Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Taliban says second village bombarded by US warplanes
20 Afghans, including 9 children killed while fleeing US attacks
Anthrax scare hits Saudi Arabia 
Pakistan rejects militants killed in Kabul blast
US air campaign unlikely to end by winter: Pentagon official
US attacks Taliban frontlines for 4th day
Bush: ‘I don't have anthrax’ 
Text of anthrax-laden letters curse US, Israel
White House mail office gets dose of anthrax
Ramadan or not, US to continue strikes unless bin Laden caught
35 Pakistani militants killed in Kabul, says Muslim cleric
‘Suspected case’ of inhalation anthrax in New Jersey 
Iraq accuses US gov’t of spreading anthrax
350 asylum-seekers drown as boat sinks off Java 
56 Filipinos held for poaching in Indon waters: RP diplomat
US steps up military pressure on Taliban

Kidnap victim Romero returns to Palawan
Posted: 10:09 PM (Manila Time) | October 23, 2001By Jofelle P. Tesorio
Inquirer News Service
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY -- Kidnap victim Reghis Romero has come back to Palawan after his grueling experience in the hands of his Abu Sayyaf captors.

Many were surprised when he was seen together with Gov. Joel Reyes on Saturday to judge the talent competition of Miss Earth 2001 here.

In an exclusive interview, Romero said, he felt different when he returned to the province after almost five months since the kidnapping in Dos Palmas resort on May 29.

Despite the incident, Romero still believes that it was an isolated case and will never happen to Palawan again.

"Right now I feel safe and secure. I don't think it will happen again in Palawan," Romero said in relief.

On Saturday night, Romero will have a chance to visit Dos Palmas again to watch the talent competition of Miss Earth.

According to Romero, he had overcome the emotional feelings and the fear brought about by the kidnapping. He even praised the government for its operations against the bandits.

Romero arrived together with some businessman friends.

"I might invest in Palawan or probably buy a property here," he said.

The group will be shown around the province to see government projects in order for them to identify the projects that they are going to invest in.

Reyes said he personally attends to Romero.

"I volunteered to be his personal bodyguard to assure him that it is safe in Palawan," Reyes said.

Regional News

Malaysia welcomes ICJ ruling against Philippines on islands --9:16 PM
Proposed budget for irrigation projects not enough: official --6:33 PM
Abu Sayyaf nearing collapse, 'big encounter' soon: Golez --6:27 PM
Police launches manhunt for kidnap gang leader --5:14 PM
Paramilitary group monitored for possible coup plot --4:51 PM
'Conditions not favorable for coup': senator --4:04 PM
Gov’t loses P5B a year from rice smuggling: NFA --3:47 PM
12,000 ha of private land distributed this year: DAR sec --3:45 PM
Full text Tiglao statement on reports of coup plots --3:32 PM

Captured Abu Sayyaf describes Sobero beheading
Posted: 12:58 PM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001By Agence France-Presse
ZAMBOANGA, Philippines – An American beheaded by Abu Sayyaf bandits begged for his life moments before he was killed in June, according to a captured rebel Wednesday.

The witness to the execution was captured this week along with three other members of the Abu Sayyaf Muslim rebel group which took Californian Guillermo Sobero and others hostage in May, police said.

Rebel Bashir Balahim told reporters that Sobero, blindfolded and with his hands tied behind his back, was crying and begging for mercy just before Abu Sayyaf member Abu Haija chopped off his head with a machete.

The 16-year-old guerrilla quoted Sobero as crying moments before he was killed, "No, no, please, I beg of you."

Other captured Abu Sayyaf rebels this month led government troops to a skeleton they said was Sobero's in the jungles of the southern island of Basilan.

Two weeks ago, the US government announced that its forensics experts had established the remains were indeed Sobero's.

The Abu Sayyaf captured Peru-born Sobero, American missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham and dozens of Filipinos in a kidnapping spree that began in May.

The group -- linked to Osama bin Laden, main suspect in the September 11 terror attacks in the United States -- boasted in June that they killed Sobero.

The teenaged rebel Balahim and his father Abdul Balahim, 48, were captured in Basilan this week, regional police chief Senior Superintendent Damming Ungga said.

An Abu Sayyaf courier and another member of the group were caught in this southern city, he said.

The arrests came amid a massive military operation against the armed group.

Ungga said those arrested did not fight back and had given vital information on the kidnapping group.

The Abu Sayyaf has also killed more than a dozen Filipino hostages in Basilan and still holds the Burnham couple and nine Filipinos.

Meanwhile, Abu Sayyaf rebels abducted two government militiamen in Basilan on Tuesday, regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Darwin Guerra said.

One was tortured and shot dead, while the other escaped, he added.

The military has been closing in on the Abu Sayyaf in recent weeks and regional military chief Lieutenant General Roy Cimatu said he had received reports of mass desertions from their ranks with only 100 members still remaining in the main group in Basilan.

Foreign military attaches visit Zamboanga for anti-terror effort
Posted: 11:39 AM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001By Agence France-Presse
ZAMBOANGA – Fifteen foreign military attaches and observers visited the southern Philippines on Wednesday to assess the army's efforts in fighting terrorism in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States, military officials said.

The attaches, including those from the United States, Japan, South Korea, China, France, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, India and Indonesia, arrived in this city amid tight security and were taken to the regional military headquarters for a briefing.

"They are here to assess and find ways of helping the Philippine military fight terrorism," southern military chief Lieutenant General Roy Cimatu said.

He linked the visit to the US-led strikes on Afghanistan in retaliation for the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington.

"If this did not happen in Afghanistan, they would not have come here," Cimatu said.

On Tuesday, a five-man team of US military advisers arrived in Zamboanga City to see what kind of assistance the United States can provide the Philippines to boost its anti-terror capabilities.

"They will see what training is needed to help our armed forces fight terrorism," Cimatu said.

It was not clear if the military attaches would meet with the US military advisers in Zamboanga.

Military forces in the south have been battling the Abu Sayyaf Muslim rebels, a group linked to Osama bin Laden, the main suspect in the September 11 terror attacks who is hiding in Afghanistan.

Despite a massive military operation, the military have failed to recover two American hostages and several Filipino captives still being held by the Abu Sayyaf in the nearby island of Basilan.

The Abu Sayyaf has been kidnapping foreigners and Christians in the south in recent years.

Several hours before the attaches arrived, a grenade ripped through a grocery in Zamboanga, causing slight damage and no injuries. Police do not yet know if there is a connection with the visit.

Philippine Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes said in Manila that US military advisers now in the country were "in the process of coordinating our efforts at combatting terrorism, both international and domestic."

He said the Americans would be here for two weeks.

Gov't junks Abu demand to free bandit leader for Americans
Posted: 8:55 AM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001By
THE GOVERNMENT will not negotiate with the Abu Sayyaf on its demand to release detained bandit leader Hector Janjalani in exchange for the American hostages, a military official said on Wednesday.

"The government stand is clear. It will not negotiate. Exchanging Hector Janjalani, who is also a leader, is a form of blackmail. This will not sit well with our leadership," said military spokesman Brigadier General Edilberto Adan in a television interview.

Adan said the idea of the exchange between Janjalani and American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham was relayed to the military by Joel Guillo, a former hostage who managed to escape from the bandits.

Hector Janjalani is the elder brother of Khadaffy Janjalani whom the military identified as the head of the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan. His late older brother, Ustadz Abdurajack Janjalani founded the Abu Sayyaf in the late 1980s to propagate Islamic fundamentalism.

Hector is facing charges for allegedly masterminding the wave of bombings in Metro Manila in December 2000.

Adan said the Abu Sayyaf is still holding a total of 10 hostages, including the Burnhams and two Filipinos whom they kidnapped on May 27 during a raid at a Palawan resort. Six other locals were abducted during the siege in Lamitan and in other Basilan towns.

Military advisers from the United States are in the country to help the military beef up its pursuit operations against the Abu Sayyaf which is suspected of having links to Osama bin Laden, the man accused of allegedly masterminding the September 11 terror attacks on American targets.

Abu Sayyaf member blows self in escape bid
Posted: 2:09 AM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001By Agence France-Presse
ZAMBOANGA -- A captured Muslim rebel who offered to lead soldiers to two American hostages was killed Tuesday when he grabbed a grenade from a soldier in an escape attempt, the military said.

The rebel, identified as Bachong Ladja, blew himself up when the grenade went off in his hand.

Ladja, a member of the Abu Sayyaf gang, was captured last week in Basilan where the guerrillas are holding two Americans and nine Filipinos captive.

After interrogation, he agreed to lead the soldiers to the two Americans who were abducted from a resort in Palawan five months ago.

However, as the soldiers were following him through the forest, Ladja grabbed a grenade from one trooper, regional military operations chief Colonel Roland Detabali said.

The soldier managed to push Ladja away before he could throw the grenade and it went off in his hand, killing him and wounding the soldier, the colonel added.

The Abu Sayyaf, who are linked to Osama bin Laden, the main suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, kidnapped American missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham at the start of a kidnapping spree that began in May.

Another American hostage, Guillermo Sobero, was beheaded by the kidnappers along with more than a dozen Filipino hostages.

The Burnhams and Filipino hostages are still in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf despite a massive military campaign to rescue them.

Abu Sayyaf nearing collapse, 'big encounter' soon: Golez
Posted: 6:27 PM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001
By Fe Zamora,
NATIONAL Security Adviser Roilo Golez predicted Wednesday the collapse of the Muslim bandit group Abu Sayyaf as its fighters are killed in battle, lose morale or desert it in the face of constant pressure from government forces.

Golez made prediction as a six-member US military advisory team began doing "coordinative work" with government troops fighting the Abu Sayyaf in its southern island lair of Basilan.

"We are expecting a big thing to happen within the next 24 to 48 hours, something like a big encounter," Golez told newsmen at the Camp Aguinaldo national military headquarters, just north of Manila.

He said the Abu Sayyaf ranks have been trimmed from a thousand in June to about 800 in October, with 400 weapons. He said that in battles from June to October 82 Abu Sayyaf gunmen were killed in Basilan and 48 others in nearby Sulu island.

A total of 22 Abu Sayyaf leaders were also arrested, and 164 members were captured during the same period, Golez said.

"There are many desertions in the ranks. They are losing their members," he also said.

On the government's side, Golez said 21 soldiers were killed in Basilan and four were reported killed in Jolo. He said 86 soldiers were wounded in Basilan and 23 in Jolo.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has a long-standing order for the military to crush the Abu Sayyaf, which continues to hold nine Filipinos and an American missionary couple nabbed in Palawan and Basilan since May.

Old-time coup plotter may be
trainer of pro-Estrada group

Posted: 9:15 PM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001
A RIGHT-wing Army colonel is being watched for allegedly having given paramilitary training to a new group called the Urban Poor Liberation Front (UPLF), which authorities describe as an urban-based hit squad loyal to ousted president Joseph Estrada
National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said Wednesday the officer "has been neutralized but if he continues to make his moves, we will have no choice but to confront him."

Old-time coup plotter may be trainer of pro-Estrada group

A RIGHT-wing Army colonel is being watched for allegedly having given paramilitary training to a new group called the Urban Poor Liberation Front (UPLF), which authorities describe as an urban-based hit squad loyal to ousted president Joseph Estrada.

October 24, 2001, INQ7, 9:15 PM Old-time coup plotter may be trainer of pro-Estrada group, by Fe Zamora,

A RIGHT-wing Army colonel is being watched for allegedly having given paramilitary training to a new group called the Urban Poor Liberation Front (UPLF), which authorities describe as an urban-based hit squad loyal to ousted president Joseph Estrada.

National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said Wednesday the officer "has been neutralized but if he continues to make his moves, we will have no choice but to confront him."

"And he will be dealt with accordingly," added Golez, who refused to identify the colonel other than saying "he has an erratic record and had been involved in past coup attempts."

Other sources said Golez may have been referring to Colonel Jake Malajacan, a key planner in the 1986 coup plot against Ferdinand Marcos, the suppression of which helped trigger the "People Power" revolt that toppled the late dictator. Malajacan was later a strategist in the 1987-89 series of coup attempts against president Corazon Aquino.

Like Ms Aquino in February 1986, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo rose to the presidency via "People Power" in January 2001.

Jailed for his role in the bloody 1989 coup attempt against Ms Aquino, Malajacan was released in 1992 and reinstated in 1995. He was appointed chief of the counter-intelligence unit of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces (ISAFP) in 1998 before he became a senior military aide to then defense secretary Orlando Mercado.

Malajacan sparked a controversy last year when he was promoted to brigadier general ahead of many other senior colonels. The promotion became the subject of a manifesto published by a group of concerned military officers in the INQUIRER.

When Estrada was ousted in January, Malajacan was reported to have gone on AWOL (absent without leave). "But that charge was questionable," said an army officer, a classmate of Malajacan's at the Philippine Military Academy, who asked not to be identified.

Rumors on Malajacan's alleged involvement in the training of an armed group first surfaced in late August. The rumors were dismissed by Philippine Army chief Lieutenant General Jaime de los Santos as "baseless and nothing but rumors".

"Colonel Malajacan has just been given a new assignment. He is okay," De los Santos told the day before Malajacan left for his new assignment at the army's Third Division in the western island of Panay. tried to get Malajacan's comment but has received no reply at the time of this writing.

In a news conference Wednesday, Golez said the UPLF underwent paramilitary training in the town of Angat in Bulacan province, to the north of Manila, two months ago and made it first public appearance when the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court began the trial of opening of Estrada for plunder.

Golez said authorities learned of the group's training from the members "who bragged about it".

"We checked (on) them immediately," the National Security Adviser said. "They might try to propagandize their existence and project …bigness."

The UPLF has 50 to less than 100 members, Golez said, adding that its members come mostly from among poor residents of Metro Manila.

Thousands of Metro Manila's poor calling for Estrada's return to the presidency had stormed the palace gates on May 1st in what was the most serious mass action against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Bush: 'I don't have anthrax'Posted: 12:38 PM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001
WASHINGTON -- US President George W. Bush on Tuesday twice declared "I don't have anthrax" but declined to say whether he had been tested for the disease after some of it was discovered at a White House remote mail facility.
Bush also expressed confidence that the West Wing, site of his Oval Office, had not been contaminated, telling reporters: "I am confident when I come to work tomorrow that I'll be safe."

Bush: ‘I don't have anthrax'
Posted: 12:38 PM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001By Agence France-Presse

WASHINGTON -- US President George W. Bush on Tuesday twice declared "I don't have anthrax" but declined to say whether he had been tested for the disease after some of it was discovered at a White House remote mail facility.

Bush also expressed confidence that the West Wing, site of his Oval Office, had not been contaminated, telling reporters: "I am confident when I come to work tomorrow that I'll be safe."

Asked whether the authors of September 11 terror strikes on the United States were to blame for a spate of anthrax-laced letters, he replied: "It wouldn't surprise me that they're involved with this, but I have no direct evidence."

Earlier, anthrax was found Tuesday at a military facility which sorts mail for the White House, as tests confirmed two mail workers died of the disease and a possible new case of its most virulent form emerged.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer revealed anthrax spores had been detected at the base, the latest government building hit in a spate of germ warfare mailings that also have targeted media groups, by hidden enemies described by US officials as "terrorists."

"It was found on what is called a 'slitter' which is a mechanical device that opens the mail. It was not found on any mail itself," Fleischer said.

Employees at the base, which Fleischer identified only as "miles away from the White House" were being screened and offered antibiotics.

All tests for anthrax at the White House had proved negative, he said, but declined to say if the anthrax had entered the base in a letter addressed to the White House itself.

President George W. Bush said he still felt safe, even though it appeared the White House may have been targeted. "We're working hard to find out who's doing this and bring them to justice," he said.

A new case of inhalation anthrax, the most potent manifestation of the disease, was meanwhile suspected in New Jersey, where a female mail handler was hospitalized in serious but stable condition.

State health official George DiFerdinando said at a news conference that the woman, who asked not to be identified, was responding to treatment.

At least three anthrax-laced letters were sent through the Hamilton mail processing center near Trenton, New Jersey, where the woman works, addressed to NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle and the New York Post.

In New York, postal workers at five key facilities in Manhattan will be given the antibiotic Cipro in a bid to counter growing fears of anthrax contamination.

Thousands of postal workers here started preventative courses of antibiotics Tuesday as two of their colleagues from the Brentwood mail processing fought inhalation anthrax in a Virginia hospital.

Taliban says second village bombarded by US warplanes

Posted: 7:44 PM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001
By Agence France-Presse
KABUL—US warplanes bombarded a southern Afghan village in the early hours of Wednesday, killing 12 people in the second incident of its kind in 24 hours, the Taliban said.

Taliban information chief Abdul Hanan Hemat told Agence France-Presse that a mountain village near the town of Deh Raud had been bombarded, apparently after being mistaken for a terrorist training camp. "It is very remote and there are no clinics nearby where injured people can be treated. It is a really terrible situation," he said.

The Taliban claim came a day after the Arabic television station Al Jazeera reported that US planes had bombarded Chakoor Kariz village, 15 kilometers southeast of the militia stronghold of Kandahar. The station broadcast pictures of what it said were victims being treated in a Kandahar hospital.

It was impossible to confirm casualty figures. The Taliban said at least 52 people had died.

Overnight raids on Kabul included attacks on military bases in the Gul Bagh and Rishkhor areas of the city, Hemat said. Buildings were destroyed in the attacks but they had all been evacuated, he said.

Hemat said there had been no reported deaths but that one man was in a coma.

US warplanes continued to overfly Kabul during the day on Thursday, drawing sporadic bursts of fire from Taliban anti-aircraft guns. At least nine bombs were dropped in and around the capital overnight.
Bin Laden seen recruiting ex-MILF members, students
Posted: 1:47 PM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001By Lira Dalangin,
SUSPECTED terrorist Osama Bin Laden attempted to recruit 69 former members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for his terrorism activities, according to Senator Blas Ople.

Ople said that labor officials last month rejected the applications of the workers for overseas employment in a Saudi Arabian company reportedly owned by Bin Laden. The workers were based in Cotabato City.

He said officials became suspicious after the Saudi company asked for military background as a requirement for the prospective employees.

Meanwhile, Vice President and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teofisto Guingona said that at least 200 Filipino students in Pakistan could be training for terrorist groups.

Guingona, citing reports by the Philippine embassy in Pakistan, said that the students are enrolled in religious schools in the Muslim country. The whereabouts of the 200 students could not be determined, he said.

For his part, Senator Rodolfo Biazon, vice chair of the committee on national defense and security, has urged the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces and the Department of Foreign Affairs to investigate the identities of the scholars.

'OPPOSITION OUTDOING BIN LADEN'Coup rumors mere 'urban legend': Tiglao
Posted: 1:36 PM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001By
Malacañang dismissed as mere "urban legend" a reported coup plot against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and accused the opposition of "trying to create instability to put this administration on guard".

"Reports of coup plots have assumed the genre of urban legends," Presidential spokesperson Rigoberto Tiglao said on Wednesday in a television interview, reacting to an Inquirer report of an alleged coup plot by elements of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines codenamed "Black October".

Tiglao said, "Let's be reasonable about it. First, any coup attempt is frowned at by almost all people. Second, a coup can only succeed if there is a substantial segment of the population that is disenchanted with the government."

He cited surveys that showed that "there is so much support for this government that would make coup plots impossible".

The Inquirer quoted a statement by Partido ng Masang Pilipino spokesman Jesus Remulla which said that the PNP and the AFP were part of the destabilization plot aimed at "diverting attention from the investigation of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo's alleged involvement in corruption that included the misuse of billions of pesos in public funds."

The plot, Remulla said, involves assassinations, bombings and a coup attempt – all of which would be blamed on supporters of deposed president Joseph Estrada.

Tiglao said by spreading these rumors, the opposition was "outdoing bin Laden", referring to Islamic militant Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the September 11 terror attacks on American targets that killed thousands.

He criticized the opposition for "trying to create instability, to put this administration on guard so that it could not focus on its work". Then, he said, "They would claim the administration has not been doing its job".

Tiglao also branded as "ridiculous" reports that Chief Superintendent Reynaldo Berroya would replace PNP chief Gen. Leandro Mendoza in the coup. Mendoza is expected to retire in January 2002.

Full text Tiglao statement on reports of coup plots
Posted: 3:32 PM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001By
FULL text of the statement of Presidential Spokesperson Rigoberto Tiglao on the reports about coup plots against the Macapagal administration:

For the country's sake, we appeal to the opposition to stop concocting and spreading rumors of coup plots. They'll just be outdoing Osama bin Laden in hurting our economy. Our country needs these coup rumors like we need a hole in the head.

There's fighting in Afghanistan, the civilized world is now in combat against global terrorism. Nobody's sure were the world economy is heading to and our exports have been down because of the US slowdown and the Japanese recession. Ignoring the hard times we are all in because of factors beyond our control, the opposition is bent in spreading these incredible coup rumors.

In this day and age, and especially against an administration that has the support of the people and all institutions including the military, no coup plot could ever get beyond the talking stage. The only possible audience of the opposition's coup-concoctions unfortunately are foreign and local investors. The opposition and its coup-rumors are only endangering the jobs of Filipinos.

"Guns of August" was the opposition's sound-bite in July. Now it's "Black October." In all the media reports of coup rumors, it's only been opposition spokesman Jesus Remulla who is being quoted claiming that there are such plots. He even makes the claim that it is the police which is undertaking the destabilization plot, as a means, he alleges of diverting attention from the charges against the First Gentleman.

Nothing could be more preposterous, and the opposition is insulting Filipinos' intelligence. This administration has struggled to restore political stability these past ten months, despite attempts by the violence-prone sector of the opposition to throw our country into chaos. Why should we undertaking, as the opposition spokesman claims, "destabilization attempts"?

To divert attention from the charges against the First Gentleman, as the opposition claims? But the hearings in the Senate have unearthed no evidence, not even any credible indication that the First Gentleman has been involved in corruption. The bottom-line of these charges has become plain for everyone to see, that the opposition has concocted all the lies it can think of in its mud-slinging against the First Gentleman, as its means of putting down an administration untainted by corruption.

We would also like to appeal to media not to be unwittingly used in the opposition's campaign to put down the economy by concocting these coup rumors.

We respect the media's duty to report facts. We cannot understand though why a newspaper would banner instead of facts what the headline itself claims are "coup rumors," why it would put as a subhead a serious but completely unsubstantiated charge by the opposition, why the meat of the story is a speculation, contained in the article's third paragraph, which is a question, "Did (President Macapagal-Arroyo) return home sooner than scheduled due to increasing loud rumors of a coup?"

(She certainly did not, as even the media who joined the visit to Shanghai could testify. She had completed all her engagements by 9 PM Sunday, and felt that she should immediately go back to Manila so she could start work by 8 AM Monday, rather than staying overnight in Shanghai and losing half a day's work.)

'Conditions not favorable for coup': senator
Posted: 5:18 PM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001By
SENATOR Rodolfo Biazon dismissed recent coup rumors, saying "the conditions in the country do not favor its mounting".

"I am certain that the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the PNP (Philippine National Police) are not perceptive to such a move being stirred by a few digruntled and desperate elements," Biazon said in a press conference.

Biazon said Partido ng Masang Pilipino spokesperson Jesus Crispin Remulla who earlier warned of the coup by the opposition, "does not represent all the opposition" and should avoid making such a blanket claim.

Paramilitary group monitored for possible coup plot
Posted: 4:51 PM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001By Agence France-Presse
AUTHORITIES are monitoring the activities of an obscure armed group that could be plotting against President Macapagal-Arroyo, her National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said Wednesday.

The 50-member group calling itself the Urban Poor Liberation Front received "paramilitary training" from a right-wing Army colonel about two months ago, Golez told a news conference.

"It's possible that there are some groups making moves (against the government) so we are not taking any chances. An example is the Urban Poor Liberation Front," he said.

The authorities spoke to the colonel after he trained the group near a watershed north of Manila, said Golez, who sought to downplay the incident.

"These are just small groups that could not even muster a hundred members," he said, adding no arrest had been made.

He said the group stopped training "after failing to muster enough numbers", and that the unnamed colonel remained in military service. But he warned: "If he continues in his disoriented ways, he will face sanctions."

Ms Macapagal came to power in a military-backed popular revolt that toppled her corruption-plagued predecessor Joseph Estrada last January.

Last May her government put down pro-Estrada rioting outside the presidential palace, which she described as part of an opposition plot to topple her government.

The state has since dropped rebellion charges against a number of opposition politicians.

Estrada was detained in April and is on trial for plunder, a crime which carries the death penalty.

Ms Macapagal sparked rumors of destabilization when she returned to the Philippines before dawn Sunday – hours ahead of schedule – from an Asia-Pacific economic summit in Shanghai.

However, police and military officials dismissed as baseless a newspaper report on Wednesday that certain former Macapagal allies were plotting to destabilize the government.

Presidential spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao said coup rumors were "preposterous" and were the handiwork of the political opposition to distract the government amid a global scare on terrorism.

Corazon Aquino, who came to power in a similar popular revolt that toppled the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, subsequently had to put down seven coup attempts in the late 1980s.

Malacañang dismisses civil society's ouster warning
Posted: 10:48 AM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001By Fe Zamora,
THE ADMINISTRATION of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo brushed aside on Tuesday the 30-day ultimatum issued by a civil society group for her to shape up or be toppled in another people power uprising like her predecessor former President Joseph Estrada, saying it was not the views of the entire People's Consultative Assembly.

Presidential spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao also denied Malacañang's efforts to silence its critics either by harassment or with offers of positions in government. However, he admitted having called up the People's Consultative Assembly (PCA) several times for a copy of the "open letter."

Tiglao also lashed at Linda Olaguer Montayre, secretary general of the PCA, for raising issues already implemented by Malacañang. At the same time, Tiglao maintained presidential appointees close to Ms. Macapagal's husband would not be removed from office, despite allegations of corruption, because "they're proven to be assets in this government."

The church-based PCA, one of the frontliners of civil society that helped oust Estrada in January, lambasted Ms. Macapagal in an open letter issued Monday for "betraying the cause of People Power" and carrying the sins of Estrada over to her own administration.

In the letter, the PCA also urged Ms. Macapagal to get rid of presidential appointees identified with her husband, Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, who have been linked to questionable transactions involving government funds, and effect genuine reforms against corruption and immorality in government within 30 days. If she fails,the PCA said it would withdraw support from her.

"We don't know why Mrs. Montayre has been so belligerent when it fact almost all of the five points (issues raised in the letter) we've been implementing," Tiglao told newsmen.

But asked if Malacañang would ever consider removing presidential appointees close to the First Gentleman, which is among the five points raised by the PCA, Tiglao said: "There is no reason to remove them. We will remove an official only if there are charges of corruption that would seem credible," he said.

"We don't know why Mrs. Montayre is so belligerent," Tiglao also said Malacañang was still trying to check the source of the letter.

Tiglao also denied Montayre's claims that Malacañang had offered her and other PCA officials with positions in government in exchange for their "silence".

"No offer has even been made to any member of the civil society (in exchange for their silence.) If ever they were offered, it was because they were qualified and that their presence in government is good for society," Tiglao said.

He said there are 3,000 appointive positions in government. "We would want it to be representative of all sectors," he said.

Manila's international airport closed for repairs
Posted: 1:52 AM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001By Norman Bordadora
Inquirer News Service
A MINOR terrorist scare hit the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Tuesday after incoming and outgoing flights were diverted and delayed.

The reason: a huge chunk of the airport's runway for international flights gave way and developed dangerous gaping cracks, forcing authorities to suspend operations for two hours.

Repairs are expected to be completed by 9 Tuesday night.

The Airport Ground Operations Division of the Naia immediately announced that the runway damage was due to wear and tear. Reports reaching the command center showed that the hole measured about four to five square meters.

The damage to Runway 0624, nonetheless, caused inconvenience to travelers--both Filipinos and foreigners--after international operations were stopped for more than two hours when workers rushed to the area for the much-needed repairs.

One Cathay Pacific flight--CX 919, which was carrying hundreds of passengers--was turned back and told to return to Hong Kong.

Other incoming flights affected were those of Singapore Airlines, Royal Brunei Airlines, Continental Airlines and Japan Airlines.

The Naia Public Affair Office revealed that these flights have been advised to proceed to the country's other international airports such as the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport at the Clark Free zone in Pampanga.

Thousands of passengers were likewise stranded in Terminals 1 and 2 after their respective flights were grounded while Naia's maintenance crew rushed repairs.

Affected outgoing flights were those of Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Lufthansa, Air New Guinea, China Southern, Continental Airlines and Philippine Airlines.

Repairs would reportedly need three cubic meters of asphalt.

Posted: 6:33 PM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001
By Erwin Lemuel G. Oliva,

SIX billion pesos is allotted in the proposed 2002 budget for building irrigation systems and it is not enough, Agriculture Secretary Leonardo Montemayor said Tuesday.

The amount is part of 20 billion pesos President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has pledged for implementing the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA) next year to help generate one million jobs in agriculture.

Montemayor said Congress, which is currently debating on the proposed General Appropriations Act of 2002, should increase the budget for irrigation projects because this is one way of increasing agricultural productivity.

ICJ rules Philippines cannot intervene in territorial row
Posted: 11:24 AM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001By Agence France-Presse
THE HAGUE – The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled Tuesday that the Philippines cannot intervene in a territorial dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia, saying Manila had failed to show it had a clear interest in the case.

The Philippines wanted to intervene because any decision on sovereignty over the islands of Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipidan, situated off the coast of Sabah on the island of Borneo, could have a bearing on its dormant territorial claim on parts of North Borneo.

Presiding judge Gilbert Guillaume said the court decided that the Philippines did not demonstrate "any interest of a legal nature that warrants intervention" even as a non-party to the case.

In 1997 Indonesia and Malaysia concluded a special agreement to let the ICJ, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, settle the issue of sovereignty over the disputed Celebes Sea islands.

Malaysia is expected to cite its ownership of Sabah as the basis for its claim to the islands.

The Philippines also lays claims to Sabah on the grounds that it was ruled by a southern Philippine sultanate in the 15th century.

Manila feared that its claims on North Borneo might be affected by the courts' reasoning or its interpretation of treaties at issue in the case between Malaysia and Indonesia. Both of those countries had objected to the Philippine intervention.

The ICJ ruled that the Philippines based their claim on a grant by the Sultan of Sulu, who had a title to at least a part of Sabah, not invoked by Malaysia and Indonesia.

"The court however observes that neither Indonesia nor Malaysia relies on the 1878 grant as a source of title to Ligitan and Sipidan islands," judge Guillaume said.

The Sabah question has been an irritant in ties between Manila and Kuala Lumpur ever since former Philippine president Diosdado Macapagal revived a claim to the state when it became independent and joined Malaysia in 1963.

The Philippines had never formally renounced its claim to Sabah, although officials in Manila have said they would not allow the dispute to disrupt bilateral relations.

Attempts by previous Philippine administrations to drop the Sabah claim have been shot down by the senate and relations between Malaysia and the Philippines have been broken off twice because of the row.

Police launches manhunt for kidnap gang leader
Posted: 5:14 PM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001By Fe B. Zamora,
POLICE authorities launched a manhunt Wednesday on suspected kidnap-for-ransom gang leader Ramon Go and his undetermined number of followers who kidnapped a Chinese mother and her son, then clashed with lawmen for 7 hours in a residential district in Quezon City.

Chief Supt. Hermogenes Ebdane, chief of the National Anti-Kidnap for Ransom Task Force (NAFTAK) also said murder charges will be filed against four suspects for the death of SPO4 Edmundo de Leon, who was killed during the shootout.

Ebdane told newsmen in Camp Crame the siege in San Francisco Del Monte, Quezon City was the result of follow-up operations on the kidnapping. Evelyn Jao, 40, was abducted Monday while accompanying her son Aaron, 16, to school. The Jaos were nabbed with their driver Tony Julado.

Ebdane said the Jaos were released upon payment of ransom. Continued surveillance on the kidnappers led to the police to the house maintained by Go, an ex-US serviceman and leader of the Sting Gang, in Frisco, Ebdane also said.

Police arrested Frank Galis, Ernesto Cantere, Romy Figueroa and Hans Tan after the shootout but Go and three others managed to escape, Ebdane also said. Police recovered an M-16 and two handguns.

"There are ongoing operations. There are Sting members still out there. We hope we can still hit them," Ebdane also said.

Go, alleged to be in his 30s, was described as a motorcycle and physical fitness enthusiast. Citing police reports, Ebdane said Go was also linked to car theft and peso counterfeit syndicates.

Police clash with suspected kidnappers in Quezon City
Posted: 9:20 AM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001By
QUEZON City policemen have been engaging suspected kidnappers in a shootout since 7 am on Wednesday after lawmen raided their safehouse along San Francisco del Monte, a television report said.

The report said one policeman, who was wounded in the firefight, is being held hostage by the suspects while one of three kidnappers has been arrested by members of the National Anti-Kidnapping Task Force that led the raid. Their identities have not been released.

Police officer die in shootout with kidnappers: report
Posted: 10:27 AM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001By
A POLICE officer died during rescue operations launched by the Philippine National Police on Wednesday at a safehouse of suspected kidnappers in San Francisco del Monte in Quezon City, a television report said.

The report identified the fatality as one SPO4 Edmundo Delon who was said to have been killed in a shootout with the suspects who allegedly holed themselves up in their safehouse along Apollo Street and Gen. Wood Street along with their hostages.

One of the captives was reportedly Delon's son who was injured during the firefight and was taken by the kidnappers.

The report quoted PNP chief General Leandro Mendoza as saying that the kidnap victim whose identity has been withheld was rescued and taken to Camp Crame for debriefing.

The report also said the suspected kidnappers are still shooting it out with police who have surrounded the safehouse to cut off any escape. 

Del Monte shootout: hostages rescued, kidnappers held
Posted: 2:36 PM (Manila Time) | October 24, 2001By Agence France-Presse
POLICE captured three kidnappers and freed three of their captives Wednesday in a bloody rescue operation in Manila that left one policeman dead, officials and reports said.

The operation turned the densely-populated northern Manila neighborhood of San Francisco del Monte into a battle zone, as the kidnappers fought off tear gas and rained automatic weapons fire at a crack police squad.

Government television said a mother, her son and their driver, who were abducted by the gunmen on Monday, were rescued.

A policeman identified as sergeant Edmund de Leon was fatally shot in the neck.

Police did not release the names of the rescued victims. The three armed suspects surrendered after a three-hour firefight.

"We caught the three suspects and recovered .45 calibre pistols and an (M-16) armalite," Manila police chief Edgar Galvante told reporters. "We still do not know the group (of kidnappers) and we are hunting down its leader."

The three suspects had the tattoo of a local underworld gang called Bahala Na on their backs and were seen being led out of a house handcuffed and stripped of their shirts.

Government television, citing police, identified the leader of the gang as Ramon Go, allegedly a former navy man.

"The operation was spearheaded by the national anti-kidnapping task force and is part of government's efforts to rid the country of kidnappers," said a spokeswoman for the task force head, deputy director-general Hermogenes Ebdane.

Television footage showed police wearing bullet-proof vests and helmets and armed with automatic rifles mounting an assault on the house. One police sharpshooter was shown sprawled atop a roof.

Apart from high-powered firearms, counterfeit 1,000 peso notes were recovered in the hideout.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last week vowed to mount pre-emptive strikes against kidnap gangs after at least 79 people were abducted this year.

"The best way to fight kidnap-for-ransom syndicates is to hit them even before they start working on their next victim," she said in a speech in which she also announced she would authorize the execution of up to 95 convicted kidnappers.

In the southern Philippines, kidnap-for-ransom groups are holding two Americans and an Italian priest among a dozen captives.


18 OCTOBER 2001
Volume 1 No. 39

Cover Page
Uncovering the game plan of the opposition
Auction journalism: Violating a public trust
Robert Rivero who?
The war begins
Not exclusively for terror
The house on the hill
What about cyberterrorism?
Palace cuisine

October 18, 2001, Vol 1 No. 39
Robert Rivero who? By Aries Rufo, Newsbreak staff writer,


HE'S wily, he's suave. He's a flirt, he's effective and sly. He finds your weak spot then capitalizes on it. He's willing to do the dirty work and gets things done. He's the perfect operator.

People who know former radio reporter Robert Rivero say they are not at all surprised he's again embroiled in another controversy. After all, it was only a few years ago that he went into hiding allegedly because of death threats issued by a local politician whom he had been hitting relentlessly on radio.

That time, his name was linked to a drug syndicate involving suspected drug lord Alfredo Tiongco and one-time Luzon Pen publisher Florencio Pareña. Rivero was then the paper's editor in chief.

It was this same community paper that Rivero used to malign losing senatorial candidate and former Bulacan governor Roberto Pagdanganan, earning him a 20-million-peso libel suit that has not been settled. He allegedly received threats to his life as well.

After months of lying low, Rivero was back in harness, as one of DZXL's reporters in the Senate. It was here that he solidified his friendships with reporters who doubled as press relations (PR) agents for politicians. It was here that he bonded with Press Undersecretary Bobby Capco, who was then covering the Senate, and radio reporter Resty de Quiros. Through Capco and De Quiros, he got introduced to First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, who was then laying the groundwork for his wife's presidential bid.

It was also in the Senate where he cemented ties with Raymond Burgos, a former journalist with known ties to the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission of former President Joseph Estrada and Panfilo Lacson. Burgos was assigned a special role at his wedding.

These days, it is Burgos who takes care of Rivero's safehouse.

Bearing a strong resemblance to actor Albert Martinez, according to some Senate reporters, Rivero is easily one of the better-looking radio reporters around. Dashing, and well-dressed, he took advantage of his good looks to get his way.

Small wonder that he had a string of affairs with female reporters, mostly single and ambitious women, some of whom he maintains cordial relationships with to this day. It is also common knowledge that he had affairs outside of the industry, including PR staffers--one of whom eventually became his second wife.

His reporter-friends say they found it difficult to turn down his requests for help--usually publicity for his clients who were mostly small-time politicians. And almost always, he got them for free. He is also popular among his male colleagues, a drinking buddy who always had kind words for everybody.

Such skills did not escape the eye of his colleagues who doubled as PR agents. Through De Quiros, he was introduced to Mike Arroyo shortly after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo won a second term in the Senate. He joined a team of media practitioners who handled her publicity.

A former tricycle driver in Pangasinan, Rivero knew hardship. He worked as a roomboy, a dishwasher, and took on a slew of other blue-collar jobs while studying. "He vowed never to be poor again," a colleague says. "He was always thinking big time, big bucks."

A friend says his foremost concern was moving his two children, who were staying "in a squatter-like" dwelling, to a more respectable abode.

Hardworking and with a nose for news, Rivero had his share of scoops in the police beat which radio executives noticed. From the crime beat, he was thrust into the Senate, widening his contacts with politicians.

A former colleague in the Senate says Rivero's initial dealings involved businessmen who wanted to invest in the media. "He would have business deals as far away as Bicol.... He has a way of selling his ideas." He was able to silently squeeze his way into former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile's circle, doubling as PR agent and radio reporter. Later, his colleague found out that Rivero was also working for former Sen. Raul Roco, who was also then eyeing the presidency. For Rivero, it seems that loyalty is never a virtue.

In an interview with Newsbreak, Rivero does not hide that he had worked with politicians on the sly and is even quite proud of it. Neither does he hide that he helped corrupt media people, offering them stuffed envelopes. Just last week, he named people who were allegedly on his payoff list.

During the impeachment trial of Estrada, Rivero was known to have "worked" for both sides. During the campaign, Rivero worked closely with the Arroyo group but maintained some ties with the opposition. In fact, a Malacañang official says they were able to defuse several "political crises" because of information that Rivero passed on to them. That included preparations for the Edsa 3 uprising.

That he can play both sides without raising any suspicion prompted Arroyo's men not to trust him with sensitive information. "We were very careful with him. We knew he could be very dangerous," the Palace official says.

"He's capable of double-crossing even his friends," a colleague adds. But if there is one thing that Rivero can be credited for, it's that he does not pretend that he's clean. He even confesses to being an "operator."

He says he did all the "dirty jobs" allegedly for the First Gentleman and Capco. This allegedly included handling the media project for the poll campaign of Senators Joker Arroyo and Juan Flavier, and losing bets Ernesto Herrera and Pagdanganan, and which supposedly involved Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office funds.

Rivero says he's out to exact revenge from the same people who dropped him like a hot potato when the going went rough at the PCSO. He was kicked out as a media consultant on allegations that he was getting a 15-percent "commission" on ad deals of the PCSO. Rivero admits receiving the commissions--as the rest of PCSO officials allegedly did.

He said he got the goat of a faction in the PCSO, led by its chair Honeygirl Singson, who thought he was trying to undermine her authority. Rivero said no one among his friends, including Capco and de Quiros--even Mike Arroyo--came to his rescue. "After all the dirty [work] I did for them, this is what I get?" he asks.

If he is going down anyway, he swears he will drag them down along with him.

Auction journalism: Violating a public trust

AT THE HEIGHT of the Senate hearing on the exposés of former Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson, tainted money was flowing like a river in the Senate--but in a hush and in murmurs.

Held to a sacred code of silence, reporters and PR practitioners played the game like seasoned professionals, in a Mafia-like manner, almost unnoticeable to the less perceptive.

It was auction journalism at work, where stories are "peddled" to interested parties, in consideration of some money but only for a limited period of time.

Akin to payola deals, stories are slanted to favor one over the other, or in some cases, negative stories are "softened" to cushion the impact. Unlike payola arrangements, however, there is no definite list, and beneficiaries get their reward almost immediately after they deliver the desired effect.

During the impeachment trial, auction journalism was in full swing, involving reporters doubling as PR agents and PR men haggling for slanted stories.

But unlike in the Singson hearing, auction journalism was carried out rather openly, except for the exchange of money. The amounts varied, depending on the media outfit. Smaller papers and lesser-heard radio stations were left out of the deals, leading them to cry foul. Predictably, the discrimination led to some broken friendships.

In the last Congress, some Senate PR practitioners had no qualms about practicing auction journalism, as if it were the most normal thing to do. One PR officer failed to be selective, trying to strike deals even with professional and honest journalists.

The practice may have so desensitized reporters that, when Sen. Joker Arroyo accused two newspapers of practicing auction journalism for coming out with negative stories about him, nobody stood up to defend the industry or the beat reporters of the concerned media outfits. Arroyo would later say that he was only referring to the publisher of Malaya, Jake Macasaet, with whom he has a running feud.

The solon also absolved the Malaya and the Tribune reporters, explaining he was not directing his accusations at them. He also cleared Tribune editor in chief Niñez Cacho-Olivarez, who came out with a stinging editorial challenging the solon to prove his allegation.

Tribune reporter Angie Rosales says she hardly cared about Arroyo's initial tirade "because it is not true in the first place." As far as she is concerned, "I am not a paid hack and people know that."

When she came out with the story on the PCSO scandal, Rosales says that Arroyo's name being dragged was only incidental--based on the information she had. She dismissed insinuations that the PCSO story was peddled to her by persons with vested interests and that money was involved.

If anything, Arroyo cannot be entirely blamed for making almost a sweeping accusation about the practice of auction journalism. But by turning a blind eye, even reporters who are averse to the practice may have given their tacit approval to it.

Uncovering the game plan of the opposition, by Aries Rufo, Newsbreak staff writer
SEN. Edgardo Angara

THIS time, they won't let him get away.

Just when everybody was ridiculing the opposition for firing its "Guns of August" which turned out to be a dud, comes now its version of a "Red October" that promises to be hot and fiery.

Leading the opposition's newest charge is former radio reporter Robert Rivero, whom they are hoping won't do a Veronica "Bing" Rodrigo. Witness Rodrigo recanted her allegations of bribery against First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo in connection with reported attempts to persuade the President to reverse her veto of the franchises of two telecommunications companies.

After Rodrigo's turnaround, the opposition beat a hasty retreat and there was silence on the war front. It remained quiet until Rivero fell on their lap like manna from heaven.

Rivero came armed with documents and affidavits detailing how Mr. Arroyo supposedly tapped Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds to support the electoral campaign of Senators Joker Arroyo and Juan Flavier, and losing senatorial bets Robert Pagdanganan and Ernesto Herrera. The former PCSO media consultant offered himself to the opposition, but it took them some time to use him. Once burned and twice shy, the opposition had learned its lesson, and its new salvo surprised administration allies in the Senate.

On Oct. 3, the 11 opposition senators led by Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel filed Resolution No. 161 "directing the committee on constitutional amendments, revision of codes and laws, and electoral reforms" to inquire into the alleged misuse of PCSO funds involving Mr. Arroyo during the last campaign.

The rare display of unity caught administration senators off guard. After a caucus, they came to the conclusion that the opposition was really hot on the trail of Mr. Arroyo, clearly the President's weakest spot and possibly her Waterloo.

"They are playing on the principle that a good defense is a good offense. There is no doubt that they are trying to pin down the First Gentleman," Sen. Francisco Pangilinan said.

Closing ranks, majority senators moved quickly as they immediately questioned the referral of the PCSO investigation to the constitutional amendments committee chaired by Sen. Edgardo Angara.

Majority member Sen. John Osmeña opined that the blue ribbon committee should hear the case, while Sen. Robert Barbers argued that his committee on games, amusement, and sports had jurisdiction over the probe, since it related to PCSO matters.

The question of which committee should chair the probe remains locked in a stalemate. The majority senators are convinced that the referral of the PCSO resolution to the Angara committee is part of a scheme to maneuver the investigation in their favor. With an opposition senator directing the probe, the majority will have no choice but to march to the beat of Angara.

At first glance, the probe call has been innocently disguised as one of those investigations "in aid of legislation" that the Senate mill regularly conducts. The only difference is that the presidential spouse is once again involved.

But a closer look into the circumstances leading to the probe indicates something out of the ordinary--a concerted effort among the opposition involving a core group within the minority bloc.

Sen. Joker Arroyo said as much when he initially accused Angara of leading the plot after establishing that a draft privilege report, which Pimentel was supposed to deliver, was actually prepared by Angara's legal aide, lawyer Demaree Raval.

Raval was also the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino's campaign manager during the senatorial race. Pimentel has denied authorship of the draft report, although he admitted that he was aware of the circumstances surrounding Rivero's exposé.

Interviews by Newsbreak with Senate reporters confirmed that Raval authored the draft privilege speech, which was leaked to a select group of reporters by Sen. Panfilo Lacson's media relations officer, Jane Rivero, incidentally the wife of the PCSO whistle blower.

Reporters says Raval gave the go-signal for Jane Rivero to leak the draft privilege speech and to float the hint that Pimentel would be delivering it.

Some cautious reporters, however, counterchecked the information with Pimentel, who immediately disowned it. In any case, two newspapers generally believed to be sympathetic to the opposition erroneously reported what they had been told.

Sources from the majority bloc insist that Raval's move had Angara's knowledge and blessings, an insinuation the senator denied. Angara claimed that he was unaware of Raval's businesses, other than his being a legal aide in his office.

To hide any trace, Pimentel was floated as the one who would deliver the privilege speech, but the plan backfired. A group of opposition senators then held an emergency meeting at the office of Sen. Teresa Aquino-Oreta, where they decided that Lacson would deliver the privilege speech. Pimentel was not present in that meeting.

The existence of a core group within the opposition intent on following the game plan was tacitly confirmed by some opposition members, who professed ignorance of what was going on. Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, for one, said that he was not present in, nor informed of, that emergency "mini-caucus." Sen. Blas Ople, considered the patriarch of the opposition, was also not around.

An opposition source told Newsbreak that the coalition was tenuous, "their bonding as fragile as their myopic vision." The source noted that Pimentel and Biazon have minds of their own, and would have refused to participate in a plot with an insidious agenda.

Opposition senators interviewed by Newsbreak dismissed insinuations that they were pursuing any such agenda. Angara even issued a slew of press releases assuring the public that the inquiry would be "fair, non-partisan, and fully transparent."

In one statement, Angara said: "The public wants to know the truth and the Senate will not be a party to the suppression of truth."

The majority reacted by saying that the PCSO probe was being pushed to divert public attention from the exposés of Col. Victor Corpus against Lacson and to embarrass the Macapagal administration.

But when two of their colleagues, Arroyo and Flavier, were dragged into the issue, the majority saw more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle falling into place.

Sources in the majority surmise that the alleged diversion of the 20.5-million-peso PCSO fund for the campaign blitz of Arroyo, Flavier, Pagdanganan, and Herrera, is just a prelude to a bigger issue that the opposition is going to exploit.

They believe that the actual target was the 250-million-peso PCSO pie which Mr. Arroyo supposedly dipped his fingers into.

In a separate interview with Newsbreak, Oreta practically unveiled the opposition game plan. The initial probe, she said, will eventually "branch out " to the 250-million-peso fund anomaly, "which can be an impeachable offense."

"The PCSO is under the Office of the President. By principle of command responsibility, patay si Mrs. Arroyo dito [Mrs. Arroyo is dead]," Oreta said.

Oreta said that the initial issue was the 20.5-million-peso fund diversion and that, as more documents are submitted, the 250-million-peso irregularity will be exposed.

"If the documents show there was really an irregularity as regards the 250-million-peso fund, we could have a second round of an impeachment trial and I could be Loren [Legarda]."

While this was not contained in Resolution 161, she said nothing could prevent the committee from touching the bigger issue. She likened the investigation to Chavit's jueteng exposé which eventually led to Estrada's laundered money.

Sources in the majority theorize that the inclusion of Senators Arroyo and Flavier in the case is also an attempt to reduce the majority should an impeachment case arise. The inclusion of Pagdanganan and Herrera, they say, was part of the plan to make it less suspicious.

Senator Arroyo may already have sniffed out the opposition plot as he has been very careful about issuing statements on the matter. He knows that whatever statements he issues now may be used against him for his inhibition.

How Arroyo's allies in the Senate will neutralize the opposition scheme bears watching.

The war begins, by Marites Dañguilan Vitug, Newsbreak editor in chief

PREPARING for a long war

RED-HOT passions flared last week in the cool mountain city of Marawi as thousands of Muslim demonstrators burned an American flag and waved Osama bin Laden's photograph. Others chanted "Long live bin Laden!" while some called for due process for today's most wanted man.

Close to a month after the terror attacks on the US, the mood has shifted in these parts from "Yes, we condemn terrorism, but America is partly to blame…" to outright anger at the US for making war on Afghanistan and to a show of support for Bin Laden.

In Manila, across from the US embassy, the mood was less strident. A small interdenominational group protested the US strikes in Afghanistan but stressed that they, too, were outraged by what the terrorists had done to the US.

But from where the strongest reactions were expected, there has been silence. In Basilan, the Abu Sayyaf has kept quiet, intimidated by the prospect of US retaliation against allies of bin Laden and harried by the Army's pursuit. They've had little breathing space and, most likely, in the jungles of Basilan, it's been difficult to keep in touch with the rest of the world.

In Maguindanao, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front suddenly turned coy, refusing to comment on the US air strikes. Al Haj Murad, military chief of the MILF, said they were focused on domestic concerns, preparing for peace talks with the Philippine government (which started this week in Kuala Lumpur). Murad plays an entirely different role these days as he leads the MILF peace panel in polite talks with former enemies. Often, he is in Malaysia, no longer flexing his muscles in the battlefields of Central Mindanao. Malaysia has taken a deep interest in helping resolve the rebellion in Mindanao and has played the active broker.

The MILF, by playing safe on the world's most pressing issue, wants to reap the benefits from its negotiations with the Arroyo government. It doesn't want to squander Malaysia's goodwill.

Others say, though, that the war in Afghanistan is bound to divide them. To avoid deepening the lines between the hardliners and the moderates, the MILF chose to keep mum.

For President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, that's one less front to worry about. There's still the Abu Sayyaf, however, who are proving to be a tough match for the military. Ever since the Abu Sayyaf was formed in the early 1990s, the Armed Forces have failed to crush them.

But what should cause concern, beyond the armed groups, are the moderate Muslims. "The strikes in Afghanistan can generate sympathy worldwide," Mehol Sadain, former dean of the University of the Philippines Institute of Islamic Studies, says. "What worries me more is how the moderate Muslims will respond."

A ranking intelligence official shares this view. "This has the potential of changing Islam here, from a gentle one to an intolerant, anti-US kind."

The fear is that the war will be protracted and, inevitably, will pull in ground troops. It may turn ugly. Television will bring the war to the homes of even the remote villages in Lanao del Sur, with vivid images of "mass murder," of civilians killed in the mayhem. One can almost hear the exhortation from bin Laden and other Muslim extremists to rise against America and the West.

The call will not fall on deaf ears. And, while it is addressed to a global community, the responses can be local. The war in Afghanistan, even from a distance, can serve as fertile ground for recruitment for groups like the Abu Sayyaf and the MILF. In the 1980s and early 1990s, it was this same battleground that radicalized young Muslims from various parts of the world. On this barren field and under merciless and extreme weather conditions, Filipino Muslims joined a multinational volunteer force that fought alongside the mujahideen against the Soviets.

It is ironic that the first war of the 21st century, dubbed as a "new war," is fueled by old anger and is happening in a much older place, an early victim of the Cold War.

Apart from radicalizing Muslim moderates, the government has to watch out for the unleashing of anti-US passions if it allows the Supercop to conduct operations against the Abu Sayyaf here.

The New York Times reported last week that the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia are "among the likely targets of future covert and overt American actions" because of the presence of terrorists linked to the bin Laden network in these countries. A decade after the Senate kicked out the US bases, actual fighting by American soldiers here may rouse anti-US sentiments and may weaken support for the President and the US-led coalition.

Neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia are expected to reject the presence of American soldiers, both overt and covert, in their territories. As it is, President Megawati Sukarnoputri, a secular Muslim, is doing a difficult balancing act. She faced dissent when she quickly condemned the terror attacks in America. Her vice president, Hamzah Haz, leader of one of Indonesia's largest Islamic parties, "undercut" Megawati when he said that the killings might help the US to "expiate for its sins," the Asian Wall Street Journal wrote.

Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world and it is by no means monolithic. The situation in Aceh, where a Muslim separatist rebellion has been simmering, and Maluku, where Muslim-Christian riots have been violent, remains volatile.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, for his part, is no fan of the US. While Malaysia "strongly and unequivocally condemned" the Sept. 11 attacks and offered to cooperate with the US "to counter all forms of terrorism," it called for a "limited" military campaign in Afghanistan and urged the US to "end it as soon as possible."

A protracted war, where the US plans to operate in the region, will definitely produce cracks in the international coalition.

Here on the home front, Ms Macapagal has outlined the country's counter-terrorism response in a detailed 14-point program, ranging from securing vital installations to seizing deposits of terrorists. On a broader plane, she defined the country's contribution to the coalition: the use of Philippine airspace and airfields, as well as naval stations for transit and refueling; an offer of medical and engineering battalions; and combat troops.

"I am taking personal charge of all its elements," Ms Macapagal said. She named Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo head of the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security to coordinate all counter-terror efforts. In effect, Romulo is the anti-terror czar, with National Security Adviser Roilo Gomez next in command.

The country's strength as a coalition member, however, lies mainly in intelligence-sharing and providing humanitarian help. "We have a focused, collegial effort for anti-terror intelligence," says a ranking intelligence official. "We want to prevent the Philippines from becoming a base of foreign terrorists and from being attacked. And, if these foreign extremists are here, we shouldn't let them escape."

Medical and disaster relief teams from the military should be sent, not only to help the coalition troops but also to aid the Afghan refugees. "We should assist both sides," Alan Ortiz, formerly with the National Security Council, says. "That will resonate with our brothers in Mindanao."

Even if the coalition wins--however you define victory--the Philippines still needs to grapple with homegrown factors that spawned groups like the Abu Sayyaf. Removing the roots of terrorism is the more difficult war.

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