Saturday, March 30, 2013

NPA rebel arrested

From the Journal Online (Mar 28): NPA rebel arrested

VINZONS, Camarines Norte -- A local team leader of the New People’s Army was captured by joint operatives of the police, the provincial police intelligence branch, the Public Safety Management Company, Military Intelligence Group SPOT-5 and the Army’s 49th Infantry Battalion in Bgy. Matango, this town.

CamNor police chief Senior Supt. Moises Cudal Pagaduan reported on Tuesday that Gerardo Valencia dela Peña was arrested on the strength of a warrant for multiple murder issued by Judge Sancho Dames II of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 30 of Daet, CamNor, with no bail recommended.

Dela Peña was immediately ordered for detention at the CamNor Provincial Jail.

Army, NPA disown Butuan clash

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 31): Army, NPA disown Butuan clash

The communist New People’s Army denied on Sunday any involvement in the unprecedented Good Friday attack on a religious ceremony in Butuan City in Agusan del Norte that resulted in the death of two militiamen and shocked around 3,000 residents who participated in the rites.

Jorge Madlos, a long-time rebel commander in Mindanao and spokesman of the communist National Democratic Front, said he contacted NPA field commanders in the area and they assured him that they did not deploy any units in the area.

“I think it’s a mis-encounter between the Special Forces of the Philippine Army, the militiamen and the policemen,” said Madlos, who is also known as Ka Oris. “I called up our field commanders and they said they did not deploy any force in the area.”

Madlos claimed the NPA could not have launched the attack because the area where the incident took place was quite near a camp of army commandos.

Lt. Col. Eugenio Osias IV, spokesman of the 4th Infantry Division based in Cagayan de Oro City, said the military was not surprised at Madlos’ denial, but Butuan City residents knew who was responsible for the attack.

The incident happened around 5 a.m. on Good Friday when about 3,000 Catholic devotees, including Agusan del Norte Representative Jose Aquino II, were holding a Stations of the Cross ceremony, called “Panaad 2013,” in Barangay Anticala, 25 kilometers from Butuan City.

About 15 communist rebels fired on government forces deployed to secure the ceremony, resulting in the death of militiamen Ariel Andohoyan and Ernie Darafil, both residents of the barangay.

Osias said the nearby commando base then dispatched units to fight off the rebels in a 10-minute firefight that scared devotees to scamper in different directions.

Osias said the 3 rd Special Forces Battalion, under Lt. Col. Potenciano Camba, soon restored calm, but asked civilians to stay under cover for more than three hours while the army commandos secured the area.

Osias said the attackers are believed to be members of the Guerilla Front Committee 21-C of the NPA’s North Eastern Mindanao Committee.

The attack coincided with the NPA’s 44th anniversary when the communist group issued orders to its units across the country to “intensify tactical offensives nationwide, win ever greater victories in our people’s war.”

“This entails the NPA encircling the cities from the countryside, making the enemy bleed from many wounds and accumulating military strength until it gains the capability of seizing the cities nationwide,” according to its Web site

The communist leadership also ordered the “strike forces” of the NPA to “carry out ambushes, raids and other disarming operations at an accelerated rate and with short rest periods. They must wage only the battles that they are capable of winning. They must target the stationary and moving weak points of the enemy.”

Military begins operation vs Abu Sayyaf bandits

From the Manila Times (Mar 30): Military begins operation vs Abu Sayyaf bandits

The Philippine military has launched an operation to capture the notorious leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group tagged as responsible for the kidnapping of Australian Warren Rodwell in the southern region of Mindanao.

Rodwell, 54, was freed in Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur province on March 23 after his Filipino wife, Miraflor Gutang, paid a 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 a $2-million ransom.

“There is an ongoing operation against Indama’s group in Basilan province,” Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz 3rd, a regional army commander, told The Manila Times.

“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,” Cruz added.

Gutang claimed that she herself raised the money by selling their house, vehicle, and their water refilling business in Zamboanga del Sur province.

Her story, however, raised more doubts because she had previously accused Rodwell of physical abuse. She also abandoned her husband days before he was kidnapped in their seaside house in Ipil town in Zamboanga Sibugay province.

Rodwell married Gutang in June 2011 after they met on the Internet. Gutang now lives with her parents —her father works as a farmer—in a modest house in Naga town.

On Thursday, Sakkalahul 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.

“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 that Gutang never even thanked him after the safe release of Rodwell.

Sakkalahul also 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,” he said.

NPA executes former comrades in Agusan del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): NPA executes former comrades in Agusan del Sur

CAMP EVANGELISTA, Cagayan de Oro City -- Two former communist rebels were executed by suspected members of the New People’s Army in Surigao during the Holy Week, the army’s 75th Infantry Brigade reported here Saturday.

Lt. Jolito Borces, spokesperson of the army’s 75th IB, said Julieto Acebedo Piling, alyas Dimple Cocoy, and Rodel Garcia, alyas Brital, both residing at Purok Nangka Tunnel 15, Road 17, Barangay Consuelo, Bunawan, Agusan Del Sur were found dead in Bayugan 3, Agusan del Sur with multiple gunshot wounds on their bodies.

Borces said about 15 men believed to be members of the NPA North Eastern Mindanao Regional Committee abducted the victims at gunpoint while visiting a friend in Bunawan, Agusan del Sur in the night of March 23, 2013.

He said the bodies of the victims were found the following day dumped in the hinterlands of Sito Blue Tent, Purok 12, Barangay Bayugan 3, Rosario, Agusan del Sur.

Witnesses told the military that a certain Renato Sayasat, an NPA team leader, led the rebels armed with AK 47 and M16 assault rifles in the abduction and killing of the former NPA victims, Borces said.

He said the 75th IB deployed a combined police and military team to haunt the suspect.

Charges were also filed against the suspect in the local court of Agusan del Sur.

Communist leader says Butuan clash was a mis-encounter between gov’t forces

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 30): Communist leader says Butuan clash was a mis-encounter between gov’t forces

A communist rebel leader in Mindanao has called for a civilian probe into the so-called “Good Friday ambush” in Butuan City which the military has blamed on the New People’s Army but which he claimed was really a “mis-encounter” between government forces.

In an earlier statement, the military’s 4th Infantry Division based in Cagayan de Oro City said a militiaman was killed when some 15 NPA rebels fired on security forces deployed to ensure the safety of some 5,000 Catholic faithful doing the Stations of the Cross in the village of Anticala about 5 a.m. Friday.

Lieutenant Colonel Eugenio Osias IV, division, said the security forces returned fire and engaged the rebels in a 10-minute firefight.

“There were no civilian casualties,” he said, adding that the rebels had fled and were being pursued by troops.

A military field report said that the civilians who participated in the religious event, “including Agusan del Norte Representative Jose Aquino II,” were “trapped” for nearly six hours as soldiers“chased” the fleeing rebels.

The incident, which coincided with the NPA’s 44th anniversary, enraged Catholics in Butuan City, with the priest who officiated the religious rites condemning the NPA “for disrespecting the event.”
“Why did they attack us? This has nothing to do with their fight,” said Fr. Joesilo Amalla, parish priest at the St Joseph Cathedral.

But Jorge Madlos, spokesperson of the National Democratic Front in Mindanao, said he believed the incident was actually a “mis-encounter” among soldiers, militiamen and policemen deployed to secure the event.

He said the area where the alleged NPA ambush took place was very close to the camp of the Army’s Special Forces, making it difficult for the NPA to launch any attack.

The NPA could not have carried out the attack, Madlos said, because there was nothing to be gained as it was a religious event and a backlash would be serious.

“I called up our field commanders and they said did not deploy any force in the area. I think it’s a mis-encounter between the Special Forces of the Philippine Army, the militiamen and the policemen,” said Madlos, who is also known as Ka Oris.

He said in order to settle the issue, an investigation should be conducted.

“I would suggest that a fact-finding mission involving religious groups, the local government and non-government-organizations be conducted so we could determine what really happened,” Madlos added.

Osias said the military expected the communist rebels to make a denial “as they were used to making” such denials.
Dr. Naty Castro, secretary general of Karapatan in the Caraga region, agreed that only an “impartial civilian investigation” could shed light on the incident.

“The alleged encounter between the PNP/AFP and the NPA in Iyao, Brgy. Anticala, Butuan City must be thoroughly investigated in an impartial civilian mission to verify the conflicting statements regarding the incident from both sides,” Castro said in a statement issued on Saturday.

She said Karapatan was willing to take part in the investigation “to help in clarifying this matter.”

“Only an impartial investigation by civilian authorities with the cooperation of [civil society organizations] can make the accusations of breach of rules of engagement clarified. Erring forces should be reprimanded and asked to account for their actions. This is the only way that the Butuan City public can be assured that no such incident will occur in the immediate and long-term future,” Castro said.

Military, NPA encounter in EVisayas

From Tempo (Mar 30): Military, NPA encounter in EVisayas 

Philippines - Clashes between government forces and New People's Army (NPA) continued even on Holy Week, with the military recording three engagements in Eastern Visayas.

Capt. Gene Orense, the 8th Infantry Division (8ID) spokesman, said the encounters took place Holy Monday and Tuesday in Leyte and Samar provinces.

The first encounter took place around 3:00 p.m. Monday in Barangay Liberty, Ormoc City, Leyte. Troops from 19th Infantry Battalion under 2Lt. Amin Macalintangui was conducting security patrol when they engaged a group of NPA rebels in an exchange of fire.

The second encounter took place on March 26 at 1:00 p.m. at Brgy Ga-as, Ormoc City according to Captain Dranreb F Canto, CivilMilitary Operations Officer of the Army's 802nd Brigade.

On that same day in Barangay Sto. Niño, Paranas, Samar, soldiers from the 87th Infantry Battalion under 1Lt. John Rey Acasio also encountered a group of insurgents.

One NPA member was killed while the government troops recovered one caliber .38 revolver, hammock, and subversive documents.

The third incident took place in Barangay Ga-as, Ormoc City, Leyte, where elements of the 19th Infantry Battalion were conducting routine security patrols around 1:00 p.m. of March 26.

“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,“ said Maj. Gen. Gerardo T. Layug, the 8ID commander.

Bangsamoro Transition Commission’s first meeting: April 3 in Pasig City

From MindaNews (Mar 30): Bangsamoro Transition Commission’s first meeting: April 3 in Pasig City

The 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (TransCom) of the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will have its first meeting on Wednesday, April 3, not in any of the Bangsamoro areas in Mindanao but in Pasig City in Metro Manila.

A media advisory from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) media director in Mindanao said the GPH and MILF “will come together to formally introduce to the public” the members of the TransCom “through the ceremonial opening of their first official meeting” at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Ortigas Center in Pasig City from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. That meeting is expected to be even shorter since the same advisory says a press conference is “tentatively scheduled at 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.”

“It’s just ceremonial,” MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, who will also chair the TransCom, replied when asked why they agreed to having the first meeting in Pasig.

The first TransCom meeting was described last week as “first en banc meeting” but this week was changed to “ceremonial opening of their first official meeting.”

In a press statement on March 25, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles said they are “pleased to announce that the first en banc meeting of the 15-member Transition Commission has been set in the first week of April” and on the fourth of a six-paragraph statement said President Aquino had sought the postponement of the GPH-MILF talks in Kuala Lumpur that had been scheduled for March 25 to 27.

A Joint Statement issued by the GPH and MILF panel chairs later that day in Kuala Lumpur said they “agreed to meet in the second week of April 2013.”

The TransCom, a body agreed upon by the GPH and MILF in their Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) of October 15, 2012, was created under Executive Order 120 issued by President Aquino on December 17 and supported by resolutions from the two houses of Congress.

Its main task is to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law in preparation for the “new autonomous political entity” called “Bangsamoro.” The new entity will replace the 23-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which will have its last elections on May 13. But the supposed three-year term of office of ARMM officials will be cut short as soon as the Basic Law shall have been passed by Congress and ratified by the people in the Bangsamoro.


According to the FAB, “upon the promulgation and ratification of the Basic Law…. the ARMM is deemed abolished” and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority takes over until the first set of officials that will govern the new entity by noon of June 30, 2016, shall have been elected in the May 2016 polls.

The EO provides the following tasks of the TransCom, in accordance with the FAB: “draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law with provisions consistent with the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro; whenever necessary, to recommend to Congress or the people, proposed amendments to the 1987 Philippine Constitution; and whenever necessary, to assist in identifying and coordinating development programs in the proposed Bangsamoro in conjunction with the MILF Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) and the Bagnsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI)” and for this purpose, “may likewise coordinate with such other relevant government agencies and/or non-government organizations.”

It also adds these tasks: “coordinate and conduct dialogues and consultations with the National Government and various stakeholders in furtherance of its functions; and perform such other relevant functions as the President may hereinafter direct.”

The names of the TransCom members were announced on February 25.


The TransCom is composed of eight members from the MILF and seven from the GPH.

The MILF’s Iqbal will now have three roles: MILF peace panel chair, MILF information chief, and TransCom chair.

The TransCom members appointed by President Aquino are: Akmad A. Sakkam, Johaira C. Wahab,. Talib A. Benito, Asani S. Tammang, Pedrito A. Eisma. Froilyn T. Mendoza and Fatmawati T. Salapuddin.

The MILF on the other hand selected eight members: Iqbal, Maulana Alonto, Abdullah Camlian, Ibrahim D. Ali, Raissa H. Jajurie, Melanio U. Ulama, Hussein P. Munoz and Said M. Shiek – all of them members of the MILF peace panel: Iqbal is peace panel chair. Alonto and Camlian are members; Jajurie, Ulama and Sheik are members of the Technical Working Groups while Munoz, more popularly known by his commander’s name, Sonny Davao; and Ali, an aleem, are consultants.
Jajurie is a lawyer while Sheik is head of the MILF’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities.

On the GPH side, only one from the GPH peace panel was named to the TransCom: lawyer Wahab, chief of the legal panel.

Wahab, who hails from Maguindanao, and who topped the Foreign Service Officer examination given out by the Department of Foreign Affairs last year, is the youngest TransCom member. She turned 28 on March 25.

Iqbal, the TransCom chair, is turning 65 this year.

Women and Lumads

The GPH members to the TransCom are lawyer and former ambassador Sakkam from Indanan, Sulu; Prof. Benito, Dean of the King Faisal Center for Islamic, Arabic and Asian Studies at the Mindanao State University in Marawi City; lawyer Tammang, a former congressman from Panamao, Sulu; former Isabela City councilor Eisma of Basilan; Mendoza, aTeduray who co-founded the Téduray Lambangian Women’s Organization, Inc. (TLWOI) while Salapuddin was director of the Sulu-based Lupah Sug Bangsamoro Women’s Association and is at present the Director of the Bureau of Peace & Conflict Resolution of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos.

Of the 15 members, four are women (Wahab, Mendoza and Salapuddin from the GPH and Jajurie from the MILF) while two are from the Lumads (Indigenous peoples): Mendoza from the GPH and Ulama from the Organization of Teduray and Lambiangan Conference, from the MILF.

Tausugs dominate the TransCom membership: Sakkam, Tammang, Salapuddin and Jajurie, Camlian describes himself as “Tausug/Sama/Banguingi from Zamboanga City and Basilan.”

The Maranaos have three members in the TransCom: Benito, Alonto and Shiek; the Kagans have Munoz and for the Iranuns, Ali.

The MILF base is in Maguindanao but there are only two Maguindanaons in the TransCom: Iqbal and Wahab.

TransCom’s guests

The OPAPP media advisory said GPH and MILF officials will grace the Pasig meeting.

From the GPH, the advisory said Secretary Deles, GPH chief negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer and panel members Senen Bacani, Mehol Sadain and Bai Yasmin Busran-Lao will be present along with Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Secretary to the Cabinet Jose Rene Almendras, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman, Local Governments Secretary Mar Roxas and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima will be present..

The MILF will be represented by Iqbal, “Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga, Datu Antonio Kinoc, and Mike Pasigan and others.”

The media advisory did not say if the MILF’s senior peace panel member Datu Michael Mastura, would be present.

USS Guardian removal from Tubbataha Reef completed

From GMA News (Mar 30): USS Guardian removal from Tubbataha Reef completed

The salvage operation on grounded USS Guardian is complete with the lifting of the ship's stern, the last slice pulled out of Tubbataha Reef at about 1:50 p.m. Saturday. Philippine Coast Guard photo

The salvage work on the grounded minesweeper USS Guardian was finally completed on Black Saturday with the removal of the last part of the hull, the Philippine Coast Guard said.

PCG Palawan head and Task Force Tubbataha chief Commodore Enrico Evangelista said salvage crews cut and lifted the stern at 1:50 p.m.

"(T)he second phase which is the assessment and recovery phase (for the damaged reef) begins," a report on state-run Philippines News Agency quoted him as saying.

A report on Agence France-Presse quoted PCG spokeswoman Lieutenant Greanata Jude as saying, "the stern of the USS Guardian was lifted off the Tubbataha Reef after the 68-metre (223-foot) vessel was sliced into portions for easier removal."

With this, the operation was finished ahead of the April 1 timetable set by the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO).

Initially, the salvage crew planned to remove the vessel's main motor room on Saturday, but it cut and lifted the part on Friday.

Last Wednesday, the TMO said the bow and the auxiliary machinery room had been removed Tuesday and Wednesday.

The TMO said that if sea conditions remain calm, the entire ship may be lifted off the reef as early as Monday, April 1.

The USS Guardian ran aground on Tubbataha Reef last Jan. 17, with the TMO estimating some 4,000 square meters of the reef may have been damaged.

US vows cooperation

After the complete removal of the USS Guardian from the reef, the United States reassured the Philippines of its cooperation in the assessment of damage to the ecology caused by the vessel's grounding.

In a statement, the US Embassy in Manila also reiterated the US is prepared to pay compensation for the damage the Jan. 17 incident caused.
"We are grateful to the Philippine government – including the Coast Guard, Department of Transportation and Communications, Philippine Navy, and TMO – for their leadership and assistance throughout the salvage operation," it said.
With the USS Guardian’s removal from Tubbataha Reef, a marine ecological assessment will be conducted to determine the extent of damage.

On the other hand, the Embassy said that while the US government is still investigating the grounding, it is "cooperating with the Philippine government's independent investigation."

Coral reef preservation

Meanwhile, the Embassy said the US government is taking steps to continue its "longstanding commitment" to coral reef preservation and the protection of Philippine marine resources.

"We will continue to work with our Philippine partners to help advance coral reef restoration and preservation in the Philippines," the embassy said.

It cited a P4.1 million ($100,000) grant to Western Palawan University to support coral restoration at Tubbataha Reef, through the United States Agency for International Development’s Philippines Coral Triangle Support Partnership (CTSP).

Also, it said the US contributed P254.2 million (US$7.2 million) to protect coral reef ecosystems in the Philippines since 2007.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also conducted consultations with stakeholders about marine and fisheries conservation activities "that will contribute to achieving Philippine commitments to the Coral Triangle Initiative National Plan of Action."

The Embassy cited as well a US government contribution of over P41 million ($1 million) "to establish linkages between Filipino and American scientists to conduct joint research on biodiversity and marine conservation."

USS Guardian finally off Tubbataha reef

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 30): USS Guardian finally off Tubbataha reef


SULU SEA, Philippines (March 30, 2013) - The U.S. Navy contracted crane vessel M/V Jascon 25 removes the stern section from the mine countermeasure ship Ex-Guardian (MCM 5), which ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef Jan. 17, and places it onto the barge Seabridge. The removal of the stern section completes the hull removal of the Guardian from the reef. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kelby Sanders)

The U.S. 7th Fleet announced the completion of the salvage operation on Ex-Guardian (MCM 5), 72 days after the 224-foot mine countermeasure ship ran aground on the Tubbataha reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

A statement sent to Manila Bulletin by the US 7th Fleet public affairs indicated that the final section of the hull, the stern section which weighed approximately 250 tons, was safely lifted from reef on Saturday.

"U.S. Navy and contracted salvage personnel embarked onboard the U.S. Navy contracted crane vessel M/V Jascon 25 completed on March 30th, the removal of the grounded mine countermeasures ship Ex-Guardian from the Tubbataha Reef," read the statement.

Capt. Mark Matthews, supervisor of salvage, said that "as the hull has been removed, the team is now shifting their effort to collecting minor debris that remains on the reef."

"We also have a collaborative team from the U.S. and the Philippines beginning to assess the condition of the reef,” Matthews added.

“Every salvage operation presents unique challenges. It has been difficult to extract the Guardian without causing further damage to the reef, but the U.S. Navy and SMIT salvage team with support from other companies and the government of the Philippines have really done a superb job. I could not be more proud,” Matthews further said.

It can be recalled that the Avenger-class minesweeper had just completed a port visit in Subic Bay and was transiting Sulu Sea en route to Indonesia when it ran aground at the world heritage site around 2:25 a.m. on January 17. The ship hit the Tubbataha Reef's south atoll and has been stuck since then.

US authorities have repeatedly issued an apology over the incident.

"As a protector of the sea and a Sailor myself, I greatly regret any damage this incident has caused to the Tubbataha Reef,” said US Navy Vice Adm. Scott Swift days following the incident.

"We know the significance of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and its importance as a World Heritage Site. Its protection is vital, and we take seriously our obligations to protect and preserve the maritime environment," he added.

Since Guardian's grounding, the Navy has been working meticulously to salvage any reusable equipment and remove any potentially harmful materials including petroleum-based products, human wastewater, and other debris.

The US Navy said no fuel has leaked since the grounding and all of the approximately 15,000 gallons aboard the USS Guardian were safely transferred off the ship in the early days of the salvage operation.

"We continue to work closely with the Philippine Coast Guard, Navy, and Tubbataha Reef Park Rangers, and we are grateful for the support we have received to remove Guardian and minimize further damage to the reef,” said Matthews.

Along with the Jascon 25, the USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50), the SMIT Borneo, the Trabajador, the Intrepid, and the Archon Tide remain on scene supporting the cleanup operation.

As salvors worked to dismantle and remove the ship from the reef, Guardian's 23 years of service to the US Navy was concluded during a decommissioning ceremony March 6 at Naval Base Sasebo, Japan.

The US Navy said that over the years, Guardian played an integral role conducted several real-world mine neutralizations and search and rescue missions in the Arabian Gulf and has conducted several bi-lateral exercises with US partners partners throughout the 7th Fleet Area of Responsibility, since becoming a forward-deployed Naval asset in 1996.

While assigned to 5th Fleet, Guardian was the first mine countermeasure ship to perform a crew swap and established standards still in practice today.

Last week, Guardian's crew members took over the USS Warrior which arrived in Japan atop a heavy-lift vessel from Bahrain, where it just completed a deployment to the Navy’s 5th Fleet area of operations.

NPA hitmen kill ex-rebels and their unborn child

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 30): NPA hitmen kill ex-rebels and their unborn child

VIRAC, Catanduanes, Philippines—A guerilla couple who decided to come down from the hills to start a new life in San Miguel town had their dreams shattered on Good Friday when they, along with their unborn child, were gunned down by armed men believed to be their former comrades, police said Saturday.

Jerome Viola Bernal, 28, a native of Solong, died instantly after being shot by unidentified men believed to be New People’s Army hitmen at 11 a.m. in his residence at the riverside village of Siay.

His assailants did not spare his live-in partner, Mylene Tenerife Tindugan, 23, who was seven months pregnant and was shot in the abdomen.

Doctors at the Eastern Bicol Medical Center where she was rushed by policemen said the fetus in her womb also died.

The suspects fled to a mountainous area of the barangay after the shooting.

According to a police field report sent on Saturday to Catanduanes police provincial director Senior Superintendent Eduardo Chavez, Bernal and Tindugan were having lunch when five unidentified armed men arrived. Two of them entered the house and poked a gun at Bernal, who pleaded for his life.

“Leave me alone because I already have a peaceful life. Don’t you see my wife is pregnant?” Bernal was quoted as telling intruders, who then shot him several times in the head and body until he fell dead. The men then fired a gun at Mylene, hitting her on the left part of the abdomen.

Chavez said the initial reports gathered by the San Miguel police showed that the couple were communist guerrillas operating on the island when they fell in love and decided to surrender.

Bernal reportedly became a member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu), the military’s auxiliary arm, and then went home to Siay to attend to his pregnant wife.

However, Lieutenant Colonel Bernard Fortez, the commander of the Philippine Army’s 83rd Infantry Battalion based in the province, on Saturday denied that Bernal was a Cafgu member.

He said the victim was a rebel returnee along with his wife. Describing Bernal’s death as an extra-judicial killing, he also criticized the New People’s Army for shooting Tindugan, saying that the woman and her unborn child should have been spared for humanitarian reasons.

Less than 10 Sulu gunmen left in Sabah, says police chief

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 30): Less than 10 Sulu gunmen left in Sabah, says police chief
DIGOS CITY, Philippines—The Malaysian government’s Operasi Daulat (operation sovereignty) is coming to a close after a few more days as the object of the operations have now been nearly wiped, a top police officer in Sabah said Saturday.

Speaking over a Sabah-based radio, whose broadcast was monitored here, Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib said as Ops Daulat entered its 25th day on Saturday, the number of “Sulu terrorists” had significantly dropped to less than 10 from over 200 prior to March 5.

“They were either killed or captured,” Hamza said.

The latest to be killed, Hamza said, was a “60-year-old terrorist” who tried to hack a member of the Malaysian police during a search in Simunul in the Semporna district on Thursday.

On the same day, a brief clash also took place in Lahad Datu, he said.

Hamza told the Sabah radio station that the man’s identity had not been fully established but initial investigation showed he was “the bodyguard and an aide to [another] Sulu terrorist, known as ‘Imam Tua’.”

‘Imam Tua’ was among those killed in a clash that followed an alleged attack by followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram’s so-called ‘royal army” in Semporna in which six Malaysian policemen were killed.

The Malaysian government said since the launching of Ops Daulat on March 5, an operation that involved Malaysian Air Force jets dropping bombs on an area in Felda Sahabat 17 while 5,000 ground troops backed by armored personnel carriers combed nearby areas, 68 “Sulu terrorists” had been killed and 121 people detained under the Security Offenses Act and Special Measures or Sosma.

“I can’t say that there are no more terrorists. I believe they still exist but their number is small, probably less than 10,” the state-run Berita Nasional Malaysia or Bernama quoted Hamza as telling journalists during an earlier press conference in Lahad Datu.

Hamza said the sweep has also succeeded in freeing three villages—Tanduo, Tanjung Batu and Tanjung Labian— of “terrorists.”

He said the remaining Sulu gunmen had broken into smaller groups of “probably two persons” and were possibly hiding in the areas of Tanjung Bilis and Lok Buani.

Hamza, still speaking over the Sabah radio station, said as Ops Daulat was coming to an end, residents of Tanjung Labian “would be allowed to return.”

But Tungku district Assemblyman Mohamad Suhaili Said revealed that the Malaysian government has decided to permanently shut down Tanduo, a seaside village of 15 houses, and that residents would be resettled on a 121-hectare area in the adjacent village of Sungai Merah.

Tanduo was the site of the bloodiest battles between Malaysian security forces and the Sulu gunmen, led by Kiram’s younger brother Agbimuddin Kiram, who landed in a village in Lahad Datu on Februay 19 to assert the Sulu sultanate’s claim to Sabah.

“Tanduo is now part of the Eastern Sabah Safety Zone,” Mohamad Suhaili, speaking in a news conference, said in explaining the decision.

The New Straits Times, quoting another official, said Tanduo will be turned into a “tourism” area.

“The beach is beautiful,” the newspaper’s website quoted Lahad Datu district officer Zulkifli Nasir as saying.

Zulkifli, NST said, even added that “if everything goes well, tenders will be issued out soon to invite potential investors to develop the area.”

Joma Sison assails Aquino administration

From Rappler (Mar 30): Joma Sison assails Aquino administration

JOMA HITS AQUINO. The NPA leader criticizes Aquino's claims of economic growth. Screenshot from

JOMA HITS AQUINO. The NPA leader criticizes Aquino's claims of economic growth. Screenshot from

In time for the 44th founding anniversary of the communist New People's Army, self-exiled Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria 'Joma' Sison attacked the Aquino administration for its economic policies that do not benefit the poor.

On Friday, March 29, Sison said in a video that President Benigno Aquino III has espoused economic policies and plans that do not benefit the "masses."

[Watch the video here from KODAO Productions (Europe) on Vimeo.]


He said Aquino and the "US regime" tried to deceive Filipinos about supposed economic growth, and attacked the government on the following issues:

1. Aquino is pro-mining. Sison said the mining industy takes resources out of the country and gives them to foreign countries instead.

Aquino signed Executive Order 79 in 2012 which aims to improve the revenue-generating scheme in favor of the government. The EO however specified that no new mining contracts would be signed "until a legislation rationalizing existing revenue sharing schemes and mechanisms shall have taken effect."

Aquino also approved the implementing rules and regulations of EO 79 in October 2012.
The IRR's provisions cover the term of the mining contract, areas where mining activities could not take place, and stress the primacy of national over local laws.
2. Aquino's bid to boost tourism paves the way for the rise of casinos.

Aquino opened the Solaire Resorts and Casino on March 16, a US$1.2-billion property located in Entertainment City, which sits on reclaimed land on Manila Bay. It is one of the 4 gaming venues to operate there.

Solaire is controlled by Enrique Razon-led Bloomberry Resorts Corp.

Sison said the focus on this industry has caused the government to neglect the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.

3. Aquino's much-lauded gains in the stock market have led to a "stock market bubble."

The stock index breached the 6,700-mark in February and was ranked the 3rd best-performing in the world by the World Federation Exchanges.

Sison said this has resulted in a stock market bubble, however, which means stock prices have risen and contracted.

"May bubble na sa stock market -- pumutok na (The stock market bubble has burst)," he said.
There have been no reports from the business sector that this has happened, however.
Sison also hit Aquino's "Oplan Bayanihan," which is a counter-insurgency program. He said this program showed that Aquino is not sincere in pursuing peace talks with the NPA.
Sison's message came as the NPA also attacked government forces in Butuan on the latter's 44th founding anniversary.

US Navy ship removed from Tubbataha

From Rappler (Mar 30): US Navy ship removed from Tubbataha



Salvage teams on Saturday removed the last piece of a US Navy ship that was stuck on a UNESCO World Heritage-listed coral reef in the Philippines for more than 10 weeks, the coast guard said.

The stern of the USS Guardian was lifted off the Tubbataha Reef after the 68-metre (223-foot) vessel was sliced into portions for easier removal, Philippine coast guard spokeswoman Lieutenant Greanata Jude said.

Bad weather had earlier delayed the recovery operations but once the skies cleared, a salvage ship used a huge crane to lift the bow, the deck, the funnel and other pieces of the ship off the reef.

"The salvage ship will still remain in the area. After the lifting, they will clear the area of debris. It will take three days maximum," Jude told AFP.

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

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

The US government has apologised 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 team from the Philippine government and major universities has already been assembled to assess the damage caused when the ship ran aground, said Tubbataha Reef marine park superintendent Angelique Songco.

Under Philippine law, ships that run aground on Tubbataha are fined 24,000 pesos ($585) for every square metre of damaged reef, she said.

She said the area of the reef damaged by the USS Guardian has been initially estimated at 4,000 square metres (43,055 square feet) but the assessment team will still check this.

"We will inspect the total damage to establish exactly what they have to pay," Songco said.

CPP-NPA strength continue to dwindle

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 29): CPP-NPA strength continue to dwindle

JAMINDAN, Capiz – The Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) has failed to project itself as a force to reckon with as its strength continue to dwindle in Panay and Negros Islands.

Military records show significant decrease in NPA strength by 49 percent as of 1st quarter of 2013 from 444 in 2010.

In 2010, 15 NPA members have surrendered while in 2011, rebel returnees ballooned to 88 and 14 were arrested and served with warrants of arrest. Also in 2012, 87 went back to the folds of the government while 13 were also arrested with warrants.

Major General Jose Mabanta Jr, Commander of Army’s 3rd Infantry Division said, “The CPP-NPA is losing its mass base support while their ranks continue to go back to mainstream of society and start a new life. Despite of the decrease in their number, there are a lot to be done. In the spirit of Bayanihan, we will continue to work together and even harder with the local communities, the local government units, local government agencies, the civil society organizations and all other stakeholders in putting an end to insurgency in Panay and Negros.”

In the 1st quarter of this year, two NPA members also yielded to government authorities while two top ranking officials were arrested with cases of murder, arson and physical injuries.

More NPA members are expected to go down as feelers to surrender have reached the Army headquarters. Revelations of former rebels state that most of their comrades are contemplating to surrender due to hardship that they’ve been experiencing in the jungles while others have been thinking deeply about their families and that anytime something may happen to them due to continuing military operations.

Taking arms is not the solution to our problems. Those who chose the right path are now enjoying a renewed life together with their families and are even productive in their communities, while those who have committed a crime must be punished as their victims have been longing for justice.

Recently, 15 former rebels (FRs) in Negros Occidental gladly received a total of P149, 338.75 worth of livelihood projects and cash aid of P5, 000.00 each as part of the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) of the provincial government in response to the economic, social and psychological rehabilitation needs of these FRs.

However, Calixto Vistal alias Cocoy, an NPA leader in Negros Oriental, was recently given the maximum punishment of “Reclusion Perpetua” or life imprisonment as he was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt for murder of Basilio Casido last May 7, 2009 in Tayak, Siaton, and ordered to pay the victim’s direct heirs the amount of P100, 000.00 in civil indemnity and moral damages.

“The continued arm struggle will just give us hardships in our pursuit of peace, with the needless loss of lives, especially the civilians being caught in between. We reiterate our call to our brothers and sisters who are still in the wrong path and continue with the armed struggle, to lay down your arms and join the mainstream of society, abandon the armed violence, live peacefully together with your family and be the instrument of peace and development of our country,” MGen Mabanta added.

Troops kill murder suspect in Zambo Sur shootout

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 29): Troops kill murder suspect in Zambo Sur shootout

ZAMBOANGA CITY -- A 25-year-old man facing murder charges in court was killed in a shootout with military intelligence operatives in Zamboanga del Sur province, a police official disclosed Friday.

Police Regional Office-9 (PRO-9) spokesman Chief Insp. Ariel Huesca identified the slain murder suspect as Rasul Abdurajak, 25, a resident of Sitio Bombi, Barangay Igat, Margosatubig, Zamboanga Del Sur.

Investigation showed that prior to the shootout, the intelligence operatives of the Army’s 44th Infantry Battalion received a report that a cadaver was found floating around 7 a.m. on Maundy Thursday along the shoreline of Sitio Tigbalogo, Barangay Digon, Margosatubig municipality, Huesca said.

However, the troops saw Abdurajak aboard a motorized banca when they arrived minutes later at the shoreline of Sitio TigbaPlogo to check the reported recovery of cadaver, Huesca said.

Abdurajak allegedly drew his gun and opened fire, thus, the shootout ensued when the troops called his attention and tried to stop him from leaving the place, he said.

The shootout resulted to the death of Abdurajak, who has a standing warrant of arrest for the crime of murder issued by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 24 in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay, he said.

The troops recovered from Abdurajak’s possession a hand grenade, a Caliber .38 revolver loaded with three live ammos as well as the slain muder suspect’s motorized banca colored yellow without markings.

OPAPP allocates P25-M for Dumalinao-Pagadian City road project

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): OPAPP allocates P25-M for Dumalinao-Pagadian City road project

The government has allocated P25 million for the construction of a 5-km road linking the municipality of Dumalinao and Pagadian City, officials said Saturday.

The project will be implemented through the PAmana at MAsaganang PamayaNAn (PAMANA) program of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

PAMANA Zamboanga-Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi (ZamBaSulTa) Coordinator Vicente Borgonia said the road project will link the barangays of Pantad and Rebokon in Dumalinao town to barangays of Bomba and Poloyagan in the city of Pagadian.

Dumalinao is a third class municipality in the province of Zamboanga del Sur while the Pagadian City is the province’ capital.

The road project that will traverse the coastal area, once completed, will provide fast and easy access to farmers in the four areas to transport their produce to the market, Borgonia said.

The travel time will be reduced to less than an hour compared to the present where it take couple of hours passing through the provincial road, he said.

It will also boost the delivery of basic government services in the four barangays, he added.

GPH-MILF peace process moves forward as TransCom holds first en banc meet

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): GPH-MILF peace process moves forward as TransCom holds first en banc meet

The peace process between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front continues to gain headway as the Transition Commission, the body tasked to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law, is set to hold its first en banc session on April 3.

“We welcome the holding of the first en banc meeting of the Transition Commission on April 3,” GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said in a press statement issued on Black Saturday.

“The Government Panel will work closely with the Transition Commission in continuing to reach out to the public and coming up with a draft law that will embody the just aspirations of the peace negotiations,” she added.

Composed of 15 members, seven of which were nominated by the GPH while eight were recommended by the MILF, the TransCom will begin its work on drafting the Basic Law following its first meeting.