas,” the President said.