Sunday, September 27, 2015

Army spearheads `Bike For Peace'

From the Visayan Daily Star (Sep 28): Army spearheads `Bike For Peace'

The Philippine Army continues its advocacy of promoting peace, this time through a 100-kilometer mountain bike ride Saturday in central Negros.

Maj. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, 3rd Infantry Division commander, who led the Philippine Army contingent, said the activity not only aimed at promoting peace, but also of healthy living and camaraderie, with bike also as an alternative mode of transportation.

Organizers estimated more than 500 bikers from the different bikers associations in the province, personnel of the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office, and even those in the media, joined the activity.

Guerrero said the participants were also able to see the beautiful landscapes and tourism attractions of Bacolod City and its neighboring cities and municipalities.

The 100-kilometer mountain bike activity kicked off 4:30 a.m. Saturday at the Capitol Lagoon, passing through Murcia – Cansilayan- Abuanan-Crossing Minin g-La Carlota- San Enrique-Pulupandan-Valladolid-Bago to Bacolod City.

The activity, with the theme “A 100km Ride- 100% Commitment to Peace”, also forms part of the Peace Month celebration, being marked by the provincial government of Negros Occidental, through its Provincial Peace Integration and Development Unit, in tandem with the Army, PNP and multi-sectoral groups.

Col. Francisco Delfin, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, and his executive officer, Lt. Col. Darren Comia, also joined Guerrero in the activity, which ended with a program at the Negros Occidental Multi-Purpose Center .

Former Manapla Mayor Manolet Escalante and Bacolod Councilor Jun Gamboa, who represented Gov. Alfredo Maranon Jr. and Mayor Monico Puntebella, respectively, also joined the closing rites, pledging anew their support to the peace efforts in Negros Occidental.

Army on track to declare Negros insurgency-free

From the Visayan Daily Star (Sep 28): Army on track to declare Negros insurgency-free

The Army's 3rd Infantry Division remains on track in their objective to declare Negros and Panay insurgency-free by next year, although they fell short of their target to reduce the New People's Army strength and firepower in the third quarter of 2015.

But its commander, Maj. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, said Saturday that they were able to reduce the NPA strength in Negros to about 147 members, with the same numbers also in Panay. At the same time, they were able to clear 49 rebel affected barangays in both islands, he added.

Last year, the military estimated that there are still about 200 operating in the Negros hinterlands.

The 3ID is eyeing further reduction of the NPA strength and firepower to 25 percent by the end of the year.

While there is a lull in violent activities of the NPA, Guerrero admitted that there is also an increase in their non-violent activities, such as in recruitment of new members, mass-based build up and foraging for logistical requirements.

He,however, said the rebels are facing difficulty in pursuing their expansion activities due to the presence of Army Bayanihan Teams in rebel-affected areas.

As long as Bayanihan Teams are present in those areas, it will further restrict the movement and expansion attempt of the NPA remnants, Guerrero said.

Records of the AFP Central Command shows that 11 of the 16 provinces in the Visayas region have been declared as insurgency-free, including the two provinces of Negros, Iloilo, Northern Samar and Capiz.

As to the call of former Manapla Mayor Manuel Escalante to issue safe conduct passes for the NPA to join their families in the lowlands, Guerrero said they could come down anytime, provided they will not bring their firearms.

As long as they abandon the armed struggle, there is no problem, he said.

Wanted NPA leader captured in Agusan

From Tempo (Sep 28): Wanted NPA leader captured in Agusan

The long arm of the law finally caught up with a top New People’s Army (NPA) leader, who is one of the most wanted in Caraga region, during a joint military and police checkpoint in Sibagat, Agusan Del Sur.

Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, spokesman, Army 4th Infantry Division (4ID), identified the arrested rebel leader as Rona Mae Callao, also known as “Ka Diane”, secretary of Guerrilla Front (GF) 30A and at the same time the regional financial and medical staff of North Eastern Mindanao Regional Committee (NEMRC) in Surigao del Sur. She is facing criminal charges, including multiple murder, frustrated murder, and robbery.

Martinez said Callao was arrested at a checkpoint in Poblacion, Sibagat, Agusan del Sur, last Friday.

“Together with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and with the help of the peace loving citizens of Sibagat, Agusan del Sur, Callao was arrested by virtue of several warrants of arrest and a in a lawful and proper arrest procedure,” said Martinez.

Recovered from her possession are one .357-caliber pistol with ammunition, one Lenovo tablet, four cellular phones, P5,200 cash, and “subversive documents with high intelligence value.”

Col. Alexander Macario, commander of 401st Infantry Brigade, said that Callao “has long been pursued by the law because she is responsible in all the financial transactions of the NPA who are actively creating atrocities in different parts of Mindanao.”

“Her apprehension could lead to the discovery of all the financial transactions of NPA operating in Surigao del Sur. It is possible to get important information from her since she has a high position being the secretary of GF 30A and regional financial and medical staff of NEMRC,” he added.

20 years on, Pestaño kin say murder case ‘rolling’

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 28): 20 years on, Pestaño kin say murder case ‘rolling’
Twenty years after Navy Ensign Philip Pestaño was found dead in his cabin on a naval transport ship, the wheels of justice are finally rolling, his family said on Sunday.

Gathered at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani in Taguig City on Sunday morning, Pestaño’s family and friends remembered the cargo officer as someone who valued honesty and who would fight for what he believed in.

Former Sen. Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., counsel for Pestaño’s family, said that after two decades, the perpetrators of the murder would soon be brought to justice.

On Sept. 27, 1995, Pestaño was found on his bed in his cabin on the BRP Bacolod City with a gunshot wound in his right temple. The vessel was on its way to Manila from Sangley Point in Cavite.

Earlier investigations conducted by the Senate and the Armed Forces of the Philippines concluded that it was a case of suicide, but Pestaño’s family believed he was killed after he learned that the ship’s officers were involved in illegal activities like the smuggling of logs and guns.

When the criminal case was reopened in 2011 in the Manila Regional Trial Court, Pimentel said the proceedings were still slow but noted that there were developments.

One of these was the arraignment last October of the 10 accused, who included Commander Reynaldo Lopez, Commander Luidegar Casis, Commander Alfrederick Alba, Lt. Commander Joselito Colico, Hospital Man First Class Welmenio Aquino, Machinery Repair First Class Sandy Miranda and two now retired officers—Lt. Commander Ricardo Ordoñez and Petty Officer 2 Mil Leonor.

Hearings usually postponed

All of them entered not-guilty pleas in the murder charge filed against them, while two suspects—Lt. Commander Ruben Roque and Petty Officer First Class Carlito Amoroso—remain at large.

“The hearings would usually be postponed because they do not have their lawyer with them,” said Pimentel, noting that the family was not expecting the case to be decided within the year but hoped that it would be over next year.

Pestaño’s father, Felipe Pestaño, told the media the family was thankful that over the past 20 years they had learned what really happened to their son.

He said he was hoping that those responsible for his son’s death would be brought to justice.

“We never gave up in our quest for justice because we know the truth and we have the support of a lot of people,” Pestaño said at the Bulwagan sa Libingan ng mga Bayani, which was filled with about 100 family members and friends of his son.

The family said there was still no date for the next hearing of the case after the respondents asked Manila RTC Branch 6 Judge Jansen Rodriguez to inhibit himself from the case.

Where are Samal hostages? Military verifying

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 28): Where are Samal hostages? Military verifying

The military on Sunday said it was verifying reports the three Westerners and a Filipino woman who were abducted from Samal Island in Davao last week had been taken to Sulu.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines said Sunday the reports remained unconfirmed, although it reported on Saturday the recovery in Jolo, Sulu, of a boat suspected to have been used by the kidnappers.

“There is still no confirmation to the information (that the victims were taken to Sulu), but that is being continuously validated,” said Col. Restituto Padilla, spokesman for the AFP.

In Zamboanga City, Brig. Gen. Allan Arrojado, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu, said there was no basis for saying the kidnap victims had been taken to Sulu.

“Plain speculation, unless we get solid proof from reliable sources,” Arrojado told the Inquirer on Sunday.

The military does not act on information from a single source, Arrojado added.

“We need at least three to four confirmatory reports, then we start to validate,” he said.

On Saturday, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said he had received intelligence information the hostages, who were seized from the Holiday Oceanview resort hotel on Samal Island, had been taken to Sulu.

Canadian tourists John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipino Maritess Flor were seized from Oceanview late last Monday by 11 gunmen, who escaped in motorized outriggers.

“They are already in Sulu. All sources indicate and all this information were consistent that they are in Sulu,” Duterte said.

In exchange

Duterte, who on Friday offered himself to the kidnappers in exchange for their captives, said he had sent a message to the abductors seeking to negotiate the release of the victims.

He also appealed to the kidnappers to be reasonable if it was a ransom that they wanted.

They should not demand too much for the release of the captives, he said.

Officials said hundreds of policemen and Army troops, backed by the Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard, were chasing the kidnappers, with the operation concentrated on the mountains of the Davao region, where sightings of the gunmen and their captives had been reported.

On Sunday, however, officials declined to say whether the operations remained in Davao or had shifted to Sulu following the recovery of a 25-meter suspected getaway boat in Jolo on Friday.

Col. Noel Detoyato, AFP public affairs office chief, declined to say where exactly the operations were going on.

“These are operational data. This might endanger our troops on the ground. Even if there is a general location, the enemy might pinpoint it,” Detoyato said.

Capt. Alberto Caber, spokesman for the AFP Eastern Mindanao Command, said reports of sightings of the kidnappers and their captives were still being verified.

Authorities were examining the boat found in Omar town, Sulu, to determine if it was the one used by the kidnappers.

Arrojado said the boat was discovered on Saturday afternoon and appeared to have been sunk on purpose.

A source from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) said informers from Sulu had monitored the arrival of a “junkong,” a motorized boat without outriggers, on Saturday night.

The MNLF source, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak on the matter, told the Inquirer that the boat, which carried gunmen and what appeared to be hostages, landed in Talipao, Sulu.

The group, the source said, was led by a Makmud Askali, who has links to the Abu Sayyaf terror group.

Sahiron relative?

It was unclear, the source said, if Askali was related to Haik Askali, alias “Abu Aswad,” a nephew of Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron.

Abu Aswad was arrested by police in Jolo on Dec. 25, 2013, for his role in the kidnapping of birdwatchers Elwold Horn, a Dutch national, and Lorenzo Vinciguerra, a Swiss citizen, and their Filipino guide Ivan Sarenas in 2012.

Sarenas escaped, but the two Europeans remain in captivity.

Habib Hashim Mudjahab, chair of the MNLF’s Islamic Command Council, said former Presidential Assistant for Mindanao Jesus Dureza had asked him to help find the hostages.

Dureza is a friend of kidnap victim Ridsdel, a former executive of a mining company.

“Secretary Dureza wants us to determine if the hostages were brought to Talipao by this Commander Makmud Askali. If this is true, then this Askali, as far as we know, is an Abu Sayyaf,” Mujahab said.

Mudjahab said Talipao is near the area where fugitive MNLF leader Nur Misuari is hiding.

“If Misuari is aware of this, he can help in the peaceful release of the hostages,” Mudjahab said.

Opinion: Propaganda warfare

Opinion piece posted to the Nef Luczon column of the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Sep 27): Propaganda warfare

NOW it has come to a point that both camps from the progressive groups and the state forces had to resort to a classic formula: propaganda.

However, this time, the battleground is not only on the traditional media platforms but eventually in a new and wider scale: social media and an advanced form of community organizing.

At the end of the day, it is the indigenous peoples and their community was torn between the right and the left; however, both sides agreed to one existence: the paramilitary forces. As to who endowed them with arms and the license to kill is the elusive part of the equation.

If you listen to the military, it is from the communist rebels, who were also backed by the “progressive and left-leaning” organizations.

And if you listen to the progressive groups, it is the military, who is the main suspect in the killing the tribal leaders and volunteers in alternative schools in the hinterlands because they are likely to be “sympathizers” of the New People’s Army and teaches communist doctrines.

The ingredients of propaganda are so rich that it needs a “show” by community organizing, in order to “affirm” the whole situation that can be favorable to the both sides’ end.

So, they organized fora, conferences as well as “dialogues” and “peace building” activities and later that day would be a “declaration of truth” and a “call for unity.” Then they write about it and disseminate the information as-a-matter-of-fact.

And here we are, the public, left confused and sometimes easily sold out to the propaganda that we’re getting. How do we know the real score if majority of us are just the reading public and media-consuming individuals who also have our own lives to tend to.

Propaganda has been the name of the game not just in conflict stories but also it is always a friendly tool for politicians; in fact, it is gaining ground for making the Marcos years and Martial Law a once beautiful fairytale.

But how do we know what is a “propagandized” story from the actual narrative?

In the case of the lumad killings in Mindanao, first, you must understand the context -- the voice where it is coming from. When a news breaks out, you must link the organizations who were quick to accuse and be accused of doing so, and link them where are they closely related or in allied into.

You must understand the movements and actions initiated by these organizations. But most of all, you should count how many neutral and independent organizations reached out to the situation and reported major discrepancies in order to gauge, who among those sides are fabricating stories and save their faces.

1 dead in Army encounter with NPA

From ABS-CBN (Sep 27): 1 dead in Army encounter with NPA

The First Special Forces Battalion of the Philippine Army encountered five alleged members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Purok 1, Barangay Cabangahan in Malabalay City, Bukidnon.

One person was killed while two of the alleged NPA members were brought to the hospital after sustaining injuries on different parts of their body.

Based on the initial investigation of the Malaybalay Police, the alleged NPA members were on board a bongo truck when they had an encounter with government troops.

Authorities are continuing their manhunt operations in the area.

Rebel returnees given financial aid

From the Visayas Newsbits section of the Manila Bulletin (Sep 28): Rebel returnees given financial aid

Borongan City, Eastern Samar – Government has distributed P715,000 in checks to 11 former New People’s Army (NPA) cadres from Maslog, Dolores, Oras, San Julian, Giporlos, and Hernani towns, and Borongan City who have abandoned the armed movement.
The recipients received P65,000 broken down to livelihood assistance (P50,000) and immediate financial aid (P15,000) from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) under the government’s Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP).
The Department of Interior and Local Government certified that the recipients are former rebels after visiting their homes and talking to their friends, relatives and neighbors.
Governor Conrado Nicart, who chairs the Provincial Peace and Order Council led the recent turnover at the Provincial Capitol. Key DILG, Philippine Army, Philippine National Police and Department of Social Welfare and Development officials were also present. 

De Lima defends state operations in lumad areas

From the Business World (Sep 27): De Lima defends state operations in lumad areas

JUSTICE Secretary Leila M. de Lima on Sunday qualified “military and law enforcement operations” in areas inhabited by the indigenous lumad as being guided by human rights, even as she urged the New People’s Army and tribal paramilitaries to halt armed action in those areas.

“There is no doubt that both the New People’s Army (NPA) and their allied organizations, on the one hand, and some elements of the State’s security forces, on the other, have played a role in a situation where the lumad are caught in the middle of an armed rebellion and the consequent counter-insurgency operations,” Ms. de Lima said in a statement.

She said, nevertheless, that “military and law enforcement operations are conducted with the utmost concern and attention to international humanitarian laws and human rights that govern the conduct of combatant forces in an armed conflict.”
The Palace last week described allegations of military occupation as “baseless and unfounded,” with President Benigno S. C. Aquino III describing military operations as “serving the people.”

But the Justice secretary said “the government therefore sees as a positive intervention the calls for a comprehensive process and peaceful resolution to the conflict already put forward by non-partisan sectors.”

She said the NPA and paramilitary forces should both cease from further acts of violence.
Ms. de Lima described the “finger-pointing” between the military and the “anti-administration forces” as unnecessarily causing the polarization of the situation.
She cited reports that lumad tribes were being pitted against one another to choose sides in the conflict between the military and the NPA.
“It is important that we cut through the din and obfuscation in order to undertake objective investigations,” she said. “Ideological agendas should be set aside so the facts can surface from all the political noise.”

The Department of Justice convened on Sept. 24 a special investigating team to probe reported incidents of harassment and massacres, as well as the evacuation of fleeing lumad from their villages in northern and eastern Mindanao. The probe came on the heels of a directive from Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr.

‘NPA Created the Conflict in Lumad Tribes’—Office of the Army Chief

From the Philippine Information Agency (Sep 29): ‘NPA Created the Conflict in Lumad Tribes’—Office of the Army Chief 

The New People’s Army deliberately destroyed the Lumad Tribes, it’s structure, culture, and tradition, when they deceitfully created the Rebolusyonaryong Kalihukang Lumad (Revolutionary Indigenous People Movement) among tribal communities and lured some IPs to join the Pulang Bagani (NPA IP Warriors) that eventually sparked the conflict within the Tribe (Pulang Bagani vs Traditional Bagani), according to a statement from the Office of the Army Chief.

Mr Julieto Canoy, a former NPA Guerilla Front and Finance Secretary in Agusan del Sur and has been with the Revolutionary Movement for 30 long years, is now fighting the wrong idealism of his former comrades. He said, “Kinahanglan ma kontrol sa komunista ang mga lumad kay naa sa ilang lugar ang dagkong material og pinansyal na makatabang sa pagpaasdang sa nasudnong demokratikong rebolusyon. Aron mag malampuson ang komunista, ilang ipamobilisa og gamiton ang mga Lumad aron paspas ang paglalom sa krisis sa ekonomiya, ipagawas nga inutil ang kasamtangang Goberno og kinahanglan ng mapulihan sa rebolusyonaryong kalihukan. Busa usa sa mga lakang ang pag mugna sa Rebolusyonaryong Kalihukang Lumad.” (The communists should control the Lumads because the resources that will improve their democratic revolution are in these territories. In order for the communists to be successful, they will mobilize the Lumads to create conditions for economic crisis, show that the Government is “Inutile” and it’s time to change the Government to a revolutionary government. That is why one of their steps is to organize and mobilize a Revolutionary Indigenous People Movement.)

In order for the NPAs to achieve this concept, they started with a negotiation with the IPs in 1994 at Lianga Bay, Surigao del Sur. Tribal leaders (Datus) were called by the NPA leaders namely: Ka Isko, Father Frank Navarro and Ka Maria Malaya aimed to discuss “Lumpong” or “Magdeal-lay Agreement”. This agreement was between the Tribal Leaders and the NPA leaders which gave Lumad Leaders (Datu) the authority to negotiate with the investors and contractors of any businesses within IP domain.

However, in 2004, NPAs scrapped this arrangement and created another which they called “Malanday Agreement”. This time, NPA Leaders have taken the full participation in all business transactions. All Tribal Leaders including their members who opposed this agreement have been killed or were harassed/attacked by the NPAs. Because of fear and/or deceit, some of the IP members joined the Pulang Bagani Command which the NPAs can control and mobilize.

Records show that in 1998 to 2008, a total of 357 Indigenous Peoples were brutally killed by the NPAs which led to the Lumads to stand and fight for their life and preserve their culture and tradition. As a result, in Caraga alone, records show that from 2010 to 2015, a total of 18 Pulang Bagani and 13 NPAs have been killed by the Traditional Bagani (IP Warriors).

The most brutal fight between the two warring IP groups happened in July 15, 2014, when the NPAs attacked Datu Calpito Egua at Brgy St Irene, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur. 12 NPAs died while two (2) Traditional Bagani were killed and one (1) wounded. This prompted the Traditional Bagani last October 8, 2014 to go on “MAGAHAT” a tribal term which means “To attack or act violently against…” the NPAs.

Last May 10, 2015, this traditional Bagani, who went on “Magahat” from Agusan del Sur and Surigao del Sur, openly declared a war against the NPAs through local radio interviews in Caraga region. This gave everyone, the LGU, PNP, AFP, Church, and other sector of society the knowledge about the on-going conflict within the tribes.

On September 1, 2015, one of this traditional Bagani group killed three persons in Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

“This is a clear evidence that our IP communities especially in CARAGA have been destroyed by the NPAs. This is the reason why your Army is present in the area. Our presence there is not militarization, but a peacekeeping mission. We enter IP communities because we don’t want violence to reign among the Lumads.” Said by MGen Oscar T Lactao, Commander of 4th Infantry Division.

In response to this, the Regional Peace and Order Council of Region 13 led by Hon Ferdinand Amante Jr., Mayor of Butuan City, convened the executive committee meeting last September 22, 2015 to discuss ways and means to solve the said conflict.

The council agreed upon that in order to solve the problem is to reunite first the IPs through the conduct of “Kahimunan” (Tribal Assembly) and eventually a “Tampudah” (Tribal Peace Pact) for the two warring IP group.

Mayor Amante said, “We need to bring back the integrity of our IP communities and free them from Insurgency manipulation in order for our IPs to preserve their ancestral domains, culture and tradition. We shall also focus on addressing the issues that are happening in the area. We need to deliver the programs that will improve their living conditions in order for this conflict to be fully addressed. We shall work together as one the Bayanihan way.”

Last September 21 and 23, 2015, two separate Indigenous Peoples assembly was conducted by Tribal Leaders in Agusan del Sur and Surigao del Sur. They signed a manifesto stating therein to free tribal domains from NPA intrusions. Tribal Leaders said, “They have no right to exist in our tribal areas and have no right to intervene in tribal matters. We seek for peace to prosper in our community that will eventually lead to our own development.” (Office of the Army Chief Public Affairs)

Philippine militant group Abu Sayyaf: Who are they?

From The Guardian (Sep 26): Philippine militant group Abu Sayyaf: Who are they?


A boat suspected of being used in the kidnapping of three Westerners and a Filipina has been found abandoned on the Philippines’ remote Jolo island, the stronghold of the militant Abu Sayyaf group.

The police find has led to speculation the group was involved in Monday’s abduction of two Canadian tourists, a Norwegian resort manager and a Filipina on Samal island, more than 500 kilometres (311 miles) away.

Here are answers to some key questions about the group and their activities.

Who are they?

The loosely organised band emerged in the early 1990s — with funding provided by a brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden — as an even more violent offshoot of a decades-old Muslim insurgency that has wracked the southern region of Mindanao since the 1970s.

The group strikes terror well beyond its bases on Jolo and Basilan islands and has been blamed for the worst bomb attacks in the country. It claimed the firebombing of a ferry off Manila Bay in 2004 that killed more than 100 people. The group has also abducted Western tourists and missionaries in the Philippines and Malaysia, sometimes
beheading captives if ransoms are not paid.

What is their agenda?

Recruiting mostly from impoverished locals, Abu Sayyaf professes to fight for an independent Islamic state in Mindanao, using million-dollar ransom proceeds from dozens of kidnappings to finance their operations and buy weapons.

The group has harboured foreign militants from Jemaah Islamiyah, which seeks to set up a caliphate across Southeast Asia and is blamed for the deadly 2002 Bali bombings.

Last year Abu Sayyaf also pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Why does the threat persist?

From 2002-2014 about 500 US special forces advisers trained and provided intelligence to Philippine troops fighting Abu Sayyaf, which led to the killing or arrest of many militant leaders.

US assistance was scaled back last year, on grounds the joint effort had degraded the militants’ fighting capability and left it as “disorganised groups resorting to criminal undertakings to sustain their activities”. But this offers little comfort to locals still at risk.

How dangerous are they?

Many Western and other embassies routinely issue warnings to their citizens in the Philippines against travel to most of the country’s Muslim southern region on the risk of abduction or due to fresh bomb threats.

However the group has at times struck in areas previously thought safe, such as the Manila Bay ferry attack and the 2000 kidnapping of Western tourists on Sipadan resort in Malaysia.

Will a Muslim peace deal help?

President Benigno Aquino’s government last year signed a peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s largest guerrilla group, aimed at ending decades of insurgency that has impoverished its Muslim south.

The MILF says the deal would prevent the further radicalisation of Filipino Muslims and undercut Abu Sayyaf’s base. However a bill implementing the main points of the agreement has stalled in parliament.

ASG bomber, kidnapper nabbed in Zambo City

From the Zambaonga Today Online (Sep 27): ASG bomber, kidnapper nabbed in Zambo City

A suspected Abu Sayyaf explosives expert and kidnapper was arrested during law enforcement operations Friday afternoon in Zamboanga city.

Zamboanga police have identified the arrested suspect as Wajir Arajani y Tanadjalin, an Abu Sayyaf member based in Basilan province.
Arajani is also known by the following aliases: Mojahid, Baghdad, Wajir and Wazir.
The suspect was arrested during law enforcement operations conducted by PNP elements within the vicinity of the Zamboanga City Medical Center around 4:15pm Friday.

Arajani is reportedly an explosives expert who worked with Abu Sayyaf leaders Khair Mundos, Furuji Indama, Napeh Atalad, and Jemaah Islamiya leader Amin Bacu.
The suspect is also facing charges of Kidnapping with Ransom for the abduction of US citizen Gerfa Yeatts Lunsmann, her son Kevin and a relative in the year 2011.

A Warrant of Arrest docketed under Criminal Case 27263  for violation of Section 5 of RA 8369 was issued by the Regional Trial Court of Zamboanga city Branch 15.

Meanwhile PNP sources disclosed that the suspect is closely being investigated by police for his resemblance to the person responsible for the bombing of a passenger bus in Zamboanga city last week.
The suspect was depicted in an artist sketch released by authorities last Saturday.

In a text message however, Zamboanga City Police Office Chief Sr Supt Angelito Casimiro denied that Arajani is the suspect in the bombing incident depicted in the artist sketch by the NBI.

Police units responsible for the arrest of the suspect include the Regional Intelligence Unit 9, S2, Zamboanga City Police Office, Special Projects Mindanao Khilafa Islamiya, 84th Special Action Company- SAF, Philippine Center for Transnational Crime, Regional Intelligence Division- PRO9, and RHPU-9.

MILF: International Groups optimistic Bangsamaoro peace process would succeed

Posted to the MILF Website (Sep 27): International Groups optimistic Bangsamaoro peace process would succeed

During the Security Summit held in Davao City last Monday, September 21, representatives of international donor countries expressed their optimism that the peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would succeed. 

This would happen despite the challenges and snail-pace on the deliberations of the proposed law in both chambers of congress, they said. 

They also said that there were improvements in the peace and order situation and economic condition in the Bangsamoro since the ceasefire between Philippine government and the MILF was signed in 1997.

The Security Summit sponsored by The Asia Foundation (TAF) and Conciliation Resources was attended by Australian First Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade Warren Hoye and members of the Joint Normalization Committee (JNC)

JNC is a body created by the GPH and MILF peace panels to coordinate the processes and mechanisms of the Normalization Program as part of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro; the ceasefire mechanisms which include the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and  Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities; International Decommissioning Body (IDB) which oversees the decommissioning process of the MILF; international donor agencies and civil society organizations (CSOs). 

In his speech during the summit, Hoye said the Australian government is satisfied with the positive impact of the peace process on the lives of Mindanaoans.

“Since the ceasefire between the government of the Philippines and the MILF has been in place, we have seen marked reduction in violent incidents (with the exception of the all-out war in 2000 and after the MoA-AD decision in 2008),” Hoye observed.

“We have also seen increasing investments in the ARMM in recent years so we have seen peace bring an improvement in security which has allowed development,” he added.

Hoye reiterated that the Australian government remains steadfast in its support to the peace process and for the development in the ARMM and the Bangsamoro.

He said that after many decades of violence and conflict in Mindanao, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) offers the basis of a durable political settlement for the people of Mindanao and the Philippines.

“There is some uncertainty around BBL [passage] at present, but we shouldn’t let this threaten the benefits which have accrued to date through peace and security.”

He added that Australia remains a strong supporter of peace in Mindanao and would like to see lasting peace and stability in the south to allow development and prosperity to take root in the region.

On his part, Kristian Herbolzheimer, Programme Director of Conciliation Resources for the Philippines and Colombia, said the Mindanao peace process is now the main reference beside prior major peace agreements in Nepal, Sudan and the Northern Ireland by groups and peoples whose efforts are focused on ending conflicts worldwide.

“The world is watching what happens in Mindanao,” Herbolzheimer said.

“This is to say that what you are doing now is not only important for Mindanao, for the Bangsamoro, for the Philippines, it’s a reference for the rest of the world,” he added.

Herbolzheimer explained that military officers and civil society groups in Colombia  regularly request him to share developments in the Mindanao peace process, particularly on issues related to security and normalization, and the role of civil society in enforcing and implementing these important facets in a peace process.

“We do know that security is the most valued peace dividend for people who live in conflict affected areas,” he pointed out.

Herbolzheimer urged the summit’s participants to identify "how we can play complementary roles in order for all of us to deliver our common goal which is better security, for the communities and the Bangsamoro."

Retired Maj. Gen. Leo Cresente M. Ferrer, a member of the JNC representing the Philippine government, said civil society should play an active role in enforcing the peace agreement and pressuring the government and the MILF to follow their commitments.

Atty. Naguib Sinarimbo, representative of the MILF to JNC, said that they are open for collaboration with civil society partners, citing CSO contributions in the milestones of the Bangsamoro peace process. (Source: OPAPP)

Army: Soldiers fear women, children might be compromised

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Sep 26): Army: Soldiers fear women, children might be compromised

A report from the Army shows that the soldiers failed to engage with the suspects of the lumad killings as they feared getting the women and children caught in the crossfire.

The army version of the incident said the soldiers saw everything that happened from a vantage point a few hundred meters away but could not moved for fear of harming the civilians.

The report said the soldiers received an order from the commanding officer of the 75th Infantry Battalion “to engage (the armed men) provided that the civilians will not be harmed.”

The soldiers replied, “We cannot engage the armed elements because of the presence of many civilians including women and children.”

The soldiers reported that the armed suspects started leaving the village using the civilians as human shields at around 7 a.m.

The report furthered the soldiers were about 120 meters away from the suspects but could not fire fearing for the safety of the civilians.

The suspects kept on firing their guns as they retreated, the report reads.

The suspects later released the civilians who returned to their homes to pack their belongings and flee.

With this incident, the Army authorities place under court martial a fresh graduate from the Philippine Military Academy and reprimanded his company commander for the September 1 incident that left one school director and two others dead in Surigao del Sur, all lumads.

Maj. Gen. Oscar Lactao, commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division (4ID) said the Board of Inquiry (BOI) also recommended the relief of an Army major who served as the officer of the day of the 75th Infantry Battalion.

Lactao said these officers were held for command responsibility for allegedly not taking any actions to protect the civilians in Sitio Han-ayan, Barangay Diatagon in Lianga town, Surigao del Sur last Sept. 1.

4ID spokesperson Capt. Patrick Martinez said the army officers maintained that they were exercising their “judgment call” in the unfolding events of the killings of the school director and his two companions.

“The young Army officer is now confined at the 4ID headquarters in Cagayan de Oro City,” Martinez said.

Martinez withheld the names of the officers pending the outcome of the court martial.

Unidentified armed men killed Emerito Samarca, 54, Executive Director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev), a school for lumads; Dionel Campos, chair of the nongovernment organization Malahutayonh Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu), a lumad organization protesting mining operations, land conversion and plantations; and Bello Sinzo, Campos’ cousin in Sitio Han-Ayan.

The killings triggered a mass evacuation of some 3,000 residents who feared they would be killed too after the gunmen paraded Campos and Sinzo around a basketball court and killed in front of them.

The Philippine National Police have filed multiple murder; arson; robbery and grave threats at the Provincial Prosecutors Office in Lianga, Surigao del Sur against Bobby Tejero; his older brother, oloy alias Abab; Gareto Layno; and several John Does of the Bagani paramilitary group who were held responsible for the killings.

An Army Board of Inquiry report said the concerned officers and the soldiers were deployed in Sitio Han-ayan as part of the Community Organization for Peace and Development under the “Oplan Bayanihan.”

The soldiers arrived in Sitio Han-ayan on August 15 after a send-off ceremony held by Gov. Johnny Pimentel in Lianga town in Surigao del Sur.

The BOI report said the soldiers deployed around the village and, guided by a soldier who is a Manobo, mingled with the residents.

The report said another team of soldiers also went up a hill overlooking the two non-formal schools for lumads; Alcadev and Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS).

On September 1, the troops heard gunshots fired and learned there was some commotion near the Alcadev school, the report said.

“The troops saw 20 unidentified armed men wearing camouflage, others wearing sweat shirts and bonnets. Likewise, the troops saw more or less 100 civilians in chaos being rounded up by the armed men,” the report said.

Citing accounts from witnesses, the Army BOI report said the armed men rouse the students and teachers of the two schools and residents and gathered them at a basketball court and at Alcadev.

The report said the armed men introduced themselves as “Magahat,” an alleged paramilitary group, whose men confiscated all mobile phones and laptops.

The armed men also burn a building full of canned goods and sacks of rice and attempted to burn several adjoining buildings including the Alcadev schoolhouse.

Around 5:30am, the suspects brought Samarca to the second floor of the ALACADEV schoolhouse and slit his throat using a spear. The BOI report said Samarca died instantly.

An hour later, the suspect shot and killed Campos and Sinzo in front of the residents, teachers and students at the schoolhouse of TRIFPSS.

“All of us were shocked and screamed, and because of fear we ran and scattered to different directions,” according to accounts of the witnesses.

As of 10 a.m., the village of Han-ayan was deserted.

8ID, PNP and CENRO confiscate illegally cut lumbers

Just posted to Samar News (Aug 21): 8ID, PNP and CENRO confiscate illegally cut lumbers

confiscated illegal lumbers in eastern samar

Troops of 14th Infantry Battalion with Dolores PNP and CENRO Dolores during the confiscation of 1,120 board-feet Dipterocarp lumber in Brgy 2, Dolores, Eastern Samar on August 13, 2015.
August 21, 2015

CAMP LUKBAN, Catbalogan CityArmy troops under the Oras based 14th Infantry (AVENGER) Battalion, Dolores PNP and Dolores Eastern Samar Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) confiscated 70 pieces of Dipterocarp lumber totaling 1,120 board feet at Barangay 2, Dolores, Eastern Samar last August 13, 2015.

In a report from Lt. Col. Peter B. Burgonio, Commanding Officer of the 14th Infantry Battalion, DENR Region 8 made coordination with 14th IB to assist them in confiscating the lumber while issuing apprehension receipts in violation to section 77 RA 7161. The forest products, upon confiscation, were brought and placed in the custody of CENRO, Dolores, Eastern Samar for proper disposition.

It can be recalled that in first semester this year, the 8ID, together with the Provincial and Municipal local Chief Executives, spearheaded the declaration of their areas as insurgency-free, thus, paving the way for the line units of the Division to focus their efforts on non-traditional role.

Meanwhile, another 1,149 board feet of illegally cut Lawaan lumber were confiscated by the elements of 802nd Brigade, Burauen PNP and Burauen MENRO in a joint anti-illegal logging operation at Barangay Matin-ao, Burauen, Leyte last August 12, 2015 that netted them 1,419 board feet of Lawaan lumber. The confiscated pieces of lumber were brought to Burauen Municipal Hall for safekeeping prior to its turn-over to proper DENR unit.

The accomplishments are results of the Command’s convergence efforts with various stakeholders throughout Eastern Visayas where the Army has set focus more on non-traditional role of assisting other government agencies to enforce laws.

Maj. Gen. Jet B. Velarmino, 8ID Commander, lauded the joint anti-illegal logging operations of the Army, the PNP and DENR in enforcing environmental laws. Further, he reiterated that 8ID under his Command will continue to support the DENR in implementing its environmental protection programs.

Paramilitary groups’ hand in lumad killings alarms DOJ

From the Philippine Star (Sep 28): Paramilitary groups’ hand in lumad killings alarms DOJ               

“We are also going to dig deeper into the possible links of these groups to organized crime syndicates,” DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima said in a statement. Asuncion, file

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has expressed alarm over the involvement of paramilitary groups in the killing of lumad leaders in Mindanao.

The DOJ, which is investigating the incidents, viewed with “great concern” initial information tagging members of the paramilitary groups in the attack on indigenous peoples’ communities.

We are also going to dig deeper into the possible links of these groups to organized crime syndicates,” DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima said in a statement yesterday.

The DOJ said the paramilitary groups – which are also called private armed groups – use power and influence by force and have killed and stolen from thousands of civilians all over the Philippines, especially in Mindanao.

Because of this, De Lima said the DOJ probe would include the supporters of these groups who fuel their criminal operations and acts of violence.

The DOJ chief urged the military and non-state forces to respect the rights of villagers caught in between the conflict.

She said human rights violations would be covered by the probe.

“The DOJ assures the public that any human rights violation and criminal offense committed will be investigated and prosecuted. The DOJ will continue to conduct in depth and objective investigations, regardless of whether the perpetrators are the NPA, paramilitary groups, or members of the state security forces,” she said.

De Lima lamented the finger-pointing that is taking place amid the violence, which she said was carried over to the national press through an aggressive and concerted campaign by anti-administration forces.

On the other hand, she lauded the non-partisan sectors for helping resolve the conflict peacefully.

Last week, the DOJ created a 16-member team composed  of government prosecutors and agents of the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the lumad killings.

Murad: “Whatever happens to the BBL we should accept as the will of Allah”

From MindaNews (Sep 27): Murad: “Whatever happens to the BBL we should accept as the will of Allah”

The chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has issued an appeal “to everyone to hold fast to the Peace Process” even amid “trying times and enormous challenges,” particularly because chances of passing a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that adheres to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by the Philippine government (GPH) and the MILF are “gradually diminishing as time passes by.”

“Whatever happens to the BBL, we should accept as the will of Allah” who “will decide and grant us what is best for us in this World and the Hereafter,” MILF peace panel chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said.

MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim discusses scenarios on the peace process in an interview on August 25, 2015. MIndaNews file photo by TOTO LOZANO

MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim discusses scenarios on the peace process in an interview on August 25, 2015. MIndaNews file photo by TOTO LOZANO

Murad issued the appeal in his September 24 “Message of Solidarity and Unity to the Bangsamoro People, the Filipino People and Muslim Ummah” on the occasion of Eid’l Adha (also spelled as Eid-ul Adha or “Eid’ul Adzha”)

Eid’l Adha, the Islamic feast of Sacrifice, was celebrated on September 24 although Malacanang declared the holiday on September 25.

“We appeal to everyone to hold fast to the Peace Process, continue our arduous journey for peace and development and exhaust all means to achieve our aspiration for genuine, just, lasting and dignified peace and sustainable development in the Bangsamoro and the whole of the country,” he said, adding, “we have already travelled a long way and invested immeasurable efforts to attain our cherished objective.”

Murad said they are aware of the trying times and enormous challenges facing the peace process, “especially in the internal process of the government with the BBL,” citing how “obsessed” the spoilers are in “building stumbling blocks to stop the enactment into law of the GPH-MILF agreed draft of the BBL.”

Murad was referring to the draft BBL submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to Congress in ceremonial rites in Malacanang on September 10, 2014.

The House of Representatives and the Senate have filed their respective substitute bills, both of which are not acceptable to the MILF as it provides for a new autonomous political entity that is “less than the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao” that it seeks to replace.

Congress will go on recess from October 10 to November 3, will resume sessions November 3 to December 18 and will go on recess again from December 19 to January 18.

The House of Representatives on September 23 suspended the interpellation period for HB 5811, the substitute bill to the draft BBL prepared by the 15-member GPH-MILF BTC as the next sessions, starting September 28 until Congress goes on recess on October 10, will already focus on the national budget debates.

Lack of quorum has been hounding the House of Representatives since the period of interpellation began on August 4.

Speaking before the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) on September 18, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles acknowledged that “by any and all estimation, the passage of the BBL has been deferred. There is no other way to put it. But we are confident and cautiously optimistic that this dream will not be deferred for long.”

“Where we are now, I must insist that we are returning to a better place.  With all peace activists left standing – and we are stronger now and joined by far-seeing pillars of society – we are steadfast in laying claim that this dream will not be deferred for long,” she said.

“The leadership of both Houses of Congress have held firm that they are looking to pass the law sometime between the end of September and early October,” she said.

The House of Representatives is now eyeing December 16 as target for the passage of the BBL.

“Unwavering commitment”

Murad said they remain optimistic because of the “unwavering commitment” of the President and his allies, the strong support of the international community, the Organization of the lslamic Cooperation (OIC), the peace-loving peoples of the country and the world, “and most of all our complete trust in the Oneness and Justness of Allah.”

“As long as we have exhausted our best efforts, whatever happens to the BBL we should accept it as the will of Allah. We completely thrust that Allah will decide and grant us what is best for us in this World and the Hereafter, lnsha Allah,” Murad said.

Eid’l Adha, which marks the end of Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, reminds every Muslim of the great sacrifice of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham to Christians).

Murad reminded everyone that while the passage of a good BBL is of paramount importance as it is the key to the implementation of the Peace Agreements as well as the other aspects of the agreed Roadmap, especially on Normalization, the BBL is “not everything in the process.”

The gains of the peace process, according to Murad who served as vice chair for military affairs and chair of the MILF peace panel until he assumed the post of MILF chair following the death of MILF chair Salamat Hashim in July 2003, are “much wider and more comprehensive.”

“What is of prime importance is the preservation and sustenance of the achievements of the struggle and the Bangsamoro people in the peace process,” Murad said. (Read also August 2015 Q and A with Murad)

The failure to pass under this administration, a BBL adhering to the peace agreements, “will undoubtedly affect the process,” Murad admitted, but quickly added that it is not the end of the undertaking “since the gains we have achieved are the Peace Agreements themselves, the FAB (Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro), the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro) and all the related agreements signed with the Philippine government.”

He explained that they negotiated and signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government, not just the executive branch of the government.

“It therefore follows that whoever is in the government of the Philippines is bound by the agreement and obliged to implement its provisions,” he said.

He praised Allah for the relative peace and security the Bangsamoro and adjacent areas are experiencing which he said is attributed to the progress of the ongoing peace process and the combined efforts of the lnternational Community and all the peace-loving peoples supportive the Bangsamoro cause.

He noted that since the signing of the FAB on October 15, 2012, and the CAB on March 27, 2014 the number of violent incidents and armed encounters “dramatically dropped.

“Except for the Mamasapano incident on January 25,2O15 and the subsequent AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) offensive actions against the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters), there were no major incidents that ever happened in the Bangsamoro Homeland and elsewhere,” Murad said.

Kidnapping victims now in Sulu, says Duterte

From CNN Philippines (Sep 27): Kidnapping victims now in Sulu, says Duterte

From left: Kjartan Sekkingstad, John Ridsel, Robert Hall, and Marithes "Tess" Flor

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte confirmed on Sunday (September 27)  that the four people kidnapped at the Holiday Oceanview Samal Resort on Samal Island last September 21 are now in Sulu.

The four kidnapped victims were identified as Kjartan Sekkingstad, Norwegian operations manager of the resort; Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, and Marithes Flore, the Filipina girlfriend of Hall.

In his weekly television program Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa, Duterte said that intelligence sources confirmed the arrival of the kidnappers and their victims in Sulu.

"They are now in Sulu," he said. "They are already there. They have entered. We have also verified from all sources and indicate that they are now in Sulu.

"As to what is their objective here since they have not yet made any ransom demands, we will never know until such time that they will communicate with the authorities."

He also confirmed that the Samal kidnappers are "allied with the Abu Sayyaf Group."

On Saturday, Duterte flew to Zamboanga City to help find resolution to the kidnapping.

He appealed to the kidnappers to release the victims the soonest possible time.

Earlier reports showed an intelligence source indicated that "Tanum group from Patikul were the ones who forcibly took the foreigners from Samal Island."

Tanum is a village in Patikul, Sulu that's been known as a lair of the Abu Sayyaf Group, which has been involved in several kidnappings.

The intelligence source, as stated in a report, revealed that the kidnappers and their victims arrived aboard a white speedboat in Barangay Kaunayan in Patikul, Sulu around 12:30 p.m. of Tuesday, September 22, or roughly 13 hours after the abduction.

The intelligence report was however raw and is still subject for verification, as stated by the source.

Asked for their reaction on Duterte's seeming confirmation that the kidnap victims are indeed in Sulu now, Chief Supt. Federico Dulay, head of the Special Investigative Task Group Oceanview, refused to confirm nor deny the suspicion.

He said what they were focusing on now was the gathering of enough evidence so they could file charges against the kidnappers.

"We are receiving many reports and gathering additional information for the validation of said reports. Hopefully we can gather enough evidence to support the filing of cases. We ask for your understanding, considering the sensitivity of this matter, we have to take into account the safety of the victims," Dulay said.

Army Capt. Alberto Caber, Eastern Mindanao Command spokesperson, also did not confirm nor deny the information. He just said that, if Duterte had confirmed such, then it could be based on hard evidence.

Based on the SITG Oceanview's latest report, the kidnappers have also taken the iPod and iPhone of a couple in the said resort but did not bring along with them when they left the resort.

The said gadgets have SIM packs with them that could be traced by the authorities to determine their location.

‘Taken to Sulu’

From The Standard (Sep 27): ‘Taken to Sulu’

Military says boat used to ferry Samal hostages

THE military bolstered fears on Saturday that the four foreigners and a Filipino who were kidnapped from a Samal Island resort on Sept. 21 has slipped a security dragnet in Eastern Mindanao and are now in Western Mindanao.

Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, commander of Joint Task Group Sulu, said the authorities found a boat they suspect was used by kidnappers to take the victims to an island stronghold of Islamic militants.

The outrigger boat was found Friday on Jolo, more than 500 kilometers southwest of the Samal Island resort where two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina were abducted late Monday, Arrojado said.

Jolo is the main base of the Abu Sayyaf, an Al-Qaeda-linked group that has been blamed for the Asian country’s deadliest terror attacks as well as ransom kidnappings of foreign tourists and Christian missionaries.

“We have eyeballed the seacraft, but not the kidnap victims from Samal,” Arrojado, head of a Jolo counter-terrorism task force, told reporters.

Officials would not say if the discovery pointed to possible Abu Sayyaf involvement in the kidnapping of Canadian tourists John Ridsdel, 68, and Robert Hall, 50, as well as Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad and Hall’s Filipina girlfriend, Marites Flor.

No group has claimed responsibility for the abductions, the latest in Mindanao, a southern region plagued by decades of Muslim as well as communist insurgencies.

Arrojado said the 25-meter (82-foot) boat suspected of taking the hostages to Jolo was found abandoned at Parang, a coastal town.

It was fitted with two onboard engines, but was taking in water apparently from a breach on its hull, he added.

Regional police spokesman Antonio Rivera told AFP that of all the “threat groups” in the south, those based on Jolo were the ones most skilled in using boats.

However, he added: “We cannot say that they [Abu Sayyaf] are involved at this time.”

The authorities earlier said they had received reports the kidnappers had taken their victims to the impoverished Davao Oriental region to the east of Samal.

However, Rivera told AFP Saturday “no boat was seen there [Davao Oriental] contrary to what was earlier reported.”

Jolo-based Abu Sayyaf and several other renegade Muslim rebel groups have in recent years collaborated in kidnapping foreigners elsewhere in the south, with the victims eventually taken to back to Jolo, security analyst Rodolfo Mendoza told AFP.

“They have done it not only on western Mindanao [including Jolo] but they are now also doing it on the eastern Mindanao side,” said Mendoza, president of the Manila think tank Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism.

Supporting the theory that the kidnappers and their victims are now in Western Mindanao, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said he received information that the hostages were taken from Holiday Ocean Resort on a pumpboat and were transferred to a larger and faster motorized boat.

The mayor said the group passed by Glan, Sarangani and from there, took only six hours to reach Sulu.

The pumpboats were found Tuesday, hundreds of kilometers southeast of the Davao Oriental province. Duterte declined to identify the group responsible for taking the four tourists at gunpoint.

He instead said that the armed men may be linked to the Abu Sayyaf Group as one of them appears to resemble a known member of the terror group, based on the resort’s closed-circuit television footage.

“They [victims] were delivered to a known Abu Sayyaf Group. Whether they are also actually Abu Sayyaf members, that we do not know. Ganyan ‘yan eh, ipasa-pasa na ‘yan, so as they are passed on to a new group, lalaki nang lalaki yung patong nila sa ransom,” Duterte said.

Duterte believes it is probable that the abduction had been deliberate and that the suspects knew their target.

“We have this hanging suspicion that the hostages are pre-determined victims,” he said.