Friday, March 11, 2016

Suspected communist rebel captured in Iloilo

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 11): Suspected communist rebel captured in Iloilo

The Philippine Army’s 61st Infantry Battalion (61 IB) nabbed a suspected communist rebel following a gun battle in Maasin, Iloilo recently.

Lt. Col. Leonardo Peña, 61st IB commander, said that suspected rebel, Rey Mirante was nabbed when he was shot and wounded Wednesday afternoon in Sitio Lambasan, Trangka Village.

Peña said 61st IB soldiers were responding to reports of the presence of suspected lawless elements when at least 18 men fired upon them.

“Our troops engaged them for 30 minutes of sporadic firefight. After which, they withdrew in disarray,” Lt. Col. Peña added.
Aside from the wounded suspected rebel, government forces also recovered an M79 grenade launcher loaded with ammunition and a homemade shotgun.

Meanwhile, the hierarchy of 3rd Infantry Division (3rdID) lauded the professionalism of the troops for strictly following the rules of engagement and the rule of law.

Brig. Gen. Harold Cabreros, 3rdID commander, said that the suspected communist rebel was even brought to hospital for medical attention.

Aquino’s pal Petrasanta, cops face arrest over AK-47 deal

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 11): Aquino’s pal Petrasanta, cops face arrest over AK-47 deal
The Sandiganbayan has found probable cause to proceed with the trial of graft against sacked Chief Supt. Raul Petrasanta, a close friend of President Benigno Aquino III, and other former officials of the Philippine National Police over the allegedly anomalous sale of rifles to communist rebels.

In a resolution dated Feb. 29 and released on Friday, the antigraft court’s special fifth division ordered the issuance of warrant of arrest against Petrasanta and his coaccused in connection with the missing 1,004 Russian-made AK-47 assault rifles, which were allegedly sold to New People’s Army (NPA) rebels from 2011 to 2013 with the assistance of senior police officials.

Petrasanta, the former chief of the PNP Firearms and Explosives Office, was being eyed to be the next top cop to succeed Alan Purisima and was even endorsed to the President by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., but was one of the officials dismissed from service last year for their alleged involvement in a P100-million shady deal with a private courier service company for the delivery of gun licenses.

Following a “judicious, personal, and independent review” of records and supporting documents, the court said it found “substantial evidence on record to support a finding of probable cause against the accused-movants.”

“With regard to the instant motions of the accused, it is noted by the Court that the arguments being raised are essentially based on disputed or disputable factual matters. The court is not expected to accept accused-movants’ version of the facts, hook, line and sinker, and on that basis, dismiss these cases. Such evidentiary matters are to be passed upon and threshed out in the regular course of an adversarial proceeding,” the resolution read.

“The court is mindful that despite finding of probable cause against the accused-movants, the presumption of innocence in their favor remains. The burden is still upon the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Nevertheless, sufficient evidence exists on record to bring these cases to trial and thus give the prosecution the chance to prove the guilt of the accused-movants beyond reasonable doubt for the crime charged against them,” it added.

The resolution was approved by Associate Justice Rolando Jurado, Alexander Gesmundo, and Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez Estoesta.

Petrasanta’s coacussed were retired PNP directors Gil Meneses and Napoleon Estilles, former chief superintendents Tomas Rentoy III and Regino Catiis, and former Senior Superintendents Eduardo Acierto and Allan Parreño, Supt. Nelson Bautista, Chief Inspectors Ricardo Zapata Jr. and Ricky Sumalde, Senior Police Officers 1 Eric Tan and Randy de Sesto, civilian employees Nora Pirote and Sol Bargan, and Caraga Security Agency’s registered owner Isidro Lozada.

The Sandiganbayan ordered the issuance of arrest warrant against the accused except for Sumalde, whose motion for reconsideration is still pending before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Video gives good picture of hostages, says AFP

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 12): Video gives good picture of hostages, says AFP

A VIDEO clip that surfaced online showing the four Samal Island tourists kidnapped by militants nearly six months ago is a good indication of the captives’ condition, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

“The video, for all it is worth, is a good indication of the kidnap victims’ present condition. It also presents important information on the group that is holding them right now,” said Col. Noel Detoyato, AFP public affairs office chief.

In the video, the foreigners—all emaciated, bearded and shirtless—pleaded for their lives as they called on their respective families and governments to meet the ransom being demanded by their abductors.

The video of about a minute and a half was posted on a Facebook page linked to Philippine Islamists.

The security sector said it will abide by the government’s “no ransom policy” even with the Abu Sayyaf’s threats to kill the hostages within a month if the ransom demands are not met.

The AFP maintained that it will continue on its focused military operations in support of the police operations to rescue the victims and pursue their kidnappers.

Detoyato said the safety of the hostages is a primary concern during combat and focused military operations to rescue the kidnap victims.

The AFP issued the statement after the release of a video that showed men claiming to be part of the Abu Sayyaf group threatening to kill the four hostages abducted in September last year.

The video in question was posted on the Facebook page Pamantasan ng Tawheed and Jihaad Filibin on Thursday.

In the video, the men gave the Canadian government a month or until April 8 to act on their P4-billion ransom demand or the hostages will be killed.

In September last year, Canadian nationals John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingatad and Filipina Maritess Flor were snatched from a resort on Samal Island in Davao del Norte by armed men.

Later on, a video of the tourists surfaced in which the P4-billion ransom demand was made. Another video demanded for a halt to military operations in Sulu before the start of the negotiations for the hostages’ freedom.

The embassies of the foreign captives have declined to comment on the demands being made by the kidnappers.

A spokesperson for Canada’s foreign minister said the government was aware of the video but did not want to comment or provide new information in case it endangered the captives.

Calgary-based TVI Pacific, where Ridsdel was a semiretired consultant, declined to comment.

According to Matt Williams, the Philippines country director for Pacific Strategies and Assessments, a risk mitigation company that tracks rebel groups, the release of a dramatic, threatening video is a common tactic of the group.

8,000 ROTC cadets in NCR to undergo administrative, tactical inspections Sunday

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 12): 8,000 ROTC cadets in NCR to undergo administrative, tactical inspections Sunday

Around 8,000 Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) cadets from the National Capital Region (NCR) will be undergoing administrative and tactical inspections this coming Sunday.

The inspection will be conducted by the National Capital Regional Community Defense Group, said Army spokesperson Col. Benjamin Hao.

It will be held at the ROTC Hunters Guerrilla Parade Ground, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

Hao said the activity is dubbed as the 10th Centralized Regional Annual Administrative and Tactical Inspection (RAATI) for SY 2015-2016.

It is part of the pre-anniversary activities in celebration of the 119th Philippine Army founding anniversary which falls on March 22.

Hao said Army commander Lt. Gen. Eduardo M. Año is expected in the daylong event.

RAATI is a yearly activity of the Philippine Army which entails actual inspection of all activated Army ROTC units nationwide.

It is designed to evaluate the ROTC units in the implementation of the whole ROTC program.

The inspection aims to test the units’ degree of administrative efficiency, training management, proficiency, and quality of training attained by the cadets.

These includes Administrative Inspection, Ceremonial Parade, Rank Inspection, Operation Order writing, Map Reading, Assembly and Disassembly of M-16 rifle and Cal. 45 pistol, Company Drill, Method of Instructions, Small Unit Tactics and Disaster Response and Rescue Operations.

It also intends to test the operational readiness of the ROTC units and allow the students to experience the real meaning of basic soldiery.

It is also a tool to attract freshmen college students to enroll in ROTC program so that more Filipino citizens will join the Philippine Army Reserve Force.

The ROTC students and school administrators will also have educational tour at the Army facilities including the Museum, and the Philippine Army Murals around the HPA Grandstand. The Army Museum is open for tour to the public from March 13 to 22.

Villagers start fencing power towers

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 12): Villagers start fencing power towers

Police chief says ‘bayanihan’ effort to help secure NGCP facilities
Heeding a suggestion made by the town police chief, residents of Barangay Pagangan here, with the help of the local police force and the local government, had fenced two power pylons bombed in recent days to prevent the structures from being attacked again.

The previous bombings of Tower 63 and Tower 68 in the village had caused massive power outages that lasted for hours in the provinces of Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

The latest attack was on March 1, when Tower 63 was bombed after the attackers failed to topple it on Jan. 14. Tower 68 was bombed in December.

Senior Insp. Jun Jinete Napat, Aleosan police chief, said he came up with the idea of putting up fences around the two towers in the hope of securing these from future attacks.

After securing the materials needed from the local government and from the office of Mayor Vicente Suropia, Napat said residents of Pagangan immediately started putting up the fences.

“The LGU (local government unit) produced the bamboo and barbed wire,” said Napat.

“The police helped in putting up the barriers and a watchman from the village was assigned to each tower,” he said.

“Mobile phones came from the LGU and allowances from NGCP (National Grid Corp. of the Philippines) for the watchmen,” said Napat. “It was all bayanihan,” he said.

“This is our contribution, this is a community effort to spare us from brownouts,” said the police chief.

The two towers are now surrounded by fences reaching 6 feet tall (1.83 meters) and made of bamboo poles and tied with barbed wires.

Napat said he is studying the possibility of replicating the Pagangan effort in others areas of the town, which hosts at least 17 NGCP transmission towers.

The structures carry the 138-kilovolt line from the Kabacan NGCP substation to the Simuay substation in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

“Our plan is to fence all the 17 towers within Aleosan, our area of operation,” Napat added.

Last week, North Cotabato police officials urged NGCP to implement tighter security in its power distribution towers following another attempt to topple Tower 63.

Supt. Bernard Tayong, spokesperson of the North Cotabato police office, said the NGCP management could tap the services of private security forces to guard power distribution towers to prevent more attacks on transmission facilities that are key to keeping electricity flowing to consumers in Mindanao.

At least 16 NGCP towers have been bombed in North Cotabato, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur in 2015 alone, according to Melfrance Capulong, NGCP spokesperson for Mindanao.

Capulong said the bombings not only disrupted the company’s services but also became added burdens to consumers who would eventually have to pay the costs of repairing the damaged pylons, which run to P2 million each.

Iqbal tells PMA cadets BBL casualty of war on terror

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 12): Iqbal tells PMA cadets BBL casualty of war on terror

MORO rebel chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal met with cadets of the Philippine Military Academy, alongside government peace  negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer (not in photo), during a dialogue on the derailed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). The cadets quizzed Iqbal about whether BBL would bring lasting peace, to which he replied: “No one can assure lasting peace.” VINCENT CABREZA/INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON

MORO rebel chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal met with cadets of the Philippine Military Academy, alongside government peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer (not in photo), during a dialogue on the derailed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). The cadets quizzed Iqbal about whether BBL would bring lasting peace, to which he replied: “No one can assure lasting peace.” VINCENT CABREZA/INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON
The country’s commitment to the global war on terror should not have superseded its peace arrangements with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the MILF’s chief peace negotiator said here on Wednesday.

Mohagher Iqbal said it was the only possible explanation for the January 2015 clash that had been described in a Senate report as a massacre in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province.

The operation, conducted by the Special Action Force (SAF) to get an international terrorist, resulted in the deaths of 44 SAF commandos, 17 MILF fighters and five civilians caught in the crossfire.

Iqbal and government peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer were in Baguio City  on Wednesday to join a dialogue arranged by news service MindaNews with cadets of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) about the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro  and the derailed Bangasamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Both Iqbal and Ferrer said that many of the policemen killed in the police operation to capture Malaysian bomber Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan,  were from the Cordillera region.

Ferrer said the delay in passing BBL was due to the backlash over the Mamasapano debacle. But she said the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman have undertaken steps to pinpoint those accountable for the encounter.

Malacañang chose the “primacy of the war on terror” over the “primacy of the peace talks,” Iqbal said in a news conference, “and many people died.”

He said the SAF did not coordinate with the MILF, or the Armed Forces of the Philippines, despite a ceasefire agreement and procedures governing it, and the formation of ad hoc organizations that respond to banditry and kidnap-for-ransom gangs.

Mine sweep continues in former BIFF stronghold

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 11): Mine sweep continues in former BIFF stronghold

Camp Siongco, Maguindanao — Three more improvised explosive devices (IED) were recovered and defused Thursday by Philippine Army bomb experts in Datu Salibo, Maguindanao, the Army here said yesterday.

Capt. Joann Petinglay, Sixth Infantry Division spokesperson, said clearing operations have not stopped even after the stronghold of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) was overran by government forces earlier this week.

The three IEDs, made of black powder, blasting mechanism circuit and cut nails which serve as shrapnel, were found in Barangay Balas and Barangay Tee, both in Datu Salibo where construction of a P58-million flood control project has also resumed.

“We continue clearing operations, we cannot recommend as of yet the return of displaced families, your military will not leave the site unless the communities are free of IEDs,” Petinglay said in a radio interview.
Kadiguia Aguiam, an evacuee from the village of Tee but who has been staying in a public school in nearby Datu Saudi Ampatuan in Maguindanao when violence erupted on February 10, admitted life has been very difficult in cramped evacuation sites.

“Life here is hard, we are not productive, we rely on food ration, we hope the Army could clear the area very soon so we can go back home,” Aguiam, clutching her four-year-old son, said.

AFP readies election security plan in NIR

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 11): AFP readies election security plan in NIR

The Armed Forces of the Philippines through its 303rd Infantry Brigade based in Murcia, Negros Occidental readies election security plan in the Negros Island region (NIR).

79th Infantry Batallion 1Lt. Ronnie Sarmiento reported that the brigade is tasked to perform election-related duties and security operations in support to Commission on Election (COMELEC) in Negros Island Region (NIR).

In a recent Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) meeting, Sarmiento said the 303rd Infantry Brigade is the only army brigade that will oversee and operate in the whole island covering the 79th Infantry Battalion in Palanas, Tanjay City and 11th battalion in Guihulngan formerly under the 302nd brigade which was moved to Bohol on November 15, 2015.

Relative to this, the organized tactical unit (TU) 303 conducts security operations in Negros Island Region to support and assist the COMELEC in the implementation of election laws, rules and regulations to ensure a free, orderly, honest, peaceful and credible conduct of the May 9, 2016 national and local elections.

Sarmiento added that the activated Joint Security Coordinating Centers (JSCC) at different levels have contributed in maintaining a peaceful environment so far. 

However, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), New People's Army (NPA) and National Democratic Front (NDF) are potent threat to conduct possible election related violent incidents, said Sarmiento.

In a related development, the Conflict Manageable Development Ready (CMDR) status of Negros Oriental and the Peaceful and Ready for Further Development (PRFD) status of Negros Occidental have been sustained through the concerted peace and development efforts of the different stakeholders.

In his report, Sarmiento revealed that the brigade has gained significant progress not only in clearing affected barangays through bayanihan activities but also in sustaining the gains in unaffected barangays through re-visitation and immersion.

The brigade was able to neutralize 30 CPP, NPA, NDF (CNN) personnel and recovered 14 firearms. However, Sarmiento reported that there is still a need to increase the number of neutralized CNN personalities as well as recovery of their firearms.

With the shared responsibility of achieving peace and development, a normalized Negros Island Region can be attained through the continuous support of local government units and cooperation among other government agencies, non government organizations (NGOs), civil society organizations (CSOs), and the different sectors of society, Sarmiento said.

Army, NPA rebels clash anew in Malaybalay City

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 11): Army, NPA rebels clash anew in Malaybalay City

CAMP OSITO D BAHIAN, Malaybalay City -- A fire fight between the Philippine Army and New People’s Army (NPA) rebels occurred March 9, at around 12:00 noon in sitio Baganao, barangay Kibalabag, Malaybalay city.

While conducting security operations, soldiers of Alpha Company, 8th Infantry (Dependable) Battalion, encountered and had a fierce gunbattle with the rebels believed to be members of Sentro De Grabidad (SDG) Dario, Section Committee 89 of North Central Mindanao Regional Committee (NCMRC) under Noel Gabute aka Cesar.

After five minutes of intense fire fight, the NPA rebels withdrew towards different directions. No reports of casualty on the government troops as they pursued the rebels believed to have wounded comrades.

Colonel Jesse A. Alvarez, commander of the 403rd (Peacemaker) Brigade said, the government troops were on security patrol when some residents reported that a group of NPA is lurking in the outskirts.

He said this is the second encounter with the NPA rebels for this year in the north eastern part of Malaybalay City.

“Our continous security operation is meant to protect the communities and the populace especially those in the hinterland barangays from NPA’s threat and intimidation, and extortion as well. The people in these areas are already fed up with NPA’s terror tactics,” Col. Alvarez said.

University of London honors GPH peace panel legal consultant

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 12): University of London honors GPH peace panel legal consultant

LONDON, United Kingdom, Mar. 12 -- Atty. Armi Beatriz Bayot, member of the legal team of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) negotiating panel for talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has been awarded the Georg Schwarzenberger Prize in International Law 2016 by the University of London system for her excellent work in the field of Public International Law.

The Georg Schwarzenberger Prize was institutionalized by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of London as a memorial to its former Emeritus Professor of International Law.

Bayot went through a screening process for the award, with each of the six faculties of law of the institute nominating one candidate for consideration. The mechanisms of the award allowed for joint winners if nominated candidates, possess similar merits.

Bayot as the sole winner puts her achievements above and beyond than those of the other nominees.

“I have been told by some teachers and classmates that I am the first Filipino they have ever met. Indeed, I may be the only Filipino some of them ever get to meet. It really means a lot to me to be able to represent our country abroad as a graduate student, as well as by winning this award,” Bayot said.

While working as a member of the GPH peace panel legal team, Bayot is also an assistant solicitor at the Office of the Solicitor General. She obtained her Master of Laws Degree in Transnational Law (With Distinction) from King’s College London as a Chevening Scholar in 2014-2015.

“Doing my LL.M. at King’s College London has really broadened my horizons as a lawyer and a legal scholar. I was able to work with some of the greatest legal minds in the world today, and I had access to some of the most cutting edge legal research available. I am really grateful that I was able to pursue my graduate studies through a Chevening scholarship. My Chevening year was truly life-changing,” she commented.

Women taking the lead in the Bangsamoro peace process

Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles is the country’s first woman presidential peace adviser while GPH chief negotiator Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer is the first female chief negotiator in the world to sign a major peace agreement. The CAB itself is a landmark document signed by three women signatories – one-half of the 6-person GPH negotiating team, and about one-fourth of the total number of signatories.

New York-based International Peace Institute (IPI) have hailed both Deles and Ferrer as ideal women peacemakers for their key roles in the government peace talks with the MILF and Communist Party of the Philippines/New People's Army/National Democratic Front (NDF).

Last April 2015, Ferrer also accepted the 2015 Hillary Clinton Award for Advancing Women in Peace and Security held at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The said award honors Ferrer for her “indefatigable work to bring about peace in the Philippines and for (her) historic role as the first female chief negotiator to sign a comprehensive peace agreement.” (OPAPP)

NPA raid bloodless, but heads rolled in police force

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 12): NPA raid bloodless, but heads rolled in police force

TACLOBAN CITY—No shots were fired and no one was hurt during a raid by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels on a police station in a town in Eastern Samar, one of the country’s poorest provinces, on Monday.

But heads rolled following the NPA raid in the police station of Balangkayan town, which succeeded in stripping the police station of 17 firearms, laptops and policemen’s personal belongings.

The town police chief, Senior Insp. Gilberto Polima, and the five policemen on duty, identified by their surnames only—SPO4 Montero, PO3 Opriasaya, PO1 Azura, PO1 Globio and PO1 Buenafe—were removed from their posts pending results of an investigation.

At least 20 rebels overpowered five policemen on duty around 7:30 p.m. on Monday, according to Senior Supt. Romeo Campomanes, Eastern Samar provincial police chief.

Balangkayan, at least 158 kilometers from this city, has 22 policemen for a population of more than 10,000 spread in 15 villages.

Campomanes said the first group of rebels, seen wearing shorts, barged into the police station brandishing hand guns and identifying themselves as NPA members.

A second group of rebels followed, wielding assault rifles, according to Campomanes.

The rebels ordered the five policemen to lie flat on the ground as the rest of the rebel group ransacked the police station armory and took 16 Armalite rifles and a shotgun.

The rebels also seized two laptops, uniforms and personal belongings.

Senior Insp. Polima, the town police chief, was not around during the raid.

Campomanes said the raid lasted for only 20 minutes. The station policemen, he said in a phone interview, “were surprised and overpowered.”

From the police station, the rebels fled to the direction of Barangays Balogo and Tigbao, both interior villages of Balangkayan.

Soldiers from the 14th Infantry Battalion, based in another town of Eastern Samar, Oras, were sent to pursue the rebels.

Campomanes said an investigation is being conducted to determine any lapses that may have been committed by the Balangkayan police force.

Ulama alliance members in Lanao get threats

From GMA News (Mar 11): Ulama alliance members in Lanao get threats

MARAWI CITY -  Members of the Ulama Alliance  in the two Lanao provinces and Marawi City claim they frequently get death threats from unknown personalities .
Sheik Sadiq Usman,member of the Ulama Alliance told GMA News, "We have received these threats  through texts  messages  and on Facebook even before and after the foiled assassination attempt on Dr. Aidh Al-Qarni and Sheik Turky Bin Abdul Rahman Shaeg in Zamboanga City" on March 1 in Zamboanga City
The members of the Ulama Alliance he added suspect that the threats came from young  radicals who are propagating extremism.
"We are not afraid of the threats around us " Usman added.
On Thursday morning an estimated 5,000 Muslims staged an indignation rally at Cabili Plaza in Banggolo, Marawi City.and strongly condemned the shooting of  Al-Qarni and Asshaeg.
In a manifesto signed by Alim Ali Solaiman Bangcola, second vice chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front,  the Ulama Alliance urged the Philippine government to immediately act in identifying who were behind the crime.
Dr. Guimba Poingan, representative of the academic sector,  said: "We can not deny the close coordination between the Kingdom of  Saudi Arabia and the Republic of  Philippines, and there is .nothing that the Saudi government can feel that the Philippine government should do the best in order to conduct an immediate investigation of this incident  and the disposition of justice of the victims, it might put a barrier of intimacy"
Dr. Poingan said " our observation is that the conflict in Butig between the military and the local terrorists has nothing to do with the Zamboanga  City incident "
"The government should take a serious attention on the Bamgsamoro issue  because in our own perception the government .keeps on   joking on us  on us in the  settlement of the conflict , it can be possible that sooner or later , the Bangsamoro land would become the breeding ground of all forms of terrorism and all forms of radicalism which is very hard to control  " Poingan said
The government was using the the Mamasapano incident as the ground in delaying the passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law.
"Some radicals who perceived that they lost their  hope for peace with the government are now coming out in different colors."Poingan added.
Poingan said "We just hope that the Butig  and Zambonga incidents will give a serious attention to  the congressmen and senators to take a second look on the policy of the Bangsamoro people."

Few clues seen in life of man tagged in cleric attack

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 12): Few clues seen in life of man tagged in cleric attack
Clues to the character and transformation of Misuari Kiliste Rugasan III, who was tagged as the gunman in the attack on a Saudi cleric and embassy official, could be distilled from the stories that his classmates and friends tell about the late 21-year-old university student.

They recall Rugasan to be a friendly, outgoing young man who suddenly became reclusive and shunned social gatherings for reasons Rugasan kept close to his heart.

“He was very friendly, helpful, very religious and thoughtful,” said Rahim Bucoy, a habal-habal (motorcycle-turned-public utility vehicle) driver and Rugasan’s friend.
Bucoy said he started to “lose” his friend about two years ago when he suddenly became “serious.”

“It seems like he grew old, he became so serious in life,” said Bucoy. “He became so prayerful, so studious that he hardly had time to mingle with us,” he added.

A classmate of Rugasan, who was killed after allegedly attacking and wounding Saudi cleric and author Dr. Aaidh ibn Abdullah al-Qarni and Saudi embassy religious attache Sheik Turki Assaegh, described Rugasan as sociable.

Rugasan changed when he became a member of a student group that the classmate would not identify.

Police, however, said Rugasan was member of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at the Western Mindanao State University (WMSU), where Rugasan was enrolled in engineering.

MSA is the same group that organized a lecture of Al-Qarni on the day he was shot and wounded.

“He became less sociable, he devoted more time to this organization and he became very religious,” the classmate said.

Another classmate said until 2012, Rugasan was very active on social media. Rugasan soon started to deactivate his social media accounts.

Membership in MSA is common among Muslim students in WMSU, according to one member.

But Rugasan, said Munib Kahal, MSA president, was neither an active member or an officer.

“All Muslim students of WMSU are members but being member is different from being an active member and an active officer,” said Kahal in a text message to Inquirer.

It is still unclear if Rugasan had joined other organizations aside from MSA.

An aunt of Rugasan said she did not know what happened to her nephew.

“I don’t know what was taught to him by the school organization, until now I cannot get over it (the shooting incident),” she said.

The aunt said even a video that was posted on Facebook supposedly showing Rugasan shooting at the car bearing Al-Qarni and Assaegh failed to convince her that Rugasan could try to kill someone.

“Every time I watch the video, it breaks my heart,” the aunt said.

Members of the Badua family, Rugasan’s adoptive family, said they were also in disbelief over what happened.

Supt. Diomarie Albarico, of the Central Police Station, said he understood the shock that Rugasan’s relatives are going through.

But Albarico said results of examination on Rugasan’s remains showed he was positive for gunpowder burns, indicating that he had fired a gun.

Albarico said police are now looking at every possible lead, including Rugasan’s membership in organizations.

On the fate of arrested suspects Mujer Abubakar and Junaide Cadir, the investigation is still ongoing.

Chief Insp. Helen Galvez, spokesperson of the Zamboanga City Police Office, said the Special Investigative Task Group Al-Qarni “is now investigating deeper on the background of the suspects and their affiliation.”

Accused tells court he met cop to prove he was merely a Sulu sultan’s bodyguard

From the Borneo Post (Mar 11): Accused tells court he met cop to prove he was merely a Sulu sultan’s bodyguard
KOTA KINABALU: A Filipino accused in the Lahad Datu intrusion case had agreed to meet with police to prove he was merely a part-time bodyguard for a Sulu sultan, the High Court here heard yesterday.

Timhar Hadil, 39, said he brought documents and a badge related to the so-called sultanate to show to the police during the meeting on the morning of Feb 18, 2013.

“I, together with my younger brother Bakrin and my father, went to Restoran Rahmat (in Lahad Datu) to meet a CID policeman Corporal Yusof.

“I brought a badge and an envelope containing documents because I wanted to prove to the police that I was a part-time bodyguard to Sultan Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram,” he said in the Suluk language.

His testimony was translated into Bahasa Malaysia by a court interpreter.

Timhar was entering his defence on a charge of being a member of a terrorist group during an armed intrusion at Kampung Tanduo in Lahad Datu in 2013.

He said he went to the restaurant after learning the night before that police were looking for him because he was a ‘panglima’ or ‘general’ of a so-called Sulu sultan.

He disagreed with deputy public prosecutor Mohd Dusuki Mokhtar during cross-examination that he was involved in the armed intrusion at Kampung Tanduo.

Thirteen Filipinos and a local man who are entering their defence before Justice Stephen Chung at the Sabah Prison Department for various offences allegedly committed between Feb 12 and April 10, 2013.

Some of the accused are facing one to multiple charges of being members of a terrorist group and waging war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

Others are alleged to have wilfully harboured individuals they knew to be members of a terrorist group, or solicited or gave support to a terrorist group.

The hearing continues today. — Bernama

Canadian held hostage 6 months in Philippines begs for Justin Trudeau's help

CBC News Calgary (Mar 11): Canadian held hostage 6 months in Philippines begs for Justin Trudeau's help

'Please, do as needed to meet their demands within one month or they will kill me': John Ridsdel pleads

Former Calgarian, John Ridsdel, who more recently was a mining company executive, was abducted on Sept. 19 in the Philippines along with Canadian Robert Hall, a Norwegian and a Filipino woman.

Former Calgarian, John Ridsdel, who more recently was a mining company executive, was abducted on Sept. 19 in the Philippines along with Canadian Robert Hall, a Norwegian and a Filipino woman. (@JBR10000/Twitter)

A former Calgarian who has been held hostage in the Philippines for nearly six months with another Canadian and two others is pleading for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to do what's needed in order to secure their release.

"To the Canadian prime minister and to the Canadian people in the world, please, do as needed to meet their demands within one month or they will kill me," John Ridsdel said in a video released Mar. 10 on a Facebook page linked to Philippine Islamists.

"They will execute us."

Ridsdel — a former CBC Calgary journalist — was abducted along with fellow Canadian Robert Hall, a Norwegian and a Filipino woman on Sept. 19 from an upscale beach resort on an south Philippine island.
In the video, the three men are shown crouching handcuffed on the ground, groaning and surrounded by men with guns. One of the captors is holding a knife to Ridsdel's neck. They are thin, bearded and shirtless.

The video was removed from the Facebook site, but before that happened, CBC News recorded the audio
WARNING: The attached audio from the video contains sounds that some may find disturbing

(Audio: Canadian and Norwegian hostages plea for life)
 John Ridsdel
A still image taken from an older video released by Abu Sayyaf militant kidnappers shows Canadians Robert Hall (left) and John Ridsdel (centre). The third male hostage is Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad. (Reuters/YouTube )

Hostages losing weight

Freelance journalist Dean Bernardo, who has seen the video and recently visited the area where the group was abducted, told the Calgary Eyeopener that the hostages are not in great condition.

"They are really losing a lot of weight. They don't seem to be well treated," he said.
Bernardo said their abductors are with the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militants who have been active for years in the Mindanao region and are known for kidnapping for ransom.

"These are isolated islands," said Bernardo.

"You know there is no sufficient food or water in those areas."

Samal Island kidnapping
The hostages were taken on Sept. 19 from the Oceanview resort on Samal island, near Davao City, the largest city on Mindanao island in the southern Philippines. (Google)

'We will do something terrible,' captors warn

The latest video does not specify how much the ransom is, but one of the kidnappers did issue a one-month ultimatum.

"We will do something terrible against these captives," the masked spokesman says in the video.

In a November video released by the Abu Sayyaf militants, Ridsdel said the militants were demanding one billion pesos, or $28 million Cdn, for each of them.

Bernardo expects that price will go down considerably as the April deadline approaches.

"They're hoping somebody will respond. Even if it's a small amount of money."

The Philippine Army is pursuing the kidnappers and say they are closing in.

"We're getting closer to them, hence, they needed to expedite the demand for ransom in order for them to escape from the hands of the law, which is closely catching up," military spokesperson Restituto Padilla told Reuters.

However, Padilla said Philippine authorities will not negotiate with the kidnappers.
The Canadian government told CBC News it is aware of the video that was released this week, but "would not comment or release any information which may compromise ongoing efforts or endanger the safety of Canadian citizens."

Army, local govt join hands to serve Lumads in Bukidnon

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 10): Army, local govt join hands to serve Lumads in Bukidnon

More than 600 Lumads or indigenous people (IPs) benefited from the community outreach services of the 8th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army's 4th Infantry Division (8IB, 4ID, PA), March 8, in barangay Iba, Cabanglasan town, Bukidnon.

Lt. Col. Lennon G. Babilonia, INF (GSC) PA, 8IB commanding Officer, said the outreach program is part of the soldiers’ cooperative effort in helping local government eliminate health disparities.

Services offered include tooth extraction, medical consultation, giving of free medicines and free haircut.

Together with the troops and local government unit (LGU) workers are medical practitioners from Bukidnon Association of California, members of the Filipino-Canadian Medical Association, the 4th Infantry Division Dental team and several soldier barbers of the 8th Infantry Battalion.

The joint team conducted the medical/dental mission and community outreach after a series of armed clashes between government troops and New People’s Army (NPA) bandits in the outskirts of said community recently.

It can be recalled that on February 19, 2016, around 1:30 p.m., NPA bandits coming from Section Committee 89 of the North Central Mindanao Regional Committee attempted to bomb and burn heavy equipment while setting up an ambuscade against government forces in an ongoing government road concreting project in Km. 25, brgy. Iba, Cabanglasan, Bukidnon.

The NPA bandits however failed when responding troops surprised them and engaged in an armed encounter that resulted to undetermined number of casualties on the NPA's side as they scampered to different directions.

Likewise, on February 23, 2016, around 9:00 a.m., another group of NPA bandits coming from the same group attempted to ambush the government troops who were then securing the route for an ongoing community outreach program in brgy. Bulonay, Impasugong, Bukidnon.

The attempt failed, however, when the troops engaged in a fierce firefight with the bandits that lasted for about an hour that resulted to the recovery of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). It is believed that said IED will be used by NPAs against the LGU convoy and troops who were conducting a community outreach program for the Lumads.

Lt. Col. Babilonia commended the team for the successful activity. He also lauded Cabanglasan LGU and the members of Bukidnon Association of California Doctors and Filipino-Canadian Medical Association for organizing the medical and dental mission and for having the Army participate in the undertaking.

"It is indeed very much pleasing for us to be able to render our services to the people, especially to our Lumad brothers. I congratulate our troops as well as the organizers of this event for holding a very successful medical and dental mission," Lt. Col. Babilonia said.

He also extended his gratitude to Cabanglasan LGU and the members of Bukidnon Association of California and the Filipino-Canadian Medical Association for supporting their operations and allowing them to be part of the community outreach program.

Further, he said this undertaking is of much importance because it gives hope to the people here in Bukidnon particularly the Lumads who are most affected by the deceits of insurgency and armed struggle.

To the NPA members, Babilonia said it's not too late to hope. We encourage you to go down and go back to the folds of the law. We will be most willing to help you. The government is willing to give you livelihood assistance and will even pay for your firearms under the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) if you choose a new path and surrender," Lt. Col. Babilonia said.

Wesmincom condemns Abu Sayyaf's treatment of Samal captives

From the Philippine Star (Mar 11): Wesmincom condemns Abu Sayyaf's treatment of Samal captives

Photo shows the compound of the Holiday Ocean View Samal Resort on Samal Island a day after gunmen kidnapped three foreigners and a Filipina. Inset photos show kidnapped foreigners (clockwise from left) Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sikkengstad, Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall. AP file photo

The Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) condemned Friday what it described as the terroristic and inhumane treatment by the Abu Sayyaf group of captives taken six months ago from a resort in Samal Island off Davao province.

Wesmincom issued the statement after a bandit group believed to be with the Abu Sayyaf released on social media on Tuesday a third video of Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, and Filipina Marites Flor.

The three foreign captives were clearly emaciated when they were presented shirtless and surrounded by armed men.

One of the gunmen in the video placed a bolo against the neck of one of the victims and said the families and governments of the captives have until April 8 to comply with demands or they would be harmed.

No ransom figure was mentioned in the video but the Abu Sayyaf earlier demanded a ransom of P1 billion for each of the foreign captives.

The victims were seized from a Samal Island resort in September last year and are believed to be being held in Sulu.

“Westmincom comdemns such terroristic and inhumane treatment of the victims,” Maj. Felimon Tan Jr., spokesman of Westmincom, said. Sulu is within the Wesmincom's area of operations.

Tan said Westmincom chief Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz has issued a standing order for troops to pursue and neutralize the Abu Sayyaf group.

“Our troops are continuously conducting intensified combat operations to search [for] and neutralize terror group Abu Sayyaf and prevent them from conducting terroristic activities,” Tan said.

The military official said he is confident that, through cooordination with civilians and local officials, security forces will be able to find and defeat the Abu Sayyaf.

“Our troops will get these terrorists sooner or later, it’s just a matter of time,” he said.

AFP stands by no-ransom policy amid ultimatum for Samal captives

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 11): AFP stands by no-ransom policy amid ultimatum for Samal captives

Samal captives (Photo courtesy of PIO EASTMINCOM)

Kidnap victims of  Abu Sayyaf  in Samal, Davao del Norte in September 2015. (Photo courtesy of PIO EASTMINCOM

The military is standing by the government’s no ransom policy amid the one-month ultimatum issued by Islamic extremists holding three foreigners and a Filipina seized from an island resort in Samal, Davao del Norte in September last year.

“We support the no ransom policy of the government,” stressed Col. Noel Detoyato, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief.

“We will just continue with our focused military operations based on available information to support the police operations,” added Detoyato, even as he emphasized that “the safety of the hostages is a primary concern during combat operations.”

Detoyato issued the statement after suspected Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members issued a one month ultimatum to the government and families of the two Canadians, a Norwegian man, and one Filipina to meet their demands or they would execute the hostages.
A video that was uploaded to social media sites on Thursday showed the foreign victims – Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, pleading for their lives saying they would be killed in a month if their kidnappers’ demands were not met.

The three foreigners, shirtless, bearded, and looking weak, were on their knees while being surrounded by their captors holding automatic weapons.

“We are giving a warning [of] one month for the families to [meet] the demand. Starting today March 8 until April 8, 2016. Then if you think your policy [non-negotiation] is better for you than the lives of the captives, certainly we will do something terrible against these captives,” said one of their captors.

Beauty queens participate in AFP's 'Race to One Million Seedlings' program

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 11): Beauty queens participate in AFP's 'Race to One Million Seedlings' program

Ten Filipina beauty queens, headed by Miss Earth 2015 Angelia Ong, graced the formal launching of “Race to One Million Seedlings” on Friday at the newly created nursery for seedlings in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

This took place 9 a.m. in front of Civil Military Operations School, said Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Noel Detoyato.

Ong and nine other Miss Earth queens joined the launching of the project and ribbon-cutting.

While cadets taking up Reserve Officers Training Course (ROTC) with their sponsors from 28 schools in Metro Manila participated to represent and encourage the youth to take part in the effort.

The event formally introduced “Race to One Million Seedlings” and opened it to public’s participation for the potting and creation of a million seedlings which will be planted on available spaces in National Capital Region (NCR) including the La Mesa Dam and Marikina Riverbank.

The AFP, through its Civil Relations Services (CRS), organized the project which was soft-launched in last Dec. 7 at the Climate Change Summit in Camp Aguinaldo’s AFP Theater.

The launching serves as signal for the public to begin potting seeds to create seedlings which they will register via the Facebook fan page “Race to One Million Seedlings”.

Efforts of the participants who will register seedlings will be accounted for by a committee through photographs or videos of their seedlings’ progress and growth.

“Top grossers” or those participants with the most number of seedlings registered and monitored every month will be given prizes of various merchandise as recognition of their efforts.

USS Antietam in Manila Bay

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 11): USS Antietam in Manila Bay

The USS Antietam (CG-54), a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser, named for the site of the 1862 Battle of Antietam, Maryland during the American Civil War, docked in Manila Bay on March 8 as part of a routine visit for maintenance and crew rest.

The ship, which was commissioned in June 1987 and is homeported in Yokosuka, Japan, is part of the USS John C. Stennis Strike Group. With a crew of more than 350 personnel, the USS Antietam has previously deployed to the Persian Gulf as part of routine operations, and has also been deployed to the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. As recently as November 2013, the USS Antietam was deployed as part of the U.S. aid mission to the Philippines after Super Typhoon Haiyan, in Tacloban and Leyte Province.
While in Manila, some members of the ship’s crew will have the opportunity to meet with the Philippine Coast Guard in a friendly game of basketball, as a means of continuing to build the relationship between Philippine and U.S. forces.

Lease of planes is legal and internationally accepted process – Palace

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 11): Lease of planes is legal and internationally accepted process – Palace

Malacanang on Friday defended the government’s plan to lease five planes from Japan to guard the West Philippine Sea, a move that reportedly alarmed China.

”This a legal and internationally accepted process of acquisition by governments,” Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told the Malacanang media.

Coloma said it is the duty of the government to continuously develop the country’s capabilities in ensuring the safety and security of the nation.

”Lease or other forms of acquisition from regional partners and allies is but a usual activity of any country,” Coloma said.

Coloma said the Philippines is united with many countries that have expressed their position on the importance of freedom of navigation and freedom of over flight in the WPS.

”It is important for the international trade and commerce and for achieving the progressive livelihood,” Coloma said.

Coloma clarified that the Philippines has no intention to create trouble “because our guidelines is diplomatic and peaceful resolution of the South China Sea issue.”

China, one of the claimant countries in the disputed WPS or South China Sea, has conducted massive land reclamation in the WPS, including the Philippines-claimed Mischief Reef or Panganiban reef.

In response, the Philippines has lodged a diplomatic protest against China at the international arbitral tribunal.

Aside from the Philippines and China, other claimant countries in the South China Sea include Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia.