Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Assist distressed OFWs, Ople center tells Manila

MANILA, Philippines - As the Philippines observes Rizal Day, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center called on the Department of Foreign Affairs to strengthen its initiatives to reach out and assist distressed overseas Filipino workers dubbed by the national government as "modern-day heroes".

Susan Ople, president of the Center, noted that a number of Filipino workers now detained in various jails in Saudi Arabia are calling out to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Philippine Embassy officials to work for their early release arising from a royal pardon issued by the Saudi King last December 11.

"Here is a golden opportunity for the national government to show its concern for Filipinos in various jails in Saudi Arabia who may be eligible for inclusion in the royal pardon," the former labor undersecretary said, citing the King's initiative that would cover inmates charged with minor crimes and misdemeanors.

The Ople Center has received a flurry of text messages from Filipinos currently detained in Damman Central Jail in Saudi Arabia seeking help from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

One such inmate said that the Indian Embassy had already sent a team to work out the release of their nationals who are eligible for the pardon, while the Filipinos in jail continue to wait for a team from the Philippine Embassy to visit them.

"Our detained kababayans and their families here at home are pinning their hopes on the Philippine government to do its share to lobby for the release of OFWs detained on minor charges so they could start afresh with a New Year here at home to look forward to," Ople added.

Dondon Lanuza, an overseas Filipino worker, on death row at Dammam Central Jail, also texted the Ople Center to report that 120 prisoners had been released the other day because of the royal pardon. Lanuza is among those seeking the help of the Philippine government for the inclusion of his name on the list of those who wish to avail of the royal pardon.

"Dondon wanted to know if he could be included in the list of those to be considered for pardon. I hope that the Philippine Embassy and the DFA can mobilize its own team to clarify and respond to the many questions and requests from detained OFWs and their families," Ople said.

Another Filipino worker Jess Pamintuan, who was sentenced to 9 months in jail by the Saudi court, but who continues to remain in jail months after completing his sentence, said: "Many Saudi nationals had been freed from prisons. Next week, foreign workers are expected to be released. We hope that the Philippine Embassy could help us obtain a pardon," Pamintuan said in his text message to Ople.

"We appeal to the national government especially to Vice-President Noli de Castro to spearhead efforts to make full use of this royal pardon to gain freedom and a fresh start for as many detained Filipinos as possible," the Ople Center said.

Two weeks ago, to mark the return of Crown Prince Sultan, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdulla ordered the release of some prisoners held for public rights who do not pose any danger to public security.

Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior Prince Naif, who made the announcement, said the royal pardon would cover those who were detained or sentenced to jail for petty crimes and violations.

“It will also benefit those being held for not paying public rights after paying private rights,” said Prince Naif, based on interviews with the Saudi press.

In other words, prisoners who have already reconciled their punitive obligations to crime victims or their next of kin (such as compensation for damages) would have their punishments from the state ended. This category does not include violent offenders or those arrested for “major crimes.”

The Ople Center expressed hope that Vice-President Noli de Castro in his role as presidential adviser on OFW affairs can visit Saudi Arabia and make proper representation in behalf of Filipino prisoners in various jails in the said Kingdom.

2 Navy Seals Killed In Basilan Clash

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 30, 2009) – Two members of an elite Philippine Navy unit were killed in a clash with gunmen in the southern province of Basilan, where security forces are battling Abu Sayyaf militants, officials said Wednesday.

Officials said the fighting occurred in the coastal village of Kandiis in the town of Muhammad Ajul late Tuesday after soldiers who were in several rubber boats came under fire from about 20 gunmen under Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebel Tanad Nasalun.

“The attack on the soldiers sparked a gun battle that killed Lieutenant Christopher Pantaleon and Petty Officer 3 Almario Manalili. Another sailor Reynan Sumalinog was wounded in the fighting,” said Rear Admiral Alexander Pama, the regional navy chief.

He said the soldiers, who are members of the Special Warfare Group, was on a security patrol after receiving intelligence reports that Abu Sayyaf forces under Nurhasan Jamiri and Puruji Indama were in the area.

The Abu Sayyaf and the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front are both actively operating in Basilan and had been previously linked by the police and military to many kidnappings-for-ransom in the province.

Pama has ordered troops to hunt down the attackers. “There is an ongoing operation,” he said. “Our operation in the area is to prevent terrorism and neutralize the terrorists; and to recover innocent people being held by the Abu Sayyaf.”

Marine Brigadier General Eugene Clemen, commander of military forces in Basilan, said the attackers apparently escaped and are being hunted by soldiers. “We are tracking them down,” Clemen, who was leading the operation in Mohammad Ajul town, said.

But the MILF said Tanad Nasalun, whose real name is Tanad Hajji Yunos, is a legitimate commander of the rebel group which is currently negotiating peace with Manila.

“We will let the cease-fire committees of the MILF and the Philippine government investigate the clashes to prevent the escalation of hostilities in Basilan,” Eid Kabalu, a senior MILF leader, said.

He said there were reports that clashes between Yunos’ group and government forces erupted Wednesday in Sinulatan village in Tuburan town near Muhammad Ajul. But the military said soldiers clashed with Abu Sayyaf militants under Montong Pula. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The Abu Sayyaf is holding two Chinese citizens Zi Shun Lu, alias Oscar Lu, 51; and Bo Shung Tan, who goes by the name Michael Tan, 27, both from Guangzhou province. A third hostage, Filipino plywood factory worker, Mark Singson, was beheaded recently in Basilan after his family and employer, Hitech Wood Craft Corporation in Maluso town, failed to pay P1.5 million ransom. Some 20 gunmen disguised as soldiers raided the factory on November 10 and seized the trio.

The Abu Sayyaf is also holding Donald John Capili, 19, who was kidnapped on August 27 in Zamboanga del Norte’s Liloy town and brought to Basilan by boat. Capili is a grandson of former Liloy town mayor Belchu Uy. (Mindanao Examiner)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fire hits Davao Sur market

The aftermath of the fire that gutted the Bansalan market in Davao del Sur province on Sunday, December 27, 2009. (Mindanao Examiner / Geo Solmerano)

DAVAO DEL SUR, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 29, 2009) – A fire swept gutted a market building in the southern Philippine province of Davao del Sur, police said.

It said the fire probably started in an area in Bansalan market where pyrotechnics were being sold, but an investigation into the cause of the blaze is going on.

The fire occurred over the weekend, but police said there were no reports of casualties.

Police warned firecracker sellers to conform to fire safety. (Geo Solmerano)

3 killed in Mindanao highway attacks

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 29, 2009) – Three people were killed in two separate attacks Tuesday by unidentified gunmen in the southern Philippines, police said.

Police said gunmen attacked a passenger van killing one person in Malabang town and was followed by another attack on two more vehicles in nearby Balabagan town, all in Lanao del Sur province.

But the military denied the reports and said soldiers foiled an attempted highway robbery.

“There was no ambush. It was preempted by the 37th Infantry Battalion, in fact it was a foiled hold up,” Colonel Jonathan Ponce, a spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, told the Mindanao Examiner.

Police said an old man was killed when his van was strafed by gunmen. Two other vehicles were also attacked, killing a policeman and another passenger. It was unknown whether the two attacks were related or not.

No group claimed responsibility for the twin attacks, but Moro rebels and bandits are actively operation in Lanao de Sur, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region.

Last month, at least 57 people, including 31 journalists were brutally murdered by gunmen allegedly led by the scion of the powerful Ampatuan clan, Andal Ampatuan Jr., the mayor of Datu Unsay town.

The mayor and his father and namesake and the regional governor and several of his brothers and other followers were later arrested and charged in connection with the gruesome killings. (Mindanao Examiner)

Delay in release of bonuses to civil workers hit

MANILA, Philippines - A former Philippine labor undersecretary has criticized the Arroyo government for its failure to release immediately the Christmas bonuses of civil workers.

Susan Ople said the inexplicable delay in the release of Christmas bonuses to government workers particularly public school teachers and local government workers was a “huge disgrace” that should be immediately rectified by the Department of Budget and Management.

Ople, head of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, noted that several public school teachers from all over the country including in Metro Manila have complained about the delay in their Christmas bonus with no less than the Department of Education confirming it while pinning the blame to the Department of Budget and Management.

The Ople Center said it also received the same complaints from PSLink, a federation of government unions headed by Annie Geron. According to Geron, they wrote the DBM three days before Christmas Eve to press for the release of the Christmas bonuses to all government employees including those employed by local government units.

“The government should set the right example. It cannot set a different standard for private companies while failing to honor on time its own obligations to its own employees,” Ople stressed.

According to Jesus Galvan, assistant secretary for finance and administration of DepEd, the DBM was able to release the cash allocation for the P7,000 bonus to 11 regions out of the 16 DepEd regions. Meanwhile, rank-and-file local government workers particularly in far-flung regions are also complaining about the delay in their bonuses.

“It defeats the purpose of having a Christmas bonus if the money comes days after Christmas Eve. The prompt release of this annual entitlement to our public school teachers could have spelled the difference between having spaghetti for Noche Buena or serving the usual instant noodles for their kids,” Ople said.

The former senior labor official said the Senate should look into the delay in the release of the productivity bonus of government employees, as part of its budget oversight function. “If the funds are indeed available, what is holding up the release? Our public school teachers deserve an explanation from the DBM and DepEd,” she added.

“It’s not as if this is a surprise budget allocation. It is an annual tradition and benefit that government employees deserve and look forward to At a time of extreme financial stress and following a series of calamities, this productivity bonus means the world to an ordinary public school teacher,” Ople pointed out.

According to an official of the DepEd, the Department of Budget and Management is still in the process of releasing the Special Allotment Release Order and the Notice of Cash Allocation for the grant of Productivity Enhancement Incentive or bonus.

Monday, December 28, 2009

House of Maguindanao solon bombed

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 28, 2009) – A homemade bomb exploded outside the house a Filipino lawmaker, who is a staunch ally of powerful political clan accused of massacring 57 people in the southern Philippines, police and military said Monday.

It said the bomb exploded in front of the house of Representative Didagen Dilangalen, of Maguindanao province. There was no report of casualties in the weekend attack in Cotabato City where Dilangalen lives.

“I don’t who could have done this. The explosive was made from a mortar bomb,” Dilangalen said.

The blast destroyed the wall of the house and no group of individual claimed responsibility for the attack. Dilangalen is an ally of the Ampatuan clan whose members were charged in connection with the brutal slaying of 57 people last month in Maguindanao province. Among those killed were at least 31 journalists. (Mindanao Examiner)

Zambo, mahigpit pa rin ang siguridad

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / December 28, 2009) – Nanatiling mahigpit ang siguridad ng Zamboanga City sa posibleng pambobomba ng mga terorista sa kasasagsagan ng pagdiriwang ng kapaskuhan.

Kaliwat-kanan ang mga sundalo sa sentro ng Zamboanga at kapuna-puna ang dami ng mga Bantay. Mistulang garrison ang downtown area, ngunit iginigiit pa rin ng mga opisyal na tahimik at payapa ang Zamboanga.

Hindi naman sinasabi ng militar at pulisya kung gaano kabigat ang banta sa siguridad dito, ngunit ilang ulit na rin binomba ng Abu Sayyaf at Moro rebels ang Zamboanga sa mga nakalipas na taon.

Ito’y sa kabila ng malaking puwersa ng militar at pulisya dito.Kalimitan ay galing ng Basilan ang mga nagpapasabog sa Zamboanga City na ilang milya lamang ang layo mula sa lalawigan. (Mindanao Examiner)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bomb explodes in North Cotabato town

Government troops patrol the town of Magpet in North Cotabato province as residents go by their usual chores. A bomb explosion on Christmas day destroyed a cargo truck in North Cotabato's Carmen town, but there were no reports of casualties. (Mindanao Examiner / Geo Solmerano)

KIDAPAWAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 26, 2009) – A bomb explosion in the southern Philippines destroyed a cargo truck, but security officials said there were no reports of casualties.

The Christmas day attack occurred in the town of Carmen in North Cotabato province, a hotbed of Muslim and communist insurgencies.

It was unknown whether the bombing was carried out by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or the communist New People’s Army rebels and officials said authorities were investigating the motive of the attack.

Police said the improvised explosive, assembled from a 60mm mortar bomb, was planted under the truck parked in downtown area.

“No casualties were reported in the explosion,” said Inspector Winston Seniel, the town’s police chief.

He said the truck was owned by vegetable trader Eddie Untalan, who reported receiving extortion demand from the Al-Khobar gang, blamed for the spate of kidnappings and extortion activities in the southern Philippines.

Police said the gang was demanding one million pesos from Untalan in exchange for his safety. (Geo Solmerano)

Christmas In Zamboanga

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 26, 2009) – The city of Zamboanga in the southern Philippines had virtually turned into garrison with dozens of soldiers and policemen deployed in the busy business district to guard against threats of terror attacks.

About three platoons of army soldiers set up a tactical command post inside a public square called Plaza Pershing. An ambulance and a military truck were parked nearby.

The square was colorfully lighted, but there was no Santa Claus. Instead, the shadow of command post where soldiers stood guard reminded residents of Christmas in Israel where security forces guarded every corner against attacks from Palestinian militants.

A radio station dxRZ reported that on Christmas Eve until the next day, soldiers were stationed inside the Plaza Pershing, named after an infamous American general John “Black Jack” Pershing, who fought hostile fanatical Moros at Mount Bagsak in the southern Philippine island of Jolo on June 15, 1913.

One radio report said troops, for a still unknown reason, also prevented residents inside the plaza, a favorite among lovers and picnickers where a huge Christmas tree was erected.

Around downtown Zamboanga, policemen and soldiers armed with automatic rifles, guarded outside department stores and Christmas celebration passed without any incidents. And the yuletide season will be best remembered this year in Zamboanga, former capital of the Moro province. (Mindanao Examiner)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Veteran Journalist Named ARMM Media Bureau Head

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 25, 2009) – Acting Regional Governor Ansaruddin Alonto-Adiong of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has named veteran journalist Ali Macabalang, a Manila Bulletin correspondent, as executive director of the ARMM’s Bureau of Public Information.

Macabalang, who has been in media practice for almost 31 years now, was appointed on Monday along with 11 other members of the ARMM cabinet, but he formally assumed office only on Wednesday.

Many journalists who knew Macabalang as a hardworking newsman, lauded his appointment. Macabalang was a pioneer executive director of the Bureau of Public Information from 1993 to 1997.

Macabalang worked out in 1996 the elevation of BPI from a mere division for media affairs, which he deemed inappropriate for services required in a region like ARMM.

He had broadened the operations of the media outfit to serve not only the office of the regional governor, but all the ARMM agencies and put up local coordinating offices in the component provinces of the region.

In his meeting with his staff on Wednesday, Macabalang said he would revive the previous linkages of the BPI with the local, national and foreign media organizations in a bid to improve the image of the Muslim autonomous region, which was marred by reports of alleged corruption and governmental malpractices.

In a casual meeting, new Regional Executive Secretary Naguib Sinarimbo has expressed optimisism that Macabalang can help pursue the Adiong regime’s avowed policies on “transparent, consultative and moral governance.”

Macabalang started his media practice in early 1979 under the defunct Department of Public Information and Office of Media Affairs until 1986 and later joined the Philippine Daily Inquirer and other foreign news agencies from 1987 to 1993, during which he was appointed in the ARMM's media bureau.

In later part of 1993, then Manila Bulletin provincial editor Tony Antonio took Macabalang as correspondent for ARMM and Central Mindanao, a job he wanted to sustain while serving the regional media outfit.

Macabalang is a graduate of bachelor’s degree in International Relations and a master’s degree in Public Administration, which he finished at the Mindanao State University in 1978 and 1985, respectively. (With reports from Mark Navales, Geo Solmerano and Merlyn Manos)

MILF rescues kidnapped college vice president in Basilan province

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 25, 2009) – Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels have rescued a kidnapped college vice president and handed him over to government people in the southern Filipino province of Basilan, officials said Friday.

The rebels, who are currently negotiating peace with Manila, handed over Orlando Fajardo, the vice president of the Basilan State College, to the provincial deputy governor Al Rasheed Sakalahul, who heads the crisis management committee negotiating for the safe release of the hostage.

“The MILF secure the release of Mr. Fajardo and handed him over to me. There was no ransom paid and the release was made possible through the help of the MILF,” Sakalahul told the independent newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner.

Fajardo, who was kidnapped December 10 from his home in Isabela City, was released on Mount Cubong near Lamitan City late Thursday, ending two weeks of captivity.

Sakalahul gave no further details about the rescue of the hostage, but said the MILF unit which rescued Fajardo was headed by Abas Salong. He said Fajardo was reunited with his family just in time for Christmas. “We are happy this crisis is over,” he said.

Eid Kabalu, a senior MILF leader, said Salong is a member of the group’s cease-fire committee and the ad-hoc joint action group. “We have been helping the government secure the release of kidnapped victims through the ad-hoc joint action group,” he said.

Manila and the MILF forged an agreement in 2004 that paved the way for rebel forces through the ad-hoc joint action group to help government hunt down terrorists and criminal elements in areas where the rebel group is actively operating.

The MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, previously helped in rescuing many Filipino and foreign kidnapped victims in the restive region of Mindanao. It also provided the Philippine government with a list of names of suspected Jemaah Islamiya militants hiding in Mindanao.

And in July, for the second time in seven years, the MILF ordered its 12,000-strong mujahideen to fight kidnapping-for-ransom activities in Mindanao.

It also ordered rebel forces to arrest and take drastic actions against kidnappers in areas where the MILF is actively operating. The order was signed by Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF’s vice chairman for political affairs. (Mindanao Examiner)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Digos City at Night!

While residents enjoy the Christmas holiday in Digos City in the southern Philippine province of Davao del Sur, others continue to suffer because of extreme poverty. (Mindanao Examiner / Geo Solmerano)

Christmas tree displays in North Cotabato

Christmas trees made of indigenous materials line up a village in Magpet town in North Cotabato province in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Geo Solmerano)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

New ARMM Secretaries

Lawyer Najib Sinarimbo, newly appointed Executive Secretary of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, swears in the first batch of regional cabinet members appointed by acting ARMM Governor Ansaruddin Adiong at the conference room of the regional autonomous executive building in Cotabato City on Tuesday, December 22, 2009. The new members are, from left, regional secretaries Haroun Al-Rashid Lucman of the Interior Department; Dr Alejandrito Descallar of the Health Department; Usman Tantao Sarangani of the Environment and Natural Resources; Makil Pundaodaya of the Education Department; lawyer Asnaira Maradang Batua, Camid Gandamra of the Agrarian Reform; lawyer Ishak Mastura of the Board of Investments; and Engineer Titingalangit Sumagayan of the Public Works and Highways. Not shown in the photo was laywer Lomala Balindong of the Finance Department. In an ensuing press conference, Secretary Sinarimbo described the new appointees as initial batch of the "team tasked by Acting Governor Adiong to steer the wheel of ARMM towards greater heights." (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Mark Navales)

Philippines Mayon volcano eruption: a photo op for politicians

Philippines President Gloria Arroyo and two candidates hoping to succeed her next year are visiting refugees ahead of the imminent Mayon volcano eruption, both showing sympathy for the refugees' plight and associating themselves with a smooth evacuation.

Manila, Philippines - With the Mount Mayon volcano in the eastern Philippines showing increasing signs that it could erupt any day now, it has predictably become a magnet for the Philippine and foreign news media – and, less predictably, for Filipino politicians.

With presidential, congressional, and local elections due in May, candidates have been turning the Mayon crisis into an opportunity to show the voting public their generosity towards people displaced by the threat of an eruption, and to associate themselves with a mostly successful operation to evacuate the danger zone.

Journalists have gathered around the volcano as it trembles palpably, belches ash, and dribbles streams of lava down its slopes. Their cameras and microphones are also trained on some 47,000 residents of the danger zone who are now huddled in evacuation centers.

Now politicians are getting in front of the cameras – touring the evacuation centers, shaking hands, and helping hand out relief goods. So far the visitors have included Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino, whom opinion polls say is the favorite to win next year's presidential election, mostly, the pollsters say, because respondents think he has inherited the integrity of his late mother, President Corazon Aquino, the nemesis of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Another presidential candidate, ex-President Joseph Estrada, who is third in the opinion polls, was due to visit Wednesday. Mr. Estrada presents himself as the champion of the poor. He was ousted from the presidential palace in 2001 by a popular uprising and then sentenced to life in prison for corruption, although he was subsequently pardoned.

A latecomer Wednesday was the incumbent, President Gloria Arroyo. Ms. Arroyo is barred by the constitution from running for president again, but she had raised eyebrows among opposition politicians when she decided to start a vacation in Hong Kong on Sunday, just as Mayon began to show signs of erupting.

Local disaster relief officials said they welcomed the attention from politicians – or from anyone who was there to help.(John McLean / The Christian Science Monitor)


Filipino journalists remember 'Maguindanao massacre'

Dozens of members of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Zamboanga Press Club, the Peace Advocates Zamboanga, Akbayan party list group and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines join a nationwide prayer rally by various media organizations Wednesday, December 23, 2009 and later released 57 white balloons to remember the brutal slayings and seek justice of at least 30 journalists who were among 57 massacred November 23 in Maguindanao province. A scion of a powerful political clan Andal Ampatuan Jr, the mayor of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao, was tagged as the alleged mastermind in the gruesome murders. (Mindanao Examiner Photos)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 23, 2009) – Dozens of journalists held a prayer rally Wednesday in Zamboanga City to remember and seek justice for the brutal slayings of 57 people, among them at least 30 journalists massacred last month in Maguindanao province in the southern Philippines.

The rally marked the first month of the murders blamed by authorities to the powerful political Ampatuan clan.

Police and military arrested the clan’s patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr., the governor of Maguindanao, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region, and his son and namesake who is also the mayor of Datu Unsay town and his brother, Zaldy Ampatuan, the regional governor and several brothers and relatives in connection to the killings.

The clan denied any involvements in the November 23 murders which police said was tied to rivalry between the Ampatuans and the Mangudadatus. Among those killed was the wife and sisters and relatives of Esmael Mangudadatu, the deputy mayor of Buluan town who is a candidate for governor in Maguindanao, a position Andal Ampatuan Jr., wanted.

Members of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Zamboanga Press Club, the Peace Advocates Zamboanga, Akbayan party list group and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas trooped to the Rizal park in Zamboanga City where they held the prayer led by Spanish Catholic priest Angel Calvo.

They later released 57 white balloons to remember and seek justice for those killed in the attack.

“Today, December 23, 2009, marks one whole month since the most monstrous and evil mass killing of journalists in the history of the world, done by an equally monstrous and evil group of people – if one can call them people at all - in the province of Maguindanao. We, media practitioners in Zamboanga City, in this blackest of Christmas season in the Philippines which this massacre has made, no thanks to the current national political culture of corruption and impunity that bore it and the countless other acts of violence against the media and other defenders of democracy in the country in recent years, once again cry for justice for our 32 or more colleagues fallen in the accursed hills of Ampatuan in Maguidanao last November 23,” the NUJP said in a statement read by Darwin Wee, the group’s local chapter president.

The NUJP also lamented the slow progress of the government’s handling of the criminal charges filed against those accused in the gruesome killings.

“The legal actions taken so far against the allegedly untouchable Ampatuans are much too slow, too selective, too perverse in our collective opinion.As most citizens now, we fear that once again the proverbial justice delayed, justice denied round-around will be the eventual fate for our massacred colleagues and the other unlucky victims. If and when that happens, then it is not the suspect Ampatuans who really killed the 32 or so of our Mindanao media colleagues. Then, our Filipino journalists’ blood drips from the callous hand of a probable inutile, failed State,” Wee said.

Journalists also appealed to the United Nations to intervene in what had now become known as the “Maguindanao Massacre” and give justice to all those killed.

“Thus, we hereby appeal to the United Nations, International Criminal Court, ASEAN human rights commission, or any other honorable institutions and organizations around the world to intervene for and in behalf of the massacred victims of Maguindanao, for the sake of authentic justice for them - and eventually other politically oppressed peoples in the world. The ruthless and sustained violence against Filipino journalists today undermines and destroys not only Philippine democracy, but the whole world’s as well,” Wee said.

Similar prayer rallies were also held in different cities in the country, the NUJP said. (Mindanao Examiner)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Journalist's house attacked in Mindanao

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 22, 2009) – A Filipino journalist cheated death, but his father-in-law was wounded after a grenade attack at their family house in Mindanao, reports said.

Reports said an unidentified man tossed the grenade at the house of Daniel Pilar in the village of Taba-o in the town of Jimenez in Misamis Occidental province. The weekend attack was believed connected to his work as a television journalist.

ABS-CBN television reported that the journalist was feeding his chickens at the back of their house when the attack occurred.

Neptali Batolonio, chapter president of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said the attack seems to be related to Pilar's work. The journalist hosts the news and public service program "Analysis" at a local cable television station.

"After talking to Danny, I believe this attack is politically motivated. I think this is the first time this has happened in our town. He did not receive a death threat before the attack. He was doing research on a politician and that person may have been tipped off about Danny's inquiries," Batolonio told ABS-CBN.

The NUJP condemned the attack, saying, the Pilar family is now in hiding after the incident.

Last month, gunmen brutally killed 57 people; at least 30 of them were journalists, accompanying an election caravan in Maguindanao province. Andal Ampatuan Jr., then mayor of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao, was accused of masterminding the attack on the convoy of his political rival. Several other clan members were arrested in connection to the killings. (Mindanao Examiner)

The Mindanao in 2009

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 21, 2009) – The Southern Philippine region of Mindanao, despite its vast natural resources and beautiful and pristine beaches, remains to be a dangerous place.

With the spate of kidnappings and terrorism, the Philippines’ second largest island had been in the front pages of newspapers – in January, Abu Sayyaf militants whose group is tied to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya kidnapped 3 members of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sulu.

The trio – Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Jean Lacaba – were seized near Patikul town. They were released months later one at a time and with suspicion that ransoms had been paid to the kidnappers.

A Sri Lankan peace worker, Umar Jaleel, a 36-year old staff member of Nonviolent Peaceforce, was also kidnapped in February in Basilan’s Lamitan City. He was freed several months later. His organization said Jaleel was a victim of the very violence that he had been trying to deter.

But the murder in March of the daughter of a senior New People’s Army rebel leader, Rebelyn Pitao allegedly by government soldiers in Davao City drew widespread protests from various civil organizations and human rights groups.

Pitao was abducted by gunmen in Davao City. The next day, her naked body was found in a creek in the town of Carmen in Davao del Sur province. Her hands were tied and mouth was bound with a packaging tape – she had stabbed wounds in her chest and was believed tortured and raped by her abductors.

The young woman was the daughter of Leoncio Pitao, who is also known as Kumander Parago, leader of a New People’s Army command responsible for the series of attacks on government forces in Mindanao. Pitao’s family blamed the military for the killing.

And also in April, Sakur Tan, the governor of Sulu, declared a state of emergency in the province, to quell the growing threats of the Abu Sayyaf and to dismantle private armies maintained by warlords. It brought relieved to villagers in Sulu and fears to political warlords and militant groups. The emergency rule was also intended to deal with the Abu Sayyaf terrorists who are holding hostage two Red Cross workers Swiss national Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni kidnapped early this year.

But despite the troubles and negative news brought about by fighting and terrorism in Mindanao, Filipinos also rejoiced – at least temporarily - the victory of boxing legend Manny Pacquiao over British pride Ricky Hatton in May. Streets in most major cities were empty as residents watched the fight from their televisions in their homes and roadside restaurants. Pacquiao won the International Boxing Organization light welterweight title.

But the good news was also temporary. The governor of Sulu, Sakur Tan, who put his province under the state of emergency, survived an assassination attempt on his life by hired Abu Sayyaf militants also in May, but five of his escorts were injured in a roadside bombing outside his office. The people condemned the assassination attempt on the life of Governor Tan, who is working hard to achieve peace and development in Sulu. Police later linked the attack to a politician who is a known opponent of the governor.

The attack on the governor came barely a week after Abu Sayyaf militants ambushed and killed the Sulu police chief, Julasirim Kasim, and four others in Indanan town.

It was also in May that a faction of the Abu Sayyaf had freed three teachers kidnapped in Zamboanga City after four months in captivity. The trio - Quizon Freires, 28; Janette Delos Reyes, 29; and Rafael Mayonado, 24 – were kidnapped at sea on January 23 while returning by boat from a break on Sacol Island in Zamboanga City.

They were brought to Basilan province where kidnappers demanded P6 million ransoms for their safe release.

And while bad news dominate most of the media headlines in Mindanao, the sudden death of pop icon Michael Jackson in his home in the United States also brought shock to many fans in the southern Philippines. Filipinos had the privilege of watching Jackson perform in Manila in 1996 which was part of his History World Tour. As House Speaker Prospero Nograles said: “The great admiration of Filipinos on Jackson have not ceased over the years and this became evident when 1,500 inmates of the Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in Cebu danced to the tune of his song "Thriller," which became an instant hit on Youtube.”

And in July, for the second time in seven years, the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, ordered its 12,000-strong mujahideen to fight kidnapping-for-ransom activities in Mindanao.

It also ordered rebel forces to arrest and take drastic actions against kidnappers in areas where the MILF is actively operating. “The Central Committee of the MILF directs its freedom fighters comprising the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces to arrest and take drastic actions against the perpetrators of this heinous crime until these criminal activities are neutralized and stopped in MILF areas,” said an MILF order signed on Monday by the Front’s chief of staff, Sammy Al-Mansur.

The order was signed by Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF’s vice chairman for political affairs.

In August, many Filipinos in Mindanao mourned the death of former President Corazon Aquino, whose "people power" revolution swept Dictator Ferdinand Marcos from power in the Philippines. The 76-year old freedom icon Aquino was diagnosed with the disease in March 2008 but kept up public appearances this year.

And Mindanao was also the focus of a massive search and rescue operation in September after a passenger ship carrying more than 900 people sank off Zamboanga del Norte province. Many of its passengers had been rescued, but the news persisted for weeks.

It was also in September after visiting the Carmelite Sisters in Zamboanga City that Senator Benigno Aquino III announced his candidacy for the presidency in next year’s national polls.

Aquino, son of former Philippine President Corazon Aquino and ex-senator Benigno Aquino, made the announcement at the Club Filipino in San Juan City. Aquino went to Zamboanga City and met with his supporters and religious leaders to seek guidance whether to run or not in the presidential elections.

And two US Special Forces soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing later in Sulu province in September. The attack also wounded 5 more, including three Filipino marines. Defense officials identified those killed as 37-year-old Sgt. 1st Class Christopher D. Shaw of Markham in Illinois, and 26-year-old Staff Sgt. Jack M. Martin III of Bethany, Oklahoma.

US Special Forces are deployed in Sulu since 2006 and aiding the Philippine military in defeating the Abu Sayyaf. Although security officials deny US forces were directly involved in combat operations, there were numerous reports from civilians that American soldiers actually participated in the operations aimed at capturing or killing militant leaders in Sulu and other areas in the restive southern region of Mindanao.

Gunmen in October also kidnapped an Irish missioner Fr Michael Sinnot, 79, in Pagadian City in the southern Philippine province of Zamboanga del Sur.

At least six gunmen seized the priest from his house and dragged him to a waiting get-away vehicle and fled towards the coastal area of Pagadian City. He was later freed in exchange for an unspecified amount of ransom.

Also in October, United States officials have met with top Moro Islamic Liberation Front leaders at a tightly guarded rebel base in Mindanao. The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group which is fighting for decades for self-determination in the main island of Mindanao.

Leslie Bassett, US deputy ambassador to Manila, led senior American officials in a two-hour meeting with Murad Ebrahim, the secluded leader of the MILF, in Maguindanao’s Sultan Kudarat town. Basset has assured Ebrahim of the US support to the peace process in Mindanao.

The MILF is currently negotiating peace with Manila in an effort to end the bloody fighting in the restive, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao.

In Bukidnon province, communist rebels accused US troops of engaging in combat operation. Jorge Madlos, a senior leader of the New People’s Army, said US forces have joined Filipino troops in offensive operations against the New People’s Army, which is a violation of the Philippine Constitution.

US troops have been deployed in the southern Philippines since 2001 and since then had built forward bases in the provinces under the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines. American troops are also deployed in the provinces of Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu, all in the Muslim autonomous region, where they are aiding local soldiers in defeating the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group which is also tied with the Jemaah Islamiya.

Some 2,000 civilian volunteers also took their oath in November as members of a new police unit which will help Philippine authorities protect villages from rebel attacks. The volunteers are under the supervision of the Philippine National Police and the mayors of the town where they are deployed as peace-keeping force.

But despite the new police auxiliary group, Abu Sayyaf gunmen in November beheaded a school principal they kidnapped in Sulu province after his family failed to pay P2 million ransom. The severed head of Gabriel Canizares was discovered in a bag left at a gas station in the capital town of Jolo. His killings drew widespread protests from various civil groups in Mindanao.

And not were all bad news for the month of November, Filipinos in Mindanao joined the rest of the country in celebrating Manny Pacquiao’s winning over Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto in the 12-round WBO welterweight championship in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Roads, which were typically busy and crowded during ordinary days, were empty as many residents in the southern Philippine city of Zamboanga watched the bout inside their houses, in restaurants and cinemas aired live via satellite.

But the most shocking news ever from Mindanao in November was the brutal killings of 57 people, at least 30 of them journalists who were abducted and shot at close by more than 100 gunmen allegedly led by Datu Unsay town Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., the scion of a powerful political clan in Maguindanao province.

The gruesome killings later led to President Gloria Arroyo’s martial law declaration in Maguindanao and the arrest of many other clan members, including Andal’s father and namesake, who is the governor of Maguindanao; Zaldy Ampatuan, the governor of the Muslim autonomous region and several of his brothers accused of participating in the massacre.

And in December, a Filipino woman married his long-time fiancé during a funeral of the man she loved for many years. It was a rare ceremony in the largely Catholic nation of 90 million people.

Argie Gulipato married her boyfriend John Caniban in Sultan Kudarat province, saying, they had planned the wedding long time ago, but their dream shattered after the 30-year old man was mercilessly killed along with 56 others in an attack on a caravan carrying supporters of Buluan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu on November 23 in Maguindanao province.

Caniban was one of at least 30 journalists who were in the caravan to cover the filing of nomination papers of Mangudadatu who is running for governor in Maguindanao against Datu Unsay town mayor Andal Ampatuan Jnr who is suspected of leading the attack.

The woman decided to marry Caniban at a church in the town of Isulan in Sultan Kudarat province on Monday and became wife and widow at the same time. The duo had long planned to marry in December. They have an eight-month old daughter.

It was also in December that Filipino leader Gloria Arroyo visited the funeral of journalists who were among 57 people brutally killed in Maguindanao.

Arroyo, dressed in black, condoled with the grieving families of the journalists at a funeral house in General Santos City. She spoke with the widows and assured them of the government’s action against the perpetrators of the massacre blamed by the police and military to a powerful political clan allied with her administration.

Government has filed at least 56 counts of murder against Andal Ampatuan Jr, the mayor of Maguindanao’s Datu Unsay town. The mayor surrendered three days after the massacre and denied all accusations against him.

The declaration of martial rule in Maguindanao also led to the discovery of huge arms caches believed owned by the Ampatuan clan and could well armed several army battalions in Mindanao. Philippine soldiers and policemen recovered over 3,000 voter’s identification cards while searching for illegal weapons at a mansion of powerful political clan linked to the gruesome murders.

And the month of December continues to rake bad news. Armed tribesmen abducted 125 villagers in Agusan del Sur and freed their hostages three days later after a tensed negotiations by government people.

In Basilan province, gunmen barged in the house of Orlando Fajardo, vice president of the Basilan State College, in Isabela City and took him away.

The attack occurred just days after Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded one of their three hostages, Mark Singson, whose poor family failed to pay ransom demanded by his captors.

More than 100 gunmen also stormed the Basilan provincial jail and freed 31 hardened criminals, including suspected Abu Sayyaf militants and Moro rebels.

But there is still good news - Filipino leader Gloria Arroyo inaugurated in December the airport runway in Sulu. US Ambassador Kristie Kenney joined Arroyo and Sulu provincial governor Dr Sakur Tan and Jolo mayor Hussin Amin and local officials in the inauguration of the P251-million Jolo airport improvement project. The United States Agency for International Development’s Growth with Equity in Mindanao granted most of the funding with Manila pouring in some P90 million for the development of domestic airport.

The lack of development projects and livelihood opportunities in Mindanao is widely seen as the root cause of insurgency. Corruption in government is also a key factor in peace and order in many areas in Mindanao. And for many Muslims in the southern Philippines, their aspiration for self-determination and for some the quest for freedom and democracy, remain a dream.

Aside from being the second largest island in the Philippines, Mindanao is the eighth most populous in the world. Mindanao is surrounded by the Sulu Sea to the west; the Philippine Sea to the east and the Celebes Sea to the south. It is divided into six regions which are further subdivided into 25 provinces. Mindanao was formerly under the rule of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo. (Mindanao Examiner)

Mindanao Examiner TV Week in Review Dec. 13-19, 2009

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Sayyaf, Moro rebels bomb bridge in Sulu

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 21, 2009) – Suspected Abu Sayyaf militants and Moro rebels bombed a bridge Monday in the southern Philippine province of Sulu where security forces are fighting insurgents, officials said.

Officials said the attack damaged the bridge near a base of the Moro National Liberation Front rebels in Indanan town. There were no casualties in the attack and that troops were sent to pursue the bombers, said Marine Brigadier General Rustico Guererro, commander of military forces in Sulu.

“The bombing affected the residents in the area, especially the farmers who cannot deliver their agricultural produce to the markets. We have sent troops in the area to pursue the attackers who are believed to be Abu Sayyaf and MNLF rebels under Tahil Sali,” the general said.

Officials said two more improvised bombs exploded earlier at a garbage dump in the capital town of Jolo, but there were also no reports of casualties.

No group claimed responsibility for the bombings, but the Bangsamoro National Liberation Army last week warned of more attacks and demanded the pull out of troops from near MNLF areas in Sulu, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region.

It said rebels would launch a bigger attack if troops do not pull out by end of this month.

“We will give the military until December 30 to pull out government forces from near MNLF areas in Sulu. We have a big plan and it will be our gift to President Gloria Arroyo,” said Madarang Sali, the BNLA deputy leader.

The shadowy group has previously claimed responsibility for the string of attacks that killed two US Special Forces soldiers in Sulu in September. US troops have been deployed in Sulu since 2006 and assisting Philippine soldiers in fighting terrorism. (Mindanao Examiner)

Husband of massacre victim to name new pups 'Unsay and Andal'

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Buluan, Maguindanao Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, whose wife was one of the 57 people killed in Maguindanao massacre last month, plans to get back at his tormentors by naming his new pups after them.

Mangudadatu said his Belgian Malinois, which is due to give birth anytime, will name the male pups Unsay and Andal Senior.

"If my Belgian Malinois gives birth to male pups, I’ll name one Unsay and the other Andal Senior," Mangudadatu said in an interview on dzBB radio.

Mangudadatu lost his wife Genalyn and several of his political supporters in the November 23 massacre. At least 30 journalists were also killed in the incident.

Unsay is the nickname of Datu Unsay town Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., the primary suspect in the massacre of 57 people in Ampatuan town. He is now detained at the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila.

On the other hand, Andal Sr. is the patriarch of the Ampatuan clan, bitter rival of the Mangudadatu clan in Maguindanao. (Nonoy Lacson)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Maguindanao, balik-normal na!

COTABATO (Mindanao Examiner / December 20, 2009) Unti-unti na umanong bumabalik sa normal ang sitwasyon sa Maguindanao province, isang buwan matapos ng massacre ng 57 katao na ibinintang sa angkan ng Ampatuan.

Kabilang sa mga pinatay ay 30 journalists na kasama sa convoy ng asawa at kamag-anakan at supporters ni Buluan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, na kandidato sa pagka-gubernador sa Maguindanao.

“Normal na ang takbo ng buhay ng mga tao ngayon sa Maguindanao, pero patuloy pa rin ang paghahanap natin sa mga armed supporters ng mga Ampatuan na kasama doon sa pagpatay,” ani Colonel Jonathan Ponce, tagapagsalita ng 6th Infantry Division.

Sinasabing mas tahimik ngayon ang Maguindanao matapos na makulong ang gubernador nito na si Andal Ampatuan Sr., at mga anak na sina Zaldy Ampatuan, ang gubernador ng Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; Datu Unsay town mayor Andal Ampatuan, na siyang itinuturong mastermind sa massacre at ilan pang mga kapatid at kamag-anakan.

Nabawi rin ng militar at pulisya ang mahigit sa 1,000 mga matataas na armas at halos kalahating milyong bala na pinaniniwalaan na pagaari ng mga Ampatuan sa bayan ng Shariff Aguak.

Isa-isa na rin naglalabasan ang mga saksi sa massacre at itinuturo si Andal Jr. na siyang nanguna sa pagpatay. Kaaway sa pulitika ng mga Ampatuan ang Mangudadatu at si Andal Jr. ay sinasabing tatakbo rin sa pagka-gubernador sa Maguindanao bilang kapalit ng ama.

Sa darating na Miyerkoles ay magtitipon naman ang mga journalists sa Zamboanga City at magpapapakawala ng mga itim na lobo bilang pag gunita sa mga pinaslang na media workers at ang paghingi ng hustisya sa malagim na sinapit nuong Nob. 23 sa bayan ng Ampatuan na kung saan ay walang awang pinagbabaril ang mga biktima at saka inilibing sa tatlong mass graves. (Mindanao Examiner)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Basilan jail breaker says he surrender, civilian gets bounty

Philippine Army soldiers patrol Isabela City in Basilan province as the hunt for 28 mostly Abu Sayyaf prisoners continues Saturday, December 19, 2009. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

BASILAN, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 19, 2009) – The Philippine government may have erred in releasing a quarter million pesos reward to a civilian who allegedly helped police authorities in capturing one of more than 2 dozen mostly Abu Sayyaf militants who bolted a prison in the southern Basilan province.

Security forces are still pursuing the remaining 28 prisoners a week after more than 100 Abu Sayyaf gunmen and Moro rebels stormed the provincial jail in Isabela City and freed the terrorists.

Troops this week killed one militant – Nasirul Baliyung - and captured another – Amil Baylon - in the village of Maligue after a civilian tipped off the military about the presence of the prisoners. The informant was rewarded P350,000 by the military. The money was part of P10 million bounties put up by the Anti-Terrorism Council.

On Wednesday, another prisoner – Aseng Sahibul – was allegedly recaptured by the police in the village of Kapatagan Grande in Isabela City, the provincial capital.

The Anti-Terrorism Council also rewarded P250,000 to a civilian informant who allegedly provided information that led to the capture of Sahibul, an alleged Abu Sayyaf militant. (Mindanao Examiner)

Kidapawan City at night!

Kidapawan City at night – the façade of the Sugni Superstore with its colored lights and the lighted overpass and barbeque and fruit stalls. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Geo Solmerano)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Kidnappers free 3 tugboat crew in Zamboanga province

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 18, 2009) – Suspected Moro rebels have freed Friday three kidnapped crew members of a tugboat after four weeks in captivity in the southern Philippines.

The three men - Captain Felipe Miranda, Cecilio Layasan and Radsie Magtanong – are in police custody after being freed near Zamboanga City. The trio was kidnapped at sea on November 21 while sheltering from a storm in Siocon town in Zamboanga del Norte province.

Police did not give any details about the men or whether ransom was paid in exchange for their freedom, but the kidnappers, who were believed members of the Moro National Liberation Front previously demand at least five million pesos for the release of the hostages.

The three men were working for the Cebu-based Cebu Barge and Tug Inc. They were pulling a barge and heading to Dapitan City when gunmen on several speedboats hijacked their tugboat and seized them. (Mindanao Examiner)

Rebels kill Lumad farmer in South RP

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 18, 2009) – Suspected New People’s Army rebels killed a farmer before his horrified family in the southern Philippines, the military said on Friday.

It said a band of communist rebels barged in the house Thursday of Efren Sindaton, 32, in the village of Dagohoy in Davao del Norte’s Talaingod town and shot him in front of his wife and three children.

Sindaton, an Ata-Manobo farmer, was killed instantly, said Major General Carlos Holganza, commander of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division.

“We are appalled by such show of barbarism and inhuman acts of these terrorists. Killing an individual is an immoral act but killing a father in front of his children is totally a different crime only the devil can do. Words cannot express the arrogance and evil mindset of these criminals,” Holganza said in a statement.

“We condole with the Sindaton family as we vow to put the perpetrators of this heinous crime face the bar of justice. The long arms of the law will catch-up with them and those responsible will pay for their crimes against our people,” he added.

He said rebels on Monday also killed Fernando Timbal, a bank driver, in an attack in Panabo City.

There was no immediate statement from the NPA about the military report, but the rebels have been previously accused by authorities as behind numerous attacks against civilians on suspicion they were military spy. (Mindanao Examiner)

US sends out Chinese gifts to Filipino journalists

A newspaper employee shows off Friday, December 18, 2009 a Chinese-made umbrella sent by the United States Embassy in Manila. The trade dispute between Washington and Beijing had a record $268 billion surplus last year in China’s favor. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 18, 2009) – Despite a trade dispute between the United States and China, the US Embassy in Manila gifted Friday selected Filipino journalists a beautiful umbrella made in China.

The embassy’s Public Affairs Section sent out the huge blue umbrella emblazoned with the seal of the United States. The umbrella was wrapped in a clear plastic with Chinese markings and manufactured by Ing Yi.

The trade dispute between the two countries had a record $268 billion surplus last year in China’s favor.

According to the Washington D.C.-based Council on Foreign Relations, a major factor in China's quick rise has been its vigorous trade activity with the United States.

Trade volume between the two nations reached $211.6 billion in 2005, more than eighty times the $2.4 billion exchanged in 1979, the year they established normal trade relations. This has accelerated in recent years; from 2001 to 2005, the volume of U.S.-Chinese trade increased an average of 27.4 percent a year. The United States has become the top destination of Chinese merchandise exports and China is buying up more and more U.S. goods, with U.S. exports to China rising 21.5 percent each of the last four years.

In 2005 the United States ran a bilateral trade deficit with China of $202 billion, up from $162 billion the previous year.

The New York Times reported in September that both Washington and Beijing face domestic pressure to take a tougher stand against the other on economic issues. But the trade frictions are increasing political tensions between the two nations even as they try to work together to revive the global economy and combat mutual security threats, like the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea.

President Barack Obama also in September announced that the United States would levy tariffs of up to 35 percent on tires from China.

Obama’s decision to impose tariffs on Chinese tires is a signal that he plans to deliver on his promise to labor unions that he would more strictly enforce trade laws, especially against China, which has become the world’s factory while the United States has lost millions of manufacturing jobs.

China’s commerce ministry issued a formulaic criticism of the American action, but after a frenzy of anti-American rhetoric on Chinese Web sites, the ministry announced that it would take the first steps toward imposing tariffs on American exports of automotive products and chicken meat.

The ministry said it was demanding talks with the United States on the tire tariffs. Carol J. Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the office of the United States trade representative, said the United States wanted to avoid disputes with China and continue talks, but would look at any Chinese trade decisions for whether they comply with World Trade Organization rules.

The New York Times reported that China exported $1.3 billion in tires to the United States in the first seven months of 2009, while the United States shipped about $800 million in automotive products and $376 million in chicken meat to China, according to data from Global Trade Information Services in Columbia, South Carolina. (Mindanao Examiner)

Manny Pacquiao's Birthday Bash in Philippines

World Boxing champion Manny Pacquiao celebrates Thursday, December 17, 2009 his 31st birthday with wife Jinky Pacquiao in General Santos City in the southern Philippines. Some 4,000 people attended the party. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Mark Navales)

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 18, 2009) - Some 4,000 people attended Manny Pacquiao's grand birthday bash in General Santos City in the southern Philippines.

Pacquiao, the Filipino's boxing pride, was joined by his wife Jinky Pacquiao and family and relatives and friends from all over the country who greeted him on his 31st birthday.

He also held a concert for fans. (Mark Navales)

The Vega House in North Cotabato

Residents watch in awe as colored lights and Christmas decors adorn this bungalow in North Cotabato’s Makilala town. House owner Exequiel Vega, the 2008 Model OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) Family of the Year Awardee, says the beautiful light display has been a tradition for many years now. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Geo Solmerano)

ARMM, A Failure; Ex-Philippines Defense Chief Calls For Referendum

MANILA, Philippines - Former Defense chief Gilbert Teodoro described the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao as a “systemic failure” and called for a referendum among its five provinces to determine whether the autonomous region should continue to exist as is.

“The results speak for themselves,” said Teodoro, presidential candidate of the administration’s Lakas-Kampi Christian Muslim Democrats. In a press statement, he also cited the autonomous region’s inability to control violence, a spate of kidnappings and rampant lawlessness.

Last month’s massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao, the worst election-related killing in the country, was linked to the powerful Ampatuan clan, a scion of which was the recently replaced governor of ARMM.

Teodoro said that a vote in the ARMM provinces of Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur might have to be called to allow stakeholders to review the region’s performance and to decide if the residents there wish the region to continue under the current setup.

“This is very controversial, but I have to say it,” he added in the statement. “We cannot allow the taxpayers to subsidize the operation of an institution that is clearly not working.”

His comments Thursday follow his visit to Buluan town in Maguindanao on Wednesday, his third trip there in as many weeks.

Let people decide

“We must ask the ARMM’s constituents whether they prefer local autonomy or to revert to national government supervision,” said Teodoro.

Established in the 1990s, the ARMM brought self-rule to the Muslim minority instead of secession, the statement said. But autonomy failed dismally to uplift lives in the country’s most depressed region, it added.

More than P12 billion in government funds have been poured into the ARMM coffers for peace and order and economic development, the statement said.

Also in the statement, Teodoro called on the government to conduct a full audit of the funds that were provided to the ARMM in order to determine whether they reached their intended users.

He said that the various sectors and groups in the ARMM must meet to decide whether the autonomous region has proven responsive to their needs.

“It is up to them [stakeholders] whether the ARMM should continue to exist or not,” Teodoro said.

He said that the ARMM should serve a lesson to the government in future decisions that would grant autonomy to any region or province in the country.

“Before granting autonomy, the government must also determine whether the territory or province petitioning for it is really capable of handling responsibilities appurtenant to being an independent entity,” Teodoro added.

Abolishing ARMM

Concerned groups in the ARMM have started calling for the abolition of the ARMM for its failure to address basic social and economic issues, widespread corruption in the local bureaucracy, and coddling by some of its officials of private armed groups.

Republic Act 9054 that created the ARMM in 1990 provides that the autonomous region “shall remain an integral and inseparable part of the national territory of the Republic.” The president of the Philippines exercises general supervision over the regional governor.

The regional government has the power to create its own sources of revenues and to levy taxes, fees, and charges, subject to Constitutional provisions and the provisions of Republic Act 9054.

Reports showed that ARMM remains one of the most impoverished regions in the Philippines. It had a per capita regional gross domestic product of only P3,433 in 2005, more than 75 percent lower than the national average of P14,186.

GDP is the total cost of all goods and services produced in a country in a year.

The ARMM has a population of 4.1 million based on the 2007 census. It is the country’s poorest region, where average annual income was P89,000 in 2006, less than one-third of the Manila level. Poverty incidence in the region was a high 45.4 percent in 2003, almost twice the national average of 24.4 percent.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

350 Filipino Grade School Children Named 'Junior Heroes'

Police names some 350 grade school children are named "junior heroes" in Iligan City in Mindanao.

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 17, 2009) – Some 350 grade school children were named as “junior heroes” after finishing Thursday a series of lecture by the Philippine police on crime prevention in Iligan City in Mindanao.

The students, all from 5th and 6th grade levels, at Villa Verde Elementary School and Pugaan Elementary School took their oath "junior heroes."

"Our intention is to uplift the literacy rate of pupils under its locality on crime prevention, thus, we have this school-based program for them to get involve," said Chief Inspector Ramil Lluisma, a local station commander.

"As junior heroes, the pupils will be our partners in the call for peace," he said.

Police held lectures in schools for the children to be aware of how to prevent crimes and become more responsible citizens.

Lluisma said they also distributed coloring and Christmas books, including crayons and wrist band with markings "Junior Heroes."

The coloring book was entitled: “Mundong Walang IED,” which literally means "A World without Improvised Explosive Device," which is aimed at making children learn to understand the message which calls for them to be aware of the danger posed by homemade explosives and in return can inform authorities about suspicious devices or packages in public places. (Merlyn Manos)