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PHNO HEADLINE NEWS THIS PAST WEEK
(Mini Reads followed by Full Reports below)

PNoy: PHILIPPINES READY TO HELP SYRIAN REFUGEES


SEPTEMBER 8 -File photo shows President Benigno Aquino III speaking at the United Nations headquarters in September 2014. AP/John Minchillo  
President Benigno S. Aquino III said Tuesday that the Philippines is ready to help refugees from conflict-stricken Syria. In a media forum aired on state-run People's Television, Aquino noted that the Philippines helped other asylum-seekers in the past. Aquino cited the case of the 2,700 Vietnamese boat people who sought refuge in the Philippines in the 1970s. He also mentioned the over 1,200 European Jewish refugees who were saved by the Philippines from Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. READ MORE...

ALSO: PNoy touts achievements, slams Arroyo anew before APEC finance ministers


SEPTEMBER 10 -President Aquino answers questions directed to him during the panel discussion in the 2013 APEC CEO Summit at the Summit Plenary, Mangupura Room, Bali International Convention Center in Bali, Republic of Indonesia. Malacañang Photo Bureau
President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday criticized his predecessor while trumpeting the country's achievements under his watch.
During the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Finance Ministers' Meeting in Cebu, Aquino noted that the "patronage and corruption of the past" weakened public institutions. "Every day, it seemed, we uncovered issues that had festered during my predecessor's term. At that point, many of us could not help but long for the weekend, if only for a temporary respite from the problems bequeathed to us," Aquino said in his speech. The president told the finance ministers how his administration tried to correct the system. "We relentlessly pursued all those who had committed wrongdoing, regardless of their wealth or influence; we revamped our budgeting system and exercised fiscal prudence, making sure that taxpayer money is spent prudently, conscientiously, and judiciously on projects and programs that truly benefit our people; we cut red tape and made it easier for investors to bet on the Filipino people," Aquino said. Aquino also touted the country's achievements in the economic front and in terms of social services. He cited the administration's conditional cash transfer program that has helped 20 million Filipinos; the 6.2-percent growth rate from 2010 to 2014; and the 22 positive credit rating actions received by the country. "This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Philippine Story," Aquino said. "I have chosen to share it with you to illustrate that, regardless of the seeming magnitude of the challenge, progress can be achieved sooner rather than later—especially if we work with solidarity, coherence, and integrity." THIS IS THE FULL REPORT

ALSO: UN asked to probe Lumad tribal chiefs slays


President Aquino will likely face new troubles with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which has been demanding action from him on rights protection after local group Karapatan raised the issue on the killings of members of the Lumad tribe by paramilitary force to the UN body.
Karapatan sought the UNHRC intervention on the deaths of Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo, and Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development Inc (ALCADEV) school director Emerito Samarca.
A member of the oppressed Lumad tribe in Mindanao when asked what is with the ancestral lands of their in Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur that caused forced evacuations, division and killings said “bulawan” or gold in the Manobo dialect was the most probable reason An emotional Imelda Balandres, a woman leader from the community of Lumad evacuees, who witnessed the killing of Campos and Sinzo, last Sept. 1 told The Daily Tribune in an interview that the rich source of gold and other precious minerals are the root of all the violence inflicted on them as big mining companies target their ancestral lands. Apparently, the two primary mining companies that are interested in the Lumad lands are owned by campaign financiers of no less than the ruling Liberal Party’s (LP) 2016 standard bearer, Mar Roxas.Nickel Asia and SR Metals Incorporated (SRMI), owned by Salvador Zamora and Eric Gutierrez respectively, are, according to Lumads and previous reports, the ones that operate “big time” in the said area.Both Zamora and Gutierrez are known to have contributed to the campaign funds during President Aquino’s 2010 presidential bid, as they are now associated with Roxas’ machinery.The UNHRC was asked to investigate the killings and the evacuation of almost 3,000 Lumad in Surigao del Sur through letters sent to Dr. Chaloka Beyani, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons; Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights Defenders; and Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on Rights of the Indigenous People’s. “We are asking the UN HRC to investigate & recommend actions to the Philippine Government on these issues,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said..READMORE...AND RELATED--'
Soldiers watched as paramilitary attacked us, Lumad victims recount...

ALSO FROM CFO: PESO Sense Launches New App for OFWs


SEPTEMBER 11 -peso sense booth -
PESO Sense has launched a mobile application to help overseas Filipinos and their beneficiaries maximize their entrepreneurial potentials. A press statement on the launch on Friday, August 28, described PESO Sense Mobile Application as a "free platform for selling and marketing local products in the Philippines" in and out of the country. The mobile app, which can be downloaded on the Google Playstore for Android phones and will be available for iOS users by early October, will also allow overseas Filipinos to directly pay and monitor household expenses of their families in the Philippines. “Remittances, having great geographical dispersion in private, public and capital flows, can simulate development in areas that are lagging economic development,” said Titon Mitra, country director of UNDP Philippines. “But the huge potential of remittances is very much constrained by one key factor: financial illiteracy," Mitra added. The PESO Sense campaign was created in 2013 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), and is funded by The Western Union Foundation. Also known as The Philippine Financial Freedom Campaign, it aims to improve financial literacy of overseas Filipino workers. READ MORE...

ALSO NEWS FROM CEBU: Man with cerebral palsy is Happiest Pinoy for 2015


SEPTEMBER 12 -Richardson Navor receives P1 million and a plaque from Philippine Ambassador to Portugal Philippe Lhuillier and Cebuana Lhuillier president Jean Henri Lhuillier.
 A 28-year-old financial analyst with cerebral palsy was hailed as the happiest Pinoy in 2015, winning the Cebuana Lhuillier’s search for the Happiest Pinoy which uses “optimism, resilience and hope amid difficulties” as barometer. Richardson Navor – Kuya Chard to many – bested nine other finalists and took home P1 million in cash and a trophy. “This is only the third edition of the search and it has already grown significantly, collecting more entries and, hopefully, inspiring even more individuals. Richardson is a great addition to the search’s roster of model citizens. His story is one we can all learn and draw inspiration from to live happier and more meaningful lives no matter the challenges,” said Cebuana Lhuillier president and CEO Jean Henri Lhuillier. Navor, of IBM Philippines, was born with cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement and motor skills, and is among the more common congenital disorders that manifest during childhood. Rather than letting other people’s judgments get the better of him, he used his physical limitations to inspire and influence people. In college, Navor did not show any signs of weakness and was even elected council president. He graduated magna cum laude and received multiple leadership and academic awards. When his mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer, he stepped up to become the main source of strength for his family – doing everything he could to raise funds, including sacrificing a portion of his scholarship allowance – until his mother was declared cancer-free. READ MORE...

ALSO Saudis: 107 dead in crane collapse at Mecca's Grand Mosque; No Filipino casualty says DFA


SEPTEMBER 12 -Pilgrims and first responders gather at the site of a crane collapse that killed dozens inside the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. The accident happened as pilgrims from around the world converged on the city, Islam's holiest site, for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which takes place this month. AP
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A towering construction crane toppled over on Friday during a violent rainstorm in the Saudi city of Mecca, Islam's holiest site, crashing into the Grand Mosque and killing at least 107 people ahead of the start of the annual hajj pilgrimage later this month. Images posted by social media users showed a grisly scene, with police and onlookers attending to numerous bodies lying amid pools of blood on the polished mosque floors. Saudi Arabia's civil defense authority provided a series of rising casualty numbers on its official Twitter account as ambulances whisked the wounded to area hospitals. As of early Saturday, it said those injured in the disaster numbered 238. A photo released by the authority showed police and workers in hardhats inspecting a pile of collapsed concrete slabs inside a part of the sprawling, ornately decorated mosque. Another showed the base of the toppled red-and-white crane tilted upward at a sharp angle. Images aired on Saudi state television showed the crane's metal boom smashed through what appeared to be the roof of the mosque. Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Mansouri, the spokesman for the presidency of the Mecca and Medina mosque affairs, said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency that the accident happened late Friday afternoon during a severe storm carrying strong winds and heavy rain. READ MORE...


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS HERE:

PNoy: Philippines ready to help Syrian refugees


File photo shows President Benigno Aquino III speaking at the United Nations headquarters in September 2014. AP/John Minchillo

MANILA, SEPTEMBER 14, 2015,
(PHILSTAR) SEPTEMBER 8, 2016 - President Benigno S. Aquino III said Tuesday that the Philippines is ready to help refugees from conflict-stricken Syria.

In a media forum aired on state-run People's Television, Aquino noted that the Philippines helped other asylum-seekers in the past.

Aquino cited the case of the 2,700 Vietnamese boat people who sought refuge in the Philippines in the 1970s.

He also mentioned the over 1,200 European Jewish refugees who were saved by the Philippines from Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.

READ MORE...

"We have proven, as a country, that we are ready to assist," Aquino said.

But with limited resources and millions living in poverty, Aquino said the Philippines can only do so much.

"The history is there, the culture is there. We just want to make sure that we manage it properly, that we don't take more than what we can handle," he said.

"Vast majority of our people are still living in poverty. We would like to take our resources to better our people and do our fair share," the president added.


PHILSTAR

PNoy touts achievements, slams Arroyo before APEC finance ministers By Louis Bacani (philstar.com) | Updated September 10, 2015 - 5:03pm 2 64 googleplus0 0


President Aquino answers questions directed to him during the panel discussion in the 2013 APEC CEO Summit at the Summit Plenary, Mangupura Room, Bali International Convention Center in Bali, Republic of Indonesia. Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday criticized his predecessor while trumpeting the country's achievements under his watch.

During the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Finance Ministers' Meeting in Cebu, Aquino noted that the "patronage and corruption of the past" weakened public institutions.

"Every day, it seemed, we uncovered issues that had festered during my predecessor's term. At that point, many of us could not help but long for the weekend, if only for a temporary respite from the problems bequeathed to us," Aquino said in his speech.

The president told the finance ministers how his administration tried to correct the system.

"We relentlessly pursued all those who had committed wrongdoing, regardless of their wealth or influence; we revamped our budgeting system and exercised fiscal prudence, making sure that taxpayer money is spent prudently, conscientiously, and judiciously on projects and programs that truly benefit our people; we cut red tape and made it easier for investors to bet on the Filipino people," Aquino said.

Aquino also touted the country's achievements in the economic front and in terms of social services.

He cited the administration's conditional cash transfer program that has helped 20 million Filipinos; the 6.2-percent growth rate from 2010 to 2014; and the 22 positive credit rating actions received by the country.

"This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Philippine Story," Aquino said. "I have chosen to share it with you to illustrate that, regardless of the seeming magnitude of the challenge, progress can be achieved sooner rather than later—especially if we work with solidarity, coherence, and integrity."


TRIBUNE

UN asked to probe tribal chiefs slays Written by Tribune Wires Sunday, 13 September 2015 00:00



LP MEMBERS, FINANCIERS AFTER LUMAD LAND

President Aquino will likely face new troubles with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which has been demanding action from him on rights protection after local group Karapatan raised the issue on the killings of members of the Lumad tribe by paramilitary force to the UN body.

Karapatan sought the UNHRC intervention on the deaths of Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo, and Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development Inc (ALCADEV) school director Emerito Samarca.

A member of the oppressed Lumad tribe in Mindanao when asked what is with the ancestral lands of their in Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur that caused forced evacuations, division and killings said “bulawan” or gold in the Manobo dialect was the most probable reason

An emotional Imelda Balandres, a woman leader from the community of Lumad evacuees, who witnessed the killing of Campos and Sinzo, last Sept. 1 told The Daily Tribune in an interview that the rich source of gold and other precious minerals are the root of all the violence inflicted on them as big mining companies target their ancestral lands.

Apparently, the two primary mining companies that are interested in the Lumad lands are owned by campaign financiers of no less than the ruling Liberal Party’s (LP) 2016 standard bearer, Mar Roxas.

Nickel Asia and SR Metals Incorporated (SRMI), owned by Salvador Zamora and Eric Gutierrez respectively, are, according to Lumads and previous reports, the ones that operate “big time” in the said area.

Both Zamora and Gutierrez are known to have contributed to the campaign funds during President Aquino’s 2010 presidential bid, as they are now associated with Roxas’ machinery.

The UNHRC was asked to investigate the killings and the evacuation of almost 3,000 Lumad in Surigao del Sur through letters sent to Dr. Chaloka Beyani, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons; Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights Defenders; and Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on Rights of the Indigenous People’s.

“We are asking the UN HRC to investigate and recommend actions to the Philippine Government on these issues,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

READ MORE...

Karapatan said on September 1, 2015, the Magahat/Bagani paramilitary forces under the 36th and 75th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army gunned down Campos in front of the whole community in Km. 16, Diatago, Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

Sinzo, who was separated from the crowd, was tortured by hitting his arms and legs with wooden stick before he was shot.

Samarca, on the other hand, was found dead inside the classroom of ALCADEV with an ear-to-ear slit on the throat and gunshot wounds in the chest. “The 36th Infantry Battalion (IB), 74th IB and the Special Forces were at the periphery,” Palabay recounted the accounts of the witnesses.

“While the AFP can lie through their teeth about their involvement on the killings and all other atrocities of its paramilitary groups, the motives are crystal clear: eliminate those who are perceived as enemies of the state, including those who fight for their land and their rights,” Palabay said.

She added there was no way the government can deny its responsibility in the killings as long as it implements counter-insurgency programs like Oplan Bayanihan.

“The paramilitary groups is one way of tackling this dirty war against the Filipino people. It is no wonder why the AFP has not disbanded these groups—because they work together,” Palabay said.

The killing of Fr. Fausto Tentorio, the massacre of the Capion family, the murder of Datu Jimmy Liguyon, the Tabugol brothers, among others was done through the use of paramilitary forces who are known in many names—the Civilian Auxiliary Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), the Special Civilian Armed Auxilliary, the Investment Defense Force, Bagani Forces, Magahat-Bagani, Alde Salusad’s group, and the De la Mance group, to name a few.

In 2012, Heyns and then UN SR on human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya had sounded the alarm on the role of the paramilitary groups in the killings, Karapatan said.

In the same year, during the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the Philippines there were already recommendations from member Nations to disband paramilitary groups that perpetuate serious abuses.

“The Aquino government has rejected this and even continued to multiply and allowed the proliferation of these groups as force multipliers. We reiterate our position that the political killings happening right now is part of the government’s policy and not simply an internal conflict among indigenous people’s as the government wants the public to believe,” Palabay said.

LP imprint all over

LP stalwart and Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice served as SRMI’s President when a plunder case was filed against the said firm that caused them P7 million in fines for over-extraction in 2007 as, it has been previously reported months back, subsidiary firms San R Mining and Galeo Equipment and Mining Corp. shipped nearly 2 million metric tons of nickel from August 2006 to September 2007 based on the records of the Philippine Ports Authority and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.


ON DECEMBER 3, 2014 -SC upholds ruling that Erice-linked mining firm is liable for violating ECC. Erice was the chairman and president of SRMI when a plunder complaint linked to the mining firm's activities was filed by the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group before the Department of Justice based on the allegations by businessman Rodney Basiana. FROM Philippine News Agency December 3, 2014 9:12 PM By: Perfecto T. Raymundo Jr., The online news portal of TV5. InterAksyon.com  

Government is yet to prosecute SRMI for the massive shipment of minerals which reportedly totals to P28 billion.

Although SRMI’s alleged illegal activities occured in Agusan del Norte, Lumad leader Balandres said that “their (SRMI and Nickel Asia) power to organize private armies or paramilitary groups backed by the (Armed Forces of the Philippines) for mining purposes is among the top reasons why they’re too interested in stealing our lands (in Surigao).”

If not for mining interests, violence and fear would never exist at all in the Lumad community, Balandres said.

According to rights group Karapatan, mining companies with armed men that connive with the state forces is “not new”.

“Employing guns and goons for gold is obviously not new. Mining companies are rich and powerful as they can bribe their way out to getting what they want,” Karapatan’s Palabay said.

Gutierrez, too, is tagged as the one who provided the helicopter for aerial photos of the so-called ‘Hacienda Binay’ that is now apparently a debunked stunt to sensationalize the Senate Blue Ribbon Subcommittee troika’s hearings against Vice President Jejomar Binay as the first allegations filed against the VP was not taken popularly.

VP Binay is ahead the LP’s frontrunner Roxas in independent and reputed surveys contrary to the one released by administration attack dog Erice which, in the first place, is shamelessly “LP-commissioned”.

Meanwhile, despite President Aquino’s denials of targeting Lumads with military offensives earlier this week in a press forum hosted by a national daily, militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) says that the regime’s counter-insurgency program “sugar-coated in the guise of peace and development” is aimed at “terrorizing” Lumads.

In a document obtained by Bayan from a government agency, it is admitted by the government that 74 per cent of the membership of communist New People’s Army (NPA) are indigenous peoples and that 90 percent of insurgent operated and controlled areas are within the ancestral domain of the Lumads.

The said document states that IP communities need apparent investments, which can be hypocritically referred to as relative to mining.

The Powerpoint presentation called “Whole of Nation Initiative” spells out the target groups and priority regions for government’s counter-insurgency program. Various government agencies are being tapped to undertake “serbisyo caravans” to compliment “focused military operations” in these target areas.

The slogans used in the said document are synonymous with President Aquino’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan’s lines such as “whole of nation” and “people centered” approach.

“Those insisting that the IPs are merely “caught in the crossfire” should re-examine their position because as far as the AFP and other civilian agencies are concerned, the IPs and their communities and schools are the real targets,” notes Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes.


On January 1, 2011 – when Aquino had been President for six months — the AFP made public (in booklet form) its Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP), the counterinsurgency plan called “Oplan Bayanihan”. In his message Aquino says the plan “opens up space for the involvement of the Filipino people in defining, shaping, and ensuring our peace and security as a nation.” He called on the entire citizenry to “join the AFP in translating this national aspiration to reality.” And there, listed down as the IPSP “National Strategic Guidance”, are the four key elements Aquino had lined up in his April 22 speech. FROM HUMAN RIGHTS PHILIPPINES WEBSITE.

Human rights groups in Caraga have reported, according to Reyes, that on August 25, simultaneous “peace/serbisyo caravans” were launched in Surigao del Sur and Surigao del Norte (consistent with the proposed timeline in the PowerPoint presentation).

“Based on the accounts, the caravans were initiated by the AFP’s and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and included agencies such as the Department of Health, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, and the Department of Education,” Reyes elaborated.

Reportedly too, there were programs and public meetings in Surigao del Sur towns Marihatag and Lianga. The program included presentations to the public of NPA rebel returnees.

A week after the “peace caravans” were held, together with Campos and Sinzo, Emerito Samarca, 54, School Director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) in Lianga town, were killed on the same day.

Alleged perpetrators are paramilitary groups Magahat and Bagani that are linked with the AFP.

“That the President refuses to acknowledge that this policy exists means that there will be no meaningful action or resolution that can be expected from this administration,” Reyes said.

Due to the cases of forced mass evacuations, nine Lumad community-based schools were forced to shut down.

Church condemns killings


Demonstrators hold images of Lumad leaders killed in Mindanao during a protest outside the House of Representatives in Quezon City, 8 Sept. 2015. (Photo: RMP) NEWS HEADLINE MANILA, Sept. 11, 2015— The Catholic hierarchy joined in the chorus of condemnation against the killings of Lumads in Mindanao and criticized the government’s response to the issue. In a statement issued Friday, CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas said it is “disturbing” how the government quickly exonerated those allegedly behind the killings. (READ: On the killing of voiceless and defenseless Lumads) “This alarming eagerness to deny culpability does not augur well for truth and justice,” Villegas said. FROM THE CBCPNEWS.COM

The Catholic hierarchy joined in the chorus of condemnation against the killings of Lumads in Mindanao and criticized the government’s response to the issue.

In homily, CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas said it is “disturbing” how the government quickly exonerated those allegedly behind the killings.
“This alarming eagerness to deny culpability does not augur well for truth and justice,” Villegas said.

According to him, such declarations inspire credence only after a reliable and trustworthy investigation by impartial and competent persons shall have taken place.

“If made before any such investigation, they disturbingly suggest a refusal to hold accountable those to whom the administration so eagerly extends its mantle of protection,” he said.

President Aquino in a forum on Wednesday said the government has “no campaign to kill anybody”, as he defends the military’s alleged involvement in the killings.

The much-awaited statement from Aquino, however, dismayed various human rights groups, saying his response was inadequate.

The bishops are also backing calls for the government to urgently investigate the killings of three Lumad leaders by alleged paramilitary forces in Surigao del Sur.

“The CBCP asks the government for an honest, thorough, impartial, and speedy investigation so that the guilty may be held to account for their wrong-doing,” Villegas said.

The CBCP chief also said the use of militia groups for the government’s counter-insurgency campaign is already “troubling.”

“If militia groups cannot fit within a structure of clear authority and command by legitimate state authority, they should not be tolerated, much less employed as mercenaries by the State,” he added.

The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) earlier said the Lumad communities are under attack because of their determination to protect their ancestral lands.

Sr. Francis Añover, RMP coordinator, said the Lumad people continue to be victims of massive land grabbing and displacement because of large-scale mining operations and the expansion of huge plantations.

“The Philippine Army and its para-military groups commit grave human rights abuses as clearing up operations for the entry of big foreign and local corporations,” Añover said.

The bishops said indigenous peoples are already disadvantaged in a number of ways and the government’s failure to protect their rights “only underscores their plight as marginalized.”

“This cannot be just. This cannot be the will of God,” Villegas said. By Ted Tuvera

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RELATED FROM BULATLAT.COM

'Soldiers watched as paramilitary attacked us’ BY DEE AYROSO
Bulatlat.com

Lumad victims from Lianga, Surigao del Sur recounted the horrors of the Sept.1 rampage by a paramilitary group, who entered their community along with soldiers.


Alcadev executive director Emerito Samarca was last seen alive held by Magahat-Bagani men on Sept.1. His body was found on the second floor of the Alcadev guest house. (Photo courtesy of Karapatan-Caraga/Bulatlat.com)

MANILA – It was the stuff of their worst nightmares come true: death in their very own community and destruction of the fruits of their hard work and unity in the mountain community of Han-ayan, in Diatagon village, Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

Facing a small group of journalists on Sept. 7, the victims of the Sept. 1 deadly rampage of paramilitary men recalled the horrors brought upon them by the intruders who came to Han-ayan before the crack of dawn –forced them out of their beds, routed them like cattle, then killed their kin and respected leaders before their very eyes.

Their harrowing experience was reminiscent of scenes from Martial law, and under Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya, when the state tried to “take the water out of the fish,” to flush out New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas.

Some 3,000 Lumads have fled from the communities from Sept. 1, after the gruesome killing of Alcadev executive director Emerito “Sir Emok” Samarca, 54, and Manobo leaders, Dionel “Onel” Campos, 41, chairperson of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu), and his uncle (earlier reported as cousin) Datu Juvello “Bello” Sinzo, 69.

“We are here to destroy your community because of its strong support for the NPA. And your school, we will really destroy it to weaken the support for the NPA,” Eufemia Cullamat recalled the words of one of the intruders.

She and the villagers knew them as members of the paramilitary group, Magahat-Bagani, of the Manobo tribe, just like them. But they did not act alone. Soldiers from the 36th and 75th infantry battalions and the Special Forces were the first to arrive on Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. and had lingered up to the time when the paramilitary men attacked.

In the past decade, Lianga had been subjected to intense military operations and attacks, and had triggered massive evacuation, almost every two years. But it was the worst attack yet, with the killing of the leader of a district-wide group, a tribal chieftain, and the head of the alternative school put up by the communities.


The family of the victims of the Lianga killings join the protest at the gates of Congress on Sept. 8 (L to R:) Sheina, the daughter slain Mapasu leader, Dionel Campos, Manobo leaders Jose Campos and his sister Eufemia Cullamat (Photo by D.Ayroso/Bulatlat.com)

A vigil after a celebration

On Aug. 29, the Han-ayan community had just finished its celebration of Alcadev’s 11th founding year.

Cullamat, 55, a resident of Diatagon and Mapasu council member, said the community turned to mourning, as they held a wake for her father Pablito Campos, 89, who died on Aug. 26, and was to be buried on Sept. 1 at the Han-ayan community cemetery.

That night, some 40 soldiers arrived and requested to talk to the tribal chieftain and to her cousin, Dionel Campos, popularly known as “Onel,” the Mapasu chairperson. It was supposedly about the “concreting project” from Diatagon to Andap, Cullamat said. The family said they are still in mourning, and asked the soldiers to postpone their meeting until after their dead is buried.

The soldiers agreed, but did not leave. Instead, they stayed at the waiting shed in front of Alcadev, and in front of the Campos home where the wake was being held.

Cullamat cited a 2011 agreement Mapasu and the datus signed with Col. Henry Robinson of the Philippine Army’s 29th IB, which provides that soldiers will withdraw its “community organizing for peace and development” (COPD) and will not put up a detachment in the area. COPD projects will be implemented by the local government, which will put up a billboard that says such is a project of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

“Onel was confident that the AFP will respect that agreement because it was signed by Col. Robinson, who is with the AFP. But we were wrong,” Cullamat said.


Soldiers of the 36th and 75th IB and Special Forces encamped at the entrance of Alcadev (Photo courtesy of Karapatan-Caraga/Bulatlat.com)

Gary Payac, an Alcadev volunteer teacher, recalled that in the late evening of Aug. 31, some female students complained about being harassed by soldiers that they passed by from the wake on their way to the school dormitory.

“Wow, the students here are so pretty. Can I have one?” the soldiers catcalled the young girls. “Brace yourselves later tonight because an aswang is coming,” the soldiers said. Aswang is a blood-sucking monster in Philippine folklore.

“The students got scared…I told them, ‘Okay, just keep calm,” Payac said.

The aswang in fatigue did come

At around 4 a.m., on Sept. 1, Cullamat recalled a resident came rushing to the wake: “Manang, the military are entering the houses.”

Cullamat then heard loud banging on nearby houses, as the armed men went from house to house forcing people out. Frightened, the people gathered at the wake at the Campos home.

Cullamat described the armed men as wearing complete military uniform, some wore masks, but others were bare-faced, whom they identified as members of the Magahat-Bagani paramilitary group.

Two of them came to the wake and told Cullamat and her family to get out. “We couldn’t do anything, because they were armed,” she said.

Inside the Alcadev campus, Payac, his co-teacher Guideon Galicia and three other students were also awakened and forced out of the male dormitory by the armed men wearing battle fatigues who searched through their belongings.

“They took all our bags, even the shoes,” Payac said. They also took cellphones, cameras of the guests, and the laptop of one of the teachers. He said the armed men did the same thing at the female dormitory.

Payac said the armed men even took the money paid by students for ID and for the foundation day t-shirts, and the budget for an income-generating project.

“They cleaned out all the cash, and took the students’ cellphones and money,” he said.

Galicia went to the Alcadev guest house to fetch Samarca, fondly called “Sir Emok.” An armed man tried to stop him, and hit Galicia with a rifle butt.

“Please don’t hurt my staff,” Sir Emok intervened, speaking calmly. The armed man asked who he was, and Sir Emok identified himself as the executive director of the school. As Galicia was allowed to leave, the armed men detained Sir Emok at the second floor of the guest house.

“We were all outside, and we did not know what to expect,” Payac said. “When the paramilitary went out of the Alcadev compound, one of them had a bloody bayonet, and we thought, ‘Sir Emok is gone.’”

Before 6 a.m., the paramilitary led by brothers Bobby and Loloy Tejero had gathered all the people at the basketball court on Kilometer 16, a five-minute walk from Han-ayan. The residents were then divided into groups: men, women and children, and the teachers.

‘We will destroy your community because of its strong support for the NPA’

“I saw Onel was made to sit on a bench in front of the people,” Cullamat said.

“One of the armed men said, ‘this is a dialogue, we’re going to talk.’”

The armed men then pointed out to Alcadev staff Belen Itallo, who came out with Onel from the house of Josephine Pagalan, the spokesperson of the Kahugpungan sa mga Lumadnong Organisasyon sa Caraga (Kasalo Caraga).

The men claimed Itallo was seen with NPAs in the mountains, which Itallo denied. She showed her feet, crippled by polio, which made walking difficult. She was made to sit on the bench beside Onel.

One of the paramilitary men spoke in a very low voice, but used strong words, Cullamat said. “Stop supporting the NPA. We are here to destroy your community..and your school, we will really destroy it to weaken the support for the NPA,” she recalled the man say.

It was the usual line spoken by soldiers who had long branded the Lumad communities as “NPA areas,” and Alcadev and the primary schools of the Tribal Filipino Program for Surigao del Sur (Trifpss) as “NPA schools.”

The paramilitary also warned the residents that if they don’t leave within three days, they “would be massacred.”

Another paramilitary singled out Datu Juvello “Bello” Sinzo, a resident of Kiwagan community, in San Isidro village, who was attending the wake of his brother-in-law. “Aren’t you from Kiwagan? Why are you here?”

“Datu, how much revolutionary tax have you pocketed?” another asked. “Datu, can you swear that these people will not turn to the NPA?”

To this, Datu Bello answered: “I do not control their hearts’ desires.” This angered the paramilitary men who grabbed him from the crowd and took him a few meters away, where they beat him up with a piece of wood.

The people were alarmed when the Tejero brothers pointed a gun at Onel’s side and hit him hard in the neck that he fell down. The people began to shout, “Don’t kill him!”

“Drop to the ground!” the armed men shouted, and fired at Onel and around the crowd. Seeing Onel dead, the Magahat and other armed men hurriedly left.


INCONSOLABLE. Datu Juvello Sinzo’s remains and his daughter (Photo courtesy of Karapatan-Caraga/Bulatlat.com)

The back of Onel’s head was blown off. The people found Datu Bello was still breathing, but he was also shot and his arms were broken. Cullamat said they wanted to get Bello to the hospital, but all the motorcycles would not work, because the sparkplugs were stolen. Datu Bello died in the village.

The teachers rushed to the Alcadev guest house, but Sir Emok, too, was already lifeless.

Karapatan said the post-mortem report showed the cause of death was a gunshot wound in the left chest. He also had stab wounds and his throat was slit from ear to ear.

No one else was injured, aside from Itallo, who had temporary hearing loss because of the close range firing.

When they got back to Han-ayan, Cullamat saw her neighbours already putting out the fire in the new building of the Trifpss Han-ayan Tribal School. The Mapasu cooperative store, however, was already reduced to ashes.

“Not even a flint was left, everything burned,” Cullamat said. She said the paramilitary men set fire to the coopearive while they were being gathered at the basketball court.

All this time, Cullamat said, the people had seen the soldiers who were not very far.

“They climbed to higher ground, overlooking the community,” she said. The soldiers in Han-ayan and in Kilometer 16 positioned themselves at vantage points, and in the early morning light, they can clearly see what was happening, she said.

“In our view, the soldiers even watched what the paramilitary did to the community. If we look at the relationship of the AFP and the Magahat, there really is collusion,” Cullamat said.

‘It was like a scene from the movies’

After the Magahat men left, the people got up with only one thought: to leave the community.

Jose Campos, also a Mapasu leader and Cullamat’s brother, said they feared for their lives because the Magahat threatened to return to massacre the community.

“We left with only the clothes on our backs, we didn’t even bring our pots,” he said.


What remains of the Mapasu cooperative, which was burned by Magahat-Bagani men on Sept.1 (Photo courtesy of Karapatan-Caraga/Bulatlat.com)

Cullamat said her village mates helped to bury her father in the Han-ayan cemetery.

“When they got back, we were ready. People were all lined up on the road, ready to walk,” she said.

The evacuation might have seemed like a funeral march, with the bodies of Sir Emok, Onel and Datu Bello on a multicab, followed by hundreds of villagers.
“I never thought things like this happen, likes scenes you only watch in movies,” Payac said.

“We began our trek, without breakfast or lunch, the whole 16-kilometer stretch to Diatagon,” he said.

They walked, all of them scared, shocked, sad, hungry, tired – a myriad of emotions, Payac said. “Then, the communities we passed by, they all joined us, scared like us, because three people were killed.”

They left Han-ayan at 9 a.m., and arrived at Diatagon village proper at 3 p.m. By then, the evacuees numbered almost 2,000.

The Diatagon gym, which served as their sanctuary several times, was, however, occupied by soldiers who were playing basketball, indifferent to the people’s tragedy.

“Some of them even blocked us,” Payac said.

The Lumads decided to head to Tandag City, where they evacuated for two months in 2009. Travelling by jeepneys, they arrived at the Provincial sports center in Tandag City at 12 midnight. They were welcomed by the local government’s disaster management council.

“They had bread prepared for us, and it was only then that the people got to eat, breakfast up to supper,” Cullamat said.

Brave leader

Imelda Belandres, 47, a Mapasu council member and Onel’s cousin, said their worst fears had come true with his death.

She said the Lumads have endured worsening attacks: the relentless military operations, the trumped-up charges, and later, the detention of former Mapasu chairperson Jalandoni Campos, and Kasalo-Caraga secretary general Genasque Enriquez – both Han-ayan residents, who were arrested in separate incidents.

And, in 2014, the killing of Mapasu leader Henry Alameda in San Isidro village.

Even their late father Pablito, in his frail old age, was among those charged with fabricated cases such as murder.

Belandres herself, and other Mapasu leaders were continuously threatened by the paramilitary, relayed through texts or through village mates.

She said Onel stayed strong and did not give in to fear amid the threats. “He was an excellent leader, who could unite the people, even the distant communities,” she said.


Slain Mapasu chairman Dionel “Onel” Campos (Photo courtesy of Karapatan-Caraga/Bulatlat.com)

Uncertainty, fear, grief

Belandres said Mapasu had long called for the dismantling of paramilitary groups, withdrawal of soldiers from the communities, and justice for Lumad victims. And the call is even stronger now, echoed in cities and even overseas.

Jose Campos said they now face uncertainty with the killings of their leaders and the evacuation. He said they had lived peacefully, and well, with their sustainable farming and good education for their children. But soldiers, and now paramilitary, had relentlessly branded and harassed them as “NPA supporters.”

“The school has been a big help because of its food security program,” he said. “If the soldiers will stay there, where will we go?” he said.

John Michael Pagalan, 15, a third year student in Alcadev worried that less students would go back to school when they return to the community.

“We are so traumatized, and it hurts that we may not be able to finish our studies,” he said. “We only want to graduate so that we can return to our communities and help others,” he said morosely.

Payac said that as in the past evacuations, the teachers will make plans on how to hold classes at the evacuation center. He said he fears for his life, but still plans to go back to teaching at Alcadev, or else “the students will suffer.”

But for now, they will mourn as they bury their beloved leaders. (http://bulatlat.com)


COMMISSION ON FILIPINOS OVERSEAS (CFO)

CFO eBulletin August 2015 Issue Commission on Filipinos Overseas  (contactus@balinkbayan.gov.ph) 9:14 AM (contactus=balinkbayan.gov.ph@mail193.atl21.rsgsv.net) on behalf of Commission on Filipinos Overseas (contactus@balinkbayan.gov.ph) Sent: September-11-15 9:14:59 AM To: Philippine Headline News Online (press@newsflash.org)

Itanong Mo Kay Ato! : Legal Counseling Goes Techie In April 2015, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) through its Advocacy and Communications Committee (ADVOCOM) represented by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) partnered with the Office of the Legal Aid of the Arellano Law Foundation (ALF) to provide online legal counseling.

Reservation and Registration Online System for PDOS

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TUESDAY, 01 SEPTEMBER 2015 PDFPrintE-mail

PESO Sense Launches New App for OFWs

The mobile app will also allow overseas Filipinos to directly pay and monitor household expenses of their families in the Philippines .

Titon Mitra, country director for UNDP Philippines, leads the opening marks at the PESO Sense app. All photos by Kimberly Go/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – PESO Sense has launched a mobile application to help overseas Filipinos and their beneficiaries maximize their entrepreneurial potentials.

A press statement on the launch on Friday, August 28, described PESO Sense Mobile Application as a "free platform for selling and marketing local products in the Philippines" in and out of the country.

The mobile app, which can be downloaded on the Google Playstore for Android phones and will be available for iOS users by early October, will also allow overseas Filipinos to directly pay and monitor household expenses of their families in the Philippines.

“Remittances, having great geographical dispersion in private, public and capital flows, can simulate development in areas that are lagging economic development,” said Titon Mitra, country director of UNDP Philippines.

“But the huge potential of remittances is very much constrained by one key factor: financial illiteracy," Mitra added.

The PESO Sense campaign was created in 2013 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), and is funded by The Western Union Foundation. Also known as The Philippine Financial Freedom Campaign, it aims to improve financial literacy of overseas Filipino workers.

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Mitra said the UNDP wants to affect behavioral change among the senders and recipients of remittances – from being spenders to being “savers and savvy investors.” The mobile app will include several features to help OFWs and their beneficiaries achieve this.


peso-sensebooth

FINANCIAL LITERACY.

PESO Sense launches a new app for OFWs and their beneficiaries to promote entrepreneurship and financial literacy Mobile app features

PESO Sense Store will allow entrepreneurs to market their products to consumers at home and abroad, whilePESO Sense Bills will allow users to directly pay household utilities, medical and tuition fees in selected schools and hospitals nationwide.

Payments to the Social Security System, PhilHealth, Pag-ibig Fund and National Bureau of Investigation can also be made on the app.

Users can also read free financial and entrepreneurial trips, trivia and articles based on their personal profile through the PESO Sense News Feeds, as well as track, record, and monitor the remittances they send back to their families through the PESO Sense Remittance Diary.

Financial literacy


imelda-nicolas

INDEPENDENCE.

Secretary and CFO Chairperson Imelda Nicolas speaks on the objective of the PESO Sense app “We find it fitting and proper to launch a mobile application that we hope could make a difference not only in the lives of our overseas Filipinos but also for the families they have left behind,” said Secretary and CFO Chairperson Imelda Nicolas.

In the first 4 months of 2015, personal remittances totaled $8.6 billion, said Nicolas, citing the latest data from Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas. This is 5.1% higher than the level recorded in the same period last year, she added.

“We can certainly celebrate the fact that in the Philippines, remittances equal approximately 10% of the GDP,” said Mitra. “But if this wealth is not effectively utilized, we really are underexploiting the constitution remittances available to people’s prosperity in and out of the country.”

With the launch of the PESO Sense app, the CFO, UNDP, and Western Union hope to reach a wider audience and thus expand financial literacy.

“Being financially literate is not just about saving,” Patricia Riingen, senior vice president for East and South Asia at Western Union, said at the launch’s closing remarks. “It means making the most out of your money, inspiring individual innovation, and entrepreneurship.” – Rappler.com

Kimberly Go is a Rappler intern

Source:

Kimberly Go Rappler.com http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/balikbayan/104130-peso-sense-launch-ofws


PHILSTAR

Man with cerebral palsy is Happiest Pinoy for 2015 By Perseus Echeminada (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 12, 2015 - 12:00am 0 89 googleplus0 0


Richardson Navor receives P1 million and a plaque from Philippine Ambassador to Portugal Philippe Lhuillier and Cebuana Lhuillier president Jean Henri Lhuillier.

MANILA, Philippines - A 28-year-old financial analyst with cerebral palsy was hailed as the happiest Pinoy in 2015, winning the Cebuana Lhuillier’s search for the Happiest Pinoy which uses “optimism, resilience and hope amid difficulties” as barometer.

Richardson Navor – Kuya Chard to many – bested nine other finalists and took home P1 million in cash and a trophy.

“This is only the third edition of the search and it has already grown significantly, collecting more entries and, hopefully, inspiring even more individuals. Richardson is a great addition to the search’s roster of model citizens. His story is one we can all learn and draw inspiration from to live happier and more meaningful lives no matter the challenges,” said Cebuana Lhuillier president and CEO Jean Henri Lhuillier.

Navor, of IBM Philippines, was born with cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement and motor skills, and is among the more common congenital disorders that manifest during childhood.

Rather than letting other people’s judgments get the better of him, he used his physical limitations to inspire and influence people.

In college, Navor did not show any signs of weakness and was even elected council president. He graduated magna cum laude and received multiple leadership and academic awards.

When his mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer, he stepped up to become the main source of strength for his family – doing everything he could to raise funds, including sacrificing a portion of his scholarship allowance – until his mother was declared cancer-free.

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Although Navor failed to pass the accountancy licensure exam, he continues to persevere and live life with positivity as he also received service awards and founded People Uplifting the Student and the Handicapped (PUSH), an organization which gives free leadership training, personality development seminars and livelihood workshops to students and persons with disabilities (PWD).

Navor is the third winner of the Search for the Happiest Pinoy after Winston Maxino (2010) and Rommel Arellano (2012).

He said he would spread the P1-million bounty to help address the needs of PWDs.

“One million pesos – many would think it could buy a lot of gadgets. But to the Happiest Pinoy, the amount will go a long way. It could buy a lot of wheelchairs and provide for many scholarships. I’ll make sure that this blessing will not end with me,” he said.

Breaking its own record, the Cebuana Lhuillier search received over 280,000 nominations this year, the most in the campaign’s three-year history.

Also recognized this year are Arnel Genzola, a professor based in China, as Happiest OFW; and Cyprian Jade Basa, a student from Roxas City, as the Happiest Student.

The top ten finalists include: Johnny Medrano, a watch and cellphone technician from Batangas; Rustie Quintana, an artist from Cagayan de Oro City; Rodolfo Mendoza, a PWD advocate from Nueva Ecija; Randy Halasan, a teacher from Davao City; Eduardo Hernal Jr., a retired military officer turned pastor from Taguig City; Julia Marquez, a retired teacher from Batangas; Don De Vera, an architect from Las Piñas City; Cyprian Jade Basa, a student from Roxas City; and Naprey Almario, a non-government organization founder and businessman from Davao City.

The board of judges is composed of advertising guru Emily Abrera, motivational speaker and author Francis Kong, Supreme Court legal consultant Ann Corominas, 2009 CNN Hero of the Year Efren Peñaflorida, Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo, TV news anchor Luchi Cruz-Valdez, Cebuana Lhuillier Insurance Solutions general manager Jonathan Batangan and the search’s past two winners, Maxino and Arellano.


PHILSTAR

Saudis: 107 dead in crane collapse at Mecca's Grand Mosque By Abdullah Al-Shihri and Adam Schreck (Associated Press) | Updated September 12, 2015 - 9:10am 1 1170 googleplus0 0


Pilgrims and first responders gather at the site of a crane collapse that killed dozens inside the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. The accident happened as pilgrims from around the world converged on the city, Islam's holiest site, for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which takes place this month. AP

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A towering construction crane toppled over on Friday during a violent rainstorm in the Saudi city of Mecca, Islam's holiest site, crashing into the Grand Mosque and killing at least 107 people ahead of the start of the annual hajj pilgrimage later this month.

Images posted by social media users showed a grisly scene, with police and onlookers attending to numerous bodies lying amid pools of blood on the polished mosque floors.

Saudi Arabia's civil defense authority provided a series of rising casualty numbers on its official Twitter account as ambulances whisked the wounded to area hospitals. As of early Saturday, it said those injured in the disaster numbered 238.

A photo released by the authority showed police and workers in hardhats inspecting a pile of collapsed concrete slabs inside a part of the sprawling, ornately decorated mosque. Another showed the base of the toppled red-and-white crane tilted upward at a sharp angle.

Images aired on Saudi state television showed the crane's metal boom smashed through what appeared to be the roof of the mosque.

Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Mansouri, the spokesman for the presidency of the Mecca and Medina mosque affairs, said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency that the accident happened late Friday afternoon during a severe storm carrying strong winds and heavy rain.

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Authorities did not provide details on the victims' nationalities, but it was likely that the tragedy will touch several countries.

The Grand Mosque and the cube-shaped Kaaba within it draw Muslims of all types from around the world throughout the year, though numbers increase significantly in the run-up to the hajj. The mosque is Islam's holiest site to which Muslims face in daily prayers and a central site among the hajj rituals.

Performing the pilgrimage once during one's lifetime is a duty for all able-bodied adult Muslims. This year's pilgrimage is expected to start around Sept. 22.

Al-Mansouri said the crane, which was being used in construction work at the mosque, struck a circular area around the Kaaba and a nearby walkway.

Pan-satellite Al-Jazeera Television broadcast footage from inside the mosque compound said to be from the aftermath of the accident, showing the floor strewn with rubble and what appear to be pools of blood.

Another video, on a Twitter posting, captured the apparent moment of the red-and-white crane's collapse during a heavy rainstorm, with a loud boom, screams and confusion.

The governor of the Mecca region, Prince Khalid al-Faisal, quickly called for the formation of a committee to investigate the cause of the accident. He directed all appropriate authorities to provide support for all of those injured, according to a statement from Mecca principality public affairs head Sultan al-Dosari that was carried on SPA.

Other Saudi officials could not immediately be reached or referred queries to the civil defense statements.

Several cranes surround the mosque to support an ongoing expansion and other construction work that has transformed the area around the sanctuary.

Steep hills and low-rise traditional buildings that once surrounded the mosque have in recent years given way to shopping malls and luxury hotels — among them the world's third-tallest building, a giant clock tower that is the centerpiece of the Abraj al-Bait complex.

The construction giant Saudi Binladin Group is leading the mosque expansion and also built the Abraj al-Bait project.

The Binladin family has been close to the ruling Al Saud family for decades and oversees major building projects around the country. The Binladen family disowned one of its many members, late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, in the 1990s.

It was not immediately clear who owned the crane that collapsed.

During the week of the hajj, Muslims converge on Mecca to perform a series of rituals, including the circling of the cube-shaped Kaaba, praying and holding vigil at Mount Arafat and perform the symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles at the three pillars in Mina.

Prayers on and around the mount are a climactic emotional and spiritual moment in the hajj. The faithful believe that on that day the gates of heaven are open, prayers are answered and past sins are forgiven.

All male pilgrims, regardless of wealth or status, wear seamless terry white cloths to symbolize equality before God during the hajj. Women cover their hair and wear long loose clothing, forgoing makeup and other adornments to help them detach from worldly pleasures and outward appearances.

It was on Mount Arafat, marked by a white pillar, where Islam's Prophet Muhammad is believed to have delivered his last sermon to tens of thousands of followers some 1,400 years ago, calling on Muslims to unite.

While following a route that the prophet once walked, the rites are believed to ultimately trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, or Abraham and Ishmael as they are named in the Bible.

The millions of pilgrims who visit the country's holy sites each year pose a considerable security and logistical challenge for the Saudi government, and large-scale deadly accidents have occurred on a number of occasions in years past.

In 2006, more than 360 pilgrims died in a stampede at the desert plain of Mina, near Mecca. A crush of pilgrims two years earlier left 244 dead.

The worst hajj-related tragedy was in 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims died in a stampede in an overcrowded pedestrian tunnel leading to holy sites in Mecca.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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