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Archive for the ‘United Islands of the Philippines’ Category

2 dead, nearly 30 wounded in bomb blast at Philippine mall

December 31, 2018

COTABATO, Philippines (AP) — Suspected Muslim militants remotely detonated a bomb near the entrance of a mall in the southern Philippines on Monday as people did last-minute shopping ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations, killing at least two and wounding nearly 30, officials said.

The bomb went off near the baggage counter at the entrance of the South Seas mall in Cotabato city, wounding shoppers, vendors and commuters. Authorities recovered another unexploded bomb nearby as government forces imposed a security lockdown in the city, military and police officials said.

Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said by phone that an initial investigation showed the design of the bomb was similar to those used in the past by local Muslim militants who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

Government forces launched an offensive against the militants belonging to a group called Daulah Islamiyah last week and at least seven of the militants died in the fighting, Sobejana said. “This is a part of the retaliation, but the problem is they’re victimizing innocent civilians,” he told reporters.

Supt. Romeo Galgo Jr., the deputy police director of Cotabato, said witnesses saw a man leave a box in a crowded area near the mall’s entrance where vendors and shoppers were milling. The explosion shattered glass panels and scattered debris to the street fronting the mall.

Two of the roughly 30 people hit by the blast died while being brought to a hospital, Sobejana said. Cotabato Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi condemned the bombing and called on residents to help fight terrorism.

“This is not just another terroristic act but an act against humanity. I cannot fathom how such evil exists in this time of merry making,” she said. “It is unimaginable how some people can start the new year with an act of cruelty but no matter how you threaten us, the people of Cotabato are resilient. … We will stand up against terrorism,” she told reporters.

The bombing, the latest in a number of attacks blamed on militants in the volatile region, occurred despite on-and-off military assaults against pockets of militant groups operating in the marshlands and hinterlands not far from Cotabato and outlying provinces.

Hundreds of militants aligned with the Islamic State group laid siege in the southern Islamic city of Marawi in May last year, sparking five months of intense fighting and military airstrikes that left more than 1,100 mostly militants dead and displaced hundreds of thousands of villagers.

President Rodrigo Duterte placed the southern third of the country under martial law to deal with the Marawi siege, the worst security crisis he has faced since taking office in mid-2016.


Philippines arrests US priest accused of abusing altar boys

December 06, 2018

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine immigration authorities have arrested an American Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting altar boys in a remote central town in a case one official described as “shocking and appalling.”

The Rev. Kenneth Bernard Hendricks, who has been indicted in Ohio for illicit sexual conduct in the Philippines, was arrested in a church in Naval town in the island province of Biliran on Wednesday, Bureau of Immigration spokeswoman Dana Sandoval said Thursday.

An Ohio court had issued a warrant for the arrest of 77-year-old Hendricks, who has been living in the Philippines for 37 years, Sandoval said, adding that the U.S. criminal case stemmed from complaints from the alleged Filipino victims.

There was no immediate reaction from the U.S. Embassy, Philippine Catholic Church officials or Hendricks, who was flown to Manila and detained in an immigration detention center. The suspect allegedly abused seven victims, who served mostly as altar boys in Naval, in 50 counts of molestation in his residence in a case that’s “both shocking and appalling,” Sandoval said.

“The victims were in his house and the abuses were committed while he was taking a bath with each of them,” Sandoval said by telephone. U.S. authorities provided information about the alleged sexual assaults to the Philippine government, she said.

The victims were reportedly warned they would be locked up in jail if they told anyone about the abuses, she said. “Several of his victims have come forward with their statements,” Sandoval said. The U.S. Embassy may revoke Hendrick’s passport to help Philippine authorities immediately deport the priest, the immigration bureau said in a statement.

Hendricks is “a fugitive from justice that poses a risk to public safety and security,” Sandoval said. “We will not allow sexual predators to prey on our children. People like him must be kicked out and banned from the Philippines.”

Philippine villages at risk of landslides forcibly evacuated

September 21, 2018

NAGA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine troops and police forcibly evacuated residents of five villages vulnerable to landslides after the collapse of a mountainside buried dozens of homes and killed at least 29 people in a central region.

Some residents left on their own, but most of the more than 1,200 people in villages near the landslide-hit area in Naga city were forcibly moved by authorities Thursday night, police Chief Superintendent Debold Sinas said Friday.

Four regional environmental officials, meanwhile, were suspended Friday for telling local officials last month that cracks found in the area of a limestone quarry at the mountain where the landslide occurred were not an imminent danger. Officials said the four would be investigated and could face criminal charges.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu also suspended quarry operations in the mountains around Naga city and several other provinces for 15 days to determine if they pose any danger. Survivors heard a thunderous roar, crashing and banging when the mountainside collapsed onto houses in two villages Thursday morning. Some who were trapped in the sludge managed to send text messages pleading for help, but the messages stopped within a few hours.

Distraught relatives begged for more backhoes to be brought to the earth and debris where they hoped loved ones could be pulled out alive, but there were far too few machines to dig for the dozens of people missing.

Dennis Pansoy, a 41-year-old shipyard worker, had left his wife, two sons and two other relatives in the family home for less than an hour on his way to work when the landslide buried his neighborhood.

Since Thursday, Pansoy has been standing by the mound of more than 20 meters (65 feet) of earth and rocks covering his house and watching rescuers dig slowly with shovels. No heavy equipment had come. Pansoy asked why no one had warned residents to evacuate after cracks were spotted on the mountainside.

“If we had been warned, we would have left,” Pansoy said. “I lost everything after I stepped out of the house yesterday.” Resident Nimrod Parba said a trapped relative called for help about three hours after the landslide hit, entombing 13 of his kin. “They are still under the rubble, they are still there. They are covered in shallow earth, we need a backhoe,” Parba said.

A man embracing a child in a house was dug out by searchers using a backhoe Thursday night in a poignant scene witnessed by two AP journalists. Authorities have limited the number of rescuers and other people inside the villages, fearing heavy rains could cause new slides. Thursday’s landslide also covered part of a river, prompting officials to order a temporary canal to be dug.

About 270 government troops and policemen were deployed to prevent residents from returning to high-risk villages, Sinas said. President Rodrigo Duterte visited Naga city in Cebu province on Friday night and promised to help the landslide victims.

The landslide in the central region occurred as parts of the far northern Philippines deal with damage from a typhoon that hit last weekend. At least 95 people were killed and more than 50 are missing, many in the gold-mining town of Itogon where landslides hit houses and a chapel where people had gathered in the storm.

Cebu province was not directly hit by Typhoon Mangkhut but the storm intensified the seasonal monsoon rains that normally fall in tropical Asia. It’s not clear what set off Thursday’s landslide, but some residents blamed the limestone quarries.

The Philippines is one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries. It is lashed by about 20 tropical storms each year and has active seismic faults where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. Poverty forces many people to live in vulnerable areas, making natural disasters more deadly.

Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila contributed to this report.

Duterte voids amnesty of critical senator, orders his arrest

September 04, 2018

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has voided an amnesty given to a former rebel military officer and ordered the arrest of the man who as a senator has been one of the controversial leader’s fiercest critics.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV spoke Tuesday in the Senate to condemn Duterte’s move against him as illegal and draconian but added he won’t resist arrest. After being advised that Senate leaders won’t allow his arrest in the building, Trillanes said he would heed their advice and stay within the Senate in a looming standoff.

“We’re living basically in a de facto martial law environment of the ’70s kind,” Trillanes told a throng of journalists and followers, referring to the martial law declared by dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1972, which is regarded as a dark chapter in Philippine democracy.

Some opposition politicians started trooping to the Senate to show support to Trillanes, a 47-year-old former navy officer, who had been detained for several years before his election to the Senate for his involvement in at least three military uprisings from 2003 to 2007 to protest official corruption.

Trillanes received an amnesty during the time of Duterte’s predecessor, President Benigno Aquino III. Several young military officers who were detained for joining the failed coup attempts and uprisings against the administration of Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, benefited under the amnesty program, but only Trillanes’ amnesty has been voided so far.

Trillanes said his lawyers would file petitions to the Supreme Court “to resolve this madness of Duterte” and the government’s solicitor-general and fight what he said amounted to a warrantless arrest.

“They’re bending the law to be able to do their political objective, which is to persecute the political opposition,” Trillanes said. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told a separate news conference that Duterte signed a proclamation last week voiding the 2011 amnesty given to Trillanes because the senator failed to comply with all the amnesty requirements, including a clear admission of his involvement in past coup attempts.

Law enforcers can comply with Duterte’s order to arrest Trillanes anytime because the senator cannot invoke his immunity from such arrests because the crimes he supposedly committed, including rebellion, were serious and are punishable by life imprisonment.

Opposition Sen. Franklin Drilon said all rebellion and coup-related cases against Trillanes were dismissed by a court after he was amnestied. Duterte’s administration could not renew those cases against the senator because that would amount to a “double jeopardy” that’s forbidden under Philippine law.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, who is accompanying Duterte in a visit to Israel, denied that the move against Trillanes was political persecution, saying the government was just enforcing the law. He said the government would exercise maximum tolerance in case protests erupt.

Duterte has openly expressed his anger against Trillanes, who has accused him of large-scale corruption and involvement in illegal drugs, allegations the volatile president has repeatedly denied. He has been hyper-sensitive to criticism, especially concerning his deadly crackdown on illegal drugs, and once told President Barack Obama to “go to hell” after Obama raised concerns over the drug killings.

Aside from Trillanes, a fellow opposition senator, Leila de Lima, has been detained after being accused by Duterte of involvement in illegal drugs, a crime she has vehemently denied. De Lima, a former human rights commission chief, investigated allegations of Duterte’s links to extrajudicial killings of drug suspects when Duterte was still mayor of southern Davao city.

Duterte, now 73, said those past investigations did not turn up any evidence against him. De Lima and other former human rights officials said witnesses were terrified of testifying against Duterte in Davao because of the many killings of drug suspects when Duterte served for years as Davao’s mayor.

Another Duterte critic, Maria Lourdes Sereno, was ousted by fellow magistrates in the Supreme Court in May after the government alleged that her appointment by Duterte’s predecessor was legally flawed and petitioned her removal in an unprecedented move that Sereno called political persecution.

Powerful bomb in van kills at least 11 in south Philippines

July 31, 2018

LAMITAN, Philippines (AP) — A bomb-laden van driven by a suspected militant went off in a powerful blast Tuesday that killed 11 people, including a soldier, five militiamen and the driver, in a brazen attack that reignited terrorism fears in the southern Philippines.

Regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Gerry Besana said six army scout rangers and a militiaman were also wounded in the explosion outside an army militia outpost. The blast tore a crater on the road and damaged the outpost in Lamitan city in one of the worst terrorist attacks in the country this year.

Militiamen, who had been alerted about possible bombings, stopped the van at a checkpoint in Colonia village, where the bomb went off, military officials said. “If he triggered the bomb, he was probably waiting for a more opportune time to inflict harm on a bigger number of people,” Besana said by phone, referring to the driver, who died in the blast. “That’s their death wish — the more, the merrier.”

The Philippine government condemned the terrorist attack, calling it a “war crime.” The Islamic State group, through its media arm, claimed credit for the attack, saying the attacker was a Moroccan. However, it cited a much higher death toll.

Investigators have yet to determine if the bomb or bombs were being carried in the van or the vehicle had been turned into a car bomb, Besana said, adding it was also unclear if the explosive was remotely detonated or was set off by the driver in a suicide attack.

Militiaman Gregorio Inso, who survived but lost his wife to the blast, said the van was flagged down for inspection by his colleagues outside the militia outpost. When the driver apparently wanted to restart the engine, the militiamen looked inside and saw suspicious strands of wire inside the van and called a group of scout rangers.

“When the rangers were approaching, the vehicle suddenly exploded,” Inso said. “When I looked again everyone was dead.” Military spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said the driver, who witnesses described as looking scared and who did not respond to questions at the checkpoint, could be an Abu Sayyaf militant under a ruthless commander, Furuji Indama, who recently plotted bombings in predominantly Muslim Basilan.

Government forces have also been put on alert in the south, scene of decades-long Muslim separatist unrest, after President Rodrigo Duterte signed a new autonomy agreement last week with the biggest Muslim rebel group in the country.

The peace deal has been opposed by much smaller but violent extremist bands like the Abu Sayyaf and others which have aligned themselves with the Islamic State group. The country’s south remains under martial law, which Duterte declared last year to deal with a five-month siege by Islamic State group-linked militants in southern Marawi city that left more than 1,200 mostly militants dead, displaced hundreds of thousands of villagers and sparked fears that the Islamic State group was gaining a foothold in Southeast Asia amid its battle defeats in Syria and Iraq.

The Abu Sayyaf, which was founded in the late 1980s in Basilan, has been blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines for bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings. It has been weakened by government offensives and surrenders but remains a national security threat.

Associated Press journalists Jim Gomez, Joeal Calupitan and Aaron Favila in Manila and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.

Philippine officials: Duterte OKs Muslim rebel autonomy deal

July 26, 2018

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has signed legislation creating a new Muslim autonomous region aimed at settling nearly half a century of Muslim unrest in the south, where troops crushed an attempt last year by Islamic State group-linked militants to turn a city into a stronghold.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque and another key aide, Bong Go, told reporters without elaborating late Thursday that Duterte signed the bill creating the region, to be called Bangsamoro. The autonomy deal, which has been negotiated for more than two decades under four presidents, was ratified earlier this week by both chambers of Congress.

“This is to announce that the president has just signed the BOL into law,” Roque said in a cellphone message, referring to the Bangsamoro organic law. It’s the latest significant attempt by the government to end Muslim fighting that has left more than 120,000 people dead and hampered development in the country’s most destitute regions. The deal was negotiated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the south, although about half a dozen smaller IS-linked radical groups remain a threat in the region, the homeland of minority Muslims in the largely Roman Catholic nation.

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chairman of the Moro rebel front, told a news conference Tuesday that 30,000 to 40,000 armed fighters would be “decommissioned” if the autonomy deal is fully enforced. The disarming would be done in batches based on compliance with the accord, with the final 40 percent of the guerrillas turning over their weapons once there is full compliance.

Murad added that six of the largest guerrilla camps in the south were already being converted into “productive civilian communities” to help the insurgents return to normal life. Murad appealed to the international community to contribute to a trust fund to be used to finance the insurgents’ transition from decades of waging one of Asia’s longest rebellions.

“We will decommission our forces, the entire forces,” Murad said. He declined to immediately cite the number of weapons that “will be put beyond use.” The military has estimated the Moro rebel group’s size at a much lower 11,000 fighters.

The Bangsamoro replaces an existing poverty- and conflict-wracked autonomous region and is to be larger, better-funded and more powerful. An annual grant, estimated at 60 billion to 70 billion pesos ($1.1 billion to $1.3 billion), is to be set aside to bolster development in the new region.

Murad’s guerrilla force is the second in the south to drop a demand for a separate Muslim state in exchange for autonomy. The Moro National Liberation Front forged a 1996 peace deal with the government that led to the current five-province Muslim autonomous region, which has largely been regarded as a failure.

Western governments have welcomed the autonomy pacts. They worry that small numbers of Islamic State group-linked militants from the Middle East and Southeast Asia could forge an alliance with Filipino insurgents and turn the south into a breeding ground for extremists.

Murad said it’s crucial for the peace agreement to be fully enforced, citing how earlier failed attempts prompted some guerrillas to break away and form more hard-line groups like the Abu Sayyaf, a brutal group listed by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization.

Hundreds of militants, including those who broke off from Murad’s force, were among black flag-waving fighters who swore allegiance to the Islamic State group and laid siege to the southern Islamic city of Marawi last year. Troops backed by U.S. and Australian surveillance aircraft routed the militants after five months of airstrikes and ground assaults that left more than 1,200 people, mostly Islamic fighters, dead and the mosque-studded city in ruins.

“We can roughly conclude that all these splinter groups are a result of the frustration with the peace process,” Murad said.

Philippine city mayor gunned down during flag-raising event

July 02, 2018

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A Philippine provincial city mayor known for parading drug suspects in public but also alleged to have drug ties himself was shot and killed Monday during a flag-raising ceremony in front of horrified employees.

Mayor Antonio Halili of Tanauan city in Batangas province south of Manila was shot by a still-unidentified attacker and died while being brought to a hospital, Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde said. The gunman escaped.

“They did not see anybody approach him. They just heard a gunshot so the assumption or allegation was it could have been a sniper shot,” Albayalde said in a news conference, adding that an investigation was underway.

Dozens of employees and officials scrambled to safety when the gunfire rang out as they were singing the national anthem outside city hall. The bullet hit a cellphone in Halili’s coat pocket then pierced his chest, police said.

Police were scouring a nearby elevated grassy area, where the gunman may have fired the shot. Halili became controversial two years ago when he ordered drug suspects to be paraded in public in Tanauan, a small city about 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of Manila, in a campaign that was dubbed “walks of shame.” The suspects were forced to wear cardboard signs that read “I’m a pusher, don’t emulate me” in a campaign that alarmed human rights officials.

Police officials, however, also linked Halili to illegal drugs, an allegation he strongly denied. He said at the time that he would resign and would be willing to be publicly paraded as a drug suspect if police could come up with evidence to support the allegation.

Albayalde said investigators would try to determine if the killing was connected to Halili’s anti-drug campaign. Halili’s unusual campaign drew attention at a time of growing alarm over the rising number of killings of drug suspects under President Rodrigo Duterte. Since Duterte took office in 2016, more than 4,200 drug suspects had been killed in clashes with police, alarming human rights groups, Western governments and U.N. rights watchdogs.

Human rights groups have reported much higher death tolls, although Duterte and his officials have questioned the accuracy of those reports. They said the suspects died because they opened fire and sparked gunbattles with authorities although human rights groups have accused police of extrajudicial killings.

Halili’s killing came a few weeks after a Catholic priest was shot and killed while preparing to celebrate Mass in a village chapel in northern Nueva Ecija province. Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief, urged the police to impose stricter firearms control in light of the killings.

“The killing of priests, prosecutors, and former and incumbent local officials in broad daylight and in full view of the public may be suggestive of the impunity and brazenness of those responsible for such acts,” Lacson said.

“The Philippine National Police should feel challenged, if not taunted,” he said. “And they must immediately consider stricter firearms control strategies before similar killings could reach ubiquitous levels.”

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