Saturday, December 21, 2013

Doing chores saved victim's life

From the New Straits Times (Dec 22): Doing chores saved victim's life

'ACTS OF KINDNESS': Chang tells how she cooked, washed kidnappers' clothes during her captivity

KOTA KINABALU: SHE cooked and washed their clothes, hoping that her acts of kindness could bring out the compassion in her captors,  the same ones believed to have killed her partner she was vacationing with.

An-Wei Chang, the Taiwanese tourist who was kidnapped from Pulau Pom Pom off Sabah last month, soldiered on for 35 days, sleeping near bushes under the watchful eyes of her captors and praying hard for her ordeal to end.

"Although I was very tired, I did those chores hoping that could somehow guarantee my safety.

"I just want to say I deeply appreciate the Philippine military for giving me such a big help and assistance to rescue me.

"Thank you very much," Chang told the local media yesterday, a day after she was rescued by Philippines Marines at a village near Talipao, a town on the remote island of Jolo.

Chang was then immediately taken to the nearest military hospital for a medical check-up in the town.

She returned to Taiwan early yesterday afternoon, where local media showed the 58-year-old woman in a loose T-shirt with sunglasses on, walking to a minibus parked at an airport near Taipei and waving briefly, showing the thumbs-up sign to the press corp.

It is understood that she was later taken to a hospital in Taipei for a medical check-up.
Chang had been waking up to different remote locations her kidnappers were holding her captive, while her brother, Richard, and a Taiwanese legislator were busy negotiating a ransom, and buying time for the Malaysian and Philippines security forces team to identify her whereabouts.

They were hinged on the belief that the kidnappers would not harm her as they were were trained to fight soldiers, not unarmed women. They had also not received the ransom that they were after.

Local reports said Chang had somehow, at one point, managed to contact Richard.
They also suggested that Chang's family allegedly paid her kidnappers some RM900,000 to secure her release.

Philippine authorities were quoted saying that the identities of Chang's kidnappers were unknown, though Abu Sayyaf gunmen who were known to carry out kidnappings, operated in the area.

It was reported that Richard had also asked a friend in the Philippines to look for his sister.

It was Nov 15 when Chang and her partner, Hsu Li-min, who were holidaying on the island, were attacked by the armed gunmen.

They killed him and took her with them, first to Mataking island and then to Jolo.

Hsu's body had been cremated in Malaysia and his ashes were brought back to Taiwan last month.

East Sabah Security Command (Esscom) director-general Datuk Mohammad Mentek said he was thankful for Chang's rescue.

"I congratulate the security forces of the Philippines for successfully rescuing the woman," he said, adding that Malaysian security forces would strive to prevent a recurrence and ensure the safety of ESSZone. "We also hope that tourist resort operators in the area will extend their full cooperation to the security forces."

Taiwanese national An-Wei Chang being comforted by a Philippine marine officer after being released by her kidnappers in Talipao township, Jolo, southern Philippines, on Friday.

Abu Sayyaf behind Taiwanese woman's kidnapping: CIB

From the Focus Taiwan News Channel (Dec 21): Abu Sayyaf behind Taiwanese woman's kidnapping: CIB

The Abu Sayyaf militant Islamist group in the southern Philippines was behind the kidnapping of a Taiwanese woman, who was released Friday, Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) said Saturday.

Chang An-wei, who had been held hostage in the southern Philippines for 36 days, returned to Taiwan Saturday afternoon after she was released by her captors, CIB Director-General Lin Teh-hua said at a press conference.

Based on information provided by Malaysian and Philippine police, the woman had been abducted by a faction of the Abu Sayyaf group based in Mindanao, he said.

The incident came to light around 1 a.m. on Nov. 15, when workers at a villa on the resort island of Pom Pom off Semporna in the East Malaysian state of Sabah heard the sound of gunshots and informed the police that a man had been shot.

The Taiwanese man, Hsu Li-min, died from gunshot wounds, while his 58-year-old girlfriend was abducted and taken to the southern Philippine island province of Sulu, which is adjacent to Malaysia, Lin said.

Since the armed attack was carried out near the border between the Philippines and Malaysia and involved Taiwanese, the government of Taiwan initiated an international cooperation mechanism on crime fighting and held an inter-ministerial meeting to come up with a response, he said.

Meanwhile, a special task force comprising police from Taiwan, the Philippines and Malaysia was formed to help rescue Chang and assist her family in devising a strategy for negotiating with her captors, Lin said.

It is believed that the militant Islamist group Abu Sayyaf had been holding the woman for a ransom, he said.

At the press conference, Chang's brother said his sister had not been harmed and what her captors wanted was money.

However, he declined to disclose how much was paid to secure his sister's release.

MILF: BDA-PLEDGE gears up for pilot implementation

From the MILF Website (Dec 22): BDA-PLEDGE gears up for pilot implementation

The Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) - Program for Local Economic Development through Enhanced Governance and Grassroots Empowerment (PLEDGE) held a consultation and planning workshop in preparation for its pilot implementation.
The activity that was participated by PLEDGE management and program staff was conducted at El Bajada Hotel, Davao City on December 18, 2013. The crucial output of the gathering was the planned activities that will guide the program implementation.

Feedback, comments and suggestions of the participants who came from the central and regional management offices of the BDA were analyzed and considered.

BDA Board of Directors, Regional Managers and consultants from the World Bank also shared their time and effort for a fruitful activity.

World Bank Consultant for PLEDGE Rudy Baldemor presented and the discussed to the body the proposed plan.

Working closely together in studying and improving the plan, the participants also reviewed the proposed guidelines and policies for the project management and implementation.

One of the proposals that surfaced was changing “Enhanced Governance” into “Enlightened Governance” in the program title.

PLEDGE is another component of the Mindanao Trust Fund for Reconstruction and Development Program (MTF-RDP) with the International Labor Organization (ILO) as trust fund recipient. It was launched in June 2013.

The program is aimed on the creation of sustainable livelihood in communities enhancing community ownership through participatory approach and with enhanced support networks and services.

Improving local products that will increase profitability and job generation is the very aim of the program.

For the past six months, the program has been into planning processes including conduct of baseline study and territorial diagnosis, identification of priority value chains, recruitment of staff and enhancement of human resources.

Recently, its Program Coordinator, Julhaina Cadon, was sent to an international workshop on entrepreneurship methodologies in Turin Italy on November 11-15, 2013 for capacity building and for learning and sharing on value chain development principles and applications with other organizations worldwide.

Cadon shared in the training the BDA’s experience in the early implementation of the  PLEDGE, “given that the communities being served are conflict-affected.”

The program targets to serve at least two communities per region in Mindanao where BDA operates. The selection is based on the criteria adopted by the program.

Constituents of identified communities that were assessed are very hopeful they will be chosen to be the beneficiaries.  They have expressed their willingness to work with the program.

MILF: BTC, CHD ink agreement on technical assistance

From the MILF Website (Dec 21): BTC, CHD ink agreement on technical assistance

Additional technical and logistical supports are forthcoming for the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) as it concluded a memorandum of agreement with the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD) on December 17.
Chairman Mohagher Iqbal signed in behalf of the BTC along with Ali Saleem, Country Representative of the Switzerland-based CHD.

The MoA stipulates for the provision by the CHD of technical assistance by eminent persons and experts, support for strategic communications, and logistics for information dissemination and dialogues.

The recently-formed Communications Group of the BTC is tasked to supervise hour-long radio programs already being broadcast in the provinces of Sulu and Basilan and Cotabato City.

There would be dialogues between the BTC and critical stakeholders in Manila and selected places in Mindanao. Public information dissemination would be intensified especially within the grassroots.    

A similar MoA was inked on November 30 by BTC and the Conciliation Resources which is also a member of the International Contact Group (ICG) for the GPH-MILF peace

negotiations. That earlier MoA also provided for the intensification of public dialogues and the widest delivery of relevant information as well as the gathering of feedback from the people.

CHD acts as coordinator of the ICG.

West Point grad appointed BI commissioner

From Rappler (Dec 21): West Point grad appointed BI commissioner

PERMANENT. Siegfred Mison is now the commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration. Photo from the Malcolm Law website

PERMANENT. Siegfred Mison is now the commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration. Photo from the Malcolm Law website

Malacañang on Saturday, December 21, announced the appointment of Siegfred Mison as commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) .

The appointment papers were signed by President Benigno Aquino III on December 19. With his permanent appointment, Mison now has the power to make policy decisions, approve long-term contracts, and appoint or fire personnel. As OIC, he did not have these powers.

Mison, whose father Salvador Mison served as Customs commissioner, took over the bureau after Ricardo David resigned in July. He was appointed associate commissioner in the BI in 2011.

Mison graduated with a degree in Management from the US Military Academy at Westpoint in 1987. Shortly after, he joined the Philippine military, where he did counter-insurgency operations and security and intelligence. He was also detailed with the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Retirement and Separation Benefits system.

He retired as a major after passing the bar. Mison has a law degree Juris Doctor from Ateneo and a Masters of Law degree from the University of Southern California.

The West Point graduate is also a partner at Malcolm law, and taught at the Ateneo de Manila University School of Law and the University of the East College of Law.

Peace benefits Mindanao farmers

From the Philippine Star (Dec 21): Peace benefits Mindanao farmers

The absence of any encounter this year between the military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has helped farmers in Central Mindanao to invest in  projects that could develop the region into a livestock, rubber and oil palm hub.

Except for some isolated atrocities perpetrated by bandits belonging to the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the region was peaceful, with “zero" military-MILF encounter, in the past 11 months.

The BIFF, which is led by extremists, among them the now paralytic Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato, is not covered by the July 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the government and the MILF.

The peace has allowed farmers in far-flung areas in  North Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces benefit from  government projects.

The livelihood projects were implemented in support of the socio-economic agenda of the GPH-MILF peace talks.

“I hope the tranquility we now experience in our communities will continue in the years to come so we can focus on activities that could generate income to continue sending our children to school,” Mutalib Tantung, a Moro farmer in S.K. Pendatun town in Maguindanao, said in the local dialect.

Tantung is one of more than 50,000 farmers in Maguindanao who received free rubber tree and oil palm seedlings dispersed in the past 11 months by the provincial government under the “plant now, pay never” project of Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu.
Thousands had received seedlings and farm animals from the Maguindanao provincial government from 2010 to late 2012. Maguindanao is one of the five provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

In North Cotabato, hundreds of farmers in flood-hit and conflict-stricken areas also benefited from the animal and seedling dispersal activities of Gov. Emmylou Talino-Mendoza from January to early December this year.

North Cotabato, which is under Administrative Region 12, has three congressional districts that are home to mixed Moro, Christian and non-Moro indigenous highland communities.

Mendoza’s office also distributed water buffaloes and hybrid goats to Christian and Moro farmers in North Cotabato in recent months.

Some of the beneficiaries of the community agricultural interventions initiated by the Maguindanao and North Cotabato provincial governments are members of the MILF and its rival, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

The MNLF signed a peace deal with government on September 2, 1996.

Chief Supt. Noel Delos Reyes, police director of ARMM, said the community projects of the Maguindanao provincial government helped convinced  the followers of MNLF founder Nur Misuari to refrain from joining their companions in Zamboanga City in September.

Many of the more than 4,000 scholars of the Maguindanao Program on Educational Assistance and Community Enhancement (MagPEACE), bankrolled by the office of Mangudadatu, are children of MILF and MNLF members, according to Lynette Estandarte, Maguindanao’s chief provincial budget officer.

“Naturally, because we have peace education subjects, these scholars help educate their parents on the importance of resolving security problems through dialogues. This learning process is good for the Mindanao peace,” commented Engineer Sukarno Datukan, administrator of the government-run Upi Agricultural School in North Upi town in Maguindanao.

MNLF members in North Cotabato had also committed to Mendoza, who, like Mangudadatu, is now in her second term as provincial governor, to refrain from disturbing the  peace in their enclaves in the province.

Peace activists in Central Mindanao, among them Catholic priests and leaders of various Christian sects, are convinced the government and MILF panels  would be able to strike a final peace compact by 2014.

Peace talks between the government and the MILF started January 7, 1997, punctuated by security problems that caused its frequent suspension,  and gained headway in 2003 with the help of Malaysia as facilitator.

Besides Malaysia, Japan, the European Union, Norway, Indonesia, and several other international donor organizations, and foreign peace advocacy entities, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a bloc of more than 50 Muslim countries are assisting in the peace talks.

Communists slam AFP chief’s Christmas ceasefire comment

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 21): Communists slam AFP chief’s Christmas ceasefire comment

AFP Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista/ AFP Public Affairs Office

The Communist Party of the Philippines criticized Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista for belittling the rebel’s six-day unilateral Christmas ceasefire, which he described as so short he wondered why the rebels had even bothered to declare it.

“If the Aquino regime and its armed forces really want a long-term or indefinite ceasefire, then it should push for the resumption of formal peace negotiations with the NDFP (National Democratic Front of the Philippines) on the basis of the foundations built through more than 25 years of negotiations,” the CPP said in a statement released by its Information Bureau on Friday.

The CPP said it knew that the Filipino people had indeed been wishing for a long-lasting peace.

“But they also know that this is impossible under a system that exploits and oppresses the workers, peasants and the downtrodden, and that such can only be achieved by waging mass struggle and armed resistance,” the party said.

After the CPP announced that the New People’s Army rebels would observe a ceasefire from December 24 to 26 and again from December 31 to January 2, Bautista scoffed at two ceasefire periods, saying they were too short and meant nothing in advancing peace efforts.

The top military official said the communist rebels should have declared a permanent cessation of hostilities for the benefit of the Filipino people.

On Friday, President Benigno Aquino declared a 26-day ceasefire with communist rebels starting at midnight of December 20 and lasting until January 15, 2014.

The CPP also assailed what it claimed were continuous military offensives against communist guerrillas engaged in rehabilitation work in typhoon devastated areas, citing a clash between the NPA and government forces on Tuesday in Motiong, Samar.

The CPP claimed that since November 8, all NPA units in Motiong, and in the rest of Samar and all areas ravaged by Supertyphoon “Yolanda”, “have been busy carrying out rehabilitation work by assisting the masses in their effort to resume agricultural production and revitalize the environment through various forms of cooperation and collective work.”

The CPP said that the continuing military offensives areas devastated by Yolanda were a repetition of government’s anti-insurgency campaign in Compostela Valley last year after the destruction left Typhoon Pablo.

The CPP said its declaration of two three-day ceasefires was an expression of solidarity with the people’s traditional holiday observance and was also intended to allow the NPA rebels to concentrate on providing security to those who will join the celebrations of the CPP’s 45th anniversary on December 26 inside the so-called guerrilla zones.

Last Christmas, the NPA rebels observed ceasefire from December 20 to January 15 while the military stopped military operations against communist guerillas from December 16 to January 2, 2013.

The close to four weeks ceasefire was considered he longest Christmas truce between the two sides.

In 2011, both the government and communist rebels observed a 19-day ceasefire to precede the resumption of peace talks. But the on and off peace negotiations have not moved beyond minor agreements.

Last May, the government peace panel announced the termination of the peace negotiations and put the blame on the NDFP with its preconditions and demands.

Saluting Holidays in battlefield

From the Manila Bulletin (Dec 22): Saluting Holidays in battlefield

Soldiers are known for their stamina to withstand rigorous training, endurance to be away from their loved ones while in the battlefield, and willingness to sacrifice their lives for the welfare of their fellowmen — giving them an image of toughness and courage.

But, like ordinary human beings, these military personnel have a soft side that is especially evident when Christmas time comes.

•Soldier’s Mandate

To keep peace and order wherever there is threat to security is a soldier’s mandate, according to Col. Generoso Mariano, who had served the military for 34 years before he retired in 2011.

“We are on call 24/7,” Mariano told Manila Bulletin in an interview via Facebook.

“Regardless of what time of the year it is, we must be ready to answer the call of duty.”
Christmas Day is no exception — Mariano had saluted the special day in the battlefield.

“Soldiers celebrate [Christmas] like a family, especially when we are in operational areas, and we really cannot be with our loved ones. We share whatever food or drinks the troop can afford,” he said, painting a picture of their kind of celebration. “The only difference, probably, was that we have ‘guard detail’ who patrols around the camp.”

During his stint, the 58-year-old Mariano was assigned in the different units of the military.

“I was particularly assigned in the Philippine Navy,” Mariano said. “My last assignment was with the Naval Reserve Command. I was Deputy Commander then.”

•Family On His Mind

Sgt. Christopher Capilitan, 49, has been in the Armed Forces of the Philippines for 23 years now, and celebrating Christmas away from his family has become usual for him.
Still, he could not help thinking about his family when this much-awaited season comes around.

“I always think about what’s happening in our house every Christmas Eve,” he said, adding that spending Christmas away from his family makes him sad.

•Making It Up, Filling The Gap

Thanks to today’s technology, Mariano has been able to satisfy his longing for his family.

“I can now reach them by calling or sending them text messages,” he said. “They always cross my mind.”

He explained that his duty as a soldier is something that his family should understand, but he makes it up to them by making them feel special regardless of the occasion.

“Whether it is Christmas, New Year, Valentine’s Day, or an ordinary day, I let them feel that I love them,” Mariano said.

Capilitan, on the other hand, has his own way of filling the gap.

“We would go to church, and then spend quality time out together,” he said.

•Season’s Reason

Even while on duty, Mariano and Capilitan make sure they keep in mind the real essence of the season.

“I never forget to thank the Lord for the blessings He has showered upon us,” Capilitan said. “I hope my fellow soldiers also appreciate everything they have.”

For Mariano, “Christmas is a day to remember the birth of Jesus Christ,” and he wishes that everyone would live up to His will.

“It is every soldier’s wish that Jesus Christ be accepted in the hearts of every man, so that we would no longer have to face war anymore,” he concluded.

Taiwanese to RP Marines: Thank you for saving me!

From the Daily Tribune (Dec 22): Taiwanese to RP Marines: Thank you for saving me!

A Taiwanese tourist whose husband was killed by gunmen in a kidnapping incident at a Malaysian island resort returned to Taiwan yesterday and thanked Filipino soldiers who rescued her in southern Philippines.

Television footage showed Chang An-wei, 58, dressed in a loose T-shirt and wearing sunglasses, walking to a minibus parked at an airport near Taipei after she arrived early afternoon, waving briefly to the media and giving a thumbs-up sign.

Taiwanese media said she is expected to go to a hospital in Taipei for medical check-ups later yesterday.

Chang was found by Philippine Marines at a village near Talipao, a town on the remote island of Jolo where Abu Sayyaf Islamic militants are known to operate, and was taken to a local military hospital for a medical check-up on Friday.

“I think I just want to say I deeply appreciate the Philippine military for giving me such a big help and assistance to rescue me. Thank you very much,” Chang said in English in a pre-recorded message aired by several Taiwanese news channels yesterday.

Chang and her husband Hsu Li-min were holidaying on Pom Pom island in Sabah state, which is near the Sulu island group that includes Jolo, when gunmen attacked on Nov. 15, kidnapping her and killing her husband, according to Taiwanese officials and media.

Foreign ministry officials in Taiwan said that Hsu’s body was cremated in Malaysia and that his family brought back his ashes to Taiwan last month.

Taiwanese media said Chang’s family allegedly paid the kidnappers around $300,000 in ransom to secure her release.

“She was not abused ... the kidnappers wanted money, not her life,” Chang’s brother Chang Ta-kung said.

He declined to disclose any detail relating to the negotiations for her release.

Local authorities said the identities of Chang’s kidnappers were unknown, though Abu Sayyaf gunmen who are known to carry out kidnappings operate in the area.

A Jordanian television reporter, Bakr Atyani, walked free from a Jolo jungle earlier this month, 18 months after he was abducted by the Islamist militants.

The Abu Sayyaf is a small Islamist movement that has been blamed for a string of terrorist attacks and kidnappings of foreigners in the Philippines.

US Special Forces have been rotating through Jolo and other parts of the southern Philippines for more than a decade to train local troops battling the group, which is on Washington’s list of “foreign terrorist organisations”.

Abu Sayyaf gunmen are believed still to hold a number of foreign as well as Filipino hostages in Jolo, including two European birdwatchers and a Japanese treasure hunter, according to local officials.

It was founded with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network to fight for an independent Islamic state, though it later turned into a criminal gang.

Dutchman Ewold Horn and Lorenzo Vinciguerra of Switzerland were abducted in the Tawi-Tawi island group near Jolo in February last year, while Amer Mamaito Katayama of Japan was abducted on the island of Pangutaran near Jolo in July 2010.

Tourist abducted from Malaysian island rescued

From the Taipei Times (Dec 21): Tourist abducted from Malaysian island rescued

END OF ORDEAL:Chang An-wei is in extreme shock and suffering from allergies, but is safe after being rescued from her captors on islands in the Philippines

Taiwanese tourist Chang An-wei is pictured in an undated photo from Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Alex Tsai’s Facebook page. Photo: CNA

Taiwanese tourist Chang An-wei (張安薇), who was abducted from a Pom Pom Island resort in Malaysia on Nov. 15, has been rescued, Taiwan’s representative to the country Lo Yu-chung (羅由中) confirmed last night.

Malaysian police authorities informed the representative office that Chang was rescued by the armed forces of the Philippines, and she has been sent to a hospital for health checks and treatment, Lo said.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Alex Tsai (蔡正元) told a press conference at 7pm that he heard the news in the morning.

While Chang is in extreme shock and suffers from allergies caused by mosquito bites, she is safe and sound, Tsai added.

Tsai declined to reveal details about the rescue operation and negotiations on a ransom due to concerns over the safety of people involved in the mission.

Earlier yesterday morning, Tsai posted a photograph of Chang on his Facebook page, with messages wishing her early return, but he withdrew the photograph later.

According to reports in Malaysia, Malaysian Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar tweeted the news, saying Chang was rescued from islands in Sulu Province, southwestern Philippines, and has been admitted to the Merin Hospital in the province.

In his tweet at 5:15pm, Khalid said Chang will be flown to the Zamboanga Hospital tomorrow for a medical checkup.

Taiwanese businessman Hsu Li-min (許立民), who had accompanied the 58-year-old Chang on the resort island, was shot dead when the suspected Abu Sayyaf terrorists, a Philippine Islamist group, attacked Pom Pom Island.

Zamboanga, the Bangsamoro and the southern Philippines peace process

From The Interpreter (Dec 20): Zamboanga, the Bangsamoro and the southern Philippines peace process

Zamboanga City is one of the most intriguing places in the southern Philippines, where the country's colonial past, heard on the streets as ­­­locals converse in Spanish creole, collides with its modern day security problems, seen in the sprawling bulk of a military base.

Government negotiators for peace talks with the largest, best organised Muslim insurgent group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), paid a visit this week, according to an official Twitter account. The timing of the trip is interesting. On 8 December, the government team signed with its MILF counterparts the third of four annexes that will complete a comprehensive peace agreement for Muslim-majority areas of the southern Philippines.

This most recent annex describes how the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous region that will be set up before President Benigno Aquino III leaves office in 2016, will share power with Manila. One major issue the negotiators were unable to resolve was the Bangsamoro's waters.

According to a reliable journalist, the MILF and the government have been unable to agree how far the Bangsamoro's territory will extend from the shoreline into the Moro Gulf and the Sulu Sea. The issue was also a sticking point in the talks that led to an aborted pact in 2008. Whatever is agreed at the negotiating table, neither Manila nor the new Bangsamoro government will exert real control over these lawless waters (as South China Sea watchers know, the Philippine state is ill-equipped to defend its maritime boundaries).

For anyone navigating the Sulu archipelago and the porous border zone, known as the country's 'backdoor' for licit or illicit business, Zamboanga City serves as a useful staging ground.

Warlord politicians from the islands can often be seen deep in conversation with each other and senior military officials in the lobby of the city's best-known hotel. Human traffickers, smugglers, gun-runners and terrorists are known to pass through as well. On my first visit I was told Zamboanga City was where the violent extremists of the Abu Sayyaf Group, based in the Sulu archipelago, come for their R&R (when they are not negotiating ransoms for the release of tourists kidnapped from Sabah and unlucky journalists seeking interviews with the group's shadowy leadership).

In September, Zamboanga City itself became a war zone. Followers of Nur Misuari, a rival leader within the fractious world of Bangsamoro politics whose credibility rests on founding the original Muslim insurgent movement, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), sailed from the Sulu archipelago to Zamboanga City, allegedly for peaceful purposes. They clashed with the Philippine military in the streets for weeks, razing whole neighbourhoods and displacing over 100,000 people.

The mercurial Misuari has always been a thorn in the MILF's side, despite last week's efforts by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which negotiated an earlier peace agreement with the MNLF, to mollify him. The September violence raised questions about how dissenting voices within the diverse Bangsamoro nation could be accommodated within a MILF-brokered political settlement. As others have written, the fighting appeared to be a pivotal moment.

Zamboanga City got caught in the crosswinds of peace process politics, with tragic consequences. But its ability to embrace the many contradictions of the southern Philippines -- in its dual economy and its palpable vibrancy undercut by the potential for sudden violence – is why it will benefit if the peace process succeeds. Over time (likely decades), security should improve and in tandem, the economy will develop. Zamboanga City's importance as a hub will only grow.

Despite serving as a transportation, administrative and political hub that connects the two Muslim-majority areas of Central Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago, Zamboanga City is mainly Christian, with a small Muslim community, and will almost certainly lie outside the new region. Yet this week's visit to the city by government negotiators was a good sign. They need to persuade Zamboangueños that they will be better off in the long run if the Bangsamoro is created. 

[The Interpreter is published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy, an independent, nonpartisan think tank based in Sydney. It publishes daily commentary and analysis on international events.We seek a global audience, but our perspective is Australian. Like the Institute itself, The Interpreter has a strong commitment to analytic integrity. Its editorial stance is independent, non-partisan and directed towards informing and deepening the debate about international policy.]

Taiwanese tourist abducted in Malaysia found in Philippines

From GMA News (Dec 21): Taiwanese tourist abducted in Malaysia found in Philippines

A Taiwanese tourist whose husband was reported killed by gunmen in a kidnapping at a Malaysian island resort has been found alive in the southern Philippines, news reports said Friday.

Chang An Wei, 58, also known as Evelyn Chang, was found by Philippine Marines at a village near Talipao town in Jolo where Abu Sayyaf Islamic militants are known to operate, the the Agence France-Presse wire service reporte.

"She is in good condition," local marine brigade commander Colonel Jose Cenabre told AFP by telephone.

The woman was taken to a military hospital for a medical check-up in the town of Jolo, the capital of Jolo island. She may be flown to Zamboanga City on Saturday.

Cenabre said the identities of his kidnappers were unknown, though Abu Sayyaf gunmen who are known carry out kidnappings operate in the area.

Press reports in Malaysia and Taiwan have confirmed the AFP report, with the Malay Mail  Online reporting that Malaysia's Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar had congratulated the Philippine armed forces for rescuing the victim.

Taiwan's Central News Agency also reported the Malaysia police chief's offer of congratulations.

Chang and her husband, Lim Min Hsu, were holidaying on Pom Pom island in Sabah state, which is near the Sulu island group that includes Jolo, when gunmen attacked on November 15.

The reports said the gunmen killed the husband and abducted the wife.

The Abu Sayyaf is a small Islamist movement that has been blamed for a string of terrorist attacks and kidnappings of foreigners in the Philippines.

It was founded with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network to fight for an independent Islamic state, though it later turned into a criminal gang.

Philippine authorities say Abu Sayyaf gunmen are believed still to hold several foreign as well as Filipino hostages on Jolo, including two European birdwatchers and a Japanese treasure hunter.

Dutchman Ewold Horn and Lorenzo Vinciguerra of Switzerland were abducted in the Tawi-Tawi island group near Jolo in February last year, while Amer Mamaito Katayama of Japan was abducted on the island of Pangutaran near Jolo in July 2010.

A Jordanian television reporter, Bakr Atyani, walked free from a Jolo jungle earlier this month, 18 months after he was abducted by the Islamist militants.

PN now a more capable force

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 21): PN now a more capable force

With the two Gregorio Del Pilar class frigates and three AgustaWestland AW-109 "Power" helicopters now operational and able to carry out their patrol and surveillance roles, the Philippine Navy has now become a more capable force, PN flag-officer-in-charge Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano said.

"Bringing both the Del Pilar frigates together with the helicopters provides a very potent capability for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, particularly the Philippine Navy in trying to monitor what is out there at seas and trying to ensure that we can be contributory or be able to response for whatever types of situation that may arise," he added.

The two ships of these class are the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15) and BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) which was commissioned last Nov. 22.

Having these ships and air assets in the fleet has greatly improved the maritime domain awareness capability of the PN, Alano pointed out.

He expects these capabilities to be further improved once the two armed versions of the AW-109s arrived in the third quarter of 2014 and the P18.9-billion contract for the missile-armed frigates of the Navy is finalized.

The PN earlier announced that the arrival of the three AW-109s has boosted the numbers of the Naval Air Group (NAG) by three.

Prior this, the NAG only operates one Robinson R-22 helicopter, Blohm B0-150 helicopter, two Islander aircraft and four Cessna light utility planes.

With the arrival of three AW-109s, the number of flyable assets of the NAG has increased to 11.

NAG pilots, who were trained to fly the AW-109s in Cesto Calende, Italy, said the AgustaWestland aircraft was very much for a rotary wing machine.

They added that the AW-109s is very maneuverable and very ideal for shipboard deployment.

93 new Army soldiers get firearms

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 21): 93 new Army soldiers get firearms

The Cagayan De Oro City-based 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army said it issued service weapons to 93 newly-recruited soldiers on Friday afternoon.

Present during the occasion were 4th Infantry Division commander Major Gen. Ricardo R. Visaya and Misamis Oriental 2nd District Rep. Grace Acain, who represented Gov. Yevgeny Emano.

Capt. Christian Uy, 4th Infantry Division spokesperson, said the objective of the ceremonial entrustment of firearms is to emphasize that the firearms entrusted to them are to be used as a tool in protecting the rights of the Filipino people and in performing the other mandates of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“You have witnessed 93 new privates armed as additional protectors of our democracy for peace and development of Northern Mindanao,” Visaya said.

He also gave the new privates some reminders on being a disciplined soldier.

“We are not here wearing this uniform because we are born to be soldiers but because we chose to be one,” the 4th Infantry Division commander stressed.

Capiz gov. is recipient of AFP's 'Bayanihan' Award

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 21): Capiz gov. is recipient of AFP's 'Bayanihan' Award

The Army's 3rd Infantry Division has announced that Gov. Victor A. Tanco of Capiz was among the seven civilians given the Armed Forces of the Philippines "Bayanihan" Award for his exemplary role in disaster relief operations in the aftermath of typhoon "Yolanda" last Nov. 8

Major Ray Tiongson, spokesperson of the 3rd ID based in Capiz, said Tanco was awarded in recognition of his leadership in spearheading comprehensive humanitarian assistance and disaster response activities involving multi-sectoral organizations under the United Nations, local government units and agencies, private organizations and the AFP after the destructive typhoon which affected 145,211 families or 690,270 persons in Capiz.

It was noted that his display of leadership in launching the wide-ranging intervention helped minimized or prevent loss of life, damage to properties, ameliorate the conditions of the affected individuals, most marginalized and exposed communities.

The Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council under Tanco's leadership served as the center for all the efforts.

This group immediately began rapid assessment of affected areas through the joint efforts of various sectors of the society, the different clusters of UN Organizations and the AFP.

The recognition of this indispensable partnership led to the collaborative planning and integration of resources which effectively implemented a focused humanitarian mission.

With the involvement of the 3rd Infantry Division in the preparation and initial stages of relief operations, Tanco embarked on close coordination among the international and local partner entities for the gradual restoration of normalcy in the affected areas.

“The AFP in Western Visayas acknowledges the efforts of the governor of Capiz, Hon. Victor Tanco, for displaying the true essence of 'Bayanihan' during the difficult times where a lot of people were in dire need of the necessary services and assistance," 3rd ID commander Major Gen. Aurelio Baladad said.

Meanwhile, among the notable accomplishments of this collaborative efforts were the following: Immediate distribution of 898.75 tons of relief items in the first three weeks of the disaster; 52 medical missions were conducted in cooperation with the Canadian Armed Forces and the 3rd Infantry Division medical teams which benefited 10,843 individuals; augmentation from Luzon-based electric companies to repair damaged power lines; and road clearing activities that were made in the different towns of Capiz.

Such effort significantly contributed to the AFP’s mission in “Winning the Peace” and the AFP Strategic Objectives to support developmental, environmental protection, disaster risk reduction and management and establishment of conditions for civil authorities to take responsibility for the safety and well-being of their constituents.

“Working together in the spirit of Bayanihan has been proven to generate excellent results regardless of what organization or race we belong. It is in this spirit where we Filipinos, belonging to one race and one nation, can rise again and live in a peaceful society,” Baladad added.

House leader seeks 30% hike in PAF pilot-officers' basic salary

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 21): House leader seeks 30% hike in PAF pilot-officers' basic salary

To prevent a brain drain of well-trained military pilots in the country, a House of Representatives leader is seeking a 30 percent increase in the basic salary of pilot-officers in the Philippine Air Force following a contract of service adjusted to a minimum of 10 years.

Rep. Winston Castelo (2nd Dist.-Quezon City), chairman of the House Committee on Metro Manila Development, said it is of highest national interest to keep the country’s military air force, the PAF, at par with any military organization in the country and with the thriving airline industry.

“The country cannot afford to lose its pilot-officers from PAF to private or commercial airlines since the government has spent considerably for their training. Besides, the acquisition of more aircraft for the PAF must come along with the retention of highly-qualified pilot-officers and the training of other pilots in the military service,” said Castelo.

He said his proposal under House Bill No. 2704 will put a stop to the brain drain phenomenon.

“It seeks to put a stop to this disturbing pattern or behavior of more and more pilot-officers leaving the military service in search of greener pastures or better opportunities which private or commercial airlines are in a better position to offer than the government,” said Castelo.

House Bill 2704, which has been referred to the House Committee on Appropriations chaired by Rep. Isidro Ungab (3rd Dist.-Davao City), provides that it is the declared policy of the State “to secure the sovereignty and the integrity of the national territory as these are essential to the enjoyment of the people of the blessings of democracy.”

The bill provides there shall be granted to pilot-officers of the PAF, following a contract of service adjusted to a minimum of 10 years, a 30 percent increase in their basic salary.

The amount to carry out the provisions of the proposed Act shall be provided for in the annual General Appropriations Act, while the Department of National Defense (DND) shall issue the rules and regulations to carry out the purpose of the proposed Act, the bill provides.

Naval 'Yolanda' responders to be feted Sunday

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 21): Naval 'Yolanda' responders to be feted Sunday

The Philippine Navy's Naval Task Group "Tulong Visayas" and Marine Battalion Landing Team 11, one of the military components in the still ongoing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in Eastern Visayas, will arrive at the Commodore Rudiardo A. Brown Beaching Area, Naval Base Heracleo Alano, Sangley Point, Cavite City Sunday.

Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic, Navy spokesperson, said that the Naval "Yolanda" responders are all aboard the BRP Dagupan (LC-551).

These PN personnel were among the first to be deployed to help in the relief operations for Tacloban City and other parts of Eastern Visayas which were badly hit by "Yolanda" last November.

An arrival and recognition ceremony will be accorded to them as a fitting tribute for their heroic and meritorious acts, Fabic said.

Statement of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles on the unilateral Christmas ceasefire

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 21): Statement of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles on the unilateral Christmas ceasefire

Today, the President approved the unilateral declaration by the Government of a nationwide Christmas ceasefire to commence at 12:01 a.m. of December 21, 2013, and to end at 11:59 p.m. of January 15, 2014. By this declaration, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is directed to suspend all offensive military operations for the entire duration of the Christmas ceasefire. Our Security forces will maintain their defensive readiness in the protection of our people.

The government continues its traditional call for a Christmas ceasefire to allow those in conflict areas, whether soldier, rebel or civilian, safe passage to celebrate Advent with their families, far from all harm. This year, a Christmas ceasefire gains added urgency with the call for healing and rebuilding that resonate in this Season and its promise of a new life to all.

In a matter of three months, our people have faced major tragedies that have left our nation deeply traumatized. Among these, the onslaught of Super-Typhoon Yolanda in Central Philippines (or Eastern Visayas) has caused the most extraordinary challenge for our entire people with the unparalleled and incomprehensible destruction it has left in its aftermath. It has stretched our nation, indeed all our minds and hearts, to its limits.

Our nation needs to bind our wounds and focus our energies and resources on the tasks at hand. It presents to our country and people the chance to start afresh, to build on new and just foundations: the common wealth for the common good, innovative approaches to governance and development based on justice and fairness, an understanding of nature’s gifts and perils, and the healing of Mother Earth.

In this season of faith, hope and solidarity, we bind ourselves together as a people for the long-term effort to rebuild in our disaster areas and reconstruct the lives, livelihoods and property of the survivors. May the peace and goodwill that must dwell in our hearts become building blocks for a healing and enduring peace in our land.

PH Marines recover Taiwanese woman in Sulu after her abduction in Sabah

From InterAksyon (Dec 20): PH Marines recover Taiwanese woman in Sulu after her abduction in Sabah

A Taiwanese woman, who was abducted on November 15 by armed men in Sabah, Malaysia, was recovered by elements of the Philippine Marines and Philippine National Police in Talipao, Sulu on Friday, said Captain Ryan Lacuesta, Civil Military Operations Officer of the 2nd Marine Brigade.

Evelyn Chang was recovered by responding soldiers and policemen at around 3:55 p.m. in the vicinity of Sitio Karija Anil, Barangay Liban, Lacuesta said.

“Reacting to an information [we received from residents in the place], our unit together with the policemen responded to verify said information that led to the recovery of the victim,” Lacuesta said.

He said Chang was “abandoned by her unidentified captors” and was immediately brought to Camp Theodulfo Bautista Station Hospital for medical checkup.

Chang was reported abducted at Pulao in Pulong-Pulong, Sampurna by a group of armed men who then escaped toward Sulu.

Lacuesta said he has no information yet behind the abduction and whether ransom money was involved in her release.