Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Samal gunmen not Abus, says MNLF leader

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct 8): Samal gunmen not Abus, says MNLF leader

A leader of a Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction on Tuesday said the armed men who abducted three foreigners and a Filipino woman from the Island Garden City of Samal were not members of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.

Habib Hashim Mudjahab, chair of the Sulu-based Islamic Command Council of the MNLF, cited reports reaching him that the kidnappers were “a small group” and could have handed their captives to “a much bigger and organized group of Abu Sayyaf.” He did not identify the group during the Inquirer phone interview.

Mudjahab also said he was informed by a friend in Davao that the kidnapping of Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipino Marites Flor was “masterminded by a retired military officer.”

“I was told that a retired Marine general based in Davao City was the mastermind and he operated using small and organized group to get the captives and hand the captives to another small group of young bandits in Parang, Sulu,” he said.

He said he did not know the name of the mastermind, but “I was just informed by a friend.” He added that he “cannot definitely say 100 percent that the information is factual.”

Brig. Gen. Allan Arrojado, commander of the Joint Task Group Sulu, said the military did not “have anything concrete to say” on the kidnapping. “We don’t have updates about them, we don’t know where they are now,” he said.

“What we are doing right now is focusing our efforts in combat operations against the Abu Sayyaf,” Arrojado said by phone.

Mudjahab said MNLF members were closely monitoring the kidnappers “to prevent this small group from handing over the four captives.”

Two Soldiers I Served With Died In The Philippines. They Didn’t Have To

Opinion piece from the Observer (Oct 7): Two Soldiers I Served With Died In The Philippines. They Didn’t Have To

One Army sergeant’s meditation on the complexity of modern conflicts and the cost of getting it wrong


L-R: SFC Christopher Shaw and SSG Jack Martin, killed-in-action in 2009. (Photo: Department of Defense)

September ambushes me every year.

Life rushes by, and then I realize it’s another September,  and another difficult anniversary. I look down at the band on my wrist, the scuffed aluminum band that soldiers wear to commemorate the dead. You’ve probably seen these killed-in-action (KIA) bracelets before, but unless you know what it is, you can mistake it for simply a piece of jewelry.

The one on my wrist reads:

SFC Christopher ShawSSG Jack MartinJolo, PI 29 September 2009
The names are bracketed by a U.S. flag on the left and the Special Forces insignia on the right: “De oppresso liber.” To free the oppressed. I’ve worn it every day since the small brown box of them arrived at our task force headquarters in early October 2009.

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On September 29, it feels heavier than it does on every other day of the year. Every other day of the year, I am consumed by the chaos of my life: a young daughter, a new house, a small company. But on September 29, the luxury—the arrogance—of that chaos hits me: the things that chafe at me are so minor in the face of the fact that always hits home on September 29. Jack and Chris will never experience this life; they’ll never experience a life after the uniform.

When The Lights Go Out

A lot of people ask me what war is like.

In truth, I saw more violence in Afghanistan working with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) than during my time in the U.S. Army. But those experiences share something in common. And what they share explains why Jack and Chris didn’t survive September 29, 2009.

War is entropy. One moment everything is fine; the next it isn’t. In Tim O’Brien’s iconic short story collection, The Things They Carried, there’s a scene depicting a soldier getting killed while taking a piss. “Zapped while zipping,” O’Brien called it. A sniper here and an IED there. Bang, and the lights go out.

I remember when I joined the Army. I was young and stupid and believed if I got enough training and surrounded myself with the best soldiers, I’d have the best chance of surviving. Now I know: that’s bullshit. You wake up some days, and everyone’s alive. Then you go to sleep, and some are dead. That’s it. That’s all there is.

Jack And Chris Didn’t Have To Die

What bothers me most isn’t that Jack and Chris died. Everyone who signed on the line after 9/11 knew what could happen. No, what tears my insides up is that they didn’t have to die, that our task force got it wrong, and no matter what justification commanding officers give or what the official story says, this was a preventable mistake—and two men didn’t come home because of it.

It’s tough to speak in this way about a specific operation; it’s even harder to speak in this way when Special Operations forces are involved. We have reason to be proud of our special operators, but we have come to believe too deeply in the myth of their invincibility and infallibility. Part of that is psychological armor for ourselves: to believe such well-trained, well-equipped forces could be killed by barely trained guerilla fighters challenges the core of what we believe about American military might. But for those of us who have done the fighting and seen the killing, there’s a deep dishonesty in assuming that “Special Operations” are somehow impervious to the ordinary chaos of warfare.

To understand my disillusionment—and the disillusionment of others who served—you have to understand my context. After 9/11, the United States vowed to track down Al Qaeda no matter where it was hiding. Southeast Asia has two main Al Qaeda affiliates: Jemaah Islamiyah, headquartered in Indonesia; and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), in the Philippines. The U.S. set up a small task force to work with the Philippine military to combat these terrorist groups.

In 2009, I took a three-man psychological operations team to the southern Philippines to augment 1st Special Forces Group. Our role was to conduct influence operations by working at the community level: identify at-risk villages and figure out what issues were most important to them. Then we’d work with those communities to encourage the behaviors we wanted and, ideally, do our best to eliminate the gravitational pull of radicalization. We ran radio shows and hosted community gatherings, among other efforts.


My team conducted missions into these communities as much as any team on Sulu Island. We often walked around with only our 9mm pistols and no body armor, in an effort to avoid looking like commandos who were there to cause trouble. We talked with farmers, shopkeepers, students and imams, trying to figure out exactly how we could move these communities in the right direction.

The only problem: none of us, from my commander on down, had any idea what the right direction was. And to make matters worse, we were all operating in silos, accomplishing our individual missions without any regard for the broader work we had to do. The Special Forces guys, for instance, mostly trained the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Marines in infantry tactics. My team worked with local communities. The Civil Affairs team did infrastructure projects around the island. But there was nothing to bind the work together, zero vision and no overarching goal that we were working to accomplish. That lack of a common cause would have deadly consequences.

The Kidnapping

A month or so before I arrived in Sulu, three International Committee of the Red Cross workers were kidnapped on the island. The Red Cross wanted to believe that it was seen as a neutral party in the southern Philippines. ASG—militant Islamic terrorists responsible for some of the Philippines’ worst violence—begged to differ. Once the Red Cross group left the gates of their camp, Camp Bautista, ASG kidnapped them and held them for ransom.

Of the three workers, one was Swiss, one Italian, one Filipina. ASG had played this game before, and they knew that European hostages fetch a much higher price than Filipinos. So they released the Filipino and held the European hostages for months in the jungle. The Philippine Marines conducted multiple operations to retrieve the two hostages, usually incurring a few casualties each time. They failed each time to bring the hostages back. And after every mission and firefight, the ASG would fade into the jungle mists like ghosts.

Then, one day, word came to us that the first hostage had broken out from behind enemy lines. Shortly thereafter, the second one got away, as well. There were no details about these escapes, but it was clear to anyone paying the least bit attention that someone had paid ransoms on their behalf. The ASG are too well-armed and too well-schooled in kidnap-and-ransom to let two weary European relief workers escape so easily.

If I can point to one moment in my deployment when things took a turn for the worse, this would be it. The next month was a nightmare. More attacks, more threats of attacks, more IEDs reported, more IEDs found. How did this happen? All signs pointed to one thing: the ransom payments enabled ASG to buy supplies they needed to continue their violence. Those payments may have rescued two European lives, but they had put countless others—Filipino and American—at risk.

The ransom had another unintended consequence. The Filipino forces were now operating with a chip on their shoulder. The AFP Marines had not been able to liberate the hostages during the months they were held, a fact which badly bruised their egos. Armies differ from country to country, but soldiers share a great deal in common. One of the things they share is a deep commitment to the idea of honor. The failed raids to rescue the hostages were a hit to the AFP Marines’ honor. If everyone believed ransom had freed the Europeans, that meant the AFP was weak and feckless. They couldn’t even police their own backyard.

The AFP couldn’t live with that reputation. When they had an opportunity to restore their reputation, they took it. That day was September 20, 2009; it’s known around the world as as Eid al-Fitr, the feast that brings the holy month of Ramadan to an end.

A Laughable Operation

We were sitting in an all-plywood meeting room when someone mentioned that the AFP Marines were going to carry out an operation on the feast of Eid to capture the masterminds behind the Red Cross kidnapping. When I heard the plan, I broke out laughing. It was a ridiculous proposition. Sure, the AFP Marines ought to conduct a large-scale operation led by a majority Christian military against a Muslim minority, on one of the holiest days in the Muslim calendar. I shouldn’t have been the only one laughing, because everyone in that room should have recognized that this was a self-evidently stupid idea. But there I was, laughing my ass off, all by myself.

Resuming composure, I told the commander exactly what any conscientious person in my job ought to tell him, “Well, we obviously have to stop that operation. Even if they get the bad guys, there’s no way the community will understand the timing and context of a large military engagement on Eid.”

“The Phil commander says he’s got a guy inside the bad guys’ camp, and the only day the bad guys will be there is on Eid.”

“So? Let the bad guys live another day. The AFP botches these operations all the time, and there’s no way this doesn’t feed into every bit of propaganda the bad guys are telling the Muslim community. Even if the AFP gets the bad guys, they still lose.”

“We’ll support the Phils in whatever way they ask.” (The conversation turns classified at this point, but suffice it to say, it didn’t get better.)

I left that meeting with a mission: get this operation canceled, or at the very least postponed. I walked down to the office of Major Abduhadi, a Philippine Army civil affairs major I worked with every day. He and I were close; he was avuncular and attentive, the kind of guy you could open up to about matters large and small. He was ethnically Tausug, from Sulu, a Muslim and was deeply invested in helping his people. I loved that dude.

“You know what Joint Task Force Comet is planning for Eid, right?”

“Yes, Sgt. Richmond.”

“We have to stop this thing. It’s wrong, tactically, strategically. Shit, ethically.”

“I know, Sgt. Richmond.” He was downcast.

Major Abduhadi was resigned in a way that told me he’d already fought this fight within JTF Comet, as I had within my own organization, and had been overruled. Over the next week, he and I took every opportunity to dissuade our superiors from conducting the operation. The major was a Muslim in a Christian military. I was a PSYOP sergeant in a task force that believed we could muscle our way in and out of anything. We were both outsiders, fighting for the right cause, and losing the bureaucratic battle within militaries that still believed these conflicts were about body counts and turf.

“Have they no regard for our religion?”

I remember awaking to celebratory gunshots just before dawn on September 20, 2009. The call to prayer went out over the loudspeakers close to Camp Bautista, inviting all Muslims to bring their month-long fast to a close, to feast together, to celebrate Eid al-Fitr as a community of believers.

I walked out of my room into the muggy Sulu morning to see planes flying over Camp Bautista on their way to Indanan to drop their payloads. Soon thereafter, the Philippine attack helicopter spun up their rotors and lifted up from our camp to begin their strafing runs. Immediately my phone lit up with texts from our partners in the community.

“Sir, why is the AFP attacking the Muslims?”

“Why on Eid? Why attack on Eid? Have they no regard for our religion?”

“No Muslim would fight on Eid! Why do they attack us on our holy day?”

There was nothing I could say. I texted back trite answers, attempting in vain to defend an operation I’d fought against.

I went into the tactical operations center to watch the operation play out. Predictably, the AFP Marines had become bogged down in the jungle. They would be three hours late to the objective. So what did the AFP leadership decide to do? Double down on aerial firepower. They just kept pounding the mountainside with bombs, all the while the Muslims looked up from their prayer rugs, saw the aircraft, rotors and machine guns, and grew steadily angrier. In a word, the community radicalized. I could feel it in the air. And if I had been kneeling in that mosque, I can’t guarantee that I wouldn’t have reacted the same way. Had they attacked our base on Christmas, I would have taken it personally because of the symbolic timing of the operation. The Tausugs were no different in how they saw the Eid operation.

It didn’t take long before the Tausugs fought back with a vengeance. It’s important to keep in mind that the Tausugs were not defending the Red Cross kidnappers, the ASG. No, they weren’t broadly sympathetic with ASG’s Islamist vision of society. This was different. This operation had thrust the Tausugs back into the existential battles of the ’70s and ’80s against the Christian military. And make no mistake, Tausugs are warriors.

Reports started coming in from multiple outposts. Incoming small arms fire. Mortars.

Then came the threats. Sulu, once a key stronghold of a rebel group called the Moro National Liberation Front, has many camps of reintegrated rebels, pacified by a long period of peace negotiations with Manila. As the Philippine military attacked their target area, a bomb from one of the planes reportedly went off course and landed within the perimeter of a re-integree camp and hurt some people. The re-integree group took up their arms as they believed the military was attacking them. ASG wasn’t going to miss this opportunity to rally their supporters in the midst of this chaos. Reports from our friends in the community said that ASG was recruiting enough troops to overrun our camp once and for all.

Code Black

The first AFP casualties started to roll in. Our task force commander officially declared a Code Black, which means that you’re under imminent threat of a base being overrun. U.S. forces manned the guard towers and gates, side by side with the Filipinos, not yet understanding the depth of what was going on.

My team’s role in a Code Black was to guard our U.S. Air Force forward surgical team (FST). The FST were mostly reservists, and they were a solid medical team. They had already moved to the small Philippine military medical hospital to try to keep some of the casualties alive. My team provided security outside the hospital, which sat next to a poorly guarded perimeter wall.

The sun was setting. The threats were becoming more frequent. My contacts in neighboring communities began texting us more dire warnings: “There are 100 Abu Sayyaf massing here in Latih. They say they’re coming your way.”

I wasn’t keeping track of the number of casualties coming into the medical center. I just kept walking back and forth from the wall to my guys. The AFP had begun stacking dead Philippine Marines’ bodies in the carport where the ambulance was usually parked. They’d run out of room in the med center.

The bodies were ashen, exsanguinated. One guy had lost an arm, the other a leg just above the knee. Both dead. The last dude who lay by himself had been eviscerated. I walked back to Lugo and Lees. “Hey, there’re dead guys in the carport. Go spend 5 minutes looking at them and tell me what you learned. I’ve got your post.”

Let me offer a break in the action to say one thing: no team leader ever had a better crew than Tory Lugo and Dillon Lees. They were good soldiers, wiser than their tender years (21 and 22, respectively), and good men. One of the greatest honors of my life is that the U.S. Army allowed me to take them to war and bring them home.

Lugo and Lees hurried back to me. “Rich, why the fuck did no one put tourniquets on those two guys?”

“It looks like we’ve taught the Phils as much about combat medicine as we have about fighting a counterinsurgency.” None of us laughed.

Soon a large open-bed truck pulled into base. Someone called to us to help unload bodies. Lugo, Lees and I walked to the front of the medical center and almost choked on the smell of burned flesh and uniforms.

The truck full of Scout Marines had been caught in an ambush in Indanan. A Molotov cocktail was tossed into the bed of the truck where the Marines had been shooting at their attackers. The bodies were burnt to a crisp, and not the least bit recognizable. I lent the camp commandant my headlamp as he climbed into the back of the truck to find his younger brother who had died in the attack. They both were Muslim, Tausug, their family from Sulu. The stray light from my headlamp reflected off his tears as he searched and searched, and finally found his brother among the dead. We stacked his body with the others in the carport.


Days passed. We weren’t allowed to leave our base. Our task force commander was too afraid someone would get hurt. ASG were capitalizing on us by running propaganda. Not only had the operation been a resounding failure, but the Philippines military and U.S. forces were holed up in their bases. We couldn’t have had a more cowardly response.

I finally received permission to conduct a radio show at a local FM station to reconnect with the community. The show was scheduled for September 29, 2009.

My team was working through its pre-mission checklist. I picked up our radio and took it into the operations center to prepare it with the cryptography that kept our radio traffic secret. As I came into the task force radioman’s small office, the radio wretched out a static-filled message, and I heard him speak into the mic: “Bad copy, bad copy. I heard two U.S. KIA, two AFP WIA? Over.”

The radioman, SSG Brandon Burkholder, was a solid soldier, though fairly new to special operations. He had a few deployments with the 82nd Airborne Division before he’d come over to us. I knew he had been on one of the Special Forces teams before someone tasked him to run the signal detachment.

The radio replied: “I say again, two U.S. KIA, two AFP WIA. Request immediate medevac. How copy? Over.”

Brandon turned to me, disbelief in his eyes. “That’s my old fuckin’ team, man.”

Roads, Wells, Solar Power, Community Halls

The next few minutes were a blur. Brandon grabbed someone to man the radio and went off to find and inform the task force leadership. The camp came alive in seconds. No U.S. soldier had been killed in the Philippines since a bombing in 2002. This was a deliberate attack, and we’d apparently lost two of our own.

It turned out that an IED had struck one of our Humvees in Indanan, a few short kilometers away from where the failed Eid operation took place. Brandon’s old team had been providing security for a contingent of US Navy Seabees that were adding rooms to a school in a small village called Kagay.

I knew the town of Kagay well. Our task force had been working in Kagay for months. We’d extended a road to the area, dropped a deep water well, installed a solar dryer for their coconuts, and built a community hall. I had never asked what we were trying to do in Kagay; I just assumed we had good reasons for doing those projects.

And yet, for all that effort, no one in Kagay had informed the SF team or the Seabees that people were placing a powerful bomb on that dirt road. Not a single dollar spent was enough to engender the trust, love or compassion of that community, not even enough to let our guys know that a bomb was waiting for them when they would go for a water resupply.

Neither Jack nor Chris noticed the disturbed earth that hid the bomb. One second they were driving down a picturesque road on the backside of Mt. Tumatangis. The next second, they were both bleeding out next to the smoking shell of their Humvee.


Critical Condition

Time wasn’t working the way it usually does. I don’t remember if things were happening quickly or slowly, only that Brandon and I were preparing to get Chris from the AFP helicopter that had went to retrieve him. He wasn’t dead, but he was in critical condition.

At some point, Lugo and Lees asked me what they could do. I told them the radio show mission was off, that the guys at Kagay had been hit, and to wait in the office for me. Lugo and Lees both knew Chris and Jack’s team since we’d been working with them over the past few months. To this day, I don’t know why I told them to wait in our office, but I just remember a desire to protect them from seeing what would come next.
“Dude, you got a pulse?”

Brandon and I pre-positioned an open-bed Humvee and had a stretcher ready when the Huey helicopter banked over our camp and landed. We ran out and pulled Chris’s body onto the green canvas of the stretcher. We moved Chris quickly to the bed of the Humvee, Brandon working on the left side of Chris’s body and me on the right side.

Chris’s left arm was amputated halfway between the elbow and shoulder. A medic had applied two tourniquets to stem the bleeding. Mangled streamers of flesh hung out of the wound, but the arterial bleeding was stopped. There were shrapnel wounds, as well, and Chris was unconscious.

I felt Chris’s wrist with my index and middle finger. Nothing. “Dude, you got a pulse?”

“Nah man, nothing here.”

I tore Chris’s pants and searched for his femoral artery. I swear to God I felt a faint pulse, but I don’t know if there really was one. I wanted that pulse to be there. But it may have just been the vibrations of the Humvee as it rumbled to the FST’s operating room.

I had handled dead bodies just that week, but I confess that it is different when you see someone who wears the same uniform as you laying there,  bleeding and broken. My team had been working with Jack and Chris just a few weeks ago, and we had gone with them to Kagay to speak with some of the villagers. I didn’t have anything more than a professional relationship with Jack or Chris. But they wore the same uniform, we had conducted a joint mission and we were pushing for more work in their area of operations. And now Jack was dead. Zapped. And Chris, a man I respected, lay in critical condition.

The Humvee stopped in front of the surgical suite, but the surgical team wasn’t ready yet. Brandon and I just kept waiting until the nurse called for us to bring Chris into the building.

Brandon and I ran inside with Chris’s stretcher and put him onto the operating table. Our job was done. We walked out and stood by the blood-stained Humvee.  Brandon and I smiled at each other. We’d done it. Between the medics at the blast site, the medic who had picked Chris up, and then Brandon and me at Camp Bautista, we’d kept him alive long enough to get to the docs. We’d beaten the golden hour, and Chris would live. Brandon lit up a cigarette, and I bummed one from him, even though I don’t smoke cigarettes. Looking down at my uniform, that was the first time I noticed I was covered in blood.


Soon word came that Jack’s body was being brought back to Camp Bautista. I was with Brandon in the open air meeting hall that we used for social events. The helo landed and some guys brought in the body bag. Jack was laid on one of the tables, and someone draped the bag with an American flag.

“Well, at least Chris made it,” I said to no one in particular.

The others glanced around, and then back at me. “No, he didn’t, Rich. Chris passed, too.”

“What? No, he didn’t. Brandon and I put him in the surgical suite ourselves. He was alive. He made it.”

“No dude, Chris died. He only lived about 15 minutes after you guys got him in there. He’s gone, man.”

I walked out of the hall across the gravel to my office where Lugo and Lees waited. I hadn’t seen them since I told them to wait for me in the office hours earlier.

Opening the door, I could tell they had no idea what had just transpired. “Rich, what happened?”

“Jack and Christhey’re dead.” Silence. They looked at my stained uniform. We didn’t say anything else. I just walked out and went back to my room to decompress.

We held a private ceremony for Jack and Chris, led by the chaplain who had flown down to help out with the arrangements. I won’t discuss what I felt then, listening to those names called, hearing the sobs and knowing it was our fault Jack and Chris died. No operation on Eid. No radicalized island. No IED attack in Kagay. It’s as simple as that. I don’t know how my leadership briefed the incident to our higher headquarters in Zamboanga, or to the U.S. Embassy. But we failed the Tausugs we were there to serve. We failed Jack and Chris. We failed ourselves.

Buying Loyalty

A few days later, I opened up to Lugo and Lees.

“Guys, we got it wrong. We need to dig into the data we have from our radio shows. If not a single person reported that IED in Kagay before Jack and Chris were killed, then we can assume that the task force’s money and effort in Kagay was incorrectly targeted. What does our data say?”

The three of us combed through six months of everything from text messages to our radio shows, plus interviews with local leaders and debriefs of the community. A clear pattern emerged. Governance: the warlord families were manipulating every election cycle with violence, bribes and vote stealing, creating a corrupt, impregnable oligopoly.

Two days later we met with the chancellor at Mindanao State University to go over the data we had. After showing it to him, the chancellor looked up and said, “I don’t see anything surprising here. What do you want to ask me?”

“We spent all that money and time in Kagay, and yet not a single resident or local leader reported the IED that killed our buddies. How is that possible?”

The chancellor looked at me in genuine disbelief, shook his head and gave a reply that haunts me to this day. “Do you think this is about buying loyalty? It’s not. It’s never been. My people cannot break the stranglehold the warlord families hold on this island. You tell your commander this: keep your roads and schools. If you can give us a free and fair election, we can do the rest ourselves.”

What Went Wrong

My team went to work preparing our data, analyzing it, reviewing it and preparing to show it to our higher leadership to change the strategy in Task Force Sulu. Every civil society group and credible local leader agreed with the chancellor’s summation: bad governance was at the heart of all the problems we saw throughout the island.

We scheduled a time to meet with our task force commander and the AFP Marine commander to share our data and findings. Civil society leaders we met with were thrilled: finally, they told me, the U.S. would focus on the right problems. Finally, they’d get what they’d wanted all along: election monitoring, transparency and accountability via our radio broadcasts and a public push to empower the politicians willing to adhere to good governance practices.

We gave the presentation, and then awaited the result. They gave their answer after speaking just a few sentences to each other, “No way, this is too politically risky. We could never do this.”

I pushed back, “But the data and the people say otherwise. We just buried Jack and Chris, and the AFP buried a dozen more. We are getting this mission wrong.”

“No, Sgt. Richmond. We’re not doing this.”

That day remains one of the worst in my career. Once again, I couldn’t change the minds of the men making the decisions. More people would die because of it.

I had one last option: the U.S. Embassy in Manila. My PSYOP commander in Zamboanga arranged for me to meet with the political-military officer in charge of Mindanao. I flew up to Manila, bought a shirt and tie and went with my boss to the embassy.

I presented the same information to the officer that I did to the commanders in Sulu: bad governance was driving instability in the task force. I gave him the raw data and our analysis.

“Look it over yourself,” I told him. “You don’t have to believe me. If you’ll just come down and see for yourself, I know we can get traction with these local partners. My team will be your personal meat-shields. You’ll be safe. Just hear what these folks have to say.”

The officer gave the printouts a quick glance. “Thanks, Sgt. Richmond. This is all very interesting. I’ll be glad to refer this to our Mindanao Working Group. Thanks for your time.”

The meeting ended right there, long before I thought it should. My boss took me outside. “What just happened, Major Hudson?” I was at a loss.

“That line he told you about the working group, do you know what that means in State Department-speak?”

“I guess not.”

“He told you to go fuck yourself.”

Heading Home

That was the last big push my team made to make a difference. We served our last couple months repairing what we could of the Eid operation’s damage to our support on the island. The locals graciously accepted my apologies for not being able to do more, knowing my team had neither the mandate nor funding to address the underlying issues. I still feel the shame of helplessness whenever I think about that deployment.

As we headed home, the other team leaders and I all flew back to Manila together, a day before we were to fly commercial air back to the U.S., back to Ft. Bragg. We traded stories, notes, observations, and it was then that I realized that other teams had experienced this deployment in different ways. One team leader in particular, though, threw me into a rage.

“Man, that was the easiest deployment I’ve ever had. I can’t believe we get combat pay for this,” he joked.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” I shot back.

He looked stupidly at me. “It’s not like anyone died or anything…”

My jaw dropped as my anger rose. “Are you fucking kidding me? We buried two dudes a few weeks ago, and you’re saying this to me. You were on a different fucking island, not Mars. Are you fucking stupid?”

“Oh yeah, sorry, I forgot.” I stepped forward to punch him when someone put a hand on my chest and stopped me.


That experience led me to leave the U.S. Army. Ever since the memorial service for Jack and Chris, I’ve wanted to get this work right. Every day I meet more groups—U.S. government and otherwise—who are willing to take a chance on understanding the communities they work in, setting aside their own agendas and assumptions. For me, it’s been six years of that work, and all the while, the KIA bracelet with Jack and Chris’s names on it hasn’t left my wrist. I couldn’t have done anything more to save them, but I’ve devoted my career to their memory and the countless others who have died as the U.S. has pursued objectives in foreign lands with no regard for the underlying causes of instability and violence.

People often ask me what might change the course of the conflicts we fight overseas. It’s tough to answer with any certainty—these wars tend to be a combustible, unpredictable mix of causes—but the one thing I have learned is that we won’t kill our way out of these wars anytime soon. There are some targets we no doubt must go after with military force, but the vast share of this fight is in tackling the root causes of instability, the kinds of things that don’t transform at the butt of a rifle. And the only thing I’ve found to be successful—patiently gathering local information, approaching our mission with humility, demanding rigor in how we ask and answer questions—are the things that don’t make it onto military recruiting commercials.

It was Max Weber who told us that politics is the “strong and slow boring of hard boards.” The sentence that follows, and the one almost no one quotes, is that the work “takes both passion and perspective.” In wars like these, I’ve come to realize that we have proceeded with an excess of passion and a lack of perspective. Jack and Chris died because of our lack of perspective, and while they won’t come back, my faint hope is that we can learn from the mistakes that have cost families and nations so dearly.

[Justin Richmond is the founder and executive director of impl. project. Before starting impl., Justin worked as a forward deployed engineer at Palantir Technologies, where he led field implementation during both the Typhoon Haiyan and Typhoon Hagupit responses in the Philippines. Previously, Justin served two tours in Afghanistan as USAID’s District Stability Framework coordinator, mentoring joint civilian/military/Afghan teams on stabilization implementation in eastern Afghanistan. Prior to USAID, he served in the U.S. Army as a Special Operations team leader in the southern Philippines, focusing on stabilization, counterinsurgency and information operations.]

NPA suspect captured in Surigao del Norte after clash with cops

From InterAksyon (Oct 7): NPA suspect captured in Surigao del Norte after clash with cops

An alleged New People’s Army guerrilla was wounded and captured Tuesday following a clash with policemen in Alegria town, Surigao del Norte.

Caraga Police Office spokesman Superintendent Martin Gamba, in a report to Camp Crame, said the unidentified suspect belongs to Guerilla Front Committee 16 commanded by Rolando Leyson Jr., alias “Ka Edroy”

Gamba said personnel of the Regional Public Safety Company on combat patrol chanced on 15 rebels in Purok 5, Barangay Ombong, triggering a firefight around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The wounded rebel was taken to a hospital in Butuan City for treatment while charges are being readied against him.

Location of 2 captured soldiers in Compostela Valley identified

From the often pro-CPP Davao Today (Oct 7): Location of 2 captured soldiers in Compostela Valley identified

LOCATION ID. 1001st Brigade Commander Col. Macairog Alberto reports on the capture of two soldiers in Monkayo town Compostela Valley province in a press conference Wednesday. Alberto assumed the command post last September 18. He says the location of the captured soldiers are already identified. (Ace R. Morandante)

LOCATION ID. 1001st Brigade Commander Col. Macairog Alberto reports on the capture of two soldiers in Monkayo town Compostela Valley province in a press conference Wednesday. Alberto assumed the command post last September 18. He says the location of the captured soldiers are already identified. (Ace R. Morandante)
The Army on Wednesday said they already identified the location of the two soldiers captured by the New People’s Army in a checkpoint on September 30.
Col. Macairog Alberto, commander of the 1001st Brigade said they have pinpointed the locations and are continuing on their operations. Alberto however, refused to identify the areas.
“We have information, that’s why we are conducting operations in that area. Hindi ko masabi yung lugar pero we have identified the locations and tuloy yung aming operations dun (I cannot divulge where it s but we have identified it and our operations are ongoing),” said Alberto in a press conference.
The soldiers belong to the 25th Infantry Battalion and were identified as Private First Class NiƱo Alavaro and PFC Marjon Anover.
The two were captured at a checkpoint in Barangay Casoon, Monkayo.
In a statement, Aries Francisco, spokesperson of the  NPA-Comval North Davao South Agusan Sub-regional Command said the two “came from the Army’s headquarters in Banlag, Monkayo and were en route to combat operations at the time of their capture, warranting the Red fighters to take action and arrest them.”
Francisco said they mounted the checkpoint “in response to the atrocities committed by the 25th IB (Re-engineered Special Operations Team).”
He said the Army troops “committed grave human rights violations in the villages when they ransacked several houses, encamped village centers, committed serious psychological warfare and arrested civilians on account of fake criminal charges.”
“It was the same Army unit which seized and tortured to death three Red fighters in Montevista, Compostela Valley last year,” Francisco added.
Meanwhile, the NPA assured that they will treat the captured soldiers humanely.
“In adherence to the protocols of war, the NPA custodial unit is duty-bound to treat the two Prisoners of War humanely and leniently while an investigating team subjects them to the judicial process under the tenets of revolutionary justice,” Francisco said.
Alberto said the checkpoint of the NPA was put up in an isolated area.
“The road is really difficult and our soldiers will have to ride habal-habal or skylab (an improvised motor that can carry more passengers),” said Alberto.
He said they already issued an instruction among their soldiers to avoid being captured or ambushed by their enemies.

WATCH: Video - US, Philippine Marines fire live artillery in drills

From the Philippine Star (Oct 7): WATCH: Video - US, Philippine Marines fire live artillery in drills

Screenshot from video released by the US Marines Corps showing Philippine Marines firing live artillery.

ZAMBALES, Philippines — United States Marines and their Filipino counterparts released videos of drills at the Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX 15) in Crow Valley.

PHIBLEX 15 is an annual, bilateral training exercise conducted by US Marine and Navy Forces with the Armed Forces of the Philippines to strengthen our interoperability and working relationships across the range of military operations from disaster relief, to complex expeditionary operations.

In this video, Marines from two countries fire live artillery across the gunnery range.

Video from DVIDS/LCpl Daniel Auvert/Released.

Samal kidnap victims not yet with Abu Sayyaf: MNLF

From ABS-CBN (Oct 7): Samal kidnap victims not yet with Abu Sayyaf: MNLF

The three foreign nationals and a Filipina who were taken by armed men from Oceanview Resort on Samal Island last month have not been turned over to the Abu Sayyaf Group in Sulu, according to a top official of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

MNLF Islamic Command Council chairman Habib Mudjahab Hashim said the abductors were not members of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Hashim said the abductors may just be members of a lawless group operating in Davao region who have contacts with the Abu Sayyaf Group in Sulu.

He said the abductors brought the captives to Sulu supposedly to seek the help of the Abu Sayyaf Group in securing the victims amid the intensified search and rescue operation launched by government forces immediately after the abduction.

Those abducted were the Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkinstad; Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, and Hall's Filipina girlfriend, Tess.

He said the abductors are finding it hard to turn the victims over to the Abu Sayyaf Group because of the ongoing military operations in Sulu targeting the hide-outs of the bandits.

He added it will be difficult for the MNLF to secure the safe release of the four captives if they end up with the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Hashim said the MNLF in Sulu does not have direct control over the movements of the bandits, citing their differences in ideology.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has been in constant communication with MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari over the last few days to discuss details of the rescue effort launched by the MNLF.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General Alan Arrojado, Joint Task Group Sulu commander, said the military cannot yet confirm whether the captives are now in Sulu.

Iqbal urges PNoy to certify as urgent draft Moro law

From The Standard (Oct 8): Iqbal urges PNoy to certify as urgent draft Moro law

Moro Islamic Liberation Front  peace panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal asked President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday to certify as urgent the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law to enable lawmakers to approve the bill on second reading and third reading at the soonest possible time.

Iqbal, at a news conference in the House of Representatives, urged the leadership of the 16th Congress to pass the draft law  in November or December.

“The only window of opportunity is the next deadline, if I may call it as such, which will be in November to Dec. After that, it is all politics that fill the air,” Iqbal said.

“I appeal to the honorable members of both Chambers of Congress to rise   to the occasion and be statesmen even for one moment in the history of this country. The fate of the BBL is in your hands, and history will judge you on how you dispense with the BBL,” Iqbal said.

Earlier, the leadership of the House of Representatives said that lawmakers’ “conscience votes” would decide the fate of the proposed peace measure at the  House.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. has set a new target date for the approval of the BBL: December 16, saying a “conscience vote” has to prevail among lawmakers in supporting or not supporting the measure.

No report yet on whereabouts of Samal Island kidnap victims - AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 8): No report yet on whereabouts of Samal Island kidnap victims - AFP

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday said it is still verifying information claiming that the three foreigners and one Filipina abducted by still unidentified men in Samal Island last Sept. 21 are now held captive somewhere in Sulu province.

"That report has been out for a week but our verification (conducted by AFP intelligence units) did not confirm that report," AFP spokesperson Col. Restituto Padilla said in Filipino.

Until the claims have been verified, he said the military cannot categorically state that the victims are in Sulu.

He added that the same holds true on reports claiming that the victims are still in Davao.

"The information that has been circling around on the location of the hostages to date remains unconfirmed and unvalidated until certain information that we are looking for exists, but at the moment, both the police and the AFP cannot make a categorical statement regarding the location of the kidnap victims," he said.

Kidnap victims identified as Canadians John Ridsel and Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and a still unidentified Filipina were abducted at a resort on Sept. 21 around 11:30 p.m.

Reports said the suspects were speaking in English and Filipino when they snatched the victims.

Two Japanese tourists tried to stop the bandits but failed. At the time of the raid, 30 or more foreigners were at the resort.

Joint forces from Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao Philippine Coast Guard and the 10th Infantry Division are now conducting pursuit operations.

PH: ‘Disconcerting that nobody is stopping China’

From Rappler (Oct 7): PH: ‘Disconcerting that nobody is stopping China’

When asked if the Philippines can challenge China militarily, the Philippines’ top diplomat says, ‘Maybe in a boxing match with Manny Pacquiao!’

TOP DIPLOMAT. Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario delivers an opening statement during a hearing in July on the Philippines' case against China. File photo courtesy of the Permanent Court of Arbitration

TOP DIPLOMAT. Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario delivers an opening statement during a hearing in July on the Philippines' case against China. File photo courtesy of the Permanent Court of Arbitration

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the US gives the Philippines “significant” military aid, but warned that nobody is stopping China from asserting its claim over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Referring to China, Del Rosario said, “It is disconcerting that nobody is stopping them.”
“That is why we are doing our best to address these challenges, specifically through political efforts in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and bilateral consultations with China. We tried to enlist the support of countries who are sympathetic to us,” he said in an interview with the international magazine Foreign Policy.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs endorsed this Foreign Policy interview by e-mailing it to reporters Wednesday, October 7.
In this interview, Del Rosario added that the Philippines' previous efforts “went well” but ended up as insufficient. “As a last resort, we had to go to international arbitration, which is where we are now.”
When asked if US response to China’s claims has been weak, Del Rosario said: “I think the US has endeavored to strengthen its allies in the region to address these common challenges. The Philippines has received significant US assistance in terms of training in equipment.”
Del Rosario’s interview with Foreign Policy, published on Monday, October 5, comes as the Philippines awaits an initial ruling on the historic case it filed against China. (READ: EXPLAINER: Philippines’ 5 arguments vs China)
At the same time, China is conducting reclamation activities that have built artificial islands that now add up to around a third of Manila City, the Philippines’ capital.
‘Rule of law vs rule of jungle’
Referring to China’s “expansionist agenda,” Del Rosario said: “They want to be a maritime power, but to be that, you need your own lake. We think they have selected the South China Sea as their lake.”
He said that now, at stake is “the rule of the law versus the rule of the jungle.”
When asked if the Philippines is in a position to challenge China militarily, Del Rosario said: “Maybe in a boxing match with Manny Pacquiao! At the end of the day, we really think international law is a great equalizer.”
While Foreign Policy published this interview with Del Rosario, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio of the Philippine Supreme Court also spoke on a global platform to criticize China’s claim over the West Philippine Sea.
In a lecture at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, Carpio on Monday warned that if China prevails, it “will be the beginning of the end” for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. (WATCH: Rappler Talk: Making China follow the rule of law)
“The rule of the naval cannon will prevail in the oceans and seas of our planet, no longer the rule of law. There will be a naval arms race among coastal countries,” Carpio said, according to a news release by the Philippine embassy in Washington DC.
The justice added, “Will the world community allow a single country to rewrite the law of the sea?”

Kidnappers take owner of Dipolog Italian restaurant

From Rappler (Oct 7): Kidnappers take owner of Dipolog Italian restaurant

Rolando del Torchio, a former Italian missionary, liked Dipolog so much he decided to stay here where he opened his own pizza house

TAKEN. Italian restaurateur Rolando del Torchio is kidnapped from his restaurant in Dipolog City. Photo by Gualberto Laput

TAKEN. Italian restaurateur Rolando del Torchio is kidnapped from his restaurant in Dipolog City. Photo by Gualberto Laput

An Italian businessman, former missionary priest Rolando del Torchio, was reportedly kidnapped by unidentified men about 7 pm on Wednesday, October 7, at his pizza restaurant inside the Andres Bonifacio College compound here.

Dapitan Police Chief Divin Ceriales confirmed the kidnapping incident. He said he received an urgent call from Senior Inspector Romer Lim, chief of the Zamboanga del Norte Police Provincial Office (ZNPPO) Intelligence Division, informing him that the former priest had just been kidnapped.

“I also received a call from Dipolog City Police Office informing me about it, and I immediately put the Dapitan City police force in full alert considering that Dapitan could be used as the kidnappers’ escape route,” Ceriales told Rappler.

No one from Dipolog City Police Office answered Rappler's queries, but heavy a police presence was seen at Dipolog boulevard and other coastal areas here.

Del Torchio was former missionary of Vatican’s Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME). He was born in the town of Angera, northern Italy, and ordained priest in 1984. (READ: Priest-turned-chef talks about Benedict, Church)

In 1988, Del Torchio was assigned in Muslim-dominated Sibuco town, Zamboanga del Norte. He stayed there until 1996. He then moved to Dipolog and worked with a non-governmental organization that helped farmers.

According to reports, Torchio was dragged into a waiting vehicle at Dipolog Boulevard near UrChoice. Police rushed to the boulevard, under the premise that kidnappers would usually use pumpboats to transport hostages.

Del Torchio liked Dipolog so much he decided to stay here where he opened his own pizza house called UrChoice.

DEFINE IMPUNITY | Only one soldier convicted of human rights abuse since 2001 - DND

From InterAksyon (Oct 8): DEFINE IMPUNITY | Only one soldier convicted of human rights abuse since 2001 - DND

In what an activist lawmaker described as “a manifestation of the deeply-seated culture of impunity in our country,” the Department of National Defense has said only a single soldier has been convicted in 97 human rights abuse cases filed since 2001.

In a letter to Kabataan party-list Representative Terry Ridon, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin reported that of 57 soldiers accused of extrajudicial killings, only one has been convicted, with five on trial, 22 still under investigation, four formally charged, the cases against 12 others archived, dismissed against 10, and three more acquitted. This makes for a conviction rate of 1.75 percent.

Of the 11 accused of torture, six are under investigation, the cases against two were archived, while three saw the charges dismissed. In 27 cases of enforced disappearance, 17 are under investigation, only one case is on trial, another soldier formally charged, four cases have been archived, and four soldiers found innocent.
Two soldiers have been charged in media killings.

“This is an incredulous report,” Ridon said. “This only shows that the (Armed Forces of the Philippines) is virtually protected from the claws of Philippine law. This is the very reason the AFP is so confident in committing rights violations, because they know that they will not be made accountable for their heinous crimes.”

“Such (a) low conviction rate is a manifestation of the deeply-seated culture of impunity in our country. Here in the Philippines, having a military badge is equivalent to a free pass on the commission of crimes,” he stressed, noting that the DND figures are in sharp contrast with statistics on human rights violation.

For extrajudicial killings alone, the human rights group Karapatan has documented 282 victims.

“Human rights violations will undoubtedly continue in the final months of the Aquino administration, especially when we have a situation wherein military aggressors and criminals are exempt from the rule of law,” Ridon said.

Gabriela lawmakers see 'money-making' behind lumad relocation plan as AFP nixes troop pullout

From InterAksyon (Oct 7): Gabriela lawmakers see 'money-making' behind lumad relocation plan as AFP nixes troop pullout

A lumad family shares a meal in their tent at the Tandag City sports center. (photo by Erwin Mascarinas,

Activist lawmakers on Wednesday said a proposal to relocate lumad refugees in Surigao del Sur might open up opportunities for “kickbacks” as the military rejected demands to pull out soldiers from indigenous peoples’ communities in Mindanao.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman bared a plan to build core shelters for the more than 4,000 mostly Manobo evacuees in Surigao del Sur although the lumad earlier rejected the suggestion, demanding that government troops and militias they accuse of atrocities leave their communities so they can return to their homes and farms.

Some 3,000 lumad fled to Tandag City following the September 1 murders of Emerito Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, and Manobo leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Bello Sinzo in Barangay Diatago, Lianga town by the military-backed Magahat militia.

Another 1,000 evacuees also sought refuge at the municipal gym in Marihatag town late last week.

Reacting to Soliman’s proposal, Gabriela Representative Luzviminda Ilagan said: “We see only two reasons why Secretary Dinky Soliman is offering relocation to the lumad evacuees instead of facilitating a peaceful return to their ancestral lands. One is that Soliman is in cahoots with the mining and logging interests that seek to plunder ancestral lands once the lumad have been driven away and; there are kickbacks to be gained in the building of lumad relocation shelters.”

Several lumad organizations have linked the atrocities committed against them as part of efforts to stifle their opposition to the incursion of commercial mining and logging operations in their ancestral lands.  

By suggesting relocation, “Secretary Soliman simply refuses to understand and see the reasons behind the lumad’s displacement,” Ilagan said.

Fellow Gabriela lawmaker Emmi De Jesus said Soliman should not be trusted with the project, citing “how families displaced by Typhoon Yolanda have been relegated to sub-human conditions in shelters facilitated no less by the DSWD.”

Malinaw na kickback na naman at pondong pangkampanya ang hinahabol ni Soliman dito at nakalulungkot isipin na pagkakakitaan na naman ng ahensyang ito ang mga biktima (It is clear that Soliman is after kickbacks and campaign funds and it is sad to think this agency will again reap profots from the plight of the victims),” she claimed.

“They have been forced to evacuate several times and they have been victimized several times. We must heed their calls and not allow the lumad to be victimized over again,” De Jesus said.

But in Camp Aguinaldo, Armed Forces of the Philippines Civil Relations Service chief Brigadier General Joselito Kakilala reiterated military claims that communist rebels were “radicalizing” lumad children through tribal schools set up in their communities by nongovernmental organizations.

Among the schools the military has accused of advocating support for communist rebels and wants shut down is ALCADEV, which has received awards for its groundbreaking work from the Department of Education, among others.

“The NPA should leave all lumad communities and they should stop making these communities their own laboratories of senseless protracted war. They should stop arming the lumad to wage a bloody war with them against the government,” Kakilala said.

Yong: Sabah faces further risks in EssZone

From the Free Malaysia Today (Oct 7): Yong: Sabah faces further risks in EssZone

The former Chief Minister charged that the security of Sabah was being ignored by the trouble-stricken Federal Government.


Former Chief Minister Yong Teck Lee has warned the authorities concerned against resting on their laurels along the eastern seaboard in Sabah in the wake of the breakdown of the peace process in the neighbouring southern Philippines across the Sulu Sea. “Sabah must brace itself for another period of violent conflict in the southern Philippines spilling over into the state following the failure of Manila to ensure the passage of the BangsaMoro Basic Law (BBL).”

“This failure is in contravention of the peace agreements brokered by Putrajaya between the Philippines Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).”

Yong, who is also Sabah Progressive Party (Sapp) President, charged that the security of Sabah was being ignored as the Federal Government was at the same time preoccupied with its own political problems. “The Sabah Government also seems helpless in resolving the case of two Malaysians kidnapped at the Ocean King Seafood Restaurant in Sandakan in May this year.”

He was commenting on Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed visiting the Eastern Sabah Security Command (EssCom) in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (EssZone) “and making nothing but another round of promises”.

Yong, resuming on the BBL pointed out that it pledged autonomy for the BangsaMoro Homeland. “Inevitably, there will be increased lawlessness on both sides of the Sulu Sea, raising the ‘push’ factor in the southern Philippines, with higher risks of infiltration into Sabah by armed gangs, more influx of illegals, smuggling and other transnational crimes such as kidnappings-for-ransom.”

“MILF armed units will become ‘lost commands’ and more dangerous and violent.”

Yong added that there were reports at the same time that Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), already active in the Sulu Sea, was re-asserting its presence along the international sea border. “The MNLF has become relevant again with Manila appealing to its founder, Nur Misuari, to help secure the release of four hostages – two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina — taken from Ocean View Resort on Samal Island, Davao, two weeks ago.”

One killed as gov't troops encounter leftist rebel in C. Philippines

Posted to the Shanghai Daily (Oct 6): One killed as gov't troops encounter leftist rebel in C. Philippines

One member of New People Army (NPA) was killed after series of encounters from Monday to Tuesday with government soldiers in Iloilo province of central Philippines, the military reported on Tuesday.

The troops from 82th Infantry Battalion encountered 5 militants of NPA when they were conducting security patrol at the vicinity of Ambarihon Village, Iloilo at 4:30 p.m. on Monday.

After series of fleeing and encounters, the militants managed to escape on Tuesday morning with one killed in the conflict.

The battle site is around 40 kilometers away from Iloilo City, where an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting is held from last Sunday to Tuesday.

The NPA, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been waging a guerrilla campaign against the government in the countryside for four decades. Military estimates the NPA strength at more than 4,000 men scattered in more than 60 guerrilla fronts throughout the country.

No links yet between arrested suspects, Abu Sayyaf –police

From GMA News (Oct 7): No links yet between arrested suspects, Abu Sayyaf –police

Authorities have yet to determine if the two arrested suspects in the kidnapping of three foreigners and a Filipino woman in Samal Island last week were members of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.

Interviewed by phone on Wednesday, Superintendent Antonio Rivera of the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Davao City said they are still doing background checks on the two to determine their possible group affiliations.

"Mahirap mag-confirm kapag walang information or ebidensya na talagang members sila [ng Abu Sayyaf]. Kaya ginagawa namin ngayon, we are trying to establish through evidence para masabi na members sila ng ganitong grupo," Rivera told GMA News Online.

"Bina-backtrack namin, bina-background check, para matignan kung sino ang kasama nila," he added.

The kidnapped victims have been identified as Canadian tourists John Ridsdel, 68, and Robert Hall, 50, as well as Hall's girlfriend Marites Flor and Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad, 56.

Both the police and the military have yet to confirm reports that the victims are in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.

The group, which has supposed links with foreign terrorist organizations, is notorious for carrying out kidnappings, including of foreigners, in the past.

Rivera said the CIDG also revisited the site where the two were arrested as part of its investigation to determine the possible involvement of the two in the September 21 abduction in Oceanview Resort in Davao del Norte's Samal Island.

"May information kami na nare-receive na they could be involved. Lahat ng information na dumadaan sa amin, bina-validate [namin at] kinoconfirm. Binabalikan pa ng imbestigador 'yung lugar ng investigation para ma-validate kung may involvement," he said.

One of the suspects was arrested due to an existing warrant from the Regional Trial Court Branch 3 of Nabunturan, Compostela Valley, for murder and serious illegal detention, while the other was nabbed for possession of a gun and a grenade.

"Nakasama lang kasi 'yung isa dahil magkasama sila nung may warrant. Dinala na rin siya simply because at the time na naaresto siya, nakunan siya ng baril at granada," Rivera said.

Malaysian hostages living on borrowed time

From the Star Online (Oct 7): Malaysian hostages living on borrowed time

KOTA KINABALU: Two Malaysian hostages held by the notorious Abu Sayyaf gunmen are living on borrowed time with every passing day.

The militants’ threat to behead Sarawakian Bernard Then Ted Fen, 39, could turn out to be a reality if nothing is done to secure his release soon.

Restaurant manager Thien Nyuk Fun, 50, was abducted together with Then on May 14 and the pirates are now on the run with the military in pursuit of the Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines island of Jolo.

“I feel every day that my husband survives is a day given by God. Their threats to behead my husband is constantly ringing in my head.


“We just don’t have the money or means to raise the ransom. It is really important for our Government to work fast towards freeing him and Thien,” said his 39-year-old wife Chan Wai See in a telephone interview.

“Several deadlines for ransom to be paid have passed. I fear this time they will carry out their threat. I feel they are becoming angry and irritated with the delays,” she said.

Chan is anxiously waiting to receive good news from the Government as to when she will be able to see her husband safely back.

Then was holidaying with his wife when he was abducted along with Thien at the seaside Ocean King Seafood Restaurant just a few kilometres from Sandakan town.

It was the first time the cross border kidnappers had entered mainland Sabah compared to previous kidnappings, which occurred at the isolated east area of the state.

Chan said her husband’s aging parents in Kuching were also very worried.

“His mother constantly calls me and she’s always crying. But I don’t know what to say, I too am at a loss for words,”’ she said.

Both victims’ families have been receiving calls threatening to behead the hostages if the ransoms, reportedly around 30mil pesos (RM2.8mil) for each, were not paid.

Filipino and Malaysian sources on the ground in Jolo fear that the threat of beheading might become real as the Abu Sayyaf gunmen were now on the constant run with the Philippine military hunting for another kidnap group that grabbed two Canadians and a Norwegian from a resort in Samal Island in Philippines on Sept 21.

Ground sources in Jolo have said that Then was suffering from leg injuries and had to be carried whenever the Abu Sayyaf had to flee to safer ground in the jungle.