Search this site

Bio-Terror Agents

    LOCATIONS‎ > ‎

    Philippines


    Title: Anthrax Scare In The Philippines Medical And Public Health Issues
    Date: 2001
    Source: PSMID

    Abstract: Since the early days, the deliberate use of microorganisms and toxins as weapons has
    been attempted. The use of biological agents have evolved from the crudest form like the use of
    infected cadavers to contaminate water supplies  and being catapulted to the enemy side, to the
    development of specialized munitions for battlefield and covert use.

    The history of biological warfare  is difficult to assess because of a number of confounding factors. These include difficulties in verification of alleged or attempted biological attacks for propaganda purposes, the paucity of pertinent microbiological or epidemiological data, and the incidence of naturally occurring endemic or epidemic diseases during hostilities.

    The greatest challenge in outbreak investigation is distinguishing reliably the difference between a natural infectious disease event from an intentional act. In highly developed countries like the United States where sourcing and funding for large-scale investigation do not pose a great problem compared to our country's current economic condition, how capable are we in recognizing deviations in the natural patterns of infectious diseases? How capable are we in identifying causative agents especially in a timely manner, so that real-time interventions can actually take place? What if the agent is one that has not been previously recognized?

    The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia issued several statements and guidelines on the medical and public management of bio-terrorism that is patterned to their country's capacity and  capabilities. The recommendations are however adaptable into our setting in terms of the prevention and treatment aspect.

    Inasmuch as we want to compete with the technology of the western world in rapidly detecting causative agents, nothing beats a well-defined referral and communication systems that would readily answer suspected bio-terror attacks. With our country's present economic condition, we can only rely on the inventiveness and resourcefulness we Filipinos are known for.

    Compared to conventional warfare, it is the local health service including the infectious disease specialists that stay in the "frontlines."  If the local health service is not aware of the potential threats or has low index of suspicion for diseases caused by likely bio-terrorist agents such as anthrax or plague, even the best-laid plans won't play out as expected.

    Last October 2001, 4 confirmed cases of anthrax (2 inhalational and 2 cutaneous forms) were reported in the United States from intentional delivery of B. anthracis spores through mailed letters or packages, rousing suspicion of a bio-terrorist attack. Extensive investigations are being done and the number of cases may even grow further. Consequently the anthrax scare spread like wildfire all over the globe. Here in our country, several reported incidents of potential bioterrorist attacks in the form of letters laden with powdery substance suspected as contaminated with anthrax created panic and hysteria even reaching the Section of Infectious Diseases of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital. In response to the country's need for further information regarding biological agents, the section recommendations based on the key information presented by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Johns Hopkins Working Group on Civilian Biodefense are being issued.

    The Anthrax Scare
    Anthrax is among the top 5 zoonotic diseases in the Philippines that poses a problem in the veterinary community. Its occurrence in our country is commonly associated with exposure to anthrax infected farm animals or animal products such as in goats, sheep, cattle and mostly carabaos.

    With the advent of the modern methods of biological warfare, the use of  Bacillus anthracis spores, the causative agent of anthrax, as a weapon of mass destruction has drawn deep concerns among the medical and military community primarily because of how this disease behaves. In a worst-case scenario, the World Health Organization (WHO) expert committee in 1970, estimated that casualties following a theoretical aircraft release of 50 Kg of anthrax over a developed urban population of 5 million would be 250,000, 100,000 of whom are expected to die without treatment. In 1993, the US congressional office of Technology Assessment estimated that a 100-Kg of aerosolized release of anthrax spores would cause an estimated 130,000 to 3 million casualties. Based on the economic model developed by CDC, an economic spending of $26.6 billion per 100,000 persons exposed is expected.

    Historically, there were quite a number of incidents implicating this agent being used as a biological weapon. The most frequently cited  incident was the Sverlovsk Accident (now Ekaterinburg, Russia) in 1979 wherein airborne spores were accidentally released and an epidemic of anthrax occurred among people who lived and worked within a distance of four kilometers. Sixty-six deaths occurred out of the 77 confirmed cases of inhalation anthrax.

    How does Anthrax Manifest?

    Three types of anthrax infection occur in humans: inhalational, cutaneous and gastrointestinal. Naturally occurring inhalational anthrax is now a rare cause of human disease. Historically, wool sorters at industrial mills were at highest risk but since the advent of animal vaccination, the risk decreased significantly. A mere identification of inhalational anthrax today in the absence of naturally occurring identifiable source would rouse the suspicion of a bioterrorist activity.

    The initial symptoms appear like a non-specific flu-like illness such as fever, nonproductive cough, myalgia and malaise. Early in the course of the disease, chest radiograph shows a widened mediastinum, which is an evidence of hemorrhagic mediastinitis, and marked pleural effusion. After 2-3 days, the disease takes a fulminant course with dyspnea, stringent cough and chills, culminating in death.

    Cutaneous anthrax is the most common naturally occurring form. The disease can be acquired from infected herbivores through contact with abraded skin. It is however important to know that development of such without any obvious history of exposure to animals in an otherwise healthy individual should raise the suspicion of a possible bio-terrorist activity.

    It usually starts as a pruritic papule or macule, which further enlarges to form an ulcer as early as the 2nd day. Vesicles may subsequently appear with clear or serosanguinous discharge. Gram stain of this discharge may contain numerous gram-positive organisms. Towards the last stage of the lesion before it resolves in 1-2 weeks, a painless, depressed black eschar is seen, often associated with extensive local edema. It further dries and falls off leaving no scars.

    Gastrointestinal anthrax results from contamination of infected meat products. The manifestation is difficult to differentiate from other diseases unless a high index of suspicion is present and the organism is isolated from blood and stool specimens.

    Following deposition and subsequent germination, it may present as the oral or pharyngeal form or as a primary intestinal lesion depending on the area of deposition. The former presents as an oral or esophageal ulcer leading to the development of regional lymphadenopathy, edema and sepsis. The latter occurs predominantly in the ileocecal junction presenting initially with nausea, vomiting and malaise which progresses rapidly resulting to hematochezia, signs of acute abdomen or sepsis syndrome.

    When to Suspect Anthrax as a Biological Weapon?
    Owing to the rarity of this disease, the first suspected case of inhalational anthrax should be reported immediately to the Department of Health so that immediate investigation, epidemiological surveys and laboratory testing can be done to document the disease. For these investigations, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines a confirmed case of anthrax as:

    1. A clinically compatible case of cutaneous, inhalational, or gastrointestinal illness that is laboratory confirmed by isolation of B. anthracis from an infected tissue or site or
    2. Other laboratory evidence of  B. anthracis infection based on at least two supportive laboratory tests.

    A Suspected Case is Defined As:

    1.
    A clinically compatible case of illness without isolation of B. anthracis and no alternative diagnosis, but with laboratory evidence of B. anthracis by one supportive laboratory test or
    2.
    A clinically compatible case of anthrax epidemiologically linked to a confirmed environmental exposure, but without corroborative laboratory evidence of B. anthracis infection.

    Laboratory criteria for diagnosis of anthrax consists of:

    1. isolation and confirmation of B. anthracis from a clinical specimen collected from an affected tissue or site or
    2.
    Other supportive laboratory tests, including:

    A. evidence of B. anthracis DNA by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) from specimen collected from an affected tissue or site;
    B.
    demonstration of  B. anthracis in a clinical specimen by immunohistochemical staining; or
    C.
    Other laboratory tests (e.g. serology) that may become validated by laboratory confirmation.

    The sudden appearance of a large number of patients in a city or region with an acuteonset flu-like illness and a case fatality rate of 80% or more, with nearly half of all deaths occurring within 24 to 48 hours, is most likely secondary to anthrax or pneumonic plague.

    Because of the limited availability of rapid diagnostic test for its diagnosis such as the ELISA (Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) for protective antigen and PCR (polymerase chain reaction), these tests can only be used for confirming and managing anthrax hoaxes.

    The Working Group on Civilian Biodefense outlined a diagnostic model shown below to guide us in the appropriate approach to the diagnosis and is not considered routine laboratory procedure. It is important to emphasize that diagnostic tests outlined in the table above are not complicated and can be done in most centers trained in handling agents.

    What are the Current Treatment Options?
    Because of the limited number of evidence in humans regarding treatment, the recommendations were largely based on limited number of studies in experimental animals, current understanding of antibiotic resistance patterns, and the potential need to treat a large number of casualties. The Working Group of  Civilian Biodefense offered the following recommendations (Table 2), which are yet to be approved by the FDA. Table 1. Diagnosis of inhaled anthrax infection

    Epidemiology Sudden appearance of multiple cases of severe flu-like symptoms with fulminant course and high mortality

    The first recommendation is for patients with clinically evident inhalational anthrax infection in a contained casualty setting. Because of the rapid course of symptomatic inhalational anthrax, the need for early antibiotic intervention is essential in determining a better survival outcome. A delay in antibiotic treatment for patients with anthrax infection even by hours may substantially lessen the chances for survival.

    Bacillus anthracis is generally susceptible to penicillin and tetracyclines. However, reports have been published of a B. anthracis vaccine strain engineered by Russian scientists that is resistant to tetracyclines and penicillin. Although treatment of anthrax infection with ciprofloxacin has not been studied in humans, animal models suggest excellent efficacy. It is for this reason that the empiric choice of antibiotic pending sensitivity studies is ciprofloxacin.

    It is common medical knowledge that flouroquinolones should not be used in children younger than 16 years because of the risk of arthropathy. However, balancing the risks of anthrax caused by an engineered antibiotic-resistant  strain, the working group recommends that ciprofloxacin be used in the pediatric and pregnant populations until subsequent sensitivity results show susceptibility to penicillin or tetracycline. Treatment protocol however is different in the mass casualty setting primarily because of the logistic difficulty in instituting intravenous medications to a large population. Table 3 outlines the recommended regimens and duration for this population.

    What about those who were Exposed but without Symptoms?
    There are no FDA approved antibiotic regimens following exposure to anthrax aerosol.

    For post exposure prophylaxis, it has been recommended that the same antibiotic regimen and duration as that recommended for treatment of mass casualties be given. Table 3. Medical therapy in the mass casualty setting

    Is Vaccination an Option to Prevent the Development of the Disease?
    The US-anthrax vaccine is an inactivated cell-free product licensed in 1970. The vaccine is licensed to be given in a 6 dose series and has recently been mandated for all US military active personnel. The current vaccine supply is limited and the US production capacity is modest.

    Population-wide vaccination at this time would not be recommended given the costs and logistics of a large-scale vaccination program.

    What will I do if I receive an anthrax threat letter?
    First and foremost, DO NOT PANIC! The following are steps (patterned from the CDC Advisory) that you can follow in handling a suspicious letter or package: For anthrax to be effective as covert agent, it must be aerosolized into very small particles. This is difficult to do, and requires a great deal of technical skill and special equipment. If these small particles are inhaled, life-threatening lung infection can occur, but prompt recognition and treatment are effective.

    How to Handle Suspicious Letter of Package:
     
    Do not shake or empty the contents of any suspicious envelope or package; DO NOT try to clean up powders or fluids.

    PLACE the envelope or package in a plastic bag or some other type of container to prevent leakage of contents.

    If you do not have any container, COVER the envelope or package with anything (e.g. clothing, paper, trash can etc) and do not remove the cover.

    Then LEAVE the room and CLOSE the door, or section off the area to prevent others from entering.

    WASH your hands with soap and water to prevent spreading any powder to your face or skin

    If you are at HOME, report the incident to the local police and the Department of Health

    If you are at WORK, then report this to the local police, and notify your building security, or an available supervisor.

    If possible, LIST all people who were in the room or area when this suspicious letter or package was recognized.  Give

    this list to both the local public health authorities and  law enforcement official for follow up investigations and advice

    Shower with soap and water a soon as possible.  Do not use bleach or disinfectant on your skin.

    What Constitute a Suspicious Letter or Parcel?

    Some typical characteristics, which ought to trigger suspicion, include letters or parcel that:

    1. Have any powdery substance on the outside.
    2. Are unexpected or from someone unfamiliar to you.
    3. Are addressed to someone no longer with your organization or are otherwise outdated.
    4. Have no return address, or have one that can't be verified as legitimate.
    5. Are of unusual weight, given their size, or are lopsided or oddly shaped.
    6. Have an unusual amount of tape on them.
    7. Are marked with restrictive endorsements, such as "Personal" or "Confidential," have strange odors or stains.
    8. Show a city or state in the postmark that doesn't match the return address.

    Conclusion 
    Anthrax is just one among the many potential  agents that can be used for bio-terrorist attack. Regardless of which agent is used, preparedness is only as good as the local health unit identifying the agent and the system by which immediate response and intervention is carried out.

    The recognition of cases is more important than treatment since treatment protocols are readily available for known biological agents.  It is therefore recommended that extensive educational campaign be carried among our "frontliners", the local health unit, responding paramedical teams, police department and a strong political will from our local government unit and the national government (PSMID, 2001)

    Title: Philippines 'Not Ready For Bioterror Attack'
    Date: October 25, 2005
    Source: SIIA


    Abstract: The Philippines is ill-equipped to deal with a chemical or biological attack by terrorists because its cash-strapped police have neither the equipment nor the technology to handle these "dirty weapons" of mass destruction. 

    The issue of bioterrorism was raised by Mr Henry Crumpton, the US State Department's counter-terrorism coordinator, during a visit to the Philippines last week. 

    Mr Crumpton warned that Southeast Asia is facing a growing threat of bioterrorism and urged the countries in the region to be prepared to confront it. 

    He said that Al-Qaeda and its Southeast Asian affiliate, Jemaah Islamiah, have made their intentions to use biological and chemical weapons "abundantly clear" in their statements and training manuals. He cited the discovery of alleged anthrax laboratories in Afghanistan in 2001-2002.  

    In response to Mr Crumpton's warning, a Philippine police official told The Manila Times that a chemical or biological attack would leave the country's security forces completely helpless.   

    "We need decontamination chambers, suits, gas masks, and training to prepare against such an attack. But we have not invested on such equipment and measures," the official, who requested anonymity, said on Oct 23. 

    The official said the technology to counter biochemical warfare is available from advanced countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan. But the Philippine National Police (PNP) do not have the money to buy them. 

    He added that the least the PNP could do is to start training its units to handle a biochemical attack and launch an information campaign to keep the people aware and alert.

    "The basic do's and don'ts are not enough. We just can't keep on crossing our fingers that these groups (terrorists) won't  think of this eventually,” he added (SIIA, 2005).

    Title: Asian Cops Here To Train On Bio-Terror
    Date: February 19, 2008
    Source: Global Nation Inquirer


    Abstract: Policemen from eight Asian countries are here to receive training on biological terrorism from an international expert, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said Tuesday.

    Delegations from China, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam will join their Filipino counterparts at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza in Manila for the five-day training to be conducted by Adrian Baciu, bioterrorism program coordinator of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), PNP Director General Avelino Razon Jr., said in a statement.

    "[Since] bio-terrorism is a global threat, we must also respond [on] a global scale to prevent such incidents from happening and act adequately if it happens," said Razon, who is also chairman of the Interpol National Central Bureau in Manila.

    "Though the concept of bio-terrorism is still quite new to us, it is never too early for us to be prepared for it and to prevent it from happening in the near future by acquiring needed skills in detecting and assessing its imminent effects," Razon said.

    The convention on bio-terrorism was launched in Lyons, France in 2005 following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and subsequent incidents that were apparently attempts to use the biological agent anthrax as a terror weapon.

    Senior Superintendent Nicanor Bartolome, PNP spokesman said the bio-terror training will also be conducted at regional and provincial police offices (Global Nation Inquirer, 2008)

    Title: Bioterrorism And Threat Assessment
    Date: March 2011
    Source: WMDC


    Abstract: An  example that displays the potential for psychogenic symptoms occurred on 3 October 2001, when over 1,000 students at several schools in Manila, the Philippines “deluged local clinics with mundane flu-like symptoms” after hearing rumors of bioterrorism that had been disseminated through text-messaging (WMDC, 2011).

    Title: FBI, Philippine Police Bust Hacking Ring Financed By Terror Group
    Date: November 24, 2011
    Source:
    Gant Daily

    Abstract:
    FBI agents and Philippine police have arrested four hackers responsible for attacks on the AT&T in 2009.

    Suspected hackers Macnell Gracilla, 31, Francisco Manalac, 25, Regina Balura, 21 and Paul Michael Kwan, 29, were arrested Wednesday in their homes in Quezon City and Caloocan City, the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced Thursday. Seized from their homes were computers and telecommunication equipment used for their hacking activities.

    The PNP’s cyber crime unit chief Gilbert Sosa said the suspects were being paid by Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) to hack the trunk line of telecommunication companies. AT&T lost $2 million in the hacking done by the group.

    The bank transactions between the Pakistani JI member Muhammad Zamir and the hackers enabled the FBI to trace their locations in Manila.

    Zamir, who was arrested by FBI agents in Italy in 2007, also funded the terror attacks in Mumbai, India in 2008 (Gant Daily, 2011).

    Title: The Philippines May Hold Regional Biological Weapons Convention
    Date: January 13, 2012
    Source: BioPrepWatch


    Abstract: The Philippines may hold a regional Biological Weapons Convention later this year following the Seventh Review Conference of the BWC held in Geneva in December.

    The Philippine Permanent Mission to the United Nations actively participated in the review conference and the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs recently expressed interest in holding the regional meeting, according to GMANetwork.com.

    “The United Nations and other participants expressed strong interest in convening a second regional BWC Conference in the Philippines later in 2012, and in supporting the Philippines’ efforts in Southeast Asia in synergizing implementation activities for the BWC and other Weapons of Mass Destruction Conventions,” the DFA said, GMANetwork.com reporta.

    During the BWC review conference, the Philippines was lauded for its work putting together the BWC Conference Week held in Makati City in June. The DFA and the Philippines Anti-Terrorism Council organized the event with cooperation from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the European Union and the UN.

    The Philippine delegation to the BWC review conference included Ambassador Evan Garcia, Minister Jesus Domingo and attache Hossana dela Cruz. Defense and Armed Forces attache Colonel Inincencio Mayangao and Department of Justice State Council Attorney Paulito De Jesus also attended.

    The Philippines was elected as vice president during the conference and Minister Domingo was selected to act as a facilitator for discussions related to assistance and cooperation (BioPrepWatch, 2012).

    Title: Bataan Sees Big Increase In Dengue Fever
    Date: March 7, 2012
    Source:
    Examiner

    Abstract: The Bataan province on the Philippine island of Luzon has seen an increase of nearly 60 percent the first two months of this year as compared to 2011 according to health authorities Monday.

    According to a GMA News report, Dr. Rosanna Buccahan, PHO officer-in-charge, said 364 cases of dengue fever were recorded from January to February this year compared to 214 for the same period last year. No fatality was reported.

    Although there is the large increase in cases, Dr. Buccahan says there is not an outbreak of dengue on the peninsula.

    Currently the Bataan hotspots are Balanga City, Abucay, Hermosa, Limay, Mariveles, Pilar and Orion. According to Dr. Buccahan, a town is declared a hotspot when there is an increase in the number of cases for two consecutive weeks.

    Health officials in Bataan are stressing health education, environmental cleanup and conducting search and destroy activities to get the dengue fever situation under control.

    Bataan is a province of the Philippines occupying the whole of the Bataan Peninsula in central Luzon. The peninsula faces the South China Sea to the west and Subic Bay to the north-west, and encloses Manila Bay to the east.

    According to the WHO, dengue is transmitted by the bite of an Aedes mosquito infected with any one of the four dengue viruses. It occurs in tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world. Symptoms appear 3-14 days after the infective bite. Dengue fever is a febrile illness that affects infants, young children and adults.

    Symptoms range from a mild fever, to incapacitating high fever, with severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pain, and rash. There are no specific antiviral medicines for dengue. It is important to maintain hydration. Use of acetylsalicylic acid (e.g. aspirin) and non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. Ibuprofen) is not recommended.

    Dengue hemorrhagic fever (fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, bleeding) is a potentially lethal complication, affecting mainly children. Early clinical diagnosis and careful clinical management by experienced physicians and nurses increase survival of patients (Examiner, 2012).

    Title: Inspection Raises Biosafety Concerns In Asia-Pacific Containment Labs
    Date: May 24, 2012
    Source:
    BioPrepWatch

    Abstract: A recent anonymous inspection of biocontainment laboratories in developing counties in the Asia-Pacific region has raised concerns among experts because of the significant number of deficiencies it found in biosafety protocols and equipment.

    An examination of dozens of labs revealed that nearly one-third of the hoods used to protect researchers from deadly pathogens did not function as intended. In one instance, only a shower curtain enclosed a table used routinely to dissect the brains of rabid animals, according to Nature.

    A group of bio-risk experts recently met in London’s Chatham House to discuss the growing concern. They said that if such deficiencies were found in Western labs, those labs would not be allowed to operate, but in parts of the developing world, the results of the inspection are a symptom of a potential biosafety crisis.

    “The strength of a chain is based on its weakest link, and developing countries are the weakest link,” Teck-Mean Chua, the former president of the Asia-Pacific Biosafety Association based in Singapore, said, Nature reports.

    As Western scientists begin to place an increasing emphasis on bioafety concerns, the complaints about inadequate laboratory protocol in the developing world are beginning to attract attention.

    Nigel Lightfoot, an associate fellow at the Center on Global Health Security at Chatham House, said that stringent biosafety procedures and expensive equipment are often unworkable in developing countries, where scientists need to work with deadly pathogens in order to protect public health but lack critical infrastructure needs.

    “When you don’t have any electricity, the answer is not to build a very high-security laboratory,” Lightfoot said, Nature reports. “You’ve got to move away from the costly bells-and-whistles solutions to what is practical.”

    Lightfoot said that it may be necessary to create dual standards, an idea that some believe will not sit well with Western scientists who feel over-burdened with regulations, as well as with scientists in the developing world who feel they could be left with unsafe labs (BioPrepWatch, 2012)

    Title: Nearly Everyone Is Infected With Schistosomiasis In One Philippine Village
    Date: June 11, 2012
    Source:
    Examiner

    Abstract: In one town in Eastern Samar in the Visayan Islands of the 
    Philippines, a parasitic worm is so prevalent that the mayor said, “It is only the babies who are still carried by their parents and have not yet walk on the ground who are not affected by the disease”.

    According to a Sun Star report Monday, Mayor Emiliana Villacarillo said nearly all of the 543 residents of Barangay San Pascual of themunicipality of Dolores in Eastern Samar are infected with schistosomiasis.

    The problem is so bad that Villacarillo is seeking help in dealing with this parasitic plague in the inner barangay (village).

    Schistosomiasis is an acute or chronic disease, produced by parasites called Schistosoma. It is not a single disease, but a disease complex initiated by several different species of schistosomes, or blood flukes. The three most important species seen in humans are Schistosoma mansoni, S. haematobium and S. japonicum.

    It is so serious and prevalent that it is 2nd only to malaria in terms of socioeconomic & public health importance, with 200 million people infected in approximately 75 countries.

    The blood fluke seen in the Philippines, China and parts of Indonesia is Schistosoma japonicum.
    The parasite is often associated with poverty, lack of potable water, inadequate hygiene and few if any sanitary facilities. Although it is often seen as a rural disease, more semi-urban transmission is seen where sanitation is less than optimal.

    The schistosomes are found in fresh water. This water gets contaminated, for example, by infected people working in the rice field, fisherman in the lake or children playing who indiscriminately defecate or urinate in the water.

    Schistosomes have a very complicated life cycle. The eggs in the feces or urine (in the case of S. haemotobium) hatch and the ciliated miracia swim to the specific snail species where it penetrates and goes through a couple of stages in the snail. After a period, thousands of the infective stage, known as cercariae are released and swim around looking for a human to infect.

    The free-swimming cercariae are capable of penetrating the unbroken skin of the human host.
    In the case of S. japonicum, the adult schistosomes eventually end up in the blood vessels of the intestines. Here they produce eggs that are the cause of the disease. The S. japonicum adult female can deposit up to 3,500 eggs per day.

    The problems with schistosomiasis from S. japonicum are many and can include; Katayama fever, hepatic perisinusoidal egg granulomas, Symmers’ pipe stem periportal fibrosis, and portal hypertension, and occasional embolic egg granulomas in brain. People, especially children are characterized with a large distended abdomen due to enlarged liver and spleen.

    The drug of choice is praziquantel for infections caused by all Schistosoma species (Examiner, 2012)

    Title: Leptospirosis Cases Triple In The Philippines
    Date: July 4, 2012
    Source:
    Examiner

    Abstract: The 
    Philippines Department of Health (DoH) is sounding the alarm to the public concerning the major increases in leptospirosis cases reported in the archipelago during 2012.

    According to a Business Mirror report Wednesday, Philippines health officials report a tripling of cases of the potentially life-threatening spirochete bacterium.

    The DoH reports a total of 1,728 cases from January 1 to May 26 this year, up from 555 cases during the same period last year.

    In addition, fatalities due to the disease nearly doubled- 75 leptospirosis deaths during the period as against the 40 recorded in 2011.

    The Department of Health (DoH) in Northern Mindanao (Region 10) reported half the cases (868), up dramatically from the seven cases reported in 2011.

    Leptospirosis is a bacterial zoonotic disease caused by the corkscrew shaped organism, Leptospira. It goes by several other names depending on the locale; mud fever, swamp fever, sugar cane and Fort Bragg fever, among others. It is a disease of both humans and animals.
    The rat is the main host to Leptospira. However other animals such as cattle, pigs, horses, dogs, rodents, and wild animals.

    People become infected by direct or indirect contact with the urine of these animals. Contact with urine-contaminated water is extremely important. Contaminated food and soil containing animal urine are other potential sources of infection.

    The bacterium enters through contact with skin. Especially through cuts or breaks in the skin and through mucous membranes like the eyes.

    Found worldwide, it was long considered an occupational disease (miners, farming, vets, and sugarcane harvesting and sewer workers), it is increasingly associated with recreational water sports and camping.

    Symptoms of leptospirosis, if present, appear in up to 4 weeks after exposure. Sometimes the person will show no symptoms or mild flu-like symptoms.

    According to the CDC, Leptospirosis may occur in two phases; after the first phase, with fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, vomiting, or diarrhea, the patient may recover for a time but become ill again. If a second phase occurs, it is more severe; the person may have kidney or liver failure (jaundice) or meningitis. This phase is also called Weil’s disease.

    Leptospirosis is confirmed by laboratory testing of a blood or urine sample.

    The infection can be treated with antibiotics (penicillin and doxycycline), especially if started early in the disease. For very ill patients, intensive care support and IV antibiotic may be necessary.

    The DoH warns the public to avoid flooded areas and to refrain from coming in contact with floodwater, to wear protective clothing like pants, rubber boots, gloves or rubber jumpsuits, maintain the cleanliness of their homes and getting rid of rats (Examiner, 2012).

    Title: Cholera Declared An Epidemic In Bicol, Philippines
    Date: July 15, 2012
    Source:
    Examiner

    Abstract: Cases of the dangerous, gastrointestinal disease, cholera have been seen at epidemic levels in the Bicol Region according to Department of Health (DOH) reports. The surge of cholera in the area has prompted health officials to declare an epidemic.

    According to a Philippine Information Agency report Saturday, the number of people affected by cholera in the region stands at 3,158 for the first half of 2012. Of the 3,000-plus cases, 30 ended in death.

    These numbers dwarf the first half of 2011 in the Region, which tallied 445 cases and only 4 deaths for the same period.

    The DOH Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit say the province of Catanduanes has been hit the hardest by cholera with 1,831 cases and 14 deaths reported.

    Cholera is an acute bacterial intestinal disease characterized by sudden onset, profuse watery stools (given the appearance as rice water stools because of flecks of mucus in water) due to a very potent enterotoxin. The enterotoxin leads to an extreme loss of fluid and electrolytes in the production of diarrhea. It has been noted that an untreated patient can lose his bodyweight in fluids in hours resulting in shock and death.

    It is caused by the bacterium, Vibrio cholerae. Serogroups O1 and O139 are the types associated with the epidemiological characteristics of cholera (outbreaks).

    The bacteria are acquired through ingestion of contaminated water or food through a number of mechanisms. Water is usually contaminated by the feces of infected individuals.

    Drinking water can be contaminated at the source, during transport or during storage at home.

    Food can be contaminated by soiled hands, during preparation or while eating.

    Beverages and ice prepared with contaminated water and fruits and vegetables washed with this water are other examples. Some outbreaks are linked to raw or undercooked seafood.

    The incubation for cholera can be from a few hours to 5 days. As long as the stools are positive, the person is infective. Some patients may become carriers of the organism which can last for months.

    Cholera is diagnosed by growing the bacteria in culture. Treatment consists of replacement of fluids lost, intravenous replacement in severe cases. Doxycycline or tetracycline antibiotic therapy can shorten the course of severe disease.

    There is an oral vaccine available in some countries but it is not available in the U.S. Cholera prevention is the same as in other causes of traveler’s diarrhea.

    Dr. Nestor Santiago with the DOH issued an advisory last July 2 urging provincial, city and town executives to take necessary health interventions to avert the rising incidence of the disease (Examiner, 2012).

    Title: Manila Hospitals Under Code Blue Alert Due To Influx Of Leptospirosis Patients
    Date: August 24, 2012
    Source:
    Examiner

    Abstract: The Philippines Department of Health (DoH) put government hospitals in the Metro 
    Manila area under “Code Blue” preparing for the inpouring of leptospirosis patients. Code Blue puts all medical personnel on 24 hour duty to accept and treat the incoming patients.

    As of yesterday, 20 hospitals in the capital city reported 783 leptospirosis cases, 34 of which resulted in death according to a Rappler.com report Thursday.

    DOH Assistant Secretary Dr Eric Tayag said the influx of patients is not a surprise in light of the massive flooding that paralyzed the National Capital Region (NCR) during the beginning of the month; however, Tayag notes it is possible that many of the cases were from the provinces but they were only brought to Metro Manila for treatment.

    DoH officials warned the public ad nauseum about the dangers of wading in flood waters.

    Dr. Tayag says one tragic statistic they’ve seen is the amount of patients being seen with kidney failure. During the past week, at least 51 patients were already brought to the DOH-run National Kidney and Transplant Institute, some for expensive dialysis treatment.

    Today, the DoH also released the case numbers for leptospirosis nationwide. According to the statistics, a total of 2,374 leptospirosis cases in the country has been recorded from January 1 to August 11, 2012.

    This is 70.18 percent higher than the 1,395 cases reported in the same period last year.

    The NCR is not the only area battling the spirochetal infection. North of Manila, in the province of Pangasinan, the city of Dagupan has reported three fatalities from the bacterial disease in the past week.

    With all the bad news about the increases in leptospirosis on the archipelago, the DoH did have some good news about another infectious disease, in which the numbers have dropped precipitously.

    Health Secretary Enrique Ona announced Friday that the Philippines has seen the lowest level of malaria in 42 years.

    PhilStar.com reports malaria cases in the country dropped by 80 percent in 2011 as compared to those recorded in 2003. A total of 9,642 cases were recorded in 2011 as compared to the 43,441 cases in 2003 (Examiner, 2012).

    Title: Filipino Villagers Return Home After Quake; 1 Dead
    Date: September 1, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract: Thousands of villagers who fled their coastal homes during a powerful earthquake in the central Philippines returned home Saturday, but hundreds more still jittery from the temblor remained in evacuation centers, officials said.

    The magnitude-7.6 quake struck off the Philippines' east coast late Friday, killing one person in a house collapse, knocking out power in several towns and spurring panic about a tsunami that ended up generating only tiny waves.

    The quake hit at a depth of 21.7 miles and was centered 66 miles east of Samar Island, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

    No large tsunami was generated by the quake and it caused only minor damage, including cracks in buildings and several bridges, Civil Defense chief Benito Ramos said.

    Rep. Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar province said the approaches to one bridge had collapsed, and only one lane was usable on another bridge because of cracks.

    Some cracks also appeared on roads in the provincial capital, Borongan city, and several other towns were still without electricity, he said.

    About 140 aftershocks had been recorded by early Saturday, including two with a magnitude of 6.4, said Renato Solidum, chief of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

    Panicked residents in Samar's coastal towns headed for high ground, Ramos said. "Some rested under tall trees they planned to climb if tsunami waves reached them," he said.

    He said hundreds of nervous villagers remained in evacuation centers in Eastern Samar but were expected to return home later Saturday.

    A house collapsed in southern Cagayan de Oro city, on the main southern island of Mindanao, killing a 54-year-old woman and injuring her 5-year-old grandson, said the city's mayor, Vicente Emano.

    Solidum said the biggest tsunami that came ashore on Siargao Island was less than half a meter (20 inches) high. The island is a popular surfing spot about 750 kilometers (465 miles) southeast of Manila.

    The quake snapped some power lines in Tandag city in Surigao del Sur province on the east coast of Mindanao.

    More than 6,000 city residents who headed for the provincial capitol grounds on a hill were back home Saturday, disaster officials said.

    The quake set off car alarms, shook items off shelves and sent many coastal residents fleeing before the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center lifted all tsunami alerts it had issued for the Philippines and other countries from Indonesia to Japan, and for Pacific islands as far away as the Northern Marianas.

    "It was very strong. My house was making sounds," Bem Noel, a member of the Philippine House of Representatives, said in a telephone interview from Tacloban city, located on the east coast of Leyte island near Samar.

    "You talk to God with an earthquake that strong," he said.

    The Philippine archipelago is located on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common. A magnitude-7.7 quake killed nearly 2,000 people on northern Luzon Island in 1990 (Fox News, 2012).

    Title: Hepatitis A Outbreak Reported In Apayao, Philippines
    Date: September 7, 2012
    Source:
    Examiner

    Abstract:
    hepatitis A outbreak has been reported in the northern Luzon province of Apayao according to health officials there.

    The Philippines new source, SunStar Baguio reported Friday that at least 17 of the 29 cases of the viral disease have been confirmed with many of the cases linked to a carinderia, or canteen frequented by students and faculty of Lourdes High School in Kabugao Poblacion.

    The outbreak has been traced to improperly handled food in the canteen. Two of the food handlers tested positive for hepatitis A. This prompted Department of Health (DOH)-Cordillera officials to shut down the canteen.

    Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver. Symptoms may include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and abdominal discomfort. Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes, may occur a few days after symptoms appear. Anyone with these symptoms should contact ahealth care provider. The incubation period, or time between exposure and symptoms, is typically 28 days. It is possible for hepatitis A to be active but not show symptoms for up to 7 days. Symptoms usually last one to two weeks but can last longer. Young children with hepatitis A often have no symptoms.

    Hepatitis A is spread person-to-person and through a fecal-oral transmission route, and typically occurs when a person eats food or drinks a beverage contaminated by someone with the virus. The virus is not spread by coughing, sneezing or by casual contact. Severe complications from hepatitis A are rare and occur more often in people who have liver disease or a weakened immune system.

    Thorough hand washing after visits to the restroom, before touching food or drink and after changing a diaper are the best way to control the spread of hepatitis A (Examiner, 2012)

    Title: Philippines: Dengue Fever Cases Exceed 95,000 So Far This Year
    Date: September 15, 2012
    Source: 
    Global Dispatch

    Abstract: The Philippines Department of Health (DOH) released the latest dengue fever data and the numbers continue to climb, even though the August numbers were significantly lower than those of  the same period in 2011.

    According to the latest data released by the DOH, there have been 95,142 cases of dengue from January to September 2012, or an increase of 13% compared to the same period last year with 84,244 cases.

    According to an ABS-CBN report this week, the total number of deaths as of September is 549, higher than 486 during the same period last year.

    Most of the dengue cases were recorded in Metro Manila with 19,602. Central Luzon and Southern Luzon followed with 14,791 and 14,417 cases, respectively.

    DOH spokesperson and National Epidemiology Center Dr. Eric Tayag said dengue cases were down by 41% in August with a recorded 16,859 cases, lower compared to 28,549 cases in 2011.

    Tayag says the decrease of the mosquito borne virus in last month may be attributed to the peak of the habagat (southwest monsoon) season in August where heavy rains were experienced.

    Still, Tayag says the public needs to remain vigilant in preventing mosquito bites.

    Dengue fever is an infectious disease carried by mosquitoes and caused by any of four related dengue viruses. This disease was once called called “break-bone fever” because it sometimes causes severe joint and muscle pain that feels like bones are breaking.

    Dengue fever of multiple types is found in most countries of the tropics and subtropics particularly during and after rainy season.

    There are four types of dengue virus: DEN-1, DEN-2, DEN-3 and DEN-4.

    People get the dengue virus from the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. It is not contagious from person to person.

    There are three types of dengue fever in order of less severe to most: the typical uncomplicated dengue fever, dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHS) and dengue shock syndrome (DSS).

    The symptoms of classic dengue usually start within a week after being infected. They include very high fever, up to 105°F, severe headache, pain behind the eye, severe joint and muscle pain, nausea and vomiting and a rash.

    In cases of DHF and DSS, all four types can be the cause in descending order of frequency; type 2, 3, 4 and 1.

    There is evidence that types 2 and 4 need to be secondary infection to cause DHF, while primary infection with types 1 and 3 can cause DHF.

    Symptoms of DHF include all the symptoms of classic dengue plus severe damage to the blood vessels. Bleeding from the nose, gums or under the skin are common. This form of dengue can be fatal.

    Symptoms of DSS include all of the above symptoms plus; fluid leaking outside of blood vessels, massive bleeding and shock. This form of the disease usually happens in children experiencing their second infection.

    Two-third of all fatalities occurs among children.

    There is no treatment for dengue, just treat the symptoms. Persons who think they have dengue should use analgesics (pain relievers) with acetaminophen and avoid those containing aspirin. They should also rest, drink plenty of fluids, and consult a physician (Global Dispatch, 2012)

    Title: Manila: Massive Flooding Last Month Results In Over 1700 Leptospirosis Cases
    Date: September 19, 2012
    Source: 
    Examiner

    Abstract: The 
    massive flooding that occurred in the National Capital Region of the Philippinesin early August has resulted in more than 1,700 cases of the bacterial disease, leptospirosis.

    As reported in the Philippines news source, PhilStar.com Sept. 19, Philippine health officials say 1,713 cases were recorded in 20 private and government hospitals in Metro Manila from Aug. 9 to Sept. 16, based on a Quick Count.

    In addition, of the more than 1,700 cases reported, 116 resulted in death.

    The 1,713 leptospirosis cases is part of the 3,410 cases, including 149 deaths, recorded by the Department of Health from Jan. 1 to Aug. 25 nationwide.

    Leptospirosis is a spirochetal bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Leptospira interrogans. Exposure to fresh water and wet soil contaminated by the urine of an infected animal, rats being the most common, is how humans typically pick up the infection.

    It is commonly considered an occupational disease for those who work outdoors or with animals. Recreational activities, which involve exposure to fresh water contaminated with infected animal urine, are also a risk for leptospirosis.

    Weil’s disease is the more severe phase of leptospirosis where the person may have kidney or liver failure (jaundice) or meningitis (Examiner, 2012)

    Title: Embassy Warns US Citizens In Manila Of Possible Security Threat
    Date: September 28, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract: The U.S. government is warning its citizens in the Philippine capital that they are facing a security threat. It is urging them to avoid gatherings that may be regarded as "American events."

    In an emergency message Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Manila says "reliable security forces" detected a threat in suburban Pasay City. The embassy maintains a residential facility and a Veterans Affairs office in Pasay.

    It did not describe the nature of the threat or say where the information came from. It says the threat remains through Oct. 10.

    It says Americans should exercise "extreme caution" and keep a low profile.

    The embassy had requested additional police security following an attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya in the wake of protests over an anti-Islam film (Fox News, 2012).

    Title: 3 Countries Join U.S. Security Alert In Philippines
    Date: September 29, 2012
    Source:
    USA Today

    Abstract: Britain, Australia and Canada have joined the United States in warning their citizens of a security threat in the Philippines, particularly in the capital, Manila.

    Philippine authorities say they have no information of a specific threat against Westerners but are treating the warnings seriously.

    On Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Manila said "reliable security forces" detected a threat specifically in suburban Pasay City where it maintains a residential facility and a Veterans Affairs office. It urged U.S. citizens to avoid gatherings that may be regarded as "American events."

    Metropolitan Manila police chief Leonardo Espina said Saturday that he had ordered heightened security for embassies with increased patrols by uniformed and plainclothes officers. Such measures were put in place after attacks that killed the American ambassador in Libya (USA Today, 2012).

    Title: Philippines DOH Monitoring Chikungunya Outbreak In Surigao Del Sur
    Date: September 29, 2012
    Source:
    Global Dispatch

    Abstract: The Department of Health (DOH) is 
    monitoring the outbreak of chikungunya, a disease caused by the same mosquito species that spreads dengue, in Surigao del Sur.

    Unconfirmed reports say there have been 114 cases of the viral disease in Surigao del Sur; however, DOH Assistant Secretary Dr. Eric Tayag said only a few have been confirmed.

    The virus is not new to the Philippines, in fact, there were more than 1,000 cases reported across the archipelago last year.

    On Thursday, Tayag warned through Twitter:

    #chikungunya also causes fever and skin rash similar to dengue but mostly affects adults unlike #dengue in wc children are mostly affected

    Tayag said  chikungunya had been around in the Philippines in the 1990s, but he said they noted an increase of cases in the last two years.

    Many of the cases are in Metro Manila, Laguna, Pangasinan, and parts of Mindanao, he said.

    Chikungunya fever is a viral disease transmitted to humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes, particularly Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus (the “Asian Tiger Mosquito”). Chikungunya virus is a member of the genus Alphavirus, in the family Togaviridae. Chikungunya fever is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (e.g., joint swelling), laboratory testing, and the possibility of exposure to infected mosquitoes. There is no specific treatment or vaccine available for chikungunya fever; care is based on symptoms. Chikungunya infection is not usually fatal (Global Dispatch, 2012).

    Title: Activists: New Philippines Law Gags Netizens
    Date: October 4, 2012
    Source:
    CNN

    Abstract: A quick tweet or Facebook post could put you behind bars in the Philippines under a new cyber law, according to activists.

    The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 came into effect Wednesday despite widespread protests among netizens, journalists and free speech activists. "Reaction has been overwhelming. This is quite unprecedented," said Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch in Manila. "I haven't seen this kind of uprising from the online community in the Philippines. This is a setback for one of the most social-media savvy countries."

    The Philippines had a steadily rising 28 million internet users in 2011, approximately 30% of the population, according to the World Bank, placing it among the top 20 nations for internet use. Before the law came into effect, the Philippines was ranked the most "free" in Asia, according to the 2012 Freedom House report on internet freedom. The Philippines ranked sixth globally, after the United States, Australia and other European nations.

    The new law addresses an array of content and computer-related offenses, including cybersex, child pornography, unsolicited commercial communications and identity theft. The act also states that there will be "special cybercrime courts manned by specially trained judges to handle cybercrime cases."

    Critics of the law, who are calling it the "new marshal law online," are against a provision that criminalizes libel.

    "The law is so vague in many respects; it is being interpreted in many ways -- comparing 'liking' something on Facebook to an investigative exposé -- the law has to be clear," Conde said. "It's almost like an afterthought -- the libel portion was put there haphazardly." Existing libel laws of the Philippines were dubbed "excessive" by the United Nations in October 2011.

    Local news organizations and civil rights groups mobilized to file a petition against the law, which they believe "establishes a regime of cyber authoritarianism." The petition has sought a restraining order against enforcement of the new law.

    "You never know what's going to trigger these libel offenses...[the law] goes against overall freedom of press and expression. It is motivated by personal experiences -- they don't like what you say and then you are penalized for it," said Gayathri Venkateswaran of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.

    Other points of the new law have been contentious, such as the "take-down" provision, which enables the Department of Justice to order removal of defamatory content without due process.

    The Philippines government, in a statement, acknowledged the questions over the "constitutionality of certain provisions of the Act" but also called on "critics of the cybercrime Act to speak out against online vandalism and bullying with as much vigor and passion as they expressed in their objections to certain provisions of the law."

    The new law "is quite good ... except for the item on libel," said Jacques DY Gimeno, a contributor to the Freedom House report. "At least the government is now dealing with cybercrime.

    "Self-censorship will go up, internet users will have a sense of needing to police themselves," she added.

    On the future of the cybercrime law, Gimeno said, "It will probably be modified because it is so unpopular. People are taking note of the legislators who voted for the law; to pacify voters they will amend to mask the actual intention" (CNN, 2012).

    Title: Philippines, Muslim Rebels Announce Preliminary Peace Pact After Marathon Talks
    Date: October 7, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract: Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said Sunday that his government has reached a preliminary peace agreement with the country's largest Muslim rebel group in a major breakthrough toward ending a decades-long insurgency.

    Aquino described the deal in a nationally televised announcement as a "framework agreement" — a roadmap for establishing a new autonomous region to be administered by minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation's south. It follows marathon negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Malaysia, which is brokering the talks.

    The agreement, which is to be signed on Oct. 15 in Manila, spells out the general principles on major issues, including the extent of power, revenues and territory of the Muslim region. If all goes well, a final peace deal could be reached by 2016, when Aquino's six-year term ends, officials said.

    "This framework agreement paves the way for final and enduring peace in Mindanao," Aquino said, referring to the Philippines' main southern region and homeland of the country's Muslims. "This means that the hands that once held rifles will be put to use tilling land, selling produce, manning work stations and opening doorways of opportunity."

    He cautioned, however, that "the work does not end here," and that the two sides need to thresh out the accord's details.

    The deal marks the most significant progress in 15 years of on-and-off negotiations with the 11,000-strong Moro group on ending an uprising that has left more than 120,000 people dead, displaced about 2 million others and held back development in the south. Western governments have long worried that rebel strongholds could become breeding grounds for al-Qaida-affiliated extremists.

    "The parties agree that the status quo is unacceptable," according to the 13-page agreement, seen by The Associated Press. It calls for the creation of a new Muslim autonomous region called "Bangsamoro" to replace an existing one created in 1989 which Aquino characterized as a "failed experiment," where poverty and corruption have forced many "to articulate their grievances through the barrel of a gun."

    The accord calls for the establishment of a 15-member "Transition Commission" to work out the details of the preliminary agreement and draft a law creating the new Muslim autonomous region in about two years. The proposed law has to be approved by Congress.

    Rebel forces would be deactivated gradually "beyond use," the agreement said, without specifying a timetable.

    The Philippine government would continue to exercise exclusive powers over defense and security, foreign and monetary policy in the new autonomous region, where Muslims would be assured of an "equitable share of taxation, revenues, and the fruits of national patrimony ... and equal protection of laws and access to impartial justice," according to Aquino.

    Philippine officials said the preliminary accord would be posted on the government's website for public scrutiny, and would be signed in Manila in the presence of Aquino, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Moro rebel chief Al Haj Murad Ibrahim.

    "It's been a long journey and this is an important milestone in our search for lasting peace," presidential peace talks adviser Teresita Deles told AP.

    The United States, Britain, Malaysia and other countries welcomed the accord.

    "We fully support the ongoing peace process and hope the parties can continue to avoid violence as they work toward a final resolution that will last for generations," U.S. Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. said.

    The new Muslim region would be built upon an existing autonomous territory, among the country's poorest and most violent, with more than 4 million people living in five provinces, two cities and 113 towns.

    The Moro rebels earlier dropped a demand for a separate Muslim state and renounced terrorism.

    Their negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal, earlier said his group would not lay down its weapons until a final peace accord is concluded. He said the insurgents could form a political party and run in democratic elections to get a chance at leading the autonomous region for which they have been fighting.

    In Kuala Lumpur, Philippine government negotiator Marvic Leonen said both sides face the enormous task of working out the details. "We are not naive to say that there would be no obstacles. But the Philippine government will defend the agreement," Leonen said. "It's pragmatic, constitutional and a democratic process."

    The challenges are many.

    In 2008, the planned signing of a similar preliminary pact was scuttled when opponents went to the Supreme Court, which declared the agreement unconstitutional. Fighting erupted when three rebel commanders attacked Christian communities, and an ensuing military offensive killed more than 100 people and displaced about 750,000 villagers before a cease-fire ended the violence.

    One of the hardline rebel commanders, Ameril Umbra Kato, broke off from the Moro rebels last year and formed a new group opposed to the talks. Kato's forces launched attacks on several army camps and outposts in August, prompting another army offensive that killed more than 50 fighters in the 200-strong rebel faction.

    The Moro Islamic Liberation Front itself broke away in the 1980s from the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a 1996 autonomy deal with the government. That peace accord did not lead to the group's disarmament and many of the rebels have simply laid low in the south, still demanding that the government fulfill its commitments, including jobs, security and economic development.

    Some former guerrillas also formed a small but brutal al-Qaida-linked group called the Abu Sayyaf, which became notorious for bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings until U.S.-backed Philippine military offensives routed many of its militants. They are mostly based in the southern provinces of Sulu and Basilan, where about 400 gunmen remain (Fox News, 2012).

    Title: 17 Flights Diverted From Manila Airport Due To Air Traffic Facility Problem; Glitch Repaired
    Date: October 9, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract:  Officials say 17 flights have been diverted from Manila's international airport due to an air traffic equipment glitch.

    Planes diverted Tuesday from Manila include five international flights of Asiana Airlines, Thai Airways, China Southern Airlines, Philippine Airlines and Zest Airway from South Korea, Thailand and China.

    A Manila International Airport Authority advisory says the planes were diverted "due to air traffic facility problem." It did not elaborate and officials authorized to explain could not immediately be reached for comment.

    The flights were diverted to airports at the former U.S.-run Clark Air Base north of Manila, and in central Cebu and Iloilo cities.

    Jen Franco of the airport's public affairs office says the glitch was repaired shortly after noon. All 17 diverted flights later flew to Manila airport (Fox New, 2012).

    Title: Emerging Peace Deal In Philippines Could Turn Rebel Lairs Into Hostile Ground For Terrorists
    Date:
    October 13, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract:
    Hunted by U.S.-backed Filipino troops in 2005, Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani and other al-Qaida-linked militants sought refuge in the mountainous stronghold of the largest Muslim rebel group in the southern Philippines.

    But the rebels turned them away. They were afraid that harboring extremists would scuttle their peace talks with the government. The following year, Janjalani was killed by troops in another jungle area.

    The rebels' rejection of Janjalani shows the potential of harnessing the main Moro insurgents in preventing their strongholds from serving as one of the last remaining refuges of al-Qaida-affiliated militants.

    Philippine officials hope the tentative peace deal to be signed with the rebels on Monday will turn the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front into a formidable force against the Abu Sayyaf and other radicals (Fox News, 2012).

    Title: Strong Earthquake Shakes Philippines, No Injuries
    Date:
    November 3, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract:
    A strong earthquake rattled the southern Philippine island of Mindanao early Saturday, but there were no reports of any injuries or damage and no tsunami warnings were issued.

    The quake, which hit at 2:17 a.m., had a magnitude of 6.4, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology measured the magnitude at 6.5.

    The institute said the quake's epicenter was 13 miles northeast of southern Tandag city, and 517 miles southeast of Manila, the capital. It hit at a depth of 48 miles.

    "There was no damage, no casualties," Civil Defense chief Benito Ramos said hours after the temblor hit. "The earthquake was strong, but its source was deep and far."

    The institute recorded several aftershocks, but Ramos said they were hardly felt in the area. He said no tsunami warnings were issued.

    Surigao del Sur provincial administrator Efren Rivas said about 1,000 Tandag residents fled to the elevated grounds of the provincial capitol when the quake struck but returned to their homes shortly after.

    The Philippine archipelago is located in the Pacific "Ring of Fire," where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common. A magnitude-7.7 quake killed nearly 2,000 people on the northern island of Luzon in 1990 (Fox News, 2012).

    Title: Dengue Fever Cases Increase 25 Percent In The Philippines
    Date:
    November 24, 2012
    Source:
    Examiner

    Abstract:
    The Philippines has seen a significant increase in cases of the mosquito borne virus, dengue, so far in 2012, reports The Manila Standard Today on Nov. 24.

    From January to October this year, the Philippines reported 132,046 cases, up 25 percent versus the 105,702 logged in the same 10-month period in 2011.

    This has prompted the Philippines universal health coverage program, The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. or PhilHealth president to assure the public that the program will continue to cover dengue fever.

    According to an Inquirer News report Friday, Doctor Eduardo Banzon, PhilHealth president and chief executive officer, said the agency provides P8,000 ( about $195 US) for each case of dengue fever or simple dengue hemorrhagic fever and P16,000 for every case of dengue hemorrhagic fever with presence of shock.

    “We are constantly helping to pay for the hospitalization and treatment of every member or dependent admitted due to dengue fever,” said Banzon.

    Concerning treatment of this potentially life-threatening disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) says there is no specific treatment for dengue fever. Severe dengue is a potentially lethal complication but early clinical diagnosis and careful clinical management by experienced physicians and nurses often save lives.

    There is also no vaccine against the virus to prevent the infection (Examiner, 2012).

    Title: Philippines Braces For Powerful Typhoon
    Date: December 2, 2012
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract:  Philippine officials say fishermen and villagers in landslide- and flood-prone areas have been warned to take precautions as a powerful Pacific typhoon blows toward the country's south.

    Government forecaster Aldczar Aurelio says Typhoon Bopha was 870 kilometers (540 miles) off southern Surigao del Sur province late Sunday with sustained winds of 185 kilometers per hour (115 miles per hour) and gusts of 200 kph (124 mph). The storm may still strengthen over sea and is expected to make landfall on Tuesday.

    Benito Ramos, who heads the government's disaster response agency, says provincial officials have placed food packs and other emergency equipment in areas where the typhoon may pass.

    Ramos says evacuations of villagers may be carried out as it becomes clear where the typhoon will hit (Fox News, 2012).

    Title: Philippines: Typhoon Bopha Leaves Over 270 Dead
    Date: December 5, 2012
    Source:
    Telegraph                                

    Abstract: Hundreds of people are missing while entire villages have been wiped out in the wake of the most powerful storm to hit the Philippines this year, as rescue teams battled blocked roads and driving rain to reach the most isolate areas.

    The death toll from Typhoon Bopha rose past 280 on Wednesday, with 160 people alone killed in the worst-affected province of Compostela Valley, after Bopha slammed into the eastern coast of Mindanao island in the southern Philippines on Tuesday.

    Bringing winds of up to 130mph and torrential rain, the storm has forced 170,000 people to flee their homes.

    Another 115 victims of the typhoon are confirmed to have perished in six towns across neighbouring Davao Oriental Province, where Bopha made landfall.

    “Entire families were washed away,” Manuel Roxas, the Philippines interior minister, said, adding that at least 300 people were still missing.

    One stunned survivor said he had lost his mother and brother in a flash flood.

    “The last thing my mother said to me was 'I love you’. I no longer have a family,” said Julius Rebucas.

    The sheer force of the rain triggered waves of water and landslides that swept down from mountain tops and submerged entire towns and villages. In one area alone, two dozen people were pulled from the mud alive and evacuated to hospital.

    Most of those who died in Compostela Valley Province were villagers and soldiers who had gathered in emergency shelters and a military camp in New Bataan town to flee the typhoon.

    “They thought they were already secure in a safe area, but they didn’t know the torrents of water would go their way,” Compostela Valley provincial governor Arturo Uy said.

    Mr Uy said that the speed of the floods had engulfed many people. “The waters came so suddenly and unexpectedly, and the winds were so fierce, that compounded the loss of lives,” he said.

    In neighbouring Davao Oriental Province, locals described winds so powerful that they reduced villages to nothing.

    “I was told the force of the wind could even lift an army truck loaded with troops from the ground,” said Rommil Mitra, a local police chief.

    Rescue teams said large parts of the affected areas were now nothing more than a bleak, mud-churned landscape of collapsed houses and flattened coconut and banana plantations littered with bodies.

    With roads blocked by collapsed bridges and felled trees and power and communications cut, the provincial governor of Davao Oriental said rescuers trying to reach the most isolated parts of the province were “running an obstacle course”.

    Helicopters were being used to fly in army rescue teams and bring desperately-needed food, water and clothing to survivors left with nothing.

    87,000 people were evacuated ahead of Bopha’s arrival, one of the 20 or so typhoons that hit the Philippines annually.

    Officials were anxious to show they had heeded the lessons of the devastation caused by last year’s Typhoon Washi, which left more than 1,300 people dead when it hit an unprepared Mindanao last year.

    But Bopha was a more powerful storm and has wreaked unexpected havoc, destroying an estimated 70-80 per cent of the coastal region’s banana plantations and much of its infrastructure, even if the death toll is lower than that of Washi.

    By Wednesday evening, Bopha had moved northwest over Palawan Island, a popular tourist destination, with winds still reported as reaching over 90mph. It is expected to weaken further as it heads into the South China Sea on Thursday (Telegraph, 2012).

    Title: Gunman Kills 9 In House-To-House Rampage In Philippine Town
    Date: January 4, 2013
    Source:
    CNN

    Abstract: A gunman went door-to-door near the Philippine capital Friday, shooting and killing at least nine people in his neighborhood, authorities said.

    The attacker, Ronald Bae, injured several others in Kawit, said Joseph Camaret, a local police officer. The town is about 20 kilometers south of central Manila.

    Bae was subsequently killed in a gun battle with officers who tried to persuade him to surrender, police said.

    Authorities are searching for a suspect they believe acted as an accomplice in the attack.

    The shooting injured 11 others, according to the official Philippine News Agency. It said casualties included children, but did not specify whether the death toll included the gunman.

    Police are still investigating the motive for the attack.

    Before the shooting, Filipinos had been debating whether their country, where gun crimes are frequent, needs stricter controls on firearms.

    The concerns had been prompted by the death of a 7-year-old girl, Stephanie Ella, who was shot in the head amid celebratory gunfire on New Year's Eve, according to CNN affiliate ABS-CBN.

    A 4-year-old boy was also killed by a stray bullet on the same day, ABS-CBN reported. But it was Stephanie's death, which happened while she was watching fireworks with her father, that set off soul-searching about gun ownership in the Philippine news media.

    "This incident should not be allowed to become just another statistic," Vice President Jejomar Binay said in a statement released Thursday.

    The Philippines has enough laws governing the use of guns, he said, "but the problem has always been in the enforcement of the laws, especially those on loose firearms."

    The country's Firearms and Explosives Office says there were 1.2 million registered firearms in the Philippines as of last year, ABS-CBN reported. On top of that, the office estimates there were 600,000 unlicensed firearms in circulation nationwide.

    The Philippines has a population of 104 million people (CNN, 2013).

    Title: Pregnant Woman, 2 Kids Among 9 Dead In Shooting Rampage In Philippines
    Date: January 4, 2013
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract: A man who was apparently intoxicated fatally shot eight people, including a pregnant woman, her 3-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old girl, before being shot dead by police Friday near the Philippine capital, officials said.

    At least eight other people were wounded in the shooting rampage in Kawit township, about 10 miles south of Manila, Cavite provincial Gov. Jonvic Remulla said.

    He identified the gunman as Ronald Bae, who was killed in a shootout with responding police.

    It was not immediately clear why Bae went on the rampage, Remulla said. He said Bae left his Kawit neighborhood about a year ago after he lost an election for village chairman, and returned Monday because of a "marital problem" with his wife, whom he had left in northern Pampanga province before New Year's.

    The governor said Bae and several friends were on a "drug and alcohol binge" from Monday to Friday, drinking alcohol and taking methamphetamine. Bae left a store where he and his friends were drinking but later returned with the caretaker of his house in Kawit and began the shooting spree in the surrounding neighborhood, Remulla said.

    Police investigator Arnulfo Lopez said residents heard Bae threatening to kill the caretaker if he did not reload Bae's pistol during the shooting.

    Remulla said Bae first killed a man who lived across the street from his house and then killed his dog.

    "He just shot at anyone he saw," Remulla said. "You could see that these were really acts of a madman."

    He said Bae then shot and killed a 7-year-old girl inside her home and wounded her 2-year-old sister and 4-year-old brother, who was Bae's godson.

    The two siblings who survived were in critical condition. No details were immediately available about the condition of the other wounded victims.

    The pregnant woman died after being shot in the stomach, Remulla said. Her 6-month-old fetus also died.

    GMA television reported that the woman made a frantic call for help to her mother, Baby Alberto, who heard screams and gunshots.

    "She said, `Please, don't! Please don't!"' Alberto quoted her daughter as pleading to the gunman. She said her daughter was found dead in the bathroom hugging her 3-year-old daughter, who also died.

    Edwin Lacorte, an uncle of the three children who were shot, said he could hear them screaming from his home nearby.

    "I could not do anything," he said. "I heard the shots."

    Lacorte said he later saw bullet-riddled cushions that the children had apparently used to protect themselves during the attack.

    Lacorte said Bae soon approached his house, and he fled with his wife and their four children, two grandchildren and three nieces.

    "He was shooting at us as we were running," he said.

    Abigail Valte, a spokeswoman for President Benigno Aquino III, said the killings "will certainly fuel the efforts of the (Philippine National Police) in its drive against loose firearms."

    Police estimate there are about half a million firearms that are either unlicensed or have expired licenses around the country.

    A 7-year-old girl died Wednesday after being hit in the head by a stray bullet fired during New Year's Eve revelry in a Manila suburb. Police are still trying to determine who fired the shot (Fox News, 2013).

    Title: Suspected US Drone Found Floating In Philippines
    Date: January 7, 2013
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract: Philippine navy officials said Monday a suspected American drone has been found floating in the ocean off a central province, prompting them to deploy a ship with ordnance experts after fishermen reported the object may have been a bomb.

    The 10-foot orange BQM-74e drone marked "Navy" was found by a Filipino diver and fishermen off Masbate Island on Sunday and has been turned over to local navy authorities, Philippine navy officer Capt. Jason Rommel Galang said, adding it was not clear why the unmanned aerial vehicle ended up off Masbate.

    U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Bettina Malone said efforts were under way to determine if the drone was one of those used in American military air target training exercises and why it was in the waters off Masbate, about 235 miles southeast of Manila. The type of drone found was not armed and not used for surveillance, she said.

    Masbate is in a region where communist guerrillas have a presence. U.S. counterterrorism troops, who are barred from local combat, have used surveillance drones to help Filipino soldiers track down Al Qaeda-linked extremists in the country's south. At least two U.S. drones have been reported to have crashed and were recovered by villagers in the past on southern Mindanao island (Fox News, 2013).

    Title: 3 Americans, 3 Others Die In Philippine Hotel Fire
    Date: January 10, 2013
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract:  Philippine authorities say a fire swept through three adjacent hotels, killing three American retirees, one South Korean and two Filipino women.

    Disaster response official Angelito Layug said one of the Americans was trapped on a staircase and the two others died in their rooms early Friday in Olongapo city, a former U.S. naval base west of the capital, Manila.

    The blaze hit the small hotel buildings that are located next to each other at 3 a.m. and was put out three hours later.

    The cause of the fire is under investigation (Fox News, 2013).

    Title: U.S. Navy Commander Apologizes For Ship Stuck In Reef Off Philippines
    Date: January 22, 2013
    Source:
    CNN

    Abstract: A U.S. Navy minesweeper remained stuck in a reef teeming with endangered marine life off the Philippines on Sunday, prompting an American commander to apologize and promise stepped-up efforts to prevent further damage.

    The USS Guardian ran aground early Thursday in the Tubbataha Reef, about 80 miles east-southeast of Palawan Island in the Sulu Sea, the U.S. Navy reported.

    All 79 sailors were evacuated from the 224-foot ship. Hazardous weather and rough seas have hindered efforts to survey the empty Guardian and the surrounding area, though the Navy acknowledges damage to the reef.

    "As a protector of the sea and a sailor myself, I greatly regret any damage this incident has caused the Tubbataha Reef," said Vice Adm. Scott Swift, the U.S. 7th Fleet commander, in a report posted Sunday on a Navy website.

    "We know the significance of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and its importance as a World Heritage Site. Its protection is vital, and we take seriously our obligations to protect and preserve the maritime environment."

    The Guardian, an Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship based in Japan, was heading from Subic Bay to its next port call in Indonesia when it struck the reef's south atoll, the Navy said.

    The incident remains under investigation.

    Initial efforts to free the ship failed and its crew was transferred by small boats to other U.S. ships.

    The U.S. Navy reported no signs of oil slicks in the area.

    Philippine Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Favic -- in a report on the official Philippines News Agency (PNA) -- similarly indicated no evidence of oil.

    Three Philippine naval ships were in the area, along with a number of U.S. ships, according to Sunday's PNA report.

    The U.S. Navy will step up efforts on Monday when Rear Adm. Thomas Carney takes over as on-site commander on the destroyer USS Mustin.

    The focus is "preventing any further environmental damage to the reef and surrounding marine environment," according to the Navy report.

    Home to a vast array of sea, air and land creatures, as well as sizable lagoons and two coral islands, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

    About 500 species of fish and 350 species of coral can be found there, as can whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles and one of the last surviving colonies of breeding seabirds in the region, according to UNESCO (CNN, 2013)

    Title: Canadian Man Accused Of Opening Fire In Philippine Court Building, Killing 2
    Date: January 23, 2013
    Source:
    CNN

    Abstract: A Canadian man is accused of opening fire in a court building in the Philippines on Tuesday, killing two people and wounding himself and one other person, authorities said.

    The incident is likely to add to the debate over stricter controls on firearms in the country, which has been rattled by a series of recent shootings.

    The official Philippines News Agency (PNA) reported that the gunman "went berserk" at the Hall of Justice the city of Cebu. It identified the suspect in the case as John Pope, a Canadian.

    Facing a criminal case in the courts, the gunman fatally shot the complainant in the case, who was believed to be a doctor, and the doctor's lawyer, the Philippine Supreme Court said, citing initial police reports.

    Besides the gunman, the other person wounded in the attack was Maria Theresa Casino, a prosecutor who is in a critical condition, according to the PNA.

    The Supreme Court said that the names of those involved were still being verified and that it was sending an official to Cebu to investigate the shooting.

    The Supreme Court has supervisory responsibilities over such court buildings in the Philippines, the PNA cited Prosecutor General Claro Arellano as saying.

    Arellona said there had been a severe lapse in security at the building in Cebu and called on the Supreme Court to take steps to prevent if from happening again.

    Cebu police officials weren't immediately available to comment on the matter.

    Earlier this month, a gunman went from house to house in a town near the capital, Manila, killing at least 9 people.

    And on New Year's Eve, a 7-year-old girl died after being shot in the head amid celebratory gunfire.

    The country's Firearms and Explosives Office says there were 1.2 million registered firearms in the Philippines as of last year, according to CNN affiliate ABS-CBN.

    On top of that, the office estimates there were 600,000 unlicensed firearms in circulation nationwide.

    Government officials have suggested that better enforcement of existing gun laws is required rather than the introduction of new rules (CNN, 2013).

    Title: Robbers Spark Panic Among Shoppers In Huge Philippine Shopping Mall To Cover Their Escape
    Date: January 27, 2013
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract: Philippine police say robbers broke into one of the world's largest shopping malls and fired shots to spark panic among shoppers and cover their escape after taking jewelry from a shop.

    Police Senior Superintendent Florendo Quibuyen says no one was injured in the daring late Saturday robbery at the SM Megamall in a suburb of the capital, Manila. Investigators were trying to identify two of the robbers, whose faces were caught on security cameras.

    Quibuyen said Sunday that the robbers used an iron wrench to shatter glass showcases and take the jewelry.

    SM Megamall attracts between 500,000 to almost 1 million shoppers a day (Fox News, 2013).

    Title: Philippine Health Officials Investigate Anthrax Outbreak In Abra, Slow The Spread Of Chikungunya In Samar
    Date: January 30, 2013
    Source:
    Global Dispatch

    Abstract: Officials from the Philippines Department of Health (DoH) are investigating and battling two disease outbreak in two different regions of the country.

    The DoH has dispatched a team of investigators to the northern province of Abra to investigate a suspected outbreak of the serious bacterial disease, anthrax, which has been implicated in at least 23 cases in Lagangilang, Abra, according to a Philippine Daily Inquirer report today.

    “A DOH team is now assisting local officials in coordination with the Bureau of Animal Industry in the conduct of an outbreak investigation,”according to the report.

    It is reported that the suspected cases are showing signs of cutaneous anthrax. Cutaneous anthrax is a form of the disease that occurs when the spore (or possibly the bacterium) enters a cut or abrasion on the skin. It starts out as a raised bump that looks like an insect bite. It then develops into a blackened lesion called an eschar that may form a scab. Lymph glands in the area may swell plus edema may be present. This form of anthrax responds well to antibiotics. If untreated, deaths can occur if the infection goes systemic. 95% of cases of anthrax are cutaneous.

    Anthrax is endemic in the Philippines. It generally affects animals such as carabao (water buffalo). Humans are at risk of the disease when handling and/or consuming the infected animal.

    The DoH is also working to slow the spread of the mosquito borne viral disease, chikungunya fever in the area of  Villareal, Samar, which has seen over 500 cases since December 2012, according to a Tacloban SunStar report Tuesday.

    “We believe, the ailment is also present in other municipalities but the number is not that alarming. Outbreak occurred in Villareal probably because of many breeding grounds for mosquitoes,”noted  DOH regional information officer Bryant Labastida.

    Chikungunya fever is a viral disease transmitted to humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes, particularly Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus (the “Asian Tiger Mosquito”). Chikungunya virus is a member of the genus Alphavirus, in the family Togaviridae.

    Chikungunya fever is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (e.g., joint swelling), laboratory testing, and the possibility of exposure to infected mosquitoes. There is no specific treatment or vaccine available for chikungunya fever; care is based on symptoms. It is rarely fatal.

    Labastida said the disease is not as deadly as dengue but mortality is possible since the victim’s immune system weakens, thus making them prone to high-risk infectious diseases (Global Dispatch, 2013).

    Title: Al-Qaida-Linked Gunmen Free 2 Filipino Hostages In Philippines But Still Hold Foreign Captives
    Date: February 3, 2013
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract: Abu Sayyaf gunmen have freed two Filipino crewmen of a Jordanian TV journalist who were kidnapped last year but the al-Qaida-linked militants continued to hold the reporter and four other foreigners in a jungle where a fierce clash between the extremists and another Muslim rebel group erupted Sunday, officials said.

    Police found frail-looking cameraman Ramel Vela and audio technician Roland Letriro late Saturday and brought them to a hospital in southern Sulu province, where they were kidnapped in June along with Jordanian Baker Abdulla Atyani, Sulu police chief Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra said.

    Atyani is believed to be held by Abu Sayyaf gunmen in the jungles of Sulu's mountainous Patikul town, about 950 kilometers (590 miles) south of Manila.

    "We're so happy. We never thought we'd make it out alive," a teary-eyed Vela said from his hospital bed, adding he and Letriro had not seen Atyani since the kidnappers separated them shortly after they were taken hostage.

    Visibly thinner with overgrown hair and beards, the two were examined by doctors and given bread and water.

    An unspecified amount was paid to secure their freedom, according to three security officials who have been monitoring the kidnappings. The three spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

    Military officials say Abu Sayyaf militants had demanded 130 million pesos ($3.1 million) for the release of Atyani and his two crew members.

    Muslim rebels from the larger Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a 1996 autonomy deal with the government, meanwhile, clashed with the Abu Sayyaf on Sunday in Patikul's jungles after they failed to convince the extremists to release all their hostages, including Atyani and two European men, after more than two weeks of negotiations, Freyra told The Associated Press.

    At least six Moro rebels have been killed and scores have been wounded from both sides, officials said.

    It was the first major bloody confrontation between the two insurgent groups, which have co-existed for years and at times were suspected of collaborating on kidnappings and backing each other in clashes against government troops in predominantly Muslim Sulu.

    Moro commander Khabir Malik said his group had taken the initiative to seek the freedom of the hostages to help the government clean up the image of Sulu, where the Abu Sayyaf has carried out deadly bombings, kidnappings and beheadings, primarily in the early 2000s.

    U.S.-backed military offensives have crippled the Abu Sayyaf in recent years, but it remains a national security threat. Washington has listed the group, which has about 380 armed fighters, as a terrorist organization.

    Moro National Liberation Front rebels were not disarmed when they signed a peace deal with the government. They have settled back to their Sulu communities but have clashed with government troops periodically while negotiating for more concessions under the 1996 peace deal with the government.

    Atyani, who interviewed Osama bin Laden and his aides in Afghanistan about three months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, traveled to Sulu with Manila-based Vela and Letriro to work on a documentary about the country's volatile south and possibly interview Abu Sayyaf militants in impoverished Sulu, Freyra and other officials said.

    The other hostages believed to be still held by the Abu Sayyaf include two European bird watchers, who were seized in February last year, a Japanese treasure hunter, a Malaysian national and a Filipino resident of Sulu, according to officials.

    A former Australian soldier was separately being held by the Abu Sayyaf either on nearby Basilan island or the Zamboanga peninsula, also in the south.

    On Friday, Washington renewed a longstanding warning to Americans not to travel to Sulu "due to the high threat of kidnapping ... and violence linked to insurgency and terrorism there."

    The Abu Sayyaf is an extremist offshoot of a Muslim rebellion that has been raging in the predominantly Catholic nation's south for decades. The violence has been fueled by abject poverty, corruption, proliferation of illegal weapons and weak law enforcement (Fox News, 2013).

    Title: 6.2-Magnitude Earthquake Rattles Southern Philippine Island
    Date: February 16, 2013
    Source:
    CNN

    Abstract: A 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck Saturday near the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries, the state-run Philippines News Agency (PNA) reported.

    The temblor hit at 12:37 p.m. local time, 149 kilometers (93 miles) south of Davao, the USGS said.

    It struck at a depth of about 98 kilometers. No tsunami warning or watch has been issued (CNN, 2013).

    Title: Malaysia Charges 8 Filipinos With Terrorism Offenses Over Deadly Armed Siege In Borneo
    Date: March 20, 2013
    Source: Fox News


    Abstract: Malaysian prosecutors have charged eight Filipino men with terrorism-related offenses following an armed siege in Borneo that killed 71 people.

    The eight are the first to face charges after an estimated 200 members of a Filipino Muslim clan slipped into Malaysia's Sabah state last month and took over a village to highlight their long-dormant territorial claim to the timber-rich state.

    Subsequent firefights killed 62 clansmen and nine Malaysian police and army personnel, according to Malaysia's government. Some of the surviving Filipinos fled back to the neighboring southern Philippines, while a few dozen are believed to be hiding on palm oil plantation land in Sabah.

    Government prosecutors on Wednesday charged eight suspects in Sabah with two terrorism-related offenses that carry a possible death penalty or life imprisonment on conviction (Fox News, 2013).

    Title: Last Part Of Doomed US Navy Ship Removed From Philippine Reef
    Date:
    March 31, 2013
    Source:
    Fox News

    Abstract: Workers in the southwestern Philippines have removed the last major part of a U.S. Navy minesweeper from a protected coral reef where it ran aground in January, and the damage will be assessed to determine the fine Washington will pay, officials said Sunday.

    A crane lifted the 250-ton stern of the dismantled USS Guardian on Saturday from the reef, where it accidentally got stuck Jan. 17, officials said. The reef, designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural arm, is located in the Tubbataha National Marine Park in the Sulu Sea, about 400 miles southwest of Manila.

    The doomed ship's parts will be transported to a Navy facility in Sasebo, Japan, to determine which ones can be reused and which will be junked, Philippine coast guard Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista said.

    Workers were cleaning debris at the site, where American and Filipino experts this week will begin a final assessment of the reef damage, to be paid for by Washington. An initial estimate showed about 4,000 square meters (4,780 square yards) of coral reef was damaged by the ship grounding, according to Tubbataha park superintendent Angelique Songco. She said it was unlikely the estimate would change significantly.

    Songco said the fine would be about 24,000 pesos ($600) per square meter, so the U.S. could be facing a bill of more than $2 million.

    The fine will go to a fund for the upkeep of the reef, Songco said, adding that Filipino and U.S. scientists will inspect the reef this week to determine the best way to "rehabilitate" the damaged parts. One option is to let the reef heal by itself, which would take a long time but be less complicated. Another option is to carry out some "repairs" to the reef, which would be more costly and complicated, she said.

    Songco said her agency did not have plans to pursue charges against U.S. authorities over the incident.

    Asked if the Philippine government would press charges against U.S. Navy officials, Philippine Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., a spokesman for President Benigno Aquino III, did not reply directly, but said, "There must be accountability and we will enforce our existing laws."

    The warship's removal closes an embarrassing episode as Washington reasserts its presence in Asia amid China's rise. The Navy and the U.S. ambassador to Manila, Harry K. Thomas, have both apologized for the grounding and promised to cooperate with America's longtime Asian ally.

    "As we have stated in the past, we regret this incident and the United States is prepared to pay compensation for the damage to the reef," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement, adding that it was cooperating with a Philippine government investigation of the incident.

    A separate U.S. government investigation on the cause of the grounding has not yet been completed, the embassy said.

    Aquino has said that the U.S. Navy must explain how the ship got off course, and that the Navy will face fines for damaging the environment.

    The Guardian was en route to Indonesia after making a rest and refueling stop in Subic Bay, a former American naval base west of Manila, when it ran aground before dawn Jan. 17. It strayed more than 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) into an offshore area off-limits to navigation before hitting the reef, Songco said.

    Philippine officials are considering asking the International Maritime Organization, the U.N. agency responsible for improving maritime safety, to declare the Tubbataha park a "particularly sensitive sea area" so steps can be taken to further protect the area from future shipping accidents, she said (Fox News, 2013).