Tuesday, July 31, 2007

300 Cops Search For Rebels In Basilan Island

Some 300 Filipino policemen, led by Basilan island police commander Salik Macapantar, hunt down Tuesday July 31, 2007 Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels tagged as behind the beheading of ten of 14 marines soldiers killed in fierce fighting in the mountain town of Al-Barka. Police said it has warrants for the arrest of 130 suspected MILF and Abu Sayyaf militants implicated in the gruesome murder on July 10. Filipino defense and security officials say they are reviewing the names in the warrants. The MILF is currently negotiating peace with Manila. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

BASILAN ISLAND, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 31 Jul) – Police forces on Tuesday hunted for Moro rebels implicated in the beheading of ten of 14 marine soldiers killed in the southern Filipino island of Basilan.

Some 300 policemen searched houses in the village of Guinanta in Basilan’s Al-Barka town, a known stronghold of Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, but returned to their base later in the day without any arrest.

“It looks like the rebels have fled their homes and could be hiding to elude arrest,” the island’s police chief Salik Macapantar told the Mindanao Examiner.

Police said it has warrants for the arrest of some 130 suspected MILF and Abu Sayyaf militants implicated in the gruesome murder on July 10.

Police forces also searched an MILF training camp in the mountain town, but the place was abandoned. An obstacle course and several empty thatched huts were spotted in the area.

Government soldiers were also seen guarding a mosque in Guinanta village.

The MILF, which is negotiating peace with the Arroyo government, denied beheading the soldiers and called for an international human rights group to investigate the incident.

The fighting erupted after some 100 soldiers entered an MILF territory in search for a kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi after military intelligence reports said the clergy was being held by rogue rebels.

The reports turned out to be false because Bossi was freed by rebels July 19 in Lanao del Norte province in Mindanao island. The priest said he was never brought to Basilan, but stayed most of his captivity in the town called Karomatan.

Philippine military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon has demanded the MILF to surrender those involved in the killing and return the weapons it seized, but the MILF was defiant and said it would not yield any of its fighters.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said the fighting was a legitimate encounter and warned any attack on the rebel group could escalate and may hurt the seven year old peace talks.

Filipino acting Defense chief Norberto Gonzales has threatened to launch punitive actions against the MILF in Basilan if they do not surrender the rebels behind the murder.

Gonzales flew to Zamboanga City and Basilan island where he met with senior military and police commanders about the impending punitive actions.

He said the government would also review the charges against the rebels after learning that the police implicated 130 people in the beheading of the ten marine soldiers.

The MILF and the government cease-fire committees were also investigating the incident.

The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting the past three decades for a separate homeland in the restive southern region of Mindanao.
(Mark Navales)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Commies Kill 2 Soldiers In Sorsogon Province

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 30 Jul) – Two government soldiers were killed and seven more wounded in a clash with communist insurgents in the province of Sorsogon, east of Manila.

The Philippine News Agency said the fighting occurred late Sunday in the town called Juban and that two civilians were injured in the cross-fire.

It said the soldiers were patrolling a remote village when members of the New People’s Army attacked them sparking a firefight that lasted more than four hours.

About 70 NPA gunmen were involved in the attack. There were no immediate reports of NPA casualties, but security officials said more troops were sent to the town to hunt down the insurgents.

The NPA, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, is fighting the past decades for the establishment of a Maoist state in the country. (Mindanao Examiner)

Solons Urged To Set Aside Fund For Reforestation Projects

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 30 Jul) – The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) has urged Monday members of the Senate and the House of Representatives to set aside their “pork barrel” allotments over the next three years -- a total of P64.8 billion -- to finance employment-intensive reforestation projects nationwide.

"This way, they not only help restore the country's forest cover, they also contribute directly to the creation of badly needed new jobs, and to alleviating widespread hunger," TUCP President Democrito Mendoza said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.

Metro Manila's dwindling water supply due to a lingering drought has underscored the urgency of reforestation projects, Mendoza said.

Mendoza said reforestation projects are highly labor-intensive, and could potentially generate tens of thousands of new jobs in the countryside.

"A seedling normally requires at least three years of proper care before they can grow on their own. Thus, the planting and growing of trees in thousands of hectares of denuded land will definitely require the mobilization of considerable human resources," he said.

Pork barrel is a derogatory term for spending meant to benefit a politician's constituents in return for their support.

Pork barrel spending usually goes to public works projects and subsidies with benefits that are concentrated in a particular district, but with cost that are spread among all taxpayers.

Pork barrel is often allocated through last-minute budget bill insertions.Beginning last year, the House of Representatives increased the annual pork barrel allocation of every member from P40 million to P70 million. This raised the combined annual pork barrel of the 240 House members to a total of P16.8 billion.

The 24 members of the Senate, meanwhile, get up to P200 million each in annual pork barrel allotments, or a total of P4.8 billion. (Alex Aguilar)

Gulo Sa Basilan, Parang Bulkang Sasabog!

BASILAN (Mindanao Examiner / 30 Jul) – Mataas ang tension sa Basilan province dahil sa nakaambang paglunsad ng punitive actions laban sa Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels na siyang pumatay sa 14 na marine soldiers, sampu sa mga ito ay pinugutan ng ulo sa labanan.

Ito ay matapos na panindigan ng MILF na hindi nito isusuko ang mga rebeldeng sabit sa pagpatay. Itinanggi rin ng rebeldeng grupo na pinugutan nila ng ulo ang mga tropa ng military.

Bukas magtatapos ang pinalawig na ultimatum ng pamahalaan sa MILF dahil sa isinagawang imbestigasyon upang matukoy ang tunay na naganap sa bayan ng Al-Barka nuong July 10.

Nagbigay na ng go-signal si Armed Forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon na ilunsad ang punitive actions. “It is D-Day on Tuesday,” ani pa ni Esperon.

Hindi naman natinag ang MILF sa bantang pagsalakay ng mga sundalo at sinabing matagal ng naghihintay ang puwersa ng rebelde sa Basilan at handa umano ang mga ito na ipagtanggol ang kanilang sarili.

Kasalukuyang may peace talks ang MILF at pamahalaan at tahasang sinabi ni Mohagher Iqbal, chief peace negotiator ng mga rebelde, na anumang pagkilos ng military kontra sa kanyang grupo ay isang paglabag ng cease-fire.

Sinabi ni Iqbal na nais ng MILF na maresolba sa mapayapang paraaan ang gulo sa Basilan upang hindi maapektuhan ang peace talks o kaya ay kumalat ang labanan sa ibang bahagi ng Mindanao kung sakaling lusubin ng mga sundalo ang kuta ng MILF sa Basilan.

“Sana ay magkaroon ng magandang paguusap pa at ng hindi magkaroon ng anumang kaguluhan sa Basilan,” ani Iqbal sa Mindanao Examiner.

Sinabi ni Iqbal na napatay sa labanan ang mga sundalo ng marines dahil pinasok nila ang kuta ng MILF ng walang koordinasyon.

Pinaghahanap umano ng mga sundalo ang dinukot na Italian Catholic priest na si Father Giancarlo Bossi matapos na may lumabas na ulat na naroon ang dayuhan.

Ngunit negatibo ang intelligence ng military at si Bossi ay napalaya sa Lanao del Norte nuong July 19 matapos ng 39 araw na pagkakabihag ng mga rogue MILF rebels. (May ulat ni Mark Navales)

1,700 Killed, Injured In Philippines Attack Blamed On Terror Groups

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 30 Jul) - Violent Islamist groups in the Philippines have killed or injured more than 1,700 people in bombings and other attacks since 2000, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released Monday.

The report said the attacks, mostly in Mindanao, Basilan, Jolo, and other southern islands, have also included kidnappings, executions, and shootings. " Extremist armed groups have spread terror among civilians in the Philippines. They have bombed buses carrying workers, food markets where people were shopping, airports where relatives were waiting for loved ones, and ferry boats carrying families."

The 28-page report, "Lives Destroyed: Attacks on Civilians in the Philippines," contains personal accounts and photographs of bombing sites and of victims of attacks and their relatives. It describes how attacks have killed children, parents, husbands, and wives, and caused terrible suffering among wounded survivors and relatives.

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM), based in the southern Philippines, are implicated in or have claimed responsibility for many of the attacks.

"Extremist armed groups have spread terror among civilians in the Philippines,"said John Sifton, senior researcher on terrorism and counter-terrorism at Human Rights Watch. "They have bombed buses carrying workers, food markets where people were shopping, airports where relatives were waiting for loved ones, and ferry boats carrying families."

The casualties since 2000 amount to more than the number of people killed and injured in bombing attacks during the same period in neighboring Indonesia (including the 2002 Bali bombings), and considerably more than the number of those killed and injured in bombings in Morocco, Spain, Turkey, or the United Kingdom.

The scale of the violence, however, has not received widespread attention outside the region. Human Rights Watch faulted the Philippines government for not prosecuting those responsible for attacks.

Although numerous suspects in bombing attacks have been arrested since 2000, Human Rights Watch said that very few have been successfully brought to trial, and prosecutions in some cases have been delayed for more than four years.

Human Rights Watch has criticized the recent passage of a new counter-terrorism law, "The Human Security Act," which contains dangerous over-broad provisions that violate human rights standards and broaden the scope of government power to hold terrorism suspects indefinitely.

Human Rights Watch said that existing criminal statutes were more than sufficient to prosecute acts of terrorism.

"The Philippines doesn't need a new abusive counter-terrorism law," said Sifton. "The government isn't using the laws it already has, so why does it need new provisions that violate human rights?"

The Human Rights Watch report provides compelling new information about many of the attacks that have occurred in recent years. For instance, it contains interviews with survivors of the February 27, 2004 bombing of the Superferry 14, a ferry traveling from Manila to Mindanao.

The bomb, which detonated just outside of Manila harbor, killed at least 116 people. The dead included 15 children, six of whom were under five years old. At least 12 families lost multiple members, and at least 10 married couples died together. Six of the children killed in the blast were students on a championship team sent by schools in northern Mindanao to compete in a journalism contest in Manila.

The report also details the February 14, 2005 Valentine's Day bombings of Manila and two cities in Mindanao. Human Rights Watch interviewed Mark Gil Bigbig, a 31-year-old student, who was eating at a fast-food restaurant in General Santos City when a bomb went off outside: "We were surprised . . . people were shouting, "It is a bomb! I looked down, and already I could see my blood splashing below me, and I dropped to the ground."

Bigbig suffered major trauma to his legs from shrapnel and broken glass, and today, more than two years after the attack, cannot walk without braces and crutches.

The report explains how survivors with minimal physical injuries have suffered. For instance, Aurelia Espera, a victim of a 2003 attack, tearfully told Human Rights Watch about seeing the bodies of her two children, one of them decapitated, and her mother-in-law: "I can never forget, I saw my children lying there in the street."

Members of the ASG and RSM are implicated in or have claimed responsibility for many of these attacks. ASG is an extremist Islamist group whose members broke away in the 1990s from the longstanding ethnic Moro insurgent groups based in the predominantly Muslim areas of the southern Philippines (Moro is a Philippine term for Muslim).

RSM, a group composed of converts to Islam, is closely tied to ASG. The two groups purportedly aim to push Christians out from Mindanao and the Sulu islands and "restore" Islamic rule over the Philippines.

"Abu Sayyaf and Rajah Solaiman have committed crimes on a massive scale," said Sifton. "They have intentionally bombed civilians, kidnapped ordinary workers and beheaded them, and extorted money from small businesses."

Both ASG and RSM maintain links with current or former members of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the violent Indonesian Islamist group responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings. Philippine government officials claim that elements of the longstanding Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) have, over the last few years, provided sanctuary or assistance for ASG, RSM and JI members.

Since 2003, MILF and MNLF leaders appear to have largely cut ties with JI, condemned violence against civilians (and specifically ASG and RSM attacks), and provided active assistance to Philippine military forces in conducting operations against all three groups. The United States military is actively assisting in these operations.

Human Rights Watch said that it remains likely that "rogue" MILF and MNLF commanders, and so-called "lost commands, have continued to provide sanctuary and assistance to ASG, RSM and JI members at various times in the last several years.

Human Rights Watch urged the MILF and MNLF to continue condemning armed attacks on civilians by ASG, RSM and JI, and to continue working with authorities to apprehend those responsible for violent attacks.

"Moro leaders deserve credit for distancing themselves from armed groups that attack civilians," said Sifton. "But they need to ensure that they are controlling their own members."

Human Rights Watch said that the government's failure to prosecute suspects in attacks has contributed to a culture of conspiracy-theorizing in the Philippines, especially in the south.

Skeptical Moro and other opposition political leaders have embraced allegations that the government itself has been responsible for bombings claims which Human Rights Watch has seen no evidence to support.

Human Rights Watch called on the Philippine Department of Justice to put prosecutions back on track and hold fair and public trials.

Human Rights Watch also called on the United States and other interested countries to provide assistance to ongoing peace negotiations between the Philippines government and Moro leaders, to help ensure that agreements between the Philippine government and MILF and MNLF are enduring and promote respect for human rights, including the protection of the civilian population.

"To end the bombings, kidnappings, and other violence, other governments have to pressure Philippine leaders both in Manila and Mindanao to put a greater emphasis on protecting civilian life," Sifton said.

Self-Confessed Bomber Spares Catholic Church From Attack In Philippines

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 30 Jul) – A self-confessed bomber left a pack of explosives outside a Roman Catholic Church in the Philippine capital after backing out from a mission to blow up the building.

The man first confessed to a priest about his plan and then left the explosives outside the Mount Carmel Church in Quezon City late Saturday, the television network ABS-CBN reported.

The priest, Father Henry Praveendesoza, said the 40-year old man troubled by his conscience and decided to abandon his plan to bomb the church after he saw children praying.

"Father I want to bomb the church. When I saw the children, I disarmed it and took away the wires," the priest said, quoting the unidentified man.

After the confession, the priest said he went out of the church in fear that the bomb may still explode. The man followed him and then hurriedly left. The church’s security camera showed the man fleeing the church compound.

The security video also showed a well-dressed man stepped out of a car and casually walked to the church and then took the explosives while a second man appeared to be giving instructions to two companions.

It was unknown whether they were companions of the man who left the bomb.

The failed bombing came of the eve of the opening of the 40th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Manila and two days before the start of a government offensive against Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels blamed for the killing of 14 marine soldiers in the restive region of the southern Philippines.

The MILF is currently negotiating peace with Manila.

It was unknown whether the failed bomber belongs to a rebel group or rightist soldiers who wanted to derail the peace talks.

Detained soldiers who were involved in a failed mutiny in Manila in 2003 said the military was behind several bombings of mosque and civilian targets in the southern Philippines. The bombings, they claimed, were later blamed to the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf, an accusation denied by the government.

They said a purported secret government documents dubbed as “Oplan: Green base” detailed a military plan to bomb civilian targets and then blamed Muslim rebels for the terrorism. The military said the documents were faked. (Mindanao Examiner)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

RP, Korea Sign Bilateral Accord In Manila

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 29 Jul) - Manila and Pyongyang signed a landmark accord establishing a mechanism for bilateral consultations in the political, economic and cultural fields that are expected to further deepen the relationship between the two countries.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo and North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun signed the agreement in Manila.
Romulo, the first Filipino foreign minister to visit North Korea since the two nations established formal diplomatic relations in July 2000, welcomed the accord, saying it solidifies the relations between the two countries.

"The agreement builds on our current efforts to solidify our relations with DPRK. It is also a concrete proof of both the Philippines and DPRK’s commitment and desire to further intensify our cooperation on mutual concerns," he said.

"Through this Agreement, our two countries give full and clear expression to our shared hopes and aspirations for the welfare of our peoples, and for peace and stability in the region," he said.

Claro Cristobal, Filipino Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary, said the agreement provides a regular forum for the Philippines and North Korea to discuss and chart diplomatic relations on a broad range of issues.

Pak described the landmark agreement as "an important phase in our bilateral relations."

"Our cooperation is moving from strength to strength," Pak said.

Pak indicated that North Korea is interested in developing cooperation in energy, information technology and cultural exchanges.

During the signing ceremonies, he announced that he will direct the Foreign Ministry to work closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs for the signing of a cultural agreement.

The North Korean foreign minister also reacted positively to Romulo’s call for the continuation and success of the Six-Party Talks, an indication, Romulo said, that DPRK is committed "to further broaden the frontiers of peace in the Asia-Pacific region."

"Our bilateral agreement with one of our new emerging partners bolsters our region’s collective efforts for greater peace, progress and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific," Romulo said.

The members of the Six Party Talks – DPRK, South Korea, China, Japan, the United States and Russia – will also be attending the Post Ministerial Conferences and the 14th ASEAN Regional Forum, according to Philippine government media reports.

Troops Patrol Basilan As D-Day Nears

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 29 Jul) – Philippine soldiers have doubled security patrols Sunday in the southern island of Basilan as the military readies its forces to arrest Moro rebels behind the killing of 14 marines, ten of them beheaded, in fierce clashes.

More than 2,000 soldiers are now on the island as part of task force that will carry out the arrest after a court released the warrants. The military has given until Tuesday investigators to look into the beheading of the soldiers in Al-Barka town.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is negotiating peace with Manila, admitted killing the soldiers, but denied beheading them. It also rejected a military demand to turn over those behind the attack.

Marine Col. Ramiro Alivio, commander of military forces in Basilan, said "intelligence operations and security patrols" were continuing but that there have been no large-scale movement of forces by either side and no armed contact have been recorded as of Sunday.

The news of impending punitive actions against the MILF has triggered an exodus of civilians with more than 5,000 people fleeing their homes in Al-Barka town and nearby areas.

Intelligence reports have implicated political warlords and their private armies in the beheading of the soldiers. (With a report from Mark Navales)

Big Pharma Puts Up Huge Lobby Fund To Fight Cheap Medicine Bill In Philippines

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 29 Jul) – Pharmaceutical firms have allegedly put up as much as P1-billion lobby fund to derail the passage of a bill seeking to reduce medicine prices.

But Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas has warned multinational pharmaceutical firms against carrying out their plan, saying, the government is firm in supporting the “Cheap Medicine Bill.”

"Our people desperately need access to affordable medicine. The new Congress has no other recourse but to quickly pass the bill. It is bad enough that the previous Congress failed to pass the bill," Gullas said.

Gullas earlier introduced House Bill 307, his version of the Cheap Medicine Bill. The measure is comparable to the bill previously introduced by Iloilo Rep. Ferjenel Biron.

Last week, Biron accused multinational drug firms of putting up the money to allegedly “kill” the Cheap Medicine Bill.

Gullas' bill seeks to provide Filipinos increased access to inexpensive drugs by reinforcing the parallel importation scheme of the state-owned Philippine International Trading Corp. (PTIC), and by allowing any entity to import patented drugs sold cheaper in other countries.

Gullas said the country’s health protection remains grossly inadequate, with only one of every three citizens covered by medical insurance. He said the government's insufficient financial resources have hampered universal health insurance coverage.

As a result, Filipinos have to take out of their own pockets more than 40 percent of all health-related spending, including the purchase of high-priced medicines.

"Congress should promptly relax existing patent rules by declaring that parallel importation will not violate trademarks, as long as the drugs brought in are determined to be genuine counterparts produced in other countries," Gullas said.

"Allowing unrestrained competition is one sure way for Congress to help drive down drug prices, and make them more affordable to most Filipinos."

Based on the finding of previous congressional inquiries, dozens of branded drugs that are now being sold here at prohibitive prices, may in fact be imported and sold here for much less.

For example, a branded amlodipine which costs P44.75 in the Philippines sells only P6 in India. And branded drugs such as Mefenamic acid that costs P20.98 in the country sells for about P2.80 in India and P1.46 in Pakistan. And same with branded loperamide hydrochloric acid that usually costs P10.70 only sells P1.94 in Pakistan.

The PITC imports about 90 cheap medicines that are being sold to the public through Botika ng Bayan outlets. The 1,345 outlets nationwide will be increased to 2,000 by year's end.

This year, the PITC plans to import from Pakistan and India an additional P500-million worth of medicines, mainly for diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and tuberculosis.

Zamboanga City Has New Social Center For Street Children

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 29 Jul) – Filipino officials on Sunday inaugurated a P4-million social center for street children whose funding came partly from the Spanish foundation Manos Unidas.

Called the Akay Kalinga Center, the building have two dormitories, a guest room and a library, a conference and an office and also showers and toilets, a terrace and a playground.

Akay Kalinga, a Filipino term which means “caring guidance.”
Mayor Celso Lobregat and project proponent Spanish priest Fr Angel Calvo and Zamboanga City Archbishop Romulo Valles led officials in the inauguration.

“This center shows how much our community can do together for our street children, who in biblical terms are the most vulnerable members of our society," Rev. Valles said in a statement released by Peace Advocate Zamboanga headed by Fr Calvo.

“Today, I dedicate this house to the street children of the city, in behalf of the church. This center is a humble parable of the meaning of love and care and dedication. With this, we walk with our street children in their aspiration for a life of dignity and security and peace,” Fr Calvo said.

Those who stay in the center will also be given scholarships grants.

“Our street children need everybody's assistance and the Akay Kalinga is part of the solution to the problem. This building is a monument of love and care for them,” Mayor Lobregat said.

Last year, the Spanish government thru Manos Unidas also granted the Philippines P50-million for the construction of a five-hectare housing project for poor families in Ayala district in Makati City.

In June, Spain granted a P40-million, two-year educational project that will benefit Filipino students and teachers in Zamboanga City and nearby Zamboanga Sibugay province, coinciding with the celebration Friday of the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day.

Called the Acceso a la Educacion y Mejora de la Calidad Educativa en Colegios de la Peninsula de Zamboanga (Improving the Access and Quality of Education in the Schools of the Zamboanga Peninsula), the project by the Agencia EspaƱol Cooperacion International and Fundacion Humanismo Y Democracia, both charity arms of the Spanish government, and the Philippine Business for Social Project (PBSP), is expected to benefit more than 23,000 elementary and secondary students, including teachers and parents-teachers community associations in the three pilot areas in the Zamboanga Peninsula.

It aims to provide scholarship assistance to more than 2,000 poor and deserving students, and establish a 15-cubicles speech laboratory worth P1.2 million to increase the proficiency of the students in English and also to help promote and preserve the local Chavacano language, a unique mixture of Spanish and other Filipino dialects.

TUCP Urges OFW To Save Pesos, Not Dollars

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 29 Jul) – The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines has urged overseas Filipino workers and their families to keep their savings in pesos, saying the local currency is bound to gain more strength against the American dollar in the months ahead.

"We are just looking out for OFWs and their families here. There is definitely less risk and greater potential reward in peso investments going forward," TUCP president Democrito Mendoza said in a statement sent Sunday to the Mindanao Examiner.

He said: "OFWs and their families here stand to lose more value for their money if they continue to stash whatever savings they have in dollars, or in dollar-denominated instruments."

Mendoza made the statement shortly after JP Morgan Chase & Co. told its clients to buy the Philippine peso, and the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) predicted an even stronger-than-expected peso over the next 18 months.

The DBS said it now sees the peso closing at 44.50 versus the dollar by year's end, and 42.50 by the end of 2008.

Previously, the DBS saw the peso closing at 45.50 versus the dollar by year's end, and at 43 by the end of next year.

"There is no sense in keeping dollars now. This is not just about the peso getting basically stronger. This is more about the dollar itself getting fundamentally weaker versus most other currencies," Mendoza said.

"The government's improved financial position, massive OFW remittances as well as increased tourist spending and foreign investments here are all factors propping up the peso.”

“But worldwide, there is far greater supply of dollars now and much less demand. This is why the dollar is getting weaker," he said.

Mendoza, meanwhile, stressed the need for the government to push down remittance charges in order to help OFWs cope with the rising peso.

"This is one concrete way by which the government is in a position to intervene, in terms of creating a regulatory environment that will drive down excessive money transfer charges," he pointed out.

A previous study by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas showed that a typical $400 to $600- remittance from a US or a United Kingdom bank to a Philippine bank costs from $7.09 to $11.73. A $200-remittance from Hong Kong costs $3.11 to $7.45 per transaction.

Mendoza also said the TUCP would support the government's plan to float OFW bonds. "If the bonds will mean that OFWs will have ready access to higher-yielding investment instruments, then we are all for it," he said.

Since dropping to a low of 56.04 to a dollar in 2004, the peso has surged by more than 18 percent, closing at 45.72 versus the US currency on Friday.

Taiwan Police Links Philippine Navy To Extortion Racket

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / 29 Jul) – The Taiwanese police have uncovered an extortion racket involving Filipino navy patrol boats victimizing Taiwanese trawlers caught in Philippine waters, reports said.

Strategy Page, a research and military analysis website, said Filipino naval officers were extorting money from Taiwanese fishermen in exchange for the release of their boats.

“Taiwanese police have uncovered an extortion racket involving Filipino naval officers. At least two Filipino patrol boats have caught Taiwanese fishing boats illegally operating in Filipino waters.”

“The Filipino offer to let the fishing boat captains pay a lower fine, directly to the officers, rather than pay a larger fine and have their boats detained in a Filipino port,” it said in a report that can be accessed on this web page http://www.strategypage.com/qnd/phillip/articles/20070728.aspx.

The report did not say where or how many Taiwanese fishermen were arrested or give details of the extortion activities.

But Filipino patrol boats have previously detained Taiwanese and Chinese fishermen for poaching off the Sulu Archipelago near the Sabah border the southern Philippines and also off Palawan island in central Philippines and in northern Luzon near Taiwan.

It was unknown if the Philippine Navy was aware of the report, but officials could not be immediately contacted to make a statement about the allegations.

The Philippine Navy has been involved in several anomalies in the past – from overpriced Kevlar helmets to smuggling activities in the south. (Mindanao Examiner)

Correctional Center For Youth Offenders To Rise In Davao City

DAVAO CITY (Mindanao Examiner / 29 Jul) – A P50-million facility that will house youth offenders will soon rise in the southern Philippine city of Davao.

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said the new reformatory center would be built in the remote Marilog District. "I will build the center in Marilog to ensure that these youth offenders will not escape and will surely reflect on the sins they commit in life," Duterte said.

Duterte said the facility will also have a school so detainees will have an opportunity to learn while under correction program.

"Youth offenders who stay in the street get killed so it is better for them to stay in a facility that will protect them," he said. (Romy Bwaga)

Generic Drugs Law Gets New Facelift

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 29 Jul) – A Filipino senator is pushing for a new law that aims to provide greater access to low-priced medicine through the rigorous enforcement of the Generic Drugs Law.

Senate Bill 268, authored by Sen. Loren Legarda, seeks to create a new Generic Drugs Board to thoroughly review, monitor and supervise the law's strict enforcement.

"Lost in the drive to make cheap medicine more accessible to Filipinos is the spineless enforcement of, and inadequate compliance with the almost decade-old Generic Drugs Law," Legarda said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.

Under the bill, the punishment for violators would be increased in order to strengthen compliance.

The new board would probe Generic Drugs Law violations; recommend the license suspension or cancellation of erring practitioners and firms, after investigation; and periodically endorse to Congress new measures needed to make the law more responsive to changing market conditions.

This in turn may be attributed to the lack of a specific agency exclusively tasked to purposely build up conformity with the 1998 Generic Drugs Law, also known as Republic Act 6675.

"The Generic Drugs Law is definitely poorly enforced. Just about anyone who has consulted a physician recently can attest that chances are you are getting a brand-name drug prescription. You seldom get a generic drug prescription," Legarda said.

"Yet, the law clearly mandates the use of generic terms not only in drug labels and advertisements, but also in prescriptions," she pointed out.

Generic drugs are just as potent but typically 80-percent cheaper than their brand-name versions.

The Generic Drugs Law requires the use of generic terms in the importation, manufacture, distribution, marketing, advertising, promotion, prescription and dispensing of all drugs.

At present, disregardful practitioners draw penalties ranging from a simple reprimand from the Professional Regulation Commission, to a fine of at least P10,000 and one-year license suspension. The maximum penalty would be raised to a fine of at least P50,000 and two-year license suspension or longer under Legarda's bill.

Firms violating the law now draw a fine up to P10,000, business license suspension/revocation and/or six to 12 months imprisonment for their officers. This would be increased to a P50,000-maximum fine and/or at least 12 months in prison under Legarda's bill.

Legarda is also supporting the Cheap Medicine Bill approved by the Senate in the previous Congress, but which the House failed to pass. "We are in fact looking to consolidate our proposed Generic Drugs Law reforms with the cheap medicine bill," she said.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Manila Hosts ASEAN Meet

Philippine leader Gloria Arroyo. Manila will host on Sunday July 29, 2007 the 40th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting. The meeting will be participated by foreign ministers from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 28 Jul) – Filipino Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo on Saturday said the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is close to realizing its goal of achieving a single ASEAN community as Manila hosts the 40th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting.

Speaking at the closing session of the 40th ASEAN Standing Committee (ASC) at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), Romulo lauded the inroads achieved in the collective efforts to build a stronger and more modern ASEAN through the solid groundwork done by the ASC for the ministerial conference.

“Through your support and cooperation, ASEAN is one step closer towards full integration and transforming ASEAN into a more rules-based organization,” Romulo said.

The Philippine News Agency also said that the High Level Task Force (HLTF) on the Drafting of the ASEAN Charter will present a first draft for the deliberation of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers during the AMM.

The landmark document will embody the ideals and shared values of the ASEAN and identify compliance mechanisms, according to Romulo.
Security is tight during the four-day ASEAN meet which will begin Sunday and some 6,500 soldiers and policemen will be deployed to secure the delegates.

Police patrols have been going on a 24-hour basis around the PICC where the meeting would be held. Sniffing dogs will also be used extensively all throughout the conference. Since last week, traffic has been rerouted within the vicinity of the PICC complex.

The meeting will be participated by foreign ministers from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

It will be followed by the Post Ministerial Conferences (PMCs) to be attended by the ASEAN dialogue partners - Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Korea and the United States.

Seven other countries, Bangladesh, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Mongolia, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka and Timor, will join the ASEAN and dialogue partners in the 14th ASEAN Regional Forum.

Photo: Clouds Over South RP

Raise Penalty For Thieves Of Religios Icon, Solon Urged

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 28 Jul) – Alarmed by the desecration of Catholic churches due to looting in the Philippines, Camarines Sur Representative Luis Villafuerte on Saturday said he will push for a new legislation that would raise the penalty for thieves of religious articles.

Under Villafuerte's proposal, the punishment to be imposed for theft or robbery committed within any church, temple or public museum would be higher by two degrees than the applicable penalty for such offenses under existing law.

"The theft of religious icons, and likewise of relics and artistic works that constitute the finest expressions of our culture, traditions and way of life, arouses national indignation. This national indignation should find corresponding utterance in our criminal laws," Villafuerte said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.

"This type of larceny threatens the gains we've achieved in establishing our people's links to its past. Where religious objects are stolen, it also outrages our people's sense of the sacred and the holy," Villafuerte said.

The theft of religious icons remains rampant in the country.

Just early this month, a life-size marble statue of San Antonio de Padua, the patron saint of lost articles, was stolen from the San Diego de Alcala Church in Valenzuela City, where the statue has been installed for more than half a century.

The missing icon was later recovered after unidentified men surrendered it to a television network in Manila.

In December last year, a 20-karat gold necklace was stolen from the statue of Saint Michael installed in a church in Argao town in Cebu province in central Philippines.

In November last year, a 30-kilo, century-old bronze bell was seized from a church in Malinta town also in Valenzuela.

In July last year, an 18th century, two-foot image of Saint Vincent Ferrer was taken from one of the oldest Catholic churches in Northern Luzon.

The figure was seized from the belfry of the Saint Vincent Ferrer Church in Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya province. The church itself is classified as "a national cultural treasure" by the National Commission for Culture and Arts.

"Our heightened sense of history and national identity has not been without adverse side effects. One of the most deplorable is the pilferage of religious icons and cultural artifacts by felons who have found a lucrative market in equally rotten traders in these objects," Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte said the proposed higher penalty is justifiable on the following grounds: The unlawful taking of objects from churches, temples and museums, demonstrates a higher degree of perversity on the part of the offenders.

Churches, temples and museums are open to the public and the objects usually stolen from them are openly displayed. These places are often unguarded since strict security measures are incompatible with their very nature, not to mention that they are not financially equipped to provide an elaborate security system.

Thus, it is easier to gain access to the valuable objects in these places; and the preservation of religious and cultural heritage embodied in religious statues and cultural objects and artifacts is a matter of national and public interest.

Filipino Lawmaker Wants Security Cameras On All ATM Machines

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 28 Jul) - Catanduanes Representative Joseph Santiago has urged the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) to compel the country's three major automated teller machine service providers to install surveillance cameras around their ATMs as part of a security measure.

"If users cannot get any reprieve from excessive ATM charges, then regulators might as well rigorously require security cameras in every ATM location. This way, users will at least get enhanced security protection, and more value for the money they are being forced to pay for ATM services," Santiago said in a statement sent Saturday to the Mindanao Examiner.

Over 18 million Filipinos are ATM cardholders. They are serviced mainly by the three major ATM network operators - Megalink Inc., Bancnet Inc. and ExpressNet Inc. - that group 58 universal, commercial and thrift banks. The three networks combined now have more than 6,000 ATMs nationwide.

"To begin with, banks are duty-bound to protect ATM users. In fact, we are surprised the BSP and local government units are not forcefully requiring banks to install surveillance equipment around their premises. This is supposed to be a basic and readily available security feature," Santiago pointed out.

"This is not just about the increasing number of crimes around banks and ATMs. This is also about the community fighting crime. Every community member - whether an individual or a business entity - is supposed to help prevent crime," Santiago said.

"Banks form part of the community. They should do their share and invest in deterring crime," he added.

Police previously reported a rising incidence not only of bank robberies, but also of crimes victimizing ATM and credit cardholders.

The most widespread of these crimes involve robbers who entrap cab passengers, mostly women, who are then forced either to withdraw money (using their ATM or credit cards) from the nearest ATM location, or to surrender their cards and give their personal identification numbers.

For instance, Metro Manila's Eastern Police District earlier reported that of the 168 bank offices in Pasig City alone, at least 18 were found to have no security cameras at all in their premises.

"We assumed from the start, when the BSP issued branch licenses to these banks, that they were required to install security cameras. So we find it puzzling that the police are now claiming that many branches still do not have the surveillance equipment," Santiago said.

130 MILF Rebels, Sayyaf Militants Charged For Killing 14 Soldiers In South RP

Policemen stand guard on their base in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines. Police forces, backed by soldiers, are preparing to arrest some 130 Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels and Abu Sayyaf militants tagged as behind the killing of 14 soldiers, ten of them beheaded in nearby Basilan island on July 10. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

BASILAN ISLAND, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 28 Jul) – Philippine authorities have identified at least 130 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Abu Sayyaf militants as behind the killing of 14 soldiers, ten of them beheaded, in Basilan island.

The warrants for their arrest have been released by the court and security forces are now preparing to run after them. More than a hundred rebels, also implicated in the July 10 attack in Al-Barka town, are yet to be identified.

The military said the Abu Sayyaf group was also involved in the attack.

It was unknown how authorities got the names of rebels allegedly involved in the attack. But other reports said ten witnesses, mostly followers of politicians in Basilan island, have provided authorities with names of rebels and information about them.

The MILF has previously denied beheading the soldiers and said other armed groups, some of them, followers of local politicians, were behind the gruesome murders.

Sattar Alih, head of the MILF cease-fire monitoring team in Basilan island, said rebel forces withdrew from the battle scene, leaving the bodies of soldiers behind, after military and rebels agreed to a cease-fire.

Intelligence sources in Basilan have also implicated unnamed politicians who allegedly supplied the Abu Sayyaf and with mortar rockets, weapons and munitions during the fighting.

Their private armies allegedly fought against the military forces side-by-side with the MILF and that two gunmen had died in the skirmishes.

The gunmen were believed behind the mutilation of the slain soldiers.

More than 2,000 soldiers were sent to Basilan to help police in arresting those charged in court.
“The police will take the lead role in arresting those involved in the beheading with the military as a strong support force,” said Philippine military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon.

Esperon on Friday called off a planned attack on MILF rebels who beheaded the soldiers to give way for a joint investigation.

The order came after President Gloria Arroyo met with top military and police commanders in Zamboanga City. Arroyo held a closed door meeting with military generals, headed by Armed Forces chief Hermogenes Esperon and Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, chief of the Western Mindanao Command.

Arroyo gave investigators until Tuesday to finish their report. She also ordered security forces to run after Abu Sayyaf militants whose group is tied to al-Qaeda terror network in Basilan and Jolo island.

It was the second time the military postponed the offensive since the MILF defied an ultimatum on Sunday for rebels to surrender. The postponement of offensives came days before the start of a three-day ASEAN summit in Manila on July 29. The MILF warned that any attacks on rebel forces in Basilan could spark sympathy attacks.

The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting for a separate homeland in the strife-torn, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Basilan Offensive Called Off For Second Time, As Philippines Prepares For ASEAN Meet

President Gloria Arroyo arrives in Zamboanga City Friday july 27, 2007 where she presided over a meeting with top police and military commanders. She later visited wounded marine soldiers at a military hospital with Armed Forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon and Western Mindanao military chief Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo and Marines chief Maj. Gen. Nelson Allaga. The military is placed in red alert status and Arroyo ordered troops to hunt down Abu Sayyaf militants in the restive southern region. She also called off planned punitive actions against MILF rebels in Basilan to give way for an independent investigation for three days. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / 27 Jul) – The Philippine military on Friday called off a planned attack on Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels who beheaded ten soldiers in Basilan island to give way for a joint investigation.

The MILF, which is currently holding peace talks with Manila, has denied beheading the soldiers, who were among the 14 killed in fierce fighting in Al-Barka town on July 10.

The order came after President Gloria Arroyo met with top military and police commanders in Zamboanga City. Arroyo held a closed door meeting with military generals, headed by Armed Forces chief Hermogenes Esperon and Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, chief of the Western Mindanao Command.

Arroyo gave investigators until Tuesday to finish their report. She also ordered security forces to run after Abu Sayyaf militants whose group is tied to al-Qaeda terror network in Basilan and Jolo island.

The military also implicated the Abu Sayyaf in the killing of the soldiers.

It was the second time the military postponed the offensive since the MILF defied an ultimatum on Sunday for rebels to surrender. The postponement of offensives came days before the start of a three-day ASEAN summit in Manila on July 29. The MILF warned that any attacks on rebel forces in Basilan could spark sympathy attacks.

Esperon said there will be no punitive actions against the MILF rebels until investigations are completed. “Until such time that the results of the investigation come in, there should be no (attacks),” he said.

He reiterated the MILF should surrender those involved in the beheading of the soldiers.

Esperon flew to Basilan island Friday and was briefed about the situation there. “We expect D-day on Tuesday,” he said, referring to the punitive actions against the rebels.

But Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said they will not surrender any of their members, adding, the fighting was a legitimate encounter after soldiers entered a rebel territory without coordination.

“We are ready for any government offensive. We have the right to defend ourselves from such attacks,” he said.

As many as 5,000 people have fled their homes in the town of Al-Barka and nearby areas for fear the punitive actions would escalate into a bigger war between soldiers and rebels.

Jesus Dureza, presidential peace adviser, said authorities are waiting for the arrest warrants of rebels involved in the beheading. As many as 50 people, mostly MILF members, were implicated in the attack, including two senior rebel leaders and several Abu Sayyaf personalities.

He said local government officials in Basilan were also helping authorities identify those involved in the gruesome killings. But none of them has publicly condemned the beheading of the soldiers.

Sattar Alih, head of the MILF cease-fire monitoring team in Basilan island, said rebel forces withdrew from the battle scene, leaving the bodies of soldiers behind, after military and rebels agreed to a cease-fire.

It was unknown who were behind the decapitation, but intelligence sources in Basilan have implicated unnamed politicians who allegedly supplied the Abu Sayyaf and with mortar rockets, weapons and munitions during the fighting.

Their private armies allegedly fought against the military forces side-by-side with the MILF and that two gunmen had died in the skirmishes.

The gunmen were believed behind the mutilation of the slain soldiers.
The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting for a separate homeland in Mindanao. (With a report from Juley Reyes)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cassava Downs 4 In Southern Philippines

DAVAO CITY (Mindanao Examiner / 26 Jul) – Four members of a farming family were rushed to hospital after eating cooked cassava in the southern Philippines.

Neighbors said they rushed Ruben Talinto and his wife, Jennifer, and also their two children, to hospital in Davao City on Wednesday afternoon after the family complained of severe stomach pains. They were also vomiting.

The family lives in the village of Mandug in Buhangin district in Davao City. Their medical conditions were unknown.

The cassava root is widely consumed in the Philippines, just like in other Southeast Asian countries and other parts of the world, but it can also be poisonous if not completely peeled or thoroughly cooked.

Last year, a child had died and three others were hospitalized after eating cassava cake in Zamboanga City. The four children ages between 10 and 14 were rushed to hospital, but one had died.

In 2005, at least 50 people were also hospitalized for severe diarrhea and difficulty in breathing after feasting on pork stew cooked with cassava starch in Magpet town in North Cotabato province also in the southern Philippines. (Romy Bwaga)

Pinas, Nahaharap Sa Kalamidad!

MANILA (Mindanao Examiner / 26 Jul) – Agad na pinakilos kaninan ng National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) ang lahat ng regional units nito upang maglatag ng kaukulang mga hakbang laban sa nakaambang nagtuyot, lalo na sa Luzon.
Ito'y kasunod na rin ng apela ng Pangulong Gloria Arroyo para sa pagtitipid ng tubig makaraang bumaba na sa kritikal na antas ang tubig sa mga pangunahing dam sa bansa.
Nabatid kay Office of the Civil Defense spokesman Dr. Anthony Golez na naglunsad na ng information drive para sa water conservation ang NDCC, gayundin ang tungkol sa global warming at pagbabago ng klima na dahilan ng pagtuyot. Magpapatuloy rin aniya ang cloud seeding operations, partikular sa bisinidad ng mga dam.

Ang pag-ulan na naranasan kahapon sa ilang bahagi ng Metro Manila ay epekto ng cloud seeding. Tinatayang mahigit sa P100,000 ang ginugol sa bawat cloud seeding operation.
"We are telling the public not to panic. The NDCC will be proactive. The NDCC is preparing for an impending drought," ani Golez. "All government agencies are going to mobilize their resources to mitigate the effects of the drought," dagdag nito.
Bukod sa matagalang brown out tulad nang naranasan noong 1990s, maaaring magdulot rin ng red tide at outbreak ng mga sakit ang tagtuyot. "Three million people were affected by the drought in 1990s. The cost of damage amounted to billions," ayon sa tagapagsalita.
Kabilang sa mga lugar na direktang maaapektuhan ng tagtuyot ay ang Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, at Central Luzon, ilang bahagi ng Metro Manila, Southern Luzon, at Bicol Region.

Ngunit taliwas naman ang sitwasyon sa Mindanao dahil halos bahain naman ang maraming lugar doon dahil sa patuloy na pagbuhos ng malakas na ulan. Baha na rin sa malaking bahagi ng Maguindanao at lubog sa tubig ang mga taniman at palayan doon.

Sa Zamboanga City ay binaha rin ang ilang lugar dahil sa malakas na pagulan kanina at kamakalawa.
(Juley Reyes)

President Arroyo To Preside Over Military Conference In Zamboanga

Basilan island Gov. Jum Akbar speaks as Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, left, and Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza listen during a meeting Thursday July 26, 2007 in Zamboanga City. Security forces are preparing for punitive actions against Moro rebels behind the beheading of ten soldiers on Basilan island on July 10. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / 26 Jul) – Philippine President Gloria Arroyo is to preside Friday a closed-door conference with senior military and police commanders in the southern port city of Zamboanga.

Arroyo’s meeting with security officials came ahead of a planned government offensive against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels tagged as behind the beheading of ten marines who were part of 14 soldiers killed in nearby island of Basilan last week.

Security is already tight in Zamboanga City and soldiers were spotted guarding roadblocks and checkpoints near the Western Mindanao Command headquarters where Arroyo will hold the conference.

More than 2,000 soldiers were sent to Basilan island to hunt for the rebels, but the MILF, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, warned that any attacks on its forces could spark an all-out war and trigger a deadly retaliation that may hurt the peace talks.

The MILF defied a one-week military ultimatum for rebels to surrender peacefully, saying, the fighting on July 10 in Al-Barka town was a legitimate encounter after some 100 marines entered a rebel stronghold.

Marine Col. Ramiro Alivio, Basilan military chief, said the soldiers were searching for a kidnapped Italian Catholic priest Giancarlo Bossi when rebels attacked them.

Bossi, seized by rogue MILF rebels led by brothers Akiddin and Wanning Abdusallam in Zamboanga Sibugay’s Payao town, was released in Karomatan town in Lanao de Norte province in Mindanao island.

The 57-year old priest said he was never taken to Basilan island and that a wrong intelligence allegedly provided by politicians in Basilan island had led the soldiers into a death trap.

Philippine media on Thursday reported that Japan and Canada, and the World Bank have expressed serious concern over a possible outbreak of hostilities between security and rebel forces in the volatile region of Mindanao.

They urged the Filipino government and the MILF to exercise restraint to save the six-year old peace talks. Malaysia is brokering the peace negotiations and has sent truce observers on Basilan to help investigate the beheading of the ten soldiers.

Japan said it would temporarily pull out aid workers in Mindanao for security reason if fighting erupts between soldiers and rebels.

Tokyo last year launched the Japan-Bangsamoro Initiatives for Reconstruction and Development, or J-BIRD, as part of its commitment to support peace and development efforts in Mindanao.

These projects include the construction of school buildings funded through Japan's Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects and post-harvest facilities funded through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).

Jesus Dureza, Presidential adviser for the peace process, said Arroyo is dealing the problem in Basilan in an appropriate manner and told donor countries that the government adheres to the primacy of the peace process in Mindanao.

“Other countries should not show that they are more concerned than we are by these statements. You must trust President Arroyo that she will do the most appropriate thing here because she has shown that she has the political will despite of the great odds in the past.”

“The President, by her own acts, has shown that she adheres to the primacy of the peace process. So let no one doubt that she knows exactly how to deal with these in the most appropriate manner. We welcome those (statements by donor countries), but they don’t have to tell us that because we are more concerned than they are,” Dureza said.

Dureza was in Zamboanga on Thursday and met with Basilan Gov. Jum Akbar and some of the island’s mayors to discuss about the arrest of rebels behind the killing of the soldiers.

Murad Ebrahim, the MILF chieftain, also ordered its forces in Mindanao to observe maximum restraint in the face of standoff in Basilan island.

Ebrahim issued the order after meeting on Wednesday with Datuk Othman bin Abdu’ Razak, chief Malaysian facilitator of the peace talks.

The rebel leader assured Kuala Lumpur that the MILF is fully committed to the primacy of the peace process and to the various mechanisms of the ceasefire agreement, especially in determining the culpability of violators of the truce.

He told the Malaysian peace brokers that the MILF has always maintained defensive posture in the southern Philippines, but warned that rebel forces will fight back if attack by government troops.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, has accused the Philippine military of violating the cease-fire after soldiers entered a rebel territory without coordination.

The MILF has repeatedly denied beheading the soldiers and is currently investigating the fighting in Basilan.

Sattar Alih, head of the MILF cease-fire monitoring team in Basilan island, said rebel forces withdrew from the battle scene, leaving the bodies of soldiers behind, after military and rebels agreed to a cease-fire.

It was unknown who were behind the decapitation, but intelligence sources in Basilan have implicated unnamed politicians who allegedly supplied the Abu Sayyaf and with mortar rockets, weapons and munitions during the fighting.

Their private armies allegedly fought against the military forces side-by-side with the MILF and that two gunmen had died in the skirmishes. The gunmen were believed behind the mutilation of the slain soldiers.

The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting the past three decades for the establishment of a strict Islamic state in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

Father Giancarlo Bossi: His Ordeal In The Hands Of Philippine Rebels

News video of a prayer rally in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines by the Mindanao Examiner Internet Broadcast News.

The following clips are from the interview of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines News (CBCP News).

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pinas, Di Natinag Sa Pagtapyas Ng U.S. Military Aid

MANILA (Mindanao Examiner / 25 Jul) – Hindi natinag ang Department of National Defense (DND) at Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) sa ulat na tatapyasan ng Estados Unidos ang tulong-pinansyal nito sa Pilipinas.

Ayon sa proposal ng US State Department, partikular na mabawasan ay ang Foreign Military Financing to the Philippines ng Amerika na mula $30 milyon ay naging $11 milyon na lamang.

Ipinahayag kanina ni acting Defense Secretary at National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales ang kumpyansang sasapat na ang sariling pondo ng gobyerno upang tugunan ang capability upgrade program ng militar.

"Whatever happens, we will proceed with the upgrade program of the Armed Forces. There's no money coming from international [sources], we will use our own because it is something that we need to do," ayon kay Gonzales.

Bagamat nakapanghihinayang aniya ang mabawasan ng financial aid subalit walang magagawa ang pamahalaan dito. "Sayang lang kung mababawasan tayo ng pera, but that's about it," ani Gonzales.

Kasabay nito'y umalma ang kalihim sa pag-uugnay ng pagbabawas ng US assistance sa pagkakadawit ng AFP sa extrajudicial killings at mga pagdukot.

"I don't know why this is linked to human rights… Let's not treat this as another propaganda issue. We will see the actual result of the deduction," punto ni Gonzales.

Hindi naman naniniwala si Gonzales na makakaapekto ang natapyasang financial aide sa implementasyon ng Human Security Act of 2007 o ang Anti-Terrorism Law.

"We'll see. That's incoming money. We have been doing anti-terrorism activities ever since for several years now, so I don't think so," ayon kay Gonzales. (Juley Reyes)

Photo: A Man Peddles Exotic Durian In Zamboanga City

An unidentified man peddles his durian along R.T. Lim Blvd. in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines. This larger-than-life fruit of the Malaysian tree can weigh up to 10 pounds, has a brownish-green, semi-hard shell covered with thick spikes, and is slightly larger than a football. To all but its Southeast Asian fans, the durian has a nauseating smell, a truth attested to by the fact that it's been outlawed by many airlines ans hotels. The creamy, slightly sweet flesh, however, has an exquisitely rich, custard-like texture. Fresh durian can also be frozen, canned and preserved. It is considered as an aphrodisiac in the Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)


Make Room for Peace, Pull-out troops in Basilan province.

For most of us Muslims who are observing the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, we are saddened by what is happening in Basilan for the past few weeks.

According to the provincial administrator of Basilan, more than 900 families have been displaced as a result of the added deployment of marines in Basilan in response to the beheading of 10 members of the Philippine Marines who were slain in an encounter with the MILF in Al-Barka town.

Who committed the beheading and why did the perpetrators committed such act is a very controversial and sensitive issue that should have been responded with discretion rather than warmongering. For weeks, it is as if every Muslim has to answer for the act of beheading and Islam is once again put in the limelight and debate.

While the MILF owned their responsibility over the death of the 14 elements of the Philippine Marines. They qualified this as a legitimate one for it was a consequence of the Marines’ forced entry in their recognized political territory in Basilan.

For those who are not familiar with the on-going GRP-MILF peace negotiations, it might be difficult to understand why such territories exist? In previous agreements, the two groups have come to terms about respecting MILF camps and presence to avoid conflicts in these areas – an agreement that is prone to violation.

Since the signing of the ceasefire agreement, the Philippine government under President Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has called a series of all-out wars against the MILF that resulted to thousands of displaced Moro people in Mindanao: the all-out war directed at Camp Abubakar in 2001, the Buliok War and “selective attack” on MILF areas in 2003, and the on-and-off skirmishes between the GRP and the MILF as a result of the military’s “hot pursuit” operations against the Abu Sayyaf.

In the case of the beheading of the marines, series of investigations have been conducted by both the MILF and the local government of Basilan, and both have unearthed previous atrocity of the Marines that might lead to the answers on who and why such beheadings took place: that the military operation did not take place only on July 10 but days before it and that these created “fear and chaos” among the community.

But nobody from the military and the Arroyo administration wants to hear what the MILF or the people in Basilan has been shouting for almost two weeks now -that the MILF is not responsible for the mutilation of the bodies of the marines.

Secretary Norberto Gonzales and the Armed Forces of the Philippines would hear none of these results and the calls of non-government organizations for a stop to the pursuit operations. The bloodthirsty cabinet members and hawks in the AFP are whipping up the public’s sympathy over the beheaded marines and using it as a take-off point in calling for an all-out war against the MILF.

Had Fr Giancarlo Bossi not surfaced in Karomatan town in Lanao del Norte province, the AFP would surely pursue relentlessly the MILF for what they believed was “coddling” Fr Bossi’s kidnappers.

Now, Basilan is once again hostage by more than 5,000 marine soldiers. The 103rd Infantry Brigade of the Army, naval and air forces are also being readied for strike.

Most of the people in Basilan are reminded of the 2001 intensive military crackdown, where 14 battalions from the AFP were deployed and in 2002, a US-RP joint military exercise also took place in Basilan.

Basilan had been black and blue from previous military operations and exercises. Numerous human rights violations were reported: cases of torture, extra-judicial killings and disappearance against what the Arroyo administration believed to be Abu Sayyaf sympathizers and members in Basilan.

The people in Basilan fear this will again escalate into an all-out war. And we people of Mindanao fear that this will spill-over the whole of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The Moro people have had it with the all-out wars! If the government is true with peace negotiations then it should prioritize its peace agenda in Mindanao. Even the future of peace negotiations was not tackled by the government in the SONA. Her praise for the Philippine Marines obscured the human rights violation record of the marines and the rest of the Philippine military in Basilan.

The Suara Bangsamoro reiterates its call for pull-out of the military in Basilan. Let the cool heads and the peacemakers (if there are still left) in the cabinet come forward and listen to the people’s call for peace and not military operations in Basilan. (SUARA Bangsamoro)

AFP Ingat Ngayon Sa Mga Pahayag Ukol Sa MILF

MANILA (Mindanao Examiner / 25 Jul) – Ingat na ingat ngayon ang militar sa mga pahayag hinggil sa opensibang ilulunsad laban sa mga rebeldeng Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) na sumalakay at pumaslang sa mga kagawad ng Philippine Marines sa Basilan province.

Sinabi ni Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro na may mga konsiderasyong panseguridad na kanilang isinasaalang-alang sa operasyon.

Bagamat ayaw aminin ni Bacarro na mayroong news blackout o gag order, hindi naman nito maipaliwanag ang nabibiting pag-atake ng military forces sa Basilan para makuha ang mga rebeldeng nasa likod ng pagpugot sa ulo ng sampung marines na kasama sa 14 na napatay nuong July 10.

Ilang araw mula nang matapos ang deadline ni AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. nuong Linggo, wala pa ring nangyayaring armed contact sa kabila ng naunang pagmamalaki na tukoy na nila ang mga suspek.

Ayaw ring aminin ni Bacarro kung may "outside forces" na pumipigil sa operasyon ng militar. Ngunit sa bansa idaraos ang ASEAN meet na posibleng madiskaril kung sakaling magkaroon ng sagupaan sa Mindanao.

Unang nagbanta ang MILF na posibleng kumalat ang gulo kung sakaling atakihin ng mga tropa ang rebeldeng grupo sa Basilan.

Samantala, binigyan pa ng pagkakataon ng pamahalaan ang MILF na makumpirma sa hanay nito ang mga natukoy ng militar na suspek sa pagpaslang sa Marines sa Tipo-Tipo, Basilan.

Ayon kay acting Defense Secretary at National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, may ilang araw pang ibinigay sa MILF leadership para maberipika kung mga tauhan nito ang nasa kanilang listahan na target ng opensiba.

"Give it a few days, we want them to validate what we have given, kailangan may validation," ani Gonzales.

Bagamat hinihingi aniya ng gobyerno ang tulong ng MILF para mabigyan ng katarungan ang nalapastangang mga sundalo, hindi na nito hihintayin pa ang rebeldeng grupo sa kanilang magiging aksyon.

"We're asking their help, it does not mean the Armed Forces of the Philippines and our police or the government will have to wait for the MILF. No, we will get those guilty parties," diin pa ni Gonzales.

Ilang ulit na sinabi ng MILF na hindi nito isusuko ang kanilang miyemrbo dahil isang legitimate encounter ang naganap sa bayan ng Al-Barka ng pasukin ng mga sundalo ang kanilang lugar sa paghahanap kay Italian Catholic priest Giancarlo Bossi na dinukot nuong June 10 ng mga rogue MILF rebels sa pangunguna ng magkapatid na Akiddin at Wanning Abdusallam.

Sa Lanao del Norte naman pinalaya si Bossi nuong July 19 at sinabi nitong kailanman ay hindi siya dinala sa Basilan. (Juley Reyes)

Wala Sa Amin Si Jonas Burgos! Sigaw Ng Militar

MANILA (Mindanao Examiner / 25 Jul) – Itinanggi kanina ng militar na nasa kustodiya nito ang dinukot na aktibastang si Jonas Burgos matapos na ipagutos ng Korte Suprema sa Armed Forces na ilabas ang nawawalang magsasaka.

IKinatwiran naman ni Philippine Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres, Jr, na wala sa militar si Burgos na dinukot nuong Abril sa loob ng isang restaurant sa Caloocan.
Natunton ang sasakyan na ginamit sa pagdukot sa Philippine Army sa Bulacan province.

Naglabas ng isang writ of habeas corpus ang Korte Suprema at iniutos sa militar isuko si Burgos sa Biyernes.

"If on that day, we cannot produce Jonas, if he was with the military, there's no reason not to bring him out," ani Torres.

Kinatigan ng Korte Suprema ang habeas corpus petition ni Mrs. Edita Burgos, ang ina ni Jonas, upang atasan ang Pangulong Gloria Arroyo na ipalutang kina Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. at Army Chief Lieutenant General Romeo Tolentino, at sa iba pang military commanders ang nawawalang aktibista.

Una nang tinukoy ng pamilya Burgos ang 56th Infantry Battalion sa Bulacan na may kagagawan umano ng pagdukot. Inakusahan rin ni Mrs. Burgos si Esperon na pinagtatakpan ang mga tauhan nito nang mabigong ibahagi sa kanila ang sipi ng resulta ng imbestigasyon ng militar sa naturang insidente.

Ayon kay Torres, kung tutuusin ay kumilos na rin ang tropa ng Army sa buong bansa upang hanapin si Jonas.

"We have been consistent with our efforts to try to locate Burgos. From the start, we have been supporting proper investigating agencies, which is the Philippine National Police," dagdag pa ni Torres.

Magugunitang inangguluhan rin ng Philippine Army na ang rebeldeng New People's Army ang posibleng may kagagawan ng pagkawala ni Burgos na umano’y miyembro ng gerilyang grupo.

Naunang isinabit ni Senior State Prosecutor Emmanuel Velasco, hepe ng Presidential Task Force Against Media Harassment, ang anim na sundalo na umano'y may kinalaman sa pagkawala ni Burgos at ipinag-utos sa National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) na i-summon ang lahat ng suspek upang maimbestigahan.

Lima sa mga sundalo ay nakilalang sina Army Lt. Col. Noel Clement, former commander ng 56th Infantry Battalion; Army Lt. Jaime Mendaro, ng 56th Infantry Battalion; Army Sgt. Jason Roxas at Air Force Cpl. Maria Joana Francisco; Army Sgt. Aron Arroyo at isang alias TL o Team Leader -- lahat ay assign sa Military Intelligence Group-15.

Ngunit matapos na pangalanan ito ni Velasco ay agad naman siyang sinibak ni Justice Secy. Raul Gonzales. Itinanggi rin ng mga sundalo na may kinalaman sila sa pagdukot kay Burgos. (Juley Reyes at Juan Magtanggol)

Freed Italian Catholic Clergy Returns To His Parish In South RP

Papal Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) priest, the Rev. Giancarlo Bossi, in the southern Philippine town of Payao. Hundreds of Filipinos, Muslims and Christians, gather in the town to welcome the return of the 57-year old clergy on Wednesday July 25, 2007. (Mindanao Examiner/PIME Philippines Photos)

ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY (Mindanao Examiner / 25 Jul) – Freed Italian Catholic priest Giancarlo Bossi returned Wednesday to his parish in the remote town of Payao in the southern Filipino province of Zamboanga Sibugay, where hundreds of supporters have gathered to welcome him.

It was also in Payao town where he was kidnapped by Moro rebels on June 10.

Bossi’s reunion with the locals was emotional. Many were in tears when they saw the priest stepped out of his vehicle. He was frail, but smiled and waved to the crowds that surrounded his convoy.

They embraced Bossi and led him to his parish where more people were gathered and clapped their hands when they saw the 57-year old priest. It was the first time the priest returned to Payao town since he was freed by kidnappers on July 19.

Philippine authorities said Bossi was after celebrating mass in the village of Bulawan by rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front led by brothers Akiddin and Wanning Abdusallam.

Government officials said there was no ransom paid for Bossi’s freedom, but the kidnappers had demanded P50 million for his safe release.

Army Maj. Gen. Nehemias Pajarito, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said troops were hunting down the kidnappers. “Our forces are hunting down the kidnappers of Father Bossi and we will get sooner or later,” he told the Mindanao Examiner.

Pajarito said he would meet with the priest on Thursday in Payao town for a thanksgiving mass.
Bossi has told the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines that he forgives his captors and does not harbor ill will for them. “In spite of everything they are still my brothers,” he said.
“At night I pray for them. And if they kidnap me again, I would still pray for them, as there’s no bitterness in my heart whatsoever,” Bossi said. “When we pray the ‘Lord’s Prayer,’ we are all his sons and we are all brothers and sisters.”
Bossi said he longs to return to Payao “to be with my people whom I love.”
“Being a parish priest is comparable with a head of a family who ought to be with his children,” he said.
Bossi said he has plans to return to Italy next month to visit his family. “I will also personally thank friends and the Italians who prayed and held rallies for my rescue,” he said.
Provincial police filed charges last week against Bossi’s kidnappers. Bossi was the third Italian priest kidnapped in southern Philippines the past 9 years.
Rogue MILF rebels kidnapped Fr Luciano Benedetti, 52, in Zamboanga del Norte province in 1998 and held for nearly 10 weeks until he was freed in exchange for a huge government ransom.
In 2001, renegade MILF rebels and members of the bandit group called Pentagon Gang also snatched Fr Giuseppe Pierantoni as the 44-year-old from Bologna said mass in the parish church of Dimataling town in Zamboanga del Sur.
The priest was freed after six months in captivity in exchange for an unspecified ransom, but he claimed to have escaped from his kidnappers. (Mindanao Examiner)