Friday, April 4, 2014

Hunt is on for Haji Gulam and men

From the Star Online (Apr 5): Hunt is on for Haji Gulam and men

SEMPORNA: Malaysian and Philippine security forces are scouring scores of islands in the Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces for a former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) soldier known as “Haji Gulam” and his men.

Haji Gulam is said to have led the raid on Singamata Reef Resort where two foreign women – a Chinese tourist and a Filipina – were kidnapped.

Although little is known about Haji Gulam, whose real name is Murphy Ambang Ladjia, he is believed to be an Abu Sayyaf sub-commander and was also involved in a spectacular kidnapping of 21 people in Sipadan on Easter Sunday in 2000.

He is believed to have recently joined an Abu Sayyaf unit based in Simunul municipality on the Tawi Tawi islands, which straddle the sea border along Sabah’s eastern tourist paradise of Semporna.
Twenty of the hostages – many of whom were Europeans and other foreigners – were released within five months, reportedly after hefty ransoms were paid. A final Filipino captive was held until 2003.

Philippines Armed Forces spokesman Lt-Col Ramon Zagala told the country’s media that their military had yet to receive any sighting or intelligence report on the seven gunmen and their hostages – Gao Huayun, 29, from Shanghai, and Filipina Marcy Dayawan @ Mimi, 40, a resort staff.

It is believed that the hostages would be taken to Simunul, a Muslim-majority town of about 35,000, about 145km from the resort where the two were kidnapped – or about a day’s boat ride.

“The information received so far is that the abductors might have headed into the municipality in Tawi-Tawi after eluding Malaysian authorities who were pursuing them,” Lt-Col Zagala told the Philippine media.

The Philippine military’s Sulu Task Force commander Brig-Gen Martin Pinto told The Star that they were focused on gathering intelligence on the possibility that the gunmen were holding the hostages within the Tawi Tawi area.

Various naval and ground forces are stepping up operations in the area.
“We remain on alert,” he added.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib also confirmed that police had identified the group responsible but declined to say who they were.

“We believe they crossed over to the Philippines. So far, no call for ransom has been received,” he said.

On Wednesday, three gunmen barged into the resort at 10.30pm, grabbing Mimi before taking Gao as they fled towards their speedboat where four other accomplices were waiting. The raid lasted just five minutes.

The Abu Sayyaf was set up in the 1990s, reportedly with seed money from al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Its gunmen have defied US-backed military campaigns against the outfit by melding into and drawing support from Muslim communities in the southern Philippines, who feel that they have been persecuted for centuries by Christian rulers in Manila.

Abu Sayyaf - the ghost that haunts eastern Sabah paradise

From the Star Online (Apr 5): Abu Sayyaf - the ghost that haunts eastern Sabah paradise

Petaling Jaya: In the Sipadan incident on April 23, 2000, armed men landed in a speedboat at a resort off the eastern coast of Sabah.

Numbering about six, the men abducted 21 people from the dining area of the resort during dinner time.

The victims were three Germans, two French, two Finns, a Lebanese, and two South Africans, as well as nine Malaysians and two Filipinos.

All were taken to Jolo Island in southern Philippines as captives of the Abu Sayyaf militants led by Galib Andang, nicknamed “Commander Robot”.
The kidnappers had demanded millions in US dollars for their release.

They had also reportedly insisted that the US Government set free three Arabs held in connection with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.

Mediations with the Abu Sayyaf took place over the next few months, during which time a Filipino evangelist and his prayer group, as well as a German journalist and a French TV crew were abducted by the militants.

Commander Robot released the victims piecemeal as ransoms were paid over the months, including through one deal arranged by the then Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

The evangelical group and two French journalists were freed when the Philippine military launched an offensive against the Abu Sayyaf on Jolo Island on Sept 16, 2000.

The final captive, a Filipino, only gained his freedom in 2003.

Military-civilian partnership key to better, stronger Oro

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Apr 5): Military-civilian partnership key to better, stronger Oro

THE cooperation and coordination between the law enforcers and the civilian populace is one of the vital keys that will propel Cagayan de Oro toward becoming a better and stronger community.

This was the gist of City Mayor Oscar Moreno’s message during the culmination of the Bayanihan Alert for Peace and Development (BAPD) held Friday afternoon at the Kiosko sa Kagawasan in Plaza Divisoria.

“We must make Cagayan de Oro safe and secure. There will be threats, difficulties and challenges…but what’s important is we help each other,” Moreno told the crowd of military officials, soldiers, barangay folks, and peace advocates.

“The task of making the city a much better place to live in is the task of everyone, not just the mayor,” he added.

The BAPD is part of the initiative of the Philippine Army to immerse its soldiers to the barangays to extend assistance to the people in the communities in various forms and to keep an eye on the leftist insurgents who are believed to be slowly penetrating the urban area.

BAPD in Oro

In the city, the BAPD established its presence for six months in barangays Bugo, Carmen, Consolacion, Cugman, Lapasan and Macabalan.

Moreno said the military-initiated program was timely for Cagayan de Oro since the city experienced one of the most tragic acts of violence in recent history.

“It was most appropriate when this program was launched,” he said, as he recounted the bombing of a bistro in a mall on July 26, 2013 that left six persons dead and scores of others injured.

At the time, Moreno said, “a climate of fear had engulfed the city” but that tragedy had made Cagayan de Oro “emerged stronger and better.”

He said: “Sometimes, tragedies can create opportunity. Sometimes painful events can awaken communities in spite of uncertainties, in spite of fear.”

When the BAPD was launched a few weeks after the bombing, Moreno said it gave the Kagay-anons “a reassuring comfort.”

For his part, Major General Ricardo Visaya, commander of the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division (4ID), urged the people to help Moreno in his efforts to improve the city.

“We will not develop if we have security problem,” Visaya said, noting that he is glad that the area he is assigned in are also progressing.

“The support shown by the different stakeholders for the BAPD workers is a manifestation of sincere commitment in achieving peace, security and development in this part of Mindanao,” he said.

Visaya said the military has learned a few lessons in its decades of fighting the New People’s Army (NPA) and other insurgent groups.

He said there will always be war and bloodshed if the army will not reach out to the people in the communities.

“No matter how much we try to crush the NPA, but if we don’t go down to the people, insurgency will not be solved,” Visaya said.

He said the BAPD is a response to the move of the NPAs who are slowly penetrating the cities.

Visaya said those who are espousing the communist ideology are planning on seizing the cities as they are encircling the countryside.

“In every region, there one city they would like to take. In region 10, it’s Cagayan de Oro. In Caraga, it’s Butuan City,” he added.

He said the two cities are the seats of the government of the two regions, making them a vital target.

In a statement, Colonel Francisco Pabayo, commander of the 403rd Infantry Brigade, said, “[The BAPD] is one of the Philippine Army’s non-traditional roles geared toward helping the marginal sectors by assisting the local government units and local government agencies on the delivery of basic services, projects and programs not only in rural areas but also in urban areas.”

“The 403rd Brigade, which is under the supervision of the 4ID, will continue to take its part in the pursuit of lasting peace and sustainable development,” Pabayo added.


Meanwhile, Dante Roa, barangay chairman of Consolacion, said the 10 soldiers who were assigned in his village were very helpful.

“I don’t know if they have achieved their objective, but they had contributed something to our barangay,” Roa told Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro in an interview.

Roa said the soldiers conducted basic social services to the residents.
“Wala man puy reklamo ang mga katawhan. Okay ra man sila,” he said, when asked if the people had complaints against the military personnel who stationed in their village for six months.

Roa, however, confirmed there is no presence of NPA rebels in Consolacion nor they are recruiting residents to join their armed cause.

China's strategy vs PH: Trial by publicity

From Rappler (Apr 4): China's strategy vs PH: Trial by publicity

Even as it strongly criticized the Philippines for “hyping up” the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) issue, China’s recent statements against its challenger show that it has taken the same tack by subjecting the Philippines to trial by publicity.

This legal but out-of-court battle against the Philippines becomes clearer days after the latter submitted a nearly 4,000-page written pleading against Beijing on Sunday, March 30. It sent the pleading, called a memorial, to an arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which will hear the case filed in January 2013.

China rejects this arbitration process but, as veteran China analyst Chito Sta Romana said, continues “to argue in their media and in their statements.”

“This effort appears to be aimed at influencing the outcome of the tribunal, as well as preparing the Chinese public and the international community for any eventuality,” Sta Romana said in a forum at the Asian Institute of Management on Wednesday, April 2.

A Filipino journalist who worked for more than 3 decades in China, Sta Romana explained: “What they're trying to do is that on the one hand, they will not participate in the process. On the other hand, from the outside, they present their case, hoping to influence the arbitrators.”

China, he said, is ready for “legal warfare.”

“They're trying to meet our legal arguments with legal arguments. In other words, this is not just a question of right and might; they are actually trying to meet the argument head on,” Sta Romana said.

In a nutshell, China argues that the arbitral tribunal has no right to hear the Philippines' case. Its main arguments can be summarized this way:

The disputes between the Philippines and China involve land, which is not covered by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the basis of the Philippines' case; and

The disputes involve the delimitation of maritime boundaries, over which it rejected arbitral proceedings in a declaration under UNCLOS in 2006

Speaking from a Filipino point-of-view, Sta Romana said: “Basically we say it's a maritime dispute. If it's waters, it should be under UNCLOS. The Chinese say, it involves land – islands – and therefore it's a territorial dispute. And if it's territorial, it cannot be under UNCLOS.” (READ: China rejects PH case, invokes int'l law)

CITING INT'L LAW. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei says the Philippines' case is baseless. File photo by AFP
CITING INT'L LAW. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei says the Philippines' case is baseless. File photo by AFP

China buys ad space

To demolish the Philippines' case, China has used a wide range of outlets.

In fact, even before Manila could publicize its pleading against Beijing, China sent the Philippine media on Thursday, April 3, a detailed 12-page position paper against the Philippines. The paper by Chinese Embassy spokesman Zhang Hua raises 10 points, including legal arguments, to support its claims over the West Philippine Sea.

China had this statement published, too, as a paid advertisement on the Philippine Star, a major newspaper. The Philippines' Office of the President noted this paid advertisement Thursday.

Two days before this, on Tuesday, April 1, the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines also detailed its arguments in a media conference.

Immediately before and after the memorial was filed on Sunday, March 30, China released two stinging statements against the Philippines.

China uploaded these as standalone statements on its foreign ministry website. It only does this for topics especially important for the Chinese.

Book as 'friend of court'
'FRIEND OF COURT.' Published in January 2014, this book aims to 'assist' the arbitral tribunal in the case filed by the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Hart Publishing, Oxford

'FRIEND OF COURT.' Published in January 2014, this book aims to 'assist' the arbitral tribunal in the case filed by the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Hart Publishing, Oxford

Sta Romana provided two more examples.

In January 2013, he said, “two prominent Chinese legal scholars published an article in the American Journal of International Law.” The article, “The Nine-Dash Line in the South China Sea: History, Status, and Implications,” got published at around the same time the Philippines filed its case against China.

The journalist described one of the article's authors, Zhiguo Gao, as a sitting judge of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea who advises top Chinese officials on maritime strategy.

In January this year, Sta Romana added, a book especially designed to “assist” the arbitral tribunal came out.

The book – The South China Sea Arbitration: A Chinese Perspective – “does not set out the official position of the Chinese government, but is rather to serve as a kind of amicus curiae brief, advancing possible legal arguments on behalf of the absent respondent,” its Amazon description said.

Amicus curiae” means “friend of the court,” a third party whom a court can consult.

“The book shows that there are insurmountable preliminary objections to the tribunal deciding the case on the merits, and that the tribunal would be well advised to refer the dispute back to the parties in order for them to reach a negotiated settlement,” said the description of the book edited by Stefan Talmon and Bing Bing Jia.

PH: 'Nothing to add'

In the face of China's legal arsenal, the Philippines, on other hand, cannot yet publicize its memorial. It is waiting for the arbitral tribunal's go-signal.

The Philippines however rebuked China on Friday, April 4, for its aggressive behavior in the West Philippine Sea.

“Countries should be judged by their actions, not by their words,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a rare statement.

Before this, the most that the Philippines had said was a 600-word statement – as opposed to China's 7,200 words through various outlets.

Delivered by Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, it contained a few details about the Philippines' pleading as well as a litany of reasons why the Philippines filed its case. For one, Del Rosario said, “It is about securing our children's future.”

More details could be found in the Philippines' Notification and Statement of Claim, filed in 2013. In this document, the Philippines said it requests the court to do the following, among others:

to invalidate China's expansive claim over the West Philippine Sea as contrary to UNCLOS;

to declare areas such as Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal as submerged features, not islands as claimed by China;

to stop China from preventing Filipinos to fish in Philippine waters; and

to tell China to desist from “unlawful activities” within Philippine waters

HISTORIC PLEADING. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario (left) and Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza (right) hold a media briefing after the Philippines sent its nearly 4,000-page memorial against China. Photo by Jose Del/Rappler

HISTORIC PLEADING. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario (left) and Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza (right) hold a media briefing after the Philippines sent its nearly 4,000-page memorial against China. Photo by Jose Del/Rappler

On Monday, March 31, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III explained: “We are not here to challenge China, to provoke them into any action, but I do believe that they should recognize we have the right to defend our own interests.”

China, for its part, released another statement against the Philippines on Monday. Sought for a statement on this, DFA spokesman Charles Jose told Rappler: “The President has already spoken on this. We have nothing more to add.”

For the Philippines, its historic case against China speaks for itself.

6th SF, Subanen Tribe celebrate 1st year anniversary of “Peace Covenant”

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 2): 6th SF, Subanen Tribe celebrate 1st year anniversary of “Peace Covenant”

The first year anniversary of the “Peace Covenant” between the 6th Special Forces Battalion of the Philippine Army (PA) and the Subanen Tribe was commemorated on March 31 at the Tiling Tribal Hall also known as the House of Elders in Barangay Malubal, this municipality.

The “Peace Covenant” was signed on March 14, 2013 by Fernando “Timuay Nanding” Mudai, elder of the “Seven Rivers” of the Subanen tribe in Zamboanga Peninsula region and Lt. Col. Rosendo C. Abad Jr., commanding officer of 6th SF.

“It is remembered to promote peace and unify the Subanen people and the government through the 6th SF of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP),” told Timuay Nanding in an interview with the Philippine Information Agency (PIA).

Timuay Nanding said that one of the objectives of the covenant is to prevent the Subanen people from making alliances with the wrong sort of organizations and groups.

“The ‘Peace Covenant’ will serve as a law to the Subanen people, anyone who will not abide by it will be cursed,” he said.

The celebration was also attended by the 102nd Infantry “Igsoon” Brigade, 44th Infantry Brigade; 16th Special Forces Battalion and several “Timuay” or tribal leaders of the Subanen Tribe from all around Zamboanga Peninsula region.

Some National Government Agencies (NGAs) supported the event such as the Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Agriculture (DA) together with the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Roseller T. Lim town, Provincial Government Unit (PLGU) of Zamboanga Sibugay province, Junior Chamber International (JCI) Zamboanga City Chapter, Philippine Medical Association (PMA), Philippine National Police (PNP) and the media.

The participating agencies showed their support through participation in the Medical and Dental Outreach of the 6th SF, which was also conducted on the same day.

Rebels set off explosives in Davao del Norte—military

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 4): Rebels set off explosives in Davao del Norte—military

A news team of ABS-CBN Southern Mindanao narrowly escaped harm when two explosive devices went off as the convoy of policemen, soldiers and relief workers it was tailing passed by a remote area of Talaingod in Davao del Norte on Friday.

Capt. Ernest Carolina, spokesman of the military’s 10th Infantry Division, said no one on the convoy was harmed including reporter Claire Cornelio and her crew.

Carolina said the ABS CBN vehicle was following the convoy “at a distance” in Barangay Palma Gil when the explosions took place around 2:30 p.m.

An exchange of gunfire erupted after the explosion as the government forces attempted to defend their position, he said, adding that the bombs were set-off by communist rebels.

Carolina said the convoy came from a relief mission in the area following evacuations there due to the recent clashes between soldiers and New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.

But Lumad group Pasaka questioned the supposed relief mission, saying all the 308 Manobo families that fled areas of Talaingod are presently taking temporary shelter in Davao City.

“How can the military deliver aid there when all of the evacuees are in Davao?” Pasaka said in a statement.

As this developed, the NPA continued its atrocities and abducted a soldier in Laak, Compostela Valley on Friday, police and military officials said.

Wearing military fatigue uniforms and disguising as soldiers, some 12 communist insurgents seized Sgt. Jeric Curay at Andap village around 9:40 a.m., according to Senior Supt. Camilo Cascolan, Compostela Valley police.

Curay was on board his black Honda XRM motorcycle and was on his way to report to work when stopped at the hastily-put roadblock near the Andap barangay hall, Cascolan added.

Carolina said the kidnapped soldier is a member of the army’s 72nd Infantry Battalion.

4 detained for questioning in Sabah resort kidnapping

Posted to the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 4): 4 detained for questioning in Sabah resort kidnapping

A boat of General Operations Forces team patrolling at a resort area in Semporna in the east coast of Sabah. Photo from The Star/ Asia News Network

Sabah police have taken in three men and a woman over the kidnapping incident at Singamata Reef Resort off Semporna town in the east coast of Sabah.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib said the four were arrested Thursday evening.

“We are getting their statements and are continuing our investigations,” he said when contacted on Friday.

However, Hamza they had yet to get vital information which could help crack the case.

Following the incident, witnesses told police that they saw three armed men entering the resort with four others waiting onboard a wooden boat below the deck.

Police believe the seven gunmen belong to a “kidnap for ransom” group from the southern Philippines, and have taken their two victims to the Philippines. The Philippines and Malaysia have a porous maritime boundary.

Chinese tourist Gao Huayuan, 29, Filipina resort employee Marcelita M. Dayawan, 40, were abducted from the resort at about 10.30 p.m. on Wednesday.

US pulls out warship after China’s snub on Japan

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 4): US pulls out warship after China’s snub on Japan

The United States has decided not to send a warship to a naval ceremony in China after learning Japan was not invited, a defense official said Thursday.

The international fleet review is being held to mark the 65th anniversary of the Chinese navy and Washington had intended to take part in the event off the eastern coastal city of Qingdao later this month.

“Japan was not invited. So in solidarity, we decided not to participate,” said the senior US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But the chief of the US Navy, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, and the head of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Harry Harris, will go ahead and attend a symposium in Qingdao that coincides with the flotilla ceremony, the official said.

The sail-off of warships was “not a drill” or exercise and Washington’s move did not signal a major rupture with China, the official said. The Pentagon informed the Chinese of its decision about 10 days ago, the official said.

Japan appears to have been invited to the naval symposium, which involves top naval officers from more than 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Semporna resort kidnap: Area has history of abduction cases

From the Star Online (Apr 4): Semporna resort kidnap: Area has history of abduction cases

PETALING JAYA: The abduction of two women from the Singamata Reef Resort off Semporna is one of the many kidnapping incidents that have happened in Sabah shores over the years.

In Oct 1979, armed men hijacked a ferry, the Saleha Baru, with 44 people on board off Semporna.

The men released 27 hostages within two days, but 17 were detained for months before they were finally released.

Two passengers were killed in the incident, an 11-year-old girl who drowned and a man who was shot by the hijackers.

Abu Sayyaf kidnap leader Galib Andang also known as "Commander Robot" with government chief negotiator Robert Aventajado (left, with cap) after a meeting in Bandang village on Jolo island, 28 May, 2000. - AFP
In April 23, 2000, an Abu Sayyaf-led group kidnapped 21 people from Pulau Sipadan.
They were taken to their camp in Jolo Island where they were held for six months. They were released in stages with the last released in Sept 11 the same year.

On Sept 12, 2000, 14 men in two speedboats armed with M-16 rifles kidnapped three Malaysians from Pulau Padanan, 38km northeast of Semporna.

The hostages were rescued when Philippine armed forces launched an offensive against the rebels several days later.

On Feb 8, 2010, two Malaysians working at a seaweed farm in Pulau Sebangkat were captured by unidentified gunmen.

Tsen Vui Chung (left) and Lai Wing Chau at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport after they were released.
The two, Lai Wing Chau, 35, and Tsen Vui Chung, 43, were held captive for more than 10 months before being released on Tawi-Tawi Island in the southern Philippines.

Two years later in Nov 14, 2012, cousins Tung Wee Jie and Wee Wei were kidnapped from their family-run bird’s nest farm in Lahad Datu.

Wee Jie, 26, was able to escape from his kidnappers by unshackling himself using a fork after being held captive for almost nine months on Jolo Island.

Tung Wee Jie relates his harrowing experience of being held captive for almost nine months.
His cousin, Wee Wei, unfortunately did not survive the ordeal and died while in captivity.

In 2013, two incidents occurred, the first on Aug 27, when about 20 armed men abducted nine Malaysian fishermen from two boats near Mabul Island.

However, the gunmen immediately released the victims and fled after they were tricked by their captives into sailing to a General Operations Force post near Mabul Island.

Chang An Wei at the Taoyuan International airport after her release. - AFP
On Nov 15, armed men raided three of five water villas at Pom Pom Island. During the raid, Taiwanese tourist Hsu Lin Min, 57, was killed, and his wife Chang An Wei, 58 was abducted.

After 36 days, she was released by her abductors and was recovered from the southern Philippine island of Jolo.

Semporna kidnapping: Victims in good health, brought to Southern Philippines -- ESSCom

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 4): Semporna kidnapping: Victims in good health, brought to Southern Philippines -- ESSCom

Two women, including a Chinese tourist who were abducted by a group of armed men from a floating water resort in Semporna, are in good health and believed to have been brought to the southern Philippines.

Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCom) director-general Datuk Mohammad Mentek said based on ESSCom's intelligence, it had identified the location they were being kept as well as the abductors involved.

"One of them is believed to be involved in the kidnapping case in Pom-Pom island, Semporna in November last year while the rest were involved in the kidnapping incident in Sipadan island in 2000.

"Kidnappers out for ransoms are believed to be active and aggressive in southern Philippines," he said in a statement here today.

Mohammad said Esscom did not rule out the possibility that locals, who were originally from the Philippines, were involved in providing information to the group that committed the abduction at the floating water resort.

Yesterday, Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib was quoted as saying that a female Chinese tourist and a female resort worker from the Philippines were abducted from the Singamata Adventures Reef and Resort by a group of seven armed men about 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Chinese woman, who is also a student, was identified as Gao Hua Yuan, 29, from Shanghai while the 40-year-old Filipina worker was identified as Marcy Dayawan or Mimi.

The 60-room resort which has been in operation for over 10 years is located about two nautical miles from Semporna town.

Mohammad said last March 26, an ESSCom security patrol detected five boats, which were suspected to have attempted to enter Semporna waters to kidnap their victims.

"However, due to the preparedness and patrols launched by ESSCom, we succeeded in preventing four boats from carrying out their intention," he said.

Meanwhile, 15 foreign workers at Singamata Adventures Reef and Resort were arrested for not possessing any valid identification documents.

Mohammad also urged the Immigration Department to call up and investigate the resort operator who was said to have employed these foreign workers.

He warned that stern action, including bringing them to court, would be taken against any employer or resort operator who took in or employed any foreign worker who did not have valid documents.

"Despite repeated reminders being issued, including during the recent meeting with Sabah tourism centres or resort operators, many still refuse to comply. So we will not compromise in this matter anymore," he said.

Army assures security for Cotabato City as Marines leave

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 4): Army assures security for Cotabato City as Marines leave

The Army's 6th Infantry Division today assured the people of Cotabato City and officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao that security arrangement and strategies has not changed with the leaving of the Philippine Marines.

Colonel Dickson Hermoso, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division, said one company of the 500-strong 1st Marine Battalion Landing Team will stay behind to form part of the special security unit that will protect the city and its environs.

Lt. Colonel Ronaldo Juan, MBLT-1 commander, in leaving the city, said his unit was grateful for the cooperation and assistance extended to them in the last three years or more that they served the city.

The business sector in the city has asked the Marines to at least leave one company to help local security officials to ensure the safety of local residents.

Hermoso, also the 6th ID Inspector General, said as the Marines leave an Army Special Forces came in headed by Lt. Col. Noel Mapili.

With the special task force in place, the city now is secured by an Army special forces battalion, a company of Marines, the 200 strong police force and other law enforcement agencies.

Cotabato City is surrounded by rivers and tributaries and the Army Special Forces are capable enough to secure because of it has several air boat units.

The Army special forces will also help secure the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which will eventually become the seat of power of the Bangsamoro government as a result of the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Signing of agreement on US troops IRP still a subject of discussions, Palace says

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 4): Signing of agreement on US troops IRP still a subject of discussions, Palace says

Since discussions on increased rotational presence (IRP) of United States forces in the Philippines are still ongoing, there is no certainty as to whether an agreement will be signed before US President Barack Obama’s visit to Manila this month, Malacanang said Friday.

“Insofar as the Philippines is concerned, they are still in discussions with the US panel,” Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a Palace media briefing.

“So, whether it will reach the (President Obama’s) visit is not something that we are aware of,” he added.

Lacierda also said that he has yet to be updated as to whether “all the kinks have been ironed out.”

“In the realm of possibilities, it is easy to say 'yes' or 'no.' But it is better for us to have a more -- better for us to be informed as to the status of the discussions,” he said.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte previously noted that the government was in no hurry to sign the IRP agreement before President Obama’s visit to the Philippines later this month.

What was more important, she said, is assuring that what is being discussed and agreed upon conforms with the 1987 Constitution and is under the framework of the existing Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

On another note, Lacierda said that he has yet to receive a complete schedule of the visit of President Obama since it is part of the normal protocol which is for the Department of Foreign Affairs to announce.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. earlier said that there is a high chance that the issue on the disputed parts of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) may be discussed between Presidents Benigno S. Aquino III and Obama.

He, however, noted that there will be other issues that will be tackled since what is involved is a strategic partnership between the two countries.

PHL to China: “Countries should be judged by their actions, not by their words”

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 4): PHL to China: “Countries should be judged by their actions, not by their words”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario on Friday rebuffed Chinese allegations that the Philippines is raising tensions in the South China Sea when it decided to seek international arbitration to rule on their territorial disputes.

Del Rosario said it was never the country’s intention to exacerbate tensions in the area since arbitration “is a peaceful, friendly and a durable settlement mechanism under international law.”

“With the submission of the Philippine memorial and with the support of the Filipino people, we are defending what is legitimately and rightfully ours,” Del Rosario said in reference to the 4,000-page document containing a package of legal evidence that will bolster the country’s case against China. It was filed before the The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration on March 30 – a move that has angered China.

China rejected the Philippine case and said it will not participate in the legal proceedings, which got the support of many Western and Asian governments.

“By going to arbitration, the Philippines has signaled its fidelity to international law,” Del Rosario said, adding the Philippines can not divulge the content of its memorial since this matter is “sub judice” or is subject to discussion by the tribunal.

China insists on continuing bilateral dialogue with the Philippines in resolving their disputes but Manila said it is impossible to do this due to Beijing’s position of “indisputable” claim over the entire waters.

Manila also complained that despite years of dialogue with China and other claimants, Chinese incursions in Philippine territories have persisted.

China claims the South China Sea nearly in its entirety but Manila only claims parts that fall within its exclusive economic zone as mandated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Areas within Philippine waters have been renamed to West Philippine Sea to stress the country’s sovereignty over them.

Amid lingering tensions in the area, Del Rosario stressed the Philippines “will continue to exercise self-restraint and will not raise tension in the South China Sea.”

“The Philippines is not the country that has greatly increased its naval and maritime presence in the South China Sea. Nor has it challenged freedom of navigation.

Nor has it blockaded nor forcefully intimidated any other country in the South China Sea,” Del Rosario said.Several incidents of Chinese harassment against Filipino fishermen and naval vessels bringing supplies and fresh troops to Philippine- occupied Ayungin Shoal was reported last month.

Philippine officials say Ayungin is part of the country’s continental shelf. A grounded Philippine vessel in the rocky outcrop is home to about a dozen Philippine marines and navy personnel and has been a symbol of the country’s sovereignty over it.

“Countries should be judged by their actions, not by their words,” Del Rosario said.

China’s massive claim also overlaps with the territories of its other neighbors like Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The Philippines said China’s claim is “excessive” and a “gross violation of international law.”

Abu Sayyaf believed to be responsible for abduction in Sabah, Palace says

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 4): Abu Sayyaf believed to be responsible for abduction in Sabah, Palace says

Members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) may be behind the kidnapping of a Filipina resort worker and a female Chinese tourist in Semporna, Sabah, Malacanang said Friday.

Reports said the Filipina resort worker was identified as Marcelita Dayawan and the female Chinese tourist as Gao Huayun.

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, in a Palace media briefing, cited a report from military spokesperson Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala on the incident which occurred last Wednesday.

“(The captives) were abducted by seven fully armed men believed to be ASG members and immediately boarded a white colored speedboat with a stripe blue and proceeded towards the Philippine Sea,” Lacierda said, citing Zagala's report.

Lacierda further said that the abductors are believed to be of the group of Murphy Ambang Ladia, also known as Haji Gulam, native of Pandami Island, Sulu.

He also noted that Ladia was a former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader who joined the Misuari breakaway group in 2001 and was designated as the MBG logistics and transportation officer.

“Subject (Ludia) later joined the ASG operating in Tawi-Tawi under ASG Binang Sahirol,” Lacierda said, still citing Zagala's text message.

“Initial available information obtained further stated that said abductors proceeded in the vicinity of Simunul municipality, Tawi-Tawi, eluding Malaysian authorities conducting pursuit operations,” he added.

Lacierda said that Task Force 62 of the Western Mindanao Command will conduct support operations to the Police Regional Office-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the Provincial Police Office of Tawi-Tawi.

De Leon named PA's 5th Infantry Division commander

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 4): De Leon named PA's 5th Infantry Division commander

Major Gen. Benito T. De Leon was appointed commander of the Isabela-based 5th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army effective Friday.

The turnover ceremony was held at Camp Melchor F. Dela Cruz in Upi, Gamu, Isabela and attended by Army commander Lt. Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri.

De Leon replaced Brig. Gen. Ricardo B. Jalad, who retired from the service after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56.

De Leon vowed to continue the “Bayanihan” Team operations in consonance with the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) to maintain the momentum of the 5th Infantry Division efforts towards a peaceful, progressive and prosperous Northern Luzon.

The newly installed 5th Infantry Division commander is not new to Cagayan Valley because he hails from Tuguegarao City. He belongs to Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1981.

Before taking the helm of 5th Infantry Division, he was the commander of Training and Doctrine Command, Philippine Army.

Review in Honor of the Veterans to be held Saturday

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 4): Review in Honor of the Veterans to be held Saturday

The Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) on Friday announced the Review in Honor of the Veterans to be held Saturday at the Hunters-ROTC Guerilla Field, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

This is how the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)honor the country’s senior defenders -- the Filipino war veterans.

Lt. Gen. Emmanuel T. Bautista, AFP chief-of-staff, will lead the review as a way of paying tribute to their forebears who have brought to fore the Filipino’s peculiar brand of heroism and love for country.

The review is a time-honored annual tradition of the AFP whereby men and women in the uniformed service show their respect to veterans for their unparalleled sacrifices, numerous accomplishments and the distinct values which shaped the Armed Forces into what it has now become -- a more capable, more professional and more reliable Armed Forces of the people.

A battalion-sized contingent from the AFP will perform the review wherein veterans are paraded and accorded honors at par with high-ranking military officers and visiting dignitaries who are entitled to such honor.

It has four elements: the formation of troops, presentation and honors, ceremonial inspection (passing around the troops) and march in review where the veterans-leaders will stand in front of the stage to acknowledge the parading troops.

No less than Vice President Jejomar Binay will be the special inspirational guest in the event.

The review will be culminated by the awarding of plaques and medals to some of the country’s most senior World War II veterans (centenarians and above 90 years old), in recognition of their wartime services and honorable performance of duties during World War II.

Army troops repel NPAs in tri-boundary area

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 4): Army troops repel NPAs in tri-boundary area

Troopers from the Army's 67th Infantry Battalion have successfully beaten off a New People's Army (NPA) extortion mission at the tri-boundary area of Agusan Del Sur, Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental Thursday afternoon.

The clash took place around 1 p.m. This lasted for 20 minutes with no losses reported for the government side and undetermined number of wounded and killed for the NPAs.

Recovered were one M-16A1 automatic rifle, five improvised landmines, medical equipment, backpacks, and several extortion letters.

Capt. Ernest Carolina, 10th Infantry Division spokesperson, the parent unit of the 67th Infantry Battalion, said the encounter occurred after a village of Simulao, Boston, Davao Oriental reported the presence of the armed group near the border area.

“We were able thwart their plans because of the timely report from civilians. People here are now for peace and development,” said 67th Infantry Battalion commander Lt. Colonel Krishnamurti Mortela.

“This province is now peaceful. NPAs are no longer welcome here," he added.

The encounter site last Thursday yielded invitations for the 45th anniversary of the NPA which took place last March 29.

Along with the invitations were unnamed letters “soliciting” amounts for the said celebration.

The letters, which were in the form of a template, explained how the rebel is waging a war for a “True Democratic Government of The People.”

The letter likewise indicated a choices between “donations” in three specified amounts -- P50,000, P80,000 and P100,000, respectively.

Philippines pledges restraint in South China Sea row

From InterAksyon (Apr 5): Philippines pledges restraint in South China Sea row

The Philippines pledged to act with restraint on Friday a week after China tried to block a boat ferrying supplies to Filipino troops on a disputed reef in the South China Sea.

"(The) Philippines makes clear that it will continue to exercise self-restraint and will not raise tension in the South China Sea," Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said.

He issued the statement after a week of diplomatic wrangling following a Philippine boat's delivery of food, water and fresh troops to Second Thomas (local name: Ayungin) Shoal, also claimed by Beijing, by slipping through a blockade by two Chinese coastguard vessels.

A small number of Filipino soldiers are stationed on a Navy vessel that was grounded on the shoal in 1999 to assert the Philippines' sovereignty.

A day after the incident, the Philippines further infuriated China by asking a United Nations tribunal to declare Beijing's claims to undisputed sovereignty over most of the strategically important sea as illegal.

China strongly criticized the Philippine government actions, warning Tuesday that the UN appeal had "seriously damaged" bilateral ties and holding Manila responsible for the "consequences" of the UN move.

"The Philippines is not the country that has greatly increased its naval and maritime presence in the South China Sea," del Rosario retorted Friday.

"Nor has it challenged freedom of navigation. Nor has it blockaded nor forcefully intimidated any other country in the South China Sea. Countries should be judged by their actions, not by their words."

China has said its coastguard turned away another Filipino vessel on a similar resupply mission early last month, forcing the Philippine military to air-drop supplies to its small unit of marines aboard an old navy ship guarding the reef.

The reef lies 200 kilometers (120 miles) from the nearest major Philippine island, and more than a thousand kilometers from a major Chinese land mass.

It is part of the Spratlys, a chain of islets and reefs that sit near key shipping lanes and are surrounded by rich fishing grounds.

Apart from China and the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have overlapping claims to parts of the area.

Manila's UN appeal argues Beijing's claims are contrary to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and interferes with the Philippines' sovereign rights to its continental shelf.

Both countries are signatories to UNCLOS, but Beijing argues that its provisions do not apply to the row.

It has urged the Philippines to negotiate directly with it.

Del Rosario said Friday UN arbitration "is a peaceful, friendly and a durable settlement mechanism under international law" that allows the Philippines to defend "what is legitimately and rightfully ours".

US warns China not to try Crimea-style action in Asia

From InterAksyon (Apr 4): US warns China not to try Crimea-style action in Asia

China should not doubt the U.S. commitment to defend its Asian allies and the prospect of economic retaliation should also discourage Beijing from using force to pursue territorial claims in Asia in the way Russia has in Crimea, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.

Daniel Russel, President Barack Obama’s diplomatic point man for East Asia, said it was difficult to determine what China's intentions might be, but Russia's annexation of Crimea had heightened concerns among U.S. allies in the region about the possibility of China using force to pursue its claims.

"The net effect is to put more pressure on China to demonstrate that it remains committed to the peaceful resolution of the problems," Russel, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Russel said the retaliatory sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States, the European Union and others should have a "chilling effect on anyone in China who might contemplate the Crimea annexation as a model."

This was especially so given the extent of China's economic interdependence with the United States and its Asia neighbors, Russel said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, asked about Russel's comments, said he was confusing two different issues.

"No matter whether the Ukraine issue or the South China Sea issue, China has many times expressed its position. Why must this U.S. official mention the two issues in the same breath, and obstinately say these things about China?" Hong told a daily news briefing on Friday.

Russel added that while the United States did not take a position on rival territorial claims in East Asia, China should be in no doubt about Washington's resolve to defend its allies if necessary.

"The president of the United States and the Obama administration is firmly committed to honoring our defense commitments to our allies," he said.

Treaties with Japan, Korea, Philippines

While Washington stood by its commitments - which include defense treaties with Japan, the Philippines and South Korea - Russel said there was no reason why the rival territorial claims could not be resolved by peaceful means.

He said he hoped the fact that the Philippines had filed a case against China on Sunday at an arbitration tribunal in The Hague would encourage China to clarify and remove the ambiguity surrounding its own claims.

Russel termed the deployment of large numbers of Chinese vessels in its dispute with the Philippines in the South China Sea "problematic" and said that Beijing had taken "what to us appears to be intimidating steps."

"It is incumbent of all of the claimants to foreswear intimidation, coercion and other non-diplomatic or extra-legal means," he said.

In Asia, China also has competing territorial claims with Japan and South Korea, as well as with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan in potentially energy-rich waters.
Obama is due to visit Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines from April 22, when he is expected to stress his commitment to a rebalancing of U.S. strategic and economic focus towards the Asia-Pacific region in the face of an increasingly assertive China.

Military eyes more surrenderees from NPA

From the Daily Tribune (Apr 5): Military eyes more surrenderees from NPA

The military is expecting more surrenderees from the ranks of the New People’s Army as indicated by “feelers” coming from the communist combatants as it countered claims by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) that the Army is passing civilians as NPA surrenderees.

Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, commander of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division (ID), said that the command has been receiving numerous requests for “safe conduct passes” from the NPA members lately.

He attributed the “surrender feelers” to the hardships now being experienced by communist rebels in the mountains due to lack of food supply and constantly on the run as military operations against them are continuing.

“They also noticed how the government treats those who surrendered before…who were given livelihood and now living a normal life…their lives were very much improved,” Visaya said.

Visaya, at the same time, countered CPP-NPA claims that the 72 surrenderees presented by the 4th ID last week were fake communist fighters.

“They (CPP-NPA) will always do that, deny that because it (mass surrender) is demoralizing to their members,” Visaya said.

“This (surrender) is properly documented…there was validation that these were NPA members,” he added.

The Army general also dismissed allegation by the communist group that military commanders are using the government’s Social Integration Program (SIP), which provides livelihood and cash assistance to those who return to the folds of the law, as a tool of corruption.

Visaya said that the awarding of cash and livelihood assistance is witnessed by the media and other stakeholders.

According to Visaya, the CPP-NPA-National Democratic Front (CNN) is on the brink of self-destruction following the capture of Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria, tagged as CPP chairman and secretary general, respectively.

Visaya said that the arrest crippled the communist organization with no one directing the armed groups operation while their centralized-type logistical management is also paralyzed.

“The current situation of the CNN is likened to a car without a driver and without gasoline. These gains are proofs that they are becoming weak and whenever they perceived that they are at the losing end, they will again manifest their intention to negotiate and return to the negotiating table,” Visaya said.

“We will continue accepting those who would like to return to the folds of the law and be with their families. While for those who insist on staying in the mountains, we will let them rot there, like the dickens. It is now their choice whether they want to live happily with their families or die miserably and regrettably in the jungles. I have ordered our field units to continue their operations without let-up,” Visaya added.

Task force deployed to stop transfer of Sabah kidnap victims to Sulu

From the Business Mirror (Apr 4): Task force deployed to stop transfer of Sabah kidnap victims to Sulu

THE Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command deployed a naval task force on Friday to search suspected seacraft as the police and the military started search-and- rescue efforts for two people who were kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf bandits in Sabah over the weekend.
Capt. Maria Rowena Muyuela, spokesman for the Wesmincom, said Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, Wesmincom chief, has also ordered Naval Task Force 62 to establish a naval blockade and stop the possible transfer of the victims from Tawi-tawi to other provinces in Mindanao, particularly Sulu.
Guerrero issued the order after reports received by the National Police claimed the two victims, a Chinese and a Filipino, have been taken to Simunul island in Tawi-tawi from Sabah, were they were snatched by armed men on Sunday.
Reports said the Chinese woman, who is from Shanghai, China, was vacationing at the Singamata Reef Resort in Semporna, Sabah, when she was abducted.
The suspects also took a 40-year-old female Filipino resort worker whose identity was not revealed by military and police authorities.
Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia J. Eduardo Malaya sent a Filipino embassy official who conferred on Friday morning with local police authorities in Semporna.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur was able to confirm from local police authorities that the Filipino woman who was kidnapped was Marcelita M. Dayawan, 40, and a staff member at the Singamata Resort.
Embassy officials are in touch with Dayawan’s relatives and are extending consular assistance, the DFA said.
Philippine and Malaysian authorities are closely and actively working together toward the speedy resolution of the case, a DFA statement also said.
“We continue to hope and pray for the immediate resolution of this incident and the safe return of the victims to their families,” the DFA said.
The two women were discovered missing after officials of the resort ordered a roll call after the armed men had left the resort.
Muyuela said Guerrero also alerted other military units in the provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi against the possible presence of the kidnappers and their victims in their areas.
On Thursday, Capt. Ryan Lacuesta, civil-military operations officer of the 2nd Marine Brigade, said the unit has also been working to determine if the kidnappers are already in Mindanao, particularly Sulu.
“We are collecting information regarding the kidnapping and how it really happened, although our jurisdiction is only Sulu,” he said.
“We have scrambled personnel to monitor the incident and whether the direction of the kidnappers was toward Mindanao. If indeed it is true, then they should pass first at Tawi-Tawi,” Lacuesta added.
Lacuesta said last year, a Taiwanese was also abducted in Sabah and was taken to Sulu where the release of the victims was made.

Malacañang unsure pact on increased US troop presence ready for Obama visit

From the Business Mirror (Apr 4): Malacañang unsure pact on increased US troop presence ready for Obama visit

MALACAÑANG admitted on Friday that it is still unsure if the agreement on enhanced US military presence will be concluded in time for the April 27 and 28 visit to Manila of President Barack Obama.
Palace Spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters at a news briefing that the negotiations are still ongoing between Filipino and American officials crafting the framework agreement that will increase US troop presence in the country.
“That is still subject of discussion. We don’t know if all the kinks have been ironed out. But we will leave it with the both panels,” the Palace official said.
Lacierda added: “Insofar as the Philippines is concerned, they are still in discussions with the US panels. So, whether it will reach the [Obama] visit is not something that we are aware of.”
Asked if it was possible the agreement can be signed during the visit, Lacierda said Department of National Defense officials privy to the negotiations are in a better position to answer this.
“In the realm of possibilities, it is easy to say yes or no,” he said but added “it is better for us to have a more… better for us to be informed as to the status of the discussions.”
Lacierda told reporters in an earlier interview that the new military agreement with the US would not require ratification by the Philippine Senate as the arrangement on increased American military presence here would already be covered by the existing RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty and the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement forged much earlier.
In the same briefing, Lacierda begged off from giving additional details of the coming Obama visit, explaining that “the normal protocol is for the Department of Foreign Affairs to announce it.”
“So, we would rather the DFA to announce it. We will wait for an announcement from them,” Lacierda added.
He, however, indicated that the activities would include traditional arrival honors for visiting heads of state, as well as bilateral discussions, but gave no further details.

Soldier killed in NPA clash in Cotabato

From ABS-CBN (Apr 4): Soldier killed in NPA clash in Cotabato

A soldier died in an encounter with suspected New People's Army (NPA) guerrillas in North Cotabato on Thursday, an official said.

Lt. Col. Nilo Vinluan, Philippine Army's 57th Infantry Battalion commander, said a certain Corporal Molud died in an encounter between military troops and NPA rebels in Barangay Balete, Magpet town.

Vinluan said the encounter was part of military operations against NPA rebels who are still staying in the area.

"Hindi kami titigil hangga't andun pa sila. Nasa kanila ang pressure kasi wala na silang makain eh. Hindi makababa para bumili ng makakain," said Vinluan.

The military said there was no incident of violence recorded in the area during the 45th anniversary of NPA last March 29, 2013.

However, Vinluan said the the NPA's extortion activities persist in towns in North Cotabato's 2nd district.

"Umaaray na iyung mga tao sa kanila. Nagsusumbong sa amin sa mga panggigipit na ginagawa nung mga rebelde" Vinluan said.

Amid the continuing military operation against the NPA, authorities assured that the residents will be safe.

Landmine explodes in Davao del Norte

From ABS-CBN (Apr 5): Landmine explodes in Davao del Norte

A landmine planted on the side of the road in Sitio Opaw, Talaingod, Davao del Norte exploded while a convoy of police, Army, local government unit personnel, and an ABS-CBN News team were passing through the area.

After the explosion, suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) fired at the convoy, prompting authorities to return fire. No one was reported injured.
Authorities said suspected rebels may have planted the landmine.

The convoy came from a medical outreach and relief operation in Sitio Nasilaban, Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

Police and Army recovered an electric wire used in the improvised explosive device during clearing operations.

Sr. Insp. Michael Angelo Yap, chief of the Talaingod police, said they saw two armed men exchanging gunfire with them.

"Dalawang armado ng mahahaba. Di naming alam kung may kasama sila, kaya nag-return fire kami kung saan sila," Yap said.

According to 1st Lt. Charity Talledo, commander of the 3rd CIC, 1003rd Opcon, the incident was a violation of the CAHRIHL or the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect to Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

"Kahit sibilyan, sundalo o media pa maging target na nila," she said.

Meanwhile, residents in the area feared for their lives during the incident.

“Tumakbo kami para magtago at nanalangin na hindi madamay,” Maricar Salvaha, a local, said.

Authorities are conducting a hot pursuit operation against the armed men, who are suspected members of the NPA Guerilla Front 55 led by Alias Bugsong.