18 February 2015

President Aquino greets Filipino-Chinese community on Lunar New Year
President Benigno S. Aquino III on Wednesday sent his greetings to the Filipino-Chinese community as they welcome the Chinese Lunar New Year.

“My warmest greetings to the Filipino-Chinese Community, as you gather in observance of the Chinese New Year,” the President said in his message.

“Your government joins you as you celebrate the Lunar New Year, as it enriches your unique heritage, sustains the diversity of our nation, and stands as an embodiment of the harmony that mutual respect and goodwill can achieve,” he said.

The Filipino-Chinese community is set to celebrate the Year of the Wooden Goat on Thursday.

“May the festivities reinforce the values and qualities that enabled your community to contribute to a more vibrant Philippines; may it forge a stronger Filipino nation that is conscious of diversity and united in purpose,” said President Aquino. PND (ag)

Palace appeals for calm amid reports of security threats via text messages
The Palace on Wednesday called on the public to remain calm following reports that text messages warning people of bomb threats were circulating in Metro Manila.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. assured the people that the police is ready to keep the peace in the country.

“Nananawagan po kami na manatiling mahinahon ang ating mga mamamayan at huwag maligalig sa mga kumakalat na text. Tinututukan ng Philippine National Police nang masinsinan ang sitwasyong pangseguridad at tinitiyak na handang pangalagaan ang kaligtasan ng mga mamamayan,” Coloma said during a press briefing in Malacañang.

He noted that the National Bureau of Investigation has a unit capable of searching for the source of these text messages.

“Ang masasabi ko lang ay bahagi rin ng tungkulin ng pamahalaan ang pigilin ang mga lumilikha ng ligalig at papanagutin din sila, dahil mayroon naman tayong mga batas hinggil diyan,” he said.

Coloma also denied that the text messages were instigated by some forces in the government.

“Wala pong ganyang ginagawa ang pamahalaan. Ang pamahalaan po ay tagapangalaga ng seguridad at kaligtasan ng mga mamamayan at hindi po gagawa ng mga walang kwentang aktibidad na katulad niyan,” he said. PND (jm)

Return of seized weapons by MILF an indication of goodwill, says official
A Palace official said the return of weapons seized by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) from slain SAF commandos in Maguindanao is an indication of the rebel groups’ sincerity to the peace process but it must fulfill other obligations mentioned by the President in his previous address.

“Ang pagsauli ng mga armas ay bahagyang tumutugon sa naunang panawagan ni Pangulong Aquino na magpakita ng kongkretong katibayan ang MILF na sila ay maaaring pagkatiwalaan bilang katuwang ng pamahalaan sa prosesong pangkapayapaan,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a press briefing on Wednesday.

Aside from returning the SAF weapons, Coloma said the MILF must also heed other request of the President: help the government capture Basit Usman, assist the government in the identification and prosecution of individuals involved in the Mamasapano clash and return all the personal belonging taken away from dead SAF commandos.

The SAF assault killed Abu Marwan, one of the targets of the operation but Usman survived the raid. Maguindanao officials said Usman is wounded and hiding in the province.

Asked by reporters if the government also wants the MILF to convince the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) to return the firearms it seized from the slain SAF personnel, Coloma said the President wants the MILF to show its sincerity and its up to the group if it wants to persuade the BIFF for the surrender of the weapons.

The MILF on Wednesday returned 16 firearms seized from the police SAF during the deadly January 25 clash between Moro rebels and elite policemen in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

The weapons were turned over Wednesday at Camp Siongco of the 6th Infantry Division in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao, weeks after the clash that killed 44 members of the Philippine National Police-SAF, 18 Moro rebels and three civilians.

The police said a total of 63 firearms were lost during the Mamasapano encounter.

During the Senate hearing last week, MILF for chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the MILF will return the firearms as well as personal belongings of the slain SAF troopers after they finish thorough accounting of the seized weapons.

He told lawmakers that the families of the dead MILF combatants initially refused to return the weapons and the MILF leadership had to convince them to surrender the firearms for the sake of the peace process. The rebel group said 18 MILF died in the January 25 Mamasapano clash.

The BIFF, a splinter group of the MILF, said it seized 10 high-powered firearms from the dead SAF members. The group said it will not return the weapons captured from the government side.

Some lawmakers said that the deadly encounter could possibly derail the ongoing peace process between the government and the MILF. PND (as)