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.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

MILF Chair issues official statement on impending IMT pull-out

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim released today an official statement regarding the latest crisis hitting the 11-year old peace talks with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), the latest of which is the impending withdrawal of the Malaysian members of the International Monitoring Team (IMT). The two-page document is accompanied by another paper outlining the summary of events leading to the pullback of the IMT and the reason for the current crisis in the peace talks.

The second document was prepared by the MILF committee on information tasked by the MILF central committee to prepare and released to the public and the media as soon as it is finished.

Murad said the Philippine Government bears the responsibility to comply with its commitment to adhere to the consensus points and agreed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) draft proposal on Ancestral Domain.

He said such moves will avert the peace process from falling apart and to signify progress to the Malaysian Government and for them to schedule another round of talks that will lead to the signing of the MOA and thereby make them reconsider the decision to pull back their contingent in the IMT.

He clarified that the real issue in the present controversy surrounding the IMT and the whole peace process is the very sincerity and true intention of the Government to pursue the Peace Talks.(Source: luwaran.com)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Manila stockpiles arms ahead of Malaysian withdrawal

MANILA, April 28 (Reuters) - The Philippines' military wants to boost its artillery in case violence breaks out when Malaysian peacekeepers start withdrawing next month from the southern region of Mindanao, classified documents showed on Monday.

In a letter to the defence department, seen by Reuters, Brigadier-General Jerry Jalandoni, the military's logistics chief, said he wanted an "emergency procurement" for nearly 1.6 billion pesos ($38 million) worth of artillery and explosives "in view of the crisis situation that may develop in Mindanao".

Malaysia will start withdrawing in stages the 41 unarmed soldiers it has deployed in the southern Philippines since 2004 amid complaints from Kuala Lumpur that long-running peace talks between Manila and Muslim insurgents are stuck in stalemate. Twenty-one Malaysian troops will be pulled out next month.

Contacted by Reuters, military chief General Hermogenes Esperon said the procurement of nearly 1,500 rockets used by helicopters, more than 16,000 rounds for 105mm howitzers and 70,000 rounds of 81mm and 60mm mortars was routine. "There's no crisis," Esperon said. "The procurement is part of our regular build-up. The armed forces must always be prepared for any contingency."

In his letter, Jalandoni asked the defence department to scrap the usually drawn-out bidding procedure for thousands of howitzer and mortar rounds, rockets and grenades in favour of an "emergency procurement" through negotiation. The Philippines has already promised not to break a 2003 truce with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Philippines' largest Muslim rebel group, but both sides have said the withdrawal of the Malaysians could jeopardise an uneasy peace. Based on government data, the number of skirmishes between soldiers and rebels had been reduced from nearly 700 incidents in 2002 to less than 20 after about 60 peace monitors from Malaysia, Brunei and Libya were deployed.

Analysts, however, believe that the ceasefire will likely hold because the Philippines has neither the finances nor the military capability to resume fully fledged operations against the 11,000-strong MILF. Some MILF field commanders have been telling comrades to abandon the peace process but by and large Muslims in the south appear unwilling to return to the cycle of violence that marred the region for nearly two generations before the 2003 ceasefire. The MILF has been in stop-start negotiations with the government for over a decade to end the near 40-year conflict, which has killed more than 120,000 people.

The most recent round of talks, brokered by Malaysia, has been stalled since December 2007 when the MILF accused the government of changing a number of consensus points in a proposed agreement on a Muslim homeland in the south of the mainly Catholic state. Although President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has repeatedly said she wants peace, hawks in her cabinet are opposed to giving large swathes of land to Muslims and politically powerful Christian clans in the south would certainly oppose a deal. (Reported by Manny Mogato)

Peace advocates urge Malaysia to stay

COTABATO CITY – Peace advocates in Mindanao are urging Malaysian officials to stay and continue helping in peace-building efforts.

The Bantay Ceasefire, composed of about 650 peace advocates, also asked Malacañang to speed up the attainment of genuine peace in Mindanao.

Its head, lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, said frustrations from the slow pace of the negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) could be one of the reasons Malaysia was pulling out from the International Monitoring Team (IMT).

"Until today, the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain issues has not been signed by both parties. And the Malaysian government is worried that the talks could again start from square one. That might have frustrated them so they're pulling out," Arnado told Church-run radio dxND in Kidapawan City.

Arnado, who is also director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue, said people were tired of armed conflict.

"The pullout will clearly have dire consequences on the lives of people in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao," the Bantay Ceasefire said in a statement.

"We speak as the sons, daughters, parents, the family and friends of the victims of armed conflict ... We speak on behalf of those who have the most at stake (in) its peaceful resolution. We speak as the ones to pick up the pieces should the peace process completely collapse."

Track record

Arnado said the track record of the IMT in the last four years would show that it played a crucial role in preventing and stopping hostilities as well as in the peace process itself.

Before the IMT arrived, two "all-out" wars in 2000 and 2003 had displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians. Major fighting also occured earlier in Camps Omar and Rajamuda in North Cotabato.

Since the team was created, there had been no big clashes between government troops and the MILF. Last year, the IMT averted a full-blown war.

Records of the Joint Ceasefire Committees showed over a thousand violations of the ceasefire agreement in 2003 and 2004. In 2005, however, the number significantly dropped to less than 10 and the group attributed this on the "strong presence" of the IMT and the "hard work and commitment" of the Joint Government and MILF Ceasefire Committee.

"The presence of the IMT in conflict areas not only allowed the people to enjoy relative peace but also provided an environment conducive to peace negotiations. It allowed aid agencies to operate relatively free and unhampered in the conflict-affected areas," Bantay Ceasefire said.

The Malaysian-led IMT refused to grant interviews regarding the pullout. Malaysia has a bigger number of peace monitors compared to other countries. Arnado said other IMT members might move out as well.

Japan

Nagaishi Masafumi, Japan's senior adviser for reconstruction and development of Mindanao to the IMT, told the Inquirer by phone on Monday that he would finish his tour of duty in August and his embassy had sent no word about a possible withdrawal from the peacekeeping body.

Masafumi, of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, is the only representative of Tokyo to the IMT. Japan's role in the team is focused on the socioeconomic aspect of the peace process.

"I will finish my term here until August. I'm expecting another colleague after my term but it all depends on our government," Masafumi said.

"It's really necessary to complete the reconstruction efforts in Mindanao," he added.

Masafumi made the clarification after reports came out that aside from Malaysia, Japan would also pull out.

Eid Kabalu, civil military affairs chief of the MILF, told the Inquirer by phone that the group learned about Japan's possible withdrawal from a Japanese friend although it had yet to get a confirmation from the embassy in Manila.

Kabalu said the MILF was not surprised by Malaysia's pullout because "they are tired of the slow pace of negotiations."

He added: "We know they will still remain as main facilitator."

Secretary Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on the peace process, said the government, while committed to push the peace process forward, was not delaying but doing due diligence in completing the government's final draft of the ancestral domain agreement "to ensure that it is implementable and defensible from attacks of unconstitutionality."

But Khaled Musa, deputy chair of the MILF's committee on information, criticized Dureza, saying he was not the chief government peace negotiator and his statement did not carry much weight.(Edwin Fernandez, Jeoffrey Maitem, INQ.net)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Third party may sow violence to disrupt peace process--MILF

Side Effect of Malaysian Pull-out

COTABATO CITY, Philippines--The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has expressed apprehension over the violence that could erupt between its forces and the military once Malaysia and Brunei totally pull out of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) in May.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator said on Sunday third parties might take advantage of the situation to launch attacks that would drag government troops and the MILF into skirmishes.

Malaysia has the largest contingent in the 66-man IMT, a body formed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to monitor the ceasefire agreement that Manila and the rebel group signed in 2001 to build the right environment for the peace talks.

Both the government and the MILF have acknowledged that the IMT has been instrumental in ironing out problems that could have sparked renewed hostilities between the military and rebel forces in various parts of Mindanao.

Kuala Lumpur said the decision to pull out its contingent was prompted by its frustration over the progress of the talks. Since December 2007, the negotiations have hit a snag, particularly over issues on Moro ancestral domain claims.

"It might disturb the peace and order on the ground. The fighting between our forces and military was reduced to almost zero due to the presence of the IMT," Iqbal said.

Iqbal said he was not worried about MILF guerrillas staging attacks if the Malaysians were to pull out. He said MILF guerrillas respected the ceasefire.

"[But] it can give a signal to a third party to launch attack anytime," he said, to drag the government and the MILF into war.

Retired Gen. Rodolfo Garcia, government chief negotiator, said the government would be open to the idea of inviting other countries to participate in the peace process with the MILF.

He said member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) may also be tapped to play a key role in the peace talks.

In Davao City, Indonesian Consul General Lalu Malik Partawana said his government would find ways to contribute more to the peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF.

Like Malaysia, Indonesia is also a member of the OIC.

"From our part we would like to find out the best solution to these things [suspension of the peace talks and IMT]," Partawana said.

He said Indonesia and the OIC would like to see the Philippine government signing a final peace deal with the MILF, similar to the "successful deal" that led to the signing of the peace agreement between Manila and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1996.

Indonesia chairs the Committee of the Eight, an OIC body that helps monitor the implementation of the 1996 peace agreement between the Philippine government and the MNLF.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Misuari's release is a cover up for the peace failure in Mindanao - MILF

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has welcomed Nur Misuari’s release even as it said it was just a government’s bid to cover up its failure to forge a peace deal in war-torn Mindanao.

MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said Saturday the release of Misuari, who was jailed for leading a botched uprising in 2001, was “long overdue.”

But Iqbal, citing a “very reliable report,” said the release was just a government’s bid to cover up its failure to forge a peace agreement with the MILF.

“This is to showcase to the world that peace process in Mindanao is alive and kicking,” he said.

“The report also said Misuari would be anointed by the Arroyo dispensation as the next governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,” Iqbal said.

The Department of Justice on Friday said the Makati City regional trial court order granting Misuari bail was in line with a recent Cabinet decision.

Misuari founded the Moro National Liberation Front, the Philippines' largest separatist group. It signed a historic 1996 peace accord in exchange for limited autonomy for Moros in the country's restive south.

But the MILF rejected the peace deal and kept fighting for Moro self-rule.

In 2001, Misuari was arrested and charged with rebellion after his followers launched an attack that killed about 100 people on the southern island of Jolo. He was initially detained in a police camp outside Manila but was later held under house arrest.

Malaysian peacekeepers' pull-out is GRP's fault - MILF

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) knew about Malaysia’s plan to pullout its peacekeepers from Mindanao but the secessionist group was caught by surprise it came too soon, its chief peace negotiator said Saturday.

“We were informed of the decision but we did not expect it to be implemented so swiftly,” said Mohagher Iqbal following Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak’s announcement Thursday his country would withdraw its monitors beginning May 10.

“But the MILF understands the move, because it has been conveyed to both the MILF and the Philippine government peace panels as early as August 2007 and repeated several times thereafter,” he said.

Iqbal, who is also a member of the MILF central committee, blamed the Philippine government for this latest setback in the peace talks, saying Manila “continued to delay the peace process, citing legal or constitutional restraints.”

The Malaysian-brokered peace negotiations, which began after a ceasefire was signed in 2003, stalled in December over disagreements about economic control of so-called ancestral lands that the MILF claim on historical grounds. The government has initially agreed on the area to be covered, but subsequently raised constitutional issues, leading to the suspension.

Iqbal said the MILF considered the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain “a done deal to be signed by end of March.”

“That is why we even agreed to defer some items under governance to comprehensive compact,” he said.

But he accused the government of trying to “renege on consensus points including governance, which would be the basis of devolution of powers to the future Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).”

As early as November, Najib already warned both panels Malaysia would pullout its peacekeeping forces if there would be no substantive progress in the peace talks, Iqbal said.

Iqbal said this was the reason why the MILF accepted the compromise offered by Malaysian facilitator Datuk Othman bin Abdulrazak during the last back-channel talks in February, hoping Manila “would reciprocate.”

“Correcting prevailing wrong premise,” he said, “resources and territory are not the bone of contention resulting in the messing up of the peace talks, but rather the lack of political will of the Arroyo administration…”

Iqbal accused the government of giving “less priority to the peace process, compared to socio-economic development as part of her counter-insurgency program to mainstream the MILF and other rebels in the Philippines.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Malaysia to end ceasefire monitoring in Mindanao by Sept.

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia 's foreign minister Monday said his government will not send any more monitoring teams to the troubled Philippine region of Mindanao once its current mandate expires in September.

The Philippines government and separatist rebels had struck a deal last November on creating a Muslim homeland in the country's south, which was expected to lead to a peace accord but further talks have fallen through.

"Malaysia is actually prepared to continue with whatever humanitarian effort, whether through negotiation or cooperation," foreign minister Rais Yatim told state news agency Bernama. "But if the situation remains negative and the government there feels it needs to review (the situation), then we shall give them room to do so," he added.

Bernama said the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) had earlier threatened to pull out at the end of its mandate in September if there was no progress in the seven-year-old peace talks between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

A key stumbling block to the Malaysian-brokered peace talks was the extent of territory to be handed over to the MILF when a ceasefire was forged in 2001.

The Malaysian peacekeeping force has been in Mindanao since 2004 as part of the IMT, comprising 41 officers from the Malaysian Armed Forces and police, supported by 10 military officers from Brunei and five from Libya , Bernama reported.

The team has now been expanded to include members from Canada and Japan. Since the IMT's deployment, violence between government and rebel forces has significantly decreased. (Agence France-Presse)

Malaysia to pull out peace monitors in Mindanao in Sept.

Malaysia will probably withdraw its cease-fire monitors from the restive southern Philippines in September because of stalled peace talks between Manila and Muslim separatist rebels, the national news agency in Kuala Lumpur reported Monday.

Foreign Minister Rais Yatim, quoted by Bernama news agency, said Malaysia plans not to send more troops or other personnel to the southern Philippine island of Mindanao once the current mandate of its monitoring team ends in September.

"We have to get cooperation from both sides. But if one party is not making the effort, we will have to end the mission," Rais said.

The minister did not elaborate, and his aides could not immediately be reached.

Malaysian officials have previously warned that the monitoring mission could be pulled out unless stalled peace talks show concrete progress.

The Malaysians lead an international team that includes personnel from Brunei, Libya and Japan. It is responsible for safeguarding a 2003 cease-fire between the Philippine military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Malaysian-brokered talks between the Philippine government and the MILF hit a snag in December when rebel negotiators walked away from a meeting after disputing proposals by Manila, including the extent of territory that would fall under Muslim control.

The MILF, which the Philippine military says has 11,000 fighters, is the largest group battling for self-rule in the southern Philippines. (Source: email from Abhoud Syed M. Lingga)

Pacquiao gets China invite to tour plush Olympic venues

Acknowledging Manny Pacquiao's contribution to Asian sports, China has invited the World Boxing Council super featherweight champion to visit some of the venues that will be used for the Beijing Olympics in August.

Pacquiao said in his Philboxing.com column that the Chinese government had sent him an invitation to tour the impressive facilities to be used for the quadrennial Summer Games, with the proposed date of visit set late this month or in the first week of May.

"It's a great honor for me and my family to get such an invitation from the Chinese government because they see me as an Asian who has become a figure and symbol of the whole of Asia in the world of sports, particularly in professional boxing," said Pacquiao.

The boxing superstar is in Cebu to act as Datu Lapu-Lapu in the reenactment of "Kadaugan sa Mactan," which celebrates the defeat of Ferdinand Magellan by the heroic local chieftain.

Pacquiao has been doing light workouts in his hometown Gen. Santos City in preparation for the heavy training he will undergo for his June 28 showdown with WBC lightweight champion David Diaz.

"I am truly considering this (Beijing) invitation and I hope that I can find time to reciprocate this gesture of friendship from one of the most powerful countries and governments in the world," Pacquiao said.

He said he will proceed to Los Angeles if he decides to take up the Chinese invitation so he could start training early under Freddie Roach.

Pacquiao also exhorted Olympic-bound Filipino athletes to do their best in training and during competition.

Whatever the outcome in Beijing, he said, the athletes will still be considered modern Philippine sports heroes.(Salven Lagumbay,INQ.net)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Zambo explosion: handiwork of the ASG - PNP

Police authorities in Zamboanga City have alleged the homegrown terror group Abu Sayyaf were involved in Sunday's twin explosions.

Superintendent Jonathan Perez, Zamboanga City police officer-in-charge, said that one of the three suspects was positively identified as an Abu Sayyaf member.

"It's confirmed. The explosions were the handiwork of the ASG," he said.

Perez said witnesses collaborated with a police artist to produce sketchers of the suspects.

One of the sketches, he said, heavily resembled Joel Sarim, a notorious member of the Abu Sayyaf.

Sarim is also known as Abu Madja and Ibno Madjin.

Perez said to make sure about Sarim's involvement, the police and the military worked together and compared the artist's sketch with a photo of the suspect.

"Eight different military and police intelligence groups conducted several meetings and coordination until they were able to spot in one of their galleries a photo of Sarim that fitted the description provided by the four witnesses in the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral blasts as well as the one that occurred near the office of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Veterans Avenue here," he said.

Senior Superintendent Lurimer Detran, chief of the 9th Regional Mobile Group (RMG), said because they were able to establish the identity of one of the suspects, it would now be easier for the police to track them down.

Asked to provide more information about Sarim, Detran said the suspect is based in Basilan. He said Sarim had previously trained in Syria.

Perez said Sarim is a demolition expert and worked with Khadaffy Janjalani, the slain chieftain of the Abu Sayyaf.

Mayor Celso Lobregat said Sarim and the other suspects should immediately be arrested.

"What should be done now is to apprehend the suspect or suspects, file the appropriate charges and bring these people to the bar of justice," he said.
(By Julie Alipala, INQ.net)

Moderate quake hits Gensan

A 5.1 magnitude earthquake struck off General Santos City at 10:30 p.m. Thursday, the US Geological Survey said, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injury.

The undersea quake was located 265 kilometers east-southeast of the southern Philippine city at a depth of 35 kilometers.

The Philippines sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where continental plates collide causing frequent seismic and volcanic activity.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Feuding Families in SK Caused Families to Flee Homes

DATU BLAH SINSUAT, Shariff Kabunsuan -- Some 500 families from four hinterland villages of this town fled their homes following recent clashes involving two feuding families with ties to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), officials here said.

Mayor Manot Sinsuat said because the families did not have time to bring with them provisions due to fear of being caught in the crossfire, the local government was now faced with the problem of where to get food stuff for their survival.

Sinsuat said the 20 bags of rice sent Tuesday by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) had been exhausted and were divided among the nearly 2,000 evacuees from Laguitan, Sinampak, Meti, and Sodom villages.

Sinsuat said aside from food, the displaced residents also needed medicine and clothing.

"Many of them, mostly children, are now sick and are suffering from colds, cough and fever," he said.

Dr. Elizabeth Samama, Maguindanao health chief, said health workers have been sent to look into the condition of the evacuees.

The evacuation took place when armed members of the Tabunaway and Minalang clans traded bullets anew last week over their long-running land dispute.

What worsened the conflict, Sinsuat said, was that the combatants were joined by their kin from the MNLF and the MILF.

Senior Superintendent Ismael Ali, provincial police director, said the renewed fighting on April 10 left at least five people dead.

Chief Superintendent Joel Goltiao said disarming the antagonists was not possible because they were members of groups recognized by the government.

Although the MNLF signed a peace agreement in 1996, its members were allowed to keep their firearms.

The MILF is currently talking peace with the government.

Ali said a peace dialogue would be held between the warring clans to put an end to the dispute.

"Shooting each other will not solve the problem. There will be no winners, only losers if you kill one another," Sinsuat said in addressing the two families.

Clan wars have been blamed as one of the reasons behind the security situation in provinces belonging to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The disputes ranged from simple misunderstanding to politics.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gov. Ampatuan denies ties to cop tagged in poll execs’ slays

DAVAO CITY -- Governor Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) denied any relation to the Shariff Kabunsuan police officer, who was arrested over the recent murder of two ranking poll officials in Manila.

Ampatuan said he was not related to Police Officer 1 Basser Ampatuan although they shared the same surname.

Chief Superintendent Joel Goltiao, ARMM police chief, said they were investigating if the police officer was related to an influential clan in the region.

"We are trying to figure out, too, if he is related to influential politicians in the region," he said.

In issuing the denial, Ampatuan said he wanted to preempt suspicions that he or his family was behind the murder of Alioden Dalaig and Wynne Asdala, both heads of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) legal department.

"The victims are our friends and we have nothing to do with their deaths," Ampatuan said.

"I just heard his name today. Let's give the police a chance to investigate who is that man … where he came from," Ampatuan told a television station on Monday evening.

Goltiao said the police officer was arrested somewhere in Shariff Kabunsuan on Monday afternoon.

He said the suspect did not resist arrest when his colleagues raided his hideout.

"I cannot give you more details on that except to confirm that he was arrested. The Manila police office is handling his case," Goltiao told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of the INQUIRER.net.

He said the suspect was to be brought to Manila Tuesday.

A police source said three witnesses identified Ampatuan (the police officer) and a certain Irvin as responsible for the murder of Asdala and Dalaig (Source: Inq.net)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Suspected communists burn banana firm’s packing facility

KIDAPAWAN CITY, Philippines -- Suspected New People's Army rebels again burned equipment used in banana plantations in the province of North Cotabato Wednesday evening, just two days after suspected rebels burned a truck owned by another banana company in Makilala, North Cotabato.

This time, the suspected communist rebels targeted a mobile packing facility owned by banana-giant Dole-Stanfilco in the village of Luvimin here.

However, Robert Juligao, warehouse manager of Dole-Stanfilco assigned in Makilala, said the company was clueless on whether rebels were behind the attack.

"The Front 51 of the NPA operating in Makilala, Kidapawan, and Magpet areas, was tagged as behind the torching of a sprayer truck owned by AMS last Monday in Makilala," Chief Superintendent Casimiro Medes, spokesperson of the Central Mindanao police said.

Medes said like Monday's burning of the AMS truck, the police suspected that the attack on Dole also has something to do with the NPA's alleged extortion activities.

"Those who refuse to (pay revolutionary taxes) are subjected to harassment or burning of company equipment and properties," he said.(Edwin Fernandez)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Featured News

Landing P249-M lotto jackpot takes practice

By Beverly T. Natividad

MANILA, Philippines -- It may be a game of chance but to bag the biggest lotto prize money in the country's history still took strategy, and probably a lot of practice.

The lone winner of the P249-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office’s (PCSO) lotto jackpot two weeks ago made mini-lotto balls and simulated his own draw of the 6/49 game and then bet on the numbers that came out, said PCSO spokesperson Larry Cedro.

Based on the agency's profile report, the laborer from Quezon City, improvised his own lotto draw several times to make sure he got a good chance at hitting a winning combination.

Cedro said he placed six bets in one day, in one outlet, and eventually won the P249,005,120.40 jackpot last March 30. He beat the odds of one in 13 million with his winning combination 47-32-1-46-15-29.

The lone winner of the P249 million jackpot prize already claimed his money Wednesday morning at the PCSO office in Quezon City, after about two weeks of wait.

For security reasons, the PCSO withheld the name of the claimant, saying only that he is a 63 year-old construction worker from Quezon City.

Cedro said the big lotto winner watched the March 30 draw and had known for several days that he hit the multi-million-peso jackpot but had apprehensions on claiming his prize right away.

He said he visited the PCSO office several times last week to check the agency but, concerned about his safety, decided not come out in the open due to the presence of many media men in the area.

Cedro said the winner, who was a habitual bettor of the superlotto, was planning to use part of his huge prize money to build a house for his family and then stash the rest of his winnings at the bank for safekeeping.

(Reprinted from Inq.net)

Grenade lobbed at residence of agriculture finance chief

COTABATO CITY -- An unidentified man lobbed a grenade at the residence of an agriculture official in the village of Rosary Heights VI here Tuesday night, police said yesterday.

Senior Superintendent Willie Dangane, city police chief, said no one was hurt in the attack on the house of Osmeña Montañer, agriculture finance chief for Central Mindanao, at 7 p.m. Tuesday although the damage to property was estimated at P100,000.

Dangane said it was not known where Montañer and other members of the household were when an "apple-type" grenade landed on Montañer’s terrace and then exploded.

He said the assailant escaped with his accomplice-lookout on board a motorcycle.

In January, motorcycle-riding men also hurled a grenade at the Department of Agriculture regional office along Sinsuat Ave. here. The grenade however failed to explode.

Dangane said the attack might be tied to Montañer's feud with Malabang Mayor Anwar Balindong, along with four others who were facing murder raps for the killing of a Montañer relative during the 1998 elections.

Another probable angle to Tuesday’s attack could be the killing of dismissed agriculture employee-turned-journalist Marlene Esperat of Isulan, Sultan Kudarat, Dangane said.

Montañer and his assistant, Estrella Sabay, at the agriculture department had been tagged as the alleged brains behind the Esperat killing. However, both denied the charges made by two of the arrested now under detention.

Dangane said the latest decision of the Court of Appeals granting a temporary restraining order for the arrest of Montañer and Sabay "could also be looked into as one of the probable causes for the grenade attack."

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

"Finally, It's Ours," - Sumilao Farmers

SUMILAO, Bukidnon, Philippines. On April 1, a group of farmers was busy walking in the 50-hectare property in San Vicente village here that became theirs under a compromise settlement with food and beverage giant San Miguel Corporation.

It was the day after they first set foot inside the property, which was once restricted to them, but it was as if they were making sure they were not dreaming.

For more than 10 years, the farmers, collectively known as the Sumilao farmers, fought to reclaim their land—spanning 144 hectares—from the powerful Quisumbing family.

When SMC, which has been building a piggery project on the land they were claiming, agreed to give back portions of it, the farmers were so overjoyed.

Many of them could not utter a word but their emotions were visible in their eyes.

Tearing down symbols

“Even if we get only two hectares (of the 144 hectares), it was just fine with us. We were more contented at exposing the irregularities being committed to protect the interests of a few over the land,” said Arlene Bag-ao, one of those who provided legal assistance to the farmers.

The first thing they did when they entered the property on March 30 was to gather their strength and to tear down part of the barbed wire fence that had, for years, symbolized the loss of their land to a capitalist.

Scooping a fistful of soil, farmer-leader Rene Peñas wept and cried out as he stood on the land that they could only dream of for the past years: “Mao ning yuta nga atong gibarogan. Ato na gyud (This is the land that we have fought for. Finally, it’s ours.)”

They then worked on a path that would give them easy access from their new land to the Freedom Hall, their meeting place built on the adjoining land, which they also use as solar dryer for their crops.

On Saturday, the farmers paid tribute to their village’s patron saint whose feast they observed.

Formidable foe

There is much they have to thank for. While they were not able to get the entire 144-hectare, they have won juicy concessions from a perceived “formidable foe” upon the intercession of leaders of the Catholic Church.

Bag-ao said the farmers never dreamed they would be able to get a considerable concession from SMC when they started their renewed claim for the land in October last year.

She admitted that the image of SMC as a “formidable foe” became a serious consideration when they set their expectations. Back in October last year, Bag-ao characterized SMC as “far more powerful than the Quisumbings.”

“Of course, we considered the business and political clout of (SMC board chair) Danding Cojuangco in our calculations of the expected outcomes,” Bag-ao said.

When the Office of the President appeared to be delaying the resolution of the land claim, Bag-ao said they felt that SMC was trying to bring the matter into a prolonged legal fight.

Feelers

But a ray of hope emerged when they were told by leaders of the Catholic Church that SMC sent feelers it was willing to directly talk with the farmers to settle the problem, according to Bag-ao.

Bag-ao said the feelers were sent in the aftermath of the informal discussions in December about the case. It involved SMC president Ramon Ang, Manila archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, Manila auxiliary bishop Broderick Pabillo and Conrado Limcaoco, presidential adviser on ecclesiastical affairs.

On March 2, SMC formalized its offer for the 50 hectares.

“(It) made me clap my hands in joy upon hearing it,” Bag-ao said.

Then the formal negotiations for the terms of the offer began.

Bag-ao acknowledged that SMC sacrificed a lot when it made the deal, like redoing its original land development plan for the piggery project.

(Reprinted from Inq.net)

Monday, April 7, 2008

A.S. 'Logistics Man' Slain in Sulu - AFP

A suspected "logistics guy" of the Abu Sayyaf was killed in Pandami Island in Sulu on Saturday, a military official said Monday.

Major Eugene Batara, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said the body of the suspect, Sam Andal, was brought at the WestMinCom Headquarters in Zamboang City on Sunday morning since no relative claimed his body.

Batara said they tried to give Andal's body to his wife but she refused to receive it.

"We discovered from the wife that this man had been estranged from his family for more than a year now," he said.

Andal was killed in an encounter with government forces in the village of Parian Dakula on Pandami Island on Saturday night. Soldiers also recovered an M16 Armalite rifle, an M79 grenade launcher, and a rifle grenade.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Mindanao solons move to boost Island's potential as 'food basket'

To help address the rising prices of rice in the country, administration lawmakers at the House of Representatives led by Speaker Prospero Nograles have called for the early release of Mindanao’s 30 percent share from lump-sum funds in the 2008 budget.

A provision earmarking this funding for Mindanao was contained in this year’s P1.227 trillion budget, on top of the P121 billion budget also allocated for six regions in the island.

Nograles said this additional funding for Mindanao would be used to jump start its transformation as the country’s “food basket.”

“The only way to stabilize the price of food products is to increase production by maximizing Mindanao's potential as an agricultural hub,” he said on Friday in a joint statement with other colleagues in the Mindanao bloc in the House.

"We have no time to spare. We should really start working to realize our vision of turning Mindanao as the country's center for food production," Nograles said.

Davao del Norte Representative Anton Lagdameo, Agusan del Norte Representative Joboy Aquino, Agusan del Sur Representative Rodolfo Plaza, Davao del Sur Representative Marc Douglas Cagas, Davao del Norte Representative Arrel Olano, and Sulu Representative Munir Arbison echoed Nograles’ statement, saying the additional funds could be used to “unlock Mindanao's full potential as a food basket.”

Lagdameo pointed out that in 2005, the Gross Regional Domestic Product had reached to about P900 billion, of which P280 billion came from agriculture.

“The potential is there because only 290,000 hectares or 1/35th of the island's 10.2 million hectares are serviced by irrigation," he said.

And despite low irrigation reach, Aquino said the region was also able to produce a combined 6.6 million metric tons of rice and corn in 2005.

"We are also producing nine million metric tons of copra a year and our output of 1.8 million metric tons of fish annually are more than enough for the needs of 22 million Mindanaoans," he said.

Mindanao does not only have a climate conducive for agriculture but it also has an "army of 4.1 million" workers in agriculture “who are on standby and are more than willing to do their share in attaining food security for the whole country if given the right support and incentive by the government," Aquino said.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

School Head Flees After Being Linked to Murder

The president of a state-run university here has gone into hiding after police linked him to the 2007 murder of a government auditor.

Superintendent Jonathan Perez, acting city police director, said Friday they now consider Enrie Caraecle, president of the Zamboanga State College Marines Sciences and Technology (ZSCMST), a fugitive.

Caraecle, said the police chief, is now "one of the most wanted persons in this city."

The university head was identified by an arrested suspect as the mastermind in the killing of lawyer Vilma Aguias, legal department chief of the Commission on Audit (COA) in Western Mindanao, on August 2 last year.

Aguias was on her way to work when attacked by three men in Tetuan village.

Eduardo Tan, alias "Jun Kabayo," who was arrested shortly after the incident, said it was Caraecle who hired and ordered them to kill Aguias.

A police officer implicated in the crime, Arthur Gomez, was also arrested but he escaped from detention and has gone into hiding.

Perez said witnesses identified Gomez as the one responsible for planning the murder and Tan as the gunman.

He said the motive behind Aquias' murder was to silence her after she discovered alleged anomalies involving Caraecle. Aquias was instrumental in having charges filed against the school official before the Ombudsman.

Perez said because of these leads, they filed murder charges against Caraecle and the suspects.

On April 1, the court issued a warrant of arrest against the school official.

But he said Caraecle might have been informed prior to the issuance of the warrant because he disappeared from the city on March 25, shortly after the graduation rites of the school.

"We have already coordinated with the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Manila and the Zamboanga Sibugay police. We were informed he went to Manila and that he has relatives in Zamboanga Sibugay," Perez said.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Another extorsionist nabbed

Police authorities on Thursday announced the arrest of a man, who allegedly tried to extort money from companies operating in the Southern Mindanao region by posing as an al-Qaeda member.

Chief Superintendent Andres Caro, Southern Mindanao police chief, identified the suspect as Romie John Rosalia.

Caro said Rosalia was arrested on March 23 yet but the police delayed the announcement until they were certain he did not belong to the terror group.

He said Rosalia sent emails to various companies in the region, including banks, hotels and shipping companies, where he detailed how much he wanted from them.

The demand ranged from a few million pesos to P60 million, which the suspect wanted to be deposited to his account with the Land Bank of the Philippines.

Caro said that in Rosalia’s e-mails, he warned that if they failed to pay, the companies will be subjected to terror attacks.

But instead of giving him money, the management of some companies that received Rosalia's extortion letter reported him to the police.

It was not known whether or not others had actually given him money.

Chief Inspector Querubin Manalang, information officer of the Southern Mindanao police, said they set up an entrapment operation against the suspect.

He said that after months of surveillance, police finally caught up with Rosalia inside the Quagmire Internet Café where he was sending an extortion e-mail to another company.

Manalang said the suspect was subjected to interrogation and extensive background check that failed to show he worked for al-Qaeda or its local allies.

Caro said what they found instead was a number of swindling charges against the suspect.

"He is just a plain swindler," he said.

Cops insist they have strong case vs. arrested terror suspect

Cotabato City police maintained on Thursday they had a strong case against Egyptian professor Sheikh Mohammed al-Sayyid Ahmed Mussa whom they arrested late last year with bomb-making materials in a rented room in the city.

On Thursday, Mussa turned up in his native Cairo, Egypt, claiming he was mistreated by Filipino police and soldiers before his release on bail and eventual acquittal in court.

The 42-year-old maintained he was an envoy from Sunni Islam’s Al-Azhar University, The Associated Press reported.

Mussa was arrested on December 19 after police found bomb components in the room he was renting from a Filipino Islamic preacher in Cotabato City, following suspicions he had links to the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terror groups.

Superintendent Dave Ombao, chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said they had evidence Mussa was planning to conduct bombings in Mindanao.

Investigators said they also found a booklet on the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the room.

Ombao expressed disappointment Mussa was able to leave the Philippines and fly back to Egypt.

“We have the evidence and our case is still there and it is strong. It’s really sad. We did our job but he was still able to leave the country,” Ombao said.

He said it was now up to the Department of Justice to request Mussa’s extradition.

Mussa was freed about a week after his arrest, upon posting the P200,000 bail. He was released to the custody of the Egyptian Embassy in Manila.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Mayor Sema is new MNLF chair

COTABATO CITY – Mayor Muslimin Sema has been unanimously chosen as the new chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) central committee, replacing Assemblyman Hatimil Hassan.

Hatimil Hassan, a member of the Regional Legislative Assembly (RLA) in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, served as interim chair of the MNLF Council of 15 that declared Nur Misuari as MNLF chair emeritus, a titular position, after his arrest on rebellion charges.

“The central committee named me as the new chair after the chairmanship was declared vacant,” Sema said in an interview minutes after the MNLF central committee meeting ended in Pagadian City on Tuesday night.

Hassan was named MNLF vice chair and foreign relations committee head, while Abdul Sahrin, MNLF vice chair for intelligence, was named secretary general, a position previously held by Sema.

Sema said his priority is to improve the MNLF’s relationship with the government.

He also said he would turn the MNLF into a “vanguard” against exploitation and for good governance.

MNLF officials loyal to Misuari were not present in the Pagadian meeting.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

More of the Bar Topnotchers!

Mercedita Ona

Mercedita Ona, 27, the topnotcher in the 2007 bar examinations, said she was suffering from a migraine when she took the exams last September.

“It (the exam) was very difficult. I knew it when I left the examination room. That’s why I was nervous and did not go to the Supreme Court and just decided to view the results online,” she said in a phone interview.

“I just wanted to pass and I’m so happy,” said Ona, a graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University Law School.

Ona, who scored 83.55 percent, said the six-month preparation for the exams was also a “very difficult experience.”

Ona is also a certified public accountant working for the SyCip law firm. She obtained her accounting degree at the University of the Philippines.

Now that she is a lawyer, she will probably become an associate at Sycip, she said.

Jennifer Ong

While Ona is the only lawyer in her family, being a bar topnotcher runs in the extended family of second-placer Jennifer Ong.

Though Ong is the first lawyer in her immediate family, her maternal grandaunt, Lily Valencia, was a bar topnotcher and also a second-placer.

Ong was not at the Supreme Court to wait for the results either. But on learning from a friend that she had placed second, she immediately hied off to the Supreme Court’s Padre Faura offices.

Like many takers, she was just hoping to pass and was not expecting to be in the top ten.

Ong said she intends to continue working at the Lim, Ocampo and Leynes law offices in Makati.

“The moment we started working there, they treated us like lawyers already even though we weren’t,” she said in a phone interview.

What about a bonus?

She is not expecting to be promoted because of her impressive finish. “But I hope there is a bonus,” she said with a giggle.

Ong also considers her No. 2 finish and the No. 3 placement of Yvanna Maalat as a victory for Bacolod, as they are both from Negros Occidental.

Ong got her undergraduate degree from the Ateneo de Manila University, and obtained her law degree from the University of the Philippines.

One of the two seventh placers is well on her way to the top.

Sheryl Ann Tizon

Sheryl Ann Tizon works with the Villaraza, Cruz, Marcelo & Angcangco law offices, one of the country’s top law firms, also known as “The Firm” because it was once closely associated with the First Family.

Tizon, who was hired before she even passed the bar for being one of the top graduates of the UP Law School, has been working in the firm’s various divisions before deciding what field to specialize in.

She said her employers did not pressure her to finish at the top, and just wanted her to pass.

Tizon, who took her undergraduate degree in philosophy at UP, said she was initially inspired to study law by “Ally McBeal,” the television series featuring a woman lawyer who works for a firm with unusual clients.

But she soon found that there was more to love about the law and was even more inspired by what she could do as a lawyer.

Though she was pleased over being in the top 10, Tizon said the reality still has to sink in.

She said she found waiting for the results of the bar so stressful that she decided to spend the day at the Greenbelt mall, planning to just go to the Internet for the results.

COMELEC bids ARMM poll automation

All set for the regional elections on August 11 this year.

A consortium bidding for the supply of optical mark reader (OMR) technology has passed the initial bidding process of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) conducted Tuesday morning, a government executive told INQUIRER.net.

Commission on Information and Communications Technology Commissioner Tim Diaz de Rivera, who is a member of the technical evaluation committee working for the Advisory Council to the poll body, made this disclosure in a chance interview at the Comelec main office in Intramuros.

Diaz de Rivera was attending the meeting as proxy for CICT Chairman Ray Anthony Roxas-Chua of the Advisory Council, which was also scheduled to discuss questions raised by the Bids and Awards Committee of the Comelec this Tuesday.

Comelec officials were unavailable for comment as of this writing.

The Comelec BAC has decided to re-bid the supply of OMR technology when a lone bidder was disqualified.

Diaz de Rivera said the still unnamed consortium has passed the initial process, where documents for pre-qualification are dissected. The BAC will then proceed with the technical evaluation, he added.

"The BAC is now seeking advice from the Advisory Council on various technical issues," he said, as he pointed out that the Comelec BAC should have been scheduled to award five contracts for the poll automation on April 1.

Questions were raised regarding the different technology components of the automated election system, which was divided into five bids, he said.

The Comelec en banc is also preparing to report to the Congressional Oversight Committee on Automated Election System on Thursday.

The Comelec has four months left to implement the planned partial automation of elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) on August 11, 2008.

Based on the recommendations of an Advisory Council, Comelec is using two technologies in the ARMM elections: direct recording electronic (DRE) and OMR.

The Advisory Council is the body of expert advisers created under Republic Act 9369 and given the task of recommending to the Comelec which technology to use for the automation of elections.

Members include the chairman of the CICT; representatives from the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Education; a representative from the academe; and representatives from IT professional organizations and from non-governmental electoral reform organizations.

The automation of elections in ARMM requires the use of DRE technology in Maguindanao and OMR technology in other five provinces of the ARMM, namely Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur, and the newly created Shariff Kabunsuan -- or roughly 80 percent of the provinces in ARMM.

DRE uses touch screen or touch pad technology for voting, while OMR requires voters to fill up a paper-based ballot which is fed to a specially designed machine, similar to a scanner.

The Advisory Council recommended a six-month schedule for the deployment of the automated election system. This will also include the training of voters and Comelec staff, and mock elections.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Local Muslim clergymen ask for sobriety

COTABATO CITY, Philippines -- Muslim religious leaders here renewed their call against terrorism on Tuesday and asked Filipino Muslims not to be carried away by emotions even as their religion came under attack from a far-Right member of parliament in The Netherlands.

Ustadz Esmael Ebrahim, spokesperson of the Assembly of Dharul Ifta of the Philippines, said the country's muftis (Guardians of the House of Opinions), renewed the call in light of an anti-Islam film produced by Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders that has provoked anger among Muslims worldwide.

The 17-minute film Fitna, posted widely on the Internet, links pictures of terrorist attacks with verses from the Koran.

Ebrahim said the muftis are urging Muslims not to be driven to commit violence by people who claim to be sympathetic to them.

Last year, the muftis issued a similar call and even came up with a book titled, "Selected khutba" (mosque sermons), in which they declared terrorism as "haram" (unlawful and forbidden).

"Muslims should also distance themselves from people who use Islam for the advancement of their sinister agenda," Ebrahim said.

He said Muslims observe that terrorists have twisted verses in the Koran to support their cause.

Among the most twisted surah or chapter of the Koran, the cleric said, is Al-Anfal (The Spoils of War). The chapter deals mainly with the Battle of Badar, in which Allah showed the Prophet Muhammad's army how to deal with the armored knights of Abu Jah'l.

It reads: "You shall prepare for them all the power you can muster, and all the equipment you can mobilize, that you may frighten the enemies of God, your enemies, as well as others who are not known to you; God knows them. Whatever you spend in the cause of God will be repaid to you generously, without the least injustice" (8:60).

Moderate Muslim scholars say this chapter is often twisted to read, "Prepare to destroy them with all force. Terrorize Allah's enemy and your enemy," to instigate terrorist attacks.

Ustadz Muhammad Sulaiman, another noted Muslim scholar, said it was reported to him that during a recent rally protesting the portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist in a Copenhagen newspaper’s editorial cartoon, a prominent male personality was seen inciting anger among young Muslims.

The Muhammad cartoon stirred outrage among Muslims.

But Sulaiman said this should not be the case because the cartoon image could not be deemed suggestive of the prophet's personality.

"The more you get angry, the more you tend to accept that the caricature truly depicts a prophet that is violent, and the more the issue becomes bigger and bigger," Sulaiman said.

The two religious leaders said that instead of resorting to violence, which is deplorable, Muslims can "argue rationally against these attacks on Islam."

Anti-Islam film back on LiveLeak website

The anti-Islamic film "Fitna" by far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilders was back on Liveleak.com Monday three days after the British-based Internet site removed it following threats to staff.

In a statement dated Sunday and posted on the website, LiveLeak.com says it has been working on upgrading all security measures and offering better protection for staff and their families.

"With these measures in place we have decided to once more make this video live on our site. We will not be pressured into censoring material which is legal and within our rules," the website said.

The film has already been seen by millions of viewers and is online in whole or in part on several other websites including YouTube.

Liveleak was the first to release the film on Thursday. It has since provoked widespread condemnation, with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calling it "offensively anti-Islamic."

Featuring shocking imagery of the attacks on New York in 2001 and Madrid in 2004 combined with quotes from the Koran, Islam's holy book, it has drawn outrage in some Muslim countries.

Over the weekend there were protests in Indonesia and Pakistan and calls for a boycott of Dutch products in Jordan and Malaysia.

(Source: Agence France-Presse)