Quote for the Week..

"Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are allergic to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?" - Marvic Leonen,Dean of the UP College of Law, in a keynote address delivered at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao; March 16-18, 2009 in Davao City, Philippines.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rep. Dilangalen's staff slain

Cotabato City, Philippines. A political affairs assistant of Rep. Didagen Dilangalen of the lone district of Shariff Kabusuan, a newly-created province in the ARMM, was slain yesterday at about 6:45 pm.

The victim was identified as Edna Apolinario, 52, a resident of this City and a staff of Congressman Dilangalen for more than ten years already.

The victim was driving a green multi-cab vehicle along the busy Sinsuat Avenue this City when she was fired upon by motor-riding assailants who were already tailing the victim from the time she left her house.

The victim, Edna Apolinario, was also coordinator for more than a decade of Dilangalen's socio-economic and scholarship projects for poor communities in the 37 villages in the city and the 11 towns in Shariff Kabunsuan.

Senior Superintendent Willie Dangane, city police chief, said Apolinario was driving a green multicab with village councilor Nitz Herrera when motorcycle-riding gunmen overtook them along Sinsuat Avenue at around 6:40 p.m.

Dangane said the assailant fired at Apolinario with a .45 caliber pistol, hitting her in the head and other parts of body.

Herrera was not hit but suffered bruises and injuries due to broken windshields, he said.
Herrera said Apolinario had never mentioned threats to her life.

"She was very friendly, hardworking and had no known enemies," Herrera said, adding that he did not notice that the suspects were tailing them.

Apolinario was popular for her involvement in Dilangalen's scholarship programs for poor but deserving Muslim and Christian students in his congressional district. Among the recipients of the scholarship program are SK Officials whom Congressman Dilangalen had promised to benefit after his grandson by a first cousin won as SK Federation President in this City.

US troops go on medical mission in North Cotabato

By Edwin Fernandez

American troopers, armed with medical equipment, on Sunday entered the remote village of Kadigasan here and circumcised six Moro males.

“Residents here, all Muslims, have not seen a doctor since birth and the coming of RP-US Balikatan outreach program was warmly welcomed,” Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, told the Inquirer.

Ando said the village was far from the town centers where government and private hospitals were located. He pointed out that because the farmers were poor and the village isolated, they had never visited a doctor for their health concerns.

“They are more concerned with what to eat at the end of the day than having their health checked by physicians,” he said.

As to the six males, aged 40 years old and above, Ando said their delayed circumcision was “mainly due to poverty and unavailability of doctors to do the job.”

He said some of the male patients claimed that they were already circumcised but the procedure was improperly done. “They want the circumcision corrected so they came forward,” he said.

Kadigasan is accessible only by motorcycle or by horse. “Now medical services were brought to their doorstep,” Ando said.

He said armed conflict since the 1970s had prevented the poor Muslim population in far-flung villages from taking care of their health.

The RP-US medical services were brought to various villages in the area of responsibility of the 6th Infantry Division, said Army Maj. Gen. Reymundo Ferrer, 6th ID commanding general.

Similar activities were also undertaken the other day in Bagoingend, Pikit, North Cotabato

Monday, February 25, 2008

DoST backs Muslim food industry

By Aquiles Zonio

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines--The Department of Science and Technology (DoST) is exerting efforts to boost the country's halal industry using technological and scientific innovations.

Dr. Zenaida Laidan, DOST regional director, said this will be the focus of the three-day 1st National Halal Forum to be held at Phela Grande Convention Center here on February 28 to March 1.

Halal is the permissible food for Muslims or the followers of Islam.

The highlight of the event, which can be viewed live through the internet, will be the launching of the "Philippine S&T (Science and Technology) Program for the Development of Halal Industry" and ceremonial groundbreaking of the first Halal Standards and Testing Laboratory in the country.

The P200-million worth lab project, Laidan said, would be put up in Koronadal City, the regional government center.

Renowned international experts from the fields of science, halal industry and shariah (Islamic law) will also be arriving to address the forum.

Laidan said the forum would synchronize various strategies for the development of halal industry in the country.

Husky Bus Driver, Conductor Slain

A driver and conductor of the Husky Bus Company were shot to death yesterday at past 5pm somewhere between crossing Salbo, Datu Unsay Ampatuan and Talayan in Maguindanao.

The fatalities were identified as Manny Abdullah, driver, residing at Campo Muslim, Cotabato City and Joel Andang, conductor, and residing at Bagontapay, Tulunan, North Cotabato. A passenger by the name of Rolando Sudulan was also wounded in the incident.

Police authorities said that the two unidentified assailants rode the bus before the town of Guindolongan and shot the victims before reaching crossing Salbo. The bus was on its way to Gensan.

Police theorized that the assailants could be former passengers who might have harbored personal grudge against the bus driver and conductor.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Lake Maughan's water level rises to dangerous level

The Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council of South Cotabato has sounded the alarm to new danger posed by Lake Maughan in the municipality of T’boli in light of its rising water level and erosion of a portion of the mountain lake’s wall following heavy rains.

Nearly two dozen people were killed and thousands were displaced in the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao when the walls of the lake -- the crater of the dormant Mt. Parker volcano -- collapsed in 1995. In March 2006, water spilling over from the lake swamped communities below after a spate of heavy rain.

John Lorca, South Cotabato disaster coordinator, said the authorities have been monitoring the lake’s water level since February 14 due to the continuous rain.

He said T'boli officials discovered the rising water level during a clean-up drive in the area. Volunteers also noted a landslide in one portion of the lake’s wall.

"The soil around the lake probably loosened up due to the continuous rains," Lorca said, adding that it was possible a part of the wall will eventually collapse.

Lorca said a composite team from the PDCC, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau (MGB) and other agencies, will hike to Mt. Parker on Monday (Feb. 25) to assess the situation.

In Koronadal City, the heavy rains triggered a landslide that buried at least 10 houses, killing a 67-year old woman, on Thursday.

Jane Gabucan, Koronadal social welfare chief, identified the fatality as Belen Gamog of Barangay Datal Biadong.

"It took two hours for rescue unit personnel to retrieve the remains of Gamog due to the huge volume of soil," Gabucan said.

She said authorities have already warned residents, particularly those living along riverbanks and hills, to move to safer ground as the rains continued.

Kidapawan cops arrest cleric in search for bombs

By Jeoffrey Maitem, Charlie Señase

COTABATO CITY, Philippines -- Police have arrested a Muslim cleric following the seizure of what they said were components during a raid on his home in Kidapawan City but which the priest himself insisted was fertilizer.

Chief Inspector Leo Ajero, Kidapawan City police chief, identified the cleric as Ustadz Abdulhasis Hassan of the village of Nuangan.

Ajero said the raid was conducted Friday following the arrest of a suspected member of the al-Khobar Gang who told investigators about the presence of the alleged bomb components in Hassan’s house.

Ajero admitted police found no bomb inside the house during the raid but "bomb components."
Hassan, a member of the North Cotabato Ulama-Priest Federation, denied hiding any explosive in his house.

He also said what the police seized was fertilizer supplied by the provincial government. Hassan said the urea seized by the police was to be used on his banana and rubber farms. Hassan's son Alihudin, who is Nuangan village councilor, also told authorities his father was not engaged in terrorism.

He said the urea was intended for use on their farms.

North Cotabato Governor Jesus Sacdalan told the Philippine Daily Inquirer he will double check with the provincial agriculture office because he was not aware of fertilizer being distributed by the provincial government last year.

He said he will also check if Hassan was listed as a recipient of the fertilizer.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Another Al-Khobar member nabbed

COTABATO CITY – Police arrested on Thursday another suspected member of the al-Khobar gang, the extortion gang blamed for bombings in Central Mindanao since 2006, a local official said Friday.

North Cotabato Gov. Jesus Sacdalan said Musalik Gardo, 35, also known as Musalik Cad or Musalim Abas, did not resist arrest when police, armed with a warrant, raided his hideout in a remote village of President Quirino in nearby Sultan Kudarat province.

Senior Supt. Lester Camba, North Cotabato police chief, said Gardo was arrested for his involvement in the December blast at the KMCC Mall in Kidapawan City, which killed one person and injured several others.

He said an informer told police that Gardo was hiding in President Quirino so they decided to conduct the operation in coordination with the Sultan Kudarat police. Camba said Gardo denied involvement in the bombings.

Sacdalan said Gardo was the second al-Khobar member arrested this month. On Feb. 8, Melvin Claro, reportedly the Al-Khobar gang’s financial conduit, was also arrested.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

University Professor is lone Mindanaoan in the Bb. Pilipinas 2008

Kabacan, North Cotabato. Lady Lou Garidan, a 21 year-old college instructor in the College of Engineering, University of Southern Mindanao, Kabacan, North Cotabato is the only Mindanaoan who qualified to the Bb. Pilipinas 2008.

She bested more than 500 candidate-applicants from Mindanao.

Ms. Garidan graduated cum laude with the degree of Bachelor of Science in Information Technology from the University of Southern Mindanao in March last year. She teaches IT subjects in the College of Engineering and Computing.

Ms. Garidan made it as one of the 24 finalists to the Bb. Pilipinas beauty pageant, an annual beauty search managed by the Bb. Pilipinas Foundation.
The pageant night and coronation shall be held at the Araneta Coliseum on March 8, 2008.

Schools performing poorly in tests warned of closure

By Aquiles Zonio

GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Education Secretary Jesli Lapus on Tuesday threatened to shut down public elementary and secondary schools that would get an average of 34 percent or below during the next National Achievement Test (NAT).

Speaking at the National Secondary Press Conference (NSPC) held in Koronadal City in South Cotabato, Lapus said that during the previous NAT, around 2,000 out of the 43,000 public schools nationwide failed to register a favorable average.

The results of last year’s NAT prompted some sectors to question the system of education in the country. The dismal results of the exams mirrored a poor state, Lapus said.

He said the Department of Education had adopted several measures aimed at helping students get higher ratings during the next exams.

Although the education secretary did not specify what these measures were, he said special attention was being given to the 2,000 schools that rated poorly in the exams.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

KC Concepcion visits the town of Pikit, N. Cotabato

Pikit, North Cotabato. KC Concepcion, one of the budding young stars of Philippine cinema took some respite from her showbiz routine and took time out to visit this town on February 18, 2008.

She went with some officials of the World Food Programme headed by Valerie Guarnierre, the Country Programme Director in the Philippines. to visit some barangay-beneficiaries under the Programme.

KC personally participated in the distribution of rice and WFP's feeding program for school children in Barangays Kalacacan, Nunguan and Balatikan. These 3 Barangays were among the 11 Barangay-beneficiaries of the World Food Programme in Pikit.

KC was noted to have fondness listening to the children's stories of how happy they were to see her as well as relate their real-life situations. She was recently appointed as 'Ambassador against Hunger' by the UN World Food Programme.

KC's parting words to the Mayor, Datu Sumulong K. Sultan, "Babalik po ako Mayor, promise! Ang babait pala ng mga tao dito.."

TESDA-ARMM Official shot to death

Cotabato City, South Philippines. An Official of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) was shot to death in the town of Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

The victim was identified as Hussin Alaw. Also wounded by stray bullets was Saudi Palagaraw who is recuperating in one of the hospitals in Cotabato City.

It was learned that at about 7:00 o'clock yesterday morning, Alaw was shot from behind by an unidentified assailant. The victim died instantly due to multiple wounds in different parts of his body.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Suspected Dulmatin cadaver undergoes DNA test

by Julie Alipala

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines -- Agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and local police have begun taking samples from a cadaver suspected to be that of wanted Indonesian bomb expert Ammar Usman or Dulmatin, Rear Admiral Emilio Marayag, commander of the naval forces in Western Mindanao said Tuesday.

Mindanao solons slam joint RP-US exercises

By Norman Bordadora

Seventeen Mindanao lawmakers, led by Deputy Speaker Simeon Datumanong, Monday called for the suspension of joint exercises between Filipino and American troops in Lanao del Sur until the conclusion of peace talks between the Philippine government and Moro secessionists.

Protest rallies greet ‘Balikatan’ in Marawi City

Filipino and American soldiers officially began their joint “humanitarian” missions under the “Balikatan” program in predominantly Muslim Marawi City and other areas of Lanao del Sur Monday, despite strong objections from local officials and residents.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Joint RP-MNLF body boosted to address peace pact issues

By Jeoffrey Maitem

COTABATO CITY, Philippines -- The government, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have widened the mandate of a group they formed to ensure full implementation of the 1996 peace pact.
The three parties ended their tripartite meeting in Istanbul Saturday. The meeting was organized to address MNLF complaints about the failings of the Philippine government in implementing the 1996 peace agreement.

Muslimin Sema, MNLF secretary general, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a phone interview Sunday, that both panels agreed that the Joint Working Groups (JWG), a body composed of government and MNLF representatives, would work on proposals to amend Republic Act 9054, the law expanding the coverage of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. ARMM covers the provinces of Maguindanao, Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-tawi, Lanao del Sur, Shariff Kabunsuan and Marawi City.

"The government and MNLF reaffirmed their commitment to the primacy of the final peace agreement in order to provide congenial environment for its unhampered implementation. Experts may be invited to assist in the exercise of the JWG mandate," Sema said.

The JWG was created during the Jeddah round of the tripartite meeting in November 2007 to look into the MNLF's complaint that the government failed to implement many provisions of the agreement.

"The meeting in Turkey underscored the cardinal importance of social economic development but outlined such development is conditional on the creation of a climate of peace and security through confidence-building measures that include rehabilitation, relief, reconstruction and attending to the problems of displaced people. Both parties should jointly undertake these exercises within the framework of JWGs," Sema said.

Sema added that a progress report on the work of the JWG would be submitted by May 1 so it could be considered in the third session of the tripartite meeting scheduled for May 12-15 and transmitted to the 35th Session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in Kampala, Uganda.

The tripartite meeting was aimed at discussing issues concerning the implementation of the OIC-mediated 1996 peace agreement between the government and the MNLF.

Among the provisions the government has allegedly failed to implement are the establishment of a unified special security force for the ARMM, the region's political system, and the MNLF's right of representation and participation in the national government and in all organs of the state.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

CHD: "Family feud sparked Sulu carnage"

By Ed General

The Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD) said the February 4 carnage in Maimbung town, Sulu was an offshoot of a feud between two families.

In a final report covering its fact-finding mission in the village of Ipil, the CHD, an independent group working for prevention of conflict in various parts of the world, said Tuesday that soldiers have indeed killed the eight victims, including two children and a pregnant woman.
The CHD showed the report to the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Wednesday.

It however said that the soldiers were unwittingly used by one of the parties in the purported feud.

The CHD, which has a satellite office here, said it found out that the military was using a member of the Ibla family as an asset in efforts to locate kidnapped Jolo businesswoman Rosalie Lao.
CHD said the asset, whose family has an existing feud with the Lahim family of Ipil, had told the military that Lao, who was snatched last month, was being kept in the village.

"The asset (even) joined the (Navy's Special Warfare Action Group) and (Light Reaction Company) elements during the operation. Although wearing a full head bonnet covering his face, (he) was identified by the residents of this community as being a certain Muksan, a member of the Ibla family from the neighboring barangay (village), with whom the Lahim family from Barangay Ipil has a long-drawn family feud," the CHD report reads.

The group said it remained unclear as to who killed the two members of the raiding troops.
"There are however possibilities that the soldiers were shot by civilians, who kept arms in their houses for defensive purposes; or worse, that the SWAG and the LRC engaged in friendly fire," the CHD said.

Earlier, Governor Abdusakur Tan said he received information that the two members of the raiding troops died when the SWAG and the LRC mistook each other for the enemy.

Alfadar Pajiji, CHD consultant, said what was clear was that the Ibla family used the military to extract vengeance on the Lahim family.

"(The soldiers) must be made answerable for the indiscriminate firing on civilians that have resulted in the death, extrajudicial killing, and massacre of innocent civilians, including women and children, and the divestment of properties belonging to the residents of Barangay Ipil, including theft arson, and damages to property," the CHD recommended.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) made a similar recommendation but added that while the soldiers involved in the carnage should be punished, the military commander in-charge of the entire operation should also be made answerable under the dictum of command responsibility.

Major General Reuben Rafael, head of the anti-terror Task Force Comet, is the overall military commander in Sulu.

ARMM governor tells RP, US execs: Consult us on war games

COTABATO CITY – Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) urged national government and US Embassy officials to consult local leaders before holding war games in the region.

Ampatuan said this would avoid misunderstanding and protests.

“There is no substitute for dialogue and consultation, we get to understand each other to avoid confusion,” he said.

Ampatuan issued the call in the wake of mounting opposition against the conduct of the Balikatan in Lanao del Sur. The exercises will start next week, according to information coming from the military.

Earlier, Lanao del Sur officials, led by Gov. Mamintal Adiong Jr., said the government failed to consult them about the conduct of the exercises.

Adiong said they felt that the government decision to hold some of the Balikatan exercises in Lanao del Sur without consulting them first showed that the government did not value their opinion.

Because of this, he said Lanao del Sur officials wanted the conduct of the Balikatan scrapped.
The ARMM’s Regional Legislative Assembly (RLA) formalized its opposition to the conduct of the Balikatan in Lanao del Sur with the passage of a resolution.

Ampatuan said while his administration is not opposed to any humanitarian projects under the Balikatan, the lack of consultation with local leaders has triggered the opposition.

“We are grateful for all (that) the US government had done in the Muslim region but proper coordination and consultations are necessary for the smooth flow of the activity,” Ampatuan said.
In Iligan City, organizers of an anti-Balikatan protest said authorities have asked them to defer their activity following Sunday evening’s bomb blast there.

Hadji Abdullah Dalidig, of the Muslim Multi-sectoral Movement for Peace and Development, said Iligan Mayor Lawrence Cruz told them to postpone the protest while the police were still trying to figure out the motive behind the bombing that wounded six people.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Kidapawan City Mayor Lauds Arrest of Al-Khobar Finance Courier

Kidapawan City Mayor Rodolfo Gantuangco lauded the PNP and the military for the arrest of Melvin Claro, identified financial conduit of the Al-Khobar extortionist group.

The Al-Khobar started its extortion activities in March 2007. Its favorite target were local government uunits, bus companies and business establishments. Among those victimized by the group were the the city governments of Kidapawan and General Santos, TRANSCO, People's Transport Co., Yellow Bus Line Co., and Metro Shuttle Bus Co.

Claro was arrested two days ago while making a withdrawal from an ATM machine. It will be recalled that Metro Shuttle made deposits to the Al-Khobar's designated account on December 2, 2007 and February 4, 2008.

When intercepted, it was found out that the ATM card used by Claro matched the account number deposited by Metro Shuttle Bus Co.

CHR blames Sulu military commander for Maimbung ‘massacre’

By Julie Alipala

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Western Mindanao blamed the military commander in Sulu for the February 4 deaths eight people, including two children and a pregnant woman, in a military operation in Maimbung town.

At "a word of command, the ground troops follow. A lift of a finger from a commander, troops will run, march and attack," Jose Manuel Mamauag, CHR regional director, said Thursday.
The CHR conducted an investigation into the incident, which survivors described as a “massacre” perpetrated by soldiers.

Mamauag acknowledged that the soldiers should be punished for atrocities against the residents of Barangay (village) Ipil but stressed the doctrine of command responsibility.

The soldiers accused of the deaths and of pillaging the village belonged to the anti-terrorist Task Force Comet, commanded by Major General Reuben Rafael.

Mamauag said it was not fair to just blame the soldiers involved in the operation, who are now restricted to camp, "because in the military, before the execution of any military operation, there should be information, and plotting and mapping." "So [the blame should go] higher," Mamauag said.

He said the CHR will be releasing a full report on the incident any time soon.
Mamauag categorically described the Maimbung incident as a massacre committed in the pretext of "a legitimate encounter."

"Women, children and the elderly require utmost protection, they ought not to be considered as military targets," he said.

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said the findings of the CHR reinforced its earlier report that the eight victims were victims of extrajudicial killings.

In a statement issued on February 13, the AHRC said with the CHR findings, the government should now pursue the charges against those responsible for the incident.

"The families of the dead should also be given adequate compensation and those requiring protection in the process of prosecuting the case in court, once it is filed, are given such arrangement," the group said.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

P867M released for ARMM poll automation

By Margaux Ortiz

The Department of Budget and Management has released more than P867 million for the automation of the August 2008 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the Commission on Elections announced Wednesday.

Comelec spokesperson James Arthur Jimenez said the DBM's issuance of a Special Allocation Release Order for the amount of P867,329,000 meant that the Comelec could now initiate the bidding process for the automated election system in the Mindanao region.
Jimenez added that the bid documents would be made available to prospective bidders on Thursday.

“The Request for Proposal for the automation of the ARMM elections was drafted in close coordination with the Advisory Council and bears the council's stamp of approval,” Jimenez said.
He added, “In fact, the RFP was prepared to follow the council's recommendation that the ARMM elections should be fully automated using both Direct Recording Electronic, and Optical Mark Reader technology.”

The Advisory Council is the body of expert advisers created by Republic Act 9369 tasked to recommend to the Comelec which technology to use for the automation of the elections, Jimenez said

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Pacquiao swindled?

LAPD widens inquiry into swindling of Pacquiao

By Inquirer Sports Staff
Philippine Daily Inquirer

What was initially perceived as a simple case of embezzlement involving Manny Pacquiao’s dollar account in a Los Angeles bank may lead to a web of fraudulent acts.

The Los Angeles Police Department has reportedly started a deeper inquiry into the loss of about $180,000 (about P7.2 million) from Pacquiao’s account in Wells Fargo bank on Sunset Boulevard.

An LAPD source said more people would be questioned about the fraudulent withdrawals.
Pacquiao’s dollar deposit dwindled after a series of withdrawals made by “a suspect or suspects” using the Filipino ring superstar’s forged signatures.

This developed even as a Team Pacquiao insider revealed that the bank has offered to refund to Pacquiao the amount siphoned off his $200,000 deposit.

The world’s former Fighter of the Year deposited the amount in December 2006.
Tapped to head the investigation by the Anti Fraud Unit is former cager Francois Wise, a burly LAPD officer from the Wilshire division.

Wise, a 6-foot-6 240-pound bruiser, is a former All-American and Philippine Basketball Association import, having played for U-Tex in 1981-82, Tanduay (1983), Manila Beer (1985) and Hills Brothers (1987).

Arum man coordinates with Wise

Coordinating with the LAPD investigators in behalf of Pacquiao is Canadian Michael Koncz, a Pacquiao adviser and one of Top Rank head Bob Arum’s trusted men.

According to reports, only about $19,000 was left of Pacquiao’s deposit when the fraudulent withdrawals -- made by a certain Pia Quijada, said to be the second wife of Pacquiao’s driver Joseph Jose -- were uncovered on Thursday last week.

Pacquiao was “both very angry and sad” when told about the crime, the insider said.
Koncz learned about the withdrawals when Vilma Rodriguez, the assistant vice president of the Wells Fargo branch in Hollywood, asked him whether Pacquiao still remembered that he had an account with the bank.

Pacquiao lost track of account

Apparently, Pacquiao had lost track of the deposit, which he opened in the company of Jose and Quijada using the couple’s Los Angeles address.

Pacquiao is training at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles for his March 15 rematch with World Boxing Council super featherweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez in Las Vegas.
When the police started their investigation Friday, the source said Quijada begged forgiveness from Pacquiao’s wife Jingkee, who returned to the country from Los Angeles on Feb. 6 and confirmed the illegal transactions.

Jose also sent a text message to Pacquiao and made a similar plea.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Patikul mayor denies ID system implemented in Sulu town

By Julie Alipala

Contrary to military claims, a local experimental ID system has not been fully implemented yet here.

Mayor Khaber Hayudini said only local officials like himself, the vice mayor, councilors and the 30 village chiefs have availed of the ID system.

Hayudini said they are still going around communities to convince residents to register at the 3rd Marine Brigade headquarters in barangay (village) Liang here, or at Task Force Comet headquarters in Bus-bus village in Jolo town.

Colonel Natalio Ecarma, 3rd Marine Brigade commander, earlier said the majority of Patikul residents have availed of the system.

Major General Reuben Rafael, Task Force Comet chief, even bragged that "great majority [of residents] supports the idea and many want to have an ID."

Patikul has about 34,500 residents based on the 2000 National Census. Earlier, former Patikul mayor Esmond Suhuri told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net) that they are against the ID system.

"Pag wala kang ID, masama kang tao. Pag meron, mabuti kang tao. Mahirap namang kilalanin ang pagkatao ng isang tao dahil lang sa isang pirasong papel [If you have no ID, you’re a bad person. But if you have one, you’re good. It’s rather difficult to judge a person’s character by a mere piece of paper]," Suhuri said.

Hayudini said the military had imposed a different system before, issuing a "safe conduct pass" that allowed residents to go to their farms.

But lawyer Jose Manuel Mamauag, director of the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) for Western Mindanao, said he was concerned over the determination of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to impose the localized ID system, which he called unlawful, in Sulu.
"It's not the role of the AFP to impose such [a] practice," he said.

"Expect more reports of forced disappearances as people who will not subscribe to such system will be considered an outlaw," he added.

Troops linked to Sulu ‘massacre’ restricted not suspended

By Joel Guinto

Fifty soldiers facing investigation for the deaths of eight civilians in Sulu province that has been called a “massacre” have been "restricted" not suspended, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public information officer said Monday.

Lieutenant Colonel Bartolome Bacarro clarified that the word "suspended" is not part of military jargon.

Nonetheless, he said "restricted" meant the 50 troopers are "restrained from participating in combat operations" and will be made to stay inside their respective camps.

"We'd like to clarify that the Secretary of National Defense did not use the word suspension during his visit to Sulu and his instruction was to restrain, restrain these soldiers from participating in other operations," Bacarro said.

"Suspend and restrain, they are synonymous but if you will qualify the statement, the memo given by the Secretary of National Defense [said] 'restrained from conducting operations'. So it should be taken at the context of the memo and not the [meaning of the] word itself," Bacarro said.

Teodoro went to Maimbung on Saturday to speak with the survivors and victims of the incident that the military described as an encounter with Abu Sayyaf rebels. The defense chief pledged a deeper investigation into the incident.

The military has begun its investigation into the incident, where two children and a pregnant woman were among those killed.

Relatives of the victims as well as local officials branded it a "massacre."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Muslim leaders call for review of VFA

Want RP-US military exercises suspended

By Jeoffrey Maitem, Charlie Señase

COTABATO CITY, Philippines--Muslim religious leaders in Mindanao have called for a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) the Philippines forged with the United States.

"We want a review of the VFA," Uztads Esmael Ibrahim, spokesperson of Darul Ifta (House of Opinion), told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Sunday following the Feb. 4 clash in Maimbung, Sulu, where eight civilians, including two children and a pregnant woman, were killed allegedly by US-trained Filipino soldiers.

The VFA allows US troops into the country to conduct military exercises with and train Filipino soldiers in counter-terrorism.

Sandrawina Wahid, whose vacationing soldier-husband was among those killed during the raid, issued a sworn statement, saying four American soldiers were with the Filipino soldiers.

"We condemn in the strongest terms the killing of civilians, especially the children and a pregnant woman. There must be a thorough investigation of the incident," Ibrahim said.

Julasiri Abidin, mufti of Sulu, told the Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net) in a phone interview the US soldiers allegedly involved in the clash should also be investigated.

On Saturday, the military suspended more than 50 soldiers, including three officers of the US-trained Army Light Reaction Company, in connection with the killings. Civilian authorities, however, are looking for evidence of the suspension as they suspect that these soldiers may just have been transferred somewhere.

Sentiment against the holding of the joint American and Filipino military exercises has been growing.

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao legislative assembly, citing "non-coordination" and "counter-productiveness" as the reasons, passed a resolution on Tuesday rejecting the RP-US "Balikatan" military exercises provided for under the VFA and Mutual Logistics Support Agreement.

The presence of the US troops has been causing fear among the local residents, said peace advocate Ali Indayla of Suara Bangsamoro.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

50 soldiers suspended over Sulu killings

By Dennis Santos, Charlie Señase, Julie Alipala

The military has announced Saturday the suspension of more than 50 soldiers, including three officers of the US-trained Army Light Reaction Company (LRC), in connection with the February 4 killing in Maimbung town of eight civilians, including two children and a pregnant woman.

Major General Nelson Allaga, chief of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), made the announcement during the arrival of Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro in Jolo where he was greeted by a protest organized by various Tausug groups.

The protesters accused the military of trying to cover up the killings, which occurred while the soldiers were supposedly conducting an operation against Abu Sayyaf banditas.

While he did not meet with the protesters, Teodoro talked with survivors and victims of the carnage and pledged a thorough probe of the killings. The military had earlier claimed the killings were part of a legitimate operation.

Allaga said the suspension of the enlisted men and the officers, whom he did not identify, was meant to assure the Tausug -- as most natives of Sulu are known -- that the investigation will be impartial.

Teodoro told reporters he was given specific orders by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to ensure there is no whitewash in the investigation. "First and foremost we have to get to the bottom of what really happened (during) the incident. We really have to establish that because there are deaths on both sides," he said, pointing out that two soldiers were killed in the firing.
Civilian officials had earlier claimed that the two soldiers died due to "friendly fire" when the two raiding teams mistook each other for hostile groups.

Asked when the results of the investigation would be announced, Teodoro said no deadline has been set. "It's hard to give a deadline but if I think it is getting too long then I'll come in. Perhaps I'll give them (the military) two weeks," he said.

Governor Abdusakur Tan advised the military to come up with a "believable result." Teodoro said he understood the fear of the victims about a whitewash. "They can only rely on our promise now, that it can only be credible if it is totally impartial and the results can be backed up by evidence," Teodoro said.

Tan said the residents would not claim that soldiers, supposedly backed by United States forces, slaughtered the eight villagers of Ipil, if they were not certain. He said the residents of Ipil were peaceful seaweed farmers and did not have any reason to wrongly accuse the military. Tan also balked at the idea of providing food assistance to the victims because "what they want is justice."
Teodoro declined to comment when asked what action would be taken against US soldiers who allegedly joined in the killings. "The victims have issued affidavits already. Let's just wait for the result of the investigation," he said.

Sandrawina Wahid, whose vacationing soldier-husband was killed by the raiding troops, issued a sworn statement on the presence of four US soldiers in the village on the day of the raid. Sulu lawyer Ulka Ulama said US forces involved in the raid should also be punished like their Filipino counterparts.

"They are criminally liable for the executions even if they didn't lift a finger. They were there. We look up to them as champions of democracy but being there and not doing anything made us think otherwise," Ulama said. He likened the Maimbung carnage to a rape. "Even if you will only watch a rape being committed by a companion, you will also be liable for the act," Ulama said.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Sulu killings: "massacre, no legitimate encounter" say human rights investigators

By Julie S. Alipala

Ms. Sandrawina Wahid, whose vacationing soldier-husband was among those killed, told reporters in Sulu on Tuesday that she saw four US soldiers among Filipino troopers who stormed Barangay Ipil in Maimbong, Sulu.

Jose Manuel Mamauag, director of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Western Mindanao, said Wahid was consistent in her account about the participation of US soldiers in the raid on Ipil.

Mamauag said Wahid had already submitted a sworn statement on it. “After her husband was shot before her eyes, she was brought to a Navy boat where she saw the four US soldiers. She also claimed that the raiding soldiers looted their village because she recognized her neighbors’ animals,” he said.

“We are aware it’s Wahid’s words against the interests of the Americans, but it’s executed through an affidavit and we are standing by her statement,” Mamauag added. He said the CHR investigation of the Maimbung massacre also found that the soldiers “used heavy armaments.”

The burning of at least seven houses by the soldiers, as attested to by residents, also bolstered reports of abuses, Mamauag said.

ARMM polls to be automated, says Comelec

By Beverly T. Natividad

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will automate the August 2008 elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in preparation for the automation of the 2010 polls.

In a statement Friday, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the Comelec en banc has ordered the early implementation of the automated polls in Resolution No. 8415.
Jimenez said the use of the different kinds of automated election systems in the ARMM elections will help prepare the Comelec for nationwide implementation in 2010.

“[This] will allow the Comelec to evaluate the suitability of the two different technologies … preparatory to designing an Automated Election System for nationwide use in 2010,” said Jimenez.

The Comelec resolution provides the use of two systems in the automation of the ARMM polls: the Direct Recording Electronic technology and the Optical Mark Reader. The DRE allows for touch-screen voting while the OMR still requires a paper ballot but will be counted by specially designed machines.

For the August ARMM elections, the Comelec plans to use DRE in the province of Maguindanao and the OMR throughout the rest of the region.

The Comelec’s automation plans in ARMM, said Jimenez, had adhered closely to the recommendations of the Advisory Council except with regard to the use of the DRE.
The Advisory Council, he said, had recommended that the DRE be used in only two cities/municipalities in the ARMM but the Comelec decided to use it for the whole of Maguindanao.

The Comelec en banc had cited concerns that implementing the DRE on a small scale will not be enough basis for the poll body to see whether DRE-based elections will work nationwide.
Jimenez also added in an interview that Maguindanao was primarily chosen as a test area for the DRE because compared to other provinces in the ARMM, it has the most reliable electricity supply and telecommunication infrastructure.

“Maguindanao has a relatively stable electricity, meaning that majority of the day there is electricity. Its telecommunication infrastructure is reliable compared to other provinces in the ARMM,” said Jimenez.

Republic Act 9369 or the Automated Elections System Act, which took effect in February 2007, has created an advisory council, or a body of experts tasked to recommend to the poll body the kind of technology to use for the automation of the national elections.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Bomb found in Sultan Kudarat inn

By Edwin Fernandez

COTABATO CITY, Philippines -– Authorities on Thursday seized a bomb tucked under a hotel bed in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat and arrested two suspects, police said Friday.
As of posting time, Senior Inspector Fernando Dialogo, Isulan police chief, declined to name the suspects.

But Dialogo said the bomb was discovered 8:30 a.m. Thursday by a worker of the Clarita Lodging House while cleaning the room being occupied by the suspects.
The hotel staff immediately informed authorities about the find, Dialogo said.
He said the bomb, fitted with a timer, was placed in a large shoebox and was hidden under the bed when recovered.

It was fashioned out of 81-millimeter mortar shell, similar to the ones that exploded in Central Mindanao last year.

Dialogo said they were trying to find out if the arrested suspects had something to do with previous attacks in the region, which have been blamed on the al-Khobar gang, described as an extortion group with links to the Jemaah Islamiyah.

The gang claimed responsibility for last week’s explosion in front of the Philbest canning factory in Barangay (village) Bawing in General Santos City, that killed four people and hurt 27 others.
The military has also said Malaysian terror suspect Zulkifli bin Hir, who is on the United States’ wanted list, has been seen going around Central Mindanao, composed of the provinces of North and South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani.

Major General Raymundo Ferrer, chief of the 6th Infantry Division, said Zulkifli, also known as Marwan, is looking for recruits to train as local terrorists. "We monitored his presence training local terrorists. He is moving around Central Mindanao," Ferrer said.

He said members of the military's intelligence group are trying to pinpoint the exact location of the Malaysian terror suspect, who allegedly heads the Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM).
Washington authorized a new reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Zulkifli, an engineer trained in bomb-making.

Ferrer said the military is also working with the police for the arrest of Zulkifli.

Sulu massacre survivor points at US troops

By Julie Alipala

US forces joined Monday’s assault on a village of Maimbung, Sulu, where eight people, including two children and a pregnant woman, were killed, a survivor said.
Sandrawina Wahid said she saw four US soldiers when elite forces from the Navy and Army stormed Barangay Ipil.

Wahid said her husband, Pfc. Ibnol Wahid, was among those shot by government troops even after he told them that he was also a soldier on vacation with his family.
Wahid said that before the carnage, the troops burned down houses, including hers, and rounded up villagers.

“I was brought to the Navy boat and I saw the US personnel,” she said.
Wahid said one of the Filipino soldiers blindfolded her. “I asked him what the blindfold was for and he said that so that I will not see what’s going to happen,” she told reporters in Sulu on Tuesday.

Maj. Gen. Nelson Allaga, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, branded Wahid’s claim as preposterous.

“There was no direct involvement of the Americans (during the operation). It is strictly prohibited,” Allaga said.

But Sulu Rep. Yusop Jikiri said the Maimbung case was not the first report of US forces taking part in operations against suspected terrorists. Jikiri, who called for an investigation, said that during the operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, US forces were also accused of direct involvement.

Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan told the Inquirer that among those present in Maimbung were soldiers belonging to the Army’s Light Reaction Company (LRC) and the Navy’s Special Warfare Group (SWAG).

The LRC is composed of Filipino soldiers who received special training from US forces under the “Balikatan” program.

Tan said soldiers indiscriminately fired at the residents and killed eight of them.
“I was informed that several residents were also taken from their houses and brought to a Philippine Navy boat before (the volley of) gunfire was heard,” he said.

But Allaga was consistent about the military’s claim that an encounter with the Abu Sayyaf had taken place. “The commanders on the ground maintain that the encounter was a legitimate encounter with the ASG terror group,” he said in a statement.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Sulu Gov: "Military massacred villagers"

by Julie Alipala

Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan ordered the national colors at the provincial capitol in Patikul town flown at half mast as he accused government troops of killing eight civilians, including two children and a pregnant woman, in an island village of Maimbung town on Monday.

"We cannot tolerate these acts. We are condemning in the strongest terms these dastardly and barbaric acts by supposedly elite forces of the Armed Forces for killing innocent civilians," Tan said.

"We not only condemn the killings of innocent civilians, but criminal charges should be filed against the perpetrators of this heinous crime," he said.

The military had earlier claimed the civilians might have died in the crossfire of a “legitimate encounter” with Abu Sayyaf fighters in which three extremist and two soldiers were also killed.

The eight civilians who died in barangay (village) Ipil were identified as Marisa Fayian, 4; Rismi Lahim, 9; Narsiya Lahim, 24, who was pregnant; Arnalyn Lahim, 19; Sulaiman Acob, 24; Jamiri Lahim, 37; Ipil barangay kagawad (councilman) Eldishin Lahim, 37; and former Moro National Liberation Front rebel turned Army sergeant Ibnul Wahid, 35, who was off duty at the time.
"It was a legitimate encounter," said Major General Ruben Rafael, commander of Task Force Comet, the regional anti-terror task force. "As far as we are concerned, troops clashed with the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah."

2 more Transco towers bombed in Lanao
by Richel Umel

Two more towers of the National Transmission Corporation (Transco) in Marawi City were bombed early morning Monday bringing to 14 the number of the firm’s steel towers bombed since the start of the year, authorities said Tuesday.

Fire hits kalye putol in Cotabato City

Some 20 resdiential houses were razed to the ground when a fire occured last night in Kalye Putol, Cotabato City. City Fire Chief Adam Guiamad, in an interview over radio station DXMS, said that the fire originated in a boarding house owned by Mrs. Winifreda Obara. There were 8 family boarders in said boarding house.

Firefighters encountered some difficulties in putting out the fire due to the narrow pathways leading to the fire scene.

For now, five families were temporarily housed at the Knights of Columbus Hall and two families were staying in the OND Convent inside the Immaculate Conception Cathedral compound along Quezon Avenue this City.

Meanwhile, radio station DXMS of the Notre Dame Broadcasting Corporation spearheaded a call for civic-minded individuals to extend assistance to the fire victims in the form of cash or in kind. The victims said they are in dire need of clothing, kitchen utensils, beddings and food.

CIDG nabs man accused of child abuse

A team of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) arrested yesterday at about 11:00 a.m. a man who has beend wanted for the abuse of a child sometime in February 2007.

The team was headed by CIDG Kidapawan Chief Roden Barnedo who led his team all the way to Barangay Kabalantian, Arakan, North Cotabato where the suspect was arrested.

Motorcycle abandoned in Kid. City

An XRM Honda motorcycle was recovered by authorities yesterday morning along a road canal in Sitio Baroy, Lanao, Kidapawan City after it was left by the suspected carnappers. The carnappers left the stolen motorcycle after sensing that the police authorities are closely following behind them.

Drunk soldier arrested for indiscrimnate firing

A soldier belonging to the 30th Infantry Battalion based in Camp Abubakar Matanog, Shariff Kabunsuan was arrested by Kabacan policemen after firing his service pistol indiscriminately along USM Avenue, Kabacan, North Cotabato.

A certain bystander known only as of press time as "Mayong" was wounded as a result of the incident. Arrested was PFC Daniel Pajarillo who is now in the custody of the Kabacan PNP.

Koronadal City hosts National Student Press Congress

Koronadal City is the venue for the forthcoming National Student Press Congress which will be held on February 18-22, 2008. Some 3000 delegates from all over the country are expected to arrive next wek according to DepEd XII Assistant Regional Director Allan Parnaso.

KCNHS student tops national Science Quiz

A second year student of the Kidapawan City National High School was declared National Champion after besting other contestants in the recently held National Science Quiz at Los Banos, Laguna.

This was disclosed by Ms. Bing Espiritu, trainer and coach of Ruel Cedeno, a consistent valedictorian since his elementary grades. "Once and for all, we have proven that given adequate training and preparation, our students can excel in national academic competitions," Ms. Espiritu said.

Monday, February 4, 2008

MILF-MNLF unification proposed

COTABATO CITY, South Philippines. Exploratory talks had been underway for the proposed unification of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) - the two mainstream Bangsamoro fronts, which had been fighting the government since late 1960s.

This was disclosed by Mayor Muslimin Sema, Secretary General of the MNLF, in an interview over radio station DXMS this morning.

"It would be easy to unify the two fronts considering that we once belong to one organization before," says Mayor Sema.

Asked as to what is the level of the unification efforts reached so far, Mayor Sema says it is still at the exploratory level where designated leaders from both sides are tasked to work out the arrangement.

"This unification move is designed in such manner that no party may lost its identity in the process," Mayor Sema continues.

The unification move was partly in response to the GRP's call for the two fronts to unite to ease the situation where the government may probably be talking to two parties over one and the same issues.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Al Khobar Claims Gensan Bombing

COTABATO CITY, Philippines -- An extortion gang blamed for a series of bombings targeting companies in Central Mindanao has claimed responsibility for Wednesday's explosion in General Santos City that killed four persons and wounded 28 others, an official said Saturday.
Kidapawan City Mayor Rodolfo Gantuangco said he got a call on Thursday from a suspected member of the Al-Khobar gang.

The Al-Khobar gang, which authorities believed has ties to the Islamic extremist Abu Sayyaf group, was blamed for at least a dozen explosions in the region during the last two years. More than two dozen people were killed in series of attacks staged by the group, including last year's Weena Bus bombing in Bansalan, Davao del Sur in which six people were killed and more than 20 others wounded.

Gantuangco, who has publicly acknowledged paying the gang P100,000 in protection money to ensure Kidapawan is not attacked, said he was inclined to believe the caller because he used the same mobile phone number that a certain Nasser Abison used in calling him up in December. Mayor Gantuangco also said he recognized very well the voice to be the same person who used to call him before.

Gantuangco admitted depositing the money in Abison's bank account in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay because he wanted to spare his city from attacks and also to trace the identity of the caller.
During Thursday's call, Gantuangco said the caller claimed the al-Khobar gang carried out Wednesday's explosion at the gates of the Philbest Canning Corp in Bawing, General Santos City.

He said the caller also warned him of similar attacks in the region, including Kidapawan City.
Authorities had said the incident could either be terrorism-related, an off-shoot of a labor dispute or even the result of the company's refusal to heed extortion demands. Philbest officials rejected the extortion and labor angle.

Tacurong tops NDEA inter-area athletic meet

The Tacurong City area was declared champion in the inter-area athletic meet sponosred by the Notre Dame Educational Association (NDEA) which culminated two days ago in Midsayap, North Cotabato.

Garnering second place was Koronadal area, Cotabato City area - third, Kidapawan area - fourth, Midsayap area - fifth and Allah Valley area - sixth placer.

Sulu Gov. bats for dismantling of CAFGUs

Gov. Sajur Tan of Sulu has been demanding for the dis-arming and dismantling of the CAFGUs in the province as they had not been effectively utilized for the purpose for which they were created for. The Governor said that iinstead of augmenting the military they only served as private armies for some politicians in most instances.

It was estimated that there are around 6,000 CAFGUs existing in the province of Sulu.

Capt. Faeldon seen in Maguindanao?

Renegade Marine Captain Nicanor Faeldon was reportedly seen in Maguindanao over the past weeks. Capt. Faeldon escaped from imprisonment after he joined the Trillanes flak at the Manila Peniinsula sometime in November last year. He escaped as they were dispersing by disguising as a reporter and allegedly with the aid of a lady reporter whose name has been withheld until now.

Congressman pushes for investigation of Sulu ID system

Congressman Moner Arbison of Sulu's first congressional district is initiating for the investigation of the so-called Sulu ID system being undetaken by the Military. It was also reported that this undertaking had the blessing of SuluGov. Sakur Tan to effectively segregate the rebels from the civilian population.

Congressman Arbison said that while the intention may be good, the way it is being done is potentially violative of basic human rights.

Supt. Dangane calls for stricter regulation of firearm permits

P/Supt Willie Dangane, Cotabato City Police Director, has been calling for stricter regulation of permits issued to firearm holders in the City.Aside from the 'permit to carry', other permits were also issued in the form of Memorandum Orders (MO) and Memorandum Receipts (MR) issued by different militray and PNP units.

He emphasized that these permits shall be issued on strictly highly selective basis. He noted that some criminals apprehended by the police authorities are known to have permits issued by other PNP and ilitary units in the area.

"This is now being used by some uunscrupulous individuals; even persons who are known to be notorious are carrying firearms with permits", Supt. Dangane further said. "This is only aiding criminality in the City".

It should be noted that 10 people were killed, mostly with the use of Cal .45 pistols, in January alone this year.

Friday, February 1, 2008

PNP gives mix theories on Gensan bombing

The Philippine National Police is eyeing the possibility that the explosion in General Santos City Wednesday night that killed four people and injured 27 others was the handiwork of terrorists.
Documents and interviews conducted by Police authorities revealed that the bombing had the signature of a bomb expert with demolitions training given by groups linked to Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network and the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah. Camp Crame sources gave this view.

However, Chief Superintendent Felizardo Serapio, Central Mindanao police chief, said they were considering labor dispute and extortion as possible motives in the bombing, and not a probable terrorist attack. Serapio said a terrorist bombing would have been done in the heart of the city where more casualties could be more likely.

But an investigator who had knowledge of the ongoing investigation of the explosion said they recovered parts of a cellphone, a dry cell battery, nails and other metals, and an iron part from a jetmatic water pump body. Investigators also recovered traces of high explosive TNT.

Impasse can scuttle RP talks with MILF, benefit militants

A new impasse could scuttle years of peace talks between the Philippine government and Muslim separatists and reverse recent gains against al-Qaeda-linked militants in the violence-torn south.

Rebel negotiators refused to attend a planned meeting in December, accusing the government of going back on previously settled points.

The breakdown threatens negotiations that have brought the two sides close to agreement on creating an autonomous Muslim territory in the southern Mindanao region, the traditional homeland of Muslims in the Philippines.

If the impasse drags on, the more militant groups in Mindanao could exploit it to win new recruits and derail the peace process, analysts and negotiators warned.

Muslims make up about 5 percent of the predominantly Christian country's population of 90 million. They are a minority even in Mindanao following decades of Christian migration encouraged by the government.

Some rebels went to Afghanistan in the 1980s to join Islamic groups fighting the Soviet occupation. They formed links with radicals there and organized a militant group, Abu Sayyaf, after returning to the Philippines.

Abu Sayyaf and its Indonesia-based ally, Jemaah Islamiyah, have been blamed for bombings and kidnappings in the south and Manila. One bomb set off a fire on a ferry in Manila Bay in 2004, killing 116.

Jemaah Islamiyah, which US and regional intelligence officials say has received funding from al-Qaeda, has sent operatives to the Philippines to recruit members and train them in bomb-making.

The government is negotiating with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a mainstream rebel organization that signed a 2003 ceasefire with government troops.

A peace deal would not necessarily stop Abu Sayyaf from launching attacks, but a government negotiator said it would help isolate the group as well as militant factions within the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

"I think if you are able to come out with a good peace agreement, a good end or closure to these negotiations ... the peace process itself is counterterrorism," said Rodolfo Garcia, head of the government negotiating team.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief negotiator for the MILF, said his group wanted to end the fighting too. "We will be the first to stop the violence because, after all, we would be the first to be affected," he said.

Though the talks, brokered by nearby Malaysia, have stalled before, the latest hurdle has thrown the negotiations into their most serious crisis yet.

Both sides had announced in November that they had reached consensus on several crucial points, including the concept of creating a Muslim region, its boundaries and how it would be governed. But in December, the rebels said, the government shifted its position at the instigation of higher-ups in Manila.

"If they continue to renege on the consensus points, we will stop talking," Iqbal said. "The ball is within the court of the Philippine government."

Neither side would discuss specifics of the dispute. Government negotiators only acknowledged differences in the way they presented the consensus points. One point of contention has been the government's insistence that the final agreement conform to the Philippine Constitution.

Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza said last month that the government may ask Congress to amend the constitution to create the autonomous Muslim territory in Mindanao.
Rebel negotiators fear any deal could be watered down if it goes through Congress or is vetted by voters, who would have to approve any amendment to the constitution.

Garcia, the government negotiator, expressed concern that younger rebels may be enticed to join more radical factions of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Leader of Fr. Roda's killers slain

A notorious person, with many aliases, was killed in an encounter with the 2nd Marine Battalion Landing Team in Barangay Buan-buan, Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi. Wahab Upaw, alleged leader of the Abu Sayyaf group that killed Fr. Roda, was left dead by his fleeing companions. This was disclosed by P/Supt Wainwright Taup, Tawi-Tawi Provincial Director.

Upaw has a standing reward of $25,000 (P1M). A certain Aman Sawadjaan, believed to be the triggerman in the slaying of Fr. Roda, is now under the custody of the Marines (MBLT2) headed by Gen. Mohammad Bin Dolorfino.

Meanwhile, Omar Taup, the teacher held by the killers of Fr. Roda, was believed to be brought to Indanan, Sulu. A hot pursuit operation is now being undertaken to subdue Fr. Roda's killers.