Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Op/Ed: Terrorists on social networks

Op/Ed piece posted to the Star Online (Dec 19): Terrorists on social networks

With cyberspace turning into a recruiting ground for militants to draw young Malaysians into their ranks, the latest violent death should not be treated as yet another isolated case. THE troubling thought is Mohd Noor Fikrie Abd Kahar who was shot dead in Davao, Philippines last Friday, may be just one of many wannabe martyrs. The number of home-grown terrorists created through the social media is anybody’s guess but the reality is there are scores of vulnerable young people in Malaysia who are ripe for radicalisation. Terror groups can easily befriend them and empathise with their grievances and disenchantment. Once hooked, they are slowly pulled into the militant cause through indoctrination. There is no longer any need for personal physical interaction like in the past. Today’s terrorists are lured into the ranks through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Dropbox and such. Emotion-stirring videos and other propaganda materials are enough to persuade these susceptible people to join the militant networks and be willing to sacrifice their lives.

Fikrie, who used the moniker of “goodjinn” in a religious talk forum hosted by local web portal CariGold.com, for example, had posted 2,438 messages about fighting Islam’s enemies since 2006. Among the latest was this: “Death is a friend. It follows you even when you have forgotten about it. Get to know it before it comes to you.” As one intelligence expert described it, he was a classic example of a self-radicalised young man, programmed into becoming a terrorist via the social media.

What can the authorities do about this? For one thing, they should not be in denial that this is happening or regard the latest violent death as yet another isolated case. One rehabilitated former Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) member, who spoke to The Star recently, said Facebook had become the most popular means of luring new members. The former militant confirmed that when they were ready, they were sent for training as fighters. It is no secret among counter terrorism experts that Malaysia is one of the countries favoured for recruiting new followers, even as far back as during the Afghanistan war against the Soviet Union between 1979 and 1989.

Today’s tech-savvy terrorists are not exactly running riot on the Internet but it is a fact of life that they are very much there and using all the tools and freedom it offers to enlist new followers. And it is unlikely that things would change soon through any form of global policing of the web.

The United Nations’ recent plea for better surveillance of Internet users to help to investigate and prosecute terrorists has only resulted in cynical responses from advocates of Internet freedom across the world. Its 148-page report titled “Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes” warned that terrorists were using social networks and sharing sites for posting propaganda for recruitment, radicalisation, training, financing and executing physical acts of terrorism. The report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) urged governments to use the tools available in the Internet to prevent and deter acts of terrorism and engage potential recruits in “constructive dialogues” to tackle radicalisation. Although it noted that overly stringent measures like tighter controls on ISPs to block content would impinge on privacy and human rights, it still drew much ridicule and scorn. It was seen as yet another attempt to compel ISPs to spy on users, collect the data and use it for keeping people under surveillance for reasons beyond terrorist threats.

More recently on Friday, the UN’s International Telecommunications Union treaty, signed in Dubai by 89 out of 144 countries, including Malaysia, revealed the world’s deep divide when it comes to the question of imposing controls on cyberspace. Western nations, including the US, Britain and much of Europe, refused to sign the pact on the grounds that it gave too much power to UN, in spite of the ITU’s insistence that regulating the Internet was not its key issue. But our immediate worry should be over wannabe terrorists being recruited online, especially when one of the two most senior JI leaders in the Philippines are Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as Marwan, who has a US$5mil (RM15mil) bounty on his head. The other is Singaporean Moham-mad Abdullah Ali, known as Muawi-yah.

Fikrie, a divorced father of four, was believed to have been in close contact with them before leaving for his fatal mission to Davao. He went with his Filipina wife Annabelle Nieva Lee, a Muslim convert, carrying an improvised explosive device in a backpack. Lee, who is now in custody claimed that they had planned to bomb a bus for extortion, but Davao police suspect that a church may have been the target as two of five major bomb attacks in the city had been on churches. According to Philippines’ news site Rappler.com, Marwan and Mua-yiyah were now in Butig, near the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) Bushra camp. The network cited Filipino intelligence sources as saying that they were on the move with two pregnant Filipinas, believed to be their wives. The Philippines’ security forces are reportedly treading very carefully because the area is under the control of MILF which is currently holding peace talks with the government through a deal brokered by Malaysia.

Meanwhile, the pertinent question for our intelligence experts is: How many other young men have the JI and other militant groups succeeded in convincing to become terrorists and bomb makers?


A soldier’s story of peace in Mindanao

From the Leyte Samar Daily Express (Dec 19): A soldier’s story of peace in Mindanao

Cleaning and planting with school children in mindanao

If there is one thing that Army Captain Arturo M. Dumalagan would like to see in his lifetime, it is about the realization of peace in Mindanao. Capt. Dumalagan, who hails from Maasin City in Southern Leyte , is the Civil Military Operation Officer of 65th Infantry Battalion, 9th Infantry Division, stationed at Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur. As the Bangsamoro framework agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front finally came into being last October, the Army officer has also expressed confidence that peace is now arm reach in Mindanao area.“We’re happy because we will not be fighting them (MILF) with our weapons anymore. Instead we will be joining our hands fighting against criminality in the area, joining forces in conducting rehabilitation in Lanao,” said Capt. Dumalagan.

Although speaking on a personal basis, the Army officer said peace and order are slowly taking shape in his area. “They (MILF) are starting to go down and walk freely in the city without their weapons as agreed upon.” Another development he also recalled is that they were not able to have armed clashes with the MILF when ceasefire agreement was declared in Mindanao since the previous administration. “We had no recorded MILF encounters since the ceasefire was declared in 2009. We are now only confronting lawless groups in Lanao del Sur, like carnappers, kidnappers and drug pushers especially in Marawi city.” His wish however is that someday the Army will exist “only against the treat of any foreign enemy invaders,” instead of fighting against its own people. “The problems in Mindanao can be solved by no less than sincere and honest politicians or leaders,” said Capt. Dumalagan, adding that with his five years of fighting criminality in the area he has lots of experiences to tell about Mindanao.

Meanwhile, in his recent media interview MILF chairman Al Haj Murad said: “The challenges are very gigantic. We know this is not the end of the struggle. Signing an agreement is not an end of the struggle, but it is a start of struggle in a different form. So we’re preparing ourselves for the hard tasks ahead.” “Signing an agreement is one aspect, but implementing it is a more difficult process and building a nation which has been ruined for four decades is a very challenging task . So what is important for us is we can contribute to how the aspirations of the Bangsamoro will be achieved. We don’t look more on what we can get from this agreement …. We are not yet definite on what position we can get , but that has to be seen during the implementation. The important is what we have achieved will be in place and whoever runs it is only secondary.”

Malacanang has also created a Transition Commission that will handle on the “human development and poverty alleviation” in the region, not to mention power and wealth sharing.


Special Representatives on peace talks meet, NDFP warns against non-compliance with agreements

From the NDF Website (Dec 18): Special Representatives on peace talks meet, NDFP warns against non-compliance with agreements

Prof. Jose Maria Sison, Founding Chairman of the CPP, Ambassador Ture Lundh and GRP Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs Ronald Llamas.

Prof. Jose Maria Sison, Founding Chairman of the CPP, Ambassador Ture Lundh and GRP Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs Ronald Llamas.

Luis G. Jalandoni, Chairperson of the Negotiating Panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), expressed appreciation for the first meeting of the Special Representatives of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the NDFP in The Hague on 17 and 18 December 2012. The Royal Norwegian Government hosted and facilitated the meeting. The GPH and NDFP Special Representatives agreed to carry on the discussions on common declaration of national unity and just peace; further upholding national independence, democracy and human rights; committee of national unity, peace and development; agrarian reform, rural development and national industrialization; and truce.

They agreed to recommend to their respective principals the holding of a nationwide ceasefire from midnight of 20 December 2012 to midnight of 15 January 2013. The ceasefire additionally gives due consideration to the relief and rehabilitation of the victims and communities devastated by super typhoon Pablo.

During the meeting, the Special Representatives of the NDFP declared that political prisoners and detainees must be released in order to improve the climate for the work of the GPH and NDFP Negotiating Panels and to help facilitate the progress of the peace negotiations. Jalandoni warned that the failure to investigate the disappearance and killings of the NDFP consultants and the release of consultants and other political prisoners in accordance with the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement for Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) can adversely affect both the regular track and the special track of the peace negotiations.The GPH and NDFP Special Representatives agreed to meet again sometime early next year.

The GPH Special Representatives were Secretary Ronald Llamas, Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs; GPH Negotiating Panel Chairperson Alexander Padilla; Efren Moncupa, GPH Panel Member; Undersecretary Chito Gascon (OPAPA); and Director Maria Carla Munsayac-Villarta, GPH Panel Secretariat Head. The NDFP Special Representatives were Prof. Jose Maria Sison, Founding Chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines; NDFP Negotiating Panel Chairperson Luis G. Jalandoni; Fidel Agcaoili and Coni Ledesma, NDFP Panel Members. They were assisted by Vicente Ladlad, Political Consultant; Edre U. Olalia, Legal Consultant; Ruth de Leon, NDFP Panel Secretariat Head; and Rosario Agcaoili, staff. The Royal Norwegian Government as facilitator was represented by Ambassador Ture Lundh who was accompanied by Sverre Johan Kvale and Linn Kaja Rogstad.


Army on alert despite SOMO

From the Visayan Daily Star (Dec 19): Army on alert despite SOMO

Soldiers of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division in Negros and Panay have been placed on defensive posture, after the ambush of government troopers Monday in Miag-ao town, Iloilo, that claimed the life of PFC Ricky Gardose, while a unilateral ceasefire is being observed by the government. Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta, 3ID commanding general, said that while he was saddened by the death of Gardose, a member of the 82nd Infantry Battalion, they will continue to strictly observe the suspension of military offensives against the New People’s Army. Mabanta said the Army’s commitment to peace will always be present, especially during this Christmas season. “While we are suspending all deliberate offensive military operations, we will continue our presence in communities to protect civilian communities, government and civilian infrastructure to maintain peace and security,” he added.

Gardose and other members of the 82nd Infantry Battalion Bayanihan Teams were responding to a report that rebels were planning to attack a military outpost in Sitio Anoy, Brgy. Cabalaunan, Miag-ao, when they were fired at by rebels, military records show. The 18-day government ceasefire started Dec. 16 and will end Jan. 2 next year. The Communist Party of the Philippines, meanwhile, is marking its 44th founding anniversary on Dec. 26. Two days before the yuletide truce took effect, two Army soldiers died, while four others were injured in a clash with communist rebels in Brgy. San Agustin, Isabela, Negros Occidental.


NDF, govt negotiators to recommend Dec 20-Jan 5 ceasefire

From InterAksyon (Dec 19): NDF, govt negotiators to recommend Dec 20-Jan 5 ceasefire

Representatives of the National Democratic Front and the government after their meeting in The Hague at which they agreed to recommend a 27-day ceasefire over the holidays. (http://www.ndfp.net/joom15/images/stories/2012_NDFP-GPH_Hague_18Dec/DSC01596.JPG)

Peace negotiators of the National Democratic Front and the government have agreed to recommend a mutual 27-day nationwide ceasefire, from midnight of December 20 to midnight of January 15 next year, the rebels’ chief negotiator said Wednesday. The agreement was reached during a meeting between the two parties in The Hague, The Netherlands on December 18-18. The meeting was facilitated by the Norwegian government, which is also the third-party facilitator to the formal peace talks. Luis Jalandoni said the ceasefire “additionally gives due consideration to the relief and rehabilitation of the victims and communities devastated by super typhoon ‘Pablo’.” If the mutual truce is declared, it will likely supersede the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ declaration of an 18-day “suspension of offensive military operations” from December 16 to January 3 and extend an even earlier December 5 to January 3 “humanitarian ceasefire” declared by the National Democratic Front-Mindanao in typhoon-stricken areas of the island.

AFP spokesman Colonel Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr. said they welcomed the NDF announcement but added that all military units will remain vigilant against possible attacks by the New Peoples Army. Burgos claimed the NPA in Mindanao had violated their own unilateral ceasefire, citing an alleged attempt to kill a soldier who had lost his home during the typhoon and the abduction of his children. The rebels have denied this, claiming the incident happened when the soldier suddenly fled on seeing an NPA unit helping typhoon victims rebuild their homes. The rebels said one of their fighters was seriously wounded when the fleeing soldier hurled a grenade at them. In Iloilo province, a soldier was killed in a recent NPA ambush.

Representing the government at The Hague meeting were presidential political adviser Ronald Llamas, chief government negotiator Alex Padilla, government panel member Efren Moncupa, Undersecretary Chito Gascon and Maria Carla Munsayac-Villarta, head of the government panel secretariat. The NDF was represented by Jalandoni, Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma. Sison, negotiators Fidel Agcaoili and Coni Ledesma, political consultant Vicente Ladlad, NDF legal consultant Edre Olalia, Ruth de Leon, head of the peace panel secretariat, and Rosario Agcaoili, a member of the panel staff. Aside from the truce, the NDF said the parties also agreed to “carry on discussions” on a number of issues:
  • The common declaration of national unity and just peace
  • The further upholding of national independence, democracy and human rights
  • The creation of a “committee on national unity, peace and development
  • Agrarian reform, rural development and national industrialization
  • Truce
Both parties also agreed to meet again early next year.


MILF: Regional Agency for Youth Affairs in Socsksargen reorganized

From the MILF Website (Dec 19): Regional Agency for Youth Affairs in Socsksargen reorganized


Moro youth from South Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat and General Santos City (Socsksargen) Area was reorganized during the 3rd Regional General Assembly of the Agency for Youth Affairs held at Sitio Camasi,Barangay Ligaya in the City of General Santos on December 12, 2012. The activity was geared to strengthen unity among the ranks of Moro youth in the region and toughen their organizational structure in preparation to the upcoming Bangsamoro Government that is expected to commence by 2016. The participants, reaching more than 300 in numbers, were also updated and municipal officers as directed by the MILF Central Committee.

Zainudin Pendatun, newly-appointed AYA Region 3 Chairman, said strengthening the organization of the Moro youth is in support to the possible implementation of the new political entity for the Bangsamoro people. The framework agreement that was signed in Malacanang Palace on October 15 this year shall pave way of the creation of Bangsamoro, a political entity with own government that will be ministerial in form that could be the answer for the clamor of the Moro people for self-determination. Bangsamoro will replace the present Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao which President Aquino described as failed experiment. The ARMM area will serve as the core territory for the Bangsamoro including some towns in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato. Pendatun revealed their organization will come up with provincial assemblies and organizational development activities. He further disclosed that the Moro youth will take part in the information drive to popularize the framework agreement.

The regional chairman is hopeful that the accord will give opportunity to the Muslim to acquire quality education not only locally but also in other countries. “The Moro youth are the second liners of our incumbent Moro leaders,” he said “and it is incumbent upon us to be well equipped with education and capacity to lead our communities.” Pendatun is hopeful that the government will be sincere in giving what is due for the Moro people. “We have been dreaming for real peace and better condition of our people,” he said. He urged the Moro youth to support the framework agreement because it will also shape the future of the upcoming generation of the Moro people.


MILF panel chief blows top in latest round of talks

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 19): MILF panel chief blows top in latest round of talks

The chief negotiator of the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Mohagher Iqbal, reportedly lost his cool during the latest round of peace talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last week, ostensibly because of a “seeming distrust” he felt from the government panel, according to a source close to the talks. “The atmosphere during the talks last week was not that happy,” the source said.

However, it is nothing that cannot be resolved and the talks are still on track, according to the source. “The annexes (to the framework agreement) will not likely be signed this year but that is not to say that the talks have bogged down,” the source said. The apparent cause of Iqbal’s pique was the government panel’s insistence that the Transition Authority should be named the “Bangsamoro-led Transition Authority.” The MILF wants it called the “MILF-led Transition Authority,” the source said. Iqbal, who is almost always a “very gentle man” during the talks, became angry at the supposed lack of goodwill from the government panel, the source said.

This was the reason that the 34th round of talks, the second after the framework agreement was signed in October, ended in an impasse and without a joint statement being signed, the source said.  The framework agreement signed last October provided for the creation of a Bangsamoro Transition Authority under the Basic Law. The framework agreement is considered the blueprint for the final peace agreement between the government and the MILF.  According to Chapter VII of the framework agreement, “all devolved authorities shall be vested in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority during the interim period.”

“The ministerial form and Cabinet system of government shall commence once the Bangsamoro Transition Authority is in place. The Bangsamoro Transition Authority may reorganize the bureaucracy into institutions of governance appropriate thereto,” the agreement said.  The source explained that insisting on the “Bangsamoro Transition Authority,” meant a recognition still of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which President Aquino himself has described as a “failed experiment.”  The source explained that this would allow the government to appoint whomever it wants to the Transition Authority, the source said.  “If you call it a ‘Bangsamoro Transition Authority,’ it would still mean including an ARMM-led local government. It appears that there would be no change at all with the present system, which was already considered broken,” the source said.


MILF: Op/Ed--The Impasse May Imperil the Peace Talks

Op/Ed piece posted to the MILF Website: The Impasse May Imperil the Peace Talks

The Moro people were once again hit by a shockwaves of undetermined intensity as news of impasse in the 34th Exploratory Talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) reached the Bangsamoro homeland two nights ago from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Moro people were caught by surprise and as they expected the completion of discussions on the four (4) remaining contentious issues contained in the annexes such as wealth and power sharing; modalities and arrangement; and normalization by year end.

The signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) was lauded by different sectors of society; the international community as a roadmap towards the establishment of the Bangsamoro Region and seen as the ultimate solutions to the age-old Moro quest for peace, freedom and self-determination. The entire Moro people had been awaiting this development as past agreements failed in resolving the Mindanao crisis. The appointment of Prof. Miriam Ferrer-Coronel was assumed by many as a continuation of the position and gesture of erstwhile GPH Peace Panel Chair now Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen in completing the remaining unresolved issues contained in the annexes. All the while, observers and analysts presumed that both Coronel and Justice Leonen have the same line of thinking but found to be on different track.

Before the deadlock, Mohagher Iqbal, Chair of the MILF Peace Panel forewarned the parties for a “technical impasse” as the government was pressing for the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) to be led by a “Bangsamoro” which according to him would become a “struggle of the fittest and chaos as it would imply that the chairman of the BTA is open for grabs”. The impasse without fix date of resumption of the talks is really disheartening to the Moro people and will surely make them restless and impatient. However, Iqbal does not believe that the GPH panels’ position reflects the thinking of President Benigno Aquino III. On the other hand, MILF Peace Panel member Maulana Alonto told their counterparts in the government that “the MILF leading the BTA is a non-negotiable matter, arguing that the MILF has long been the partner of the government in peace making in the 16 long years of negotiation and after it signed the FAB; but all of a sudden, the government would replace it with strangers to the talks”.

Imposing the idea of placing someone not a party or privy to the struggle and the peace process is illogical and unacceptable as it will surely imperil the peace process at a time both sides are about to complete the unresolved issues. Alonto challenged the GPH Panel to “take it, or leave it”; referring to the position of the Moro Front that it should lead the BTA right after the Bangsamoro Basic Law has been promulgated and ratified in a plebiscite by the people in the proposed Bangsamoro Region. Datu Antonio Kinoc, alternate member of the MILF Peace Panel described it as “not reasonable, not fair and not humane”

As this saddening event developed during the most crucial period of the peace process, the Moro people are now skeptics as to its outcome. The sudden change of gesture or position of the GPH Peace Panel is seen as another sinister effort as shenanigans are bent to forego with the completion of the FAB; a decision disastrous to both parties. A derail or discontinuance of the peace process may incite other elements to resort to violence as the position of the government panel is blemished with trickery and deception. The GPH panel should have not been swayed by its inappropriate and unproductive position as it has adverse effect on the quest for peace and progress in Mindanao and Sulu. A delay on the “finishing touches” contained in the annexes will prolong the culmination of efforts in resolving the age-old Mindanao problem. The GPH Peace Panel should reconsider its position bynow.The two panels should have taken advantage of the prevailing momentum as public interest increases while information drive on the FAB is being intensified and supported by the people.

The event in Kuala Lumpur will put to test the political will of President Aquino if he is really serious in finding long lasting, comprehensive and acceptable solutions to the Moro problem in Mindanao. President Aquino should be decisive by now. The Moro general masses await and watch the succeeding development as other options remained open for them should the peace process fail. The issue at hand should be resolved at the earliest possible time so both parties can meet its timeline as a recurrence of armed conflict in the region is catastrophic to both the government and the Moro people.


Top JI leader a close associate of Fikrie, say Philippine cops

From Asia One (Dec 18): Top JI leader a close associate of Fikrie, say Philippine cops

PETALING JAYA: Top Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) leader Marwan was "known to be a close associate" of Mohd Noor Fikrie Abd Kahar who was gunned down in Davao City, say Philippine police. Its city police chief Senior Supt Ronald de la Rosa said Marwan, whose real name is Zulkifli Abdul Hir, 46, was believed to be planning a bomb attack in that area. However, the attack was thwarted when police shot Kedah-born Mohd Noor Fikrie, arrested his wife and defused the bomb he was carrying in his backpack last Friday. On whether they had intelligence of Marwan's current whereabouts, de la Rosa said: "We don't know where he is. But I hope and pray he is not in Davao." Marwan, who hails from Muar, has a US$5mil (RM15mil) bounty on his head and is on FBI's most wanted list. He was believed to have been killed in a US-backed air strike at a militant camp in Parang, Jolo, on Feb 2 but authorities have been unable to confirm his death.

De la Rosa said they had learnt through the course of interrogation that Mohd Noor Fikrie's Filipino wife Annabelle Nieva Lee was a Muslim convert. The 26-year-old was a son of a retired policeman but had been recruited into the regional terror group JI through Facebook. He had kept in contact with Marwan and the Abu Sayyaf through the Internet and used a Sabahan contact to travel between Sandakan and Zamboanga City in southern Philip­pines before he headed over to Davao. Reports also indicated that Mar­wan, who conducted bomb-making and training for terrorist organisations, was last seen with Mohd Noor Fikrie in Mindanao.
 Meanwhile in Kota Kinabalu, state police chief Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib said there was no evidence yet indicating that Mohd Noor Fikrie had contacts in the state. He added that Mohd Noor Fikrie had not been on Sabah police's wanted list.

Ministry confirms identity of militant

Fromt the New Straits Times (Dec 18): Ministry confirms identity of militant

PUTRAJAYA: The Home Ministry yesterday confirmed that the Malaysian shot dead by security forces in the southern Philippines last Friday was militant Mohd Noor Fikrie Abd Kahar. Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the 26-year-old was from Malacca and had entered the southern Philippines in April. "I also want to confirm that Noor Fikrie joined a militant group and it is believed that he had learned how to make bombs when he was in the country," he said in a statement yesterday.

Hishammudin said Noor Fikrie's family had requested help from the government to bring back the body. "I have instructed the police to make arrangements for his body to be brought back for burial immediately." He said several of Noor Fikrie's family members and ministry officers would travel to Davao to make arrangements to bring back the body. "The government views with grave concern the subversive activities and threats of militant and terrorist groups because they could undermine a country's peace and security. In this case, we always work closely with the security agencies of foreign countries. This is to ensure the safety of our country and the region." Noor Fikrie, a member of Jemaah Islamiyah, had threatened to blow up a homemade explosive device before he was shot dead in Davao.


Malaysian 'had been an active JI member'

From the New Straits Times (Dec 17): Malaysian 'had been an active JI member'

KUALA LUMPUR: PHILIPPINE security forces saved countless lives when they homed in on Malaysian Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) member in Davao before shooting him dead. Intelligence sources said 26-year-old Mohd Noor Fikrie Abd Kahar had been planning to blow up a hotel in the city, similar to the JW Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta in 2009. A source said Fikrie was an expert in bomb-making, having been trained by Johor-born JI member Zulkifli Hir. Zulkifli, 45, had been described as one of the key terror suspects in Southeast Asia. He had been a fugitive for more than a decade and the United States had a US$5 million (RM15 million) bounty on his head until he was killed in a dawn strike on a militant camp in remote southern Jolo Island on Feb 2. Fikrie avoided arrest in July during a raid by Philippine security forces in the south.

The eldest of four siblings, he was married in 2005 and had three daughters aged between 3 and 6. His divorce was finalised before he left for the Philippines in April. "Fikrie met his second wife, a Filipina named Annabelle Nieva Lee, there. They got married in July," said the source, adding that police believed Fikrie had been active for quite awhile.

Asked whether his remains would be brought back to Malaysia, the source said police here were awaiting clearance from the Philippines government for the body to be released. "It will take some time as they have to follow procedures and complete their investigations."

Fikrie and Lee had checked out of the Sampaguita Hotel in Davao at 10.30pm on Friday when they were confronted by security forces in the lobby. During a scuffle, Fikrie took out a mobile phone and threatened to detonate an improvised explosive device (IED) inside a backpack carried by Lee. The security forces then backed away, allowing the couple to run out of the hotel at which point they split up, with Fikrie grabbing the backpack from his wife. The Malaysian was later shot dead after a short chase, and a bomb squad defused the IED. Lee was arrested on suspicion of being a member of Balik Islam. The movement comprises of Muslim converts which had attracted the attention of Philippine security forces. A small group of members of the movement were also part of another movement which had militant ideas.


M'sian 'terror suspect' was a Facebook recruit

From the China Daily (Dec 17): M'sian 'terror suspect' was a Facebook recruit

Malaysian Mohd Noor Fikrie Abd Kahar was another Facebook recruit of regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). The son of a retired policeman is a classic example of one who became self-radicalised through the social media and killed in a failed terror mission. His intended target remains a mystery but Philippine police said the explosives could have gone off in a shopping mall, hotel or a church as pre-Christmas Simbang Gambi (dawn masses) were about to begin There is also speculation that it could have been Mohd Noor Fikrie's initiation rite as a JI fighter to rise up its ranks.

Despite being a relative newcomer, he was already in close contact with top JI leader and fellow Malaysian Zulkifli Abdul Hir, also known as Marwan. Marwan is believed to have escaped a Philippine security forces offensive on February 2, which killed Abu Sayyaf leader Umbra Jumdail Gumbahali, also known as Dr Abu. Kedah-born Mohd Noor Fikrie, 26, was in touch with Marwan and the Abu Sayyaf via social media and used a Sabahan contact to travel between Sandakan and Zamboanga City in southern Philippines.

According to intelligence sources, Mohd Noor Fikrie was with Marwan and Abu Sayyaf terrorists during encounters with the Philippine military and police over the past few months. “JI and Abu Sayyaf were operating together in the Sulu area but JI moved to Mindanao when the Philippine security forces, supported by technical help from US and Australia, put intense pressure on them,” said a source. After one recent attack on their hideout, Mohd Noor Fikrie was among those who managed to escape unscathed. “But in his haste, he left his Malaysian identity card behind,” the source added. That was how Philippine intelligence units kept track of him until he resurfaced in Davao on Friday night with his burqa-clad Filipina wife, Annabelle Nieva Lee, and a backpack containing a bomb on his fatal mission.

Mohd Noor Fikrie finished secondary school and worked in several jobs in Malacca where his father was a sergeant at the police contingent headquarters' training centre until he retired in 2002 and left for the family's hometown of Benut in Pontian, Johor. Mohd Noor Fikrie married a woman identified only as Nuzul and they lived in Kampung Bahagia, Klebang in Malacca until they divorced late last year. He then left for Mindanao and married Lee, a Muslim convert from Sorsogon, a city regarded as the gateway to southern Philippines soon after his arrival. It is learnt that over the past few years, he was drawn to JI and its aims and kept in touch with key operatives via social media.


$5m bounty placed on terror leader Marwan's head

From the China Daily (Dec 17): $5m bounty placed on terror leader Marwan's head

Regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) leader Zulkifli Abdul Hir, who was once believed to have been killed in an air strike, has a US$5 million (15 million ringgit) reward on his head. Better known as Marwan, his group is believed to be behind the planning of a bomb attack in Davao City in southern Philippines involving Mohd Noor Fikrie Abd Kahar from Kedah, according to Philippine sources. The mission, however, failed when intelligence got wind of it and shot dead Mohd Noor Fikrie and arrested his Filipina wife, Annabelle Nieva Lee, 26. The elusive Zulkifli, 46, and Singaporean JI leader Abdullah Ali were among 15 Abu Sayyaf terror group fighters, including its leader Dr Abu Pula, killed in a US-backed air strike at a militant camp in Parang, Jolo on Feb 2, 2012.

Although the killing of Abdullah, also known as Muawiyah and Dr Abu, also known as Umbra Jumdail, were confirmed, there was no confirmation on Zulkifli's death. In April, the government sent DNA samples from his family to Manila. However, without his human tissue or samples to carry out tests, Zulkifli's death remains unconfirmed. Zulkifli, from Muar in Johor, continues to be on the FBI's most wanted list under the US Rewards for Justice Programme. He was the head of Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM) associated with JI and, according to the FBI, conducted bomb-making and training for terrorist organisations including the kidnap-for-ransom Abu Sayyaf group. The FBI stated that Zulkifli was indicted in August 2007 by a District Court in California for providing material support to terrorists. Other reports stated that one of his brothers, Rahmat Abdul Hir, 43, who was arrested in the United States, was also indicted in August 2007 for allegedly supplying equipment such as two-way radios, Colt. 45 magazines and other items to Zulkifli.

Intelligence reports indicated that Zulkifli was last seen in Mindanao together with Mohd Noor Fikrie before the latter emerged in Davao on Friday night.


Suspected JI member's chilling messages before death

From Asia One (Singapore) (Dec 18): Suspected JI member's chilling messages before death

PETALING JAYA - Mohd Noor Fikrie Abd Kahar purportedly wrote a series of chilling messages about welcoming death in an online forum a day before he left on a terror mission in the Philippines. The 26-year-old was reported by a local Malay daily to be a member of a local online forum, writing under the name "gooddjinn". According to information in local web portal CariGold.com, which hosts the "Religious Talk" forum, the user gooddjinn had posted 11 messages on April 26, during which the writer spoke about fighting Islam's enemies. "Death is a friend. It follows you even when you have forgotten about it. Get to know it before it comes to you. "It is for the martyred Muslim the final resting place, where his weariness in his fight in the way of Allah will be eased," read one of the postings. Mohd Noor Fikrie had left Malaysia via Sandakan the next day, staying in southern Zamboanga City before moving to Cotabato City in Mindanao and then to Davao.

In an earlier message on April 26, gooddjinn had lamented the lack of opportunities to die in the fight against the enemies of Islam, writing: "Pity the Malays who have no opportunity for martyrdom.Nearly all of his postings end with the same message: "In the name of Allah and the Oneness of God, I will support the efforts and the movement of the Global Jihad to fight the terrorist unbelievers and their infidel allies, no matter the price nor sacrifice, until victory or martyrdom!"

The heading for another posting read "The Crusades are back", containing three YouTube clips featuring Osama bin Laden and the US war in Afghanistan. Although gooddjinn's online friends could not be contacted to verify his identity, the messages were disturbing enough for some of them to write back and ask if he was feeling all right. "Why are you suddenly thinking of dying this is scary," one of his online friends had written in the forum. The messages by gooddjinn on April 26 were his final ones, after which he ceased to be active in the forum. A member of the forum since 2006, gooddjinn had posted a total of 2,438 messages. While most of his early postings centred around online businesses, gooddjinn began to increasingly focus on religion and martyrdom since the start of this year.


Suspected JI member's dad: His character changed after failed marriage

From Asia One (Singapore) (Dec 18): Suspected JI member's dad: His character changed after failed marriage

PETALING JAYA - The father of suspected Jemaah Islamiyah bomber Mohd Noor Fikrie Abd Kahar believes his son became a terrorist after his bitter divorce two years ago. Retired cop Abd Kahar Sirul, 53, said he noticed his son's character change after the disappointment of his failed marriage to a local woman whom he had wed in 2005. The marriage produced three children aged four, five and six now. "After the divorce, he spent a lot of time on social media. When we questioned him about his Facebook postings which touched a lot on jihad and the fight to protect Islam, he brushed us off." He said that shortly after this, Mohd Noor Fikrie moved out and lived with a friend from Sabah at a rented home in Tanjung Kling, Klebang. Abd Kahar said he never imagined his son to be capable of taking another person's life.

Mohd Noor Fikrie, 26, was shot dead by Davao police on Friday night after they received intelligence that he had a bomb and was planning a terrorist attack on the city. Together with his Filipina wife Annabelle Nieva Lee, the couple were checking out of the Sampaguita Hotel when they were cornered by local police. Mohd Noor Fikrie tried to flee with a backpack bomb and a mobile detonation device, which he threatened to set off if the police made any move to arrest him. He was shot dead by the police while his wife was arrested and is currently being interrogated. The bomb, made of 60mm mortar, was later recovered from the backpack and defused.

The former sergeant major, who served in the force for 27 years, explained that he tried calling his son many times after he moved out but his son never answered or returned his calls. "When I visited his rented house in May, his housemate said my son had moved out and gone to Kuala Lumpur ," he said. He then asked the help of an acquaintance with the Immigration Department to conduct a check on his son and discovered that he had left to the Philippines from Labuan on April 27. Not long after that, Mohd Noor Fikrie sent a message via Facebook to his mother that he had banked in a sum of money for his children's expenses but did not specify where he was except that he was in the Philippines. Mohd Noor Fikrie is the eldest of four siblings. His younger brother Mohd Noor Amin died in an accident in 2010. Abd Kahar said once his son's remains were brought back, he would be buried at the Benut Islamic cemetery in Pontian, Johor.

Meanwhile, in Malacca, Mohd Noor Fikrie's former mother-in-law, 51, who declined to be named, described him as "a responsible caring husband and a good son-in-law". "We really never thought that such thing could happen to him," she said at her home at Kampung Bahagia in Tanjung Kling here yesterday. She said her eldest daughter Siti Sarah Raihana, 23, got married to Mohd Noor Fikrie, who was a technician, seven years ago. "I last saw him in April when he visited me and the children at home," she said. "He brought snacks for the children and spent time playing with them. They were happy. He gave me money when he left."


Suspected JI member's last SMS dashed cleaner's hopes of seeing her son again

From Asia One (Singapore) (Dec 18): Suspected JI member's last SMS dashed cleaner's hopes of seeing her son again

"The only way you will see me is when I return in a coffin," said Mohd Noor Fikrie Abd Kahar in his last text message to his mother a day before he was shot dead. The message all but dashed the hope of Noresah Kusin, 45, for her son's safe return, said his close friend and neighbour Mohd Musa Abd Rashid, 26. "A relative of ours in Kuala Lumpur informed her about the shooting and she became hysterical and could not stop crying," Mohd Musa said. He said the whole family had left for Cheras and were currently residing at Mohd Noor Fikrie's brother's house. Mohd Musa said they were shocked but had suspected something was amiss when he did not return for Hari Raya in September. "He was a religious and quiet person who never failed to return to Benut to be with his mother for Hari Raya," he said. He added that Mohd Noor Fikrie usually kept in touch with his brother via Facebook and would SMS his mother once in a while.

"Before leaving for Kuala Lumpur, the family told me that they were worried as they had to raise RM8,000 (S$3,200) to transport his body home. Noresah only works as a cleaner at a secondary school here and her husband is retired so we are looking for ways to raise the money," he said. Meanwhile, in Putrajaya, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the police had been tasked with bringing back Mohd Noor Fikrie's body. "(Mohd Noor) Fikrie's family has requested the help of the Malaysian Government to bring his body home to Malaysia. "Members of his family and several of our officers will take off to Davao to organise the return of his remains in the quickest time possible," he said. Hishammuddin reiterated the Government's serious stance against acts of terrorism.


PA: Philippine Army launches character excellence project

From the Philippine Army Website (Dec 17): Philippine Army launches character excellence project

The Philippine Army launches a character excellence project dubbed as “Destined to Win”, on Monday, December 17, at Luna Hall, ACSS, TRADOC, here. At least 100 people including soldiers, officers and special visitors from the academe and religious sector attended the ceremony at 10 a.m. “Destined to Win” is a character excellence project of the Army under the Army Transformation Roadmap (ATR) 2028 which aims to promote distinctive character and sustainable value system of individual soldier. The project also aims to inform, educate and internalize to Army personnel the foundation of correct values and character development necessary to raise the level of military professionalism in pursuit of the ATR.
Army Vice Commander Maj Gen Essel C. Soriano ably represented Army Chief Lt Gen Emmanuel T Bautista in the launching. In his speech, delivered by Soriano, Bautista said: “We will always be guided by the principles of the IPSP Bayanihan and the ATR which aims to provide an opportunity to strengthen values of our soldiers making them not only competent but also principled and morally upright individuals.” The ATR is a long-term, 18-year transformation and governance program aimed at promoting genuine transformation that would result to a world-class Army that is a source of national pride by 2028. Under it are comprehensive guidelines and approaches to achieve an Army that is credible, reliable, responsive, more capable and more professional committed to its mandate of serving the people and securing the land.
What’s in it?
“Destined to Win” emphasizes that the “man behind the machine” matters most in any transformation experience. At the end of the program, the Army is expected to have been able to provide spiritual and moral direction to its soldiers. “In order for us to become the world-class Army that we aspire to be, it is essential that we pay attention to enrich not only our physical and mental toughness but our moral configuration as well,” said Soriano reading CGPA’s message. The character excellence program shall be implemented until the command reaches its Base Camp in 2028 through the conduct of lecture series that are clustered into three areas. The first is the Discovery Series which is consisted of primordial use of equipment vis-à-vis values as direction finder for the succeeding activities. Second is the Exploration Series focused on the appreciation of other mission-essential values and may be supplemented as necessary. Coming in third is the New Generation Leader Series which is a ladderized training for advocates/facilitators/trainers to equip Officers and Non-Commission Officers in the workplace or mission area. After the launching, the Army hopes to further strengthen its resolve to contribute in the fulfillment of its mission to win the peace.

Abu Sayyaf member nabbed in Basilan

From the Sun Star (Dec 18): Abu Sayyaf member nabbed in Basilan

Authorities have arrested an Abu Sayyaf Group member tagged in the killing of a police official in 2009, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) said. Police Director Samuel Pagdilao Jr., CIDG chief, identified the arrested suspect as Najim Laisong alias Uyong, 20, resident of Barangay Tumahubong, Sumisip, Basilan. The CIDG said its tracker team and intelligence operatives of the Armed Forces of the Philippines arrested Laisong for four counts of murder in his village on December 14. Laisong is an ASG member under the leadership of Commander Abugao Bayali operating in the suspect's hometown, according to Police Senior Superintendent Edgar Danao, Zamboanga CIDG chief. Danao said Laisong, a wanted person in the national level category, was involved in the ambush-slay of Police Inspector Reymen Jannatul and three other cops, who were then on their way to the Basilan provincial police office on June 28, 2009.


3 linked to NPA clash positive for gunpowder

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 17): 3 linked to NPA clash positive for gunpowder

Three of the 19 persons arrested following a Thursday encounter in Isabela town, Negros Occidental, between the military and alleged communist rebels have tested positive for gunpowder nitrates. Colonel Francisco Patrimonio, 302nd Infantry Brigade commander, said the positive paraffin test results of the three arrested persons showed that they had fired guns. The military had explained that they were suspicious of the presence on Dec. 13 of the 19 persons at the encounter site in Sitio Mahopaho, Barangay San Agustin, Isabela, where the soldiers and alleged members of the New People’s Army (NPA) were engaged in a gun battle. Patrimonio also disclosed that five other persons who were among those arrested on Thursday were identified by soldiers in their accounts as having participated in the encounter that resulted in the killing of two soldiers and the wounding of four others.

The Isabela encounter claimed the lives of Pfc. Dennis Acosta and Pfc. Oliver Grecia. The injured soldiers were 1st Lt. Shamon Pamittan, Sgt. Romeo Castellano, Pfc. Nesty Deniega and Pfc. Justino Esquibel, all assigned to the Alpha Company of the 11th Infantry Battalion. The four injured soldiers were conferred the Wounded Personnel Medal on Saturday by Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta, 3rd Infantry Division commander, at Jose Pablo Memorial Hospital in Bacolod City. Patrimonio said the five persons identified by the soldiers and the three others who tested positive for gunpowder nitrates would remain in jail. The police, however, released 11 of the 19 arrested persons because they said these persons did not have anything to do with the encounter. Two of the 11 persons released by the Isabela police are minors.

Karapatan Negros and its allies slammed the military for the arrest of 19 persons, whom they claimed to be innocent civilians. Fred Cana, Karapatan-Negros secretary general, maintained that by arresting civilians whom they were supposed to protect, the Army soldiers have committed human rights violations. But Patrimonio justified the arrest of the 19 individuals suspected to be rebels at the encounter site, saying they only wanted to find out why they were in the area. “Since fleeing New People’s Army rebels can easily mingle with civilians, we have to check and verify their presence at the encounter site,” he added. “If you are innocent, then you are free to go. If not, then charges will be filed against you,” Patrimonio said.  Senior Supt. Milko Lirazan, officer in charge of the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office, also justified the investigation of the 19 persons and their detention within 36 hours of the reglamentary period to determine if they had participated in the gun battle.


New Navy chief to assume post Wednesday

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 18): New Navy chief to assume post Wednesday

Incoming Philippine Navy Chief Vice Admiral Jose Luis will assume his post in a change of command ceremony Wednesday afternoon at the PN headquarters in Roxas Boulevard. Alano, current Commander of the AFP Central Command which holds jurisdiction over the Visayas region, will replace Vice Admiral Alexander Pama. Both are from the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1979. The ceremony will be presided by President and Commander-in-Chief Benigno Aquino III, the Navy said in an advisory. Pama served as the 32nd Flag Officer-in-Command for nearly two years. Meanwhile, Alano, who will take the lead of the 26,000-strong Navy, will reach the mandatory age of retirement of 56 on May 1, 2014.

Christmas truce ditched in NPA assault on soldiers

From the Manila Times (Dec 18): Christmas truce ditched in NPA assault on soldiers

GOVERNMENT troops undergoing humanitarian mission in the hinterlands of Iloilo province were attacked on Monday by members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in total disregard of the 18-day unilateral ceasefire or stop of military offensive (SOMO) earlier declared by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta, commander of the Third Infantry Division, said that the assault occurred at about 10 a.m. in Sitio Anoy, Barangay Cabalaunan in the municipality of Miag-ao, while a Bayanihan Team of soldiers from the 301st Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army were conducting peace and development activities in the area. Initial report from the field, Mabanta said, indicated that one enlisted personnel was killed in action and undetermined number on the rebels side.
“While we are suspending all deliberate offensive military operations, we will continue our presence in communities to protect civilian communities, government and civilian infrastructure in order to maintain peace and security in the area,” Mabanta said. “We will continue to observe the SOMO. The Army’s commitment to peace will always be present especially during this Christmas season. Communities should be given the opportunity to celebrate the yuletide peacefully,” he added.

He added that his troops are now conducting hot pursuit operations against the rebels as part of their defensive security operations. Military officials announced the ceasefire order on Saturday. It would be effective starting midnight of December 16 up to 1 a.m. of January 3. Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr., Armed Forces spokesman had earlier clarified that under the terms of the ceasefire order, the only prohibition is the conduct of “deliberate” offensive operation such as combat operations. Burgos said that soldiers can retaliate if attacked and would continue to perform their routine security patrols within the necessary protective radius to protect communities, government establishments, investment and economic facilities, vital structures and military camps and detachments. “The very purpose of the enforcement of SOMO is for them [NPA] to have the opportunity to spend the Christmas season with their families, go down, so that they will realize what is missing in their lives in waging armed violence,” he added.

Military showcases 20 short films on IPSP Bayanihan

From the Business Mirror (Dec 17): Military showcases 20 short films on IPSP Bayanihan

THE Armed Forces is holding a four-day screening of 20 original short films dubbed “Kuwentong-Bayan,” that highlight the concept of Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan starting on Monday at the AFP Theater in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City. Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr., Armed Forces spokesman, said that under the military’s Film Omnibus 2012 Project, Kuwentong-Bayan will showcase 20 original short films from 20 directors who are members of the Filipino Pictures Inc. (FilPix). “The short films are proud offerings of the FilPix to the soldiers of the Armed Forces who will be celebrating their 77th anniversary on December 21. Independent film directors Manie Magbanua, Jess Lapid Jr., John Red and Topel Lee were among the directors who joined the project which started last September,” Burgos said.
He said Kuwentong-Bayan is part of FilPix’s contribution to the military’s campaign to spreading the message of Bayanihan to win the peace. It is also envisioned to effectively show a different perspective on addressing the root cause of insurgency and social issues in the country. “The project seeks viewership from government agencies particularly the defense, security, law-enforcement and human-rights sectors, and from the private sector including human-rights and environmental advocacy groups; watchdogs like the Bantay-Bayanihan and the local media, tribal groups, youth organizations and religious groups,” Burgos said.
On Monday the AFP Film Omnibus 2012 Project screened the films Dumut by Director Manie Magbanua, KaKosa by Milo Paz, Luluah by Jess Lapid Jr., Kawal by EJ Salcedo and Bidong by 28. On Tuesday the films to be screened are Loida by J.P. Carandang, Asindero/Saglit by Ogi Sugatan, Kurap by Raymund Amonoy, Leleng by Mervyn Brondial and Corridor by Rey Gibraltar. Bahay Kubo by Ellen Ramos, Tuwan by Angelo Carpio, Masaligan by Ronald Bautista, Pusong Bato by Pam Miras and The Last Stand by Topel Lee will be shown on Wednesday. On Friday Ritmo by Remton Zuasola, The Last Revolution by Paolo Villaluna, Apok by Nap Jamir II, Ngayon ang Panahon by Jon Red and Negros: A Documentary on Velez-Malaga Farmworkers by Ditsi Carolino will be screened.
Gen. Jessie Dellosa, Armed Forces chief of staff; Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes, vice chief of staff; and Lt. Gen. Gregorio Macapagal, the deputy chief of staff and the members of the Armed Forces Joint Staff attended the kick-off ceremony. Troops from the Armed Forces Major Services and their dependents; civilian personnel from the General Headquarters; guests from the Department of National Defense, National Police, Defense Press Corps and other groups also attended the event. “This undertaking between the Armed Forces and the Filipino Pictures Inc. is a clear manifestation of Bayanihan in action. It embodies the principles of the IPSP Bayanihan which enjoins all civilian partners and stakeholders in addressing issues and conflicts that hinder our nation from achieving continuous progress and development. We hope that this undertaking will help the AFP in raising the awareness of our people in participating more in our Bayanihan efforts to achieve our common goal of a just and lasting peace for our nation,” Dellosa said.

Members of 15-man transition body to be named before yearend

From Business World (Dec 18): Members of 15-man transition body to be named before yearend

The composition of the 15-man Transition Commission is expected to be completed before the year ends following its creation by presidential fiat. President Benigno S. C. Aquino III on Monday issued Executive Order No. 120 that created the commission which will have seven members from the government and eight from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), including the chairman.

 MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said in an interview yesterday that the members of the MILF contingent "would be released soon." For her part, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Q. Deles said in a statement that the executive order "affirms the President’s resolve to move forward the peace process for the Bangsamoro as a strategic initiative for political stability and economic development."

In the same statement, government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the commission will craft a law for the new region that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. "The aim is to install the Bangsamoro through a new organic act as soon as possible in order to have an elected Bangsamoro government by 2016," she said. "This does not prevent the TC (transition commission) or its members from examining the constitution and recommending constitutional reforms." The transition body will ensure that the shift to the new political system will be orderly.


Military suspends pursuit operations

From Business World (Dec 18): Military suspends pursuit operations

The military has suspended pursuit operations against suspected communist rebels who clashed with soldiers last week, in line with the holiday ceasefire until Jan. 2. Col. Francisco Patrimonio, 302nd Infantry Brigade commander, said the encounter last Thursday claimed the lives of Privates First Class Dennis Acosta and Oliver Grecia. Four other soldiers from the Alpha Company of the 11th Infantry Battalion were wounded.

Meanwhile, the police released 11 of 19 persons arrested on Friday at the site of the clash. Mr. Patrimonio said the police failed to link their involvement in the clash. Three people who tested positive for gunpowder and five others, who were identified as among the suspected rebels who took part in the clash, are still in detention as of yesterday. "It is the police that will determine the charges to be filed against the eight suspected rebels, who will be liable for the death and injuries of the soldiers," Mr. Patrimonio said. He defended the arrest of the civilians, which had drawn criticism from human rights watchdog Karapatan.

"Since fleeing rebels can easily mingle with civilians, we had to check and verify their presence at the encounter site. If you are innocent, then you are free to go," Mr. Patrimonio said. Sr. Supt. Milko Lirazan, officer-in-charge of the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office, said the 11 civilians who were released were held within the reglamentary period to determine if they had participated in the gun battle.

Troopers of the 11th Infantry Battalion Alpha Company led by 1Lt. Von Ryan Gomez were on security operations in Isabela, Negros Occidental last Thursday when they encountered 30 to 40 armed men. This led to a running gun battle that lasted several hours. The soldiers later seized a suspected New People’s Army camp that could accommodate about 50 persons. The four injured soldiers were conferred the Wounded Personnel Medal last Saturday by Maj. Gen. Jose Z. Mabanta, Jr., 3rd Infantry Division commander, at the Jose Pablo Memorial Hospital in Bacolod City.


Malaysia arranges for repatriation of suspected JI member's body

From GMA News (Dec 18): Malaysia arranges for repatriation of suspected JI member's body

The Malaysian government has started arrangements for the return to Malaysia of a suspected terror group member who was shot dead in an encounter with police in Davao City last weekend. Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said they hope to have the body of Mohd Noor Fikrie Abd Kahar, 26, returned soonest.  "Fikrie's next-of-kin and several of our officers will go to Davao to arrange for the body to be brought back soon," Hishammuddin said in a statement, according to a report on Malaysia's state-run Bernama news agency late Monday. He added Fikrie's family had sought the Malaysian government's help to bring his body home. Also, he said he instructed the Malaysian police to arrange for the remains to be brought back to the country immediately for burial.
Philippine police shot Fikrie dead Friday night following an encounter in Davao City. Fikrie was carrying an improvised explosive device at the time. Hishammuddin said Fikrie, who hailed from Malacca, was detected to have entered MIndanao last April and had learned how to make bombs there. On the other hand, he said the Malaysian government views with grave concern the subversive activities and threats of militant and terrorist groups, saying they could undermine a country's peace and security. "In this matter, we always cooperate closely with the security authorities of other countries in ensuring the security of our country and the region," he was quoted in the article as saying.

Soldiers in ComVal undergo stress debriefing

From ABS-CBN (Dec 18): Soldiers in ComVal undergo stress debriefing

Soldiers in Compostela Valley underwent stress debriefing as retrieval operations continue in New Bataan. A group of volunteers took advantage of what little free time the soldiers had to check on their condition. The activity is part of the stress debriefing that will allow the men in uniform to open up and unload some of the burden. In this field, soldiers fight a different battle.  “Sila ‘yung kumbaga nasa front line. Mayroong may trauma, mayroong may second-hand trauma. ‘Yung pasa-pasa na nakita mo lang, hindi pwedeng hindi ka maapektuhan,” said Fr. Arnold Abelardo of the Philippine Orthopedic Center.
Some of the soldiers could not hold back their emotions as they talked about their colleagues who remain missing and the residents who are not giving up hope that their loved ones will be found. "Masakit din sa amin kasi sabi nga ng iba mas okay pa ang giyera kasi nakikita pa ‘yung cadaver nila eh pero ito wala talaga,” said Capt. Victor Enteng Jr. “Karamihan sa mga nakuha namin mga bata. May anak din ako eh, mahirap na mangyari din sa amin,” said Sgt. Ronald Torralba. The volunteers tried to ease the soldiers' pain and anxiety through a prayer at the end of the session.

Meanwhile, downpours continue in New Bataan, especially in the afternoon. The sound of rain is enough to strike fear and send people into panic. “Natakot ako talaga, baka lumaki ang ulan, saan kami tatakbo?” said Angela Concon, one of the survivors. Social workers here are now calling on other counselors and psychologists to help survivors cope with the trauma caused by Typhoon Pablo.
Assistance is more than just physical help. Sometimes, the best kind of relief one can give is to listen, to offer comforting words and assure survivors that they are not in this alone.


Honors given to outgoing Navy chief

From the Philippine Star (Dec 18): Honors given to outgoing Navy chief

The BRP Apolinario Mabini patrol boat sailed Tuesday again, this time carrying an important person who steered the ship before and made it to the topmost position of the Philippine Navy. The man, Navy chief Vice Admiral Alexander Pama, will not join in any operation with the patrol boat that sailed to the naval base in Sangli Point, Cavite but will receive a testimonial parade honor before he will retire Wednesday.  The honor will be fitting for the outgoing chief, who will leave his colorful military career, aside from sailing again BRP Apolinario Mabini, which is the last ship he commanded before heading several area command positions. Pama will step down Wednesday as he will be replaced by Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano.

A member of Philippine Military Class (PMA) 1979, Pama made his presence felt in the military leadership when he led the Naval Forces Western Mindanao and chief of the Task Force Trillium, a special military operation unit, unlikely to be commanded by white cap, in flushing out the Abu Sayyaf militants and its cohorts lost command group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Basilan. Pama successfully prevented the militants from adopting its ‘pintakasi’ (mugging) style of wiping out small type military operations. “Sometimes, we have to move out of the box in dealing the threat groups,” Pama said.

Pama’s meritorious achievement would steer him later into the highest position as the flag officer-in-command. He was at the naval leadership at a trying time, when the country figured in a territorial dispute with China over islands in the West Philippine Sea. It was also during this time that the Navy acquired a Hamilton cutter class ship known as the Gregorio del Pilar, so far the largest and fastest ship which was recently involved in the Scarborough standoff. Under Pama’s leadership, another cutter class was acquired and will be on its way to the country early next year, Navy spokesman Col. Omar Tonsay said. Tonsay said Pama’s leadership have brought the navy into a direction of modernizing its capability. He said Pama believed that preparation for the competence of the Philippine Navy personnel must be enhanced parallel to its modernization.


9 Cagayan cops survive landmine blast

From the Philippine Star (Dec 19): 9 Cagayan cops survive landmine blast

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya , Philippines – Nine policemen narrowly cheated death in a landmine explosion in interior Piat town in Cagayan last Sunday, according to belated reports.
The policemen, who belong to the regional safety battalion, were on security patrol along the provincial road in remote Baung village when the blast occurred just near them, said Senior Superintendent Gregorio Lim, Cagayan police director. A barrage of gunfire from suspected communist rebels then ensued, forcing the policemen to run for their safety until they were able to fire back. The rebels then withdrew toward the hinterlands.


Despite SOMO declaration, Army still on full alert status

From the Leyte Samar Daily Express (Dec 18): Despite SOMO declaration, Army still on full alert status

TACLOBAN CITY- The declaration of the suspension of military operations (Somo) by their higher up would not mean that they would put their guards down. In a press statement, Major General Gerardo Layug, commanding general of the 8th Infantry Division based in Catbalogan City, he had ordered all his men across the region not to take easy despite the Somo. He said that the rebel group, the New People’s Army, might take advantage of the declaration and stage their attacks, particularly those considered as vital installations. “We shall not put our guards down during the Somo.We will stay in full (red) alert status and respond to any eventualities which might be perpetrated by the NPA in our area of operations,” Layug said.

Earlier, officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines announced of the suspension of military operations effective December 16, 2012 and is to end on January 3, 2013. The declaration of the Somo “demonstrates” of the 8th ID’s committment, sincerity and resolve for peace inspite of conflicts with the insurgent group, Layug added. The suspension would mean that the military would not undertake any “deliberate offensive operation” against the NPA. “We will adhere to no to indiscriminate firing of firearms of our personnel during the holiday season,” Layug said.  However, the 8ID shall continue to undertake security operations and security patrols which aim to protect the civilian communities, government establishments, investment facilities and vital structures; military camps and detachments against any threat of force by armed groups, Layug said.Route security will also be implemented to protect the military and civilian movements and with close coordination with the Philippine National Police, checkpoint operations will also be conducted to deter terrorism and preempt the proliferation of loose firearms and explosives, the commanding general of the 8th ID said.

Layug added that the so-called “bayanihan team” activities will be continued during the Somo in order to facilitate addressing the prevailing issues of the communities. Likewise, military units shall collaborate with the stakeholders through the spirit of ‘bayanihan’ in deploying its personnel in times of disaster, humanitarian assistance, anti-illegal logging and environmental programs of the government, he added. Layug said that he hopes that the NPA members in the region would also adhere to the Somo imposed by the government for them to “celebrate the yuletide season with their families and friends.” “We hope that the meaningful time will enlighten their hearts on the futility of fighting and the beauty of togetherness and peace,”Layug said.


Gov’t anti-insurgency efforts gain ground in Eastern Samar

From the Leyte Samar Daily Express (Dec 18): Gov’t anti-insurgency efforts gain ground in Eastern Samar

HINABANGAN,Samar – A military commander based here claims substantial gains of the government’s efforts in the fight against insurgency in the province of Eastern Samar. Col. Romeo Labador, commanding officer of 801st Infantry Brigade of the 8th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, based in Barangay Fatima, this town, said that the peace and order situation in the province has greatly improved and “it is now more or less stable” Labador pointed out that Eastern Samar,once considered as the hotbed of insurgency, “is now considerably peaceful and the frequent rebel-military encounters are now a thing of the past.” He told reporters that out of the 22 municipalities and one city in the province, seven towns and the capital city of Borongan have been declared by the military and the local government units concerned as “development-ready.” He also told reporters that another three towns in the southern part of the province – Salcedo, Mercedes and Guiuan – have been declared as insurgency-free already.

Labador, however clarified that it does not mean to say that there are no more rebels in the declared development-ready towns. He admitted that there are still rebels in these areas. However, the “situation is manageable already” because the insurgents are not anymore encamped in these areas and also due to the decline of the rebel forces operating and the mass-base support, Labador said. Labador informed reporters that with these developments, the military and the police are now in the support role in terms of the solution for the internal security problems and in the maintenance and promotion of the peace and order in these ten towns and in the provincial capital city of Borongan.  He averred that it is mandated by law that the local government units are the responsible and the lead actors for the internal security problems and for the maintenance and promotions of the peace and order, “but then behind them are the joint efforts of the police and the military.” He said that he is optimistic that sooner or later more towns in the province will be declared as development-ready municipalities and eventually the whole province of Eastern Samar.


Army files raps versus 8; They’re not rebels – KMP

From the Visayan Daily Star (Dec 18): Army files raps versus 8; They’re not rebels – KMP

The eight suspected New People’s Army members who were recently arrested at an encounter site in Brgy. San Agustin, Isabela, were charged yesterday for double murder and multiple frustrated murder before the Negros Occidental Provincial Prosecutor’s Office, town police Inspector Jason Manguilimutan said.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, however, dismissed the criminal complaints against Joel Dadlis, Christopher Dadlis, Randy Tubigon, Demas Lindayao, Abraham Lindayao, Roman Lindayao, Randy Lindayao, and Wilhem Lindayao, as “trumped-up” charges.

Eleven of the 19 persons were released from jail Friday, after the police found that they had nothing to do with the incident, that led to the killing of two Army soldiers and the injuries of four others, Col. Francisco Patrimonio, 302nd Infantry Brigade commander, said Sunday. The remaining eight are now detained at the Isabela police jail, after charges were filed against them, in connection with the death of PFCs Dennis Acosta and Oliver Grecia and injuries of four soldiers identified as 1Lt. Shamon Pamittan, Sgt. Romeo Castellano, PFC Nesty Deniega and PFC Justino Esquibel, all assigned at the Alpha Company of the 11th Infantry Battalion. Three of the eight detained persons had tested positive for gunpowder nitrates, which indicated that they had fired guns, Patrimonio said.

KMP spokesman Antonio Flores, in a statement, claimed that the 19 farmers illegally arrested by the military belong to the Bukidnon tribe in Negros. “It is a desperate and cowardly retaliation against farmers and civilians by the military after suffering a shameful defeat in battle,” Flores said.

Dimas and Abraham Lindayao, however, admitted in an interview with ABS-CBN, that they are indeed members of the NPA. Dimas said the three magazines of firearms was left to him by the NPA, since he is a member of the group. He, however, denied owning the firearm recovered by the military. Abraham also told ABS-CBN, in behalf of the NPA, that he collected a can of rice and P5 every month from residents in the area. He said the P3 goes to the hukbo (NPA) while the remaining P2 is earmarked for the purchase of farm animals.

Of the 19 persons arrested by the military at the encounter site, 17 belong to the Bukidnon tribe, the National Commission on Indigenous People said. NCIP representative Melodina Cardinal said they are also conducting an investigation on the allegations against members of the tribal community. She, however, said that if they have committed crimes, they should also be arrested. Other detained persons, however, claimed that they were deceived by the military, who had requested them to carry their injured companions and personal belongings, before being detained at the Isabela police jail.

The items recovered by soldiers from the encounter site, that included combat packs, caliber .45 pistol with ammunition, magazines of M-14 and M-16 assault rifles, subversive documents and a CPP-NPA flag, among others, are now in the possession of the Isabela police. Col. Oscar Lactao, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, warned members of the tribal group that they are being targeted for recruitment by the NPA, because “ they are very trusting people” and could easily be duped. Once the NPA gets their sympathy, they will be recruited to join the armed struggle and issued firearms, Lactao said.

KMP secretary general Greg Ratin claimed that “Barangay San Agustin is now heavily militarized and we fear for the safety and security of the farmers there”. Ratin also called for the immediate release from what he called the illegal and arbitrary detention of the eight farmers and for the military to vacate the area. Patrimonio said he has already pulled out troops from the area, in compliance with the 18-day ceasefire being observed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which took effect Sunday, and will end Jan. 2 next year.


Body to draft law on Bangsamoro can propose Charter change – chief govt negotiator

From InterAksyon (Dec 18): Body to draft law on Bangsamoro can propose Charter change – chief govt negotiator

A newly formed body tasked to draft the law creating the Bangsamoro region can recommend constitutional amendments, although Charter change is not a priority of the Aquino administration, the new government chief negotiator to peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front said. Aquino created the Transition Commission through Executive Order No. 120 and assigned it an initial budget of P100 million. The government’s aim “is to install the Bangsamoro through a new organic act as soon as possible in order to have an elected Bangsamoro government by 2016,” Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, government peace panel chair, said on Tuesday. Coronel-Ferrer replaced Marvic Leonen, who has been appointed an associate justice of the Supreme Court.

A framework agreement signed by the government and MILF mandates the creation of the Bangsamoro entity to replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, created under a peace deal with the Moro National Liberation Front, as a requisite for a final peace pact. Coronel-Ferrer said the work of the Transitional Commission does not prevent the body “or its members from examining the Constitution and recommending constitutional reforms." "However, the President has made clear that constitutional change is not his priority during his term," she added.

The commission will be composed of eight representatives from the MILF, including its chairman, and seven from government, with a slot reserved for the MNLF. Presidential peace adviser Teresita Quinto-Deles said the creation of the commission "affirms the President's resolve to move forward the peace process for the Bangsamoro.” The commission will also help identify development programs together with the Bangsamoro Development Authority and the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute, two institutions affiliated with the MILF.


AFP chief promotes 24 wounded troops

From InterAksyon (Dec 18): AFP chief promotes 24 wounded troops

Dellosa awards the Military Medal with Spearhead Device to one of the 10 Army and Navy personnel wounded in action who he promoted for their 'gallantry in the line of duty.' (photo by Jaime Sinapit, InterAksyon.com)

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff General Jessie Dellosa promoted on Tuesday 24 soldiers wounded in action to honor their “gallantry in the line of duty.” The soldiers promoted to the next higher ranks were a technical sergeant, four staff sergeants, two sergeants, 15 corporals and two privates first class from the Army and the Navy, all of them currentluy confined at the AFP Medical Center in Quezon City. Dellosa also distributed Christmas gifts to the soldiers. “The special promotion and awards serve as an early Christmas present to the nation’s unsung heroes who have risked their lives in order to bring peace and stability for our people particularly those in the far-flung areas of the region,” Dellosa said. “No soldier will ever buy medicines for himself again,” Dellosa told the promoted troops.The AFP Ladies’ Club joined Dellosa in giving gifts to patients. The AFP chief also awarded plaques of appreciation to benefactors of the AFPMC.


Soldiers liable for death of botanist in Leyte

From Rappler (Dec 18): Soldiers liable for death of botanist in Leyte

KILLED IN A CROSSFIRE. The late botanist inspects plants in a file photo from the Justice for Leonard Cohen page on Facebook

KILLED IN A CROSSFIRE. The late botanist inspects plants in a file photo from the Justice for Leonard Cohen page on Facebook

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) called Tuesday, December 18, for criminal charges against eight soldiers and their two commanders for the killing of a respected botanist and his two aides. The recommendation by the Commission on Human Rights comes as President Benigno Aquino attempts to show that his government is serious about cracking down on rights abuses that have afflicted the country for decades.,The commission said in a statement that the November 2010 killing of botanist Leonard Co and his two assistants was due to the military's failure to distinguish civilians from combatants. It also cited alleged attempts to hide the crime by the soldiers and their battalion commander. "This was a tragedy that should not have happened if the (military) had been more diligent in observing international humanitarian law in protecting the lives and safety of civilians," the statement said.

Killed in a crossfire

Co and his two assistants were killed while working on a reforestation project in the central island of Leyte in what the military initially claimed was crossfire during a clash with communist rebels.
But the commission's investigators later concluded there had been no firefight and that Co and his aides were killed when the soldiers mistook them for insurgents. "There was a failure to distinguish civilians from alleged combatants. There was a failure to provide prompt medical attention to the wounded victim... who died as a result," the statement said.

The commission also sought charges against the battalion commander of the unit involved for failing to submit all the firearms used for testing. Its recommendations have been sent to the Justice Department which will determine what charges will be filed. Aquino, the son of two pro-democracy heroes, was elected president in 2010 with a promise to curb rights abuses, particularly the "culture of impunity" under which powerful men believe they can get away with abuses. But the government, battling communist rebels, Muslim separatists and extremists linked to Al-Qaeda, remains dogged by complaints of abuses in its counter-insurgency campaigns.