Monday, May 20, 2013

2 female soldiers injured in land mine blast in Davao del Norte

From GMA News (May 21): 2 female soldiers injured in land mine blast in Davao del Norte

At least two female soldiers were injured in a land mine blast in Tagum City in Davao del Norte province early Tuesday morning.
The explosion occurred at about 6 a.m. along Tagum Road in Barangay Magdum in Tagum City, radio dzBB's Davao affiliate Raul Tolibas reported.
The injured soldiers were rushed to the Tagum Doctors' Hospital for treatment, the report said.
An initial investigation showed the soldiers were heading for Compostela Valley and were passing through Tagum Road when the land mine exploded.
The military has launched pursuit operations against the perpetrators, who they believe could be connected to the communist New People's Army.
Last April, the Armed Forces of the Philippines accused the NPA of using land mines and improvised explosive devices in attacking not only government forces but also civilians.
It said a recent study it made linked the NPA to 107 "landmining incidents" nationwide, resulting in 113 people killed and 262 wounded in the last 10 years. 
"Landmining and use of IEDs which are usually followed by ambuscades are prohibited tactics long practiced by the NPA since the beginning of their armed violence," it said. —KG, GMA News

Murad says victory of PNoy’s party is victory for the peace process; MILF to set up political party this year

From MindaNews (May 20): Murad says victory of PNoy’s party is victory for the peace process; MILF to set up political party this year

DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao (MindaNews/20 May) – The victory of the President’s party in last week’s elections is victory for the peace process, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said.

“We’re quite happy that in the results of the election in both local and national level, the administration candidates dominated. So I think there will be no reason for the government not to push through with the processes in the negotiation when they have… majority (in) Congress,” Murad told MindaNews Friday afternoon at the reception hall of the Office of the MILF Peace Panel.

He said they hope the victory of the Liberal Party, the President’s party, “will be an advantage because we are relying much on the sincerity and the capability of the government to implement the (peace) process.”

Murad also said the MILF will start building a political party “within this year” in preparation for the 2016 elections when the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro is expected to be elected.

“Within this year, we will start already (setting up the political party).” Murad said in mixed English and Pilipino.

Murad said they will form a political party because “we want to maintain the status of the MILF as an Islamic organization and the political party will be the arm of the MILF for the political process.”

Murad said they have yet to name the party but it will definitely contain the word “Bangsamoro.”

The Philippine government (GPH) and MILF peace panels signed on October 15 last year the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB). After the elections, they are supposed to complete the annexes on Wealth-sharing, Power-sharing and Normalization, to complete the comprehensive peace pact for the establishment of the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that would replace the 23-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim at the MILF Peace Panel's office in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on May 17. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim at the MILF Peace Panel’s office in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on May 17. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

The FAB also provides for the creation of a Transition Commission that would draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law. When the Basic Law is done, it will be submitted to Congress with the President certifying it as urgent and once passed by Congress will be submitted to a plebiscite in the core areas comprising the five-province, two-city Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the six towns in Lanao del Norte (Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal) and the barangays in the towns of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigcawayan, Pikit and Midsayap that voted for inclusion in the 2001 plebiscite; the cities of Cotabato and Isabela in Basilan and all other contiguous areas where there is a resolution of the local government unit or there is a petition of at least ten per cent of the qualified voters in their area.

The future “Bangsamoro” will, as agreed upon by the GPH-MILF, have a ministerial form of government.

Murad acknowledged that in last week’s election, “nag dominate pa rin ang 3Gs (guns, goons, gold). But he said he is confident that in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, “we can at least gradually change the system because unless you change the system, we do not see a future for the electoral process because we observed that the 3Gs still dominate.”

The MILF is going to face two electoral processes between now and 2016: the plebiscite for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the election of the first set of officials of the “Bangsamoro” political entity in the May 2016 elections.

This year’s polls served as a preview to the plebiscite and the May 2016 polls with many MILF members voting for the first time. The MILF was perceived as supporting the candidacy of Tucao Mastura for governor of Maguindanao. Mastura lost to reelectionist Esmael Mangudadatu. His defeat raised doubts about an “MILF vote.”

Murad explained that “not all the MILF supported Tucao Mastura. There are those who voted also for the other side. We did not endorse any candidate so members were free to choose who they would vote for, who can help in the peace process. Not all voted because there are those who are not registered voters.”

While not citing figures, Murad acknowledged “marami” (many) registered in the general re-registration in the ARMM last year.

“In preparation for this year’s election?” MindaNews asked.

“Actually it’s not for this election. The preparation is actually for the plebiscite. We encouraged them to register in preparation for the plebiscite,” Murad said.

Murad is pleased that the peace process was carried as an election issue by candidates from both the administration and the opposition.

He said judging from the statements of Mangudadatu before the election, “he has been expressing his support to the Framework Agreement.”

“Actually, even during the campaign period he was also very, very supportive … of the Framework Agreement. In fact, he also thanked the MILF pronounce(ment) of neutrality (in) the election.”

He expressed confidence that the Bangsamoro Basic Law that would be crafted by the Transition

 Commission would pass smoothly in Congress.

“Well that is our expectation but you know the politics in the Philippines …But we are really banking on the statement of the elected officials expressing their support to the Framework Agreement and also the President’s.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

4 soldiers, 2 rebels killed in separate skirmishes

From the Manila Times  (May 20): 4 soldiers, 2 rebels killed in separate skirmishes

GOVERNMENT troops and members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) have engaged in three separate encounters, leaving four soldiers and two rebels dead.

Maj. Angelo Guzman, spokesman of 9th Infantry Division (ID), said on Monday that as of 2 p.m. the firefight between elements of the 2nd Infantry Battalion and the insurgents were still ongoing at Sitio Sta. Lucia in Barangay Maninila, Camalig Albay province, where the unfinished Southern Luzon International Airport is located.

According to Guzman, a squad of soldiers were on patrol when a landmine exploded, followed by a volley of gunfire from NPAs that resulted in the death of three soldiers and injury to another.

The soldiers also lost three high-powered firearms, a K3 squad automatic weapon and two M16 rifles.

“The firefight is still ongoing, There are still sporadic firefights,” Guzman said, adding that the soldiers were on patrol following intelligence report that the rebels would attack the said airport, which is expected to be finished by 2015 or 2016.

The unfinished airport, he added, was also attacked last year by the rebels—they burned hundreds of millions worth of properties of the contractor for refusal to pay revolutionary taxes.

“We were able to foil the attack. They could have destroyed again another millions worth of equipment in the area,” Guzman further said.

The two other encounters occurred in Surigao del Norte and in Misamis Oriental.

1Lt. Joe Patrick Martinez, commanding officer of 42nd Civil Military Operations Company, 4ID, said that troops from the 42nd Division Reconnaisance Company of the 4th ID, were on a pursuit operation when engaged by members of the NPA Gueilla Front 16, North Eastern Mindanao Regional Committee at the hinterland barangay of Cabugao in Claver, Surigao del Norte.

Government forces conducted the said pursuit operation after an earlier encounter between the 30th Infantry Battalion and said NPA group at Sitio Pamyunon, Barangay Sapa, also in Claver, where the Army suffered one casualty.

“This time, two NPAs were killed and the troops recovered one M16 and one AK 47 rifle,” Martinez said.

He added that government troops also saw the NPAs carrying their wounded comrades as they fled towards the west and north of the encounter site.

Over in Sitio Tongo, Barangay Tingaan, Salay, Misamis Oriental, troops also engaged some 20 rebels in a 10-minute firefight.

Maj. Leo Bongosia, spokesman of 4th ID, said that there were no reported casualties from both sides but the rebels left behind a rifle scope, six magazines of AK 47 with ammunitions, 10 magazines for M14 with ammunitions, two magazines for M16, four cellular phones, assorted medicines, cooking paraphernalia, five pairs of rain boots, slippers, assorted dry cell batteries, rice, canned goods, seven backpacks and subversive documents.

PCG mum on Balintang Channel incident

From the Manila Bulletin (May 20): PCG mum on Balintang Channel incident

Did the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) violate the rules of engagement in Balintang incident?

There are no clear answers from PCG spokesperson Commander Armand Balilo who played it safe by keeping mum on the issue.

Even as Taiwan aired its side on the allegations that the PCG had “homicide intention” over the death of a Taiwanese fisherman in disputed waters, Balilo chose to keep the speculations rife with deafening silence.

“The case is already under investigation by the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation),” he said.

Pressed by Manila Bulletin for their PCG side, Balilo said they will not issue any statement and has chosen to be tight-lipped on the issue concerning the maritime agency.

Last Saturday, Balilo said the Coast Guard gathered testimonies from witnesses to find out exactly happened.

The PCG has been getting brickbats from Taiwan for the involvement of its personnel aboard MCS-3001 that had close encounter at sea with Guang Ta Hsin-28 last May 9.
Even its website was not spared by cyber attack as the PCG received the brunt of the outrage over the shooting incident that resulted in the death of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-Cheng.

“It is still down up to now,” Balilo said.

Whenever an internet user tries to enter the PCG website, it showed “this account has been suspended.”

For the meantime, the agency’s news advisories, field reports, and other information about the PCG can only be accessed through its other social networking sites.

“We have a Facebook and a Twitter account that the public can access to get updates on the PCG,” said Balilo.

3 soldiers die in foiling raid on Albay airport work site

From Malaya (21 May): 3 soldiers die in foiling raid on Albay airport work site

THREE soldiers died and another was injured in a clash yesterday in Albay between government troops and New People’s Army rebels who were allegedly plotting to attack the construction site of an international airport.

Maj. Angelo Guzman, spokesman of the Army’s 9th Infantry Division, said the troops from the 2nd Infantry Battalion were dispatched to conduct patrol in the wake of a “very imminent attack” on the airport.

At around 8:30 a.m., the soldiers caught up with about 40 rebels at Manilala village in Camalig town. The encounter site   in Alobo village in Daraga town, said Guzman.

“Based on the report we got, an attack was very imminent. The intelligence report said the NPAs will attack the airport so we dispatched soldiers to patrol, leading to the encounter,” said Guzman.

A military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the encounter site is only about two or three kilometers from the airport which the rebels raided in May 18 last year and during which they burned some P100 million in equipment.

Guzman said the rebels were trying to extort a “big amount” of money from the contractor, Sunwest Corp.

“We foiled an attack (on the airport),” Guzman said. “Just imagine if we were not able to get the information (on the rebel plan), and they were to raid (the airport) tonight or tomorrow and millions of equipment (were destroyed), this may discourage investors.”

Quoting 2nd IB commander Lt. Col. Andrew Costelo, Guzman said the rebels exploded a landmine before opening fire at the soldiers. He said the soldiers also lost a K3 squad automatic weapon and two M16 rifles to the rebels.

Guzman said sporadic fighting between the two sides were ongoing as of 1 p.m. He said the skirmishes have already left an undetermined number of casualties on the rebel side.

In Zamboanga del Sur, NPA rebels conducted a house to house search in Camp Blessing village in Bayog town around 7:15 a.m. Sunday and carted away five homemade shotguns and cellphones.

A military report said the atrocity involved 40 rebels belonging to the Section Committee Feliciano “B” of the NPA.

The report said that before the incident, the rebels held two of the residents, Ronnie Gamoc alias Momoy and Romeo Tacloba alias Kado, a village official. The two were later released unharmed.

It said the rebels were looking for Gamoc’s brother, Dencio, who the rebels believe has a firearm.

No PH-Taiwan joint probe, but 2 sides agree to help respective fact-finding teams

From InterAksyon (May 21): No PH-Taiwan joint probe, but 2 sides agree to help respective fact-finding teams

There will be no joint probe into the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman on a boat being apprehended by the Philippine Coast Guard, but investigators from both sides will cooperate with each other in their respective tasks, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Monday.

De Lima told this to reporters after the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which is under her office, met with Taiwanese officials Monday morning. 
She described the outcome thus: “There would be coordinated efforts or collaboration between two teams.”

A joint probe is not an easy proposition, de Lima said, adding, “I mean… It’s not advisable to agree to a joint probe. Aside from sovereignty issues involved, there are also foreign policy implications because you know [we have] the One China policy.”

Those working in a joint probe must be together “every step of the way. They must agree on every aspect, on every finding,” she added.

Despite the agreement not to hold a joint inquiry, the investigators from NBI and their counterparts expect some help from each other. An NBI team is flying to Taiwan to get statements from other fishermen who were at the scene when a joint Coast Guard-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) team apprehended four Taiwanese boats for illegal fishing in the Balintang Channel off the northern Philippines coast on May 9.

Well within PH territory

De Lima, meanwhile, asserted that the incident happened within Philippine territory, squelching attempts by some quarters to frame it as an incident in disputed waters.

In so far as the Philippine government is concerned, she said, “it happened in Philippine waters … now, is that material or not?… Let’s see if that is material to the result. Since there was an incident where someone fired and someone died, an investigation is imperative . . . But in so far as we are concerned that’s within Philippine waters.”

‘Murder’ conclusion premature

The DOJ chief also regarded as “premature” the conclusion in a Taiwanese government report released Saturday, describing what happened as a “murder” by Philippine authorities of an unarmed fisherman.

“How can they say it’s murder when not all of the evidence is in?” she added, noting the unfinished tasks of both Manila and Taipei investigators. “At this point we can neither confirm nor reject any such conclusion about murder because there’s no conclusion yet in the investigation.”

A special Philippine panel is hearing the testimonies from 13 PCG and BFAR personnel, who have since been relieved of their duties. The men said they had fired at the Taiwanese boat in self defense because the fishing boat had repeatedly tried to ram the Philippine vessel to prevent authorities from boarding the former.

Moving forward

Notwithstanding the decision to rule out a joint investigation, the NBI will still assist the Taiwanese probers who continue to do their work despite Saturday’s release of the “premature” report.

Among others, the Taiwanese officials will be allowed to inspect the BFAR-PCG vessel, and to examine the team’s firearms that were surrendered to the NBI.  The first report released by Taipei last Saturday was just based on the forensic evidence on the fishing boat that is now back in Taiwan.

The NBI, meantime, was given clearance to fly to Taiwan to inspect the Taiwanese fishing boat, and talk to the fishermen-companions of the fatality.

Manila authorities have not yet given the go-ahead for the Taiwanese side to interview the local Coast Guard, but allowed the NBI to share their affidavits with them.

The Philippine request for a re-autopsy of the fisherman will depend solely on the man’s family, said de Lima.

She said a re-autopsy would be “ideal and desirable. But whether it is crucial,” de Lima added, she does not deem the re-autopsy as indispensable to the investigation.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz, PH Navy's 2nd Hamilton-class cutter, begins sea trials

From InterAksyon (May 21): BRP Ramon Alcaraz, PH Navy's 2nd Hamilton-class cutter, begins sea trials

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF16) of the Philippine Navy leaves the pier at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in North Charleston, South Carolina, to undergo three days of sea trials in preparation for its departure for the Philippines next month. (Photo by the US Coast Guard)

The second Hamilton-class cutter acquired by the Philippines under the US Excess Defense Article and Military Assistance Program, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), began its much-awaited sea trials as part of preparations for its journey to the Philippines.

In a statement, the Philippine Embassy said the Alcaraz left at 8:30 a.m. Monday, from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in North Charleston, South Carolina, where it has been undergoing refurbishment since it was turned over to the Philippines last year.

Navy Capt. Elson Aguilar, Defense and Naval Attaché of the Embassy, said the Alcaraz will stay out at sea for three days to test its propulsion and other systems before returning to port on Thursday.

“We want to make sure everything is in place before the Alcaraz finally sets sail for the Philippines before the middle of next month,” Captain Aguilar said.  

The Alcaraz has been undergoing refurbishment since it was acquired by the Philippines in May 2012.

The vessel’s 14 officers and 74 crew members led by Capt. Ernesto Baldovino have also been undergoing training since the turnover last year.

The 378-foot-long Alcaraz was commissioned in 1968 and served with the US Coast Guard as the USCGC Dallas until it was decommissioned and turned over to the Philippines in May. It is being refurbished and refitted at a cost of $15.15 million.

The Alcaraz is the second Hamilton-class cutter that was acquired by the Philippines under the Excess Defense Article and Military Assistance Program. The first, the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF15), was turned over to the Philippine Navy in May 2011.

According to Captain Aguilar, both the Alcaraz and the Del Pilar can conduct patrols for long periods and withstand heavy weather and rough sea conditions.

The Alcaraz was named after Commodore Ramon Alcaraz, a Philippine Navy officer, who distinguished himself during the Second World War when the patrol boat he commanded was credited with shooting down three Japanese aircraft.

NPAs kill 3 soldiers, wound 1 in ambush

From the Business Mirror (May 20): NPAs kill 3 soldiers, wound 1 in ambush

THREE soldiers were killed while another one was seriously wounded in a landmine ambush during a firefight against New People’s Army (NPA) rebels early Monday morning in Sitio Santa Lucia, Barangay Maninila, Calamig, Albay.
Maj. Angelo Guzman, spokesman of the Army’s 9th Infantry Division, said the incident happened at around 8:30 a.m.
“A squad of 9 soldiers was conducting foot patrol when landmines exploded which was followed by a volume of fire from the enemy,” Guzman said.
The ambushed soldiers were members of the 2nd Infantry Battalion.
Guzman said although the soldiers were pinned down, they were able to fire back and extricate themselves from the killing zone, leaving the soldier-fatalities.
“One K3 Squad Automatic Weapon [South Korean-made] and t2o M16 rifles were lost to the NPA,” Guzman said.
Guzman said they would release soon the names of the casualties pending notification of their families.
Peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines had been stalled since 2012.