Monday, April 13, 2015

When kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf rebels, it's the unpredictability that kills

Channel News Asia (Apr 14): When kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf rebels, it's the unpredictability that kills

Jolo is known as the kidnap capital of the Philippines, thanks to the presence of Abu Sayyaf rebels. Channel NewsAsia's Arglit Boonyai recalls how it feels to be in the rebel-dominated area.

MINDANAO: What I have learnt over the course of filming the series is that there is nothing scarier than not knowing. Being unable to predict what will happen, and when and how a situation will end is terrifying. That is what makes kidnapping such a frightening ordeal.

When it comes to South East Asia, if you are going to be kidnapped, Jolo is the place it is most likely to happen. It is the kidnap capital of the Philippines. Although it does not have the reputation of somewhere like Colombia, that does not make it any less dangerous.

Before filming, I attended a security training course to better prepare myself for the dangers that I would face. There was a very intensive day spent on kidnapping that involved a mock kidnap scenario, which was exactly as scary as it sounds.

What I learnt from the course was that if a group like ISIS wants to kidnap you, then you had better fight to the death because things are not going to end nicely. However, in most other kidnap situations, you are supposed to let the kidnappers take you without a fight, as most deaths from kidnapping happen in the heat of the moment.

After that, there is very little to do but wait; and in Jolo - located in Mindanao’s Sulu archipelago - Abu Sayyaf will make you wait and wait and wait.


Jolo in southwest Mindanao, Philippines. (Photo: Andy Tan/CNA)

Abu Sayyaf is officially a separatist group, although critics say their main activity now is kidnapping. Foreigners are big business here, at least when it comes to ransom. So, the kidnappers do not want to damage their big payday.

At one point during my trip, some locals were shouting “Here comes the money” when the crew and I left the safety of our vehicles. Luckily we had a platoon of elite army rangers protecting us.

Locals with a bit of money, however, are not so lucky and can be kidnapped in an instant. Most of them will spend months or even years in captivity. Apparently they are not treated badly. It is the "not knowing" that kills them.


Army Rangers in Jolo, southwest Mindanao. (Photo: Arglit Boonyai/CNA)

This was also my first time living on an army barracks, and it is not anything like the movies. The Marines and Army Rangers that live at Camp Bud Datu do not get much funding, so life in the mountains of Jolo, surrounded by Abu Sayyaf, is very basic.

Still, you will hear no complaints from them. They spend weeks in the jungle, fighting in an area they are not familiar with, and most of them will not tell their loved ones where they are for fear of making them worried.

Arglit and elite Philippine Army Scout Ranger Jayson PariƱas near Jolo.

That is how dedicated they are to the job of eradicating Abu Sayyaf. Yes, that’s right, eradicating. The man in charge, tough-as-nails Colonel Alan Arrojado, assured me that the goal is not to reach a peace agreement with Abu Sayyaf. Critics also say the rebels do not want to negotiate.

Colonel Arrojado's job is to make sure that Jolo can be safe for everyone, and for that he needs a plan. His plan is to take out the group’s head - the one-armed Radullan Sahiron - and watch the ‘body’ crumble. That is his plan, and he is sticking to it, because for the colonel, not knowing is not an option.

[Arglit Boonyai is a foreign correspondent and the host of Danger Zone. Watch his journey to the Philippines on Channel NewsAsia, Apr 14, at 8pm SG/HK.]

Abu Sayyaf bandits torch rented vehicle of DPWH in Basilan

From InterAksyon (Apr 14): Abu Sayyaf bandits torch rented vehicle of DPWH in Basilan

Abu Sayyaf members are seen brandishing high-powered weapons, in this still image from a News5 Everywhere video clip.

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits have burned a rented vehicle of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in the nearby town of Sumisip, this province.

DPWH District Engineer Soler Undug disclosed the incident occurred Sunday afternoon in Barangay Benembengan, Sumisip town.

Undug said Monday they were using the rented vehicle, a Willy’s type jeep, in ferrying materials from Isabela City to a project site in Barangay Buli-Buli, Sumisip.

Undug said that his personnel, while transporting materials, parked the vehicle along the highway of Benembengan since they have to attend to other important matters.

Several minutes after leaving the vehicle, Undug said, his personnel received a call through cellular phone from a group of ASG bandits “telling them they are going to burn the vehicle.”

When his personnel returned, the vehicle was already burned, Undug said.

He disclosed that the group of ASG leader Juhaibel Alamsirul, alias Abu Kik, was the one responsible for the burning of the vehicle.

MILF, mayor confirm BIFF founder Ameril Umra Kato is dead

From MindaNews (Apr 14): MILF, mayor confirm BIFF founder Ameril Umra Kato is dead

Ameril Umra Kato, founder of the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) passed away Tuesday, Mayor Samsoddin “Pink” Dimaukom confirmed to MindaNews.

Citing information he received from Kato’s relatives and other sources in Maguindanao, Dimaukom said in a phone interview that the rebel leader died from cardiac arrest somewhere in Guindulungan,Maguindanao at around 2 a.m. Tuesday.

“Yes, namatay daw siya gaya nung unang nyang sakit na na-stroke,” the mayor said.

But the official said he did not know where Kato would be buried, as Muslim practice requires a dead person to be buried no longer than 24 hours after his death.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal also said in a text message that the report was “99% confirmed”.

Reports of Kato’s death have been circulating in the region since early Tuesday.

BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mama has neither denied nor confirmed the information, saying they too were flooded with reports about Kato’s death.

“I’m on the way to his undisclosed location. The close-in people around him has not yet confirmed to me given the difficulty of communication with them”, Mama said.

MILF 108th Base commander Ustadz Wahid Tundok, who served as Kato’s sub-commander when they were still both under the 105th Base Command, said he also received such report.

Kato left the MILF to form the BIFF over differences on the conduct of the peace talks with government.

“For us Muslims, we cannot hide the truth of our death. In due time we will know the real score after our validation today,” Tundok said.

Major General Edmundo Pangilinan of the 6th Infantry Division said they were verifying the same report through their intelligence arm.

“Yes we received calls and queries of his death but we are waiting too of confirmed reports,” Pangilinan said.

Maguindanao provincial police director Senior Supt. Rodelio Jocson said they were still trying to get word on the possible place of burial if it’s indeed true that Kato has died.

Kato formed the BIFF in November 2010 following his relief as commander of the 105th Base Command.

It reportedly started with 50 fully-armed members, mostly relatives and loyal followers of Kato from the 105th Base Command, and drew more recruits.

Kato figured in attacks in North Cotabato in 2008 after the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional the Memorandum of Agreement of Ancestral Domain.

He carried a P10-million bounty on his head.

Early in February this year, the military launched an “all-out offensive” against the BIFF in response to the clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Jan. 25 that left 44 police commandoes, 17 MILF rebels and five civilians dead.

Trooper hurt in Sulu clash

From the Philippine Star (Apr 14): Trooper hurt in Sulu clash

An Army trooper was wounded in an encounter with suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits in Indanan town, Sulu last Sunday.

The wounded trooper, whose name was not immediately available, was taken to a military hospital for treatment.

Army Capt. Maria Rowena Muyuela, spokesperson for the Western Mindanao Command, said the encounter between the bandits and soldiers from the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion lasted several minutes.

Muyuela said the bandits suffered casualties.

Roadside bomb explodes in Maguindanao town

From the Philippine Star (Apr 13): Roadside bomb explodes in Maguindanao town

Members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) detonated Sunday night a roadside bomb while an Army convoy was passing by a secluded stretch of a highway in Datu Saudi town in Maguindanao.

No one was hurt in the attack, but the explosion triggered panic among villagers in peasant enclaves nearby.

Captain Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said a column of tanks and combat vehicles were passing through a portion of the highway in Lower Salbu in Datu Saudi when the bandits set of the explosive rigged with a blasting mechanism attached to a mobile phone.

“Nobody was hurt in the explosion,” Petinglay said.

Datu Saudi is one of seven Maguindanao towns where the military and the extremist BIFF were locked in a month-long face-off, which caused the dislocation of more than 100,000 innocent villagers.

Combined Army and Marine combatants figured in 27 encounters with radical jihadists during the period.

Negros NPA leader falls

From the Philippine Star (Apr 14): Negros NPA leader falls

An alleged ranking official of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), tagged in the torching of a sugar firm’s facility in Negros Occidental, was arrested in Victorias City over the weekend.

Police said Joseph Sibugan, alias Sakay and Rubin, 35, of Toboso town, was the finance and logistic officer of the NPA’s Northern Negros Front and former secretary of the NNF.

Sibugan was arrested by members of the city police and regional intelligence unit at Hacienda Nena in Barangay  14, Superintendent Santiago Rapiz, city police chief, said.

The suspect’s arrest was based on a warrant issued by Judge Katherine Go for arson. No bail was recommended for his liberty.

Rapiz said Sibugan was tagged in the burning of a trans-loading station owned by a sugar milling company in Toboso in 2008.

The city police is waiting for a court order to turn the suspect over to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in San Carlos City.

Meanwhile, in Agusan del Sur, a band of rebels raided a palm oil plantation and burned a tractor in Barangay Lucac in San Francisco town last Friday.

The rebels disarmed security guard Alex Maguinda before torching the hand tractor.

They seized seven chainsaws and destroyed some 30 sacks of fertilizer before fleeing, town police chief Chief Inspector Sandro Santillan said.

Basit Usman hiding in Basilan?

From ABS-CBN (Mar 13): Basit Usman hiding in Basilan?

A former mayor in Basilan province said fugitive bomb expert Basit Usman may be hiding in Basilan amid the military operation against his group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in central Mindanao.

Former Ungkaya Pukan Mayor Joel Maturan said he was able to talk to one of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commanders in Basilan, who claimed to have seen the group of Usman in one of the remote barangays in the municipality of Tuburan.

Maturan said the MILF commander also saw four foreign nationals with Usman who are believed to be bomb experts connected to the Jemaah Islamiyah.

The group of Usman supposedly fled to Basilan a few days after government forces declared an all-out offensive in the wake of the Mamasapano incident, where 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos were killed.

Maturan said Usman has supporters and sympathizers in Basilan, particularly members of Abu Sayyaf, and some MILF men.

He alleged the one who is coddling Usman in Basilan is a former MILF member and is now linked to the Abu Sayyaf.

He said Usman stayed in Basilan for a few years before he went to central Mindanao. He said the wanted terrorist first preached radical Islam in Basilan and tried to lure some of the young Muslim residents in the area.

Usman is allegedly behind some of the deadliest attacks in Mindanao, killing a number of innocent civilians.

Usman has been included in the US Rewards for Justice program, with a $1 million bounty for his head.

The commander of Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi (Zambasulta) Joint Task Force, Rear Admiral Reynaldo Yoma, said they are verifying the information.

On Sunday, government forces encountered a group of armed men at the municipality of Tuburan Mohammad Ajul in Basilan, which was led by an unidentified foreign national.

The armed group planted a bomb along the road, hitting government forces.

Some of the men of Mohammad Ajul Mayor Talib Pawaki were reportedly wounded and brought to the nearest hospital.

Basilan provincial police director, Senior Superintendent Mario Buyuccan, said they cannot confirm yet the alleged presence of Usman in their jurisdiction.

Buyuccan said they are utilizing their assets on the ground to gather information.;postID=8784337660995651493

Mohagher Iqbal is Lubis Abas - sources

From the Philippine Star posted to ABS-CBN (Apr 14): Mohagher Iqbal is Lubis Abas - sources

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal was allegedly known as Lubis Abas before he joined the first batch of 300 guerrillas of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that underwent military training in Pakistan in 1969, according to sources.

Iqbal, born in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao, was reportedly among the original MNLF guerrillas given their nomes de guerre during training in Pakistan.

A source said the assumed name of Iqbal might have been inspired by Muhammad Iqbal, a Pakistani philosopher, poet and politician in the then British-occupied states of India and Pakistan.

According to Wikipedia, Muhammad Iqbal is a Muslim philosophical thinker of modern times and named by the Pakistani government as a national poet.

In 1922, British King George V knighted the Pakistani as Poet of the East. While studying law and philosophy in England , Muhammad Iqbal became a member of the London branch of the All India Muslim League . Iqbal pushed for the creation of a Muslim state in Northwest India.

MNLF spokesman Absalom Cerveza confirmed that Iqbal was a former MNLF member who joined the late Hashim Salamat in defecting from the mainstream rebel group after MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari agreed to hold peace negotiations with the government.

Cerveza said that he does not know the real identity of MILF negotiator Iqbal because during his stint in the MNLF he was not yet a famous guerrilla leader.

Iqbal also uses the pen name Salah Jubair, author of the book “Long Road to Peace: Inside the GRP-MILF peace process.”

Cerveza said Iqbal was not a prominent figure in the MNLF and even Misuari does not know him personally.

''He rose from ranks when he joined the MILF,'' he said.

A check with Facebook and Twitter (@abbasThenineTail) revealed the accounts of a certain Lubis Abas were protected.

Another Twitter account Abas Lubis@Odiciibandit posted a photo with the caption, “Part your heavens, Lord, and come down: touch the mountains, so that they smoke, Send forth lightning and scatter.”

Motel security guard testifies vs Pemberton

From ABS-CBN (Apr 13): Motel security guard testifies vs Pemberton

OLONGAPO – A security guard of the motel where the body of slain transgender woman Jennifer Laude was found testified in the murder case against Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton on Monday.

Virgie Suarez, legal counsel of the Laudes, said Celzone Lodge security guard Jacinto Miraflor told the court that it was Pemberton who checked in the motel with Laude.

Suarez said Miraflor's testimony corroborates those of their first two witnesses, Jennifer's companion, Mark Clarence “Barbie” Caguioa Gelviro, and motel cashier Elias Gallamos.

Roden Entrelizo, a Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) personnel who made the sketch of the body of the victim, was the prosecution's second witness for today's hearing.

Pemberton did not attend today's hearing. His lawyers did not give any reason for his absence despite an earlier request from the prosecution that he attend today's hearing.

Pemberton is compelled to attend tomorrow's hearing which will start at 8:30 a.m.

Suarez said the prosecution will present five witnesses tomorrow, including case investigator SPO3 Tyrone Tecson from the Olongapo Police and Gershome Pura, manager of Ambianz Bar, where Pemberton and Laude allegedly got acquainted with each other.

Also to be presented by the prosecution panel are John Casper Bolaga, Marlon Baldugu, and Jeselle Lamugue, three Red Cross volunteers who were among those who went to the hotel after Laude was found unconscious.

Iqbal: MILF fighters wary of laying down arms as BBL remains in limbo

From GMA News (Apr 13): Iqbal: MILF fighters wary of laying down arms as BBL remains in limbo

Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are hesitant to decommission their firearms as the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) remains in limbo in Congress, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal admitted Monday.
At the sidelines of the Senate joint committee hearing on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, Iqbal told reporters that the MILF rebels’ hesitation to lay down their arms is expected since they hold their weapons in high regard.
“That (hesitation) is expected. As we’ve been saying, decommissioning is the ultimate sacrifice on the MILF’s part. We know there has to be a Bangsamoro government but in order to [achieve] that, we must make the ultimate sacrifice of decommissioning our weapons and combatants,” he said.
Under the protocol on decommissioning signed by the government and MILF, the decommissioning will take place in four phases. Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. had said an estimated 35 percent of weapons will be decommissioned during the third phase, which will occur after the BBL has been ratified.
Although the MILF and government peace panels continue to meet regularly to evaluate the condition of the peace process, Iqbal said other aspects of the Annex on Normalization have been affected as a result of the uncertainty surrounding the BBL’s passage.
“The normalization process has so many tracks that are interlinked with each other. To move forward, one aspect has to be linked to another aspect,” he said. 
“It’s our hope that the BBL [will be passed] soon so we won’t have any problem,” Iqbal added. 
Other aspects
Aside from the decommissioning of MILF forces and weapons, the security aspect of the Annex on Normalization integral to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) also includes policing, redeployment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines from or within the conflict-affected areas, and the disbanding of private armed groups. 
Discussions on the proposed BBL have been stalled in both houses of Congress following the Mamasapano debacle that cost the lives of than 60 individuals, including 44 Special Action Force troopers and 17 MILF combatants. 
Iqbal said the BBL’s passage is crucial to the normalization process since the FAB and Comprehensive Agreement to the Bangsamoro (CAB) are just political documents whose provisions cannot be implemented by the government.
“If the BBL is passed by Congress, that will become the law for the Bangsamoro. When that time [comes], everything will be normal for the Bangsamoro,” he said.
The MILF executive said the issue surrounding his use of aliases should not affect deliberations on the Bangsamoro bill because his decision to keep his real identity secret isn’t borne out of deception. He pointed out that he has been signing checks and other documents using the nom de guerre “Mohagher Iqbal” for years.
Asked if he will legalize that particular pseudonym once the proposed BBL is passed into law, Iqbal said: [I plan to legalize] not just my name, but my person, everything. Once the BBL is passed and  implemented, everything will be on the basis on what is legal.” 

MILF’s Iqbal confirms death of BIFF founder Umbra Kato

From GMA News (Apr 14): MILF’s Iqbal confirms death of BIFF founder Umbra Kato

Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato, founder of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, is dead.
This was confirmed Tuesday by Mohagher Iqbal, chief peace negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
"Confirmed," Iqbal told GMA News Online when asked about the supposed death of Kato, leader of the BIFF, a splinter group of the MILF.
Iqbal, however, did not elaborate further on the matter.
The confirmation came following reports that Kato passed away before dawn Tuesday due to stroke.
In a phone interview with GMA News Online, Armed Forces spokesperson Brig. Gen. Kakilala said they have received information on the supposed death of Kato, but they would still need to verify this.
He said based on initial information, Kato passed away in Maguindanao.
Army 6th Division chief Major General Edmundo Pangilinan said they are also verifying the information.
Meanwhile, Datu Saudi Ampatuan Mayor Samsoddin “Pink” Dimaukom also confirmend receiving information about Kato's death.
In a phone interview, Dimaukom said the information relayed to him was Kato died from cardiac arrest somewhere in Guindulungan, Maguindanao around 2 a.m. 
“Yes, namatay daw siya gaya nung unang nyang sakit ... na-stroke,” Dimaukom said.
Kato organized the so-called Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) and its armed group, the BIFF.
In 2008, he led attacks in Mindanao after the Supreme Court junked a memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain between the MILF and the Arroyo administration.

Abus still holding 6 captives for ransom

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 14): Abus still holding 6 captives for ransom

UP TO 80 members of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf are guarding at least six people—including three Filipinos—who are being held for ransom, an official said Monday.

But Col. Alan Arrojado, head of the Joint Task Group Sulu, declined to comment if there was a seventh person being held for ransom by the group of Abu Sayyaf commander Radullan Sahiron.

Police and military authorities have said they are still verifying a report that Mayor Gemma Adana of Naga, Zamboanga Sibugay, who was kidnapped recently by the group of Waning Abdusalam, a lost command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has been delivered to the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.

On Sunday, Armed Forces spokesman Joselito Kakilala said the military and police had impounded three unregistered double-engine boats in Alicia, Zamboanga Sibugay, that were believed to have been used by the group of Abnar Abdusalam, brother of Waning, in Adana’s abduction.

Arrojado said Sahiron had at least eight sub-commanders under his command with 250 to 300 men.

Six of the sub-leaders have been identified as Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan, Hairulla Asbang, Toma Idjas, Jamiri Jaong Jawhari, Hassan Agil, and  Said Mohammad alias Amah Maas.

Arrojado said his troops were being extra careful when hunting the Abu Sayyaf to avoid injuring or even causing the death of the kidnap victims.

The Abu Sayyaf are believed to be still holding Ewold Horn, a Dutch national; Yahung Chen, a Filipino-Chinese; Joshua Bani, 21, from Tawi-Tawi; Nwi Seong Hong, a Korean national; Emeil Jaid, 7, a Tausug; and Renato Fernadez, a retired Philippine Marine.

“The bandits are highly mobile with their kidnap victims in tow. Sometimes they converge, sometimes they move in groups every time our pursuing troops pinpoint their location,” Arrojado said.

He said that from January to March this year his task force had already killed 52 Abu Sayyaf bandits in a series of operations, while less than a dozen soldiers had been killed.

“Our operations are concentrated in Patikul, Indanan and Talipao,” Arrojado said.

“The bandits cannot just transfer to other nearby towns because they can be easily detected.”

China destroyed $100m in reclamation, DFA says

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 14): China destroyed $100m in reclamation, DFA says

THE Philippines on Monday slammed China’s massive reclamation activities which are causing irreversible and widespread damage to the biodiversity and ecological balance of the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea.

The construction works have destroyed 300 acres of coral reefs, resulting in an estimated $100 million in annual economic losses to coastal states, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said.

“China’s massive reclamation activities are causing irreversible and widespread damage to the biodiversity and ecological balance of the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea,” Jose said.

He also accused China of tolerating environmentally harmful methods among its fishermen in Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground that it has controlled since 2012, following a tense maritime standoff with the Philippines.

Satellite photos from the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released last week also showed a flotilla of Chinese vessels dredging sand onto Mischief Reef -- which is claimed by Manila.

Jose said this highlighted the speed of China’s massive reclamation which threatens to dilute rival claims of smaller governments like the Philippines.

On Monday he raised alarm over his Chinese counterpart, Hua Chunying’s, comments last week saying the reclamation would serve Beijing’s military and defence needs.

“Such statements by China only serve to raise the spectre of increasing militarisation and threaten peace and stability in the region,” he said.

The Philippines maintains that China’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea, based on its nine-dash-line map, is illegal, he added.

“We call on China to stop the reclamation activities and to be mindful of its responsibilities as a claimant state and an important member of the international community.”

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin also said Beijing’s massive reclamation works have huge effects on security in the Asia Pacific region.

“That has a big effect on regional security,” Gazmin told reporters at  Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on Monday. “The region will be affected in terms of freedom of navigation, freedom of air space.”

“We are worried and we continue to stick to our initial reaction which is to apply the rule of law,” Gazmin added.

Meanwhile, two members of the left-leaning Makabayan Bloc welcomed the growing international support the Philippines is gaining against China’s reclamation  activities.

Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate said China should stop its reclamation activities now and instead go to the international tribunal hearing the matter if indeed they have the legal basis and evidence to do so.

“As it is China’s expansionist policy based on its 9-dash line theory is without legal, historical and moral basis,” Colmenares, a  House Deputy Minority Leader, said.

“Every Filipino should defend our territory and exclusive economic zones and Pres. Aquino should fortify our positions in the area to counter China’s aggressive acts,” Colmenares added.

Zarate, for his part, said United States President Barack Obama was correct when the latter said China’s expansion is a calculated response.

Nevertheless, Zarate said the US would not risk a war with China because its economy would collapse without China.

“The US owes China at least US$ 1.28 trillion and has a total of US$579 billion in trade with China, compared to only US$17.6 billion with the Philippines,” Zarate said.

“All the US would do is posture that it would defend the Philippines but it will not.

That is the hard and cold reality, so it is best that we build our strength and rely on our own resolve with the help of the international community to defend our sovereignty rather than enter into lopsided deals like the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA),” Zarate added.

‘Iqbal violated banking laws’

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 14): ‘Iqbal violated banking laws’

THE use of aliases by leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is no small matter, because MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal violated the law when he used an alias to open a bank account, Senator Francis Escudero said Monday during the resumption of the hearings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

But government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer again defended the MILF leadership’s use of aliases and said even former President Joseph Estrada, who was born Jose Marcelo Ejercito, signed officials documents during his tenure under an alias.
Senate hearing on the BBL. Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is shown in
a huddle with MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal during the Senate
hearing on the Bangsamoro Basic Law on Monday. Ey Acasio
During the resumption of the hearing of the Senate committee on local government, Escudero asked Iqbal if he has bank accounts under the name Mohagher Iqbal.

“The Anti-Money Laundering Law prohibits the use of aliases and you can can only use your real name. So even in bank accounts, you’re using Iqbal?”

“Yes,” Iqbal answered.

But Ferrer defended Iqbal’s use of an alias saying there had never been any question as to who the “Mister Iqbal” in the peace process was.

She also said identity does not only involve the name, but had to do with biometrics—fingerprints and the face.

“I don’t think there is a mask that disguises his real face. He can be called by different names but the fact remains that he is the one and the same person who signed this document,” Ferrer said.

Marcos replied: “Well, that is perhaps acceptable to those who are familiar with him, but there are millions more who are not. That is why this issue about his true name becomes important,” he said.

“You know who he is. You have seen him everyday for a long time, fine. but the rest of us do not. You have to understand that there is this concern. We’re not sure whom we are dealing with. Yes, we are sure that he is the designated chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, but we do not even know his name. That seems to me a very unusual and peculiar situation,” Marcos added.

Iqbal had earlier begged senators led by Marcos not to compel him to reveal his true identity, citing security risks to him and his family.

“We use nom de guerre to protect myself, my family, and the struggle. If I was harmed and killed, perhaps I would not be here in this august body,” said Iqbal, adding that the situation behind his using an alias was complicated.

But he said the government knows his real identity. He said the government has known everything about him since he was engaging the government for 42 years.

“Nothing can be hidden from the government. They know it. I think the government should answer for that,’’ he said.

He related that when they started their revolutionary struggle, the situation was very difficult, and that many of his relatives were arrested and incarcerated.

“That gave enough reason for anyone, really to adopt measures that would ensure that their security is not compromised,” he said.

He has been using his nom de guerre since February 1979 when the administration of the late President Ferdinand Marcos invited to MalacaƱang representatives from the Hashim Salamat faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which would later be named the MILF.

‘’Already four presidents, from Ramos to Estrada, Arroyo and Aquino, this nom de guerre has never been questioned. It is part of confidence-building,’’ Iqbal said.

But Marcos emphasized that using an alias does not inspire confidence.

Iqbal replied that he would divulge his true name when the BBL is passed into law.

When the BBL is passed by Congress and hopefully ratified, that will be the time everything will normalize and we can disclose everything, including our identities. But at this point in time, I request this honorable body not to compel me to disclose my identity,’’ he said.

Ferrer and presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles came to the defense of Iqbal, saying his use of an alias was part of his right to privacy.

“There are privacy and security issues here. There is a right to privacy of any public official,” said Ferrer.

Deles on the other hand said Iqbal is a very public person who does have a family and children that carry his name.

“We know that the MILF still has enemies,” said Deles who admitted that she didn’t know his true identity.

Ferrer said she had known Iqbal’s real name due to her study of the Moro struggle.
Senators have maintained that using an alias also put to question the the sincerity of the MILF in the peace process.

Because Iqbal refused to reveal his true identity, acting Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III walked out of the hearing, saying he would not talk to people he did not know.

“The BBL is a very important piece of legislation. I prefer discussing it with persons I know. Therefore I will just talk with you, Mr. Chairman, during the plenary,” he said.

Also on Monday, a Manila City Hall official said Mayor Joseph Estrada is not using his name as an alias to conceal his real identity, unlike Iqbal and other members of the MILF.

Manila City Hall media officer Bambi Purisima said Estrada, who was born Joseph Marcelo Ejercito in the Tondo district of Manila, on April 19, 1937, started to use his present when he became an actor.

“The mayor is a registered voter under the name Joseph Ejercito Estrada. He ran under that name and if my memory serves me right, the Supreme Court cleared him of using an alias when he was charged for graft by the Sandiganbayan,” Purisima said.

Purisima added that the mayor used the name Estrada when his parents refused to let him use the family name in the movies.

The Palace on Monday said Iqbal’s use of an alias was of no relevance to the peace process.

“I think all parties, including the senators, agree that the nom de guerre of Mr. Iqbal should not affect the peace process, and as Senator Marcos mentioned, a tangential issue. We hope at some point the issue of Mr. Iqbal’s true name will be resolved,” said presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda.

US Naval Intelligence: Chinese ballistic missile can reach PHL

From Ang Malaya (Apr 13): US Naval Intelligence: Chinese ballistic missile can reach PHL

China’s anti-ship ballistic missile can reach Philippines says in an unclassified report of Pentagon’s Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) regarding the naval capabilities of China.

“The introduction of long-range anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM), non-PLA(N) weapons such as the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), and the requisite Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) architecture to provide targeting data will allow China to expand its combat capability further into the Philippine and South China Seas,” says in the report.

ONI’s report says that China’s naval modernization was able to produced technologically advanced and flexible force. It further says that PLA Navy currently has more than 300 surface combatants, submarines, amphibious ships, and missile-armed patrol craft.

In South China Sea, China has deployed 2 Nuclear Attack Submarines, 4 Nuclear Ballistic Missile Submarines, 16 Diesel Attack Submarines, 9 Destroyers, 20 Frigates, 25 Amphibious Ships, 38 Missile Patrol Craft, 8 Corvettes – US Naval intelligence reports.

PH sea, air domain at risk from Beijing's rush to build facilities on reclaimed land - Gazmin

From InterAksyon (Apr 13): PH sea, air domain at risk from Beijing's rush to build facilities on reclaimed land - Gazmin

The frenzy of China's reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) not only poses a big threat to regional security, but more so to the national security of the country and the Filipino people, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Monday.
“[That has a big impact on] regional security… in terms of freedom of navigation [and] freedom of the air space. We are worried and we continue to stick to our initial reaction which is to apply the rule of law,” Gazmin told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo.

Nonetheless, the defense establishment is confident the international community will back the Philippines' resort to arbitration in an international court where China has repeatedly refused to participate. Instead, the Asian giant, which has built up its fleet of maritime patrol vessels the past three years, fast-tracked its reclamation activities inside Philippine maritime territory.

China's reclamation spree was condemned last weekend by President Barack Obama, who warned China against elbowing out small nations like the Philippines and Vietnam from the disputed Spratly Islands.

Other claimants in the Spratlys are Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

Gazmin said on Monday, “We continue to launch a protest against the massive reclamation [by China]. As you know, we have been following the rule of law and because of this we drew a lot of supporters in terms of our case, the latest of which is the statement of President Obama.”
Gazmin believes China cannot prove to the international community the legality of its excessive claims over the South China Sea using its controversial “nine-dash-line claim”.

Meanwhile, Gazmin believes that other powerful countries will subsequently support the legal claim of the Philippines.

He noted the significance of having "one of the most powerful countries in the world supporting a small country,” referring to the United States.

Meanwhile, at the rate and the extent with which China has been illegally intruding and doing reclamation activities in the WPS, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will also step up its sovereignty patrols.

Gazmin told reporters the DND need not detail to the media how it was augmenting troops for such patrols, beyond stressing that “we continue to monitor. We will increase our monitoring capability in these areas.”

Balikatan, reclamation 'back-to-back risks' to ecology - group

To the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), both the ongoing reclamation for China's artificial islands on Mischief Reef and the US Balikatan war exercises starting April 20 in Ulugan Bay, Palawan are “back-to-back risks” to the marine ecosystems in the waters of Western Philippines.

China’s reclamation activity is the latest episode in its drive to violate our sovereignty in the disputed seas. Meanwhile, this year’s annual US war games will be held in the country’s last frontier, Palawan, clearly to counter China. We Filipinos are the losers in this shadow war currently being waged in the West Philippine Sea; it is resulting in the degradation of coral reefs and its consequent disruption of entire marine ecosystems, and the displacement of our fisherfolk from their traditional fishing grounds,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

China’s rush to build the new military facilities is seen as intended to allow it to service military vessels as well as establish their exclusive economic zone and air defense identification zone, among others, in the West Philippine Sea.

On the other hand, increasing US military activities in Philippine territory is part of the US’ strategic military pivot towards the Asia-Pacific region alongside its efforts to establish a free-trade agreement across the region.

This year’s Balikatan exercises that will commence on April 20 involve 12,000 soldiers and will be held in resource- and biodiversity-rich areas adjacent to the West Philippine Sea.

Indonesia eyes regular navy exercises with U.S. in South China Sea

From InterAksyon (Apr 13): Indonesia eyes regular navy exercises with U.S. in South China Sea

Indonesia wants to hold regular military exercises with the United States near the sparsely populated Natuna archipelago, an area of the South China Sea near China's claims, a navy spokesman said on Monday.
Although Indonesia is not a claimant in the South China Sea, the military has accused China of including parts of Natuna within its so called "Nine-Dash Line," the vague boundary used on Chinese maps to lay claim to about 90 percent of the sea.

The United States, which raised concerns on Friday about China's rapid reclamation of reefs in the area, held a joint military exercise over the weekend with Indonesia in Batam, about 300 miles (480 km) from Natuna.
"It was the second joint exercise we have conducted with the United States in that area and we are planning another one next year. We want to make it routine in that area," said Indonesia Navy spokesman Manahan Simorangkir.

The military exercise included the use of surveillance and patrol aircraft, such as the P-3 Orion, which can detect surface vessels and submarines.

The exercise could not be held in Natuna because of the lack of facilities to accommodate all of the aircraft, he said.

Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu told Reuters last week that in May he would visit Natuna, a scattering of 157 mostly uninhabited islands off the northwest coast of Borneo, to finalize plans on upgrading its small military base.

"There has always been an airport in Natuna but it does not have a lot of armed forces, only a few marines," the minister said. "We will add forces there - possibly air, navy and land forces."

Indonesian officials said the joint military exercises with the United States and planned military build-up in Natuna were not in response to any specific threat.

"It is important to remember Indonesia is not involved in any disputes in the South China Sea," Simorangkir said. "We don't want an incident in the South China Sea and are committed to the diplomatic approach we have always taken."
President Joko Widodo last month said that China's main claims to the majority of the disputed sea had no legal basis in international law, but Jakarta wanted to remain an "honest broker" in one of Asia's most thorny territorial disputes.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.

Ombudsman indicts 5 ex-Marine officers over P36.7M allowances mess

From InterAksyon (Apr 13): Ombudsman indicts 5 ex-Marine officers over P36.7M allowances mess

The Office of the Ombudsman has indicted five former officers of the Philippine Marines for their alleged involvement in anomalous transactions of P36,768,028.95 worth of allowances.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said charges of malversation and violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) has been filed before the Sandiganbayan against Colonel Renato Miranda, Lt. Col. Jeson Cabatbat, Major Adelo Jandayan, Capt. Felicisimo Millado and Capt. Edmundo Yurong in connection with the anomalous utilization of the Combat Clothing Allowance and Individual Equipment Allowance (CCIE) intended for the benefit of Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) enlisted personnel.

The ranks of the respondents as indicated in the Information were based on the positions they held during the alleged commission of the crime.

Miranda retired from the service years ago with the rank of major general.

Morales said graft investigators found that, in December 1999, CCIE allowance amounting to P43.5 million was released by the Philippine Navy and liquidated through the payroll system but not as cash advances of the enlisted personnel.

PMC officials alleged that, out of P43.5 million, P32.9 million was paid to suppliers while P4.2 million was utilized to defray other expenses. Furthermore, P6.2 million was transferred to the custody of the finance officer for payment of the remaining CCIE.

"Investigation showed that, based on disbursement vouchers signed by Miranda, 19 checks all dated in April 2000 were issued in favor of Millado. The checks were encashed and the proceeds were turned over to Jandayan. In turn, Cabatbat and Yurong certified and submitted falsified payrolls of the enlisted personnel. Upon verification and random sampling, 145 enlisted personnel stationed in various provinces denied receiving any allowance and signing in the payroll," Morales said.

Ombudsman Morales also explained that she denied the Motion for Reconsideration of the accused "considering the amount involved, the military officials should have exercised due diligence and prudence in entering into transactions involving funds and that failure to do so signifies [their] active participation in the anomalous transaction which resulted to the defraudation of the government."

On the other hand, the criminal charges against Brigadier General Percival Subala and Capt. Carolyn Bontolo were dismissed for lack of probable cause.

MNLF chair to Congress: Best cease-fire mechanism is immediate passage of BBL

From InterAksyon (Apr 13): MNLF chair to Congress: Best cease-fire mechanism is immediate passage of BBL

Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chairman Datu Abul Khayr Alonto believes the best cease-fire mechanism for the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is the immediate passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
This would end the 43-year war in Mindanao, which he said had claimed over 200,000 lives and rendered over two million people destitute and homeless, while scattering three million others as internal refugees.

He added that in the government's recent all-out offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), 130,000 people were displaced.

Alonto was one of the resource persons in the joint hearing on the cease-fire mechanism of the draft BBL, held Monday by the Senate Committee on Local Government, Committee on Peace, Unity and Reconciliation, and the Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Laws.
He was unable to deliver his prepared speech, but obtained a copy.

"(F)or the first time, the Philippine Congress has the historic opportunity to end the 494 years of Mindanao War waged against the Moro Malay Muslims of Mindanao, with the immediate passage of the (BBL). In your hands is the final liberation of this nation from the shackles of the cruel colonial past," Alonto wrote in the speech he prepared.

He asked that the lawmakers disregard any consideration for the 2016 elections when casting their vote on the passage of the BBL, "For what is another six-year term as compared to forever being remembered by a grateful nation?"

"The best cease-fire mechanism is attainable, and is now in our hands. That is the immediate passage of the (BBL)," he said. "It is one that will automatically place the duty of enforcing peace and order to the Bangsamoro and the local Moro police as it puts an end to the military rule that exists in Mindanao."

Alonto lamented that the peace process had become "hostage" to the Mamasapano clash, which killed 67, including 44 elite policemen. Not only did the public now doubt the MILF, but the Bangsamoro people, as well.

"After the Mamasapano tragedy, the specter is back in every home in Mindanao and Mindanao became a war zone again," he added. "'cease-fire' does not only mean the silence of the guns. It means the cessation of all forms of hostilities, requiring both parties to cease from seeing each other as 'enemy force'. It necessitates putting on hold with utmost patience any program or initiative that could provoke the resurgence of violence for the purpose of attaining peace with justice."

He was also "outraged" that the Moro fighters were portrayed as "bloodthirsty, psychotic killers".

"Gentlemen," he wrote, addressing the senators in his speech, "none of you can get near to the reality of the theater of war. You cannot revisit wars through war movies regardless of how epic those movies are. On the battlefield, regardless of what discipline you have, amidst the bombardment of rockets and gunfire, what is left is the judgment of men on the ground. The Bangsamoro Army follows the Qur'anic precepts and rules of engagement in battles, and the articles of war of the Geneva Convention as well."

Alonto praised the Philippine peace panel achieving "the most effective of all cease-fire mechanisms in the last 43 years" with the MILF

With the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, he said, there were no hostilities, no exchange of fires, and no casualties on either side for almost two years.

Nevertheless, he said that trust and confidence could not be legislated, in the same way that love and compassion could not be forced, as these were "gifts of the heart."

"I have always said that the ultimate solution to the Mindanao conflict lies not in the agreements signed between the Philippine government and the MNLF, and now the MILF, but within the hearts and minds of every Filipino, in their acceptance that there exists a first nation, the Bangsamoro people within their midst, their equal brethren sharing this country and facing a common destiny," he said, explaining that the Bangsamoro was the "first nation" in the country before it was occupied by the Spanish, Americans, and Japanese.

That the MILF signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the Philippine government was proof that the Bangsamoro still wanted to be a part of the Philippines despite the losses in the 43-year war in Mindanao.

"For those who hold power, the noblest manifestation of love and country is expected of them in their ability to transcend that inculcated hatred and prejudice of more than 333 years, and not to incite war. They are expected to possess the political will to make the necessary changes if only for freedom and peace with justice to prevail in this country, and it can be done through the immediate passage of the (BBL), based on the (CAB)," Alonto said.

He stressed that the BBL should not be further diluted, as it would simply perpetuate the oppression experienced by the Bangsamoro people, and would do the latter a great injustice.

On the same day, Senator Bongbong Marcos had disclosed two provisions would be dropped from the draft BBL: that allowing the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity's own constitutional bodies such as the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Commission on  Audit (COA)) and the Civil Service Commission (CSC); and that allowing the creation of a Bangsamoro Police Force.

Marcos is the chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government, which invited Alonto to the hearing.

Alonto nevertheless said that he believed in the constitutionality of the BBL.

Alonto also asked that President Aquino urge Congress to sit as a Constituent Assembly and in a single session, "amend the Constitution to perfect whatever constitutional infirmities there may be in the BBL and then enact the (BBL)."

The MNLF chairman ended his speech by saying he believed that the Filipino nation and the Bangsamoro, "under two systems in one country under one flag can gain more in peace than in war."

'CASUALTIES' OF MAMASAPANO?: Senate drops 2 provisions, amends 1, in draft BBL

From InterAksyon (Apr 13): 'CASUALTIES' OF MAMASAPANO?: Senate drops 2 provisions, amends 1, in draft BBL

Two important provisions - described in some quarters as casualties of the Mamasapano incident - will be dropped, and a third one amended, by the Senate Committee on Local Government from the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. said on Monday.
In his press briefing after the resumption of the public hearing on the proposed measure, Marcos identified two of the three provisions as:
That allowing the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity's own constitutional bodies such as the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Commission on  Audit (COA)) and the Civil Service Commission (CSC);
That allowing the creation of a Bangsamoro Police Force.

The third provision will be amended, in order to limit the draft BBL's wealth-sharing provision in order to give local government units (LGUs) their share in the national income. Marcos explained this needs to be done in order to avert a situation where the new entity could hog all of the share in the national income and leaving the LGUs holding the proverbial empty bag.

Pledge of allegiance

Meanwhile, Marcos also said that he would put back a provision in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) organic law, which was taken out in the draft BBL, regarding the "pledge of allegiance" to the Republic of the Philippines and 1987 Constitution.

"I will introduce it as an amendment. Now we return to BBL the provision in the ARMM organic law that they continue to pledge allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines and that it will not be used as a first step for secession," Marcos said.

BBL not a magic pill

Marcos also said that in the event the draft BBL will be enacted into law, it should not be expected to solve all the problems besetting Mindanao, since there are other armed groups terrorizing the island.

"I think that is our point that has been already raised, that we have raised many times. We go back and we have said that we have to take another perspective on this, and understand that BBL in and of itself is not that magic bullet, or magic pill that will fix all our problems. There are still many other issues that must be discussed," Marcos said.

Marcos said that only massive development programs should be initiated by the national government in Mindanao, which was done by his late father's administration after the signing of the Tripoli Agreement in 1976.

He said that, together with the signing of the Tripoli Agreement, massive infrastructure development programs were initiated in Mindanao.

"And that is part of what we are trying to achieve. That is why we are training our radar on the massive lump sums for the Bangsamoro, which should be implemented by the central government."

BIFF founder Ameril Umbra Kato is dead? Military verifying

From InterAksyon (Apr 14): BIFF founder Ameril Umbra Kato is dead? Military verifying


Military intelligence operatives are verifying information that Ameril Umbra Kato, founder of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement-Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFM-BIFF), is dead.

Yes, we’ve received such information that he died today and we’re looking into its veracity. Initially, we’ve reasons to believe the information is 90 percent true, as of this moment,” a high-ranking military intelligence official told

The official has requested not be named “at this point in time” as the process of verification and confirmation is ongoing.

He said Kato “died of heart attack” at around 2 a.m. Tuesday in Barangay Katiman, Guindulungan, Maguindanao.

“We’re rushing to find out before the Islamic practice of burying the dead within 24 hours,” the official said.  

Several months after he was expelled from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Kato founded in 2008 the BIFM and its armed wing, the BIFF. Kato suffered successive strokes that rendered him bed-ridden.

The military said some 300 from his former MILF 105th Base Command are loyal to Kato.

The MILF expelled Kato and his followers for not supporting the peace process with the government.

Years later, the BIFM-BIFF publicly announced that it plans to build an Islamic state.

Even before his split from the MILF, Kato was carrying a P10-million bounty for leading his men in a series of attacks against government troops and civilian communities, and destroying private and government facilities after the Supreme Court (SC) declared the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) unconstitutional.

Second military source: news of Kato death ‘spreading like wildfire’

A second military source said the death of Kato “is spreading like wildfire” among its followers an supporters in Maguindanao.

“Our intelligence operatives are now following these leads so they will lead them to the whereabouts of Kato,” he said.

“It’s highly probable he is dead considering na talagang hirap na rin siya kasi (he has been really suffering). From time to time he has to be transferred by his men from one place to another to avoid getting captured by our pursuing troops. Deteriorating na ang health niya noon pa man (His health has been deteriorating for a while now),” he added.

The officer said the military is now challenging the BIFF to “show proof” their leader is still alive.

GenSan moves to free 4 kidnapped businessmen

From MindaNews (Apr 13): GenSan moves to free 4 kidnapped businessmen

The city government has mobilized its personnel to assist efforts for the immediate and safe release of four businessmen from this city who were seized by members of an alleged kidnap gang in Maguindanao province two weeks ago.

City Mayor Ronnel Rivera said he has commissioned a team that will closely monitor and lead the necessary coordination with law enforcement units that are working on the reported abduction of business partners Engr. Jayson Cababayao, architect Raulito Suyom, Francis Wong Sepulvida and Rho Steven Bochurno in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao last March 29.

The mayor said they have initially linked up with the Police Regional Office in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (PRO-ARMM) and its anti-kidnapping group.

“We tasked our assigned personnel to gather more information and help in the investigation of the case,” Rivera said.

As of Monday, he said they are still clueless as to the identities of the kidnappers who had reportedly demanded a P10 million ransom for the victims.

He said the families of the four victims already sought the local government’s assistance regarding the incident and are closely coordinating with them for the developments.

“Our priority right now is to ensure the safe release of the victims,” Rivera said.

The four, who are all residents of this city, were on their way to meet a prospective client in Cotabato City for a construction project when they were abducted.

Cababayao’s family owns the J Trade Concrete Products and Construction Supply here.

Police said the victims were last seen leaving the city on March 29 aboard a Mitsubishi Strada pickup. The vehicle was found abandoned somewhere in Maguindanao several days later.

A group led by an alleged field commander of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters initially tagged as behind the kidnapping has repeatedly denied any involvement in the incident.

Chief Supt. Lester Camba, Region 12 police director, earlier confirmed the abduction of the four business partners but refused to give further details noting that another unit is handling the case.

He said the incident happened in the area of responsibility of the PRO-ARMM and is being handled by its anti-kidnapping unit.

The official said he has directed the city police office and the regional police’s intelligence unit to closely coordinate with the PRO-ARMM’s anti-kidnapping group “so we will be able to know the developments of the case.”

Owing to the incident, Camba advised local businessmen to refrain from doing transactions with people who have suspicious identities and in areas that they are not familiar with.

“Make sure that you really know the persons you are dealing with, you well know the area of your meeting place and don’t just give out specific information about your movements. Personal safety should always be a top consideration,” he said.

Kidnappers demand PhP60-M ransom for 2 captives seized in Zambo Sur town

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 13): Kidnappers demand PhP60-M ransom for 2 captives seized in Zambo Sur town

Mayor Richard Garban has appealed to the kidnappers holding captives a child and a bakery worker to release their hostages on humanitarian grounds.

Still in the hands of the kidnappers are Ace Jay Garban, three, and a bakery worker, Ledegie Tomarong, 17.

Mayor Garban made the appeal in a press conference Sunday, citing the families of the two captives do not have the capability to pay ransom.

The appeal of the mayor came after the kidnappers have demanded PhP60 million ransom or at PhP30 million each in exchange for the release of the two captives.

The mayor said the kidnappers made known of their demand through text messages sent to the families of the two hostages.

Garban and his younger sister, Zynielle Jay, two and Tomarong, were seized by 10 gunmen during a shootout in the afternoon of March 31 at the fish port in Barangay Poblacion, this town.

The shootout ensued as alerted policemen pursued the gunmen, who failed to seize their kidnapping target, businesswoman Chzarenia Kapa Sajulga, who owns a bakery in Barangay Poblacion and the employer of Tomarong.

The gunmen made good their escape as they grabbed the three children, who were at the fish port, and made them as human shields that prevented the policemen from further pursuing them.

The gunmen killed Zynielle Jay, whose remain was fished out from sea by fishermen in the morning of April 3 near the shore of this town.

The Garban children are the grandchildren of the mayor of this municipality.

Police and military operatives are continuously tracking down the whereabouts of the victims.

Army soldier guns down Coast Guard operative

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 13): Army soldier guns down Coast Guard operative

A Philippine Coast Guard man did not reach the hospital alive after he was gunned down by A Philippine Army soldier whose group was drinking inside the Paraiso Disco House in Barangay Sta. Remedios, Bulan, Sorsogon, early Monday morning.

SN2 Vlademer Eduarte did not reach the Dr. Fernando B.Duran Sr. Memorial Hospital. Eduarte, 28 and married, was assigned in Ormoc City and a resident of Zone 2, Bulan, Sorsogon.

An initial police report said the incident happened at about 2:00 a.m. while Eduarte and his two friends were lively engaged in drinking inside the disco house when another group at the other table appeared irritated.

Eduarte noticed this and confronted one group member until the confrontation resulted in serious arguments that led to a rumble.

A shot was heard at the height of the fight and a bullet hit Eduarte on his chest.

His companion immediately brought him to the hospital but he died on the way.

Members of the Bulan Municipal Police Office immediately responded and found out that the men Eduarte got in trouble with are members of the Philippine Army who were also drinking in the same establishment.

Police could not yet determine whether the soldiers are assigned with the detachment in the town or the guns have the necessary papers.

Army, PNP arrest Maguindanao's big time illegal drug dealer

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 13): Army, PNP arrest Maguindanao's big time illegal drug dealer

Government forces on Sunday jointly arrested a suspected illegal drug dealer operating in Maguindanao during a raid conducted by Army and police in Maguindanao, the Army here said Monday.

Capt. Joann Petinglay, speaking for the 6th Infantry 'Kampilan' Division, said elements of the 33rd Infantry Battalion, under the leadership of Lt. Col. Ricky Bunayog, supported the conduct of a law enforcement operation against a suspected drug dealer Norodin Kasan Sangki, alias Datu Nouri Sangki, at his residence at Sitio Bilibiran, Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

Petinglay said the soldiers backed the agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in serving the search warrant with number 2015-016 issued by 12th Judicial Region executive judge Bansawan Z. Ibrahim of RTC Branch 13 in Cotabato City against the suspect, considered to be a high value target at the break of dawn.

"The PDEA-ARMM coordinated with our ground troops and the raid was successful," Petinglay said, adding that coordination was vital in any police or military operations against lawless elements.

Found in the residence of Sangki were four pieces of heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance believed to be a methamphetamine hydrochloride known as “shabu” which weighed around 150 grams with an estimated street value of Php 700,000.

Petinglay said the raiding team also seized one Armalite rifle with one magazine assembly, two cal. 45 pistols and one piece 40mm ammunition for M-203 rifle grenade.

Sangki was arrested with his wife and two other companions from their residence and were brought to PDEA headquarters in PC Hill, Cotabato City for proper disposition.

"The joint operation was successful because of the timely and accurate collaboration of the concerned government agencies in order to help go after criminals and lawless elements in the area of operations of 6ID," the Army spokesperson said.

Major Gen. Edmundo R. Pangilinan, the 6ID Commander, expressed his sincere support to future operations that will help solve security issues within his area of responsibility.

Sangki is facing charges for violation of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Drugs Act of 2002.