Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve explosion leaves 22 people wounded in the southern Philippines

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 31, 2008) – More than two dozen people were injured in a grenade explosion on New Year’s Eve in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials said the explosion occurred at a park in General Santos City late Wednesday and injured 22 people. But a local radio network, Radyo Agong, reported that at least 26 people were wounded in the attack at around 9.10 p.m.

No individual or group has claimed responsibility for the blast. A separate military report also said that a fragmentation grenade was used in the attack.

Army Captain Emmanuel Garcia, of the Task Force Gensan, said an unidentified man hurled the grenade to a crowd at the park. “At least 22 people are wounded in the grenade explosion and they have been rushed to hospitals,” he said.

He said authorities were investigating the motive of the attack, which occurred a day after a grenade explosion at a police post in General Santos City also left three people wounded, including a police officer.

An improvised bomb also exploded late Tuesday in a motorcycle taxi near a police checkpoint, killing its driver and wounding an officer in the village of Saliao in Sultan Kudarat's Esperanza town.

The improvised explosive, assembled from 81 millimeter mortar bomb, was inside a sack full of charcoal when it went off while the policeman was inspecting the vehicle. Officials said faulty bomb assembly had triggered the explosion. (Mindanao Examiner)

1 killed, 4 wounded in separate explosions in Southern RP


Policemen inspect vehicles before midnight Monday, December 30, 2008 in Kidapawan City in the southern Philippines after one police officer was killed and four people were wounded in two explosions in Sultan Kudarat province and General Santos City.


COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 31, 2008) – One person was killed and four others wounded in separate explosions in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Three people, including a policeman, were also injured in an explosion late Tuesday in General Santos City. Unidentified men on motorcycle tossed the bomb at a police post in the village of Lagao.

Officials said a homemade bomb also exploded inside a motorcycle taxi at a police checkpoint, killing its driver and wounding an officer Tuesday night in the village of Saliao in Sultan Kudarat’s Esperanza town.

“The driver of the tricycle was killed in the blast. We still do not know what triggered the explosion, but it’s one terrorist down,” Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, a spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, told the Mindanao Examiner.

He said the improvised explosive, assembled from 81 millimeter mortar bomb, was inside a sack full of charcoal when it went off at the police checkpoint.
Ando said the bomb was probably intended to another target.

“The bomb was in transit and probably exploded due to faulty assembly. We appeal to the public to stay vigilant and report to authorities any suspicious persons in your community,” he said.

Ando said the bomb was similar to explosives used by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels in previous attacks.

The MILF denied any links to the explosion. “The driver who was killed in the blast was a Christian and the MILF has nothing to do with it,” Eid Kabalu, a senior MILF leader, said in a separate interview.

The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting for self-determination in the southern Philippines. Peace talks between the rebels and the government failed in August after the aborted signing of the Muslim homeland deal. The failed signing sparked a series of deadly rebel attacks in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

RP's oldest mosque to be declared a national shrine

MANILA, Philippines - The House Committee on Appropriations has approved a bill that seeks to declare the Sheikh Karimul Makhdum Mosque as a national shrine for being the first and oldest existing mosque in the country.

During a recent hearing, committee members and representatives from different government agencies expressed their support for House Bill 99 filed by Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara (Lone District, Aurora).

Angara said House Bill 99 aims to give due recognition to the contribution of Islam in the development of culture and civilization in the country.

"This bill would also be a sign to our brother Moslems in Mindanao that they are being accorded due and equal recognition by the national government," Angara added.

The Sheikh Karimul Makhdum Mosque has already been entitled to a special non-working holiday by virtue of a regional law within the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) through a legislative assembly. It is also included in their centennial celebration as one of the Islamic events.

Sheikh Karimul Makhdum Mosque is located at the Tubig Indangan, Simunul, Tawi-Tawi, which was constructed by an Arabian Missionary in the 1380s. Sometime in 1965, then President Ferdinand Marcos and First Lady Imelda Marcos went to the site to install a historic marker, giving it recognition as the first oldest existing mosque in the country.(Salvacion Beleo)

NPA ambushed military truck in Mindanao

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 30, 2008) – Suspected New People’s Army rebels ambushed a military truck transporting soldiers in North Cotabato province, wounding an officer and an infantryman, a military report said on Tuesday.

The report said the attack occurred near the village of Arakan town on Monday and sparked a fire fight between communist rebels and government troops. The wounded soldiers – a lieutenant and a corporal – were rushed to hospital in Davao City.

It said the soldiers, who belong to the 57th Infantry Battalion, were pursuing a band of rebels who attacked a banana plantation in Paquibato district in the outskirts of Davao City when NPA forces attacked them with automatic weapons.

The military said an undetermined number of rebels were either killed or wounded in the fighting.

The ambush came a day after communist rebels said they would free a Special Forces commander First Lieutenant Vicente Cammayo held as prisoner of war since last month in Mindanao.

The NPA said the release of Cammayo was a gesture of goodwill. Cammayo was captured Nov. 7 after rebel forces attacked his unit and killed two soldiers and a government militia in a fierce firefight in Casoon village in the town of Monkayo in Compostela Valley province.

The rebels also seized an M60 machine gun and two M16 and one M14 automatic rifles from Cammayo's unit during the fighting.

The rebels earlier freed a captured policeman Eduardo Tumol, who was also seized Nov. 5 at a checkpoint in the village of Baogo in Davao Oriental's Caraga town.

"POW Cammayo's release is an act of goodwill on account of the continuing celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The decision is also anchored on humanitarian grounds," said Rigoberto Sanchez, a rebel spokesman.

Sanchez said Cammayo, commander of the 11th Company of the Army's 3rd Special Forces, would be released next week. But he warned that the NPA could suspend the release of Cammayo if military forces continue its operations that would endanger the safety of the prisoner.

The NPA, armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines, is fighting the government the past four decades for the establishment of a Maoist state in the country. Peace talks between Manila and the CPP-NPA collapsed in 2004 after both sides failed to sign an agreement ending hostilities in the countryside. (Mindanao Examiner)

Photo: Tight Security In The Southern Philippines



Member of Task Force Davao inspect baggage of passengers at the Davao Overland Terminal in Davao City in the southern Philippines on Tuesday, December 30, 2008. Authorities tighten security as thousands of passengers flock to the provinces for the New Year's Eve celebration. (AKP Images / Keith Bacongco)

Kidnapped girl freed, another still being held captive by Sayyaf in Basilan Island

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 30, 2008) – Gunmen freed Tuesday a four-year old girl they kidnapped in the southern Filipino island of Basilan, officials said.

Officials said Andrea Diman was released at around 1 p.m. in the village called Sinulatan in Tuburan town, two days after she was kidnapped in Lamitan City by two motorcycle men.

“There was no ransom or money paid to the kidnappers and the girl is finally reunited with her family,” Nick Castro, an aide of Lamitan Mayor Roderick Furigay, told the Mindanao Examiner.

He said Furigay tapped former Tuburan Mayor Hajarun Jamiri to help in getting back the girl. “The former mayor is still influential in Tuburan and he was tapped to recover the girl without anything in return,” Castro said.

But Jamiri was linked by authorities to the bombing in the House of Representatives in November last year that killed Basilan Rep. Wahab Akbar. He denied all accusations against him.

Castro said on order of Furigay, the girl was

No other details were made available about the release of the girl, but Jamiri is a brother of Abu Sayyaf leader Nur Hassan Jamiri, who was tagged by the police and military as behind the spate of kidnappings-for-ransom in Basilan in recent months.

It was unknown whether the Abu Sayyaf was behind the kidnapping of Diman, but Castro said the girl’s family is poor.

“The kidnappers thought the girl’s family are wealthy, but there are not. We hope the kidnappings in Basilan would stop,” he said.

Diman was snatched by two men as she was playing with other children Sunday night near a park in Lamitan City, where kidnappers also snatched a nine-year old girl, Nicole Raveche, on Nov. 26.

No group or individuals claimed responsibility for the Diman kidnapping, although authorities suspect the Abu Sayyaf as behind it.Meanwhile, Raveche's kidnappers have asked six million pesos in exchange for her safe release.

Just recently, Abu Sayyaf kidnappers freed a nursing student, Joed Pilangga, after more than two months in captivity in Basilan.

The 17-year old Pilangga was kidnapped Oct. 17 in Zamboanga City and brought by boat to Basilan, where his kidnappers demanded P20 million ransoms for his safe release. Police and military tagged the Abu Sayyaf as behind the kidnapping.

Early this month, gunmen also kidnapped seven construction workers in Basilan, but freed all of them a week later after Furigay negotiated for their release.

Two more people were people were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen on December 2 near Maluso town also in Basilan, but they had been freed three days later.

Close to two dozen people had been kidnapped by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants headed by Puruji Indama and Nur Hassan Jamiri in recent months and most of them had been freed in exchange for huge ransoms.

The sudden rise in kidnappings and spate of terrorist attacks in Basilan had been blamed to ransoms collected by the Abu Sayyaf. The money had been used to purchase weapons and recruit members, according to military reports. (Mindanao Examiner)

Press club sounds alarm over media attacks, killings in 2008

MANILA, Philippines - The National Press Club said that 2008 has been a tragic year for press freedom in the Philippines with seven Filipino journalists killed and many others receiving death threats, according to the Manila Times.

“The Philippine media continued to be under siege this year. We note with sadness that despite the government’s repeated declaration to address the cases of media killings, its [government’s] best is not enough,” press club President Benny Antiporda said in a statement.

He said the press club is demanding for a resolution of all cases of media killings and the prosecution and incarceration of the perpetrators and masterminds of the attacks on media.

“We call on the government, especially the Philippine National Police and the Department of Justice, to do more than make public statements and reports. We appreciate their efforts to do their job, but we believe they can do more,” Antiporda said.

Compared to the previous year, with five journalists reported killed, the number of attacks against media practitioners this year has increased, making the Philippines the fifth most dangerous country for journalists, according to the Press Emblem Campaign, an international movement for press freedom and protection for journalists.

The press club, nonetheless, lauded the initiatives of individuals and various media organizations—Alyansa ng Filipinong Mamamahayag, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas, Philippine Press Institute, Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists and Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility—for their relentless fight to defend press freedom in the country.

Antiporda also called on Congress to immediately decriminalize libel and stop all proposed measures that would undermine the constitutionally mandated freedom of expression and the people’s right to know.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Photo: Torotot Power In The Philippines

A girl blows her homemade paper horn or popularly known in the Philippines as “torotot” which they sell in Kidapawan City in Mindanao. Torotot, instead of expensive and dangerous firecrackers, is a favourite among Filipinos in welcoming the New Year.

Photo: NPA Posters Fill Sidewalk In Mindanao

Posters of the communist New People's Army rebels adorn Monday, December 29, 2008 a sidewalk near a commuter bus depot in Kidapawan City in the southern Philippines. The rebels recently celebrated their 40th founding anniversary. The NPA is fighting the past four decades for the establishment of a Maoist state in the Philippines.

Photo: Pit Bull Competition In Mindanao

A Pit Bull pulls a heavy load during a “Pit Bull Revolution” contest Monday, December 29, 2008 in the town of Matalam in North Cotabato province in the southern Philippines, to the delight of spectators. The contest is one the culminating activity in the 47th anniversary of Matalam town. Pit Bull is a term commonly used to describe several breeds of dog in the Molosser family that were historically used for dog fighting. The breeds most often placed in this category are the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Geonarri Solmerano)

Photo: Mindanao Examiner Office Is Shot At In Southern Philippines

A private security guard from the Continental Security Agency shows a caliber .40 slug recovered Monday, December 29, 2008 from the office of the independent newspaper the Mindanao Examiner in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines. The bullet was believed fired from across the office late Sunday and pierced through the signboard before hitting the steel roll shutter. The agency is still investigating whether the Mindanao Examiner, which is located at the 3rd floor of the MP Towers Building is the target of the attack. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

Filipino girl seized in Basilan Island

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 29, 2008) – Two motorcycle gunmen snatched a four-year old girl as she was playing with other children in the southern Philippines island of Basilan, police said Monday.

Police said Andrea Diman was seized Sunday night near a park in Lamitan City, where kidnappers also snatched a nine-year old girl, Nicole Raveche, on Nov. 26.
"We still do not know the motive of the abduction. Policemen are searching for the girl, who belongs to a poor family," said Chief Inspector Rolando Democrito, the city police chief.

Nick Castro, an aide of Lamitan City Mayor Roderick Furigay, said the Diman’s family is poor and her parents work as street sweeper and shoe maker. "Diman's family is poor and we don't know why their girl was abducted. Mayor Furigay is concerned about her safety," he told the Mindanao Examiner.

No group or individuals claimed responsibility for the latest abduction, but authorities previously linked the Abu Sayyaf in past kidnappings in Basilan, south of Zamboanga City.

There were no demands for ransom, police said, but Raveche’s kidnappers have asked six million pesos in exchange for her safe release.

Last week, kidnappers freed a nursing student, Joed Pilangga, after more than two months in captivity in Basilan.

The 17-year old Pilangga was kidnapped Oct. 17 in Zamboanga City and brought by boat to Basilan, where his kidnappers demanded P20 million ransoms for his safe release. Police and military tagged the Abu Sayyaf as behind the kidnapping.
Early this month, gunmen also kidnapped seven construction workers in Basilan, but freed all of them a week later after Mayor Furigay negotiated for their release.

Two more people were people were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen on December 2 near Maluso town also in Basilan island, but they had been freed three days later.

Military offensive since early this month have targeted the Abu Sayyaf, but the larger rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, had been dragged into the skirmishes after it accused government troops of attacking its positions on the island.

In retaliation, the rebels launched a series of attacks against government forces, sparking sporadic, but fierce fighting that killed five marines and wounding two dozen soldiers in Al-Barka town.

The military accused the MILF of coddling Abu Sayyaf terrorists and vowed to step up the operation against the militants.

More than a dozen people had been kidnapped by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants headed by Puruji Indama and Nur Hassan Jamiri in recent months and most of them had been freed in exchange for huge ransoms.

The sudden rise in kidnappings and spate of terrorist attacks in Basilan had been blamed to ransoms collected by the Abu Sayyaf. The money had been used to purchase weapons and recruit members, according to military reports. (Mindanao Examiner)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

NPA rebels free captured army commander

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 28, 2008) – Communist rebels on Sunday said they would free a Filipino army commander held captive since last month in the southern Philippines.

The New People’s Army said it decided to free First Lieutenant Vicente Cammayo as an act of goodwill.

Cammayo was captured Nov. 7 after rebel forces attacked his unit and killed two soldiers and a government militia in a fierce firefight in Casoon village in the town of Monkayo in Compostela Valley province.

The rebels also seized an M60 machine gun and two M16 and one M14 automatic rifles from Cammayo's unit during the fighting.

The rebels earlier freed a captured policeman Eduardo Tumol, who was also seized Nov. 5 at a checkpoint in the village of Baogo in Davao Oriental's Caraga town.

“POW Cammayo's release is an act of goodwill on account of the continuing celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The decision is also anchored on humanitarian grounds,” Rigoberto Sanchez, a rebel spokesman, said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.

The rebels celebrated its anniversary on Friday.

Sanchez said Cammayo, commander of the 11th Company of the Army’s 3rd Special Forces, would be released next week. But he warned that the NPA could suspend the release of Cammayo if military forces continue its operations that would endanger the safety of the prisoner.

“The implementation of the order of release shall be based on the NPA custodial unit's assessment of the ground situation particularly the movement of AFP troops. The NPA custodial unit has the authority to suspend the release of POW Cammayo if enemy movement continues since the safety of the said prisoner of war and the receiving party is of utmost importance,” he said.

Sanchez previously said that both Tumol and Cammayo were investigated for possible human rights violations and other crimes related to the operations of the Special Forces and the Provincial Mobile Group in Mindanao.

Aris Francisco, spokesman of the NPA's Alejandro Lanaja Command, accused the 3rd Special Forces Battalion to which Cammayo's unit belongs, as responsible for the series of violations to human rights, protocols of war and international humanitarian law in Compostela Valley province.

He accused the Special Forces of masterminding the June bombing in Nabunturan town that wounded several innocent civilians. The NPA also tagged Special Forces members as behind the brutal murder in June of a peasant leader Noli Llanos in Nabunturan's Mipangi village, where rebels killed three government soldiers; and also the killing of farmer Diego Encarnacion in the village of Linda in Nabunturan town in July. Both farmers were accused by the military as NPA supporters.

The military denied all accusations and branded them as propaganda.

The NPA, armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines, is fighting the government the past four decades for the establishment of a Maoist state in the country. Peace talks between Manila and the CPP-NPA collapsed in 2004 after both sides failed to sign an agreement ending hostilities in the countryside. (Mindanao Examiner)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Photo: Horsefighting In The Philippines


Filipinos cheer as two stallions fight during a fun day on Saturday, December 27, 2008 in the town of Mlang in North Cotabato province in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Geonarri Solmerano)

Treading Softly in the Philippines by Max Boot & Richard Bennet

Why a low-intensity counterinsurgency strategy seems to be working there.


ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (The Weekly Standard) - The war on terror that the Obama administration is inheriting comes with a decidedly mixed record. Stopping attacks on the American homeland since 2001 has been the Bush administration's biggest accomplishment.

Turning around the war effort in Iraq, which was on the verge of failure in 2006, has been another signal success. But, as the Mumbai attacks remind us, the threat of Islamist terrorism has hardly been extinguished.

Al Qaeda and other extremists have found in Pakistan the haven they lost in Afghanistan after 2001. Since then they have waged an insurgency, with growing success, against governments in both Kabul and Islamabad. Meanwhile, Iran continues to be an active sponsor of terrorism as well as a seeker of nuclear weapons. Its proxies may have been routed in Iraq, but they remain as powerful as ever in Lebanon, and their tentacles spread as far as South America.

Almost forgotten amid these major developments is a tiny success story in Southeast Asia that may offer a more apt template than either Iraq or Afghanistan for fighting extremists in many corners of the world. The southern islands of the Philippines, inhabited by Muslims known as Moros (Spanish for "Moor"), have been in almost perpetual rebellion against the Christian majority ruling in Manila. They fought the Spaniards when they arrived 500 years ago, and they fought the Americans when they arrived more than 100 years ago. The latest rebellion broke out in the early 1970s and has killed well over 120,000 people.

It was led initially by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which challenged a martial-law regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos. That group began to reach accommodation with Manila in 1975--a process completed by a democratic government in 1996. The MNLF demobilized its fighters, and most of its members melted back into the populace. Some even took positions in the local government or the security forces. But along the way several dangerous splinter factions broke off.

The largest and most moderate of these is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which, as the name would indicate, has a more religious emphasis than its socialist-nationalist forerunner. It, too, has been in negotiations with the government, but the peace process broke down in August after the Philippine Supreme Court, much to the consternation of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, ruled unconstitutional a plan to grant the Muslim region a large degree of autonomy. (Judicial activism, it seems, is one of many American exports that have taken root here.) While most of the MILF, 8,000-10,000 strong, remained at peace, several of its "base commands," numbering a few thousand fighters, declared war on the Philippine government and the non-Muslim inhabitants of the island of Mindanao, burning Christian villages and slaughtering their inhabitants. An estimated 200 people were killed, and tens of thousands turned into refugees.

The more extremist of these base commands have established a symbiotic relationship with Jemaah Islamiyah, the Indonesian terrorist group that carried out the infamous bombing in Bali that killed over 200 people in 2002, and Abu Sayyaf, a homegrown Filipino jihadist group launched by veterans of the 1980s war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Those groups, in turn, developed close ties in the 1990s with al Qaeda. Muhammad Jamal Khalifa, Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law, moved to Manila to provide financing and organizational assistance to local radicals. Training camps were set up in the poorly policed hinterland in the Muslim south, and ambitious plots were hatched.

These included plans to blow up 11 airliners in midair, crash a hijacked airliner into the CIA's headquarters, and assassinate Pope John Paul II while he was visiting the Philippines in 1995. Among the chief plotters present in the Philippines were Ramzi Yousef, coordinator of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and his uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who would go on to mastermind the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The attacks on New York and Washington finally awakened the U.S. government to the need to do something about the Philippine branch of the global jihad. Military exercises were conducted with the Philippines, and Special Forces and CIA teams were dispatched to provide training and intelligence support for local security forces. An early, largely successful example of Philippine-American cooperation came in the search for an Abu Sayyaf squad that in 2001 abducted 20 people, including three Americans, from a beach resort in the southern Philippines. Eventually the kidnappers were hunted down and captured or killed, although two of the Americans died as well--one executed by the kidnappers, the other killed in a bungled rescue attempt by the Philippine Army.

Since then, the United States has set up a Joint Special Operations Task Force to direct Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines. We recently spent a couple of weeks meeting and traveling with task force members to get an overview of their operations. With only 600 or so personnel, the task force operates throughout the sprawling southern Philippines--a region known to earlier generations of American soldiers as Moroland. There are only 5 million Muslims in the entire Philippine population of 90 million; 80 percent of Filipinos are Roman Catholics, making this the only Christian country in Asia. The Philippines has a smaller Muslim minority than France, but it is overwhelmingly concentrated in a few places. The largest island in the Muslim region is Mindanao, with a population of 18 million, 30 percent of them Muslims.

(Thepercentage was considerably higher a century ago, back when young Captain Jack Pershing was fighting Moro rebels, but in the 20th century the Philippine government resettled millions of Christians from other islands here.) There is also a string of smaller, heavily Muslim islands in the Sulu archipelago stretching through azure-blue waters to the borders of Malaysia and Indonesia.

What all these areas share, in addition to their Muslim populations, is inaccessible terrain, with lots of triple-canopy jungles, treacherous swamps, and soaring mountains that provide ideal hideouts for outlaws. The surrounding waters are plied by countless small boats that operate with little scrutiny from the Philippines' tiny navy, which has only 62 patrol boats to cover thousands of miles of coastline. Smuggling terrorist operatives, arms, and drugs in and out is all too easy.

The rebels have another advantage. They can tap into a widespread sense of alienation among some of the Philippines' poorest inhabitants. Before we traveled south in a tiny C-12 passenger aircraft, officials at the stately U.S. embassy in Manila told us that in the Philippines as a whole life expectancy is over 70 years, but in Mindanao it's only 52 years. Nominal GDP per capita in the entire country is $1,600; in Mindanao it's less than $700. More than 55 percent of families in the Muslim region are living below the poverty line, double the share nationwide.

We could see the difference for ourselves. Manila has its slums, but it also has soaring skyscrapers and gleaming malls that would look right at home in Dubai or Singapore. In Mindanao's second-largest city, Zamboanga, by contrast, there is not a high-rise in sight. Instead there are lots of tin-roofed shacks that serve as mom-and-pop stores and living quarters, often at the same time.

In the countryside, even that seems luxurious. Here you enter a world of thatched-roof huts, often without windows, electricity, or indoor plumbing. Many Muslims blame their lack of economic development on discrimination and lack of sympathy on the part of the overwhelmingly Catholic authorities in faraway Manila.

The more radical among them think that Muslims should rule as far north as the national capital, as they did before the Spaniards arrived in 1521. It is little wonder that jihadist propaganda, spread by Saudi-funded mosques, literature, and charities, has found a receptive audience among people with such a long history of grievance (even if the easy-going Filipinos, like most tropical peoples, are hardly the most receptive audience for the fundamentalist dictates of an austere Wahhabism born in the deserts of Arabia).

To counter the influence of religious fanaticism, Colonel Bill Coultrup directs a multifaceted counterinsurgency from the Joint Special Operations Task Force's headquarters in a small, sealed compound on Camp Navarro, a Philippine military base nestled next ato Zamboanga airport. A self-effacing man with a ready smile and a puckish sense of humor, Coultrup is not one to boast of his achievements, but he spent more than a decade with one of the military's legendary counterterrorism units. During that time he scored some notable successes that are much-discussed in military circles but remain classified.

In the Philippines, he has had to master a very different way of war. In sharp contrast to Iraq, where American commandos have had virtual free rein to kill and capture "high value targets," here they are forbidden by the Philippine government from engaging in any direct combat operations. Their role is to bolster the Philippine armed forces; their oft-repeated mantra is "through, by, and with." That sometimes rankles some of these seasoned special operators. The leader of one Special Forces A-Team told us, "If I had the ability to do here what I did in Iraq last year, this fight would have been over in two days."

But that isn't an option because of Filipino nationalist sensitivities, and in the best Special Forces tradition Coultrup and his troops have made the necessary adjustments from a "Direct Action" mission to one of "Foreign Internal Defense." Their weapons include bounties for information leading to the capture of wanted terrorists as part of the U.S. "Rewards for Justice" program; training, support, and intelligence-sharing for the Philippine armed forces; and a combination of "information operations" and "civil affairs operations" to wean the populace away from the insurgents. "The goal," Coultrup says, "is to set conditions for good governance, and you do that by removing the safe havens of these terrorist groups and addressing the specific conditions that contribute to those safe havens."

We were briefed on each aspect of the task force's operations while spending time in and around the cities of Zamboanga and Cotabato on Mindanao and Jolo on Sulu island--all areas that host substantial Special Operations detachments, mainly Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs, backed by support forces from all the services.

An important component of their work is providing "information operations support" to the Philippine armed forces. Psychological operations specialists showed us two initiatives designed to counter the terrorists' propaganda. One is a text messaging campaign (texting is the preferred medium of communication here) that encourages recipients to participate in peace-promotion programs and report information to Philippine authorities on terrorist activities. The other is a slickly produced comic book series aimed at 18-to-24-year-old males, the prime recruits for all extremist groups, featuring a Jack Bauer-style hero battling villainous terrorists. All of the products have to be translated into multiple languages because of the multiplicity of regional tongues spoken in these polyglot islands.

Even more than psy-ops, civil affairs is a prime "line of operations" for the U.S. forces. A U.S. Army captain, head of a four-man civil affairs team, drove us for hours around rural Mindanao to show us projects that he is funding, including a new high school in a remote region and a new building for an existing elementary school. He also showed off a huge pile of coconut lumber, bamboo, and corrugated tin--materials that will be used to rebuild 81 homes destroyed by rogue elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the fighting back in August. The goal, he explained, is "persistent engagement," creating projects that require him and his Filipino counterparts to make multiple visits to check on progress. Those visits engender trust with the locals and can lead them to provide vital intelligence on insurgents.

Such considerations were also very much on the mind of a Green Beret master sergeant a few days later while he was directing, alongside his Filipino partners, a "Medcap" (Medical Civil Action Project) in a small village on Sulu Island. Working with a Philippine Marine battalion, the Special Forces soldiers had set up a one-day clinic where residents could come in for free medical and dental treatment.

Cartoons were provided to entertain kids, and free medicines were handed out to all. "It's important that they don't leave empty handed," said one Philippine soldier. "We treat those who need medical attention, and give vitamins and toothbrushes to those who don't. Everyone receives something." In return, all residents have to do is provide their names and dates of birth, which helps security forces build a better picture of the populace.

Such enterprises build goodwill with the locals and encourage them to chat freely with both Philippine and American soldiers. "I'm trying to determine their feelings toward us," the rail-thin master sergeant explained, while enthusiastic villagers swirled around him. "You can't ask directly. You have to probe around to find out if they want us here. If so, that means they're open to us, which will make it easy to push the bad guys out. But if they don't want us here after we've given them all this, that means they're heavily influenced by the bad guys, so we have our work cut out for us."

He added that the Abu Sayyaf Group, which has redoubts in nearby mountains, will try to do "negative information operations" to counter the Medcaps, telling residents they can't trust the Americans because they won't stick around. To stymie the insurgents, the master sergeant added, his A-Team will work with Filipino authorities to repaint a local school or undertake some other project. While there is nothing covert about the American role (the master sergeant is wearing his uniform), he and other Americans are careful to deflect most of the credit to their Philippine counterparts. "We want to show what the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] have done for the people," the sergeant explained, "and we want the people to ask what has ASG [the Abu Sayyaf Group] ever done for us?"

The sergeant works for a larger Special Operations force on Sulu. Its commander, Major Joe Mouer, ticked off how many such civil affairs projects his troops have undertaken in cooperation with the Philippine Marines: They have completed 80 miles of road, 34 wells, 40 schools. At their headquarters in Jolo City, the American troops even host a weekly movie night for hundreds of local kids.

We attended one such event, finding hordes of happy kids sitting on the floor of a large hall, watching an animated feature while munching free popcorn. Soldiers act as ushers, but they are dressed in civilian clothes and don't carry weapons so as to create a nonthreatening environment. To counter enemy propaganda that such events are used for Christian proselytizing, Mouer has invited a local Muslim cleric to give a blessing before the start of each movie.

The Joint Special Operations Task Force is hardly alone in trying to improve life for Philippine Muslims. The U.S. Agency for International Development is also active in Mindanao, with $130 million worth of projects planned over the next five years. Completed projects include retraining former Moro National Liberation Front fighters in farming skills and installing computer labs in hundreds of high schools. The U.S. Navy has contributed by having the hospital ship Mercy pay regular visits to the Philippines to treat tens of thousands of patients.

These examples might give the impression that Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines is solely a "hearts and minds" endeavor. While "nonkinetic" operations do constitute a large part of the mission, U.S. forces also help Filipino troops to capture and kill insurgents more efficiently.

At a "team house" located on a Philippine military base in rural Mindanao, a Special Forces captain ran down for us all the training missions his 12-man A-Team has undertaken since arriving in the area in May. They have shared their knowledge of mortars, long-range marksmanship, and even digital cameras. Using an array of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles they have also provided real-time intelligence that has allowed Philippine forces to track and target elusive insurgents. Just as important, their world-class medics have provided critical care to Philippine soldiers who have been injured in battle. In some cases they have even arranged for "medevac" to distant hospitals. Knowing that they will be taken care of should they be wounded encourages Philippine soldiers to fight harder.

We found out how much Philippine troops appreciate such assistance when we went to visit the hilltop command post where Colonel Marlou Salazar, a Philippine brigade commander, briefed us on the progress of his operations against renegade Moro Islamic Liberation Front commanders. On one side of his map there is a piece of paper that states his objective: "Get Kato dead or alive." Ameril Umbra Kato is a Saudi-educated MILF commander who went on the warpath in August.

Salazar has not achieved his goal yet, but he has managed to put Kato on the run and capture or kill many of his men with an effective offensive that received crucial support from the U.S. A-Team. "We boxed the area, maneuvered, and attacked," Salazar says proudly, pointing out where the battles occurred in the swampy valley below. He then shows off a hoard of captured weapons, including a mortar whose serial number indicates it was made in Pakistan.

At the request of the Philippine government, which wants to negotiate with it, the MILF has not formally been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State, but some of its "lawless" elements are closely intertwined with Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf, providing these groups sanctuary in territory they control. U.S. forces are therefore allowed to support the Philippine military in their operations to reduce those safe havens. By contrast, U.S. troops are prohibited from helping the Filipinos battle another major insurgent group, the communist New People's Army, which sometimes cooperates with MILF but which is deemed by Washington of purely local interest--not part of the global war on terror.

Traditional "kinetic" operations in which bullets are fired and bombs dropped are still part of the Philippine strategy against their numerous guerrilla foes, but they have become less important over the years, thanks partly to the advice Philippine forces have received from the U.S. Special Forces. At the officers' club of the Philippine Marine headquarters in Manila, we sat down with Major General Juancho Sabban, a bullet-headed, brown-skinned, bull-necked Filipino who has spent much of the past 30 years battling various insurgent groups. Today he commands Task Force Comet, two marine brigades charged with pacifying Sulu island.

"For three decades we were using a strategy of force," he says. "It turned out to be a vicious cycle. We would have body count syndrome. Commanders would become popular because they were warrior-like. But I saw the more we destroyed, the more the number of the enemy increased. There were so many instances of collateral damage and innocent lives being sacrificed. Just by passing through fields with so many battalions we were already stomping on crops and that makes people resent the military. In the course of a firefight school buildings would get burned, houses would be razed to the ground, civilians caught in the crossfire. Everything was blamed on the military."

Now, General Sabban says, the Philippine armed forces and their American allies have "shifted strategy": "I have told my commanders that all military operations should be intelligence-driven and surgical. How do we do this? Through intelligence enhanced by civil-military operations. We do civil-military operations to get people onto our side.

More people on your side will produce more and better intelligence, and if you have better intelligence you'll have more successful operations that are precise and surgical and that don't hurt innocent civilians. Thus we will get more support from the people and you will be denying the enemy resources and space to operate. People will drive them from their own areas. So now their space is getting smaller and smaller, until we can pinpoint them with information coming from the people themselves."

Much of the available evidence supports General Sabban's belief that the new strategy has been successful. Abu Sayyaf hasn't managed a high-profile terrorist attack since Valentine's Day 2005, when it set off a series of bombs in Manila and Mindanao that killed 11 people and injured 93. Smaller attacks continue, but there has been nothing on the scale of the bombing that devastated the passenger ship SuperFerry 14 in Manila Bay in 2004, killing 116 people.

The group has splintered in recent years, with its remnants focusing increasingly on kidnapping-for-ransom, which is hardly different from ordinary criminal activity and signals the dire financial straits the group faces. Abu Sayyaf has also made common cause with marijuana and amphetamine producers who find shelter in guerrilla-controlled areas. Its estimated strength has fallen from more than 1,200 in 2002 to fewer than 500 today. Jemaah Islamiyah has fewer than 100 members left in the Philippines. The links between the Philippines and al Qaeda largely have been severed.

Of crucial importance, many of the top leaders of both Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf have been eliminated. Only nine or ten "high value targets" are still on the loose, but getting them has been a study in frustration. The rugged terrain allows the kingpins to slip away into the jungle before ground troops can reach them. And the Philippine armed forces are sorely restricted in their capacity for precision bombing. Several Philippine and American soldiers we spoke with expressed frustration that the Philippine armed forces lack armed Predator drones, AC-130 gunships, satellite-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions, and other high-tech U.S. weapons that could more quickly finish off terrorist leaders.

But the Philippine government isn't willing to pay for this fancy gear, and the U.S. government hasn't been willing to donate it. (Apparently some at the State Department fear that such weapons could be turned against the New People's Army, though why that should be a cause for concern is not clear, since the NPA is classified as a terrorist organization by the State Department.)

Even without this high-tech equipment, however, the counterinsurgency campaign has been enjoying impressive success. We could see it for ourselves as we drove around areas that had once been infested with insurgents. In central Mindanao, the roads we traveled were deemed so safe that neither we nor our military escorts wore body armor, and we moved in unarmored SUVs.

The question now being debated about the Philippines at U.S. Pacific Command is similar to the one being debated about Iraq at U.S. Central Command: When can we leave without jeopardizing the gains that have been made? In both cases, soldiers on the ground are saying "not yet." Colonel Coultrup points out that in 2002 U.S. troops supported the Philippine armed forces as they chased terrorists off Basilan Island, but then U.S. forces left and the Philippine forces drew down. This allowed the terrorists to stage a resurgence culminating in an attack in June 2007 in which 14 Philippine Marines were killed, 10 of them decapitated.

In early December, another clash on Basilan killed 5 soldiers and injured 24. "I'm trying to work myself out of a job, but drawing down before conditions are stable creates a vacuum allowing Abu Sayyaf to return," Coultrup warns. He estimates that his operation is at the "70 percent to 75 percent level," but that more work needs to be done to eliminate the final insurgent lairs deep in the jungles and mountains. Lieutenant General Nelson Allaga, head of the Western Mindanao Command, confirms: "For now, we really need the Americans' support."

One of the beauties of this low-intensity approach is that it can be continued indefinitely without much public opposition or even notice. The reason why Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines gets so much less attention than the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is not hard to see. In Iraq there are 140,000 troops. In Afghanistan 35,000. In the Philippines 600. The Iraq war costs over $100 billion a year, Afghanistan over $30 billion. The Philippines costs $52 million a year.

Even more important is the human cost. While thousands of Americans have been killed or maimed in Afghanistan and Iraq, in the Philippines only one American soldier has died as a result of enemy action--Special Forces Sergeant First Class Mark Jackson, who was killed in 2002 by a bomb in Zamboanga City. Three soldiers have been wounded in action, the most serious injuries being sustained by Captain Mike Hummel in the same bombing.

Ten more soldiers died in 2002 in an accident when their MH-47 helicopter crashed. Every death is a tragedy, but with the number of tragedies in the Philippines minuscule, there is scant opposition to the mission either in the Philippines or in the United States. That's important, because when battling an insurgency the degree of success is often closely correlated to the duration of operations.

The successes of the Philippines cannot be replicated everywhere. To make this approach work requires having capable partners in the local security forces, which wasn't the case in either Iraq or Afghanistan immediately after the overthrow of the old regimes. It helps that the Filipino population is generally pro-American and thus receptive to the presence of some American troops.

As Major General Salvatore Cambria, commander of U.S. Special Operations Forces in the Pacific, says, "This is a model, not the model." But this "soft and light" approach--a "soft" counterinsurgency strategy, a light American footprint--is a model that has obvious application to many countries around the world where we cannot or will not send large numbers of troops to stamp out affiliates of the global jihadist network. (Max Boot is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD, and the author, most recently, of War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today. Richard Bennet is a research associate in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.)

(http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/015/956zznwj.asp?pg=1)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Moro rebels reject offer by communist insurgents to jointly fight Arroyo government

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 26, 2008) – The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, flatly rejected Friday an offer by communist insurgents to join them in toppling the Arroyo regime.

The New People’s Army is fighting to topple the democratic government and install a Maoist state in the Philippines and was convincing the MILF to join them.

“We cannot join the NPA in toppling the government. Our hands are also full of problems. That is too much for the Bangsamoro people,” Eid Kabalu, a senior MILF leader, told the Mindanao Examiner.

Communist leader Jose Maria Sison urged the MILF rebels to join forces with them, saying, they have a common enemy – the Arroyo administration.

But Kabalu said the MILF, which is also fighting for a separate Muslim homeland, has an existing cease-fire agreement with the government, although, sporadic fighting still continues in many areas in Mindanao. “We have a cease-fire agreement with the Philippine government and we cannot just abandon the accord,” he said.

Kabalu said although the MILF and the NPA have forged a tactical alliance, both groups have different ideologies. “For one, the MILF is guided by religion, Islam, and we believe in the Supreme Creator, Allah and the communist rebels are more on socialism,” he said.

Socialism is any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.

The NPA, armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines, broke off peace talks with Manila in 2004 after both sides failed to sign an agreement ending hostilities in the countryside.

Manila’s peace talks with the MILF also collapsed in August after the failed signing of the Muslim homeland deal, although, a fragile truce still remains. (Mindanao Examiner)

2 injured in Mindanao grenade attacks

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 26, 2008) – A series of grenade attacks injured two people and damaged several commuter buses in the southern Philippines, where government troops are fighting Moro rebels, officials said Friday.

Officials said two grenades exploded at bus depot in Cotabato City late Thursday, but there were no reports of casualties. “The blasts damaged several buses. There were no casualties,” Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, a spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, told the Mindanao Examiner.

No group of individuals claimed responsibility for the attacks, but police have implicated two security guards formerly working with the bus firm called Husky. Ando said the attackers, who escaped on a motorcycle, used MK2 fragmentation grenades.

He said two men riding tandem on motorcycle also hurled a grenade and exploded near a roadside eatery in Tacurong City, wounding two people.

Ando said the attacks appeared to be unrelated, but they coincided with sporadic clashes between troops and Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels in Aleosan town in North Cotabato and Kalamansig town in Sultan Kudarat provinces.

He said there were no casualties in the fighting. “The rebels continue to attack our forces without provocation,” he said.

At least 11 people were killed in sporadic clashes between military and rebel forces since Wednesday in Mindanao, Ando said.

The MILF said one rebel was slain in the fighting, which it blamed to government soldiers. “Troops are attacking us and we are only defending ourselves,” Eid Kabalu, a senior MILF leader, said.

Peace talks between the MILF and the Arroyo government collapsed after the failed signing of the Muslim ancestral domain in August. The aborted signing triaged a series of deadly rebel attacks in Mindanao.

The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group which is fighting the past three decades for a separate homeland in the troubled region. (Mindanao Examiner)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sayyaf attacks troops, torch school in Southern Philippines

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 25, 2008) – Abu Sayyaf militants, whose group is tied to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya, attacked Thursday government soldiers and torched a school in Sulu island in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials said the militants attacked marine soldiers in the village of Taglibi in Patikul town at around 12.45 a.m. and later torched the Datu Uddin Bahjin Central Elementary School.

“There were no reports of casualties,” said Lt. Steffani Cacho, a military spokeswoman.

Cacho said troops fought off the attackers, who later retreated under cover of darkness. “These attacks show the traitorous and coward-like character of the Abu Sayyaf, however, the troops’ vigilance have allowed them the upper hand and they were able to drive away the enemies,” she said.

Authorities have tagged the Abu Sayyaf group as behind the spate of kidnappings and bomb attacks across Mindanao. The Abu Sayyaf, which means "The Bearer of the Sword," has been labeled a terrorist organization by both Manila and Washington, and is believed by the US to have links with the al-Qaeda terror network.

Two factions of the Abu Sayyaf are still holding a kidnapped a Chinese trader Xili Wu in Sulu province. Wu was kidnapped Dec. 14 in the capital town of Jolo while he closing his appliances’ store. Another group is holding a nine-year old Filipino girl in Basilan island, south of Zamboanga City. (Mindanao Examiner)

7 killed in rebel attacks in Mindanao

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 25, 2008) – At least seven civilians were killed and nine others wounded in a series of rebel attacks in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials said soldiers also disarmed Thursday an improvised bomb planted on a bridge in the town of Datu Unsay in Maguindanao province, a day after Moro Islamic Liberation Front gunmen attacked military and police posts in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Shariff Kabunsuan and North Cotabato.

Three civilians were also seized by rebels on a farming village in Pickawayan town in North Cotabato province.

“There have been an increase in MILF attacks the past 24 hours and already seven civilians were killed and nine others wounded,” said Col. Julieto Ando, a spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

He said the rebels launched attacks on government detachments in the provinces, sparking sporadic clashes, but there were no reports of military or police casualties.

“Seven people were killed, all of them civilians, and nine others wounded in the attacks plus three more abducted by rebels,” Ando said.

He said rebel forces fired small rockets and automatic weapons in attacking army and police posts. “There were no provocations on our part and the rebels attacked our positions,” he said.

The MILF said one of its fighters was killed in the fighting in North Cotabato’s Aleosan town after rebels clashed with pro-government militias who grabbed their lands.

“The fighting was triggered by old conflict between rebels and militias. This is land conflict and the militias grabbed the lands of owned by rebels and their families,” said Eid Kabalu, a senior MILF leader.

Kabalu also denied that rebels targeted civilians in the provinces. “They may have been shot by soldiers and militias on suspicion they were MILF members,” he said.

The MILF is fighting for the establishment of a separate homeland for more than four million Muslims in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner)

40th Founding Anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)

40th Founding Anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP): Celebrating Forty Years of Continuous Denial of A Better Way of Life for Every Filipino by Col. Daniel A. Lucero

As the Communist Party of the Philippines celebrates its 40th founding anniversary, it highlights as it always does, its propaganda that it is fighting to achieve an equitable society through a democratic political system for the Filipino Nation.

Just like any insurgent group, the CPP, with its armed component, the New People’s Army (NPA) and its mass base organizer, the National Democratic Front (NDF), continues to promise anything to advance its political cause without any obligation and responsibility to prove it. It still uses the usual deceptive measures such as lying, cheating and exaggerating hoping that these can undermine the government’s credibility and press forward its political and social ambitions.

A case in point of this observation is the recent condemnation against the Philippine Army’s 48th Infantry Battalion based in Aurora Province which is another clear media trick initiated by the NDF, and supported by the proposal of the Multi-Sectoral Action Group of Aurora submitted to the Commission of Human Rights for the closure of the battalion’s camps in Aurora.

It speaks well of the NDF’s influence over an unsuspecting non-government organization. The Philippine Army has been positively receptive of any criticism from the public hoping that this can improve the delivery of its sworn security contract with the Filipino Nation. However, any request for a pullout of an army’s encampment is seen rather as a move of a local terrorist group to get rid of a hindrance to the achievement of its political aims.

Today, Aurora Province is the only remaining CPP/NPA/NDF’s sanctuary in Central Luzon, after nine guerrilla fronts have been dismantled in this year alone. As an added setback, in September of this year, four NPA members namely; Carlos Hurial, Ton-Ton Mijares, Orlando Aimboyutan and Jessie Garcia decided to turn their backs against the terrorist group in Aurora and surrendered five firearms to the government forces. Carlos Mijares even killed four of his comrades when they tried to stop him from joining the cause of the government and even took two M-16 rifles when he fled.

The story mentioned above is just one of the many stories of failure of the CPP/NPA/NDF. The group has continuously denied every Filipino of achieving a better life. It has continuously ignored the fact that there are still citizens and groups in our nation which only support them because of fear and reprisal. The CPP/NPA/NDF then has nothing to celebrate. (The author is the Commander of the Civil-Military Operations Group, Philippine Army in Fort Andres Bonifacio, Makati City)

Peace, charity, reward, thanksgiving in ARMM on Christmas

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 25, 2008) — The past president of Cotabato City’s Muslim Chamber of Commerce and Industry makes sure his workers get the year’s take home bonus pays, days before Christmas and Ramadan corresponding to his Christian and Muslim workers.

Engineer Hadji Muhammad Basar, whose family runs a chain of hardware stores here, said their establishments had to be tended by Christians and Muslim salespersons, because they rarely close on holidays—as big malls do.

Basar said shifting of Muslim and Christian workers on their respective holidays has made possible for a “business as usual” climate, all-year rounds.

But Basar said his business had to equally pay bonuses to Muslim or Christian employees in months of their important holidays.

In the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, lawyer Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, ARMM solicitor-general, said Governor Zaldy Uy Ampatuan had directed heads of agencies to release thirteenth month pays to their employees on time.

“A Muslim employer should be paying the worker, before his sweat dries up, as taught by the Prophet Muhammad (peace on him). We pay Christmas bonuses to our Christian employees and Ramadan bonuses for the Muslim workers,” Basar said.

His wife, Sandra Sema-Basar, said business establishments should be giving their workers take-home pays “by whatever name one may call it,” on seasons so important to them, like Christmas and Ramadan.

Ms. Basar was referring to other Muslim business establishment owners who, she said, would rather call their workers’ Christmas bonuses a “charity” or “reward” for being consistent to their duties and responsibilities, and given on days significant to their faiths.

But Christmas carolers usually evade Muslim-owned establishments, where they usually get prior advices that Muslims give charities voluntarily, as they did not want it sought through traditions practiced by followers of other faiths.

Meanwhile, “thanksgiving” was the term used by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao on a Christmas party tendered by its Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

DAF-ARMM Secretary Kesie Tan Usman was not around to attend, but sent a word that his office held the occasion “for partners of the ARMM of Governor Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan.”

ARMM senior information officer Ramundo Pelaez explained to ARMM workers, mostly Muslims, that “thanksgiving is also the term used in the Holy Land” for Christmas parties, especially where, aside from Bethlehem, Christmas celebrations are discouraged by authorities.

Avelino Acoymo, ARMM information director, said his office a constructed a website in which one can find “every information that you need to know about the ARMM.”

Acoymo said his office has pursued a memorandum of agreement that seeks close working relationship between Malacañang’s Bureau of Broadcast and the ARMM’s Bureau of Public Information.

In a related development, Christian residents were seen hiking the highways in small groups early dawn for the traditional “Simbang Gabi” in predominantly Maguindanaon Muslim municipalities of Datu Montawal and Mamasapano in Maguindanao.

Mamasapano town had been the site of recent fierce fighting between government forces and guerrillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Maguindanao.

On the other hand, Datu Montawal has been carved out of Pagalungan town, ancestral home of the political Pendatun and Matalam clans and of the late MILF chairman, Ustadz Salamat Hashim.

Barangay auxiliary police volunteers here have also been on full guard of dimly lit streets and alleys, clearing ways for midnight-to-dawn churchgoers, on orders of village chiefs and City Mayor Muslimin Sema. (Nash B. Maulana)

Strong Quake Hits Southern Philippines

KIDAPAWAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 25, 2008) - An earthquake measuring 6.2 in the Richter Scale shook the southern Philippines on Thursday, but there were no reports of casualties or injuries.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck at 11:20 a.m. local time (10:20 p.m. ET) at about 55 kilometers (35 miles) southeast of General Santos at a depth of 207 kilometers (129 miles). It was also felt in other areas nearby.

"It was strong. My chair was shaking and I thought I was going to fall from where I sit," said Geonarri Solmerano, the Mindanao Examiner photojournalist in Kidapawan City.

The Philippines is located in the so-called "Ring of Fire," an area of frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions encircling the basin of the Pacific Ocean.

In a 40,000 km horseshoe shape, it is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, and volcanic belts and plate movements.

The Ring of Fire has 452 volcanoes and is home to over 75% of the world's active and dormant volcanoes. It is sometimes called the circum-Pacific belt or the circum-Pacific seismic belt. (Mindanao Examiner)

Photo: A Child Kisses Foot Of Baby Jesus In South RP

A father holds his daughter as she kisses the foot of the statue of child Jesus Christ inside the Our Lady Mediatrix of All Graces Cathedral in Kidapawan City in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Geonari Solmerano)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Kidnappers free nursing student in Basilan island

The parents of freed nursing student Joed Anthony Pilangga during a news conference with other families of kidnapped victims on Friday, Nov. 7, 2008 in Zamboanga City. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 24, 2008) – Kidnappers freed late Wednesday a Filipino nursing student after more than two months in captivity in the southern Philippine island of Basilan, officials said.

Officials said Joed Pilangga, 17, was released in the town of Al-Barka at around 9 p.m. “He is okay and with me right now. We will hand over Joed Pilangga to the police and military authorities tomorrow,” the island’s deputy governor Al Rasheed Sakalahul told the radio network RMN-Radyo Agong in Zamboanga City.

Sakalahul did not say how much ransom was paid for Pilangga’s freedom, but the kidnappers had previously demanded P20 million ransoms in exchange for his safe release.

The politician said the hostage was released to his emissaries after a series of negotiations.

Pilangga was kidnapped Oct. 17 in Zamboanga City and brought to Basilan island.

Authorities have tagged the Abu Sayyaf as behind the kidnapping. The group is still holding a nine-year old girl, who was kidnapped Nov. 26 in Basilan’s Lamitan City and demanded P4 million for her freedom.

Pilangga said his captors had repeatedly threatened to kill him if they did not get the ransom. “I was really scared. They threatened to kill me if they did not get what they wanted,” he said.

He said the kidnappers fed him fish, vegetables and noodles during his 68-day ordeal in the hinterlands of Basilan. “I am so excited to see my family. I want to see them and be with them,” he said.

Pilangga briefly spoke with his mother Lucy after the radio network contacted his family in Zamboanga City. “Mum, I am okay. Wait for me tomorrow and I am coming home,” he said.

Early this month, gunmen also kidnapped seven construction workers in Basilan, but freed all of them a week later after Lamitan City Mayor Roderick Furigay negotiated for their release.

Gunmen seized the seven workers after stopping a lorry near Tuburan town on December 1. Authorities initially blamed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels in the kidnappings, but apparently it was carried out by a small criminal gang wanted to get ransom, other sources said.

Two more people were people were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen on December 2 near Maluso town also in Basilan island, but they had been freed three days later, said Sakalahul.

Military offensive since early this month have targeted the Abu Sayyaf, but the larger rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, had been dragged into the skirmishes after it accused government troops of attacking its positions on the island.

In retaliation, the rebels launched a series of attacks against government forces, sparking sporadic, but fierce fighting killing five marines and wounding two dozen soldiers in Al-Barka town.

The military accused the MILF of coddling Abu Sayyaf terrorists and vowed to step up the operation against the militants.

More than a dozen people had been kidnapped by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants headed by Puruji Indama and Nur Hassan Jamiri in recent months and most of them had been freed in exchange for huge ransoms.

Locals blamed the police and military authorities in Basilan, one of six provinces under the Muslim autonomous region, for their failure to secure the safety of the civilians. (Mindanao Examiner)

Anti-mining activist killed in southern RP

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 24, 2008) – An anti-mining activist accused by the Philippine military as a communist rebel was shot dead by gunmen in Mindanao, south of the country where security forces are battling insurgents.

Fernando Sarmiento, Secretary-General of the anti-mining group called Panalipdan, was killed late Tuesday in the village of Cabinuangan in Compostela Valley’s New Bataas town.

His followers condemned the killing and accused the military as behind the murder.

“We condemn in the strongest term the brutal killing of Dodong Sarmiento, who is known for leading the rural folks of New Bataan in calling for the stoppage of the operations of PhilCo Mining Corporation, the planned exploration of other mining corporations and mining-instigated militarization under the command of 10th Infantry Division, citing as reasons for their resistance on the destruction that large-scale mining operations brought on people's livelihoods and local ecosystems,” said Francis Morales, spokesman for the Panalipdan.

He said Sarmiento, 39, was shot five times.

Soldiers from the 28th Infantry Battalion arrested and interrogated Sarmiento on July 16 after accusing him either as a supporter or a member of the New People’s Army rebels and his being active in anti-mining campaigns in Midnanao, according to Morales.

"This is a typical mode of operation of the military in implementing the Oplan Bantay Laya 2 in the rural areas of Compostela Valley wherein activist leaders were maligned and demonized first before being killed," he said.

Oplan Bantay Laya is the government’s counter-insurgency operations in the Philippines aimed at wiping out the NPA by 2010. The military denied any links in the killing of Sarmiento.

About two dozen environmental activists had been killed in recent years, according to the independent Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment. (Mindanao Examiner)

Communist rebels release captured police officer in southern Philippines

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 24, 2008) – Philippine communist rebels freed Wednesday a policeman they captured in Mindanao, but are still holding an army officer prisoner in the troubled region.

Rigoberto Sanchez, a spokesman for the New People's Army rebels, said Eduardo Tumol was released as an act of goodwill.

“New People's Army Prisoner of War PO3 Eduardo C. Tumol, Badge No. 078679, was released today as an act of goodwill as the whole revolutionary movement celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines,” he said.

He said Tumol was accorded humane and lenient treatment befitting his status as prisoner of war in accordance with international war protocols, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and the NPA's Three Rules of Discipline and Eight Points of Attention.

Sanchez did not give details of Tumol’s release. Tumol, a member of the 1105th Provincial Mobile Group, was arrested on November 5 by the NPA at a checkpoint in the village of Baogo in Davao Oriental's Caraga town. His commander, Chief Inspector Angel Sumagaysay, and another policeman were able to escape from the rebels.

The NPA is still holding First Lieutenant Vicente Cammayo since November 7 after rebel forces attacked his unit and killed two soldiers and a government militia in a fierce firefight in Casoon village in the town of Monkayo in Compostela Valley province.

The rebels also seized an M60 machine gun and two M16 and one M14 automatic rifles from Cammayo's unit during the fighting.

It was unknown when Cammayo would be freed, but Sanchez previously said that both prisoners were being investigated for possible human rights violations and other crimes related to the operations of the Special Forces and the Provincial Mobile Group in Mindanao.

Aris Francisco, spokesman of the NPA's Alejandro Lanaja Command, accused the 3rd Special Forces Battalion to which Cammayo's unit belongs, as responsible for the series of violations to human rights, protocols of war and international humanitarian law in Compostela Valley province.

He accused the Special Forces of masterminding the June bombing in Nabunturan town that wounded several innocent civilians. "The bombing was a desperate and fascist attack in response to the sparrow operations of the NPA which killed two of their soldiers at that time," he said.

The NPA also tagged Special Forces members as behind the brutal murder in June of a peasant leader Noli Llanos in Nabunturan's Mipangi village, where rebels killed three government soldiers; and also the killing of farmer Diego Encarnacion in the village of Linda in Nabunturan town in July. Both farmers were accused by the military as NPA supporters.

The military denied all accusations and branded them as propaganda.

The NPA, armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines, is fighting the government the past four decades for the establishment of a Maoist state in the country. Peace talks between Manila and the CPP-NPA collapsed in 2004 after both sides failed to sign an agreement ending hostilities in the countryside. (Mindanao Examiner)

Sayyaf militants bolt Basilan jail

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 24, 2008) - Three Abu Sayyaf prisoners escaped from the provincial jail Wednesday after overpowering their guards in the southern Filipino island of Basilan, officials said.

Police forces backed by marine soldiers were sent to hunt down the three militants, who were all implicated in the beheading of 10 soldiers in firefight in Basilan’s Al-Barka town in July last year.

“There is an ongoing operation to recapture those who escaped from the jail,” said Lt. Steffani Cacho, a military spokeswoman.

The prisoners were outside their cells at around 9.45 a.m. when they grabbed the weapons of two guards and overpowered them.

It was not the first time that prisoners escaped from the provincial jail in Isabela City’s Sumagdang village.

In July last year, at least 16 hardened criminals, including four Abu Sayyaf militants, escaped from the prison after destroying the windows of their cell.

In April 2004, at least 53 prisoners, among them 19 Abu Sayyaf members, escaped from the provincial jail after a visitor smuggled a gun used in overpowering three guards. Eight of the escapees were killed and nine recaptured by responding soldiers and policemen.
(Mindanao Examiner)

Photo: Davao City Hall At Night


The Davao City Hall and a giant Chrsitmas tree at the People's Park in the southern Philippines (AKP Images / Ruby Thursday More)

Photo: Cotabato City Hall At Night


Bright and color lights fill the Cotabato City Hall at night. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Mark Navales)

NPA rebels to free captured policeman in Mindanao

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 23, 2008) – Philippine communist rebels said they would free a policeman captured in Mindanao, but are still holding an army officer prisoner in the troubled region.

Rigoberto Sanchez, a spokesman for the New People’s Army rebels, said they would soon release Eduardo Tumol as an act of goodwill. He did not say when the actual release would be, but claimed Tumol’s freedom was based on humanitarian grounds and in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines on Dec. 26.

“The Merardo Arce Command-Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command of the New People's Army has ordered the unilateral release of NPA prisoner of war PO3 Eduardo C. Tumol (Badge No. 078679).”
”POW Tumol's release is an act of goodwill in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines. It is also based on humanitarian grounds as well-meaning individuals, personalities and peace advocates clamor for a negotiated and unilateral release,” Sanchez said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.

He said Tumol was accorded humane and lenient treatment befitting his status as prisoner of war in accordance with international war protocols, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and the NPA's Three Rules of Discipline and Eight Points of Attention.
”The soonest time, the Merardo Arce Command-NPA shall make further announcements related to the actual release of POW Tumol,” Sanchez said.Tumol, a member of the 1105th Provincial Mobile Group, was arrested on November 5 by the NPA at a checkpoint in the village of Baogo in Davao Oriental's Caraga town. His commander, Chief Inspector Angel Sumagaysay, and another policeman were able to escape from the rebels.

The NPA is still holding First Lieutenant Vicente Cammayo since November 7 after rebel forces attacked his unit and killed two soldiers and a government militia in a fierce firefight in Casoon village in the town of Monkayo in Compostela Valley province.

The rebels also seized an M60 machine gun and two M16 and one M14 automatic rifles from Cammayo's unit during the fighting.

It was unknown when Cammayo would be freed, but Sanchez previously said that both prisoners were being investigated for possible human rights violations and other crimes related to the operations of the Special Forces and the Provincial Mobile Group in Mindanao.

Aris Francisco, spokesman of the NPA's Alejandro Lanaja Command, accused the 3rd Special Forces Battalion to which Cammayo's unit belongs, as responsible for the series of violations to human rights, protocols of war and international humanitarian law in Compostela Valley province.

He accused the Special Forces of masterminding the June bombing in Nabunturan town that wounded several innocent civilians. "The bombing was a desperate and fascist attack in response to the sparrow operations of the NPA which killed two of their soldiers at that time," he said.

The NPA also tagged Special Forces members as behind the brutal murder in June of a peasant leader Noli Llanos in Nabunturan's Mipangi village, where rebels killed three government soldiers; and also the killing of farmer Diego Encarnacion in the village of Linda in Nabunturan town in July. Both farmers were accused by the military as NPA supporters.

The military denied all accusations and branded them as propaganda.

The NPA, armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines, is fighting the government the past four decades for the establishment of a Maoist state in the country. Peace talks between Manila and the CPP-NPA collapsed in 2004 after both sides failed to sign an agreement ending hostilities in the countryside. (Mindanao Examiner)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

17 wounded in Sayyaf attack in the Philippines

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 23, 2008) – At least 17 people were injured in an Abu Sayyaf grenade attack late Tuesday outside a popular hamburger fast food chain in the southern Philippines, officials said.
Officials said one of two men riding tandem on motorcycle tossed the fragmentation grenade outside the store of the Jollibee Hamburger in Isabela City on Basilan island, south of Zamboanga City.

“Two unidentified person on a motorcycle threw a fragmentation grenade in front of the Isabela Jollibee fast food,” Lt. Steffani Cacho, a military spokeswoman, told the Mindanao Examiner.

Brig. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of the marine forces on the island, said the attack occurred at around 9 p.m. “We suspect the Abu Sayyaf was behind the attack that injured at least 17 people,” he said by phone from Isabela City.

He said the attack was probably in retaliation to continued operation against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan. “There is an ongoing operation against the terrorists and this attack could be diversionary,” he said.

Guerrero said most of those injured in the explosion were civilians relaxing at the plaza in front of the store owned by Jollibee Foods.

Jollibee Foods is a leading operator of quick-service restaurants in the Philippines, with more than 1,500 outlets in the county. The company also operates such chains as Greenwich Pizza, Chowking and Yonghe King, Red Ribbon and Delifrance French-style cafés.

The Abu Sayyaf group has been linked to the spate of kidnappings and bomb attacks in the Philippines and is labeled a terrorist organization by both Manila and Washington, and is believed by the US to have links with the al-Qaeda terror network and Jemaah Islamiya.

The Philippine government, aided by the US military, has deployed thousands of troops in the south, including in Basilan island, in an effort to eradicate Abu Sayyaf. (Mindanao Examiner)

Arrested Human Rights Lawyer Yet To Have His Day in Court

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines (Philippine Human Rights Reporting project / Dec. 23, 2008) – Lawmakers in the House of Representatives have filed a resolution to investigate the arrest and continuing detention of human rights and labor lawyer Remigio Saladero Jr.

And in another related development, the Asian Network of Indigenous Lawyers (ANIL) is bringing the case to the UN Secretary-General’s special representative on human rights’ defenders while urging the Philippine government to order the release of the 49-year-old lawyer who was arrested in Oriental Mindoro over what his supporters claim are trumped-up charges.

Human Rights Watch has already claimed the arrest to be ‘politically motivated.’ Elaine Pearson, its Asia Division deputy director has said the arrest ‘smacks of harassment pure and simple.” The Commission on Human Rights has also reportedly recently started its own investigation into the case.

Interviewed this week by the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project, Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo said that Philippine lawmakers have filed House Resolution No. 887 which directs the House Committee on Human Rights to conduct an inquiry into the arrest and detention of Saladero.

“It was already referred to the Committee on Human Rights but no hearing is yet set,” Ocampo added, when interviewed via phone on December 16 while attending the Congress Bicameral meeting for the 2009 budget.

Saladero Jr. was arrested on October 23 inside his office in Antipolo City by combined elements of the Antipolo police and military intelligence group 4A of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP), stated Resolution No. 887 which was filed on November 27 with Representatives Teodoro Casino, Liza Maza, Luzviminda Ilagan, and Rafael Mariano.

Saladero who is reportedly being held in Calapan City jail in Oriental Mindoro in southern Luzon, counts many trade union and human rights activists among his clients as well as those charged with being suspected members of the New People’s Army.

“The trumped-up charges against Saladero appear to be an attempt to intimidate other lawyers of the Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center (PLACE) for handling around 700 labor, human rights, civil and administrative cases, including controversial labor cases of Hacienda Luisita and Nestle Philippines,” claims Ocampo.

Hacienda Luisita is the 5,000-hectare hacienda in Tarlac in central Luzon owned and controlled by the family of former president Corazon Aquino. Nestle Philippines meanwhile used to be co-owned by San Miguel Corporation, the country’s largest food and beverage company led by Aquino’s first cousin, businessman Eduardo Cojuangco Jr.

Genesis of the charges

Multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder charges were filed against Saladero and 71 co-accused based on claims that Saladero and others were involved in an NPA ambush against military forces in 2006 in Oriental Mindoro.

Judge Tomas Leynes of the Regional Trial Court Branch 40 of Calapan issued a warrant of arrest for Saladero on October 8.

Saladero’s lawyer Noel Neri claimed they have already filed motions to quash the warrant and dismiss the case. A hearing was originally scheduled on December 11 but was reportedly postponed to allow more time to prepare the case against him and his co defendants.

According to the Free Attorney Saladero Coalition, there has not been any preliminary investigation. The coalition was formed on November 13 and composed of lawyers, trade unions and human rights groups.

According to court documents, a military agent pointed to Saladero and other activists as among those involved in the 2006 ambush in Oriental Mindoro.

ANIL maintains the Philippine government is contradicting its commitment to the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) by harassing human rights defenders through “trumped-up” cases filed in court with the sole aim to “silence them from raising human rights issues”.

Composed of human rights lawyers across the region, ANIL has urged the government to “immediately release labor lawyer and newspaper columnist Saladero.”

At least twenty-five lawyers from various countries gathered here for a network conference sponsored by Tebteba Foundation, an indigenous peoples international center for policy research and education.

Babloo Loitongbam, a lawyer based in India, said the background, nature of the charges and the arrest of Saladero are all considered as an attack on human rights defenders as Saladero is working with the realization of human rights.

“We intend to bring the case (of Saladero) to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders for appropriate action,” said Loitongbam, also the executive director of Human Rights Alert, an NGO rendering legal services to the poor in India.

Worst attack against defender

In a separate interview with the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project, lawyer Jose Mencio Molintas, an appointed member of the indigenous rights experts group to the United Nations Human Rights Council, condemned the charges against Saladero.

“That is the worst form of attack against human rights defenders, filing trump up cases to silence him on his human rights work and advocacy,” said Molintas who is also national vice-president for Luzon of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL).

A member of the Ibaloi tribe and a veteran human rights lawyer, Molintas added that Saladero is dedicated to human rights advocacy rendering free legal services to the “poor and oppressed.”

GMA record compared with Marcos

Lawyer Cheryll Datec-Yangot meantime criticized the President for what she claimed was “poor leadership” in regard to the promotion and protection of rights in the Philippines.

“It is a manifestation of the gravity of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s disregard on basic rights,” added Daytec-Yangot, a human rights practicing lawyer in the Cordillera.

“If they can concoct a case against a lawyer and violate his human rights, they can do that to anyone just to stifle dissent on a regime whose record is unprecedented,” Daytec-Yangot said, adding: “(Ferdinand) Marcos’ human rights record pales in comparison with that of Arroyo.”

Attack against press freedom

The lawyer’s arrest has also been roundly condemned by media activists given he also works as a columnist and writes Husgahan Natin (Let Us Judge) on the Pinoy Weekly, a web-based news outfit.

“Saladero was arrested not because he was being suspected as an NPA but because he criticized the government’s inability to address the issues of the labor sector,” claimed Desiree Caluza, secretary-general of the Baguio-Benguet chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

She added that the government should stop thinking that the arrest of Saladero will stop those who would write and express the issues of the marginalized sectors.

“The will to express and write about the marginalized sectors cannot be curtailed as long as exploitation and oppression continues,” added Caluza who also writes for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Just doing their job

For their part, the police in Oriental Mindoro claimed that they do not have any grudge against Saladero.

“We were just executing a warrant of arrest issued by a judge in one of the courts,” explained Superintendent Ricardo Padilla, CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) police chief.

He added that the police themselves would be in violation of the law if they did not implement a court order.

But Saladero was first reported missing by his next of kin before the police admitted they had arrested him. Saladero’s wife Maricel has repeatedly denied her husband is a member of the NPA and says she fears for her husband’s health behind bars. (Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project - Arthur L. Allad-iw. The author is a journalist based in Baguio City and a member of the Kankanaey tribe in the Mountain Province. He writes in a local paper and hosts a television program in a local cable station. He is also an active member of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.)