Saturday, April 2, 2016

‘Politically motivated, NPA instigated’

From the Philippine Star (Apr 3): ‘Politically motivated, NPA instigated’

According to Alcala, Piñol’s brother is running against reelectionist North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño, who is backed by the Liberal Party. file

The violence-marred Kidapawan protest blockade was not about farmers’ gripes over alleged lack of government support for their losses due to El Niño, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said yesterday.

Rather, Alcala said it was politically motivated, and the violence was instigated by left-leaning groups backed by the New People’s Army (NPA).

Alcala pointed to local politicians in Mindanao identified with the group of Manny Piñol who are supporting the presidential bid of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

According to Alcala, Piñol’s brother is running against reelectionist North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño, who is backed by the Liberal Party.

“The reality on the ground at Kidapawan is that it’s politically motivated by the local politicians led by Piñol,” Alcala told The STAR.

“Our brothers from the Left, who were observing the NPA anniversary last March 29, instigated the breakout of stone-throwing that led to the violence during the dispersal,” Alcala added.

Based on field reports, Alcala noted that the militant farmers’ group led by Rafael Mariano of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) brought the farmers and fisherfolk to the highway with the alleged promise that they would receive sacks of rice from the governor.

Alcala said that “this is an issue of misinformation. They intentionally misled the local farmers regarding the supposed distribution of rice.”

Alcala was in Nueva Vizcaya when the police dispersal turned violent at Kidapawan, where two farmers reportedly died.

“It’s really sad that this had to happen. I think the problem was that these people made the farmers get angry at the government to stir up violence,” the agriculture secretary said.

While indeed many farmers and fisherfolk were affected by the long dry spell due to El Niño, there have been bumper harvests of rice and corn in Kidapawan, Carmen and other areas in North Cotabato, and in Regions 11 and 12, Alcala pointed out.

He said that Regions 11 and 12, including Kidapawan, are even among the “best performers” in rice and corn production despite the long dry period since last year.

National government agencies like the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) have been giving “intervention” assistance in these areas because they are still under a state of calamity due to El Niño, Alcala explained.

He said that he even visited Kidapawan City last February and March to talk to the local farmer groups regarding the issues they face.

“We closely monitored the situation. And I think that not all of those involved were from Kidapawan. I believe that some of them were from other areas.”

On the part of the DA, he said that one sack of hybrid rice seeds per hectare and one sack of fertilizer are given to farmers certified by the local agriculturist as having been affected by El Niño.

Fortunately, Alcala added, the dams in Mindanao have more than enough water during this period. This helped stave off the severe dry spell that was initially expected.

Thus the projected impact of crop losses amounting to 950,000 metric tons of rice did not happen because of these interventions.

As monitored by the DA, only about 200,000 metric tons of rice were lost due to El Niño.

Alcala instructed DA regional director Bing Datukan to meet the farmer and fisherfolk groups on Monday to further discuss other concerns and assistance for the affected sectors.

Meanwhile, the National Food Authority (NFA) said it will also offer assistance to the farmer groups.

“We are ready to transact with the DSWD and the local government unit regarding the rice that may be needed by the beneficiaries,” said NFA public affairs director Angel Imperial in a phone interview.

He added that NFA administrator Renan Dalisay is currently in Kidapawan City to oversee the help that can be offered to the farmer groups.

AFP deploys response unit vs Apo blaze

From the Philippine Star (Apr 3): AFP deploys response unit vs Apo blaze


Aside from ground deployment of troops, Lt. Gen. Leonardo Guerrero, commander of the Davao City-based Eastern Mindanao Command, alerted response units of the Army, Air Force and the Navy for deployment to Mt. Apo.

The military deployed a company of soldiers to Mt. Apo in Davao yesterday to help firefighters and volunteers put out the forest fire that has been raging in the area for several days now.

Aside from ground deployment of troops, Lt. Gen. Leonardo Guerrero, commander of the Davao City-based Eastern Mindanao Command, alerted response units of the Army, Air Force and the Navy for deployment to Mt. Apo.

“At around 2 a.m., 112 soldiers from the 10th Infantry Division arrived in Kapatagan, Davao del Sur and will be reporting to the Control Point (CP) for briefing and subsequent deployment,” Maj. Ezra Balagtey, Eastmincom spokesman said.

Balagtey added that a Super Huey helicopter again took off early yesterday morning from the Air Force Tactical Operations Group in Davao City for fire- suppression air operations. It dropped buckets of water on the burning slopes of Mt. Apo.

Another helicopter, he said, is being used to ferry additional fire volunteers as well as to conduct resupply and aerial assessment flights.

The Eastmincom has requested for more helicopters for its anti-fire operation as the blaze continues in a thickly forested area of the mountain. However, the request is still pending availability of the aircraft.

Balagtey said the Eastmincom is ready to commit more troops to the area to help contain the fire, which was reportedly caused hikers on the Kidapawan City trail to Mt. Apo. The fire has threatened the survival of the Philippine Eagle, which nests in the Philippines’ highest mountain.

Aside from the AFP, around 40 technical personnel from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources are now in the area. They have been working with personnel from other government agencies to prevent the fire from spreading.

Japanese warships in PHL near disputed area in South China Sea (Photos)

From GMA News (Apr 3): Japanese warships in PHL near disputed area in South China Sea (Photos)

Two Japanese destroyers and a submarine docked at a Philippine port on Sunday near disputed South China Sea waters, where Beijing's increasingly assertive behavior has sparked global concern.

Photos by Danny Pata. Japan warship JS Ariake (DD-109) docks at port in Subic Bay.

Japanese submarine makes port call at port in Subic.

Manila is seeking to strengthen ties with Tokyo as tensions mount over the disputed waterway, almost all of which is claimed by China.

Japanese submarine Oyashio and destroyers JS Ariake and JS Setogiri docked in the Subic port Sunday for a routine visit at a sprawling former US naval base just 200 kilometers (125 miles) from a Chinese-held shoal.

"The visit is a manifestation of a sustained promotion of regional peace and stability and enhancement of maritime cooperation between neighboring navies," Philippine Navy spokesman Commander Lued Lincuna said.

The Ariake was equipped with an anti-submarine helicopter, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.

The port call came on the eve of war games between the United States and Filipino soldiers in the Philippines, which is seen as a showcase of a long-standing military alliance that the Philippines is counting on to deter China.

Seriously outgunned by its much larger rival China, the Philippines has turned to allies like the United States and Japan to upgrade its armed forces in recent years.

In February, Japan agreed to supply the Philippines with military hardware, which may include anti-submarine reconnaissance aircraft and radar technology.

Tensions in the South China Sea -- through which one-third of the world's oil passes -- have mounted in recent months since China transformed contested reefs into artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities.

Aside from the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.

Japan and China are locked in a separate dispute over an uninhabited island chain in the East Sea.

The Philippines has asked a United Nations-backed tribunal to declare China's sea claims as illegal and the government expects a decision this year.

Video on Kidapawan rally dispersal may shed light on violent incident

From GMA News (Apr 3): Video on Kidapawan rally dispersal may shed light on violent incident

A video footage taken during the violent dispersal last Friday of farmers protesting in Kidapawan City surfaced Saturday and might shed light on the incident that left three farmers dead and dozens wounded.

GMA News' Saleema Refran said on "24 Oras" that fully-armed authorities could be seen in the video firing their guns as protesters clashed with anti-riot police.

Authorities continued to fire their guns even after some protesters sought refuge inside the United Methodist Church center near the rally site.

The video, courtesy of Kilab Media, also showed the protesters hurling stones at the police amid blasts of water cannons directed at the rally crowd.

Meanwhile, in a drone video taken by the Kidapawan local government, protesters can be seen mobbing two police officers left behind as others were retreating.

Also, the drone video shows one police firing gun at the protesters.

Accounts on the number of casualties vary. According to the Sisters Association in Mindanao, three people were killed and 92 injured, 30 of them are in critical condition.

On the other hand, the Kidapawan City government said 102 police personnel were injured, and 3 of them in critical condition.

The Department of Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police are studying the incident using the videos on the incident that surfaced.

“Kailangan both sides makita, kasi lahat may karapatan eh,” Interior Secretary Mel Sarmiento said.

The authorities have already inspected the Methodist Church for firearms and found out only a police cap and an army pouch.

Meanwhile, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) will deploy a forensics team in Kidapawan to investigate the incident last Friday.

“Sa usapin ng dispersal, wala pong dahilan para gumamit ng live ammunition dahil pinag-uusapan natin dito ay hindi naman po ito criminal operation,” CHR chair Chito Gascon said.

Bullet for rice?

Drought-affected farmers from several towns in Kidapawan City launched a protest rally early last week to press the local government to deliver on its promise for assistance.

On the third day of the rally, three farmers were killed and dozens, including  policemen, injured during the bloody dispersal of some 1,000 protesters barricading a portion of a national highway in Kidapawan.

In their quest for rice and food subsidy after the long dry spell laid waste their crops, three of them met death instead.

Fort Magsaysay beefs up security for Balikatan war exercises

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 3): Fort Magsaysay beefs up security for Balikatan war exercises

FORT MAGSAYSAY, Nueva Ecija -- Authorities have tightened security measures in this camp as hundreds of American and Filipino soldiers arrived here for the annual 32nd joint Balikatan war exercises.

Army Capt. Rozelle Ticar, spokesperson of the 7th Infantry (Kaugnay) Division based in this military camp said that they are ready to receive American soldiers for the war exercises amid security concerns with measures have already been laid out inside the camp as part of the routine.

"Everything is much under control and preventive measures were laid out," Ticar said, adding that series of planning and coordination were conducted as per instruction of commanding general, Maj. Gen. Angelito De Leon.

Last year, four American soldiers lost their belongings to thieves who gained entry inside the camp.

Army Staff Sergeants Scotty Wilson and Dwayne Massey and Lieutenants Patrick Tierney and Thomas Dunne lost their belongings consisting of army boots, wallet containing USD2,000, undetermined amount of pesos and other personal belongings.

They were part of the 700-soldier contingent who plunged into the war exercises inside this military camp along with 900 Filipino soldiers.

A report said that unidentified suspects gained entry in the unlocked building by boring through a hole beneath a perimeter fence and carted away the belongings.

However, the said belongings were recovered.

“I am assuring that the said theft incident will not happen anymore. Our soldiers stepped up for all preventive measures for the activity,” he said.

This camp was one of five areas identified last March 18 by the US and Philippine governments that will be utilized by American troops under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) which they signed in April 2014 as political tensions rose between the Philippines and China due to disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

Aside from Fort Magsaysay, the deal also allows rotating US military presence at the Antonio Bautista Air Base, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro and the Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.

Ticar said the main organizers of this year’s war games have been informed them of the calendar of activities for the four-day war games.

Last year, part of the exercises were a community outreach in nearby areas where Filipino and US troops performed medical and dental operations, haircuts, feeding program, circumcision and distribution of Bibles.

It also marked the first time three modern attack helicopters of the US forces showcased their air assault capabilities in the first known mock air assault inside the sprawling military reservation.

These involved Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters and black hawk aircraft.

Chinook helicopters are twin-engine, heavy-lift military aircraft used for troop movements, artillery placement and battlefield resupply because of its wide loading ramp at the rear of the fuselage and three external-cargo hooks.

The advanced, multi-mission helicopter contains a fully integrated digital cockpit management system and cargo-handling capabilities.

The said helicopters were also used in some other countries like the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Japan, Italy, Greece and Spain.

3rd ID, election stakeholders sign peace covenant in Siquijor

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 3): 3rd ID, election stakeholders sign peace covenant in Siquijor

The 3rd Infantry Division together with with the Siquijor Police Provincial Office and the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) on Saturday hosted a peace covenant signing for all local candidates running in the May 9 elections.

The event was held at the Siquijor Capitol Square, said 3rd Infantry Division public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ray Tiongson.

During the signing, all local candidates, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, COMELEC and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, the media and the civil society organizations in Siquijor vowed to work together to express their continuing commitment to work for peace and refrain from violence this elections.

“Our concerted efforts through 'Bayanihan' will lead us to our goal of peaceful and credible conduct of elections. We have to work together and collaborate in promoting peace in our communities,” 3rd Infantry Division commander Brig. Gen. Harold Cabreros said.

It can be recalled that the 3rd Infantry Division together with the PNP and the COMELEC have been intensifying the conduct of checkpoint in different areas of Central and Western Visayas regions relative to COMELEC gun ban which started last January 10.

Tiongson said 3rd Infantry Division units will continue to intensify focused military operations and are exerting all efforts to determine and apprehend lawless armed groups and personalities who intend to sabotage the conduct of elections.

Rebel killed, high-powered weapons seized in Compostela Valley clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 3): Rebel killed, high-powered weapons seized in Compostela Valley clash
A New People's Army (NPA) fighter was killed while 12 high-powered firearms were seized during an encounter with government security forces in Nabunturan, Compostela Valley Saturday early morning.

The clash took place at Sitio Inupuan, Barangay Mainit, said 10th Infantry Division public affairs office chief Capt. Rhyan Batchar.

Troopers from the 25th Infantry Battalion and the Compostela Valley Provincial Public Safety Company were deployed to the locality, in wake of reports about the presence of NPA members, when the 20-minute clash against a group of around 20 rebels took place.

Batchar said these rebels are from Guerilla Front 27 commanded by a certain "Lipi".

A still unidentified NPA rebel was killed. Meanwhile, eight M-16 rifles, four AK-47 rifles, seven improvised grenades, one ICOM radio, medical paraphernalia and subversive documents were seized from the clash site.

Pursuit operations are still ongoing.

Government forces recover body of dead rebel, 12 high-powered firearms

From Update.Ph (Apr 2): Government forces recover body of dead rebel, 12 high-powered firearms

Elements of the 25th Infantry Battalion (25IB) of Philippine Army together with Compostela Valley Provincial Public Safety Company (PPSC) encountered a group of New People’s Army in Sitio Inupuan, Barangay Mainit, Nabunturan early morning of April 2, 2016, the 10th Infantry Division (10ID) said in a press release.

Government forces were responding on reported presence of armed group in the area.

The encounter, twenty-minute firefight, resulted to the recovery of eight M16 rifles, four AK47 rifles, seven improvised grenades, one ICOM radio, medical paraphernalia and subversive documents. The government forces also recovered one dead NPA rebel.

An estimated 20 heavily armed rebels from Guerilla Front (GF) 27 under alias Lipi was holding a temporary camp in the said area.

Troops from AFP and PNP are still on pursuit of the remnants of the armed group, 10ID said.

“The desire of the people in the community to get rid of the NPAs who extort and make their lives miserable, resulted to this decisive encounter,” 25IB commander Lieutenant Colonel Ismael Mandanas Jr. said. “This incident manifests what our collective effort can achieve in winning the peace in this part of our country.”

“This is a big blow to the communist movement whose numbers are steadily diminishing due to the relentless AFP-initiated operations,” 1001st Infantry (Pag-asa) Brigade commander Colonel Macairog Alberto said.

US, PH launch Balikatan ’16

From The Standard (Apr 3): US, PH launch Balikatan ’16

THOUSANDS of US and Filipino soldiers will launch on Monday annual war games that this year are being seen as a show of strength in the face of China’s increasing assertiveness in the region.

The 11-day Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises are expected to show how the Philippines, though severely outgunned, can counter China with the help of the United States, its longest-standing ally.

China has in recent months built massive structures including radar systems and an airstrip over reefs and outcrops in the contested South China Sea, sparking international concern.

 Balikatan 2016.  This file photo taken on April 20, 2015 shows Philippine soldiers and a US army soldier from 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat taking their positions after disembarking from a C-47 Chinook helicopter during an air assault exercise inside Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija. Thousands of US, Filipino and Australian soldiers will launch this year’s edition of the Balikatan war games on April 4.

Beijing lays claim to almost all of the waters, which are important for international shipping and believed to hold valuable mineral and energy deposits, and neighboring countries fear China could impose military controls over the entire sea.

The joint maneuvers come ahead of a decision this year by a United Nations-backed tribunal on a legal challenge by Manila to China’s territorial claims.

Adding to the tensions, the Philippines is preparing to host US troops in five bases under a defense pact born out of US President Barack Obama’s plan to reassert American influence in the Pacific.

Balikatan has evolved from counter-terrorism maneuvers against Islamic extremists like the Philippines’ Abu Sayyaf, to simulations of retaking and protecting territory as disputes with Beijing have escalated.

However, Filipino and US officials insist the exercises are not explicitly aimed at China.

Balikatan spokesman Captain Celeste Frank Sayson said 55 US aircraft would take part in the drills, while the Philippines will deploy fighter jets it has recently acquired.

While no specific staging areas have been disclosed, the two allies have in recent years held war games at air bases just 230 kilometers from the disputed areas in the South China Sea.

Rene de Castro, an international studies professor at the De La Salle University in Manila, told AFP the drills appeared to have China’s expansion in the South China Sea in mind.

“Looking at the features of Balikatan—the mobile missile-launchers, the fighter planes—that is an indication that the alliance is being geared for territorial defense,” he said.

Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science professor at the De La Salle University in Manila, added that the exercises “aim to enhance interoperability among allies nations and signal their preparedness to confront China if necessary.”

The Philippine military said the US High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, designed to shoot down aircraft, will be sent to Palawan, the Philippines’ westernmost island on the South China Sea, during the war games.

The Philippines operates one airstrip in the South China Sea, on Thitu island, where there are around 350 civilian residents.

It also keeps small military contingents in smaller outcrops, including Second Thomas Shoal, where Marines are stationed on a decaying World War II ship.

The Philippines, which has one of the weakest militaries in the region, has sought to counter China’s overwhelming military advantage by improving ties with the United States and Japan.

While it has acquired new fighter jets and surplus US naval ships, the Southeast Asian nation still has far to go, De Castro warned.

China’s defense budget dwarfs that of the Philippines and Beijing is this year set to outspend its smaller neighbor by a factor of around 60.

The Philippines is also increasing its military engagements with the US with the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which took effect in January.

Under the deal, US troops will rotate through five military camps including two air bases that are strategically positioned near the South China Sea.

“It is very apparent that the thrust of [the agreement] is air power,” said former national security adviser Roilo Golez.

Australia, which recently criticized China’s assertiveness in the disputed waters, is sending 80 troops to join parachute drills as part of the maneuvers, Sayson said.

Obama this week confronted Chinese President Xi Jinping over Beijing’s actions in the disputed seas.

Tensions have flared between the superpowers since the US sent warships close to disputed islands twice in the past six months.

Carnage blamed on leftist groups

From The Standard (Apr 3): Carnage blamed on leftist groups

GOVERNMENT officials and the police blamed communist rebels and progressive groups for starting the protest that killed three people in Kidapawan City as protesting farmers lifted their blockade of an inter-provincial highway and sought refuge at a nearby church compound.

But government critics dismissed the red-baiting as a deliberate attempt to twist the facts and  escape accountability for the three deaths and injury to at least 116 protesters and 99 policemen.

Instead, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mel Sarmiento conferred medals on the injured policemen, including a police sergeant who is still in critical condition after suffering a head fracture and hemorrhage because of the incident.

The protesting farmers and police clashed on Friday morning after protesters refused to dismantle the barricade they put up on the highway linking Cotabato and Davao Cities to dramatize their desire for a drought-related subsidy and sacks of rice for their families.

Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the protesters were not really residents of  North Cotabato and that they were only ferried from outside the province for propaganda purposes.

“Have you realized who can summon thousands of farmers from outside North Cotabato and linger there for several days? Who feeds them on a daily basis? asked Lacierda over social networking site Facebook.

“What was promised to them that they would travel outside their province to descend upon North Cotabato? The leftists have been at this game for the longest time,” Lacierda said.

MOMENT OF CONFLICT. A drone video released by the Kidapawan City government shows the confrontation between police and farmers who were seeking relief for the drought prevailing in Mindanao. The policemen, who were involved in the deadly dispersal that caused the death of three farmers, were given medals by Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento on Saturday. KIDAPAWAN LGU/SALEEMA REFRAN/GMA NEWS

Presidential Communication Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III also suggested that militant groups may have taken advantage of the protest before the dispersal and said the authorities will conduct an extensive investigation into the deadly dispersal.

“First of all, I believe it is fair for all of us to expect and require thorough, impartial investigation. There is no reason why people must die in order to be asking for assistance from their own government,” Quezon said in an interview over a state-owned Radyo ng Bayan.

“At the same time, there is no reason why a tragedy must be compounded by hotheaded statements or rushing to judgment. It will not help anyone,” he added.

“There’s a tremendous number of wounded people on both sides. Lives have been lost and we owe it to ourselves as a society and to the farmers themselves and people in the affected areas to find out what exactly happened and why it did lead to this,” he said.

But North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou “Lala” Mendoza held a press conference in Kidapawan with Sarmiento and Philippine National Police chief Director General Ricardo Marquez to deplore the supposed communist infiltration of the protesters’ ranks.

“It’s an insult to us, the [local government units], to be used for political propaganda in the province of Cotabato. It’s an insult to our policemen that many of them were hurt, 140 [protesters], 99 from the PNP [are wounded] and 21 are [ralliysts], there are some who died because they were stoned,” she said.

Mendoza said there was no need for peasant groups to blocked the Cotabato-Davao highway to air their grievances because they could ask for relief intervention at the provincial capitol.

“The local government units have already started initiating relief operations for drought-stricken communities before this happened. There was no need for them to gather in Kidapawan City for a rally. Well, maybe because many of them are not from the province,” she said.

Marquez, for his part, claimed that one of the dead protesters was found to have traces of gunpowder on his hand and was found to be carrying caliber .45 bullets.

Kidapawan Mayor Joseph Evangelista also insisted that the protesters were not all farmers, but members of “progressive groups” who wanted to “extort” rice from the National Food Authority warehouse near the site of the protest.

“They are not all farmers, and most of them come from progressive groups,” Evangelista told The Standard.

“Anakpawis, Anakbayan, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Gabriela, the Suara Bangsamoro, Bayan, Bayan Muna—are they farmers? It’s not right that their objective is to try and ransack the NFA warehouse,” he said.

“There are some from Bukidnon, Davao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat, Davao City. They are the ones who came to Kidapawan demanding rice. Why can’t they ask their government units for rice? They have calamity funds in their municipalities, why go to North Cotabato,” he said.

North Cotabato police chief Supt. Alexander Tagum, in a separate interview, said the crowd were mostly “hakot,” with some of the farmers allegedly claiming that they were fooled by the organizers “that they will be given rice” if they joined the protests.

But Jerome Succor Aba, spokesman of Moro human rights group Suara Bangsamoro, denied claims that the protesters were mostly communist sympathizers.

“Red-baiting is an old tune they have repeatedly used to belittle dismiss legitimate protests,” he said.

After the dispersal, the protesting farmers fled to the nearby compound of the Spottswood Methodist Church, but Governor Mendoza threatened Bishop Ciriaco Francisco that they would prosecute the prelate for harboring the farmers.

“We are being kept here by the police, there are uniformed men around the church. No one, not even the priests, nuns who want to give us food were being permitted to help us inside,” Aba lamented Friday night.

“They even cut our electricity and the cellphone signals were being cut by the police. It’s like Martial Law, we’re crying for help,” he added.

On early Saturday morning, the police was able to secure a warrant to search the church compound for guns, but found nothing.

“They didn’t find anything inside the compound but they’re treating us like prisoners,” said Ariel Casilao of the Solidarity Action Group for Indigenous People and Peasants.

But Kabataan partylist Rep. Terry Ridon on Saturday blasted the police and DILG Saturday for “deliberately twisting facts” and pinning the blame for the bloody massacre of farmers on the protesters themselves.

Speaking inside the United Methodist Church compound in Kidapawan City where more than 5,000 farmer protesters sought refuge following the bloody open-firing, Ridon said the PNP is clearly spinning the news to escape accountability.

“[PNP chief] Marquez should be ashamed of himself. His statement lends greater insult to the deaths of farmers by insinuating that they had guns and fired shots at the police,” Ridon said.

“The crime lab results are a farce and should not be given any ounce of credibility, as we cannot expect the PNP to deliver an honest and independent finding on the conduct of their men and the incident itself.

“It should be noted that the PNP took custody of the dead bodies, and cordoned the scene of the massacre. This has given them all the opportunity to plant all evidence on the dead, such as the nearby 45 pistol and nitrates on fingers,” Ridon explained.

Ridon also slammed the DILG for awarding medals to the PNP personnel who took part in the bloody massacre.

“Shame on DILG. Shame on Sec. Sarmiento. Shame on the Aquino administration for prioritizing the awarding their killer personnel instead of simply giving the protesting farmers their sacks of rice,” Ridon said, adding that the move to award the police involved in the massacre “speaks volumes of the Aquino government’s unabashed hypocrisy.”

Gunmen Abduct Malaysian Sailors Near Southern Philippines

From Benar News (Apr 2): Gunmen Abduct Malaysian Sailors Near Southern Philippines


Swiss man Lorenzo Vinciguerra is treated at a military hospital on the southern Philippine island of Jolo, following his rescue after nearly three years of captivity at the hands of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Dec. 6, 2014.

Suspected Filipino gunmen have abducted four Malaysians from a ship off eastern Sabah, near the southern Philippines, Malaysian authorities said Saturday, but officials could not confirm whether Abu Sayyaf Group militants were responsible.

The Friday night hijacking of a Malaysian registered timber-hauling barge, the M.V. MASFIVE 6, occurred after last week’s abduction of 10 Indonesian sailors by Abu Sayyaf in the southernmost region of the Philippines, where the al-Qaeda linked group operates and which borders Malaysia’s Sabah state.

The four Malaysians crewmembers were abducted by eight gunmen in waters off Pulau Ligitan, near Semporna on Sabah’s east coast, according to reports.

The gunmen, who boarded the vessel which was travelling from Manila after delivering cargo, then fled with the four hostages on a speedboat toward Philippine waters, reports said. There were five other crewmembers on the barge – three sailors from Myanmar and two from Indonesia – but the gunmen left them behind.

Malaysia’s foreign ministry issued a statement Saturday condemning the kidnapping as “senseless and barbaric,” and Malaysian Police Inspector-General Khalid Abu Bakar told the state-run Bernama news agency that the authorities were trying to determine whether Abu Sayyaf abducted the four sailors.

The Philippine Muslim militant group has taken foreigners hostage in the past, killing some of their captives. Last year, a 39-year-old Malaysian citizen, Bernard Then, was executed by Abu Sayyaf after being abducted from a seaside restaurant in Sabah in May.

Khalid said that the kidnappers, in the latest case, had not yet contacted authorities with any demands.

No confirmation yet from Philippines

In the southern Philippines, an army spokesman told Agence France-Presse that the military was still verifying the report of Friday’s abductions after being notified by Malaysian officials.

"Whether or not they were seized by the Abu Sayyaf or brought to the Philippines, we have yet to confirm," regional army spokesman Felimon Tan said.

Meanwhile, a report in the Philippine Inquirer quoted an anonymous military source as saying that the gunmen who kidnapped the four Malaysians were with Abu Sayyaf.
The gunmen, who spoke broken English and Filipino, declared themselves as ASG members as they boarded the barge, the source said.

Malaysia-Philippine cooperation

The statement from the Malaysian foreign ministry said that officials, including at Malaysia’s embassy in Manila and consulate in Davao City, in the southern Philippines, would work closely with Philippines authorities in the investigation and efforts to secure the four sailors’ release.

The four Malaysians range in age from 21 to 34 and are from the town of Sibu in Sarawak state, the ministry said. The four crew members were identified as Wong Teck Kang, Wong Hung Sing, Wong Teck Chi and Johnny Lau Jung Hien.

In Sabah, state police Commissioner Abdul Rashid Harun Sabah said authorities were trying to pinpoint whether the abduction occurred in Malaysian or international waters, according to AFP.

Sabah police also were trying to figure out a motive as well as why the four Malaysian – and not all nine crew members – were taken by the gunmen, local media quoted the commissioner as saying.

In the cases of Friday’s incident aboard the Malaysian vessel and the earlier kidnapping of the 10 Indonesian sailors from a tugboat sailing from Kalimantan, Indonesia to Batangas, in the southern Philippines, the attackers targeted slow-moving ships in the Sulu Sea that were relatively easy to board, the Associated Press quoted Malaysian officials as saying.

On Tuesday, Indonesia’s foreign ministry announced that the 10 sailors had been taken by Abu Sayyaf.

That kidnapping at sea is believed to have occurred on April 26. According to the Philippine military, initial information pointed to the 10 Indonesians being taken by a faction of Abu Sayyaf to Sulu, an island in the southern Philippines where the militant group operates, AFP reported.

Basilan folk finally get their dream highway

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 3): Basilan folk finally get their dream highway

THREE FOR THE ROAD President Aquino motors to Basilan with PublicWorks Secretary Rogelio Singson (left) and ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman (second from left), for the inauguration of the Basilan Circumferential Road in Barangay Tumahubong, Sumisip, onMarch 21. MALACAÑANG PHOTO

THREE FOR THE ROAD President Aquino motors to Basilan with PublicWorks Secretary Rogelio Singson (left) and ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman (second from left), for the inauguration of the Basilan Circumferential Road in Barangay Tumahubong, Sumisip, onMarch 21. MALACAÑANG PHOTO

IF Manilans complain about daily gridlock on Edsa, residents of Basilan, almost 1,500 kilometers to the south, are thankful for getting a simple, concrete road, something many people in the capital take for granted.

When the Basilan Circumferential Road was finally completed in December last year, the fear and insecurity the locals had endured for decades vanished.

Its symbolism and significance are not lost on the people of the strife-torn province: the road stands for peace and development.
It has cut travel time from the provincial capital, Isabela City, to Sumisip from eight hours to 45 minutes, allowed the transportation of goods and the establishment of businesses, and, most important, it serves as a deterrent to extremism and violence.

The road starts from Isabela and traverses Lamitan City and the municipalities of Al-Barka, Tipo-Tipo, Ungkaya Pukan, Sumisip, Maluso, Lantawan, and ends back in the capital.

Violent incidents

These are areas that have become synonymous to unforgettable violence: the Lamitan siege in 2001 where Abu Sayyaf fighters held hostage hospital staff and American missionary couple Grace and Martin Burnham; the beheading in Al-Barka in July 2007 of Marine troops who clashed with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas while searching for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi; a nine-hour gun battle as government forces tried to take over an Abu Sayyaf camp in Ungkaya Pukan that left 19 Marines dead in August 2007; and the clash between the MILF and Army Special Forces in Al-Barka in 2011.

Basilan is the hometown of Abu Sayyaf ideologues Isnilon Hapilon and Khadaffy Janjalani, and has long been a stronghold of the group that was once considered the most potent terrorist organization in the country.

With such a background, it is easy to see why it took 16 years to complete the 138-km circumferential road.

The project had to be guarded 24/7 that the withdrawal of the military for combat operations meant a halt in construction, leaving the road muddy, bumpy and unsafe, as workers and their equipment became vulnerable to harassment by lawless elements.


To hear the people of Basilan speak with excitement about what to city folk is an ordinary thing is perhaps the most significant change the road has brought to the island since the project was completed.

Ibrahim Hadji Sali Ballaho, the 35-year-old head of Barangay Balas in Lamitan, proudly spoke about 30 tricycles now going around his village when the place used to have only two jeepneys.

“We now also have nice facilities such as a barangay hall, a covered court, children’s playground, a public market, a fish port, and many others,” Ballaho said.

Fruits from Isabela are now available in markets in Sumisip because of the faster and easier travel, said Isnira Mannan of Buli-Buli, Sumisip.

It was a far cry from the six to eight hours she used to spend in traveling from Sumisip to Isabela, where she went to college.

“Now with the Basilan Circumferential Road, it only takes 45 minutes whether on a jeepney, a van or a motorcycle,” she said.

Mannan is relieved that since the completion of the road, more armed men have left her hometown—armed men who used to kidnap teachers like her.

Rubber-tree farmer Aslan Dansalan, 50, said after the road had been completed, he and his colleagues from the Tipo-Tipo Agrarian Reform Beneficiary Agricultural Development Cooperative (Tarbadeco) could now easily and regularly deliver their products.

Now, too, they no longer waste time repairing their trucks, which in the past broke down due to the rough ride on the rutted road, especially during the rainy season.

The new road also allowed farmers and traders to take the bigger vessels going to Zamboanga City instead of making do with the rickety pump boats called timpil, because they can now reach the port in Isabela faster, Dansalan said.

In the past, it took residents of Tipo-Tipo, Dansalan’s hometown, two hours to go to Isabela. Now it takes them only 30 to 50 minutes.

Dansalan said his town now had an ambulance and it could actually run emergencies on the new road.

“It used to be difficult to transfer emergency cases, like mothers giving birth, because of the long travel (from Tipo-Tipo to Isabela City where there is a hospital),” he said.

P-Noy at inauguration

Ballaho, Manna and Dansalan spoke about the road on its inauguration on March 21, with President Aquino joining the event held in Barangay Tumahubong in Sumisip.

READ: Aquino inaugurates 138-km road in Basilan despite 2 blasts

Mr. Aquino was the first President to visit Tumahubong, one of the most dangerous villages in Basilan.

The night before the President’s visit, two blasts rocked Sumisip, and a homemade bomb was detonated on a roadside.

Despite the incidents, Mr. Aquino insisted on going to the inauguration of the road, which had to be held under heavy security.

“I would be there for only a few hours while the people who live there have been facing (uncertainty) all their lives,” the President explained.

The new road “could spell the difference in those people’s lives,” he said.

The difficulty posed by the absence of a passable road made it easy for terrorists and other criminals to thrive and play cat and mouse with security forces.

“Because we did not have a decent road, we were consumed by fear,” Ballaho said.

Frequent firefights kept people inside their homes. Starting a business, a normal activity in other parts of the country, was unimaginable in Basilan.

“Life was difficult … and people felt forgotten by the government. No one else wanted to care for us. We didn’t feel real service from the government,” Ballaho said.

This was the reason, he said, why many residents felt hopeless. Disheartened and dejected, they joined rebel groups.

But with a functional road, trade and commerce are now possible and people can actually move around, busy going about their daily activities.

The military hopes the road will be instrumental in keeping the guns silent in Basilan.

Ranking military officials credit the completion of the road to the tenacity of Mujiv Hataman, governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), who is a native of Sumisip.

They said Hataman worked well with the military and worked hard at negotiating with armed groups whenever they tried to harass the road project.

Return to Basilan

One officer said the completion of the circumferential road could encourage Basilan residents who had migrated to other places to return to their province and “contribute” to its growth.

According to a Malacañang brief, only a 61.77-km stretch, or 47 percent, of the road was concrete and in good condition when the Aquino administration began to work on it in January 2012.

“Traversing the road was inconvenient, time consuming and prone to accidents, as some sections were rocky, muddy and slippery and impassable during the rainy season.

Some [portions of the road] were also dangerous to take, as lawless elements engage in highway robbery, ambush and [vehicle theft]. Transport service was also scarce and expensive,” the brief said.

The Aquino administration spent P1.83 billion for the concreting of 51.56 km of the road’s unpaved sections. Some old parts of the road were also rehabilitated.

Basilan’s 450,000 residents now benefit from the road—residents like Ballaho who said that with the completion of the road, “there’s no more fear in our hearts.”

Philippines Plans First Ever Submarine Fleet

From The Maritime Executive (Apr 1): Philippines Plans First Ever Submarine Fleet


File image courtesy Sino Defense Forum

Philippines President Benigno Aquino suggested Wednesday at an open forum in Manila that the nation may soon invest in developing its own submarine fleet, following the lead of Vietnam and Indonesia, which have both been purchasing new Russian subs as tensions escalate in the South China Sea.

"We might have to undergo various aspects of our own military capabilities that have never been part of our needs," he said, adding that the Philippines has no intention of resorting to war as a means to regain territory.

"All recognize that war is a futile exercise . . . the Philippines, for instance, reounounces war as an instrument of foreign policy."

The Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague is set to rule soon on a Philippine case against China over the possession of geographical features in the Spratly Island chain, where China has been turning reefs into island platforms for airstrips and radars. Many observers predict that China, which has neither recognized nor participated in the case, will not win, and may react negatively to the outcome.

In Washington on Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that his nation would be resolute in defending its sovereignty in the South China Sea - but that disputes should be resolved peacefully.

He reiterated Beijing's promise  to uphold freedom of navigation for foreign vessels and aircraft transiting the region.

U.S. officials have recently expressed concern that an unfavorable ruling in the Spratly Islands arbitration case could prompt China to declare an air defence identification zone, or ADIZ, as it did over the East China Sea in 2013.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said Wednesday the U.S. would view such a move as "destabilising" and would not recognise such an exclusion zone.

US, Japan warships arrive for war games

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 2): US, Japan warships arrive for war games

This former American naval base has started hosting vessels from the United States and Japan, ahead of the joint military exercises between Filipino and US troops, government officials said.

Seven ships from the United States and three Japanese vessels have either arrived or expected to dock here during the weekend for this year’s Balikatan 2016 exercises. Japan is participating as an observer.

According to the US Pacific Command, US Marines participating in the annual war games have also started to arrive in the country early this week.

Balikatan is an annual bilateral training exercise between the Philippines and the United States. It is designed for various missions such as humanitarian assistance, maritime law enforcement and environmental protection, according to a statement issued earlier by the US Embassy in Manila.

This year’s Balikatan will take place from April 4 to 16, in various training sites in the country, including Crow Valley, Fort Magsaysay, Clark Air Field, Subic Bay, Palawan and Panay.

On Friday, replenishment oiler ship USNS Matthew Perry (T-AKE-9)  and dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD-49) dropped anchor at the  Alava pier here, according to the Subic Bay  Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).

Another replenishment oiler vessel, USNS Rappahannock (T-AO-204), arrived here a day earlier.

Supply ship USNS Sacagawea (T-AKE-2), dry cargo ship USNS Maj. Stephen W. Pless (T-AK-3005), oiler USNS Walter S. Diehl (T-AO-193), and Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DD6-62) are expected to arrive today.

Capt. Lued Lincuna, Philippine Navy spokesperson said the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) would be sending its Oyashio-class Japanese diesel-electric submarine (SS-511) to Subic Bay for a goodwill visit on April 3.

The Japanese submarine will be escorted by two destroyers, JS Setogiri (DD-156) and JS Ariake (DD-109). It will stay in Subic until April 6, Lincuna said.  This would be the submarine’s first visit to the Philippines in 15 years, according to Japanese Navy.
An undetermined number of military vehicles, mostly Humvees and amphibious, have been temporarily stored at the Subic Bay International  Airport (SBIA).

SBMA Chair Roberto Garcia said the vehicles would be used by Balikatan participants.

Throughout the Balikatan, Filipino and US forces will work together to  enhance maritime law enforcement throughout the Philippines in order to  meet annual training requirements, and enhance techniques, tactics, and  procedures as a critical part of interoperability of our forces, the embassy’s statement said.

Commentary Industries versus insurgents

Commentary in the Manila Bulletin (Apr 1): Industries versus insurgents

This week marks the 47th anniversary of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The NPA has been fighting the Philippine government since 1969 in what is considered the longest-running communist insurgency in Asia.

A full-page advertisement paid for by the CPP’s central committee came out in one of the national broadsheets last March 29, paying tribute to Gregorio Rosal as a great communist. He was also known as Ka Roger, the slain spokesperson of the CPP-NPA’s umbrella organization, the National Democratic Front led by the Netherlands-based Jose Maria Sison.

After the recent restoration of diplomatic relations between staunchly communist Cuba and unbridled capitalist America, the Philippines’ ultra-leftist insurgency seems to be an anachronism in this day and age. China, Russia, and Vietnam have embraced capitalism in their market-driven economies which would make Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, and Ho Chi Minh turn in their graves.

Both the European Union and the US State Department have designated the NPA as a terrorist organization. On the other hand, the CPP refers to the NPA as “the tax enforcement agency of the people’s revolutionary government.” But former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Ramon Zagala pointed out that the communist rebels have lost their ideological mooring and are now engaging in extortion activities.
Nowhere is this truer than in Eastern Mindanao, where 24 out of the 52 communist fronts nationwide could be found. Last year, the NPA attacked agricultural plantations there almost every month. As of March 15 this year, the number of attacks has already surpassed the entire 2015.

To stop the harassment of businesses in the country’s second biggest island, the Philippine National Police (PNP) has offered the “adopt your police station” program to local industries. Under this scheme, entrepreneurs based in areas regularly harassed by rebel forces can donate at least 500 square meters of land adjacent to their businesses. Using allocations from the national budget, the PNP may then build a police camp or station to help secure businesses.

Policemen who are trained for combat operations will be deployed throughout Regions 11 and 13, as well as private security guards who undergo military training and will be issued high-powered weapons to fight the rebels. Due to the soldiers’ reputation as human rights violators, some industries might not agree to engage the military for fear it would invite terrorism while the plantations become battlegrounds.

Key to the program’s success is the cooperation of industries with the AFP and PNP, who can prevent rebel attacks if provided with advance information. Normally the rebels would send warnings or demand revolutionary taxes, but industries either just keep quiet or give in. Companies that would like to join the program should file directly with the PNP chief. Police presence will be maintained in the area as they train private security forces in maintaining peace and order in the community.

Security managers said their companies will have more time to focus on production rather than getting worried about their security. Insurgency affects almost all Mindanaoan industries since rebel atrocities involve extortion, arson, black propaganda, infiltration of labor unions, and meddling with agribusiness venture agreements.

Most countryside industries are located near rebel bases. They are vulnerable to NPA-initiated attacks that also target small businesses in areas where the rebels operate. A few years ago, the base camp of Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) in South Cotabato was burned down by NPA forces while SMI’s employees were celebrating the New Year.

If the turbulent situation in the Caraga and Davao regions continues, we might see industries packing up. Businessmen are reportedly planning their transfer to other provinces and cities or even to neighboring ASEAN countries.

Davao City has not been spared by NPA attacks. Two policemen and a civilian were ambushed year ago in Marilog district. Several years back, an SMI officer was killed inside a subdivision where Mayor Rodrigo Duterte had a house. To this day that murder case has not been solved.

Hopefully the PNP’s linkage with the agricultural and mining sectors in Mindanao’s eastern seaboard will deter insurgents from threatening these very industries that sustain the lives of millions of Filipinos.

J. Albert Gamboa is the CFO of Asian Center for Legal Excellence and Senior Producer of Bloomberg TV Philippines.  Email: (J. Albert Gamboa)

Letter-to-the-Editor: ‘Bloody rebellion part of problem’

Letter-to-the-Editor posted to the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 2): ‘Bloody rebellion part of problem’

In the run-up to the 47th anniversary of its founding, the New People’s Army escalated its campaign of violence, as if to remind the Filipino people that it is still a force to be reckoned with, capable of inflicting harm on its perceived enemies—that is, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, and any person or entity that refuses to pay what it calls “revolutionary” and “permit to campaign” taxes.

The violence perpetrated by the NPA is totally out of tune with the desire of the Filipino people to live in peace. We have just come out of the Holy Week with its message of peace and redemption for all mankind. And we are entering the intensity of the campaign period preparatory to exercising our right to elect the next leaders of our country come May.

Our people deserve their right to fair, free and peaceful elections, but this is not possible under the regime of arson, extortion and murder being imposed by the NPA in the countryside.

We invite the NPA and its mother organization, the Communist Party of the Philippines, to heed the call of the Filipino people to end their violent struggle against the government and discuss the issues that divide us in a sincere, honest and peaceful dialogue. There is no issue that cannot be resolved between well-meaning Filipinos who are determined to secure a better life for all our people.

After 47 years of armed struggle, the CPP and NPA must realize that, in spite of their avowed intentions to resolve the ills of society, their bloody rebellion has become part of the problem.

We therefore invite our armed brethren to be part of the restoration of democracy that we regained in 1986 via a peaceful struggle against an entrenched dictatorship. Just imagine what we, the Filipino people, united in our desire for peaceful change, can accomplish if we work on our issues jointly and creatively, in peace.

PH gov’t peace negotiating panel

Sabah police: Kidnappers now targeting 'easy pickings' near maritime border

From the New Straits Times Online (Apr 2): Sabah police: Kidnappers now targeting 'easy pickings' near maritime border

KOTA KINABALU: Five crew members of a Malaysian-registered tugboat, which was raided by Filipino gunmen at Ligitan waters, arrived in Tawau this morning.
Sabah police commissioner Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun said the two Indonesians and three Myanmar nationals were unharmed. Police are currently recording their statements.

“The tugboat is in Tawau at the moment and we will check the data from its global positioning system to establish the exact location where the boat was invaded, whether it occurred in Sabah waters or in Philippines waters,” he said.
Yesterday at 6.15pm, eight gunmen stormed the tugboat with nine crewmen and kidnaped four Malaysians from Sibu, Sarawak.

The Malaysians were identified as Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21; Wong Teck Chii, 29; Wong Teck Kang, 31; and Wong Hung Sing, 34.

Abdul Rashid said it was unclear why the kidnappers only captured the four men and released the other crew members.

“The police are working closely with Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) and other enforcement agencies in mobilising security forces and assets."

Abdul Rashid said police have noticed a shifting trend in the modus operandi of kidnappers following the strict enforcement of Esscom in Malaysian waters.

“Kidnap-for-ransom groups are now taking the easy way by targeting ships that are passing near the maritime boundary,” he said, adding the Malaysian boat was bound for Tawau.

The incident took place several days after Abu Sayyaf gunmen raided a tugboat and captured 10 Indonesian crewmen in the Philippine waters over the weekend.

According to the Philippines Inquirer, the armed men declared that they were members of the Abu Sayyaf.

Quoting a military source, the gunmen spoke broken English and Filipino and that the perpetrators also seized laptop, cash and mobile phones from the victims.

Meanwhile, the 7pm-5am curfew hour has been extended until April 17. The sea curfew, which has entered its 40th phase, is enforced in Tawau, Semporna, Kunak, Lahad Datu, Kinabatangan, Sandakan, and Beluran.

Friday's kidnapping involving Malaysian hostages is the first this year. Last year on May 14, gunmen linked to Abu Sayyaf militant group stormed a seafood restaurant in Sandakan and kidnapped the owner Thien Nyuk Fun, then 50, and her Sarawakian customer Bernard Then Ted Fen, then 39.

Thien was released by her captors on November 8 after a ransom was paid. However, Then, an electrical engineer from Sarawak, was beheaded by the gunmen in a remote area on Jolo island on November 11.

Police yet to receive info on ransom demand: IGP

From The Sun Daily (Apr 2): Police yet to receive info on ransom demand: IGP

KUALA LUMPUR: The police have not receive any information on demand for ransom from the group of eight armed men, who abducted four Malaysians in the waters of Semporna, Sabah early last night.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar (pix) said the police were still determining whether the abduction involved cross border crime.

"We are still investigating if the abduction involved the Abu Sayyaf group," he said when contacted by Bernama here, today.

Commenting on the security in Sabah waters, he said the waters at the southern Philippines and the East Coast border was not safe.

Hence, Khalid suggested that any form of assistance, trade and the supply of essential goods from Sabah to the southern Philippines be suspended immediately for safety reasons.

He said such activities made it difficulty for security forces to monitor the area more extensively.

Four Malaysians were abducted by eight armed men in the waters of Semporna, Sabah while returning to Malaysia from the Philippines last night.

The four men from Sibu, aged between 21 and 34, were working onboard the ship registered as 'Masfive 6' which had transported timber from Malaysia to Manila in the Philippines.

They have been identified as Wong Teck Kang, 31; Wong Hung Sing, 34; Wong Teck Chii, 29; and Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21.

Following the incident, the shipping company's administrative manager lodged a report at the Miri police station last night.

A copy of the police report was faxed to the operations room of the Sabah police contingent headquarters to follow up there. — Bernama

4 Malaysian seamen abducted off Sabah

From Channel News Asia (Apr 2): Four Malaysian crew members kidnapped by gunmen off Sabah coast

The four men, aged between 21 and 34, were held at gunpoint, forced to disembark and taken into Philippine waters.

KOTA KINABALU: Four Malaysian crew members were kidnapped by eight gunmen in a speedboat off the coast of Sabah on Friday evening (Apr 1).

The four men, aged between 21 and 34 from the neighbouring state of Sarawak, were on their way back after delivering logs to Manila in the Philippines when their barge was attacked by the gunmen.

They were held at gunpoint, forced to disembark and taken away into Philippine waters. The other crew members – two Indonesians and three Myanmar nationals – were released unharmed.

The incident reportedly happened near Pulau Ligitan off Semporna, off the south-eastern coast of Sabah.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said his ministry is trying to verify the information from various sources, and whether the gunmen were from militant group Abu Sayyaf.

"We do take it seriously. We want to address this and the government is taking steps to address this. We have a long coastal line, from time to time, we will see what we can do – at least for the safety of the people and tourists who come here," Mr Anifah said.

The minister said he is not at liberty to disclose any details, but stressed that this was an isolated incident and the waters around Sabah are still safe.

This incident follows another last year when Malaysian engineer Bernard Then was kidnapped in Sabah by Abu Sayyaf militants. He was beheaded on the southern Philippine island of Jolo after negotiations with the kidnappers fell through.

While there are Sabahans who are spooked by the latest incident, others are undeterred.
"Obviously it's very hard to control, I know that but I will still go back to Mabul and Sipadan to dive. (This) is not going to stop me," said international school teacher Sam Watson, who is in Malaysia for a holiday.

Last week, 10 Indonesian seamen were kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf militants, who are demanding US$1 million for their release.

'Gunmen Spoke Broken English, Filipino'

From the Malaysian Digest (Apr 2): 'Gunmen Spoke Broken English, Filipino'

The Philippines military has confirmed reports that at least four Malaysians were kidnapped by suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf group off Semporna in Sabah waters on Friday evening.

A military source confirmed that about eight armed men boarded a tugboat operated by the victims at around 6pm (7pm Malaysia) Friday using a motorized vessel.
The armed men declared that they were members of the Abu Sayyaf and requested the victims to go with them, the source said.
The perpetrators, who spoke broken English and Filipino, also took with them a laptop, cash and the mobile phones of the victims.
Initial reports said that the armed men fled along with their victims towards smaller islands.
Major Filemon Tan from the military’s Western Mindanao Command, confirmed the report but said that they are still putting together the details of the reports.
Last week, the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 10 Indonesians who are working on a tugboat in the province of Tawi-Tawi and demanded US$1mil for their safe release.
- The Philippines Inquirer/Asia News Network

Father of two Sarawakians kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf prays for their safety

From the Borneo Post Online (Apr 2): Father of two Sarawakians kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf prays for their safety

Wong is praying for the safe return of his sons and two others kidnapped on Friday.

Wong is praying for the safe return of his sons and two others kidnapped on Friday.

SIBU: The father of two brothers believed to be kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf militants near Ligitan Island in Semporna, Sabah last night is praying for their safety together with the two other hostages.

Met at the Sibu police headquarters this morning while lodging a report, Wong Chee Ming said his sons Teck Kang, 31, and Teck Chii, 29, were abducted together with their crew mates Wong Hung Sing, 34, and Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21.

“Apparently, the kidnappers only wanted the four Malaysians. There were nine boat crewmen. The others in the Sarawak-registered boat included foreigners from Indonesia and Myanmar; they were left untouched,” he said.

Wong added Teck Kang’s second son was born just 10 days ago and they last spoke to him yesterday morning during a video call.

Rebels torch P35-M construction equipment in Zambo

From the Philippine Star (Apr 1): Rebels torch P35-M construction equipment in Zambo

Suspected communist insurgents reportedly poured gasoline on the equipment and set it on fire. photo

Heavily armed suspected communist insurgents burned Thursday night five heavy equipment for road construction in a village of Sindangan town, Zamboanga del Norte, according to police official.

Chief Superintendent Miguel Antonio Jr., Western Mindanao Police director, said about 60 armed men swooped down at Sitio Barille, Barangay Talinga about 8:30 p.m. where the equipment, including three units of backhoe and two bulldozers were kept.
Antonio said the watchmen of the heavy equipment, owned by the ESR Construction Supply, scampered for safety as the gunmen surrounded the site.

The gunmen reportedly poured gasoline on the equipment and set it on fire.
According to Antonio, the gunmen also fired shots at the road roller before they fled the area.
The police forces of Sindangan backed by the 20th Special Force and 42nd Infantry Battalion immediately responded but failed to apprehend the suspects.
Based on the estimate of police authorities, the damaged heavy equipment were worth P35 million.
Antonio said police elements of the Sindangan Municipal Police Station are conducting the investigation on the attack.
Local authorities initially suspected extortion as the possible motive for the destruction of road construction equipment.

Military launches search for Malaysian sailors abducted off Sabah

From the Philippine Star (Apr 2): Military launches search for Malaysian sailors abducted off Sabah

The reported abduction comes a week after 10 Indonesian sailors were abducted from a tugboat sailing to Batangas., file

The military has launched search operations in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu to confirm reports that four Malaysian sailors were abducted by suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen off Sempornah, Sabah on Friday night and may have been brought there.
“We confirm receiving reports of this incident but information remains sketchy at the moment and efforts are being exerted to ascertain all details on the incident,” Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), said.
According to reports from Malaysian authorities, eight armed men on a speedboat intercepted the Malaysian-registered M/V Masfive 6 as it was steaming off Pulau Ligitan about 6 p.m. on Friday.
The gunmen reportedly hauled off four Malaysians from the nine-man crew and loaded them into their speedboat. The other members of the crew -- three Myanmar nationals and two Indonesians -- were left unharmed and the kidnappers sped off in the direction of the Philippine border in the south.
The reported abduction of the four Malaysians came just a week since armed men tagged as Abu Sayyaf members seized 10 Indonesian sailors from a tugboat. The captives were reportedly brought to Sulu.
Tan said government forces in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu have been alerted and an operation has been launched in response to the reported abduction. He said the military has coordinated with counterparts in Malaysia.
“But details of which we are not at liberty to divulge,” he added.
Last September, members of the Abu Sayyaf abducted four foreigners and a Filipina from a resort in Samal Island. In a video released in March, armed men showed the captives and demanded a ransom of P1 billion for each of the four foreigners they hold captive. They gave the families of the victims, and their respective governments, until April 8 to pay the ransom.