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Tawi-Tawi Province News February 2012

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Negosasyon patuloy sa paglaya ng 2 dinukot na European fotogs sa Tawi-Tawi


ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 27, 2012) – Sinimulan na umano ng pamahalaan ang negosasyon upang mapalaya sa lalong madaling panahon ang dalawang European wildlife photographer na dinukot sa lalawigan ng Tawi-Tawi nitong buwan lamang.

Ngunit tikom naman ang bibig ng mga opisyal ng militar at pulisya ukol sa progreso ng paguusap na pinangungunahan diumano ni Tawi-Tawi Gov. Sadikul Sahali. Naunang sinabi ng militar at pulisya na isang grupo ng mga Moro National Liberation Front members ang may hawak kina Ewold Horn, 52, mula Holland; at Lorenzo Vinciguerre, 47, ng Switzerland, at ransom umano ang motibo nito.

Hindi pa mabatid kung magkanong ransom ang hinihingi ng mga kidnappers, ngunit sa Naunang nilang demand ay pinaaalis ng mga ito ang militar at pulisya sa Tawi-Tawi, isa sa lalawigan ng Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Wala naman inilalabas na update o media briefing man lamang si ARMM Acting Governor Mujiv Hataman.

Dinukot ng 5 armado ang nga dayuhan sa bayan ng Panglima Sugala nuong Pebrero 2 kasama ang kanilang Pinoy guide na si Ivan Sarenas, 35, na nakatakas naman.

Naunang sinabi ng pulisya na local group lamang ang tumira sa mga dayuhan. “They were abducted by locals and not the Abu Sayyaf,” wika pa ni Senior Superintendent Rodelio Jocson, ang hepe ng pulisya sa Tawi-Tawi.

“They are still here in Tawi-Tawi and the operation is continuing and we wanted this problem resolve as soon as possible,” dagdag pa nito. (Mindanao Examiner)

Extreme measures


The arrest of the drive-by shooting suspects who gunned down, among others, a police asset in broad daylight comes days before a news story in which Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte ordered police to meet a so-called arrest quota. “They have a quota for me, 10 holduppers a day. Or else they will be assigned in Tawi-Tawi. It’s better if they’re dead because they will only do it again. If they’re not dead, it’s bailable, they can post bail and will commit the crime in another day,” the vice mayor was quoted by ABS-CBN as saying. Tough words were backed up with the death of a robber who victimized a student in a follow-up operation by police. While Duterte has gotten away with issuing threats and warnings on TV so far, it’s different in Cebu City, which has an active civil society. Or is it? Wasn’t it a few years ago when then Cebu City mayor Tomas Osmeña said he would reward those who can neutralize robbers and petty crooks? The crackdown on crime resulted in the sudden deaths of suspected hoodlums. The vigilante-style killings were condemned by then Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal. This infamous period in Cebu City’s peace and order situation was the subject of a leaked US cable that was disclosed by WikiLeaks last year. Despite the alarm over the recent drive-by shootings in Cebu City, it’s good that Mayor Michael Rama didn’t do a Duterte. He simply reminded Senior Supt. Ramon Melvin Buenafe, Cebu City police chief, to intensify patrols and solve the cases. Sure enough, suspects were arrested. Rama’s pointed reminder to the police about their lack of focus and negligence, stated in front of barangay officials during a weekend assembly, worked to some extent. Would an arrest quota be effective for Cebu City like it would in Davao City? Watchdogs of human rights abound in Cebu and won’t let that strategy pass without an outcry. They would have a field day castigating Rama and other officials who would resort to extrajudicial killings and extreme measures to crack down on criminal elements. There’s some truth to what Buenafe said when he said Cebu City’s peace and order climate remains stable. The sporadic shootings, several of them gang related, aren’t enough to bring the economy to a standstill or drive people off the streets at night. Illegal drugs is a more pernicious problem, which is another headache. Having said that, Mayor Rama still has to get the police to do a better job, considering the generous support of City Hall for the police force and the fact that Cebuanos deserve a safe place to live and work.

Davao, Tawi-Tawi teams in hot start in Nestea Beach Volley

by (PNA) LAM/LRR/ldp

DAVAO CITY, Feb. 23 -– Davao Merchant Marine Academy (DMMA) and Mindanao State University (MSU) in Tawi-Tawi made their presence felt by both posting two straight wins at the opening Thursday of the Mindanao Regional elimination of the 15th Nestea Beach Volleyball at the Paradise Island Beach Resort in the Island Garden City of Samal. DMMA’s Jimson Olais and Mario Guanzon whipped Ateneo de Davao University’s Cyrex Cosare and Kevin Batilo, 21-14, 21-10. The dynamic duo then crushed the pair of Prince Nov Sabello and Talal Landas of Emar Human and Environmental College, 21-8, 21-3 in the men’s division. On the other hand, MSU’s Roldan Medino Jr. and Imbran Idris walloped the duo of Keneath Jay Cutamora and Michael Alivio of Philippine Women’s College, 21-17, 21-13, before demolishing the pair of Abim Usman and Nur-amun Madsairi of Maharlika Institute of Technology of Tawi-Tawi via a 21-19, 21-14 win. The other matches saw Cor Jesu College of Digos City nipping Iligan Medical Center College, 21-18, 22-20; University of Mindanao-Davao demolished Xavier University of Cagayan de Oro City, 21-12, 21-12; and UM Tagum routed Cor Jesu, 21-13, 21-9. MSU’s Kweenafenur Mohammad Ali and Dalhina Kulah also made a good start in the distaff side by demolishing Emar’s Florandie Palarca and Cristina Tual, 21-7, 21-12. Jose Maria College’s Elvie Mariquit and Irish Dignadice shared the spotlight by downing MATS College’s Jasel Jane Lodia and Jennifer Sargado, 21-8, 21-9. The top three winners in the three-day event will all advance to the national championship set on April 19 to 21 in Boracay Island. The national champion will earn P75,000 while the second, third and fourth placers will pocket P50,000, P25,000 and P15,000, respectively. The winning coaches will also earn P25,000, P15,000, P10,000 and P7,500. “They will also get trophies, medals and champion teams one year bragging right as the King and Queen of collegiate beach volleyball in the Philippines,” said Jose Manuel Santos, marketing promotions and events executive for Nestea. Santos led the opening ceremony Wednesday together with Department of Tourism (DOT) Regional Director Art Boncato, Island Garden City of Samal City Administrator Cleto Gales Jr., Paradise Island beach resort owner Julie Rodriguez, Visayas leg organizer Ricky Ballesteros and Mindanao leg organizer Kenneth Sai of Vantage Sports Promotions. Davao leg is scheduled from Feb. 23-25 while the Visayas leg will be held on March 9 to 11 in Moalboal, Cebu then followed by the Luzon leg on March 21 to 23 and the National Capital Region (NCR) leg on March 25-27 both slated in Tanauan, Batangas.

Tawi-Tawi Pursues Vital Infrastructure Projects


BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi, Philippines – A group of private and government socio-economic managers here lauded Tawi-Tawi Governor Sadikul Sahali after he informed them that bridge projects, airport improvement, and farm-to-market roads are the most tangible projects that his administration have relentlessly pursued and successfully completed.

Sahali told the group of economists that his administration is concentrating in the delivery of major infrastructure and support projects for the development of the province vis-à-vis with peace and order, particularly health services.

“The delivery of basic services coupled with the needed infrastructure support projects, peace and order, and social services, including education, tops the list of my priority programs for the province,” he said.

Sahali said he hopes to improve the living condition of the people in the province, and at the same time providing them with job opportunities and increased productivity.

Sahali also told the economists during a roundtable discussion at his office Wednesday that the 370-meter Sanga-Sanga, Lapid-Lapid steel bridge, the flagship project of the provincial government, is now 90 percent finished, and is expected to be completed in due time.

Sahali said he is pushing for the early completion of the P342-million bridge project in order to propel the socio-economic development of the province.

He said the bridge would greatly improve trade and commerce in the entire province.

The bridge, he said, is a joint effort of the provincial and local government units of the municipalities of Bongao and Panglima Sugala, and is funded by the Office of the President, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the United States government, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao hierarchy, and the provincial government of Tawi-Tawi.

At present, the DPWH has prepared the road from Sanga-Sanga to Patal, up to Bangalian, at the same time upgraded the roads connecting Kapatagan to Lapid-Lapid, and Batu-Batu to Magsaggao up to Tarawakan in this capital town.

“We all are happy that with the newly upgraded and improved Sanga-Sanga Airport, it can now accommodate bigger aircraft, like Airbus 320, to ferry a larger number of passengers,” Sahali said.

With pride, Sahali also told the group that Tawi-Tawi is now included in the country’s Nautical Highway Program, and the Roll-On, Roll-Off (RO-RO) Port of Bongao is now connected with the major ports in the region.

P300 Million steel bridge to be completed in Bongao

by Nonong Santiago

BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi - Through the initiative of Gov. Sadikul Sahali, a P300 million modern steel bridge will soon be completed that will connect the island of Bongao to the mainland of Tawi-Tawi Province. Sahali disclosed the money for the multi million peso project came from the national funds of the Department of Public Works and Highways under the helm of former DPWH secretary Hermoheges Ebdane. The governor said the implementation of the bridge started early last year and was supposed to be completed on the month of July but was hampered due to incessant rains.

“The local DPWH said the project is now 80 percent finished. I hope they will complete the project as soon as possible as this will surely boost the socio-economic activities of the whole province,” Sahali emphasized. Sahali boasted the bridge’s completion will greatly enhance economic development of the populace because trading will be done by land transportation and not by sea crafts.

“Many times people living on the northern side of the island finds it difficult to transport their products by pumpboat because of big waves. With the bridge completion people can travel easier and faster using vehicles. So we can now travel from Bongao to the mainland and vice versa,” Sahali emphasized.

He said the main bridge has a length of 370 meters with two smaller steel bridges connecting the mainland to the island of Sanga-Sanga through the barangay of Lapid-Lapid.

Sahali, who was also former mayor of Panglima Sugala Municiplaity said once completed the bridge will serve as a vital link of Bongao and other municipalities that will surely enhance commerce and industry which will result to progress. The active and visionary governor has also appropriated millions of pesos for the concreting of farm-to market-roads in the province for easy transport of goods by farmers and traders.

“If we have a modern bridge linking the province we should also have good roads for easy access,” Sahali continued.

Tawi-Tawi Advocates Rubber Tree Cultivation


BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi, Philippines – The provincial government of Tawi-Tawi is advocating a massive planting of rubber trees as an alternative source of income for the farmers in the province.

Tawi-Tawi Governor Sadikul Sahali made the call during the distribution of farm equipment and agri-fishery inputs Monday led by top officials of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (DAF-ARMM) in this capital town.

Sahali said the provincial government is ready to allocate a substantial land area for a rubber nursery in the province where farmers can avail of rubber seedlings for planting.

For his part, DAF-ARMM Secretary Sangkula Tindick vowed to help the province in the propagation of rubber trees, as he disclosed that the ARMM had recently established a 10-hectare rubber nursery project at the Sta. Clara Breeding Station in Lamitan City, Basilan.

Tindick said the nursery in Lamitan – the first of its kind in the ARMM, is expected to produce seven various clones of rubber seedlings for use of the rubber farmers or growers.

Sahali said the fertile land and suitable climate in the province will make rubber planting viable in the area, like coconut and various fruit trees.

He said that out of the three agricultural products, rubber tree is the best alternative for the farmers to cultivate because of its demand and prevailing prices in the local and world market.

As this developed, he urged farmers in the province to propagate rubber trees in order for them to have a higher income.

“Rubber tree is one of the best agricultural products that farmers can plant in the province since it can give them higher yields due to the prevailing prices it has in the national and international markets,” he explained.

He said that rubber latex could be collected every other day from an incised rubber tree, and can be sold at P75 per kilo, while the semi-processed or cooked rubber latex can be sold at P150 per kilo at the local market.

Sahali said that a rubber farmer can collect as much as 500 kilos of latex per hectare of rubber trees per month, which can easily provide the farmers with an income of P37,500 per month – based on the prevailing market prices.

It was learned that Tawi-Tawi has 107 islands and islets, with a combined land area of 1,197 square kilometers, and is blessed with generally good climate, with the months of August to November as rainy season.

Tindick also agreed with Sahali’s claim that there is a need to transform the unproductive and idle lands of the province into agri-business ventures to help generate job opportunities for the local residents.

It was also learned that majority of farmers in the province are presently engaged in the planting of cassava and fruit-bearing trees, like mango, durian, rambutan, mangosteen, and also into seaweed farming.

A river once ran through it

by Noralyn Mustafa

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Finally, After 16 years, Navy Ensign Philip Pestaño will get justice. Sixteen years is a long time for the government to verify something that we in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi already knew right after news of Pestano’s murder broke out. The Senate and the United Nations found out the truth about the murder only after finishing their own investigations, but their findings amounted to nothing under the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and it had to take a new ombudsman, Conchita Carpio-Morales, an appointee of President Aquino, to right something heartrending and unjust. The murder of the young Navy officer unmasked the military, political and bureaucratic connivance responsible for the environmental degradation in the South, particularly the destruction of its forests—yes, it was a conspiracy too powerful that nobody foolish enough dared to expose it. For aside from being used for gunrunning and carrying prohibited drugs, Navy ships were said to transport illegal logs—precious Philippine hardwood from the virgin forests of the southern islands. But this is only part of a most dreadful and very uncomfortable truth: Sulu and even Tawi-Tawi—with what used to be their lush forests of hardwood and fruit trees, precious medicinal plants and herbs—will soon be erased from the face of the earth due to the merciless greed of the very people mandated to protect them. I know of a house in Jolo built almost entirely with lumber from ilang-ilang trees. Somebody who calls himself “Eryneon Wave” on our Facebook page has taken it upon himself to update us on what’s happening in Jolo by regularly posting pictures that speak louder than words. The more recent photos are, in his usual dry humor, captioned “waterways used as streets.” These were streets that those of us who grew up in Jolo never could imagine, not even in our worst nightmares, would someday get flooded. “Any solutions?” Eryneon pleaded almost in desperation, because the picture showed only the most recent of a series of floods that hit the town of Jolo, the worst of which lasted for days and at peak reached eight to 10 feet high. If solutions are to be found, one does not have to be a rocket scientist—as young people like to say—to pinpoint what needs to be done, although finding solutions to the problem and actually implementing them are two entirely different things. Solving the problem of flooding in Jolo is not that difficult, for the solutions are very obvious in the problem itself: informal settlers building their dwellings on waterways, a poor garbage disposal system especially for non-biodegradables and a host of other problems common to almost all areas that now get flooded with every typhoon. Yet a closer look will reveal a more complex tangle of factors that led to this present state, the most daunting of which are the powerful forces that have contributed to what can now be called a certified environmental disaster. Worst of all, this has been going on for decades and you cannot implement quick fixes to a problem that has taken a life of its own. The decades-long peace and order problem in Jolo forced many from the countryside to evacuate to the town whose land area is too small to accommodate that kind of instant population explosion. These evacuees had to look for available spaces on which to build their houses—some of them with enough means to build permanent ones, believing (and encouraged by political patrons) that they could not be driven away from where they have constructed permanent structures. There used to be a river that ran through the town of Jolo, its waters coming from historical Bud Dahu. Homegrown researchers say that the river gave the town its name. If one were to trace the scant material evidence remaining, it is not farfetched that this claim may be true. Beside the river is a road, said to have been built by the early Chinese traders. The road starts from the docking area of a wharf that the Chinese also constructed, which to this day is known as Chinese Pier. Presumably, through this road, the Chinese brought their goods to the river. Think of that scene in the movie “Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?” where pig-tailed Chinese helped Kulas, the main protagonist, to get to Manila on their banca filled with goods sailing down the Pasig, and you will have the picture. Ganoon din noon in this river. Ngayon, toilets have been built over it and garbage, mostly plastic, clog its flow. Its water is dark and murky, and just its stench can kill whatever life remains there. In my childhood, a certain Mr. Viray, the owner of the lone bus company in town (which was all that we needed), operated a thriving fishpond with water diverted from this river. There used to be a pond, whose water came from the same spring in the same mountain, where the river drew its water. It was so clear that the community used to drink from it; there were boulders around it and a clump of slim bamboos at its edge. I used to go and bathe in the pond when it was dark, hoping to catch a glimpse of the water fairy that the elders said guarded it. The informal settlers have covered its source of water with cement. The same is true with the other source of the town’s water system—Bud Tumantangis, a source of pure spring water. The swimmers have long gone. The swimming pool is now almost a cesspool.

Tawi-Tawi Pushes Socio-Economic Plan


BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi – The provincial government of Tawi-Tawi has intensified its socio-economic agenda and infrastructure support programs aimed at attaining the much-needed development for the province, and to set free its constituents from the bandage of poverty and high cost of living.

Tawi-Tawi Governor Sadikul Sahali has asked all provincial government offices to continue with their focus on programs and projects in order to help uplift the socio-economic condition of the people here.

Sahali said the recent kidnapping incident here could not serve as a factor for him to stop from implementing the socio-economic development agenda of the provincial government.

“All plans and programs of the provincial government has to continue, and the kidnapping incident of Swiss national Lorenzo Vinciguerra and Dutchman Ewold Horn is not a factor for us to stop, considering that the incident is an isolated case,” Sahali said.

While he admitted that the local government will continue to exert effort in locating the two kidnapped foreign nationals, the provincial government will continue to pursue its goals for the development of the province and reduce the poverty incidence here.

For her part, Vice Governor Ruby Sahali-Tan said the provincial legislative body will continue to support all programs and projects of the province that needs their support through various Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) resolutions.

“We will always support the programs of Governor Sahali since we believe that all the programs and projects of the provincial government are geared towards the development of the province,” Tan said.

She also reported that a group of foreign investors had visited her office a day after the kidnapping incident for an investment conference.

Adding that they already agreed on some aspects of the investment, particularly the construction of solar panels and potable water supply to serve the needs of the people in far-flung villages and sitios of the 11 towns of Tawi-Tawi.

For his part, Bongao Mayor Jasper Que also reported that a group of Malaysian traders had visited his office recently and informed him of their plan to establish a trading center in this town.

Que said the trading category that the Malaysian traders would like to establish is similar to barter trading, where they will bring goods from their country to this town and bring back to Malaysia other products.

The system, he said, is viable since the local government here will have an extra tax collection from the imported products that will be brought in, at the same time, it will also provide job opportunities to the local people here, he said.

The mayor here said the stable peace and order condition of this town and the province in general has lured the traders to conduct trading with this capital town.

His office, he said, will have a final conference with the traders very soon in order for them to start the trading operation.

Tawi—Tawi promotes tourism, downplays foreigners’ kidnap


BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi – The provincial government here through the provincial tourism office will continue to showcase to domestic and foreign tourists the many splendid tourist destinations and tourism potential sites in this province after it noted the continued arrivals of tourists in this town.

“What we need now is a serious and aggressive promotion of our tourism attractions, destinations and potentials and add more colors to get the much-needed boost in the tourism field,” Sahali told reporters here.

Sahali also downplayed the kidnapping of Lorenzo Vinciguerra, a Swiss national, 47, and Dutchman Ewold Horn, 52, on February 1 at the coast of Panglima Sugala, saying that the incident was just an “isolated case.”

“There is no problem in accommodating tourists in this province because there are enough good hotels and resorts in the this capital town — Bongao,” he said.

Meanwhile, Vice Governor Ruby Sahali-Tan also said the 11 municipalities of Tawi-Tawi will also join in showcasing the many tourist destinations it has in the different towns as they too guarantee the safety of the visiting tourists.

Bongao, she said, is known as the microcosm of religious and cultural diversities. The Bongao Peak showcases a breathtaking view of the nearby Sabah, Malaysia. The Bolobok Cave is one of the oldest caves (since 800 AD) located at Barangay Lakit-Lakit, Bongao. It is also said to be the original settlement of its early inhabitants.

The town of Simunul is the site of the oldest mosque in the Philippines and home to the revered Sheikh Makdum, the pioneer in the spread of the Islam in the country. It was at Tubig-Indangan, Simunul where the first Muslim missionary Sheik Karimul Makdum set foot to build the first mosque in the country in 1380 AD, the vice governor said.

Sapa-Sapa, Sibutu is also known as the home to descendants of Malay royalty of the Federal State of Borneo. The towns of Sitangkai, South Ubian, Tandubas and Turtle Islands are known as the “Venice of the South,” she said.

As this developed, Gov. Sahali also lured tourists to experience underwater activities like scuba diving, swimming and snorkeling at the white sand beaches of Sangay Siapo Island; Panampangan Island; Tango Island and Saluag Island.

Tawi-Tawi is irregular in shape, with splashes of fine white sand beaches and has 307 islands and islets, 88 of which is characterized by extensive reefs.

Sahali maintained that Tawi-Tawi is a peaceful and safe province in this part of the country.

First-class and high valued fish are abundant in this province including crustaceans, lobsters, curacha and coconut and mud crabs due to its fair tropical climate.

The province composed of four ethnic groups- Sama; Jama Mapun; Tausug and Badjaos, the rest are Christians and indigenous groups. The prevailing dialect is Sinama.

Tawi-Tawi To Showcase Tourism Sites


BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi, Philippines – The provincial government of Tawi-Tawi, through its Provincial Tourism Office, continues to showcase its various tourist destinations after noting the constant arrival of local and foreign tourists in this bustling capital town.

“What we need now is a serious and aggressive promotion of our tourism attractions, destinations, and potentials, and add more colors to get the much-needed boost in the tourism sector,” Governor Sadikul Sahali said.

Sahali also downplayed the kidnapping of Lorenzo Vinciguerra, a Swiss national, 47, and Dutchman Ewold Horn, 52, on February 1 at the coast of Panglima Sugala, saying that the incident is just an “isolated case.”

“There is no problem in accommodating tourists in this province because there are enough hotels and resorts in this capital town of Bongao,” said.

For her part, Tawi-Tawi Vice Governor Ruby Sahali-Tan also said that the 11 municipalities of the province will also join in showcasing the many tourist destinations in their respective areas, even as they also guarantee the safety of visiting tourists in their respective municipalities.

Bongao, she said, is known as the microcosm of religious and cultural diversity.

She said the Bongao Peak on this island town showcases a breathtaking view of nearby Sabah in Malaysia, while the Bolobok Cave in Barangay Lakit-Lakit is one of the oldest caves – since 800 A.D.

It was in Tubig-Indangan, Simunul, where the first Muslim missionary Sheik Karimul Makdum set foot to build the first mosque in the country in 1380 A.D., the lady vice governor here said.

Sapa-Sapa in Sibutu is also known as the home of the descendants of Malay royalty of the Federal State of Borneo.

The towns of Sitangkai, South Ubian, Tandubas, and Turtle Islands are known as the “Venice of the South,” she said.

As this developed, the governor also invited the tourists to experience the various underwater activities, like scuba diving, swimming, and snorkeling, at the same time enjoy the white sand beaches of Sangay Siapo Island, Panampangan Island, Tango Island, and Saluag Island.

He described Tawi-Tawi as irregular in shape, with splashes of fine white sand beaches, and has 307 islands and islets, 88 of which are characterized by extensive reefs.

Sahali maintained that Tawi-Tawi is a peaceful and safe province in this part of the country.

First-class and high-valued fish are abundant in this province, including crustaceans, like lobsters, the exotic kuratsa, and the coconut and mud crabs, attributing this to the province’s fair tropical climate.

Sahali said the province has four ethnic groups – the Sama, Jama Mapun, Tausug, and Badjaos, while the rest are Christians and indigenous groups.

The prevailing dialect is Sinama, the vice governor added.

The Dangers of Philippine Birdwatching

by Criselda Yabes

Birds, bandits meet with ominous consequences

On Feb. 1, on the isolated backwater Philippine island of Tawi-Tawi, two European men went hunting for some of the world’s rarest birds. Their passion as birdwatchers got them captured by five gunmen who took them hostage and destroyed their cameras, which contained proof of what only a few people in the world have ever seen.

Some 5,000 Filipino soldiers have been searching the region for the two, 52-year-old Elwold Hom of Holland and Lorenzo Vinciguerra, 47, of Switzerland. The army believes they are somewhere within 2,000 hectares of jungle on Tawi-Tawi. Meantime the kidnapers – or people posing as the kidnapers – have demanded that the police and army pull out of the area, a haven for Islamic separatists. Others suspect the kidnapers could be common bandits who sell their prey to Islamist rebels.

The story thus has several different facets– of the inability of the government to impose law and order on a region with a reputation for kidnaping, piracy and conflict, of the possibility that the Moro National Liberation Front or Abu Sayyaf captured the two as a part of their campaign to drive the government out of Mindanao – or of the foolhardy bravery of birdwatchers the world over who are willing to risk life and limb for their so-called life lists of observed birds.

In the case of Elwold Hom and Lorenzo Vinciguerra, it is the latter that matters. They are among avid birdwatchers who come to the Philippines against the odds, although they appear to be the first to be captured. The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines is considerably more prudent, not allowing its 200-odd members to stray into regions known for having been the site of battles and rebel strongholds.

Their Filipino guide and photographer, Ivan Sarenas, a noted birdwatcher in his own right and a member of the Wild Bird Club, escaped by leaping from the outrigger and swimming to safety where local fishermen rescued him.

“They wanted to see the world’s rarest hornbills before they grow old,” Sarenas said. He is one of two people previously known to have photographed the Sulu Hornbills, luminous black birds that can only be found on the island and are believed to be the last of their kind left on earth.

There are thought to be about 20 pairs of the hornbills left, according to a survey made about 10 years ago. The birds have been exterminated in Sulu, a chain of islands near Borneo – according to the ‘red list’ of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Sulu and Tawi-Tawi supposedly are the only two places on earth to find the hornbills and the stunning Bleeding Heart pigeon as well, which has not been seen or collected since the early 1900s.

Paradoxically, it is these dangerous regions that make areas of the Philippines some of the best birdwatching areas anywhere. It is where less dedicated individuals would never dare set foot. The abduction of the birdwatchers has raised the number of foreigners kidnapped in the region since the beginning of 2011 to 10.

Five, an Australian, two Malaysian traders, an Indian married to a Filipina and a Japanese male, are still in captivity along with three abducted Filipinos.

The abductors of the Australian, 53-year-old Warren Rodwell, are demanding US$2 million for his release.

Such spots actually enhance the chances of survival of rare birds rather than in other open or populated habitats, a place where they are likely to be hunted, poached, captured, displaced from excessive logging and mining, and for reasons that tell the country’s culture of destruction and lack of awareness for the wildlife.

The Mindanao south, of which Tawi-Tawi and Sulu are a part, is host to many of the estimated 200 endemic birds in the country, more than a third out of its total 614 species, comparably bigger than other countries in Southeast Asia. The most famous of its birds is the Philippine Eagle, a magnificent bird that is one of the three largest eagles on earth. It is also known as the Monkey-Eating Eagle because of its hunting prowess. Others in the region include the Cinnamon Ibon, the Red-Eared Parrotfinch, the Black-Headed Tailorbird.

But with the loss of habitat left unchecked, the Philippines has become the zone other migratory birds avoid, judging from the falling numbers of their species over the years – migrants from the Eurasian mainland and some from Siberia.

Anna Gonzales, president of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, offered a striking theory as to why conflict areas are safer for the birds.

“Perhaps the armed rebels will not use their bullets on the birds,” she said. Offbeat as that may sound, it lends some reason as to why the treasures of the Philippine wildlife are forcing the best of the naturalist adventurers to take risks.

In many parts of the gun-happy country, it is common to shoot whatever moves, a predatory human predilection carried over from the colonial years and currently ingrained as a disturbing habit in regard to the life of the birds, other conservationists say. In schools, Filipinos were generally taught about the prominent wildlife elsewhere but not of their own. This and poverty have worsened the fate of the Philippine birds.

The Philippine Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act calls for a state policy to guard the wildlife species and their habitats for ecological balance and biodiversity, but little of that has been shown in action. One example is the wetlands of Manila Bay, of which one part had been declared a conservation area for bird-watching and biodiversity until recently, when a ‘master plan’ to reclaim 600 hectares of the bay stretching to both north and south surfaced. Environmentalists, growing in small numbers, are hoping to stop it with protests.

There’s much more of the country’s 7,000 islands to see for birding, but it is largely a struggle for enthusiasts. It means going far and deep into the thickets of the forests, with birds fleeing and hiding out of sight in the open space for fear of being caught or hunted. At best birds frequently seen in the cities are the Eurasian Sparrows, commonly known as the ‘mice with wings’ that are garbage scavengers.

Ornithologists say the Philippines remains ‘under-birded,’ meaning there is more potential to be studied, that birds like hornbills, woodpeckers, and others could be broken down into sub-species endemic to the country.

“Has it been ingrained in the birds that the Philippines is a dangerous place?” asked Michael Lu, a businessman and founding member of the bird club. “You can go anywhere in this country and you will see habitat destruction.” He has plenty examples to cite, including a former paper mill zone where hunters and trespassers used to kill hornbills, filling up sacks with the dead to be consumed as food or sold in markets.

Criselda Yabes is a Philippine journalist and avid birdwatcher. She can be reached at

Tawi-tawi Tourism

by Nonoy E. Lacson

BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi — Local and foreign tourist arrivals here are continuing in the province and local traders in this capital town are continuing their trade despite the recent kidnapping incident that have shaken the province early this month. Gov. Sadikul Sahali said the provincial tourism department has recorded continued arrivals of local ad foreign tourists in this capital town despite the kidnapping of a Dutch and a Swiss wildlife photographers off the coast of Panglima Sugala in this province. Sahali said the kidnapping of Lorenzo Vinciguerra, 47, Swiss national, and Dutchman Ewold Horn, 52, did not affect so much the tourism industry of the province.

Kidnapping no effect on tourism


Manila, Philippines – The recent abduction of two foreigners in Tawi-Tawi hardly affected the influx of foreign tourists into the country. According to statistics from the Bureau of Immigration (BI), a total of 83,367 foreigners and Balikbayans arrived in the country from Feb. 2 to Feb. 5, a few days after bandits kidnapped Swiss nationals Lorenzo Vinciguerra and Ewold Horn in Tawi-Tawi. BI statistics also showed that a total of 19,505 foreigners and Balikbayans arrived at the Ninoy Aquino Interrnational Airport during the four-day period. On a nationwide scale, the statistics showed that 11,980 Koreans, 9,355 Americans and 5,116 Japanese arrived in the country in the same period. Chinese nationals are next in the list, followed by Australians, Canadians, Taiwanese, and Malaysians. BI officials said the statistics prove that there is a continuing influx of foreigners and Balikbayans into the country despite the string of negative travel advisories from Western countries. They said an average of 10,000 tourists arrived at daily at the NAIA, the country’s premiere port. Department of Tourism (DoT) officials also downplayed the effect of the advisories, citing the 3.9 million tourists who arrived in the country last year compared to the 3.7 million who came in 2010.

5,000 comb Tawi-Tawi in search of kidnapped Europeans

by: Julie S. Alipala Inquirer Mindanao

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—Some 5,000 people from security forces and volunteers are now combing the western part of Tawi-Tawi in search of the two European birdwatchers abducted by unidentified gunmen on February 1 as their governments are increasingly worried about their safety, a top provincial official said. “We have more than 3,000 hectares of forest here and the mission of that team is to make sure every part is inspected,” Governor Sadikul Sahali told the Inquirer by telephone on Friday. The province is made up of 300 islands, the major ones of which include Tawi-Tawi, Sanga-Sanga, Bongao, Simunul and Sibutu. Sahali said the authorities were trying their best to locate Dutchman Ewold Horn and Swiss Lorenzo Vinciguerra, and it was hoped that the deployment of more security forces and volunteers would yield positive results. Horn, Vinciguerra and Filipino birdwatcher Ivan Sarenas were returning to Bongao, the provincial capital, from a 14-day sojourn in the municipality of Panglima Sugala on the biggest island in the Tawi-Tawi group when they were abducted at sea. Their escorts, a policeman and a local official, were allowed to leave, along with the boat operator. Sarenas managed to escape by jumping overboard later that night and swam in the darkness toward another island where he was aided by fishermen. “We are hoping there would be positive news in the coming days,” Sahali said. He admitted that authorities in Bern and The Hague, the Swiss and Dutch capitals, respectively, were closely watching the developments in the search and rescue operations. He said officials from the Dutch and the Swiss embassies in Manila have been frequently contacting him for updates. “They keep on calling me every day; they want to know the progress of our efforts, they are very much worried over the safety of the two victims,” Sahali said. Acting Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said also that European diplomats were in close contact with him. He said he would always tell them that the efforts were continuing and that the victims have not been sighted so far. Sahali said they believed that the kidnappers and the victims have not gotten out of Tawi-Tawi yet. He said had they done so, the kidnappers would have made contact by this time. “Probably, they would have made known their demand by now,” Sahali said.

MNLF linked to abduction of 2 foreigners

by Honor Blanco Cabie

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines – Police said they identified a group of young members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) as possible suspects in the abduction of two Europeans in Tawi-Tawi more than a week ago. Police Director Felicisimo Khu, Jr., director of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations (DIPO), said there are indications that Ewold Horn and Lorenzo Vinciguerra were taken by third generation members of the MNLF in Tawi-Tawi. Khu said a possible motive is jealousy among the locals. "These foreign birdwatchers when they go to the area, hire locals to serve as their guides and security." Khu said. "One group was denied." Khu said they are giving the provincial government of Tawi-Tawi time to negotiate with the abductors, who are said to be still hiding in Panglima Sugala town. "Governor Sahali is sending an emissary," Khu revealed. The police officer also showed to the news team a copy of the email sent by a certain Mustapha Muallam, using Ivan Sarenas' hacked email address, to the group of birdwatchers, where Sarenas is a member. Muallam, who identified himself as one of the abductors, demanded for the pull-out of police and military operatives in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. "But when he was asked to present proof of life of the victims, he was not able to comply." Khu believes Muallam is "someone who is merely trying to confuse things."

Tawi Tawi, on the world’s biggest coral triangle in PHL’s far south, sinking? (Feature)

by Honor Blanco Cabie

MANILA, Feb. 9 -– Leaders of the Philippines’ most southern province of Tawi Tawi have raised an urgent call, which sent disturbing ripples nationwide, on climate change watchers and environmentalists.

The call, in the form of a plea, has been addressed to those who have the political will to save the island World, at the southwestern tip of the country, which has splashes of white sandy beaches and rock-bound coasts.

Not many know that Tawi Tawi, which has 107 islands and islets, sits at the center of the world’s biggest coral triangle. It shares the same seas with disaster-prone states Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomons and Timor Leste.

The area comprises the South Base of the world’s biggest enclave of marine life representing only two per cent of the world’s ocean but contains 76 per cent of the world’s marine biodiversity.

Most of the people in Tawi-Tawi belong to the Sama cultural group, which has sub-groups and named based on the location of the speaker: Sama Sibutu from the Sibutu-Sitangkai Island Group, Sama Simunul from Simunul-Manuk Mangkaw Island Group.

The Jama Mapun are largely found in the Cagayan Mapun and Turtle Island Group. Many of the people from the Turtle Islands and Cagayan Mapun maintain daily commerce with Sabah, since it is only 14 kms away.

The Badjao (also called "Sama Dilaut") are widely dispersed across the country’s southernmost province. It has been observed the Badjao population is diminishing due to diseases and migration to other areas in the Philippines as well as neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia.

There is little wonder that recently Rep. Nur Jaafar filed House Resolution 1919 which underlines the need to set up Tawi Tawi and its sinking islands and islets as a National Laboratory with Climate Change Commission.

The Resolution identifies the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources as lead agencies to undertake systematic monitoring of appropriate parameters.

The parameters must be raised with the use of scientific equipment for continued vulnerability assessment and piloting of mitigation and adaptation measures.

This is, as Rep. Jaafar said in his privileged speech, to check the Philippines “from becoming the next South Pacific archipelagic state to submerge and render its people refugees … not to be in the same fate as the sinking of Carteret Islands, Papua New Guinea and Tuvalu.

Filipinos have taken pride in the fact that Turtle Islands in Tawi Tawi is one of only 16 birth homes of the Green Sea Turtles in the world.

But with the obvious sinking of the smaller islands with high tides reaching even the plateau that hides the nests, experts are concerned there may be little chance for the turtles to hatch which would result in the dwindling of the already endangered species.

Leakage from container vessels and the resulting dumping of toxic waste also pose serious pollution threats to marine biodiversity in Tawi Tawi.

This is similar to the danger level of dying reefs as coastlines recede and warming oceans initiate dreaded diseases in fishes as well as fish mutants.

Migratory paths of large pelagic fishes would change as they look for cooler waters. This broadens the migratory path and eats up the smaller fishes.

While Tawi Tawi has been known to be the seaweeds capital of the Philippines, 10,000 families producing 75 per cent of raw harvests of the country’s carageenan exports may face bleak prospects.

Tawi Tawi also takes pride as being the land below the wind. But that may not be for long since storm surges have destroyed houses and left thousands of people homeless.

There have been storm surges that reduced stilt houses to matchsticks, according to Rep. Jaafar. This means serious repercussions on the already diminished ancestral domain of the Sama, Tausug, Jama Mapun and Badjao tribes.

Jaafar asks, rather pointedly: “Where else could they seek refuge as the sea rises to claim their homes without destroying their traditions and livelihood as seafarers who live close to the sea on stilts?”

What climate change means is that the 307 islands and islets in Tawi Tawi may dwindle and shrink, making the stilt houses unable to survive the sudden rise of the sea.

Climate change observers say Rep. Jaafar is on track in calling for action now, not tomorrow.

According to them, it would be very pathetic indeed if Tawi Tawi, home to almost 500,000 people and an enviable wealth of flora and fauna, would be allowed to sink because there are other concerns, definitely less in urgency, high in the priority list of the authorities. (PNA)

Kidnapped birdwatchers still kept in Tawi-Tawi


ZAMBOANGA CITY: Authorities said gunmen are still holding an abducted Dutch and a Swiss wildlife photographers in Tawi-Tawi.

Authorities said Ewold Horn, 52, from Holland; and Lorenzo Vinciguerre, 47, of Switzerland, are still being held in captivity in one of dozens of islands in the Muslim province.

Five gunmen seized the two photographers along with a Filipino guide, Ivan Sadinas, 35, who managed to escape from the gang in the town of Panglima Sugala. Police said the foreigners, who arrived in the province late last month, were taking photographs of wild birds when gunmen seized them.

There were unconfirmed reports that the duo was brought to Sulu province and that another report claimed one of the hostages was rescued or freed. Police and military denied the reports.

The military’s Western Min-danao Command branded the report as ‘disinformation.’ There was no truth to that report that one of the victims was rescued or freed. It was a disinformation,” said Army Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, a regional military spokesman.

Police in Tawi-Tawi also denied the report.

“They are still here in Tawi-Tawi and the operation is continuing and wanted this problem resolve as soon as possible,” said Senior Superintendent Rodelio Jocson, the provincial police chief.

He said a local gang is holding Horn and Vinciguerre. “They were abducted by locals and not the Abu Sayyaf,” he said when asked by reporters if the al-Qaeda-linked terror group was behind the abduction.

Jocson, accompanied by police commandos, launched a rescue operation on Tuesday, but returned empty handed later in the night. “We just came down from the mountain and there were no traces of the hostages,” he said.

Abducted Dutch, Swiss photographers still in Tawi-Tawi province

by Ely Dumaboc

Police released to the Mindanao Examiner photos of abducted Dutch and a Swiss wildlife photogaphers Ewold Horn, 52, from Holland, and Lorenzo Vinciguerre, 47, of Switzerland. The duo was taken by gunmen on February 1, 2012 in the town of Panglima Sugala in Tawi-Tawi province in the southern Philippines. (Ely Dumaboc)

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 8, 2012) – Philippine authorities said gunmen are still holding an abducted Dutch and a Swiss wildlife photographers in the remote southern province of Tawi-Tawi.

Authorities said Ewold Horn, 52, from Holland; and Lorenzo Vinciguerre, 47, of Switzerland, are still being held in captivity in one of dozens of islands in the Muslim province.

Five gunmen seized the two photographers along with a Filipino guide, Ivan Sadinas, 35, who managed to escape from the gang in the town of Panglima Sugala. Police said the foreigners, who arrived in the province late last month, were taking photographs of wild birds when gunmen seized them.

There were unconfirmed reports that the duo was brought to Sulu province and that another report claimed one of the hostages was rescued or freed. Police and military denied the reports.

The military’s Western Mindanao Command branded the report as ‘disinformation.’ There was no truth to that report that one of the victims was rescued or freed. It was a disinformation,” Army Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, a regional military spokesman, told the Mindanao Examiner.

Police in Tawi-Tawi also denied the report.

“They are still here in Tawi-Tawi and the operation is continuing and wanted this problem resolve as soon as possible,” Senior Superintendent Rodelio Jocson, the provincial police chief, said in a separate interview.

He said a local gang is holding Horn and Vinciguerre. “They were abducted by locals and not the Abu Sayyaf,” he said when asked by reporters if the al-Qaeda-linked terror group was behind the abduction.

Jocson, accompanied by police commandos, launched a rescue operation on Tuesday, but returned empty handed later in the night. “We just came down from the mountain and there were no traces of the hostages,” he said.

Manila condemned the abduction of the foreigners and ordered authorities to resolve the crisis immediately.

The Aquino government also urged foreign tourists to coordinate with their own embassies regarding advisories on conditions that may affect their travel and other arrangements while visiting the Philippines.

“We condemn the abduction; and the national and local governments, as well as all agencies concerned, are working to ensure the resolution of the situation, the recovery and release of the men who remain in the hands of their captors, and the bringing to justice of the lawless elements involved,” said Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte.

No individual or group claimed responsibility for the abduction, but Abu Sayyaf militants are known to operate in the province where they kidnapped a Malaysian fish trader Pang Choon Pong in October last year and is still being held in captivity.

Abu Sayyaf militants also kidnapped two Malaysian seaweed farm workers Vui Chung, 42, and his cousin Lai Wing Chau, 33, in Tawi-Tawi in February 2010 and were freed later in the same year after their families paid some 2 million ringgits.

The group tied to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya had also kidnapped 21 mostly Western holidaymakers in Sabah’s resort island of Sipadan in 2001 and brought them by boat to the southern Philippines. The hostages were then ransomed off to Malaysia and Libya - which negotiated for their release - for millions of dollars.

The Abu Sayyaf is still holding two Malaysians, a Japanese man, an Indian national married to a Filipina, an Australian citizen and three Filipinos in the restive southern region.

European tourists' abductors remain unknown

by Bong Garcia

THE government authorities are still clueless who were behind the abduction of two European tourists in Tawi-Tawi, as the search to locate the hostages' whereabouts entered on its fifth day Monday.

The hostages, Ewold Horn, 52, of Holland and Lorenzo Vinciguerre, 47, of Switzerland were seized by five gunmen together with Filipino guide Ivan Sarenas, 35, last February 1.

The tourists were taking photographs of rare bird species off shore Parangan village, Panglima Sugala town, Tawi-Tawi when the gunmen aboard a twin-engine motorized banca arrived and seized them at gunpoint.

Sarenas managed to escape hours later as he jumped from the banca while the gunmen were transporting them.

Tawi-Tawi police director Senior Superintendent Rodelio Jocson said no one has called nor made demands in exchange for the release of the European tourists.

Meanwhile, Tawi-Tawi Governor Sadikul Sahali said they tapped the assistance of all sectors to help them locate the victims.

Sahali said he also tapped the assistance of Moro National Liberation Front members in the province.

Jocson said the Naval Forces Western Mindanao command has deployed three gunboats around the area where the search is focused.

Jocson added that the twin-engine motorized banca used by the suspects were recovered in the shore of Languyan town.

DOT weighs in on abducted European tourists, says "The Tawi-Tawi incident could have been avoided had the visitors taken necessary precautions"

by reports that in a press statement issued late Friday (February 3), the Department of Tourism (DOT) stressed: "The issuance of travel advisories is part of the regular functions of embassies in line with ensuring the safety and security of their citizens in a foreign country. For the Philippines, advice against travel to some parts of Mindanao has been constant and common."

According to the report, the DOT also added: "The Tawi-Tawi incident is considered unfortunate and could have been avoided had the visitors taken necessary precautions many European tourists usually take in heed of these advisories."

The "Tawi-Tawi incident" cited in the DOT statement refers to the case of kidnap victims as Elwold Horn, 52, of Holland; and Lorenzo Vinciguerra, 47, of Switzerland.They were abducted by "unidentified elements" on February 1, "while riding a boat back to the capital of Bongao, after a bird-watching trip."

According to the report, "the DOT expressed confidence that tourists would continue to flock to the country despite a new travel advisory issued by the United Kingdom."

Philippines: No ransom demand yet for 2 Europeans

by AP News

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Police said Friday that local thugs, not al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf militants, were likely to have abducted two European tourists this week in the southern Philippines.

Police Director Felicisimo Khu said the kidnappers had not contacted authorities or made any ransom demand.

Ewold Horn of the Netherlands, Lorenzo Vinciguerra of Switzerland and their Filipino guide, Ivan Sarenas, were abducted Wednesday during a bird-watching trip to Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines’ southernmost province. They were the latest kidnap victims in an impoverished region infested with al-Qaida-linked militants and criminal gangs that often seek ransom for their foreign hostages.

Sarenas escaped hours later by jumping off their captors’ boat after he saw some fishermen, who rescued him.

Khu said he doubts the gunmen were Abu Sayyaf members because there is no known Abu Sayyaf presence in the province. But Tawi-Tawi is home to rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a peace pact with the government in 1996.

“There are no indications that they are Abu Sayyaf,” Khu said in a telephone interview, adding that the abductors were likely local thugs.

He said the kidnappers freed unharmed an unarmed policeman, a town councilor and a boat skipper who were accompanying the bird watchers, and did not shoot Sarenas when he jumped out of the boat to make his escape — uncharacteristic of the brutal Abu Sayyaf militants, who are notorious for kidnappings and beheadings.

The abductors also appeared to be have bungled in failing to take Vinciguerra’s bag, which contained more than $1,000 worth of foreign currencies, and Sarenas’ bag, which had expensive cameras.

Police recovered the belongings from the motorized outrigger from which the victims were seized.

Sarenas said the victims were transferred to another boat, then a third boat. He said he escaped when he realized the boat was speeding toward Jolo island, a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf.

But Khu said that the boat was small and that there was no extra fuel on board for the 12-hour trip to Jolo.

Police said the kidnappers landed in Tawi-Tawi’s Languyan township and burned their boat in a bid to hide its owner.

Sarenas said he, Horn and Vinciguerra arrived in Tawi-Tawi on Sunday in search of the Sulu hornbill, said to be the most endangered hornbill in the world.

Tawi-Tawi is famed for virgin beaches surrounded by crystal blue waters. But like most areas in the restive southern Philippines, it is undeveloped because of years of violence, including ransom kidnappings, bomb attacks and fighting between troops and Muslim rebels.

After spending three days in a mountain forest, the three were heading back to the provincial capital of Bongao by boat Wednesday when five rifle-toting gunmen on another boat fired warning shots and intercepted them, Sarenas said.

Muslim insurgents have been fighting for minority self-rule in the predominantly Christian nation’s south, and the Abu Sayyaf is the most violent group. The militants have been holding an Australian man abducted in December, as well as a Japanese and a Malaysian.

Abductions in Mindanao seen to derail Philippine tourism campaign


MANILA, (Xinhua) -- The recent abduction of two Europeans in the island-province of Tawi-Tawi in the southernmost tip of the Philippines and the continued terrorist threat in Mindanao could derail the government's ambitious plan to make the Philippines a top tourist destination in Asia.

After a spike in tourist arrivals last year, the Philippine government is now crafting a long-range program that would make tourism a major engine in the country's economic growth.

For the first nine months of 2011, visitor arrivals increased by 12 percent to 3.7 million, with South Korea being the country's largest tourism market, followed by the United States, Japan, China and Australia.

Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez said that the Department of Tourism (DOT) is now finalizing the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) that aims to attract 10 million foreign visitors to the country by 2016. The DOT hopes to increase tourist arrivals this year to 4.2 million.

Last year, Malaysia had 32 million tourists while Thailand had 14 million visitors.

The abduction on Feb. 1 of Elwold Horn, a 52- year old Dutch, and Lorenzo Vinciguerra, a 47-year old Swiss, in Parangan, Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi province by armed men, however, could throw a monkey wrench in the government's grandiose tourism plans.

The two foreigners, reportedly wildlife photographers, were seized while on board a pump boat along with a certain Ivan Sarenas, a local guide, who was able to escape.

The kidnapping, which has remained unresolved four days after it happened, has prompted the British embassy in Manila to reissue a travel advisory for its citizens.

"We advise against all travel to southwest Mindanao covering the following areas: Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which includes Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and the islands of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi) plus the provinces of Sarangani, North and South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga Sibugay," the embassy travel advisory says.

The embassy also advised against "all but essential travel to the remainder of Mindanao because of ongoing terrorist activity." It said there have been a number of attacks against civilian targets in several areas in Mindanao since November 2011 that included at least 10 bombing incidents in North Cotabato, Cotabato City, Sulu, Sultan Kudarat, and Zamboanga killing a total of eight people and wounding of 66 others.

In 2011, some 130,000 British tourists visited the Philippines.

Aside from the Feb. 1 kidnapping of the two Europeans in Tawi- Tawi, an Australian citizen was also kidnapped in Zamboanga Sibubay on Dec. 5, 2011. On July 12, 2011 two American citizens and a Filipino were also kidnapped from a resort on the island of Tictabon near Zamboanga City.

The embassies of the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada have also issued similar advisories to their citizens.

Earlier, the Philippines strongly urged members of the United Nations Security Council to take a "balanced" approach in the international campaign against terrorism and called on governments to "exercise due care and diligence" in issuing travel advisories.

The call, issued during the Security Council meeting in November, said a balance must also be achieved in the issuance of travel advisories, particularly those that relate to "possible terrorist attacks."

"While the Philippines recognized the responsibility of states to protect their citizens, Manila believed that governments must exercise due care and diligence in issuing travel advisories," the government said.

Meanwhile, Malacanang, the seat of the Philippine government, has tried to reassure foreign embassies on the latest kidnapping incident.

"We condemn the abduction, and the national and local governments, as well as all agencies concerned, are working to ensure the resolution of the situation, the recovery and release of the men who remain in the hands of their captors, and the bringing to justice of the lawless elements involved," Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

Valte urged foreign tourists to check with the Department of Foreign Affairs, as well as their own embassies, regarding advisories on conditions that may affect their travel and other arrangements while visiting the Philippines.

The military has suspected rogue members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to be behind the abduction of the two European tourists.

"There was information that rogue elements of the MNLF were involved. But we are verifying the reports," said Armed Forces chief of staff Jessie Dellosa.

Dellosa said government troops and the police have intensified the pursuit operation to locate the victims and their abductors in an area of Tawi-Tawi.

But Dellosa also cited the possibility that the kidnappers might have escaped to nearby Sulu province where military forces have launched intensified operations following the air strike that reportedly killed 15 top-ranking Islamic terrorists with links to Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

According to the military, among those killed in the air strike in Parang, Sulu last Thursday were three of the most wanted terrorist leaders: Malaysian Zulfikli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, a top JI leader; Abu Sayyaf leader Umbra Jumdail alias Doc Abu; and Singaporean JI leader Abdullah Ali alias Mauwiya.

British nationals warned: Don’t go to Mindanao

by Jun Pisco

THE British Embassy in Manila yesterday issued a travel advisory warning its nationals about the threat of kidnapping in southern Philippines.

This, following the abduction of two European tourists along with their Filipino guide in Tawi-Tawi on Wednesday.

The embassy cited in its travel advice the February 1 kidnapping of the two foreign nationals from Parangan in the township of Panglima Sugala in Tawi-Tawi island province and the abduction of an Australian citizen in Zamboanga Sibugay on December 5.

“There is also a threat from kidnapping in the Philippines particularly in the southern Philippines. Kidnapping could occur anywhere, including on coastal and island resorts and on dive boats and sites in the Sulu Sea. Foreigners have been targeted in rural, urban and coastal areas in the past,” according to the travel advice.

Abducted were Dutch Ewold Horn and Swiss Lorenzo Vinziguerre, who were snatched with their guide by an armed group in the country’s southernmost Tawi-Tawi island province.

The Dutch Embassy in Manila confirmed the kidnapping and said it was working on the case.

The military said there were reports that the Swiss and Dutch tourists were wildlife photographers.

British nationals, thus, are advised against all travel to south-west Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago because of on-going terrorist activity and clashes between the military and insurgent groups.

There have been a number of attacks against civilian targets. Since November 2011, there have been at least 10 bombing incidents in North Cotabato, Cotabato City, Sulu, Sultan Kudarat and Zamboanga, killing a total of eight people and leaving 66 others wounded.

2 wildlife photographers kidnapped in Tawi-Tawi


MANILA, Philippines – Two foreigners and their Filipino guide were kidnapped in Panglima Sugala town in Tawi-Tawi Tuesday afternoon, a military official said.

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Philippine National Police (ARMM-PNP) regional director Chief Superintendent Bienvenido Latag identified the kidnapped victims as Elwold Horn from Holland, Lorenzo Vinciguerra from Switzerland and Ivan Sarenas from Davao City.

Latag said 5 suspects armed with M-203, two M-16 rifles and two .45 caliber pistols aboard a pump boat abducted the victims at Sitio Luuk, Barangay Parangan, Panglima Sugala town.

Tawi-Tawi Vice Governor Ruby Sahali said the municipal councilor of Panglima Sugala, Nestor Cabaluas, was also kidnapped but was able to escape.

Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesman of the military’s Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City, said soldiers have already been dispatched to rescue the kidnapped victims.

“Accordingly, the foreign nationals, together with Nestor Cabaluas, went at said place when the group, armed with M-16 rifles and caliber .45 pistols, grabbed the victims and dragged them to the shorelines where the watercraft was waiting while Cabaluas escaped,” said Cabangbang.

“After said abduction, the abductors fled towards Barangay Lambog, Panglima Sugala, same province. So far, this is the only information we received,” added Cabangbang.

Sahali said the foreigners are wildlife photographers and have been in the island province for about two weeks.

"They are here for bird watching." Sahali said. "They are amazed by the vast bird species that we have in the island."

Sahali said the visitors spent their time in the province searching for birds in the jungles and were set to return to Poblacion Bato-Bato in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, authorities are investigating the possible affiliation of the armed men with the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.

A rescue operation is ongoing.

“We have a Marine battalion there, the 4th Marine Battalion Landing Team. We have dispatched troops from the battalion to rescue the kidnapped foreigners,” said Cabangbang. -- With a report from Queenie Casimiro, ABS-CBN News Zamboanga.

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