Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sabah police: Kiram follower slain Thursday was 'aide' in March 2 encounter

From GMANews (Mar 29): Sabah police: Kiram follower slain Thursday was 'aide' in March 2 encounter

The suspected follower of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III who was killed in an encounter in Sabah on Thursday was allegedly a bodyguard and aide of one of the Kiram followers involved in an attack that killed six Malaysian policemen on March 2.

Sabah police commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib said the man was an aide of Imam Tua, one of the Kiram followers killed in the March 2 incident, Malaysia's state-run Bernama news agency reported late Thursday.

“Initial investigation found that the assailant was the bodyguard and an aide to Sulu terrorist, known as Imam Tua,” Bernama quoted him as saying in a press conference at Felda Sahabat.

While he did not name the slain aide, he described him as in his 60s.

The March 2 gunbattle at the water village killed six Malaysian policemen, and was one of the factors that led to Malaysia's offensives against Kiram's followers since March 5.

Hamza said the aide of Imam Tua was shot dead after trying to attack a member of the Malaysian security forces with a "barong" (machete) in Kampung Simunul in Semporna Thursday.

At the time, the security team was conducting a mopping-up and search operation.

“During the assault, the security personnel managed to fire a shot at his assailant. However, no major injuries suffered by our man," Hamza said.

The security forces team then arrested two women, aged 45 and 30. They turned out to be the slain aide's wife and daughter.

Hamza said the two women did not have valid travel documents and are detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma).

Four men were also arrested during the operation, Hamza said.

He said Malaysian security forces had so far killed 68 suspected Kiram followers and arrested 121 under Sosma.

Gov't forces battle NPA during Good Friday, 2 killed

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 29): Gov't forces battle NPA during Good Friday, 2 killed

  BUTUAN CITY – In an unprecedented incident during the observance of Good Friday, 2 members of the Special Cafgu Active Auxiliary (SCAA) force were killed while an undetermined number of devotees suffered scratches and bruises when an undetermined number of snipers, believed to be members of the communist-New People’s Army (NPA) harassed government forces early Friday.

The SCAA’s of the 3rd Special Forces Battallion (3rd SFB) were securing the more than 3,000 devotees on their way to a Station of the Cross in “Panaad (promise) 2013” at a mountainous area of Purok 4, Sitio Iyao, in Barangay Anticala, some 23 kilometers northeast of this region’s frontier and capital city when they were fired upon at around 5 o'clock early Friday morning, military and police forces said. Two SCAA's died from the incoming fire.

The slain SCAA's were identified as Ariel Andohoyan and Ernie Darafil, all of Barangay Anticala, this city.

After hitting the SCAA members, another series of gunshots from one corner of the mountain prompted the devotees to scatter in different directions in the mountain, they said.

The devotees were immediately secured by the 3rd AFB from the gunfire initiated by the NPA. Lt. Col. Potenciano C. Camba, commanding officer of the 3rd SFB ordered the deployment of more troops to hunt down the perpetrators, the military and police report said.

The command center and tactical force of the Army’s 402nd Infantry (Stingers) Brigade said the perpetrators in the “Panaad 2013” shooting were alleged members of guerilla-Front Committee 21-C of the CPP-NPA North Eastern Mindanao Committee (NEMRC).

“These NPA’s harassed the conduct of “Panaad 2013” where thousands of people attended including police and military personnel. They were in the 4th station of the cross when the NPA harassed them with gunfire at Purok Iyao,” said Lt. Joe Patrick A. Martinez, commanding officer of the 42nd Civil Military Operation Company.

“Two SCAAs died while protecting the civilians from the attack,” said Lt. Martinez.

“These lawless elements disrespected the solemnity of the station of the cross. They don’t know when to stop fighting,” said Rev. Fr. Joesilo Amalla, Parish priest, St Joseph Cathedral, Butuan City who led “Panaad”.

“Why do they attack us? They should submit themselves to our God and repent for their sins. I will pray for the soul of our soldiers who died while protecting us.” he added.

“This is not the time and place for fighting. We were there to observe the season of lent and to pray for peace. As we all know, today is the 44th Anniversary of NPA. They don’t believe in any religion and in God. For them, this is the high time to disrupt the activity of the church to serve as one of their greatest accomplishment in the history of their nonsense revolution. They cannot celebrate their anniversary without inflicting casualties,” Col. Camba said.

However, the faithful remained steadfast and continued to the different stations of the cross and finished each one despite the gunfire that was heard until the last station.

“These NPAs cannot stop us from praying because we know that God will always be there to protect us” said a mother of 3 children who attended the stations of the cross.

“They shall be condemned by the whole world for disrespecting the Christians” she added.

The devotees were trapped for more than 3 hours due to the incident. They finally were able to go home to their respective barangays after Butuan City Mayor Ferdinand M. Amante, Jr. deployed at least 6 dump trucks to fetch them.

Mayor Amante also deployed an ambulance with a medical team to attend the scratches and bruises to some of the devotees who were wounded during the incident. He also mobilized the city's social services department to immediately extend assistance to the victims.

Meanwhile, Jorge Madlos, alias Ka Oris, spokesperson of the CPP-NPA-NDF Mindanao denied the NPA’s participation in the incident early Friday.

“Walay NPA sa maong zigzag road, wala mi interest sa paggubot sa area ug kadto mis-enocunter sa Army ug police” (There were no NPA’s in the zigzag road area, we have no interest to create trouble. The incident was a mis-encounter between the Army and police), added the CPP-NPA-NDF spokesman, in a live interview over a radio station in Butuan City Friday.

However, top officials of the AFP and PNP here rebuffed the statement of Ka Oris.

In another development, alleged NPA’s struck anew leaving behind a swath of destruction on a banana plantation on Wednesday night in Barangay Anahao Daan, Tago town, Surigao del Sur, said regional police spokesman Supt. Martin M. Gamba.

Aside of destroying the fully grown banana plantation of DOLE Stanfilco, the perpetrators also destroyed the storeroom of DOLE and allegedly stole stored rubber shoes, Supt. Gamba added.

NPA attacks gov't troops on anniversary

From Rappler (Mar 29): NPA attacks gov't troops on anniversary

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – On the 44th founding anniversary of the New People’s Army (NPA), suspected communist guerrillas harassed government troops securing Good Friday rites in Butuan City on Friday morning, March 29.

Lt Joe Patrick Martinez, civil-military operations officer of the 402nd Infantry Brigade, said guerrillas attacked security forces during the “Panaad 2013” in Purok Iyaw, Barangay Anticala at around 5 am.

People attending the event were already praying the 4th Station of the Cross when the exchange of gunfire started, Martinez said.

A government militia was reportedly killed during the incident while more than 5,000 civilians were temporarily trapped. Those caught in the crossfire included Rep Jose Aquino II of the 1st District of Agusan del Norte.

Shortly past 11 am, however, reports reaching Rappler showed that the civlians, including the congressman, were already able to leave the site.

Lt Col Eugene Osias, 4th Infantry Division spokesman, said the incident lasted around 5 minutes. In a phone interview with Rappler, he said 15 armed men perpetrated the attack on government special forces and members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units or Cafgu. Osias said the attackers were suspected members of NPA's Guerilla Front 21.

'Why attack us?'

Rev Fr Joesilo Amalla, parish priest of the St Joseph Cathedral, who also presided over the Good Friday event, said the NPA "disrespected the solemnity of the Stations of the Cross." "They don’t know when to stop fighting,” Amalla said.

“Why do they attack us? They should submit themselves to our God and repent for their sins. I will pray for the soul of our soldier who died while protecting us,” Amalla added.

Martinez said the people proceeded with the event and ignored the sounds of gunfire until they reached the last station.

He also lambasted the statement of Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos, spokesperson of the National Democratic Front-Mindanao, that the incident was a “misencounter” between two state security units.

“It is impossible that it was a 'misencounter.' This was a big event wherein the military coordinated with the police. We know where all our forces were positioned,” Martinez said.

Northern Mindanao is one of the areas known as a hotbed of the communist movement in the country.

The Good Friday attack came a month after the NPA's daring simultaneous raids in Bukidnon, supposedly meant as a punishment against abusive plantations.

Intelligence sources told Rappler that Army was warned several weeks ago about an impending guerrilla attack in Butuan.

Militiaman killed as NPA allegedly 'harass' Good Friday devotees in Butuan

From InterAksyon (Mar 29): Militiaman killed as NPA allegedly 'harass' Good Friday devotees in Butuan

A militiaman was killed in what the military claimed was the harassment by New People’s Army guerrillas of Catholic devotees observing Good Friday, which also happens to fall on the 44th founding anniversary of the rebel force, in Butuan City.

1st Lieutenant Joe Patrick Martinez, commanding officer of the 4th Infantry Division’s 42nd CMO Company, said fighters of the NPA’s Guerrilla Front 21C, under the Northeastern Mindanao Committee, harassed the devotees who were conducting Stations of the Cross in Purok Iyaw, Barangay Anticala at around 5 a.m.

Policemen and soldiers joining the Holy Week rites responded and the military has rushed reinforcements to the area.

The military quoted Fr. Joesilo Amalla, parish priest of the St. Joseph Cathedral as saying: “These NPAs disrespected the solemnity of the station of the cross. They don’t know when to stop fighting. “Why do they attack us? They should submit themselves to our God and repent for their sins.”

Lieutenant Colonel Potenciano Camba. commanding officer of the 3rd Special Forces Battalion, scored the rebels saying: “This is not the time and place for fighting. We were there to observe the season of Lent and to pray for peace."

Army, NPA clash on holy week

From the Manila Channel of Philippine Standard News (Mar 28): Army, NPA clash on holy week

At least three armed fight ensued between the military and the New People’s Army in Eastern Visayas on the early early days of the holy week , says army spokesman in the region Capt. Gene Orense.

In a report reaching the army headquarters in Catbalogan, Samar, Capt. Orense said firefights happened on Monday and Tuesday in two separate villages in Ormoc city while the army troops from 19th Infantry Battalion under 2Lt. Amin A Macalintangui were conducting security patrol in Brgy Liberty and Ga-as in Ormoc.

Army troops in Samar also engaged with the rebels on Monday in Brgy. Sto. Niño, Paranas town.

Troops from the 87th Infantry Battalion under 1Lt. John Rey P. Acasio encountered five NPA rebels which resulted to the death of one NPA member and the recovery of one caliber .38 revolver, one hammock and NPA subversive documents, Capt. Orense said in a statement to Manila Channel.

The army however assured the public that they will maintain peace and order this Lent.

“The 8th Infantry Division, Philippine Army assures the public that we will sustain our security operations in the region so that the catholic populace can observe a peaceful celebration of the holy week,” MGen Gerardo T. Layug said.

On Tuesday, the army joined with local leaders in declaring the entire province of Eastern Samar as another “manageable conflict affected and ready for development” province in the region.

Other provinces recently declared as insurgency-free under the jurisdiction of 8ID include Bohol, Cebu, Leyte and Southern Leyte.

MNLF had planned to deploy hit squads (Part 2)

Column from the New Straits Times (Mar 28): MNLF had planned to deploy hit squads (Part 2)

FLAWED AUTONOMY DEAL: Then Philippine president Corazon Aquino's peace efforts were criticised for dealing with only MNLF chief Nur Misuari and ignoring other Muslim leaders, writes Dr Paridah Abd Samad

THEN Philippine president, Corazon Aquino, was criticised for allegedly breaking up the country by giving autonomy to the insurgent and minority groups of Muslims.

Alarmed by what they perceived to be the granting of unprecedented concessions by the government to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) following the peace agreement reached in Jolo in September 1986 between Aquino and MNLF chief Nur Misuari, Christians opposing Mindanao's full autonomy under the MNLF, had organised their own liberation army.

Members of the so-called Christian Liberation Army were former paramilitary men and reservists, former members of the Civilian Home Defence Forces and Christian Ilagas, the civilian armed group that the military employed at the height of its punitive drive against the MNLF in central Mindanao in the 1970s.

The Philippine government had taken another step towards complying with a mandate of the Philippine Constitution as well as with the terms of the Tripoli Agreement in searching for peace in Mindanao by signing the bill establishing the Regional Consultative Commission (RCC) on March 11, 1988.

The organic act of the RCC was the basic structure in the government of the Muslim Mindanao autonomous region as mandated by the 1987 Constitution. After its enactment by the Philippine Congress, the organic act would be submitted for approval to a regional plebiscite.

The RCC would consist of fifty members "composed of representatives appointed by the president from a list of nominees from multi-sectoral bodies". Both Christian and Muslim communities would be equally represented in RCC.

The government offered Misuari and the MNLF a leadership position in a Provisional Autonomous Council and a strong hand in organising the RCC, but this was rejected.

On May 5, 1987, Misuari handed to the government the final MNLF demands that the president must within 48 hours (from May 9, 1987) issue an "executive order" declaring all of Mindanao, Sulu, Palawan, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan as an area of full autonomy.

The demand that the autonomous region should be created by an "executive order", and not by an act of the Philippine Congress, was rejected. Even though the government recognised the MNLF's demand for full autonomy, any concessions made must be within the limit set by the 1986 Constitution.

The rejection made MNLF's 200,000 armed fighters "restive". They boycotted the legislative election which was held in May 1987.

The military claimed that four major rebel groups in Mindanao held secret meetings in Lanao der Sur in a plot to join forces and launch simultaneous attacks on military camps in Mindanao to force the government to grant full autonomy to the entire island.

It was reported that in the unsuccessful autonomy peace talks, the MNLF planned to launch Muslim hit squads in major Philippine cities. They considered such action to be effective politically and required only a minimum of organisation and logistics in order to discredit the president.

The peace efforts were severely criticised for ignoring other Muslim leaders. They warned that a full-scale civil war might break out soon in Mindanao because the president insisted on holding peace talks only with Misuari.

The exclusion of the other Muslim factions by the president's brother-in-law, Agapito Aquino, who played a key role in dialogues and talks with Misuari, had caused many traditional Muslim leaders, long resentful of Misuari's influence, to take an oppositionist stance.

The government's failure in the bilateral negotiations with the MNLF, had made further negotiations with the Muslims grind to a halt. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the MNLF-Reformist groups, (both factions of the MNLF), warned the government that they would not be bound by any agreement signed by the government with the MNLF.

There were three major MNLF political factions, the largest of which was led by Misuari. The two others were Salamat Hashim's MILF and Dimasangkay Pundato's Reformist MNLF.

While Misuari's organisation had reportedly remained truer to the original Filipino Muslim movement for a completely independent Moro republic, Salamat and Pundato were said to have been willing to compromise with Manila on the basis of greater regional autonomy.

The genuine autonomy that the Muslims aspired came to a halt as the MNLF campaign for recognition as a member of the OIC was rejected at the 17th Foreign Ministers' Meeting of the OIC in Amman, Jordan in March 1988 on the grounds that MNLF was not a sovereign state.

Moreover, since both Christian and Muslim communities would be equally represented in the RCC, its organic act would be needed for enactment by the Philippine Congress and for approval in a regional plebiscite, hence the granting of a genuine autonomy to the Muslims was impossible.

Misuari justified the MNLF armed struggle on the non-implementation of the Tripoli Agreement, originally signed by Marcos and later included and accepted in the peace agreement signed by President Fidel Ramos who replaced Corazon Aquino in 1992.

This agreement established an autonomous region for Moros with Misuari as Governor of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

He was removed from his office when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became president to replace Joseph Estrada in January 2001.

The Philippine government under Arroyo accused Misuari of leading some MNLF members to renew an armed struggle by raiding the army headquarters, several military detachments and police stations, which killed 160 people in Jolo on Nov 19, 2001.

Misuari launched his revolt after Arroyo decided to back an MNLF rival in an election to choose the next governor of ARMM. The government had deployed thousands of troops to Jolo to deter attempts by Misuari followers from disrupting the balloting.

Misuari was arrested in a remote island off Malaysia's Sabah state for "entering Malaysia illegally". It was believed in some quarters that he was en route to the Gulf.

Misuari may have been trying to set up an Abu Sayyaf cell in Malaysia since he has linked himself with the bandits.

The Philippine president praised Malaysia for the swift arrest of Misuari.

Later a Jolo court ordered Misuari to stand trial for rebellion in connection with the revolt. On April 2, 2008, former rebel leader and mayor of Cotabato City Muslimin Sema replaced Misuari as the leader of the MNLF.

Civic Assistance Projects Underway Ahead of Balikatan

From the Commander, US Pacific Fleet Website (Mar 24): Civic Assistance Projects Underway Ahead of Balikatan

A time capsule is buried March 19 in Zambales during a civic action project groundbreaking ceremony ahead of exercise Balikatan. Taking part, from left, are San Narciso Municipality Mayor Peter Lim; Philippine Army Col. Arnulfo R. Pajarillo; U.S. Navy Capt. Rodney Moore; and Air Force Master Sgt. Benjamin Bone. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chris Fahey)

ZAMBALES, Philippines - Philippine and U.S. armed forces members attached to the Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force (JCMOTF) have broken ground on a series of projects in advance of the official start of Exercise Balikatan 2013.

The JCMOTF is a combined U.S.-Philippine task force in charge of managing the humanitarian and civic assistance (HCA) projects to improve the two countries' military civic assistance interoperability. During these events, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and U.S. personnel are conducting multiple medical, dental, veterinary and engineering civic action projects in the Zambales Province.

During this 29th iteration of the bilateral exercise, U.S. and Philippine units will work shoulder-to-shoulder to accomplish eight engineering civic action projects (ENCAP), six cooperative health engagements (CHE), eight community relations activities (COMREL), five subject matter expert exchanges (SMEE) and two medical COMRELS.

"The amount of work we are prepared to do as a joint team can't be overstated," said U.S. JCMOTF Commander Navy Capt. Rod Moore. "My AFP counterpart and I have developed a series of activities that will both increase our abilities to function as a team, and will leave a lasting, positive impression for the people of Zambales. It's our honor to be here, working alongside such wonderful, professional people."

In the coming days leading up to the official start of the exercise on April 5, ground will be broken on the remaining ENCAP construction projects. Work will continue steadfast so that engineers will meet the completion dates for each project. Medical and religious ministry participants will also make several visits to barangays and municipalities throughout Zambales to provide support to the local communities.

"We go out and meet with local health workers and provide training and medical advice where it's needed," said Army Maj. Kate Flocke. "We're also working with the AFP's 24th Infantry Battalion to do some 'train the trainer' events so that we can be a force multiplier and allow them to provide better treatment for their soldiers."

Lt. Cmdr Ron Kennedy, JCMOTF chaplain, has scheduled other community relations activities in the area. He says that getting to know the local citizens and spending time with each other is just as important as the engineering projects.

"Repairing a school or installing a bridge are certainly important and will definitely be appreciated, but many times it's the intangible things like a basketball game between the U.S. military and a local orphanage that can create lasting memories and a tighter bond," said Kennedy.

There is a sharp focus on the engineering projects that help increase quality of life for many, but that is not the only goal of the exercise. "Each Philippine and U.S. servicemember should come out of the exercise better trained and equipped than before," said ENCAP Operations Officer Navy Lt. Javier Lopez-Martinez. "As we go through the process, construction products will be given to the local communities, but the greatest impact will be the increased professional capacity of everyone in our joint team."

For Peter Lim, Mayor of the Zambales municipality of San Narciso whose district is benefiting from several of the scheduled ENCAPS, two of the projects come at an important time of the year.

"The San Pasqual footbridge currently under construction was one of many projects for which we simply could not find funding," said Lim during the official ground breaking ceremony of a 60-meter footbridge that will connect two overgrown and often flooded areas of the community. "Thanks to the U.S. and Balikatan, farmers in San Pasqual will be able to transport their crops to the village center."

Just south of the footbridge, U.S. and AFP engineers are building a new schoolhouse for the Omaya Elementary School and adding a new roof to the existing schoolhouse - more than doubling the current classroom space.

"They had more schools around here that have been flooded out, so they are overcrowded," said the Omaya Elementary School construction site Officer-in-Charge (OIC) Air Force Master Sgt. Benjamin Bone. "The impact is huge for this community. We've had a great welcoming from the local people, children have been looking out from a distance at the job site, where it's safe, and everyone is involved. It's awesome how involved the community has been."

According to the San Pasqual footbridge construction site AFP OIC Lt. j.g. Romel Sotero, the level of teamwork shared between the U.S-Philippine Navy Seabees has led to a lasting relationship.

"We have great teamwork," said Romel. "We are all out on the site working together. It's a great avenue to learn from each other, and share techniques. We've all had a great time, and will be sure to continue learning from each other down the road."

Balikatan is an annual Republic of the Philippines - U.S. military bilateral training exercise and humanitarian assistance engagement. Balikatan in Filipino means "shoulder-to-shoulder" and characterizes the spirit of the exercise and the Philippines-U.S. alliance.

Philippine military launches operation vs. Sayyaf terrorists in Rodwell kidnap case

From the Mindanao Examiner (Mar 28): Philippine military launches operation vs. Sayyaf terrorists in Rodwell kidnap case

The Philippine military has launched an operation to capture the notorious leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group tagged as behind the kidnapping of Australian adventurer Warren Rodwell on the southern region of Mindanao.

The 54-year old Rodwell was freed in Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur province on March 23 after his Filipino wife, Miraflor Gutang, paid P4 million ransom to terrorist leader Puruji Indama.

Gutang sought the help of Basilan Vice Governor Al Rasheed Sakkalahul in negotiating with the terrorists who originally demanded $2 million ransom.

“The operation has started already. There is an ongoing operation against Indama’s group in Basilan province,” General Ricardo Rainier Cruz III, a regional army commander, told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

Cruz said the ransom received by the Abu Sayyaf would further threaten peace and security in the Muslim province, saying the terrorist group would likely to use the money to purchase illegal weapons and fund kidnappings and terrorism in Basilan and probably other parts of Mindanao.

“We are worried about this situation now because the Abu Sayyaf may use the ransom to fund terror activities and kidnappings and endangering civilian lives,” he said.

Gutang claimed that she herself raised the money by selling off their house and vehicle and water refilling business in Zamboanga del Sur province, but her story raised more doubts because she had previously accused Rodwell of physical abuse and abandoned the Sydney man days before he was kidnapped in their seaside house in Ipil town in Zamboanga Sibugay province.

Rodwell married the Filipino woman in June 2011 after they met on the internet. Gutang’s fantastic claim of herself raising the ransom was far from her previous statement following Rodwell’s kidnapping in which she said in a radio interview that “whoever had kidnapped my husband, he is not rich. Return him to us and please don’t hurt him. My husband is ill.”

Gutang, now lives with her parents – her father works as a farmer and mother, a housewife – in a modest house in Naga town. Both parents claimed Gutang was a battered wife. Gutang even filed police reports several times claiming she was allegedly assaulted by Rodwell, and police said that she was also planning to file charges against her husband with the Australian embassy in Manila.

On Thursday, Sakkalahul in a news conference said Gutang – who was not invited by the Australian embassy in Manila to receive Rodwell – was no longer answering her phone and her whereabouts are unknown.

Rodwell’s sister Denise and his brother Wayne, who flew to Manila from Australia to be reunited with the freed adventurer, also did not meet with Gutang.

“I don’t know what happened to Flor or where she is now. I keep on calling her on the phone, but got no answers,” Sakkalahul said, adding Gutang never even thanked him after the safe release of Rodwell.

Sakkalahul now claimed that his political foes are spreading lies in Basilan, accusing him of taking a cut on the ransom and even linked him to previous kidnappings in the province.

“I strongly deny all these accusations. I never benefited not even a single centavo in the ransom. I have no participation in any of the kidnappings in Basilan. I am the committee chairman on the provincial peace and order, and co-chairman of the crisis management committee of Basilan. This is politically motivated,” he said, adding that his son, Kimhar, is running for the vice gubernatorial race in the province this mid-term elections.

“My only motivation in the negotiation is to save the life of Rodwell because the kidnappers will execute him, behead him on Easter Sunday, if their demand is not met,” Sakkalahul said.

He said it was also the same for other kidnapped victims - about a dozen of them - in Basilan whose family he also helped.

Sakkalahul’s wife Maria Teresa, who is also the Regional Assistant Tourism Secretary, also spoke about allegations against her husband and broke out in tears as she defended him and her family’s integrity and honor.

“It was so painful to us. It is not true. My husband’s concern as the vice governor is only to save the life of Rodwell and other kidnapped victims. I just told my husband to be strong because his conscience is clean, his heart is clean, his mind is clean and above all, God is with us, the truth is with us,” she said.

President Benigno Aquino has ordered an investigation into the payment of ransom to the terrorist group, saying, he has not seen any reports on the Rodwell case. “I haven’t seen a report from the concerned (authorities, the) PNP anti-kidnapping group and others,” he said, referring to the Philippine National Police.

Aquino said the government has a strict no-ransom policy. “We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” he said.

There were suspicion the ransom money either came from Rodwell’s family in Australia or from the Australian government and only used Gutang as a cover to justify the payment to the terrorist group, blamed for many kidnappings and bombings in the southern Philippines.

CPP: Aquino is quintessentially antipoor

Posted to the CPP Website (Mar 28): Aquino is quintessentially antipoor

Benigno Aquino III is quintessentially antipoor. The other day, he announced the vetoing of the Magna Carta for the Poor, claiming his government has no funds for housing, education and health services which the proposed law would have required the government to allocate.

Not that the signing of the Magna Carta for the Poor would have made a difference. But by claiming to have no money in vetoing the bill that professes to uphold the interests of the poor, Aquino has once again demonstrated his regime’s deep prejudice against the majority of the Filipino people who have long been suffering from acute unemployment, spiralling prices, low wages, subhuman living conditions and deteriorating public health and education services.

Aquino’s rejection of the proposed Magna Carta for the Poor further highlights his regime’s ruthlessness in carrying out programs and policies that oppress and exploit the workers, peasants and middle class sectors such as small professionals and rank-and-file employees, all in the interest of serving the big capitalists, big landlords and foreign plunderers.

For the past three years, Aquino has refused to appropriate enough funds for much-needed public services such as health, education and housing and has instead gone full-throttle on privatization programs and helping finance the investments of profit-hungry capitalist investors.

Public health services have become more and more inaccessible as the Aquino regime pushes through with the privatization efforts at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute and the Philippine Orthopedic Center as well as the commercialized operations being carried out in different public hospitals and health centers. The provision of health services is reduced to enrolling people in the so-called Philhealth system, a private health insurance program that is nothing but a scheme to allow financing companies to milk their subscribers and in the process cover up the reactionary state’s policy of abandoning public health.

The commercialized system of education has further worsened under the Aquino regime as it continues to fail to sufficiently subsidize the operations of public schools. This has resulted in the deterioration of public elementary, secondary and tertiary schools and compelling these to engage in commercial operations, impose various fees and raise matriculation. Private capitalist operators of private schools are given full rein to increase their profits by raising tuition and fleecing their students with fees.

The Aquino regime’s antipoor policies is starkest in the relentless drive of the regime to demolish urban poor communities to pave the way for infrastructure projects for building high-end condominiums and office spaces to accomodate foreign business operations in the country. Aquino has the blood of the urban poor in his hands in having carried out several violent demolition operations over the past three years.

Aquino has allowed foreign oil companies, water concessionaires and power distributors to raise their prices and rates with zero consideration for the daily plight of the poorest sectors of society. Aquino has time and again invoked the policy of deregulation to insist that his regime can do nothing in the face of the price and rate increases. Yet, even in the case of the Metro Manila light rail system which is under government regulation, Aquino is bent on raising train fares, asserting that government is losing money in what is supposed to be a public service, if only to make it more attractive to prospective capitalist buyers.

Workers’ wages are further being pulled down by the Aquino regime. In furtherance of the policy of cheap labor, not only has Aquino’s labor department opposed substantial wage increases, it is furthermore cutting daily wages by supplanting the minimum wage with the system of so-called floor wages (which bring down wages to bottomless levels) and productivity bonuses (to wring the workers of their last ounce of value-producing labor). These subject workers to even more oppressive and exploitative conditions of employment.

Hunger and grave poverty continue to rise among the rural poor as the Aquino regime hinders the demand of the peasantry for genuine land reform. The Aquino and Cojuangco families continue to lord it over Hacienda Luisita despite court victories by the peasants demanding the distribution of the land.

Aquino’s so-called agrarian reform program consists solely of organizing pseudo-cooperatives in order to allow foreign agribusiness corporations to engage in contract-growing, transforming small private farm lots into vast plantations of banana, pineapple, oil palm, rubber trees and other export crops. Aquino has campaigned hard to attract foreign mining companies in outright contempt of ancestral land rights and environmental concerns.

Aquino’s so-called antipoverty efforts is limited only to the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps). This World Bank-designed program that has no other aim than to dupe the people into believing that government is addressing poverty without actually doing anything to resolve its roots. Funding for the 4Ps is set to end by 2016, in time for the completion of the United Nations’ 15-year Millennium Development showcase program.

The Aquino regime has no program to develop the capacity of the local economy to produce value and create jobs. It has perpetuated the same old export-oriented, import- and debt-dependent economic program advocated by the technocrats trained by the US and IMF-WB in the neoliberal mode of thinking. To resolve the acute problem of unemployment, Aquino further promotes the export of labor, subjecting migrant Filipino workers to grave exploitation and oppression overseas.

Aquino’s economic policy-makers are busy devising ways to attract foreign investments in an effort to compete with other backward semicolonies in terms of cheaper labor and more liberal economic policies to allow foreign capitalists to plunder and exploit domestic resources, dump surplus goods and remit their profits.

The Aquino regime’s so-called “righteous path” and “anti-corruption” drive have been thoroughly exposed as a sham and nothing but slogans to push for policies being sought by foreign big capitalists. The ruling regime is all set to amend the 1987 Philippine constitution to heed the demands of foreign chambers of commerce and their local big bourgeois compradors for “political stability” and a “more liberal environment” which are nothing but catchphrases to justify the removal of the prohibition against the reelection of an incumbent president and restrictions against foreign ownership of land and local enterprises.

Over the past three years, Aquino has proved himself indubitably antipoor, antiworker, antipeasant and against all working people. His regime rules on deception and suppression. He relies on the support of the US government, the IMF and WB that fund his regime, endorse his programs and arm his security forces.

The Filipino people suffer gravely under the Aquino regime’s antipoor programs and policies. Their socio-economic conditions are bound to become ever more intolerable in the next three years. They have no other recourse but to rise up on all fronts and advance their national and democratic aspirations through mass struggles and armed resistance.

Report: Suspected Kiram follower shot dead in Sabah 'attack'

From GMANews (Mar 28): Report: Suspected Kiram follower shot dead in Sabah 'attack'

At least one more suspected follower of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III was gunned down following an encounter with security forces in Sabah Thursday morning, Malaysian police said.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib claimed the suspected Kiram follower tried to attack a member of the Malaysian security forces in the Semporna area.

But Hamza said the security personnel was "well-equipped" and was not harmed, according to a report on Malaysia's New Straits Times.

He said at least six people, including the slain suspect's wife and daughter, were arrested during the operation between 8 and 11 a.m.

The New Straits Times quoted Hamza as saying the suspected Kiram follower was shot after he "slashed" security personnel twice in Kampung Simunul.

He said the security forces were in the area to flush out Kiram followers. The area was the site of an encounter last March 2 where six Malaysian policemen were killed.

Deadly encounters on March 1 and 2 had broken a three-week standoff between Kiram's followers and Malaysian security forces.

Local economy disrupted

The ongoing Sabah conflict has taken its toll on businesses in the area, another Malaysian news site reported Thursday.

The Star Online quoted Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen as saying the clashes caused a drop in business by up to 35 percent in hotels in Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Tawau.

"[The drop] was expected. Some 800 tourists canceled their tour packages to Sabah," she said, but reassured the public Sabah is safe for travel, adding she had visited Semporna and Tawau last week.

A separate report on state-run Bernama news agency said the Menara Kayangan tower, a regular visitor attraction at the foot of Mt. Silam in Lahad Datu, was reopened to visitors last week after almost a month's closure.

But the report quoted a tourism center spokesman as saying the number of visitors declined.

"Prior to the temporary closure, the number of daily visitors was more than 100 and could even reach 500 during the weekend. For the past week, only about 20 people came," he said.

USS Guardian set to be lifted from Tubbataha Reef

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 28): USS Guardian set to be lifted from Tubbataha Reef

The bow of the US minesweeper Guardian is lifted for placing on a barge during shipbreaking operation by a Singaporean salvor company to remove the ship from the protected Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea. The Guardian ran aground on the reef in January, and has to be broken up to save the reef from further damage. PHILIPPINE COAST GUARD

The final sections of a US Navy ship that has been stuck on a UN World Heritage-listed coral reef in the Philippines for more than 10 weeks are set to be removed within days, an official said Thursday.

The USS Guardian’s bow was cut and lifted onto a salvage vessel this week, and good weather should lead to the removal of the rest of the ship by Monday, Tubbataha Reef marine park superintendent Angelique Songco said.

“They continue to work, hopefully all done by April 1,” Songco told AFP by text message.

The 68-metre (223-foot) minesweeper ran aground on Tubbataha in a remote part of the Sulu Sea on January 17, damaging a section of reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its rich marine life.

It sparked widespread condemnation across the Philippines, a former US colony.

The US government has apologized for the accident, which it initially blamed on faulty maps. The Philippines said it would impose fines.

Due to fears that towing it to deeper waters would inflict more damage on the reef, the US government agreed to scrap and dismantle the Guardian, which was worth about $277 million.

A series of photographs released by the US Navy on Wednesday showed its front section hanging by crane cables above the water, part of its wooden hull and its metal innards facing the camera.

Salvors began dismantling the ship on February 26, but bad weather caused them to miss their March 23 target to complete their work.

Songco said a joint team of US and Filipino divers would assess the extent of the reef damage after the vessel was removed.

Under a 2010 law that made Tubbataha a protected area, the US Navy could face a multi-million-dollar fine for damaging coral, said Gregg Yan, spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund Philippines.

The WWF helps the government manage Tubbataha.

Chinese navy sails to disputed islands

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 28): Chinese navy sails to disputed islands

BEIJING—China’s increasingly powerful navy paid a symbolic visit to the country’s southernmost territorial claim deep in the South China Sea this week as part of military drills in the disputed Spratly islands involving amphibious landings and aircraft.

The visit to James Shoal, reported by state media, followed several days of drills starting on Saturday and marked a high-profile show of China’s determination to stake its claim to territory disputed by the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei amid rising tensions in the region.

Sailors joined in the ceremony on Tuesday aboard the amphibious ship Jinggangshan just off the collection of submerged rocks, located 80 kilometers off the coast of Malaysia and about 1,800 km from the Chinese mainland, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Wednesday.

China planted a monument on the shoal in 2010 declaring it Chinese territory.

Sailors gathered on the ship’s helicopter deck declared their loyalty to the ruling Communist Party and vowed to “struggle arduously to realize the dream of a powerful nation,” Xinhua said.

The four-ship task force is headed next to the Pacific Ocean for deep sea exercises via the Bashi Channel separating Taiwan and the Philippines, Xinhua said.

The exercises and visit to James Shoal did not encroach on any islands where neighboring countries have any substantial presence and drew no immediate response from them, but took place in an area with a complicated patchwork of overlapping claims.

The maneuvers were an important symbolic declaration of Chinese sovereignty intended to show that Beijing will not waver over its territorial claims despite a pushback in the region, said Peking University international relations expert Zhu Feng.

Militarily, it means little since the navy has visited a number of times before and has no intention of basing troops near the remote shoal, he said.

“These recent naval operations can be seen as a strong indication of Chinese resolve, but they’re also a continuation of the existing Chinese stance,” Zhu said.

China is also claiming parts of the Spratly group of islands and Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal from the Philippines, which are well within the latter’s exclusive economic zone.

Sakalahul denies anew skimming from ransom money

From the Philippine Star (Mar 28): Sakalahul denies anew skimming from ransom money

Basilan vice governor Al-Rasheed Sakalahul on Thursday dimissed anew allegations that he skimmed from the ransom paid by the family of Australian Warren Richard Rodwell to the Abu Sayyaf group.
"I have submitted myself to the Almighty and my conscience is clear," said Sakalahul following text messages, alleging that he made money from the ransom.

The Basilan official was also accused of being involved in kidnapping incidents in southern Philippines.

Sakalahul, who is in his third term as vice governor, is not running for any political post in the May 2013 polls, but his son has replaced him to run for the same post in Basilan.

“My conscience is clear and I can’t stomach to feed my family from dirty money. I think it is about time for the families of the kidnap victims whom I have helped should come out and speak the truth,” Sakalahul told reporters in a local hotel in this port city.

Sakalahul said the negotiations were initiated by Miraflor Gutang, Rodwell's wife, and that he only assisted her to ensure that she would not be duped by the gunmen.

“I did not even touch the money that was placed in a bag and delivered by a man identified as a certain Roger, who is reportedly a cousin of Miraflor,” Sakalahul said.

He said he had conducted more than 10 negotiations that helped free hostages in previous kidnapping incidents.

Sakalahul, who is the chairman of the local management council, added that there were times he also negotiated for the release of the remains of six of 19 slain soldiers kept by the militants.

Sakalahul said the idea to pay ransom to the terror group came from Rodwell's family, following threats that the Australian would soon be executed by the gunmen.

“So we can not prevent the family to take that option to hasten the safe release of the victim. Besides, Rodwell’s health condition was worsening,” Sakalahul added.

He said the Australian Embassy assured him of its help should the Philippine government pursue the investigation on the payment of ransom.

USS Guardian salvors to focus on final cutting, lifting of main motor room

From InterAksyon (Mar 28): USS Guardian salvors to focus on final cutting, lifting of main motor room

With the cutting and lifting of the bow and "AMR" (Auxiliary Motor Room) sections of the grounded USS Guardian (MCM-5) completed, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Thursday said that the next major salvage step for US Navy salvors will be the final cutting and lifting of the vessel "MMR" (Main Motor Room) section.

"The next major milestone of the salvage operation is the final cutting and lifting of the 'MMR' planned for March 30," said PCG Palawan District head Commodore Enrico Efren Villanueva.

He added that salvage-related activities for Thursday include the continued non-structural hull cuts for the "MMR" and rigging of "MMR" and stern sections for hull lifts.

That part of the hull weighs around 200 to 300 tons.

On Wednesday, the "AMR" section of the USS Guardian, weighing around 200 tons, has been successfully cut and lifted around 1: 20 p.m.

"AMR successfully cut and lifted then transferred to barge, S-700 around 1:20 p.m.," he added.

On Tuesday afternoon, the bow of the grounded US minesweeper was lifted around 2:45 p.m.

Evangelista stated that work will continue all Holy Week.

The Coast Guard officer added that the US Navy expects all cutting work to be completed by the first week of April and lifting of all cut parts by the second week.

The USS Guardian weighs approximately 1,300 tons. with the lifting of the two sections, only 900 tons of grounded ship is left for salvors to retrieve.

The US warship has been stuck for over two months at Tubbataha Reef and caused damage to the reef, considered a World Heritage Site.

AFP vows 'cooperation' after CA tags military in Jonas Burgos 'abduction'

From InterAksyon (Mar 28): AFP vows 'cooperation' after CA tags military in Jonas Burgos 'abduction'

The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Thursday pledged to cooperate and comply with Court directives aimed at fully uncovering the details behind the disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos, one day after the Court of Appeals affirmed suspicions that the military was behind Burgos' abduction in April 2007.

The AFP said it has yet to receive a copy of the Court of Appeals ruling on the matter, and declined any further comment pending the official transmission of the report. Both AFP spokesman Colonel Arnulfo Burgos and Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang said they would give a more detailed statement after they obtain the official report of the CA.

However, Colonel Burgos said "the AFP in all its undertakings will continue to follow the rule of law and strictly adhere to the protection and promotion of human rights and International Humanitarian Law."

The CA inquiry found the military, particularly the Philippine Army, to blame for the "enforced disappearance" of Burgos, who was abducted on April 28, 2007.

The Supreme Court-directed inquiry of the CA found that Burgos' case was a state-sponsored abduction and holdss "accountable" the Armed Forces of the Philippines "and elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, particularly the Philippine Army."

The AFP on Thursday said that it does not condone any wrongful acts committed by its men and would cooperate with authorities in the matter.

For its part, the Philippine National Police (PNP) also vowed to cooperate with the CA ruling after it was directed to locate Burgos' abductors who remain at large.

Colonel Burgos also said that since the implementation of the Internal Peace and Security Plan Bayanihan in 2011, the AFP has made "signifcant headway" in protecting human rights.

"We have established human rights officers from the General Headquarters down to the area commands, division and battalion levels. We have made the position of the chief of human rights office into a star position. We have intensified our engagements and coordinations with human rights groups, watchdogs and other stakeholders," he said.

Peace advocates welcome continuation of talks between GPH-MILF

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 28): Peace advocates welcome continuation of talks between GPH-MILF

An official of a peace network in Mindanao welcomed the announcement of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III about the resumption of talks between the government peace panel and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front(MILF)on the Framework Agreement of the Bangsamoro(FAB).

Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, convenor of the Mindanao People’s Caucus, said the President’s announcement underscored his quest to pursue a lasting peace in Mindanao.

Arnado is hoping the continuation of the talks will resolve the issues on the annexation of which 95 percent was reported to have been decided in the last meeting.

She said that based on the timetable of the GPH-MILF talks, they are supposed to sign a comprehensive peace agreement during the first quarter of 2013.

“The resumption of talks is a welcome development amid the observation that there are sectors that block the peace negotiations,” she said.

Arnado said there is a seeming tug-of-war between those who support and those who oppose the peace process between the government and the MILF given the attempts of spoilers to pull the negotiations down.

She also observed that the peace negotiations happen at a crucial time when many groups would muddle the issue, despite the established confidence-building measures, hope and trust on the framework agreement.

“We must inspire, motivate and even pressure both panels to finish the peace process. They must not allow distractions to derail the talks,” Arnado said.

She urged peace-loving residents of Mindanao to show their support to the peace process by attending peace rallies in their respective places.

Arnado said politicians, institution, religious leaders and ordinary residents must qualify their declared support to the Framework.

“We are hoping that all of us from Mindanao will show our support by going out and joining peace mobilizations,” she said.

Arnado said people must also be wary why the Sabah claim came to fore at the time when the peace negotiations between the government and MILF almost reach a final conclusion.

Maria Carmen Lauzon-Gatmaytan, consultant of the social mobilization unit of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said the peace panels of the government and the MILF are prepared to go to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the talks.

She said both panels are in touch.

“It's all systems go. They are prepared with all the documents that need to be discussed in the agenda,” Lauzon- Gatmaytan said.

She said there is only a big call from civil society organizations for government and the MILF to issue a joint statement on the Sabah issue.

Lauzon-Gatmaytan said both panels must also discuss the issue about Sabah and must come up with a common stand on this concern.

“That can only happen if both panels will talk,” she said.

91 new soldiers complete six-month training

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 28): 91 new soldiers complete six-month training

  CAMP EVANGELISTA, Cagayan de Oro City -- Exactly 91 male candidate soldiers had successfully completed the six-month Candidate Soldier Course Class here on Tuesday.

Lt. Col. Eugenio Julio Osias, IV, spokesperson of the army’s 4th Infantry Division here,said that the soldiers passed both the physical and academic aspect of the training which were the basis for their graduation.

The graduation ceremony was held Tuesday at the grandstand of the camp’s sprawling parade ground here, The six-month basic soldiery training aimed to transform the soldier’s civilian antiques to that of a discipline soldier, Osias said.

He said the training also focused on military tactics in order to enrich the technical aspect of a soldier to perform multi-tasking assignments as a new member of the Army.

Osias said the new soldiers were also taught on the Basic Military Knowledge and Skills, Jungle Warfare, Mountaineering Operations, the Army Core Values, rule of law, Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

The members of the Class 302-12 came from various provinces in Northern and Western Mindanao areas, Osias said.

During the graduation ceremony, Maj. Gen.l Nestor A Añonuevo, ommander of the 4th ID, exhorted the new graduates to make their families and country proud and treasure “your service by making your every action contribute towards attaining peace for the people.”

Six Zambo Sibugay towns to receive P82-M PAMANA projects

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 28): Six Zambo Sibugay towns to receive P82-M PAMANA projects

Six municipalities in this province are set to receive P82 million worth of infrastructure projects this year under the PAyapa at MAsaganang PamayaNAn (PAMANA) program of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) acting provincial director Ma. Calpiza Sardua said the implementation of the projects had been properly and strongly endorsed by her office and the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) through a resolution adopted in a recent meeting held in this town.

The six beneficiary-municipalities and the corresponding worth of projects as follows: concreting of linking barangay Kauswagan and Lindang in Diplahan town, 10 million; construction of access road and bridge in Talusan town that would link the municipality to the town of Olutanga, P30; rehabilitation of four-kilometer road from the downtown area to Barangay Pulo Mabao, construction of 1.5-kilometer road in Barangay Gandaan and construction of 1.5-kilometer road in Barangay Esperanza, Olutanga municipality, P19 million; six-kilometer road rehabilitation and two-kilometer road opening in Mabuhay municipality, P8 million; rehabilitation of rock causeway and construction of foot bridge in Naga municipality, P5 million; and, road rehabilitation of 10-kilometer road from Barangay Tigbanuang to Looc and from Labuan to Languisan, Tungawan municipality, P10 million.

The PAMANA projects are funded by OPAPP with the following objectives: Reduce poverty and vulnerability in conflict-affected areas through sustainable rural development, community infrastructure and focused delivery of social services; Improve governance through partnerships with national and local institutions, building capacities for governance, and enhancement of transparency and accountability mechanisms; and, Empower communities and strengthen their capacity to address issues of conflict and peace through activities that promote social cohesion.

Sardua said the projects, once completed, would boost economic activities, like the transport of farm products, in the six beneficiary-municipalities.

The completion of the projects would also enhance the delivery of basic government services in the six towns, Sardua added.

Armed men chop DOLE banana plants

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 28): Armed men chop DOLE banana plants

Armed men believed to be NPA guerillas chopped down undetermined number of banana plants 8:00 p.m. Wednesday at Ortiz and Pagaran areas of DOLE STANFILCO, located at Brgy. Anahao Daan, Tago in Surigao del Sur.

Surigao del Sur Police Provincial Office reported to the regional police headquarters here that the armed group accordingly entered forcibly and destroyed the stockroom of the said company and took away number of rubber shoes. A security guard whom police identified as Isidro Dalagan and an employee of DOLE identified also as Romeo Laurente were reportedly missing. After chopping considerable number of banana hills, the group accordingly withdrew towards the mountainous area of the place heading southwest direction.

Tago Police is now conducting a deeper probe on the incident while a joint operation of the Surigao del Sur Police Public safety Company and 29th Infantry Battalion, PA are now conducting hot pursuit operations against the perpetrators.

Based on Police Regional Office XIII risk assessment of vital installations DOLE Philippines in Tago, Surigao del Sur ranks No. 1 in the high risk level. It is followed by SUMIFRO in Surigao del Sur and Geen Stone Mining in Surigao del Norte. The SRMI Mining in Agusan del Norte, JCA Rubber Plantation in Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur and the Power Barge in Nasipit, Agusan del Norte followed as Nos. 4, 5 and 6th respectively and were placed at medium risk levels.

Another section of stranded USS Guardian to be lifted March 30 - PCG

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 28): Another section of stranded USS Guardian to be lifted March 30 - PCG

With the cutting and lifting of the bow and "AMR" (Auxiliary Motor Room) sections of the grounded USS Guardian (MCM-5)completed, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Thursday said that the next major salvage step for US Navy salvors will be the final cutting and lifting of the vessel "MMR" (Main Motor Room) section.

"The next major milestone of the salvage operation is the final cutting and lifting of the 'MMR' planned for March 30," said PCG Palawan District head Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista.

He added that salvage-related activities for Thursday include the continued non-structural hull cuts for the "MMR" and rigging of "MMR" and stern sections for hull lifts. That part of the hull weighs around 200 to 300 tons.

On Wednesday, the "AMR" section of the USS Guardian, weighing around 200 tons, has been successfully cut and lifted around 1: 20 p.m.

"AMR successfully cut and lifted then transferred to barge, S-700 around 1:20 p.m.," he added.

On Tuesday afternoon, the bow of the grounded US minesweeper was lifted around 2:45 p.m.

Evangelista stated that work will continue all Holy Week. The Coast Guard officer added that the US Navy expects all cutting work to be completed by the first week of April and lifting of all cut parts by the second week.

The USS Guardian weighs approximately 1,300 tons. with the lifting of the two sections, only 900 tons of grounded ship is left for salvors to retrieve.

The US warship has been stuck for over two months at Tubbataha Reef and caused damage to the reef, considered a World Heritage Site.