Sunday, May 4, 2014

Where kidnapping is a lucrative industry

From the Star Online (May 4): Where kidnapping is a lucrative industry

Kidnap for ransom groups in Jolo have become increasingly sophisticated and are now working in units that operate like a small army.

USING three glasses filled with kahawa (Tausug word for coffee), an Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) intelligence officer illustrated how kidnap for ransom groups have streamlined their cross border kidnapping modus operandi.

“Imagine these glasses are cells. First cell will do intelligence gathering in Semporna, the second cell which is also based in Semporna will do the kidnapping and once they reach Philippines waters, they will pass the hostages to the third cell,” said the officer at a house of a prominent individual in Jolo town on the notorious Jolo island.
Jolo island – in Sulu province in southern Philippines – is where most of the hostages kidnapped in Semporna in the east coast of Sabah end up. In 2000, Malaysians took note of Jolo when 21 people – nine Sabahans, two Filipinos and 10 tourists from Europe, South Africa and Lebanon – were kidnapped in Sipadan island in Semporna waters on Easter Sunday and held on the island about the size of Perlis.

The latest victims abducted from Semporna are Gao Huayuan, a 29-year-old tourist from Shanghai, and Marcy Dayawan, a 40-year-old Filipina resort worker. Filipino gunmen kidnapped them from Singamata Reef Resort at about 10.30pm on April 3.

The kidnap for ransom (KFR) groups have changed their modus operandi, according to Filipino intelligence officers and security experts interviewed by The Star.

“In 2000, a KFR group consisting of 30 armed men travelled in several boats from Sulu to kidnap 21 people in Sipadan and then returned to Sulu.

That was the same modus operandi when they kidnapped 20 people (including three Americans) from Dos Palmas Resort (in Palawan, Philippines) and brought them to Basilan island (about 120km from Jolo island),” said the AFP intelligence officer who did not want to be identified.

Pointing to the three glasses filled with kahawa grown in Sulu, he added: “when you travel in a big group, there is a possibility that the Philippine and Malaysian navies will detect you.”

“But when you travel in a small group,” he said, holding a single glass, “you don’t attract attention.”

Learning from their mistakes, the KFR groups streamlined their operation.

“Post Sipadan and Dos Palmas kidnappings, the KFR would send a cell group to Semporna. These operatives would either live as a local or work in a resort. That is their cover. Their actual job is to find a target and study the place and find the best time for them to kidnap.”

“The spotter will contact the mastermind and inform that the victim is in her room and security is relaxed,” he said.

His description of the modus operandi corresponds with what happened in Singamata Reef Resort on the night of the abduction. Armed men struck minutes after eight General Operations Force (GOF) personnel stationed in the resort had left the reef to conduct patrolling in a boat.

In the aftermath of the Singamata kidnapping, Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) director-general Datuk Mohammad Mentek said an operation to clear the east coast area of moles or informers of cross-border criminals would be conducted.

When a target was identified, the KFR mastermind would inform the second cell. It was a light and quick team consisting of about seven gunmen embedded in Semporna.

“Before, they needed about 30 armed men to execute a kidnapping. Now they can kidnap with seven gunmen,” he said.

“How well armed are these men?” I asked.

“Just like your escorts. They are like a small army,” he said, pointing at the two Philippines National Police policemen, armed with a M204 grenade launcher, pistol and shotgun, who provided security during my three-day trip to Jolo island.

The crew of the second cell would know Semporna waters like the back of their hand, said the AFP intelligence officer.

His account is consistent with Esscom investigations into the Singamata kidnapping. Mohammad has said that at least four of the seven gunmen involved in the kidnapping were no strangers to Sabah’s diving haven of Semporna.

Investigations, he said, had indicated that the four were familiar with the Semporna waters including Sipadan, Mabul and Kapalai islands as they have families and friends living in coastal villages in the area.

“Our investigations with the police have led to the conclusion that these kidnappers will seek shelter with their friends and families every time they come here,” he said.

After entering Philippine waters, the AFP intelligence officer said the second cell will hand over the hostages to the third cell.

“This is so that they can avoid heat (pressure from security forces),” he said.

Octavio A. Dinampo, the CEO of Assist Jolo, which is an NGO, agrees with the AFP intelligence officer’s description of the KFR’s streamlined modus operandi.

Since he was kidnapped with famous Filipino news anchor Ces Drillion and others on Jolo island on June 8, 2008, Dinampo, a 57-year-old Suluk, has been investigating the business of kidnapping in Sulu province, nearby Tawi Tawi islands and Sabah.

Dinampo, who teaches political science in Mindanao State University in Jolo island, said the cross-border kidnappings between Sulu and Semporna were masterminded by smugglers.

He said the actual kidnapping was not done by the Abu Sayyaf but smugglers based on small islands in the Sulu province such as Pandami, Pata, and Siasi which are near Jolo island.

“You need to be an expert on islands and the sea to do cross-border kidnapping over the Sulu seas,” he said.

Esscom director-general Mohammad has been quoted by the media as saying that the four identified Singamata abductors were also involved in various smuggling activities in Semporna.

From smuggling of guns, drugs, cigarettes and sugar in the Sulu archipelago, the smugglers have evolved into kidnapping.

“It is a natural evolution for some of the smugglers who own money, powerful arms and fast boats that can even compete with the Philippine navy to finance a kidnapping,” he said.

“It is natural for them to think of kidnapping as an enterprising business. This explains why Sipadan and Dos Palmas happened.”     

Cross-border kidnapping is an expensive operation, said Dinampo.

“The kidnapping crew is presumed dead before he goes for the kidnapping. And the mastermind will set aside money in the event a crew member is killed so that his family can move on. Just say you have seven crew members and you have set aside 100,000 pesos (RM7,330) for each of them, that means you need to set aside 700,000 pesos (RM51,000),” he said.       
The mastermind also needs to buy sophisticated weapons and equipment for his cells embedded in Semporna and in Tawi Tawi islands in southern Philippines.

“He needs to pay for the house his spotters have to stay in Semporna. The spotters need to be equipped with satellite phones which they use to communicate in split seconds with the mastermind in coded words,” he said.

What’s new for the KFR group, according to Dinampo, is they have placed their men in the Abu Sayyaf, Moro National Liberation Front and other armed groups in Jolo island.

“They need a trusted ‘branch manager’ in these armed groups as they will usually deposit the hostages with the Abu Sayyaf or other armed groups in Jolo island,” he said.

The moment the KFR group abducts hostages from Sabah, Dinampo said the mastermind would contact his ‘branch manager’.

“For example, the mastermind will tell his ‘branch manager’ that he had spent about 1.5mil pesos (RM110,000) and he wanted to make a 5mil-peso (RM360,000) profit, so he would sell a hostage for 6.5mil pesos (RM480,000) to the Abu Sayyaf and it would be up to them to jack up the ransom,” he said.

The KFR mastermind outsources the holding of the hostage to Abu Sayyaf or armed groups in Jolo island because he does not have the “muscle” to keep them.

“Abu Sayyaf is a larger armed group. They have enough men and firepower to hold on to the hostages when pursued by the security forces,” Dinampo said.

“Once the KFR hands over the hostage to the Abu Sayyaf (or other armed groups) in Jolo, they are out of the heat generated by the kidnapping.”

When asked if another cross border kidnapping would happen in Semporna, the AFP intelligence officer picked up a glass and said, “they are already there” and placed it next to a paper he had marked “Sabah”.

Game of smoke and mirrors in kidnap isle

From the Star Online (May 4): Game of smoke and mirrors in kidnap isle

People on the move: Jolo town in Jolo island in Sulu province, southern Philippines.

People on the move: Jolo town in Jolo island in Sulu province, southern Philippines

In the last five months, there have been two kidnappings in Semporna, Sabah, by gunmen from Sulu in southern Philippines. PHILIP GOLINGAI visited Jolo island – the Philippines’ cross border capital – to investigate why Filipino kidnappers are targeting Sabah

SULU: If you ask 10 people in Jolo island where the hostages abducted from Singamata Reef Resort in Semporna, Sabah, are located, you might get 10 different answers.

“They are in Sulu. Most probably in the border of Patikul and Talipao,” said Octavio A. Dinampo, the CEO of Assist Jolo, a non-governmental organisation.
“My informers told me that they were transferred from Pandami (an island in Sulu province) to Jolo island on April 17.”

On April 3, Shanghai tourist Gao Huayun, 29, and Filipino resort worker Marcy Dayawan, 40, were kidnapped by Filipino gunmen from Singamata Reef Resort at about 10.30pm.

“I can definitely say they are not in Sulu,” said the Philippines National Police’s Sulu Provincial Director Supt Abraham Orbita.

Welcome to Jolo island where the game of smoke and mirrors is played.

The kidnappings in Semporna, according to Dinampo, were not the handiwork of the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG) but a kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) group.

He said the KFR group would sell a hostage to the Abu Sayyaf or other armed group in Jolo island.

“Once you deposit the hostage to the ASG, the heat generated from the kidnapping will go away. And the KFR leader will be free.

“Nobody will focus on their role in the kidnapping and they can operate like legitimate businessmen,” he said.

Arguably, all of the hostages abducted in Semporna since the first cross-border kidnapping in 2000 have been held in Jolo island.

Currently, armed groups are holding two well-known bird watchers – Ewold Horn, a 53-year-old Dutch, and Lorenzo Vinciguerra, a 48-year-old Swiss, who were abducted in Tawi-Tawi in February 2012 – and Toshio Ito, a 64-year-old Japanese treasure hunter kidnapped from Pangutaran Island in Sulu province in July, 2010.

The island, which is about 300km from Semporna, is the Philippines cross-border kidnap capital because of its terrain.

“In the hinterland, the terrain is mountainous, rocky and treacherous. It is the perfect place to keep hostages,” said an Armed Forces of the Philippines intelligence officer.

“People in the area have close family ties. The community also acts as the eyes for the Abu Sayyaf.”

Dinampo, who was held hostage for 10 days in Talipao/Patikul, Jolo island in 1999, said that a minimum of 15 people guarded him in the daytime and a maximum of 50 people at night.

“That is the first layer of security. The second is the community they live in. The villagers and even their children are trained to monitor the presence of security forces,” he said.

“Our surrounding was also booby trapped with IED (improvised explosive device) – ping pong balls filled with explosives. If you step on it, boom!”

DVIDS: Philippine, U.S. forces bond over positive community impact

From DVIDS (May 4): Philippine, U.S. forces bond over positive community impact
LEGAZPI CITY, Albay Province, Philippines – Filipino and American soldiers work together to construct a public comfort room April 17 – May 15 in Legazpi City, Albay Province, Philippines.

The comfort room is one of the five engineering civic assistance programs projects being completed as a part of Exercise Balikatan, an annual bilateral training exercise and humanitarian assistance engagement between members of the Armed Forces of the Philippine and U.S. armed forces.

The public comfort room is being built as an addition to the recreational center that is available for local community to use.

“It’s awesome helping and seeing the community come out,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Jake Oberlechner, ENCAP site officer in charge with 84th Engineer Battalion. “I’m happy to be here with our Filipino counterparts working alongside us. It’s nothing short of excellent.”

In addition to the Filipino and American soldiers, some local community members and Philippine Air Force reservists have come to the site to assist with the project in their free time.

“I will be teaching in the area when the construction is finished,” said Philippine Air Force Reserves Sgt. Jason Auditor, a civil engineer. “Being here is a great experience. It’s my first time working with Americans, and I’m happy to see we’re all here helping out the community.”

While working on the comfort room, members of the AFP and U.S. armed forces have taken the opportunity to bond over the positive impact their work will have on the community, according to U.S. Army Sgt. Kyle T. O’Keefe.

“The impact on the community will be substantial,” said O’Keefe, a civil engineer with 84th Engineer Battalion. “There is a small language barrier, but we understand each other perfectly when it comes to construction and the way we are helping the Philippine people.”

DVIDS: Philippine, U.S. forces renovate Malobago Elementary School

From DVIDS (May 4): Philippine, U.S. forces renovate Malobago Elementary School

GUINOBATAN, Albay Province, Philippines – Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. Marines together to renovate Malabago Elementary School April 17 – May 15 in Guinobatan, Albay Province, Philippines. Renovations include the construction of two classrooms, a water catchment system, a kitchen and the repairs of the electrical system and roofs.

The construction and renovations are part of Exercise Balikatan, an annual bilateral exercise that focuses on keeping the international bond strong and improving the quality of life for the people of the Albay Province.

The additions to the school will allow for smaller class sizes and fresh water for the children of the community. The new kitchen will replace an existing bamboo hut and will allow for better production of meals in conjunction with the new source of fresh water, explained U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Daniel B. Comito, the engineering civic assistance program site officer in charge with 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

The partnership between the AFP members and U.S. Marines has been a learning experience for both units. Shared knowledge and expertise on topics ranging from bending metal to ensuring a level foundation has led to more efficient and effective construction, according to U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Lee Halls.

“We have learned so much from each other here,” said Halls, a corpsman at the site. “We show each other our construction techniques to build something the community can be proud of.”

The renovated school will provide the community a place to come together, and has already been filled with local community members who visit to watch the work being done.

“We have a close relationship with the people in the area,” said Comito. “It’s really amazing to be able to see the effect we have on the community.”

‘US not satisfied with PHL counterinsurgency measures’

From the Business Mirror (May 4): ‘US not satisfied with PHL counterinsurgency measures’

THE United States is not satisfied with how the Philippines military and the Philippine National Police (PNP) conduct their campaigns against lawless groups under the country’s counterterrorism operations, which are being actively supported by the US government.
The view of the US government on the country’s efforts was reflected in its country report on counterterrorism released by the US Department of State on April 30.
For one, the state department’s report noted that the IPSP Bayanihan, the campaign program of the military against the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), was ineffective.
The counterinsurgency program, which covers the whole term of the Aquino administration, was crafted during the term of Armed Forces Chief of Staff Emmanuel Bautista as deputy chief of staff for operations of the military.
Bautista was the most ardent supporter of the campaign plan, which is on its way to missing its objective of clearing the country of guerrillas as shown by the successive and brazen attacks that the rebels carried out against their targets, which included municipal halls and police stations, around the country during the past weeks.
“The government of the Philippines continued to implement its 2011-2016 Internal Peace and Security Plan that calls for the transition of internal- security functions from the Armed Forces of the Philippines [AFP] to the PNP,” the report noted.
The increasing role and capability of the police to maintain internal security in conflict-affected areas will permit the AFP to shift its focus to enhancing the country’s maritime security and territorial defense capabilities. To date, however, this transition has been slow and ineffective,” it added.
Some military officers said that because Bautista is much younger than his area commanders, he could not give orders to his senior commanders, including for them to sustain the operational tempo, not only against the NPA, but even against the other groups, thus making him a “lame duck” chief of staff.
The US state department’s report said corruption in the police and even in the judiciary was among the reasons frustrating the country’s counterterrorism efforts.
The problem was even worsened by the lack of personnel, the report said.
“An underresourced and understaffed law enforcement and judicial system, coupled with widespread official corruption, resulted in limited domestic investigations, unexecuted arrest warrants, few prosecutions and lengthy trials of cases,” the report said.
“Philippines investigators and prosecutors lacked necessary tools to build strong cases, such as clear processes for requesting judicially authorized interception of terrorist communications; entering into plea bargains with key witnesses; and seizing assets of those suspected in benefiting from terrorism,” it added.
Still, the US said it would continue to work and assist the country in its efforts to combat terrorism, as it will remain an “important partner” in the US Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program.
The program includes giving extensive tactical training to PNP officers, including Special Action Force members, “to support the transition in southern Philippines from military to civilian counterterrorism authority.”
Meanwhile, Malacañang on Sunday allayed the concern of former Sen. Joker Arroyo that the Palace-backed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement  (Edca) with the US skirted the constitutional ban on foreign military bases here except under a new treaty.
“We respect the views of Senator Arroyo and other leaders on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement,” Communications Secretary Herminio B. Coloma Jr. said over Radyo ng Bayan.
Coloma said that consistent with President Aquino’s guidelines, the Edca included key features assuring compliance with the Constitution’s provisions on the issue of foreign military presence in the country.
These, he said, include a “clear provision that the US would not establish a permanent military presence or base in the Philippines.”
“US access to and use of designated areas in Armed Forces of the Philippines [AFP]-owned and –controlled facilities [also called ‘agreed locations’] will be at the invitation of the Philippines government,” he said.
Coloma said it also requires prior consent of the Philippines through the Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board with regard to US access and use of such “agreed locations,” referring to existing Philippines military bases that may accommodate US forces, subject to implementing arrangements.
The Palace official also cited the Philippines’s retention of primary responsibility for security of the agreed locations, as well as full access of the AFP base commander to the entire area of the agreed locations.

Rebel surrenders

From the Luzon Newsbits section of the Manila Bulletin (May 5): Rebel surrenders

Camp G. Nakar, Lucena City — Another New People’s Army (NPA) rebel decided to leave the armed struggle and surrendered to the military, the Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) here reported yesterday.

Lieutenant General Caesar Ronnie F. Ordoyo, Solcom chief, said Dennis Callao, also known as “Rolex,” is a squad leader of Komiteng Probinsya (KOMPROB) that operates in Albay.

His surrender entitles him to a livelihood assistance of P50,000 and a financial assistance of P15,000 – an incentive under the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

#FootballForPeace: Kids from conflict areas visit Manila

From Rappler (May 4): #FootballForPeace: Kids from conflict areas visit Manila

The objective of the Football for Peace program has remained the same over the past 3 years – opening the children’s minds to a life where violence is not the answer

HOPEFUL. Sameer Adam sees football as a way for him to achieve his dreams. Photo by Bjorn Landas/ Rappler

HOPEFUL. Sameer Adam sees football as a way for him to achieve his dreams. Photo by Bjorn Landas/ Rappler
It’s a game that’s changing lives.
For 13-year-old Sameer Adam, football is not just a sport – it’s a way for him to achieve his dreams of a better life. Growing up in a conflict area in Sultan Kudarat, Adam would have been part of an armed struggle at a young age. But instead, he is playing football under the Philippine Marine Corps’ (PMC) Football for Peace program.
Adam said he works hard to excel in the sport because he wants to help his family.
Gusto kong makaahon sa buhay ko para ‘di mahirapan ‘yung mga parents ko sa mga gastusin,” he said. (I want to do better in life so that my parents won’t have a hard time paying our expenses.)
The young boy sees the program as a stepping stone to reaching his goals – to finish his education through scholarship programs that he can be given.
Naniniwala ako na itong programa ng mga Marines makakatulong ito sa’kin lalung-lalo na kapag maging scholar ako,” he added. (I believe that this program will help me, especially when I become a scholar.)
On April 22 to 29, for the first time in his life, Adam visited Manila as one of the 168 delegates chosen by the Marines to participate in this year’s Football for Peace Festival and Educational Tours. He said the experience was an eye-opener.
Noong nakita ko yung Maynila, parang maganda dito kaysa doon (sa amin). Parang nakapag-isip ako na gusto ko rito,” he said. (When I saw the city of Manila, I realized that it’s much better here than Sultan Kudarat. I liked it better here.)
Wider perspectives
The educational tour gives aspiring football players from conflict areas across the country the opportunity to be exposed to developed communities in the capital region. It also gives them fresh experiences of interacting with other people, helping them develop their own self-confidence.
Out of the hundreds of kids they teach in different provinces, the marines pick 10 who will participate in the educational tour every year. According to Major Stephen L. Cabanlet, the program’s founder, they do this every year to show the children the opportunities that await them in the cities.
“The lifestyle in Sulu is paired with guns. What the Marines want is to change the perspective of the children,” Cabanlet said.
“We want them to realize and say, ‘Why do I need to hold a gun, when I can just hold a book?’ When they grow up, we want the things that they see here in Manila to inspire their future career decisions.”
This year’s educational tour included visits to the AFP Theater, the Mind Museum, Luneta Park, and Museong Pambata. The children were able to watch the movie “Rio 2” and explore the different malls around Metro Manila.
NEW LEARNINGS. Football for Peace delegates listen to their tour guide in the Mind Museum. Photo from the Philippine Marines
NEW LEARNINGS. Football for Peace delegates listen to their tour guide in the Mind Museum. Photo from the Philippine Marines
The children had the chance to interact and play with the popular Azkal brothers, Phil and James Younghusband. A football clinic with the Meralco Sparks was also done at the Emperador Stadium.
The delegates also competed with teams from the Ateneo, La Salle, Don Bosco, and other football clubs in the National Capital Region (NCR), Batangas, and Cavite, in a football competition held throughout the week.
Books over guns, balls over bullets
Sulu-based Philippine Marines started the Football for Peace program because they wanted to teach good values to the disaffected youth of Sulu through sports. What started as their pastime eventually became their advocacy.
Playing football became an avenue for them to connect with the local communities.The Marines slowly changed their image from “war-fighters” to being well-loved coaches.
From having only one football for 100 kids in Sulu, the program has expanded to the provinces of Palawan, Tawi-Tawi, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Zambonga. With the help of various groups, the Marines were able to collect footballs for the children. Rappler, through a crowd sourced campaign, donated 1,200 footballs to the program. Recently, Chevrolet Philippines donated 2,000 indestructible balls to the campaign.
Cabanlet said the program is not only changing the children’s lives but also the impression that the military has in the communities.
“When they talk about the military, they immediately think that we’re present to devastate them. We are warriors, so the connotation is danger, but we also want them to see the other side of the Marines,” Cabanlet said.
“We want to establish a good relationship in the community. We want to help build the community.”
Better future through football
The PMC uses football to instill moral values that the children can carry with them for the rest of their lives. The objective has remained the same over the past 3 years – opening the children’s minds to a life where violence is not the answer.
The coaches assigned to the various age brackets said that it is not hard to teach the children because they treat them like their real parents.
FRIENDLY COMPETITION. The delegates compete with teams from the National Capital Region. Photo from the Philippine Marines
FRIENDLY COMPETITION. The delegates compete with teams from the National Capital Region. Photo from the Philippine Marines
“We don’t just train these kids to play football. We teach them discipline too. It’s part of the game to respect people, so we also teach them that. I’m not just their coach, but I can also be their parent,” Rodelyn Amigos, a coach assigned at Jolo, Sulu, said in Filipino.
The program contributes to the individual growth of the chosen students. Corporal Arnel Soriano, head coach of the First Marine Brigade of the football club, said the kids learn to become more responsible for their actions.
“By simply teaching them to sweep the floor or fix their beds, we’ve helped them develop their sense of responsibility to one another. They get to practice this at home, too,” Soriano added.
The project has evolved to serve as an encouragement and a source of inspiration to the children. What used to be only a call for peace has given hope to the hundreds of kids like Adam who struggle because of violence. For the Marines, football has been a great aid to peace, and a way for the children to dream of a better future.

Alleged Abu Sayyaf member nabbed in Zamboanga

From ABS-CBN (May 4): Alleged Abu Sayyaf member nabbed in Zamboanga

An alleged member of the Abu Sayyaf Group was arrested at a public market in Zamboanga City on Sunday.

Harijin Jinny alias Kim, 36, was arrested while on duty as security guard in a store at Mercado Street, Zamboanga City.

The arrest was initiated by joint elements of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Authorities said "Kim" has an outstanding warrant of arrest in Pasig for the crime of kidnapping and serious illegal detention with ransom.

He was also linked to the kidnapping of members of the Jehovah's Witnesses in 2002 and 2003 in Sulu.

In an interview, Jinny denied the allegations, saying it could have been his brother-in-law who the authorities are looking for.

He also denied having been to Sulu province, where the kidnapping took place more than 10 years ago.

Abu Sayyaf member nabbed in Zambo City

From Rappler (May 4): Abu Sayyaf member nabbed in Zambo City

'Alias Kim' is alleged to have been involved in the Jehovah kidnapping case in 2002. He is arrested for kidnapping and serious illegal detention with ransom

ARRESTED. Alias Kim being taken into police custody. Photo by Richard Falcatan

An Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) member identified only as "alias Kim" was caught in Zamboanga City in a joint operation by members of the Regional Intelligence Unit 9 (RIU9), the military, Task Force Zamboanga, and local police on Saturday, May 3.

Kim was arrested on Mercado Street, Zamboanga City for kidnapping and serious illegal detention with ransom filed under criminal case number 128923-H A to E. The alleged ASG member was reportedly involved in the Jehovah kidnapping case of 2002.

Six members of the Jehovah's Witnesses were abducted by suspected ASG members in August of that year while they were selling cosmetic products in Patikul, Sulu. Two of them were reported to have been beheaded while being held in captivity.

Those who were kidnapped were eventually rescued in Sulu in April 2003. In February 2013, the justice department ordered the release of those previously arrested for the kidnapping. Witnesses identified 8 out of the original 21 who were held. All of them denied involvement in the kidnapping-with-murder case.

The warrant of arrest for Kim was issued by Judge Toribio Ilao Jr of NCJR regional trial court branch 266 in Pasig City.

Kim was immediately brought to RIU9 Office, in Camp Batalla, Zamboanga City for documentation and proper disposition.

MILF: Massive popular ratifications of BBL held today in 8 cities, 4 towns

Posted to the MILF Website (May 4): Massive popular ratifications of BBL held today in 8 cities, 4 towns

More than 200,000 people from all walks of life strongly participated the massive popular ratification of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) held today in 8 cities and 4 municipalities.
The Mindanao Alliance for Peace (MAP), the organizer, declared the people popular ratifications were held in Cotabato City with 42,086 participants, Marawi City with 17,000 plus participants, Tacurong City with 60,000 plus participants, General Santos City with 5,000 plus participants, Davao City with 6,000 plus participants, Pagdian City with 5,000 plus participants, Isabela City Basilan with 7,000 plus participants, Pikit Cotabato with 38,850 participants, Baloi Lanao del Norte with 14,000 plus participants, Jolo Sulu with nearly 3000 participants, Bongao Tawi-Tawi with nearly 2000 participants, and at Batasan in Quezon City.

Prof. Raby Angkal, Spokesperson of MAP, said the popular ratification of the BBL is an independent initiative to manifest strongly the peoples support for the passage and enactment of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) as drafted and submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to the Office of the President in late last month.

This new political entity which is also being popularly called as the Bangsamoro government will replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which was called by no less than the government as failed experiment as political resolution of the Bangsamoro for right to self-determination through self-governance.

“Muslims, Christians and Indigenous Peoples (IPs) from all walks of life, traditional leaders, local government executives, cross-sectors of society, women, youth and children  from all over Mindanao participated the popular ratification which is a testimony of untied stand of the people regardless of faith for the attainment of enduring peace and prosperity,” Prof Angkal said.

 “We urged the Philippine Congress both at the House of the Representatives and Senate to pass the BTC- proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law without delay because this is the key to lasting peace and sustainable development in Mindanao,” Angkal stressed.

The 15-man BTC with Mohagher Iqbal as its Chairman and members mostly Bangsamoro from the Tausugs, Maguindanao, Kaagan, Meranao, Iranun, IPs and Christians drafted the BBL.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law shall democratically govern the new political entity as enshrined in the GPH – MILF Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed at Malacanang Palace on March 27, 2014.

“We appeal to the Congress to come up with landmark legislation that will not water down or substantially derogate the proposed BBL as its legacy in the realization of peace and prosperity as well as in the peaceful resolution of the centuries-old conflict in Mindanao,” he said.

The popular ratification banks on the commitment of the government and the strong political will of His Excellency President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and shared vision of the entire country for the successful passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

“A legislative blunder in relation to the BBL should be prevented from happening otherwise all the investments and sacrifices of all people and the international community for achievement of peace shall be wasted,” Angkal said.

MILF: Campaign for passage of BBL in Congress gains massive support in Mindanao Region

Posted to the MILF Website (May 3): Campaign for passage of BBL in Congress gains massive support in Mindanao Region

The Moros and the Filipino people, and all peace stakeholders in the region are preparing for a simultaneous Mass Peace Rally in support to the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) on Sunday, May 4 in several venues in Mindanao and at the Batasan Complex, Quezon City on May 5 when Congress resumes its sessions.
The Mindanao Alliance for Peace (MAP) Deputy Spokesperson for Manila activity, Bobby Benito told that, “Various groups of peace advocates; Muslims, Christians and Indigenous People’s (IP) leaders, civilians, former internally displaced families (IDFs), CSOs and NGOs are expected to participate in the peace rally and will strongly appeal to Congress to fast track the deliberations and passage of the BBL without any delay.”

 “This is another enormous gathering of the people in Mindanao with a unified call for full support to the passage of BBL by Congress,” he said.

The unified calls of people of all walks-of-life in support to the BBL and the peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that already circulated in the social media and SMS are the following:

•    Congress, approve Basic Law

•    Congress, Support Peace

•    Congress, Pass the BBL

•    Congress, Support Peace, approve BBL

•    Congress, BBL Mahalaga para sa Kapayapaan, Isabatas!

•    Congress, Love our Children, please pass the BBL

The spokesman of the MAP Raby Angkal said that the mass gathering for peace is “Evidence of   popular support by the people to the BBL and a unified appeal for Congress to pass the BBL’

“We have targeted strategic areas in Mindanao for this mass peace gathering. In Mindanao, the areas are: Cotabato City Plaza; Tacurong City and or Isulan, Sultan Kudarat; General Santos City; Davao City; Pikit, North Cotabato; Marawi City, Baloi, Lanao del Norte; Pagadian City; Zamboanga City; Isabela City; Jolo, Sulu and Tawi Tawi,” Angkal said.

“A large gathering will be done in Manila where fellow Moros and peace partners will lead the peaceful assembly at Batasan Complex,” he added.

Meanwhile, women medical volunteers of MAP are also participating in the peace rally, “We are appealing for the immediate passage of the BBL by Congress soonest possible time”, Ustadza Normina Yahya said.

Youth groups and parents in areas where the rally is going to be held based on the received reports from identified venues are preparing for ‘cold water’ and “pastil’ or rice covered with banana leaf mixed with fried chicken flesh for distribution during tomorrow’s activity which they believe it can somehow ease the hunger of the participants  during the rally.

Zamboanga City Chapter Chairman Zulfhicar Samsaraji of the United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD), says, “We’re also calling the business sector and philanthropic individuals to extend their assistance in the affair and succeeding activities because this is the best time to give and share”. “Peace is the concern of all sectors because when violence occurs in other areas. we are all affected,” he lamented.

“I believe this peace rally will continue until the BBL is passed by Congress,” Jehan Usop of the Kutawato Multimedia Network (KuMuNet) opined.

On the other hand, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said that he will cancel previously scheduled activity at the Rizal Park in Davao City to give way for the peaceful gathering on Sunday. Mayor Duterte had approved a request for a ‘permit to rally’ submitted to his office by the organizers in Davao region led by MAP, and its secretariat members composed of UNYPAD, Banwa Mindanao and the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus.

A week ago, Senator Chiz Escudero was interviewed by a local radio station in Cotabato City and was quoted as saying that they need to go through the details of the already submitted BBL to the Office of the Philippine President Benigno “PNoy” Aquino once it reach the Senate.

 He says that there is an expectation of changes even in the ‘comma’, ‘period’ in the BBL’s paragraph but promised to help in achieving long lasting peace in the Mindanao.

30th Balikatan kicks off at Camp Aguinaldo Monday

From the Manila Times (May 4): 30th Balikatan kicks off at Camp Aguinaldo Monday

The 30th Balikatan, the joint exercise between Philippine and US troops, will kick off Monday in Camp Aguinaldo, exactly a week after the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

Lt. Annaleah Cazcarro, co-director of Balikatan’s Combined Joint Information Bureau, on Sunday said the opening ceremony would be attended by Foreign Affairs Secretary Eduardo del Rosario, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, Philippine exercise director Maj. Gen. Emeraldo Magnaye and his US counterpart, Lt. Gen. Terry Robling.

Cazcarro said this year’s exercise will focus on Maritime Security, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR), and Humanitarian Civic Assistance (HCA).

She added that the staff planning exercise will be held in Camp Aguinaldo and the Western Command headquarters in Puerto Princesa.

The field training exercise will be in Clark Air Base, Crow Valley and Fort Magsaysay.

As part of the HCA, military Philippine and American medical personnel will offer free medical, dental and veterinary care to communities in Legazpi City. Military engineers will build and repair schools and other community infrastructure in selected areas in Bicol.

Balikatan 2014 is designed to help the Philippine military develop crisis-action planning, enhance its ability to conduct counterterrorism operations, and promote interoperability with the US armed forces.

This year’s Balikatan will last until May 16.

Militant leader says EDCA a myth

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 4): Militant leader says EDCA a myth


Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes. FILE PHOTO
Nearly a week after  the Philippines and the United States signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, protests and uncertainty lingered, and this time, one militant leader said that the pact is one sugarcoated myth.

Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said in a statement Sunday that the EDCA is a fictitious agreement that promised benefits for both the Philippines and the United States.

Reyes said that there are five points in the EDCA that could pass off as unbalanced agreements that would only benefit the United States and not the Philippines.

“Philippine negotiators of the EDCA are working overtime to spread lies and misfortune about the recently signed military agreement,” Reyes said.

“They want to make it appear that we are not on the losing end and in fact have everything to gain from the agreement.”

First of the EDCA’s myths, as Reyes said, was that the pact between the two countries would benefit both parties.

Reyes said that the sole benefactor of the agreement would be the US troops who would be given free access to Philippine bases and facilities.

“What does the US stand to gain? A lot,” Reyes said. “The US gains free access to PH lands and waters…giving the US a platform for power projection in the region as well as a launching pad for possible military intervention.”

Another one of the “myths” that Reyes pointed out is the lack of control of the Philippines on the “agreed locations” of the EDCA.

“We entered an agreement that allows the US unlimited access to our facilities while limiting access to theirs,” Reyes said.

According to Reyes, the US would retain operational control of the bases that would be used wherein Philippine access would have to comply with the “safety and security requirements” that the Americans would impose.

Third of his points is that the EDCA would not ensure that the US would defend the country against China.

“Since the EDCA will not help our AFP modernize, we are left with the next big thing, that is for the US to come to our defenses if attacked by China,” Reyes said. “Nowhere in the EDCA does it say that the US would come to our aid if attacked by China.”

His penultimate assessment of the agreement is that the EDCA still needs Senate ratification, despite the insistence of its proponents that it need not be.

“So long as it involves foreign troops or facilities, the agreement must go through the Senate,” Reyes said. “To be valid to our Constitution, EDCA should have been ratified by the Philippine Senate and recognized as a treaty by the US Senate.”

Lastly, Reyes said that the bases that would be used would not be under the control of the Philippines, rather under the control of the US.

Reyes cited Article III Section 1 of EDCA, which promulgates the use and deployment of American troops, equipment, and vehicles in Philippine bases.

“We need to expose and shatter the myths being propagated by the Aquino government regarding the EDCA,” Reyes said.

Man tagged as NPA insists he is non-combatant civilian Romeo Rivera

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 4): Man tagged as NPA insists he is non-combatant civilian Romeo Rivera

DIGOS CITY, Davao del Sur, Philippines – Still shaken and confused over the new identity his captors wanted him to assume, the man the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command claimed was Felix Armodia rattled off the name of his father, his wife, his children, even the place where he lived in Koronadal in the last 14 years, just to prove to people who he was.

Romeo Rivera Jr., 53, who talked to Philippine Daily Inquirer inside the Digos police detention center Saturday, said his father and namesake, Romeo Sr., has been staying in a hospital in Tagum city; while his son and another namesake, Romeo III, has been working for a call center called Teleperformance in Manila.

“You can check it out, Ma’m, please check it out, my name is Romeo Rivera, how can I be someone else? I have a wife named Alona Eduarte, who is with my in-laws who are sick. We live in Koronadal in the last years. Please tell the people outside I am here and I am Romeo Rivera,” he said. He also asked friends who knew him to come and help.

Capt. Alberto Caber, spokesperson of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command based in Davao City, said Rivera, an anti-mining activist, was actually Felix Armodia, the “notorious front secretary of the New People’s Army (NPA) operating in Davao del Sur, South Cotabato and Tulunan, North Cotabato.”

Caber said Rivera has only been one of Armodia’s aliases. But Rivera said he heard about Felix Armodia for the first time while he was inside the pickup after the soldiers took him from his home.

The group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) had alerted the public about Rivera’s abduction when it held an indignation rally in General Santos on Friday evening but the Eastmincom released a statement the following day identifying Rivera as the notorious NPA leader named Felix Armodia.

Rivera said he was forcibly taken by soldiers from his home in Sitio Antonio, Purok Lower San Juan in Barangay (village) San Roque in Koronadal at about 1 p.m. Friday, May 2. “Wala ko’y laing nalitok kundili, ‘maayong udto,’(I wasn’t able to say anything but ‘good afternoon’)” Rivera said, as the men arrested him, handcuffed and blindfolded him and forced him to a waiting car.

“My two children were with me in Koronadal.  One of them, Arel, was in the house when I was taken away but I don’t know what happened to him because I heard soldiers told him to lie on his stomach, while they took me away.”

In a separate interview, Arel Rivera said he was inside the house, while his father was taking a rest in “hammock” outside, when he heard some screaming and commotion outside. When he looked up, soldiers with long firearms were entering the house, and ordered him to lie on his stomach. He said someone hit him and ordered him to crawl outside of the house.

“Then they made Papa stand from the hammock and were about to take him, when I heard him plead, ‘Please let me put on my clothes first,’ for he was not wearing a shirt but it was as if they did not hear him,” Arel said.

He said his father, who was involved in a community vermiculture project, was busy cleaning his garden the whole morning. “We had a late breakfast at 10 a.m., so, when they took him, he did not have his lunch.”

Pastor Sadrach Sabella, Karapatan regional coordinator, said Rivera served as a convenor of the newly formed group Tampakan Panalipdan (Defend Tampakan), a group opposed to large scale mining in Tampakan, South Cotabato, where Glencore-Xstrata-SMI operates.

Sabella said Rivera’s group organized the Mindanao-wide forum to observe Earth Day on April 22 and echoed the people’s firm opposition against the foreign large scale mining operation of Glencore Xstrata – Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI).

Eastmincom said Rivera’s arrest was done by a combined operation of the police and the Philippine Army.

Sabella said 10 Blaans were already killed at the mine site of Glencore Xstrata SMI since President Aquino came to power.

REALLY? 'Terror outfit was ready to hit Western targets' - unnamed sources

From the Malaysia Chronicle (May 3): REALLY? 'Terror outfit was ready to hit Western targets' - unnamed sources

THE new terror group being systematically hunted down by Bukit Aman's Special Branch was ready to launch a sustained terror campaign in the country, including bombings, against Western and American interests and anything else that stood in its way.

With Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Kumpulan Mujahiddin Malaysia (KMM) effectively neutralised and unable to carry out their operations, this new organisation had "borrowed" the two terror groups' playbook and revisited their foiled elaborate plans of attacks and was ready to carry them out.

Sources close to the on-going investigations told the New Straits Times that the new terror group was not averse to using violence to fight secularism.

Among the targets in the group's strike folders were foreign embassies, as well as entertainment outlets and places frequented by Westerners.

"Their script is not much different (from JI and KMM)... Most of the places they were planning to attack were similar to those planned by the two terror groups," one of the sources said.

JI had planned to simultaneously bomb the US embassy and another building in Singapore where its business interests were located at the end of 2001. An Arab suicide bomber had been tasked with the job, using six lorries packed with 17 tonnes of ammonium nitrate. Fortunately, that attempt was thwarted.

Also on their target list were several entertainment outlets in Thailand popular with Americans. These plans were foiled, however.

Unfortunately, on Oct 12, 2002, JI's plan to create chaos and bloodbath came to deadly effect in the Bali bombings.

The plan was formalised in August 2002 and was perfectly executed. It called for a series of three explosions in the heart of the tourist district of Kuta.

The first of three massive explosions ripped through the district packed with revellers at 11.08pm. In all, 202 people were killed, most of them Australians.

Sources in the ongoing probe said the new terror group had been planning to carry out a hit similar to the botched JI attack on Dec 31, 1999, in Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar, here.

The group had targeted the area's entertainment outlets, which were popular with foreign visitors at the time. Six pipe bombs were placed in different parts of the area but failed to detonate after they were soaked by the rain.

Other attacks planned by JI included one against the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) as well as Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds outlets in the country.

In the 1999 KLIA plan, six KMM members were tasked with killing a couple, one of whom had converted as they returned from Melbourne, Australia. The men, armed with an M-16 rifle and a Colt pistol, had staked out the arrival hall but failed to execute their plan as they lost their targets in the crowd.

That same year, JI tasked three men to shadow US Navy personnel out on liberty in the Bukit Bintang area. The operatives, armed with shotguns, would have executed their plans if it weren't for the presence of policemen on patrol. The sheer volume of people out that night also prevented them from getting a clear shot.

Two years later, in April, they tried again. This time, KMM took the lead. Their targets this time were the officers and sailors of the US Navy command ship USS Blue Ridge, who were on their way back to their vessel in Port Klang.

Four KMM members trailed the four buses the US Navy men were in but backed out as they realised that not only were they outnumbered, they were also outgunned as they only had with them one M-16, two handguns and several homemade bombs. The fact that they had not fitted false registration plates on their cars also forced them to rethink their plans. The federal police headquarters and immigration checkpoint at the Causeway were also on the two militant groups' hit list.

"The plan to bomb the water pipes that run across the Causeway was aimed at putting a strain on Kuala Lumpur-Singapore bilateral ties. These militant groups reject the country's democratic system and their thinking is not at all straightforward.

"An attack like that, if successful, would provide the setting for militant groups like JI and KMM to pursue their bigger agenda," said the source, who added that authorities believe the agenda of "removing the government of secular Muslim nations" was still being aggressively pursued by such militant groups.

In these past instances, the authorities had managed to stop them and arrested them under the now repealed Internal Security Act. In the last few days, police have picked up 10 members of the new terror group which had been aggressively spreading their al-Qaeda- influenced ideology and doctrine to other states.

It was just in 2010 that authorities said an al-Qaeda cell was detected operating in Gombak and that they were recruiting new members to become suicide bombers. Sources had told the NST that the new organisation shared the ideologies of the two terror groups, JI and KMM.

The cell planned to attack religious locations, including a temple in Batu Caves. This, too, was thwarted.

Malaysian terror group has ties in Syria, PH

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 3): Malaysian terror group has ties in Syria, PH

Malaysia’s police chief Khalid Abu Bakar. AFP PHOTO/MOHD RASFAN

KUALA LUMPUR—An extremist group planning to carry out terrorist attacks in Malaysia and abroad has networks in Syria and southern Philippines, an official said.

Initial investigations revealed that the group has links to other countries as well, said National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar.

“We are aware of their networks on foreign soil,” he told a press conference here on Saturday.

On Monday, 11 members of the group, aged between 25 and 55, were arrested in several locations in two Malaysian states.

Khalid said some of them had undergone terrorism training and held secret meetings to raise funds and spread militant ideology.

“We will be making more arrests soon,” he said.

Khalid said that the militants wished to send fighters to Syria.

“They can send but don’t influence Malaysian youths and jeopardize the safety and security of Malaysia,” he said.

Khalid said police would also investigate the possibility that the group was recruiting foreign students through social media.

NPA rebels use 39 miners as human shields in ComVal – military

From GMA News (May 4): NPA rebels use 39 miners as human shields in ComVal – military

Communist rebels waging one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies seized dozens of prospectors in a remote gold rush site in Mindanao and used them as "human shields" against pursuing troops, a military official said Sunday.

About 80 members of the New People's Army (NPA) "prevented" 39 miners, including four children, from leaving the mining site in Compostela Valley Saturday to stop troops from advancing and capturing them, regional army chief Lieutenant Colonel Michael Logico told AFP.

Local officials persuaded the rebels to free most of the miners, although it is believed around a dozen are still being held at the site.
"It's a desperate move," Logico said.

"They are using them as human shields. They know without the civilians they are vulnerable to an assault."

Logico said the military launched the assault in two fronts last week to flush out the rebels amid reports that they were harassing villages.

"We had been conducting platoon-sized combat operations that forced them to flee," he said, adding that all in all, two battalions, or about 800 men, were involved in the operation.

The mountainous area in the southern Philippines where the offensives took place is a mineral-rich site that has over the years attracted thousands of prospectors who operate illegal gold mines.

Entire villages have been set up around such mines, which have also become a lucrative source of extortion money from the rebels, officials have said.

The Philippines has stepped up its operations against the NPA in recent months, capturing three of its senior leaders since March in what has been described by the military as a deadly blow to the movement.

The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, whose Maoist rebellion has claimed tens of thousands since 1969.

President Benigno Aquino had hoped to reach a peace deal with the rebels before his six-year term ends in 2016, but planned peace talks have been hampered by demands by the rebels to free detained comrades.

With the fresh arrests and continuing offensives, the prospects of reopening talks have further dimmed, officials said.

5 Chinese vessels deployed near shoal

From the Philippine Star posted to ABS-CBN (May 4): 5 Chinese vessels deployed near shoal

PUERTO PRINCESA, Palawan – China has deployed five vessels – a survey ship, a frigate and three surveillance vessels – close to Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

A Philippine Air Force (PAF) Nomad plane saw the Chinese deployment while delivering provisions to the Marine troops on the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal.

The STAR joined yesterday’s airdrop operations and saw several Chinese ships in the area.

The Chinese vessels include two surveillance ships with Bow No. 3111 and 3102; XiangYonghong 10, a survey ship; a Jianghu-V Class frigate, and one unmarked white ship from their forward naval station at Panganiban Reef.

Last March, two Chinese surveillance ships tried to block the troop rotation and provisioning operations at Ayungin. The bow numbers of the two vessels are different from those that were sighted in the area yesterday morning.

The territorial patrol was launched yesterday over the area to support the airdrop of provisions for the troops in the shoal.

China has been trying to occupy Ayungin Shoal since last year and even volunteered to remove the grounded BRP Sierra Madre, free of charge, from the shoal.

The area is considered a new flashpoint due to the aggressive behavior of China in claiming the area as an integral part of its maritime domain.

Ayungin is only 105 nautical miles from mainland Palawan and more than 700 nautical miles from the nearest Chinese land mass in Hainan province.

'No need for telecom franchise, tax exemption for US forces'

From the Philippine Star posted to ABS-CBN (May 4): 'No need for telecom franchise, tax exemption for US forces'

There is no need for Congress to grant a franchise to US forces to operate a telecommunications system and exemption from paying local taxes under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), legal experts in the House of Representatives said yesterday.

Deputy Speaker and Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao and Marikina City Rep. Romero Quimbo were responding to criticisms that the move to allow visiting US forces to operate their own telecommunication system and exempt them from paying taxes usurped the power of Congress to grant telecommunication franchises and tax exemptions.

“My opinion is if the grant of telecommunication rights to the US forces and their exemption from any taxes are among the stipulations in EDCA, I would think that stipulation becomes part of the supreme law of the land binding upon the legislature and the judiciary, and the assent of Congress is no longer required,” Aggabao said.

He cited statements from Malacañang that the EDCA is neither a new treaty nor an executive agreement, but is part of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the US.

“I would add that the VFA is not only a law. It is a contract. Consequently, all its provisions, clear and definite, are binding to the entire branches of the contracting governments,” he said.

Quimbo said the country’s tax code provides a clear exemption of governmental functions of other nationals validly visiting the Philippines.

“If the grant of exemptions under EDCA is similar to what I have mentioned, then it is not outside of the authority of the executive branch. They are not giving a grant but effectively carrying out an edict which Congress has delegated to the executive,” he said.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares earlier scored the government for granting the US a franchise to operate a telecommunication system and all the radio band spectrums it requires.

Colmenares noted the granting of tax exemption for the US for its troops and contractors of water, electricity and other public utilities.

“While ordinary Filipinos pay value-added taxes and other fees for the use of electricity and other public utilities, we are subsidizing the taxes of the Americans,” Colmenares said.

“While the Bureau of Internal Revenue goes after Filipino taxpayers, Malacañang has given tax exemptions to the US. The grant of franchise and tax exemption is not within the power of the executive but is a power of Congress,” he said.

Rebels burn construction equipment in Batangas

From ABS-CBN (May 4): Rebels burn construction equipment in Batangas

Millions worth of construction equipment were burned down by suspected members of the communist New People’s Army in Nasugbu town Saturday morning, police said.

Batangas police director Senior Superintendent Omega Jireh Fidel said the San Pascual, Batangas-based Toreja Construction Company, owned by Dionisio Toreja, lost a total of nine heavy equipment to the rebels. These includs two bulldozers, three backhoes, a grader, a road roller, a pay loader and a water tanker truck.

The estimated cost of damage is around P25 million.

According to the police, around 15 heavily armed members of the NPA -- including one female -- stormed the Toreja road construction site in Sitio Buntog, Brgy. Bulihan and ordered all construction workers and heavy equipment operators to step out from their barracks and confined them in one area around 9 a.m.

At gunpoint, the rebels took all their cellular phones. They also started pouring gasoline and torched all the equipment.

They later returned the cellular phones to their owners and immediately fled on foot towards the east direction bound for Magallanes, Cavite.

The employees were only able to ask for police and military assistance after three hours.

Probers have yet to determine if there was a failed demand for revolutionary tax from the rebel group.

Recovered pieces of evidence include rags, a sack and two plastic containers with gasoline.

The police and members of the 730th Combat Group of the Philippine Air Force immediately conducted a hot pursuit operation.

PH, France may sign new cooperation deal

From ABS-CBN (May 3): PH, France may sign new cooperation deal

France sees the Philippines as a key partner in Southeast Asia.
French Navy Cmdr. Frederic Daumas said they are looking forward to signing a new cooperation agreement with the Philippine Navy.

“We hope that in the future, we will increase our partnership and maybe sign a new agreement reinforcing our cooperation,” he said.

“We need to be interoperable. We need to know each other’s procedure, each other’s material and that’s why we need to train more together.”

The Philippine Navy and the French Navy formally started their partnership when they signed an agreement in 1999, he added.

Daumas is commanding officer of the 93.5-meter French Navy ship Prairial, which ended its five-day goodwill visit yesterday.

The Prairial has 93 crew members comprised of military and civilians. It has visited the Philippines seven times.

Philippine Navy officials led by Capt. Benito Ante sent off the French contingent in simple ceremonies at South Harbor in Manila.

Daumas said they are seeking to boost the relationship with the Philippine Navy as every nation must uphold freedom of navigation and the rules governing the sea.

“It is a very important partner because every country has its own responsibility, regionally to protect the rule of the sea, the freedom of navigation, protect the environment and be able to secure its own area,” he said.

“France as a permanent member of United Nations Security Council, of course, is really concerned with global security and we want every partner and every friend to contribute in securing the world’s future for the coming generations.”

Daumas said they are enhancing their ties with other countries, especially those in the Asia Pacific, which he believes is the center of strategic views in the 21st century.

“We all need to participate in securing this area and building friendly relationships with as many partners as we can,” he said.

Daumas said they are also planning to visit South Korea, Japan and China to uphold freedom of navigation.

“We need to establish links with everybody and we need to be sure that everybody works in the same way in protecting the interest of the freedom of navigation,” he said. “And the high sea belongs to everybody and should not be taken by one country.”

Navy ready for Chinese

The Navy is ready to protect Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea against Chinese claims.

Speaking to reporters at Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM) Thursday, new Navy chief Rear Adm. Jesus Millan said equipment and surface assets are dedicated in every unified command, including the Armed Forces Western Command (Wescom), which oversees Palawan and Ayungin Shoal.

“We take guidance from our national leadership and we are sustaining what is already there,” he said.

“What we are doing is prepare our units to be able to provide the necessary response to what is needed. We are preparing our men and equipment.”

Marines stationed in the grounded BRP Sierra Madre are guarding Ayungin Shoal within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Navy officials accompanying Millan asked the local government in the area to show a strong Philippine presence.

‘Gov’t is fooling the people’

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the Aquino administration is “fooling the people” into thinking the US will defend the Philippines in case of Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

“President Obama has publicly declared that the US will not defend the Philippines against China,” he said.

Colmenares said the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty does not cover the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal as Malacañang claims.

“Now the Aquino administration is back-pedaling to the Mutual Defense Treaty to save face by assuring the people that the US, through a mere note verbale, will come to our aid under the treaty even if the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal are not part of the Pacific as required under Article V of the Mutual Defense Treaty,” he said.

Colmenares said the diplomatic note is not a binding commitment, and that the US will not go to war just because of that document.

“We do not need a treaty or an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA),” he said. “We can just resort to exchanges of note verbales. The government is fooling and misleading the people.”

Colmenares said the US owes China $1.28 trillion, which Obama admitted during a press conference with President Aquino.

Colmenares said EDCA has granted the US a franchise to operate a telecommunications system and all the radio band spectrums it requires, and tax exempted water, electricity and other public utilities for the use of US troops and contractors.

“While ordinary Filipinos pay value-added taxes and other fees for the use of electricity and other public utilities, we are subsidizing the taxes of the Americans,” he said.

“While the Bureau of Internal Revenue goes after Filipino taxpayers, Malacañang has given tax exemptions to the US. The grant of franchise and tax exemption is not within the power of the executive but is a power of Congress."