Monday, June 30, 2008

Philippine Muslims Urge Senate To Investigate ABS-CBN Kidnapping

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 30, 2008) – Filipino Muslims in Sulu province have urged the Senate to open up investigations into reports that a huge ransom has been paid to the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group that kidnapped a Philippine television news crew.

The Abu Sayyaf kidnapped on June 8 an ABS-CBN television presenter Ces Drilon and her cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama, including a Muslim university professor Octavio Dinampo in the town of Maimbung.

Valderama was freed June 12 in exchange for P5 million ransom while the remaining hostages had been released five days later after private negotiators allegedly paid P15 million to the kidnappers, numbering about two dozens.

Police later arrested Indanan town Mayor Alvarez Isnaji and his son, Haider, who were both implicated in the kidnapping. Police also accused the politician of pocketing at least P3 million.

Isnaji, who was handpicked by the Abu Sayyaf to negotiate for the safe release of the captives, strongly denied the accusations.

“We want to know who was really behind the kidnapping and who benefited from the ransom because the money paid to the Abu Sayyaf is sure to go to the arsenal of the Abu Sayyaf group and we, Muslims, will again be tagged as terrorists and kidnappers by those who do not understand Islam.”

“Our province will again be branded as haven for terrorists and kidnappers or land of the Abu Sayyaf which is really unfair. Authorities should investigate who paid the ransom or the people behind it. We want to know the truth,” Amir Ibrahim, a trader, told the Mindanao Examiner.

He said many religious groups in Sulu also wanted the Senate to investigate the kidnapping of the ABS-CBN television news crew to know whether Isnaji was really behind it or not.

“The Muslims want to know the truth and not what we hear from the radio or television or read in the newspapers. Everybody must be investigated and all those who took part in the negotiations, including the police and military and the ABS-CBN, including our local leaders,” Ibrahim said.

Police said Drilon’s brother Frank paid P5 million ransom, but Isnaji allegedly paid only P2 million to the kidnappers. And Isnaji’s lawyer, Firdausi Abbas, claimed that another P15 million was paid to the captors by an unnamed Chinese businessman.

Ibrahim said the payment of ransom to the Abu Sayyaf will endanger many people in Sulu because the money could be used to purchase illegal weapons and fund terrorism and future kidnappings.

Police and military have failed to arrest any of the kidnappers since the release of the hostages.

Security officials previously said the number of the Abu Sayyaf has dwindled from several hundreds in the last five years to only a few dozens now and the military downgraded the group to plain bandits.

Washington listed the Abu Sayyaf as a foreign terrorist organization and has offered as much as $5 million bounty for the capture of its known leaders. (Mindanao Examiner)

Life Sentence For Killer Of US Peace Corsp Volunteer Julia Campbell

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 30, 2008) – A Filipino wood sculptor accused of murdering United States Peace Corps volunteer Julia Campbell was found guilty by a local court and sentenced him Monday to life imprisonment.

Judge Ester Flor, of the Ifugao Regional Trial Court, sentenced Juan Dontugan and ordered him to pay Campbell’s family more than P40 million in various damages.

The 25-year old Dontugan previously confessed in the killing Campbell on April last year in his hometown in Ifugao province in northern Luzon.

Dontugan said he was walking on a mountain trail in the village of Batad in Ifugao’s Banaue town when somebody bumped him from behind. Thinking it was his enemy, Dontugan said he picked up a rock and hit Campbell several times.
He said he had enemies in the village and mistook the woman as one of them, but later found out that she was a foreigner.
Dontugan surrendered weeks after the murder after villagers, angered by the killing of Campbell, joined in the hunt for him. Soldiers and policemen discovered the decomposing body of the 40-year old Campbell in a shallow grave in Batad village.

Many villagers blamed Dontugan for the decline of the tourism industry in the province, previously one of the most visited in northern Philippines because of its majestic rice terraces and ethnic culture.Campbell, a former journalist, was reported missing since April 8 in Ifugao province where she intended to hike alone.
There are currently 137 Peace Corps volunteers serving in the Philippines.
More than 8,000 volunteers have served in the country since 1961, making it the second oldest Peace Corps program in the world.Campbell, from Fairfax, Virginia, had served as a college teacher in Legazpi in southern Luzon since she began her Peace Corps service in the Philippines in March 2005. (Mindanao Examiner)

Photo: Our Heroes!


Philippine Air Force Tactical Operation Group (TOG 12) of the 3rd Air Division under Lt. Col. Dionisio Robles, (left), and Philippine Army’s 603rd Infantry Brigade commander Col. Rolito Abad, (2nd from left), and 6th Infantry Division spokesman Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, (right), during a “search and rescue” conference in Maguindanao province, ravaged by typhoon Fengshen. The Army and the Air Force led a massive operation to rescue trapped villagers in areas submerged by flood waters in central Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Mark Navales)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Military Foils Bomb Attack In Southern Philippines

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 29, 2008) – Philippine troops have disarmed Sunday a crude bomb left near a petrol depot in Mindanao, officials said.

Officials said the bomb was discovered by civilians near the main business district of Midsayap town in North Cotabato province. “We still don’t know who planted the improvised explosive device. It’s good that the IED was discovered by civilians,” Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, a spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, told the Mindanao Examiner.

No group or individual has claimed ownership of the IED or took responsibility for the foiled bombing, but several rebel groups are actively operating in the province.

Police and military have previously implicated the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group, the Jemaah Islamiya and the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front which is currently negotiating peace with Manila. Communist insurgents are also known to operate in North Cotabato.

Fighting between MILF rebels and government forces have erupted last week in Maguindanao, Sarangani, North Cotabato and Basilan provinces with both sides blaming each other for the hostilities despite a truce.

“The recent MILF offensives against government troops have further raised doubts on the commitment of the rebel group to the cease-fire agreement and whether the MILF really aspires for peace in Mindanao,” said Col. Daniel Lucero, the Army’s Civil Affairs chief.

He said the MILF attacks displaced many civilians. “The rebel attacks are manifestations of the weakness of MILF to control its members, but in spite of these incidents, the army troops were further reminded by Lt. Gen. Victor Ibrado on the national leadership’s instruction to uphold the primacy of the peace process,” Lucero said.
(Mindanao Examiner)

Sayyafs Threaten To Execute Basilan Hostages

BASILAN, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 29, 2008) – Abu Sayyaf militants have threatened to execute four kidnapped workers of a rural electric company in the southern Philippine island of Basilan unless ransom is paid.

The kidnappers are demanding two million pesos in exchange for the lives of the four hostages - brothers Alberto and Emilberto Singson; Paul Herowig and his brother Birin – all workers of the Basilan Electric Cooperative Inc.

The Abu Sayyaf freed one hostage, Ronnie Tansiung, last week in Tuburan town where the five had been kidnapped June 26 while reading electric meters. The kidnappers originally demanded one million pesos, but raised their demand after private negotiators sought the release of the hostages.

Alfredo Oyao, the victims' manager, said they cannot afford to pay any ransom and appealed to the kidnappers to free all the victims unharmed.

Police and military blamed the Abu Sayyaf and rogue members of the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front as behind the latest kidnapping. It tagged Nurhasan Jamiri and Furuji Indama as among those who seized the workers.

Basilan island Governor Jum Akbar, head of the local crisis management committee, has designated her deputy Alrashid Sakalahul, to negotiate for the safe release of the four workers.

“Governor Akbar has instructed all the mayors in Basilan province, including her deputy and religious leaders to seek the safe release of the poor victims. We are all concerned for the safety of the hostages,” Senior Superintendent Salik Macapantar, the island’s police chief, told the Mindanao Examiner.

A faction of the Abu Sayyaf last month kidnapped an ABS-CBN television presenter Ces Drilon and her cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama, including a Muslim university professor Octavio Dinampo, in nearby Sulu province. They were freed a week later in exchange for a huge ransom.

Philippine military chief Alexander Yano said the Abu Sayyaf, which was originally fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state in Mindanao, had been reduced to being a bandit group.

But the United States tagged the Abu Sayyaf group as a foreign terrorist organization with links to the al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya. (Mindanao Examiner)

Philippine Boxing Champion Manny Pacquiao Wins Again, Knocks Down Mexican David Diaz


Promotional banner of Pacquiao-Diaz fight from the http://www.mannypacquiao.ph

Philippine boxing champion Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao wins Sunday, June 29, 2008 over David Diaz, flooring the Mexican pride in the 9th of the 12-round bout in Las Vegas.

"I think he is the toughest opponent I had. He took all the punches," Pacquiao says.

Diaz, who is now based in Chicago, says Pacquiao is a great fighter. "He was so freaking fast. He was fast," Diaz says. "I did not see the punches coming and the next time I know I was on the ground."
Pacquiao captures the WBC lightweight championship. He now holds four international boxing title belts. (Mindanao Examiner)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Photo: USS Ronald Reagan Chopper Arrives In Philippines


A US Navy Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 4 arrive in Panay island with food and water in this photo sent by the US Embassy to the Mindanao Examiner on Saturday, June 28, 2008. The crew and aircraft of the USS Ronald Reagan carrier group have assisted the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine relief agencies with delivery of 10,000 lbs of rice and other non-perishable food as well as over 28,000 bottles of water in the wake of the Typhoon Fengshen.

Philippine Military Accused Taxi Drivers As Rebel Spies

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 28, 2008) – After failing to stop rebel attacks, the Philippine military now accused some motorcycle taxi drivers in the southern Davao City as spy.

It said some drivers were actually giving off intelligence to the New People’s Army about the movements of government soldiers especially in areas, such as Toril and Paquibato districts, where rebels are known to be actively operating.
Col. Reynaldo Cruz, commander of the military’s Task Force Davao, said troops were deployed to hunt down the rebels.

NPA rebels were said to have put up checkpoints in those areas. Rebel forces have attacked patrolling troops in Davao City. But many drivers here criticized the military for linking them to the NPA and blamed soldiers for their failure to put a stop to the growing influence of rebels in Davao.

Troops deployed in Davao City have been accused of violating human rights of peasants and indigenous people. (Romy Bwaga)

Philippine Muslims Hold Peace Rallies In Troubled South






Photos released to the Mindanao Examiner by the human rights group Suara Bangsamoro and the Mindanao Alliance for Peace, show Bai Ali Indayla, the group’s national secretary-general, speaks before a huge crowd during a peace rally Saturday, June 28, 2008 in Cotabato City in the southern Philippines. An estimated 300,000 Muslims join peace rallies across Mindanao.



COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 28, 2008) – Ten of thousands of Muslims held a series of rallies Saturday in the southern Philippines to urge President Gloria Arroyo to resume stalled peace talks with Muslim rebels.

“This is a show of unity among Muslims who are for peace,” said Amirah Lidasan, of the human rights group called Suara Bangsamoro, one of several organizations under the Mindanao Alliance for Peace, which organized the rallies.

Lidasan said the rallies were held in the cities of Cotabato, Iligan, and General Santos and in the provinces of Basilan and North Cotabato. She also criticized Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat for flatly rejecting their application for a permit to hold a peace rally here.

Zamboanga City was a former Muslim province and part of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, but many of its original inhabitants were forced out by Christian settlers.

Lidasan said government troops also prevented about a thousand Muslims on board six trucks en route to General Santos City from North Cotabato.

Bai Ali Indayla, Suara Bangsamoro secretary general, said more than 300,000 people attended the peace rallies across Mindanao.

Peace talks between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front were stalled over the issue of the ancestral domain, which the rebels demanded. The ancestral domain is the most important aspect in the seven-year old negotiations before the MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, can sign a peace deal with the Arroyo government.

The MILF, an army of about 12,000 mujahideen, accused the government peace panel headed by Rodolfo Garcia of reneging on a deal that would grant more than four million Muslims in the Philippines’ troubled south a separate homeland.

The talks were stalled since last year and since then sporadic clashes between soldiers and rebels continue in several provinces in Mindanao, including Basilan Island in the Sulu Archipelago which left dozens of people dead and wounded on both sides.

Just this week, rebel forces attacked power pylons and military posts in Basilan, Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sarangani provinces. And government troops are waiting for orders to strike hard on the MILF and launch fresh offensives if the peace talks fail.

On Friday night, MILF forces attacked several army detachments in the towns of Pikit, Aleosan and Midsayap in North Cotabato province, although there were no reports of military casualties, according to Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, a spokesman for the 6th Infantry Division.

“We have been attacked again by the MILF and rebels continue to harass government forces despite a cease-fire agreement,” he said.

Col. Daniel Lucero, chief of the Philippine Army’s Civil Affairs, said the MILF should stop attacking military forces and instead support government calls for ppeace and unity in Mindanao.

“It is apparent that the MILF is not interested in supporting the nation’s call for peace in Mindanao. The atrocities committed by rebels against peace-loving communities only manifest their rogue attitudes which block out path towards an everlasting peace in Mindanao,” Lucero said.

The MILF has warned that the peace talks may collapse unless the government honors its commitment to grant Muslims their ancestral lands. Manila has previously blamed the MILF as behind the spate of bombings in Mindanao and accused rebel leaders of coddling Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya militants, including suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists.

The Mindanao People’s Coalition for Peace and Development, which is composed of civil society groups and non-government organizations in the southern Philippines, also appealed to both the MILF and the Arroyo government to resume stalled peace talks.

But Lidasan said the fighting in Mindanao was triggered by military intrusion in areas where the MILF is actively operating. She said the fighting already displaced more than 3,000 people in Sarangani province alone and several thousands more in North Cotabato and Basilan Island.

“We challenge President Gloria Arroyo to be sincere in the peace negotiations and stop its declarations of all out war in response to the impasse in the peace negotiations,” Lidasan said.
Manila opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001 and signed a truce agreement with the MILF, a breakaway faction of the larger Moro National Liberation Front which signed a peace deal with the government in 1996. (Mindanao Examiner)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Philippine Govt Working Hard To Prop Up Human Rights Image

MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine government, under attack by rights groups for its poor record in defending and protecting human rights, has been busy these past months propping up its image in the international community.

The Foreign Affairs department in early June declared its "success" in defending the country's human rights record before the United Nations' Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva.
Despite criticisms from local human rights organizations, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Philippines' "constructive and transparent engagement" with the UPR process was warmly welcomed" by member states of the Human Rights Council (HRC).

The Philippine government report had a rough sailing when the UPR Working Group held consultations with various government agencies and civil society organizations early this year (several human rights groups snubbed the consultations.)

Fortunately for the Philippines, several member states of the HRC commended the country's "voluntary commitments" and for "considering" recommendations to improve the country's human rights situation.

Ambassador Erlinda Basilio, Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, said the Philippines had always attached the "highest priority to the protection and promotion of human rights."

The Philippines was recognized by the HRC in areas such as the protection of the rights of women and children, migrant workers, poverty alleviation, social amelioration and the abolition of the death penalty.

"The Philippines was one of the countries deeply involved in the establishment of the HRC, which succeeded the former UN Commission on Human Rights. It had played a lead role in elaborating the UPR procedure, which is aimed at promoting human rights on a global scale in an inclusive and non-discriminatory manner," the DFA said in a statement.

Human rights groups, however, were not satisfied by the Report as they called on the HRC to "keep pursuing our government to stop the extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations."

In an oral intervention before the UN body, various human rights groups – the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the Asian Legal Resource Center, the World Council of Churches and a Philippine NGO delegation - supported the findings presented by Phillip Alston, the UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions who visited the Philippines last year.

Alston in his report linked members of the Armed Forces to the killings of leftist activists, indigenous peoples, trade union workers, farmers and even human rights workers. Alston said the Armed Forces is in a "state of denial" over the alleged human rights violations.

Representatives of the human rights organizations insisted that the human rights situation in the country will not improve "unless the counter-insurgency policy (of the government) changes and the other recommendations made by [Alston] are seriously carried out."

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita led the delegation presenting the Philippine Report to the HRC. "We are proud of the achievements we have made in human rights," Ermita said before submitting the report.

"Like all countries, we cannot say we have a perfect record but we have instituted programs and policies that are making an impact and this is what the international system wants to see," he added.

Ermita said: "Human rights is much broader than [extrajudicial killings]. We will discuss areas as various as micro-finance projects to empower people economically, (as well as) basic services and provisions."

The Philippines, in its Report to the HRC, presented the following voluntary commitments:
- to develop a gender-responsive approach, especially to protect children and women;- to further develop domestic legislation to better protect the rights of the child;- to continue to address the issue of extrajudicial killings; and - to meet the basic needs of the poor and other vulnerable sectors.

Speaking before the HRC, Basilio said the government "neither engages in nor encourages torture or extrajudicial killings of any kind." She said the government will take steps to address cases of extrajudicial killings and other forms of political violence.

Despite the criticisms of human rights groups, the Foreign Affairs department said the government "will continue to welcome civil society as a partner in human rights, including in the follow-up to the UPR and the Second Philippine Human Rights Action Plan."

Basilio pledged the country's "continuing strong support for the UPR process, and our confidence that it can further contribute to the effective implementation of human rights standards on the ground, where it matters most, as all countries seek to ensure greater enjoyment of human rights to their peoples."

Back in Manila, however, human rights groups said justice for human rights victims is elusive. Amnesty International said killings and enforced disappearances continue while activists, journalists and ordinary people continue to live in fear because perpetrators remain scot-free.

"The wheels of justice are very slow in the country," said Aurora Parong, section director of Amnesty International in the Philippines.

Although cases have been filed against alleged perpetrators of summary executions, "justice remains elusive and the possibility of getting genuine justice remains unsure," she said.
"This is because forensic investigations of human rights violations are not done with due diligence, either because of unwillingness to do so or because of incompetence to do good investigations," Parong added.

She said that Amnesty International recognizes the efforts of the Philippine judiciary for reforms, including the institution of the writ of amparo and the writ of habeas data, which can be used by victims of human rights violations in seeking redress. But Parong noted that measures such as these are not known by most Filipinos.

The law and the judiciary must be brought closer to the people while legislators should work to improve the country's witness protection program.

Even the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), a constitutional body whose commissioners are appointed by the President, agreed that "much more remains to be done" in human rights work in the Philippines.

Commissioner Cecilia R.V. Quisumbing said: "Justice may have been slow so far but we can see progress along the spectrum of criminal trials."

She said the new set of commissioners who started their term in May will monitor the government's compliance with international human rights commitments.

In her report to the HRC on June 3, Quisumbing acknowledged the "growing incidence of killings of activists since 2004." She, however, said that the Philippine government "has taken several steps since 2006 to address this issue."

Quisumbing insisted that "there is no State policy that approves of or encourages such killings" even as she added that the government "must increase its efforts to ensure that the momentum is not only maintained but accelerated and these violations be stopped once and for all."

She said the CHR "expresses its appreciation for the constructive comments" of Alston, especially for his recognition that "non-state actors have also played a role in extrajudicial killings." Quisumbing noted that after the Alston report came out both government and civil society groups reported a "significant drop in incidences" of human rights violations.

"There is a notable drop in statements by military commanders in the field that could be taken to label activists as enemies of the state and therefore legitimate targets in counter-insurgency efforts," she said.

The reported positive response of HRC member states to the Philippine report excited government representatives, but human rights groups are not convinced.

"The Philippine government claimed that members of the UN [HRC] applauded the report of the Philippines. But reviewing the proceedings of the UPR reveals that this boast is not entirely accurate," said youth activist Mong Palatino, regional editor for Southeast Asia of Global Voices Online.

He said the official report of the government is full of inconsistencies and unfounded assertions.
"In short the Philippine government lied to convince the international community that it is doing everything to improve the human rights situation in the country," Palatino said.

He said the Philippine government reported that it held two national consultations to draft the UPR report. But civil society groups were unaware of these meetings, Palatino said, adding that recommendations made by non-government groups were not integrated into the Report.
Palatino observed that the government report was full of "motherhood statements."

Among the highlights presented by the government report are:

1) The creation and strengthening of institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights;
2) The improvement of its human rights record, through strengthening institutions, mainstreaming human rights and improving human rights education;
3) The pursuit of good governance, in accordance with the principle of a rights-based approach to development;
4) Human rights advocacy and programs responding to the demands of vulnerable sectors; and
5) Human rights promotion and protection during the current peace processes.

Palatino quoted human rights groups as saying they were "outraged by the unrepentant and self-delusional claims by the government of its human rights record before the international community."

While the Foreign Affairs department reported that the government's presentation was well-applauded, Palatino said activists who attended the UPR session insisted that the applause was initiated and came mostly from the rest of the Filipino bureaucrats who formed part of the Philippine government's 40-member team.

A journal of the HRC noted that during the Philippine presentation "...several UN bodies were concerned about the lack of appropriate measures to deal with crimes allegedly committed by state security forces and agents and the insecurity surrounding journalists, human rights activists, and the overly vague new Human Security Act."

With reactions like these, the Philippine government seems to still have a long way to go to make its human rights image shine. (Jose Torres, Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project)

Food Today or Education For Tomorrow? A Mountain School Story

SHARIFF KABUNSUAN, Philippines - Bliugan Primary School is as basic and isolated as they come: the wooden school house was built in 1960 with the help of Teduray elders.

Pupils aged between seven and 14 come from as far afield as Ranao Tenge, four kilometers away, whereas their older siblings are forced to trek to Ranao Elementary School six kilometers from Bliugan.

The distances are far enough for children to travel each day on flat paved roads. Here in this mountainous region of the southern Philippines where villages and homesteads are linked only by muddy and deeply rutted tracks, the school run for pupils can literally take hours.

Yet according to Bart and Jo Centina who teach at Bliugan, the daily trek to school is only one of countless challenges facing pupils in what passes for the education system here.

Bart who is part Teduray, has a degree in Elementary Education from the University of Notre Dame in Cotabato. A scholar who benefited from the National Integration Program, he was immediately assigned to Bliugan after passing his exams in 1996.

Wife Jo, who recently gave birth to a baby boy, graduated with a degree in Home Economics and after doing some teacher training took a holiday in South Upi, where she met Bart.

"Living in Upi was wonderful although my family was strongly against it,” said Jo. “My father even came here to try to convince me to come home. I was, at first, reluctant to resettle in Bliugan - having the dream of finding a job abroad. But the moment I saw children unable to read and write, I changed my mind and decided to give the mountain experience a try."
She applied to work as a teaching aide and taught Grade Four for two years.

There are 135 student enrolled at Bliugan Primary School this year --20 up on last -- and Bart is grateful for the Teduray elders for building the school and encouraging the young to try and get an education. But while the increase in numbers is impressive, Bart worries that not everybody will stay on until the end of the year.

As Bart and his wife see it, several factors impact mountain schools here and across the Philippines. A child’s performance is affected by geography, economy and family. Poverty, says Bart, is a major one. The district of Rifao and other Upi villages classified below the poverty line have populations more concerned with where they will find the next meal than on ensuring their children go to school.

“The majority of parents here have not gone to school which makes it difficult for them to appreciate the importance of sending their kids here,” says Bart.

The Tedurays are an indigenous group of people who inhabit the vast Cotabato mountain ranges. While some anthropology studies classify them as ‘Tirurays,’ the elders themselves insist on the term Teduray.

A typical family here will have eight to 12 children and livelihoods are largely based on slash-and-burn agriculture, cash-crops and part-time farm jobs during the harvest season. Mothers usually stay home to do household chores; older children stay behind to watch over their younger siblings, while their older brothers go hunting for part-time jobs.

The Centinas readily admit that education is not much of a priority here. During the harvest time in particular, parents are far more concerned with how much the family can make and store away for the lean months in between. Children skip school to take on part time jobs and when the cash comes in Bart finds it hard to convince his pupils to focus on their studies.

He often climbs on his motorbike to visit his students at home and ask them to return to school. And while he says many parents understand his argument that in the long run it is much better for them to get an education, the short term draw of money from the fields is usually overwhelming and children never return.

As a result, while the number of children enrolled in school is increasing, the number of dropouts is actually higher.

Rifao district is bisected by gradually inclining muddy roads. Topography means it is often raining at all times of the day. The school is 12 kilometers from the main highway and travel time to and from school on the local form of public transport –the habal-habal motorcycle is both time-consuming and very costly.

Depending on the weather, children can spend a large part of the day traveling to and from class. The tortuous muddy paths up and down the mountains are potentially dangerous – especially after dusk which is why classes are dismissed 30 minutes earlier than normal.

"The children usually reach home late at night too tired to open their notebooks,” says Bart.

“Because the family scrimps on kerosene, gas lamps are normally put out after supper.” And parents are unable to help their children with their homework because they can neither read nor write themselves.

“In the morning when you might expect children to be attentive, they are already sleepy,” Bart said. “Many have not yet eaten and have just arrived here after a long journey. “

The school which is located on an eight-hectare reservation has not benefited from any maintenance since it was built over 40 years ago. Its spacious classroom has no flooring; the ceiling is worn-out and the roof is decorated by holes. Books caught by the rain are left to dry out on plastic rice sacks. There are no cabinets to keep them dry and the blackboards are well overdue for replacing.

The Centinas draw from their own meager salaries to help equip the school with supplies as best they can. The flashcards, rulers, pencils, notebooks and a box of chalk have all been bought by them.

Bart customarily asks parents to make a desk each for every child enrolled in class. The school has 25 substandard classroom chairs – one for every five children enrolled. All children are taught from the same four text books regardless of their age. The books include Mathematics for Everyday Life and Growing with Science and Health and they were bought through the Elementary Education Project launched four years ago by the education department of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

When Bart pushed the ARMM’s Department of Education to explain why it could not provide more resources for the school he says he was told Bliugan was being treated no better or worse than any other village primary school.

For her part, Jo says her first year at Bliugan bordered between frustration and depression. "There is no pre-school therefore I had to start from nothing,” she said. “I taught them how to read, write, recognize colors, draw patterns and speak confidently in Filipino and English. There was no specific teaching method I could use as the majority of them are slow-learners. It could be rote learning and boring at times so I have to be a bit creative. I feel Bart and I have this gargantuan responsibility to nurture the children to prepare them for a bright future."

Devising ways to make teaching easier for Jo was another story. She had to classify students into slow-, fast-learners, and "frustration" level. While the fast-learners account only 10 percent of the classroom population, Jo felt this was necessary so she and Bart could devote time to others -- particularly those in the slow-paced bracket. "A two-day learning module takes a week for us to finish, as we have to closely monitor the progress each student had made. I am particularly concerned how each had learned cursive writing, so they would be able to write their names properly," Jo said.

This, however, has not sapped the creativity and teaching energies out of the Centinas. Bart said the rewards may not immediately come but hearing their students recite a poem in English, reading a book aloud, writing evenly on lines, and solving basic Math problems were sufficient to make them feel like they are in “heaven.”

"Jo and I remain inspired by the inadequacies of Bliugan," explains Bart. "We always believe that the best weapon against poverty is education. The odds – both man-made and natural -- may be stacked against these children and that may leave us heart-broken – yet we always remember our responsibility is to try and help educate others, so they might lead better lives someday.” (Maria Congee S. Gomez, Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project)

Photo: Is Zamboanga City Hall Vehicle For Family Use Also?





A Zamboanga City Hall vehicle with markings "For Official Use Only" picks up civilians at the back exit of the Ateneo De Zamboanga University late Friday afternoon, June 27, 2008. Government vehicles are strictly for official use only. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

Bihag Ng Sayyaf Pinalaya, 4 Hostage Pa Rin Sa Basilan

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / June 26, 2008) – Pinalaya diumano ng Abu Sayyaf ang isa sa limang dinukot na empleyado ng Basilan Electric Cooperative Inc., habang patuloy kahapon ang pagtugis ng mga sundalo at parak sa nasabing grupo.

Ayon sa ulat ng militar ay nabawi ng mga sundalo si Ronnie Tansiung matapos itong matagpuan sa bayan ng Tuburan nuong gabi ng Huwebes matapos itong dukutin dakong alas 11 ng umaga sa Barangay Sinulatan.

Walang ibinigay na detalye ang militar sa Basilan at Zamboanga o press release ukol sa pagkakalaya ni Tansiung. Ngunit sa ulat ng ipinasa sa Abante ay sinasabing natibo ng Basilan si Tansiung at kabilang sa tribu ng Yakan, isa sa maraming grupo ng mga Muslim sa Mindanao.

Kinilala naman ng pulisya ang mga nalalabing biktima na sina Alberto Singson at kapatid nitong si Emilberto; at ang mag-utol na Paul at Birin Herowig.

Sinabi ni Alfredo Oyao, ang manager ng Basilan Electric Cooperative, na kabilang sa mga dinukot ay isang foreman at apat na electric meter readers. Wala pa umanong natatanggap na balita si Oyao ukol sa mga bihag.

Sinisi naman ng mga awtoridad sa Abu Sayyaf at Moro Islamic Liberation Front ang nasabing pagdukot at nakilala na ang ilan sa mga lider ng armadong grupo na sina Nurhasan Jamiri at Furuji Indama.

Hindi pa malinaw ang motibo sa pagdujkot ngunit matindi ang hinalang ransom ang dahilan nito. Nuong nakaraang linggo lamang ay pinalaya ng isa Abu Sayyaf faction sa Sulu province si kidnapped ABS-CBN television Ces Drilon at cameraman nitong sina Jimmy Encarnacion at Angelo Valderama, gayun rin si Mindanao State University Prof. Octavio Dinampo kapalit ng malaking halaga ng ransom.

Mistulang binastos naman ng Abu Sayyaf si Philippine military chief Alexander Yano dahil dinukot nito ang 5 kasabay ng pahayag ng heneral na wala ng puwersa ang teroristang grupo at binansangan pa nitong bandido ang dating kinakatakutan sa Mindanao.

"We still look at them as a loose organization with some splinter groups, in fact, some of them may be conducting their own operations, and now, has degenerated into a money-making group devoid of any ideology or cause," ani Yano sa isang media forum sa Makati City. (Mindanao Examiner)

Suporta Kay Lakas Ticket, Malakas Sa ARMM

COTABATO CITY – Todo ang suporta ng mga alkalde at gobernador ng Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao sa muling pagtakbo ni ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan.

Bilang chairman ng national Lakas directorate, pinili ni Pangulong Gloria Arroyo si Ampatuan bilang standard bearer ng administrasyon sa ARMM elections sa Agosto 11. Anim na lalawigan ang sakop ng ARMM at halos lahat ng mga opisyal nito ay nangakong susuportahan ang kandidatura ni Ampatuan.

Sinabi naman ni Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan, isa sa mga pinakama-impluwensyang kaalyado ni Ampatuan, na tiyak na ang panalo ng dating alkalde ng Maguindanao dahil sa laki ng suportang tinatanggap nito.

Ipinangako na ni Tan kay Ampatuan na ikakampanya nito ng husto sa Sulu ang ticket ng administrasyon. Katuwang ni Ampatuan si incumbent ARMM Vice Gov. Ansaruddin Adiong.

Si Tan rin ang madalas tawagan at kausapin ni Ampatuan ukol sa mga proyekto sa First at Second Districts ng Sulu dahil sa malinis na record at walang bahid ng anomalya ang gobernador.

Inamin ni Tan na malaki ang tulong na ibinibigay ni Ampatuan sa dalawang congressional districts sa Sulu. Ngunit ayon naman sa ibang mga alkalde sa Sulu ay may mga proyekto sina Tan at Ampatuan na inaako ng iba upang palabasin na sila ay nasa likod ng mga ito.

Isang malaking hamon din ang pahayag ng Pangulong Arroyo kay Ampatuan na pangunahan ang administration ticket bilang "vanguards of peace" at frontliners sa kampanya ng pamahalaan laban sa kahirapan sa autonomous region. Kanya rin itong inatasang magbuo ng isang peace offensive plan na mayroon malawak ng oportunidad para sa pagpapabuti ng kabuhayan ng mga residente ng ARMM.

Bukod kay Ampatuan ay 6 na iba pa ang tatakbo sa halalan bilang ARMM governor.
(Mindanao Examiner at dagdag na ulat mula sa Philippine Information Agency)

Dipolog City Hosts Mindanao Business Confab

DIPOLOG CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 27, 2008) – US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney is expected to grace the opening of the 17th Mindanao Business Conference in Dipolog City in the southern province of Zamboanga del Norte.

Edgar Bagariano, president of the Dipolog Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Kenney has accepted their invitation and is most likely to speak at the business conference set on August 27-29.

“We are excited with this latest development as we prepare for this big event that will put Dipolog City in the map of the Philippine business community,” Bagarinao said.

He said they also invited President Gloria Arroyo to be their guest of honor at the closing ceremony.

“We have also invited President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to be the Guest of Honor during the closing program of the conference and we expect to hear word from Malacanang of the President’s confirmation in a couple of weeks.”

“It has been a tradition that the President personally attends the Mindanao Business Conference to receive the Mindanao Policy Agenda which is an integration of issues and recommendations from the business community,” Bagarinao said.

Bagarinao said members of the Diplomatic Corps are expected to attend the conference and among those invited were Japanese Ambassador Makoto Katsura, Canadian Ambassador Robert Desjardins, Chinese Ambassador Song Tao, Australian Ambassador Roderick Smith and Sabah Chief Minister YAB Datuk Musa Haji Aman.

The Mindanao Business Conference, organized by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is the biggest annual gathering of the business community in Mindanao. The Dipolog Chamber of Commerce and Industry will host this year’s conference. (Mindanao Examiner)

Sulu, Basilan To Launch "Development" Offensives

Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan and his deputy Nur Ana Sahidula distribute farm implements to villagers in the province during the first H.E.L.P peace caravan last year. Sulu and Basilan provinces will launch a second H.E.L.P. peace caravan in July 17-19, 2008. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 27, 2008) – New Presidential Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. has announced the start next month of the second H.E.L.P. peace caravan in the southern Philippine island of Sulu.

HELP stands for “Health, Education, Livelihood, Progress,” is a collaborative effort of national government agencies and various non-government organizations to address the immediate health, education and livelihood needs of communities affected by conflict.

The peace caravan, Esperon said, is also in collaboration with the Sulu provincial government, which played a big role in the successful launching last year of the first H.E.L.P. peace caravan which was participated by thousands of Muslims led by Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan and her deputy Nur Ana Sahidulla.

Esperon said the two-day peace caravan would begin on July 17 in Sulu and this would be duplicated in Basilan province. Both Sulu and Basilan are part of the six-province Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“We are currently at the forefront of a wide scale humanitarian initiative in the South, with our renewal of humanitarian and relief efforts in Sulu and Basilan,” he said.

Esperon said President Gloria Arroyo has ordered a “full-scale development offensive” in Sulu and Basilan.

“By putting all national government initiatives in Basilan and Sulu in one package, and with their economic development becoming excellent laboratories for corporate social responsibility, everything shall eventually result in a better comprehensive delivery of services,” Esperon said.

The Asia America Initiative, an international non-government organization which participated in the past peace caravan, said it will join again the next H.E.L.P. activities in Sulu.

“Our goal is to build common ground and establish sustainable social and economic development programs in some of the most impoverished areas in Southeast Asia,” said AAI’s Albert Santoli.

He said contributors to AAI's Education and Livelihood activities in the second peace caravan include, Unilever Corporation, Universal Robina Corporation, Nestle, SM Supermarkets, the Franklin Fund, the Strake Foundation, MedPharm and numerous college and university student organizations.

Tan said the H.E.L.P. is a mechanism designed to address the needs of communities in crisis due to the prevailing conflict in the area. He said the H.E.L.P initiative is also aimed at consulting with the local communities on their medium and long term concerns particularly on livelihood and employment aspect.

“We are consistent with our programs and we hope to help as much people in the second H.E.L.P. peace caravan. This is what we wanted to show the world, the good things we are doing and the efforts of this government to bring peace and development to Sulu province.”

“We ask the help of the media to spread the good news and not picture Sulu as strife-torn or haven for terrorists. Sulu is a beautiful place and we have a rich culture and heritage and as am matter of fact, the Yuchengo Museum in Makati is currently holding an exhibit about our colorful past and historical artifacts,” Tan said.

Tan was referring to the the exhibit dubbed “Beyond the Currents: The Culture and Power of Sulu,” at the Cone Gallery which runs until July 23.

Aside from artifacts, the exhibit also displays an interesting collection of documents, like treaties written in both English and Arabic. These treaties embody the negotiating points between the Sulu sovereign and the various imperial powers of the time.

Last year, Tan launched the "Fruits of Hope program" in partnership with the AAI and the Philippine National Red Cross and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The Fruits of Hope program was a model for reconciliation and terror prevention through creating livelihood opportunities in agricultural and fisheries-based communities. Because of the program, Sulu was able to shipped about six tons of assorted fruits bought from farmers and agricultural cooperatives and sold to supermarkets in Manila. (Mindanao Examiner)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Philippine TV Denies Anew It Paid Ransom To Abu Sayyaf

Inasmuch as we would like the truth to come out, it is our duty to correct erroneous reports that have been repeatedly published in major newspapers.

The reports allude to the involvement of ABS-CBN in the payment of ransom, citing a supposed Meralco-registered plane that was seen in Zamboanga City Airport in June to deliver two duffel bags that allegedly contained ransom.

We have checked this with Meralco and it said it has no Cessna plane and that no Meralco aircraft ever flew to Zamboanga during the entire kidnapping ordeal.

Meralco's majority shareholder is the Lopez Group of Companies, which owns ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation.ABS-CBN strictly abides by its "no ransom" policy as it would put more journalists at risk from threats of kidnapping.

Sayyaf Releases Hostage, Holds On To 4 More In Basilan Island

BASILAN, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 26, 2008) – Suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen freed one of five kidnapped workers of a rural electric company in Basilan island in the southern Philippines, military reports said.

It said Ronnie Tansiung was released late Thursday in Tuburan town, where militants seized the five earlier in the day. No details about the release of the hostage were made available by the military, except Tansiung is a native of Basilan.

Police and military identified the remaining hostages as brothers Alberto and Emilberto Singson; Paul Herowig and his brother Birin. The victims are workers of the Basilan Electric Cooperative Inc.

Alfredo Oyao, the victims’ manager, said among the hostages was a foreman and electric meter readers. Oyao said they are yet to hear from the kidnappers. The fate of the

Authorities blamed the Abu Sayyaf and members of the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front as behind the latest kidnapping. It tagged Nurhasan Jamiri and Furuji Indama as among those who seized the workers.

The motive of the kidnapping is still unknown, but a faction of the Abu Sayyaf last week freed a kidnapped ABS-CBN television Ces Drilon and her cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama, including a Muslim university professor Octavio Dinampo in nearby Sulu province in exchange for a huge ransom.

The latest attack coincided with the pronouncement of Philippine military chief Alexander Yano that the Abu Sayyaf, which was originally fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state similar to Afghanistan, has been reduced to being bandits.

“We still look at them as a loose organization with some splinter groups, in fact, some of them may be conducting their own operations, and now, has degenerated into a money-making group devoid of any ideology or cause,” Yano told a media forum in Manila. (With reports from Nonong Santiago)

Release "Impounded" Funds To Help Calamity Areas, Senator Urges Arroyo

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 26, 2008) – A Filipino senator has urged President Gloria Arroyo to release billions of pesos in impounded government funds to help citizens and areas affected by typhoon Fengshen.

Sen. Francis Escudero said at least P6.6 billions worth of funds can be added to the P2 billions in calamity money to aid those worst hit by the typhoon.

“There is no reason why aid should come in trickles to flood-hit areas when there are certain segments in the national budget, other than the Calamity Fund, which can be tapped for disaster work,” Escudero said in a statement.

Escudero, a member of the opposition, said Arroyo can order the release of the funding from the so-called “Kilos Asenso Fund” and from the financial subsidy to local government units and the Kalayaan Barangay Fund.

“The release of these funds is contingent on the President's approval. She should dig into these funds so there will be more resources available for relief work.”

“This is bigger than the $100,000 aid the President got from the US State Department, one which was met with profuse thanks from her, as if she had won the lotto, when in fact she has at her easy disposal all the above-mentioned funds to use in times like this,” he said.

But Escudero was quick to say that he is calling for the “full diversion” of the P6.6 billions, but “only that the latter be prioritized in the allocation.’

"Or if there is formula being followed in the apportioning of these funds, then maybe Iloilo's share be given in advance, "Escudero said, referring to the province in central Philippines which was the hardest hit by the typhoon.

Rep. Ferjenel Biron, of Iloilo's 4th District and Iloilo Vice Gov. Rolex Suplico have criticized the government slow response to the devastation in the province.

The P2-billion Kilos Asenso Fund is included in the P228.2 -billion Allocations for Local Government Units (ALGU) item in Republic Act 9498, or the General Appropriations Act for 2008. The biggest component in this block is the P210.7 billion earmarked for Internal Revenue Allotment of LGUs.

Also included in the ALGU is some P3.6 billion in "Financial Subsidy to LGUs", which is designed to partly fund the premium contributions of local governments in the Phil Health enrollment of their indigent constituents.

"This can be used to address public health challenges which arose from the calamity , which include repair of hospitals, replenishment of medical stocks, and settlement of Phil Health claims, usage which meets the congressional intent about this particular expenditure", he said

The Kalayaan Barangay on the other hand, forms part of the P51 billion budget of the Department of National Defense. To be implemented by the Armed Forces, the P1-bilion fund is intended for the development of dissident-threatened villages.

Exhibit Showcases Other Side Of Sulu


Sulu artifacts.





MANILA, Philippines - In the busy corner of Ayala and Buendia in Makati City, the glass- and steel-framed Yuchengco Museum currently plays host to a collection of artifacts pertaining to Sulu. Yes, Sulu.
That little archipelago just off the Zamboanga Peninsula where a recent hostage drama played out. That impoverished province that actually used to be an economic center in Southeast Asia that took part in the boom of imperial capitalism in the late 19th century.
Called “Beyond the Currents: The Culture and Power of Sulu,” the exhibit showcases the richness of Sulu’s—and inevitably the Philippines’—history, a timely endeavor now that Sulu is in the news for something unfortunate like the kidnapping of journalists by bandits.
More than turning the spotlight on the other side of Sulu, however, the exhibit is an attempt to correct the “exteriorization” of Sulu in the writing of Philippine history, as UP arts studies professor and guest museum curator Abraham Sakili calls it.
National history, he says, was written in such a way that Sulu was relegated into a mere province, just any province, of the Philippines, when it was once a thriving entrepot, a trade and maritime center.

Sakili chose “power” as the central concept that holds together the pieces in the collection that have been loaned from sources like Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco, Ramon Villegas, and the Ayala Museum.
The collection features weaponry, armor, transcript of treaties, chinaware traded in the Sulu entrepot, among other things. In the classic historical study titled The Sulu Zone, James Warren chronicles the rise and decline of the Sulu’s political-economic machinery.
Thus, the exhibit rightly focuses on the theme of Sulu as a strategically located hub for the competing trading routes and imperialisms of the time. It emphasizes the fact that the military strength and naval prowess of the Sulu Sultanate was heavily interlinked with the maritime trade that it specialized with.
When the trade with China was still profitable, the British wanted to get its fair share. But to be able to trade in the ports of Hong Kong and Shanghai, the British needed another set of products to trade with China other than the opium that they had been producing in South Asia.
They needed to source other goods that the Chinese wanted. Meanwhile, as the British advanced in the Southeast Asia, the Spaniards in Manila closed Illana Bay, off the coast of Cotabato, to Chinese junk ships trading across the South China Sea.
A fort was established in Zamboanga and this effectively choked the Sultanate of Maguindanao, the economic competitor in the region of the Sulu Sultanate.
The confluence of these events put Sulu in a very lucky spot — it had mostly maritime and forest products that the Chinese had been trading with them for the longest time. The British gained access to these goods — to bring to the Chinese ports — by trading arms with the Sultan of Sulu. Thus, Sulu’s military prowess was enhanced.

The museum exhibits some artifacts that jibe with these details in Sulu’s political-economic history. An example is the brass lantakas (cannons) powered by Chinese gunpowder. There is an amazing array of body armor, along with spears that the Sulu troops used in their battles, on which prayers for protection were etched.
Interestingly, the body armor comes with headscarf on which prayers are written in similar strokes as those found in the amulets sold in Quiapo.The exhibit also displays an interesting collection of documents, like treaties written in both English and Arabic.
These treaties embody the negotiating points between the Sulu sovereign and the various imperial powers of the time.Located at the 3rd and 4th floors of the Cone Gallery, the Yuchengco Museum will run the exhibit until July 23. (Lou Janssen Dangzalan)

MILF, AFP Fighting Stops In Mindanao

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 26, 2008) – Fighting ceased on Thursday between government forces and Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines and both sides have blamed each other of breaking a seven-year old truce.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front said one of its rebels was wounded in Wednesday fighting in Maguindanao. It blamed government soldiers for the hostilities in Maguindanao and the fighting in Sarangani province.

“The military is to be blamed for all these fighting. They attacked our forces,” Eid Kabalu, a rebel spokesman, told the Mindanao Examiner.

Kabalu denied that military reports that ten rebels were killed in the clashes, but he insisted that four soldiers died in the fighting. “One of our mujahideen was wounded in the clash, but four soldiers were killed in the fighting and we also recovered seven automatic rifles owned by the Philippine military,” he said.

Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, a regional army spokesman, said the fighting stopped after rebel forces retreated to the mountains.

Ando, quoting civilian intelligence reports, said ten rebels were reported killed in the fighting.

He said the fighting forced hundreds of families to flee their homes for fear they would caught in the cross-fire. “Our concern now is the civilians who were displaced by the MILF attacks,” he said.

Civilians trapped in the fighting Wednesday near Maitum town in Sarangani have been “liberated” by soldiers, according Col. Gaudencio Pangi­linan, commander of the Army’s 1002nd Infantry Brigade in the province.

Pangilinan said two soldiers were among the military casualties, but he was quick to say that there were more rebels killed in the fighting in Sarangani. “We have two casualties, but the MILF suffered more,” he said.

Maitum Mayor Elsie Perrett said the situation has returned to normal.

Perrett said the fighting broke out after rebel forces ambushed government soldiers in the village of Ticulab on Wednesday where a civilian was killed by unidentified gunmen.

President Gloria Arroyo opened up peace talks in 2001 with the MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, but negotiations were stalled since last year over rebel demands for ancestral lands in the restive, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao.
(Mindanao Examiner)

Sayyafs Seize 5 People In South RP

BASILAN, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 26, 2008) – Suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen seized five people on Thursday in Basilan island where security forces are fighting the militant group tied to al-Qaeda terror network, blamed for the spate of kidnappings and terrorism in the southern Philippines.

The five, all workers of the Basilan Electric Cooperative, were abducted near Sinulatan village in Tuburan town, a known stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf.

“My foreman and four electric meter readers were abducted by gunmen in Tuburan and we still don’t know what happened to them,” Alfredo Oyao, the victims’ manager, told reporters.

No group claimed responsibility for the abduction, although police and military have blamed the Abu Sayyaf group.

Last week, another faction of the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped an ABS-CBN television presenter Ces Drilon and her cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama, including a Muslim university professor Octavio Dinampo in nearby Sulu province.

The four, kidnapped June 8, were allegedly freed nine days later in exchange for P20 million ransoms.

Police also arrested Sulu town Mayor Alvarez Isnaji and his son Haider after implicating them in the kidnapping. They were also accused of pocketing up to P3 million from then ransom payment, but the mayor, who was handpicked by the Abu Sayyaf to negotiate for the release of the hostages denied the allegations.

Thousands of troops are not hunting down about three dozen militants involved in the kidnapping. The United States has offered as much as $5 million bounty each for known leaders of the Abu Sayyaf. (Nonong Santiago)

Sayyaf Man Arrested In Southern Philippines

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 26, 2008) – Philippine soldiers arrested a member of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group in the southern island of Sulu, where security forces are tracking down militants blamed for the recent kidnapping of a television news crew.

Army Major Eugene Batara, a spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command, said soldiers arrested Jul Akram Hadjail near Sulu’s airport in Jolo town. He said the militant is facing criminal charges from various cases in Sulu and had a P150,000 bounty for his capture.

“Jul Akram Adjail is being interrogated by the military in Sulu. We are investigating whether he is also involved in the kidnapping of the television news crew in Sulu,” Batara told the Mindanao Examiner.

Police and military blamed the Abu Sayyaf for the June 8 kidnapping of ABS-CBN television reporter Ces Drilon and her cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama, including a Muslim university professor Octavio Dinampo in Maimbung town.

They were freed separately in two groups after a week allegedly in exchange for P20 million ransoms.

Police also arrested Sulu town Mayor Alvarez Isnaji and his son Haider after implicating them in the kidnapping. They were also accused of pocketing up to P3 million from then ransom payment, but the mayor, who was handpicked by the Abu Sayyaf to negotiate for the release of the hostages denied the allegations.

Thousands of troops are not hunting down about three dozen militants involved in the kidnapping. The United States has offered as much as $5 million bounty each for known leaders of the Abu Sayyaf. (Mindanao Examiner)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Freshman Arrested Over Joke In South RP

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 25, 2008) – Philippine authorities arrested a college freshman after he joked that he had a bomb in his bag at a public square in Davao City.

Police said the 16-year old student of the Holy Cross of Davao College is being detained after park security nabbed him Tuesday. The teenager boasted that he was carrying a bomb while security was frisking him at the park entrance.

No bomb or explosive was found in the bag and the student said he was only joking, but park security arrested him and called the police.

It was not immediately known whether the police would file charges against the teenager whose parents were told about their son’s arrest. (Romy Bwaga)




Village Chieftain Killed in Davao City

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 25, 2008) – Unidentified gunmen shot dead a village chieftain Davao City in the southern Philippines, police said.

Police said Ernesto Binggan, of the village of Fatima in Paquibato district, was killed at around 7 a.m.

No group or individual claimed responsibility for the attack, but the slain official was a staunch supporter of the military and had aided soldiers in the past in anti-insurgency campaign in his village.

Davao City is a stronghold of communist insurgents, blamed by the police and military for the spate of attacks and killings of civilians suspected as government spy or those aiding security forces in fighting the New People’s Army.

The NPA is the armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines, which broke off peace talks with the Arroyo government in 2004 after the United States and the European Union listed the groups, in Manila’s prodding, as foreign terrorist organizations. (Romy Bwaga)

MILF, Army Say 14 Killed In Fierce Fighting In Mindanao

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 25, 2008) – Fierce fighting erupted Wednesday between government troops and Muslim rebels in the restive region of the southern Philippines with both sides reporting as many as 14 people dead.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels said four army soldiers were killed in the fighting near Maguindanao, one of six provinces under the Muslim autonomous region. Clashes also broke out in Sarangani province, southeast of Maguindanao, said Eid Kabalu, a rebel spokesman.

The Army’s 6th Infantry Division said 10 rebels were slain in the clashes.

“Four government soldiers are dead in Maguindanao fighting. We still have no reports of casualties in Sarangani clashes, but fighting is still raging in the area,” he told the Mindanao Examiner.

Kabalu said government troops attacked MILF positions in Maguindanao and Sarangani provinces, sparking sporadic, but fierce clashes between military and rebel forces.

He accused the military of violating a fragile truce which could further put at risk peace negotiations between the MILF and Manila. “The fighting could threaten the peace talks if hostilities escalate to other areas. Troops are attacking our positions without provocations,” Kabalu said.

Peace talks have been stalled since last year after government negotiators agreed, but later reneged on a deal that would give back Muslims their ancestral lands in the southern Philippines.

“MILF leaders are getting restless because of the government’s insincerity to the peace process. Many rebels are disgruntled over the slow progress of the peace talks and we don’t want this aggravated by continued military violations of the truce agreement,” Kabalu said.

Major Julieto Ando, a regional army spokesman, denied that four soldiers were killed in the fighting. “Civilian intelligence said ten rebels are slain in the fighting. No government soldiers were injured or killed in the clashes,” he said in a separate interview.

Ando said the fighting was triggered by rebel attacks on military posts and soldiers in the two provinces. “Rebels forces attacked military posts with mortars and anti-tank rockets and troops only retaliated in self-defense,” he said.

He said hundreds of villagers have fled their homes and sought safe refuges because of the MILF attacks. "Civilians are really angry because of the rebel attacks. They were displaced, hungry and angry with the MILF," he said.

“The MILF is so desperate because of the stalled peace talks and now rebels are attacking us and then blamed the military for breaking the truce agreement,” Ando said.

Ando said the attacks by rebels coincided with military operation to rescue many stranded civilians in many areas hit by flash floods brought about by typhoon Fengshen in Maguindanao, Shariff Kabunsuan and Sultan Kudarat provinces.

“The military is busy in the search and rescue operations in an effort to save civilians trapped in many villages now under water and the MILF is attacking our troops,” he said.

Manila opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001 and signed a truce agreement with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group which is fighting the past three decades for the establishment of a strict Islamic state in Mindanao.

But despite the cease-fire accord, sporadic clashes between soldiers and rebels still continue in many places in the southern Philippines with both sides accusing each other of violating the truce. (Mindanao Examiner)

Photo: Halal Or Haram?



A man sells pork meat branded halal in the southern Philippine port city of Zamboanga on Wednesday, June 25, 2008. But pork is considered haram or food forbidden by Islamic law. Halal is meat that has been slaughtered in the manner prescribed by the Shari’a or food conforming to the Islamic dietary laws. The animals are killed under religious supervision by cutting the throat to allow removal of all blood from the carcass, without prior stunning. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Kampo Ni Isnaji Galit Kay Drilon; MNLF Nagiinit Na!

Ang napalayang si Ces Drilon ng hindi mapigilan ang emosyon sa naganap na pagdukot sa kanyang grupo sa Sulu. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)



ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / June 24, 2008) – Matindi umano ang galit ng kampo ni Sulu Mayor Alvarez Isnaji sa pinalayang ABS-CBN reporter Ces Drilon dahil sa pagkakasangkot ng pulitiko sa kidnapping charges na inihain ng pulisya.

Maging ang Moro National Liberation Front at mga supporters ni Isnajio ay galit na rin kay Drilon dahil sa bigo itong ipagtanggol at linisin ang pangalan ng mayor na siyang nakipag-negosasyon sa Abu Sayyaf sa paglaya ng reporter at kasamahan nito.

Dinukot nuong June 8 si Drilon kasama ang dalwang cameraman nito na sina Jimmy Encarnacion at Angelo Valderama, gayun rin ang kanilang guide na si Prof. Octavio Dinampo ng Mindanao State University.

Pinalaya ang apat kapalit diumano ng P20 milyon ransom, ayon kay Atty. Firdausi Abbas na siyang abogado ni Isnaji na ngayon ay nakapiiit sa Maynila kasama ang anak na si Haider na tumulong rin sa negosasyon. Pinili ng Abu Sayyaf si Isnaji bilang negosasyador, subalit isinabit naman ito ng pulisya at sinabing nakinabang sa ransom na ibinayad ng ABS-CBN at pamilya ni Drilon at isang mayamang Intsik na hindi naman sinabi ang pangalan.

Ilang ulit rin na itinanggi ng ABS-CBN at ng pamilya ni Drilon na nagbigay sila ng ransom sa Abu Sayyaf, ngunit inamin naman ng pulisya na nagkaroon nga ng bayaran. Tumulong rin si Sen. Loren Legarda sa pagpapalaya kina Drilon at maging ito ay nagsabing walang ransom na ibiniyad sa Abu Sayyaf.

Itinanggi ni Isnaji ang lahat ng akusasyon sa kanya at sa anak.

“Ces Drilon should speak out the truth because she knew that Mayor Isnaji has nothing to do with the kidnapping. She should open up her mind now. Her conscience will not let hey calm,” ani pa ni Gafur Kanain, ang executive assistant ni Isnaji.

Sinumbatan pa ni Kanain si Drilon at sinabing walang utang na loob ito. “She cried many times begging for the help of Mayor Isnaji and telling him not to back out from negotiations especially when the Abu Sayyaf had threatened to behead them and now what? Iniwan nila si Mayor at pinagbintangan pa,” wika pa ni Kanain sa isang panayam.

Sinabi pa ni Kanain na maging ang MNLF ay nagpupulong na rin para sa kanilang gagawing hakbang. Hindi naman sinabi ni Kanain kung ano ang plano ng MNLF.

“The entire MNLF leadership and the ground commanders will be holding a command conference anytime to decide once and for all. We silenced our guns because we are sincere in fulfilling the 1996 peace agreement. The fabricated charges and accusations against Brother Isnaji is an act of provocation, a blatant insult and disrespect to the entire leadership of the MNLF,” ani pa umano ng isang text message ng MNLF na ipinasa naman ni Kanain sa Mindanao Examiner.

Si Isnaji ay isa rin mataas na opisyal ng MNLF at miyembro ng Central Committee ng dating rebeldeng grupo. Ito rin ang presidente ng provincial League of Municipalities.

Naunang nagpahayag ng pagka-dismaya si MNLF chieftain Muslimin Sema sa pagkakasangkot ni Isnaji sa kidnapping at sinabing suportado ng buong hukbo ng grupo ang mayor.

Si Isnaji rin ang nasa likod ng pagpapalaya ng mahigit sa 100 katao na binihag ng mga rebeldeng Muslim sa Zamboanga City nuong 2002 na binansagang “Cabatangan Siege.” (Mindanao Examiner)

Pregnant Mom, Child Buried Alive In Zamboanga Landslide

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 24, 2008) – A pregnant mother and her child were killed after a landslide on Tuesday buried a house in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines.

Heavy rains triggered by typhoon Fengshen last week had loosed soil that buried the house of the Candado family near a hillside village called Maasin. “The house was destroyed by the landslide and a pregnant mother and her child were buried alive,” said village chieftain Misael Bernardo.

Bernardo also appealed on radio for equipment to dig through debris and recover the victims. “We need help here. The house is buried and there are two people inside, a pregnant mother and her child,” he told the dxRZ Radyo Agong.

Witnesses said more than half of the house was buried in boulders and mud and villagers dug though debris with their bare hands to retrieve the victims, but failed to save them.

The woman’s husband was working at a construction site when the landslide occurred shortly before 9 a.m. The bodies were recovered three hours later. The woman, Liza, was five months pregnant and her child, Chubby, was only six years old.

The typhoon, whose local codename Frank, left a trail of destruction in the southern Philippines where at least 2 dozen people were reported killed and injured and tens of thousands displaced by flash floods.

But authorities said the death toll across the country could reach to hundreds after a 24,000-ton ferry, the Princess of the Star, with nearly 750 aboard capsized off Sibuyan Island in Romblon province as the typhoon battered central and northern Philippines before heading towards Taiwan.

At least 155 people have been confirmed dead from the fury of the typhoon.

Rescuers have found several dozens of survivors and cadavers from the stricken ferry, owned by Sulpicio Lines. The government has suspended all Sulpicio’s ferries until a maritime investigation into the sinking of the Princess of the Star is finished.

Initial maritime reports said the ferry’s engine malfunctioned and that the captain of the vessel had told passengers to abandon the ship. The captain was among those missing and presumed dead. (Mindanao Examiner)

Photo: Philippine President Gloria Arroyo In The United States






President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo shakes hands with US Deputy State Secretary John Negroponte, former US ambassador to the Philippines, who called on her at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC on Tuesday, June 23, 2008 (Washington time). Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) president John Danilovich also met with Arroyo upon her arrival at the MCC headquarters in Washington. A US government corporation, the MCC works with developing countries in the promotion of anti-poverty projects through good governance and sustainable economic growth. (Photo by Rodolfo Manabat, OPS)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Human Rights Probers Attacked In South RP

Lawyer Jose Manuel Mamauag, Commission on Human Rights Director for Western Mindanao, gestures during an interview with the Mindanao Examiner. Mamauag says government militias opened fire on a team of human rights investigators on a remote Zamboanga City village. No one was killed or injured in the attack on Friday, June 20, 2008. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / J. Magtanggol)


ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 23, 2008) – Government militias attacked a group of human rights investigators on an island off Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said militias attacked three of its investigators on the island of Limaong over the weekend. There were no reports of casualties or injuries, but the attack sent a chilling warning that even human rights investigators are no longer safe in the southern Philippines.

Lawyer Jose Manuel Mamauag, CHR regional chief, said his team, accompanied by a forensic expert from the National Bureau of Investigation were returning to Zamboanga City on board a motorized boat when army-led militias opened fire on them.

“Our team was lucky that no one was killed or wounded in the strafing by government militias, but we will file criminal charges against them,” he told the Mindanao Examiner.

Mamauag said the CHR team was on the island to exhume the remains of a possible human rights victim. “We still don’t know if the attack on our team was connected to our investigation on the island,” he said.

Early this month, a navy patrol also attacked a group of Muslim fishermen off Taluksangay in Zamboanga City and killing one person. Security officials denied it was behind the attack, but navy soldiers also arrested more than a dozen fishermen on suspicion they were terrorists, village leaders said.

In February, navy commandos and army soldiers also killed seven Muslim civilians and an off-duty soldier in a raid on an alleged Abu Sayyaf hideout in the town of Maimbung in Sulu province.

The military insisted the raid was an operation to rescue kidnapped businesswoman Rosalie Lao from her Abu Sayyaf abductors. The raid resulted to the deaths of seven civilians, including two children, two teenagers, and a pregnant woman.

Two soldiers were also killed while four others were wounded when armed villagers allegedly retaliated.

Human rights investigators denied that there were Abu Sayyaf militants in the village during the raid and accused the troops involved in the operation of plundering the houses of the villagers. (Mindanao Examiner)

Detained Mayor Supporters Hold Rally In Sulu



Photos sent to the Mindanao Examiner by a supporter of detained Sulu Mayor Alvarez Isnaji show followers of the embattled politician call citizens to join them in a rally in Indanan town on Monday, June 23, 2008. Police says hundreds of Isnaji supporters join two rallies in Sulu province and demanded the government to free the mayor who was implicated in the Abu Sayyaf kidnapping of a Philippine television news crew in the province.



SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 23, 2008) – Hundreds of supporters of a detained town mayor implicated in the kidnapping of a Philippine television news crew in Sulu province held a rally Monday and condemned the arrest of the politician.

Police implicated Indanan town Mayor Alvarez Isnaji in the June 8 Abu Sayyaf kidnapping of ABS-CBN reporter Ces Drilon and her cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama, and their guide Octavio Dinampo, a professor of the Mindanao State University.

The four were seized in Maimbung town on their way to interview an Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron, whose group was believed behind the kidnapping.

The Abu Sayyaf freed the four hostages separately after allegedly collecting as much as P20 million ransoms. And police Isnaji allegedly pocketed P3 million from the P5 million paid by Drilon's family to the kidnappers.

Isnaji, handpicked by the Abu Sayyaf to negotiate for the release of the hostages, denied the accusations. He and his son Haider, who also helped in the negotiations, were detained June 18 after they accompanied the victims to Zamboanga City after their release.

“Instead of praising Mayor Isnaji for saving the lives of the hostages, the government instead accused him and detained him. Tausugs must rise up against this kafir system of government,” said Gafur Kanain, Isnaji’s aide, during a rally in Indanan town in the morning.
Isnaji’s supporters took turns in condemning the arrest of the mayor and assailed the government for accusing him of involvement in the kidnappings. Streamers were also hanged in downtown Indanan, many as show of support to the embattled mayor, who is also the president of the provincial League of Municipalities.

“We vehemently condemned the baseless charges and accusations against our elder brother Mayor Alvarez Isnaji and his son, Jun Isnaji. Is this the kind of gratitude and respond we get from the government?” one streamer read.

Another streamer assailed Drilon for failing to defend Isnaji and his son against all accusations. “Ces, wala ka bang konsensya? We saved you, we clothed you, and we sent you home. Is this your way of saying thank you? You are not a principled woman.”

A second rally was also held in Jolo, Sulu’s capital town, in the afternoon, police said.

“We are monitoring the situation in Sulu,” Senior Superintendent Julasirim Kasim, the provincial police chief, told the Mindanao Examiner.

Isnaji, a senior leader of the former rebel separatist group Moro National Liberation Front, is one of seven candidates running for governor in the Muslim autonomous region in August. The MNLF also demanded the release of Isnaji.

Before he became mayor, Isnaji was the Speaker of the Regional Legislative Assembly in the Muslim autonomous region and became also the acting regional governor in 2001.
He admitted paying several hundreds of thousands of pesos for the freedom of Drilon's group on top of a package of livelihood aids and infrastructure projects allegedly promised by Senator Loren Legarda, who helped in the negotiations to free the hostages.

Legarda denied making any promises to the kidnappers. Police also implicated Abu Sayyaf leaders Albader Parad, Gafur Jumdail, Umbra Jumdail, Tuan Walis and Sulayman Patta as among about 30 gunmen involved in the kidnappings.
Washington listed the Abu Sayyaf as a foreign terrorist organization and has offered rewards of up to $5 million for the capture of its known leaders. It also deployed a few hundred Marines and Special Forces soldiers in Sulu to help the Filipino military defeat the Abu Sayyaf. (Mindanao Examiner)