Today's Headlines in the Philippines

François HollandeFrench President Hollande arrives in PHL for two-day visit
French President François Hollande and his delegation arrived in the Philippines past 11 a.m. Thursday for a two-day state visit. The French leader's delegation arrived aboard an Airbus 330 at Villamor Air Base, radio dzBB's Sam Nielsen reported. On hand to welcome the delegation were Vice President Jejomar Binay, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman Francis Tolentino. Terrorism will be one of the topics Hollande is expected to discuss with President Benigno Aquino III during his Philippine state visit on Thursday and Friday. Hollande is accompanied by a delegation of over 100 officials, celebrities and media people, the Department of Foreign Affairs said. Upon arrival, Hollande is to head for Luneta Park to lay a wreath in honor of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal, who wrote the first chapters of "El Filibusterismo" in Paris.

Lawmakers: Bangsamoro law can’t be passed as is
MANILA, Philippines - Lawmakers are ready to defy President Aquino’s wish that they leave the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) untouched or with only minor changes. While assuring the Palace that the BBL would not be diluted, Senate President Franklin Drilon said there is no way the Senate would leave the measure untouched after going over it. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is negotiating peace with the government, also wants Congress to pass the BBL hook, line and sinker. “We will examine it closely and modify the provisions which we believe are not consistent with the Constitution,” Drilon told reporters yesterday. “That is what we will do. I don’t think dilution is the correct term but we have to modify and look at each provision carefully,” he said.

Francis “Chiz” EscuderoWhose side are you on? Chiz asks Deles, Ferrer
Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero yesterday urged the government peace panel to prove they are still on the side of the government and not with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Escudero, chair of the Senate Finance committee which is one of the panels looking into the killing of the 44 Philippine National Police- Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) commandos said the government should have at least confronted the MILF over their decision to give Malaysia – the third party facilitator in the peace talks – the first crack at the results of their investigation into the Mamasapano incident. It was MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal who told senators during the last hearing of the Senate Public Order Committee on February 24 that the result of the MILF investigation will be submitted to the Malaysian government first following the protocol on the peace talks.

MILF told: Return other SAF guns
MANILA, Philippines - A military mutineer-turned-congressman urged the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) yesterday to return the other firearms of the 44 policemen who were killed in the Mamasapano incident on Jan. 25. “They have so far returned only 16. They should return the other firearms, equipment and personal belongings of the dead Special Action Force (SAF) troopers,” Rep. Francisco Ashley Acedillo of party-list group Magdalo told a news forum in Quezon City. Based on an inventory that he has seen, he said the 44 SAF members who died in clashes with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) lost 62 assorted firearms. “The MILF has a responsibility to cooperate with the government, with which it has signed a peace agreement,” he said.

Juan Ponce EnrileEnrile rushed to Makati Med stricken with pneumonia
Almost two weeks after celebrating his 91st birthday on Valentine’s Day under hospital arrest, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile was rushed to Makati Medical Center stricken with pneumonia. The senator has been suffering from a fever since Tuesday and even coughing blood, which prompted his personal doctors and physicians at Philippine National Police General Hospital to move him urgently to the private hospital at 3 a.m. on Thursday with police escorts. Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said the transfer was sanctioned by the Sandiganbayan, which had been informed of the senator’s condition. “He has been suffering from high fever, 39 degrees Celsius, since Tuesday. We wish him good health and a speedy recovery,” Roxas said at a press briefing in Camp Crame.

14 ASG fighters slain, 19 others hurt in renewed gov’t offensive
At least 14 Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) fighters were killed while 19 others were wounded in a renewed military offensive against the bandit group in Sulu. The offensive also resulted in the discovery of an abandoned clandestine Abu Sayyaf camp in the jungle of Patikul town. Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, military chief information officer, said the casualty count on the Abu Sayyaf was a result of both the gun battle and mortar fires delivered in several remote areas in Patikul town. “This is part of the intensified operation that was ordered by our Chief of Staff (General Gregorio Pio Catapang),” said Cabunoc. The official said the offensive against the Abu Sayyaf started Wednesday when government troops clashed with more than 300 Abu Sayyaf men in Patikul town.

Mohagher Iqbal and Murad EbrahimMILF rebels told: Stay away from fighting
COTABATO CITY, Philippines—The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Thursday told its fighters to stay away from fighting between government forces and guerrillas belonging to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). The MILF chief peace negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal, told the Inquirer that the group’s chief, Murad Ebrahim, issued the directive to all field commanders after Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. ordered an all-out offensive against the BIFF on Wednesday. “The directive is clear for our men to step aside and give way to the military operation,” Iqbal said. “Our only concern and appeal to the military is to ensure the safety of the civilians,” he said. Iqbal said the government coordinated the military operation against the BIFF with the MILF.

Police officials in charge of Revilla, Jinggoy sacked
MANILA, Philippines—Police officials in charge of the senators detained in Camp Crame, the Philippine National Police headquarters in Quezon City, were relieved following the “side trip” of two senators to the birthday celebration of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile at the camp hospital on Feb. 14. Interior Secretary Mar Roxas slammed the police officials’ disregard for rules governing detainees as an insult to the memory of the 44 Special Action Force troopers who died as heroes in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province. “The past weeks, we have been talking about bravery. These recent events are a disrespect to their badge and their duty. Some of our policemen have sacrificed their lives, while these policemen are only tasked to guard detainees and yet they let them slip off to other places,” Roxas said.

Teresita Deles (L), Miriam Coronel-FerrerNoy keeps gov’t peace panel
MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino has decided to keep peace adviser Teresita Deles and chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer amid calls for their replacement on allegations they represent the interests of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) more than the government. Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said Deles and Ferrer enjoy the full trust and confidence of the President. Lawmakers, including Aquino’s political allies, have observed that Deles and Ferrer appear to be lawyering for the MILF in congressional hearings. Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano was very vocal against keeping Deles – of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process – and Ferrer, who both seemed to be speaking for MILF interests.

PNoy told: Bare all text messages, phone calls related to Mamasapano ops
Lawmakers belonging to the progressive bloc in the House of Representatives on Thursday challenged President Benigno Aquino III to publicly disclose all his text messages and calls from December 2014 to January 27, 2015 determine the extent of his involvement in the top secret police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said Aquino only showed select text messages he received from then-suspended Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Alan Purisima when he met with lawmakers and families of the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troopers killed in Mamasapano last Jan. 25. “[There’s] a conscious effort engineered by Malacanang to shield Pres. Aquino and this should be exposed. President Aquino here is the most accountable because he was the one who approved the operation and authorized Gen. Purisima to command the operation even when he was suspended,” he told reporters in a press briefing Thursday.

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