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.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Pacquiao hits 140 lbs a week before fight

HOLLYWOOD -- WHILE WINDING DOWN his training on Saturday (Sunday in Manila), Manny Pacquiao took off his sweaty red shirt to flaunt his well-chiseled body and bulging muscles.

Then, while doing abdominal strengthening exercises, he blurted out: “Am I small at 140?”

Pacquiao actually doesn’t look like somebody who can readily be swept aside by a bigger guy like Ricky Hatton.

Pacquiao, in fact, overpowered sparring partners Alisher Rahimov and David Rodela in five rounds with his dazzling speed.

As it turned out, Pacquiao had already made the 140-pound limit for his light welterweight clash with Hatton a week before the megabuck bout at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

“He didn’t even need to diet,” assistant trainer Nonoy Neri said in Filipino. “Hard work in training kept his weight in check.”

Neri’s disclosure was rather surprising as master trainer Freddie Roach put Pacquiao’s weight at around 145 on Thursday.

Based on Pacquiao’s movements, however, his weight is likely to be less as he zooms and glides with power to match during the training session presided by three-time former heavyweight champ Michael Moorer.

Atlanta Olympic silver medalist Onyok Velasco, now a close pal of Pacquiao, was impressed.

“He (Manny) is very fast and strong,” said Velasco in Filipino.

Matchmaker and Pacquiao confidant Wakee Salud added that Pacquiao seems to have gotten stronger than when he stopped Oscar De La Hoya at 147 lb last Dec. 6.

Rodela, who was knocked down by a body blow from Pacquiao during sparring last week, also praised Pacquiao.

“Damn, he’s too fast,” said Rodela. “I was about to catch him and then he was gone.”

Despite the betting odds piling up in his favor, Pacquiao, however, refuses to be drawn into complacency.

“I don’t know why people trust me so much,” said Pacquiao.

Pacquiao even likened the bout, a blockbuster with 16,300 tickets sold to a cockfight.

“We both have spurs and gaffers, so let’s just wait and see,” he said. Team Pacquiao will proceed to Las Vegas on Monday.

NOTES: Amir Khan, the rising British star who beat Marco Antonio Barrera last month, dropped by at Wild Card on Friday. He went to see Pacquiao, with whom he was able to spar with at Wild Card… Aside from Bernabe Concepcion, another Filipino, lightweight Dennis Laurente will be seeing action in the undercard of the Pacquiao-Hatton showdown, where he fights Marvin Cordova Jr. (20-0-1 with 11KOs)… Rodel Mayol guns for Ivan Calderon’s WBO light flyweight crown on June 13 at the Madison Square Garden in New York… The presence of his mother Dionisia, brothers Bobby and Roel and wife Jinkee inspires Manny to go the extra mile in training… Team Pacquiao members are in a for windfall as Manny is going to reward with a substantial amount those who surpass his weight challenge of reducing by 10 percent their respective weights on Sunday.(By Roy Luarca)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

"I’m ready", declares the Pacman

HOLLYWOOD – It’s not the weight, but the impact of the punches that matters.

A reinvigorated Manny Pacquiao said on Thursday that he didn’t care if Ricky Hatton would come in heavier for their “Battle of East and West” date on May 2 (May 3 in Manila) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

“It’s OK if he comes in at 150 [pounds] or over,” said Pacquiao in Filipino. “It’s the punches that will decide the outcome.”

Though betting odds are heavily stacked in his favor at minus 285 – meaning a $285 bet wins just $100 if he prevails, Pacquiao refuses to be complacent.

“I’m already in top condition, but we can’t really tell until the fight is over,” he said. “Hatton is just as fast, he’s also good, strong and a champion.”

Pacquiao even prefers to consider himself as the underdog.

“Let’s not presume that this is going to be an easy fight, that I have the advantage” the General Santos lefty told Manila-based sportswriters over lunch at Nat’s Thai Restaurant, which is just a few steps away from the gym.

“Come fight night, it’s our hands that will do the talking in the ring. Let’s not say anything, so that we can’t be blamed whatever happens.”

Nibbling on fresh strawberries and slices of watermelon while signing autographs, Pacquiao said he felt he was in the same condition now as when he beat Oscar De La Hoya into retirement last December 6, also in Las Vegas.

Pacquiao said he’s totally focused on taking away Hatton’s International Boxing Organization light welterweight crown and that weight was the least of his concerns.

According to Pacquiao, he pigged out on his favorite foods on Wednesday, when Roach ordered him not to do gym work. Despite the extra food, he still tipped the scales at 147 pounds.

Asked about Hatton’s supposedly dirty tactics and brawling style, the Filipino ring superstar said he was not worried as Roach and chief assistant Michael Moorer have devised strategies to counter them.

Pacquiao said he would prefer that Hatton would fight him toe-to-toe because they have the same style. He said he would need to be careful to avoid the enemy’s phantom punch.

“When the bell rings, let’s get it on,” said the only Asian four-division world champion. “The fight lasts just 30 to 40 minutes, but we trained for two months.

“All I can say is I’m ready.”(By Roy Luarca)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Troops clash with Abus holding aid worker

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines—Troops clashed with Islamic extremists holding hostage a sick Italian Red Cross worker in the southern province of Sulu as the crisis entered its 99th day Thursday, the military said.

There were no immediate details of casualties and no word on the fate of Eugenio Vagni, 62, who intelligence reports earlier said was unable to walk due to a hernia.

The fighting took place Wednesday as the Abu Sayyaf group holding Vagni tried to escape from a jungle area on the island of Jolo, military spokesman Brigadier General Gaudencio Pangilinan told reporters in Manila.

"It was a big group, about 50 of them," Pangilinan said of the Abu Sayyaf unit, adding they were carrying high-powered firearms including rocket launchers.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno confirmed the fighting and said troops have set up naval blockades near Jolo's coastal villages to prevent the Abu Sayyaf from escaping by sea.

"We have to pursue them and remain close to them to make sure they will not escape," he said.

He said the rebels holding Vagni were trying to reach the town of Talipao, where they were said to be planning to merge with a bigger Abu Sayyaf command entrenched in the area.

Vagni was abducted along with fellow International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) colleagues Andreas Notter of Switzerland and Mary Jean Lacaba of the Philippines in mid-January while on a humanitarian mission in the area.

Lacaba was freed on April 2 while Notter was safely recovered by authorities on April 18.

There have been mounting fears that the increasingly desperate Abu Sayyaf group may try to harm Vagni as they evade troops in the jungle.

The Geneva-based ICRC on Wednesday said it was "extremely worried" for Vagni and repeated a call for his immediate and unconditional release.

"We have serious concern for his worsening health condition," ICRC operations director Pierre Kraehenbuehl told a news conference.

Notter, who also spoke at the press conference, said he last saw Vagni on April 16, the day the militants separated them and moved in smaller groups.

He said it rained constantly in the tropical jungle and the harsh condition took its toll on the hostages physically and mentally.

"I am very concerned about my colleague, Eugenio Vagni, particularly because of his health," Notter said. "He has a hernia which is making it difficult for him to walk."

In an intelligence report Wednesday, the military said Vagni was unable to walk and was being carried by his captors.

The Abu Sayyaf was founded in the 1990s ostensibly to fight for an independent Islamic state. The group later branched off into high-profile abductions and bombings and is on the US government's list of wanted foreign terrorist organizations.(Agence France-Presse)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Donaire, Viloria crush Mexican foes

Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire lived up to his moniker, crushing Raul “Cobra” Martinez in just four rounds while Brian Viloria scored an emotional win knocking out Ulises Solis to snatch the IBF light flyweight crown in their title bout at the Araneta Coliseum.

Despite a painful left hand, Donaire pummeled his Mexican-American challenger from the get-go, hitting Martinez with left-right hook combinations in the first and second rounds.

Donaire, who retained his IBO/IBF flyweight title, delivered the decisive killer blows in 2:42 mark of the fourth round, ending the fight on a technical knockout (TKO).

He improved his win-loss record to 21-1-0 (14 by way of knockout) while handing the erstwhile undefeated Martinez his first loss after 24 fights.

“He’s a real champion. I’m a big fan of him now,” Martinez said after the fight. He also acknowledged that he was “not invincible,” when asked about the lessons he learned from the bout with Donaire.

Donaire, whose father was not able to watch him fight, said he felt a stinging pain in his left hand.

“My father will always be my father and I thank him because he got me where I am today,” Donaire said during post-fight interviews.

Meanwhile, Viloria, nicknamed “The Hawaiian Punch”, knocked down Ulises Solis in the 11th round to steal the IBF light flyweight crown.

Viloria was aggressive in the first two rounds but Solis recovered in later rounds, before the Fil-Am fighter opened a cut in his right eyebrow in the fifth round.

A former WBC junior flyweight king, Viloria again struggled on the sixth round as Solis briefly regained control of the fight. Both fighters exchanged punches in later rounds until a solid right hook from Viloria knocked his opponent cold towards the end of the 11th round.

During post-fight interviews, Viloria, who improved his record to 25-2-0 (15 by knockout), admitted that Solis was a “tough nut to crack”.

The Mexican fighter, who earlier christened himself “The Filipino Executioner”, previously defeated Filipino boxers Rodel Mayol, Bert Batawang and Nonito’s older brother, Glenn Donaire.(By Marjorie Gorospe; INQ.net)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Another ICRC hostage freed

ZAMBOANGA CITY -- (UPDATE 8) A Swiss Red Cross worker is now free after being held hostage for over three months by Islamic extremists, officials said.

But conflicting version of how Andreas Notter regained his freedom Friday evening gave rise to confusion whether he was freed by the Abu Sayyaf or rescued by government security forces.

Notter himself said he was still confused because "everything happened very quickly."

"I'm still a little bit confused how it happened," a haggard looking Notter told reporters as he was formally turned over to Red Cross representatives by Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno.

Notter talked about walking with his captors prior to his freedom, but exactly how the authorities got hold of him remained unclear.

"I walked out and I'm happy to be alive and safe," he said.

Notter, along with Italian national Eugenio Vagni and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba, was seized by Abu Sayyaf group on January 15 while on a humanitarian mission as volunteer workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sulu. Lacaba was released on April 2.

The government said it had no immediate details about the fate of 62-year-old Vagni, who was believed to be unwell and in need of hernia surgery.

Notter called on authorities to do everything they could to rescue Vagni, whom he said was in pain from his condition.

Malacañang welcomed news Notter has regained his freedom.

"This is very good news not only for Notter's family, friends or co-workers but everyone else who prayed for his safety, and for our military, police and government officials who worked tirelessly for his release,'' Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said over the government-run Radyo ng Bayan.

"We reiterate our call to the kidnappers to release the last hostage, and we commend the local crisis management committee, the police, military, the ulama and all those who in one way or the other has helped in the release of Mr. Notter,'' he said.

ICRC spokesperson Anastasia Isyuk said they had yet to talk to Notter.

“So far, we have not been able to see him or talk to him,” she said

But she said the ICRC remained concerned about Vagni.

"We're relieved to hear the latest news (about) Andreas and remain concerned about the safety of Eugenio," Isyuk said. "We are hopeful that he remains safe and unharmed."

Prior to Notter’s release from his abductors, the ICRC said it last heard from the two on April 14, two weeks after Lacaba’s April 2 release.

“Andreas and Eugenio made contact with the ICRC on Tuesday 14 April. They were also able to call their families on Sunday 12 April. Hearing their voices again more than two weeks after their last call was a relief for all of us,” said Alain Aeschlimann, head of delegation of ICRC Asia-Pacific.

Chief Superintendent Felizardo Serapio, chief of the Western Mindanao police's integrated police operation, said Notter was actually rescued by militiamen and members of the Indanan police force on Saturday morning.

"Notter was rescued by these groups consisting of Civilian Emergency Force (CEF) and the Indanan police. Actually I don't have a clear picture yet, everything is still garbled," he said.

Serapio said what was clear was that Notter was now free.

He said Notter was rescued near a government security cordon in the municipality of Indanan early Saturday morning.

"We got Notter near an established cordon," he said.

Lieutenant General Nelson Allaga, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said Notter was found in Indanan town.

"I'm not sure what particular barangay in Indanan, but whether he was recovered, released or rescued, that I cannot say," Allaga said.

A leader of the civilian volunteers said he was one of those who fetched Notter.

But unlike Serapio and Allaga, the source said Notter was released by the Abu Sayyaf in the village of Lipunos in Parang, Sulu, near midnight Friday.

He said they initially thought that he was Vagni.

"Inaalalayan namin kasi nahihirapan lumakad kaya akala namin si Vagni (We helped him because he had difficulty walking and that is why we thought he was Vagni)," said the source, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak on the matter.

In a press conference aired on ANC, Tan said that Notter was taken by policemen to his residence at around 7 am Saturday.

Tan said that on Friday, he informed the Ulamas or Muslim scholars who have been helping in negotiation efforts, that a tactical operation would be undertaken by security forces on Saturday.

He added that Notter was left behind by the Abu Sayyaf group in Indanan while they were being pursued by police early Saturday morning.

During the press conference, Tan said that he hasn't spoken with Notter directly since he only allowed doctors to enter the room where the rescued kidnap victim was staying.

Armed forces chief General Alexander Yano declined to give further details of the rescue mission as he said it would compromise efforts to free the remaining hostage.

He said "non-violent" efforts were underway to free the Italian including dialogue headed by five Muslim clerics who were dispatched to the Abu Sayyaf's stronghold last week to negotiate.

Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross chapter, said there had been reports of intense clashes around Indanan late Friday, just a day after the military said it was prepared to rescue the hostages.

The Abu Sayyaf had threatened to behead one of the foreign hostages unless government forces pulled back from around their positions on Jolo.

They have been locked in an intense stand-off with troops after being cornered in a jungle area near Indanan, where the military said their supplies were running low.

Abu Sayyaf militants have kidnapped other Westerners over the past decade, many of whom, according to the Philippine military, were released after the payment of large ransoms.

The militants also murdered an American hostage, Guillermo Sobero, in 2001. The following year a second American, Christian missionary Martin Burnham, was killed in a military attack that led to the rescue of his wife.

The group is on the US government's list of foreign terrorist organisations, and a small number of American forces have been rotating on Jolo island since 2003 to provide intelligence information to their Filipino counterparts

By Julie Alipala with reports from Abigail Kwok, INQUIRER.net; Kristine L. Alave and TJ Burgonio, Philippine Daily Inquirer; and Agence France-Presse

Saturday, April 11, 2009

RP courting P3B halal investments for Mindanao

The country has arranged separate discussions with Kuwait and Brunei on about P3 billion worth of investment opportunities in the domestic halal sector, particularly in Mindanao, the Agriculture Department said in a statement.

The department said Mindanao has a comparative edge over other countries in the region because it was free of the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and the avian influenza (AI) or bird flu virus.

Agriculture Undersecretary Jesus Emmanuel Paras said the DA was offering foreign investors at least two big-ticket halal investment project proposals in Mindanao: The Halal Economic Zone in Davao City and a Halal model poultry farm in Cagayan de Oro City.
“The proposed Halal Economic Zone, which will cost at least P2.2 billion, is the centerpiece of the halal investment portfolio being offered to overseas investors by the Arroyo administration,” Paras said in a recent forum.

To be located in Davao City, the zone is expected to generate 24,000 new jobs for Muslim Filipinos, and boost the Philippines’ export earnings by at least $200 million per year, he said.

The other investment proposal packaged by the department, said Paras, is a P840-million project involving the establishment of a halal model poultry farm complete with research laboratories, abattoirs and other modern facilities.(By Riza T. Olchondra; INQ.net)

Friday, April 10, 2009

500,000 new jobs in Mindano from the BPO sector

Mindanao is bound to benefit from the continuing growth of the business process outsourcing industry, as Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) undersecretary Merly Cruz said in a report that they are projecting at least 500,000 new jobs in two regions, three provinces and a city in Mindanao this year.

By the end of 2009, Cruz said the combined revenues from BPO and tourism industries in Mindanao will likely reach to an amount more than $10 million. For the BPO sector alone, they are projecting more than $7 million revenue this year, which is very realistic since the said industry raked in close to $6 million last year.

Cruz said that the BPO sector is expected to produce about 500,000 jobs in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City, and in southern Mindanao.

For the tourism industry, the agency is projecting an income that would reach $5.5 million. Last year’s income $4.3 million. Cruz said they are the increase in tourism because of the government’s active push to make Mindanao a medical tourism area. “The government targets to enhance the medical and wellness facilities in Mindanao in a bid to make it the medical and wellness tourism destination in Asia,” she said.

To boost the tourism in the area, the Department of Tourism also endorsed, in behalf of the government, a P9-billion package for tourism projects, which includes hotels, resorts and spa, and medical centers.

Cruz also said that aside from the tourism and BPO sector, the government is also projecting increased revenues in other sectors like the processed food industry, especially halal products. The agency is projecting an income of about $2 million by the end of 2009 from this industry.

The government is also looking to generate more jobs through various infrastructure projects in the area, to cushion the effects of the global recession on OFWs and workers in the manufacturing sector. It also offered training programs for the OFWs who were removed from their foreign jobs as a result of the recession.(Source: PinoyBusiness)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Binay draws applause in Bukidnon

MALAYBALAY CITY (8 April 2009) -- Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay drew both applause and flak in his recent visit to three areas in Bukidnon.

He related his city’s success story, his personal struggles and victories, and his opinion on the national scene in an hour-long meeting at the Malaybalay City People’s Hall.
The president of the United Opposition put a message across that this martial law activist, lawyer, opposition leader, and “successful” Makati mayor, is among the “presidentiables” for 2010 and is “Handa para sa bansa” (ready for the nation).

A Makati City councilor who introduced the mayor in the program described Binay as “most fit as chief executive” for his success in Makati.

A “comics” presentation of Binay’s biography distributed in the meeting showed that Makati’s income rose from P280 million in 1985 to P10.6 billion last year under his administration.

He cited his achievements and the city’s feats in computerization and benefits to senior citizens, and other areas. He said they have a P112 million budget for senior citizen benefits in Makati.

Binay invited city officials and barangay captains to a “free board and lodging” tour to Makati to see their achievements which could be replicated locally.

Malaybalay City started its computerization program last year and has offered benefits to senior citizens similar to those started in Makati.

Binay has registered his stand against automation of the 2010 elections, saying “programmed results” might prevail over actual votes.

He criticized the Commission on Election’s ineptitude in preventing cheating when he explained how Makati’s computerization has prevented “dagdag bawas” (padding-shaving) in taxation.

Binay hit corruption in government when he told barangay captains it is one reason why the government cannot afford to pay premium for their coverage to the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).

“It is a question of priority, character, and leadership,” he said.

He cited a proposed bill to make internal revenue allotment higher for low income local governments and decrease those who already have high incomes.

He offered scholarships for students from Malaybalay in the Pamantasan ng Makati and admission at the Ospital ng Makati, both owned by the city government.

Binay’s offers and his light humor drew applause from the audience.

The courtesy call actually included an audience with the city councilors, the barangay captains of poblacion barangays and the top three kagawads in the said barangays.

Flores assured his fellow mayor he was welcome and appreciated the precious time he spent to come to the City of Malaybalay in “fellowship and to bring good tidings”.

Binay’s handlers said he was in town to sign sisterhood agreements with the municipality of Kalilangan and the City of Valencia. In his speech, he offered a sisterhood agreement with Malaybalay City.

The letter requesting the courtesy call said Binay is in town as guest speaker of the reunion of his fraternity, the Alpha Phi Omega (APO). Binay tagged along some Makati City councilors in his Bukidnon sortie.

Tarpaulins bearing Binay’s picture and campaign slogan were posted in many parts of Malaybalay and Valencia. The posters said it was put up by the “Binay for President Movement”.

Businessman Joey de Venecia III, who was with Binay’s party, talked about the harassments he suffered since he faced the Senate hearings over the ZTE-NBN controversy.

De Venecia, son of the ousted House speaker, called for change in 2010 and at one point spelled Binay’s family name for residents to remember. (Source: MindaNews)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Abus demand $5 million for hostages' release

he Abu Sayyaf had demanded $5 million or more than P200 million for the release of three kidnapped workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), a military document shows.

The document, which details the kidnap-for-ransom activities perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf since 2003, was apparently prepared prior to the release on Thursday last week of one of the three ICRC workers Mary Jean Lacaba.

“The kidnappers are reportedly demanding $5 million (for Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipina engineer Mary Jean Lacaba),” the document read.

Lacaba was released reportedly in exchange for a sizeable “board and lodging” fee, but authorities have denied that ransom was paid for her release.

Lacaba, Notter and Vagni were snatched last Jan. 15 near the Sulu Provincial Capitol in Patikul town after inspecting a water supply project.

Notter and Vagni are believed held in the jungles of Mt. Tukay in Indanan.

But Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, who chairs the local crisis management committee dealing with the hostage crisis, claimed no knowledge of hostages of the Abu Sayyaf released without the payment of ransom.

“Although I have not seen payment of ransom, yun talaga ang ginagawa nila (it’s what they have been doing),” Tan said in an earlier interview.

Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo, the military’s spokesman for the hostage crisis, said that they do not have any information regarding the alleged payment of ransom for Lacaba’s release.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno and Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro also maintained that Lacaba’s release was a result of military pressure on the kidnappers.

The document said the Abu Sayyaf has kidnapped 54 people since 2003 in Sulu, including ABS-CBN news anchor Ces Drilon and her TV crew.

The same document said P20 million changed hands for the release of Drilon and her companions.

In the same period, 17 cases of abduction involving 33 victims were carried out in Basilan by the Abu Sayyaf or by rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

In Western Mindanao, particularly in the Zamboanga Peninsula, 59 people were reportedly kidnapped in 2008, and 24 have been taken this year.

Most of the victims were snatched in Zamboanga and taken to Basilan by their abductors.

Hostages free ‘anytime soon’

Tan said he is confident the two remaining hostages would be freed soon.

“While they (kidnappers) continue with their stand, they have toned down. Hopefully, we will be able to convince them to free their last two hostages unconditionally,” Tan said.

Tan did not discuss the details of his recent contacts with Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad.

Puno, for his part, said the bandits are on the run and appeared jarred by the crackdown on their alleged supporters, seven of whom have been charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention.

He said kidnappers were preoccupied with two things: receiving ransom and escaping.

“Yung sa dalawa, mas mahalaga sa kanila yung pagtakas nila (Between the two, the more important is their escape),” he said.

“Wag magbigay ng ransom kasi ang ransom ang nagpapatuloy ng mga ganyan na kidnapping (Don’t pay ransom because paying ransom perpetuates kidnapping),” he said.

No order to evacuate

The military yesterday denied reports that it has ordered the evacuation of residents from some villages in Sulu, allegedly in preparation for a rescue operation.

“Although we have contingency plans for that, there is no order yet for them to evacuate,” Arevalo, the military’s spokesman on the hostage crisis, said in a phone interview.

Arevalo said they have received reports that more than 200 people have been forced to flee Indanan due to sightings of Abu Sayyaf bandits in the area.

“We have not told them to move, because we don’t want to cause the unnecessary flight and panic among the public,” he said.

Arevalo said those who spread the rumor might be planning to seize crops and livestock and other belongings of fleeing residents.

“They might be interested in the harvest of the residents. That’s why we are appealing to these people that in these trying times, in times of hardship, sana isantabi muna ang panlalamang sa kapwa (they should not takw advantage of others),” he said.

He said that while it has not ordered an evacuation, the provincial government has prepared contingency plans such as the stockpiling of relief goods.

DND’s Teodoro said the other day that crisis managers were still pushing for negotiations instead of a military solution to the crisis.

But he remained firm against a pullout of troops as demanded by the kidnappers. He said giving in to the bandits would embolden them to commit more atrocities.

Tan’s group stays

Meanwhile, Malacañang clarified that the local crisis management committee headed by Tan remains in charge of the negotiations for the release of the two remaining hostages.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said he is not aware of any new appointments and that Sulu Vice Gov. Lady Ann Sahidula remains as the only emissary to the kidnappers.

“I don’t know. I just read it in the papers myself that there is a new group of emissaries. But as far as we are concerned, the local crisis team continues under Gov. Sakur Tan,” Ermita said.

On Monday, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said new negotiators would be sent to Sulu to help secure the release of the hostages.

“Suffice it to say that that’s further proof that our local crisis committee is doing its best to secure the safe release of the hostages,” Remonde told Palace reporters. He did not name the new negotiators but said they are known to the kidnappers.

But Ermita insisted he was not aware of the reported designation of new emissaries and even warned that this could work against the interests of the government and the hostages.

“We should not muddle the situation very much. There is a saying that more (sic) cooks spoil the broth,” he said.

However, he said having new emissaries working side by side with the current emissary could also be helpful.

Ermita said that the new emissaries could provide the negotiators with additional sources of information about the actual condition of the hostages.

“What is important is that we should be able to reach out and find out the status of the hostages and see what we can do. Maybe they could get some new information,” he said.

Ermita said the reported designation of new emissaries could have been the result of the legal action taken by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group against seven relatives of Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad. The seven, including three policemen and two village chiefs, have been charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention for allegedly conspiring with the kidnappers of the three ICRC workers.

“So maybe because of that they are reviewing this (appointment of emissaries). But we are not replacing the local crisis team headed by Gov. Sakur Tan,” Ermita said.

Ermita said that the charges against the seven individuals should deter anyone from colluding with terrorists and other criminal elements.

On the debate between Teodoro and Sen. Richard Gordon over how to deal with the hostage crisis, Ermita argued that the government has its reasons for wanting to limit the airing of statements or demands coming from the Abu Sayyaf.

Ermita pointed out that terrorist organizations such as the Abu Sayyaf should not be given publicity considering that this is their primary objective apart from getting ransom.

“I agree with any action that would prevent giving too much attention to the other side. One of the objectives of terrorists around the world is to call attention to their existence,” Ermita said.

“We should not give them the opportunity of getting publicity for what they are doing,” he added. – With Roel Pareño, Marvin Sy, Cecille Suerte Felipe, James Mananghaya (Philippine Star)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Text cost to go down by 50 centavos

By May 1, 2009, the cost of text messaging would go down from P1 to 50 centavos per text. This is according to House oversight committee chairman Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, as the panel agreed on the decision in a meeting with representatives from telecommunication companies (telcos) together with officials of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).

The decision will be formalized in a resolution that he would file when Congress resumes session in April 13, Suarez said. “The resolution will be binding on NTC, which will fix the maximum cost of text messaging at 50 centavos per message based on our agreement. The current average cost is about P1,” he added. The 50-centavoes includes a five-centavo computer education tax.

Suarez said that their estimate of telcos’ text messaging cost is 18-19 centavos, adding the 5-centavo tax would make the cost reach about 25 centavos. “So if they offer text messaging at 30 centavos per text, they have a profit of five centavos,” he said.

Suarez continued with his illustration, “since Filipinos send two billion text messages per day, making us the texting capital of the world, a five-centavo profit translates to P100 million a day, P3 billion a month and P36 billion a year.” He added that if they offer it at 35 centavos, their net profit would soar to P73 billion a year.

President Arroyo, Speaker Prospero Nograles and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile are all supporting his text cost proposals, according to Suarez.

Representatives of the country’s leading mobile service providers, refused to comment on the congressional plan. Smart Communications and Globe Telecoms have both opposed previous proposals from lawmakers to reduce text messaging costs and impose additional taxes on texting.

Suarez, also reiterated that the additional 5-centavo text tax should be spent exclusively for free information technology (IT) and computer science education. “I will make sure that collections go to a trust fund for IT and computer science education. We will build computer laboratories and offer IT and computer science education for free, “ he added.

He also assured that the money would be beyond the reach of congressmen and other politicians, and that a board composed of educators would administer the trust fund.

(Source: Pinoy Business)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Militants renewed threat to kill 2 remaining hostages

Al-Qaida-linked militants renewed their threat to kill their two Red Cross hostages unless government loosen a security cordon around their southern jungle stronghold, an official said Saturday.

Sen. Richard Gordon, who also heads the Philippine Red Cross, said he spoke late Friday by cell phone with Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad who wanted security forces to pull back after the militants released Filipino Red Cross worker Mary Jean Lacaba without any ransom.

The Abu Sayyaf refused to free the two Europeans from the International Committee of the Red Cross, Swiss Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni. They were last seen Thursday when Parad handed over Lacaba to provincial Vice Gov. Lady Anne Sahidullah near Jolo island's Indanan township.

The three were abducted Jan. 15 after visiting a Red Cross water sanitation project in a Jolo jail.

"I will do what I told you I will do," Gordon quoted Parad as telling him, referring to a threat made earlier in the week that the militants would behead one of the hostages if troops did not pull back. Parad had promised he would release a hostage if his demand was met.

The government did withdraw before Tuesday's beheading deadline lapsed, but not as much as the militants demanded. Troops later retook their old positions.

Parad promised to start negotiations for the release of Notter and Vagni after the pullout of Philippine marines, police and armed civilian volunteers, Gordon said. He said the militants wanted an area to move around that's much smaller than what they had earlier demanded.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said security forces will pull back only if it will lead to the release of the hostages.

Puno indicated the kidnappers could be seeking a ransom in releasing Lacaba but not the two others.

"Maybe they feel that there is still some hope they will get some money from the (families of the) other two hostages and not from the family of Lacaba," he said.

Gordon said Parad did not indicate what the militants wanted in exchange for the hostages, but that he told them the Red Cross does not pay ransom.

He said Parad sounded angry and may have taken a personal risk when he ventured outside the militant camp to get a cell phone signal to communicate.

The Abu Sayyaf group has beheaded hostages in the past, including an American in 2001 and seven Filipinos in 2007.

The U.S. government has placed the Abu Sayyaf, which has about 400 fighters, on its list of terrorist organizations because of its attacks on American citizens and links to al-Qaida.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

No ransom paid--DILG chief

There was no ransom paid for the release of Abu Sayyaf captive Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba, Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno said on Friday.

At a press briefing in Camp Crame, Puno said that Lacaba's release on Thursday night was brought by the "change of environment for the kidnappers in Sulu," as government troops assumed their former positions in the province.

At the same time, Puno said that as of 9 a.m., Lacaba was promptly turned over to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as the organization requested that Lacaba be given private time with her family.

"We are very happy but there is much more to be done. We intend to do whatever is necessary," Puno said, referring to the two remaining hostages, Eugenio Vagni and Andreas Notter."(By Abigail Kwok)

Friday, April 3, 2009

Filipina ICRC worker released

Fate of 2 foreign captives remains unknown

MANILA, Philippines—“We already shed so many tears.”

These were some of the first words of Mary Jean Lacaba upon her release Thursday night after 78 days of captivity. Her kidnappers left her in a village without ransom being asked or given.

But the fate of the two other workers of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)—Swiss Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni—remained unknown.

Alain Aeschlimann, ICRC’s regional chief, expressed relief at the release of Lacaba but said he remained concerned about the safety of the two other staff members.

“The nightmare of this abduction is not over,” he said.

“Once again, we ask that they remain unharmed. While we welcome this first positive move, especially after a very tense and difficult week, we reiterate our appeal to the kidnappers to let Eugenio Vagni and Andreas Notter go without delay and unconditionally.”

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said that the 37-year-old Lacaba was abandoned by her kidnappers on Jolo Island, where the three ICRC workers were kidnapped Jan. 15 while on a mission to improve water facilities in a Jolo jail.

Vice Gov. Anne Sahidulla later fetched Lacaba in Barangay Paligi along the border of Indanan and Parang towns at around 7 p.m. and turned her over to the military, the officials said.

“She’s fine and she is undergoing medical treatment,” said regional police Chief Supt. Felizardo Serapio.

The ICRC worker was expected to be brought immediately to the Marine camp for “processing,” said Puno through his assistant, Brian Yamsuan. If she is fit to travel, she will be flown to Manila on Friday for a thorough medical checkup, he said.

“All of us are excited and happy,” said Lt. Gen. Nelson Allaga, Western Command chief. “It is good that she was safely recovered. Right now, she is resting and being attended to by physicians.”

Film footage shown by GMA 7 showed Lacaba being pushed in a wheelchair to a trauma clinic in the Jolo military camp. She wore a red hijab Muslim headdress and was talking on a cell phone.

Sahidulla, who has previously visited the hostages, said she went back to the kidnappers’ camp and talked to the Abu Sayyaf.

“When I reached the place, the talks were good. I convinced them to free Lacaba” she said.

“No ransom was asked or given,” said Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Philippine National Red Cross.

Gordon said that he talked by phone to Lacaba, who was weeping.

“I said, Jean, you make me cry,” he said. “She cried herself and she said ‘we already shed so many tears.’ I said calm down and relax.”

Gordon said Lacaba told him that the two other hostages had been through severe hardship and were exhausted and that if it was possible for the military to ease its operations.

“You can imagine their ordeal. It’s raining out there. Then it’s suddenly hot and they are walking at night. They are scratched by thorns. They get eaten up by mosquitoes. There is no water that is clean. They are under guard all the time,” the senator said.

“I hope we can get the other two,” said Gordon.

Arroyo’s statement

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in a statement Thursday night, said:

“We are happy that Ms Lacaba is back with us and we hope that the Abu Sayyaf Group will also release the other hostages very soon. This is the answer to our people’s prayers and also confirmation that we should always stand behind our policy of dealing firmly with any form of lawless behavior.”

State of emergency

Lacaba was freed two days after Abu Sayyaf kidnappers put off a planned execution on Tuesday of one hostage despite the failure of the military to comply with their demand to withdraw all forces on Jolo Island.

Troops pulled out from the kidnappers’ hideout were redeployed after a state of emergency was declared in the area. Officials said Thursday that government forces had sealed off the area where the abductors and their hostages had been spotted.

Cell phone signals out

A Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter earlier attempted to contact by phone the kidnappers who had been relaying information about conditions of the hostages.

Rep. Yusop Jikiri said cellular and satellite phone transmissions covering Indanan, Parang and Patikul towns had been shut down by authorities since 8 p.m. Wednesday following the declaration of a state of emergency in the province.

“We know the forest and the mountain so we can find a way to locate them even without a cell phone signal,” said Jikiri.

He said that electricity also had been turned off in Indanan, his hometown, prompting him to go to Jolo town to communicate.

Phone calls by the Inquirer reporter to the Abu Sayyaf leaders holding the hostages had not gone through since the kidnappers put off a threat to behead one hostage Tuesday.

But in Rome, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini indicated that he had been able to contact Vagni, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.

The hostages “are alive, according to information in our possession,” said Frattini, following “contacts with our compatriot,” ANSA reported. It was unclear when the contact was made.

Jikiri, along with Muslim religious and political leaders, was able to negotiate a stay of execution, according to Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, head of the hostage crisis management committee who earlier reported the hostages were alive.

Palace negotiator

Jikiri, who was dispatched by Malacañang to negotiate with the kidnappers, his former comrades in the separatist Moro National Liberation Front, had been in the Indanan area since Tuesday.

Jikiri also said that farmers reported that they saw around 300 armed men and possibly the three hostages at Sitio Pansul, Barangay Lipunos, Parang, but that he was treating this information as “second hand.”

No possibility of escape

Interior Secretary Puno said the authorities were trying to reestablish contact with the kidnappers, who he insisted had been prevailed upon by local religious leaders not to carry out their threat.

“Our focus is on trying to make sure that these kidnappers will get back in the direction of negotiations,” he said in a television interview.

Puno said the kidnappers were penned in a 15 square-kilometer area of Jolo.

“It is raining hard (there) and they cannot get away too far from that because it is the only source of water in the area,” he added.

“This has been their situation for a while now, and although there has been no offensive action taken against them, they have absolutely no possibility of getting away from the area,” Puno said.

Road checkpoints

He said the focus of government efforts was to make sure that kidnappers “head back in the direction of negotiation with anyone.”

Governor Tan said the kidnappers and captives were on the run as the government redeployed troops around a hilly area on Jolo close to their camp.

Provincial police chief Julasirim Kasim said earlier Thursday that government forces were “sealing off” areas where the gunmen and the Italian, Swiss and Filipino hostages had been sighted.

He said police were continuing to set up road checkpoints around Jolo but refused to give other details.

Also Thursday, the National Disaster Coordinating Council reported that about 100 families had sought shelter in evacuation centers in Indanan and Jolo town, fearing clashes. About 70 tents and food packs had been sent to the area by the provincial social welfare office. With reports from and Arlyn dela Cruz, TJ Burgonio and Jocelyn R. Uy