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An Abu Sayyaf member and a government soldier were killed while at least two other bandits and one trooper were injured in a clash in Sumisip, Basilan, early Friday, the military said.

Killed were one soldier and an Abu Sayyaf member identified as Samir Balaman, said Lieutenant Colonel Eliglen Villaflor, commander of the Army’s 4th Special Forces Battalion (4th SFB).

Elements of the 4th SFB were conducting operations 7:50 a.m. Friday when they encountered Abu Sayyaf members led by Pasil Bayali and Radzmil Janatul in Sitio Penas, Brgy. Upper Benengbengan, Villaflor said in a statement.

The bandits, numbering around 15, engaged troopers in a 15-minute firefight before they withdrew, Lieutenant Sally Christine Magno, Armed Forces Joint Task Group-Basilan spokesperson, said in a text message.

Two soldiers were initially wounded in the fighting.

“One is now in stable condition while the other perished during medical evacuation,” Villaflor said. He declined to name the two until their families are informed.

Villaflor said several Abu Sayyaf members were wounded. Magno said field reports indicated that at least two bandits were hurt.

The clash occurred a week after suspected Abu Sayyaf members detonated an improvised bomb at the boundary of nearby Tipo-Tipo and Ungkaya Pukan towns on Aug. 7, killing two soldiers.

Both casualties were part of a team tasked to provide route security for military convoys and commuters passing the area, according to the AFP Joint Task Force Zambasulta.

Bayali and Janatul’s group is responsible for the recent IED attacks which targetted military troops and civillian construction companies along the Basilan Circumfirential Road, as well as the destruction of the Maluso Water System which had left local residents waterless for three days at the start of Ramadan, Villaflor said.

Combat operations are being conducted to “clear Sumisip of Abu Sayyaf presence, which has been hampering socio-economic activities and threatening lives,” Magno said.

Troops have been sent to pursue the bandits who were encountered Friday, she said. (John Roson)

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An FA-50 fighter jet. (photo grabbed from KAI website http://www.koreaaero.com/)

An FA-50 fighter jet. (photo grabbed from KAI website http://www.koreaaero.com/)

The Armed Forces’ Central Command in Cebu has started building facilities to host fighter jets and other aircraft which the Air Force will use for territorial defense, military officials said.

Lieutenant General Jeffrey Delgado, Air Force chief, said the Central Command, particularly the 2nd Air Division, was chosen to host new aircraft because of its “strategic location,” which allows it to quickly send planes to Luzon in the north, Mindanao in the south, or Palawan in the west.

“We intend to put up more hangars here for our fighter aircraft and our transport aircraft and helicopters,” Delgado said in an interview by state-run television PTV-4.

Lieutenant General Nicanor Vivar, Centcom chief, said construction of hangars at the 2nd Air Division started about three months ago.

Construction projects presently being carried out fall under the AFP Modernization’s “First Horizon,” which has a total cost of P90 billion, Vivar said.

“A lot of development will be done here soon,” including docks for Navy ships, he said.

The Department of National Defense earlier announced that it allocated P135.99 million for base support systems of fighter jets, particularly the South Korean-made FA-50 lead-in fighter trainer jets.

Aircraft maker Korea Aerospace industries said earlier this week that it aims to deliver the first two of 12 FA-50s ordered by the Philippines by yearend.

Colonel Enrico Canaya, Air Force spokesman, said that aside from the two fighter jets, the PAF expects to recieve 20 other aircraft from suppliers this year.

These include two C-295 medium lift planes, eight combat-utility helicopters, eight AW-109 attack helicopters, and two CN-212i light lift planes, Canaya told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo Friday.

Developments at the Central Command come as the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA), where the 2nd Air Division is “co-located,” embarks on a project to upgrade facilities, including its runway.

Vivar said that aside from becoming a hub for modern military aircraft, Central Command is also being eyed as the home of the AFP’s “strategic command.”

“External defense, nandiyan na tayo… this will be the home of the strategic command, hopefully, and that will cater to the territorial defense of the country,” he said. (John Roson)

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Four persons were killed while almost 4,000 were affected by floods and landslides caused by heavy rain in four provinces of Central Mindanao, authorities reported Thursday.

Floods and landslides affected 43 barangays in nine towns and two cities of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato, and Sarangani, said Minda Morante, director of the Office of Civil Defense-12.

Tupi town of South Cotabato and Brgy. Rajah Muda of Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat, declared a state of calamity because of the floods, Morante said in an emailed report.

Couple Nonoy, 74, and Monita Ga, 71, of Brgy. Bunao, Tupi, South Cotabato; Diron Tamarang, 70, of Brgy. Lunen, also in Tupi; and Anita Ochova, 63, of Glan, Sarangani, died in landslides caused by heavy rain, she said.

Five persons, identified as Mercy Magbanua, 27; Kathlyn Magbanua, 1; Jay Argal, 24; Cristy Ochova, 31, and one Jojit Mangisel were injured, she said.

Of the 3,985 individuals affected by floods, 1,798 were evacuated and are currently staying in barangay halls, daycare centers, gymnasiums, and homes of relatives, Morante said.

Most of the evacuees came from Tacurong City and Isulan, Sultan Kudarat; Koronadal City and Tupi, South Cotabato; and Glan, Sarangani.

Floods also left at least four bridges impassable to motorists and caused at least P6.9 million in damage to agriculture, Morante said.

More than 500 hectares of rice fields, more than 80 hectares of cornfields, and at least 7.5 hectares of fishponds were damaged because of the floods, which also left at least 50 farm animals dead or missing, she said.

Heavy rains brought by an intertropical convergence zone hit South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato, and Sarangani from Tuesday night until Wednesday morning, causing the floods, according to Morante.

Local governments are now providing relief goods to the evacuees and are still monitoring the situation in affected areas, she said. (John Roson)

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Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Friday directed military pilots to continue patrols over the West Philippine Sea despite China’s challenging of Philippine planes.

Gazmin gave the order after expressing concern that China appears to be already practicing an “air defense identification zone,” or ADIZ, over the disputed waters.

“Ito ay cause for concern sapagkat parang pina-practice ng China na mayroon nang ADIZ although wala pang formal declaration,” Gazmin said during a briefing of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

“Ang directive natin ay continue ‘yung kanilang (pilots) normal na trabaho, hindi dapat natatakot sa mga babalang ganito,” he added.

The defense chief’s remarks came after Armed Forces Western Command chief Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez told a Senate hearing Thursday that China warned Air Force and Navy planes at least six times to leave areas around the West Philippine Sea.

“They are acting as if they already have an ADIZ in the area,” defense department spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said Thursday night.

China first declared an ADIZ over the East China Sea in November 2013, covering a group of islets occupied by Japan.

It demanded that all countries with aircraft passing through the zone submit flight plans, or otherwise face “defensive measures.”

The move caused a stir not only in Japan but also in the Philippines, whose exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the west covers some islands and reefs being claimed by China.

Officials expressed concern that China might next declare an ADIZ over the West Philippine Sea, including territories which the Philippines has been occupying for decades.

China’s challenging of Philippine military planes, done via radio, were reported after Manila released aerial photos showing Beijing’s reclamation and construction works on some reefs in the disputed waters.

Last March 30, Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang said China has stepped up construction and reclamation on at least seven reefs, including three that are inside the Philippines’ EEZ.

Gazmin said the DND has already reported its observations to the proper agency and will continue to monitor China’s activities. (John Roson)

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Related story here: 9 killed, 6 hurt in Negros Occidental rebel ambush

A member of the police's forensics team examining the crime scene while two of the slain lie nearby. (Photo from Negros Occidental PNP)

A member of the police’s forensics team examining the crime scene while two of the slain lie nearby. (Photo from Negros Occidental PNP)

Some of the victims still lying inside the truck. (Photo from Negros Occidental PNP)

Some of the victims still lying inside the truck. (Photo from Negros Occidental PNP)

A forensics policeman in front of the ambushed truck. (Photo from Negros Occidental PNP)

A forensics policeman in front of the ambushed truck. (Photo from Negros Occidental PNP)

Some of the slain readied for transport. (Photo from Negros Occidental PNP)

Some of the slain readied for transport. (Photo from Negros Occidental PNP)

Villagers look on from the police line. (Photo from Negros Occidental PNP)

Villagers look on from the police line. (Photo from Negros Occidental PNP)

The USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper stuck at the "protected" Tubbataha Reef natural park (Photo courtesy of AFP Western Command)

The USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper stuck at the “protected” Tubbataha Reef natural park (Photo courtesy of AFP Western Command)

A US Navy ship ran aground at Tubbataha Reef in Palawan early Thursday, authorities said.

The USS Guardian, an Avenger-class minesweeper, ran aground 2:25 a.m. while transiting the Sulu Sea, according to a statement at the US Navy 7th Fleet’s web site.

No one was reported injured in the incident, according to the statement.

Maj. Oliver Banaria, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ 6th Civil Relations Group based in Palawan, confirmed the incident, saying it occurred some 98 nautical miles from Puerto Princesa City.

The incident occurred just a few days after the USS Guardian made a port call in Subic on Jan. 14, Banaria said.

Another photo showing the USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper stuck at the "protected" Tubbataha Reef natural park (Photo courtesy of AFP Western Command)

Another photo showing the USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper stuck at the “protected” Tubbataha Reef natural park (Photo courtesy of AFP Western Command)

The military’s Western Command has already sent a Nomad plane and the patrol craft PG-383 to conduct reconnaissance at the site of the incident, he said.

“Nagpunta na dun sa area ‘yung mga assets natin para makita kung ano ‘yung assistance na puwede nating ibigay sa kanila (sailors aboard the USS Guardian),” Banaria said in a phone interview.

It was not immediately known what the US Navy vessel hit, but Banaria said corals are abundant in the area.

Tubbataha Reef, a 130,028-hectare “protected area,” is a popular diving spot for local and foreign tourists because of various species of corals and other marine life.

It is located at the heart of what is called the “Coral Triangle,” the global centre of marine biodiversity.

Former President Corazon Aquino declared Tubbataha Reef as a national marine park – the first of its kind in the country – in 1988.

Tubbataha Reef was included in the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage list in 1993. (John Roson)

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Armed men abducted a businessman at his eatery near the shore of Zamboanga City on Friday night, police said.

Senior Supt. Edwin de Ocampo, officer-in-charge of the Zamboanga City Police, identified the victim as Edgar Favella, 50, owner of a “carinderia” along the highway near the shore of Brgy. Maasin.

Favella is also engaged in logistics and transport services, owning some hauling trucks, a source said.

Five men, of whom two were carrying short firearms, seized Favella in front of his eatery around 6:45 p.m. and forced him into a pumpboat, De Ocampo said in a phone interview.

Favella’s son Sandy saw the commotion and tried to fight off the abductors, but withdrew when one pointed a gun at him, De Ocampo said.

Tutulungan sana niya ‘yung tatay niya dahil nakita niya dun sa labas, eh nung tinutukan na siya ng baril din, tumakbo na siya sa loob nung karinderya,” the police official said.

Parang mga bagito (ang mga abductor)… kasi nakipagsuntukan pa,” De Ocampo noted.

Three of the abductors took Favella with them on the pumpboat while the other two escaped on a motorcycle, he said.

Members of the local police, Navy, PNP Special Action Force, and Maritime Group scoured the shores and waters of Brgy. Maasin until Saturday morning, but found no sign of the abductors.

De Ocampo said there is a possibility that the abductors took Favella to Basilan so he alerted authorities there about the abduction.

Maasin, part of Zamboanga City’s 136-kilometer shoreline, lies in the east coast facing Basilan, he noted.

Intelligence operatives have also been ordered to check the coast thoroughly, De Ocampo added. (John Roson)

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The US Navy 'target drone' found off Masbate (photo from Masbate PNP)

The US Navy ‘target drone’ found off Masbate (photo from Masbate PNP)

A “target drone” of the U.S. Navy was found in waters off Ticao Island in Masbate on Sunday, police said.

Fishermen Jolly Llacer and Ricky Cantoria found the drone near Sitio Tacdugan of San Jacinto town and reported it to police past 9 a.m., Senior Supt. Heriberto Olitoquit, Masbate Provincial Police director, said.

Unang inakala ng mga mangingisda, bomba, pero vinerify ng EOD, di naman bomba… US property na drone,” Olitoquit said in a phone interview.

A local measuring the drone (photo from Masbate PNP)

A local measuring the drone (photo from Masbate PNP)

The US-made unmanned aerial vehicle, which had the markings BQM-74E Chukar III, is 12’11” or 3.94 meters long, has a wingspan of about 1.76 meters, Olitoquit said in text message.

The drone was first brought to the San Jacinto Police Station before it was turned over to the Philippine Navy.

The BQM-74E Chukar III is the latest of a series of aerial target drones produced by American aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman.

The remote-controlled drone, launched from warships, can fly as fast as Mach 0.86 and altitudes from 10,000 meters to 12,000 meters.

It was not immediately known where the drone found off Masbate came from, but several US ships that have made port calls in nearby areas are known to use such UAVs for targets. (John Roson)

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Thirteen suspected members of a criminal group were killed while a police official was injured in a clash between Atimonan and Plaridel, Quezon, on Sunday afternoon, police and military officials said.

Members of the Calabarzon regional police intelligence division and Quezon Provincial Police encountered suspected members of a “partisan armed group” around 3 p.m., PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo said in a text message.

Col. Generoso Bolina, spokesman of the Armed Forces’ Southern Luzon Command, said the policemen, along with members of the Army’s 1st Special Forces Battalion, flagged down two Montero sports utility vehicles at a checkpoint in Brgy. Tanauan, Plaridel, but were fired upon by the vehicles’ occupants.

The shooting prompted the policemen and soldiers to retaliate, Bolina said.

Thirteen were killed on the criminal group’s side while a certain Supt. Marantan was injured on the government side, Cerbo said.

Supt. Hansel Marantan was rushed to the Dona Martha Hospital due to bullet wounds to the left arm and left foot, but was later transferred to a hospital in Lucena City, according to Chief Supt. James Melad, Calabarzon regional police director.

The suspects’ SUVs were also destroyed during the shootout, Bolina said.

Troops recovered an M14 rifle, M16 baby armalite rifle, and at least eight caliber-.45 pistols from the slain suspects, he added. (John Roson)

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At least 90 families evacuated their homes as rains spawned by tropical depression “Auring” caused floods in Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte, authorities said.

The families were evacuated to higher grounds after the Lubungan River in Brgy. San Jose overflowed, Office of Civil Defense administrator Benito Ramos said.

Other affected areas in Zamboanga del Norte include the municipalities of Katipunan and President Manuel A. Roxas.

In Katipunan, a portion of the National Highway had knee-deep floods while high water level was recorded at the Dicayo Bridge.

In President Manuel A. Roxas, high water level was recorded at the Piao and Tangian Bridge, as well as in Brgys. Irasan and Langatian.

Floods left at least two houses in Purok Malinggay, Lower Irasan, totally damaged while neck-deep water level was recorded in Purok Tubo, Ramos said, adding that no casualties have so far been reported.

Zamboanga City experienced light to moderate rains and gusty winds around 12:30 p.m. but local authorities have yet to submit reports of any damage, Ramos said.

Ferry runs aground

Meanwhile, a ferry from Zamboanga ran aground in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, amid strong waves Thursday morning.

The ferry, which was carrying 228 passengers and 14 crew members, was manuevering to dock at the Dumaguete Port around 10 a.m. when it ran aground, Coast Guard spokesman Cmdr. Armand Balilo said.

“Wala pang PSWS (public storm warning signal) nung ma-aground pero malakas ang alon,” Balilo said when asked if the incident was caused by tropical depression “Auring.”

As of 2 p.m., Coast Guard, police, and port personnel were still bringing the ferry’s passengers to land via rubber boats, he said.

Palawan alerted

Around 12 noon, the center of “Auring” was located 370 kilometers east of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration.

Ramos said the weather disturbance was heading towards southern Palawan and could make a landfall Thursday night or early Friday.

“Ngayong gabi baka lalakas dahil ang ugali ng bagyo, pag nag-travel sa dagat, Sulu Sea for this matter, lalakas ito at magbabago ng direksyon,” he said.

Ramos said the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council has already alerted its units and allied agencies in southern municipalities of Palawan, including Aborlan, Narra, Brooke’s Point, Bataraza, Quezon, and Rizal.

“They still have 18 hours to go, kaya binigay na natin sa local disaster management units ‘yung discretion kung sila ay magpi-preemptive evacuation. Ang low-lying area lang naman na identified ay isa, yung sa Narra,” he said. (John Roson)

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