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Archive for May 2007

4 abducted in North Cotabato freed

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By Joel Guinto, Jeoffrey Maitem, Edwin Fernandez, Mindanao Bureau
Last updated 07:17pm (Mla time) 05/31/2007

COTABATO CITY — The biggest Muslim rebel group in Mindanao has announced the rescue of four people — one foreigner and three Filipinos — who were seized by unidentified armed group in a remote village in the province of North Cotabato earlier in the day.

The military reported initially that the four victims were all “Caucasians,” which Major General Ben Dolorfino, chairman of the government side of the Ad-Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), corrected later in the day.

Eid Kabalu, spokesman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said the suspects, believed to be members of a local kidnap-for-ransom gang, were cornered by MILF forces under Commander Moti in the interior of Barangay (village) Batolawan in Pikit town around 3 p.m.

“Because of our order to neutralize the suspects, they were forced to abandon the victims,” Kabalu said.

Dolorfino said “cattle rustlers”, led by a certain Datucan, were behind the abduction.

Dolorfino said the bandits tried to charge “board and lodging” from their victims, but eventually agreed to release them after MILF forces fired an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) at them.

The four will stay at an MILF camp in Parang town, Maguindanao province overnight, Dolorfino said.

On Friday, the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Forces would turn over the group to the International Monitoring Team (IMT), who will later turn them over to government security forces, the official added.

Kabalu said it was good that the kidnappers entered an MILF territory because it became easier for their forces to launch the rescue operation.

“They erred in entering our area of responsibility,” Kabalu said.

Kabalu did not identify the victims but the owner of the van they rented out from Davao City said the male Caucasian was Thomas Wallraf, a German national.

Roselyn Timbal, owner of the Nissan van with plate number YDN 826, said Wallraf rented the van on Wednesday and told her he was going to Cotabato.

She said Wallraf was with two other persons, both Indian nationals.

But Colonel Pedro Soria, commander of the Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade, the main military unit who pursued the kidnappers, said Wallraf, whom he identified first as Thomas Wallrat, was with another Caucasian identified as Sharon Jackson. It was not clear what Jackson’s nationality was.

Dolorfino, who works with the government peace panel, said there was only one Caucasian and that was Wallraf.

He said the three others were Filipino, including Walraf’s wife, whom he did not identify.

Soria gave the names of the other victims as Consuela San Juan and a Diego Delfin.

Timbal said the Delfin in the report was Diego Narisma, who drove the van.

Police and military authorities said investigation was still being conducted to determine what Wallraf’s business was in going to Pikit.

But Timbal said Wallraf told them that he was going to meet somebody about treasure hunting.

“He was a treasure hunter,” she told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.

A military official also told the Inquirer, parent company of, that Wallraf went to Pikit to look for nickel babbitt, which reportedly fetches a high price in the international blackmarket.

Timbal has initially said that Wallraf and his companions left Davao City on Wednesday evening but said later that they went to Pikit on Thursday morning.

Authorities initially reported that the victims were all foreigners and that they were seized in Barangay Batolawan.

“The suspects tied up the victims before forcing them away,” Major Randolph Cabangbang, spokesman of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), said.

Lieutenant Colonel Julieto Ando, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the armed men were aboard several motorcycles.

“Police and military personnel were dispatched to the area to look for the victims,” Ando said.

Mayor Sumulong Sultan said he was happy that the victims had been rescued.

The victims will be handed over to the government by the MILF peace panel today after spending the night in an MILF camp near this city.

He said it could have been a major headache for officials had the victims remained in the hands of the kidnappers.

But Kabalu said they became positive that the victims would be freed when they learned that the kidnappers were entering an MILF territory.

“The MILF chair [Murad Ebrahim] has ordered our troops on the ground to help track down the suspects,” Kabalu had told DXMS radio.

The MILF, which is talking peace with the government, has pledged to cooperate with the government in anti-terror and anti-crime operation.

Kabalu said the MILF wanted to prevent any situation from becoming complicated because it would put the peace process in jeopardy.

In past kidnapping incidents, the military had linked the MILF and launched operation against the rebels.

“Things like this one will destroy the peace process, we will not allow this to happen under our noses,” Kabalu said.

Aside from the MILF, other Moro armed groups blamed for incidents of kidnapping in Central Mindanao also included the Pentagon kidnap gang.

The Pentagon gang, composed of former Moro rebels, gained notoriety when it started abducting Italian missionaries in the early ’90s.

The group, collectively controlled by at least five leaders including Alonto Tahir, was also involved in the 2001 abduction of five Chinese engineers from a government irrigation project in Carmen, North Cotabato.

Four of the engineers were killed during a botched military operation, while the Pentagon continued its activities.

Originally posted at 1:24pm

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Ex-Garcillano aides moved to anti-narcotics agency–sources

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By Joel Guinto
Last updated 04:15pm (Mla time) 05/30/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Army Captain Valentino Lopez, a former aide of ex-elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, one of the alleged architects of fraud that marred the 2004 elections, has been given a new assignment at the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), three independent sources have confirmed.

One of the three officials, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said another ex-Garcillano aide, Captain Marlon Mendoza, has also been transferred to PDEA although the two other officials could not confirm this.

Lopez had allegedly tried to bribe a Commission on Elections (Comelec) official in Western Mindanao with P50 million to ensure the victories of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and a Zamboanga mayoralty bet.

A military fact-finding board that looked into the alleged involvement of its officials into the 2004 cheating controversy recommended that Lopez undergo “further investigation.”

Mendoza had testified before a Senate investigation in August 2005 that Garcillano had bragged during a drinking spree that an alleged operator of the illegal numbers game “jueteng” contributed P300 million to Arroyo’s campaign kitty.

Mendoza is facing court martial for allegedly faking P8 million worth of Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) identification cards.

The first source said Lopez was assigned with the PDEA’s complaint reaction unit. The second source confirmed this, saying Lopez was involved in “information gathering.” Both officials are from the PDEA, a composite team of soldiers, policemen, and intelligence agents.

“We are all facing cases. The charges have not been proven and no punishment has been imposed,” the second source said, when asked why Lopez was given a post at the PDEA despite allegations linking him to election fraud.

The first source said Lopez was detailed at the PDEA shortly after former military chief Dionisio Santiago took over from ex-PDEA director general Anselmo Avenido a few months back.

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Redeployment of troops in Metro Manila sought

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By Joel Guinto
Last updated 02:19pm (Mla time) 05/30/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Armed Forces National Capital Region Command (NCRCom) Chief Major General Ben Dolorfino said he has recommended the redeployment of troops to urban poor communities to the Chief of Staff, General Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

In an after operations report submitted to Esperon’s office on Tuesday, Dolorfino said he enumerated the many “accomplishments” of the 260 civil military operations (CMO) soldiers in their six-month stay in Metro Manila communities, including the surrender of eight self-confessed members of a terrorist “sleeper cell” last May 1.

“As far as we concerned, we see to it that we will continue or CMO activities,” Dolorfino told reporters Wednesday. “Our view is we should continue our peacetime role as an active partner of local government units.”

The soldiers were pulled out from 19 villages in Manila, Quezon City, and Caloocan City on the eve of the May 14 elections to erase speculations that they would be used for partisan political activities.

Dolorfino said the CMO troops have finished their refresher training and were awaiting Esperon’s decision on whether they would be redeployed to the poor communities.

He said that if troops would be redeployed, they would continue the “gun-less approach” against security threats, winning the support of the people through community service projects and dialogues.

“The National Capital Region is not spared from the threats of insurgency, the terrorism so we have to do something in order to be proactive in confronting the threats,” Dolorfino said.

Dolorfino said his recommendation would be reviewed by Esperon’s deputies for intelligence, operations, and CMO, Rear Admiral Leonardo Calderon, Major General Jogy Fojas, and Major General Jaime Buenaflor respectively.

The six-month long deployment came under fire from left-wing militants and partylist groups, who accused soldiers of harassing their supporters.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) also criticized the deployment, saying the deployment was reminiscent of martial law and soldiers encroached on the functions of the police and local government units.

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Australia to give Philippine Army $4-M worth of airboats

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By Joel Guinto
Last updated 04:33pm (Mla time) 05/29/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Australia will donate 28 brand new airboats worth $4 million to the Philippine Army for use in internal security operations, as part of the new defense cooperation agreement between the two countries, which will be signed this week, officials said.

The high-speed, global positioning system-equipped watercraft, which can seat seven people, are “highly maneuverable” in shallow waters, said defense undersecretary Antonio Santos, adding that the first batch of deliveries are due September.

“[The airboats] can penetrate shallow bodies of water. It can be best used in small unit operations,” Santos told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo, though he declined to say where the watercraft would be used.

“These are all brand new and this will definitely boost the capability of the army,” said Ma. Joji Aragon, defense assistant secretary for strategic assessment.

The Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOFVA) will be signed during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s two-day visit to Australia starting Wednesday, said defense undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor.

The delivery of the airboats will push through whether or not the Senate ratifies the SOFVA, as required under the Constitution, Aragon said.

Australia has also pledged to continue its training assistance for Filipino troops, worth AUS$4 million annually, Aragon said.

The post-graduate studies for the Filipino military officers are held in Canberra, Darwin, and Perth, she added.

At a joint news conference with the Philippine defense officials, Australian Ministry of Defense assistant secretary Ben Coleman said the SOVFA would pave the way for joint exercises between Filipino and Australian forces but refused to elaborate on their scale and location.

“The defense relationship we have with the Philippines is very much focused on the training, education and exchanges and the concluding of SOVFA, when that occurs, would admit us then to have exercises,” Coleman said.

Coleman and the Philippine officials also refused to say whether the upcoming exercises would be held in the southern Philippines, like the Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) war games with American troops.

Asked if the SOVFA has improved on the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US, particularly on the issue on the jurisdiction of foreign troops charged before local courts, Santos was evasive, saying, “I don’t want to compare agreements.”

In December 2006, US Marine Daniel Smith was sentenced to life imprisonment after a Makati City court convicted him of raping a Filipina at the former Subic Naval Base a year earlier.

Calls have been made to review the VFA after Smith was detained at the US Embassy in Manila, instead of a city jail, as called for under the agreement.

Aside from Australia, the Philippines is also negotiating similar defense cooperation agreements with Singapore, Brunei, and Malaysia.

($1= P45.90)

Originally posted at 1:46pm

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8 soldiers wounded in NPA ambush in Aurora

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By Joel Guinto
Last updated 12:52pm (Mla time) 05/29/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Eight Army soldiers were wounded in an ambush by suspected communist guerillas in the northern province of Aurora on Monday evening, a regional military commander said Tuesday.

At around 6:30 p.m. Monday, some 40 soldiers on board an M35 truck were on security patrol in Dimateset village, Dilasag town, when an undetermined number of New People’s Army (NPA) fighters fired at them, said Colonel Jose Kakilala, chief of the 48th Infantry Battalion.

The attack triggered a 30-minute firefight, Kakilala said in a phone interview on Tuesday, adding that the rebels suffered an undetermined number of casualties.

Five of the eight casualties on the Army side suffered minor injuries. Three others were seriously hurt and were brought to the hospital for treatment, Kakilala said.

The rebels, who have been fighting for almost four decades and walked out of peace talks with the government in 2004, launched a string of attacks in the region over the weekend.

They blew up a cell phone transmission tower in Masbate island province Saturday, and killed three soldiers and wounded three others on Sunday. Another soldier was killed and three wounded in nearby Camarines Norte province on Friday, authorities said.

The guerrillas claim to have a presence in 71 out of the Philippines’ 81 provinces. A sharp rise in attacks has prompted President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to order security forces to cut the 7,000-strong guerrillas force in half by 2010.

The rebels walked away from Norwegian-brokered peace talks in 2004 after accusing the government of instigating their inclusion on US and European lists of terrorist groups.

With a report from AP; Originally posted at 12:02pm

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RP-Australia finalize defense pact, ‘ready for signing’

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By Joel Guinto

Last updated 08:11pm (Mla time) 05/28/2007

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines and Australia have finalized their first ever defense cooperation agreement, that will pave the way for joint training between the two countries’ military forces.

The Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) is “ready for signing,” according to a statement from the Department of National Defense (DND). The department did not say exactly when the agreement would be signed.

The DND said the SOVFA would provide a “comprehensive legal framework” for cooperation between the Australian Defense Forces (ADF) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in combating “common threats.”

“This agreement contains key elements such as the basis of visits, entry and departure conditions, how training and exercises are to be conducted, carriage of arms, security and criminal jurisdiction, importation and exportation regulations and environmental protection,” the DND statement said.

“The SOVFA offers opportunities and benefits to the AFP in terms of education, capacity-building, humanitarian assistance, and disaster response,” the statement added.

The SOVFA will be submitted to the Philippine Senate for concurrence, as prescribed in the Constitution, the DND said, adding that the pact was “fair, balanced, reciprocal, and promotes our national interests.”

The Philippines is negotiating similar military pacts with neighbor countries including Singapore, Brunei, and Malaysia.

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Sison says he’s CPP chief no more, wants terror tag lifted

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By Joel Guinto
Last updated 05:29pm (Mla time) 05/28/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison has asked the Council of the European Union to remove him from its list of foreign terrorists, saying he was no longer the leader of the party and its armed wing after 20 years in exile.

Through his lawyer, Jan Fermon, the Netherlands-based Sison made the request to the council in a letter dated May 23.

Sison was responding to an Aril 23 letter by the EU council, which allegedly renewed allegations that he was a terrorist.

“I am surprised why the Council writes to me a letter recycling blatantly false allegations, which have been extensively discussed and answered in the aforesaid court,” Sison said in a short note that accompanied Fermon’s letter.

“I believe that the Council and member-states of the European Union are absurd for making it appear that I am a terrorist and for construing that social benefits from the Dutch government for my essential human needs [living allowance, housing, health insurance, civil liability insurance and old age pension] are financing for terrorism,” he said.

The Council of the European Union placed Sison on its list of foreign terrorists in 2002, after the United States placed him in a similar list earlier that year. Sison has appealed the listing before the European Court of First Instance.

The EU listing has resulted in the freezing of Sison’s joint account with his wife and the suspension of his “social living allowance” and other social benefits.

Fermon said in his letter that Sison was requesting the council to “not include or retain” his client on its terror list, and to “declare itself incompetent” to decide whether Sison should be on the list.

Sison’s lawyer said he could not be the leader of the CPP, and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), since he has been “separated” as its leader for a “continuous period of 29 years” following his arrest in 1977, during the Marcos dictatorship, and subsequent exile in 1988 during the Aquino presidency.

“Jose Maria Sison cannot be the leader or the head of the CPP because it is materially impossible to direct a political party in his situation of exile for more than 20 years,” Fermon said.

“Jose Maria Sison denies that he is in charge of the NPA or that the NPA is linked to him,” he added.

The lawyer also scored the council for “misrepresenting” Sison as an “advocate of violence,” saying this was a “flagrant contradiction” to his client’s role in peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the CPP’s political arm, the National Democratic Front (NDF), for which Sison has served as chief political consultant.

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