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Archive for the ‘United Islands of the Philippines’ Category

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.

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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.”

Philippine leader calls for abandoning Int’l Criminal Court

March 18, 2018

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte asked governments on Sunday to abandon the International Criminal Court, saying the world tribunal — where he is facing a possible complaint for the thousands of killings of drug suspects under his crackdown — is “rude.”

Although the Philippine Senate has ratified the Rome Statute that established the ICC, Duterte said in a speech that the treaty was never enforced in the country because it was not published in the government journal, the official gazette, as required by law.

Due to what he said was that flaw, Duterte said the international court can never have jurisdiction over him, “not in a million years.” Last month, an ICC prosecutor announced she was opening a preliminary examination into a complaint by a Filipino lawyer of suspected extrajudicial killings under Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, which could amount to crimes against humanity.

The move angered Duterte, who announced Wednesday that he was withdrawing the Philippine ratification of the Rome Statute “effective immediately,” citing “a concerted effort” by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and U.N. human rights officials “to paint me as a ruthless and heartless violator of human rights.”

“You know, if it’s not published, there is no law,” Duterte said Sunday in a speech before the annual graduation of cadets at the Philippine Military Academy in northern Baguio city. There was no reason to withdraw from “something which is not existing,” Duterte said, adding that he announced the withdrawal from the ICC treaty to draw the world’s attention to the issue he had with the international court.

“I will convince everybody now who are under the treaty at ICC: ‘Get out, get out, it’s rude,'” the brash-talking president said. Duterte’s action came under fire from human rights groups, which said that the president was trying to evade accountability by backing out of the ICC. Critics say Duterte can’t withdraw from the court by himself and may need the approval of the Senate, which ratified the Rome Statute in 2011.

Commission on Human Rights chief Chito Gascon said that the Philippines has historically been at the forefront of the fight for international justice, but that Duterte’s decision “constitutes a reversal that will be viewed as encouraging impunity to continue.”

More than 120 countries have ratified the treaty that established the court in 2002 in The Hague. The court can intervene only when a state is unable or unwilling to carry out an investigation and prosecute perpetrators of heinous crimes like crimes against humanity, genocide, aggression and war atrocities.

More than 4,000 mostly poor drug suspects have been killed under Duterte’s drug crackdown, according to the national police, although human rights groups have reported larger death tolls. Duterte argued Wednesday that the killings do not amount to crimes against humanity, genocide or similar atrocities.

1 body recovered, 36 feared dead in Philippine mall fire

December 24, 2017

DAVAO, Philippines (AP) — Philippine firefighters recovered one body from a burning shopping mall Sunday and there was “zero” chances of survival for 36 other trapped people inside the four-story building in southern Davao city, an official said.

Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said firefighters told distraught relatives of the 36 trapped employees of a business outsourcing company at the top floor of the NCCC Mall that nobody could survive the extreme heat and thick black smoke.

“They were told that the chances of survival are zero,” she said, adding that one of those trapped may be a Chinese or a South Korean, based on the name. It is unclear when firefighters can break into most areas of the mall, where the blaze was put under control Sunday morning although smoke continued to billow from the building. The firefighters won’t stop until all those reported missing are found, Duterte-Carpio said.

Investigators will determine the cause of the fire and the prospects of criminal lawsuits against the mall owners and officials would depend on the outcome of the investigation, said the mayor, who is the daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte, the mayor and Roman Catholic Church officials went to the site and met with relatives of the trapped office employees late Saturday and asked them to pray. The president was photographed wiping his eyes with a handkerchief, his head bowed, at an emotional moment with the relatives.

The mall’s marketing manager, Janna Abdullah Mutalib, said the fire started Saturday morning at the third floor where clothes, appliances and furniture are sold, after a storm hit Davao and flooded parts of the city. Except for a grocery at the ground floor and the business outsourcing company at the top floor, the shopping areas were still closed to the public when the fire started mid-morning, preventing a bigger tragedy amid the peak Christmas shopping season.

Duterte served as Davao mayor for many years before being elected to the presidency last year. It’s been a difficult year for the tough-talking, 72-year-old leader, who faced his most serious crisis when hundreds of pro-Islamic State group extremists laid siege on Marawi city, also in the southern third of the Philippines. He declared martial law in the south to deal with the insurrection, which troops crushed in October.

The storm that blew out of the southern Philippines Sunday reportedly left more than 120 people dead with 160 others still missing.

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

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