Category: news


Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island. 2008 photo by author.

Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island. 2008 photo by author.

Plans to turn Philippine-occupied features on the disputed Spratly Islands have been postponed for at least a year as these coincided with the election season, the territories’ mayor said Thursday.

Eugenio Bito-onon, mayor of Kalayaan town under Palawan province, said the tourism campaign supposed to start this year will “most probably” be launched in 2017, after the new administration has taken over.

Representatives of the Department of Tourism (DoT) were supposed to assess the biggest Philippine-occupied feature, Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island, two weeks ago, but cancelled the visit, he said.

“Kinancel, partly because of election… Naabutan kasi ng election ‘yung Senate bill. So after the election ire-refile uli, a new start, pero after that tag-ulan na ‘yun, so most probably 2017 na [ang tourism campaign],” Bito-onon said.

Bito-onon, who himself is running this year for another term as Kalayaan mayor, was referring to the bill filed by Senator Sonny Angara which aims to declare the Pag-Asa Island cluster as an “eco-tourism destination and protected area.”

The bill, which also covers Parola (Northeast Cay), Kota (Loaita), and Panata (Lankiam Cay) islands, entails a call for funding from the DoT.

Overtures for making Kalayaan a tourism attraction were renewed in the past few years, with an eye at further cementing the Philippines’ claim to the islands, reefs, and atolls comprising the town.

These came amid China’s buildup of artificial islands and structures in nearby features, of which some were said to have been opened to tourists recently.

Along calls for tourism in Kalayaan were plans by the national government to repair the deteriorating Rancudo Air Field on Pag-Asa and building a jetty there.

Both construction plans reached bidding stage, but were shelved as the government wants to maintain “moral high ground” in the case filed against China at the United Nations’ International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

ITLOS is expected to decide on the case this year, but Bito-onon said this was not a factor in the tourism drive’s delay.

“It’s more due to election,” he said.

Philippine election laws prohibit almost all public works and funding, especially during campaign period.

“Paano mo naman sisimulan ‘yung project kung walang pondo?” Bito-onon said.

Despite this, Bito-onon said he remains hopeful that the tourism project would still move forward.

He said the local government of Kalayaan had already pushed through with its acquisition of a steel-hulled boat, a project aimed at aiding both residents and soon-to-be tourists.

The project has been bidded out and the 22-meter boat worth P10.6 million is expected to be delivered this September, he said.

“This will be used for the safety of travelers,” as well as rescue operations and bringing food, water, and other supplies for residents in times of emergency, Bito-onon said. (John Roson)

– end –

Three foreigners abducted by alleged Abu Sayyaf members on Samal Island, Davao del Norte, appeared in another video, calling on authorities to help save their lives by meeting their captors’ demands.

The 1 minute and 38-second video, posted on a Facebook page called “Pamantasan Ng Tawheed At Jihaad Filibin” Thursday morning showed Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norweigian Kjartan Sekkingstad, and a woman believed to be Filipina Marites Flor, sitting in a jungle while being surrounded by gunmen.

With one captor holding a bolo against his neck, Ridsdel appealed to the Canadian prime minister and other Canadians to meet the hostage-takers’ demands.

“Please do what’s needed to meet their demands within one month or they will kill me and they will execute us,” he said.

Hall said they are being held by the Abu Sayyaf for an amount of ransom unknown to him, and the Canadian government should act to get them out soon.

“We got one month before this happens,” he said.

Sekkingstad said he and his fellow hostages are being held by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.

“Follow negotiations and try to meet their demand within 30 days or we are all dead,” he said.

The woman believed to be Flor did not speak in the video, where the faces of almost all captors — including the one that held a bolo against Ridsdel’s neck — were seen.

One hostage-taker, who was wearing a black balaclava and sunglasses, spoke for the gunmen.

“We will give a warning for one month preparation for the family to meet the demand. Once you step… the negotiation within one month starting today, March 8, 2016 until April 8, 2016. Then, if you think that your policy is far better for you than the lives of the captives, certainly we will do something terrible against these captives,” he said.

A previous video clip showing Ridsdel, Hall, Sekkingstad, Flor and their captors appeared in the Internet last November, barely two months after they were seized in Samal September 21.

Sought for comment on the new video, Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said authorities have yet to determine its “authenticity.”

“Dinulog po natin itong material na ito, itong video na ‘to, sa tanggapan ng ating mga forensic experts at antayin po muna natin ang kanilang ilalahad at ang kanilang mahahanap upang ma-authenticate natin nang ganap,” Padilla told reporters.

He admitted that threats made by the hostage-takers are “serious” and said operations were ongoing to rescue the captives.

“‘Yan po ang ating isinasagawa, di po nagbabago ‘yan, at karamihan po ng ating mga naisagawa nang activities ay nakatuon ang pansin sa, hopefully, pag-rescue sa mga nasabing bihag,” Padilla said.

Last month, the head of the police’s anti-kidnapping unit confirmed that Abu Sayyaf members are holding the four people kidnapped in Samal.

Senior Superintendent Roberto Fajardo, director of the PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group, also confirmed that members of the al Qaeda-linked group are asking P1 billion in exchange for the captives.

Meanwhile, Padilla called on the public to be more “discerning” on what they see and share on social media.

“Maaaring sila ay nagiging bahagi na ng paninira na ginagawa ng mga grupong ito nang di nila nalalaman… Maging mapanuri at maging maingat sa inyong tinitingnan sa social media para di po kayo nagiging bahagi ng isang propaganda,” he said. (John Roson)

– end –

Government troops seized two Abu Sayyaf encampments in Patikul, Sulu, after a clash with the bandits Thursday afternoon, the military said.

Brigadier General Alan Arrojado, Armed Forces Joint Task Group Sulu commander, said soldiers encountered about 30 Abu Sayyaf members in Sitio Mabusing, Brgy. Langhub, around 1 p.m.

Elements of the Army’s 10th Scout Ranger Company were conducting field military operations when the encountered the bandits led by Abu Sayyaf sub-commanders Muammar Askali alis “Abu Rami,” Namel Ahajari alias “Namel Gapas,” and Arkam Udjaman alias “Isran,” he said.

A 15-minute firefight ensued, until the troops seized a temporary encampment that can accomodate 50 people, Arrojado said.

Soldiers found a rifle grenade, M16 magazine with 45 rounds of ammunition, and foodstuff at the camp.

No soldier was wounded while intelligence operatives reported that two Abu Sayyaf members were injured, Arrojado said.

Members of the 11th Scout Ranger Company operating nearby later found a larger encampment, he said.

The other camp has 18 fox holes and can accomodate 80 to 100 people, and is believed to be where the bandit group’s “main body” had positioned, Arrojado said. (John Roson)

– end –

Two Chinese nationals and a Filipina were arrested after being caught with P25 million worth of suspected shabu in Makati City late Wednesday night, police said.

Arrested were He Kaibei, 28, and Henry Lam, 43, both of Fujian, China; and Annaliza Villegas, 45, said Dir. Joel Pagdilao, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO).

Elements of the NCRPO Regional Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Group arrested the three in a buy-bust operation at the parking lot of a restaurant at Magallanes Ave. cor. Humabon st., Magallanes Village, 11:15 p.m., Pagdilao said.

Operatives confiscated about 5 kilos of suspected shabu, a Nissan Cefiro sedan (XAY-567), and recovered the P10 million “buy bust money” from the suspects, he said.

Charges of violating Republic Act 9165 are being prepared against the suspects, Pagdilao said. (John Roson)

– end –

Two persons were injured when a grenade lobbed by still unidentified men exploded near the home of Sulu Vice Gov. Abdusakur Tan in Jolo Wednesday night, the military said.

Injured were Andel Aziz Asiri, 31, of Patikul, and Haidar Hasim, 28, of Brgy. Tulay, Jolo, said Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, commander of the Armed Forces’ Joint Task Group Sulu.

The explosion occurred around 7:50 p.m. along Loay st., Brgy. Asturias.

It happened only about 150 meters from the home of Tan, who is running for governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in the May 9 elections, a source said.

Authorities initially reported that an improvised explosive device went off, but Arrojado said a grenade’s safety lever was found later at the blast site.

Policemen cordoned the area and brought Asiri and Hasim to the Sulu Integrated Provincial Health Office for treatment.

Arrojado said investigators are looking at a claim that the grenade throwers were members of feuding clans in Talipao and unvalidated information that they were Abu Sayyaf.

Abu Sayyaf members are reportedly targetting civilians who give information to the military, he said.

Another security source said the blast “appears” to have something to do with Tan’s candidacy for ARMM governor. Tan is running as an independent against incumbent Gov. Mujiv Hataman and two others in the upcoming polls.

“Parang scenario eh, kasi kung target talaga ‘yung bahay, bakit hindi pa doon pinasabog? Pero hindi mo rin naman masabing ganun na nga, kasi hindi naman basta-basta makakahinto dun sa tapat ng bahay dahil may blue guards doon,” the source said. (John Roson)

– end –

Authorities in Northern Mindanao have been alerted for a possible “spillover” of clashes between government troops and a local terrorist group in neighboring Lanao del Sur, police said said Saturday.

“The command, which is already on ‘full alert’ status, has intensified its intelligence build-up and checkpoint operations in its boundaries to contain and prevent a spillover,” said Supt. Surki Sereñas, Northern Mindanao regional police spokesman.

Members of the 10th Regional Public Safety Battalion have also been sent to augment provincial and city police units that share geographical boundaries with Lanao del Sur “in case of eventualities,” Sereñas said in a statement.

Lanao del Norte and its capital, Iligan City, share a vast boundary with Lanao del Sur.

Police units there are also “constantly” coordinating with police and military counterparts in the affected areas, Sereñas said.

Clashes in Lanao del Sur’s Butig town erupted last February 20 after about 80 to 100 followers of brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute attacked a military detachment there.

As of Saturday, troops have recovered five bodies of the Mautes’ followers, three M16 rifles, a sniper rifle, and two rocket-propelled grenades, said Colonel Roseller Murillo, commander of the Army’s 103rd Brigade.

Earlier, the military said intelligence reports indicate that at least 42 terror suspects, including Omar Maute, had been killed in the week-long offensive.

Three soldiers also died in the clashes while 11 more were injured.

Security forces have been pounding the hinterlands of Butig since Feb. 20 with OV-10 bomber planes, MG-520 attack helicopters, and Howitzer cannons, prompting more than 20,000 people living nearby to evacuate.

No clash occurred on Saturday, but soldiers are still pursuing the Mautes’ remaining followers, Murillo said.

The Maute brothers’ group has been proclaiming itself as a branch of the Middle East-based Islamic State of Iraq and Syria but authorities dismissed these claims, saying the local gunmen were only joining the ISIS bandwagon.

The group is “allied” to a certain Ustadz Sanusi, an Indonesian conduit of the Jemaah Islamiyah who was killed in a raid in Marawi City in November 2012, Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said in a recent interview. (John Roson)

– end –

A foreign-looking man believed to be a German national was found dead inside a yacht drifting in waters of the Pacific Ocean near Barobo, Surigao del Sur, police said.

Fishermen found the man around 4:30 p.m. Thursday inside the yacht “Sajo,” about 62 miles from the shores of Barobo, said PO3 Val Warren Polancos, local police investigator.

“Yung mga mangingisda, pauwi na sana nung makita nila ‘yung yate. Nilapitan nila at tiningnan ‘yung loob para malaman kung anong maitutulong nila kasi sira na ‘yung sail. Doon sa loob nakita ‘yung foreigner na nakaupo,” Polancos said by phone.

The body, which was already starting to decompose, was found inside what appears to be the yacht’s radio room.

Documents found on the yacht indicate that the foreigner is one Manfred Fritz Bajorat, a German national, Polancos said.

“Foreigner talaga ‘yung tao, hindi lang namin masabi pa kung siya (Bajorat) talaga ‘yun kasi wala namang kasama,” he said.

The fishermen used their boat to drag the yacht to Cabgan Island and upon arriving there Friday afternoon, radioed for help from authorities in mainland Barobo, he said.

Local police have called in a team from the Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) to determine what caused the foreigner’s death.

The incident has also been reported to the Surigao del Sur provincial police so it can inform the German Embassy, Polancos said. (John Roson)

– end –

Government forces seized the lair of a local terrorist group in Butig, Lanao del Sur, following a week-long offensive that left as much as 45 people dead and 20,000 displaced, authorities said Friday.

Troops took the “stronghold” of Abdullah Maute and his recently deceased brother Omar before Thursday evening, said Maj. Filemon Tan, Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command spokesman.

“Sadly, three soldiers were killed and 11 were wounded,” Tan said in a text message to reporters.

Intelligence reports on Friday indicated that 42 of the terrorists, including Omar Maute, had been killed, he said.

Soldiers are scouring the group’s lair and have so far found two M16 rifles, a homemade caliber-.50 rifle, and two rocket-propelled grenades, Tan said.

Operations are still underway in the area, though air strikes and artillery fires were halted to give way to ground troops.

“Tao-tao muna at mga tangke ang pumapasok, naka-standby ang mga attack helicopter at kanyon kung kailanganin,” Tan said.

Security forces have been pounding the hinterlands of Butig since last Saturday (Feb.20) with OV-10 bomber planes, MG-520 attack helicopters, and Howitzer cannons, prompting thousands of people living nearby to evacuate homes.

20,000 displaced, more still fleeing

A total of 1,207 families are displaced within Butig while 1,328 fled to the adjacent towns of Masiu and Lumbayanague, and 2,446 more evacuated as far as Buadiposo-Buntong, Ditsaan Ramain, up to the provincial capital Marawi City, according to figures released by the provincial government.

The displaced families are made up of more than 20,000 individuals from five barangays, according to another count by the Office of Civil Defense-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“Continuous pa rin [ang evacuation], kasi marami ring naipit doon, di makalabas. Naglalakad na nga ‘yung iba palabas kasi di naman basta-basta masundo dahil continuous ang bakbakan,” said Saripada Pacasum, assistant head of the Lanao del Sur Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.

“May nadaanan nga kami kahapon (Thursday), ‘yung sasakyan nila binuksan na ‘yung bubong, nilagyan na ng gamit para magkasya lang sila. Kawawa. Makikita na sila (evacuees) sa kalsada na paalis,” he said.

Relief goods short

While those who are fleeing still face woes along the road, some families who have already evacuated are facing a shortage in relief goods.
Pacasum admitted that the sheer number of evacuees has become a concern for relief operations, so the provincial government asked the ARMM regional government for assistance.

As of Friday morning, a total 2,507 familes have been given relief goods and authorities are still working to distribute to 2,474 more.

“Kulang pa, kasi plus ito pa ngang nadadagdag na evacuees, so tuloy pa rin ang repacking,” Pacasum said.

Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr. requested support and the ARMM government’s Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team is expected to deliver more goods Friday, he said.

Not ISIS

The Maute brothers’ group of about 80 to 100 men attacked an Army detachment last Saturday, forcing the offensive, Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said in a recent interview.

The group has been proclaiming itself as a branch of the Middle East-based Islamic State of Iraq and Syria but authorities dismissed these claims, saying there is no real link between the two and the local gunmen were only joining the ISIS bandwagon.

It is “allied” to a certain Ustadz Sanusi, an Indonesian conduit of the Jemaah Islamiyah who was killed in a raid in Marawi City in November 2012, Padilla said. (John Roson)

– end –

Thousands flee Lanao del Sur clashes

More than 2,000 people have fled Butig town in Lanao del Sur to avoid getting caught in the middle of clashes between government troops and a “local terrorist group,” a disaster official said.

A total of 2,067 evacuees from Butig were recorded in the provincial capital, Marawi City, so far and more are reportedly coming, said Saripada Pacasum, assistant head of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office.

A “bigger number” of evacuees is also being reported in Masiu, adjacent to Butig, but authorities are still checking the figures, Pacasum said by phone.

Personnel of the PDRRMO and its head, retired military colonel Tatar Boriongan, have gone to Masiu to check on the number and distribute relief goods, he said.

The provincial government has convened a crisis committee meeting and is set to announce the figures Tuesday afternoon or evening, Pacasum said.

Residents evacuated Butig amid clashes that erupted on Saturday, he said.

Those who fled to Marawi, which is a two-hour land travel away, commuted and hitched rides on some passing vehicles.

“Iba-iba ang kuwento kung paano sila nakarating dito, may mga namasahe, meron ding mga sumakay sa vehicles na nag-offer ng ride para lang makaalis sila doon, kasi kababayan naman,” Pacasum said.

“Binobombahan kasi ng helicopters at saka ng artillery ng military ‘yung kalaban, so umalis sila (residents) para hindi maipit,” he said.

Initial field reports indicate that eight barangays of Butig are affected by the fighting.

Members of non-government relief organizations, including the Red Cross, have asked that they be allowed to visit the affected areas, and are still waiting for a go signal from the military, Pacasum said.

“Kinordon kasi ng military so ngayon wala pa talagang ng maka-penetrate sa area,” he said.

“Saturday pa nagsimula ‘yung bakbakan pero before pa, tina-try na hindi mangyari ‘yan. Kaya lang talagang matitigas itong grupo na ito ng local terrorists,” Pacasum said.

Army outpost attacked

Brigadier General Restituto Padilla, Armed Forces spokesman, told reporters in Manila that fighting erupted late Saturday when the group of the “Maute brothers” attacked the Army 51st Infantry Battalion’s detachment in Brgy. Bayabao, Butig.

The group of about 80 to 100 fighters is “allied” to a foreign conduit of the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah who was “neutralized” in 2012, Padilla said.

Two soldiers were killed and six were wounded, while unvalidated reports indicate that 20 of Maute’s men died, he said.

Troops operating on the ground were supported by Air Force OV-10 planes that conducted bomb runs on known enemy positions and MG-520 helicopters that provided close air support for maneuvering units, Padilla said.

“The group of the Maute brothers was held at bay, cordoned off by our troops, and are holding their position as of press time,” he said.

Pacasum, citing information from the military, said the “terrorists” are not members of affiliates of the Middle East-based Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“Local terrorists lang, hindi totoo ‘yung sinasabi ng iba na ISIS. Walang ISIS dito. Naga-ISIS-ISIS lang ang mga ‘yan,” he said.

Convoy ambushed

Colonel Noel Detoyato, Armed Forces public affairs chief, said another fighting erupted between soldiers and a “local terrorist organization” around 10:45 a.m. Tuesday.

The fighting occurred in Brgy. Pantara-Bato, Tugaya, also in Lanao del Sur, when an undetermined number of armed men ambushed a military convoy, said Major Filemon Tan, AFP Western Mindanao Command spokesman.

Tugaya is on the other side of Lake Lanao, facing Masiu and Butig.

The convoy was transporting an armored personnel carrier to Brgy. Alog in Lumbatan town when it was attacked, Tan said.

One soldier was killed in the fighting, which lasted for about 45 minutes, he said.

Two MG-520 helicopters and a platoon of soldiers with two armored vehicles were sent to reinforce the ambushed troops.

Tan said the military is still trying to ascertain who carried out the attack. (John Roson)

– end –

The number of deaths caused by typhoon “Ineng” (international name: Goni) rose further to 15 on Sunday as authorities retrieved more bodies from a landslide-hit part of Mankayan, Benguet, authorities said.

Armando Dayao, Felimon Adcapan, and Jasper Olivarez’s bodies were retrieved from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Sunday, after Crispin Ablao was retrieved Saturday afternoon, Benguet provincial police spokesperson Senior Inspector Joyce Ann Dayag said.

All four were among a group of people who went missing after a landslide hit Sitio Elizabeth, Brgy. Taneg, early Saturday.

A landslide washed out shanties used by pocket miners in that area around 3 a.m., Cordillera regional police spokesperson Superintendent Cherry Fajardo said.

After Ablao’s body was retrieved past 2 p.m., residents told police that they were still looking for 18 people.

Search and recue operations had to be halted around 5 p.m. Saturday because of rising water level at the nearby creek, poor visibility, and heavy rain, Fajardo said.

Operations resumed Sunday morning, with 95 policemen from different units deployed, Dayag said.

Dayao, Adcapan, and Olivarez’s bodies were eventually retrieved while Jonie Foster and Marpety Bayagen, who had been among those reported as missing, were found alive, she said.

“Both persons (Foster and Bayagen) were confirmed alive. Accordingly, they went home before the incident happened,” Dayag said.

Thirteen people are still missing in the area as of Sunday afternoon, data provided by the Benguet provincial police showed.

They are Ronaldo Angel, Paulita Angel, Ronald Paul Angel, Hohn Aluyan Jr., Jose Aluyan Jr., Efren Balicdan, Mark Balicdan, Nardo Mocnangan, Marvin Baturi, Harold Baturi, Rocky Mangrubang, Crisanto Ablao, and Ramil Reyes.

Andrew Alex Uy, Office of Civil Defense-Cordillera director, confirmed Ablao, Dayao, Adcapan’s deaths in a report emailed Sunday afternoon.

Olivarez’s death has yet to be included in the regional civil defense unit’s list.

Uy, meanwhile, confirmed a death in Tabuk City, Kalinga.

Julius Gumisa’s body was retrieved 11 a.m. Sunday in Brgy. Suyang, Tabuk, after he went missing in Brgy. Caluttit, Bontoc, Mountain Province, the regional OCD chief said in his report.

Gumisa was the lone fatality of drowning in Cordillera, while the rest died in landslides, according to the report.

Landslides occurred as the mountainous region experienced 721.6-millimeter rainfall, or 78.43 percent of the monthly average 920mm, from August 20 to 23.

“The soil is already saturated,” Uy said.

Meanwhile, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said close to 33,000 persons in Cordillera, Ilocos region, Cagayan Valley, Calabarzon, and Mimaropa fled their homes amid landslides, floods, and tornados at the height of “Ineng.”

Some 12,510 persons went to evacuation centers while 20,407 stayed at the home of relatives. Out of the total number of displaced persons, only 8,426 were evacuated ahead of the storm, the NDRRMC noted.

Incidents caused by “Ineng” also destroyed at least 958 houses in Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Cagayan, Batanes, Benguet, Apayao, Kalinga, Mountain Province, and Laguna.

The typhoon has also caused at least P124.818 million worth of damage to agriculture and infrastructure in Ilocos region, Cagayan Valley, and Cordillera, according to the NDRRMC. (John Roson)

– end –