Thursday, April 30, 2009

Italian hostage held by Sayyaf in the Philippines phones wife

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 30, 2009) – An Italian aid worker being held captive by Philippine Abu Sayyaf terrorists on a southern island has phoned his wife late Thursday, the television network ABS-CBN reported.

Eugenio Vagni called his wife at around 8.30 p.m. to say that he is alive, but details of their conversation were not made public. The Abu Sayyaf is believed holding Vagni in the island of Sulu, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region.

ABS-CBN said Gwen Pang, the secretary-general of the Philippine National Red Cross has confirmed the conversation between Vagni and his wife.

Vagni was kidnapped January 15 along with Swiss national Andreas Notter and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba, all are working for the International Committee of the Red Cross. The trio was seized after inspecting a water and sanitation project at a prison in Patikul town.

Police said the Abu Sayyaf freed Lacaba on April 2 while Notter was rescued on April 18 in the hinterlands of Indanan town. But media reports claimed the duo was allegedly released in exchange for huge ransoms.

Authorities said among those holding Vagni were members of the Indonesian terror group Jemaah Islamiya. Security forces have surrounded the hinterlands in Indanan town to prevent the Abu Sayyaf from escaping with their captive. (Mindanao Examiner)

NPA rebel yields in Mindanao

KORONADAL CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 30, 2009) – A member of the communist rebel group New People’s Army has surrendered Thursday to the Philippine military in Mindanao, officials said.

Officials said the Delbert Batuga, 26, surrendered to the Army’s 72nd Infantry Battalion in Saranggani province. He yielded an automatic rifle, according to Army Capt. Rosa Cristina Manuel.

Manuel said the rebel would be given aid and livelihood training for his to start a new life. “He’s tired of life in the mountain and wanted to start a new life and we are helping him realize that,” she told the Mindanao Examiner.

She said the surrender came a day after rebel forces clashed with troops in the village of Lambingi in Banga town in South Cotabato province. She said troops repulsed an NPA attack late Wednesday on a patrol base and killed a rebel deputy commander, Ronan Cardeno, and wounded and captured another, George Lamigo.

Manuel said the wounded rebel was rushed to hospital by soldiers in Koronadal City where he being treated for gunshot wounds.

On Thursday, Defense chief Gilberto Teodoro visited North Cotabato province and led the inauguration of several government infrastructure projects worth some P6.5 million.

Provincial governor Jesus Sacdalan and his deputy Emmanuel Pinol joined the inauguration. Among the projects were farm-to-market roads, school buildings, health centers and a village hall. (Geo Solmerano)

EDC Malitbog plant plays key role in quick end to Visayas blackout

LEYTE - The Malitbog power plant of Energy Development Corporation (EDC) played a significant role in the speedy restoration of electricity in the Visayas after the area suffered a 10-hour blackout last week.

Malitbog is the biggest power facility in EDC’s Unified Leyte plants that also include the Upper Mahiao, Mahanagdong and Optimization plants. The Unified Leyte plants are responsible for maintaining a power supply performance that ensure very high availability and reliability factors, even exceeding the company’s targets of 95.62 percent on availability and 99.43 percent on reliability, according to EDC Deputy President Richard Tantoco.

The Malitbog facility is the only plant capable of blackstarting the grid from the Leyte side and it was through the Malitbog plant that power was restored in the Leyte-Samar-Bohol-Luzon and the Leyte-Cebu lines, Tantoco said.

Initial reports still being verified said the blackout happened after a bamboo fell on the power line resulting in a line-to-ground fault. This caused the Cebu-Leyte line to trip, cutting off power supply to Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, Samar, Negros, Panay, Biliran and Siquijor provinces.

The disturbance occurred in a portion of the transmission line in Tabango town, some 28 kilometers away from the EDC geothermal complex located in Kananga town, and is beyond EDC’s area of responsibility.

Tantoco said that in spite of this ground fault, the Malitbog plant sustained the hit and still provided power to the Leyte-Samar-Bohol-Luzon grid. EDC attempted to re-energize the grid but it turned out that the line-to-ground fault had not yet been remedied. This triggered the tripping of the Malitbog plant itself and caused the transmission line to trip again.

Tantoco clarified that although the company was doing meter calibration work at that time, this had nothing to do with the blackout. He explained that the power system consists of two parallel power lines. EDC’s maintenance work, he said, was being done on Line 1 while the tripping happened along the Leyte-to-Cebu Line 2. Had there been no disturbance along Line 2, the system could have sustained the power supply even if Line 1 had been shut down, Tantoco said.

“After EDC took over the Upper Mahiao, Mahanagdong, Malitbog and Optimization plants from CalEnergy and Ormat, it has been operating the Unified Leyte plants at full capacities. We even exceeded the 130-MW capacity of the Upper Mahiao power plant, generating peak loads of up to 136 MW for this facility, which is a unique and complex geothermal plant,” Tantoco added.

EDC’s Leyte Geothermal Production Field (LGPF) supply the steam used by the Unified Leyte plants and the 112.5-MW Napocor-owned Tongonan I geothermal plant for power generation. The LGPF is EDC’s biggest steam field, accounting for close to 60 percent of the company’s total installed capacity.

Two Extrajudicial Killings Still Unresolved: Report

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is deeply concern over the delay in the conclusion of the investigation into the deaths of two farmers who were last seen alive taken by soldiers in Sta. Catalina town in Negros Oriental province in central Philippines on February 2, 2009.

Their bodies had been discovered when the investigators exhumed a gravesite after the witnesses had accompanied them to locate it; however, the investigation in this case has not reached into a conclusion in order to file charges in court. 

CASE DETAILS: (According to information received from the Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights (KARAPATAN-Central Visayas)) 

The two victims, Julito Quirante and Ronel Raguing were last seen alive on January 31 and February 1 respectively. 

Julito left from his house to loan corn from his cousin, Francisco Namoco, who lives in Sitio Buwang, Barangay Milagrosa, Sta. Catalina. On the other hand, Ronel, had gone to his farm to harvest pumpkins and other vegetables that he intended to sell in Sitio Lag-asan, Barangay Nagbinlod, of the same municipality. 

Prior to this, however, Julito's wife, Alejandra, has said that on 15 January 2009, the soldiers attached to the 79th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army (PA) already had her husband taken into their camp where they had him subjected to questioning. The soldiers were allegedly accusing him of having been involved in the New People's Army (NPA). 

Though the couple were not harmed; however, the soldiers had them taken to a police station in Sta. Catalina where they were subjected to investigation. The soldiers' actions, however, is contrary to the existing rules on criminal procedures; firstly, soldiers had no authority to summon any individuals for questioning; secondly, only the police has the authority to subject an individual into investigation but there should be sufficient reason of their suspicions before they could do; and that the person must be accompanied by a counsel. 

However, in remote areas, the soldiers had developed the practice of routinely summoning individuals over mere suspicions they were involved in illegal activities, in particular with a rebel group. In these places, once a person refused to comply with the soldier's order it would result to needlessly discriminating against a person and emboldens their biased suspicion a person is indeed involved in illegal activities. Thus, it results to persons and their families being forced to submit themselves, for lack of choice, against their will. 

This is what has happened to Julito and his wife Alejandra. 

However, the soldier's alleged involvement into Julito and Ronel's death was also a result of witnesses having seen them being taken by the undetermined number of soldiers in Sitio Kalabasaan, Barangay Nagbinlod, Sta. Catalina. They were last seen being taken to a forested area but when the soldiers emerged from the forested area the two victims, whom the witnesses had seen together with them, were already gone. 

On 20 February 2009 the victims' families though had asked assistance from a police station in Sta. Catalina, who had jurisdiction where the incident took place, but they did not take action into the victim's case, who were at that time reported disappeared. When the families approached the KARAPATAN, the latter held a fact finding mission on 27 February 2009 in Sitio Kalabasaan, Barangay Nagbinlod, which resulted to them having been able to speak to witnesses who had come forward. 

The witness pointed to the site where soldiers had the victims taken. An inspection of the area generated a suspicion of a possible gravesite. It was on 9 March 2009 when a team of investigators from the National Bureau of investigation (NBI) in Region VII have provided assistance to the fact-finding team which prompted then to exhume the gravesite located in Sitio Junob, of the same municipality. The place is about an hour walk from Sitio Kalabasaan. At about 4pm that day, two male decomposing bodies had been exhumed with their hands tied behind their backs. 

The dead bodies, however, were identified by their relatives as belonging to the disappeared victims through the dress they were wearing and the sack that belongs to Julito. At about 6pm of 9 March 2009, the bodies were brought to Clarin Funeral Parlor in Poblacion, Sta. Catalina for an autopsy, however, the NBI Region VII is yet to release the result of the autopsy. 

The victims' wives, Virginia Raguing and Alejandra Quirante, has already sought the appropriate assistance in a letter from the regional office of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Cebu City requesting them of affording possibility of financial and other assistance that could facilitate in pursuing their complaint. However, so far there has not been information whether the victims' wives had been given assistance. 

On 20 March 2009, the same unit of soldier had Julito's son-in-law, Noli Bendersin, forcibly taken from his house in Sitio Lukdo, Barangay San Pedro. The soldiers took him to the camp of the 79th IB headquarters in Siaton of the same municipality where they had him forced into signing a sworn statement exonerating the soldiers from any involvement in the killing of his father-in-law, Julito and Ronel. 

After the incident, Noli had to leave the place to elsewhere for fear of his safety. He told his wife, who is pregnant, that he needed to leave as the soldiers, should he continue to remain, would return to get him back. Noli's absence from his family has already affected the emotional and mental condition of his pregnant wife, who is due to give birth soon. 

Gunman kill anti-mining activist in Mindanao; military denies hand in murder

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 30, 2009) – An unidentified gunman killed a militant leader who opposed mining operations in the southern Philippines.

Ludinio Monson was shot in the town of Boston in Davao Oriental province on Wednesday afternoon and the military has quickly denied any involvement in the killing and condemned the attack.

Militant groups and leftist organizations have blamed the military for the murder of Monson, who led anti-mining protests and rallies in the past in Mindanao.

“The news linking the military to the killing is no surprise. It became the practice of militant groups to attribute the killing and use the issue in discrediting the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the government,” said Maj. Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu, a regional army commander.

He said Monson, chairman of the militant group called “Negkahiusa Koy Mag-uuma to Boston,” could have been killed by people he wronged in the past.

Mapagu said it is not the military policy to target innocent civilians in its campaign against communist insurgents. He ordered army commanders in the province to work closely with the police and cooperate with government agencies investigating the killing.

Lt. Col. Rolando Bautista, a spokesman for the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, the accusations against the military linking soldiers to the murder was baseless.

“It is our best interest to seek the truth and find out the real culprits so that we can clear the name of the organization from the accusations of some individuals who maliciously link us to the crime even without any solid basis or evidence,” he said.

Militant groups have linked the military in extrajudicial killings of political activists and civilians suspected as supporters of the communist New People’s Army. 

Leftist organizations and human rights groups also implicated government soldiers in the abduction and brutal killing of Rebelyn Pitao, daughter of a senior NPA leader in Mindanao, Leoncio Pitao alias Kumander Parago.

Pitao, 20, was abducted in Davao City on March 4 and her naked body was found the next day floating in a shallow creek in the village of San Isidro in Davao del Norte’s Carmen town. Her body bore torture marks and was believed raped before she was stabbed in the chest.

Pitao tagged 11 military agents as behind the murder of his daughter, a teacher by profession, who led a simple and quiet life with her family in Davao City. 

Communist rebels broke off peace talks with Manila in 2004 after the United States listed the communist groups as foreign terrorist organizations and froze their assets abroad on government's prodding. (Mindanao Examiner)

Statement of Rep. Maria Isabelle G. Climaco on the proposed creation of the 3rd Congressional District in Zamboanga City.

Statement of Rep. Maria Isabelle G. Climaco on the proposed creation of the 3rd Congressional District in Zamboanga City.

Today, the 27th day of April, I had to make an important decision to manifest the aspiration of our City in the House of Representatives, for the proposed creation of the 3rd legislative District of Zamboanga City, by virtue of the 2007 Census, which puts the City’s population at 774,407, and in accordance with paragraph 3, Section 5, Article 6 of the 1987 Constitution.

Our Office initiated a series of information dissemination campaign and consultative dialogues, particularly 37 barangays of the 1st District and several from the 2nd District; information drive through print and broadcast media; distribution of materials outlining the legislative process, and the advantages of an additional legislative district.

This is backed by Sangguniang Panlungsod Resolution No. 108 dated 05 February 2009. Likewise, other resolutions were passed by the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Zamboanga City related to the matter.

Recognizing the primordial role of District 2 Rep. Fabian in the passage of this proposal, our Office submitted a copy of the draft bill to his office on 09 February 2009.

Due to the recent developments in Congress, this representation as Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on Local Government, deems it urgent to lay the aspirations of our City in Congress since other Representatives have made such manifestations.
It is my responsibility to also manifest this desire for an additional district inasmuch as we get to discuss issues of such in our committee. If others can author such bills passing our committee, I too as your representative am duty bound to aspire as well, hoping that this would also get the support, most importantly, of the Rep. of the 2nd District of Zamboanga City.

Recently last March 4, 2009, I manifested my Co-authorship of HB 6005, creating additional legislative districts in proportion to the population. Because of intervening circumstances, such as the approval of HB 6005 in the Committee level and the recent inclusion of 32 additional Party-List Representatives, this filing is of extreme urgency.

I am fully aware of the Parliamentary Courtesy, as this proposal will still pass the test of the Committee level and will await action from the Representative of the Second District of Zamboanga. If and when the consultations in the Second District culminates, it is hoped that this will yield to favorable results that would still save the moment for our City and for our Representatives to come-up with a united stand. This representation has made this decision since it is what the people expect from me when that mandate was given in 2007 to be their Representative in Congress.

It is our duty and responsibility to be our people’s voice in Congress. I thank those who gave their time to express their sentiments on the issue of the 3rd District as well as the Resolutions of support.

I act with a leap of faith para Dios, Patria y Projimo, Vaya con Dios!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Court jails killer of slain Filipino journalist

MANILA, Philippines (Reuters) - A Philippine court found an unemployed man guilty on Wednesday for the 2006 killing of a radio commentator on the southern island of Mindanao, sending him to jail for 17 years.

It was only the sixth conviction among more than 100 cases of murders of Filipino journalists since 1986, a local media group said.

"We are thankful to the government prosecutors for making sure justice would be served," Maximo Solis, an official of the local broadcasters' association, told reporters. "But we want to know why our colleague was killed and who wanted him dead."

Radio broadcaster Armando Pace, known for his critical commentaries on local politicians, was shot in the head and chest as he was riding home from work in July 2006 in southern Digos City.

One of the two gunmen linked to the crime, Joy Anticamara, was caught and brought to trial but denied he was near the crime scene. The court threw out his alibi after a neighbour identified him as one of the gunmen.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has listed the Philippines as among the world's most dangerous places for journalists due to many unresolved murders since 1998.

About 24 killings of Filipino journalists have remained unresolved in the last 10 years, said a CPJ report in March 2009, calling on the government to prosecute and punish those behind the murders.

The government said four people had been convicted in the last eight years and 26 others were facing charges for the murder of at least 31 Filipino journalists since 2001. But local media groups said about 78 to 100 of more than 130 journalists have been killed since 1986 and only five of those cases led to convictions. (Reuters)

Pondo handa na para sa Special Program for Employment for Students sa ARMM

COTABATO CITY - Handa na umano ang P1.7 milyon initial na pondo para sa Special Program for Employment for Students (SPES) para sa Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), ayon sa Philippine Information Agency.

Sinabi ni Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) – ARMM Secretary Antonio Mariano na ginagawa na nito ang paghahanda sa mga dokumento para sa nasabing programa.

Ayon kay Mariano ang nasabing pondo mula sa national government ay handa na para sa mga lalawigan ng Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu at Tawi-Tawi na magpapatupad ng SPES Program para sa taong ito.

Ang SPES ay isang programang nagbibigay ng pagkakataon sa mga qualified na mga mag-aaral na magtrabaho habang bakasyon.

Ayon sa kalihim hinihintay na lamang ng kanilang tanggapan ang iba pang mga kakailanganing dokumento mula sa mga lalawigan. Kasama sa mga dokumento ang mga pangalan ng mga qualified beneficiaries na isusumite mula sa mga lalawigan at dapat pirmado at inendorso ng mga provincial governors.

May direktiba umano si ARMM Governor Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan kay Mariano na bigyan prioridad ang mga mag-aaral na labis ang pangangailangan ng tulong.

Ang nasabing pondo ay ibibigay sa mga qualified na mag-aaral sa pamamagitan ng cashcards at sa pamamagitan ng reimbursement.

Four Civilians Get Sayyaf Rewards

Brigadier General Reynaldo Ramirez, deputy chief of the Philippine military’s Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City, awarded some P1.45 million on Wednesday, April 29, 2009 to four masked Filipino informants for helping soldiers arrest four Abu Sayyaf terrorists in separate operations last year in Basilan and Sulu provinces, where the group tied to al-Qaeda and Jemaan Islamiya is still holding a kidnapped Italian aid worker Eugenio Vagni in Sulu and a Sri Lankan peace advocate in Basilan.

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 29, 2009) – Philippine authorities on Wednesday rewarded some P1.45 million to four informants who helped soldiers capture Abu Sayyaf militants implicated in terrorism and kidnappings of foreigners and Filipino in the troubled South.

The four masked informants were guarded by soldiers inside the Western Mindanao Command where security officials handed over the reward. Officials said the four men helped capture Ersad Sabong, Salim Mas-ud Tanjal, Jul Akram Maron Hadjail and Abdulkab Balahim in Basilan and Sulu provinces.

Officials said Sabong was involved in the 2001 kidnappings of 21 mostly Western and Asian holidaymakers in the Malaysian resort island of Sipadan and dozens of people in Basilan.

The others were also implicated by the military and police authorities to ambuscades of soldiers, including the beheading of ten marines in Basilan in 2007.

Brigadier General Reynaldo Ramirez, deputy chief of the military’s Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City, awarded the bounties to the four informants.

Army First Lieutenant Steffani Cacho, a spokeswoman for the military command, said those captured are facing a string of criminal charges.

“The arrest of the four Abu Sayyaf members was the results of the participation of civilians who are providing us information about these terrorists,” she told reporters, adding, the rewards came from the Philippine government.

Abu Sayyaf militants, whose group is tied to the Al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya, are still holding a kidnapped Italian aid worker Eugenio Vagni in Sulu province and a Sri Lankan peace advocate in Basilan.

The United States is also offering as much as $5 million for the capture of known Abu Sayyaf leaders.

Washington has in the past paid millions of dollars in bounties for the killing and capture of Abu Sayyaf militants under the Rewards for Justice Program. (With a report from Jung Francisco)

Troops mount rescue ops after rebels seized army man in Mindanao

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 29, 2009) – Philippine troops launched fresh operation to rescue an army soldier seized by communist insurgents in the restive region of Mindanao, officials said.

Officials said New People’s Army rebels seized Private Ronnie Trinidad at a check point on a hinterland village in New Bataan town in Compostela Valley province on Tuesday.

Another soldier, Corporal Japhet Lavid, was able to escape and reported the matter to his unit. Both soldiers, who belong to the 66th Infantry Battalion, hitched a ride on a logging truck and were on their way to their barracks when seized by rebels, said Captain Rosa Maria Cristina Manuel, a regional army spokeswoman.

The driver, she said, was not harmed by the rebels who targeted the soldiers. Both infantrymen came from a hospital for a medical check-up. “There is a search and rescue operation going on,” she said.

In January, NPA rebels freed a captured Special Forces commander, First Lieutenant Vicente Cammayo after holding him as prisoner of war for two months in Compostela Valley.

Cammayo was captured 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.

Last year, the rebels also released a policeman Eduardo Tumol, who was seized November 5 at a checkpoint in the village of Baogo in Davao Oriental's Caraga town.

The NPA 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 Police Mobile Group in Mindanao.

The rebel group accused the 3rd Special Forces Battalion to which Cammayo belongs, as responsible for the series of violations to human rights, protocols of war and international humanitarian law in Compostela Valley province.

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 to end more than four decades of bloody fighting in the country. (Mindanao Examiner)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Journey's Arnel Pineda On A Peace Mission In Mindanao

JOURNEY FOR PEACE. Journey’s vocalist Arnel Pineda speaks to a huge crowd in the village of San Jose in General Santos City in the southern Philippines during his visit Tuesday, April 28, 2009. Pineda also led a feeding program and sang with the children. The visit is an initiative of the Act for Peace to bring celebrities in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao to help promote peace in the region. The village of San Jose is a declared peace and development community organized by Act for Peace. It was once a battleground of government forces and Moro National Liberation Front rebels in the 1970s. (AKP Images / Keith Bacongco)

Sulu Guv Gets Doctorate Degree

Governor Sakur Tan is being assisted by his wife, Hajja Nurunisah Tan, during the conferment of Doctor of Humanities by officials of the Sulu State College. Also in the photo are Jolo town mayor Hussin Amin; Dr Luningning Umar, of the Commission on Higher Education, and other officials of Sulu State College. (Contributed photo / Sonny Abing III)

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 28, 2009) – Citing his excellent leadership in public governance and many accomplishments in the province of Sulu, Governor Sakur Tan has been conferred with the degree (honoris causa) of Doctor of Humanities by the Sulu State College.

Tan has become the first governor of Sulu province bestowed with the honorary degree. The Sulu State College bestowed the prestigious honor during its 27th Commencement Exercises recently, according to Sonny Abing III, the Sulu provincial spokesman.

"The Board of Trustees of the Sulu State College approved Board Resolution No. 23-Series of 2009 stipulating Governor Tan’s long accomplishments in public service and his many achievements as a leader and civil servant," Abing said.

Dr Luningning Umar, the chairwoman of the Board of Trustees and also a commissioner of the Commission on Higher Education, led the conferment of the honorary degree on Tan.

Sulu State College President Dr Hamsali Jawali officiated Tan’s oath-taking. Tan was also inducted in the Sulu State College’s Alumni and awarded with plaque of appreciation being the guest speaker in the graduation rites.

Tan thanked the Sulu State College for conferring him the honorary degree and vowed to continue his literacy and education programs and pledged to continue his scholarship projects for many poor, but deserving Muslim students in the province.

Tan is a known philanthropist in the southern Philippines, who has helped not only poor Muslims, but indigent Christian families as well. (Mindanao Examiner)

Sulu gets more infra, development projects

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 28, 2009) - Manila is expected to pour some P300 million in various development projects in the southern Filipino province of Sulu.

President Gloria Arroyo has promised to fund the projects in Sulu in an effort to help the provincial government pursue its peace and development program.

Provincial governor Sakur Tan said the Abu Sayyaf problem in Sulu will not hinder the government from pursuing its various projects aimed at uplifting the living standards of the locals and at the same time promote peace.

“We are really pursuing different development projects and all these are for the benefit of the people of Sulu. We have to work together, stand united and pursue our goals and achieve peace for the benefit of everybody,” Tan's spokesman Sonny Abing III, quoted the provincial governor as saying.

He said among the proposed projects in Sulu are the construction of fish ports, world-class resorts, and agri-marine livelihood programs, and support for cooperatives to include tractors, fish cages, hatchery, and post-harvest facilities.

Tan said the President is supportive of the local development programs. He also praised Governor Datu Zaldy Ampatuan, of the Muslim autonomous region, for his support to the efforts of the provincial government. (Mindanao Examiner)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Police tightens security in Sulu after Sayyaf clash

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 27, 2009) – Police said it tightened security in the southern Philippine province of Sulu where Abu Sayyaf militants are holding the last of three kidnapped Italian aid worker Eugenio Vagni.

Police on Monday said the militants holding Vagni have split into smaller groups and the fate of the ailing Italian is unknown. “They have split into smaller groups to confuse security forces tracking them down,” Senior Superintendent Julasirim Kasim, the provincial police chief, told the Mindanao Examiner by phone.

He said another Abu Sayyaf faction in the town of Talipao was trying to link up with the group holding Vagni in Indanan town. Two Abu Sayyaf militants were killed and two other wounded in a clash April 24 with policemen in Talipao town, Kasim said.

He said a government school in Indanan town was also torched by unidentified men on Sunday in Indanan town, just 100 meter from a military post.

“We have tightened our security in Sulu, especially in Talipao, Indanan and the Parang town to prevent the Abu Sayyaf from regrouping or escaping the cordon around those areas,” Kasim said.

Manila has offered P500,000 reward for anybody who could provide information about Vagni, who is suffering from hernia.

Vagni and Swiss national Andreas Notter and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba, all workers of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), were kidnapped January 15 after inspecting a humanitarian project in Patikul town.

Police said it rescued Notter in Indanan town on April 18 after the Abu Sayyaf tried to escape from a cordon guarded by armed civilians. On April 2, Filipino Red Cross staff Mary Jean Lacaba was released by the Abu Sayyaf.

Alain Aeschlimann, the ICRC head of operations for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific, has repeatedly appealed for Vagni’s safe release.

“Andreas Notter last saw Eugenio on April 16 when they were separated. Since then the ICRC has not received any news. All of us at the ICRC are very concerned about Eugenio,” he said.

“For Eugenio's family, the nightmare of this abduction continues. His baby daughter is growing fast, and she has not seen her father for a hundred days. We hope that he will have her in his arms again very soon. There will be no rest for any of us until this crisis is resolved.”

Unconfirmed media reports said Vagni was handed over by his captors to another armed group in Sulu after Notter’s rescue. There were also reports that Lacaba and Notter were freed by the Abu Sayyaf in exchange for ransoms, but this was denied by authorities.

“We are aware of these reports and take them seriously. However, we have no further information on the matter. We are also renewing our appeal to the abductors' sense of humanity, especially in the light of Eugenio's medical situation. We urge them to release our colleague safe and sound, immediately and unconditionally,” Aeschlimann said.

The ICRC also appealed to the police and military to assure the safety of Vagni after several clashes between security and Abu Sayyaf forces in recent days.

“We maintain close contact with all those trying to find a solution to this crisis, in particular the local and national authorities. The ICRC reiterates that Eugenio’s safety is of paramount importance. We are once again asking all those involved in this crisis to avoid taking any action that could compromise Eugenio's safety. This is all the more important in view of his medical condition,” Aeschlimann said.

He said Lacaba and Notter were reunited with their families and despite the crisis the ICRC will continue to assist and protect the victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence in the Philippines, particularly in Central Mindanao, where tens of thousands of families are still living in evacuation shelters because of the fighting between military and Muslim rebel forces. (Mindanao Examiner)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

After The Race!

Mud covers motocross riders after a grueling race during the celebration of the Feast of
San Vicente Ferrer on Sunday, April 26, 2009 in the town of Antipas in North Cotabato
province. Army troops and policemen guarded the celebration.

1 killed, 3 injured in Mindanao bombing

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 26, 2009) – One person was killed and three more injured in a bomb attack Sunday in Sultan Kudarat province in the troubled region of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials blamed the bombing in Lebak town to the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which is fighting for independence in Mindanao.

“One civilian was killed and two others are wounded in the MILF bombing,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Ponce, a regional army spokesman, told the Mindanao Examiner.

There was no immediate statement from the MILF, but the bombing coincided with the weeklong fighting between security and rebel forces in Maguindanao province where army soldiers killed at least 9 MILF members.

More than a dozen rebel camps and caches of weapons were also captured by troops, Ponce said.

The MILF has previously denied allegations linking them to the spate of bombings targeting civilians in the southern Philippines. “Who else would do such an act of terrorism,? These bombings were perpetrated by the MILF’s SOG under Basit Usman,” Ponce said, referring to the rebel’s special operations group headed by Abdul Basit Usman.

Usman, who was linked by the Philippine military to the Indonesian militant group Jemaah Islamiya, is also wanted by the United States for terrorism. And Washington has offered as much as $50,000 reward for his capture.

Peace talks between Manila and the MILF collapsed last year after the failed signing of the Muslim homeland deal that the Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional. (Mindanao Examiner)

Guerrilla Daughter by Virginia Hansen Holmes

Guerrilla DaughterVirginia Hansen Holmes
2009, 213 pp
ISBN 978-0-87338-949-5
Courtesy of Atlas Books
Call (419) 281-1802 to order by phone.

The experiences of an American family in the Philippines during World War II...

Just nine days before her seventh birthday, Virginia Hansen Holmes heard about the attack on American forces at Pearl Harbor and wondered if this was going to change her life. She lived on the Philippine Island of Mindanao with her two teenage brothers, eleven-year-old sister, mother, and father, an official with the East Mindanao Mining Company.

Guerrilla Daughter is a memoir of this family’s extraordinary struggle to survive the Japanese occupation of Mindanao from the spring of 1942 until the end of the war in September 1945.

The men in the family fought as guerrilla soldiers in the island’s resistance movement, while Holmes, her mother, and her older sister were left to their own resources to evade the Japanese, who had been given orders to execute Americans.

The Hansen women, faced with immediate death if found and suffering from hunger, disease, and barely tolerable living conditions, hid out in the Philippine jungle and remote villages to remain just ahead of the growing Japanese presence and avoid capture.

Using original documents and papers belonging to her father, as well as her own vivid recollections and the reminiscences of her siblings, Virginia Hansen Holmes presents this gripping and compelling account of extraordinary survival.

Virginia Hansen Holmes graduated from the Colegio de Jesus-Maria in the Philippines when the war ended and came to the United States in 1954. After her marriage to Kent Holmes in 1958, several of his foreign assignments with the U.S. government took them back to the Philippines. They now live in Virginia.

Zamboanga farm owner kidnapped

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 26, 2009) – Troops mounted an operation Sunday in an effort to track down a farm owner abducted by gunmen in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials said five gunmen seized Doroteo Gonzales, 61, from his house late Saturday in the village of Buenavista.

“There is an operation to track down the victim. We still don’t know who were behind the abduction,” said Army Colonel Santiago Baluyot, commander of a military task force helping secure Zamboanga City from terror attacks.

The latest abduction brought to four the number of people seized in Zamboanga City since January.

Suspected Abu Sayyaf also kidnapped three government teachers Quizon Freires, 28; Janette Delos Reyes, 29; and Rafael Mayonado, 24. They were on a motorboat returning to Zamboanga from a working break when gunmen intercepted them at sea brought them to nearby Basilan Island.

The Abu Sayyaf demanded P6 million for their safe release.

Late last year, Abu Sayyaf gunmen also kidnapped a hospital nurse and a nursing student in Zamboanga City and brought them to Basilan and were ransomed off by their families several weeks later. (Mindanao Examiner)

Security forces clashed with Abu Sayyaf in Sulu; fate of Italian hostage unknown

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 26, 2009) – Government forces clashed with the Abu Sayyaf on Sunday in the southern Philippine province where the militant group is holding a kidnapped Italian aid worker, officials said.

Officials said the fighting erupted in the hinterlands of Talipao town, but there were no reports of casualties. The Abu Sayyaf is holding Eugenio Vagni, the last of three international Red Cross workers seized snatched January 15 after inspecting a water and sanitation project in Patikul town.

“There was clash this morning. We still don’t know if there were Abu Sayyaf casualties in the fighting in Talipao,” said Senior Superintendent Julasirim Kasim, the Sulu police chief.

He said security forces are still tracking down Vagni who is being held by another Abu Sayyaf faction in Indanan town on the opposite side of Talipao. “We have no reports about Vagni,” he said.

Manila has offered P500,000 reward for anybody who could provide information about Vagni, who is ill and suffering from hernia.

Last week, police said it rescued Swiss aid worker Andreas Notter in Indanan town after the Abu Sayyaf tried to escape from a cordon guarded by armed civilians. On April 2, Filipino Red Cross staff Mary Jean Lacaba was released by the Abu Sayyaf.

Alain Aeschlimann, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) operations for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific, has repeatedly appealed for Vagni’s safe release.
“Andreas Notter last saw Eugenio on April 16 when they were separated. Since then the ICRC has not received any news. All of us at the ICRC are very concerned about Eugenio,” he said.

“For Eugenio's family, the nightmare of this abduction continues. His baby daughter is growing fast, and she has not seen her father for a hundred days. We hope that he will have her in his arms again very soon. There will be no rest for any of us until this crisis is resolved.”

Unconfirmed media reports said Vagni was handed over by his captors to another armed group in Sulu after Notter’s rescue. There were also reports that Lacaba and Notter were freed by the Abu Sayyaf in exchange for ransoms, but this was denied by authorities.

“We are aware of these reports and take them seriously. However, we have no further information on the matter. We are also renewing our appeal to the abductors' sense of humanity, especially in the light of Eugenio's medical situation. We urge them to release our colleague safe and sound, immediately and unconditionally,” Aeschlimann said.

The ICRC also appealed to the police and military to assure the safety of Vagni after several clashes between security and Abu Sayyaf forces in recent days.

“We maintain close contact with all those trying to find a solution to this crisis, in particular the local and national authorities. The ICRC reiterates that Eugenio’s safety is of paramount importance. We are once again asking all those involved in this crisis to avoid taking any action that could compromise Eugenio's safety. This is all the more important in view of his medical condition,” Aeschlimann said.

He said Lacaba and Notter were reunited with their families and despite the crisis the ICRC will continue to assist and protect the victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence in the Philippines, particularly in Central Mindanao, where tens of thousands of families are still living in evacuation shelters because of the fighting between military and Muslim rebel forces. (Mindanao Examiner)

Award-winning film director holds seminar, workshop in Zamboanga

Award-winning film and television director William Mayo gestures as he explains the intricacies involved in filmmaking during a seminar in Zamboanga City. The seminar was sponsored by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts and partnership with Zamboanga City Representative Maria Isabelle Salazar and City Councilor Gerky Valesco and Ateneo de Zamboanga University President Fr Antonio Moreno.

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 26, 2009) – Some 30 participants finished a seminar and workshop on filmmaking in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines.

William Mayo, an award-winning film and television director, conducted the three-day workshop held at the Ateneo de Zamboanga University. Mayo, whose films included the epic Lapu-Lapu, discussed the various stages involved in producing a 35-mm movie and digital filmmaking.

“If you have the passion, just do it. Don’t be afraid, be imaginative and pursue your goal and produce a movie. Zamboanga is a beautiful place and it is rich in culture and history and these are very good materials for your film,” said Mayo, who is also the president of the Kapisanan ng mga Direktor ng Pelikulang Pilipino and the Philippine Motion Picture Directors Association, Inc.
Many of the participants were film students and digital filmmakers.

The National Commission on Culture and the Arts and the Film Academy of the Philippines sponsored the workshop in partnership with Zamboanga City Rep. Maria Isabelle Salazar and City Councilor Gerky Valesco and the Ateneo de Zamboanga University.

Fr Antonio Moreno, president of the Ateneo de Zamboanga, also took a brief time and visited the seminar and inspired the participants.

Valesco, himself a television director, who was responsible for organizing the workshop, said a second seminar on advance filmmaking and cinematography is now being planned, including the possible holding of the first Chavacano Film Festival in Zamboanga City later this year.

“We are opening the door to opportunities for our local talents to be known in the field of filmmaking and hopefully to include Zamboanga City among the many cities in the Philippines where filmmaking is striving,” Valesco said.

Salazar, a television documentarist, urged those who finished the workshop to pursue filmmaking here and promote not only Zamboanga, but show that local talents can also be world class. (Jung Francisco)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Author Virginia Hansen Holmes Presents Book On American Family's World War II Experience In Mindanao

Philippine Ambassador to the United States Willy C. Gaa receives from Virginia Hansen Holmes “Guerilla Daughter,” a book chronicling the experience of the Hansen family in Mindanao during the occupation of the Philippines in World War II.

In her courtesy call on Ambassador Gaa in Washington DC on March 6, Holmes recounted the care, concern and generosity she and her family received from Filipinos during “a most difficult time” for everyone.

Hansen too recalled the bravery and courage of Filipinos in the island’s resistance movement where her father and brother also fought as guerilla soldiers in the Tenth Military District, US Forces in the Philippines under Colonel Wendell Fertig.

Guerilla Daughter, published by the Kent State University Press, uses original documents and papers belonging to Hansen’s father, Charles, and her own “vivid recollections and the reminiscences of her siblings” to present a gripping account of extraordinary survival.

Also in photo is Hansen’s husband Kent, a retired CIA officer and “history buff” who developed timelines and commentaries to complement Hansen’s personal experiences. Hansen donated a copy of the book to the Philippine Embassy.

Ginsugad san Palasyo an NDCC, Sulu nga magpreparar si pagkaon ngan mga medisina

Maynila - Nagsugad karon si Deputy Presidential spokesman Anthony Golez nga kinahanglan pa niya makakarawat sin report san possible nga pagebakwet san mga sibilyan didto san mga lugar nga kuno adto si Italian Eugeno Vagni bilang hostage san Abu Sayyaf kidnappers.

Pero nagsugad si Golez nga mao gihapon an chairman san National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), nga kun kinahanglan na gud ine maabo, an mga sibilyan sa mga lugar nga yaun kadelikaduhan san aragyway mao in igkakadtu sa libre nga mga lugar.

Si Golez an nagbaton san mga report nga possible nga magkayaun sin military operations pag libre kan Vagni nga mao an nabibilin nala san tulo nga gin kidnap nga mga natrabaho san International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) nga ada pa sa mga kamot san Abu ayyaf nga mga bandido sa Sulu.

Nagsugad gihapon si Gloz nga an local government unit san mga nasabi nga mga lugar ngan san NDCC in gintagan na sin mga instructions nga mga tirok na sin pagkaon ngan mga medisina nga makakagsuporta san mga relief operations.

Ine in mga preparasyon nga standard contingency procedures san NDCC ngha pirmi ginhihimo sa mga lugar nga possible magkayaun aragway.

Nagsugad gihapon si Golez nga an local crisis committee (LCC) sa Sulu ngan san NDCC in nagpili na san lima nga mga lugar nga possible mahimo nga evacuation centers.

A pangutana kun an Pilipinas in matugot nga an Italian government in mag-asister san pag rescue kan Vagni, nagsugad si Golez nga an angay bumaton siton nga pangutana mao an local crisis management committee (LCMC) pero yaun pahayag an Armed forces of the Philippines nga sira an maghihimo san rescue mission. Matungod sine, dire na kinahanglan nga bumulig an gobyerno san Italya.

Gintagan bugat ni Golez nga bisan nano an ig rekondar san LCMC parte sine nga situasyon sa Sulu, mao an dapat sundon san ngatanan ngan ine gintugutan ni National Defense ecretary Gilberto Teodoro san dire pala maiha nga mga press conferences kaupod an LCMC.

Sugad ni Golez nga parte san Sulu hostage crisis, karuyag san Palasyo nga an mga sekretaryo san Department of Interior and Local government (DILG) ngan san DND mao an dapat magin basehan san ngatanan nga impormasyon.

Sugad pa ni Golez nga an lokal nga pangobyernohan ngan san lokal nga DCC mao an mahatag sin report parte sin mga pag gios sin mga tropa ngan pare sine, wara pa sira report.

Base san mga contingency planning, an magkadurudilain nga mga government agencies nga responsible san pag-ataman san mga internally displaced people (IDPs) in naghihimo na sin pagtirok san mga pagkaon ngan medisina nga kinahanglan ada sa ngatanan nga oras.

Parte san nagtitika paso nga aragway sa Cotabato ngan Maguindanao, nagsugad si Golez nga yaun mga tandard Operting Procedures sin paghatag sin seguridad ngan pagbulig san mga IDPs. (Nene A. Manzanares)

Eastern Visayas In Darkness

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines - Five power plants of the Tongonan Geothermal Power Plant in Kananga in Leyte province bogged down simultaneously for still unknown reasons and putting the Eastern Visayas Region in total blackout and affecting the power supply of some other parts of the Visayas and Luzon areas, according to a report by the Philippine News Agency.

This was also confirmed by Edna Legaspina, corporate communications officer of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP)-Ormoc City Office.

NGCP is formerly the National Transmission Corporation (Transco).

Legaspina said that four of the power plants are owned by the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR) and the other one is owned by the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC).

The Tongonan Geothermal Power Plant is the only source of power supply in Region VIII.

The NAPOCOR and the PNOC have not yet explained to the NGCP the cause of the incident, according to Legaspina.

She clarified that the transmission lines in all parts of the region are all functional.

She added that the NGCP could not tell when the power supply would be restored.

The total blackout occurred starting at 9:38 a.m., amidst the final preparations for the Palarong Pambansa 2009 which is set to be launched tonight by having the pre-pageant of the Search for "Mr. and Ms. Palarong Pambansa." (Garry A. Vacunawa)

Bill allows CHR to suspend cabinet members, LGU execs that violate human rights

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Human Rights shall be authorized to suspend a member of the Cabinet, a Governor, Mayor or any official of the local government unit (LGU) if found guilty of violating human rights under a bill being considered by a House body.

Rep. Roman Romulo (Lone District, Pasig City), however, expressed apprehension over the said provision of House Bill 1420, which is now the subject of deliberation by the House Committee on Human Rights chaired by Rep. Lorenzo TaƱada III (4th District, Quezon).

Section 23 of the bill authored by Akbayan Rep. Ana Theresia Hontiveros states that the CHR may preventively suspend any elective or appointive public officer or employee, including members of the Cabinet, local government, government-owned-or controlled corporations and their subsidiaries.

Exempted from the coverage of this authority are the President, the Vice President, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House, the Chief Justice, the Members of Congress, the judiciary and other impeachable officials.

Roman said the specific provision of the proposed bill, also known as the Commission on Human Rights Act of 2007 should be clarified and those stakeholders going to be affected should be consulted.

Romulo told the recent public hearing of the human rights panel that with the bill, the CHR will not only be a "superbody" but will have the authority to suspend for three months any Cabinet member, local executive or even officials of government controlled corporations whom they think has violated human rights.

"The sole guideline here is if the evidence of guilt is strong against those officials," Romulo said.

CHR Chairperson Leila De Lima explained to the committee that the adoption of a new charter for the CHR is aimed at protecting and strengthening its independence and operational effectiveness.

"The status of the CHR as an independent and constitutionally created institution must be protected, and its power to delineate its own organizational structure and to have fiscal autonomy is one of the key element of this proposed charter," De Lima said.

De Lima added that the measure has now specifically laid down other powers and functions of the Commission including the witness protection program, financial assistance program, legal assistance program, protection of Filipinos abroad, proposals for the creation of ad hoc groups for certain exceptional cases and the issuance of clearances. (Fidel Gumawid)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Aerial View Of Zamboanga City

An aerial view of Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

Escaped prisoner captured in Cotabato City

KIDAPAWAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 24, 2009) – Police on Friday captured one of 15 prisoners who escaped from jail in Cotabato City in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials said Sukarno Sanday alias Oting Holdap was captured during a raid in his hideout in the village of Tamontaka 3 shortly before 6 a.m.

Senior Superintendent Willie Dangane, Cotabato City police chief, said the arrest of Sanday was a joint operation between the police, the military’s Task Force Tugis and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

Dangane, who organized the Task Force Bali-Piitan, said there is an ongoing operation to track down the remaining 14 escapees.

Chief Superintendent Fidel Cimatu, Jr. , the regional police chief, also ordered the police to double its efforts to bring these law breakers back to justice.

Police also linked two of the escapees - Adta Limba, alias Tah Pusher, and Kanakan Karim, also known as Kritikal - in the shooting of a poll official lawyer Rendon Gutierrez, 43, in Cotabato City on April 21.

Gutierrez, poll officer of Libungan town in North Cotabato, was shot in the head, but survived the attack and is recuperating at an undisclosed hospital, police said.

It said witnesses pointed to the two men as the shooters and they were among 15 prisoners who escaped April 16 from a jail in Cotabato City. (Geo Solmerano)

Bomb explodes near army post in Mindanao

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 24, 2009) – An improvised bomb exploded Friday near a military post in the southern Philippines, where security forces are battling Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, officials said.

Officials said the explosion occurred at around 6.30 a.m. just 25 meters from the outpost in the village of Bagan in Guindulungan town in Maguindanao, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region.

“No one was hurt in the blast. The MILF was behind the bombing. The rebels are harassing our soldiers,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Ponce, a regional army spokesman.

It was the second bombing in two days in the province where troops and rebels were fighting since last week. On Thursday, government soldiers disarmed an improvised explosive in the town of Datu Odin Sinsuat also in Maguindanao.

Troops also recovered on Thursday a huge cache of weapons left behind by MILF rebels in Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces. The government offensive, Ponce said, was to prevent terrorism.

“The clearing operation is a counteraction against the series of attacks by the MILF to deter their plan,” he said.

The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting for independence in Mindanao. The seven-year old peace talks between the Arroyo government and the MILF collapsed last year after the failed signing of the Muslim homeland deal. (Mindanao Examiner)

Red Cross hostage, parang bula na nawala sa Sulu

SULU (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 24, 2009) – Mistulang karayom sa malawak na kakahuyan ang paghahanap na isinasagawa ng militar at pulisya sa nalalabing Italyanong Red Cross hostage ng Abu Sayyaf sa Sulu province.

Tatlong araw ng pinaghahanap ng daan-daang mga sundalo at parak si Eugenio Vagni ngunit bigo pa rin ang mga ito na matagpuan ang dayuhan na sinasabing may sakit sa kabundukan ng Sulu.

Dalawang bayan ng Sulu – sa Indanan at Parang – ang Sentro ng search and rescue operation matapos na mahiwalay si Vagni sa kasamahang si Swiss national Andreas Notter na nailigtas naman ng mga parak nuong nakaraang linggo.

Inamin ni Notter na hirap na hirap si Vagni sa kanyang kalagayan dahil sa pamamaga ng mga bayag nito sanhi ng hernia. Si Notter ay nakabalik na sa kanyang bansa.

Unang pinalaya ng Abu Sayyaf nuong Abril 2 si Mary Jean Lacaba, ang kasamang Pinay nina Vagni at Notter. Dinukot ang tatlong nuong Enero 15 matapos na bisitahin ang isang humanitarian project sa bilangguan sa bayan ng Patikul.

Nag-alok na rin ang mga awtoridad ng P500,000 bilang pabuya sa sinumang makakapagturo ng kinaroroonan ni Vagni. Nauna kasing napaulat na ibinigay ng Abu Sayyaf sa ilalim ni Albader Parad si Vagni sa isang grupo ng mga rebelde, ngunit itinanggi naman ito ng militar.

Kamakalawa ay nagkaroon ng sagupaan sa bayan ng Talipao sa pagitan ng Abu Sayyaf at mga awtoridad, ngunit wala namang inulat na nasawi, ayon kay Sulu police chief Julasirim Kasim. (Mindanao Examiner)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

DOH inks agreement with ARMM to implement health investment plan

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 23, 2009) - The Department of Health (DOH) has signed Thursday a memorandum of agreement with the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao for the implementation of the Investment Plan for Health (IPH) in an effort to further improve the health sector in the five provinces under the ARMM.

The MOA stipulates the relationship of the DOH and the autonomous regional government in the exchange of resources and investment for health in the ARMM. It also formalized the alliance for health sector reform implementation in the autonomous region.

The ARMM IPH is a strategic framework geared towards the improvement of health services in the region and the plan is based on the FOURmula One for Health program, a medium term roadmap for health sector reforms in the Philippines covering 2005-2010.

“We recognize the need for a comprehensive reform of the health sector. Our people, regardless of economic background, deserve appropriate and quality health service,” ARMM Governor Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan said in a statement.

He also cited President Gloria Arroyo’s continuing support for the ARMM’s peace and development efforts.

The MOA essentially covers the release of funds or commodities and report of expenditures and the implementation of programs, projects and activities, including the utilization of resource transfers, and the working arrangements and procedures for its implementation, according to the ARMM Bureau of Public Information.

DOH-ARMM Secretary Tahir Sulaik said the high incidence of maternal and infant mortality, malnourishment and other health problems are their biggest problems.

Sulaik said with the ARMM IPH, the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi would be receiving proper and efficient health services because it provides for strategies for governance, service delivery, financing and regulation of the region’s health sector.

Sulaik said they hope the ARMM IPH would finally allow them to cater efficiently to the health needs of people in the region and even those in remote communities with the creation of more “Botika ng Barangay”, rural health units and construction and improvement of hospitals and other health facilities.

While DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III said with the ARMM’s high poverty incidence and long history of armed conflict, they are now giving top priority to the region. He also announced during the signing ceremony held at the Heritage Hotel in Pasay City, the transfer of P17-million to DOH-ARMM as initial funding for the implementation of the ARMM IPH.

Ampatuan expressed full commitment to the implementation of the ARMM IPH and the FOURmula One for Health program, adding that for the region to move forward and establish economic gains, crucial health sector reforms must first be achieved. (Mindanao Examiner)

Troops continue assault on MILF in Mindanao

Army soldiers from the 6th Infantry Division’s 1st mechanized battalion under Lt. Col. Willy Alunday, fires 25 millimeters guns toward rebel positions in Maguindanao province where fighting between the military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have reported the past days. Col. Menardo Geslani, commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade, also points to a map where the military operation is concentrated. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Mark Navales).

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 23, 2009) – Government forces battling the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have recovered Thursday weapons left behind by rebel forces in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials said troops recovered the weapons in Maguindanao’s Datu Saudi Ampatuan town and in Pikit town in North Cotabato where security forces assaulted MILF strongholds the past days.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Ponce, a spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said among the weapons were anti-tank rockets, automatic rifles and munitions.“These weapons were recovered during clearing operations,” he said.

The MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group which is fighting for independence in the restive region, did not give any statement about the captured weapons. (With a report from Mark Navales)

Military Intelligence Primary Suspects, Not Cooperating –Task Force Rebelyn

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project / Apr. 23, 2009) - Despite the military’s insistence that it shares the widespread outrage over the brutal killing of Rebelyn Pitao between March 4 and 5 and its promises to cooperate fully with police and show it has nothing to hide, the commanders and agents of two army intelligence units appear to be doing no such thing.

Elements in the military seem to be obstructing justice by insisting that repeated written requests from police for information and cooperation “do not have any legal basis,” - and six weeks on, those in charge of the investigation told the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project they have yet to be granted access to any of the 13 army officers they consider primary suspects.

The police have not even been sent photographs of seven of those they want in for questioning.

Task Force Rebelyn, the official police body investigating the case is headquartered at the regional Philippine National Police headquarters at Camp Catitipan at Barangay (village) Buhangin in Davao City. The Task Force comprises eight collaborating law enforcement groups including the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). It does not include any military unit as some people have both suggested and feared.

We visited Davao and the surrounding countryside last week in an effort to find out what progress was being made in the investigation. Rebelyn was a 20-year-old elementary school teacher at the St. Peter’s College of Technology when she was killed. Her partially-naked body was found floating in an irrigation ditch in Barangay (village) San Isidro in Carmen District in Davao del Norte on Thursday March 5.

She had been tied up and gagged, punched in the face, raped with a blunt object and finally stabbed five times in the chest with an ice pick after being snatched off a tricycle the night before by four armed men at gunpoint while riding home from work.

“There were rope markings around her neck and mud all over her body,” her mother Evangeline told the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project when we first met her last month. “She was like a carabao.”

As well as meeting with senior police officers from the task force and the regional director of the Commission on Human Rights, we interviewed the Pitao family and were able to track down and speak to a former senior instructor of 22-year-old Rio Pitao, who claimed Rebelyn’s elder sister was the subject of extensive military surveillance during her final year at a nursing college in the city.

With the help of several officials from the regional Land Transport Office (LTO) in Davao, we were also able to independently identify, track down and speak to the former owner of a white van with a license plate remarkably similar to the one given to police by a witness who also spoke of a white van and has since disappeared.

While local police reportedly examined and cleared that van which was sold on a week after Rebelyn’s killing, the officers in charge admit the coincidence is “unusual.” The van was used for business purposes in a town close to where her body was found and the owner said he sold it on in fear - precisely because of the near identical license plate and its color.

He categorically denied any knowledge of the case except for what he has heard from the media. The Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project is keeping his identity, address, town, occupation and description of his new vehicle fully confidential for safety reasons.

A total of 13 military intelligence agents have been publicly accused of direct involvement and complicity in the killing of Rebelyn by her father, Leoncio Pitao, a.k.a Kumander Parago of the New People’s Army (NPA) who claimed the same men were behind the killing of his brother Danilo, a security guard in Tagum City last June.

Task Force Rebelyn officers confirmed their own 13 suspects are the same 13 agents Kumander Parago named in a local radio broadcast aired the week after Rebelyn’s death. At the same time, investigators say their work is complicated by the fact that serious feuds within the NPA mean they cannot rule out the possibility she was the victim of an internal revenge attack. Her father has been accused of being behind numerous killings including NPA members suspected to be military informers.

The 13 soldiers were all ordered under threat of legal sanction to appear in front of a one day special hearing into the case organized by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Davao on April 1. Eleven of them did so –“appearing” and answering questions from CHR chair Leila de Lima from behind a makeshift interview room away from the public at the Royal Mandaya Hotel. One has subsequently issued a writ of amparo through his lawyers against De Lima and the CHR on the basis they have put his personal security at risk.

The regional director of the CHR, lawyer Alberto Sipaco Jr., has called the writ and a local judge’s agreement to uphold it, bizarre. “We are not holding him, so there is no case to answer,” Sipaco told the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project in an interview in Davao on April 15.

No as ‘lucky’

For reasons that are not yet fully clear, the officers of Task Force Rebelyn have not been so “lucky” as the CHR and have yet to be granted access to any of their 13 primary suspects. The latter have all invoked their constitutional right against self-incrimination on the advice of their own personal lawyers according to senior regional Philippine National Police (PNP) lawyer Rey Manug, chief of Police Regional Legal Service for Region 11.

So far, the officers in charge have only been able to verify the identities of six of the main suspects. The remaining seven from a different intelligence unit have all refused to send in photographs and the investigation seems unsure as to where to go next. Frustrated by the military, they now seem to be looking into possible NPA feuding. Officers are saying they are receiving “some” cooperation from one of the intelligence units concerned – the Military Intelligence Battalion (MIB) through its army command. The second unit is reportedly not responding to any police requests at all.

The police say they have heard from a named senior army source that this second unit’s regional commander, Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Cacayuran asked superiors in Manila for instruction on how to respond to written police requests to make seven of his agents available for interview - but did not receive any response back.

The unit concerned is the Military Intelligence Group (MIG) 11 which reports directly to the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) which is headquartered in Manila. While seven of the suspects belong to MIG, the other six belong to the MIB which falls under the 10th Army Infantry Division and ultimately, the Eastern Mindanao Command of the AFP.

The missing seven photos appear to have made a mockery of police attempts late last month to see if two of three witnesses to Rebelyn’s physical abduction could identify any of the four men involved in taking her at gunpoint. Two of them reportedly rode a tricycle as passengers with Rebelyn - and two allegedly sat waiting in a parked white van with a reported license plate LPG 588 in the early evening of March 4 on the road approaching Bago Gallera D’oro Subdivision.

The two witnesses, tricycle driver Danny Pelicano and fellow passenger Dina Talaboc failed to positively identify anybody from the 150 photographs they were presented on March 29. The AFP provided the 150 photographs, say the police. A third witness, who provided police with the vehicle description and license plate which has since proved not yet to have been issued by the Land Transportation Office, has since disappeared. Police told the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project they believe that Bambi Ajuas who was the driver of a tricycle in front of Danny’s is “somewhere in Cagayan.”

A crime too far

Rebelyn’s killing appeared to have shocked a country well used to arbitrary and political killings and disappearances. The manner of her death and the fact that one way or another, she may have been targeted simply for being her father’s daughter, has elicited deep concern and condemnation throughout the media, human rights and activist communities, the political and diplomatic communities and Malacanang Palace. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has urged the case solved.

Military heads and the defense chief also lined up to condemn the killing and were quick to acknowledge that many would immediately –and “unfairly”– accuse them of complicity. Major Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the 10th Infantry Division was widely quoted last month as being adamant there would be “no whitewash –even if the suspects turn out to be from the military.”

He promised the army would give the investigative authorities a “free hand on this,” claiming the attack was “beyond the fighting between the AFP and the NPA, but was an attack against humanity.”

He was quoted as saying he spoke, not simply as a military man, but “as a father.”

But Cabangbang also flatly denied the military conducted surveillance on the Pitao family.

Yet this was challenged last week by the Pitao family speaking to us at the rooftop of Davao City Hall during a small mass held among family and friends to mark the 40th day since Rebelyn was killed. Their claims are backed up by the recorded testimony given to us by the senior consultant nursing adviser at the John Paul II College in Davao City, where Rebelyn’s elder sister studied, when we finally tracked him down. The senior consultant nursing adviser, Manny Sagaral, who says he has yet to be interviewed by the police, said Rio was under surveillance from sometime in 2006 until she graduated in March 2007.

He claimed a clinical instructor at the school told him and other staff that two men on a motorcycle had come looking for Rio and asking her whereabouts.

“Rio had already gone home at that time,” he said. “There was also a time when they came asking for her schedules, but they did not tell people who they were and so we did not tell them anything. We already knew that Rio was Kumander Parago’s daughter -so we were especially careful about divulging information we believe might endanger her life.

“There were also people looking for her before that time – 2006. We were asking those people who they were, but they would not tell us. A clinical instructor was also very specific and told us that people had also gone to the Mercy Medical Mission Hospital where she was training to find her.

“They were approaching different people at the school so we could not pinpoint if they were the same people. But it happened on several occasions.”

Sagaral went on. He claimed:

“I have a clinical instructor here who is married to an intelligence agent and one of his subordinates said ‘Oh you are a clinical instructor there? We were trying to case a student there,’ – referring to Rio.”

If true, Sagaral’s testimony flatly contradicts claims made by the 10th Army Infantry Division that the Pitao family was never put under surveillance.

The senior nursing consultant and teacher added however that while “there was a very strong perception among us [the teaching staff] that those people casing her were military intelligence,” he was also sure they were acting legally.

“It is probable that it was a legal operation coming from the higher ups,” he said. “They were casing the daughter to catch the father and it is also probable that this operation was not connected to the operation against Rebelyn.”

Asked his thoughts about what might have happened to Rio’s sister and whether he thought the military was involved, he said: “There is a very strong possibility that it is not within the mainstream. There are always units which do dirty jobs. That is what I believe –but those people casing Rio were not the same people.”

Sagaral added he thought it “a shame” Rio had been forced to quit her new job as a nurse for safety reasons. “She studied here from 2003 to 2007 and was a very diligent student. Even in school she had a very positive outlook on life,” he said. “Davao Medical Center would have considered her as an asset. She wanted to contribute to society and I hope she does. I believe she does not share the ideology of her father.”

Reports that Rebelyn Pitao’s elder sister was being ‘cased’ while she was still a student nurse surfaced when the family was asked after last week’s 40th day mass for Rebelyn if they could point to anything suspicious or unusual that might help the investigation. Rio told us how she had been informed by her then teachers that people were asking about her. She says she never saw those allegedly tracking her, but that staff in the hospital where she was on work placement alerted her school after two unidentified men claiming to be relatives came asking for information on her.

We initially went to the small busy hospital down by the waterfront to speak to the staff. However nobody was available to talk and they requested we try and find her former tutor instead.

“We told her she had to be careful with her life,” said Manny Sagaral, senior nursing consultant back at Rio’s former school.

Police investigators at Camp Catitipan said they had heard reports the sister had been followed at one point but they did not follow it up. They said they did not think the individuals were military.

“It was an internal problem within the New People’s Army,” said regional Philippine National Police spokesperson Superintendent Querubin Manalang – “maybe some of his [Kumander Parago’s] comrades were doing it.”

In the wake of Rebelyn’s killing and given a possible continuing threat against her family, Rio quit her new nursing job in the city while her brother Redford has been pulled out of school. They have since moved house and now live in an undisclosed location with their mother Evangeline.

Another brother, Ryan, reportedly left the family to join his father’s NPA unit in 2005 after allegedly being accosted in a Davao street by two men armed with knives.

Speaking to us at the rooftop of Davao City Hall last Wednesday after mass and prayers for her daughter, Mrs. Pitao told us she was not happy with the official investigation saying it was not “independent. “ But neither did she seem too happy with the one-day public inquiry conducted earlier this month by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

“Everybody knows who we are,” she said indicating her two children. “We don’t hide our faces – so why did they hide theirs?” she asked referring to 11 of the 13 military officers who were forced by subpoena to testify on April 1 and did so from behind a makeshift interview room away from the public at the Royal Mandaya Hotel.

Mrs. Pitao, who wrongly believes the army is part of the official police investigation, also complained that the family was not being kept informed about the case.

That is neither accurate nor fair according to Colonel Aaron Aquino, chief of the PNP’s regional Criminal Investigation and Detective Management Division.

“After the death of Rebelyn, we wrote two letters to the family -one to Mrs. Pitao and one to her husband. The cell number of Task Force Rebelyn was given to them, but they are not collaborating. After the funeral, we wrote another letter –but it was unable to be delivered. We sent somebody to their house but found it all boarded up. They have moved and we cannot find them.”

Officers did not say if or how their letter to Rebelyn’s father, Kumander Parago, was ever delivered - but it was relatively easy for us to find and speak to the Pitao family ourselves. We did so two days before our meeting with the police investigators and within a day of arriving in Davao. To be fair, it is not clear what kind of welcome the police might get from the family - even though the task force and city mayor Rodrigo Duterte have jointly offered a reward of PhP 500,000 (USD 10,638) for information that can help catch the killers.

Range of motives

The investigation also has another critic alongside Mrs. Pitao.

“I have been in investigation for 20 years including work with the office of the Ombudsman, working on graft cases and working as a special prosecutor,” CHR regional director Alberto Sipaco told us from his office on Quimpo Boulevard. “If I were in charge, I would have it solved. Investigation is very tedious but it is not good enough for the authorities to say -as they have been saying- they are facing a blank wall. You should never stop. Not give up. Not ever.”

To be fair, the police do not seem to have used the “blank wall” expression or anything similar. Instead, they reiterated they were still looking into “a range of different motives.”

One of these remains the possibility that Rebelyn was killed because of an internal NPA vendetta.

But did Sipaco’s comments mean he thought the investigation was not doing enough?

“I would rather say that much and a lot more should be done to secure the objective,” he said.

“She had been raped twice, once by a man and once by a blunt object. When I went and saw her mother and heard what the autopsy report said, I could not believe anybody could do such a thing. You hear that kind of stuff and you begin to suspect everybody.

“When she was discovered there was no rigor mortis (stiffening of the body). Blood was still oozing from her wounds. It shows she had just been killed when she was dumped there around 3 or 4 a.m. Her body was still soft.”

That last statement appears in contrast to police claims made last Friday that Rebelyn’s body had been floating in the small canal “the whole day” before she was found. If it was ever there, no trace of semen was taken by forensic examiners that could have provided a lead according to police -precisely because she had been in the water for so long. “It would have been washed away,” said Colonel Aquino.

As well as being mildly critical of the investigation, Sipaco says he has also been disappointed by the reaction of the military –especially in response to the CHR’s own attempts to investigate what happened.

“We are looking for facts: Of the 13 men named, 11 were presented to us [during the April 1 hearings]. Our intention was to bring them to answer questions in public: We were set up and mandated by the Constitution to serve the public interest and this very much is in the public interest. But because we ordered them to testify under oath, the military argued there was coercion.

“One of the men mentioned –a sergeant in the army [the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project is not repeating his name] - has filed a case against the CHR –a writ of amparo that we now have to answer. It is silly. It is not for us to prove that we have a case to answer for, it is for him to make the case that we have transgressed his constitutional rights.”

And yet given suspicions, deep emotions and grave anger generated by the brutality of the crime and in the context of a continuing and grim conflict between the army and the NPA, particularly in Paquibato District, the danger is that anybody named as a possible suspect may well be targeted for attack.

The NPA have already threatened to “arrest” the military agents accused by Parago and put them on trial in a so-called “People’s Court.” There is little doubt that suspects whether innocent or guilty would receive summary justice from the wrong end of a gun.

We asked Sipaco whether the CHR was following any other leads –and while he claimed the search for the vehicle had reached an effective dead end, he did acknowledge earlier media reports saying residents in the vicinity where Rebelyn was found were claiming her body was not the first to be dumped there.

“I heard that too. I don’t know the dates or cases, - we are a small office and cover such a big region, but maybe the police know.”

Sadly the police didn’t – and yet they conceded it was useful lead to follow and promised to do so.

“One of our people at Task Force Rebelyn is head of police in Davao del Norte," Colonel Aquino told us. “And so we can follow up with him.”

He added the police were very keen to hear from those media which had information to share.


We asked officers what the possible connection of a black Toyota Hilux pick-up van was to the investigation.

The investigation team had no idea. And yet on March 11, Matina Police Station 3 in Davao City sent in a formal letter of request to the local Land Transportation Office (LTO) here in Davao to have the owner of a black Toyota Hilux pick-up van identified “in connection with the abduction of Rebelyn Pitao.” We saw the letter along with two others sent in by police.

They were shown to use by officials from the LTO whose names we are not revealing: Two letters came from Matina Police Station 3 and one was from the 11th Regional Criminal Investigation and Detection Group at Camp Domingo Leonor in Davao City. Two of the letters concerned the possible owner of a white van – one letter cited a Mitsubishi Adventurer – giving the license plate LPG-588 which turns out not yet to have been issued. The third letter asked for details on the owner of a black Toyota pick-up.

Task Force Rebelyn police say they have no idea why the request to investigate a Toyota black pickup was made and what the possible connection is. The pick-up is registered to a woman in Davao City.

The task force says it has a big folder full of pictures of different white vans but no exact match as of yet.

The LTO office meanwhile had no record of the police making any written request for details of the white van with the very similar license plate that we asked them to track down and put through their computer system.

A local media report published on March 17 - two weeks after Rebelyn’s death, claimed police were looking into that particular van but had yet to identify the owner. Yet when we spoke to the investigators, they said it was “looked over and came back negative”. The former owner, who sold it on a week after the killing because of his own security concerns, told us the exact same thing although he said the check was made just a few days after the killing and before he sold it for a “poor price.”

The former owner was wholly cooperative but clearly nervous when we spoke to him and asked how we had tracked him down –but so too would absolutely anybody in such a position given the violence linked to relations between the military and the NPA here.

When asked why the owner of the van couldn’t have just sought permission from the LTO to legally change the license plate in place of selling it - and so help protect himself from unwarranted reprisals - Task Force Rebelyn officers told us it would take “about a year” to do so.

Investigations are never easy and ones such as these given the political context are especially difficult. Yet confusion over the relevance of a black pick-up and dates over when and how a vehicle with a remarkably similar number plate was identified and formally or informally cleared suggest that communications and relations between the eight groups which together comprise Task Force Rebelyn could be improved.

At the same time, an inability to find and keep in touch with the Pitao family or to visit local residents who say Rebelyn was not the first victim of an extrajudicial killing who has surfaced there may also suggest the group do not have sufficient resources or personnel to deploy properly.

But contrary to claims of the regional CHR director, Task Force Rebelyn says it is not giving up nor will it ever. The group will not be formally disbanded until the case is solved.

If ever it is.

“We were just yesterday going down the list of motives and there are many,” said Colonel Aquino.

“Because of the work of Kumander Parago there are a lot of angles and motives that are being considered. We want to take them one by one: We have done the photo gallery presentation. We are now heading towards another angle. We are looking into the case of Roger Narvasa or Commander Mimi. He was an NPA commander under Parago and he was killed in front of his wife by Parago’s group in mid-February in Paquibato District. He was killed because he was suspected of collaborating with the military.

“Parago called the husband and accused him of doing such things and he wanted to meet up. When they reached the venue for the meeting, three of Parago’s men approached Commander Mimi and without saying anything, he was shot in the head. This is one angle we would like to check –revenge. Commander Mimi’s relatives may have a motive.”

The Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project sought a response from Kumander Parago and his colleagues late last week on the claims made by Task Force Rebelyn. Unfortunately we have yet to hear back. Fighting and occasional aerial bombardment is reported in the area and local NPA forces are not easily contactable. At the same time, Roger Narvasa’s widow is believed to have left Paquibato District for an unknown location. We hope to continue the investigation and speak to both parties to get their response as soon as possible.

And as for the 13 military intelligence suspects? Where will the official Task Force Rebelyn investigation go next and what hopes do police chiefs have that the brutal murder of the 20-year-old elementary school teacher and daughter of Parago will ever be solved?

Senior officers in charge acknowledge that while they had only so far received six out of the 13 photographs and the suspects’ constitutional rights were blocking the investigation, they could in principle go in to the army camps, arrest the suspects and then subject them to a line-up.

That would be a possible legal way forward.

It would also be a huge step for the investigation but a highly politically sensitive one. Invariably it would need some serious pressure from Manila.

So what is the status of the investigation now?

“As of now Military Intelligence Group (MIG) are the primary suspects,” Colonel Aquino told us in Camp Catitipan. “The six people presented [from the Military Intelligence Battalion via their photos] - are not yet cleared. They are still suspects until the time that we get their full cooperation.

“I think there is a big possibility this will be solved if the military will truly cooperate with us. The problem is we are having a hard time to investigate because these people accused by Parago are not cooperating. We are trying to ask the commanders to present these people – but I don’t know.” (Alan Davis. The author is the director of the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project and Special Projects of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.)