Thursday, March 14, 2013

Key players on Lahad Datu stage

From the Malaysia Chronicle (Mar 14): Key players on Lahad Datu stage

TERROR FIGHT- To understand the saga unfolding in the east coast of Sabah, Shan Lee Liew looks at who's who

THE Lahad Datu incursion opened the eyes of Malaysians to a threat that most Sabahans had known for years. While it was not a surprise that these terrorists were willing to kill our security forces to achieve their ill intention, the brutality of their actions was unexpected.

However, what they never expected was the strong response that our security forces displayed in defending the honour and sovereignty of our nation.

While Kampung Tanduo has been cleared of terrorists, we must not be lulled into a sense that the crisis is over. We may have won the battle, but the war still goes on.

Before we continue our vigilance against any future intrusion, we should identify who the key players are and how they are reacting to the intrusion.

Known key players today are the Philippine government, MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) under the leadership of Murad Ibrahim, MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) under the current chairman Muslimin Sema, former MNLF chairman Nur Misuari and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

While there are other groups that have certain level of influence over the population in southern Philippines, most could not muster sufficient force and influence to be considered as key players.

For the sake of simplicity, we will not look into how the current Philippine government and its predecessors weigh in on the issue. Their stance has been consistent, that the Sabah issue is on the backburner and their actions are constrained by the Philippine Constitution which explicitly barred the nation from using war as an instrument of foreign policy.

The same constraint, however, does not apply to the rebels who are the main players in southern Philippines. We will examine them one by one.


He is the founder of MNLF. In 2007, he was accused of terrorism by leading an MNLF unit against a Philippine army installation in Sulu in 2001. To escape the charges, he fled by sea to Sabah, hoping the Malaysian government would empathise with his predicament.

Unfortunately for him, the Malaysian government had him arrested and extradited back to the Philippines. He was subsequently imprisoned and his hold over MNLF began to loosen. In 2008, he lost his position as chairman in MNLF to Muslimin Sema.

At the end of last year, he led a unit of MNLF to attack Abu Sayyaf and rescue several hostages held by them. Apparently, the action was more to regain his former prestige, which could backfire on him.


On Oct 7 last year, MILF under the leadership of Murad Ibrahim signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government to form the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Established by Hashim Salamat, MILF was previously part of MNLF.

Disgusted with the excesses by former chairman and founder Nur Misuari, then the governor of ARMM's first incarnation, they split off and restarted the war against the Philippine government and MNLF. Continuous warring and the fall from grace of Nur Misuari brought them to peace talks.

Knowing that peace can only be achieved by involving all key parties, MILF invited all key parties to the obtain their input for the peace deal. Among the invitees was the so-called sultan, Jamallul Kiram. However, he chose to ignore the peace deal.

Because of Murad's willingness to push for peace in Mindanao, he was given observer status to Umno's general assembly held last year.

As MILF is a key beneficiary of the peace deal, it stands to lose most if Malaysia pulls out from being the facilitator to the peace deal. Thus, it was not surprising that MILF was the first rebel group that declared that it did not support the incursion by the self-proclaimed Royal Sulu Army.


While MNLF is no longer the largest rebel group in southern Philippines, it still commands a large combat force. Its forces consist of mainly Tausugs or Suluks.

They benefited the most from the first peace accord signed in 2001 when Nur Misuari was its chairman. His fall from grace had brought disrepute to the group, but it has been slowly regaining the respect that it once commanded.

It is believed that MNLF contributed the most to the forces of the so-called sultan Jamalul Kiram in Lahad Datu and Semporna. When Malaysian forces began the offensive action against the ragtag terrorists, there was talk that MNLF forces will try to infiltrate Malaysia to assist their beleaguered brethren. This was until stories of atrocities committed against dead police officers began to filter back to Mindanao.

The MNLF leadership was quick to issue a statement to declare that they disagreed with the incursion and the actions taken by RSA. This declaration caught Nur Misuari off guard.


ASG shot to prominence in 2001 when it stormed Sipadan and Ligitan Dive Resort and took 21 hostages, mainly tourists and workers on the island.

ASG is also a progeny of MNLF. Now numbering around 500 to 1,000 men, it espouses a firebrand type of Islam. Believed to be linked to al-Qaeda via Jemaah Islamiyah, it is known for its brutality in combat.

The group's relationships with other rebels in the region are ambiguous. It is known to be tolerated by MILF as some of the MILF ground commanders and ASG are related.

While the group is still trying to carve an influence for itself in southern Philippines, it will more likely not be swayed by the call to arms by Jamalul Kiram III and Nur Misuari.


While the last few men of RSA are slowly being hunted by the might of Malaysian army, bonded by the shared bloodline, some Tausugs will still brave the seas that divide the two nations in the false hope that their presence will be able to relieve the pressure on the remnants of RSA. Some will be driven purely by vengeance.

We need to be vigilant towards such attempts. We have succeeded against not one communist insurgency, but two communist insurgencies consisting of four separate groups. We will succeed against this threat from RSA.

While these Tausugs may be baying for the blood of Malaysians, we should not forget nor question that there are thousands of Tausugs and Suluks who are loyal Malaysians, with many sworn to protect the nation from enemies, domestic and foreign, related by blood or not.

- New Straits Times

US Must Adopt Law of the Sea

From Yale Global Online (Mar 13): US Must Adopt Law of the Sea
To lead on Asian disputes, the US must combine diplomacy and embrace of UNCLOS
Ziad Haider
Fishing in troubled waters: Vietnamese fishermen around Chinese-controlled Paracel islands (top); Chinese naval fleet in the South China Sea
WASHINGTON: Since the Obama administration's announced pivot to Asia, challenges have piled up in the region. With the exception of North Korea’s nuclear brinkmanship, most of the challenges involve growing tension in the South China Sea and East China Sea. The US must devise a policy on these maritime disputes that preserves freedom of navigation and commerce, ensures regional stability, and upholds treaty commitments while avoiding military entanglements. A holistic strategy is required that calibrates the first term’s diplomatic and military efforts while heeding the legal dimensions of these disputes, including the key role of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS.

Asia’s maritime disputes primarily consist of three: The South China Sea dispute involves Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. In 2012, China and the Philippines engaged in a naval standoff over the Scarborough Shoal while Vietnam accused China of cutting the seismic cables of one of its vessels exploring for oil and gas. In the East China Sea, China and Japan, and also Taiwan, are clashing over the Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands. The pendulum has swung in the past two months between talk of a political summit for reducing tensions to the Chinese locking weapons-guiding radar on Japanese ships. In the Sea of Japan, Japan and South Korea are contesting the Takeshima or Dokdo Islands.
These Asian island disputes have ebbed and flowed for decades….and nationalism plays a role.
These disputes have ebbed and flowed for decades, including China and Vietnam clashing over the Spratly Islands in 1988 resulting in the deaths of 70 Vietnamese sailors, but have steadily heated up since 2005. Some experts hone in on China’s assertiveness, citing its grand strategy of developing an island chain defense in the Pacific and extending its naval power. For all parties, upholding sovereignty while capturing valuable fish stock and energy resources is another factor; fish stocks closer to shore have dwindled, and deep-sea exploration technology has advanced. Nationalism plays a role, given that some of the islands traded hands under the shadow of the region’s colonial and imperial Japanese past. Japan’s newly elected right-leaning leadership, for example, has hardened Chinese suspicions on the maritime issues.

Given this complex backdrop, the Obama administration can engage on these disputes in three ways.

First, it must sustain its intensive diplomacy and emphasis on showing up in the region to ensure, as former Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell noted, that “cooler heads prevail.” This includes encouraging ASEAN and China to conclude a maritime Code of Conduct building on the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties. While efforts to advance the code ran aground during the November 2012 ASEAN-China Leaders Meeting, with the parties failing to even agree on a regional crisis hotline, picking up this thread must be a key second-term priority.

In addition, the administration should continue to proffer models for joint exploration of resources to encourage thinking beyond traditional notions of sovereignty. One such model is based on the 1920 Spitsbergen Treaty that granted Norway sovereignty over the disputed Spitsbergen archipelago in the Arctic while prohibiting military fortifications and permitting other signatories to undertake mining activities.

How should the US balance, reassuring its allies and protecting its interests without triggering rumblings of encirclement in Beijing?
Second, the administration must refine its military commitment to the region. Alongside enhancing capacity through weapons sales, exercises and troop rotations, it should foster greater communication among the regional maritime entities – vital given the ambiguous overlay of maritime law enforcement and naval forces in these disputes and the risk of inadvertent conflict. From bolstering arrangements such as the Western Pacific Naval Symposium that convenes the United States, China and most of the ASEAN states in discussing maritime security issues to creating a South China Sea Coast Guard Forum to enhance information sharing, scope exists for more robust dialogue mechanisms.

More fundamental are three issues relating to US capabilities and commitments, alongside those posed by sequestration defense cuts. First, how should the US balance, reassuring its allies and protecting its interests without triggering rumblings of encirclement in Beijing? As Secretary of State John Kerry noted in his confirmation hearing, given that “we have a lot more forces out there than any other nation in the world, including China…we need to be thoughtful on how we go forward.” Second, should conflict erupt in Asia’s waters, resulting in US intervention and execution of the new air-sea battle strategy to gain access to an operational area, what political strategy will follow suit to resolve the conflict? Third, how do US treaty obligations relate to these disputes? While Article 5 of the 1960 US-Japan Security Treaty is understood to extend to the Senkakus, the applicability of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty to a conflict in the South China Sea is less clear. Internal clarity on US obligations and red lines is thus critical.

Third, the administration must elevate its legal strategy for managing these disputes. Ratification of UNCLOS to which the US de facto adheres is essential, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the Senate last year, to ensure that US navigational rights and its ability to credibly challenge other countries’ behavior are on the strongest legal footing.
For the US to have the standing to call for a rules-based approach to these disputes, it must adopt UNCLOS.
Given that the contesting parties are actively resorting to the Convention to bolster their claims, ratification is critical for US credibility. Even China whose claims are largely based on historical record cites UNCLOS to which it is a party, for example, in adopting a “straight base line approach” to its claim in the East China Sea. In January, the Philippines filed a claim with an UNCLOS tribunal alleging that China’s nine-dash claim to the South China Sea is contrary to UNCLOS. Conceding that China has not accepted the tribunal’s jurisdiction on sovereignty claims and maritime boundaries, the Philippines has argued that the tribunal can assess the “interpretation and application” of China’s obligations under UNCLOS. While China has stated that it will not participate in the proceeding, the Philippines intends to pursue its claim.

Whether other parties bring such claims remains to be seen. Although arbitration offers a clean and contained alternative to fluctuating diplomacy and skirmishes, precluding US “interference” as China desires, China does not view arbitration as a bilateral solution and, moreover, assumes that time is on its side. As such, for the United States to have the standing to call for a much needed rules-based approach to these disputes, it must formally adopt the rules.

Asia’s maritime disputes are a disruptive force for US interests; however, they present an opportunity. A shortsighted view would conclude that the opportunity presented is a strategic opening for the United States and a regional tilt given recent Chinese heavy handedness. The reality is that states in the region have no interest in choosing sides. According to the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 report, they will instead increasingly be pulled in both directions: economically toward China and security-wise toward the US. Moreover, given Sino-US economic interdependence, a China that perceives itself subject to containment and doubles down militarily is not in US interests.

The opportunity presented instead is for the United States to demonstrate leadership in the region that combines deft diplomacy, considered military engagement and an adherence to international law as an enabling rather than enfeebling force. Doing so will test its ability to remain an effective Pacific power while navigating the rise of another – all this to preserve an order with which US security and economic interests are inextricably linked in this century.
The writer is an attorney at White & Case LLP and previously served as a White House Fellow in the US Department of Justice and as a national security aide in the US Senate.

AFP Mobilizes Assets to aid in Government’s Humanitarian Efforts

From the Armed Forces of the Philippines Website (Mar 13): AFP Mobilizes Assets to aid in Government’s Humanitarian Efforts

Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City In line with the government’s humanitarian assistance efforts, the Armed Forces of the Philippines through the Western Mindanao Command and Western Command deployed additional mobility assets from the existing 25 to 34 Navy ships in the areas near Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, and Sulu. The ships are currently performing maritime security patrols and are providing humanitarian assistance in aid of the evacuees from Sabah.

Starting last Monday, the Philippine Air Force has dedicated one C-130 aircraft for the purpose of transporting relief goods from Zamboanga to Tawi-Tawi intended for the evacuees.
The Philippine Navy on the other hand deployed AT291 vessel which departed Zamboanga City yesterday to deliver relief goods and 15 drums of fuel products to Jolo and Tawi-Tawi. They arrived at the area earlier this morning.
Another Navy vessel, the PS22 departed Taganak Island yesterday to facilitate the transport of 423 evacuees to Bangao, Tawi-Tawi. This was in convoy with M/L Fatima Editha III which carried 100 evacuees for Jolo, Sulu. They arrived in the area earlier today.
While the transport of evacuees are ongoing, our troops on the ground continue to provide sea marshalling to all Commercial vessels travelling from Zamboanga City Pier to Suba-Nipa-Margosatubig, Lamitan, Isabela, Jolo and Tawi-Tawi to ensure the safety and security of the passengers.
We are also maintaining our mobile patrols at Wee Ben Pier, Tres Marias Pier and Hadji Taja Pier all of Brgy Baliwasan Seaside and Zamboanga City, as well as in Tumalutab Island and Sacol Island Pier, all of Zamboanga City.
Marine Battalion Landing Teams are continuously monitoring and conducting mobile/foot patrols along our coastlines, and securing all ports in their areas of responsibilities. Intelligence monitoring is likewise intensified for the safety and security of all civilians.
Interception Incidents (Initial Report)
On or about 6:30 AM today, while Philippine Navy vessel PS38 and PG370 are conducting maritime patrol along the seawater off Omapoy Island and Bulo-Bulo Island, all of Sitangkai, Tawi-Tawi respectively intercepted two watercraft loaded with 35 evacuees.
The Naval Task Force immediately gave them medical assistance and they are now being processed for proper disposition.

Palace confirms bogged down talks with communist rebels

From the Sun Star-Manila (Mar 15): Palace confirms bogged down talks with communist rebels

MALACANANG confirmed Thursday that the peace negotiation between the Aquino administration and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) has collapsed due to "unacceptable" conditions raised by the rebels.

The Philippine government represented by chief negotiator Alexander Padilla and Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs Ronald Llamas met with the NDF, the political front of the Maoist group, led by Jose Ma. Sison, the founding chairman of the communist organization in the country, and chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni in The Netherlands on February 25-26.

"They were asking for something, they were asking for conditions, (which were) unacceptable. There's obviously no meeting of the minds, that's why it bogged down," said Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.

"But to claim that it was our fault, it's govenrment's fault, that's wrong. It's not true," he said.

In an earlier statement, the NDF was blaming the government why the February talks were scuttled.

Lacierda said the government has shown its sincerity and commitment on the peace process with the rebels through some confidence-building measures.

But what the rebels have done, he said were "a lot of confidence-diminishing measures."

The government is now asking Norway, the facilitator in the peace process, on the possible next step.

"We're asking the third party facilitator to assess the situation right now," Lacierda said.

Fort Magsaysay hosts second leg of 4X4 off-road challenge

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 13): Fort Magsaysay hosts second leg of 4X4 off-road challenge

Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation (FMMR) recently hosted the second leg of Colt45 4X4 Extreme Series that was participated by Luzon members of the National Association of Filipino Off-Roaders (NAsFOR).

“This event seeks to promote Fort Magsaysay as a tourist destination where they can do various activities such as climbing, hiking, downhill mountain biking, camping, motocross riding, 4x4 off-road driving, zip-line, and horseback riding as well as water sports in our coastal areas in Dingalan, Aurora namely kayaking, scuba diving, windsurfing, jet ski, and para-sailing,” said 7ID Commander Major General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr.

“Now that we are seeing the death of insurgency and birth of peace and prosperity in Regions 1 and 3, it's high time that we transform certain parts of our camp into a place of leisure where families and friends can bond. We want them to say that you haven’t been to Nueva Ecija if you haven’t visited Fort Magsaysay- the home of Kaugnay troopers,” Catapang added.

Participants had to go through three stages one of which was to go through rugged terrains.

In the end, JR Angeles of Nueva Ecija topped the leg with Edison Dunca of Pampanga ending second, and Red Diva of Isabela placing third.

The Reservation, with a total land area of 44,970 hectares, was created by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No.237 dated December 19, 1955

It consists of the Cantonment area, Training Circuit, Kalinga sa Kawal off-based housing for military personnel, Jethropa Plantation, National Training Center (Balikatan area), and the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

More rebels expected to join localized integration program, says army official

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 14): More rebels expected to join localized integration program, says army official

CAMP MELCHOR DELA CRUZ, UPI, Gamu, Isabela -- Government's integration program for rebels will encouraged more insurgents to surrender and be part of the mainstream society.

Brigadier General Arnulfo Marcos, assistant division commander of Camp Melchor Dela Cruz, said the government’s integration program would be a giant step towards attaining peace in its area of operations once the rebels will avail of the program and be spread to their comrades.

He said the integration program is a program of the division that aims to provide livelihood and financial assistance to former insurgents and dependents and a chance to become member of the soldiery once passed the requirements set in entering as a soldier.

The 5th ID of the Philippine Army has launched this integration program last year in coordination with the Office of the Presidential Adviser for Peace Process for Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) formed by the late Fr. Conrado Balweg where the sons and daughters are given the opportunity to join the soldiery while the aged CPLAs are given livelihood and financial assistance.

Meanwhile, the 5ID-PA also is encouraging the New People’s Army to avail of the integration program and the chance of joining the soldiery or avail of the livelihood and financial assistance to be provided by the government.

“This integration program is an opportunity for our brothers who are fighting for their ideals, as an important instrument towards attaining peace”, Marcos said during yesterday’s press conference held yesterday inside the camp.

The 5ID-PA presented the three New People’s Army who surrendered themselves and their guns and hopes that this will be a fresh start towards the rebels in thinking of surrendering to the folds of law and live normal life.

KL rejects negotiation to end confrontation with Sulu group

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 14): KL rejects negotiation to end confrontation with Sulu group

Malaysia on Thursday slammed the door on any negotiation to end the crisis in Sabah, saying the Sulu armed men who occupied a village in Lahad Datu in the name of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III last month but have since been dispersed by Malaysian security forces should first lay down their arms and surrender.

In a broadcast monitored here via shortwave radio, the state-run Radio 24 reported Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman as saying at a news conference that his country will not entertain any negotiations at this time, including one being proposed by third parties such as the Philippine government.

Anifah said Kuala Lumpur will agree to negotiate only if the “Sulu terrorists” will stop shooting at Malaysian forces and lay down their arms.

“They must surrender unconditionally before we can start talking,” he said.

Anifah said there had been some efforts by third parties, including the Philippine government, to open negotiations to find a peaceful end to the month-old crisis that has resulted in the death of 58 Filipinos and 9 Malaysians.

But he said “the time is not right for any outsiders to be involved at the moment,” although he admitted going to Brunei last Tuesday to brief Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, the foreign minister, who is the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, on the situation in Sabah.

Anifah said he updated Bolkiah on the Sabah crisis and what Kuala Lumpur has been doing, but he said Malaysia had no intention of discussing it with the rest of the Asean members.

“I don’t think there is any necessity to get other Asean members involved,” he said.

Asked to comment on reports by Philippine media that the Kiram family might be sending emissaries to Sabah to convince Agbimuddin Kiram, Jamalul Kiram’s younger brother, to stop his group’s actions against Malaysian forces, Anifah answered: “What will happen if something were to happen to these peacemakers or negotiators? So this is not the right time for anyone else, apart from security personnel, to be in the area.”

He also rejected a reported plan by the Manila government to send officials to Sabah to check on the condition of Filipinos arrested in the course of Ops Daulat.

“We could not grant them legal access for now because the investigation on suspicions they provided help or security information to the terrorists is continuing,” he said.

In another report, a Sabah-based radio station said the Royal Malaysian Armed Forces announced the deployment of more soldiers, backed by armored personnel carriers and more helicopters, to Tawau, Lahad Datu and Semporna as Ops Daulat continued on Thursday.

Quoting Malaysian military chief Zulkifeli Mohamad Zin, the radio station said the center of the mopping-up operations these days was Sungai Nyamuk in Tawau, where a clash that killed four “Sulu terrorists,” including a woman, and a Malaysian soldier took place on Tuesday.

Zulkifeli was quoted in the report as telling reporters during an early morning news conference that Malaysian forces might be able to take full control of Sungai Nyamuk anytime Thursday.

Last week, Kiram’s followers launched a fresh assault in Lahad Datu, a few hours after Zulkifeli announced that Malaysian forces had regained control over the area and that its residents could return to their homes already. The attack prompted the Malaysian government to suspend the return of villagers displaced by the outbreak of fighting since February 12.

Malaysian police chief Inspector General Ismail Omar was also quoted by Malaysian news agency Bernama as saying more police outposts were to be put up in Tanjung Labian and Felda Sahabat in Lahad Datu; Pulau Bum Bum and Pulau Mabul in Semporna; and in Pulau Gaya, an island near Kota Kinabalu.

Ismail also announced that more policemen were arriving in Sabah from various parts of Malaysia in support of Ops Daulat.

“I have ordered more men to patrol the coastal areas of Lahad Datu and also strategic points here,” Bernama quoted him as saying.

The deployment of more Malaysian security forces to Sabah worried indigenous Sabahans, especially those living near conflict zones, a Sabah-based human rights group said.

Andrew Ambrose of the Sabah Coalition of Human Rights Organizations (Sacohuro) was quoted by another Sabah-based radio station as telling reporters on Thursday that native Sabahans feared for their safety because their areas were now “militarized.”

They also complained about not being able to go about their normal activities because security forces had imposed restrictions, the report quoted Andrew as saying.

The Sun Daily also reported that the arrival of more troops on Sabah made villagers worry they might be mistaken for Sulu gunmen.

In response, Ismail told Bernama that villagers should to stay outside of the areas of conflict and observe restrictions on movements by civilians in some areas to avoid being arrested, or worse, being mistaken for the enemies.

In Sandakan, where policemen continue the crack down on suspected local supporters of the “Sulu terrorists,” “it is safe for the people to go about their daily chores,” Sandakan police chief Rowell Marong said in an interview with a Sandakan-based radio station.

“No curfew has been imposed,” he said.

Speaking over the same radio station, Kota Kinabalu Mayor Abidin Madingkir said his city “is peaceful and the people are going about their activities as usual.”

In Kunak, one of the tree red zones, government-run Radio Televisyen Malaysia reported that “people were going about their activities as usual” despite the heavy deployment of Malaysian security forces against the “Sulu terrorists.”

New Malaysian monitors say Sabah crisis, peace talks are separate issues

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 14): New Malaysian monitors say Sabah crisis, peace talks are separate issues
COTABATO CITY, Philippines–The head of the new contingent of Malaysian peace monitors in Mindanao is confident that the Sabah conflict will not affect peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, saying the talks and the standoff were unrelated.

“I think these two are not related. Sabah is a separate matter. And I don’t think that can affect the peace talks that are going on between the MILF and the government of the Philippines,” said Major General Dato Fadzil Bin Mokhtar of the Malaysian Army, the IMT’s 8th mission head here.

Fadzil just started his yearlong tour of duty at the IMT on Mar. 12.

“My concern is the peace process and I don’t think that incident, which is independent of the peace process, will affect. Neither party has associated itself with the Sabah conflict. These two parties are talking and negotiating about the annexes. That’s why I’m saying Sabah is a separate matter,” he reiterated.

He expressed confidence in his group’s security while in the Philippines, citing his trust in the Philippine government.

“I have stated before that we have complete trust in the government of the Philippines and MILF. Government is responsible for providing us with security and we have full confidence in the ability of the government forces to protect us,” Fadzil said.

The official said communities on the ground were upbeat over the progress of the talks and had “high expectations” on the negotiations. For one, he said there were no reports of ceasefire violations between the two parties in all of last year.

Amid the optimism, Fadzil reiterated concerns of the IMT on incidents of rido, recurrent conflict between feuding clans.

“An example is when two parties go into a feud. It can escalate if they cannot control themselves. If the feud continues, you are forcing government to come in. If government comes in, the government could be confronting its partner,” said Fadzil.

But he said there has been no recorded incident of rido (clan war) turning into a ceasefire violation.

“It has not gone that far anyway. But we are conscious of this. And if it happens, we should be appealing to the parties. That’s our fear only. It’s better to be cautious,” said Fadzil.

Govt won’t push peace with Reds

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 15): Govt won’t push peace with Reds

Government chief negotiator Alexander Padilla said on Thursday that the peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front have bogged down, adding that it was a “waste of time” to negotiate with the communist group.

“I don’t think we should waste our time (negotiating with the CPP-NDF). They always find ways and means to look for an issue,” Padilla said.

“Effectively they have scuttled the talks under the special track. All the more that we cannot expect the regular track to resume,” he added.

On Wednesday, President Benigno Aquino III said that the government had no plans of meeting CPP founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison any time soon.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said there was never a plan for a dialog with the NDF because “there was no meeting of the minds.”

According to a report of the NDFP National Council, the meeting between Mr. Aquino and Sison was proposed by presidential political adviser Ronald Llamas during informal talks in Utrecht late 2012 and was supposed to happen early this year in Hanoi.

NDF chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni had said what was supposed to be a historic meeting will no longer push through because of the “duplicity” of the government.
But Lacierda said this was only the “spin” of the NDF, adding that the communist group had themselves to blame for making impossible demands.

Sabah violence blamed to Sultan Jamalul Kiram

From the Mindanao Examiner (Mar 14): Sabah violence blamed to Sultan Jamalul Kiram

The heir of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo has put the blame on the group of Sultan Jamalul Kiram for the outbreak of violence in Sabah which affected thousands of Filipinos in the oil-rich state and put bilateral relations between the Philippines and Malaysia at risk.

Several thousands have already fled Sabah, just several hours by boat from the Filipino province of Tawi-Tawi due to the fighting between Malaysian security forces and about 200 followers of Sultan Jamalul that left at least 70 people dead from both sides since early this month.

Sultan Jamalul has sent his younger brother Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram to the town of Lahad Datu in Sabah to exert determination and historical ownership of the island, then called North Borneo, but Malaysia is also claiming Sabah is theirs and the standoff resulted in deadly clashes.

And for the second time this month, Sultan Sharif Ibrahim Ajibul Mohammad Pulalun, heir to the throne of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, has appealed to both Malaysia and the Philippines to peacefully resolve the issue.

“Hinihingi ko sa Malaysian government na huwag idamay ang mga sibilyan at kawawa naman ang mga ito na nagne-negosyo at nagta-trabaho doon sa Sabah. Kaya nananawagan ako sa ngayon sa Prime Minister ng Malaysia na (si Dato' Sri Haji Mohammad Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul) ayusin nila ang mga sibilyan at huwag nilang sasaktan at huwag nilang tatawaging mga terrorista dahil kami ang tunay na may-ari ng Sabah, ang Sultanate of Sulu,” the secluded Sultan Shariff Pulalun said in a rare news conference in Zamboanga City.

He blamed Sultan Jamalul for the break out of violence in Sabah that forced thousands of Filipinos to flee their homes and seek refuge to the southern Philippines to avoid getting killed in the cross-fire or risk being arrested by Malaysia under a strict security law.

“Si Jamalul naman, sana ay marami naman paraan at madaraan sa mabuting usapan ito. Dapat inilapit niya sa Mahal natin President (Benigno) Aquino at humingi siya ng tulong upang kausapin ang Malaysian government sa magandang paraan.”

“Hindi maganda ang ginawa niya kasi (isa lamang) siyang Administrator ng Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo. Bakit niya ginawa iyan? Hindi siya humingi ng pahintulot sa totoong Sultan at wala siyang karapatan na tawaging sultan ang kanyang sarili dahil ang totoong sultan ay si Sharif Ibrahim Ajibul Mohammad Pulalun. Sa amin ang mga lupain diyan sa Sabah at hindi yan pagmamay-ari ni Jamalul Kiram dahil administrator lamang siya,” Sultan Shariff Ibrahim said.

He also called on the leaders of Sabah and Malaysia not to harm Filipinos on the island amid reports of human rights abuses and mass arrests by security forces of suspected supporters or sympathizers of the Sultanate of Sulu.

“Kaya nanawagan ako sa buong Sabah at sa buong bansa na tulungan natin ang mga kaawa-awang mga sibilyan natin doon. Nanawagan akong muli sa Malaysia na huwag nilang sasaktan o patayin ang mga sibilyan at sa halip ay dapat nilang tulungan pa,” Sultan Sharif Ibrahim, whose great, great grandfather was Sultan Mohd Pulalun that ruled the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo in 1844.

Malaysian forces continued to push their assaults in several towns in Sabah in an effort to flush the rag-tag army of Sultan Jamalul, who were armed only with machetes and knives and rifles. Police commandos, armed with long-range Barrett sniper rifles, have recently killed several followers of Sultan Jamalul, including a woman armed only with a knife, photos of the Royal Malaysia Police that were posted on Facebook.

Malaysia has illegally annexed Sabah, but it still continues to pay so-called “cession money” every year to Sultan Fuad Kiram in the amount of P70,000.

BLMI holds tri-affairs in one day

From the MILF Website (Mar 14): BLMI holds tri-affairs in one day

March 13 was significant day for the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) as it held three activities in a single day. In the morning, a review on the BLMI’s proposed Manual of Operation was undertaken with Ms. Nelia “Bane Agbon of Kids for Peace Foundation was the main facilitator, assisted by Ms. Noraida “Noda” Chio from The Asia Foundation (TAF). Mohagher Iqbal, Chair of the MILF Peace Panel; the BLMI’s Oversight Committee and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) and Jun Mantawil, Chair of the General Secretariat of the MILF Peace Panel were around and keenly observed while the proceedings were underway.

The participants who belong to the BLMI’s Steering Committee and the staff made tremendous achievements in introducing amendments and infusing new ideas on the proposed manual. Among others, the vital aspects of the draft manual includes policies on official working hours; use of equipment; personnel discipline; absences and tardiness; human behavior in organization as well as in dealing with clients. Ms. Agbon, who was catching up a ride back to Davao was not able to complete facilitating the activity and terminated her task. Another schedule maybe set by TAF to complete the review so it can be submitted to the Oversight Committee and the Board of Directors for critiquing, scrutiny and review.

After a short noon break, Sheikh Mahmud Ahmad, Executive Director of BLMI lectured on Time Management from Islamic perspective culled from the book written by Dr. Khalid AlJeraisy. He emphasized that proper time management is vital in every organization in order to efficiently perform one’s responsibilities and accomplish assigned task. He cited the importance of time management based in the Qur’an and the “Hadeeth” ( tradition/practices) of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) that are relevantly in line with procedures being practiced in the government bureaucracy.

Sheilh Ahmad described several ways on how to manage time. He said, “Identify goals; Make a list of these goals making sure you balance your different life roles; Prioritize and make a list of things to do; Make time-tables & stick to them; Be focused on what you are doing (ex. active listening saves time); Set realistic targets (monthly, weekly, daily) plan & achieve them; Review & amend as necessary; Train people to respect your time & schedules; Constantly ask for Allah guidance”.

Most importantly, Sheikh Ahmad said; “Find out the ways of doing things correctly; Knowledge will stop you from wasting time in making mistakes; be determined to succeed. Develop a winning attitude; do not impose limitations on yourself. Do things confidently; be honest with yourself & be realistic”.

In a while, His Excellency Toshinaro Urabi, the Japanese Ambassador Extraordinary Plenipotentiary and his official delegation arrived together with some media personnel. Sheikh Ahmad then presented the Vision, Mission, Goal and Core Values of the BLMI and its implemented/accomplished programs since 2006. According to Shiekh Ahmad more than 400 participants; male and female were recipients of the various training programs implemented by the institute; some were in tied-up with domestic and international non-government organizations. These programs as well as the building, and its furniture, air condition units, laptops, desktop, sound system and other equipment were funded and provided for by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) since BLMI’s inception in 2006.

Shiekh Mohammad Yaacob, Executive Director of the Bangsamoro Development Academy (BDA) also made presentation on the new mandate and role of the agency. The BDA’s program centers on infrastructure for education, farm-to-market roads, health services, irrigations, others. So far, it had already implemented various programs that benefited the Bangsamoro in the countryside.

In his short message after Sheikh Yaacob’s presentation, Iqbal thanked the ambassador for coming to the BLMI and to assess the training programs implemented by the institute; and see for himself the training edifice that JICA had funded. Iqbal also mentioned the position of the MILF of “no comment” on the issue about Sabah, since the conflict between Malaysia and the Sultanate of Sulu is a very sensitive “security issue”. For his part, Ambassador Urabi urged the BLMI to continue its undertaking so that more Bangsamoro shall become recipients of its laudable human development programs. It is expected that more assistance will pour into the BLMI from JICA; and other partner international NGO’s/ for its training programs.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Government through its embassy in Metro Manila invited Iqbal and his members in the peace panel to visit Japan on a familiarization tour. Iqbal and his group will leave for Manila on March 15 and will proceed to Japan as scheduled.

At the end of the short program in honor of the Japanese Ambassador, a press conference followed.

NDF: How the GPH delegation scuttled the 25-26 February 2013 Amsterdam Meetin

Posted to the National Democratic Front Philippines (NDFP) Website (Mar 04): How the GPH delegation scuttled the 25-26 February 2013 Amsterdam Meeting

Report of the NDFP Delegation to the NDFP National Council
04 March 2013


Since 2005, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) has proposed to the Government of the Philippines (GRP or GPH) truce and alliance based on a general declaration of common intent in response to recurrent demands of the latter for an indefinite and prolonged ceasefire without any clear basis, and with the obvious objective of obtaining the pacification and capitulation of the revolutionary forces of the Filipino people represented by the NDFP.

Since early 2011, the NDFP has reiterated to the GPH the offer of truce and alliance and has proposed that this can be worked out on a special track distinct from the regular track of the already agreed substantive agenda of the GPH and NDFP Negotiating Panels, which are required to discuss the end of hostilities and redisposition of forces only after the approval of the comprehensive agreements on social and economic reforms and political and constitutional reforms.

The NDFP proposal for the special track was addressed directly to the GPH President Benigno S. Aquino III and it carried a brief outline of points for inclusion in a general declaration that stipulated truce and alliance. The GPH President responded through his political adviser Secretary Ronald Llamas that the proposed points were doable. However, instead of considering truce and alliance, what the GPH President sent to the NDFP was a short message harping on the line that ceasefire is good for the people and but said nothing about the substantive points for agreement.

Despite intermittent meetings between NDFP Chief Political Consultant Prof. Jose Maria Sison and Secretary Llamas for two years, the GPH side has never presented any written point by point response to the 2011 draft of the basic points of the NDFP and to the NDFP elaboration of these points that the GPH through Secretary Llamas requested. The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) under Secretary Teresita Q. Deles has been reported only to have formulated adverse reactions to the points presented by the NDFP.

In November 2012 in Amsterdam, Secretary Llamas proposed to NDFP Chief Political Consultant Prof. Sison, in the presence of Royal Norwegian Government (RNG) Special Envoy Ture Lundh, that a meeting of the GPH President and Prof. Sison as founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) be held in Hanoi City in early 2013, like the Aquino-Murad meeting in Tokyo the previous year, in order to stimulate the forging of a general or common declaration for effecting truce and cooperation.

Secretary Llamas described the proposed Aquino-Sison meeting as the “first historic moment”. He also promised that NDFP consultant Alan Jazmines and other JASIG-protected prisoners would be released from prison before the said moment and that Jazmines would be present at the GPH-NDFP meeting in Hanoi City. The RNG facilitator would be the host.

The NDFP chief political consultant made clear to both Secretary Llamas and Ambassador Lundh that the most that could be done before the proposed “first historic moment” was to craft the basic points of the general declaration for inclusion in the press communiqué to be issued in Hanoi. Thenceforth, the general declaration would be negotiated for several months because of the diametrically opposite positions of the GPH and NDFP. While the NDFP seeks truce and alliance, the GPH wants ceasefire within GPH constitutional and legal processes.

In the presence of RNG special envoy Ture Lundh, Secretary Llamas and the NDFP chief political consultant Prof. Jose Maria Sison agreed that special teams of the GPH and NDFP would meet on 17 and 18 December 2012 at the RNG embassy in The Hague to prepare for the “first historic moment”. Contrary to expectations, the GPH President did not authorize a GPH special team for the special track but sent only a delegation of special representatives with a limited mandate under vetting by the OPAPP. Part I below is a report of what transpired........

[Go to Website below for full report]

Siblings' bond grows deeper at PMA

From the Philippine Star (Mar 14): Siblings' bond grows deeper at PMA

FORT DEL PILAR, Baguio City - Thickened by blood, the bond of these siblings has grown deeper as mistahs, Philippine Military Academy achievers, Army fighters and determined Filipino soldiers.

The Bicolano-Ilocano brother-sister “Ibarde tandem” , who are graduating on Sunday as 2nd Lieutenants, have many things in common.

Marching in perfect cadence for the last time as cadets at the Philippine Military Academy hallowed Borromeo Field -- Marvic Rustan Ibarde and Mariz Jane Ibarde -- on Sunday , they will soon be soldier-officers in the Visayas or Mindanao regions .

“We certainly love soldiering,” said 22-year-old Marvic, seconded by his 21-year-old sister Mariz. They are both going to the Philippine Army, considered as the most dangerous branch of service in the Armed Forces .

Though no one in their family is a soldier, Marvic, who is the class baron of Pudang Kalis (“Sacred Sword”) or Puso’t Dangal ng mga Kawal ng mga Lahing Nagkakaisa or Soldiers with Heart and Honor, Unified in Strength class of 2013 said becoming a soldier was his "childhood dream.”

"I loved war movies," the Brigade Commander of more than 600 cadets said.

Marvic's childhood dream became Mariz’s inspiration to become a "PMAyer" too, a genuine example of the ideals of their “Pudang Kalis” class, whose name was derived from a sacred Muslim sword which is passed by a Muslim clan from generation to generation.

The graduating class composed of 124 cadets (105 males, 19 females) used the name believing they are like a sword whose blade will never perish.

Both raised in La Trinidad, Benguet, Marvic and Mariz went to Lucban Elementary School in Baguio and then to the Benguet National High School in Wangal, La Trinidad.

“Naabutan ko siya sa second year high school,” said Marvic of her sister. Marvic said he had stopped school for two years.

“We were classmates from second year to fourth year,” Marvic said.

Marvic entered PMA in 2008., and Mariz in 2009. Both entered the PMA against their parents’ will.

“I know it was not OK for my father (Jaime) and mother (Trinidad) [for us to enter the PMA]," he said.

There was also a time, the tandem said, when they were begged to go to the Philippine Air Force instead of the perilous Army. “They are afraid we will die early,” Marvic chuckled.

The siblings however stuck to their decision to go to the Army instead. They said they understand the perils and risks that they will face, but said that it is their job.

“Hurdling Difficult Challenges”

Despite facing tough challenges in the Academy, Marvic, who took a one-year sick leave after his left ankle was fractured during a rope course at the Academy last year, the soon-to-be Army officer was still able to emerge as Brigade Commander.

Mariz said she too faced the pressure of trying to excel in the military training institution to measure up to the achievements of her brother.

Still, the “fighters within” the siblings emerged.

Marvic will receive the Chief of Staff Saber and is number 31 in their class while Mariz will be getting the Department of Tactical Officers Plaque and another Conduct Award . She is number 12 in the class's honor roll.

“Suportahan lang,” said Mariz. "We saw to it that we have each other's back. Moral support served us best. We try to inspire each other every day."

Marvic is the first Cordilleran to become class baron, while Mariz is the fifth female in the honor roll.

Their third sibling , 15-year-old Maiko, who is in Cervantes, Ilocos Sur, also wants to enter the PMA, they said.

“But we are discouraging her. Two in the Army is enough,” Marvic said.

Another US ship to visit Phl

From the Philippine Star (Mar 14): Another US ship to visit Phl

Another United States (US) ship will conduct a goodwill visit to the Philippines amid efforts to extricate the warship that ran aground in Tubbataha Reef last January.

USS Emory S. Land, a submarine tender, is scheduled to arrive Friday in Subic Bay for a routine call, the US Embassy said in a statement.

“This visit will allow the ship to conduct maintenance, replenish supplies as well as give the crew an opportunity for rest and relaxation,” the US Embassy said.

The visit “highlights the strong historic, community, and military connections” between the US and the Philippines, it added.

The visit will be held almost two months after US warship USS Guardian ran aground in the Tubbataha Reef off Palawan.

The 1,300-ton, 68-meter-long USS Guardian got stuck dawn of Jan. 17 at the reef’s south atoll. The vessel was on its way to Puerto Princesa after a port call in Subic Bay when the incident happened.

The US Navy has blamed “faulty navigation chart data” for the incident but some sectors believe the incident was caused by human error.

Transportation Sec. Joseph Abaya previously said he has been hearing theories that US sailors manning the ship may have had too much “rest and recreation” in Subic.

Tubbataha, which spans 130,028 hectares, was named a World Heritage Site owing to extensive coral network.

The US has apologized for the accident and has promised to help rehabilitate the reef.

USS Emory S. Land is part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and is homeported in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

The ship is manned by 410 crew members, 106 of them Filipino Americans. The Filipino-American crew members hail from Botolan, Olongapo City, San Antonio, and Pasay City.

Japan backs Bangsamoro agreement

From the Philippine Star (Mar 14): Japan backs Bangsamoro agreement

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Japanese Ambassador Toshinao Urabe has expressed optimisim that the humanitarian and security engagements between Malacañang and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will usher in peace and development in the proposed areas under the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro.

Japan has supported the GPH-MILF talks, as a member of the International Contact Group, which is a pool of foreign organizations helping the government and the MILF to craft a peace deal. Tokyo has also donated and lent funds for various socio-economic projects to address poverty in flashpoint areas and conflict-ravaged communities in the south.

Urabe toured Cotabato City and parts of Maguindanao Wednesday to inspect projects of the Japanese government in the two areas, as well as to separately meet with the new head of mission of the International Monitoring Team (IMT), and with the MILF’ chieftain Al-Haj Murad in nearby Camp Darapanan.

He told reporters that Japan is convinced that peace in Southern Mindanao would lead to better livelihood opportunities for residents in the area.

“If there is livelihood, there is economic improvement and peace,” Urabe said.

Under the Japan-Bangsamoro Initiatives for Reconstruction and Development (JBIRD) or the ARMM Social Fund Project (ASFP), Tokyo is funding various projects in areas covered by the 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the government and the MILF.

The ASFP is also the conduit of the World Bank for the latter's development projects in the ARMM.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency has funded a number of ASFP projects including post-harvest facilities and other infrastructures in far-flung Moro areas.

Urabe, however, said there should be peaceful resolution of "rido" or clan wars, involving local groups, feared to lead to hostilities that could affect the GPH-MILF ceasefire.

Clan wars remain a serious security problem in many areas in Mindanao, which is seeing relative peace following the signing of the FAB between the government and the MILF on October 15, 2012.

The new IMT chief, Gen. Mokhtar Fadzil, assured Urabe, that the monitoring troops are stepping up efforts to resolve clan wars in the region.

Fadzil assumed early this week as new head of mission of the IMT, which is comprised of soldiers and policemen from Malaysia, Brunei, Libya and Indonesia, and non-uniformed rehabilitation and conflict resolution experts from Norway, Japan and the European Union.

Fadzil, along with 18 compatriots, replaced the 19-member Malaysian contingent to the IMT, led by Gen. Rahim Yusuf, whose year-long peacekeeping mission ended this month. Fadzil’s tenure as head of the 8th IMT mission will last until March 2014.

Fadzil told Urabe that there has been “zero encounter” between the MILF and the Armed Forces of the Philippines last year as a result of the ceasefire.

“I’m reaping now the seeds of peace sown by my predecessors,” Fadzil told Urabe in a short briefing about the IMT, which began its peacekeeping mission in Mindanao in 2003.

Fadzil, however, said hostilities brought about rido can escalate into “violations” of the ceasefire.

Police and military records obtained by The Star indicate there are dozens of MILF commanders locked in bloody rido either with leaders of other rebel groups, or with politicians.

U.S., Filipino Service Members Complete School Building During PACANGEL

Posted to the US Pacific Command Website (Mar 12): U.S., Filipino Service Members Complete School Building During PACANGEL

A team of American and Filipino Operation Pacific Angel-Philippines engineers joined school teachers and students for a group photo at Pamplona, Philippines, March 9, 2013. The engineers completely renovated a building including electrical, drywall, windows and painting. Operation Pacific Angel is a joint and combined humanitarian assistance exercise held in various countries several times a year and includes medical, dental, optometry, engineering programs and various subject-matter expert exchanges. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. J.C. Woodring)

PAMPLONA, Philippines - U.S. and Filipino service members officially presented a completed elementary school workshop building to the school's principal March 9, here.

Operation Pacific Angel-Philippines engineers started the building's renovations March 3.

"When they came over, (the building) really needed repair," said Marina Guevarra, Pamplona Elementary School principal. "Now, it looks like a newly constructed building. We are so grateful."

The team rewired the building, added electrical outlets, and installed lights and fans on the ceiling. They also installed drywall, built a storage area to lock up tools, replaced the windows, and painted the entire building - inside and out. They even installed a chalk board.

"It's been great seeing all the kids watching us work on the site and knowing that they will have a chance to do some of the same work when we are done," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Carlton Hill, a civil engineer from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

The teachers and students grew attached to their new military friends and sang them a thank-you song as they were getting ready to leave the site for the last time. By the end of the song, most of the students and maybe even some of the teachers were weeping.

"The children will miss them very much; we are so grateful for this project," Guevarra said. "We hope you can come back and see us again."

Army watch up on 80 remote brgys

From the Visayan Daily Star (Mar 14): Army watch up on 80 remote brgys

The military expects election-related activities of the New People’s Army in 80 hinterland barangays of Negros Occidental during the campaign period, Col. Jon Aying, 303rd Infantry Brigade deputy commander, said yesterday.

Aying, who presided over the Joint Peace Security Coordinating Center meeting in Pulupandan yesterday, said the NPA is expected to be active in their extortion activities, requiring candidates to pay permits to campaign fees, once they enter so-called rebel-controlled areas.

They are now desperate to collect money from candidates, he said.

The Communist Party of the Philippines, in a statement, said candidates who enter the so-called NPA territories to campaign for the May 13 elections, must secure permission from duly-authorized revolutionary committees.

Without exception, the CPP said all candidates and their political parties, who plan to conduct political activities within territories said to be under the authority of the People’s Democratic Government, must abide by prevailing guidelines to ensure that they do not violate the people’s rights and interests.

Maj. Rey Tiongson, spokesperson of the 3rd Infantry Division, said field commanders have begun reporting that the rebels have sent letters informing candidates to coordinate with them before campaigning in areas they claim to control.

Thirteen towns and cities in Negros Occidental have been included in the Election Watchlist Areas of the Philippine National Police that also noted the existence of four inactive partisan armed groups.

Pulupandan has been added to the EWAS list in Negros Occidental, aside from La Castellana, Moises Padilla, Toboso, Cauayan, Isabela, Ilog, Candoni, Murcia, Calatrava and La Castellana towns, and Sipalay and Escalante cities.

Mayor Magdaleno Peña yesterday led the signing of peace covenant in Pulupandan, although he is not seeking a re-election. His son, Jose Miguel, and brother-in-law, Antonio Suatengco, are running unopposed as mayor and vice-mayor of Pulupandan, respectively.

NPA killed in clash with Army in North Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 14): NPA killed in clash with Army in North Cotabato

A rebel was killed when government forces and the communist New Peoples’ Army (NPA) guerrillas clashed on Wednesday afternoon in a remote village in Makilala, North Cotabato, the military here reported Thursday.

Army Lt. Nasrulla Sema, speaking for the 57th Infantry Battalion, said an M-16 Armalite rifle was recovered by soldiers following a 15-minute firefight between some 50 NPAs and a platoon-size elements of the 57th IB.

No casualty was reported on government side.

Sema said the Army received a tip from civilians about the presence of the rebels in Sitio Kawayanon, Barangay Luayon, Makilala, North Cotabato at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Acting on the tip, the Army went to Barangay Luayon but was fired at by the guerrillas as soon as they arrived in the village, triggering a 15-minute encounter.

The rebels, sensing the approaching armored personnel carrier of the military, pulled off and proceeded to the forested area of Mt. Apo, the country’s highest peak.

After clearing operations, the Army found a bloodied Armalite rifle left behind by the rebels.

Sema said bloodstain was also visible in the encampment area of the rebels who were reportedly mulcting farmers.

He said farmers have been complaining of forcible taxation applied by communist rebels especially now that they are harvesting banana, corn and other agricultural products.

Sema also offered a military hospital for wounded NPAs as a gesture of peace and goodwill.

Sema said the 57th IB is coordinating with the local government unit of Makilala to determine the reported evacuation of civilians.

The communist guerrillas have been waging war against the government for almost four decades and the Aquino government, when it assumed office in 2010, had opened the door for peace negotiations.

USS Guardian salvage operation in Tubbataha to continue through Holy Week

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 14): USS Guardian salvage operation in Tubbataha to continue through Holy Week

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY -- Salvage operation in the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) for the grounded USS Guardian will continue even through the Holy Week, says the Task Force Tubbataha (TFT).

Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista, district commander of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG)-Palawan and the head of the TFT, said salvage operations will continue even through the Holy Week to ensure that the scheduled deadline will be met, or if there will be delays, these would only be a few days.

But working through the Holy Week, he said also depends greatly on the weather condition in the area although they expect it will be so since it’s already summer.

As of yesterday, Jascon 25 and the other salvors working with the TFT, have already lifted two of the minesweeper’s main engines.

If good weather permits, Evangelista said the main engine will be followed by the removal of three other auxiliary engines of the USS Guardian.

The task force commander said crewmen of all the salvors assisting in the removal of the USS Guardian are all working hard to ensure that damages on the coral reefs will be minor.

He’s saying this came after members of the group Pamalakaya Pilipinas trooped to the office of Governor Baham Mitra recently to demand that the crewmen and captain of the minesweeper be called back to Palawan to make them all personally liable for damaging the protected coral reefs of Tubbataha.

Manila hopes for 'mutual trust, cooperation' with Beijing

From Rappler (Mar 14): Manila hopes for 'mutual trust, cooperation' with Beijing

Malacañang is hoping for a "climate of mutual trust and cooperation" between China and the Philippines, as Xi Jinping assumed China's presidency Thursday, March 14.

"We will seek all opportunities to help build a climate of mutual trust and cooperation to enhance stability in our region so that the positive economic momentum of our respective nations may be sustained," Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.

He said Xi's election is an "auspicious moment" for China, as the country works toward prosperity and stability.

"This is a sentiment shared by all peoples of good will, who look forward to opportunities for positive engagement fortified by trust, good will, and cooperation, for the mutual benefit of all peoples in our region and around the world," he said.

China's parliament named Xi as president Thursday, four months after he took charge of the Communist Party with pledges of reform that have raised hopes but so far yielded little change.

Since he took the top communist post in November, Xi has pledged to preserve the ruling party's supremacy, as well as improve livelihoods, implement economic reforms, and crack down on corruption, which incenses popular opinion.

The Philippines and China are involved in a territorial dispute over the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal. Tensions over the islands spread across the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) escalated in the past year.

US submarine tender to visit Subic Bay

From InterAksyon (Mar 14): US submarine tender to visit Subic Bay

An American submarine tender will be making a routine port call at Subic Bay on Friday, the US Embassy in Manila said.

The visit of the USS Emory S. Land (AS 39) and its crew of 410 -- 106 of who are Filipino-Americans -- "highlights the strong historic, community and military connections between the United States and the Republic of the Philippines," the embassy said.

"This visit will allow the ship to conduct maintenance, replenish supplies as well as give the crew an opportunity for rest and relaxation," the US Embassy said.

 Of the Filipino-Americans on the ship, 26 are sailors and 80 are civilian mariners, many of them from Botolan, Olongapo City, San Antonio and Pasay City.

During the ship's visit to Subic, the crew will conduct "subject matter expert exchanges" with the Philippine Navy and also conduct community service projects in schools, medical institutions, orphanages and other activities.

Air Force to beef up capabilities in Palawan

From InterAksyon (Mar 14): Air Force to beef up capabilities in Palawan

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines -- The Philippine Air Force will soon be upgrading its capabilities in the country’s western section.

Speaking at the 40th founding Anniversary of the 570th Composite Tactical Wing in Palawan Thursday, Air Force chief Lieutenant General Lauro Catalino dela Cruz said the upgrade will include the setting up of a radar system on Mt. Salakot, northwest of Puerto Princesa, by the end of the year, and the deployment of two of the eight new W-3A Sokol helicopters acquired from Poland.

Dela Cruz said he personally requested the choppers to be fitted for search and rescue and disaster response missions.

Aside from these, the Air Force chief said he will also request amphibious aircraft, together with the Philippine Navy, for the same purpose.

The upgrade is part of the Department of National Defense’s plan to set up a Center of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response in Palawan that will serve as the nerve center for nationwide disaster and response operations.

Two additional hangars will also be constructed at Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa to store relief supplies and accommodate additional air assets, including long-range patrol aircraft to be stationed there in the future.

Dela Cruz also promised to expedite the long overdue repair of Rancudo Airstrip on Pag-asa Island by early next year.