Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Philippines: Al-Qaida-Linked Terror Group Abu Sayyaf Subject German Hostage to Mock Execution

From the International Business Times (Oct 15): Philippines: Al-Qaida-Linked Terror Group Abu Sayyaf Subject German Hostage to Mock Execution

Victor Okonek being subjected to a mock execution

Stefan Victor Okonek in what his captors said was his 'grave'(Twitter/@JulietSAlipala)

A photo has emerged today on social media, allegedly showing one of the two German hostages being held by Abu Sayyaf, an al-Qaida linked terror group, being subjected to a mock execution.
Stefan Viktor Okonek appears surrounded by four masked Abu Sayyaf gunmen and is kneeling in a freshly dug grave.
The 71-year-old later said in a local radio interview organised by his captors: "I'm here in a hole, it's a big hole 3 metres by 5 metres, they told me this is my grave. They push me inside the hole."
The German hostage, who is a retired university academic, was kidnapped along with his partner, Henrike Dielen. They were believed to have been taken hostage after trying to sail their yacht from Palawan to Sabah in mid-April this year.
The Filipino militant group have been demanding a 250 million peso (£3.4m) ransom. It has also demanded that the German government end its support for the US led coalition, which has been carrying out air strikes in Syria and Iraq, asking for:
"The government of Germany to stop helping America do its killings of our Muslim brethren in Iraq and Sham [Syria], Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine, and all the mujahideen brothers in Dawlah Islamiyah [Islamic State]."
Okonek revealed: "I have not seen anyone from the government to get into the situation that tries to get us out of here. They told me on Friday they will kill me."
Abu Sayyaf had previously set a 15 day deadline for 17 October, declaring they would execute Okonek "at exactly 3pm if they can't avail our demands."
Abu Rami, Au Sayyaf's spokesman, said in the local radio station interview: "We would like talk to the foreign affairs chief because his agency is not corrupt. We would reiterate to him our demands."
General Gregorio Catapang Jr, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, said that he did not think Abu Sayyaf will rush into executing the hostages while talks with local officials continue to happen.
"They will not do that because they know that if they maintain their negotiations for their demands with the German government and the local crisis management team [they may be met]."
It is believed the al-Qaida linked group is holding the two German hostages in Sulu, a small autonomous island province.
Hundreds of Filipino forces have been deployed on Sulu island, in preparation for the forthcoming deadline.
Abu Sayyaf are primarily based in the southern Philippines and were founded in the early 1990s. They have developed a reputation for their use of kidnapping, extortion and bomb attacks.
The group currently holds 10 foreign hostages including Lorenzo Vinciguerre and Ewold Horn, wildlife photographers from Switzerland and Holland, who were abducted two years ago.

Abu Sayyaf suspected of shooting fishing boat

From The Star Online (Oct 16): Abu Sayyaf suspected of shooting fishing boat

Troubled waters: Police officers talking to the fishermen after their rescue in Sabah.- NORMIMIE DIUN / The Star

Troubled waters: Police officers talking to the fishermen after their rescue in Sabah.- NORMIMIE DIUN / The Star

KOTA KINABALU: Gunmen linked to the Abu Sayyaf might be behind the shooting of a Sabah-registered fishing vessel in the border waters between northern Kudat and the Philippines.

Two of the vessel’s 10 Vietnamese crew sustained gunshot wounds as they evaded the gunmen and fled towards Sabah in the 9am incident on Tuesday, some 22 nautical miles east of Pulau Banggi.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman said the two injured men, Nguyen Nain Len, 47, and Huynh Thanh Tuan, 33, were recovering from bullet injuries to their knees and ribs at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital 2 after they arrived at the marine police jetty here at about 9.30am yesterday.

Four heavily-armed men were in the 17m speedboat that attacked the fishing boat.
The Vietnamese crewmen managed to escape to Sepanggar Island off the city here and were rescued by marine police a day later.

Jalaluddin said they had informed the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) and went on full alert around Pulau Banggi.

Earlier, some of the crewmen at the jetty indicated with the aid of gestures to journalists their frightful ordeal and clasped their hands to indicate they were thankful.

Philippine intelligence sources said they were looking at whether the Abu Sayyaf was behind it.

Among the suspicions were that gunmen linked to the Abu Sayyaf might be moving north to find victims for ransom due to the tight security and curfew in eastern Sabah.

Filipino officials have noted the trend since the April 25 kidnapping of a German couple, Henrite Dielen and Dr Stefan Viktor Okonek, from their yacht near the southern Philippine island of Palawan (north of Pulau Banggi).

The couple were abducted by Tawi Tawi-based gunmen who moved north after they failed to make way through Malaysian security.

The couple were handed over to al-Qaeda-linked militants, who threatened to behead Dr Okonek by 3pm on Oct 17, if their demands for ransom, the withdrawal of US troops in Syria and Iraq, as well as calls to the Philippine government to support the global coalition of Islamic State (IS) were not met.

Two Malaysians, marine police Kons Zakiah Aleip, 26, and fish breeder Chan Sai Chuin, 32, are still being held by Abu Sayyaf-linked kidnap-for-ransom groups.

Armed forces of the Philippines rotates, reassigns troops

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Oct 15): Armed forces of the Philippines rotates, reassigns troops

THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has initiated rotation of troops here in the area of responsibility of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom).

The rotation of troops came after the AFP reassigned two Army battalions as well as an infantry brigade from Luzon to the Westmincom area and placed them under the Army's First Infantry Division.

Among the troops that were rotated and reassigned were the Army's 21st, 41st, 32nd, and 35th Infantry Battalion, and the 501st Infantry Brigade.

The Army's 21st, and 41st Infantry Battalions came from Luzon and have replaced the 32nd and 35th Infantry Battalions in Zamboanga del Sur and Lanao del Norte, respectively.

Army's 1st Infantry Division Information Officer Captain Franco Suelto disclosed Wednesday the 21st and 41st Infantry Battalions arrived last October 2 and October 9, respectively.

The soldiers of 21st and 41st Infantry Battalions underwent series of orientation to familiarize them their new area of operation to include cultural sensitivity seminars "to inform our soldiers of the custom and traditions of the different tribes in Western Mindanao."

The Army's 32nd and 35th Infantry Battalions were deployed to Sulu as they have replaced the Marine Battalions that were reassigned to Palawan.

Suelto said the 32nd and 35th Infantry Battalions were sent to Sulu last October 4 and October 11, respectively.

The Army's 32nd and 35th Infantry Battalions were placed under the command of the 501st Infantry Brigade that was reassigned from Luzon to Sulu.

"As soldiers, we must be used to move from one assignment to the other. I also experienced what you are experiencing right now. It is part and parcel of the military profession," Army's 1st Infantry Division commander Brig. Gen. Gerardo Barrientos Jr. said as he assured the troops that they will be surprised to know that Mindanao is beautiful, peaceful and hospitable.

"The Luzon-based units are most welcome to the home of the premier Division (First Infantry Division) of the AFP. The soldiers of 21st and 41st Infantry Battalions will not have hard a time adjusting to their new area because there are several Ilocanos who opted to settle here in Mindanao," Barrientos added.

Barrientos said their expertise on peace and development activities in Luzon will also be applicable and "I know your skills are at par with 32nd and 35th Infantry Battalions that will certainly sustain the gains of the Division in terms of peace and security."

"I know that Army units in the country are equally capable in addressing various threats whether man-made or natural such as terrorism, disaster, environmental, and support to law enforcement and many others," he said.

He said he is confident that the 32nd and 35th Infantry Battalions can continue the thrust in "Winning the Peace" in the province of Sulu.
He said the two battalions can sustain the gains that the Marine units established during their stint in Sulu.

He said the Army contingent will work side by side with the remaining Marine units and most importantly with the stakeholders led by the Local Chief Executives and traditional leaders "so that peace and development will reign in every community in the island."

Sulu leadership praised, peace and development efforts pushed

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Oct 15): Sulu leadership praised, peace and development efforts pushed

Top military and police officials visit Sulu province. And participants to the recent Peace and Order Council Meeting in Sulu province in southern Philippines. (Photos by Franzie Sali)

SULU – Top police and military officials have expressed support to the local provincial leadership as Sulu continues its efforts to promote peace and development.

Sulu Governor Totoh Tan has recently presided over the Peace and Order Council meeting participated by representatives from various sectors here. Heads of regional government agencies also visited Sulu and met with Governor Tan and discussed projects for the province.

Engineer Pama Dimapanat, regional head of the Department of Transportation and Communication, also led senior officials to the province where they discussed with Governor Tan and Vice Governor Sakur Tan on how to further improved the operations of the local airport and seaport, and other offices under it, including the provincial Land Transportation Office, the Maritime Industry Authority, among others.

The officials also joined the Peace and Order Council meeting together with the different mayors and security officials.

Lieutenant General John Bonafos, the Armed Forces’ Vice Chief of Staff, and Rear Admiral Reynaldo Yoma, chief of the regional naval forces, was also present during the meeting. Yoma was accompanied by Major Jose Wilfredo Panes, of Joint Task Force Group-Sulu and Colonel Alan Arrojado, of the Philippine Army.

They were joined by Chief Superintendent Noel Reyes, of the regional police force, and Marine Colonel Maximo Ballesteros, the local brigade commander, and other officials.  Undersecretary Nabil Tan was also present in the meeting. 

Police Director General Alan Purisima also visited Sulu and met with the governor and vice governor before inspecting the provincial police office where he spoke to policemen. Governor Tan and his vice governor introduced Purisima to the different town mayors who were there to welcome the police chief.

Purisima also handed over several patrol vehicles to the different police chiefs in Sulu. His visit to the province left the police force with high morale and renewed their all-out support to Purisima’s leadership. Purisima vowed to also support the provincial police force in its effort to maintain peace and order in Sulu.

Governor Tan thanked all those who visited Sulu and their support to his leadership and in return he said he will continue to rally behind the various programs of the police and military authorities, and the regional government agencies to bring the province to a greater height in terms of peace, development and progress for the benefit of the people.

More troops arrive in Mindanao to fight for peace

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Oct 16): More troops arrive in Mindanao to fight for peace

Luzon-based troops arrived in Mindanao and deployed in Sulu and other provinces in western Mindanao.

More troops have arrived in the southern Philippines to replace marines in Sulu and other provinces in Mindanao and help fight insurgency and terrorism and at the same time win hearts and minds of civilians in an effort to support the government’s peace and development efforts in the troubled region.

Brigadier General Gerardo Barrientos, commander of 1st Infantry Division, welcomed the troops who arrived here from Luzon Island in two batches.

The soldiers, who are members of the 21st – under Lieutenant Colonel Niceforo Diaz, and 41st Infantry Battalions headed by Lieutenant Colonel Virgilio Noora - took over the 32nd Infantry Battalion in Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga del Norte and the 35th Infantry in Lanao del Norte. 

Both the 32nd and 35th Infantry Battalions have replaced marine battalions in Sulu province. The marines were reassigned to Palawan province.

“The repositioning of units is part of the strengthening of the military forces to address the emerging threats in the region,” Barrientos said. “Army units are equally capable in addressing various threats whether man-made or natural such as terrorism, disaster, environmental, and support to law enforcement and many others.”

Barrientos said the two units of 1st Infantry Division deployed in Sulu will continue the thrust in “winning the peace” in the province. He said some of the soldiers sent to Sulu are natives of the province who will hopefully be a tool in creating a bridge between the local communities and the military.

“The Command will sustain the gains that the Marine units established during their stint on the island, and the Army contingent will work side by side with the remaining Marine units in Sulu and most importantly with the stakeholders led by the local chief executives and traditional leaders so that peace and development will reign in every community on the island-province,” he said.

Barrientos said the soldiers also underwent a series of orientation and lectures, including cultural sensitivity seminars, and custom and traditions of different indigenous tribes in western Mindanao, to familiarize them to their new area of operation.

Malaysian police arrest 13 with links to jihadists

From the Manila Standard Today (Oct 16): Malaysian police arrest 13 with links to jihadists

KUALA LUMPUR—Malaysian police have arrested 13 people believed to have “links” with the Islamic State, a report said Wednesday, as concern grows over the extremist group’s appeal in the moderate Muslim country.

The Star newspaper quoted national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar as saying the 13 Malaysians were arrested in a raid on a restaurant in a Kuala Lumpur suburb.

He added they bring the number of people arrested since April this year over suspected IS links to 36.

“We are constantly monitoring these kinds of activities. Militancy and terrorism have no place in this country,” he was quoted saying.

The story gave no further details on the nature of the alleged IS links. Khalid and other senior police officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Authorities have previously confirmed at least 30 to 40 Malaysians had already joined the bloody civil war in Syria, and that IS supporters were actively seeking more recruits via social media.

Officials fear recruits will become radicalised and bring back violent extremist views.

The story did not say whether the 13 arrested had planned to travel to Syria.
In August, Malaysian police said they foiled a plot for a wave of bombings drawn up by radical Islamic militants inspired by the Islamic State group.

More than a dozen people arrested from April to June were formulating plans to bomb pubs, discos and a Malaysian brewery of Danish beer producer Carlsberg, police said, adding that some had planned to travel to Syria first.

Local media have previously reported that 26-year-old Malaysian factory worker Ahmad Tarmimi Maliki killed 25 elite Iraqi soldiers in a suicide car-bomb attack there in May.

Malaysia has previously been home to several suspected key figures in groups such as al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asia-based organisation blamed for the deadly 2002 Bali bombings and numerous other attacks.

But the activities of such regionally based groups have been greatly diminished by counter-terror actions over the years.

AFP hospital revamp: 3 more sacked

From the Manila Standard Today (Oct 16): AFP hospital revamp: 3 more sacked

Armed Forces Chief  Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. has revamped the AFP Medical Center and sacked three more hospital officers after ousting their  commander following charges of irregular purchase of supplies.

Ordered relieved were special disbursing officer Lieutenant Colonel Florencio Ritchie I. Capulong, management and fiscal Office chief Major Neil D. Bugarin, and acting chief of logistics Colonel Rogelio S. Del Rio.

Earlier, Catapang fired Brig. Gen. Normado T. Sta. Ana Jr. as AFPMC commander  who was being investigated for allegedly using P80 million to buy medical supplies without a public bidding.

“There was a complaint file before the Office of the Ombudsman,” Catapang told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.
“I asked the TJAG [The Judge Advocate General] and the office said there is a prima facie evidence, so I ordered him relieved from his position as he might bungle the ongoing investigation.

The complainant Renato Villafuerte filed a case  before the Office of the  Ombudsman alleging that the four military officers might have conspired in the purchase of medical supplies worth P80 million without the government’s required public bidding.

He claimed only “favored” suppliers were able to corner the multi-million project.

According to AFP Public Affairs Office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, Catapang issued the relief orders of Del Rio, Capulong and Bugarin on Tuesday night.

“Their relief orders are effective  Wednesday,” Cabunoc told Standard Today.

Catapang on Monday ordered an investigation of Sta. Ana’s case, basing his order  on an alleged irregular purchase of medical supplies  involving the head of the AFP Medical Center and three other officials.

Sta. Ana is said to be an adopted member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1981 of which Catapang is a member.

There is talk that Col. Joseph Acosta, the AFP Medical Corps chief, is being eyed to replace Sta. Ana.

 It was learned that the “parallel investigation” by the AFP headquarters had been going on for more than two weeks, but the military continued to keep secret the composition of the investigating body.

The personal myth of ‘The Butcher’ Jovito Palparan

From GMA News (Oct 7): The personal myth of ‘The Butcher’ Jovito Palparan

[Editor’s note: Dano Tingcungco has been a news reporter for GMA News since April 2007. He is a journalism graduate from the College of Mass Communication in UP Diliman. This article contains excerpts from his undergraduate thesis 'The ‘Butcher’: A political profile of Retired Major General Jovito Palparan Jr.”]

On August 12, 2014, NBI operatives finally captured retired Major General Jovito Palparan in Sta. Mesa, Manila after he spent two years in hiding. He is facing charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention for the disappearance of UP students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan in 2006.

Palparan became known in activist circles as "The Butcher" after he was linked to numerous cases of enforced disappearances and killings during his military assignments in Mindoro, Samar and Central Luzon.

I came face to face with Gen. Palparan seven years ago, when I interviewed him for my undergraduate thesis.

When I heard the news of his arrest, it was almost instinctive: I dusted off my thesis and began to reread what I wrote then. The main premise of my thesis was simple: why was he singled out as the 'berdugo' or butcher?
Palparan in Sulu

In 2006, the Arroyo administration was at the height of its counter-insurgency campaign. At the time, many believed Palparan was at the helm of the campaign, his contributions so vital that Arroyo gave him special mention in her 2006 State of the Nation Address.
But the success of his campaign is still being debated until now. Along with the decline in rebel activity, why was there also a rise in torture cases and extrajudicial killings? There were just too many to ignore.
For me to understand all of this, I needed to get into the mind of the man himself.
One of the psychological theories I used for my thesis was Carl Jung’s theory of the personal myth. It explains that all of us have a myth about ourselves. This myth stems from an experience that eventually defines our entire blueprint. This is the same myth we use for our decisions and actions throughout our lives.

During my interview with him in March 2007, Palparan told me that his first deployment in Sulu defined his life in the military. This was his baptism of blood and fire. Between 1974 and 1979, Palparan lost more than 200 of his men in bloody encounters against the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF.) He said he stopped counting after his 200th soldier died.

He almost died too. One memory he could not forget was a close brush with an M79 shrapnel:
"Tinamaan sa hita yung katabi ko. Gumulong siya, gumulong din ako, siya natamaan. Kung nagkapalit kami ng posisyon, ako yung gumulong, ako yung may tama. Nagsisisigaw siya: ‘Nanay ko, nanay ko.’ Kinabukasan, patay.”
From his deployment in Sulu to his other battles, his personal myth was born --- that of being a trailblazer. He wanted to take the road less traveled. From a reluctant soldier in his younger years, he took to the battlefield with bravado, willing to risk his life for his personal campaign: to hunt the enemies of the state.

Truth or propaganda?

This myth would have an imprint on the aggressiveness of his campaign. In the 1980s, he began to adopt the counter-insurgency strategy known as the Special Operations Team (SOT), particularly against the communist New People’s Army or NPA.

Under this strategy, government forces would "neutralize an area" by dismantling the political backbone of the place or left-wing sympathies, as he calls it.

At the same time, Palparan categorically denied any involvement in human rights abuses, branding them all as propaganda designed to smear his reputation:
“None of the allegations against my soldiers has been proven. The communists are doing this only because the biggest damage for them is the loss of the people’s support” 
To explain the killings blamed on him in Mindoro, Palparan said:
“Hundreds ang pinatay nila (NPA) bago ako dumating. Hindi na nga naire-report... Wala nang intelligence report na nanggagaling doon. 'Yung mga intelligence (officers) namin, pinagpapatay nila. Nawala na. Umalis na roon. Sila (NPA) ang nag-dominate sa area... Lumala na talaga 'yung NPA doon. Lumaki na talaga sila. Dominated yung area. ‘Yung ayaw tumulong sa kanila, pinapatay. Yung pulis, walang magawa doon... Halos lahat ng munisipyo doon in-attack nila. So tinakot talaga nila ang buong Mindoro. 'Yung ayaw siyempre hindi lahat magsusuporta sa kanila. ‘Tsaka yung pinagdududahan na kamag-anak na sundalo, pinapatay nila. Ganoon sila kasiga bago ako dumating. Sa newspaper wala ka makita.”

Palparan believes he earned the “Butcher” moniker not because of human rights abuses, but because of his willpower:
“Kasi consistent ako. Karamihan kasi ng mga commander ayaw magkamali, ayaw masira ang credibility sa public. In-open ko ang sarili ko sa media. Kasi pag nakatago ka, sila lang (NPA) ang palabas nang palabas. Hindi ka makaka-respond. Maraming ganyan (aggressive in counter-insurgency), pero hindi sila consistent. Umuurong yung iba.”
Mrs. Palparan

Seven years after my interview with Palparan, I would hear practically the same things from his wife, Dr. Evangelina. I interviewed her a week after the arrest of her husband for my exclusive report on State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. She insists all the accusations against her husband are mere propaganda: 
“He is wrongly accused; wala siyang hand doon. Lahat na lang ng namamatay gusto nilang isisi kay General (Palparan)… kasi naging effective siya sa kanyang campaign on anti-insurgency.”
She honestly believes her husband is innocent. She said the retired general was willing to face the charges head-on when his arrest warrant came out in December 2011, but things took a different turn when, according to her, President Noynoy Aquino ignored her husband’s surrender feelers. They were losing confidence that the authorities would keep her husband safe in the event of a surrender. She made it clear it was this loss of confidence, and not guilt, that pushed her husband into hiding.
“You have to think of ways to cope, and leave a room for whatever happens. What are we preparing for? We’re preparing for the worst— death.”

Seven years after my thesis, I also encountered the stories of these fallen activists, whose deaths still await justice:
Edilberto Napoles, Jr., Bayan Muna Mindoro Oriental Coordinator
Eden Marcellana, Karapatan-Southern Tagalog Secretary General
Eddie Gumanoy, Katipunan ng Samahang Magbubukid-Timog Katagalugan Chairperson
Milagros Belga, Karapatan-Laguna volunteer
Felidito Dacut, Bayan Muna-Eastern Visayas Coordinator
Rizal and Dino Matri, Mangyan leaders

There are many more like them.

In the cases of Empeño and Cadapan, until now nobody knows where they are or whether they're still alive, even with Palparan’s arrest.

In my 2007 interview with Palparan, he denied any hand in the abductions, saying he only learned about it on TV. However, when he checked with his soldiers, they said there was a raid in a house in Hagonoy, Bulacan where two women NPA members were abducted, but none of them were named Cadapan or Empeno:
“Sabi ng tao ko, may ni-raid lang na bahay, at yung dalawang babae at isang lalake, kinuha. May pangalan, sina Ka Tanya at Ka Sierra. Pero nagtanong ako sa mga tao doon, natutuwa sila sa (abduction). Kasi sila yung nangongolekta at nananakit sa NPA, kasama sila sa pumapatay at nagse-seminar.”

On the day of his arrest, Palparan pretty much said the same thing:
"Ang report ay Ka Tanya, laging lumalabas. Walang Cadapan at Empeno. Ka Tanya at isa pa, sila yung nandun daw na involved sa violent incidents at pangingikil. Matagal na silang nandun, 3-5 years. Kung UP student sila, di sila 3-5 years. Propaganda lang yan. Walang involved na military at that time so di ko tiyak kung sino yun. Marami din kasi silang kalaban. Madaming nasagasaan... I am sure hindi involved ang mga tao ko doon."

The disappeared

Lorena Santos of the human rights group Desaparecidos told me the arrest of "the Butcher" is bittersweet news to the families of Palparan's alleged victims:
“Kahit sabihin kong ‘di ka guilty (referring to Palparan), pinatagal mo pa rin ang justice. Taon pa rin ang binilang ng mga nanay… 'Di ibig sabihin na nakuha na, tapos na ang impunity. Di pa siya nako-convict.”

Contrary to the statements of Palparan and his wife, the group believes evidence in court will prove his accountability:
“Tingnan natin yung mga ebidensya na nagtuturo kung sino ang kumuha doon sa dalawang estudyante. bakit may mga witnesses na tumatayo at nagsasabi na may hand si Palparan sa pagdukot at pag-torture at pagkawala ng dalawa? Andaming witnesses nun, first- hand, ibig sabihin nakita nila face to face.”

Torture witness

In 2012, I interviewed Raymond Manalo, a victim of abduction and torture in February 2006. He sued Palparan in 2008.
According to Manalo, armed men captured and loaded him into a van then rammed him with an M16 rifle. He eventually learned he was taken to Fort Magsaysay. There, he was seared several times with a hot tin can and water-cured in his nose, among other forms of torture.

He recalls meeting Palparan in July 2006. Manalo said the general offered him these conditions if he and his brother wanted to stay alive:

if he doesn’t show up at his own habeas corpus case filed by his parents
if he doesn’t join rallies
if he refuses to speak to the human rights group Karapatan

Manalo managed to escape a year later, in August 2007.

But before his escape he was taken to Limay, Bataan where at one point, he said he heard a screaming woman. He traced the voices and found two women, whom he recognized as Empeño and Cadapan. He said he saw Cadapan hogtied to a chair upside down. Beside her, men were raping Empeño with wooden sticks, burning her skin with cigarettes at the same time.

Manalo wants nothing more than to see Palparan in jail.

Accountability of the military

In 2006, President Arroyo formed the Melo Commission to investigate the killings of activists and media practitioners. Even with Palparan's denial, the investigative body found him accountable based on the principle of command responsibility.

Command responsibility is the “liability of the officer if he knew about the crime of his subordinate, or had the capability or reason to know about it, but did not do anything to avert or address the crime in question.” The Melo Commission cited Articles 28 and 28(a) of the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court.

In 2007, United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston also found the military accountable for extrajudicial killings.

In an unprecedented move, the US Senate and the Netherlands-based Permanent People’s Tribunal conducted their own investigations during the same year. They came out with the same findings as Alston.

Unanswered questions

We may have previously attempted to answer the questions, but up to now, these answers only scratch the surface of the story.
How is it possible that eight years after I finished my thesis, my questions then are still questions now? When I reread my thesis, I also took out all my interview tapes with Palparan and listened to them again. It was almost like a memorial of questions that, eerily enough, remain unanswered.
Even with Palparan's arrest, there are still no answers on when Karen Empeño or Sherlyn Cadapan would be back in the arms of their waiting and hopeful mothers. It will not bring Eden Marcellana, Eddie Gumanoy, Leima Fortu or Milagros Belga back to life. It will not erase Raymond Manalo’s memory, or the scars on his body.
The killings and disappearances attributed to Palparan will forever be there: a grim and difficult reminder of the human cost of war. It is larger than him or the institution he once represented.
Fortunes have changed and roles have been reversed. Now, it is not only the families of the fallen and the missing who are looking for answers and closure. Even the family of the man they call "The Butcher" wants vindication from the same system that made them fear for his life.
On the day of his arrest, Palparan said he is confident he will win the case:
"I have no regrets for what I have done. What I did is for the good of the people."
It remains to be seen whether the courts will agree with him or not. But even if the victims find justice, nothing will ever bring the fallen back to life. Their deaths were unacceptable. These are contradictions in blood.

The victims are real; their stories, visceral. It no longer matters which version we adopt. Nothing changes the reality of their cold bodies. No amount of gavel pounding in court will ever bring back the color in their faces. Their stories will forever be a memory.
A longer version of this article first appeared in, a collective blog and a passion project of nine news professionals from GMA Network.

Photos courtesy of Dano Tingcungco

Soldiers probed for alleged wrongful killing in ComVal

From GMA News (Oct 15): Soldiers probed for alleged wrongful killing in ComVal

Two soldiers from the Army's 66th Infantry Battalion are being investigated for the alleged wrongful killing of two persons in Compostela Valley last Sunday.
Kin of Lando and Judah Dagansan are calling for justice following the fatal shooting in Barangay Andap in New Bataan, GMA Davao reported Wednesday.
The report said the relatives are considering pursuing the case before a tribal court where the punishment for the crime would be death.

However, the imposition of the death penalty in the country has been suspended.
"Sa customary law, noon, sa batas ng aming mga ninuno, kung nakapatay ka, ganun din ang parusa doon sa mga sundalong nakapatay. Ganun talaga yan kasi bata pa ito eh, 17 pa lang ito. Halos tadtad ang mukha sa bala," said Resty Lino, a relative of the victims.
[Video report]
Police in New Bataan investigating the incident said relatives of the victims may pursue homicide charges against two soldiers.
"Kung sakaling magdedesisyon ang mga kaanak ng biktima na pagsampa ng kaso, homicide ang ikakaso natin. Hindi kasi ito sinadya, nagkabulagaan kasi sila doon sa area," New Bataan police station head Senior Inspector Ernesto Gregore said.
The report also said the head of the Army's 66th Infantry Battalion admitted the soldiers mistook the two victims for New People's Army rebels, saying the area was dark and the two shone a flashlight at the soldiers and cried, "Sundalo! Sundalo!" and startled the soldiers.
"Yung lead element natin, nabulag sa along the trail nang biglang silang flinashlight, dalawang flashlight, sabay nakarinig siya ng sigaw na sundalo-sunalo. So upon his immediate instinctive reaction, akala niya mga kalaban, nag-open fire siya doon sa general direction," said 66th IB commander Lt. Col. Michael Logico.
The two soldiers were not immediately named. They have been restricted to barracks, while the battalion said it is willing to cooperate in the investigation and turn over the two soldiers if needed.
"Nasa custody pa rin namin, they are being kept here for safekeeping and at any time for proper disposition, handa rin kaming i-turnover sila," Logico said. 

AFP downplays new ASG threat to kill a hostage on Friday

From GMA News (Oct 15): AFP downplays new ASG threat to kill a hostage on Friday

The threat of the Abu Sayyaf Group that it would behead one of its two German hostages on Friday was only meant to stall operations for the rescue of the captives and force the authorities to continue negotiations, a ranking military official said on Wednesday.

The bandit group on Wednesday said that it would kill one of the hostages in Sulu if the government didn't give its demand for a P250-million ransom.

The two hostages were taken by the bandits while on board their yacht in waters between Palawan and Sabah in April.
“Those kind of actions are meant to pressure us to immediately give in to whatever demands they are seeking..They are doing that to pressure us to meet their demands,” Armed Forces of the Philippines Vice Chief of Staff Lieutenant General John Bonafos said.
Bonafos, however, admitted that he had no information on the chances the ASG would make good its threat.
“We are praying it will not push through,” Bonafos added.
ASG spokesman Abu Rami on Wednesday said in a radio interview that the bandit group was serious in its threat to kill one hostage on Friday.
“We’re in charge,” Rami said.

Sources: PHL warns US of public backlash vs. EDCA

From GMA News (Oct 15): Sources: PHL warns US of public backlash vs. EDCA

The Philippine government has asked United States authorities to fully cooperate in resolving the killing of a Filipino transgender woman allegedly by a US Marine to avoid a public backlash on the recently signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, Filipino officials said on Wednesday.
The warning was recently conveyed by the Department of Foreign Affairs to American officials verbally, said two officials, who spoke to a select group of journalists on condition of anonymity. Both had no authority to speak about the matter before the media.  

“We expect full cooperation out of this investigation and the conclusion of the case,” one official said.
“We’re not saying that he should be found guilty, but there should be a process or else there will be repercussions on the [EDCA],” the other source added, referring to the new military pact, which was signed by Manila and Washington in April this year.
The killing of Jeffrey Laude, 26, sparked strong condemnations from the LGBT community, women’s groups and left-wing activists, who called it a “hate crime.”   
The Philippine National Police has identified Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton. A murder charge was filed against him on Wednesday afternoon in Olongapo City.
Asked what kind of repercussion the DFA expected if the US failed to cooperate in the case, the officials said: “Public pressure.”
The new defense agreement with the US, which allows large numbers of American troops to gain temporary access in local military camps, could not be fully enforced until the Supreme Court resolved petitions questioning its constitutionality.     
EDCA was signed by the Philippines and US after eight months of negotiations.
Philippine officials hoped EDCA would deter increasing Chinese assertion and presence over disputed South China Sea territories as the country shored up the defense capability of its cash-strapped military.
The pact grants US troops access to designated Philippine military facilities, the right to construct facilities, and pre-position equipment, aircraft and vessels.
Women’s group Gabriela staged a protest action at the Department of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday, demanding the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement, a military pact signed by Manila and Washington in 1998 that allows the exit and entry of US personnel in the country for military exercises with their Filipino counterparts.
They also called for the scrapping of the EDCA.
“EDCA’s future must be put on the line after this incident. The Aquino government must stop all negotiations related to EDCA immediately,” Gabriela secretary general Joms Salvador said.
Retired Gen. Eduardo Oban, executive director of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement, earlier said the Philippine government would insist on the custody of Pemberton after formal charges have been filed against him.
Pemberton and unidentified US Marines who will serve as witnesses to the incident are being held on board their mother ship, the USS Peleliu.
Six US military ships currently in the country were grounded following Laude’s killing, but the ban was lifted on Tuesday, except for the Peleliu.
The five ships were already given diplomatic clearance to exit the Philippines and could depart by Friday, Oban said.

Bomb blast hits Basilan district engineer's residence

From ABS-CBN (Oct 16): Bomb blast hits Basilan district engineer's residence

A cottage and a car owned by Basilan District Engineer Soler Isnain Undug were damaged by a powerful explosion in Barangay San Rafael Isabela City on Wednesday night. Photo courtesy of the Isabela City Police Station

A bomb blast struck the residence of the district engineer of Basilan before midnight Thursday.

Initial reports said the explosion occurred around 11 p.m. in the compound of Engineer Soler Isnain Undug in Purok Yakal, Barangay San Rafael, Isabela City.

No one was injured in the blast, according to Isabela City police station chief Supt. Albert Larubis.

However, the powerful explosion partly destroyed a cottage and a vehicle.

The sound of a motorcycle passing by the area was heard before the blast, police said.

Investigators are still looking into the kind of explosive materials used in the attack.

Extortion could be the motive for the incident, police said.

Militiaman abducted in Camarines Sur

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct 15): Militiaman abducted in Camarines Sur

Ragay, Camarines Sur

LIGAO CITY, Philippines — A member of the government militia was abducted by an undetermined number of armed men on Wednesday morning in Ragay, Camarines Sur, an Army official said.

Riquery Neo, a member of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) unit based in Barangay (village) Cawayan in Ragay, was driving a motorcycle around 11 a.m. in the village, with his wife and three children as riders, when they were stopped by the armed men, said Lieutenant Colonel Medel Aguilar, commander of the 49th IB based in Labo, Camarines Norte.

Neo was then forcibly taken by the armed men and brought to an unknown place.

Aguilar said they suspected that New People’s Army rebels were behind the abduction.

“The 49IB is now conducting rescue operations,” said Aguilar.

He said the Army has started securing Neo’s family.

The Cafgu is an auxiliary unit of the Philippine Army in its fight against the communist rebels.

Maguindanao students, folks get lessons in detecting unexploded bombs

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct 15): Maguindanao students, folks get lessons in detecting unexploded bombs
AM DATU ODIN SINSUAT, Maguindanao—Students in the province of Maguindanao and nearby areas, along with their teachers and parents, are being taught how to recognize unexploded ordnance following the discovery of such explosives even near schools.

Alfredo Lubang of the Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines said in a report made available on Monday that some unexploded ordnance, such as land mines, grenades,mortars and cannon shells, were found not far from paths used by villagers, including school children in some Maguindanao barangays and areas of North Cotabato.

Datu odin sinsuat

Many Maguindanao and North Cotabato areas were scenes of battle betwen government forces and Moro rebels in the past.

Lubang said that as part of stepped up efforts to keep people safe from unexploded ordnace, or UXOs, his group and several non-governmental organizations have produced posters providing basic information on unexploded explosives for schools and other public places. The initiative is supported by the European Union, he said.

“The poster infographics would enable schoolchildren, teachers and parents to immediately identify lethal explosives, and they are advised to inform the nearest barangay local government unit in case they see one or several of them,” Lubang said.

Aided by explosive ordnance teams, bilateral ceasefire representatives and some international observer organizations, the concerned civil society groups recovered on June 21 and July 23 dozens of unexploded ordnance, including mortar shells and grenades, in various areas of Maguindanao.

Tony Fish, program manager of the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action, said these remnants of war in Maguindanao were destroyed at a demolition site in Barangay Semba in Datu Odin Sinsuat.

“Every now and then destruction of UXOs should be done. If they make a bigger stockpile it will become dangerous for the community around the stockpiles,” Fish said.

Corinna Araneta Lopa, a peace advocate, described the collection and destruction of the UXOs as “baby steps taken toward lasting peace in Mindanao.”

Lubang said the destruction of UXOs was all about prevention and further devastation, especially “when they fall into wrong hands.”

Brig. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao, said many of such “remnants of war” may have actually found their way to terror groups.

This explains, he said, why bombs exploded in various areas of Mindanao were improvised from various kinds of conventional military ordnance.

German doc made to sit inside grave Abu Sayyaf dug

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct 16): German doc made to sit inside grave Abu Sayyaf dug
HEIGHTENED THREAT This photo provided by the Abu Sayyaf shows German scientist Viktor Stefan Okonek, 71, with an assault rifle pointed at his head at the terrorist group’s hideout somewhere in Sulu province.

HEIGHTENED THREAT This photo provided by the Abu Sayyaf shows German scientist Viktor Stefan Okonek, 71, with an assault rifle pointed at his head at the terrorist group’s hideout somewhere in Sulu province.
Viktor Stefan Okonek, a 71-year-old German doctor being held hostage by Abu Sayyaf terrorists, on Wednesday said he had been sitting in a “deep hole” with 10 other men since Tuesday.

“They told me this is my grave. They pushed me inside this hole and I am sitting here with 10 men since [Tuesday night],” Okonek told Radio Mindanao Network’s Alarma 900 here.

“I’m here in a hole. It’s a big hole 3 meters (10 ft) [by] 5 meters,” Okonek said. “ … I hope I will still get out of here … but I have not seen anyone from the government to get into the situation that tries to get us out.”

The terrorists have been demanding P250 million ($5.6 million) for the release of Okonek and a German woman companion, Henrite Dieter, and for Germany to withdraw support from the multination action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Abu Rami, spokesman of Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron, said his group would execute the doctor at 3 p.m. on Friday if the ransom had not been paid by then.


The ultimatum remains on Friday, Rami said on the phone, adding that Okonek would be buried in the grave if negotiations would go awry.

“We will bury him if the ransom demand is not met and Germany does not withdraw its support for the air strikes in Iraq and Syria,” he said.

Okonek and Dieter, 42, were seized by the Abu Sayyaf in April when their yacht broke down in Palawan province en route to Sabah in eastern Malaysia. They are being held on Jolo Island, hotbed of the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group.

Okonek has been separated from Dieter, Rami said. “We don’t want her to see the actual execution,” he added.

“They told me on Friday they would kill me,” the doctor said in the radio interview. It was the second time the German has spoken to commercial radio since last Friday’s deadline passed.

Rami said a video of Okonek’s execution would be posted after Friday.

Video release

Okonek said he was getting very weak because there was not enough food and 10 gunmen were watching over him 24 hours a day.

In a video provided by the kidnappers, Okonek can be heard crying while being physically abused. Some gunmen also slapped him.

Rami said local contacts identified with Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima had been trying to negotiate for the release of the captives. But he said the Abu Sayyaf only wanted to talk to representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

An Inquirer source said Purisima went to Sulu province on Tuesday and tried to establish contacts with the Abu Sayyaf through local politicians. However, Chief Supt. Noel de los Reyes, police director of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, denied the information.

“[We have] not initiated any talks with the ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) or with any other criminal group/s nor is there any plan of doing so in the forward periods,” De los Reyes said in a text message to the Inquirer.

No troop pullout

Gen. Gregorio Catapang, Armed Forces chief of staff, has deployed seven battalions of soldiers and Marines to Sulu and will not pull out the troops from Sulu despite the threat of the Abu Sayyaf to behead the German hostage by Friday.

“We should take them seriously,” Catapang said of the bandits in Manila. “Our intelligence is on the ground validating information and [trying] to locate them.”

He said the military was prepared to conduct the rescue operation and was just waiting for the go-signal to launch it as negotiations for the safe release of the hostages were being conducted on the local level.

Lt. Gen. John Bonafos, AFP vice chief of staff, said the provincial peace and order committee had already been activated to address the issue.

Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan is in charge of the committee which shall then relay to the AFP whatever its recommendation on the issue, including the go-signal for a rescue mission, Bonafos said.

Transgender woman slay: Calls mount to end VFA

From GMA News (Oct 15): Transgender woman slay: Calls mount to end VFA

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago on Wednesday called on the executive branch to do away with the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement, saying the alleged involvement of a US Marine in the killing of a Filipino transgender woman again showed that the treaty was skewed in favor of visiting American troops.
Another lawmaker, Senator Francis Escudero, renewed his call for a review of the treaty after Philippine authorities again found themselves seeking custody of a US serviceman implicated in a crime against a Filipino civilian.
Outside the Senate, the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) on Wednesday said the Philippine government should consider the US' refusal to hand over Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton as a ground for terminating the VFA.
Santiago, who chairs the Senate committee on foreign relations, told reporters that she would initiate an inquiry into the case involving 26-year-old Jeffrey Laude, who was found dead inside an Olongapo City motel late Saturday night.

The Philippine National Police has identified Pemberton as a suspect in the case. At present, Pemberton is aboard USS Peleliu docked in Subic Bay while investigation is ongoing.  Laude, who also went by the name Jennifer, was last seen with Pemberton.

The US has custody over Pemberton, who's reportedly detained on board the ship that has also been barred from leaving the country. The PNP said on Tuesday that a murder charge was being prepared against him but no rap had been filed as of early Wednesday afternoon.

Wrong side of the law

"Again, here we see that we are always on the wrong side of the law and for me, an opportunity to renew my call to abrogate the VFA," said Santiago, who was once appointed as a magistrate in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Pemberton was a participant in the recently concluded Amphibious Landing Exercises, a joint military exercise between Filipino and US forces covered by the VFA.
"Ask the Americans to renegotiate, if they refuse, then simply give them notice to terminate. Under the rules of VFA, all you have to do to abrogate the VFA is give one year notice to the Americans," she added.
In 2005, the US pursuant to the VFA took custody of another US Marine, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, who was accused of raping a Filipino woman in Subic, Zambales.
Escudero, a former chair of the Senate committee on national defense, on Tuesday called for a review of the VFA. He also asked the police and prosecutors to act with dispatch in Laude's case as criminal cases covered by the VFA had a prescription period of only a year.
"As before, I call on and urge the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) to revisit and seek the amendment of the VFA [as regards the] lopsided criminal jurisdiction provision," Escudero said in a text message to reporters.
BAYAN said the VFA only allows the Philippine government to request custody of an erring American soldier in extraordinary cases.
“Any refusal by the United State government to turn over Private Pemberton to Philippine authorities should be considered as a ground for terminating the VFA. The Philippine government must stand its ground and not be pushed around by the US, not when a Filipino was killed and the interest of justice is at stake,” BAYAN secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
“The Philippine government does not have to beg the US for custody of the accused US marine. A refusal by the US to turn over Pemberton is an affront to our sovereignty. Filipinos must not allow this to happen,” he added.

Daniel Smith
Santiago said the previous case of Smith and the recent incident could be grounds for the termination of VFA.
“Always there is a question of who has jurisdiction and who has the power to keep in detention before actual judgment in court. These are no longer temporary but periodic between RP-US relations. For who was this treaty made, I would like to know.  Was it made for the foreign power?” Santiago said.  
Santiago indicated that the Laude case presented the Philippine government with a similar issue of custody over an American implicated in a crime committed against a Filipino.

"This presents an opportunity for me to recall, to sound anew, to call again for the abrogation of the VFa because under the VFA, particularly on the provision on jurisdicition, if the crime has been committed, one, within Philippine territory and,  two, declared a crime under Philippine law, automatically jurisdiction belongs to the Philippines," Santiago said.
"However, [the] VFA has a provision that even if the jurisdiction belongs to the Philippines, if the US so much makes a request, just a request, not even a supported request like here are the evidence, photos, cameras, documents etc, automatically jurisdiction must be turned over to the US," she added.


Santiago said she will set the hearing after the Senate resumes session in October, and conduct the investigation on or about Wednesday, October 22.

The senator has been on an extended sick leave from the Senate for chronic fatigue and, recently, lung cancer.

With 90 percent of the cancer gone, Santiago said last week that she was planning to return to the Senate when Congress resumes its session in late October.

"Paimbestiga ko nga yan. May problem of course is my physical stamina but then I have very capable vice chairmen. I can open it and start the hearing as long as I comply with three-day notice rule,” Santiago said.
“I cannot subpoena, we are not allowed to invite foreigners to our hearings but we can invite yung mga tao sa hotel, NBI at kung sino pa ang nakakita. Kamag-anak nung namatay baka may alam din sila, malay mo dati na silang magkakilala. Imbestigahin natin,” she added.
The senator said she would first check with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and the National Bureau of Investigation if the Senate probe would hinder its investigation.
“Magtatanong muna ako, magbibigay-galang muna ako sa Secretary of Justice, sa NBI director.  Sa tingin ba ninyo ay makakaabala ba o  makakapahina ba ng kaso nyo  kung imbestigahin namin ngayon o saka na lang," Santiago said.

"Para hindi naman kami nag uunahan at mabigyan sila ng sapat na panahon na magawa nila ang katungkulan nila,” she added. 

AFP honors first female UN peacekeeping commander

From the Philippine Star (Oct 15): AFP honors first female UN peacekeeping commander

Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. pins the United Nations Service Medal to Navy Capt. Luzviminda Camacho, the first female commander of a Philippine peacekeeping mission. AFP-PAO/Allan Villapando

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. honored the first female commander of a Philippine contingent to a United Nations peacekeeping mission in a ceremony on Wednesday.

Navy Capt. Luzviminda Camacho received a UN Service Medal for leading the the country's 156-strong contingent to Haiti, which served for 11 months.

"I am very grateful and happy representing the Philippines, leading the 155 men and women of the Philippine Navy," Camacho said in a statement.

Camacho was part of the 17th Philippine contingent to Haiti, as security concerns over the elections continue following 2004 coup d'etat and ensuing violence.

She was accompanied by nine officers and 147 enlisted personnel who were also awarded the UN Service Medal for securing key individuals of the UN mission as well as provide administrative and logistics services in the force headquarters.

"It was not hard. As officers, we have rules and regulations in leading the men and women of the armed forces," Camacho said.

Catapang, meanwhile, praised Camacho as a "very competent officer" who at 49 years old was hand picked for the job and outranked male colleagues due to her track record in the military.

"She has gained the respect not only of her fellow Filipino peacekeepers but also her foreign counterparts in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti," Catapang said.

The Philippine Contingent to Haiti gained prominence in 2010 when a powerful earthquake struck the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince killing more than 230,000 people. Three Filipino died in the disaster along with 93 others.

3 communist rebels, 2 soldiers killed in 4 encounters

From the Philippine Star (Oct 15): 3 communist rebels, 2 soldiers killed in 4 encounters

A total of three communist rebels and two soldiers were killed in four separate encounters in northern Luzon and Davao region, military reports said Wednesday.

Cpt. Ernest Carolina, spokesman of the Army’s 10th division, said a total of three bodies and 11 high-powered firearms were recovered by Army troops in clashes last Saturday and Tuesday in Davao del Sur.

The first two clashes between the 73rd Infantry Battalion and the New People’s Army (NPA) happened Saturday at around 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. in Barangay Kinangan in Malita town.

The clashes resulted in the death of a rebel identified by the alias “Renz” and the recovery of an M16 assault rifle, ammunition, and two backpacks.

Security forces conducted a follow-up operation three days after the two clashes, resulting in another firefight that left two NPA members dead and two others captured.

Carolina said the gun battle transpired around 2 p.m. in the same barangay. Killed during the clash were Mark Bryle Garduque alias “Brian” and a rebel only identified by the alias “Daniel.” Garduque is believe to be the platoon leader of the group.

The captured insurgents were identified as Ritchie Abrenica alias “Pedro” and Marilyn Magpatoc alias “Tonyang.”

“There is no sense in fighting with the use of arms, hence we are calling the remaining NPA members to stop the armed struggle and go back to the mainstream society and live in peace before it’s too late,” said Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año, chief of the Army’s 10th division.

Meanwhile, two soldiers were killed and three others were injured in an encounter with NPA members in Asipulo, Ifugao last Tuesday.

Lt. Col. Eddie Pilapil, chief of the 54th Infantry Battalion, said his troops were on their way to the site of a local road project when they chanced upon the insurgents.

“The fire fight lasted for almost an hour that resulted in the killing of two soldiers and wounding of three others,” he said.

The identities of the fatalities are being withheld pending notification of their families.

The wounded soldiers who sustained shrapnel injuries were identified as 1Lt. Roland Carinan, Pfc. John Rye Discaya and Pfc. Raphy Anongos. They are now being treated at the Camp Melchor Dela Cruz Station Hospital.

Maj. Gen. Benito de Leon, chief of the Army’s 5th division, said they remain committed to protecting their communities despite their casualties.

Abu Sayyaf open to negotiate with DFA over German captives' release

From the Philippine Star (Oct 15): Abu Sayyaf open to negotiate with DFA over German captives' release

With 48 hours left before the ultimatum and a pit prepared for the execution, hopes sprung for one of the two German hostages after their Abu Sayyaf captors said Wednesday that it is open for Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to “mediate” for the demands in exchange for the release of the victims.

Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Rami, in a radio interview over the local radio DXRZ of the Radio Mindanao Network Wednesday morning said they are open for the DFA to mediate for their demands in exchange for the freedom of the victims.

He said they wanted the DFA to come in and mediate citing they have learned that the agency has not been stained with corruption issue.

“Ang gusto lang namin, kasi nakita ko sa Internet, ang walang tatak ng pagnanakaw ay ang DFA, ang administrator ng DFA. Kaya 'yan talaga ang gusto namin sila makiusap sa amin. Ang pag-uusapan ay tungkol sa P250 million pesos at demand na withdrawal of support,” Rami said.

It was not clear to the Abu Sayyaf spokesman if they will lift the execution ultimatum if the DFA would open the mediation. The group said that it has separated the two hostages from each other.

Rami even warned said they will not also give consideration to any of the hostages if their demands will not be delivered.

He said they will not entertain any politician to meddle into the negotiation citing the corrupt practices in the country.

Rami said some politicians were sending their emissaries to open for the negotiation for the release of the German couple.

“We have not talked to any of this politicians yet but they were sending their emissaries and we know their dealings. We know these politicians are trying to discount and some were bargaining. We will see if they can bargain this one,” Abu Rami said.

“Ayaw ko talaga yong politician ang mag negotiate dito baka may mangayari sa dalawang ito (hostages) na pinag-uusapan na ng buong sambayan kami pa ang mailagay sa alanganin,” he warned.

In the radio interview, captive German Doctor Stefan Viktor Okonek said his Abu Sayyaf guards brought him to his supposed grave to fit him.

“I’m here in a hole, it’s a big hole 3 meters by 5 meters, they told me this is my grave. They push me inside the hole,” Okonek said as he was allowed to talk by Rami.

Okonek, 74, and his wife Henrike Dielen, 55, have been in captivity since they were seized by the Abu Sayyaf group from the yacht last April while sailing near Rio de Tubataha off Palawan.

According to Okonek, the Abu Sayyaf dug the hole before and would use it for his supposed grave.

“They told me on Friday they will kill me,” Okonek said.

He said he has been guarded by 10 gunmen 24 hours a day, has not enough food to eat, lost 20 pounds and very weak.

The German doctor said he was sad about the situation but was thankful for the opportunity to talk as he appealed the Philippine and German governments to help for the release.

“I have not seen anyone from the government to get into the situation that tries to get us out of here,” Okonek said.

He said his captors maintained that demands of P250 million pesos in ransom an for the Berlin to drop its support for the United States campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Okonek said the Abu Sayyaf also demanded that the Philippine government withdraw its troops in Sulu.

It will be recalled that the military deployed an additional brigade of soldiers in Sulu to help track and rescue the hostages.

Armed Forces Chief of Staff Genereal Gregorio Pio Catapang halted Sunday any rescue operations to allow the local crisis management council for the peace solution.

Okonek said he has been separated from his wife since Monday and has no idea on the situation of Dielen.

Murder complaint filed vs US Marine

From the Philippine Star (Oct 16): Murder complaint filed vs US Marine

Selfie of US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton from Facebook.

As investigators piece together the circumstances that led to the death of transgender Jeffrey Laude, his family has filed a murder complaint with the Olongapo City Prosecutor’s Office against US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton.

Laude’s family filed the complaint yesterday through lawyer Harry Roque.

Police, meanwhile, organized Special Investigation Task Group Laude to gather more evidence against Pemberton, who is in the custody of his superiors on the USS Peleliu docked in Subic Bay. The soldier is with the 2nd Battalion 9th Marines based in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Roque told The STAR he and Laude’s family would seek the transfer of Pemberton to the custody of Philippine authorities. He said he accepted the case upon request of the victim’s mother Julita.

Roque was among the lawyers of the woman known as Nicole in the 2005 rape case, also in Subic, involving four US Marines led by Lance Corporal Daniel Smith.

At Camp Olivas in Pampanga, Chief Superintendent Raul Petrasanta, Police Regional Office-3 director, said the Olongapo City Crime Laboratory, the Regional Investigation and Detective Management Division and the City Provincial Legal Service comprise the newly formed SITG.

Olongapo City police chief Senior Superintendent Pedrito delos Reyes heads the task group.

“After a thorough investigation of the SITG Laude and when all the findings are out, we will abide by the usual judicial proceedings as contained in the Visiting Forces Agreement to guarantee that justice will be served,” Petrasanta said.

He said the suspect was identified by witness Mark Clarence Gelviro from a photo lineup provided by the US Navy’s National Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).

Laude was found dead inside the toilet of a room in Celzone Lodge almost an hour after he and Pemberton checked in Saturday night. The two met at the nearby Ambyanz Disco bar earlier.

Olongapo City Mayor Rolen Paulino assured the family of Laude that there would be “no whitewash” of the case and that “justice would be served.”
“It could be an isolated case but we can assure everyone that we will exert all effort to bring justice on the death of Jennifer,” Paulino said in an interview.

Congress steps in

At the Senate, the committee on foreign relations said it is set to conduct an investigation into Laude’s murder on Wednesday next week.

Committee chairperson Miriam Santiago said that she would invite the staff of Celzone Lodge to shed light on the case, as well as some members of Laude’s family.

Santiago said no US authorities would be invited since they cannot be subpoenaed.

“I cannot subpoena. Under Senate traditions, we are not allowed to invite, much less to subpoena, foreigners to our hearings,” Santiago told reporters yesterday.

Santiago justified the conduct of the investigation, saying it would be in aid of legislation.

“Once the Senate acts on inquiries in aid of legislation and there is even no quibble whether there is actual legislation, it can be passed legislation, it can be contemplated legislation, it can be legislation for the future, it can be speculative legislation, but as long as it is an inquiry in aid of legislation, then I would have jurisdiction,” she said.

Santiago also renewed her call for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement, citing the problematic issue of jurisdiction and custody whenever cases involving US servicemen arise.

Santiago argued that custody should automatically be with the Philippine authorities once the suspect has been properly identified and charged.

“Because under the VFA, particularly the provision on jurisdiction, if a crime has been committed, number one: within Philippine territory, and number two: is declared to be a crime under Philippine law, automatically jurisdiction belongs to the Philippines,” she said.

However, she said that Article 5 paragraph 6 of the VFA provides that: “The custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”

She noted that the VFA also contains another provision which states that, “in extraordinary cases, the Philippine government shall present its position to the United States government regarding custody, which the United States government shall take into full account.”

“The disparity is very clear. The Philippines has jurisdiction but, upon mere request by the US, our law enforcement is required to immediately turn over the custody of the American military personnel to the US,” Santiago said.

Officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs have indicated that Manila can always request custody of the suspect but that the US can reject such request.

But Santiago said the US should immediately turn over the soldier to the Philippine authorities now that he has already been identified as a suspect.
According to Santiago, the process of abrogation of the VFA is very simple as it merely involves notifying the US government about this decision.

“We ask the Americans for renegotiation, and if they refuse, give them notice. All you have to do to abrogate is give a one-year notice to the Americans,” Santiago said.

‘One death too many’

At the House of Representatives, Rep. Terry Ridon of party-list group Kabataan is asking his comrades to investigate Laude’s murder.

In Resolution No. 1568, Ridon asked the committee on foreign affairs and the committee on national defense to conduct a joint investigation on the matter.

“This is the second time that a US serviceman committed a criminal offense in the country. Nine years ago, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was charged and convicted for the rape of a Filipino woman. His custody remained with the United States of America during his trial, which exposed the lopsided nature of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” he said.

The complainant in the Smith case subsequently recanted her story.

“While Philippine authorities are already taking necessary steps to address the (Pemberton) case, Congress must conduct a parallel investigation to determine how this affects existing agreements between the US and the Philippines, especially the newly signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA),” Ridon said.

“The growing threat posed by the continued implementation of the VFA and MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty) and now the EDCA warrants a full-blown congressional inquiry,” he said.

“One death is one too many. Congress must again open the debates on the abrogation of the VFA and the junking of the EDCA,” he said.

“Congress must also exhaust its powers to guarantee a just investigation and an unprejudiced trial to exact justice for Jennifer Laude,” he said.