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PH assault on extremists sends 24,000 fleeing

MANILA: More than 24,000 people fled their homes as the Philippine military used airstrikes and artillery against Muslim extremists who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, authorities said Thursday.

Almost a week of attacks on members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the strife-torn southern island of Mindanao has displaced residents of six towns, said Jofelle Delicana, spokeswoman for the civil defence office.

About 24,300 villagers were forced to take refuge in schools, makeshift tents or with relatives after the military launched their assault on May 5, she told Agence France-Presse.

Local army spokesman Captain Arvin Encinas said that reports from civilians and intelligence sources indicate that as many as 31 BIFF guerrillas have been killed including the group’s leader, Commander Ismael Abubakar, also known as “Bungos”, as well as two of his aides.

“We believe they are among the dead considering our information that they were there in the location hit by airstrikes,” he told Agence France-Presse.

He said however that no bodies had been recovered and that the death toll could not be verified.

Seven soldiers have been slightly wounded in the fighting, he added.

“We used all available air assets and artillery assets and armour,” the captain said, declining to give details.

Six Indonesians from the Islamic State group who were training the BIFF in bomb-making were part of the remnants of the group that is being surrounded by the army, he added.

“Our assessment is they have less space to move while we are conducting our airstrikes because all our available troops have been deployed,” Encinas said.

The group of almost 100 BIFF were targeted after they were involved in the planting of make-shift bombs and a number of murders in recent months.

The BIFF split from main Muslim rebel group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2008 after the MILF opened a peace process with the government.

Since then, its leaders have been seen in videos pledging allegiance to the IS movement that has taken control of vast swathes of the Middle East.

Encinas said Bungos had been trying to forge closer connections with IS so he could get more overseas assistance.

While the Philippines is largely Catholic, the southern third is home to a sizable Muslim minority and extremist groups and guerrillas like the BIFF who are fighting for a separate Islamic state.

The Manila Times

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Security tightened in Palawan amid US travel alert

The government has placed security forces on “heightened alert” in Palawan after the United States warned of potential kidnapping threats in the popular tourist destination.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the government is “on top of the situation” but also asked the public to remain calm yet vigilant.

“Public safety is everyone’s concern,” Abella said in a statement. “We assure everyone that the government is on top of the situation and authorities, particularly those in the Western Command (WESCOM) which covers the province of Palawan, are on heightened alert to prevent any untoward incidents,” he added.

Abella said the military, along with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), as well as the local government of Palawan, are working closely together in enforcing law and order.

“All units and assets are being utilized to ensure maximum security to deny any terrorist group’s entry and access in the high seas and coastal areas,” he said.

While the government steps up security measures, Abella also called for public cooperation to help in keeping peace and order.

“We urge everyone’s cooperation, including residents and tourists, to be mindful and immediately report to law enforcement units any questionable individual or activity in the areas,” he said.

The embassy of the United States earlier advised its citizens about the threat of terror groups to kidnap foreigners in Palawan province, including Puerto Princesa. Similar travel alerts were issued by Canada and the United Kingdom.
By Genalyn Kabiling Manila Bulletin

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Black bugs attack Kidapawan City in Cotabato

Hundreds of thousands of black bugs on Wednesday swarmed a big part of Kidapawan City in Cotabato, clinging on structures and covering the streets and highways.
At thick swarm covered the national highway, particularly the Davao-Kidapawan-Cotabato section, slowing down the traffic flow and posing danger to travelers on motorbikes.
GMA News reported that by nightfall, the bugs occupied lampposts along the highway. Also, they did not spare the city hall, and occupied passageways, walls and doorsteps.
A stench of rotting insects crushed by passing vehicles filled the morning air on Thursday.
At the city hall, the early hours of the workday saw utility workers sweeping and shoving a huge cover the bugs all over the place.
Citing insect experts, the GMA News report said that black bugs usually swarm built-up areas when the moon is bright.
It said that the bugs can cause itchiness when they get in contact with the human skin, and the bugs' urine can cause skin rashes.
Experts advised residents to avoid scratching the affected skin, and instead remove the itchiness with clean water and soap.
In 2015, a similar bug attack troubled residents of M'lang town in Cotabato, occupying the whole plaza.
The town's folk believed the bugs came from rice fields in neighboring towns. —LBG, GMA News

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Giant cephalopod caught in Maguindanao

Fishermen in Datu Blah Sinsuat , Maguindanao, caught what looks to be a giant cuttlefish last Sunday, May 7.

Facebook user Lhei Maningula shared photos of the freshly-caught creature, which she said weighed 8.5 kilos.

Marine biologist Jose Christopher Mendoza told GMA News Online that it is likely a Sepia pharaonis cuttlefish,  judging from its size and color in the photographs.

Mendoza said that cuttlefish live in shallow waters and that their presence points to a thriving ecosystem.

"I'm happy that (they found it) there. It's a good indicator of reef health," he said.

"Sepia are shallow water reef cephalopods. (On the other hand) squid that big tend to be found in deep ocean water," Mendoza explained.

Squid and cuttlefish both belong to the cephalopod class of marine animals, which also inlcudes octopuses.

Cuttlefish have more rigid bodies than their squid and octopus cousins because of an internal shell called the cuttlebone.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Sepia pharaonis has a very wide geographic distribution and has been found as far as Yemen, Hong Kong, and Thailand.

It has yet to be determined if the species is threatened or in danger of extinction.

A report on GMA News TV's Unang Balita said that the specimen caught off Maguindanao was brought to the nearby town of Lebak, Sultan Kudarat, where it was quickly snapped up by local fishmongers at a price of P100 per kilo. — GMA News


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4 Makati cops nabbed after threatening to kill entire family

Four Makati City policemen were arrested on Tuesday night for allegedly threatening to kill an entire family and extorting money from them.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) identified the four policemen as Police Officers 2 Harley Garcera and Clarence Maynes and Police Officers 1 Tim Santos and Jeffrey Caniete.
The PNP's Counter-Intelligence Task Force (CITF), which was recently formed to go after police scalawags, said the four policemen were arrested in an entrapment operation in Pasay City around 11 p.m. Tuesday.
It said that the four policemen forcibly took the complainants, whose identities were not disclosed by the CITF, from a bike shop in Pasay City "without any reason at all."
"Complainants were released after paying the initial of P100,000 with the agreement to give another P100,000 today else their family will all be killed," the CITF report said.
The four policemen are detained at the CITF's headquarters in Camp Crame. Criminal and administrative charges are being prepared against them.
The PNP has relieved the Makati City Police Station's chief and its intelligence division head due to "command responsibility."
In another operation, CITF personnel also arrested Police Officer 1 Efren Guitering of the Manila Police District's Station 6 for attempting to extort money from a drug suspect.
Guitering was arrested in an entrapment operation in San Andres Bukid in Manila around 5:15 p.m.
The suspect allegedly asked P50,000 from a person arrested for alleged possession of illegal drugs on the same day.
In a press conference, CITF commander Senior Superintendent Jose Chiquito Malayo said follow-up operations are ongoing for the arrest of the four Makati policemen's cohorts.
Malayo said the Makati cops' cohorts include an active policeman, a retired cop and two civilians.
He declined to provide more details on the four suspects. —ALG, GMA News

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More countries issue travel advisories on PH provinces

The British government warns against all travel to Western Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago, citing terrorist activity and clashes between the military and insurgent groups.
It also advises against travel to the rest of Mindanao and to the south of Cebu province, including the municipalities of Dalaguete and Badian due to the threat of terrorism.
The Canadian government, for its part, warns against all travel to Mindanao, excluding Davao City, due to the serious threat of terrorist attacks and kidnapping.
It also advises against all travel to the waters off southern Palawan due to the threat of piracy and kidnappings. 

ABS-CBN News
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Mocha Uson to defend Duterte against misinformation in media

 
 
 
Mocha Uson. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO/ JOAN BONDOC

In what could be further proof that change has indeed come under the Duterte administration, former bold starlet and entertainer Mocha Uson was appointed assistant communications secretary on Tuesday, and was put in charge of fighting fake news, something she had been accused of propagating on her blog.

In a post on her Facebook page, Uson said she would focus on using social media to bring the Duterte administration closer to the Filipino people, and to fight bogus news.

“It’s time for us to stop relying on the wrong reports from some mainstream media, and to strengthen social media with the help of true members of the DDS (Die-hard Duterte Supporters). Because we are the media of Tatay Digong,” she said in her Mocha Uson Blog.

Uson’s appointment— with a salary grade level of between SG 27 and 29 and a base pay of between P87,000 and P106,000—was met with disgust, outrage and mockery from several sectors, with the alternative account of the Armed Forces of the Philippines tweeting the strongest and most critical reaction.

@AltTeamAFP described Uson as the “Queen of Fake News in the Philippines,” and said “(t)he misinformation of the people is a threat to national security.”

The alternative military Twitter account, which has almost 2,000 followers since it was created in March, also took a swipe at Uson’s huge compensation: “Someone who risks his life to defend his country should be paid more than someone who destroys her country by proliferating fake news.”

‘Bright, articulate’

In a press briefing on Wednesday shortly before he left for Cambodia, President Duterte defended the starlet known for her risque interaction with her mostly male audience in bar performances.

“She’s bright, she’s articulate,” and should not be deprived of the “honors that she deserves,” Mr. Duterte said, adding that it was his turn to believe in the likes of Uson after she and her group Mocha Girls campaigned for him for free.

The President also said Uson’s past as a sexy performer did not render her unfit to work in the government. “There’s no law which says if you expose half your body with a shorts and bra, you are disqualified from being the President of the Philippines,” Mr. Duterte added.

As a Palace official, Uson will be in charge of social media and will be producing social media content, said presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella.

Netizens also questioned the qualification of Uson, a 1998 medical technology graduate of the University of Santo Tomas who dropped out of her medical studies.

Other critics described Uson as a purveyor of fake news in at least four instances. In one, she posted a news report praising the DSWD’s system for packing 50,000 relief goods. “That’s how much the Duterte Administration values the ordinary Filipino,” she commented. As angry netizens immediately pointed out, the news report was published on Oct. 1, 2015.

In another blog post, Uson shared the photo of a girl who was supposedly raped and murdered, and asked rhetorically how come there was no outrage from the rights commission. It turned out the incident happened in Brazil. The post was later taken down.

In a post about the tax evasion case of Mighty Corp., Uson cited Article 263 of the Constitution. The 1987 Constitution has only 18 articles.

On Nov. 18 last year, when the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was given a hero’s burial, and St. Scholastica’s College students rallied in protest, Uson claimed to have received a message from a distraught parent accusing the school of “child abuse,” for forcing her daughter to join the rally. Several parents denied the claim. —WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH

 

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Duterte names Año as next DILG chief

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he will appoint Armed Forces chief of staff, General Eduardo Año as the next Interior and Local Government Chief.

“You are now facing the next DILG Secretary,” Duterte told reporters as he presented Ano during his departure speech at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

The DILG is currently headed by officer-in-charge Catalino Cuy following the sacking of Ismael Sueno.

Ano will be added to the growing list of military men tapped by the president to hold key positions in government.

The president recently appointed retired General Roy Cimatu to lead the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“He’s (Año) retiring.. So puro military halos. Si Roy pati siya,” Duterte said.

“May isang bakante pa, dagdagan ko pa ng military, kumpleto na ang junta natin,” Duterte quipped.

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News
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