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San Jose del Monte * San Fernando * San Pablo * Santiago * Silay * Surigao * Tabaco * Tacloban Tacurong * Tagaytay * Taguig * Tagbilaran * Talisay * Tuguegarao * Tangub * Tagum * Toledo Trece Martires * Urdaneta * Valenzuela * Zamboanga

  
 
Here is what's news in the Philippines...
MARCH 16, 2002

  

 
US SPECIAL FORCES GOING TO COMBAT?
US Special Forces will join next week their Filipino counterparts in combat patrols in the Abu Sayyaf stronghold of Basilan, Philippine military officials said yesterday.

They clarified, however, that the Americans’ participation would be limited to "field training exercises" and would not engage in actual fighting, although they are allowed to fire back in self-defense.

"Their special forces and our special forces will conduct social operations training activity," said Lt. Col. Danilo Servando, spokesman for the Armed Forces’ Southern Command based in Zamboanga City.

About 160 members of the US Special Forces, divided into teams of 12 men each, are deployed with nine AFP battalions involved in the joint RP-US military exercise in Basilan dubbed "Balikatan 02-1."

The maneuvers are being held in Basilan where Abu Sayyaf terrorists have been holding hostage an American missionary couple and a Filipina nurse for nine months now.

Maj. Cynthia Teramae, spokeswoman for US Special Operations Command Joint Task Force 510, said the Green Beret troops would switch to Black Beret as ordered by Gen. Erik Shinseki, chief of staff of the US Army.

"The beret is used outside the field condition. So normally, you will see all our armies in the black beret here. But it would be now the traditional headgear that symbolizes the professionalism in the US army," Teramae said.

The AFP has tightened security pertaining to media coverage of the war games following leakage of surveillance photos and images of Abu Sayyaf lairs.

Meanwhile, military and police intelligence agents strengthened their monitoring of the possible arrival in Zamboanga City of Abu Sayyaf bandits fleeing Basilan.

Servando said undercover agents have been deployed in the city’s harbors to apprehend Abu Sayyaf leaders and followers seeking refuge in the city to avoid the heat in Basilan.

An Abu Sayyaf bandit identified as Munib Assa, alias Ghalib Hassan, who had a P1-million bounty on his head, was captured on Tuesday in a Muslim community in the city.

"They are following some leads on other members of the Abu Sayyaf who have been monitored to have fled (Basilan)," Servando said.

However, it could not be ascertained if Khadaffy Janjalani and Abu Sabaya, Abu Sayyaf chieftain and spokesman, respectively, have left Basilan as there were conflicting intelligence reports on their whereabouts.

"They are still in Basilan," Servando said, brushing aside reports that the two Abu Sayyaf leaders had fled to nearby Tawi-Tawi or Sabah in Malaysia.

"All these information keep coming and they are immediately being verified. But there is no confirmation and no independent source has confirmed that they have sighted them," AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Edilberto Adan said.

"Our hunt for them continues and the American equipment is helping greatly and now their hiding place is getting smaller and smaller," Adan added.

The Americans’ presence in Basilan, with support units on standby in nearby Zamboanga City and Cebu City, is perceived as the second largest US troop deployment against global terrorism, next to Afghanistan.

Washington has included the Abu Sayyaf in its list of global terrorists following the Sept. 11 attacks in the US.

In another development, members of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and other militant labor groups stormed the US Embassy in Manila to protest the continuation of the Balikatan.

"Workers now have more compelling and fortified reasons to oppose the Balikatan. With the US military’s admission that the Balikatan is a local version of Operation Enduring Freedom, there’s no doubt that military operations in Mindanao would soon escalate into a full-blown war of aggression on a nationwide level," the KMU said.

FBI CHIEF TO MEET GMA ON TERRORISM
President Arroyo and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller III will meet at Malacañang on Monday to discuss ways to stop global terrorism and money laundering.

Mueller, a former US Marine officer, will be coming to the country on the heels of a recent US-sponsored conference on anti-terrorism held in Bangkok, Thailand.

National Security Adviser Roilo Golez, who led the Philippine delegation to the conference,said that American counter-terrorism experts were impressed by the Philippine support for the US-led coalition against terrorism.

"The Philippine system to fight international terrorism was singled out by the US counter-terrorist officials as dynamic and comprehensive during the conference-seminar," he said.

On money laundering, Golez said the Philippines can learn from the experience of the US, which has very tough laws against criminal schemes to cleanse illegally acquired funds.

"Because we’re just new in this field, we just recently passed the Anti-Money-Laundering Law," he said. "We will look into possible ways on how to apply our needs for extensive interdiction of terrorist funds, money-laundering activities of drug lords in Colombia or the Mafia they busted in the US."

In Singapore, Mueller said yesterday the US and its regional allies have yet to uncover the full extent of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network in Southeast Asia despite the arrest of dozens of militants.

Speaking at a forum organized by the American Chamber of Commerce, Mueller said the FBI was in the process of building rapport and trust with Indonesia, whose government has been criticized by some US officials and neighboring countries for failing to wage a crackdown on extremists.

"We’re looking at a number of countries both in the Middle East as well as in Southeast Asia," he said. "I think we have concerns in a number of regions, (including) Southeast Asia because as al-Qaeda loses its sanctuary in Afghanistan, ... members ... will look elsewhere to establish sanctuaries."

Mueller said the US does not know the extent of the support for al- Qaeda in Southeast Asia and what should be known about Bin Laden’s regional terrorist network.

"We do not know or we would like to know about the means of communication," he said. "We don’t know all we would like to know about the financial transfers, the money sources –all of which, together with our counterparts, we need to address."

Mueller said over the past six months, the FBI has sent "several hundred" agents overseas, including to Singapore and Malaysia, in a sign of increased cooperation.

"What we try to do and what is important for us to do is understand and be sensitive to the context in which our counterparts have to cooperate, build a foundation of trust and mutual support," he said.

Mueller said while the Jemaah Islamiah, a secret Islamic organization suspected of possible links with Bin Laden’s network, has been identified, "that is not to say there are no other" similar organizations.

"There have been linkages between that group and others and I think our efforts will be directed towards identifying ... similar groups that are operating in Singapore, Malaysia, southern Philippines and Indonesia," he said.

Law enforcement agencies in Southeast Asia "have chased countless leads for us" and have made available to the FBI results of interviews related to the fight against terrorism, he added.

Meanwhile, Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Edilberto Adan said yesterday the military supports the immediate passage of the anti-terrorism bills pending in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

"Any law that will make it easier for the country to neutralize enemies of the state with less fighting is most welcome," he said.

"It will boost our fight against insurgency and terrorism. The congressmen looked at certain provisions to be unduly infringing on civil rights, particularly bank secrecy ... there are provisions that prevent possible abuse of the (proposed) law."

Adan said an anti-terrorism law will help authorities track down and seize money in banks and other assets of terrorists operating in the country.

Once their funds are frozen, the terrorists would become immobile and inutile, he added.

SANDIGAN DEFERS ESTRADA TRIAL
The Sandiganbayan delayed yesterday the trial of ousted President Joseph Estrada for almost a month to give his newly appointed lawyers time to study his cases.

The presiding justice of the special anti-graft court, Minita Chico-Nazario, ordered the arraignment to be moved back to April 12 at the request of the court-appointed lawyers who have been on the case for only two weeks.

Estrada was to have been arraigned yesterday on perjury charges on top of other serious graft accusations.

A huge police convoy escorted the former president from the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, where he has been detained for about 10 months, to the anti-graft court some three kilometers away. Scores of riot police ringed the court building, but the pro-Estrada protesters and pro-government forces were much fewer than anticipated.

The 64-year-old, 200-pound Estrada, grimaced and rubbed his left knee as he posed for the media inside the court building. He was accompanied by his wife Sen. Luisa "Loi" Ejercito and one of his sons, San Juan Mayor JV Ejercito.

Estrada was making his first court appearance after firing his team of lawyers last month and taunting the court by calling his corruption trial a "circus" and accusing the judges of bias.

Speaking for the first time on his behalf, Estrada reiterated in open court his belief that the special division was especially created to convict him and accused two of its justices of being biased against him.

Estrada said while he has confidence in the fairness of presiding justice Nazario, "I could not say the same of the two other justices," referring to associate justices Teresita de Castro and Edilberto Sandoval.

De Castro is the subject of a motion for inhibition filed by Estrada’s former defense lawyers at the Supreme Court, while Sandoval openly favored the transfer of Estrada to the Quezon City Jail.

"My presence here is just a torture as I don’t accept the services of the de officio lawyers," Estrada told the court as he reiterated his demand that his waiver of appearance be restored to him.

Nazario admonished Estrada, saying the court might be inclined to grant his request provided he stop assaulting the integrity of the court.

Nazario’s reply drew a sharp remark from lawyers Mario Ongkiko and former Sandiganbayan presiding justice Manuel Pamaran, who was recommended to the court to represent Estrada by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

Ongkiko said it is the right of the accused to waive his appearance, noting that Estrada had already been arraigned before the special division, a position duly seconded by Pamaran.

Meanwhile, militant groups urged yesterday Ombudsman Aniano Desierto to vigorously oppose what they said are tactics employed by Estrada to delay his trial on charges of plunder.

Dr. Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, PlunderWatch convenor, said yesterday’s hearings showed just how Estrada remains capable of delaying the trial because his "unfounded and barefaced attacks" on the fairness of the court proceedings and the integrity itself of the special division remain unchecked.

"We were treated to the spectacle of a court placed on the defensive and bending over backwards to accommodate the contemptuous statements of the accused Estrada," she said.

Araullo added that while Estrada remained remorseless and relentless in his attacks against the court even during the proceedings, the magistrates only asked Estrada to pledge that he would not do it again.

"The Ombudsman could have asserted that Estrada and his erstwhile defense lawyers could be cited for contempt but nothing was done over this clear violation of their lawyers’ oath," she said.

PROMOTED GENERAL DROPS PLAN TO SUE WHISTLE-BLOWING PRIEST
Manifesting magnanimity in victory, newly promoted Maj. Gen. Romeo Dominguez, commander of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division based in Catbalogan, Samar, announced yesterday he has dropped his plan to sue Fr. Cirilo Nacorda who has accused him of taking bribes from Abu Sayyaf kidnappers in Basilan.

Dominguez wished, however, that Nacorda, parish priest of Lamitan in Basilan, would be transferred elsewhere.

Testifying in a joint congressional inquiry on the hostage crisis in Basilan, Nacorda charged that on June 2 last year, government forces led by Dominguez had the chance to capture the Abu Sayyaf bandits led by Abu Sabaya and Khadaffy Janjalani who were holed out in a hospital in Lamitan.

The troops had reportedly cordoned the hospital compound, sealing off any escape route for the terrorists who had just arrived with their 20 hostages from the upscale resort of Dos Palmas in Palawan on May 27.

However, the terrorists were able to escape under cover of darkness, raising suspicions that they bribed their way to the safety of their jungle lairs.

Dominguez said he would rather forget the controversy since he has been virtually cleared of any misdemeanor through his promotion. "I see this (promotion) as a vindication and recognition of my more than 35 years of commissioned military service."

He viewed Nacorda’s charges as "water under the bridge."

SHOOTING THE PAGSANJAN RAPIDS:A WILD RIDE AFTER ALL By Lawrence D. Casiraya

PAGSANJAN, Laguna -- My butt muscles were numb and taut as I struggled not to squirm in my seat. My mind was conscious of where to place both hands while at the same time basking at the scenery before me, quietly playing a movie inside my head.

Shooting the rapids en route to Pagsanjan Falls promises to be a wild ride, at least according to the guidebook handed to me no less by the town mayor himself.

Being asked to stay perfectly still to maintain the boat's balance evoked quite a sense of irony. Without being able to take part in the paddling, I didn't feel like I was contributing any to the dynamics of the ride and was acting merely as a spectator.

And speaking of spectators, it was quite a huge audience that turned up for the spectacle that was the Bankero Festival, the town's annual homage to its hardy bankeros or boatmen who, by traversing the rapids of Pagsanjan River, allow tourists a peek at the popular waterfalls.

Packing a fresh set of clothes and scoring myself plastic bags along the way to protect my precious camera from getting wet, I came prepared to shoot -- in two senses of the word -- the rapids of Pagsanjan.

A banca can accommodate two passengers excluding the two bankeros positioned at both ends. For good measure, after realizing that both my guides may just be too busy maneuvering the boat to attend to my queries, I invited another bankero to come aboard -- a good-natured fellow named Conrad. Fortunately, the guy was more than willing to answer my oftentimes inane questions and tell me stories in between puffs of menthol cigarettes.

Before getting to the falls, the banca has to go through 14 rapids or what they call in the vernacular as lagaslas. These are points along the route characterized by the presence of large rocks (an understatement really because some are really huge, huge boulders) which disrupt the steady, smooth stream of water.

Maneuvering the boat through the rapids calls for special skill on the part of the bankeros. But imagine carrying the boat (with passengers aboard) through sheer human strength

The rapids have varying levels of difficulty depending upon the size and extent of rock formations in the water. During times when the water level gets high especially when it's raining, Conrad says boatmen are carefully advised not to pass through the 13th rapid, at the most.

Incidentally, this 13th rapid is quite aptly the most difficult of all to maneuver -- both upstream and downstream -- according to my guides. Passing through it, I had to get off so they can carry the boat across scattered rocks. To make things easier, steel and wooden poles have been installed in between the rocks as support.

The rapids actually serve as reference points to some interesting sights along the route, both from the bankeros' standpoint and as indicated in the map included in the guidebook.

Prior to the first one, Conrad pointed out to me the sight where Francis Ford Coppola shot scenes for his classic Vietnam War film, Apocalypse Now, during the 70s. While I've yet to see the movie, I can imagine a war scene more like a small-scale version of the spectacular opening scene in Spielberg's Saving Private where soldiers duke it out along the shoreline.
 
Along the way are pretty interesting things pointed out to me. There is the Palakang Bato or a huge stone along the shore that resembles a frog. A closer look at it convinced me that yes, it does seem to look like a frog with its head perched upwards. Another one called Punsong Bato is actually a very huge rock that based on local belief, houses a nuno or an earth-dwelling elf. According to traditional belief, one has to pay respects when passing a punso so as not to disturb and incur bad luck from its dweller.

There are other rock formations that Conrad mentioned including one that's supposed to look like a helicopter and another a mermaid, though with just a brief glance I couldn't quite seem to see the resemblance. But of course, being no bankero, I don't get to see the same rocks almost everyday. Either that or my imagination is poorer than theirs.

As we approached the gorge entering Pagsanjan, Conrad also pointed out a particular portion of the river, which to me seemed no different (read: no "interesting" rock formation) but carries quite a story. It is the spot where a huge church bell is believed to be still buried up to now.

The legend dates back to the Spanish colonial era. The church bell was a gift given by Mexico to the Philippines in the late 1700s and was shipped by galleon to Manila and eventually carried to Pagsanjan, then the capital of Laguna for 170 years.

Pagsanjan derived its name from the Tagalog word Pinagsangahan, meaning branching or juncture as it is located where the rivers Balanac and Bumbungan merge to empty into the Laguna Bay. Pagsanjan then was a flourishing town, a commercial and cultural center of the province. Laguna was then populated by a lot of Spanish ilustrados, owing to its nearness to Manila.

The bell is said to be too massive that other nearby towns can hear its booming echoes as well, frightening a lot of pregnant women and babies. So the bell was dismantled and thrown into the spot in what townsfolk now call kawa-kawa (huge cauldron or pot).

After the Japanese war, many have attempted to retrieve the bell to no avail, according to Conrad. The bell is believed to be made of gold, and some of the locals I talked to afterwards attest to it that there is indeed a local lore that says so. But the spot is apparently so deep that the bell cannot be found. Either that or, Conrad says, the bell just would not budge from the spot where it is buried. Knowing that it was forsaken and taken for granted before by Pagsanjenos, the bell must now be having the last laugh
(or ring).

Not all of it was a bumpy ride though. There were certain portions of the river where the current was perfectly smooth and steady. The stillness creates a relaxing atmosphere while approaching a gorge where the rays of the sun slowly seep in.

At first I thought the black creatures I saw hovering above us were bats. But I was told they were actually birds called layang. There were also butterflies and dragonflies dotting the landscape, some of them innocuously landing on our heads and shoulders. Black with a tinge of aqua blue, the butterflies were a pretty sight though I wasn't fast enough with my camera to take a picture of them in flight. Besides, my guides kept reminding me not to go wayward with my hands lest my fingers get crushed to a pulp by the rough edges of the rocks

During late afternoons, Conrad said monkeys come down from the cliff walls to drink from the river. The chance of seeing them quite remote because the boat rides are usually in the morning when tourists can appreciate more the scenery while passing through the gorges as the sun shines through the trees.

The monkeys must be wise and elusive enough to time their descent from the forest when they can't be seen, although we could hear them chattering during the trip. Mang Efren, the elder of the three bankeros with me, said the local government forbids the capture of monkeys so as not to disrupt the forests' ecosystem.
 
Maneuvering our way into the narrow gorges with picturesque cliff walls and primeval forests provide quite a cinematic atmosphere. It reminded me of Jurassic Park although

I wasn't exactly expecting a Tyrannosaurus Rex's head to pop out from somewhere. that final scene in The Lord of the Rings when Frodo bade goodbye to his friends to continue his journey downstream.

And so we continue our way upstream through the rapids commencing into the falls, all 300-feet of booming water cascading from a cliff. Visitors can choose to get a closer view of the falls by riding a raft for a fee. Bankeros guide the raft by rope to and from a small cave at the bottom of the falls.
 
With the influx of tourists comes the assault of commercialism even in the middle of the river. Along the route are stores that offer souvenir items as well as stalls that sell food and beverages, even beer. Passing through one of them, the smell of chicken barbecue was so tempting and reminded me of lunchtime. I would have treated myself to a chicken thigh, but thankfully, I didn't bring any money with me so I wasn't able to give in to my urge for an anyway exorbitant price of PhP50 a piece. What was even more disturbing was seeing a few beer cans on the river on our way back -- certainly not a good indication of ecotourism management.

The ride back was much faster and more dangerous because we were going with the direction of the river flow. While upstream, it was much more tedious and required the bankeros' physical strength and special skills, downstream called for dexterity in handling the boat's descent -- which was probably the closest thing to the wild ride I was expecting all along.

  

PROVINCES OF THE PHILIPPINES
Abra * Agusan del Norte * Agusan del Sur * Aklan * Albay * Antique * Aurora
Basilan * Bataan * Batanes * Batangas * Benguet * Biliran Sub Province * Bohol
Bukidnon * Bulacan * Cagayan * Camarines Norte * Camarines Sur * Camiguin
Capiz * Catanduanes * Cavite * Cebu * Davao del Norte * Davao del Sur
 Davao Oriental * Eastern Samar * Guimaras Sub Province * Ifugao * Ilocos Norte
Ilocos Sur * Iloilo * Isabela * Kalinga-Apayao * Laguna * Lanao del Norte
Lanao del Sur * La Union * Leyte * Maguindanao * Masbate * Mindoro Occidental Mindoro Oriental * Misamis Occidental * Misamis Oriental * Mountain Province
Negros Occidental * Negros Oriental * North Cotabato * Northern Samar
Nueva Ecija *  Nueva Viscaya * Palawan * Pampanga * Pangasinan
 Quezon Province * Quirino Province * Rizal * Romblon * Sarangani * Siquijor
Sorsogon * South Cotabato * Southern Leyte * Sultan Kudarat * Sulu
Surigao del Norte * Surigao del Sur * Tarlac * Tawi Tawi * Western Samar * Zambales * Zamboanga del Norte * Zamboanga del Sur * Zamboanga Sibugay

 

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