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Archive for April 2008

Military overruns Abu, JI camp in Jolo

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 11:51:00 04/30/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Elite Marine and Army troops overran the main camp of the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiyah in the southern island of Jolo on Wednesday, after an overnight assault by commando units, the commander in the area said.

The assault in sitio (sub-village) Candinamon in the jungles of Indanan town “preempted” possible strikes by the extremists, said Brigadier General Juancho Sabban, chief of the Armed Forces’ counter-terrorism unit Task Force Comet.

Sabban said a “bomb-making facility” was discovered in the camp, where Abu Sayyaf leader Radullan Sahiron, and JI bomb expert Umar Patek, a suspect in the 2002 Bali bombings, were reportedly hiding, Sabban told reporters.

The extremists suffered an unconfirmed number of casualties, while there were no casualties on the government side, the official said.

“We launched a surgical attack on the camp of the Abu Sayyaf and the JI, it is their main camp. According to our information, Sahiron and Umar Patek were there,” he said.

“They were planning something big. This is a preemptive strike,” Sabban said.

After midnight on Wednesday, troops fired 105-millimeter Howitzer and mortar rounds on the extremists’ camp, and was followed by a ground assault by troops from the Marines’ Force Reconnaissance and Special Operations units, and the Army Scout Rangers and Light Reaction Company, Sabban said.

The government forces, numbering around 300, outnumbered some 200 foes, who were allegedly supported by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Sabban said.

Sabban said the MNLF fired mortar rounds at government troops, but stopped when told that the soldiers were after the Abu Sayyaf and the JI.

The extremists’ camp was far from the camp of MNLF commander Ajibon, but the separatist rebels thought that the military were after them, Sabban said.

The fighting ended at around 7 a.m. Wednesday, when the bandits withdrew and the troops overran the camp, Sabban said.

The soldiers were still searching the camp as of posting time.

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MILF chief: Gov’t ‘dilly-dallying’ threatening peace process

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Warns of ‘other means’ to attain objectives

By Joel Guinto
First Posted 16:40:00 04/29/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The chairman of the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) accused government of “dilly-dallying and spoiling” the peace process in the south and warned they might resort to “other means” to achieve their objectives.

Reacting quickly, the chief government negotiator appealed to the secessionist rebels for “forbearance,” saying a number of so-called “consensus points” have to be studied carefully and resolved before an agreement on the contentious issue of ancestral domain issue is reached.

In a statement, MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim claimed government’s refusal to abide by the consensus points in the last round of talks is the reason Malaysia, the third party facilitator of the negotiations, announced a pullout of its ceasefire monitors.

“If the peace process fails as a result of the GRP’s [Government of the Republic of the Philippines] dilly-dallying and spoiling, we are left with no choice but to seek other means of achieving our objective. Should that happen, the government is to blame for failing to settle the conflict through diplomatic means,” Murad said in the statement posted on the MILF’s website.

Murad said only the government’s concurrence with all the consensus points would save the peace process from “falling apart” and would signal Malaysia on the need to schedule a fresh round of negotiations.

He said the MILF “firmly believes” in the position of its late chairman, Salamat Hashim, that, “the most civilized and practical way of solving the Moro problem is through a negotiated political settlement.”

During the last round of talks in Kuala Lumpur in February, the government and the MILF drafted nine consensus points, six of which were “largely approved” by Malacañang, said GRP peace panel chairman Rodolfo Garcia.

The MILF submitted its counterproposals on the three remaining points to the GRP, but these have yet to be approved by Malacañang, Garcia told

The three points include the “concept of aspiration of freedom” of the Bangsamoro people, the “degree of powers over strategic resources,” and “establishment of political institutions,” Garcia said without elaborating.

Garcia acknowledged that the three points, if not studied thoroughly, could raise constitutional issues and could open the government to criticism.

“We are looking at these issues. These are not easy issues. These issues are potentially controversial,” he said.

“The slowdown in this phase of the talks is really understandable and should be understood by the MILF and the Malaysian government,” he added.

While no timeline has been set, Garcia said the government would act on the MILF’s counterproposals “the soonest that we can.”

“We know the urgency. We are very aware of the urgency. We know the ball is in our court,” he said.

“I surely would like to convey to our MILF counterparts to understand the reason for the slowdown in the process. I’d like to assure them that the negotiation is very much alive, very much on track. I would like to ask for their forbearance,” he said.

Asked if government action on the three remaining consensus points would require amendments to the Constitution, Garcia said: “It’s an option.”

He said there have been no formal or informal talks between the GRP and MILF panels.

Garcia also doused fears that the impending pullout of the Malaysian contingent to the international monitoring team (IMT) would lead to revived hostilities between the military and MILF.

While he was not discounting the contributions of the IMT, Garcia said the joint ceasefire committee of the GRP and MILF has developed strong mechanisms to prevent an outbreak of fighting.

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Tue+00:002008-04-29T09:03:00+00:00+00:0004b+00:00Tue, 29 Apr 2008 09:03:00 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am04

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3 officers in 2003 mutiny discharged from service

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2 others meted up to 7 years in prison

By Joel Guinto
First Posted 11:43:00 04/29/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Three alleged leaders of a shortlived uprising in 2003 have been ordered discharged from the service while two of their comrades were sentenced up to seven years and six months in prison after they were found “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” for violating the Articles of War.

Army First Lieutenants Lawrence San Juan, Nathaniel Rabonza, and Sonny Sarmiento were read their sentences during the promulgation of their case on Tuesday.

They were charged with violation of Article of War 96 (conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman), which is punishable only with discharge from the military service.

Meanwhile, aside from being dismissed from the service, Army Second Lieutenant Jason Panaligan and Air Force Second Lieutenant Christopher Orongan were also sentenced to seven years and six months in prison.

The two struck a plea bargain with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to violation of Article of War 97 (conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline), in exchange for the dropping of more serious charges, including Article of War 97 (mutiny), against them.

The court credited the four years, nine months and one day that Orongan and Panaligan served in detention. It cut three years more from their sentence because of three “mitigating circumstances.”

The three circumstances that the court recognized, as proposed by defense lawyers, included the accused officers’ voluntary surrender, their “long period” in detention, and “good behavior.”

In effect, the accused have served their full sentence and would be released as soon as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as commander-in-chief upholds the verdict.

In its ruling on San Juan, Rabonza, and Sarmiento, the court said they “willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously violated their solemn oath and constitutional duty to protect the people” when they seized the Oakwood luxury apartments in the Makati City financial district in July 27, 2003.

The court said the group “attempted to oust the President by force” and “disturbed the peace and tranquility of the nation.”

The law member of the seven-member court, Lieutenant Colonel Ana Escarlan, read the decision. The three officers stood at attention in front of the panel, and saluted the court president, Air Force Brigadier General Nathaniel Legaspi before the verdict was read.

Legaspi read the verdict on Orongan and Panaligan.

Defense lawyer Edgardo Abaya said the court did not specify whether the discharge of the leaders was honorable or dishonorable, since Articles of War, violation of article 96 did not make that distinction.

Abaya said it was up to the President to determine whether the discharge would be dishonorable.

The verdict leaves 17 junior officers left to face court martial over the failed uprising, led by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a former Navy lieutenant, and Marine Captain Nicanor Faeldon, who is at large.

Last year, the court discharged 12 Army junior officers, co-accused of San Juan, Sarmiento, and Rabonza.

The 12, led by Captains Gerardo Gambala and Milo Maestrecampo, also pleaded guilty to violating Article of War 96.

Nine of the 12, including Gambala and Maestrecampo, pleaded guilty to coup d’etat before a civilian court and were sentenced to between 12 and 40 years in prison. They have asked for presidential pardon.

Also in 2007, 53 junior officers, co-accused of Orongan and Panaligan, struck a plea bargain with military prosecutors and were also discharged from the service.

In 2005, 184 enlisted men who took part in the Oakwood uprising were sentenced from one- to two-step rank demotion and forfeiture of their salaries.

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Tue+00:002008-04-29T08:35:10+00:00+00:0004b+00:00Tue, 29 Apr 2008 08:35:10 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am04

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No power grab threat on May 1 — security officials

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 18:34:00 04/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines — There are no threats of destabilization or a repeat of the bloody siege in Malacañang when militant groups take to the streets for the traditional Labor Day rallies on Thursday, police and military officials said.

Police will meet with rally organizers in Manila on Tuesday morning to hammer out security arrangements for the rallies, said Director Geary Barias, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO).

At least 2,000 anti-riot policemen, with augmentation from the military, will secure the protests, initially planned at the Plaza Miranda, Mehan Garden, and Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila, and the Welcome Rotonda in Quezon City, Barias told a news conference in Camp Aguinaldo.

“There’s none, if you are referring to People Power 3, [the] May 1 siege. We have not received any information regarding that matter,” Barias said.

“But we are always prepared,” said Barias counterpart in the military, Major General Fernando Mesa, the chief of the National Capital Region Command (NCRCom).

On May 1, 2001, hundreds of loyalists of deposed president Joseph Estrada stormed the Malacañang gates, three months after a military-backed popular revolt thrust Estrada’s then vice president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to power.

Earlier this year, huge protests were staged in the Makati financial district and in Manila to press for Arroyo’s ouster amid allegations she pocketed millions of dollars in kickbacks from the botched national broadband project along with her husband, Jose Miguel, and former elections chief Benjamin Abalos Sr.

Officials were on alert amid reports that the rallies would be used as a springboard for a power grab attempt, and that communist rebels were planning to disrupt the protests.

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Mon+00:002008-04-28T13:16:28+00:00+00:0004b+00:00Mon, 28 Apr 2008 13:16:28 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm04

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Arrest order out vs ex-Basilan gov., 3 others in House blast

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By Tetch Torres, Joel Guinto
First Posted 16:40:00 04/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Arrest warrants have been issued by a local court against former Basilan Representative Gerry Salapuddin and three others over last year’s explosion at the Congress building where at least seven people, including a lawmaker, were killed.

In his order, Branch 83 Judge Ralph S. Lee of the Quezon City regional trial court ordered the arrest of Salapuddin, Police Officer 1 Bayan Judda, Hajarun Jamiri and Benjamin Hataman.

The four are facing multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder charges, non-bailable offenses.

The arraignment of all the accused will be on Wednesday. Another hearing will be held Tuesday on Salapuddin’s motion to quash the arrest warrant.

Killed in the blast on Nov. 13, 2007 were Basilan Representative Wahab Akbar, Salapuddin’s political opponent; Marcial Taldo, driver of Gabriela Partylist Representative Luzviminda Ilagan; Akbar’s staff Julasiri Niki Huyudini; and House employee Maan Gale Bustalino.

Meanwhile, National Capital Region Police Office Chief Geary Barias said he has yet to receive a copy of the order but said that their units would serve the warrant.

Asked how police would arrest Salapuddin, considering his position,
Barias said: “Being a former governor and congressman, I believe they [suspects] might as well present themselves to authorities.”

“The best advice would be for them to surrender and present themselves before the courts,” Barias told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.

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AFP insists Jonas Burgos not with them

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 15:27:00 04/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Monday maintained that it was not involved in the disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos, exactly one year after the son of the late press freedom icon Jose “Joe” Burgos Jr. went missing.

“We have been saying or stating even before that Jonas Burgos is not under the custody of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” AFP spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bartolome Bacarro told reporters.

Burgos’ mother, Edita, is holding troops from the 56th Infantry Battalion based in Bulacan province responsible for her son’s disappearance. This after the license plate on the vehicle of his alleged abductors was traced to an impounded vehicle at the battalion’s headquarters in Norzagaray town.

On April 28, 2007, “military-looking” men allegedly took Burgos while he was eating at a fastfood outlet in a Quezon City mall. An agriculturist by profession, Burgos was working as a consultant for the left-wing Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Peasant Movement of the Philippines), when he was abducted.

Bacarro said the military would continue cooperating in hearings at the Court of Appeals on a petition for habeas corpus filed by Burgos’ mother.

“We have military officers that are scheduled to appear, they will attend the court hearings…Let’s wait for a resolution through the legal processes,” Bacarro said.

The former commanding general of the Philippine Army, retired lieutenant general Romeo Tolentino, testified in a recent hearing. The license plate on a back-up vehicle used by Burgos’ alleged abductors was traced to a staff car detailed to Tolentino’s office.

In an interview with reporters in July 2007, Tolentino said Burgos could be a member of the communist New People’s Army (NPA), though he could not say whether his affiliation was a factor in his disappearance.

Bacarro could not confirm if a military investigation on the Burgos case has produced results.

“That’s very operational. I’m not privy to the developments. [The inquiry is] in the field of intelligence, I’m not privy to any information,” he said.

When pressed by reporters, Bacarro said the Jonas case was being used by “some groups” to link the military to extrajudicial killings and disappearances of left-wing activists.

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Mon+00:002008-04-28T08:56:22+00:00+00:0004b+00:00Mon, 28 Apr 2008 08:56:22 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am04

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Informant vs Abu Sayyaf suspect gets P500,000 reward

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 15:04:00 04/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Authorities awarded P500,000 to an informant who led them to neutralize a suspected Abu Sayyaf explosives expert in Quezon City in November 2007.

The informant, who wore a leather jacket and a black ski mask over his face, received the cash from Director Geary Barias, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), and Major General Fernando Mesa, commander of the military’s National Capital Region Command (NCRCom), in Camp Aguinaldo on Monday.

The suspect, Alpaker Said, alias Abu Jandal, was killed in a shootout after authorities swooped down on a bandit lair in the Payatas district last November 16.

Said, an alleged Abu Sayyaf explosives expert, was reportedly involved in the November 13 bomb attack on the House of Representatives that killed Basilan Representative Wahab Akbar and five other persons, Barias said.

Several others, including two solons, were wounded.

Former Basilan representative Gerry Salapuddin, Akbar’s political rival, and several others have been charged for the bombing.

Said also had a standing warrant for kidnapping and serious illegal detention, Barias said.

“He [tipster] led us to the hideout of [Said’s] group,” Mesa said, without elaborating on the informant’s identity due to security reasons.

Asked what Said’s role in the November 13 attack was, Barias said: “We can only at this time speculate if he provided technology to the group or if he rigged the bomb himself.”

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Comrades: Caldeo 3rd vet of 2000 Basilan clash in ‘suicide’

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 17:47:00 04/25/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The colonel found dead in his Fort Bonifacio quarters Thursday was the third soldier who took part in a fierce 2000 battle against Abu Sayyaf extremists in Basilan to die in an alleged suicide, his fellow Scout Rangers said.

Aside from Colonel Roberto Caldeo, the source said a sergeant and a lieutenant of the elite unit allegedly also took their own lives years after the three-day assault on Puno (Mt.) Mohaji in Isabela City in late April 2000, according to a Scout Ranger junior officer who was part of the operation.

Caldeo commanded the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion, which was tasked to assault Puno Mohaji to rescue dozens of teachers, students, and a Catholic priest held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf.

Another junior officer in the Rangers who was stationed in Basilan at the time, said the three soldiers could have been driven to suicide because of depression over the assault, in which six soldiers were killed and 50 wounded. More than 20 Abu Sayyaf fighters were also killed.

“Wala talagang stress management sa Army [There really is no stress management in the Army],” the second source said.

The junior officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to media.

Caldeo was found dead with a gunshot wound to his forehead on Thursday morning.

Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres Jr. said a note and a handgun found on the scene could indicate suicide, although he stressed that the police investigation into the incident is continuing.

A classmate of Caldeo’s at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) confirmed his late “mistah” was bothered by the Puno Mohaji incident up until the time of his death.

“I believe so, that [Puno Mohaji] is one of the things he shared with us. A number of soldiers died under his watch,” Colonel Daniel Lucero, president of PMA Class 1983 to which Caldeo belonged, said.

Asked if Caldeo may have felt guilty because of the casualties, Lucero said: “Not actually guilt. It’s care for the affected families [of the casualties].”

“Leading men to battle could mean losing lives,” said Lucero, a former military spokesman who is the current head executive assistant to the Armed Forces Chief of Staff.

Another classmate, Colonel Ricardo Visaya, said Caldeo was “very secretive” especially when it came to personal problems.

Torres said the Army does have a team of medical experts who conduct stress management but conceded that: “We can’t say that 100 percent [of troops] undergo the procedure.”

He explained that those who figure in major encounters are prioritized for stress debriefing but could not immediately confirm if the soldiers involved in the Puno Mohaji operation underwent this.

Torres said ground commanders are expected to be “creative” and conduct stress management on their men. Troops who have not gone home for some time or those with family problems are allowed to go on vacation.

“We have professional medical experts [but] hindi natin laging kasama sila [they are not always with us],” he said.

The first Ranger officer joked that soldiers go to watering holes for stress debriefing.

The Puno Mohaji raid earned for Caldeo the Distinguished Conduct Star, the second highest combat medal in the military, but the honor came three years after the encounter.

It also earned for a young officer, then Second Lieutenant Herbert Dilag, the military’s highest honor, the Medal of Valor. Dilag led a 14-man team on a “suicide mission” that finally overran the bandit camp.

But Caldeo was relieved as brigade commander after the hostages were rescued from Puno Mohaji and was reassigned to the 33rd Infantry Battalion in Sulu province.

The first source claimed Caldeo earned the ire of superiors, one of whom threatened to remove the “tabak” or native sword on the Scout Ranger emblem, as his troops suffered casualties during the Puno Mohaji assault.

“Instead of [getting] praise, we got criticized,” he said.

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Accused officers: Esperon ‘brought shame’ to military

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 15:16:00 04/25/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Armed Forces chief of staff General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. has performed “below par” and “brought shame” to the military establishment, officers accused of plotting an alleged February 2006 coup attempt said Friday.

“No one has brought more shame to the institution. [Esperon is] the pimp in the prostitution of the military establishment,” former Scout Rangers commander Brigadier General Danilo Lim said on the sidelines of a court martial hearing of mutiny charges he and 27 other officers are facing for the alleged 2006 plot..

“He performed below par. Most of his time was spent containing us, but still he wasn’t able to achieve his objectives. He wasn’t able to meet his goals set in his counterinsurgency campaign,” Marine Colonel Ariel Querubin said at the same hearing.

On Wednesday, Esperon announced that the military was short of its target to dismantle 17 communist guerilla fronts in the first quarter of 2008, dismantling only eight, though he said 10 fronts were “downgraded” while 13 others were in advanced stage of degradation.

Reached for comment, Esperon said in a text message: “Let us not dignify the statement of a megalomaniac destabilizer who thinks he is the savior of the Philippines.”

Taking a swipe at Lim and Querubin, Esperon said praise was due the common soldier who “continue risking their lives and accomplish more that self-proclaimed heroes.”

“They [soldiers] never think that only they can be good. They remain humble and keep on soldiering,” said the military chief who will retire on May 9 and be replaced by Army commander Lieutenant General Alexander Yano.

The court martial adjourned early due to a lack of quorum. Only four members were present when least five of the seven-member court should be present to constitute a quorum.

Lim and Querubin are accused of planning to lead soldiers in a mass withdrawal of support from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by joining street protests on February 24, 2006, 20th anniversary of the 1986 People Power uprising that toppled the Marcos dictatorship.

Arroyo has been accused of cheating her way to victory in the 2004 elections with the help of senior military officials, including Esperon.

During Friday’s hearing, Lieutenant Colonel Jose Feliciano Loy, one of the military prosecutors, said the special plea of the highest-ranked accused, Major General Renato Miranda, to drop the charges due to a “nolle prosequi” (prosecution application to discontinue charges) to lack of evidence had been dropped.

Citing results of a review of the case, Loy said: “Unfortunately, all the accused have one way or another participated in the charge.”

But Loy assured the accused that during the course of the hearing, when no evidence is found against any of them, the prosecution would “not hesitate a minute longer” to file a “nolle prosequi.”

Loy said the prosecution had “10 to 20” witnesses, including Esperon, who was the Army commander in 2006.

“I want him [Esperon] to be the first witness. If you present him, I want to be the first to examine him,” defense counsel Homobono Adaza said.

To which, Loy replied, “no problem.”

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2 suspected NPA fighters slain in Bulacan clash

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 15:34:00 04/24/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Two suspected communist rebels were killed in an encounter with elite Army troops in Bulacan province on Wednesday, a military official said.

The bodies of the two dead rebels were recovered from the scene of the encounter between a platoon from the 18th Special Forces Company and around seven New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas in a coastal hamlet of Taliptip village, Meycauayan town at around 4 p.m., said Brigadier General Arturo Ortiz, chief of the Special Forces Regiment.

The dead were identified as Marlon Verano, a logistics officer, and a certain Palo, Ortiz said in a text message to reporters on Thursday. A submachine gun and a .38-caliber pistol were also recovered.

The government troops suffered no casualties.

At the end of the first quarter of 2008, the military estimated the strength of the NPA at 5,470, down from 5,761 in the previous quarter, Armed Forces chief General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said in his quarterly internal security briefing on Wednesday.

Incidentally, Esperon said Bulacan was among provinces where troops have dismantled guerilla fronts.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has given security forces until 2010 to deal a “strategic defeat” to the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has been waging a guerilla campaign from the countryside for close to 40 years.

Marj Garces, Contributor

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