Archive for August, 2007


By Eldie Aguirre, Jeoffrey Maitem
Mindanao Bureau
Last updated 05:07pm (Mla time) 08/29/2007


DIGOS CITY, Philippines — A group of civilians, which has been helping authorities in Southern Mindanao against terror and criminality, renewed its commitment to peace in the region.

During the group’s fourth founding anniversary held in Padada, Davao del Sur, on Sunday, Maamor Yunas, Spotters provincial chair, said their members would continue to provide vital information to authorities to help them stamp out terror and other illegal activities.

Spotters was founded in 2003 by Faizal Kansi, chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the Davao provinces.

It counts among its members Muslim and Christian civilians and members of the indigenous communities.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte openly said he always tapped members of the Spotters during big events in the city.

In 2006, Digos City Mayor Arsenio Latasa and the city police director, Chief Inspector Cabuhat, cited the group for its active participation in intelligence gathering.

“We will continue to augment the intelligence capabilities of the police and the military against lawless elements that could stain the image of the region as a peaceful and livable place to stay and live,” Yunas said.

Unlike in other parts of Mindanao, the Davao region remains relatively peaceful.

“Without your absolute dedication in the maintenance of peace and tranquility, we could have been victims of various terror acts already,” Padada Mayor Antonio Razonable said of the group’s efforts.

“We are duty-bound to help the government in protecting the lives and properties of the people including our respective families who are also living in this place,” Yunas said.

The government has claimed its war on terror has been succeeding with the death or capture of major terror personalities, including Khadaffy Janjalani of the Abu Sayyaf.

The Abu Sayyaf is an ally of the Indonesia-based terror network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which, according to authorities, has members in Mindanao too.

In Koronadal City, a terror suspect, however, claimed soldiers tortured him into admitting he was local member of the JI.

Badrudin Guilison Tapid, who was reportedly arrested with explosives early this month, told the Catholic-run radio station dxND based in Kidapawan City that soldiers subjected him to electric shocks.

“They tortured me. That was why I was forced to admit that I am a bomber,” he said in Filipino.

But Major Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of Eastern Mindanao command, denied Tapida’s claim.

“We do not venture into apprehending the wrong suspects and torture them to admit participation in terrorism. This will only muddle past investigations and may invalidate previously gathered intelligence data,” Cabangbang told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net.

Copyright 2007 Mindanao Bureau. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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By Edwin Fernandez, Jeoffrey Maitem
Inquirer, Agence France-Presse
Last updated 03:43pm (Mla time) 08/28/2007


COTABATO CITY, Philippines — (UPDATE) Government and secessionist rebel negotiators have sought an extended mandate for the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) and “lightly discussed” the issue of ancestral domain during a secret meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Monday.

Ghadzali Jaafar, political affairs chief of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), confirmed on Tuesday that the meeting pushed through but could not say why it was kept under wraps.

A joint statement from both parties said the monitoring team had made a “substantial contribution” in stabilizing the situation in the Mindanao region, as well as in boosting international confidence in the peace process.

The statement said both sides “reached a consensus to request Malaysia, Brunei, Libya and Japan to extend the tour of duty of their respective contingents… for another 12 months ending August 2008.”

“The most important thing is that we agreed to extend the tour of duty of the IMT, which was set to expire on Friday,” Jaafar said. “The IMT has played a big role in our efforts to sustain the gains of the 10-year-old peace process. Losing it is like putting an end to the process.”

The IMT, a creation of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, is a 60-man body tasked to oversee the implementation of the ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF.

The current team comprises some 60 soldiers, mainly from Malaysia and with token contributions from Brunei and Libya, plus a Japanese aid worker. Japan is the only non-OIC member in the team.

The statement said the next round of talks would look at whether to expand the truce monitoring team to include other countries.

They first deployed in October 2004 under Malaysian command and carry small arms.

Earlier, Malacañang had announced that it was calling off the talks scheduled for August 22-24.

The MILF said it was surprised by the abrupt cancellation, noting its negotiators were already at the Manila airport and about to leave for Malaysia, which has been brokering the talks, when Malacañang announced the cancellation of the talks.

Officials expect the talks to resume in Malaysia in mid-September.

Among the IMT’s member-countries, only Japan does not belong to the OIC.

The negotiators, who met in Cyberjaya in Selangor, Malaysia, included retired general Rodolfo Garcia, Professor Rudy Rodil, Camilo Montessa and Mark Ryan Sullivan for the government side.

The MILF was represented by Mohagher Iqbal, Michael Mastura, Maulana Bobby Alonto, and Mike Pasigan.

“They mainly discussed the extension of the tour of duty of IMT although they talked about some issues,” Jaafar said.

He said the negotiators also agreed to expand the coverage of the IMT to Basilan, Palawan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Asked about the other particular issues discusses during the meeting, Jaafar said the panels also “lightly touched on the most contentious issue of ancestral domain.”

“The discussion on ancestral domain issue was very cordial but obviously disagreements prevailed and both agreed to fine-tune their positions in preparation for the next formal peace talks,” Jaafar said.

Ancestral domain is seen as a major stumbling block to the signing of a peace agreement between the rebels and the government.

The MILF wanted the unconditional inclusion of 1,000 villages in the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) but the government said it could only allow the inclusion of about 600 villages.

The government also said the composition of the BJE would depend on the outcome of a plebiscite to be held for the purpose.

Originally posted at 09:19 am

Copyright 2007 Inquirer, Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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By Jeoffrey Maitem, Richel Umel
Mindanao Bureau
Last updated 05:16pm (Mla time) 08/24/2007


KORONADAL CITY — American soldiers participating in the annual Philippine-US military exercise will rehabilitate the bumpy highway that connects Maitum in Sarangani province and Palimbang town in Sultan Kudarat as part of their humanitarian mission, Palimbang Mayor Samrod Mamansual has told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The 40-kilometer road has been the only trade route used by the people of the two provinces for decades.

Mamansual told the Inquirer on Thursday that four US soldiers, led by Captain Phil Madsen, met with him on August 20 and informed him of the plan to rehabilitate the highway beginning next month.

“Not only that. They told me that the United States also plans to build hospital, communication facilities, and put up electrification projects. We are happy because it would help us a lot,” Mamansual said.

Mamansual said the plan would certainly have a dramatic impact on the lives of the people of the two areas.

He said that once completed, the hour-long travel from Maitum to Palimbang would be reduced greatly.

US troops have been conducting civic projects, including dental treatment and school and road construction in conflict affected areas of Mindanao under the Balikatan program.

Meanwhile, in Iligan City, officials said the construction of the 18-kilometer Circumferential Road 3 (C-3) would be implemented this year.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced the approval of the project, aimed at decongesting Iligan City’s traffic, on July 23.

Mayor Lawrence Lluch Cruz told the Inquirer, parent company of the INQUIRER.net, that the Department of Public Works and Highways has set aside P50 million for project-related activities.

He said among these was the ongoing project site inspection.

The project will also involve the construction of five bridges in the barangay (villages) of Pugaan, Ubaldo Laya, Tominobo, Santa Elena and Suarez, said Cruz.

Copyright 2007 Mindanao Bureau. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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By Arlyn dela Cruz, Jeoffrey Maitem, Tarra Quismundo
Last updated 04:28am (Mla time) 08/24/2007


MANILA, Philippines — “By, Aylabyu.”

In the playful, mushy lingo of young lovers, this “text” message from 2nd Lt. Ludwig Salvador reached his girlfriend’s mobile phone at 8:55 p.m. of Aug. 17.

The next day, it proved to be the officer’s final farewell: Salvador and 14 other Marines were killed in a nine-hour assault on a major encampment of Abu Sayyaf bandits on Basilan island.

“He told me about a possible encounter and (that I had) to be prepared for anything that could happen, and I remember myself telling him ‘I love you’ and telling him to make sure he did not get hit in the face,” said Bernielyn Cabral, 25.

She was recalling a phone conversation she had with Ludwig shortly before he and his team were deployed to Silangkum, Ungkaya Pukan town. Salvador apparently “texted” her moments before he “jumped off” for the last mission he would lead as company commander.

Cabral was among the mourners who gathered at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City on Monday night when the remains of 13 of the slain Marines were brought back to Manila.

Father also fought in Basilan

By her side was Ludwig’s father, Jaime Salvador, a retired Army captain who himself saw action in Mindanao in the 1970s against the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Amid the grief that surrounded them, the elder Salvador managed to keep his military composure in the way he tried to make sense of his son’s death.

“I fought in the same area where my son was killed and I am aware of the high ground (often enjoyed by the enemy) that could work against the government troops. I am also aware that the rebels will always have the advantage as far as mastery of the terrain is concerned,” he said.

The grieving father recalled how, during his tour of duty, he also lost many men because of “this same reason.” He was then a platoon leader engaging MNLF forces in Basilan led by Gerry Salapuddin, who years later would become a congressman after the separatist group signed a peace agreement with the government.

‘General’ Salvador

Cabral said Ludwig, even when they were still classmates at the Meralco Foundation Institute in Pasig City, “dreamed of becoming a general” and kept this dream alive by eventually enrolling in the Philippine Military Academy.

“So the moment we (his classmates) learned that he entered the PMA, we were already calling him ‘general,’” she said.

But with Ludwig’s career cut short by the latest military debacle in Basilan, “in my heart, he is already a general and his gallantry will always be remembered and honored in the hearts of many,” Cabral said.

In other parts of the country, tributes not only from family members but entire communities continue to be held for the Marines killed in the Aug. 18 encounter.

Tribute to Soloren

In Sto. Nino town, South Cotabato province, hundreds of residents on Wednesday night lit candles and lined the highway for a motorcade held in honor of 1st Lt. Erwin Soloren, 23.

Soloren was a member of PMA’s Mandirigma ng Dangal ng Lahi (Mandala) Class of 2006 and the ninth best finisher of the batch.

He was salutatorian of his grade school class, and graduated with honors from the Notre Dame of Marbel High School in Koronadal City. Before he entered the PMA, Soloren took up civil engineering at the Mapua Institute of Technology in Manila.

From the General Santos City International Airport, the casket bearing Soloren’s body arrived at the family residence at around 6:30 p.m., amid wails and weeping.

“The government should have sent to the battlefield experienced soldiers and not fresh graduates. I think it was a technical error,” Soloren’s father Porferio told reporters.

Mayor Antonio Damandaman said Soloren “brought pride and honor” to the town, whose residents “grieve over his death.”

But the mayor also decried the government offensive against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan and Sulu as a waste of lives and money, saying: “Military action has proven not effective. Since I was a young boy, there was already fighting in Basilan and Sulu. Now, there still is.”

Honors for Udaundo

In Manila, the parents of Air Force 1st Lt. Claudio Udaundo Jr., an Air Force pilot killed in a helicopter crash also in Basilan on Saturday, said the honors being heaped on their son have somehow cushioned the pain.

“I have relatives who would tell me, ‘Your child was a good man, he is now a hero because he defended our country,’” said Rachel Udaundo, the pilot’s mother.

“Whenever I hear something like that, somehow, that eases the pain in my chest,” she told the Philippine Daily Inquirer at the wake held at the Philippine Air Force mortuary.

Udaundo, 27, was considered the first casualty from the Air Force since the military launched an offensive against the Abu Sayyaf on Basilan last month. He was then piloting an MG-520 attack helicopter, one of the three choppers scouring the combat zone, when his craft reportedly encountered engine trouble.

He left behind seven siblings and wife Marilyn, whom he married last year just months after he was assigned to the 15th Strike Wing based in Sangley Point, Cavite.

Libingan ng mga Bayani

While the family can bury Claudio in his native Gatarran, Cagayan, Rachel said a more fitting resting place for her son would be the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes Cemetery) in Taguig City.

“It will be a sacrifice to visit him all the way from Cagayan but we will go visit him there (at the Libingan), especially on [Nov. 1],” she said.

The pilot’s grandparents are also expected to arrive from Hawaii for the burial set on Aug. 30.

Copyright 2007 Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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By Jeoffrey Maitem
Mindanao Bureau
Last updated 04:42pm (Mla time) 08/23/2007


STO. NIÑO, South Cotabato — Hundreds of residents lighted candles on Wednesday night as they patiently waited along the highway here to see the motorcade for 1st Lieutenant Erwin Soloren, the Marine officer who was killed last week in a clash with al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militants in Basilan.

The commercial plane carrying his remains landed on General Santos City International Airport. A relative from Manila handed over to the family his uniforms and other belongings.

Villagers lined up along the national highway as the motorcade passed by.

At around 6:30 p.m., members of the family, relatives and friends, cried as the body of Soloren was returned to his home where he grew up.

All clad in black t-shirts, Soloren’s father, Porferio, his mother Pas, and siblings sobbed as they watched as the casket being carried by soldiers.

“The government should have sent to the battlefields experienced soldiers and not the fresh graduates. I think there was an error in that,” Porferio told reporters.

Porferio, however, said government should not stop the offensives against Abu Sayyaf in Basilan. “By doing it, it will prevent the terrorist group from re-grouping and strengthening their ranks,” he said.

Porferio’s son was among the 15 Marine soldiers killed in an encounter with Abu Sayyaf militants on August 17 in Ungkaya Pukan town in Basilan. He was 23.

Mayor Antonio Damandaman said Soloren “brought pride and honor” to the town.

“The entire town grieved over his death,” Damandaman said.

But the town mayor said the military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan and Sulu was a waste of lives and money.

“Military action is tested and proven not effective. Since I was a young boy, there was already fighting in Basilan and Sulu. Now, the fighting still happens,” Damandaman said.

Soloren graduated from the Philippine Military Academy’s Mandirigma ng Dangal ng Lahi (Mandala) in 2006. He was Top 9 of his class.

He was salutatorian of his grade school class, and graduated with honors from the Notre Dame of Marbel High School in Koronadal City.

Before he entered the PMA, Soloren took up civil engineering at the Mapua Institute of Technology in Manila.

Copyright 2007 Mindanao Bureau. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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By Jeoffrey Maitem
Last updated 04:25am (Mla time) 08/19/2007

KORONADAL CITY, South Cotabato — He liked to play at military drills when he was a young boy and would tell his parents and relatives he would one day become a soldier.

“He wanted to become a soldier. That was his dream,” Ricarte Domingo said of his relative Ermin Soloren.

In 2006, Soloren finally fulfilled his dream. He ranked 9th in the Philippine Military Academy’s Mandirigma ng Dangal ng Lahi (Mandala) Class.

Soloren, who was from Sto. Niño town, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Philippine Marine Corps.

The dream ended Saturday when enemy bullets hit him and several others during clashes in Ungkaya Pukan in Basilan. He was only 22.

Domingo described Soloren as “a good and responsible man.”

“But he was the silent type. When he arrived home from school, he rarely spoke,” Domingo said in a phone interview.

Relatives described Soloren as a “very studious child.”

Domingo said he was an avid reader of newspapers and books.

He was salutatorian of his grade school class and also graduated with honors from the Notre Dame of Marbel High School.

Before he entered the PMA, Soloren was enrolled in a civil engineering course at the Mapua Institute of Technology in Manila.

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By Jeoffrey Maitem
Last updated 02:30pm (Mla time) 08/18/2007


KORONADAL CITY–Government security forces foiled what could have been another bloody attack in Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat when they arrested a suspect linked to the Jemaah Islamiyah on Friday, military authorities said Saturday.

The arrest of suspect Badrudin Guilison, who yielded three 60-millimeter mortar shells when frisked, came a few days after the US government warned US citizens against traveling to Mindanao.

“Joint operatives of Task Force Talakudong and the 601st Brigade captured Badrudin Guilison, also known as Badz, inside the city’s crowded public market around 6:45 p.m. through the help of alert civilians,” said Maj. Gen. Rodolfo Obaniana, chief of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command.

Obaniana said that aside from the 60-mm projectiles, Guilison also yielded “some electronic tools.”

He said the suspect later told arresting officers that an improvised explosive had already been set to explode at the public market.

“He [Guilison] disclosed during tactical interrogation that an improvised bomb was placed at the fruit stand section of the market, prompting our troops to conduct follow up operation,” Obaniana said.

He said Army experts, using sniffing dogs, later found the bomb, which was fashioned out of two pounds of TNT, blasting cap, mortar booster, one-inch nails and a timer. The team successfully defused the bomb.

Maj. Randolph Cabangbang, Eastern Mindanao Command spokesperson, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net) that Guilison was an identified member of the JI, which has been blamed for most of the attacks in Central Mindanao.

Cabangbang said the foiled attack on Tacurong was the third staged by the JI this year.

On May 8, eight people were killed and 27 others were injured when a powerful improvised bomb went off at billiards hall. On July 18, three persons were injured – including a child – when a bomb exploded inside a bus at the public transport terminal in Tacurong.

Cabangbang said the latest attempt was apparently aimed at diverting the military’s attention from Sulu and Basilan.

Since last month, the military has intensified its operations in Basilan and Sulu against the Abu Sayyaf, a local ally of the JI.

“The foiled bomb plot was part of JI’s effort. They are creating diversion to ease the pressure in Sulu,” Cabangbang said.

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