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Incredible testimony from a credible witness

Recently retired Philippine National Police SPO3 Arthur Lascanas landed a haymaker against President Rodrigo Duterte this week when he rescinded his previous Senate testimony about the existence of the Davao Death Squad (DDS).
Originally, Lascanas denied that the dreaded DDS even existed. This, after DDS member Edgar Matobato had pointed to the police officer as one of the leaders of the squad that operated with impunity in Davao City during the term of then Mayor Duterte.
At the start of the week, the cop confirmed everything that Matobato had told the Senate, adding a lot more details that left everyone hearing them shocked. He gave details of how much was budgeted for each hit, and just how far the brutality of the DDS went.
Two things stood out in Lascanas’s revelations: One, he went so far as to have two of his own brothers killed as part of then Mayor Duterte’s drive against criminality. And two, the assassination of broadcaster Jun Pala was among the biggest of the killings ordered by the current president.
Pala was the head of the anti-communist Alsa Masa, credited with kicking the NPA and its operatives out of the city in the 1980s.
I recall a friend from Davao who said that the situation had become so bad that random killings were taking place in the city. She witnessed one daylight shooting, which she later learned was an NPA team’s work against an anti-communist businessman.
My friend told me many tales of how the NPA had all but controlled the city, until Pala and his organization took them on, and won.
This is not to say that Jun Pala was some kind of hero. He was supposedly engaged in his own criminal activities within the city according to his critics, but at least he played a major role in ridding Davao of the underground left.
Pala was formerly a supporter of Rodrigo Duterte, but the two had a falling out over God-knows-what. But one of the most cruel things that President Duterte did was to curse Pala to hell a couple of months ago.
This was most unFilipino. We as a people always respect the dead, and avoid speaking ill of them. What Mr. Duterte had against the late Jun Pala will sooner or later come to light, especially now that Lascanas has admitted that his DDS was behind the killing of the broadcaster.
It was understandable for the PNP official to originally deny the existence of a shadowy vigilante organization that executed hundreds of suspected criminals, much less be a part of it. It only meant that law and order in Davao City was nothing more than an illusion, since the very men tasked with enforcing the law were breaking it.
There could be a hundred reasons for Lascanas to take back what he said, including his conscience bothering him. In doing so, he has made some very, very powerful enemies. He has everything to lose and nothing to gain. This makes him a most credible witness, one whose testimony can jolt the Duterte administration to the core.

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Palace to UK envoy: 'True' sentiments of Filipinos outside gated villages

MANILA – Malacañang on Wednesday, February 22, slammed British ambassador to the Philippines Asif Ahmad for not undertanding the "true" sentiments of the "common Filipino" when he criticized the Duterte administration's war on drugs and support for the reimposition of the death penalty.
"With all due respect to the British Ambassador, Mr Asif Ahmad's remark that 'change has come in the Philippines but not in a good way' does not reflect the true sentiment of the common Filipino," Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement on Wednesday.
Abella urged Ahmad to look beyond "gated villages" to understand the perspective of the majority of Filipinos who, he claimed, support the President's drug war.
"Confidence – both business and consumers – is high in the Duterte administration. One wishes diplomats were more familiar with life beyond the rarefied atmosphere of gated villages," said Abella.
On Monday, Ahmad, in an event with reporters in his home, described Duterte's drug war as "not successful" and the proposed revival of death penalty a "tragic reversal," according to a Philippine Star report.
Surveys have found that most Filipinos are satisfied with the drug war but want suspects to live. A December Social Weather Stations survey said 8 out of 10 Filipinos fear they will be victims of extrajudicial killings.
A Pulse Asia Research, Incorporated survey released in January showed a majority of Filipinos trust Duterte. – Rappler.com

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Corruption 'alive and well' under Duterte: Poe

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The alleged bribery-extortion scandal that recently hit the Bureau of Immigration showed that corruption is "alive and well" under the Duterte administration, Senator Grace Poe said Tuesday.


"Corruption is alive and well. Even under this administration, there are still people protecting each other’s friends and interests,” Poe, who lost to President Rodrigo Duterte in the 2016 elections, said in an ANC interview.

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is investigating allegations that gambling tycoon Jack Lam, through his agent Wally Sombero, bribed two former Immigration deputy commissioners to free some 1,000 Chinese nationals who were working in his casino without permits.
Atty. Al Argosino and Atty. Michael Robles allegedly met with Sombero in a casino in Pasay December last year. The meeting was caught on CCTV, and the footage was shown in the Senate probe.

Sombero, who missed the previous hearings, arrived in Manila Tuesday morning from Canada. He is expected to attend Thursday's probe.

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Australia denies offering visa-free privilege to Filipinos

MANILA - The Australian Embassy in Manila has denied reports claiming that Filipinos can enter Australia visa-free beginning 2017.
In a statement on their official website, the Embassy emphasized that Filipino visitors still need to apply for an Australian visa before being allowed entry.
"The Embassy is aware of a hoax/scam suggesting that visa-free options for Filipino nationals will be available from January 2017. This is a scam and potential travelers to Australia must have a valid Australian visa," it said.
The article being disproved by the Embassy cited an alleged bilateral visa agreement between the Australian and Philippine governments to simplify travel barriers between the two countries.
Correct instructions for Filipinos intending to travel to Australia are available on the embassy's website.

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US terror warning for Philippines region popular with Australian tourists

Bangkok: Terrorist groups are planning kidnappings on central Philippines islands popular with Australian tourists, including parts of the business and tourism hub of Cebu, the United States has warned.

The warning - repeated by the Australia government on its smartraveller.gov.au website - comes only days after a report that South-east Asia is facing a growing risk of extremist violence, especially from the southern Philippines, where a handful of militant Islamist groups have sworn allegiance to Islamic State.

The US warned foreigners to avoid the southern regions of Cebu, one of the nation's most popular tourist sites because of its idyllic beaches, spectacular diving and whale watching.

"The US embassy alerts US citizens that terrorist groups are planning to conduct kidnappings in areas frequented by foreigners on the southern portion of Cebu island," the advisory said.

The embassy identified Dalaguete and Santander on Cebu and nearby Sumilon island, a short boat ride from the tourist hot-spots of Bohol and Dumaguete.

The warning indicates that the notorious kidnapping-for-ransom group Abu Sayyaf is roaming more widely from its bases in the islands of Jolo and Basilan.

It comes after a surge of kidnappings in the southern Philippines which included the first attack on a cargo ship, despite Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's stepped-up military offensive against the militants.

Formed with the backing of al-Qaeda in the 1990s, Abu Sayyaf has reaped millions of dollars from kidnappings for ransom, targeting Westerners, Filipinos and Malaysians.

The group beheaded two Canadian hostages earlier this year.

The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict think tank warned in a report last week that regional law enforcement agencies, which retain a strong national orientation, are unprepared for the new threat from Islamic State which it said has "deepened cooperation among extremist groups in south-east Asia".

Philippine groups have links to other parts of the region, particularly Malaysia and Indonesia, and IS has endorsed a Philippine-based militant as "amir" or commander for south-east Asia, the report said.

"The Philippines is important because as far as the IS leadership is concerned, it is the extension of the caliphate in the region," it said.

Sidney Jones, the institute's director, said that

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Philippines says China still guarding key shoal but Filipino fisherman back

MANILA – Philippine aerial surveillance showed Chinese coast guard ships were still guarding a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, but they allowed Filipinos to fish “unmolested” for the first time in years, the defense secretary said Sunday.

The return of Filipino fishermen to Scarborough Shoal, which China effectively seized in 2012, was “a most welcome development” because it brings back their key source of livelihood, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

China granted access to the tiny, uninhabited shoal 123 nautical miles (228 kilometers) from the northern Philippines after President Rodrigo Duterte reached out to Beijing and met Chinese President Xi Jinping and other leaders this month. After his China trip, Duterte announced without elaborating that Filipinos may be able to return to the shoal soon.

A Philippine Navy plane spotted at least four Chinese coast guard ships around the shoal during a surveillance flight over the weekend, Lorenzana said, adding that an earlier report by the Philippine coast guard that the Chinese had left the area was incorrect.

“Flybys of our planes reported Chinese coast guard ships are still there but our fishermen were fishing unmolested,” Lorenzana said.

It’s unclear how long China would keep the shoal open to Filipinos or if there were any conditions attached.

Duterte made clear that the dispute over the shoal, which the Philippines calls Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag and the Chinese refer to as Huangyan Island, was far from over. He said he insisted in his talks with Chinese leaders that the shoal belonged to the Philippines, but that the Chinese also asserted their claim of ownership.

Since 2012, Chinese coast guard ships had driven Filipino fishermen away from the area, sometimes with the use of water cannons. Farther south in the Spratly Islands, China went on to construct seven man-made islands in recent years despite protests from other claimants and the U.S., which insists on freedom of navigation in what it considers international waters.

The new development brought joy to the first Filipinos who ventured back to Scarborough in flotillas of small fishing boats.

“We’re happy that we were able to sail back there,” said Gil Bauya, who returned Saturday with a huge catch of red snappers and other fish to Cato village in the northwestern province of Pangasinan.

“They just let us fish,” Bauya said, referring to three Chinese coast guard ships fishermen saw at the shoal from a distance. “We were waiting what they would do, but they didn’t do anything like deploying small rubber boats to chase us like they used to do.”

After three days of fishing, Bauya said they ran out of ice to preserve their catch and had to sail back home for the All Souls’ Day holiday. Amid the festive air in Cato, where villagers helped them unload their bumper catch, Bauya said he and his crewmen plan to travel back to Scarborough in the coming week.

Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Beijing on Saturday that China’s withdrawal from Scarborough Shoal would be welcomed by Washington.

He said it would be consistent with an international arbitration ruling in July that invalidated Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea. The ruling said that both Filipinos and Chinese can fish at the shoal, but China ignored it.

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