Despite setbacks, NPA rebels grow by 20 percent in Soccsksargen

Recent setbacks and losses in the battlefield did not deter communist rebels in Far South Mindanao Region (FSMR) from gathering and celebrating the 46th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) on Friday, December 26.

Ka Efren (right) being interviewed by Gensan newshens.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO
Ka Efren (right) being interviewed by Gensan newshens.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

Inviting a handful of media from Davao and General Santos, the spokesman of the National Democratic Front (NDF) in Far South Mindanao Region said despite the loss of several New People’s Army rebels, they were still able to increase both the number of their armed regulars and high powered firearms.

“We have a netted a 20 percent increase of more than 70 rifles in close to 80 tactical offensives and other non-military operations in 2014,” said NDF-Far South spokesperson Ka Efren from the sidelines.

NPA rebels in salute for the Internationale during the CPP's 46th Anniversary.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO
NPA rebels in salute for the Internationale during the CPP’s 46th Anniversary.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

Ka Efren said they were able to seized 100 high powered firearms in those tactical offensives and other rebel acitivities.

But he admitted losing 23 rifles in 2 separate occasions where 8 NPA regulars were slain.

Among their setbacks was the Sarangani encounter that led to the death of young Rendell Ryan Cagula, former chairman of the student council of the Mindanao campus of the University of the Philippines who joined the NPA in December last year.

Ka Pitpit, commanding officer of the NPA company that showed up during the rebel celebration of the CPP anniversary, said their comrades were about to move out from their position but were raided by a platoon of Philippine Army soldiers shortly after midnight on November 5 in Maasim, Sarangani.

Three NPA rebels, including Cagula, were slain in the military raid in which the Philippine Army was able to seized 9 rifles.

One other NPA member was also killed in another encounter involving a separate NPA platoon a day earlier.

The other major rebel setback was the death of four NPAs, including top ranking rebel leader Mark Bryle Garduque, in October in Malita, Davao Occidental.

Garduque headed one of the NPA platoons under the Front 75 guerrilla unit of the Far South Mindanao Regional Command.

A rebel source confirmed the death of one of their top ranking commanders, including the loss of several firearms.

Capt. Ernest Carolina, spokesman of the Army’s 10th division, said 11 high-powered rifles were seized from the rebels during the October encounters in Malita.

Ka Eferen said the death of Cagula, alias Ka Lucas, has inspired many young and new recruits to join the NPA.

“That is the positive side of his (Cagula’s) death,” Ka Efren narrates.

The rebel spokesman said the company of NPA regulars present during the CPP founding anniversary was a newly-formed unit.

The 34-year old Ka Pitpit, who is in his 12th year as an NPA combatant, said most of the new recruits have not been tested in actual combat but are determined and already battle ready.

Ka Efren declined to disclose the armed strength of the NPA under the FSMR committee of the NPA.

Another rebel source however said a bigger formation of NPA regulars also gathered in another guerrilla front in the region while a modest rebel assembly was likewise held in Maasim where they suffered their recent loss.

Ka Efren, meanwhile, said they are willing to resume the stalled peace talks with the Aquino administration provided the Philippine government shows sincerity in resolving the four-decade old armed conflict.

Fireworks competition to usher Xmas day celebration in Gensan

A three-day fireworks competition that will kick off Sunday, December 21, will serve as build up attraction for this year’s Christmas celebration in the city.

Six competitors have confirmed their participation, according to Ms Jane Rollon-Rivera of the City Tourism Council.

Rollon-Rivera is the wife of Mayor Ronnel Rivera.

The 3-day firework competition will begin Sunday, December 21.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO
The 3-day firework competition will begin Sunday, December 21.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

The fireworks competition is part of the Paskuhan sa Gensan activities and will be the first of its kind in the city.

The city mayor’s wife said entries from Koronadal, Tacurong, Matalam and host General Santos and one each from Cebu and Dumaguete will vie for the P80,000 first prize.

The runner up will get P60,000 while the third prize winner will bring home P40,000. Other participants will get P20,000 as consolation prize.

Two entries will show their fireworks display each night from December 21 to 23.

Mayor Rivera said the competition is one of the entertainment spectacles the city is offering residents here.

He said he hopes this premier offering will attract more competitors and more spectacular fireworks in the future.

The city mayor said the fireworks display is open to the public and can be viewed from the Oval Plaza.  The pyrotechnics will be set up inside the Mindanao State University High School campus.

The competition will be judged according to the general composition of the display, the volume of materials used, uniqueness and luminosity, effects, and variety of intermediate launching, according to event organizer Poppy Altoberoz.

Competitors are required to set off a minimum of 5 minutes of fireworks display.

Competition starts at 9pm.

Tuna industry gets boost as EU parliament grants PH GSP+

GENERAL SANTOS CITY – The decision of the European parliament to grant the Philippines GSP+ status will help boost the country’s tuna industry, sources said.

“It will help the tuna industry,” said Richie Rivera, Executive Vice President of RD Group of Companies, holding company of RD Tuna.

Rivera however said the GSP+ status, which lifted tariffs on 6,200 Philippine export products to the European Union, only covered processed and canned tuna products caught by 100-percent Philippine-registered vessels.

“If foreign caught, the GSP+ won’t apply,” Rivera explained.

RD Tuna Ventures has shifted its fishing operations in Papua New Guinea where it also owns a tuna canning plant.

Rivera nevertheless said they are supporting the trade agreement.

Unloading tuna in General Santos City.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO
Unloading tuna in General Santos City.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) director Asis Perez on the other sees an increase in the volume of tuna exports to Europe following the decision of the European Parliament.

“We have not made any actual calculations as yet,” Asis however said.

According to Francisco Buencamino, executive director of the Tuna Canners Association of the Philippines, canned tuna exports to Europe in 2012 reached 3,202,659 cases or 42.5 percent of the country’s export volume of 7,538,093 cases.

The 2012 value of canned tuna exports to Europe reached US$123,295,407 or 44.8 percent of the total US$275,295,399 export receipts of the country.

Industry sources said the inclusion of the Philippines in the EU GSP+ will mean at least additional US$15 million or P660 million in revenues for Philippine tuna exporters.

Increased catch

Overall catch in General Santos for 2014 has already exceeded last year’s total landings.

With the December catch still to be added, the 180,035-metric ton fish landed at the General Santos City Fishing Port Complex this year has already exceeded the 2013 total catch of 167,578.75 metric tons.

Eighty percent of total fish landings in General Santos City are yellow-fin tuna and tuna-like species.

But more than 53 percent of tuna landings in the city are now imported frozen tuna.

Majority of the country’s tuna catch and landing go to the canneries.

Canned and processed Philippine tunas have become a traditional export product of the country with annual export revenues that has now topped the US$350 million mark.

General Santos City is the country’s acknowledged Tuna Capital with six of the country’s 7 tuna canning plant located in the city.

Rebels say they will attack gov’t forces despite truce

Communist rebels say they will attack government forces conducting peace and development operations despite the unilateral order of President Benigno Aquino III for the suspension of military and police operations (SOMO) against the New People’s Army.

In press statement, Jorge Madlos a.k.a. Ka Oris said, “We wish to point out and clarify that the NDFP-Mindanao considers the COPD and other similar military operations as part of the offensive military operations of Philippine Army units, and are, therefore, legitimate military targets of the New People’s Army (NPA).”

Rebel spokesman Jorge Madlos, alias Ka Oris, in a 2009 file photo.Pic by Edwin Espejo

Ka Oris is the Mindanao spokesman of the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political umbrella of the NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) which is marking its 46th anniversary on December 26.

Madlos was reacting to the statement of the spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division who allegedly said community organizing for peace and development (COPD) operations of military units will; continue in the countryside during the month-long SOMO.

The rebel spokesman did not identify the military spokesperson.

Aquino on Wednesday ordered a unilateral ceasefire that will begin midnight Thursday (December 18) and will end midnight of January 19, shortly after Pope Francis leaves the country following a 4-day official visit.

Limited rebel ceasefire

The CPP on the other hand also announced a limited ceasefire which will cover from12:01 am of December 24, 2014 to 11:59 pm of December 26, 2014; 12:01 am of December 31, 2014 to 11:59 pm of January 1, 2015; and 12:01 am of January 15, 2015 to 11:59 pm of January 19, 2015.

Madlos earlier said Mindanao is now bearing the brunt of wide-scale military operations in the countryside.

“In Mindanao, 60 battalions of the Philippine Army and Marines have been deployed, including the Light Reaction Battalion,” Madlos said.

He also claimed that 60 percent of the armed strength of the AFP is now deployed in the island, majority of it in known NPA strongholds.

NPA stronghold

Heavily affected by the military operations is the Davao region where an average of daily armed encounters between the military and the NPAs are occurring over the last 2 months, according to Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) chief Lt. Gen. Aurelio Balabad.

Lt. Gen Baladad said 53 percent of the 4,600 NPAs throughout the country are in Mindanao with the eastern part of the island – particularly in Caraga and Davao regions – hosting the most number of NPA guerrilla fronts and armed regulars.

The Eastmincom chief said eastern Mindanao alone has 1,996 fully armed rebels “as of the third quarter of this year.”

Baladad also disclosed that there are 33 NPA guerrilla fronts under his area of responsibility, or more than 63 percent of the rebel fronts in Mindanao.

Filipino duo captures 2nd Pacquiao int’l billiard crown

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (December 17) – The tandem of Romeo Silvano and Jordan Legaspi twice came from behind to catch up with their Taiwanese opponents before clinching the doubles title in the US$100,000 2nd Manny Pacquiao 10-Ball International Tournament held at SM City here.

Jordan Legaspi (right) and Romeo Silvano (foreground) are the doubles champion in the 2nd MP 10-Ball International Tournament.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO
Jordan Legaspi (right) and Romeo Silvano (foreground) are the doubles champion in the 2nd MP 10-Ball International Tournament.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

With the game on the line, Taiwanese Hsu Kai Lun scratched the cue ball on the 21st rack of the race-to-11 finals which the Filipinos took advantage for a thrilling 11-10 win.

It was the only time the Filipinos led but it was for the US$ 40,000 champions’ purse.

A dejected Cheng Yu Hsuan, who also scratched the cue ball during his break in the 19th rack, said he was depressed and blamed himself for the miscue. They were then ahead 10-8 and would have clinched the crown if they won in their break.

Romeo Silvano lines up his shot as the two Taiwanese player watch from their seats.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO
Romeo Silvano lines up his shot as the two Taiwanese player watch from their seats.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

Hsu blankly stared on the table thinking of the opportunity that slipped their hands after Silvano closed out the match.

The Taiwanese pair raced to a 4-0 and 6-2 leads before the Filipinos knotted the match at 6-6.

They were one rack of winning the title, 10-7, but Silvano holed a difficult bank shot of the 2-ball to clean-up and won the 18th rack.

The Filipinos proceeded to win the next four racks to disappoint the pair of 26-year old Taiwanese.

Philboxing’s Dong Secuya said the turning point of the match was the magical shot of Silvano of the 2-ball in the 18th rack that nullified the safety shot of the Taiwanese.

It was a fitting triumph for Silvano and Legaspi who ousted the defending doubles titlists Jeffrey de Luna and Jeffrey Ignacio in the quarterfinals.

Legaspi was teary eyed when interviewed by reporters after their riveting finals victory.

Efren ‘Bata’ Reyes, who watched the finals from the sidelines, said the tournament hosted and sponsored by Rep. Manny Pacquiao yielded many young Filipino talents in the game he made popular in the country.

Lalo na sa Mindanao, ang daming magagaling,” Reyes said.(Specially in Mindanao, there are plenty of good billiard players)

Reyes and his partner Francisco ‘Django’ Bustamante lost in the Round of 32.

But Reyes earlier crowned himself the singles champion with breathtaking 11-10 triumph over Demosthenes Pulpul in the championship match.

Rep. Pacquiao and his doubles partner Ronie Alcano reached the round of 16 but lost to Oliver Medenilla and Raymond Faraon 9-4.

Medenilla and Faraon however fell to Hsu and Cheng in the quarterfinals, 6-9.

Coast Guard sets salvage of grounded ship Wednesday

Commodore George Ursabia said they have until Wednesday noon, December 17, to extricate the grounded MV Pacific from where it is stuck now or wait for another 2 weeks for the tide to be at its highest before another operation can be launched.

He said they consider the situation as a maritime emergency and the priority was to move the ship away from harming the community of 500 families in a worst case scenario.

The stranded ship is grounded too close to a community of informal settlers in Purok Silway.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO
The stranded ship is grounded too close to a community of informal settlers in Purok Silway.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

Ursabia is the commanding general of the Southeastern Command of the Philippine Coast Guard.

“We only have a window of opportunity of until Wednesday noon. We want to the situation to be controlled,” Ursabia said even as salvage company Harbor Star prepares to pull out the stranded 23,000 ton ship.

Capt. Lorenzo Caranzo said almost ¾ of the vessel is partly grounded but expressed confidence they will be able to handle the ship.

MV Pacific ran out of fuel while on its way to Singapore for refueling and then ran aground when it was drifted ashore by the tide while anchored in Sarangan i Bay.

Skipper Sheda Khan said bad weather last week forced them to veer from their original route which consumed much of their 750 metric ton of bunker fuel.

“We were within 300 miles of Hagupit (local name Typhoon Ruby),” Khan said while on their way to Singapore.

The cruise ship left Mexico in October and was heading for India where it will be torn apart.

Commodore Geroge Ursabia Jr of the Philippine Coast Guard said the MV pacific grounding is a maritime emergency case.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO
Commodore Geerge Ursabia Jr of the Philippine Coast Guard said the MV pacific grounding is a maritime emergency case.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

Ursabia said they will detain the ship after it is removed from the area but urged the Protected Area Management Bureau (PAMB) and the local government to initiate legal proceedings to determine the liability of the ship owner and skipper.

Ursabia explained that the Coast Guard can detain the ship up to 10 days but will be forced to release it if there is no case filed in court.

Meantime, the Coast Guard commander also warned the ship skipper not to empty any of the ballasts of the ship.

He said they will regularly check the ballast log of ship.

The ship ballasts were loaded with water when it left port in Mexico as it did not have any cargo.

PAMB protected area supervisor Derie Macabaning tried to block the Coast Guard from proceeding with the extraction operations saying the latter should wait for an investigation and proper procedure from PAMB.

The 224,000 hectares Sarangani Bay has been declared a protected area by Presdient Fidel Ramos.

But Ursabia insisted the ship will endanger the people in Purok Silway if it remains in the area while proceedings are yet to be filed against the shipping company and the crew of the ill-fated ship.

He said assessment of the damage to marine life and compensation could follow after the extraction operations.

Ursabia likewise assured that the Coast Guard will closely watch the ship and will prevent it from leaving port until PAMB and the city government are satisfied with whatever legal procedure they will pursue against the ship owner.

The tide will be at its highest at noon on December 17, reaching 1.3 meters, according to the Indian skipper of MV Star.

MV Pacific is originally listed as MV Ocean Star Pacific and is flagged in the tiny Pacific country of St. Kitts and Nevis.

The former cruise ship is the second foreign vessel to run aground in Sarangani Bay in recent years.

On May 8, 2011, Panamanian cargo ship MV Double Prosperity struck Bakud Reef, about 2.5 nautical miles off Kiamba town in Sarangani causing damage to the reef.



‘Bata’ Reyes shows why he is still the man to beat

GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Efren ‘Bata’ Reyes showed why he is a legend – a magician who pulls from his bagful of tricks – overcoming challenges from emerging and young Filipino cue artists to capture the US$50,000 2nd Manny Pacquiao International 10-Ball tournament in a thrilling finals match against an opponent young enough to be his son.

With seeded and top favorites falling in the early rounds, Reyes restored order but not after escaping a breathtaking 11-10 triumph over Demosthenes Pulpul in the championship match.

Efren "Bata" Reyes can still dominate against opponents young enough to be his sons.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO
Efren “Bata” Reyes can still dominate against opponents young enough to be his sons.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

Reyes started the final day of the individual event with a 9-7 close victory over former doubles champion John Morra of Canada in the Round of 16.

He again held the breath of the crowd with an equally suspenseful win over 22-year old Oliver Medenilla of Camarines Sur who is now based in Dubai as assistant coach of the UAE team, 9-8 to book a seat in the semifinals.

With just 20 minutes rest, Reyes faced Benjie Guevarra in the semifinals and found himself in a 0-4 hole before rallying and wining in a close 9-6 score.

Guevarra earlier claimed the scalp of Kiamco in the Round of 16 before beating Corteza in the quarterfinal to set a semifinal showdown with Reyes.

With Lee Van Corteza, Alex Pagulayan and Warren Kiamco losing in the Round of 16, only Reyes remained among the crowd favorites heading into the quarterfinals.

Quarterfinal victim Medenilla said he succumbed to pressure in the 17th and final rack against the living billiard legend Reyes with the score tied, 8-8.

“My first time to meet him,” Medenilla said.

Reyes on the other hand said the tournament has produced many future Filipino world billiard champions.

The quarterfinals became an all-Filipino affair after Rodney Morris also lost to Michael Feliciano.  Feliciano however succumbed to Pulpul in the quarterfinal.

Magagaling na rin (They are good),” Reyes said.

Reyes won US$13,000 as champion.

The tournament which was hosted and sponsored by Rep. Manny Pacquiao of Sarangani attracted 120 players with several former world pool champions in attendance.

Also among the notables who lost in the elimination and the knockout games were world rated Mika Immonen of Finland and defending champion Thorsten Hohmann of Germany.

Another former world 9-Ball champion who was eliminated was Francisco Bustamante who lost to Reyes in the Round of 32.

Meanwhile, the doubles tourney with a total prize of US$100,000 will start today (December 13).

Rivera says Region 12 to get P792 from DA

General Santos City Mayor Ronnel Rivera said Region 12 will get P792 for various projects from the Department of Agriculture in the next 2 years.

Rivera attended the 5th SOCKSARGEN Area Development Plan (ADP) held at the Seda Hotel in Davao City on December 8.

“I am excited for these projects. We can start on making Gensan a progressive city that has a sustainable economy and enough support facilities for the entry of new investments,” Mayor Rivera said.

City Mayor Ronnel Rivera meets up other local executives of Region 12 and other government agency officials in the 5th SOCSKSARGEN Area Development Plan meeting Monday, December 8 in Davao City.Photo courtesy of CPIO
City Mayor Ronnel Rivera meets up other local executives of Region 12 and other government agency officials in the 5th SOCSKSARGEN Area Development Plan meeting Monday, December 8 in Davao City.Photo courtesy of CPIO

The agriculture department said it is allotting P303 million for the Food Security Program (FSP) in Region 12 for 2015 to include a Double A abattoir in General Santo City.

Region 12 or Soccsksargen is composed of the provinces of South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani and the cities of Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan, Cotabato General Santos.

For 2016, the tentative budget for the Region 12 is P489 million which will fund the construction of 23 more farm-to-market roads for a 45.63 kilometer in total, three rice and corn mills, and a Project Management Unit.

Out of the 45.63-km new road network, 8.35 kilometers of farm to market road has already been earmarked for General Santos City.

Rivera said he already pledged to provide the needed 15% local counterpart for these road projects.

Aside from the agricultural improvements, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) has already allotted a total budget of P959 million for the development of the General Santos City Airport.

Dubbed as the “Aerotropolis,” the proposed rehabilitation and expansion of the airport will include the construction and expansion of the passenger and terminal buildings miscellaneous works such as demolition, road inside the airport property, expansion parking area and the purchase of navigational aids.

On top of P959-million budget, the DOTC had already allocated P50 million expansion of arrival and check-in areas, closure of an existing open space at the second floor, and the rearrangement of the entry and exit doors.(by Ian Lagare/CPIO)

Rallyers seized pistol from intel agent

GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Tension gripped Digos City Thursday, December 11, after protesters barricading the national highway  seized a .45 cal pistol from an alleged government intelligent agent who they accused of trying to sneak into their ranks.

Police and militants negotiate after tension gripped the caravan-march of BAYAN.Photo courtesy of BAYAN
Police and militants negotiate after tension gripped the caravan-march of protesters obsering the 64th International Human Rights Day.Photo courtesy of BAYAN

Ryan Lariba, spokesperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) in Socsksargen, said the agent, who they failed to identify, tried to join their rank while they were occupying a portion of the national highway after police forces blocked their way.

The .45 caliber loaded with magazine bearing Serial Number GI 05111821 was later brought to the police station and turned over to Senior Inspector Ricky Remoroza, deputy for administration for the Philippine National Police office in Digos City.

Karapatan Socsksargen immediately condemned the harassment and surveillance against the protesters.

Militants showing off the .45 caliber pistol which they claimed seized from a state agent.Photo courtesy of BAYAN
Militants showing off the .45 caliber pistol which they claimed seized from a state agent.Photo courtesy of BAYAN

“The Aquino government is extremely desperate. It is intensifying not only militarization against peasant and lumad communities but also surveillance and harassment of activists and protesters” Sadrach Sabella, Secretary General of Karapatan Socsksargen.

The barricade at the Digos highway was part of the three-day lakbayan (People’s March) which started December 8 from Surallah, South Cotabato to observed the 64th anniversary of International Human Rights Day

“Despite attempts of the state forces to block the lakbayan, we reached Digos City and successfully staged the barricade. The people are determined to mainstream their demands. We have every reason to launch this kind of protest,” said Ryan Lariba, spokesperson of Bayan Socsksargen.

The protesters, numbering to more than 300 when they left Koronadal were also blocked by police forces while on their way to Tampakan in South Cotabato. They were however later allowed to proceed and hold a rally at the town center.

Their ranks swell to more than 1,000 when they reached Digos City.

The militants also demanded the ouster of mining firm Glencore-SMI in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

US Embassy in PH reopens

The Embassy of the United Sates in the country announced it is reopening its offices Tuesday (December 9), a day after a weakened Typhoon Ruby slammed Metro Manila.

Embassy officials release a statement Sunday that it was closing its office Monday following the landfall of Ruby.

All visa interviews for Monday were also cancelled and moved for Friday, December 12.

“Affected applicants are advised to come prepared for their immigrant visa appointment on the new date, and plan to arrive 6:15 a.m.,” said in a press statement.

Visa applicants has been advised to check the embassy website for further details.

Meanwhile, the US government has extended its condolences to the Philippine government.

“On behalf of the U.S. Government, the United States Embassy Manila wishes to extend our deepest condolences for the loss of life and devastation caused by Typhoon Ruby (international name Hagupit),” the embassy said in a separate press release.

It further said it “is ready to provide assistance to the Philippine authorities at their request and under their guidance.”

Typhoon Ruby was earlier classified as a super typhoon but weakened over the weekend causing considerably less damage that the devastating Typhoon Yolanda that batter the country in November last year.

Still, The Philippine Red Cross said some 21 people were killed and thousand left homeless by Ruby.

In contrast, more than 9,000 people were killed by Yolanda and hundreds of thousands left homeless.
Government authorities are yet to provide the amount and extent of damage caused by Ruby.

Ruby has now exited Metro Manila and is expected to leave the Philippine area of responsibility by Thursday.