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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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sick Red Cross hostage gets medication

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines -- Red Cross worker being held by suspected Muslim extremists in southern Philippines has received medicine for a health condition, the government said Saturday.

The hypertension medicine was sent to Italian Eugenio Vagni, one of three International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) workers being held hostage in the jungles of Sulu island, said a government statement.

Government envoy Nur Anna Sahidulla had met with the hostages and reported that they "seem to be well although Vagni was suffering from high blood pressure," the statement said.

"She confirmed that the victims were able to receive books, medicines, and other personal effects," it added.

Sahidulla, who is vice governor of the Sulu island chain that includes Jolo, met with the hostages on January 28.

Vagni, Andreas Notter of Switzerland, and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba are believed to be in the hands of Islamic militant group the Abu Sayyaf on Jolo, where they disappeared during a humanitarian mission on January 15.

Abu Sayyaf has been tagged by the United States State Department as a "terrorist" group and has been blamed for many kidnappings of westerners and bombings of Christian targets over the past 18 years.

Government forces on Jolo have suspended pursuit operations to allow Sahidulla to conduct talks.

The ICRC declined to comment on the hostages' reported health problems.(Agence France-Presse)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Floods, landslides kill 5 in 2 provinces

COTABATO CITY – Heavy rains continue to pound villages in North Cotabato and Davao del Sur, bringing floods and landslides that have killed at least five people and displaced hundreds of residents.

North Cotabato Gov. Jesus Sacdalan said rescuers in President Roxas town had retrieved the bodies of three victims who died during Monday night’s flooding there.

He did not identify the victims.

Sacdalan said search and rescue teams were still trying to locate another person missing in the floods.

One person also disappeared in Magpet town at the height of the floods, he said.

“We are still assessing if there are other missing persons in neighboring towns,” Sacdalan said, adding that in Kabacan town, the Kabacan River also overflowed.

In Compostela Valley, a father and his son were killed when a landslide buried their house in the mining village of Napnapan in Pantukan town on Sunday evening, Insp. Werenfredo Regidor Jr., the town police chief, told the Inquirer by phone.

Regidor said the victims were asleep when mud and boulders fell on their house past 11 p.m.

He said the bodies of the victims were pulled out of the debris by residents and village officials of Sitio Diat Uno before noon on Monday.

Senior Supt. Ronald dela Rosa, Compostela Valley police director, identified the fatalities as Junjun and Gonggong Mantog, of Barangay Casoon in Monkayo town.

Police said the victims were engaged in small-scale mining and were temporarily living in the area.

“Days of heavy rains have loosened the soil in the area causing the tragedy,” he said.

Landslides and cave-ins are common in most mining areas in Compostela Valley where unregulated and destructive mining methods have resulted in unstable soil.

Last November, three small-scale miners also died in a rock fall in an illegal mining site in Sitio Bango in Barangay Ngan, Compostela town.

In Davao del Sur, more than 2,000 families were displaced when flash floods swept through five towns early Tuesday.

Roderick Milana, action officer of the provincial disaster coordinating council, said in Malalag town alone, at least 1,822 families fled their homes due to the floods.

Terry Hania, a rice trader of the town, said the raging waters swept away her store.

Milana said in Matanao town, 27 families were displaced when the swollen river there inundated Sitio Lumbang in Barangay Manga.

Classes were also suspended in Hagonoy Central Elementary School and in Sulop National High School due to rising water levels, he said.

Milana said they were still assessing the damage brought by the floods that also hit Sta. Maria and Hagonoy towns. (Frinston Lim, Jeoffrey Maitem, Orlando Dinoy and Eldie Aguirre)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gordon: Kidnapped ICRC workers ‘well’

Three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross kidnapped in Sulu are “well” and no ransom has been demanded by their captors, Senator Richard Gordon said on Monday.

Also on Monday, Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Jesus Verzosa said the kidnappers of the aid workers are still in Sulu but are hard to locate because they are constantly on the move.

Gordon said he had spoken with Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Jean Lacaba over the weekend and they all “seemed well.”

“I’ve been working over the whole weekend and the last several days on this issue [kidnapping]. We’ve been talking with these people, with our associates [and] they seemed to be well,” he said at a press conference.

“In fact, I’ve spoken to them over the weekend [and] they are well. But we are not negotiating. We’re not giving any ransom and no ransom has been demanded,” he said.

It has been almost two weeks since the three aid workers were seized by gunmen in Patikul town but no group has yet claimed responsibility for the abduction. Authorities, however, are blaming a faction of the Abu Sayyaf group.

“It’s the normal move of any kidnap group to [be mobile] to avoid detection. We have yet to trace their exact location,” Verzosa said in an interview after the flag ceremony at Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Verzosa refused to disclose further information on the kidnapping, but stressed that the PNP is working closely with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to recover the victims safely.

“Our anti-kidnap operations there are continuing. We are [undertaking] efforts as in other kidnap-for-ransom situations and the operational matters should not be discussed because we want to ensure…our primary concern [which] is the safety of [the] hostages,” he said.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno said the National Police Commission (Napolcom) is considering a review of the firearms policy to address the kidnappings in Mindanao.

“In the National Police Commission, we are really thinking of reviewing the whole policy of firearms, not just in Mindanao but in the entire country. We have to inventory what’s out there and then try to assess whether it is better to change direction on some of these things,” he said.

But Puno, who is also Napolcom chairman, admitted that implementing a total gun ban in some parts of Mindanao will be difficult because of “legitimate security concerns” there.

Earlier, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. said he was considering a total gun ban as a “logical solution” to the kidnappings in Mindanao.

But Puno said: “In Mindanao it is very difficult to implement a total gun ban because there are many legitimate security concerns by the people that live there. So hindi tayo magmamadali diyan, hindi tayo pwedeng pabigla-bigla diyan, kailangang suriin ng mabuti yan, ngunit totoong pinag-iisipan yan [So we are not rushing this, we cannot be impulsive about this, we need to examine this carefully, but it is true that is being considered].”

Even if a gun ban is decided, Puno said implementing this would not be easy.(By Abigail Kwok and Maila Ager)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Kidnap victims ‘monitored’ in Indanan

ZAMBOANGA CITY—Gunmen have taken three kidnapped Red Cross workers together with the son of a Chinese businessman abducted earlier to a known stronghold of Abu Sayyaf bandits on Jolo Island, a Muslim civilian leader said Sunday.

Octavio Dinampo, a professor at Mindanao State University, said his sources in the separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) had told him that the four kidnapped victims had been “monitored” to be in the village of Tubig Dakulag in Indanan town.

The three workers of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)—Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba—were kidnapped at the provincial capitol in Jolo town on Jan. 15. (Julie Alipala, Ed General)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Pacquiao-Hatton Match Finally On!

Finally! After a long wait and with much controversy on the split of the purse, the Pacquiao-Hatton match is now a done deal!

There has never been a negotiation on a boxing match that has caught so much attention as that of Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton. Bob Arum, Pacquiao’s promoter allegedly agreed verbally with the Hatton camp for a 50-50 split of the purse in behalf of Pacman, an agreement that Pacquiao did not consent to.

The succeeding news saw Hatton insisting on the verbal 50-50 split agreement to be honored, because of the fact that Hatton is bringing also something big on the table as far as pay-per-view viewership is concerned.

Team Pacquiao on the other hand is adamant on the 60-40 split or else they will look for a match elsewhere. Believing the recent victory of Pacquiao over Dela Hoya has given him enough bargaining right to dictate the match’s conditions. The Hatton camp didn’t take this lightly, as they threatened Pacquiao with a lawsuit should he back out of the agreed match.

Recently, the Hatton camp gave a deadline to Pacquiao to sign the contract or they will call of the fight and look for another worthy opponent. Deadline passed and Pacquiao did not sign the contract as reported.

The next day, reports of the fight between Pacquiao and Hatton is off spread throughout the leading newspapers as well as in various websites and blogs.

However, the latest report said that Manny Pacquiao finally signed the contract which officially puts the match on. The split on the signed contract was said to be 52-48 in favor of Pacquiao, there were also other conditions with the contract which were still undisclosed as of the moment.

Unless another controversy or a development to the contrary, the Manny Pacquiao vs. Ricky Hatton is official on and they will face-off in May this year in Las Vegas.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Japan gives $9.5M of rice for Mindanao

Japan will extend 860-million-yen (about $9.5 million) worth of emergency food aid to people in Mindanao who were displaced by the ongoing conflict there, the Japanese embassy in Manila said.

In a statement, the embassy said the food aid of about 7,500 metric tons of rice will be coursed through the United Nations’ World Food Program.

Japan has been part of the peace-building efforts in Mindanao. Before the end of the tour of the International Monitoring Team overseeing the ceasefire between the Philippine forces and those of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Japan had a development expert in the team.

According to the embassy, the decision was finalized on January 23, when Japanese Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Italy Hiroyasu Ando and WFP Deputy Executive Director Sheila Sisulu signed and exchanged diplomatic notes of this emergency aid.

This decision has been conveyed by Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Makoto Katsura, to the Philippine government, and Country Director and Representative of WFP Philippines Stephen Anderson.

On Wednesday, January 28, the grant agreement will be signed and exchanged between Norio Matsuda, Chief Representative of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Philippines , implementer of Japan ’s Official Development Assistance, and WFP’s Anderson. The signing would be witnessed by Ambassador Katsura and representatives of the Philippine government.

This food aid is substantially larger than the one Japan gave earlier in 2006 for those displaced by the conflict in Mindanao, about 280 million yen (about $2.8 million).

Earlier in December 2008, the embassy provided sleeping mats, blankets, mosquito nets, polyethylene containers, and sheets for tent amounting to $81,853 also for those affected by the conflict.

Japan sincerely hopes that this emergency food aid through the WFP would help mitigating the current humanitarian crisis in Mindanao and strongly expects a cease-fire and the immediate resumption of peace talks between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).


Japan has been implementing various support projects for reconstruction and development in the conflict-affected areas in Mindanao down to the grassroots level. In 2006 and 2007, Japan carried out 21 Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects (GGP) amounting to a total of 145 million yen (about $1.6 million), and has been implementing, through the Yen Loan Scheme, the ARMM Social Fund for Peace and Development Project (2,470 million yen or about $27.2 million), among others. ARMM is the political unit covering the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Through these projects, various kinds of infrastructure such as schools, training centers, water supply systems, and roads have been rehabilitated or constructed.

Also, Japan has been conducting the Study for Socio-Economic Reconstruction and Development of the Conflict-Affected Areas in Mindanao (600 million yen or about $ 6.5 million) since 2006 in view of massive needs of reconstruction and development, once final peace agreement is attained in the area.
(By Veronica Uy)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Red Cross appeals for release of staff

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Thursday appealed for the unconditional release of three staff members kidnapped by suspected Islamic extremists in the southern Philippines.

The appeal came exactly a week after gunmen kidnapped ICRC workers Filipina Mary-Jean Lacaba, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Swiss national Andreas Notter on the southern island of Jolo.

"I appeal to those holding Mary-Jean, Andreas and Eugenio to let them go as quickly as possible," said Alan Aeschlimann, head of the Asia operation of the Geneva-based organization.

"We want to have them back safe and sound," Aeschlimann said in a statement, noting that their families "are anxious and are waiting for them to come home."

The three had contacted the ICRC "several times" since they were seized by suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen on January 15. The last telephone conversation was on Monday.

"We hope that we'll hear their voices again soon and that they remain unharmed," Aeschlimann said. "We also continue to hope that this difficult situation will have a positive outcome."

Military chief General Alexander Yano on Wednesday said troops have stepped up manhunt operations for the Abu Sayyaf, who are believed to have taken their hostages to a forested area near the remote Jolo town of Talipao.

Separately, a negotiating team in Jolo are trying to open dialogue with the kidnappers, who were reportedly demanding millions of dollars in ransom. The ICRC has said however that it has not received any ransom demands.

The Abu Sayyaf is a gang of Islamic extremists blamed for the country's worst terrorist attacks. It is on the US government's list of wanted foreign terrorist organizations and is behind the deaths of two US hostages seized from a beach resort in 2001.

In a separate development, two Abu Sayyaf members -- a father and son -- were arrested for the murder of a Catholic priest in January, 2008, a military spokeswoman said.

The two suspects, Ahmad Kuhutan and Kursid Kuhutan, have been linked to the killing of Father Rey Roda in the Tawi-Tawi islands, south of Jolo in a botched kidnapping attempt, said Lieutenant Steffani Cacho.(Agence France Presse)

Misuari joins efforts for ICRC workers

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines -- Former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor leader Nur Misuari has joined efforts to secure the release of three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) abducted Thursday last week in Patikul, Sulu.

Ustadz Zain Jali, Misuari's spiritual adviser, said on Wednesday the Moro leader's help in the efforts to recover Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipina Jean Lacaba, came after Senator Richard Gordon talked to the former ARMM governor, who also founded the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Jali said Gordon, who also chairs the Philippine National Red Cross, "requested chairman Misuari's help for the release of the three kidnapped staff members of the ICRC."

"Red Cross people also visited Misuari on Sunday at his residence," Jali told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net) by phone.

After the visit, Misuari immediately asked Ustadz Khaid Adjibun, chair of the Lupah Sug Revolutionary Committee and other MNLF commanders in Sulu to create a team "that will establish [a] line [of communication] with the [ICRC workers’] captors."
Professor Octavio Dinampo, a peace advocate who is privy to the meeting between Misuari and the Red Cross representatives, said the Moro leader asked his followers "to produce some alternative actions on the ground for the successful and immediate liberty of the three captives."

The three victims were seized just outside the Sulu provincial capitol while on their way to the Jolo airport to take a fight to Zamboanga City.

Authorities have blamed a faction of the Abu Sayyaf for the kidnapping.

Jali said the MNLF is asking authorities to allow it to undertake its own initiatives to recover the kidnap victims.

"Let [the MNLF] work their way to secure the captives, otherwise it will again end up as business, where the other party is forced to pay ransom. With the MNLF working, there will be no ransom," he said.

As this developed, Fadzlur Abdulla, spokesperson of the Task Force ICRC, told the Inquirer by phone that the military is verifying reports the captives have been sighted anew.

He said the police reported the sighting.

But Abdulla declined to provide additional information.

Authorities have been releasing piecemeal information on the progress of efforts to free the victims to avoid jeopardizing operations.(By Julie Alipala)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

US offers help to rescue ICRC workers

The United States Tuesday offered to help Philippine authorities hunt down the abductors of three members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Sulu province.

US Ambassador Kristie Kenney condemned the kidnapping, saying it was "unacceptable anywhere, anytime."

"If there's any information we have or any way that we can provide anything that leads to their safe return, we stand ready to do that," Kenney told reporters at the vin d'honneur hosted by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in MalacaƱang.

"These are international Red Cross workers. They should be returned safely now. Those who captured them should be brought to justice and held responsible. Period."

Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba were abducted last week outside the provincial jail in Jolo town by suspected members of the notorious Abu Sayyaf kidnap gang.

American soldiers are frequent visitors to Jolo, the main island in Sulu, for joint exercises and community building projects with their Filipino counterparts.

Sulu is a known bailiwick of the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf, who were also implicated in the June 2008 kidnapping of an ABS-CBN news team and the string of kidnappings of foreign nationals that started in the late 1990s.

A small contingent of US troops is in Western Mindanao, training local forces in hunting down the Abu Sayyaf. The American soldiers are barred from taking part in combat operations.

Kenney said the latest kidnapping did not necessarily deal a blow to the Philippine government's effort to address the problem in Mindanao, including the bigger issue of terrorism.

"I think the Philippines has done a great job in combating terrorism," she said. "I also think the Philippines has done a wonderful job with its many partners in Jolo in promoting development. They are a great people there ... I think they deserve the kind of prosperous and peaceful life that they will get."

"We appreciate the support of the Philippine government and we hope that they show some results," Swiss Ambassador Peter Sutter said. "But all players have to coordinate closely to achieve positive results."

Sutter said he was hoping that "the perpetrators would become aware of what they have done in abducting humanitarian workers doing very, very positive things."

The Italian ambassador declined to comment on the matter, saying all information must come from the ICRC.

Guarded statement

In a statement Tuesday, Alain Aeschlimann, head of the ICRC delegation for Asia-Pacific in Geneva, said: "Our main concern is to ensure that they continue to be unharmed and that they are let go, without any conditions, as quickly as possible."

"The ICRC is also very concerned about the effect that rumors, conveyed by media, may have on the families of our kidnapped colleagues. We will not comment on public speculation about who is holding them, where or why," he added.

"We are being guarded in our statements because we do not want anything to jeopardize our colleagues' safety or well-being. We hope that everyone will respect this."

"We continue to hope that our colleagues will soon be able to hold their families and friends in their arms, and they can return to their activities in favor of people in need in the Philippines."

Kidnappers' demand

On Monday, Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Philippine National Red Cross, passed on to the military a demand by the kidnappers to stop military operations to secure the release of the abducted ICRC staff.

The kidnappers' demand was mentioned in a telephone call by the victims to their office on Monday, Gordon said.

Armed Forces chief General Alexander Yano on Tuesday rejected the abductors’ demand.

Yano said easing the pressure on the kidnappers would allow them to further evade government forces on Jolo island.

"We cannot unilaterally declare the termination of our rescue operations," said 1st Lt. Esteffani Cacho, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command.

"The best course of action in addressing the crisis situation is collectively being undertaken by all stakeholders," Cacho said.

Gordon said the ICRC had dispatched two staff members to relieve "stressed out" personnel. He denied that the two would negotiate with the kidnappers.

"We don't do that ... We don't also pay ransom," he said, referring to media reports the abductors were asking $5 million in exchange for the release of the hostages. (By Joel Guinto; With reports from Christian V. Esguerra, Michael Lim Ubac, Kristine L. Alave, Julie S. Alipala and Ed General; Associated Press and Agence France-Presse)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

ICRC says daily contact with hostages

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday it had been in daily telephone contact with its three kidnapped workers in the southern Philippines since last week.

"The first call was Friday," Carla Haddad Mardini, a spokeswoman at ICRC headquarters in Geneva told Agence France-Presse. The latest call was on Monday.

"This allows us to know that they're in good health," she said, adding that they were being held together.

However, the agency has not been in touch so far with the gunmen or a group that might have kidnapped them, and was unable to identify who they were, Haddad Mardini added.

Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba were seized while on a humanitarian mission last Thursday on the island of Jolo.

Earlier Monday, the Philippine National Red Cross denied reports that gunmen were demanding $5 million in ransom.

Haddad Mardini said there was concern that the various accounts and "rumors" about the kidnapping could have an impact on the situation of the three.

"There are many rumors circulating and it's hard to separate fact from fiction," she added.

Military officials suspect the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militant group is behind the abductions, although local officials have also said a former provincial jail guard could be involved.

Abu Sayyaf is on the US government's list of foreign terrorist organizations, and is wanted for the kidnapping deaths of two Americans in 2002.

The Philippines military over the weekend imposed a news blackout for fear of jeopardizing pursuit operations.(Agence France-Presse)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Talks begin to free Red Cross team

ZAMBOANGA CITY— Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan said Sunday “heads will roll” if provincial jail employees are implicated in the abduction of an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) team by suspected Abu Sayyaf kidnappers.

An investigation this week will look into the Jan. 13 jailbreak of 12 inmates that left one dead and its possible connection to the abduction of three ICRC staffers two days later.

A dismissed jail employee is one of the suspects in the abduction of Andreas Notter, 38, a Swiss national and head officer of the ICRC Western Mindanao Region; engineer Italian Eugenio Vagni, 62; and engineer Marie Jean Lacaba, 37, a water sanitation expert from Davao City.

The three were snatched by armed men just a few meters away from the Sulu provincial jail in Jolo town.

Tan admitted that he was not discounting the possibility that some jail personnel could be behind the abduction “or have knowledge about it.”

Senior Supt. Julasirim Kasim, Sulu police chief, said that Raden Abu, Sulaiman Patah and Albader Parad had been identified as those who boarded the Land Cruiser of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), which was used as getaway vehicle.

Raden Abu, son of a SPO4 Faizal Abu, a native of Indanan town, was dismissed as a provincial jail guard for alleged indiscriminate firing weeks after Tan took over as governor.

Kasim said witnesses also identified Raden Abu as behind the unresolved kidnapping of Xili Wu, a Chinese businessman’s son, in Jolo on Dec. 14.

Abu Sayyaf connection

Prof. Octavio Dinampo, a former kidnap victim, said Raden Abu is a nephew of the late Abu Sayyaf commander Totoh Sali “whose aunt, a sister of Raden Abu’s mother, is the third wife of Albader Parad.”

Sulaiman Patah, Dinampo said, is a cousin of Albader Parad, a son-in-law of Abu Sayyaf leader Umbra Jumdail, alias Doctor Abu.

“Their connection to the police as relatives and sympathizers inside the town of Jolo made this kidnapping possible,” said Dinampo, a peace advocate.

Dinampo said politics might have something to do with the kidnapping.

Tan admitted to the Philippine Daily Inquirer that a few months after he assumed his post, he fired several people “because they are very unproductive.”

Dinampo said most of those dismissed were identified as allies of some politicians.

Tan simply laughed off the possibility that the kidnapping was politically motivated.

“I don’t think my political detractors are so insensitive that they could easily do such thing,” he added.

Negotiations

In a report attributed to an unnamed senior police source, Agence France Presse said Sunday that talks had begun for the release of the ICRC team. AFP said the kidnappers called up Tan’s staff to say they were willing to begin talks.

“We expect they will call again anytime soon. The caller did not identify himself and did not mention a ransom payment,” said the source, according to the French news agency.

In a radio interview, Tan declined comment on the report.

Sen. Richard Gordon, PNRC chair, said in another radio interview that talks were being carried out through the cell phones of the three hostages but he did not give further details.

News blackout

But Gordon stressed that the Red Cross does not pay ransom.

“If we start paying, we can’t do our jobs anymore,” he said. “The Red Cross serves because we have the confidence of all combatants.”

Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the military would stop releasing news on the efforts to recover the three hostages.

“This is being done to avoid the possibility of compromising our operations and unnecessarily risking the safety of the victims,” he said.

A day after the kidnapping, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Yano ordered a 2,000-strong force organized to go after the Abu Sayyaf bandits in Sulu to intensify its operations and information gathering to rescue the victims.

Eid Kabalu, spokesperson of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said his group was also conducting an operation for the release of the ICRC workers. (With reports from Christine O. AvendaƱo, Jocelyn R. Uy and Agence France-Presse)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

ICRC Mindanao operations not suspended

The operations of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Mindanao are not suspended, Philippine National Red Cross chairman Senator Richard Gordon told INQUIRER.net Saturday.

Asked to confirm reports that ICRC has suspended its operations in southern Philippines over the kidnapping of three of its staffers, Gordon, who is also chairman of the governing board of the International Federation of Red Cross, said the report was a "falsity."

"They do not have an understanding of what this 150-year-old organization does, guarding lives and dignity of people in difficult circumstances, and exercising neutrality," he said.

"I just spoke with them. It's not true. The operations of the ICRC, together with the PNRC, continue," he said.

Gordon said these operations include taking care of the estimated 300,000 people displaced by the resumption of hostilities between government forces and those of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and are now staying in evacuation centers; Red Cross operations also include visiting jails and sending sick people to hospitals.

"All of these will continue. We will not stop our work there. It is not an option for the ICRC. We have worked with the wounded in war, and those deprived of freedom. We will continue to provide food and non-food supplies, water, and sanitation for as long as we are needed," he said.

Earlier, Agence France-Presse reported that the ICRC has temporarily halted operations in Mindanao.

"We are temporarily halting operations in the area so we can revisit and assess our security arrangements," Roland Bigler, ICRC’s spokesman in the Philippines, was quoted saying on the GMA7 television website.

"Our main concern is the safety of our colleagues," Bigler said.

But Gordon said Red Cross regularly assesses the security situation in their areas of operation.

"We always assess. And they are trained to handle these types of situations," Gordon said.

At the same time, he said he has received information that the three kidnapped ICRC staff members are alive.

"I have reliable information that they are alive," he said of the three kidnapped victims.

"We have been receiving information for all over. The MILF is also talking to us," he said.

Gordon said that of the 90 ICRC staff members in the country, 60 to 70 are in Mindanao. He said some are in Tacloban and Samar because of the communist insurgency problem there.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief negotiator for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country's biggest Muslim rebel group, said it was helping in the hunt for the ICRC workers.

"The latest information we received is that the kidnappers are transferring their captives by land and sea from one island to another," Iqbal told AFP.

Jolo is a known stronghold of the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf, a 380-member group blamed for some of the worst terrorist attacks in the Philippines. (By Veronica Uy, with a report from Agence France-Presse)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Military now mum on ICRC kidnapping

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines -- (Update2) The military suddenly fell silent Saturday on the abduction in Sulu of three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"Please be informed that for the time being, Westmincom will not be able to provide updates regarding the ICRC abduction incident," Lieutenant Esteffani Cacho, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, said in reply to an Inquirer query.

But Cacho said they were not implementing a news blackout on the progress of efforts to secure the release of Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni, and Filipina Jean Lacaba from their captors.

The victims were on their way to the Jolo airport after conducting fieldwork in Patikul town when abducted by a group which allegedly involved a nephew of Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad on Thursday.

Senior Superintendent Julasirim Kasim, Sulu provincial director, said witnesses also claimed that Parad himself participated in the kidnapping.

Aside from Parad, he said another Abu Sayyaf leader, Sulaiman Patah, was seen with the group that snatched the victims.

"They were positively identified as part of the group that abducted the three ICRC workers," he said.

Earlier, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro spoke of a massive military effort, which is now centered on Talipao, where the victims were reportedly sighted on Friday.

That was the last information provided by authorities regarding the incident.

"This is not a media blackout but rather a precaution to ensure that the operation on the ground is not compromised and that the safety of the victims is not jeopardized," Cacho said.

She pledged to release information "should there be some major developments in the case."

"We hope for your continued understanding, especially at this time when information is critical and could spell the difference between the success and failure of our efforts to safely bring home the victims," she said.

Cacho's reply to the Philippine Daily Inquirer's query on the progress of the manhunt in Talipao came after Teodoro made a brief stop over here from his visit to Sulu, where he proposed a ban on the media, on Friday.

During his stop over here, Teodoro proposed a ban on foreigners from visiting Sulu.

Aside from foreigners, Teodoro also said journalists should be banned from Sulu unless they coordinate their visit with authorities.

"We have to make it plain and simple to them that enough is enough, and we do not want to risk our soldiers' lives because of this (kidnappings)," he said.

Teodoro defended his proposal by saying that the Abu Sayyaf does not make any distinction between ordinary people, foreigners, and journalists.

Sulu police director Kasim said by phone that only those who do not coordinate will be banned from the province.

"We will not allow them to move around without notifying either the military or police, they have to register and we will provide them with escorts. If they will not follow then they better not stay here because we will surely end up in trouble again," he said.

Teodoro said the ICRC team had indeed coordinated before they came to Sulu but they declined security escorts offered by the military and the police.

"They refused escorts, they indicated in their communication that there should be no armed escorts," he said.

But Senator Richard Gordon, chair of the Philippine National Red Cross, said the international organization could not work that way.

"I just told my people. Even if you go to Quiapo, you have to let the military know," said Gordon. "That's not the way we work."

Red Batario, coordinator of the International News Safety Institute, also cautioned journalists and photographers "to exercise utmost precaution in terms of security in covering dangerous or hostile environments."

Sulu, for example, has a history of journalist kidnapping, the most recent of which was the kidnapping last June of ABS-CBN broadcaster Ces Drilon, two members of her crew, and peace advocate Professor Octavio Dinampo, Batario pointed out.

"In terms of security, the journalist on the ground has better judgment of the security situation. It's going to be a call of the journalists and photographers covering the area. They know better the security situation," he said.

Reacting to the ban, Batario said journalists and photographers have the responsibility to get the real story and the truth must not be sacrificed.

But he said they should "always think about the possibility of being kidnapped."

Dr. Reynaldo Guioguio, ICRC communication manager, told the Inquirer by phone that they were sad about the kidnapping because it happened in a place that is supposed to be safe.

Notter and his companions were taken just outside the Sulu provincial capitol in Patikul town.

"Despite the incident, we are not going to stop our projects there. We continue to monitor any projects we have set up," Guioguio said.

He also confirmed that the ICRC has already set up a response team "to coordinate efforts to get our colleagues back safely and its main thrust is to get them safely."(By Julie Alipala)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

SC reaffirms ruling vs Shariff Kabunsuan

COTABATO CITY, Philippines--It's final: Shariff Kabunsuan province does not exist anymore, and hundreds of elected and appointed civil servants are dismayed they may have been rendered jobless by the latest Supreme Court ruling on the matter.

The high court ruled with finality on Friday that the creation of the province was illegal.

Shariff Kabunsuan was carved out of a portion of Maguindanao in 2006 by the Regional Legislative Assembly of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao through Muslim Mindanao Act 201.

But the Supreme Court later ruled that its creation was illegal after Shariff Kabunsuan Representative Didagen Dilangalen sought clarification on the constitutionality of the RLA action.

The Supreme Court said only Congress, and not bodies like the regional assembly, has the power to divide or create new provinces.

ARMM officials sought reconsideration of the high court's decision, reasoning out that under the ARMM charter, the regional assembly was empowered to subdivide or create new entities.

But on Friday, the Supreme Court denied that motion with finality.

In its resolution, the Supreme Court said it found "no compelling reasons" nor "substantial arguments to warrant the reversal of the questioned decision."

Shariff Kabunsuan Vice Governor Ibrahim Ibay, who has been acting governor pending resolution of the gubernatorial row, said they were "in disarray."

"We do not know what to do with the more than 800 provincial employees," Ibay told reporters. "Practically we are jobless and unemployed now."

Norie Unas, Maguindanao provincial administrator, said Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan was to meet with officials of the defunct province "to find ways and means on how the provincial government could help cushion the impact of the court's decision." (By Edwin Fernandez)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Waterspouts swamp 3 Lanao villages

LINAMON, Lanao del Norte -- Two waterspouts dumped tons of water on at least three coastal villages here of this town Thursday evening, Vice Mayor Procopio Chang said Friday.

Chang said the waterspouts were accompanied by "lighting strikes."

He said residents of Barangay (village) Magoong heard a roaring sound around 7:30 p.m. before water swamped their village, Barangay Samburon and part of the poblacion (town center) area.

"The water level was at five feet high and residents had to flee to higher ground," Chang said.

No casualty was reported but the incident damaged property, including livestock and crops.

Teaching materials at the Samburon Elementary School were also damaged by the water, according to Chang.

Luz Patalinghog, municipal social welfare officer, said at least 68 families were directly affected by the floods.

In 1999, a flashflood also hit this town, killing seven people.(By Richel Umel)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Wanted Moro rebel nabbed

The military has arrested a Moro rebel believed to be under wanted Moro Islamic Liberation Front commander Basit Usman, an official said Thursday.

Dali Pamanay alias “Aladin” was caught in a checkpoint in the village of Saliao, Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat at around 11:35 a.m. Wednesday, said Lieutenant Colonel Julieto Ando of the 6th Infantry Division.

Civilians tipped off to Pamanay’s whereabouts, Ando said.

Pamanay is said to be a member of the Special Operations Group of Usman, who is believed to be behind a series of bombings in Central Mindanao over the holidays.

Pamanay is wanted for multiple frustrated murder charges and multiple attempted murder that stemmed from previous bomb attacks in Central Mindanao.

He is now in the custody of police, Ando said.(By Katherine Evangelista)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

CHEd boss defends posting of USM head

Commission on Higher Education Chairman Emmanuel Angeles on Wednesday defended his decision to install the newly elected president of the state-owned University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato, despite objections from some university faculty and staff members.

Angeles administered the oath to USM president Jesus Antonio Derije in his office at the CHEd building in Quezon City on Monday.

"It is already too late," Angeles said when sought for comment about the opposition, saying that those against Derije should have voiced their complaints during the screening process for the nominees for the post.

"They should have done it before the screening process," Angeles said, adding that his office had not received any formal complaint against Derije.

Angeles said that if a formal complaint is filed and evidence is presented, he will "create a fact-finding committee to investigate the allegations."

"We have to follow due process," Angeles said.

Derije won the presidency in a tight 6-5 vote by members of the university’s Board of Regents against incumbent USM vice president Palasig Ampang.

Derije is accused of being "unfit" for the post due to alleged dishonesty and involvement in a cattle-rustling case in 1989, accusations which Derije has denied.

Referring to the allegation that Derije and fellow fraternity members had stolen a cow and slaughtered it, Angeles said: "That is a case that has already been settled 20 years ago when he was still a student." (By Edson C. Tandoc Jr.)

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Congratulations Brod Jess Derije. The University of Southern Mindanao (my Alma Mater) deserves you , no less.. Brod Mau

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Saudi Needs 50,000 to 60,000 Nurses

This may yet be the best news for nurses today; the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be needing 50,000 to 60,000 in the next six months. Despite the economic crisis, the Middle East requirement for nurses and other medical staff in the Middle East, and especially in Saudi Arabia, is very high and urgent.

King Fahd Medical Center, a known medical institution in Saudi Arabia have tied up with more than two Philippine recruitment agencies just to be able to fill up their needs for additional medical personnel. Official of the said institution have been in country recently interviewing prospective applicants.

Together with this good news is that Saudi recently increased its inflation allowance from 5 to 10 percent of the basic salary, and this would range from $600 to $1,000. This would be on top of free housing, free transportation, and yearly vacation. Placement fee is usually a month’s worth of salary.

But in spite of such good news, there is one drawback that prevents the country from completing the required manpower. Ironically, one of the main reasons is lack of experience on the part of our nurses, although it does not mean that they do not have the required skills.

For our nurses to be qualified for Saudi hospitals, they need two years actual experience in tertiary hospitals with at least 200 beds and have worked with modern equipment. Unfortunately, we don’t have that much number of tertiary hospitals in the country to provide such experience.

Nurses who have completed volunteer work on government hospitals doing actual staff works, are issued only certifications that they worked as volunteer nurses. Unfortunately, such certification is not acceptable to Saudi employees.

The government, through the Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Labor and Employment, should make these certifications more specific and official for our nurses to be qualified for such opportunities. (Source: Philippine Business)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Pacman to fight 3 bouts in 2009

The Filipino superstar is locked on to face Britain’s Ricky Hatton on May 2 in Las Vegas, this year, and is hoping to land an even bigger fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. later on.

But Arum said if Mayweather, who retired last June as the undefeated pound-for-pound champion, doesn’t come out in the open, Pacquiao might consider two more fights.

Pacquiao said he wants to retire this year, and Arum, the legendary Top Rank chief, wants to make sure that boxing’s biggest draw today makes the most of his chances.

“If Floyd Mayweather is not available after we fight Hatton, then we can fight Edwin Valero,” said Arum, close to finalizing the deal with the Hatton people for the May 2 bout.

“There are a number of people out there although the fight may not be as big as Mayweather,” he added after dropping the name of the Venezuelan knockout artist.

Among the other worthy contenders are Joan Guzman or Zab Judah and, of course, Juan Manuel Marquez, the only fighter who really came close to beating Pacquiao in nearly three years.

Again, none of these fights can match the attention a fight with Mayweather would draw, considering that it will be a fight between two pound-for-pound champions of the same era.

“If Mayweather is not there, we can fight two more fights to make up for it. Manny can fight three times this year,” said Arum over the telephone.

But Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach wants Pacquiao going up against Hatton, and then Mayweather.

“In a perfect world, I would like to see him fight Ricky Hatton and then Floyd Mayweather Jr. and then I would like to see Manny retire, and become President of the Philippines,” he told fighthype.com.

Going back to things on hand, the matchmaking genius said Pacquiao stands to earn a lot, even more than what he earned against Oscar dela Hoya, for facing Hatton.

“There’s a good chance that Manny will earn more in this fight,” said Arum of Pacquiao, who got no less than $10 million despite the smaller 32 percent take against Dela Hoya’s 68 percent.

Arum said there’d be no such disparity in the Pacquiao-Hatton pie.

“Manny may get more but not much, much more because Ricky Hatton brings more to the table than anybody else Manny could fight at the moment,” he said.

“But we are not getting the smaller share if you know what I mean. A tremendous percentage of the money will come from England,” he added in recognizing Hatton’s pay-per-view draw back home. - (By Abac Cordero; Philstar News Service, www.philstar.com)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

8 hurt in Tacurong carnival blast

KORONADAL CITY, Philippines – At least eight people were injured when a grenade exploded in a carnival in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat at around 7:15 p.m. Saturday, a military official said.

The victims were immediately rushed to a local hospital due to shrapnel wounds, said Col. Marlou Salazar, commander of the Army's 601st Infantry Brigade.

The victims were identified as Joylyn Francisco, 19 ; Rio Delgado, 27; Janice Atanoso, 23; Alma Macabodbod, 55; Nasser Mangenyog, 24; Pogi Utto Dituas, Baldo Kanyang and Arman Dinggal.

“We cannot say who was responsible as of yet,” Salazar said.

On Dec. 31, 30 people were also injured when a grenade exploded at the Oval Plaza in General Santos City during the city government-sponsored Paskuhan sa Gensan.

Prior to that, explosion also ripped through several areas of Central Mindanao.

While the police said they were not pointing to any group, they were not discounting the possibility that Moro rebels were behind the explosions, a charge that the MILF has repeatedly denied.(By Jeoffrey Maitem)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Family not seized by rebels -- Military

TACURONG CITY, Philippines – (UPDATE) A family of four earlier believed to have been seized by renegade Moro rebels “are now safe,” a military official said.

"They are now safe in their homes in Barangay Marquez," Colonel Julieto Ando, regional Army spokesperson, said quoting a military report from the 601st Infantry Brigade.

Ando earlier said Roy Martin, 45, sitio leader of the village of Marquez, in Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat; his wife Shiela, 39; his two children aged six and eight; and a relative identified as Jun Bello, 30, were taken by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels after they stormed an agricultural village in the province.

He said about 80 heavily armed Moro rebels stormed the village of Marquez at about 12 noon Friday in what the military said was a "foraging mission." The rebels used the civilians as human shields against pursuing police and military elements, he added.

But Ando later clarified that the victims had been abandoned by the rebels, who apparently told the Martin family not to worry as they were just passing by.

Other residents thought the family of Martin was taken by the rebels.

A witness told military investigators that the rebels passed through the village of Panuntungan en route to the village of Chua, also in Esperanza town.

Quoting witnesses, the military said the rebels fired their guns and took rice and food stuff from the villagers who also fled after seeing heavily armed rebels.

The civilians were apparently told by the rebels not to report to military or police authorities

Ando identified the attackers as followers of renegade Moro rebel leader Ombra Kato, who carries a P15 million reward for his arrest for assaulting villages in North Cotabato in July.

Government forces from the Army's 601st Infantry Brigade and Sultan Kudarat police have been sent to track down the rebels who fled toward the Liguasan marshland.

Eid Kabalu, MILF civil military chief, said he had yet to confirm the report.
He said though that the rebels could have been provoked thus clashes erupted.

In Alamada, several villagers have fled their homes before New Year's Eve due to the presence of MILF forces in the village of Dado.

When they returned home on January 1, they found their work animals gone and hogs were strafed with automatic rifles.

Alamada Mayor Ernesto Concepcion said the rebels also took food stuff and agricultural products of the farmers.

Ando said pursuit operations were ongoing against the rebels.(Edwin Fernandez)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

27 hurt in General Santos City blast

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines—(UPDATE 4) A grenade exploded at the city's Oval Plaza as hundreds of people were celebrating the end of the year late evening Wednesday.

At least 27 people -- two of them police officers tasked to help secure the packed plaza -- were injured in the explosion, which occurred a few hours into the New Year.

Police authorities said they were not discounting the involvement of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the 9:10 p.m. blast at the plaza, where the "Paskuhan sa GenSan 2008" celebration was being held.

Police Officer 1 Janver Pales and Police Officer 1 Romelyn Luminquit, who were part of the security team, were wounded along with 25 other victims.

Only one victim, Michelle Borromeo, remained in critical condition at the General Santos Doctor's Hospital.

Mayor Pedro Acharon, Jr. told reporters that the safety pin of the grenade used was recovered by the members of the police's bomb disposal unit near the booth of Katangawan village at the western portion of the oval plaza, about 30 meters away from the explosion site.

Paskuhan sa GenSan is an annual event staged by the city government to make the Christmas celebration among locals here even more meaningful and colorful.

Various Christmas-related activities would be held at the oval plaza during this time, aside from the usual carnival fair, flea market, pavilions and display booths of various barangays.

Acharon said as early as last week, he has already been receiving reports that a certain group will stage attacks in several areas in Central Mindanao.

The oval plaza blast was the second bomb attack here during the last days of 2008.

Around 7:20 p.m. on Tuesday, two civilians and a policeman on duty were injured when a motorcycle-riding suspect tossed a grenade near a police outpost in the intersection of Jose Catolico Avenue and Tiongson Street in Lagao Village.

Senior Superintendent Robert Po, City Police Chief, said they are looking at two angles as possible motives behind the incidents.

Po said it could be in retaliation for the raid conducted by the police intelligence operatives in purok Camasi in Ligaya village early Wednesday; and second, this could also be part of the MILF's region-wide operations against government forces.

Aside from the city, other areas in Central Mindanao like Maasim town in Sarangani Province; Polomolok and Tantangan towns in South Cotabato; and Esperanza and Isulan towns in Sultan Kudarat Province have either been attacked or rocked by explosions believed to be perpetrated by the MILF rebels.

The MILF has consistently denied its involvement in the attacks. (By Aquiles Zonio with a report from Julie Alipala, INQ.net)

Trader shot dead in Cotabato City

COTABATO CITY -- Unidentified gunmen shot dead Tuesday afternoon the exclusive distributor of San Miguel Beer here, police said.

PO3 Eduardo Torres, officer on case, said Roberto "Bert" Padlan, 58, owner of Padlan Enterprises, was driving a pick-up truck on his way home at 4:30 p.m. when two men shot him at close range on TV Juliano Street.

Torres said the gunmen, riding in tandem on a motorbike, tailed Padlan from downtown where he was managing his auto machine shop and beer distribution office, before he was attacked.

"The suspects appeared to be guns for hire and made sure (Padlan) was dead before leaving the crime scene," Torres reported witnesses as saying.

Padlan, who also owned a sand-and-gravel business, moved around without armed escorts unlike other traders in the city.

In the 1990s, he and his mother were abducted by a kidnap-for-ransom gang and were freed after the family paid an undetermined amount of ransom.

Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema condemned the killing of Padlan, the second trader murdered in the past four months here.

"The police are looking at different angles, including business related or personal grudge motive," Sema said.

Witnesses said the killing of Padlan was very daring as it occurred on a busy avenue and in broad daylight.(Edwin Fernandez; INQ.net)