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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)

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Two Coast Guard personnel abducted by the Abu Sayyaf escaped and have been found by government troops Thursday following a clash with the al Qaeda-linked group in Indanan, Sulu, the military said.

Soldiers found SN2 Gringo Villaruz in Brgy. Buanza around 7 a.m. and SN1 Rod Pagaling around 8:30 a.m., Captain Antonio Bulao, public affairs officer of the Armed Forces’ Joint Task Group-Sulu, said.

“Villaruz was able to escape from his captors at the height of firefight,” Bulao said in a text message.

Both Villaruz and Pagaling were not injured but have been taken to the Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista Trauma Hospital in Jolo for medical checks, he said.

The duo’s recovery came hours after troops battled about 100 Abu Sayyaf members led by sub-commanders Yasser Igasan and Alhabsy Misaya in Brgy. Buanza.

Members of the Army’s elite Scout Rangers, backed by cannon fire, stormed a bandit lair in that barangay from 5:25 p.m. to 7 p.m. in an operation aimed at rescuing kidnap victims.

As much as 15 Abu Sayyaf men were reportedly killed in the clash though only five bodies have so far been recovered, according to a report from the task group.

Some of them were identified as Joy Juliyon, Arapat Bagadi, Majindi, Sarman Aidarud, Mandi, Arapat Hadjiri, Dunni Ammin, Salman Wahid, Majindi Kamlun, and Runni Said.

Abu Sayyaf members Abdel Dela Cruz, Sherwin Dela Cruz, Mawalil, Duni, Bidah, Lasis Jihili, and Kapatud Sarman were reportedly wounded.

Four members of the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion were slightly wounded, Bulao said.

They were identified as Pfcs. Elvin Bacalargio, Johnrie Melegrito, Johnzen Tagumpay, and Cpl. Earl Bompat.

Troops are still verifying information that Abu Sayyaf sub-commander Alden Bagadi was killed in the clash and have confirmed that his cousin Arafat died, Bulao said.

Villaruz and Pagaling were abducted along with Brgy. Aliguay chairman Rodolfo Buligao in Dapitan City, Zamboanga del Norte, last May 4.

Abu Sayyaf members threatened to behead the three if the P1-million ransom demand for each of them was not given.

Buligao’s severed head and body were found at a road junction in Maimbung town August 11.

Nine kidnap victims, four of whom are foreigners, remain in the hands of Abu Sayyaf members in different parts of Sulu after Villaruz and Pagaling’s recovery, Bulao said.

Villaruz and Pagaling had been spotted with 200 bandits and four other captives, three of whom have foreign-sounding surnames, three days before the assault in Indanan, according to a military report.

The foreign captives who had been with Villaruz and Pagaling are Malaysian and Korean nationals, Bulao said.

“Troops are still scouring areas around the clash site, looking for the other captives,” he said. (John Roson)

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As much as 17 Abu Sayyaf members were killed as government troops carried out back-to-back assaults on lairs of the al Qaeda-linked group in Basilan and Sulu provinces on Wednesday, the military said.

Up to 15 bandits were killed as troops encountered about 100 Abu Sayyaf members in Indanan town while trying to rescue kidnap victims, according to a report from the Armed Forces’ Joint Task Group-Sulu.

Elements of the Army’s 1st Scout Ranger Battalion clashed with followers of Abu Sayyaf sub-commanders Yasser Igasan and Alhabsy Misaya in Brgy. Buanza 5:25 p.m., the task group said in a report.

Artillery rounds were fired to support the Rangers, while soldiers from the 35th Infantry Battalion, 2nd Marine Brigade, and 32nd Infantry Battalion were mobilized to prevent the Abu Sayyaf from sending reinforcements.

Fighting lasted until 7 p.m. and clearing operations are still underway, task group public affairs officer Captain Antonio Bulao said.

Five bodies and three firearms have so far been recovered. No casualties were reported among the troops.

A report reaching the military headquarters in Manila indicated that the bandits in Indanan were holding six captives, including three who have foreign-sounding surnames and two Coast Guard members.

Hours earlier, around 11 a.m., another clash broke out between soldiers and another band of Abu Sayyaf members in neighboring Basilan.

Troops were conducting combat operations when they encountered about 60 bandits in an Abu Sayyaf “stronghold” in Brgy. Baiwas, Sumisip, Joint Task Group-Basilan public affairs officer Lt. Sally Magno said.

Two Abu Sayyaf members and a soldier were killed, while another trooper and six more bandits were injured, she 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. (John Roson)

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Five New People’s Army members were killed while two soldiers were wounded as government troops clashed with a large band of rebels who ambushed them in Pangantucan, Bukidnon, on Tuesday, the military said Wednesday.

Troops recovered the slain rebels’ bodies, along with an AK-47 rifle, 19 back packs, food and medical supplies, and subversive documents, said Captain Albert Caber, spokesman of the Armed Forces’ Eastern Mindanao Command.

An officer and an enlisted personnel of the Army’s 3rd Special Forces Company (3rd SFC) were also wounded in the clash and have been taken to the hospital, Caber said by phone.

“Residents reported that there are at least five other rebels who have been wounded, so it’s possible that the casualties will rise. Clearing operations are ongoing as we speak,” he added.

The clash occurred 4:14 p.m. in Brgy. Mendiz, but was reported to the regional military command only Wednesday because of poor communication lines in the area, according to Caber.

Fighting lasted for one hour and 30 minutes before the rebels withdrew, he said.

According to Caber, elements of the 3rd SFC went to that barangay to check reports on the presence of NPA members.

“May nagreport kasi na may mga NPA dun, so pinuntahan ng SF to verify. While on their way, pinutukan na agad sila, so nagretaliate ‘yung SF. More or less 60 ‘yung nakalaban nila doon,” Caber said.

“Ambush talaga ang nangyari, kaya lang nakapag-return fire ‘yung SF,” he said.

The slain rebels have yet to be identified but information from the ground indicate that they were members of the North Central Mindanao Regional Commitee and were led by an alias “Andy,” Caber said.

Troops have already coordinated with the local government to help identify the slain rebels and facilitate their burial, he said. (John Roson)

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Japan Self-Defense Forces chief Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano is interested in holding more drills with the Philippines, the Department of National Defense said Friday.

The DND made the announcement while warning that China has reached the point of “militarizing” the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Kawano paid a courtesy call to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Wednesday, after meeting Armed Forces chief General Hernando Iriberri, according to the DND.

Kawano expressed interest in conducting more exercises, “particularly amphibious landing exercises and amphibious operations,” according to a statement issued by Gazmin’s office.

Gazmin welcomed Kawano’s interest but noted that a “visiting forces agreement” is needed before such activities can be conducted.

Kawano, for his part, assured that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for national security legislation that could expand the JSDF’s activities with the Philippines.

Kawano told Gazmin of the need to share information to address “common security issues” and noted the importance of capacity-building in humanitarian assitance and disaster relief.

During the meeting, Kawano also mentioned that China is trying to change the status quo in the region with its reclamation activities, according to the DND.

In a separate statement, DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez warned that China’s activities in the West Philippine Sea are now in “militarization stage.”

“This is the worst stage of all, this is the militarization stage, and it must be stopped,” DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said.

Galvez made the remark when asked to comment on Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua’s announcement that China will build various facilities on reefs which it had reclaimed.

Zhao announced earlier this week that Beijing is set to build facilities that would support freedom of navigation, search and rescue, and scientific research.

“Maybe we should ask: ‘For whom are those search and rescue facilities for? Is it for our ships and installations that they are threatening to destroy?'” Galvez said.

“They’ve said one thing and have done another,” the DND spokesman said, apparently referring to China’s project in Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.

It can be recalled that China once declared a construction on Panganiban (Mischief) Reef as a “shelter for fishermen,” though the facility turned into a garrison after a few years.

Aside from Panganiban, China has also done reclamation and construction works in six other reefs in the West Philippine Sea.

Last May, China announced that it will build lighthouses on Calderon (Cuarteron) and Mabini (Johnson South) Reefs — which are both inside the Philippines’ claim line — to “improve navigation safety.”

“Regardless of what supposedly ‘good’details the Chinese leadership informs the peace-focused and rules-based international community, they illegally and blatantly continue with their aggression. These are mere elements of their island building militarization which needs to stop and be dismantled,” Galvez said. (John Roson)

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Three civilians, two of them students, were injured as Abu Sayyaf members and village watchmen clashed near a school in Patikul, Sulu, Friday afternoon, the military said.

Injured were Nurhaida Jadja, 18, and Marni Suhuri, 17, both students of the Patikul National High School; and Hadji Anni Abubayong, 61, said Brigadier General Alan Arrojado, commander of the Armed Forces’ Joint Task Group-Sulu.

All three were injured by shrapnel from M203 grenades fired by the Abu Sayyaf, with the students getting hit on the head and neck, Arrojado said in a text message.

The fighting erupted past 2 p.m. near the Patikul National High School in Brgy. Taglibi.

Minutes earlier, about 40 Abu Sayyaf members led by Muammar Askali alias “Abu Rami” set fire to an abandoned military detachment in that village, Arrojado said.

One Engineer Makapagal Tammang, who handles a road project of the Department of Public Works and Highways in Brgy. Pandanun, then passed by Taglibi on a local councilor’s pick-up.

As Tammang neared the old detachment, gunmen flagged down the pick-up and tried to take Tammang by force, Arrojado said.

Firefight erupted when members of the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team (BPAT) escorting Tammang resisted, he said.

Fighting lasted for about 20 minutes. Other BPAT members reinforced their colleagues, then the Abu Sayyaf to withdrew towards Brgy. Kabuntakas via Brgy. Bakung.

No casualties were reported among the BPAT members and the Abu Sayyaf, while the injured civilians were brought to the Integrated Provincial Health Office, Arrojado said. (John Roson)

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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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Two barangay chairpersons and an escort were killed while two other persons were injured in separate ambuscades in North Cotabato and Masbate on Thursday, police said.

Senior Inspector Sindato Karim, police chief of Pikit, North Cotabato, identified the fatalities in the second incident as Dhats Simon, chairman of Brgy. Bulol, and his aide Akmad Bantas.

Simon and Bantas were riding a motorcycle along the provincial road in Brgy. Gli-gli around 3 p.m., when two men on two incoming motorcycles opened fire at them, Karim said in a text message.

Both gunmen are believed to have used M16 rifles as 25 empty shells for that firearm were found at the crime scene, Karim said.

Simon and Bantas were taken to the Cruzado Medical Clinic and Hospital because of bullet wounds to the different parts of the body, but were declared dead by doctors, he said.

Investigators are still trying to determine the identities of the assailants, who quickly fled after the attack.

The shooting is believed to have stemmed from “personal grudge,” Karim said.

Hours earlier, around 9:40 a.m., a barangay chairwoman was killed and her husband was injured in another ambush in Placer, Masbate.

Killed was Rodilyn Camay, incumbent chairwoman of Brgy. Matagangtang, Placer, Masbate provincial police spokesman Superintendent Eugenio Manondo said.

Camay’s husband Romil, a former chairman of their barangay, was hurt in the attack along with one Giovani Liquigan, helper of a beer delivery truck that the couple passed by.

Rodilyn and Romil were travelling along a road in Brgy. Aguada on a motorcycle, when unidentified men “waylaid” and shot them with caliber-.45 pistols, Manondo said in an emailed report.

Liquigan, who was unloading beer from a truck parked beside the road, was hit by a stray bullet, he said.

Rodilyn and Romil were brought to the Cataingan District Hospital but doctors declared the former dead.

Romil and Liquigan were later transferred to the Masbate Doctors Hospital in Masbate City for further treatment.

Senior Superintendent Prexy Tanggawohn, officer-in-charge of the Masbate provincial police, ordered local lawmen to look into all possible motives for the attack to help speed up the identification of the assailants. (John Roson)

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A teenager died after getting pulled in by an ice crusher at a fish port in Camaligan, Camarines Sur, Thursday night, police said Friday.

Killed was 17-year-old Angelo Tacorda, a resident of Brgy. Bagacay, Tinambac, Camarines Sur provincial police director Senior Superintendent Walfredo Pornillos said.

The incident occurred at the fish port in Brgy. Dugcal around 7:45 p.m., while Tacorda was picking crushed ice from the machine, Pornillos said in a text message.

Senior Inspector Aldin Oroqueta, Camaligan Police chief, said Tacorda was with some fellow workers at that time.

“Tapos na sila sa trabaho noon, pero may tira sa loob ng machine kaya inabot niya (Tacorda)… Eh ‘yung kasama niya sa taas, di siya napansin, nai-switch on ‘yung ice crusher,” Oroqueta said by phone.

Tacorda’s whole body was pulled in, and the machine bore holes on it, he said.

The families of Tacorda and his fellow worker, who is just about his age, have already met and agreed to settle the incident, Oroqueta said.

“Hindi na daw magsasampa ng kaso ang pamilya ng biktima dahil aksidente ang nangyari, tutulong na lang daw sa gastusin sa pagpapalibing ‘yung isang pamilya,” he said. (John Roson)

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Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad took over as Philippine Navy chief Aug. 10, 2015 (photo by author)

Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad took over as Philippine Navy chief Aug. 10, 2015 (photo by author)

Newly installed Navy chief Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad yesterday downplayed China’s military buildup in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) but stressed the need for more firepower for the force, considered as one of the weakest in the Asia-Pacific.

“We’ll come up with acquisitions of needed firepower, additional firepower for us to be able to deter any naval force that would try to stop us from employing our assets to assert soveriegnty over our waters,” Taccad told reporters.

Taccad made the remark when asked how the Philippine Navy will respond to China’s military buildup in the West Philippine Sea, given the former’s limited capabilities.

Rocket-armed versions of the Navy's new AW-109 helicopters (photo by author)

Rocket-armed versions of the Navy’s new AW-109 helicopters (photo by author)

“Kailangan natin ma-cover o ma-patrolya ang karagatan in order to impose that we have sovereignty over this sea,” he said.

Taccad, however, noted that the situation with China is not as threatening as before.

“Considering that it’s much heated before, I think we are in a better position now. We are communicating with China, and more or less not as threatened as before. You know what they are trying to do and we try to maintain more or less a peaceful coexistence or settlement of what issue we have,” he said.

BRP Ivatan, one of two landing craft heavy (LCH) ships donated by Australia, was christened ahead of Taccad's taking over of the Navy (photo by author)

BRP Ivatan, one of two landing craft heavy (LCH) ships donated by Australia, was christened ahead of Taccad’s taking over of the Navy (photo by author)

Taccad also said that he does not see China’s reclamation and construction works on seven reefs in the hotly-contested Kalayaan (Spratly) Island Group as an “expansion.”

“I dont see any expansion from China. They have been there for a long time and they are guarding what they think is their interest in the South China Sea… No expansion happening, they are just pursuing what they think is their interest,” he said.

President Benigno Aquino III installed Taccad as the 35th Navy chief, replacing Vice Admiral Jesus Millan who reached the compulsory retirement age of 56 yesterday.

Millan bid farewell to the force with a literary piece that used names of the nine Philippine-held territories in the Spratlys.

Taccad, on the other hand, vowed to transform the force into a “strong and formidable” Navy.

Before the turnover ceremony, the Navy held a “christening” for two landing craft heavy (LCH) ships donated by Australia and two rocket-armed AW-109 Power helicopters acquired from Anglo-Italian aircraft maker AugustaWestland. (John Roson)

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