Friday, March 31, 2006

Zambo Brass Supports Cha-Cha

Zamboanga Sibugay (Zamboanga Journal / 31 Mar) Zamboanga Sibugay province Vice Governor Eric Cabarios has openly supported proposals to amend the Constitution, saying, it is the best option to the current political and economic situation the country is facing.

Cabarios said the Senate and Congress should not shun from talking about charter change and instead support the move which is aimed at improving the current political situation.

Some lawmakers were opposing moves to change the Constitution, but the government is supporting proposals to change the charter to introduce political and economic reforms.

"It is high time that we discussed cha-cha (short for Charter change) if we really want a positive change for our country and the people," Cabarios said in a radio interview Friday.

"Some of our congressmen still do not want change while some senators are opposing this, and so some non-governmental organizations and civil groups are now conducting people's initiative through village assemblies.

They wanted change in the system and we should listen to them," he said. "With village assemblies, the people are rightfully informed on the essence of charter change, queries and doubts on cha-cha are directly answered."

Cabarios said there are 3 legitimate ways to change the Constitution -- thru a constituent assembly, a constitutional convention and people's initiatives.

When asked which of the three he prefers most, he answered: "The constituent assembly is okay because we already have the congressmen that will represent us in Congress, and all they have to do is to constitute that group into a constituent assembly…so it is less expensive to undertake."

But political opposition and militant groups were opposing Charter change, saying, it will only be used to extend the term of office of President Gloria Arroyo and her allies.

House Speaker Jose de Venecia said they favor a shift to parliamentary form of government, but the opposition criticized him, claiming this would make Arroyo the Prime Minister, even beyond her term on 2010.

Arroyo won the election in 2004, but the opposition accused her of fraud, a charge she strongly denied. Virgilio Garcillano, an election commissioner, was also accused of cheating in the national polls to favor Arroyo. He denied the accusations.

Zamboanga Mangrove

A pathwalk inside a coastal mangrove farm in Zamboanga City. Environment officials appeal to residents to preserve the mangroves which is habitat to different sea animals. (Zamboanga Journal)

Village Chieftain Killed In Ambush

BUKIDNON PROVINCE (Ben Balce / 31 Mar) Two motorcycle gunmen shot dead a village chieftain in a broad daylight attack Friday in the town of Kadilingan in the southern Philippine province of Bukidnon, police said.

Police said the gunmen opened fire on Carlos Lanojan, 40, who was driving his vehicle on his way home in Poblacion village. He was killed instantly, police said.

Lanojan was the chieftain of Kaira village in nearby town of Don Carlos, it said.

Police said it is still investigating the motives of the killing and would not who were behind the attack, but communist insurgents are actively operating in the province.

The New People's Army was previously linked by the authorities on attacks against village leaders suspected of aiding the military in its anti-insurgency operations.

Sayyaf Plot To Seize Ships In Mindanao Uncovered

A sea marshall stands guard on the deck of a passenger ship his group is guarding in Mindanao. (Zamboanga Journal)


CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (Ben Balce / 31 Mar) Authorities have uncovered a supposed plot Friday by the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group to hijack passenger ships in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials did not say how the plot was discovered, but a report by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency in northern Mindanao claimed the Abu Sayyaf was also planning to hostage the passengers.

"We ordered a tightened security in all passenger ships in northern Mindanao and put in place contingency measures and authorities are ready to address any situation. We cannot rule out the possibility of a terror attack after the recent bombing in Jolo,” the regional police chief, Florante Baguio, told the Zamboanga Journal.

The report identified the leader of an 11-man Abu Sayyaf team that would carry out the hijacking as Abu Awillah, and that among the targeted were Super Ferry vessels sailing from Manila to Mindanao.

Baguio said the police have intensified its intelligence operation to track down members of the terrorist group in the region.

“We are intensifying our intelligence efforts and initiate appropriate security measures to preempt terrorist attacks," he said. "I have ordered the police to ensure patrol visibility and to secure all sea and airports, including
bus depots, public areas and vital government installations."

Authorities have tagged the Abu Sayyaf group in the February 2004 bombing of the Super Ferry 14, which killed more than 100 people in the worst maritime terrorist attack in the Philippines.

The 10,192-ton ship was sailing out of Manila, with about 900 passengers and crew, when a television set filled with TNT exploded. The Abu Sayyaf owned up the bombing.

Since the bombing of the Super Ferry 14, authorities have deployed secret marshals in passenger ships.

The group was also believed behind Tuesday bombing of a two-storey convenience store building in Jolo island that left 7 people wounded.

It also warned of impending attacks in Zamboanga City and Basilan island in the southern Philippines, where security forces are pursuing Abu Sayyaf members, blamed for the spate of terrorism and kidnappings of foreigners in the region.

The Abu Sayyaf is included in the US terror lists and Washington offered as much as $10 million bounty for the capture of its leader Khadaffy Janjalani and his lieutenants, tagged as behind the killing of two kidnapped US citizens in 2001 and 2002 in Mindanao.

Foreign Donors Pledge Support To Mindanao Peace Efforts

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 31 Mar) International donor agencies pledged their strong commitment to support Manila's peace and development initiatives in Mindanao in an effort to help rebuild war-torn areas in the southern Philippine region, officials said.

Officials said foreign aid donors cited their continuing focus on strengthening assistance to Mindanao, where Manila is negotiating peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF), the country's largest Muslim separatist rebel group, under Murad Ebrahim.

President Gloria Arroyo has appealed for aid from international donors to help hasten the government peace process in Mindanao.

She said the peace talks are now on its final stage and that negotiators are expected to sign an agreement before the year ends. She said: "I believe that before the year is out, we will be able to achieve a lasting peace in Mindanao with your support. Yet the last mile is always the hardest sailing, because that is when the destination is in sight, but the winds of resistance will blow most fiercely."

Arroyo said: "Therefore, to help us through this last mile more smoothly, I’d like to make a personal appeal to all of you, who plan to provide aid to Mindanao as peacekeepers, please consider providing your aid now even as we await the signing of a final peace accord as several nations have already done under the Mindanao trust fund of the World Bank in your phase one.

"A proactive gesture of generosity and confidence will put more air in our sails at a typical moment in our journey as we strive to reach the safe harbor of peace in Mindanao," she said during Thursday's Philippine Development Forum held in Tagaytay City, outside Manila.

Jesus Dureza, Presidential peace adviser, said the continued support of donor partners clearly indicates their sincere commitment to contribute to the attainment of lasting peace and development in Mindanao.

"Knowing that the uncertain peace and order situation is a major impediment in attaining economic growth for the island, we are anticipating that the current peace efforts will strengthen the enabling environment for investment and growth in Mindanao," Dureza said.
Dureza said the sustainable development in Mindanao is a vital key in realizing the final signing of a peace deal between the Arroyo government and the MILF, which is fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state in the southern region; and the implementation of the September 1996 peace agreement with the former rebel group Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Nur Misuari.
He said the European Union, one of the major donors assisting Mindanao, also expressed its sustained support for Mindanao as it has been encouraged by the progress noted in the ongoing peace talks between government andthe MILF.
"EU has been helping Mindanao in many ways and stands ready to support further the region to ensure the sustainability of the peace agreement," Jan de Kok, European Union Ambassador, said. "EU hopes for a speedy implementation of the peace agreement between the government and the MILF, as well as the resumption of peace dialogues between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front (NDF)."

The NDF is the political wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines, which is also fighting the past decades to topple the government and install a Maoist state.

The Mindanao Economic Development Council (MEDCo) said that a total of 156 official development assistance-funded programs and projects are ongoing in Mindanao's six regions.

The Phase 1 of the Mindanao Trust Fund for Reconstruction and Development, administered by the World Bank, was also launched in Cotabato City in Maguindanao province to promote effective governance process and assist economic and social recovery in conflict-affected areas, Dureza said.

The program is supported by Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Sweden. It aims to provide capacity building for the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA), put up jointly by the MILF and the government in 2002, to oversee the whole implementation of the rehabilitation plan, aside from the humanitarian and development projects in the conflict-affected areas.

The Phase 2 of the program is expected to begin once a peace agreement is signed by the government and the MILF.

Joachim von Amsberg, World Bank's Philippines Director, said Thursday forum, attended by more than 200 participants, clearly signifies a strong commitment of both the Arroyo government and donor partners to effectively work towards strategically achieving full development for the country.
"The challenges ahead to accelerate economic and social progress remain significant and it is vital to discuss on sustaining fiscal reforms," he said.

Lispher Inn in Davao City

The interior of the Lispher Inn in Davao City in Mindanao. One of the many affordable, yet beautiful inns, in the city they call the Land of exotic Durian. (Zamboanga Journal)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Northern Mindanao Is Peaceful, Cops Say

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (Rutchie Aguhob / 30 Mar) Northern Mindanao remains one of the most peaceful region in the southern Phillipines and tourists continue to flock to enjoy the start of the long summer vacation, police said Thursday.
And all these because of the tight security the authorities are implementing to ensure the safety of citizens, despite hightened attacks by communist insurgents in other parts of Mindanao, said Chief Supt. Florante Baguio, commander of the regional police force.
"The peace and order situation within our area of responsibility remains generally peaceful and enduring despite the intensification of tactical offensives by the communist terrorists," Baguio, also the chairman of the Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee, said.
A member of Philippine Military Academy "Makabayan" Class of 1975, Baguio assumed as new commander of the Philippine National Police in Northern Mindanao, after Chief Supt. Dante Tejada retired last year.

Baguio, former chief of the PNP's Task Force on Anti-Illegal Gambling, also lauded policemen for their dedication to their service and accomplishments.
He said the police arrested a total of 214 wanted persons, including senior members of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People's Army and National Democratic Front.

US Ship On Mercy Mission In Mindanao

MISSION OF PEACE AND LOVE: The USNS Mercy Hospital will soon sail on a historic medical mission in Mindanao that will benefit thousands of mostly poor Muslims.


MAGUINDANAO (Zamboanga Journal / 30 Mar) Thousands of mostly poor Filipinos are to benefit from a historic mission of US hospital ship to the Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao staring in May, the official Philippine Information Agency said on Thursday.
It said the United States Naval Service (USNS) Mercy Hospital Ship will sail to the southern Philippines and conduct free medical mission from May 20 to June 18.
The ship is schedule to visit the provinces of Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Basilan, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur.

The visit will greatly help the medical services provided by the region's health department to the poor patients.

The US medical mission is a concerted effort between the Joint United States Military Assistance Group, the United States Defense representatives in the Philippines and the United States Naval Service (USNS), it said.
The Muslim autonomous region, torn by decades of seccesionist wars in the past and scandalized by government corruption and hotbed of communist insurgency, is the poorest in the Philippines.

Cops Release Sketch Of Digos' Bomber, Witness Tells His Tales

WANTED: Police sketch of the alleged bomber of Weena bus in Digos City in Davao del Sur province. Authorities have offered as much as P100,000 bounty for his capture.


ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 30 Mar) Police have released Thursday the sketch of a man believed behind the bombing of a passenger bus in Digos City in the southern Philippines that as many as 17 people wounded.

Authorities also offered P100,000 bounty for the man's capture, but officials would not say whether the bomber was a member of the outlawed New People's Army (NPA) or the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, blamed for the spate of bombings in the southern Philippines.

But police suggested the man could be a member of the shadowy extortion syndicate called Urban Tiger Action Group, which earlier tried, but failed to collect illegal taxes from the Weena Bus Transit.

The sketch showed on television was based on witnesses' descriptions of the supposed bomber, police said.

Police and military said a homemade bomb exploded Wednesday inside one of Weena's bus at the city's bus depot. A military report said the bomb was probably made from ammonium nitrate, a banned fertilizer commonly used by insurgents to make homemade explosives. Several buses were also damaged from the explosion.

Investigators said they found traces of the chemical explosive at the rear of the bus, where the bomb was believed planted.

One witness sent his account Thursday to the online news blog Zamboanga Journal at
http://zamboangajournal.com and detailed what he saw: "I live adjacent to the terminal. The blast occurred at quarter to 12 and I was going outside when suddenly, I and my mother who were in the kitchen preparing lunch, heard a loud sound, the land also vibrated. I said to my mother maybe it was the tires, but she disagreed with me," said Rex J.L.

"We then rushed to the terminal. I saw the bus smoking, and it was moving backwards with all its window glasses broken and scattered all around. I can't help but I shouted "ma bomba, ma ang bus", (ma, a bomb, ma, the bus), my mother was beside me also in shock and shouting."

"People in the terminal were pleading, running as fast as they can. My aunt who was in her store, kept on screaming and shouting at us and crying. Fortunately, we have a phone so I hurried up and called the police; my mother followed me and called the provincial hospital where she is working, she asked them to prepare for an emergency," he said.

"The hospital called us back to ask if how severe the situation, but my mother didn't know the extent of the incident. We then returned to the bus terminal, by that time people were now flooding towards the area. I saw one man searching the bus, after 5 minutes the police came, followed by an ABS-CBN television news crew, then the fire department with ambulances."

He said the injured were immediately brought to the hospital. : As what I assessed the tail part of the bus received the biggest hit; a part of the engine was cut and the buses nearby were also damaged from the powerful explosion, all sides were much damaged and the roof of the bus terminal was also damaged a bit."

"According to the vendors, the bus was not fully packed because the passengers and the crew were outside eating lunch and some went to the restrooms. Just a few seconds when the bus arrived, the bomb exploded. The vibrations and sound of the explosion was heard almost a kilometer away. Many called us and asking about the loud sound and were shocked to know that it was a bomb explosion."

"My mother called the hospital again where my father is also working and he said that they admitted 17 injured persons, whose injuries were caused by flying broken window glasses and other debris. When I first saw it, I can't believe it -- I am seeing what other people have seen in their life. I was trembling. Thank God that no one died, the whole situation was like a movie scene," he said.

Arroyo Appeals For Mindanao Aid, MILF Praises RP Leader

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 30 Mar) Muslim rebels negotiating peace with Manila praised President Gloria Arroyo Thursday for appealing to international donors for aid that will help developed the strife-torn southern region of Mindanao.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) also joined the calls of the Filipino leader for development aid in conflict and war-torn areas on Mindanao, but said Manila should hasten the peace process to put an end to more than three decades of bloody fighting in the region and seals a peace accord with the country's largest Muslim rebel group.

"While we welcome President Arroyo's appeal for international aid and join her efforts to develop war-torn areas in Mindanao, the MILF must say that a comprehensive peace agreement is very important before donor countries can help and start pouring aid to the region," Eid Kabalu, a spokesman for the MILF, told the Zamboanga Journal by phone from a rebel base in Maguindanao province.

Arroyo appealed for aid from international donors Thursday during the Philippines Development Forum in Tagaytay City, outside Manila, to help hasten the government peace process in Mindanao.

She said the peace talks are now on its final stage and that negotiators are expected to sign an agreement before the year ends.
She said: "I believe that before the year is out, we will be able to achieve a lasting peace in Mindanao with your support. Yet the last mile is always the hardest sailing, because that is when the destination is in sight, but the winds of resistance will blow most fiercely."

Arroyo said: "Therefore, to help us through this last mile more smoothly, I’d like to make a personal appeal to all of you, who plan to provide aid to Mindanao as peacekeepers, please consider providing your aid now even as we await the signing of a final peace accord as several nations have already done under the Mindanao trust fund of the World Bank in your phase one.

"A proactive gesture of generosity and confidence will put more air in our sails at a typical moment in our journey as we strive to reach the safe harbor of peace in Mindanao," she said.

The World Bank earlier said it was preparing a 50 million-dollar international development assistance package for Mindanao. But the aid would only be disbursed after a peace agreement is signed.

Many Arab countries, including the influential Organization of Islamic Conference and the World Muslim League are strongly supporting the peace process. President George W. Bush also offered as much as $30 million in financial assistance to help develop Mindanao should the MILF seal a peace agreement with Manila. The money would be used to help the rebels get back to the mainstream of society.

Last year, the United Nations Development Programme and the European Commission have agreed to implement an 18-month rehabilitation project benefiting people displaced by armed conflicts in Mindanao, particularly in the provinces most hit by the fighting and destruction.

The project was aimed at addressing the rehabilitation and resettlement requirements of displaced families by providing basic services, including enhancing their capacity for earning a living and improved infrastructures.
The implementation of the project is preceded by a needs assessment survey conducted by the World Bank.
Kabalu said many donor countries, like the United States, Japan, Australia and Canada, and the European Union and other Muslim countries led by Saudi Arabia, Libya and Malaysia, have pledged to help once the peace agreement is finally signed. "We will appreciate all foreign assistance to Mindanao for the future of the Bangsamoro people," Kabalu said.
He said all assistance intended for the development of the conflict affected areas in the region would be taken care by the BDA being the authorized agency to identify, lead and manage the same as provided in the agreement signed by both the MILF and the Arroyo government.
"It is the BDA which has the authority to spend resources intended for the conflict affected areas either for infrastructure projects or otherwise and other than stability in the region, the economic well being of the country is expected to take off once the conflict in Mindanao shall find comprehensive just, fair and acceptable solution," Kabalu said.
Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza said the government will tap the Mindanao Trust Fund for the implementation of various development projects in the region once the peace agreement is signed.
The fund, he said, has been set up by the Arroyo government, the World Bank and international donor countries to help in rehabilitating Mindanao.
But Kabalu said the MILF cannot start all these things unless the final peace agreement is signed. "The peace agreement will be the basis of everything. We do not want to make the same mistakes the (former Muslim separatist rebel group) Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) did when it signed a peace deal with the Philippine government and accepted a limited autonomy in Mindanao," Kabalu said.

The MNLF under Nur Misuari signed a peace deal with then President Fidel Ramos ending decades of clashes in southern Philippines, and accepted autonomy over four Muslim provinces that were later expanded into 5 provinces.

Misuari later became governor or the Muslim autonomous region, but later accused the government of failing to honor the peace agreement, and his forces attacked major military bases and held civilians hostage in Jolo island and Zamboanga City. He fled to Malaysia, but was arrested there and sent back to Manila where he is facing rebellion charges.

Many MNLF members were disgruntled with the accord and most of them have either joined the radical Abu Sayyaf group and the moderate MILF under Murad Ebrahim, which was originally part of Misuari's group, but split with MNLF in 1978.

Kabalu said his group wants a concrete action from the government: to sign a peace accord and give homeland to some 4 million Muslims in Mindanao. "It is all up to the government. The peace negotiations are ongoing and time is running fast," he said.

The MILF has repeatedly said that it is sincere in pursing the peace talks, but would never accept a similar autonomy the government granted to the MNLF.

Majority of Filipino Muslims in the southern Philippines are strongly supporting a proposal by the MILF to put up an Islamic government in Mindanao region, but many of them wanted an independent state similar to Iran.

Kabalu admitted the MILF is negotiating with Manila to share sovereign powers under the so-called Bangsamoro government in the south, particularly in areas where there are large Muslim communities or provinces covered by the ancestral domain.

He said peace negotiators were discussing on how the Muslims will run the proposed new government and were seriously studying new formulas based on model countries such as Sudan, Palestine, East Timor, Northern Ireland, and Bougainville.

"Talks are going on about the proposal for a shared government and shared sovereignty between the Bangsamoro people and the Philippine government."

"The results of this proposal will depend entirely on the outcome of the peace negotiations. Once the new Bangsamoro government is finally set up, then the five-province Muslim autonomous region will be dissolved," Kabalu said.

He said the MILF was also proposing to government negotiators that the Muslims be given an option to choose in a referendum whether they wanted Mindanao to be an independent state or not.

Ancestral domain refers to the MILF demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland. In September, government and rebel peace negotiators have signed several agreements centered on the ancestral domain -- its concept, territories and resources, and how the MILF shall govern these places.

Kabalu said both peace panels are expecting to sign a formal agreement on the ancestral domain once they finally agree to some contentious issues on territories. After the agreement on ancestral domain is signed, peace negotiators will then negotiate to find a political solution to the Muslim secessionist problems, he said.

Arroyo opened peace talks with the MILF in 2001, with Malaysia brokering the negotiations. She said that 80 percent of the peace talks have been completed and that peace in Mindanao is within reach.

Murad Ebrahim, MILF chieftain, repeatedly said that his group is sincere in the talks and is willing to end the war in Mindanao. The MILF said that a peace agreement with Manila would further strengthen the government's anti-terrorism campaign in Mindanao, where security forces and rebels have joined to hunt down Jemaah Islamiya and Abu Sayyaf militants.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye earlier said the President looks forward to an early and honorable peace settlement of the Mindanao conflict in accordance with the Constitution and respect for cultural diversity.
"The President is committed to an honorable and peaceable settlement of the decades-long separatist problem in Mindanao in line with the constitutional provisions of territorial integrity and respect for cultural diversity," he said.
Manila said it will not allow the country to be dismembered.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

ZAMBO FIRE VICTIMS NEED YOUR HELP!


AN OPEN LETTER FROM THE L.A. ZAMBOANGA TIMES EDITOR

Fire Victims Need Your Help!
Thousands of families were displaced and are now "homeless" because of the massive fire (click here to view photos) that swept through Canelar and Camino Nuevo interior in Zamboanga City last Thursday (March 23) night.
The Archdiocese of Zamboanga has appealed for help so they may shelter and feed all those who have lost their homes, especially the children. Click here to view photo taken the day after the fire.
In response to the appeal made by Zamboanga Archbishop Carmelo Morelos, the
L.A. Zamboanga Times is launching a fund-raising campaign starting this week until the end of December this year.
However, due to our limited staff and the nature of this campaign, we can only accept monetary contributions (checks and money orders only). At the end of each month, starting April 30, we will send any amount we collect to Zamboanga Archbishop Carmelo Morelos along with the list of donors, amount donated and photo copies of checks and money orders sent to us by the donors.
Names of donors and the amount donated will be published by L.A. Zam-boanga Times and will be updated daily. The same list of donors will also be published by newspapers in Zamboanga City. Donors will receive a receipt from L.A. Zamboanga Times indicating the amount of donation made and for what purpose. Don't wait! Time is precious for those homeless people in need of your help. Mail your donation today!
Make check and/or money order payable to:
John L. Shinn III c/o L.A. Zamboanga Times
5410 N. Calera Avenue, Covina,
Calif. 91722, USA.
If you have any questions feel free to call me anytime (I'm available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) at (626) 251-5563. Or you can e-mail me by clicking here.
We will make photo copies of all checks and money orders we receive just to make sure we have everything properly recorded and documented.

Study On Detained IPs In Mindanao Hailed

MAGUINDANAO (Mitch Confersor / 29 Mar) The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) has lauded the efforts of private organizations which recently released a study on the plight of at least 574 detained indigenous peoples (IPs), of whom 433 of them or more than 75.43 percent are in Mindanao.

The OPAPP, in coordination with the Mindanao Economic Development Council (MEDCo), has had a long-standing initiative on dialogues and consultations with IPs regarding the ancestral domain aspect of the peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The issues on ancestral domain, and on inter-tribal disputes, strife, and conflicts including those indirectly related to the IPs’ right to self-determination and non-discrimination have figured prominently in a situation analysis on detained IPs in Mindanao and the rest of the country. (Read more...View as HTML Download)

OPINION: Where Are The Peaceniks In Sulu? By Menardo Wenceslao

DAVAO CITY (Menardo Wenceslao / 29 Mar) Terror strikes again and this time right in the heart of the Muslim dominated community. By latest count nine persons had died and more than 20 others were badly injured.

As in most recent terrorists attacks the Jolo victims were mostly innocent Muslim civilians. This despicable act of extremists and diabolical Al Qaeda clones, namely the Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf bands, reaffirms the fact that terrorists do neither distinguish tribal distinctions nor respect for one’s religion. They strike where there is opportunity. The higher the death toll the more they delight in frenzy. The excruciating the pain the louder they cheer. Murder is their way of life and the anguish of their victims is their celebration.

It is therefore foolhardy for some quarters to deny the existence of terror groups lurking in our midst. Now we want to hear the peaceniks talk about the non-existence of Jemaah Islamiyah and ASG elements in Sulu. Now let us hear them condemn the insanity that snuffed the life of innocent civilians. They had staged rallies against the holding of military exercises in Sulu which would have trained our soldiers there to counter terrorism. The training was downgraded to medical mission. We are not saying that the Balikatan Exercises, if carried out according to standard, could have prevented the terrorists from carrying out their plot, but we are saying that maybe the peace keeping force if properly trained may have improved their skills and knowledge of terrorism which might have deterred the bombing.

Anyway, what has been feared might happen had happened. As we ponder on this tragedy, we wonder whether the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has done its promised task to help the government hunt the remaining Abu Sayyaf terrorists or it has denied the elements of Jemaah Islamiyah sanctuary in their territories.

While we grope for an answer the better option left for us is to increase our vigilance against the emergence of these extremists. This, we have to do whether one is a Christian or Muslim because the terrorists is neither one of the two.

Cops Vow To Fight Drug Menace In Mindanao

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (Ben Balce / 29 Mar) Police on Wednesday vowed to step up the government's anti-illegal drug campaign in Northern Mindanao and warned syndicates to stop their nefarious activities or end up in jails.

Senior Supt. Danilo Empedrad, Northern Mindanao police deputy regional director for administration, said the campaign against illegal drugs will continue as he urged the public to help authorities fight the menace of society.

Empedrad said the police recently destroyed some P30 million worth of confiscated chemicals and laboratory equipment used in the manufacture of shabu.

He lauded the members of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and other law enforcement groups for their dedication to their jobs that led to the confiscation of illegal drugs in the region.

“The destruction of the illegal drug substance and laboratory equipment is part of the relentless effort by the government to eradicate the distribution of illegal drugs in Northern Mindanao. We commend the good work of our law enforcers and keep it up," he told policemen here.

Rene Orbe, PDEA regional director, said the chemicals they burned were among those confiscated from a warehouse in the village of Cugman here.

"We destroyed almost 1, 30 kilos of chemical substance used as main ingredients in the manufacture of shabu, these are composed of black powder, white flakes and sodium hydroxide. And 2,849 bottles of acetone chloroform and other liquid chemicals," he told the Zamboanga Journal.

Empedrad also said the illegal chemicals could have supplied the entire region and destroy many lives had it was not confiscated by the police.

7 Injured In New Bombing In Southern Philippines

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 29 Mar) A homemade bomb exploded inside a passenger bus on Wednesday, wounding as many as 7 people in the southern Philippine city of Digos near Davao del Sur province, where communist insurgents are actively operating, police and military said.

The blast occurred shortly before noontime as the vehicle, owned by Weena Transit, was returning to the city's bus depot from Davao. At least 7 people were injured in the explosion, police said.

Other reports said more than a dozen people, mostly sidewalk vendors, were hurt in the blast.

A military report said the bomb was probably made from ammonium nitrate, a banned chemical fertilizer commonly used by insurgents to make homemade explosives. Several buses were also damaged from the explosion.

It was not immediately known how many passengers were in the bus when the explosion occurred. But military and police investigators said they found traces of the chemical explosive at the rear of the bus, where the bomb was believed planted.

Southern Command spokesman Major Gamal Hayudini said authorities were investigating the blast. "There is an investigation going on and we still don't know who were behind the latest explosion," he told the Zamboanga Journal.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, although authorities previously linked the New People's Army (NPA) in extortion activities on bus operators in the province.

Authorities were also investigating whether the Abu Sayyaf group tied to the al-Qaeda terror network was connected to the attack.

The Abu Sayyaf was implicated by authorities in previous bombings of three passenger buses during last year's Valentine Day celebration in the southern port cities of General Santos and Davao, and Makati, the country's financial district.

At least 7 people were killed and dozens injured in the three attacks owned up by a senior Abu Sayyaf leader, Abu Solaiman.

The group was also implicated in the December 2004 bombing of General Santos, where more than a dozen people were killed, and similar attacks in Zamboanga City and Cotabato provinces.

Sayyaf Warns Of More Terror Attacks In Southern RP


ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 29 Mar) A man claiming to be a spokesman for the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group warned Wednesday of an impending terror attacks in Zamboanga City and Basilan islands in the southern Philippines, a local radio network reported.

"The next bombings will be in Zamboanga City and Basilan," said a cell phone text message sent by self-proclaimed spokesman Abu Omar to the RGMA network.

The warning came just two days after a powerful Abu Sayyaf bomb explosion ripped through a two-storey convenience store in Jolo island, killing 9 people and wounding more than two dozens.

Security officials appealed to the public to stay calm and be vigilant, saying, authorities were hunting down members of the Abu Sayyaf group, blamed for the series of terrorism and kidnappings for ransom in the southern region.

"We urge the public to cooperate with authorities and report to us any suspicious persons or abandoned package. Do not listen to rumors, but stay vigilant,"Air Force Major Gamal Hayudini, spokesman for the military's Southern Command, told the Zamboanga Journal.

He said Omar had been sending threat letters in the past to different radio and television stations in Zamboanga City, but his real identity remains unknown. Omar also previously threatened to kidnap and kill local journalists who criticized the Abu Sayyaf group.

It was not immediately known if Omar also claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Southern Command tagged Abu Sayyaf militant Ismin Sahiron as behind the bombing in Jolo.

Sahiron is the son of Radulan Sahiron, a senior Abu Sayyaf leader in Jolo and wanted by the United States for terrorism, said Hayudini.

The U.S. Department of Treasury has recently designated the elder Sahiron and two other Abu Sayyaf leaders Jainal Antel Sali Jr. and Isnilon Totoni Hapilon, a move that freezes any assets they may have under American jurisdiction.

"The Abu Sayyaf Group instills terror throughout Southeast Asia through kidnappings, bombings and brutal killings. This action financially isolates senior members of the ASG, who have planned and carried out vicious attacks on Americans, Filipinos and innocent citizens from around the world," said Patrick O'Brien, the Treasury's assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crime.

The U.S. government, through the Department of State's Rewards for Justice Campaign, has offered to pay up to 5,000,000 Pesos (about $90,910) for the capture of individuals belonging to the ASG.
In addition, the Department of Defense's U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) has added the three terrorists to its Rewards Program offering up to $200,000 for information leading to the capture of each designee.

Southern Command chief Major General Gabriel Habacon has ordered a tightened security in the region following the bombing in Jolo.
"We are pursuing the terrorists and have tightened security in key areas in Mindanao," Habacon said.

The U.S. also deplored the bombing in Jolo and said it will continue to work closely with the Philippines to fight the threats of terrorism.

“We deplore the targeting and killing of innocent civilians. With the Armed Forces of the Philippines, we are committed to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of the Sulu region."
"We at JSOTF-P stand side by side with the people of the Philippines in the battle against lawlessness and terrorism in this region,” said Colonel James Linder, commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in the Philippines.
Jolo military chief Brig. Gen. Alexander Aleo said the bomb used in the attack was made from ammonium nitrate and was so powerful that it destroyed the facade of the building.

President Gloria Arroyo and Mindanao Senator Aquilino Pimentel condemned the latest attack. "I condemn in the strongest terms this most recent attack in Sulu.
The Armed Forces and Police shall leave no stone unturned in the hunt for the perpetrators and I ask our people to remain calm and vigilant," Arroyo said, as she urged the immediate passage of the proposed anti-terrorism law.

"Once more, and with a deep sense of urgency, I ask Congress to pass the anti-terrorism law that will enable our nation to constrict, contain and control this threat more effectively," she said.

The senator feared the bombing was aimed at sabotaging the peace process in Mindanao. "Saboteurs of peace in Sulu are killing innocent people to promote their own ends. It's very unusual incidence that it's budget time and the desire for more appropriations money could be a motive," he said.

Pimentel said the timing of the bombing was "very unusual" as it happened while the Senate is set to take up the budget of the Department of National Defense and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He did not elaborate.

Brigadier General Francisco Callelero, an army spokesman, said the Southern Command was investigating reports the attack was connected to a failed extortion by the Abu Sayyaf group.

"Our investigators found a letter demanding money from the managers of the Sulu Cooperative Store days before the attack," he told reporters in Zamboanga City.

The Abu Sayyaf is on a US list of terrorist organizations and Washington has offered as much as $10 million bounty for the capture of the group's chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani and other known leaders.

Arroyo Committed To Peace In Mindanao

PEACE SUPPORTERS: United Nation's Resident Coordinator Nileema Noble, left, and Moro National Liberation Front's Hatimil Hassan shake hands, as President Gloria Arroyo's peace adviser Jesus Dureza and Kyo Naka, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Deputy Resident Representative, look on, before the start of the first Program Coordinating Committee Meeting for the ACT for PEACE Programme in Davao City.


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo looks forward to an early and honorable peace settlement of the Mindanao conflict in accordance with the Constitution and respect for cultural diversity.

"The President is committed to an honorable and peaceable settlement of the decades-long separatist problem in Mindanao in line with the constitutional provisions of territorial integrity and respect for cultural diversity," Press Secretary and concurrent Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.

The government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace negotiators held last week formal talks in Kuala Lumpur centered on the contentious issue on ancestral domain.
[ READ THE FULL ARTICLE ]

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Help Us Please! A Cry of Help From Lumbangan Children





SMEs Get Gov't Fundings On Product Development Program

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Darwin Wee / 28 Mar) The small-and-medium-scale- enterprises (SMEs) in Zamboanga peninsula will benefit from a half-million peso government-sponsored product development program this year, the Department of Trade and Industry's (DTI) regional office here said.
Sitti Amina Jain, DTI assistant regional director, said the fund was approved last month to provide the existing and potential SME entrepreneurs in Zamboanga peninsula "with services in product and package design and development to create and sustain a competitive edge in the domestic and export markets."
The P500, 000-program for local products is also part of the preparations for the trade and exposition to be held during the 15th Mindanao Business Conference (Minbizcon) in Zamboanga City on August 31 to September 2.
"The funds will be used to showcase local products to lure foreign and domestic investors and buyers in the upcoming Minbizcon," she told the Zamboanga Journal.
The money is intended to fund all the product development activities such as research on materials, processes, and technologies to full-scale introduction of a product to the market.
"This includes product design and development, package design and development, product technology research and development, design andtechnical information, and design library," Jain said.
She said at least 48 local products under the DTI's "one-town, one project" in Zamboanga peninsula were identified to avail of the product development program.

Among the existing products are bottled sardines and dried fish and for the emerging products that include abaca, tiger grass for souvenir and gift items, and bamboo furniture to name a few.
The DTI regional office will also tap two experts from the Product Development and Design Center of the Philippines and the private sectors to help provide product designs advice and improve the quality and marketability of the local products.
"The overall objective of this project is to raise the competitiveness of the existing and emerging products in the Zamboanga peninsula. This will also enable the SME sector in the region to move towards improved standards of quality, efficiency and environmental performance in both operations and product design," she said.
Jain said the program is also part of the National SME Development Agenda that aims to expand promotion and assist SMEs in product quality and market.
The SME sector is the backbone of the Philippine economy. It comprises about 99.6% of all registered firms nationwide employs, 69.9% of the labor force, and contributes 32% of the national economic output.

Stolen Manila Cars Recovered In Mindanao

HOT CARS: Superintendent Felixberto Castillo, Regional Traffic Management Office chief for Northern Mindanao, looks on at stolen cars his group recovered. Most of the stolen cars came from Manila and dumped to Mindanao. (Photo by Ben Balce)
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (Ben Balce / 28 Mar) Police operatives of the Philippine National Police-Traffic Management Office (PNP-TMO) in Northern Mindanao have recovered at least three luxury cars stolen in Manila, officials said Tuesday.

Superintendent Felixberto M. Castillo, TMO regional chief, said the cars -- Honda CRV, Mitsubishi L200 and Pajero -- were recovered in separate operations in Cagayan de Oro City.

"Our anti-carnapping operations are going on and so far, we have recovered three luxury vehicles, all stolen from Manila and then brought to Mindanao," he told the Zamboanga Journal.

In a report to TMO director Superintendent Errol T. Pan, he said the Honda CRV, reported stolen in Manila on April 2002, was registered to Merisant Sweetener. The car was recently recovered in Carmen village.

While the Mitsubishi L200 was recovered in Bulua village, almost 5 years after it was reported stolen in Angeles City in Luzon. The vehicle was registered to the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation, Castillo said.

And the Pajero, registered to Pepsi Cola Inc., was stolen in Makati on May 2000 and had been recovered by TMO operatives parked in downtown area.

So far, Castillo's group have recovered 8 stolen vehicles since last year.

US, RP Launch Mindanao Radio Program

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 28 Mar) The United States and the Philippines have launched a radio program in Mindanao that will benefit millions of people across the southern region.
Thanks to development assistance from the American people, Mindanao residents now will have the chance to learn English at home with their own weekly tutor: the radio.
Through a program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the state-owned Radyo ng Bayan network launched Saturday the Real World English, a weekly English-language instructional radio show, on its dxMR station here.
Radyo ng Bayan, a subsidiary of the Philippine Broadcasting Service (PBS), will broadcast at least 52 episodes of Real World English every Saturday from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. from its stations across Mindanao, reaching the provinces as far as Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.
The 30-minute show will provide English-language high school teachers useful information to improve English instruction in the classroom, and expose the listening public to native English speakers.
The USAID’s Education Quality and Access for Learning and Livelihood Skills (EQuALLS) project introduced the Real World English program through its Improving English Language Teaching and Learning in Mindanao (IELTLM) project.
EQuALLS is a five-year initiative funded by Washington to promote improvements in elementary and secondary education in the five-province (Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao) Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and other conflict-affected areas in the south.
“Through Real World English, we hope to contribute to the Department of Education’s effort to improve the English language proficiency of our teachers and learners."
"This is also an opportunity for all of us in Zamboanga City, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Marawi City, and other areas reached by this broadcast to discuss our own Mindanaoan culture even as we speak about the American way of life,” said Danilo Macasantos, the local dxMR Radyo ng Bayan station manager, in his opening remarks during last week's the inaugural broadcast.

Rafael Dante Cruz, PBS director, highlighted the power of radio to deliver “practical knowledge and useful information” to the Filipinos.
Dr Thomas Kral, USAID Chief, Office of Education, recalled his time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines and spoke of traveling throughout the Sulu Archipelago more than 35 years ago, forming friendships with local residents through English language.
Kral also stressed the added importance of English language skills in today’s era of globalization.

IELTLM is a multi-stakeholder education initiative of Real World Productions, Radyo ng Bayan, Ateneo de Zamboanga University, Notre Dame University -– Cotabato City, and the Mindanao State University -– Tawi-Tawi College of Technology and Oceanography. USAID provides technical and financial assistance to IELTM through the EQuALLS Project.


For more information, contact:
Kevin Donahue
Development & Outreach Communications Specialist
U.S. Agency for International Development
Tel: (63-2) 552-9905
E-mail:
kedonahue@usaid.gov
Web: www.usaid-ph.gov

U.S. Deplores Jolo Bombing

BIG BROTHER: An unidentified US soldier risks his own security just to help a wounded Filipino Muslim in the southern island of Jolo, just after a suspected Abu Sayyaf bomb exploded inside a two-storey convenience store building in downtown Jolo on Monday, 28 March 2006, killing and wounding at least 29 people. (US military photo / Zamboanga Journal caption)

Read the: Statement of the President Re Sulu attack

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 28 Mar) The United States deplored Tuesday the bombing in the southern Philippine island of Jolo, where at least 29 people were killed and wounded, in an attack blamed by Filipino authorities to the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group.

“We deplore the targeting and killing of innocent civilians. With the Armed Forces of the Philippines, we are committed to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of the Sulu region."

"We at JSOTF-P stand side by side with the people of the Philippines in the battle against lawlessness and terrorism in this region,” said Colonel James Linder, commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in the Philippines.

Secretary Jesus Dureza, the presidential peace adviser, said at least 9 people were killed, three of them still unidentified, and 20 others wounded, many seriously, when a homemade bomb exploded inside a convenience store building in downtown Jolo on Monday.

"Based on the latest reports, at least 9 people were killed, three of them are still unidentified, and 20 people are also wounded, many of them seriously," Dureza said.

The blast coincided with government operation against the Abu Sayyaf militants, whose group is tied to al-Qaeda terrorist network in Jolo, about 950 kms south of Manila. Security officials said the blast through the Sulu Consumer's Cooperative Store around 1.15 p.m. and that most of the victims were Muslims.

The explosion was so powerful that it totally destroyed the facade of the building and debris thrown across the street. The scene reminded locals of the television footages on the aftermath of suicide bombings in Iraq.

Jolo military chief Brig. Gen. Alexander Aleo earlier said the blast had the handiwork of the Abu Sayyaf group, blamed for the series of bombings and kidnappings in the south. "We are still investigating who were behind the blast, but the attack had the trademark of the Abu Sayyaf," Aleo said.

He said initial military reports suggested that the bomb was made from a deadly cocktail of chemicals, possibly ammonium nitrate and shrapnel.”It was probably ammonium nitrate, but we are still investigating the blast," he said.
It was not immediately known if the blast was connected to ongoing military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf group, blamed for terrorism in the Philippines.

A small group of heavily armed US military advisers stationed in Jolo island were spotted helping Filipino soldiers investigate the bombings. A photograph released by the US Embassy on Tuesday showed an American soldier helping carry a wounded blast victim.

It said no US soldiers were wounded or killed in the blast. "At least 9 people died and more than 20 were injured in the attack. No US personnel were injured. The explosive device was planted on the ground floor of a building along a busy street in downtown Jolo," the embassy statement said.

Just two weeks ago, troops captured an Abu Sayyaf weapons courier Julkaram Hadjail on Jolo and security forces killed several militants in a separate clash on the island.Security forces also recovered early this month a cache of Abu Sayyaf explosives and homemade bombs near a highway in Jolo's Indanan town where troops regularly pass.
Officials said the cache included plastic containers filled with ammonium nitrates and TNT and all rigged to electronic timers and cellular phones to trigger detonation when scavengers discovered them near a garbage dump on KM. 3 in the village of Tagbak. The highway links the towns of Indanan, Maimbung and Talipao which the military regularly use to transport troops.
Last month, one civilian was killed and more than two dozen people were wounded when a powerful bomb exploded outside a military base in Jolo island.The blast destroyed a karaoke bar just several meters away from the base frequented by soldiers.
The Abu Sayyaf also fired two rounds of rifle grenade near a military post in Jolo's Mount Karawan and killed a police officer and beheaded a civilian in downtown area.The Abu Sayyaf is on a US list of terrorist organizations and Washington has offered as much as $10 million bounty for the capture of the group's chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani and other known leaders.

The US forces, consistent with the Mutual Defense Treaty and Visiting Forces Agreement, are in Jolo island to advise and assist the Filipino military. They also provide humanitarian and civic assistance in Jolo under the so-called Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) 2006 and Bayanihan, which means "helping hand".

Zambo Fire Refugees Get Help From Sulu Sultan




MANNA FROM HEAVEN: Above, a fire refugee shows her food coupon, below, the Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo, Sharif Ibrahim Ajibul Mohammad Pulalun. (Zamboanga Journal)


ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 28 Mar) Some 500 families displaced by a huge fire in Zamboanga benefited Tuesday from one of a series of relief mission by the Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo, Sharif Ibrahim Ajibul Mohammad Pulalun, as social workers appealed for more aid to help feed thousands of refugees now in temporary shelters in this southern Philippine port city.

The fire swept through at least 6 hectares of residential blocks March 17, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes.

Pulalun said many Muslims donated food and used clothing for the fire victims. "It was so devastating for someone to lose his house and properties, but this is only a test of our will, so we may become more stronger, all we must do is pray to God, and we will survive all these," he told reporters at the Zamboanga Press Club building, where he distributed bags of rice and groceries to fire victims.

"This is manna from heaven, we don't have any food and now we can eat at least for several days, until we can get fresh relief from other Good Samaritan. This Sultan Pulalun has a golden heart, he helped us Christians, despite the fact that he is from Sulu (archipelago)," Victoria Santos, 39, told the Zamboanga Journal.

Local Fire chief Janice Espero said there were no casualties, but the fire destroyed more than 1,500 houses, mostly made from wood, after a lighted candle fell from an altar. Some P50 million worth of properties went up in smoke. It was the worst conflagration that hit Zamboanga City in decades.

Pulalun said he would distribute more relief goods in the coming days. "This is purely humanitarian works, we need to help our brothers and sisters in Zamboanga, and we hope to distribute more relief goods in the coming days," he said.

Local politicians and church leaders also appealed on television and radio stations for food and water for the evacuees now housed four schools used as temporary refugee shelters.

"Please, we appeal for food and water. Let us help our brothers in God, they need your help badly," said Msgr. Crisanto dela Cruz.

Mayor Celso Lobregat, head of the local disaster committee, declared the fire area under state of calamity, said Francisco Barredo, chief of the Zambonga City Social Welfare and Development.
He said four schools were being used as shelters by the refugees. "We have used these schools to shelter the refugees, at least for the moment, until things are back to normal again," he said.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Zambo Ecozone Lures 2 New Firms

Zamboanga City (Zamboanga Journal / 27 Mar) Two new companies have signed-up an investment contract with the Zamboanga City Special Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (ZAMBOECOZONE), boosting the local business sector in this part of the southern Filipino region, officials said Monday.
Officials said the Fenix Group of Companies Incorporated and its marketing arm, the Southern Auctioneer International Incorporated have signed a agreement with the ZAMBOECOZONE to invest here.
Fenix Group of Companies Incorporated is a domestic trading firm that engages in the importation and recondition and used industrial and heavy equipment, agricultural machinery, trucks, buses, sports utility vehicles and passenger vans for the Filipino market.

While the Southern Auctioneer International Incorporated is in-charge of the auction and shopping of imported reconditioned vehicles for domestic market.

Jaime Escaño, president of the Fenix Group of Companies, said his group is optimistic in putting its business here because of the city's strategic location and tax benefits it would enjoy from the economic zone.

The company is expected to operate its trading of imported vehicles and machineries from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Europe and the Middle East within three months, after completing necessary documents and facilities needed for their business.

Georgina Yu, administrator and chairmperson of the ZAMBOECOZONE, said labor requirements of the two companies would benefit local skilled workers.

The Fenix Group needs a cumulative manpower requirement of some 300 workers in its initial year of operation and this would reach to 2,000 employees or more within five years.

The Southern Auctioneer International will also need some 200 workers for the auction selling and marketing during its operational period.

Jefe Ejército Recomienda Un Tribunal Militar Para "Golpistas"

El jefe del Ejercito de Filipinas Hermogenes Esperon. (Zamboanga Journal)



El jefe del Ejército de Filipinas, Hermógenes Esperon, recomendó a sus superiores un tribunal militar para juzgar a parte de los 96 militares acusados de participar en una conspiración con el fin de derribar al gobierno de la presidenta Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, informaron hoy fuentes oficiales.
El portavoz del Ejército, el comandante Bartolome Bacarro, dijo a la prensa en Manila que se trata de 59 oficiales y 37 soldados que "participaron unos más que otros en el fallido golpe de Estado", según la cadena de televisión GMA.
Entre los acusados están el general de brigada Danilo Lim y el coronel Ariel Querubín. El comandante Bacarro manifestó que el general de brigada Lim y otros pueden ser acusados en un tribunal castrense de los delitos de motín, fracaso para detener un motín, y conducta contraria al buen orden y la disciplina militar.
Los soldados menos involucrados comparecerán ante una junta disciplinaria militar. El jefe de las Fuerzas Armadas, general Generoso Senga, será quien decida la suerte de estos 96 militares, Fue precisamente el general Esperon quien en la madrugada del 24 de febrero pasado reveló a los medios una conspiración para perpetrar ese mismo día un golpe de Estado.
Esperon informó de que habían puesto bajo custodia a dos altos mandos militares (Lim y Querubin) y un director de la Policía (Marcelino Franco).
La presidenta filipina declaró el estado de emergencia nacional horas después y comenzó una operación de seguridad que ha practicado decenas de detenciones en medio de las denuncias de las organizaciones defensoras de los derechos humanos.
El estado de emergencia nacional fue levantado el 3 de marzo, pero la búsqueda de supuestos golpistas prosigue. Macapagal Arroyo está acusada por sus detractores de amañar las elecciones presidenciales del 2004. (EFE)

Zamboanga Says No To Inclusion In Proposed Muslim Homeland In Mindanao

Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat speaks to a huge crowd during a forum on the peace process Monday 27 March 2006, below, residents listen behind a sign. (Zamboanga Journal)

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 27 Mar) Some 2,000 people trooped Monday to a forum on the government's peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to oppose the inclusion of Zamboanga City to the proposed Muslim homeland in Mindanao.

Secy. Jesus Dureza, the presidential peace adviser, assured the locals the government peace process in Mindanao is transparent and allayed fears of secret talk between Manila and the MILF, the country's largest Muslim separatist rebel group.

"The government is transparent in the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and there is nothing to hide to the public about the peace process," Dureza said.

Mayor Celso Lobregat led local officials and residents in opposing the inclusion of Zamboanga City to any proposed Bangsamoro homeland or the dismembering of the country.
"We maintain that we don't want any part of this negotiations and all we ask is to leave Zamboanga City alone," said Lobregat.

Even the Catholic Church has opposed the city's inclusion to the Muslim homeland. "The people have spoken and we have shown that we are all united together. Leave us alone in peace," said Msgr. Crisanto dela Cruz.

Residents arrived in flocks, some as far as villages 50 kilometers away, to show their support to Lobregat's appeal to government peace negotiators not to include Zamboanga in any secret deal with the MILF.

"I and my family and our neighbors come here to support Mayor Lobregat and besides we do not want to be part of any Muslim state or homeland."
"We are free here in Zamboanga and we don't want any part in this peace talks with the rebels, they should leave us alone in peace," said 56-year old Juanito Atilano, a farmer in Vitali village, about 40 km east of here.

Some of those who arrived have placards that read: "Leave us in Peace, go away rebels." One sign reads, "Pls. exclude Zamboanga to be part of MILF-GRP peace agreement."

Filipino peace negotiators and Muslim rebels have agreed to hold a plebiscite for a separate homeland in the southern Philippines. The MILF, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, said the referendum would be held in areas where there are large Muslim communities.

President Arroyo opened peace talks with the MILF in 2001 in an effort to end decades of bloody fighting in Mindanao and solve one of the world's longest-running Muslim insurgency problems.

The negotiators hope to finalize an agreement on the proposed homeland for more than 4 million Muslims in the south, which is also home to more than 9 million Christians and indigenous tribes.

In September, peace negotiators signed several agreements centered on the ancestral domain - its concept, territories and resources, and how the MILF shall govern these places.

Ancestral domain refers to the MILF's demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland. For the rebel group it is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before it can reach a political settlement.
The MILF is fighting the past three decades for the establishment of a Muslim state in the troubled, but mineral-rich region.

Both sides have agreed on several crucial issues, including the coverage of a proposed ancestral domain in the five Muslim autonomous provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao. And other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces, which have large Muslim communities and indigenous tribes.

"We will consolidate and review the agreements, and then ratify them. And after that a peace accord will be signed and a plebiscite for the establishment of a separate Muslim homeland shall be held in the southern Philippines or in areas agreed upon by the peace panels," said Eid Kabalu, the spokesman for the MILF.

He said the plebiscite would be supervised either by the United Nations or an international group composed of countries that are supporting the peace talks.

"Everything in the peace agreement will be submitted to the people. There is nothing to hide and just like today, Zamboanga City is host to a forum on the peace process, and we really wanted all these to be transparent," Kabalu said.

Lobregat has repeatedly denounced the agreement signed by the government and rebel peace negotiators that would give a homeland to the MILF.

He said the government signed a secret deal with the MILF that would allow them to establish an Islamic state across Mindanao under the guise of the so-called Muslim ancestral domain.

"This is a sellout. We won't allow Mindanao to be dismembered, and we must act swiftly before it is too late," Lobregat said.

A new group in Zamboanga City called the Concerned Citizen-Activists for Development (CCA), composed mostly of allies of Lobregat, said it would oppose any move to include the city to the separate homeland for Muslims.

It said the locals were not consulted about the agreements signed by the MILF and government peace negotiators. Zamboanga City has more than 600,000 population and about 100,000 are Muslims.

Khaled Musa, deputy chair of the MILF's information committee, said the Muslims have the right to determine their own political future. "The right of the Bangsamoro people to determine their own political future is not subject to veto by any group in Mindanao.

Many Arab countries, including the influential Organization of Islamic Conference, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the United States are strongly supporting the peace talks.

President George Bush has offered as much as $30 million in financial assistance to help develop Mindanao should the MILF seal a peace agreement with Manila. The money would be used to help the rebels get back to the mainstream of society. President Arroyo said that 80 percent of the peace talks have been completed and that peace in Mindanao is within reach.

The MILF earlier said it is likely to share sovereign powers with the Arroyo government in Mindanao and that talks are going on to put up the Bangsamoro government.

Kabalu said peace negotiators were discussing on how the Muslims will run the proposed new government, but he was quick to say that both sides are seriously studying new formulas based on model countries such as Sudan, Palestine, East Timor, Northern Ireland, and Bougainville.

"Talks are going on about the proposal for a shared government and shared sovereignty between the Bangsamoro people and the Philippine government."

"The results of this proposal will depend entirely on the outcome of the peace negotiations. Once the new Bangsamoro government is finally set up, then the five-province Muslim autonomous region will be dissolved," Kabalu said.

He said the MILF was also proposing to government negotiators that the Muslims be given an option to choose in a referendum whether they wanted Mindanao to be an independent state or not.

Many local Muslims said they were supporting the MILF and the proposal to put up the Bangsamoro government, but majority of them wanted an independent Islamic state, similar to Iran.

"That's good if the MILF can put up this Bangsamoro government in areas where there are large Muslim communities, like Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi and Central Mindanao. But if would be much better if we have our own government, a Muslim state, like Iran and run our government according to the teachings of Islam," said Abdullah bin Rashid.

Ustadz Shariff Julabbi, a former guerilla leader and MILF spokesman, said Filipino Muslims would welcome an Islamic government in Mindanao.

"This is the clamor of the millions of Filipino Muslim not only in Mindanao, but all across the Philippines, to have their own government. The aspiration and determination of the Bangsamoro people is very strong and we are all supporting this proposal to put up a Muslim government in the southern region," he said.

9 Killed, 20 Injured In Jolo Blast

A US and Filipino soldiers stand guard in Jolo island in Southern RP. A suspected Abu Sayyaf bomb exploded Monday 27 March 2006 in downtown Jolo, killing at least 9 mostly Muslim civilians, and wounded 20 others. (Zamboanga Journal/file)



ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 27 Mar) At least 9 people were confirmed dead and 20 others wounded, many seriously, after a bomb explosion Monday ripped through a convenience store in the southern Philippine island of Jolo, an aide to President Gloria Arroyo said.

Secy. Jesus Dureza, Arroyo's peace adviser, said 9 people were killed, three of them still unidentified, when a homemade bomb exploded in downtown Jolo.

At least 20 others were injured and many of them are in critical condition at the Sulu Provincial Hospital.

"Based on the latest reports, at least 9 people were killed, three of them are still unidentified, and 20 people are also wounded, many of them seriously," Dureza told the Zamboanga Journal late Monday.

Other reports put the casualty toll to more than two dozens.

The blast coincided with government operation against the Abu Sayyaf militants, whose group is tied to al-Qaeda terrorist network in Jolo, about 950 kms south of Manila.

Security officials said the blast tore the second floor of a conveniece store in downtown Jolo around 1.15 p.m. and that most of the victims were Muslims.

Jolo military chief Brig. Gen. Alexander Aleo earlier said the blast had the handiwork of the Abu Sayyaf group, blamed for the series of bombings and kidnappings in the south.

"We are still investigating who were behind the blast, but the attack had the trademark of the Abu Sayyaf," Aleo said.

He said initial military reports suggested that the bomb was made from a deadly coktail of chemicals, possibly ammonium nitrate and shrapnel.

"It was probably ammonium nitrate, but we are still investigating the blast," he said.

Air Force Maj. Gamal Hayudini, a spokesman for the Southern Command, said troops were deployed in blast site and sealed the area as they searched for explosives, but so far found nothing. "The situation is under control and authorities have tightened security in Jolo," Hayudini said.

It was not immediately known if the blast was connected to ongoing military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf group or not.

A small group of heavily armed US military advisers stationed in Jolo island were spotted helping Filipino soldiers investigate the bombings, but no officials would like to give a statement about the role the Americans were involved.

Just two weeks ago, troops captured an Abu Sayyaf weapons courier Julkaram Hadjail on Jolo and security forces killed several militants in a separate clash on the island.

Security forces also recovered early this month a cache of Abu Sayyaf explosives and homemade bombs near a highway in Jolo's Indanan town where troops regularly pass.

Officials said the cache included plastic containers filled with ammonium nitrates and TNT and all rigged to electronic timers and cellular phones to trigger detonation when scavengers discovered them near a garbage dump on KM. 3 in the village of Tagbak . The highway links the towns of Indanan, Maimbung and Talipao which the military regularly use to transport troops.

Last month, one civilian was killed and more than two dozen people were wounded when a powerful bomb exploded outside a military base in Jolo island.

The blast destroyed a karaoke bar just several meters away from the base frequented by soldiers. The Abu Sayyaf also fired two rounds of rifle grenade near a military post in Jolo's Mount Karawan and killed a police officer and beheaded a civilian in downtown area.

The Abu Sayyaf is on a US list of terrorist organizations and Washington has offered as much as $10 million bounty for the capture of the group's chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani and other known leaders.