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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Philippine military breaks own truce in South, says NPA rebels

DAVAO CITY – Filipino communist insurgents on Monday have accused the military of breaking its own unilateral truce following continued operations against the New People’s Army in southern Philippines.

Simon Santiago, a rebel spokesman, said combat forces under the Eastern Mindanao Command have launched offensive operations in several areas in Davao City, Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley, North Cotabato and Agusan del Sur.

“The continued troops deployment, build-up and hamletting in those areas belie the claim made by the US-Aquino regime in declaring a ceasefire during the traditional Christmas season. The presence of the troops in these areas does not appear to be risk-free, undisruptive or inoffensive, but comprises actual offensive manoeuvres within and in the periphery of guerrilla territories.”

“Their blatant occupation of civilian areas while supposedly in suspended military operations is highly provocative and increases the risk of armed engagements with the Red fighters amid civilian-populated areas,” he said.

Santiago said government troops were also using civilians as cover in their daily activities in many of those areas

“The continued operation of Special Operations Team or so-called peace and development teams (of the military) violates and makes a mockery of the US-Aquino regime’s own version of ceasefire.  AFP troops who are operating in civilian areas either underhandedly or blatantly are on offensive combat operations and, except for those who are inside their detachments and outposts, shall be treated as legitimate targets by the NPA,” he said.

He said the rebel forces under Southern Mindanao Regional Command remain on “active defensive mode” as it abides with the Communist Party of the Philippines’ designated truce on December 24, 2014 until December 26, and from December 31 to January 1, 2015.

Santiago said the NPA truce is also in effect during the papal visit in the Philippines on January 15 to 19, 2015.

“The continued provocation and deception made by the AFP troops while pretending to be on a truce make it even more imperative for the Red fighters to launch tactical offensives against these fascist troops anytime and anywhere while firmly adhering to the letter and spirit of the CPP’s ceasefire declaration,” he said.

There was no immediate statement from the Eastern Mindanao Command.

The NPA has been fighting for many decades now for the establishment of a Maoist state in the country. (Mindanao Examiner)

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Police arrest hired killer, partner in Pagadian City

 Suspected gun for hire Ramil Bulat-Ag Martinito. (Mindanao Examiner)

PAGADIAN CITY – Police arrested a notorious hired killer and his partner, who is a drug pusher, in an operation in Pagadian City in the southern Philippine province of Zamboanga del Sur, officials said Monday.

Officials said criminal charges have been filed against Ramil Bulat-Ag Martinito and Jiolgin Rose Mary Torres. Policemen also seized four .45-caliber pistols and ammunition from Matinito, and illegal drugs called shabu, from Torres.

The two were nabbed at a pizza house after informants tipped off the police about their presence.

Senior Superintendent Sofronio Ecaldre, the provincial police chief, said the arrest of the Martinito and Torres involved members of the city and provincial police forces, and Provincial Public Safety Battalion and Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

He said Martinito was behind a series of killings in Pagadian City and in Zamboanga del Sur. (Mindanao Examiner)

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Monday, December 22, 2014

2 POWs pinalaya ng NPA, 5 iba bihag pa rin

 Pinalaya ng New People's Army ang 2 sundalong bihag nito na sina Pfc. Alvin Ricarte at Cpl. Benjamin Enot Samano at pormal silang ibinigay kay Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte nitong Disyembre 21. (Kuha ni Jaja Necosia - RCPA productions) 

COMPOSTELA VALLEY – Pinakawalan ng New People’s Army ang dalawang sundalong bihag nito, ngunit hawak pa rin ng rebeldeng grupo ang dalawa pang tropa ng militar at tatlong parak sa Mindanao.

Nakilala ang mga pinalayang sundalo ng 60th Infantry Battalion na sina Pfc. Alvin Ricarte at Cpl. Benjamin Enot Samano at pormal silang ibinigay kay Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte nitong Disyember 21. Tumulong si Duterte sa negosasyon upang mapalaya ang mga prisoners of war sa bayan ng Montevista sa Compostela Valley province.

Agad naman dinala ni Duterte ang mga sundalo sa kanilang kampo sa Eastern Mindanao Command sa Davao City matapos nitong sunduin ang mga bihag.

Dinukot ang mga ito nitong Disyembre 2 sa bayan ng New Corella sa Davao del Norte matapos na lusubin ng mga rebelde ang banana plantation ng Sumitomo Fruits Corporation.

Kasalukuyang nasa briefing session ang dalawang sundalo, ngunit tikom naman ang bibig ng mga opisyal ng Eastern Mindanao Command at 10th Infantry Division sa paglaya ng dalawa, na ayon sa NPA ay malaking sampal sa mukha ng militar dahil sa kabiguan nitong mapigilan ang pagkakabihag at mailigtas ang mga POWs.

Hawak pa rin sa kasalukuyan ng NPA sina Pvts. Marnel Cinches at Jerrel Yurong, gayun rin sina PO3 Democrito Polvorosa, PO1 Marichel Contemplo at PO1 Junrie bilang POWs.

Sinabi naman ng NPA na pinakawalan ang dalawang sundalo dahil sa humanitarian reason matapos na umapela ang kanilang pamilya para sa agarang paglaya ng mga bihag.

Inaasahan rin ang paglaya ng iba pang mga bihag sa lalong madaling panahon matapos na mag-deklara ang militar, pulisya at NPA ng isang truce para sa kapaskuhan. (Mindanao Examiner)

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NPA rebels free 2 prisoners of war in the Philippines

Days before the Christmas Eve and the 46th anniversary of the Communist party of the Philippines, New People's Army rebels release two "Prisoners of War" Corporal Benjamin Samano and Private First Class Alvin Ricarte, both from 60th Infantry Battalion, to  Davao City Mayor Rodrigo 'Digong' Duterte on December 21, 2014 in the hinterlands of Montevista town in Compostela Valley province in southern Philippines. (Photo by Jaja Necosia - RCPA productions)

COMPOSTELA VALLEY – Communist rebels have freed two captured government soldiers, but are still prisoners 2 other infantrymen and three police officers in the southern Philippines.

It said the duo - Pfc. Alvin Ricarte and Cpl. Benjamin Enot Samano – were released over the weekend to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who negotiate for their freedom in Montevista town in Compostela Valley province.

The two soldiers, who were taken captive during a rebel raid at a banana plantation owned by Sumitomo Fruits Corporation earlier in December in Davao del Norte’s New Corella town.

Both soldiers, who belong to the 60th Infantry Battalion, were brought by Duterte to the Eastern Mindanao Command headquarters in Davao City on a chopper. The soldiers are being debriefed, but army officials have not release any statement about the soldiers.

The New People’s Army rebels are holding Pvts. Marnel Cinches and Jerrel Yurong and PO3 Democrito Polvorosa, PO1 Marichel Contemplo and PO1 Junrie as prisoners of war in the restive region.

The rebel group, which is fighting for decades now for the establishment of a separate state in the country, said the two soldiers were released for humanitarian reason after their families appealed for their safe return.

The NPA is likely also to free other prisoners following a truce declared by the rebels and the government to allow them to celebrate the yuletide holidays. (Mindanao Examiner)

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Mindanao Examiner Regional Newspaper Dec. 22-28, 2014.


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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Rehabilitation efforts in Zambooanga City continue

 Construction of housing units continues for war victims in Zamboanga City in southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY - The Aquino government has vowed to fast track rehabilitation efforts for war victims in Zamboanga City in southern Philippines despite its failure to house all refugees in a self-imposed deadline this month.

And Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, who recently inspected the rehabilitation efforts, assured the government is doing all it can to alleviate the sufferings of thousands of refugees still in transitory sites and temporary shelters.

“I want to personally ensure everyone that no one is forgotten. We from the national government, with all our partners, will continue to provide assistance until we have built back better for all the victims,” she said.

Soliman was also quick to admit that the December 15 deadline of moving all evacuees from sports complex to transitory sites was not met, however, she said the efforts of the local government, national agencies and international humanitarian organizations should be recognized.

“From almost 2,800 families residing at the (sports complex) Grandstand in January 2014, there are now just around 1,300. Some we have already moved to permanent shelters, while others to temporary shelters as they await the permanent ones. This is still a very significant accomplishment,” she said.

The Joaquin F. Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex became the biggest evacuation center at the height of the armed invasion by Moro National Liberation Front members last year.

Soliman said one of the factors that caused the delays in the rehabilitation efforts were cultural concerns and that there are some 300 families that cannot go to a certain transitional area because of clan conflict. 

There have also been instances of evacuees not wanting to transfer to temporary shelters for fear that they will not eventually be given permanent houses, she said.

“We constantly clarify to the displaced families, especially those relocated to transitory sites, that those are just temporary. They will still have to be transferred to permanent, more sturdy houses, although most have noted that the bunkhouses are already better than what they had before,” she said.

According to the National Housing Authority, it is targeting to finish all permanent shelter by middle of 2015 as the projects are currently in various stages of completion. On the other hand, Soliman said they intend to relocate everyone in the evacuation centers to transitory sites by January 2015.

Soliman explained that according to the local government, not all who are still staying at the sports complex were victims of the siege. She said the local government has offered them financial assistance so they can return to their places of origin.

“We do this because those who will only be awarded permanent houses are those really affected by the siege and are already previously listed on the database of the local government,” she said.

Soliman said they have already provided a total of P438.75 million worth of assistance to all affected families and this includes P95.5 million which covered the expenses for the transitional shelters and P8.75 million for the Balik-Probinsiya, Balik-Barangay, House Rental and Home Materials Assistance Programs.

Some P318 million was also spent on food packs and non-food items, implementation of the cash and food-for-work programs, and delivery of other basic series such as financial and educational aid, she said.

She said a total of P16.5 million was utilized to cover the capital seed funds and the conduct of skills training.

“We have given out capital funds for businesses like seaweed farming, fish vending, candle making, food processing, rice retailing, among others,” she said.

Soliman said the local government likewise reported that it is working with concerned national agencies and international organization to continue to ration water and provide electricity using generator sets to transitory sites. Though these physical necessities of the affected families should immediately be met, Soliman pointed out that more beyond the provision of their daily needs should to be done. (Mindanao Examiner)

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Philippines to release new commemorative coins

MANILA - The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said it will release three new limited edition commemorative circulation coins starting Monday.

It said the new coins are the following - the Bagong Bayani Commemorative Coin, in honor of Overseas Filipinos, on the 5-piso circulating coin; the  150th year of Filipino hero Apolinario Mabini, on the 10-piso circulating coin; and the Leyte Landing, which was a turning point for the liberation of the Philippines during World War II, on the 5-piso circulating coin.

It said BSP commemorates significant events and heroic Filipinos in our country’s history through the minting of coins, medals or overprints on our banknotes.

The most recent commemorative circulation coins issued by the BSP were for the 150th year of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal in 2011 and the 150th year of another hero Andres Bonifacio in 2013.

The BSP will also release 50-piso and 500-piso commemorative coins in time for the Papal visit in January next year. (Mindanao Examiner)

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The heavy hand of religious police in Aceh - Al Jazeera

 An Islamic law official whips a man convicted of gambling with a rattan cane inside a mosque compound. (AP via Al Jazeera)

BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA - A small group of punk and hardcore rockers recently organised a guerrilla gig in an empty lot behind a coffee shop in the capital of Aceh province.

The show was not advertised. None of the neighbours were notified; neither was the owner of the coffee shop.

One of the organisers was Bolong, 28, a skinny youth sporting a black T-shirt, tight black jeans, and scuffed brown Doc Martens. As he and his friends unloaded a truck full of guitars and amps, he explained the philosophy of the event.

"Our aim is to fight capitalism," he said. "It's all about rebellion."

There has been plenty to rebel against in Aceh.

Since 2001, the far-flung province of 4.7 million has enforced its version of Islamic law, which forbids alcohol, punishes premarital romance, and has little tolerance for the anti-establishment posturing of its tiny punk-rock community.

Back in December 2011, religious police broke up a rock concert in Banda Aceh and took about 30 punk-rockers into custody. Bolong was among them.

After three days at a police lock-up, he said the group was taken to a police training facility, where they were imprisoned for a week and forced to take part in military-style drills.

To provide extra "motivation", police fired guns over their heads.

"We were treated like animals," said Bolong, who asked that his real name not be used, for fear of repercussions. "They burned all our clothes and shaved our hair ... They said our appearance would have a bad influence on the next generation."

Since the crackdown, Aceh's punks have dialled down their appearance.

"In the past we could see people with mohawks and piercings and chains," said Zuliran Fauzi, 23, who goes by the nickname "Bunda" and heads his own band, The Punk Terigu.

But now, he said, "we want to make it a little bit polite".

Public floggings

In recent months, Aceh's Islamic laws have tightened.

In September, the local legislature passed a new bylaw, or qanun jinayat, imposing harsher penalties on a longer list of "crimes".

Offences not previously regulated include adultery and same-sex sexual relations, both of which are punishable by public floggings with a thin rattan cane, carried out by a medieval-looking hooded figure to the jeers of onlookers.

The penalties for homosexuality are especially harsh. Gay sex, which is not illegal elsewhere in Indonesia, is now punishable by 100 lashes or 100 months in jail. Officials can also demand 1,000 grams of gold - about $38,500 - if they catch gay or lesbian couples in the act.

The new bylaw is a watered-down version of a controversial law passed by Aceh's legislature in 2009, which mandated stoning to death as a punishment for adultery.

After the resulting international outrage, the stoning provision was dropped from the new bylaw, which now awaits approval by Indonesia's Minister of Home Affairs. A decision is expected by September 2015.

In the meantime, human rights groups are calling for an end to caning, a practise they say violates not only the Indonesian constitution, but also a raft of international treaties signed by Indonesia.

"Victims of caning experience pain, fear, and humiliation, and caning can cause long-term or permanent injuries," said Josef Benedict, an Indonesia researcher with Amnesty International. In some cases, he said, such punishments "may amount to torture".

Flogging 'education'

Supporters of the law say the point of flogging is not pain, but education.

"The purpose of giving canings is to give a warning to the people who break the law," said Faisal Ali, secretary of the Aceh Assembly, a body of Islamic scholars, that helped formulate the new bylaw.

"This is only a short-term punishment, unlike regular punishments, putting people in jail for months or years."

According to Amnesty, at least 41 people have been caned so far this year in Aceh for offences including gambling, drinking, and adultery.

In 2001, the central government in Jakarta allowed Aceh to adopt Islamic law in an attempt to quell a decades-long separatist conflict waged by the Free Aceh Movement, or GAM.

Benedict said the move was seen as "part of a calculated political strategy to bolster support for the government among the Acehnese people and to weaken support for secular GAM".

Since then, the religious edicts have been enforced by green-clad religious police, who drive about town ordering shops to close for Friday prayers and pulling women over for violations of a strict dress code.

Headscarves are mandatory; tight pants, or anything showing the shape of the body, are banned. Young unmarried couples are also banned from unaccompanied public meetings, a transgression known as khalwat.

While most of Aceh's residents are devout Muslims, not all agree with the government's strict interpretation of Quranic laws.

"I believe my holy book teaches about love, not about that kind of punishment," said Rosnida Sari, a lecturer at the Islamic Institute in Banda Aceh, and part of a network of local activists petitioning Jakarta to amend the bylaw.

Vigilante justice

Women's rights activists said the laws have also been abused by local zealots and vigilantes. In a tragic case in 2012, religious police seized a 16-year-old schoolgirl at a concert in the eastern town of Langsa and accused her of being a prostitute.

After the girl was named in the local press, she hanged herself.

In May, a group of eight men broke into a house in Langsa, where they caught a 25-year-old woman with a married man. Accusing them of adultery, the vigilantes beat up the man and gang-raped the woman, before dousing the couple in raw sewage.

Officials then announced that despite her traumatic ordeal, the woman would be flogged for adultery.

Ruwaida, of Solidaritas Perembuan Aceh, a Banda Aceh-based women's rights group, said the introduction of Islamic law had "changed the perception of the men here, who think that a woman who is not properly dressed should be punished, even though they are not the authority to do that".

She added: "They claim to uphold the Islamic law, and then they can do whatever they want."

Faisal Ali, the Islamic scholar, said there were tough punishments for those who abuse religious laws but defended the religious controls over citizens' private lives.

"In Islam, we have to take care of every brother and sister," he said.

He added same-sex relationships were "forbidden in Islam".

Aceh's punk rockers remain unconvinced. While many have toned down their appearance, the rebellious spirit still burns brightly. About 100 young people turned out to see Bolong and his friends play their gig, banging away enthusiastically while some 20 youths jumped about to the music, sparks from their cigarettes flying.

One of the few female attendees was Enda, 19, neatly dressed in black headscarf and a red T-shirt with a message: "Destroy Fascism" - somewhat at odds with her gentle demeanour.

Asked about her headscarf, Enda said for her there was no incompatibility between being a devout Muslim and a hardcore punk fan.

"Everyone has the right to have their own beliefs," she said during a break between sets, as the muezzin began the evening call to prayer from a nearby mosque. "We don't stand aside from Islam because our music comes from our soul." (Sebastian Strangio - Al Jazeera)


'Allahu Akbar' attacker shot by French police - BBC

POLICE in central France have shot dead a man who attacked them with a knife while shouting "God is great!" in Arabic, French media report.

The man injured three police officers at Joue-les-Tours police station near the city of Tours before he was shot.

The assailant was a Burundi-born French national with a criminal record, a source close to the investigation told France's AFP news agency.

Anti-terrorism investigators were sent to the scene, the source added.

Christophe Crepin, a member of France's police union, told France 2 TV channel the attacker had had "a long knife, like a kitchen knife".

"He was banging on the fittings [of the door], so the officers opened [the door] to see what he was doing, and he immediately threw himself at my colleagues, stabbing one in the hand, and attacking the second on the neck and face," Mr Crepin added.

Investigators are reportedly focusing on whether radical Islam played a role and have launched an inquiry into "attempted murder and criminal conspiracy in connection with a terrorism organisation", the BBC's Lucy Williamson in Paris reports.

Some reports suggest the attacker's brother was known to have expressed a desire to travel to Syria, our correspondent says.

In 2012, French Islamist Mohammed Merah killed seven people in the city of Toulouse. He was eventually killed after a 32-hour siege at his flat in the city. (BBC)


Zamboanga police seized trawler, arrest 15 crewmen for illegal fishing

ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY – Police arrested 15 crew members of a trawler after they were spotted illegally fishing in the municipal waters of Olutanga in Zamboanga Sibugay province in southern Philippines.

A police patrol led by Inspector Rommel Lamberte intercepted the trawler off the village of Galas.

Police also seized the trawler and its catch while authorities prepare the charges against the crewmen.

Municipal officials have been complaining about the illegal fishing activities in the area and ordered police authorities to intensify its patrol. (Mindanao Examiner)

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2 NYPD officers shot, killed in ambush on cop car - Fox News

TWO NYPD officers were killed Saturday in Brooklyn as they sat in their squad car by a gunman who reportedly threatened to shoot police hours earlier on Instagram.

The gunman, a 28-year-old with a criminal record who police believe may have been acting in revenge for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, killed himself moments later in a subway station. The incident left the nation's largest police department stunned, and is sure to further inflame tensions between police and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who police had already said was unwelcome at police funerals because of his perceived support for anti-police protesters.

The brazen shooting occurred at approximately 3 p.m., and left Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos dead. Police said the gunman, identified as Ismaaiyl Brinsley, appeared to be carrying out a planned assassination.

“The perp came out of the houses, walked up behind the car and lit them up,” a high-ranking police official told the New York Daily News.

"They were, quite simply, assassinated," NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said in a press conference late Saturday.

The officers were shot in the head at point-blank range by the suspect, who then fled to a nearby subway station before turning the gun on himself.

Both officers were rushed to a nearby hospital, where both were pronounced dead, police said.

The New York Post reports that investigators believed the shooting may have been motivated by the deaths of Garner and Brown, two African-American killed in police confrontations in New York and Ferguson, Mo.

“I’m Putting Wings on Pigs Today,” a person believed to be Brinsley wrote in an Instagram post that referenced both Brown and Garner posted just three hours before the officers were shot, the New York Post reported. Bratton confirmed that authorities were looking into some "very anti-police" Instagram posts.

The shooting comes at a time when police in New York and nationwide have been criticized by some over the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner, who was stopped by police for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. Amateur video captured an officer wrapping his arm around Garner's neck in what some have described as a chokehold and wrestling him to the ground. Garner was heard saying, "I can't breathe" and later died.

Demonstrators around the country have held protests since a grand jury decided on Dec. 3 not to indict the officer involved in Garner's death, a decision that closely followed a Missouri grand jury's decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Brown, 18.

Several New York officers were assaulted during demonstrations, including one event that drew thousands to the Brooklyn Bridge and at which two lieutenants were attacked.

"I have spoken to the Garner family and we are outraged by the early reports of the police killed in Brooklyn today," civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement. "Any use of the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, in connection with any violence or killing of police, is reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice in both cases."

The president of the police officers union, Patrick Lynch, and De Blasio have been locked in a public battle over treatment of officers following the decision not to indict the officer in Garner's death. Just days ago, Lynch suggested police officers sign a petition that demanded the mayor not attend their funerals should they die on the job. De Blasio was also criticized for not speaking out about the two lieutenants who were assaulted in the protest at the Brooklyn Bridge.

"Had Mayor Bill de Blasio been forceful from the onset when the two lieutenants were attacked, one has to question as to whether this murderous psycho would have been compelled to target our heroic brother and sister in New York's Finest," Jon Adler, National President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association told Fox News in a statement.

The last shooting death of an NYPD officer came in December 2011, when 22-year veteran Peter Figoski responded to a report of a break-in at a Brooklyn apartment. He was shot in the face and killed by one of the suspects hiding in a side room when officers arrived. The triggerman, Lamont Pride, was convicted of murder and sentenced in 2013 to 45 years to life in prison. (Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


Prisoners of 'Ingenious' 1962 Alcatraz Escape Could Have Survived - Live Science

  The inmates crafted dummy heads out of plaster and real hair to fool the guards on the night of the infamous escape. This photo is a profile view of Frank Morris's fake head. (FBI Photo)

IF THEY had timed their escape just right, three prisoners who slipped out of Alcatraz more than 50 years ago on a raft made from raincoats would have had a chance of survival, new research shows.

Scientists who were studying the San Francisco Bay's strong tides reconstructed the possible routes of the audacious 1962 escape. The men might have been able to find shelter on an outcrop near the Golden Gate Bridge — that is, if they weren't swept out to sea first, according to the study.

From 1934 to 1963, during its time as a maximum high-security federal prison, Alcatraz hosted some of the 20th century's most notorious criminals, including gangsters Al Capone, Mickey Cohen and Whitey Bulger. The facility is perhaps most famous for its forbidding location, isolated on a rocky island in the middle of San Francisco Bay.

In the three decades that Alcatraz was in operation, there were only 14 escape attempts involving 36 men, according to the FBI. Nearly all of the escapees were caught or died. But on the night of June 11, 1962, three inmates left Alcatraz in one of the most mysterious prison breaks in American history.

John Anglin, his brother Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris tucked dummy heads into their bed sheets and snuck into an unused utility corridor through holes they had crudely drilled through their cells. Then, from the prison roof, they shimmied down the bakery smoke stack and climbed over the fence. From the northeast shore of the island, they floated away from the prison on a small raft made from more than 50 stolen raincoats that were inflated with a musical instrument that was converted into a pump. Even the FBI still calls the plan "ingenious" on its website.

After a 17-year investigation, federal authorities concluded that the men most likely drowned during the escape, and the FBI maintains it has no credible evidence that the men are alive in the United States or overseas. But that official word has hardly stopped alternate theories from cropping up. The TV show "MythBusters" has tackled the escape, concluding that it's possible the three men could have paddled to safety.

A group of Dutch hydraulic experts recently decided to take a crack at the prison break while they were modeling San Francisco Bay to study flood risk and the impact of sea-level rise. The scientists simulated dozens of possible routes the inmates could have taken on the night of their escape.

"We didn't know exactly when the inmates launched their boats, or their precise starting point, and so we decided to release 50 'boats' every 30 minutes between 20:00 and 04:00 (8 p.m. and 4 a.m.) from a range of possible escape spots at Alcatraz to see where they would end up," Fedor Baart, a hydraulic engineer at the Netherlands-based research institute Deltares, said in a statement. "We added a paddling effect to the 'boats,' as we assumed the prisoners would paddle as they got closer to land."

If the three men left Alcatraz any earlier than 11:30 p.m., they would have been swept out to sea by strong currents, Baart and his colleagues found. But if the prisoners set off on their raft between 11:30 and midnight, it's likely that they could have landed just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, at Horseshoe Bay. The models also show that any debris after the landing might have drifted toward Angel Island, north of Alcatraz, which is where the FBI found a paddle and some personal items linked to the men. (Megan Gannon - Live Science)


Police Officer Sees Graffiti Artist “Tag” a Building, So He Runs Him Over With His Car - Free Thought Project

Delbert 'Demz' Rodriguez Gutierrez (NBC 6 via Free Thought Project)

A 21-year-old street artist Delbert Rodriguez Gutierrez is now in critical condition and facing death after a police officer in a patrol car ran him over during a chase. Delbert’s artist name is “Demz,” and police claim that they caught him tagging a building around 2 am on Friday morning, near the intersection of NW 5th Avenue and 24th Street, in Wynwood.

Wynwood is an art district in Miami where graffiti is extremely common, and sometimes artists have agreements set up where they are allowed to tag on buildings. However, it is not clear whether or not Gutierrez had permission to be where he was, and police claim that he fled as soon as he saw the flashing red and blue lights of the police car.

Detective Michael Cadavid chased after the young artist in his unmarked patrol car, eventually running him over. After the incident, Cadavid claimed that Demz jumped out in front of the car and could not be avoided.

He was quickly rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where shortly after he was listed under critical condition with a severe brain injury.

“He shouldn’t be in the hospital with a brain injury right now, he should be out here doing graffiti with me. He probably shouldn’t have ran, you know, considering that it is Wynwood and it’s an art district and everyone is basically doing graffiti, the cops might have just given him a chance,” Rodriguez’s friend Neo told NBC 6.

The police will surely say that this attack is justified because Demz ran, or “resisted arrest”, but is this truly a justification for running a man over with a car? Is being non-compliant, and running away from people who are known to be violent actually a justifiable reason to kill someone?

Coincidentally, the incident happened just hours before a protest against police brutality was scheduled in Miami, in remembrance of Israel “Reefa” Hernandez, the young man who was killed by a Miami Beach Police officer last year when he was shocked with a taser.

Naturally, the police are callously blaming Gutierrez for his own death. “I understand she is extremely upset, and rightfully so, and that her son is in the hospital,” Miami police union President Javier Ortiz said by text. “However, for every action there’s a reaction. If he would have not been committing a crime and then running from law enforcement, this could have been avoided. Her son is in our prayers.”

Rodriguez’s mother, Nannette Kaniaris, and other family members sat in at vigil at his hospital bedside Friday night. Kaniaris said doctors told her it would take a miracle for her son to recover.

“I don’t know that he’s going to be here tomorrow,” she said. (John Vibes - Free Thought Project)


Sayyaf man captured in Zamboanga province

ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY – Security forces arrested an Abu Sayyaf member wanted for the series of kidnappings in southern Philippines, police said Sunday.

Police said Bon Sarapbil was arrested in the town of Imelda after tracking him down on a village. Sarapbil is facing of criminal charges and was involved in many kidnappings since 2009 in Basilan and other provinces nearby.

Sarapbil also worked for various Abu Sayyaf leaders and Moro Islamic Liberation Front commanders and other gangs in the past, mostly in ransom kidnappings.

It was unknown whether Sarapbil was planning new kidnappings in the province or just hiding from authorities.

Police said Sarapbil is currently being interrogated in Zamboanga City. (Mindanao Examiner - with a report from Ely Dumaboc)

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2 kids die in Zamboanga Norte fire

ZAMBOANGA DEL NORTE – Two children had died in a fire that razed their house in Liloy town in Zamboanga del Norte province in southern Philippines, police said Saturday.

Police said the children, Joseph Bauyan, 5, and Mirasol Bauyan, 3, were left in the house by their parents with their 17-year old sister, Arlyn, who is mentally incapacitated.

It said the teenager cooked rice and left it unattended. Their parents were out of the house when the fire broke out.

The parents of the victims were being investigated by the police. (Mindanao Examiner)

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

4 Sayyaf rebels arrested, explosives seized in Southern Philippines

Rear Admiral Reynaldo Yoma, commander of the anti-terror Joint Task Group ZAMBASULTA. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Philippine soldiers arrested 4 Abu Sayyaf rebels transporting explosives and grenades at a road black in the southern province of Sulu, officials told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner on Saturday.

Officials said the four – Jumli Pulah, Hassan Jubakal, Ingki Abdulah and Bashir Ali – were on a pick-up truck when soldiers stopped them in the village of Danag in Patikul town, a known stronghold of the rebel group tied to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya.

Ensign Chester Ian Ramos, a military spokesman, said one of those captured – Pulah – is wanted by authorities for a string of criminal charges. The others, he said, were being interrogated in an undisclosed location.

Ramos said soldiers recovered from the truck 152 liters of ammonium nitrate - a banned chemical fertilizer, but is a key ingredient in the manufacture of homemade explosives widely used by the Abu Sayyaf in their attacks on civilian and military targets - and three pieces of MK2 fragmentation grenades, including two bottles of TNT and two pieces of blasting caps, and batteries and electrical wire.

He said Col. Alan Arrojado, commander of an anti-terror task force, in his report, claimed that the truck was being used by the Abu Sayyaf to transport weapons and munitions, and in kidnapping activities in the province.

The truck came from Jolo town and was heading to Patikul when troops intercepted the rebels.

No other details were made available by the military about the arrest of the four men, but military sources claimed that an Abu Sayyaf informer tipped off authorities about the transport of the explosives by the rebels.

In Zamboanga City, Rear Admiral Reynaldo Yoma, commander of the Joint Task Force ZAMBASULTA, praised the capture of the rebels and said joint law enforcement operations against the Abu Sayyaf are continuing not only in Sulu, but other areas as well.
ZAMBASULTA is the acronym for Zamboanga (Peninsula), Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces where the Abu Sayyaf is actively operating.

“We are persistent to join hand-in-hand with other law enforcement agencies in Sulu to apply the rule of law so that the bandits will face trials and put behind bars,” Yoma said. (Mindanao Examiner)

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Philippine troops plant bamboos, citizens urged to plant trees

  Bamboo planting activities in Zamboanga City and Zamboanga del Sur province in southern Philippines.

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Military officials led soldiers in planting bamboo trees in southern Philippines as part of their environmental and reforestation advocacy and urged citizens to also plant trees in their backyards.

Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, led the soldiers in the planting activities in Zamboanga City recently. He said some 200 bamboo stems or culms were planted at Camp Don Basilio Navarro which coincided with the launching of the Bamboo Reforestation Project.

He said the planting of bamboos was also in line with the 79th Founding Anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the national greening program and simultaneously conducted in all military camps in the country.

“Considering all the environmental benefits of bamboos, the BRP is a priority project of the AFP to mitigate the effects of climate change and contribute to disaster management,” Guerrero said. “We are urging everybody to also plant trees in their backyards and help protect the environment.”

In Zamboanga del Sur province, the 1st Infantry Division under Brig. Gen. Gerardo Barrientos, also planted The 200 pieces of Giant Bamboo seedlings which came all the way from a Bamboo nursery in Masuan town in Bukidnon province.

Capt. Frano Suelto, an army spokesman, said the seedlings were planted at their headquarters at Kuta Major Cesar Sang-an in Labangan town. It was also participated by army officials and soldiers.

“This Bamboo Reforestation Project is a modest contribution of Team Tabak in mitigating the effects of Climate Change and Global Warming.  Bamboo is a very economical to plant because it requires less maintenance and in 3-5 years it can yield results. It can also be a source of livelihood because of its different uses.  The Tabak Troopers joins our AFP in being Green Warriors and it only shows that the soldiers are also concern with environmental protection and conservation,” Barrientos said.

He also encouraged the public to support the government greening and reforestation program by planting trees or flowers, and even vegetable gardens. "Trees not only clean the air, but is also our protection against storm, while flowers beautify our surrounding and the vegetable gardens can sustain our daily needs and the vegetables keep us healthy,” he said. (Mindanao Examiner)

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US: ISIL top commanders killed in air strikes - Al Jazeera

US-led air strikes against ISIL in Iraq have killed several of the group's senior leaders, but not the group's top commander, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, US officials have said.

Since mid-November, coalition air strikes killed "multiple senior and mid-level leaders" within the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement on Thursday.

"We believe that the loss of these key leaders degrades ISIL's ability to command and control current operations against Iraqi Security Forces, including Kurdish and other local forces in Iraq," the statement added.

A Defence Department official speaking to Al Jazeera said those killed included Haji Mutazz and Abd al-Basit, who were described as high-level leaders within ISIL.

The official said a mid-level commander, Radwan Taleb al-Hamdouni - believed to have been instrumental in ISIL's takeover of Mosul - had also been killed.

The announcement of the killings came as the head of the coalition campaign against ISIL, US Lieutenant General James Terry, hailed the impact of four months of air strikes in Iraq.

"We've made significant progress in halting that [ISIL] offensive," Terry told reporters.

The US and allied aircraft have carried out 1,361 raids against ISIL since bombing began on August 8, Terry said.

He said air strikes this week around the Sinjar Mountains helped Kurdish Peshmerga forces recapture a large area near the Syrian border.

Masrur Barzani, chancellor of Kurdistan Region Security Council, said the Peshmerga had managed to establish a passageway to the Sinjar Mountains so that thousands of people from the country's Yazidi minority who have been trapped there for months can flee.

The capture of Sinjar by ISIL fighters in early August and the plight of the mostly Yazidi population there was cited by President Barack Obama as one of the reasons for the US military intervention. (Al Jazeera and agencies)


Europe's symbolic solidarity with Palestine - Al Jazeera

THE EUROPEAN Parliament this week passed a motion expressing support for a Palestinian state and further negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians towards a two-state solution - a move that bears few practical implications, but has been championed as a symbolic victory.

A large majority, 498 parliamentarians, voted in favour, while 88 voted against the motion and 111 abstained. According to the motion's text, the Luxembourg-based European Parliament "supports in principle the recognition of Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution, and believes these should go hand in hand with the development of peace talks, which should be advanced".

The vote - which came as the Palestinian Authority this week submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council outlining a two-year plan to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories - followed a string of similar moves by various parliaments across Europe, among them Ireland, Belgium, Portugal, France and the United Kingdom. While the centre-left Swedish government has formally announced its intention to recognise the state of Palestine, most other governments have passed non-binding resolutions that urge their governments to support Palestinian statehood through negotiations between the PA and Israel. The French and Irish parliaments voted in favour of recognising Palestine earlier this month.

"It is an important act of solidarity with the Palestinian people," Gerry Adams, an Irish republican politician and president of the Sinn Fein party, told Al Jazeera. "It also means that Irish people are standing with progressive Israeli opinion, which wants a lasting peace arrangement and supports the recognition of a Palestinian state."

Sharif Nashishibi, a London-based journalist and analyst of politics in the Arab world, said the decision to recognise Palestine as a state follows a trend of shifting public opinion in Europe.

"The opinion polls consistently show that Europeans have increasingly sympathised with Palestinians over Israelis, often by margins of two-to-one," Nashishibi told Al Jazeera. This trend only increased after Israel's recent 51-day military offensive in the beleaguered Gaza Strip. By the time a lasting ceasefire was reached in late August, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that 2,257 Palestinians were left dead, including at least 1,563 civilians.

"These political moves are more about Israeli policy becoming so extremist and so belligerent that it's harder and harder for MPs and leaders to turn a blind eye to what Israel is doing," Nashishibi said.

Meanwhile, Israel's expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank, including annexed East Jerusalem, has continued at a breakneck pace. In late November, the Israeli government approved the construction of 78 new settlement homes in two East Jerusalem settlements.

Often cited as one of the largest obstacles standing between a resolution between Israel and the Palestinians, more than 125 Jewish-only settlement colonies dot the map of the West Bank and provide residence to an estimated 531,000 Jewish Israelis, according to the human rights group B'Tselem. But Nashishibi pointed out that, aside from Sweden, the parliamentary votes supporting Palestine have "been mere recommendations and their respective governments have not acted upon them so far".

"The EU governments should heed the recommendations of their own elected parliaments and sanction Israel if it doesn't halt the violations of human rights against Palestinians," Nashishibi argued. "If it does not do that, we will see an increasing gap between public opinion and governments, which is unsustainable."

Israeli politicians have responded to the European Parliament's decision - which came on the same day a European Union court annulled the terrorist designation of Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip - with harsh words. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the decision "does not contribute to the improvement of the situation in the Middle East or the improvement of relations between Israel and the Palestinians".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Hamas to be returned to the terrorist list immediately, blasting the court's decision as evidence of "a spirit of appeasement in Europe of the very forces that threaten Europe itself".

"These declarations merely reinforce Palestinian intransigence, pushing peace further away," Netanyahu said.

Along with many other Palestinian political groups, Hamas is cautiously supportive of the strategy to seek statehood in the United Nations.

"We support any political move in the international arena that highlights Israel's crimes and advances the rights of our Palestinian people," Fawzy Barhoum, a Hamas spokesperson, told Al Jazeera by phone from Gaza, adding nonetheless: "We don't have faith in the international community."

Others remain sharply critical of Europe's ostensible about-face. Ali Abunimah, a political commentator and cofounder of the Electronic Intifada website, said European politicians were "taking refuge in a fantasy that they can 'recognise the State of Palestine' [as a way of avoiding] coming to reality that there is no such thing as a two-state solution and that Israel has imposed a particularly brutal form of apartheid over all the territories it controls".

Europe's recognition of a Palestinian state will not change the harsh conditions that Palestinians live under daily, Abunimah said, noting the same European lawmakers "refuse to call for practical measures, such as an arms embargo and supporting the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions". (Patrick Strickland - Al Jazeera)


Boko Haram kills dozens in northeast Nigeria - Al Jazeera

BOKO HARAM fighters have killed 32 people and kidnapped scores of others in a northeastern Nigerian village, local officials and a witness said, as a court-martial sentenced 54 soldiers to death for mutiny.

Neighbouring Cameroon also said that its troops had killed 116 Boko Haram fighters in a far north region.

The Nigerian officials, who requested anonymity, said locals in the village of Gumsuri were still counting those abducted in the attack on Sunday in a remote, isolated area in the Borno state, adding that the figure, which included women and children, could pass 100.

"After killing our youths, the fighters have taken away our wives and daughters," Mukhtar Buba said on Thursday, after fleeing Gumsuri to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.

Details took four days to emerge because the mobile phone network has largely collapsed in the area roughly 70km south of Maiduguri, and many of the roads are impassable.

Gamsuri is located on the road that leads to Chibok, where Boko Haram abducted more than 200 girls from a school in April.

Speaking about soldiers sentenced to death by firing squad, lawyer Femi Falana, who represents the condemned men, said another 43 soldiers accused of refusing to fight Boko Haram would be tried by a military court.

Falana said five men had been acquitted.

Nigerian troops regularly complain that they are outgunned by Boko Haram and are not supported with enough ammunition or food.

Meanwhile in Cameroon, the fighters attacked an army base in Amchide on the border with Nigeria on Wednesday, but soldiers repelled them, inflicting heavy losses, the Cameroon defence ministry said.

"A column made up of a military truck and four pick-ups from the BIR [elite Rapid Intervention Battalion] were caught in an ambush that began with an explosion of a roadside bomb," the army said.

"There are 116 of the assailants dead on Cameroonian territory and undetermined casualties on the Nigerian territory from our artillery fire," the statement said.

"There is one dead on the Cameroonian side and one officer missing."

According to the army, the Boko Haram fighters destroyed a pick-up and a troop truck, as well as managing to capture another military truck.

Boko Haram, which opposes Western education and has been waging an armed campaign against the government since 2009, has grown in power in the area, where Cameroon and Nigeria are linked by a bridge.

One of the local Nigerian officials said the Gumsuri had previously been protected against Boko Haram violence by a strong vigilante force, but that they were overpowered in Sunday's attack.

Vigilante attacks

"For the past one year, the fighters have made several attempts to attack Gumsuri but were resisted by the gallant youths of the village," he told AFP news agency.

"It is sad that on Sunday, the village was subdued," he added.

The military and police were not immediately available for comment.

Boko Haram has repeatedly attacked the vigilante forces which have formed across the northeast, describing them as legitimate targets for siding with Nigeria's military.

The other local official said fighters "stormed the village in a convoy of vehicles [armed] with petrol bombs" and heavy weapons.

Buba, the resident, said more than half the village had been destroyed.

"The terrorists mercilessly attacked us and killed at will," he told AFP.

Borno is the epicentre of Boko Haram's five-year uprising aimed at creating a strict Islamic state in northern Nigeria. (Al Jazeera and agencies)


Breakthrough of the Year: The top 10 scientific achievements of 2014 - AAAS

EACH YEAR, Science’s editors choose a singular scientific achievement as Breakthrough of the Year. Past winners have included the discovery of the Higgs boson, cancer immunotherapy, and the first quantum machine.

This year’s winner captured the world’s attention and reminded us of the immense scope of human scientific accomplishment—as well as how far we have yet to go.

Meet this year’s Breakthrough and check out our nine amazing runners-up in our freely available magazine package! Below we briefly summarize the section and provide a few links to some of the relevant stories--additional references and details are available in the magazine version.


The Rosetta mission lands on a comet

Europe’s most ambitious space mission captured the public's imagination with a series of hard-won pictures, beamed to Earth from a place beyond Mars. Rosetta’s continuous orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is helping scientists figure out how life began on Earth—and heralds a new age of comet science.


The birth of birds

It took a lot to turn lumbering cousins of Tyrannosaurus rex into agile hummingbirds and graceful swans. This year, evolutionary biologists figured out the mode and tempo of this spectacular evolutionary transition.

Using young blood to fight old age

In work with profound implications for aging, researchers showed that blood from a young mouse can rejuvenate an old mouse's muscles and brain. If the results hold up in people—an idea already in testing—factors in young blood could help fight the ravages of aging in people.

Robots that cooperate

Robots are getting better all the time at working with humans, but this year several teams demonstrated that these machines can also work together without our supervision, an important first step in their path to eventual world domination.

Chips that mimic the brain

Computer engineers rolled out the first large-scale “neuromorphic” chips, designed to process information similarly to living brains. Why? Unlike computers, human brains are good at tackling tasks that integrate massive amounts of data, like vision. These brainlike chips could transform the way computers handle complex jobs, revolutionizing machine vision and environmental monitoring.

The world’s oldest cave art

Scientists discovered prehistoric graffiti on Sulawesi Island in Indonesia that’s at least 40,000 years old, potentially usurping Europe as the location of the world’s oldest cave art. The finding could rewrite the history of a key stage in the development of the human mind. 

Cells that might cure diabetes

Researchers have reported a significant step toward finding a cure for diabetes. They’ve figured out how to turn human stem cells into functional pancreatic β cells—the same cells that are destroyed by the body’s own immune system in type 1 diabetes patients.

Manipulating memories

If you think you can rely on your memories, think again. Last year, scientists figured out how to manipulate specific memories in mice by zapping their brains with laser beams. This year, they managed to change the actual emotional content of memories, turning good memories bad, and vice versa.

Rise of the CubeSat

A decade ago, CubeSats were just educational tools. Now, a record-breaking number of these 10-centimeter boxes, built with off-the-shelf technology and costing hundreds of thousands of dollars rather than hundreds of millions, have been launched into space—and they’re starting to do real science.

Giving life a bigger genetic alphabet

All life on Earth as we know it encodes genetic information using four DNA letters: A, T, G, and C. Not anymore! Researchers have created new DNA bases in the lab, expanding life’s genetic code and opening the door to creating new kinds of microbes.

People’s choice

From (lots of) official meetings to a suggestion jar in the office kitchen, Science spends a lot of time choosing each year’s Breakthrough. This year, we wanted to give you a say, too! After 35,676 total votes and two rounds of voting, “Giving life a bigger genetic alphabet” won the people’s choice for Breakthrough of the Year! Click through to see the rest of the results.

To read more about the biggest scientific achievements of 2014, as well as the see the biggest breakdowns of the year, find out about exciting areas to watch in 2015, and judge us on last year’s predictions, check out our full Breakthrough of the Year special issue. (Meghna Sachdev - AAAS)


Cairns deaths: Eight children found in Australian home - BBC Australia

EIGHT children have been found dead at a house in Cairns in northern Queensland, say Australian police.

Police said a 34-year-old woman had been taken to hospital with stab wounds but was stable.

The details of the incident and the woman's relationship to the children, aged between 18 months and 15 years, are not yet clear.

Australian reports say the children were stabbed but police have not confirmed this.

Police said it was a "tragic event" but there was no cause for public concern.

Police have cordoned off the house and detectives are searching the yard of the property in the Manoora suburb.

Cairns Detective Inspector Bruno Asnicar told reporters he could not confirm whether the children were from the same family.

He said police currently believed there were eight children involved but "that may go up or down" as the house was searched.

Police have not yet said if they have made any arrests.

Queensland Police said in a statement they were called to a residence in Murray Street at 11.20 local time (01:20 GMT) following reports of a woman with serious injuries.

"During an examination of the residence police located the bodies of the children, all aged between 18 months and 15 years," said the statement.

It said the woman was assisting police with their investigations. (BBC)


7 wounded in grenade explosion, gunfight in Philippines

COTABATO CITY – Seven people were wounded in a grenade explosion and gun fight between warring families that erupted late Friday afternoon at a public market in the restive province of Maguindanao in the Muslim autonomous region in southern Philippines, the army said.

It said troops and policemen were pursuing one of the protagonists, Sauto Giti, of Campo Uno village in Maguindanao’s Matanog town who escaped following the violence in Parang town.

It was not immediately known what triggered the attack, but police were investigating the incident which is connected to clan war, according to Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, a spokeswoman for the 6th Infantry Division.

She said at least 5 bullet casings of 9mm pistol and the grenade’s safety lever were recovered in the area. “There is an ongoing operation to track down the perpetrator of this attack,” Petinglay told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

Petinglay said the wounded were rushed to hospital. She identified the wounded as Jamila Tomas, Abdullah Tomas, Saima Raoro, Salahodin Tomas, Camlon Raoro, Sirikit Magayan and another individual who name is only Locman.

Clan war or locally known as “rido” is common in many parts of the Muslim autonomous region and the U.S. Agency for International Development and think-tank Asia Foundation said that more than 3,000 people had been killed in over the past seven decades in family feuds.

Rido can involve disputes among family members or among two or more rival families, pitting neighbors or different ethnic groups against each other. The disputes center on issues of land, money, marriage or political power and involve revenge killings.

The violence increases with each act of retaliation, broadening to include those not directly involved in the dispute, including women and children, according to the Asia Foundation, adding, some feuds lasted for decades. (Mindanao Examiner – with a report from Mark Navales)

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A look at Philippine real estate's 2014 performance

GLOBAL property portal Lamudi looks back on an exciting year for Philippine real estate... 

MANILA - With China’s property market cooling after years of rapid growth, and Singapore’s and Hong Kong’s housing markets expected to decline steadily, 2014 has seen real estate in the emerging markets come into focus - the Philippines, in particular, performed (and is performing) well, although GDP growth slowed slightly, the country’s economy continues to outperform most of its neighbors.

“The Philippine property sector’s 2014 performance is marked by exuberance in certain segments traditionally overlooked. For example, Metro Manila’s commercial real estate sector was and continues to be buoyant, bolstered by a healthy demand from traditional office takers and the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry,” said Lamudi Philippines managing director Jacqueline van den Ende.

As the year draws to a close, global real estate portal Lamudi looks back at an eventful 12 months for the Philippines’ property sector.

- BSP’s Preemptive Measures

Experts say that there’s no real estate bubble in the Philippines, and this is largely due to the fact that the country’s financial industry is cautious and well regulated. In order to prevent the Philippines’ real estate market from overheating, the government through the Bangkok Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) has been more involved in devising preemptive measures.

In July, for instance, the BSP implemented a real estate stress test, which mandates all commercial banks to provide adequate capital requirements in light of their increasing exposure to real estate loans. This ensures that banks would be capable of absorbing risks in the event of a shock. In addition, the BSP is slated to release its real estate price index by 2015 to better monitor prices, in an effort to avoid possible asset bubbles from forming.

- Metro Manila Land Values Breached the 1997 Peak

After 17 years, land values in Metro Manila breached the peak prices reached before the onset of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. In a report published by Colliers International, two parcels of land (both 1,600 sqm) in Fort Bonifacio owned by the Government System Insurance Corporation (GSIS) were sold at a record P500,000 and P458,000 per sqm.

In nearby Makati City, real estate giant Ayala Land bought the abandoned JAKA Tower along Ayala Avenue for an undisclosed amount, which was speculated to be between P500,000 and P560,000 per sqm.

These events support a statement made recently by Jose Romarx Salas, head of research at Pinnacle Real Estate Consulting, who observed that finding suitable and large enough land in Metro Manila is the challenge right now for property developers. This prompts them to bid high for limited supply of land in the capital, which pushes up already skyrocketing prices.

- Retail Boom

In the first quarter of 2013, at least 170,000 sqm of new retail space entered the market, and more than 100,000 sqm is expected to be completed before 2014 ends.

According to Jan Custodio, CBRE’s head of global research and consultancy, the sustained level of spending is fueling the growth of the country’s retail sector. New malls opened in 2014, which include Fisher Mall and Fairview terraces in Quezon City, Century Mall in Makati, and The District and Unimart Capitol Commons in Pasig City.

“Mall developers have been expanding to accommodate the international brands coming in and the increase in spending of consumers in the country,” Custodio said.

More than 250 international establishments under coffee and restaurants, luxury and business, and mid-range fashion retailers entered the Philippines in 2014. Swedish retailer H&M unveiled its 3,000-sqm flagship store in SM Megamall in mid-October, while four more H&M branches will open before the end of 2014.

Fashion retailers are not the only ones expanding in the Philippines, but chains of convenience stores as well. According to a report published in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), in 2012 only 7-Eleven and Mini Stop were fighting over Metro Manila’s most prime of retail spots.

Now there are seven, which include FamilyMart, All Day, Circle K, Alfamart, and Lawson. The WSJ forecast that the Philippines would see the number of convenience stores double from around 2,000 today to 4,000 within four years.

- Second-Tier Cities Hog the Spotlight

The Philippines is steadily becoming less Metro Manila-centric, and real estate developments are starting to move outside the capital. For example, Iloilo province in the Visayas region is now being touted as one of the country’s next wave cities and considered a critical center of economic growth.

Property giant Megaworld is now building a sprawling business here, which when completed will boast business process outsourcing offices, hotels, condominiums, and even a convention center.

Meanwhile, Century Properties will try to duplicate its successful Azure project in San Fernando, Pampanga, while Ayala Land will build a massive township in Porac in the same province.

- Manila Bay Area to Rival Macau’s Integrated Resorts

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.’s (PAGCOR) Entertainment City complex, a huge parcel of reclaimed land in Parañaque City, will see the opening of its second integrated resort this year—the City of Dreams Manila.

It followed Solaire Resorts & Casino of Bloomberry Resorts Corp., which opened in 2013, and will be followed by the opening of the Okada Group’s Manila Bay Resorts in 2015.

Also this year, the second Resorts World property broke ground in the complex, with the completion date expected in the fourth quarter of 2018. State-run PAGCOR, in an article published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, is banking on the whole complex to hit $7 billion in gaming revenue by 2019. (Mindanao Examiner)

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Coast Guard, militar todo-bantay sa mga pier

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Nagpaalala ngayon ang Philippine Coast Guard sa mga fishing boat owners at operators, gayun rin sa mga ferry, na siguraduhin ang kaligtasan ng kanilang mga barko bago pumalaot upang matiyak na walang aberyang mangyayari sa kalagitnaan ng karagatan.

Ito’y matapos na mabutas ang isang trawler sa karagatan ng Basilan province - ilang milya lamang ang layo mula sa Zamboanga City - at pasukin ng tubig ang barko kamakalawa ng madaling araw.

Mabuti na lamang at nailigtas ang lahat ng halos dalawang dosenang crew nito ng ibang mga mangingisda at Coast Guard.

Hindi pa mabatid kung paano nabutas ang barko, ngunit sa dami ng tubig na pumasok sa engine room ay wala ng magawa ang kapitan nito kundi abandonahin ang trawler at humingi ng saklolo para sa kaligtasan ng lahat. Galing sa Zamboanga ang trawler at mangingisda sana sa Basilan Strait.

Ayon kay Lt. Jomark Angue, ng Coast Guard sa Zanboanga, ay mahigpit nilang binabantayan ngayon ang mga ferry dahil sa dami na rin ng mga pasahero habang papalapit ang kapaskuhan.

Mahigpit rin sa mga bagahe ang sundalo upang masigurong walang maipupuslit na bomba o pampasabog at armas sa mga ferry o barko sa Zamboanga at iba pang panig ng Mindanao na kung saan ay aktibo ang mga rebeldeng grupo, partikular ang Abu Sayyaf at Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters na kaalyado ng al-Qaeda at Jemaah Islamiya. (Mindanao Examiner)

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