Some 300 Filipino policemen, led by Basilan island police commander Salik Macapantar, hunt down Tuesday July 31, 2007 Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels tagged as behind the beheading of ten of 14 marines soldiers killed in fierce fighting in the mountain town of Al-Barka. Police said it has warrants for the arrest of 130 suspected MILF and Abu Sayyaf militants implicated in the gruesome murder on July 10. Filipino defense and security officials say they are reviewing the names in the warrants. The MILF is currently negotiating peace with Manila. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)
BASILAN ISLAND, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 31 Jul) – Police forces on Tuesday hunted for Moro rebels implicated in the beheading of ten of 14 marine soldiers killed in the southern Filipino island of Basilan.
Some 300 policemen searched houses in the village of Guinanta in Basilan’s Al-Barka town, a known stronghold of Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, but returned to their base later in the day without any arrest.
“It looks like the rebels have fled their homes and could be hiding to elude arrest,” the island’s police chief Salik Macapantar told the Mindanao Examiner.
Police said it has warrants for the arrest of some 130 suspected MILF and Abu Sayyaf militants implicated in the gruesome murder on July 10.
Police forces also searched an MILF training camp in the mountain town, but the place was abandoned. An obstacle course and several empty thatched huts were spotted in the area.
Government soldiers were also seen guarding a mosque in Guinanta village.
The MILF, which is negotiating peace with the Arroyo government, denied beheading the soldiers and called for an international human rights group to investigate the incident.
The fighting erupted after some 100 soldiers entered an MILF territory in search for a kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi after military intelligence reports said the clergy was being held by rogue rebels.
The reports turned out to be false because Bossi was freed by rebels July 19 in Lanao del Norte province in Mindanao island. The priest said he was never brought to Basilan, but stayed most of his captivity in the town called Karomatan.
Philippine military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon has demanded the MILF to surrender those involved in the killing and return the weapons it seized, but the MILF was defiant and said it would not yield any of its fighters.
Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said the fighting was a legitimate encounter and warned any attack on the rebel group could escalate and may hurt the seven year old peace talks.
Filipino acting Defense chief Norberto Gonzales has threatened to launch punitive actions against the MILF in Basilan if they do not surrender the rebels behind the murder.
Gonzales flew to Zamboanga City and Basilan island where he met with senior military and police commanders about the impending punitive actions.
He said the government would also review the charges against the rebels after learning that the police implicated 130 people in the beheading of the ten marine soldiers.
The MILF and the government cease-fire committees were also investigating the incident.
The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting the past three decades for a separate homeland in the restive southern region of Mindanao. (Mark Navales)
MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 30 Jul) – Two government soldiers were killed and seven more wounded in a clash with communist insurgents in the province of Sorsogon, east of Manila.
The Philippine News Agency said the fighting occurred late Sunday in the town called Juban and that two civilians were injured in the cross-fire.
It said the soldiers were patrolling a remote village when members of the New People’s Army attacked them sparking a firefight that lasted more than four hours.
About 70 NPA gunmen were involved in the attack. There were no immediate reports of NPA casualties, but security officials said more troops were sent to the town to hunt down the insurgents.
The NPA, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, is fighting the past decades for the establishment of a Maoist state in the country. (Mindanao Examiner)
MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 30 Jul) – The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) has urged Monday members of the Senate and the House of Representatives to set aside their “pork barrel” allotments over the next three years — a total of P64.8 billion — to finance employment-intensive reforestation projects nationwide.
“This way, they not only help restore the country’s forest cover, they also contribute directly to the creation of badly needed new jobs, and to alleviating widespread hunger,” TUCP President Democrito Mendoza said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.
Metro Manila’s dwindling water supply due to a lingering drought has underscored the urgency of reforestation projects, Mendoza said.
Mendoza said reforestation projects are highly labor-intensive, and could potentially generate tens of thousands of new jobs in the countryside.
“A seedling normally requires at least three years of proper care before they can grow on their own. Thus, the planting and growing of trees in thousands of hectares of denuded land will definitely require the mobilization of considerable human resources,” he said.
Pork barrel is a derogatory term for spending meant to benefit a politician’s constituents in return for their support.
Pork barrel spending usually goes to public works projects and subsidies with benefits that are concentrated in a particular district, but with cost that are spread among all taxpayers.
Pork barrel is often allocated through last-minute budget bill insertions.Beginning last year, the House of Representatives increased the annual pork barrel allocation of every member from P40 million to P70 million. This raised the combined annual pork barrel of the 240 House members to a total of P16.8 billion.
The 24 members of the Senate, meanwhile, get up to P200 million each in annual pork barrel allotments, or a total of P4.8 billion. (Alex Aguilar)
BASILAN (Mindanao Examiner / 30 Jul) – Mataas ang tension sa Basilan province dahil sa nakaambang paglunsad ng punitive actions laban sa Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels na siyang pumatay sa 14 na marine soldiers, sampu sa mga ito ay pinugutan ng ulo sa labanan.
Ito ay matapos na panindigan ng MILF na hindi nito isusuko ang mga rebeldeng sabit sa pagpatay. Itinanggi rin ng rebeldeng grupo na pinugutan nila ng ulo ang mga tropa ng military.
Bukas magtatapos ang pinalawig na ultimatum ng pamahalaan sa MILF dahil sa isinagawang imbestigasyon upang matukoy ang tunay na naganap sa bayan ng Al-Barka nuong July 10.
Nagbigay na ng go-signal si Armed Forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon na ilunsad ang punitive actions. “It is D-Day on Tuesday,” ani pa ni Esperon.
Hindi naman natinag ang MILF sa bantang pagsalakay ng mga sundalo at sinabing matagal ng naghihintay ang puwersa ng rebelde sa Basilan at handa umano ang mga ito na ipagtanggol ang kanilang sarili.
Kasalukuyang may peace talks ang MILF at pamahalaan at tahasang sinabi ni Mohagher Iqbal, chief peace negotiator ng mga rebelde, na anumang pagkilos ng military kontra sa kanyang grupo ay isang paglabag ng cease-fire.
Sinabi ni Iqbal na nais ng MILF na maresolba sa mapayapang paraaan ang gulo sa Basilan upang hindi maapektuhan ang peace talks o kaya ay kumalat ang labanan sa ibang bahagi ng Mindanao kung sakaling lusubin ng mga sundalo ang kuta ng MILF sa Basilan.
“Sana ay magkaroon ng magandang paguusap pa at ng hindi magkaroon ng anumang kaguluhan sa Basilan,” ani Iqbal sa Mindanao Examiner.
Sinabi ni Iqbal na napatay sa labanan ang mga sundalo ng marines dahil pinasok nila ang kuta ng MILF ng walang koordinasyon.
Pinaghahanap umano ng mga sundalo ang dinukot na Italian Catholic priest na si Father Giancarlo Bossi matapos na may lumabas na ulat na naroon ang dayuhan.
Ngunit negatibo ang intelligence ng military at si Bossi ay napalaya sa Lanao del Norte nuong July 19 matapos ng 39 araw na pagkakabihag ng mga rogue MILF rebels. (May ulat ni Mark Navales)
DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 30 Jul) – Violent Islamist groups in the Philippines have killed or injured more than 1,700 people in bombings and other attacks since 2000, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released Monday.
The report said the attacks, mostly in Mindanao, Basilan, Jolo, and other southern islands, have also included kidnappings, executions, and shootings. ” Extremist armed groups have spread terror among civilians in the Philippines. They have bombed buses carrying workers, food markets where people were shopping, airports where relatives were waiting for loved ones, and ferry boats carrying families.”
The 28-page report, “Lives Destroyed: Attacks on Civilians in the Philippines,” contains personal accounts and photographs of bombing sites and of victims of attacks and their relatives. It describes how attacks have killed children, parents, husbands, and wives, and caused terrible suffering among wounded survivors and relatives.
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM), based in the southern Philippines, are implicated in or have claimed responsibility for many of the attacks.
“Extremist armed groups have spread terror among civilians in the Philippines,”said John Sifton, senior researcher on terrorism and counter-terrorism at Human Rights Watch. “They have bombed buses carrying workers, food markets where people were shopping, airports where relatives were waiting for loved ones, and ferry boats carrying families.”
The casualties since 2000 amount to more than the number of people killed and injured in bombing attacks during the same period in neighboring Indonesia (including the 2002 Bali bombings), and considerably more than the number of those killed and injured in bombings in Morocco, Spain, Turkey, or the United Kingdom.
The scale of the violence, however, has not received widespread attention outside the region. Human Rights Watch faulted the Philippines government for not prosecuting those responsible for attacks.
Although numerous suspects in bombing attacks have been arrested since 2000, Human Rights Watch said that very few have been successfully brought to trial, and prosecutions in some cases have been delayed for more than four years.
Human Rights Watch has criticized the recent passage of a new counter-terrorism law, “The Human Security Act,” which contains dangerous over-broad provisions that violate human rights standards and broaden the scope of government power to hold terrorism suspects indefinitely.
Human Rights Watch said that existing criminal statutes were more than sufficient to prosecute acts of terrorism.
“The Philippines doesn’t need a new abusive counter-terrorism law,” said Sifton. “The government isn’t using the laws it already has, so why does it need new provisions that violate human rights?”
The Human Rights Watch report provides compelling new information about many of the attacks that have occurred in recent years. For instance, it contains interviews with survivors of the February 27, 2004 bombing of the Superferry 14, a ferry traveling from Manila to Mindanao.
The bomb, which detonated just outside of Manila harbor, killed at least 116 people. The dead included 15 children, six of whom were under five years old. At least 12 families lost multiple members, and at least 10 married couples died together. Six of the children killed in the blast were students on a championship team sent by schools in northern Mindanao to compete in a journalism contest in Manila.
The report also details the February 14, 2005 Valentine’s Day bombings of Manila and two cities in Mindanao. Human Rights Watch interviewed Mark Gil Bigbig, a 31-year-old student, who was eating at a fast-food restaurant in General Santos City when a bomb went off outside: “We were surprised . . . people were shouting, “It is a bomb! I looked down, and already I could see my blood splashing below me, and I dropped to the ground.”
Bigbig suffered major trauma to his legs from shrapnel and broken glass, and today, more than two years after the attack, cannot walk without braces and crutches.
The report explains how survivors with minimal physical injuries have suffered. For instance, Aurelia Espera, a victim of a 2003 attack, tearfully told Human Rights Watch about seeing the bodies of her two children, one of them decapitated, and her mother-in-law: “I can never forget, I saw my children lying there in the street.”
Members of the ASG and RSM are implicated in or have claimed responsibility for many of these attacks. ASG is an extremist Islamist group whose members broke away in the 1990s from the longstanding ethnic Moro insurgent groups based in the predominantly Muslim areas of the southern Philippines (Moro is a Philippine term for Muslim).
RSM, a group composed of converts to Islam, is closely tied to ASG. The two groups purportedly aim to push Christians out from Mindanao and the Sulu islands and “restore” Islamic rule over the Philippines.
“Abu Sayyaf and Rajah Solaiman have committed crimes on a massive scale,” said Sifton. “They have intentionally bombed civilians, kidnapped ordinary workers and beheaded them, and extorted money from small businesses.”
Both ASG and RSM maintain links with current or former members of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the violent Indonesian Islamist group responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings. Philippine government officials claim that elements of the longstanding Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) have, over the last few years, provided sanctuary or assistance for ASG, RSM and JI members.
Since 2003, MILF and MNLF leaders appear to have largely cut ties with JI, condemned violence against civilians (and specifically ASG and RSM attacks), and provided active assistance to Philippine military forces in conducting operations against all three groups. The United States military is actively assisting in these operations.
Human Rights Watch said that it remains likely that “rogue” MILF and MNLF commanders, and so-called “lost commands, have continued to provide sanctuary and assistance to ASG, RSM and JI members at various times in the last several years.
Human Rights Watch urged the MILF and MNLF to continue condemning armed attacks on civilians by ASG, RSM and JI, and to continue working with authorities to apprehend those responsible for violent attacks.
“Moro leaders deserve credit for distancing themselves from armed groups that attack civilians,” said Sifton. “But they need to ensure that they are controlling their own members.”
Human Rights Watch said that the government’s failure to prosecute suspects in attacks has contributed to a culture of conspiracy-theorizing in the Philippines, especially in the south.
Skeptical Moro and other opposition political leaders have embraced allegations that the government itself has been responsible for bombings claims which Human Rights Watch has seen no evidence to support.
Human Rights Watch called on the Philippine Department of Justice to put prosecutions back on track and hold fair and public trials.
Human Rights Watch also called on the United States and other interested countries to provide assistance to ongoing peace negotiations between the Philippines government and Moro leaders, to help ensure that agreements between the Philippine government and MILF and MNLF are enduring and promote respect for human rights, including the protection of the civilian population.
“To end the bombings, kidnappings, and other violence, other governments have to pressure Philippine leaders both in Manila and Mindanao to put a greater emphasis on protecting civilian life,” Sifton said.
MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 30 Jul) – A self-confessed bomber left a pack of explosives outside a Roman Catholic Church in the Philippine capital after backing out from a mission to blow up the building.
The man first confessed to a priest about his plan and then left the explosives outside the Mount Carmel Church in Quezon City late Saturday, the television network ABS-CBN reported.
The priest, Father Henry Praveendesoza, said the 40-year old man troubled by his conscience and decided to abandon his plan to bomb the church after he saw children praying.
“Father I want to bomb the church. When I saw the children, I disarmed it and took away the wires,” the priest said, quoting the unidentified man.
After the confession, the priest said he went out of the church in fear that the bomb may still explode. The man followed him and then hurriedly left. The church’s security camera showed the man fleeing the church compound.
The security video also showed a well-dressed man stepped out of a car and casually walked to the church and then took the explosives while a second man appeared to be giving instructions to two companions.
It was unknown whether they were companions of the man who left the bomb.
The failed bombing came of the eve of the opening of the 40th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Manila and two days before the start of a government offensive against Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels blamed for the killing of 14 marine soldiers in the restive region of the southern Philippines.
The MILF is currently negotiating peace with Manila.
It was unknown whether the failed bomber belongs to a rebel group or rightist soldiers who wanted to derail the peace talks.
Detained soldiers who were involved in a failed mutiny in Manila in 2003 said the military was behind several bombings of mosque and civilian targets in the southern Philippines. The bombings, they claimed, were later blamed to the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf, an accusation denied by the government.
They said a purported secret government documents dubbed as “Oplan: Green base” detailed a military plan to bomb civilian targets and then blamed Muslim rebels for the terrorism. The military said the documents were faked. (Mindanao Examiner)
MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 29 Jul) – Manila and Pyongyang signed a landmark accord establishing a mechanism for bilateral consultations in the political, economic and cultural fields that are expected to further deepen the relationship between the two countries.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo and North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun signed the agreement in Manila.
Romulo, the first Filipino foreign minister to visit North Korea since the two nations established formal diplomatic relations in July 2000, welcomed the accord, saying it solidifies the relations between the two countries.
“The agreement builds on our current efforts to solidify our relations with DPRK. It is also a concrete proof of both the Philippines and DPRK’s commitment and desire to further intensify our cooperation on mutual concerns,” he said.
“Through this Agreement, our two countries give full and clear expression to our shared hopes and aspirations for the welfare of our peoples, and for peace and stability in the region,” he said.
Claro Cristobal, Filipino Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary, said the agreement provides a regular forum for the Philippines and North Korea to discuss and chart diplomatic relations on a broad range of issues.
Pak described the landmark agreement as “an important phase in our bilateral relations.”
“Our cooperation is moving from strength to strength,” Pak said.
Pak indicated that North Korea is interested in developing cooperation in energy, information technology and cultural exchanges.
During the signing ceremonies, he announced that he will direct the Foreign Ministry to work closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs for the signing of a cultural agreement.
The North Korean foreign minister also reacted positively to Romulo’s call for the continuation and success of the Six-Party Talks, an indication, Romulo said, that DPRK is committed “to further broaden the frontiers of peace in the Asia-Pacific region.”
“Our bilateral agreement with one of our new emerging partners bolsters our region’s collective efforts for greater peace, progress and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific,” Romulo said.
The members of the Six Party Talks – DPRK, South Korea, China, Japan, the United States and Russia – will also be attending the Post Ministerial Conferences and the 14th ASEAN Regional Forum, according to Philippine government media reports.
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 29 Jul) – Philippine soldiers have doubled security patrols Sunday in the southern island of Basilan as the military readies its forces to arrest Moro rebels behind the killing of 14 marines, ten of them beheaded, in fierce clashes.
More than 2,000 soldiers are now on the island as part of task force that will carry out the arrest after a court released the warrants. The military has given until Tuesday investigators to look into the beheading of the soldiers in Al-Barka town.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is negotiating peace with Manila, admitted killing the soldiers, but denied beheading them. It also rejected a military demand to turn over those behind the attack.
Marine Col. Ramiro Alivio, commander of military forces in Basilan, said “intelligence operations and security patrols” were continuing but that there have been no large-scale movement of forces by either side and no armed contact have been recorded as of Sunday.
The news of impending punitive actions against the MILF has triggered an exodus of civilians with more than 5,000 people fleeing their homes in Al-Barka town and nearby areas.
Intelligence reports have implicated political warlords and their private armies in the beheading of the soldiers. (With a report from Mark Navales)
MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 29 Jul) – Pharmaceutical firms have allegedly put up as much as P1-billion lobby fund to derail the passage of a bill seeking to reduce medicine prices.
But Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas has warned multinational pharmaceutical firms against carrying out their plan, saying, the government is firm in supporting the “Cheap Medicine Bill.”
“Our people desperately need access to affordable medicine. The new Congress has no other recourse but to quickly pass the bill. It is bad enough that the previous Congress failed to pass the bill,” Gullas said.
Gullas earlier introduced House Bill 307, his version of the Cheap Medicine Bill. The measure is comparable to the bill previously introduced by Iloilo Rep. Ferjenel Biron.
Last week, Biron accused multinational drug firms of putting up the money to allegedly “kill” the Cheap Medicine Bill.
Gullas’ bill seeks to provide Filipinos increased access to inexpensive drugs by reinforcing the parallel importation scheme of the state-owned Philippine International Trading Corp. (PTIC), and by allowing any entity to import patented drugs sold cheaper in other countries.
Gullas said the country’s health protection remains grossly inadequate, with only one of every three citizens covered by medical insurance. He said the government’s insufficient financial resources have hampered universal health insurance coverage.
As a result, Filipinos have to take out of their own pockets more than 40 percent of all health-related spending, including the purchase of high-priced medicines.
“Congress should promptly relax existing patent rules by declaring that parallel importation will not violate trademarks, as long as the drugs brought in are determined to be genuine counterparts produced in other countries,” Gullas said.
“Allowing unrestrained competition is one sure way for Congress to help drive down drug prices, and make them more affordable to most Filipinos.”
Based on the finding of previous congressional inquiries, dozens of branded drugs that are now being sold here at prohibitive prices, may in fact be imported and sold here for much less.
For example, a branded amlodipine which costs P44.75 in the Philippines sells only P6 in India. And branded drugs such as Mefenamic acid that costs P20.98 in the country sells for about P2.80 in India and P1.46 in Pakistan. And same with branded loperamide hydrochloric acid that usually costs P10.70 only sells P1.94 in Pakistan.
The PITC imports about 90 cheap medicines that are being sold to the public through Botika ng Bayan outlets. The 1,345 outlets nationwide will be increased to 2,000 by year’s end.
This year, the PITC plans to import from Pakistan and India an additional P500-million worth of medicines, mainly for diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and tuberculosis.
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 29 Jul) – Filipino officials on Sunday inaugurated a P4-million social center for street children whose funding came partly from the Spanish foundation Manos Unidas.
Called the Akay Kalinga Center, the building have two dormitories, a guest room and a library, a conference and an office and also showers and toilets, a terrace and a playground.Akay Kalinga, a Filipino term which means “caring guidance.”
Mayor Celso Lobregat and project proponent Spanish priest Fr Angel Calvo and Zamboanga City Archbishop Romulo Valles led officials in the inauguration.“This center shows how much our community can do together for our street children, who in biblical terms are the most vulnerable members of our society,” Rev. Valles said in a statement released by Peace Advocate Zamboanga headed by Fr Calvo.
“Today, I dedicate this house to the street children of the city, in behalf of the church. This center is a humble parable of the meaning of love and care and dedication. With this, we walk with our street children in their aspiration for a life of dignity and security and peace,” Fr Calvo said.
Those who stay in the center will also be given scholarships grants.
“Our street children need everybody’s assistance and the Akay Kalinga is part of the solution to the problem. This building is a monument of love and care for them,” Mayor Lobregat said.
Last year, the Spanish government thru Manos Unidas also granted the Philippines P50-million for the construction of a five-hectare housing project for poor families in Ayala district in Makati City.
In June, Spain granted a P40-million, two-year educational project that will benefit Filipino students and teachers in Zamboanga City and nearby Zamboanga Sibugay province, coinciding with the celebration Friday of the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day.
Called the Acceso a la Educacion y Mejora de la Calidad Educativa en Colegios de la Peninsula de Zamboanga (Improving the Access and Quality of Education in the Schools of the Zamboanga Peninsula), the project by the Agencia Español Cooperacion International and Fundacion Humanismo Y Democracia, both charity arms of the Spanish government, and the Philippine Business for Social Project (PBSP), is expected to benefit more than 23,000 elementary and secondary students, including teachers and parents-teachers community associations in the three pilot areas in the Zamboanga Peninsula.
It aims to provide scholarship assistance to more than 2,000 poor and deserving students, and establish a 15-cubicles speech laboratory worth P1.2 million to increase the proficiency of the students in English and also to help promote and preserve the local Chavacano language, a unique mixture of Spanish and other Filipino dialects.