Saturday, April 9, 2016

Five things to know about the Abu Sayyaf

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 10): Five things to know about the Abu Sayyaf

MB FILE — Six teenage Abu Sayyaf Group combatants (from second from left), handling weapons that look more like toys in their young hands, are accompanied by their commander Sulaiman Kasaran (left), when the group surrendered to authorities at an Army base in Basilan. (Nonoy E. Lacson)
Italian hostage Rolando Del Torchio was released on Friday on a southern Philippine island known as a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic militant group.
Here are five facts about the Abu Sayyaf, which is notorious for kidnappings-for-ransom:


The group is a radical offshoot of a Muslim separatist insurgency that has claimed more than 100,000 lives in the south of the mainly Catholic Asian nation since the 1970s.

It was established in the 1990s with funds from a relative of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Although the Abu Sayyaf is believed to be made up of just a few hundred gunmen, it has defied a decade-long US-military campaign to destroy it and regularly kidnaps foreigners who venture near its sphere of influence.


Sallying forth in fast boats from bases in the Muslim-populated islands of Jolo and Basilan, the Abu Sayyaf snatches local and foreign victims and demands ransom payments for their freedom.

Hostages, many of them western tourists but also Christian missionaries, are hidden amongst sympathetic Muslim communities on Jolo or Basilan, about 950 kilometres (590 miles) from Manila. Victims are often murdered if ransoms are not paid.

Kidnapping spree

The group has abducted 22 foreigners and more than a dozen Filipinos since 2014. It ransomed off a German yachting couple, with millions of dollars believed to have been paid. It murdered two other victims, including a Malaysian tourist snatched from the Malaysian port of Sandakan.

Ten Indonesian sailors on a tugboat laden with coal were abducted sailing from Malaysia to the southern Philippines in late March. Last week, four Malaysians were kidnapped off Borneo island, with the Abu Sayyaf the prime suspects.

US help

The United States lists the Abu Sayyaf as a “foreign terrorist organisation”. From 2002-2014 the US deployed Special Forces advisers to train and provide intelligence to Filipino troops, which led to the killing or arrest of many Abu Sayyaf leaders.

US assistance was scaled back after the Pentagon concluded the group, originally with about 1,000 fighters, had lost the ability to launch international attacks. The Philippine military believe about 300 gunmen, loosely organised into several sub-groups, remain.

Black flags

After the US military left, the threat took on a new dimension as several Abu Sayyaf units, along with other small armed groups in the area, pledged allegiance to Islamic State fighters who hold vast swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Philippine authorities and security analysts say the pledges are mere ploys to draw attention and potential funding from the Islamic State group. They say they the Abu Sayyaf is less interested in Islamic ideology than getting rich from kidnappings.

18 soldiers dead, 5 Abu Sayyaf militants killed in Basilan encounter

From CNN Philippines (Apr 10): 18 soldiers dead, 5 Abu Sayyaf militants killed in Basilan encounter
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Zamboanga City (CNN Philippines) The Western Mindanao Command (WesMinCom) says at least 18 soldiers and five militants have been killed during a clash between government troops and the Abu Sayyaf (ASG) on Saturday (April 9) in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan.

Read: "Who are the Abu Sayyaf?"

In a press briefing on Sunday morning (April 10), WesMinCom spokesperson Maj. Filemon Tan said more than 50 other soldiers were wounded in the nearly 10-hour gunbattle that resulted in one of the biggest casualties suffered by government forces in a single day in recent years.

A similar encounter in Al Barka, also in Basilan, in 2011 left 19 government troops dead.

Tan said the militants who were killed included a suspected foreign terrorist, Moroccan national Mohammad Khattab, and Ubaida Hapilon, the son of Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon.

"Soldiers of Joint Task Group Basilan conducting military operations in Basilan province encountered more or less 120 Abu Sayyaf bandits under Isnilon Hapilon and Furuji Indama."

According to Tan, the soldiers were attacked at around 8 a.m. in Sitio Bayoko, Baguindan. An intense firefight ensued between the ASG and soldiers from the 44th Infantry Battalion, the 4th Special Forces Battalion, and 14 Cavalry troops.

Abu-Sayyaf-infograhics_CNNPH (1).png

The clash occurred on the same day the country observed Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor), which honors those who served the country in times of war or peace.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Hernando Irriberi flew to the Western Mindanao Command Headquarters in Zamboanga City to check the situation.

18 soldiers, 5 Abu Sayyaf killed in Basilan clash

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 10): 18 soldiers, 5 Abu Sayyaf killed in Basilan clash

Basilan map (Photo from Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons
A Philippine offensive against the extremist Abu Sayyaf group after a spate of kidnappings has left 18 soldiers and five fighters dead in the worst violence in the troubled south this year, authorities said Sunday.

Saturday’s clashes on the strife-torn island of Basilan came after an April 8 ransom deadline set by Abu Sayyaf, who had threatened to behead some of their foreign hostages.

At least four soldiers were beheaded in the fighting which involved about a hundred Abu Sayyaf, regional military spokesman Major Filemon Tan said.

“This is part of the military operations against the Abu Sayyaf,” launched after a series of abductions of foreigners, he told reporters.

Another military spokesman said the soldiers were on their way to attack an Abu Sayyaf hideout when they were ambushed.

“Our group was heading to attack them. On the way, they were ambushed,” Colonel Benedict Manquiquis, spokesman for the unit involved in the battle, told radio station DZRH.

“The enemy had the high ground so no matter where our soldiers fled to seek cover, they could still be hit by the heavy firepower and improvised explosive devices of the members of the Abu Sayyaf group,” he said.

Major Tan said that 53 soldiers and about 20 Abu Sayyaf had also been wounded in the violence but he did not give details.

The clash came shortly after a retired Italian priest being held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf was freed on Friday.

Last month the Abu Sayyaf posted a video to their Facebook page in which a Norwegian and two Canadian hostages said they would be killed if the ransom was not paid.

While the ransom amount was not specified, the militants in an earlier video demanded one billion pesos ($21 million) for each of the three foreigners.

Since the April 8 ransom deadline passed there has been no word on the hostages’ fate.
The Abu Sayyaf is a small group of militants known for kidnapping foreigners and demanding huge ransoms.

Eighteen other foreign hostages are being held in the Philippines, most or all of them thought to be in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf.

The group was established in the early 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network.

It has been blamed for the country’s worst terror attacks, including a 2004 Manila Bay ferry bombing that claimed 116 lives.

Its leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group that controls vast swathes of Iraq and Syria.

They are based in the southern islands of Basilan and Jolo which both have large Muslim populations.

Various Muslim separatist insurgencies in the southern Philippines have claimed more than 100,000 lives since the 1970s.

Military says 18 soldiers killed, 53 wounded in clash with Abu Sayyaf

From GMA News (Apr 9): Military says 18 soldiers killed, 53 wounded in clash with Abu Sayyaf

Some 18 Philippine Army soldiers were killed, with 53 more wounded, during a Saturday firefight with 120 Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) gunmen in Barangay Baguindan in Basilan's Tipo Tipo town, according to the Armed Forces.

Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Maj. Filemon Tan said that five ASG fighters were also killed in the battle, among them a Moroccan national identified as Mohammad Khattab.

The son of senior ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon, Ubaida Hapilon, was also reportedly killed in the fighting.

Some 20 ASG men were also believed injured, among them ASG leader Radzmil Jannatul - also known as Kubayb.

Tan added that the clash broke out at 7:55 a.m. and involved the Army's 4th Special Forces Battalion and the 44th Infantry Battalion. The fighting lasted until around 5:30 p.m.

Philippine security forces have been hunting the Islamic extremist-group Abu Sayyaf for two weeks in an operation launched across the southern Basilan and Jolo islands -- two remote strongholds of the rebels in the mainly Catholic Asian nation.

Saturday's clash also came just a day after former missionary Rolando del Torchio -- held hostage for six months by suspected Islamic militants -- was found aboard a ferry docked on Jolo.

The Abu Sayyaf is a small group of militants infamous for kidnapping foreigners and demanding huge ransoms, as well as for being behind deadly bombings in the country where 80 percent of the population are Catholics.

Eighteen other foreign hostages are being held in the Philippines, most or all of them thought to be by the Abu Sayyaf.

The Abu Sayyaf was established in the early 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network.

It was a radical offshoot of a Muslim separatist insurgency in the southern Philippines that has claimed more than 100,000 lives since the 1970s.

In a statement Tan added that the military "continues its intensified focused military operations in tracking down the ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) responsible for the series of kidnappings and atrocities in the area."

PA expresses support to Pacquiao during Bradley tiff

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 9): PA expresses support to Pacquiao during Bradley tiff

The Philippine Army (PA) expressed its full support behind Army reservist and "pound-for-pound king" Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao who will be fighting against Timothy Bradley at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada on Sunday.

Col. Benjamin L. Hao, PA spokesperson, said the Army will hold a free live screening of the Pacquiao-Bradley boxing showdown in three different venues inside Headquarters Philippine Army in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City with thousands of active and retired soldiers and their dependents, including its wounded warriors are expected to watch the fight.

“The free live viewing will be held at the Army Officers Clubhouse (PAOCH) for retired and active Army officers and their dependents; Army Gym for Enlisted Personnel and Civilian Employees and their dependents; and at the Army General Hospital for the wounded soldiers," Hao said.

“Other Army soldiers in posts nationwide will also be on hand to cheer for their comrade-idol during fight time," he added.

Civilians will also be accommodated to avail of the live screening for the main bout as long as it will not deprive the military personnel and their dependents as the priority.

Pacquiao was commissioned in the reserve force since 2006 with a rank of lieutenant colonel. He is now serving as a deputy commander of the 1st Sarangani Province Ready Reserve Battalion, which is active in humanitarian missions and disaster response operations in the province.

22 troops wounded during clash with ASG in Basilan

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 8): 22 troops wounded during clash with ASG in Basilan

Around 22 troopers were wounded following a clash with an estimated 120 suspected Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan Saturday morning.

Major Filemon Tan, Western Mindanao Command spokesperson, said the incident took place around 7:55 a.m. at Sitio Bayoko, Baguindan.

The wounded troopers are from the 44th Infantry Battalion and 4th Special Forces Battalion

Government troops were conducting combat operations when they run into the ASGs, triggering a gunbattle.

Operations are still ongoing as this posting.

Another alleged NPA member surrenders

From the Mindanao Times (Apr 9): Another alleged NPA member surrenders

A SELF-confessed member of the New People’s Army surrendered to soldiers in the city on Thursday afternoon.
The rebel introduced himself as the brother of wounded NPA member, Reynaldo Yamson, who is now recovering in Southern Philippines Medical Center .
Lt. Alexander Cabales, operations officer of 10th Civil-Military Office Battalion, identified the suspect as Gabriel  Yamson of the Pulang Bagani  Command 8  in Southern Mindanao Regional  Command.
He was accompanied by his father, Leonardo, who convinced him to leave the guerilla movement.
Gabriel escaped from his former comrades and walked for three days  before he arrived at their home in Trento, Agusan del Sur.
He was brought to Davao City to visit his brother and mother, who is attending to the needs of the wounded rebel.
Reynaldo was a member of Guerilla Front 20, SMRC who was wounded  last Mar. 23  during an encounter with members of 67th Infantry Battalion .
He was airlifted together with other wounded soldiers, one of them shot by Reynaldo.
He underwent two surgeries to repair his shoulder.
The surrenderee is now under the custody of the 10th Infantry Division and will be enrolled into the Comprehensive Local Integration Program(CLIP) of the local government .

Focused military operations intensified against rebels

From the Visayan Daily Star (Apr 8): Focused military operations intensified against rebels

The Philippine Army has intensified its focused military operations against the New People's Army that is behind the series of liquidation activities in southern Negros.

A retired Army sergeant and a member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit were the latest victims of the NPA assassins in Moises Padilla and Cauayan towns, in Negros Occidental, respectively.

Lt Col. Rey Tiongson, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office chief, yesterday said the diminishing strength and capability of the NPA have led them to resort to target unarmed CAFGU members and civilians.

Last week, four suspected NPA assassins shot and killed CAFGU member Roberto Morales, in front of his family members, in Brgy. Camalanda-an, Cauayan.

Mercedita Morales, wife of the victim, fought back and stabbed one of the assailants, identified as Renan Febreo, who is now being treated at the Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital in Bacolod City.

Tiongson reminded CAFGU members anew to be extra-cautious.

“We are intensifying also our focused military operations to track down the NPA bandits,” he said.

Two weeks ago, retired Army MSgt. Armando Secuya was gunned down by four suspected SPARU hitmen of the NPA in Brgy. Guinpana-an, Moises Padilla.

Tiongson said the implementation of Bayanihan activities, with CAFGU members and other stakeholders, has been very effective in helping improve the lives of the people in the hinterland communities.

In December last year, CAFGU member Romulo Dollente and ex-CAA members Jimmy Nalagon and Rene Villar, were also shot and killed by NPA rebels in barangays Camalanda-an and poblacion, also in Cauayan, military records show.

Timeline of the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines

From The Peninsula Qatar (Apr 9): Timeline of the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines

Manila: The Abu Sayyaf Islamic militant group has terrorised the southern Philippines and nearby areas with a trail of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings since the 1990s.

Retired Italian Catholic priest Rolando Del Torchio, believed to have been kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf six months ago, was released on Friday on a remote island infamous as a stronghold of the group.

The following is a timeline of the Abu Sayyaf's rise and rampage:

-- Early 1990s: Libya-trained preacher Abdurajak Janjalani forms the Abu Sayyaf (Bearer of the Sword) with young Muslims disaffected by an older generation of guerrillas.

The new group is backed by seed money from a local charity run by Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, a brother-in-law of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

-- April 4, 1995: Hundreds of its gunmen sack the southern town of Ipil, leaving more than 50 people dead.

-- December 18, 1998: Janjalani is killed in a clash with security forces on the island of Basilan and is replaced by younger brother, Khadaffy Janjalani. He is killed in September 2006.

-- April 23, 2000: The group makes its first known foreign sortie, snatching 10 Western tourists and 11 Asians from the Sipadan island resort, off Malaysian Borneo.
The hostages are freed in August 2001, with the westerners flown to Tripoli aboard a jet sent by then Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, who is said to have paid millions of dollars in ransom.

-- May 27, 2001: Three Americans are among 20 people snatched from a western Philippine island resort. One of them, tourist Guillermo Sobero, is beheaded 13 months later. Most of the local hostages are ransomed off.

One of the other Americans, Christian missionary Martin Burnham, and a Filipina hostage are killed in a military operation in June 2002. But Burnham's wife is rescued.

-- February 27, 2004: The Abu Sayyaf firebombs a ferry on Manila Bay, killing 116 people in the country's deadliest terrorist attack.

-- March 15, 2005: Philippine police crush a violent overnight riot at a Manila prison, killing 17 Abu Sayyaf men including four leaders standing trial for the Sipadan kidnappings and the ferry bombing.

-- July 10, 2007: The Abu Sayyaf and fighters from the mainstream guerrilla group Moro Islamic Liberation Front kill 14 Filipino marines on Basilan, beheading 10 of them.

-- December 5, 2011: The Abu Sayyaf abducts Australian ex-soldier Warren Rodwell at his southern Philippine home. He is freed unharmed in March 2013 after a reported ransom of nearly $100,000 is paid.

-- February 1, 2012: Two bird watchers, a Dutchman and a Swiss, are abducted in the Tawi-Tawi island group. The Swiss escapes from the Abu Sayyaf in December 2014.

-- April 25, 2014: German couple Stefan Okonek and Henrike Dielen are abducted while aboard a yacht sailing off the western island of Palawan. The couple are ransomed off six months later.

-- Sometime in mid-2014: Isnilon Hapilon, who has a $5-million bounty on his head by the US government, becomes the first of several senior Abu Sayyaf leader to pledge allegiance to Islamic State jihadists fighting in Iraq and Syria.

-- May 14, 2015: Malaysian tourist Bernard Then and restaurant manager Thien Nyuk Fun are seized in the Malaysian port of Sandakan.

The woman is released in November, reportedly after a ransom was paid. But the Abu Sayyaf beheaded the man as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was in the Philippines attending a regional summit.

-- September 21, 2015: Canadian tourists John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad, and Hall's Filipina girlfriend are seized from yachts docked at a resort on Samal island, hundreds of kilometres from the Abu Sayyaf strongholds.

Last month the kidnappers set an April 8 ransom deadline, threatening to behead the hostages. The deadline passes with no word about their fate.

-- October 7, 2015: Del Torchio is kidnapped at his pizza restaurant on the southern city of Dipolog, also far from the Abu Sayyaf strongholds. Though no group claimed responsibility, security analysts say the Abu Sayyaf is likely responsible.

-- March 26, 2016: Ten Indonesian sailors are seized as their tugboat pulls a barge carrying coal off Malaysian Borneo. The vessel's owners say the Abu Sayyaf has demanded a ransom.

April 1, 2016 -- Gunmen on speedboats seize four Malaysians from the east coast of Sabah state. The Malaysian authorities describe the gunmen as Filipino.

Abus free Italian; P130 M paid?

From the Philippine Star (Apr 9): Abus free Italian; P130 M paid?

Intelligence reports showed that Del Torchio was released by his kidnappers after a series of negotiations that ended in the payment of the P130-million ransom, an informed source told The STAR.

Italian former priest Rolando del Torchio was released by Abu Sayyaf bandits and recovered by government security forces last night in Jolo, Sulu, reportedly after payment of P130 million in ransom.

Supt. Wilfredo Cayat, Sulu police provincial commander, reported that they recovered Del Torchio at about 7:30 p.m. when the priest-turned-restaurant owner was already on the boat KC Beatrice bound for Zamboanga City.

Cayat’s team was backed by the Coast Guard, maritime police, the Anti-Kidnapping Group and Joint Task Force Sulu in the recovery efforts.

It was not clear if Del Torchio had companions or who had tipped off the authorities about his presence in the boat.

Del Torchio was in poor health and brought to the military trauma hospital at Camp Teodulfo Bautista in Busbos, Jolo, for medical treatment.

Intelligence reports showed that Del Torchio was released by his kidnappers after a series of negotiations that ended in the payment of the P130-million ransom, an informed source told The STAR.

Del Torchio was kidnapped in his Ur Choice Bistro Pizza along Quezon Avenue, Barangay Miputak in downtown Dipolog City in Zamboanga del Norte last Oct. 7. Ten gunmen pretending to be customers barged into his restaurant and took him away.

Philippine militants behead 'police spy'

From the Straits Times (Apr 9): Philippine militants behead 'police spy'

ISIS-linked group posts killing online as ransom deadline for victims snatched from resort lapses

Militants in the Philippines linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have beheaded a 43-year-old man they claim was a police spy.

This comes as the deadline set by the Abu Sayyaf for the governments of two Canadians and one Norwegian abducted from a resort in Mindanao to pay one billion pesos (S$29.2 million) in ransom lapsed yesterday without word of the hostages' fate.

A graphic video of the murder was posted on the Facebook page People Who Love Mujahideen.

It showed militants with a large knife slitting the throat of a man identified as Mr Robert Pepito from Bula village in General Santos city on the southern island of Mindanao.

The killers claimed to be members of Ansar al Khilafah Philippines. A statement accompanying the video said "this jasus (spy) had been roaming and sniffing" around Ansar al Khilafah's territories in Saranggani province, 1,000km south of the capital Manila.
It said they hunted the man for a week, and beheaded him soon after he purportedly confessed to spying for a special police unit.
Ansar al Khilafah figured in a three-minute video posted in December that showed a group of men, clad mostly in black, coaxing Muslims to travel to Syria and fight for ISIS. The group is believed to be sheltering at least three South-east Asian extremists who have returned after fighting with ISIS in Syria.

Meanwhile, General Hernando Irriberi, the Philippine military chief, said operations to rescue Mr Robert Hall, 50, and Mr John Ridsdel, 68, both of Canada, Mr Kjartan Sekkingstad, 56, of Norway, and Ms Maritess Flor, 40, of the Philippines, would continue even as a deadline set by the Abu Sayyaf for ransom payment lapsed yesterday.

In a video released last month, a group of men believed to be part of the Abu Sayyaf's "Tanum sub-group" made the hostages beg for their lives as a hooded figure addressed the Canadian and Norwegian governments.

"If you think your policy is far better for you than the lives of these captives, certainly we will do something terrible against these captives," the figure warned.

The four hostages were kidnapped on Sept 21 last year from the high-end Holiday Oceanview Samal resort on Samal Island, in Davao province.

Said Gen Iriberri: "We are looking at it seriously, and we continue to conduct our FMO (focused military operation) to address the situation and hopefully resolve the matter."

He reiterated that the government's policy on ransom "is very clear. We have a no-ransom policy. We are strictly abiding by it".

Asked about the deadline, the military's spokesman, Colonel Noel Detoyato, told reporters: "The deadline that they set is their deadline. It is not our deadline."

Told about the threat to the hostages' lives, Col Detoyato replied: "Whatever will happen to the hostages, it is their (the abductors') responsibility, and we will hold them responsible, the kidnappers."

Jokowi says diplomacy to free hostages still ongoing

From the Jakarta Post (Apr 9): Jokowi says diplomacy to free hostages still ongoing

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has said the government will continue its efforts to free 10 Indonesian crewmen held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf militant group in the Philippines, even though the deadline expired on Friday.

The group has demanded a ransom of US$1 million in exchange for the hostages.
"There is continuous communication and diplomacy between the two countries and also communication with the hostage-takers. But we cannot reveal anything at the moment because it's an ongoing process," Jokowi said as quoted by on Friday evening.

When asked about the latest developments in the hostage crisis, Jokowi decided to remain silent. "I cannot say anything," the President said.

The Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group, an Islamic fundamentalist movement located in the southern Philippines, has contacted the owner of the ships twice since March 26.

Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung said if the Philippines could not release the 10 Indonesian nationals, then the government was ready to secure their release.

Jokowi has been informed by Indonesian Military (TNI) commander Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo and National Police chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti that Indonesia’s security forces are ready to conduct an operation.

"Yesterday, the National Police chief and TNI commander reported to the President. If the Philippines cannot resolve the situation, we can do so if permitted," Pramono said on Friday.

"From satellite monitoring, we already know their exact location. To be honest, we know all the details. But we are respecting the Philippine government," he added.

Abu Sayaf militants release former Italian priest Rolando Del Torchio from captivity in Philippines

From the Australia Broadcasting Corporation (Apr 9): Abu Sayaf militants release former Italian priest Rolando Del Torchio from captivity in Philippines

Former Italian priest freed by Abu Sayyaf

A retired Italian priest held hostage for six months by Islamist militants has left a Philippines hospital a day after his release, looking frail although officials say he is in good health.
Key points:
  • Rolando Del Torchio was found in a ferry docked on Jolo island on Friday
  • Not immediately clear if a ransom was paid for his release
  • Friday deadline for ransom on other hostages passes without word on their fate

A thin Rolando Del Torchio waved to journalists as he walked to a waiting ambulance after spending the night in a military hospital in the southern port of Zamboanga.

"The victim is emaciated. He has lost a lot of weight compared to what we saw in his old pictures," regional military spokesman Major Filemon Tan said.

"He is OK otherwise."

The Italian was held captive by the Abu Sayyaf group after armed men snatched the then 56-year-old at gunpoint at his pizza restaurant in the southern city of Dipolog in October last year.

"The ASG was behind this kidnapping," Major Tan said, referring to the group by its initials.

It was not clear where Father Del Torchio was headed, but the military spokesman said the Italian embassy had arranged for a chartered plane to fly him out of Zamboanga.

Philippine authorities found Father Del Torchio late on Friday aboard a ferry docked on the remote southern island of Jolo, the main Abu Sayyaf stronghold, located around 950 kilometres south of Manila.

Abu Sayyaf still holding foreign hostages

The Abu Sayyaf is a small group of Islamic militants infamous for kidnapping foreigners and demanding huge ransoms, as well as for being behind deadly bombings in the mainly Catholic Asian nation.

Its leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group that controls vast swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Major Tan said he did not know if any ransom was paid to secure Father Del Torchio's release.

Father Del Torchio had worked as a missionary for the international organisation PIME in the south from 1998 before retiring in 2000 to set up his restaurant, his colleagues said.

The gunmen are holding nearly 20 other foreign hostages, all but one of them abducted since 2014.

The Abu Sayyaf last month posted a video of two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina they kidnapped in September last year and set an April 8 deadline for ransom to be paid or the foreigners would be killed.

The deadline passed on Friday with no word on their fates. The group beheaded a Malaysian tourist last year.

The latest groups of victims were 10 Indonesian and four Malaysian crew members snatched over the past two weeks from a tugboat and a cargo ship near the southern Philippines.

22 soldiers hurt in clash with Abu Sayyaf in Basilan

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 9): 22 soldiers hurt in clash with Abu Sayyaf in Basilan
At least 22 soldiers were wounded in a fresh clash with the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan on Saturday.

Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson for the Western Mindanao Command, said the clash took place at Barangay Baguindan in Tipo-tipo town around 8 a.m.

He said elements of the 44th Infantry Battalion fought against more or less 120 armed bandits.

Details of the clash were still scant, he said.

PAF to formally accept 4th C-130 on April 12

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 9): PAF to formally accept 4th C-130 on April 12

The country's fourth Lockheed C-130 cargo transport plane will formally be turned over to the Philippine Air Force (PAF) during short ceremonies at Villamor Air Base, Pasay City this April 12.

This will take place 2 p.m., said PAF spokesperson Col. Araus Robert Musico.

He said this C-130 has a tail number of 5011 and one of the two "T" models acquired from the US through the Excess Defense Articles Program.

Musico said Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin will act as the guest-of-honor during the turn over ceremony.

The fourth C-130 arrived 11:25 p.m. at Benito Ebuen Airbase, Mactan, Cebu last April 5.

It was flown by Filipino pilots headed by Col. Alejando Baclayon, Lt. Col. Ian Earth Lamzon, Major Ian Dexter Danes, Major Anthony Amora, and Major Ramil Daet.

The two C-130Ts are worth US$ 61 million.

Musico said the second aircraft is expected to arrive this September or October.

The aircraft took off from Tucson, Arizona early this week and made stopovers in California, Hawaii, Wake and Guam Islands before heading for the Philippines.

Arrival of these planes will boost the PAF's heavy lift capability.

"Remember if we need to move a big number of troops and supplies (especially) heavy equipment for rapid deployment, it will be much easier as we have additional (C-130) aircraft," Musico pointed out.

Originally, these two C-130Ts were configured for tanker missions and were later converted for transport missions before being acquired by the Philippines.

Aside from the C-130s, the PAF has three Airbus Military C-295 medium and three Fokker F-27 transports for its logistics and lift missions.

BK 16 in Palawan donates 21 storybooks to Wescom Elementary School

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 9): BK 16 in Palawan donates 21 storybooks to Wescom Elementary School

The Wescom Elementary School (WES) inside the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) compound in this city received 21 storybooks Thursday from the RP-US joint shoulder-to-shoulder Balikatan Exercise or BK 16.

The donation of the books, which are for grades 1-6, was made following the kick off ceremony of BK 16 in Palawan.

Major Joey George said the donation is part of the BK 16’s desire to get children back to reading instead of playing video, mobile application, and other online games.

Children today, he said, are no longer interested to read either because of having smart phones, where they can play online games, and having no book at all to read in school.

George added reading books should never be neglected by children, especially if they are in school as it can widen their perspectives and help them make a good future for themselves.

There are also modern developments to learn, and teachers are encouraged to open their students to what these are.

WES is not the only elementary school where books will be donated by BK 16, he added.

Balikatan is a yearly RP-US military bilateral training ballet centered on strengthening maritime law enforcement, environmental protection, and humanitarian assistance.

Marawi City mayor, driver hurt in CDO ambush

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 9): Marawi City mayor, driver hurt in CDO ambush
Police authorities in Lanao del Sur and in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (PNP-ARMM) have sent investigators to help the Cagayan de Oro City police investigate the ambush of Marawi City Mayor Fahad Panarigan Salic and his driver during the early hours of Saturday.

Senior Insp. Ronald de Leon, spokesperson of PNP-ARMM based in Camp SK Pendatun, Parang town in Maguindanao, said police regional investigators and Lanao del Sur police provincial office probe team are now in Cagayan de Oro City holding a case conference with CDO PNP.

Salic, ex-husband of actress Alma Moreno, and his driver, Tayrudin Gunting, were on board a brand new Ford pick-up color red leaving the premises of Pryce Hotel along Mastersons Avenue when ambushed by unidentified gunmen on board a white van at 2 a.m.

He attended a political meeting with supporters in Pryce Hotel.

Salic, last term mayor of Marawi, is running for governor of Lanao del Sur under the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).

He sustained gunshot wounds in his buttocks, back and right legs, according to Senior Insp. De Leon. His driver suffered a gunshot wound in his face.

After Salic was hit, he jumped off from the vehicle and ran toward the guard house of Pryce Hotel and sought the help of security guard.

He and his driver were later rushed to a private hospital.

Police Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) recovered empty shells for cal. 45 pistol and M-16 armalite rifle.

He said ARMM police is now coordinating with Cagayan PNP in the investigation.

"Motive remain uncertain but there are speculations," he said.

The mayor’s relatives said he is now in safe condition, expected to recuperate fast with the help of attending physicians.

In a statement, Marantao Guro, speaking for Salic, said the attempt to liquidate the mayor could be politically motivated. He did not name names.

He also sought the help of President Aquino so justice will be served.

The mayor is running for Lanao del Sur governor against Soraya Adiong, mother of incumbent Gov. Mamintal Adiong, Jr., and Lanao Sur Rep. Pangalian Balindong, now in his third term.

Marine soldier, 2 armed men dead in Southern Palawan encounter

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 8): Marine soldier, 2 armed men dead in Southern Palawan encounter

A corporal of the Marine Battalion Landing Team (MBLT) 12 stationed in southern Palawan was killed early Thursday morning in a firefight with still unidentified armed men that lasted an hour at Sitio Boal-boal, Barangay Bono-bono, Bataraza.

Major Moli Alamia of the MBLT 12 said Corporal Alex de Guzman died after he was hit by a bullet on the forehead during the heavy exchange of gunfire in Bono-bono, just a few meters from the highway on a high ground area.

He said that the incident happened around 6:10 a.m. and ended an hour after.

De Guzman, who is from Jolo, Sulu, was shot by one of allegedly 10 men, who were all carrying high-powered guns.

The MBLT 12 officer furthered De Guzman was part of an eight-man team that was just on regular patrol because of the coming local elections in the said barangay when the armed men engaged them by shooting first.

De Guzman was the only fatality of the encounter, said Alamia, while two were also dead in the enemy side, and others wounded.

When asked about the identity of the armed men or if the incident was election-related, MBLT 12 Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Neph Padua said they are still determining their identities with the help of the Palawan Provincial Police Office (PPO).

On it being election-related, he said there are factors to consider before such conclusion is drawn.

“With the help of the Provincial Police Office (PPO), we will get down to the bottom of this latest incident in Bataraza,” Padua said, declining to give further details pending investigation.

Bataraza, a first class municipality in the province of Palawan, is under the areas of concern list of the police and the military following a series of shooting incidents in the past months, according to Padua.