Tuesday, March 19, 2013

NPA warns of attacks vs mining

From the Sun Star-Davao (Mar 19): NPA warns of attacks vs mining

The New People's Army (NPA) in Southern Mindanao warned it will stage more attacks against government troops should large-scale mining and logging operations continue.

"As environmental destruction and loss of people's livelihood intensifies with the continued large-scale mining, logging and plantation businesses in the region, more and more AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) troops and paramilitary forces that serve as its security guards become easy targets and sources of arms of the NPA and the people's militia," Rigoberto F. Sanchez, spokesperson for NPA Regional Operations Command, said in a statement emailed to Sun.Star Davao.

"The people's army will continue to deliver lethal blows to the enemy, unstoppable in the face of the massive concentration of AFP troops in the region and increasing number of weak points in the enemy," Sanchez added.

The NPA unit belonging to the Guerilla Front 27 Operations Command admitted it carried out the "arrest" of Police Officer 3 Ruben Magno Nojapa Jr., 50, and Senior Police Officer 2 Randy Masambo, both assigned in Nabunturan Police Station, at a checkpoint in Barangay Mainit, Nabunturan, around 6 a.m. Monday.

Sanchez said they confiscated the .9mm handgun of Masambo, who was able to escape. They are keeping Nojapa as a prisoner of war.

There was no mention about the teacher whom the rebels were said to have abducted as well.
But Lieutenant Colonel Michael Logico, commander of the 66th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, said Monday that the teacher earlier identified as Romel Sumbilo was released soon after.

Colonel Angelito de Leon, commander of the 1001st Brigade, said the victims were kidnapped at a checkpoint set up by suspected members of the NPA who disguised as government soldiers at Purok 1 in Anislagan.

"The NPA checkpoint was part of its regular operations against undesirable elements in the area and the abusive Special Operations Teams under Oplan Bayanihan," the rebel spokesperson said.

The NPA said the Guerilla Front 27 also ambushed troops from the 66th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Cabidianan, Nabunturan, at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

The rebels said they also operated command-detonated explosives in Elizalde, Maco town, Compostela Valley, on March 15, killing four troops belonging to the 71st Infantry Battalion, and wounding several others.

"These were the seventh and eighth tactical offensive by the New People's Army using command detonated explosives this year that is directed against the Army's 60th IB, 66th IB, 57th IB, Division Reconnaissance Company, 28th IB and 71st IB -- all butchers and private armies of environmentally destructive large-scale mining and logging companies in the region," Sanchez said.

He said a team from the 1st Pulang Bagani Company-NPA also shot and wounded the commanding officer of the AFP's Special Operations Team in Paquibato district on March 15.


Video Interview: Murad Ibrahim: 'Islam as a means to progress'

From Al Jazeera (Mar 19): Video Interview: Murad Ibrahim: 'Islam as a means to progress'

 The leader of the MILF in Mindanao discusses the long and rocky road to peace in the Southern Philippines.

[Talk to Al Jazeera--Veronica Pedrosa interviews MILF Chairman Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim (25 minutes)  Can be viewed at the following URL: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/talktojazeera/2013/03/2013319145324525433.html]

After 40 years of fighting and 15 years of negotiations the Philippines government is expected to sign a final agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in just a few weeks, creating a semi-autonomous state in Mindanao called Bangsamoro.

"We will continue to advocate Islam as a way of life, as an instrument of change and as a means to progress .... We do not intend to let them accept Islam as a way of life, but then we are going to prove to them that Islam is not anti Christians or anti non-Muslims, but it is an all-embracing religion that can live with Christians, that can live with other religions."
- Murad Ibrahim, the head of the MILF in Mindanao
This possible deal is a landmark event not just for the Philippines but beyond - with many believing there are lessons to learn on how to deal with armed insurgents.

Also on how to deal with the human sacrifice involved as hundreds of thousands of people were killed during the conflict.
But there are concerns about the final peace deal.

There is a split between MILF and the other Islamic insurgency group MNLF, so will they be working together now in the new state? Do they want to? And what kind of society will take hold here? A pure Islamic state? What will happen to Christians living here?

There is also the current conflict in the Malaysian state of Sabah and some say Islamic fighters from Mindanao are involved here, potentially jeopardising the final peace deal which is being brokered by the Malaysian government.

Talk to Al Jazeera decided to seek out the man who is now leading negotiations on behalf of the fighters. We speak to Murad Ibrahim, the head of the MILF in Mindanao talks about the MILF's achievements and the challenges facing Mindanao.


Guerilla tactics used by Sulu intruders ineffective - army field commander

From the Malaysia Chronicle (Mar 20): Guerilla tactics used by Sulu intruders ineffective - army field commander

LAHAD DATU- Although experienced in guerrilla warfare in southern Philippines since 1899, the guerrilla tactics used by Sulu armed intruders have failed to breach the country's defence.

Instead, the Malaysian Armed Forces (ATM) which used guerrilla tactics defending the country against the communist threat between 1984 and 1989 succeeded in crippling the group.

"The guerrilla tactics used by intruders currently holding out in Tanjung Batu can't match the tactics of our security forces.

This is proven by the 62 intruders shot dead," said Army Field Commander Lt Gen Datuk Seri Zulkiple Kassim.

ATM's tactics are constantly enhanced and streamlined with various training and additional assets to ensure that national sovereignty is protected.

"We are the only country in the world to have won the war against the communists using guerrilla tactics," he added.

Meanwhile, Armed Forces Chief Gen Tan Sri Mohd Zulkifeli Mohd Zin said security forces fired mortar and heavy artillery before entering the intruders' fortress.

"This tactic is used to ensure the safety of security forces and because of the challenging terrain including forest, swamp and farms.

"The intruders who use snipers ,are familiar with these areas."

He said weapons used by them include Garand and M-16rifles, favourites among snipers since they could shoot up to 550 metres.

The National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS) introduced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak four years ago also contributed to the success of Ops Daulat.

Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Ismail Omar said the security situation in Sabah east coast returned to normal two weeks after Ops Daulat was launched.

Proof of Ops Daulat success was seen from the 107 people detained under the Safety Offences Act (Special Measures) 2012 (SOSMA) and 241 people detained for entering the red zone.

Under NBOS, security forces could mobilise the assets of various security agencies and help implementation of Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) which covers 1,400 km of Sabah east coast.

Ismail said the creation of ESSCOM announced by Najib on March 7 was to protect sovereignty and security in the districts of Kudat, Tawau, Kunak, Sandakan and Lahad Datu.

Since the intrusion of Lahad Datu on February 12, 10 security forces members were killed in Ops Daulat.


MILF: MILF belies Misuari’s claim vs. KL; Malaysia works for Moro solidarity

From the MILF Website (Mar 19): MILF belies Misuari’s claim vs. KL; Malaysia works for Moro solidarity

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) vehemently belied claims by MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari that the Government of Malaysia had used the MILF to strengthen its claim on Sabah and Malaysia is responsible for promoting disunity amongst Moros.

“This is a total lie and completely fabricated. Misuari has committed a serious sin for making such an irresponsible and callous statement against both the MILF and the Malaysian government. He should rectify and atone for this grave sin.”

This was the immediate reaction of Mohammad Ameen, head of the MILF Secretariat, to Misuari’s latest verbal assault on the MILF and Malaysia carried by Al-Jazeera YouTube and several Malaysian mainstream media in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Ameen reminded Misuari that it was Malaysia which called for the formation of the Bangsamoro Solidarity Conference (BSC) in 2002 in order to unite the factions of the MNLF and the MILF and to promote common position amongst them especially in their dealing with the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

“How could Malaysia use the MILF to strengthen its claim to Sabah when Sabah is never made part of the agenda of the peace talks since 2001?” Ameen asked.

Ameen also told Misuari that Malaysia did not volunteer to facilitate the GPH-MILF peace negotiation, but it was President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2001 who requested it to act as in-between the two parties after the negotiation resumed after President Joseph Estrada’s all-out war against the MILF in 2000.

President Arroyo, as her first foreign trip since becoming president after the ouster of President Estrada, traveled to Kuala Lumpur to officially ask Malaysia to facilitate the GPH-MILF peace negotiation.

“Malaysia merely responded sincerely to the request of a good neighbor,” he explained.

Ameen added: “Why is Misuari so eager in backing up the Sabah claim now when throughout his 21 years of peace negotiation with the Philippine government, he never raised that issue and the GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement on 1996 never had a reference on the Sabah claim?”

“It is a pity that Misuari is blaming everybody for the failure of his leadership and growing irrelevance to the Bangsamoro struggle to self-determination,” Ameen lamented.

“As leader, Misuari has nothing more to prove; it is better for him to rest, write his true memoirs, and allow the new breed of leaders to lead the Bangsamoro people towards the fulfillment of their true aspirations,” Ameen remarked.


Photo: MNLF Chairman Hadji Nur "Maas" Misuari

From the Facebook page of Nur Misuari: Photo: MNLF Chairman Hadji Nur "Maas" Misuari

Photo: Hadji Nur "Maas" Misuari (MNLF Chairman) , speaking before a large MNLF followers and supporters during the MNLF 45th anniversary celebration in SULU, Mar 18, 2013.

photo credits: Eiryneon Wave

Hadji Nur "Maas" Misuari (MNLF Chairman) , speaking before a large MNLF followers and supporters during the MNLF 45th anniversary celebration in SULU, Mar 18, 2013. photo credits: Eiryneon Wave


MILF: Monday gun battle a clear violation of ceasefire

From ABS-CBN (Mar 19): MILF: Monday gun battle a clear violation of ceasefire

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar on Tuesday said there was a clear violation of the ceasefire agreement in the gun battle in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao on Monday.
One of the key suspects in the Maguindanao massacre in 2009, Dainga Ampatuan, was killed in the firefight with arresting lawmen.

Some policemen and soldiers and a civilian were wounded in the incident.

The firefight ensued after the soldiers and policemen were about to serve a warrant for the suspect's arrest after learning that he was hiding in a house in Sitio Lab, boundary of Barangay Meta, Datu Unsay and Barangay Koloy.

Jaafar said the serving of the warrant that resulted in the encounter could have been avoided if there was proper coordination.

He said the coordinating committee on the cessation of hostilities should look into this issue to neutralize its effect.

"We suggest dapat pagusapan ito ng ceasefire committee ng MILF at GPH at subukang mahanapan ng solusyon para ma-neutralize ang kung anuman ang maaaring maging resulta," Jaafar said.

Meanwhile, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group - Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) released the names of those who were wounded in the incident.

They were identified as:

Police Supt. Julius Coyme
PO3 Edward Bondoc
PO3 Sean James Cayanga
PO2 Orlan Mante
PO1 Masacal Camarudin
PO1 Amer Mohamad
PO1 Guia Mangrag
Major Arnel Baccay
Private First Class Joebert Aden
Acrima Haron - civilian

Two gunmen from Ampatuan's group, identified as Kinog Mamaluba and Norin Ariray, are now in the custody of CIDG-ARMM.

Meanwhile, 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade Deputy Commander Col. Edgar Labitoria clarified their presence in the area of the firefight.

Labitoria said the police troops asked their assistance following the intense exchange of fire.

"Humingi sila ng assistance kasi na-pin down na sila sa area. Nakita ko sa isang battalion namin gamit ang binocular na talagang nakahilera sila, 'di sila makasampa sa kanilang mga sasakyan dahil pinapuputukan talaga sila. It was purely a police operation pero siyempre dahil nakita namin na-pin down sila at hindi makalabas sa area, alangan namang 'di namin sila tulungan," he said.

Labitoria said the Philippine Army is strictly upholding the ceasefire agreement and the ongoing talks between the government and the MILF.


Gov't to take Sabah claim to int'l court after review

From ABS-CBN (Mar 20): Gov't to take Sabah claim to int'l court after review

The Philippine government is ready to bring the country’s Sabah claim before international courts even as it gathers evidence to buttress its position while pursuing dialogue to end the violence in the territory.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda announced the development in a press briefing yesterday where he also pointed out that a “win-win” approach to ending the violence in Sabah is for the followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to lay down their arms and leave the territory peacefully.

“So what win-win solution they have, it’s all in their hands. We have always batted for a peaceful resolution to this conflict. So I have no idea what they have in mind. I think the burden is on them. We’ve always said that, ‘lay down your arms and let’s talk’. But this has gone beyond that: the violence, blood has been spilled; and so, it’s really up to Mr. Jamalul Kiram,” Lacierda said.

He also clarified that Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras was talking about the possibility of the government addressing the Sabah issue using the same legal tack being used in resolving the Panatag Shoal dispute with China.

“Secretary Almendras said the President has tasked Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to study the matter. If the group finds basis to file a claim, the Philippines will then elevate the matter to the international courts where, as in the Bajo de Masinloc case, the government will be retaining private lawyers to handle the claim, if necessary,” Lacierda said.

The STAR’s interview with Almendras and acting Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman was done on March 6 at The STAR office in Port Area in Manila and not in Corregidor Island on Monday. Aquino and some Cabinet officials were in Corregidor last Monday during the commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the Jabidah massacre.

In his discussion with The STAR editors and reporters, Almendras said there was no way the Aquino administration could be accused of giving up the Sabah claim because they were spending so much “getting lawyers to follow the legal processes.”

In the same interview, Almendras said De Lima had told the media that “we are preparing a legal study on how to revive” the Sabah claim by going to the International Court of Justice.

But Lacierda said this did not mean lawyers had been hired since a study was still being made.
“And, based on what Secretary Almendras told me, if there is a basis for the claim and the recommendation is to pursue the claim, then obviously – as in the case of the Panatag Shoal, as in the case of China – we will elevate it before international courts; and, in that instance, we will be hiring lawyers, private lawyers, to handle the case,” Lacierda said.

Almendras and Hataman said there was no consulate or any official presence in Sabah until this time and that should dispel impression that the government had given up its claim. “The fight is not yet over,” Hataman said.

Lay down arms

On reports that the sultanate had lifted its ceasefire declaration and that its followers in Sabah would fight back if attacked by Malaysian forces, Lacierda said “obviously, they have been decimated so what’s the effect of the lifting of the ceasefire?”

“You’ve been reporting everyday that there are some casualties and, some days, there are none. So, obviously, it didn’t matter to the Malaysians whether the ceasefire was lifted or not,” he said, addressing the sultanate.

“Again, our call here is for a peaceful resolution and, apparently, we are onboard, other countries are onboard, but the sultanate is not onboard in this matter,” Lacierda said.

He decried Kiram’s rejection of “disengagement” as supposedly agreed upon between his brother Esmail and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II.

“We have done and we continue to do… What’s the price of adventurism? Filipinos in Sabah…We are also taking care of their people from Sabah coming home and we’re providing assistance to all these things. We continue to do our efforts,” he said.

Lacierda also said they were verifying reports that Kirams’ supporters were tortured by authorities as claimed by Sultan Fuad Kiram I.

Fuad, who is claiming to be the legitimate ruler of the Sultanate of Sulu and Sabah, said that many Tausugs who had fled Sabah had marks of torture.

“We are verifying those reports in media. Number one, we need to verify those reports first. DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) is on the ground and they are documenting. We have not received any reports yet on that. So we’ll validate,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda said that while embassy officials were able to visit some of the evacuation areas in Sabah “we only follow the reports also in Sabah that the Malaysian authorities provide us.”

“It seems that there’s no fighting as… there’s no bombing incident anymore. I am not clear with what the Malaysians are doing right now. But it seems like there has been no large-scale fighting in Sabah and our Philippine embassy team has been able to visit some of the Filipinos there in Lahad Datu, in Felda Sabahat,” Lacierda said.

He also said they had no new information on Kiram’s brother Agbimuddin, who was leading the sultan’s armed followers in Sabah. “Malaysian authorities have not been able to locate him yet,” Lacierda said.

“As far as we are concerned, our concern right now – which wasn’t anticipated by the Kiram family – is the status of those Filipinos who are now coming home because of what happened in Lahad Datu. So we’re taking care of that now. We’re ensuring and providing assistance to those people who have left Sabah,” he said.

Lacierda said Malaysian authorities have not responded yet to Manila’s request for consular access or legal assistance to the sultan’s followers in custody.

“Malaysian authorities are saying there are security concerns. So we hope that those security concerns will be resolved so that we will have access to the followers of Kiram under their custody,” he said.

Consular services

But consular services including issuance of passports and processing of travel documents have been made available to thousands of displaced Filipinos in Sabah wishing to return to the Philippines.
Two officials from the embassy, including Vice Consul Francis Herrera, left Kuala Lumpur on Monday, to join the embassy’s humanitarian/consular team in Lahad Datu.

There are two embassy humanitarian/consular teams attending to the needs of Filipinos in Sabah – one in Lahad Datu and the other in Tawau.

Labor Attaché Alicia Santos said human resource managers of 17 companies have informed the embassy that their Filipino workers are safe.

“The humanitarian/consular teams are operating on a mobile basis, going to areas where their services are most needed. They are assisted by the embassy’s network of Filipino community leaders in reaching out to our nationals,” said Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia J. Eduardo Malaya.
The Philippines has no permanent consular presence in Sabah.

Earlier, upon the request of the embassy, the Department of Education and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas conducted a joint “needs-assessment mission” in Sabah to determine how best to provide alternative education to children of undocumented Filipino migrants who have limited access to public schools.

For the same endeavor, the embassy partnered with the Borneo Child Aid Society which runs some 120 Humana Child Aid alternative learning centers in Sabah’s vast plantation estates, as well as with the Indonesian Children Education Awareness Foundation and the Society for the Education of Needy Children in admitting more Filipino children in their schools.

“We are most grateful to the Filipino community leaders for being our pro-active partner in uplifting the welfare of the Filipino community in Sabah,” Malaya said.

Appeal for unity

While the government continues to fend off criticism of its handling of the crisis, Sen. Francis Escudero is appealing to politicians and the public in general to support the President’s Sabah initiatives.

“Let the president decide on the Sabah issue. Let’s respect and support the President because he’s carrying a heavy burden,” Escudero said in Filipino in a press briefing in Malolos City.

He explained that in dealing with Sabah crisis, it is important that the country speaks in one voice. “Let’s not expose our dirty laundry in public. Let the President do the talking and let’s support him – right or wrong. Payback time should come later,” he said.

The re-electionist senator also asked candidates in the coming polls to refrain from taking advantage of the issue.

“Let’s not dip our fingers into it. National interest is the issue here, not improving the image of politicians,” he said.

He also scoffed at proposals that the country send an armed group to rescue the sultanate’s remaining followers in Lahad Datu. He said Malaysia is unlikely to allow a foreign armed group to intrude into its territory.

Escudero said Malacañang had exercised the same restraint in dealing with the Chinese on the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal issue.

“Had we sent Navy ships to Scarborough, the Chinese would have made the same move or even more,” he said.

In Tagum City in Davao del Sur, United Nationalist Alliance senatorial candidate Mitos Magsaysay said President Aquino must personally appeal to the Prime Minister of Malaysia to stop the attacks in Sabah.

Magsaysay also expressed relief that the President had finally acknowledged the legitimacy of the Philippines’ Sabah claim.

“Why didn’t he talk to the Malaysian prime minister? Everytime there is death, it will get worse, the situation will get worse. He should appeal because it will not die down,” Magsaysay told reporters.


Gov't-MILF pact: Only 2 annexes to go

From ABS-CBN (Mar 20): Gov't-MILF pact: Only 2 annexes to go

Only two annexes remain to be discussed in the framework agreement on the Bangsamoro signed last October between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Palace official disclosed yesterday.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda gave assurance the government would not allow the Sabah issue to hamper the signing of the comprehensive agreement with the Muslims since the peace talks, facilitated by Malaysia, would continue.

“The only thing that’s left in the discussion of the framework agreement, on the annexes is, I think, the power-sharing and the normalization. So these are the only two annexes remaining in the discussion,” Lacierda told reporters in a briefing.

Government and MILF negotiators signed the Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities after the 36th round of formal exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur from Feb. 25 to 27.

The annex details the road map towards the creation of the Bangsamoro region to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) based on the agreement of both parties.

Lacierda said the government consulted the family of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III regarding the peace process, but the Sabah claim was “not discussed primarily because this is a foreign policy issue.”

“For that reason, it (Sabah claim) was referred to the Department of Foreign Affairs.”

He said the Palace is very hopeful the comprehensive agreement with MILF would be signed and completed, adding the timetable would be up to the respective panels.

“The whole framework agreement together with the annexes has one purpose: to bring about enduring peace in Mindanao. So this is much bigger than what we have - the current situation in Sabah - right now,” Lacierda said.

Malacañang sees no reason for the delay in peace negotiations, particularly with Malaysia as facilitator following the Sabah standoff.

“Let us not remove the fact that this framework agreement is a result of talks among Filipinos. Malaysia only helped us. It’s not as if the two remaining issues can no longer be resolved because of the Sabah standoff,” he said, adding the framework agreement is bigger than the trouble in Sabah.

“We’re close to an agreement and so we have not received any notice. There’s no reason for us to change the facilitator. They have been very helpful in coming up with a framework agreement - agreement for peace, not only for MILF, but for the entire Muslim Mindanao.”


NPA fee illegal, say Liberals

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 20): NPA fee illegal, say Liberals

Surigao City—The New People’s Army (NPA) demand up to P1 million payment for “campaign permit” of local candidates campaigning for elections in May in Caraga Region, one of the remaining hotbeds of four decades of Communist insurgency in Mindanao, Sen. Franklin Drilon said on Tuesday.

He condemned what he described as extortion by Communist rebels and called on local politicians to ignore the NPA demand because it was the best way to stop their illegal activities.

“Mayors are being asked to contribute anywhere from P800,000 to P1 million. Nakakalungkot … ngunit nangyayari,” Drilon said.

Caraga, one of the poorest regions in the country, is composed of the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur. It is one of the areas where the NPA remained active.

Drilon, campaign manager of the administration coalition Team PNoy, lead a campaign swing in the area, including a stumping tour in the cities of Bayugan and Butuan on Tuesday.


Two royal army men die in new offensive

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 20): Two royal army men die in new offensive

Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram is still in Sabah and in constant contact with his brother, Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, as fresh fighting in Sabah left two more members of the sultanate’s army dead.

Abraham Idjirani, spokesman of the sultanate, said Agbimuddin called through his mobile phone at around 10:30 p.m. Monday and told them he and his remaining men have slipped out of the conflict zone.

“He is in good shape despite the massive military offensive by the Malaysian forces,” Idjirani said. Agbimuddin’s call lasted less than a minute as Malaysian forces might be able to trace his location, he added.

“They have constant communication although it is difficult because they are in hiding and transferring places,” he said, referring to the sultan and his brother.

Idjirani said two followers died while shielding Agbimuddin from pursuing soldiers.

Idjirani also denied the statement of ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman that Agbimuddin had asked to be fetched from Sabah on March 1 when Malaysian security forces started attacking them.

“If he wanted to go home, he should have informed the sultan, but he said nothing,” he said.

Idjirani said he could not confirm reports that former Moro National Liberation Front chairman Nur Misuari had sent reinforcements to Sabah to help the royal army.

But he said the sultan had not asked any group to send forces to Sabah because this might escalate the conflict there.

Kiram’s daughter Princess Jacel, said her uncle Agbimuddin has already bid his family goodbye because he does not plan to go back to Tawi-Tawi or Sulu.

The Malaysian state-run news agency Bernama reported clashes on four occasions Tuesday.

Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib said no one was injured in the clashes, which took place between 8.05 a.m. and 5 p.m.

He also said security forces arrested three people in Sandakan on suspicion of having links with the Filipino fighters, raising to 107 the number of people held under the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act of 2012.
These people would be charged in court soon, he told a news conference.

Hamza said the security forces were expected to complete their mopping-up exercise and hunt for what is believed to be fewer than 50 “terrorists” in Tanjung Batu.

Also on Tuesday, 38 purported members of the Royal Army of Sulu who were arrested while entering the country from Sabah on March 13 questioned the validity of the Justice Department’s indictment against them in a lower court.

They asked the Tawi-Tawi regional trial court to order the Justice Department to reinvestigate the charges of illegal possession of firearms and violations of the election gun ban.


Bangsamoro deal bigger than Sabah issue, says Palace

From the Daily Tribune (Mar 20): Bangsamoro deal bigger than Sabah issue, says Palace

The agreement to create a Bangsamoro substate is a bigger issue than the crisis in Sabah, so said President Aquino’s spokesman Edwin Lacierda in further belittling the Sabah claim of the Sultanate of Sulu on the Malaysian territory and dampening hopes of the claimants on the sincerity of President Aquino in his calls for a dialog.

The peace negotiation is set to resume before the month ends between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), still with the Palace shutting out any possibility of including the Sulu Sultanate from the talks which was one of the gripes raised by Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III against the government.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the matter of the peace process under the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) is a domestic issue and the Sabah claim is related to the foreign policy of the government.

“Remember, from the very start, the matter of consultation with the Kiram family about the peace process, was not discussed primarily because the Sabah issue is a foreign policy issue and, for that reason, it was referred to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA),” Lacierda said.

Lacierda said what remains to be discussed by the panels of the parties on the FAB would be the annexes which is the power-sharing and the normalization.

“We don’t know yet as to when it will start but, hopefully, these are the two issues remaining,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda expressed confidence the panels could complete the two annexes before the end of this month and a comprehensive agreement could soon be signed.

“We are very hopeful that it will be signed, It will be completed. But, as to the timetable, we will leave that with the respective panels. The whole framework agreement with the annexes has one purpose: to bring about enduring peace in Mindanao. So this is much bigger than what we have than the current situation in Sabah right now,” Lacierda said.

Mohaqber Iqbal, chairman of the MILF panel maintains high expectations for the resumption of the peace talks for the completion and formal signing of the FAB. Iqbal said that the ongoing conflict in Sabah is a separate issue from the peace process.

“As far as we are concerned, the peace talks will proceed as scheduled before the end of this month. Why do we have to complicate the issue, that’s (Sabah) another issue,” Iqbal said.

Iqbal said the Sabah issue is a security issue while the peace negotiation is a peace issue.

Iqbal said the Sabah issue is so delicate that it is better to keep silent and instead call for peaceful resolution to resolve the conflict.

“There is no reason for delay, anyway the two governments — the Malaysian government and the Philippine government are trying to resolve the issue as soon as possible,” Iqbal said.

Malaysia is acting as third party facilitator in the peace talks. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak personally witnessed the signing of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) between GRP and MILF peace panels on Oct. 15, 2012 in Malacañang Palace.

Iqbal said that the next round of talks will be the continuation of the discussion regarding power sharing, wealth sharing and normalization.

Iqbal said the issues concerning wealth sharing is already settled but not yet signed while power sharing is almost a done deal.


Malaysian hit squad seeks to rub out sultan, aide says

From Malaya (Mar 19): Malaysian hit squad seeks to rub out sultan, aide says

A MALAYSIAN hit squad has arrived in the Philippines to assassinate 74-year-old Jamalul Kiram III of the Sultanate of Sulu and his adviser Pastor Saycon, Kiram’s spokesman Abraham Idjirani said yesterday.

Idjirani said the five-man hit squad is headed by a Sunny Ng, whom he described as a Malaysian colonel. He said the group has enlisted three alleged recruits of the New People’s Army to carry out its mission.

He said a former lawyer of Saycon, whom he refused to identify, informed Saycon about the alleged assassination plot.

He said Saycon’s ex-lawyer was reportedly approached by Malaysian businessman Kenneth Lee for help in carrying out the hit. He said Ng’s group met with the lawyer at the Genting’s Palace in Resorts World, Pasay City around noon Monday.

He said Ng asked Lee to trace the address of Kiram.

He added that the hit squad was staying “either in room 806 or 906” of the Maxim’s Hotel, also at Resorts World.

“In the light of this development, we would like to ask the Philippine government: Have we surrendered our sovereignty that we allow a Malaysian hit squad to perform their terrorist activities here in our country,” Idjirani said.

He said Saycon’s former lawyer is willing to stand as witness in court against the Malaysians.
Idjirani called on the PNP and the NBI to check the information to ensure Kiram’s safety.

Kiram, who is staying with his family at Maharlika Village in Taguig City, said he would not ask for police protection at this time.

Idjirani also expressed fear that Filipinos living in Sabah are exposed to torture and perhaps extrajudicial killing as Malaysian security forces continued its attempts to flush out Kiram’s followers from Sabah.

He said claims of human rights violations Filipinos who have fled Sabah confirms the report last year of the World Refugee Organization that Malaysia has been one of the leading human rights violators in the world since 1982.

He said Malaysia’s actions against the Filipinos, regardless of whether they are followers of the Sultanate of Sulu or not, are against the teaching of Islam and should be stopped immediately.
He said Malaysian authorities may also be trying to divert the world’s attention from the Sultanate’s claim on Sabah.

Idjirani reiterated the Kiram family’s appeal for the United Nations Human Rights Council to intervene and investigate the claims of Filipinos who have fled Sabah.

He also criticized the Aquino administration for not protecting its citizens.

Since Malaysia started its operations against the followers of Kiram, 107 persons have been arrested for violating the Security Offenses Special Measures Act of 2012 while another 232 have been detained under various laws.

A group of Malaysian lawyers under the Bar Council of Malaysia has also appealed for the UN and other international agencies to be allowed entry to Sabah.

The group said it is prepared to give legal assistance to the sultan’s followers who were arrested in the ongoing crackdown.
Vice Consul Francis Herrera of the Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur has joined a team that will provide humanitarian and consular assistance to Filipinos in Lahad Datu, including providing passports and travel documents to Filipinos who want to return to the Philippines.

The embassy’s Philippine Overseas Labor Office has also reached out and checked on the conditions of the 1,285 Filipino workers deployed in Sabah.


‘Rebalancing’ of US forces in PH tackled by Gazmin, US defense official

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 19): ‘Rebalancing’ of US forces in PH tackled by Gazmin, US defense official

US Deputy Secretary of Defense, Dr. Ashton Carter, meets up with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Tuesday at Camp Aguinaldo. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/Department of National Defense
A senior official from the United States met with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin Tuesday morning at Camp Aguinaldo to discuss, among other things, the presence of US forces in the country.

The meeting is part of US Deputy Secretary of Defense’s, Dr. Ashton Carter, four-nation visit from March 17 to 21 for a series of consultations.

Part of the meeting included the discussion of “rebalancing” of US forces in the region.
“Ang rebalance na sinasabi nila, it’s a broad approach and a broad engagement of region, so tatamaan tayo in several aspects, economic, s’yempre isa na d’yan economic, tourism. Hindi ko lang sure yung mga scientific, yung mga technologies mga ganun, pero syempre other than the defense ang ano dyan yung engagement natin sa kanila is free, yung mga ganun, yun ang mga gusto nilang mangyari, parang mutually beneficial (What they mean about rebalance is that it’s a broad approach and a broad engagement of region, but it will cover several aspects, life economic and tourism. I’m not sure about scientific, the technologies, those things, but other than the defense, the thing is, the engagement with them is free. That’s what they want to happen, mutually beneficial),” Defense spokesman Peter Paul Galvez told reporters.

Last year, the United States announced they are moving 60 per cent of US Navy Fleet in Asia by 2020.

In a separate news release, the Department of National Defense that “frequent and energized” consultations are seen in the coming months to boost defense cooperation between two countries.

“The visits are a good way for us to strengthen our personal relationships with the people we usually work with. Both the Philippines and the United States will benefit with our frequent and energized consultations with our US counterpart,” Gazmin said.

Both officials also discussed in the meeting that lasted less than an hour the “central role” of the Philippines in the region and how to promote and enhance the existing peace and stability, the US support to the Philippine military’s capability upgrade and training of its personnel.

Tension still high in Sabah, Southern Philippines

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 19): Tension still high in Sabah, Southern Philippines

Tension remains high in Sabah and in southern Philippines areas close to the east Malaysian state as the hunt for Agbimuddin Kiram and his men continued for the 14th day Tuesday under the Malaysian government’s Operasi Daulat, security officials on both sides said.

Philippine security officials reported that a total of 2,719 Filipinos had arrived in various areas of Tawi-Tawi and Sulu from Sabah.

Lieutenant General Rey Ardo, chief of the Western Mindanao Command based here, said ground, air and sea forces remained on “red alert” for the possible entry into Philippine territory of members of the so-called “royal army” of the sultanate of Sulu who were fleeing Malaysian military and police operations Sabah.

On March 13, the Philippine Navy intercepted 38 Sulu gunmen, including Edris Utal, reportedly a close aide of Agbimuddin’s, but the so-called Sulu sultanate’s crown prince was still nowhere to be found.

Ardo said Agbimuddin’s remaining forces may still try to return to the Philippines as Malaysian security forces continue to hunt them down in Sabah.

Meanwhile, a Sabah-based radio station reported Tuesday that the Malaysian Army deployed 12 more armored personnel carriers capable of traversing swamps or muddy terrain as more troops were redeployed to the Lahad Datu village of Tanjung Batu, where Malaysian security forces clashed twice with the Kirams’ so-called “royal army” during mopping up operations on Monday.

The station quoted Malaysian police chief Inspector General Ismail Omar Ismail as saying no casualties were recorded on the Malaysian side and that he did not know if the Kirams’ followers, whom he called “terrorists,” had suffered any casualties.

The station reported Ismail as telling reporters the two firefights took place just 40 minutes apart starting 8:05 a.m. on Monday and validated suspicions that the the “enemies” had moved farther into Tanjung Batu following the recapture of their hideaways in the villages of Sungai Nyamuk and Tanduo.

The state-run Radio 24 reported Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib as telling reporters at the same news conference that Malaysian security forces suspected that Tanjung Batu had become the last frontier of the resistance of the Sulu gunmen.

He said there could be fewer than 50 “terrorists” remaining of the more than 200 “invaders” and that they had converged on Tanjung Batu apparently in preparation for a “final battle.”

At least 62 members of the “royal army” have been killed, dozens injured or captured, while dozens more had fled and were intercepted by authorities in the Philippines Operasi Daulat started on March 5.

But Agbimuddin was not among those killed, raising suspicion that he could still be hiding in Sabah or might have already gone home.

Malaysian security forces suffered eight policemen and two soldiers killed, the latest being on Sunday.

The state-run news agency Berita Nasional Malaysia or Bernama reported Army Division Commander Maj. Gen. Ahmad Zaki Mokhtar as saying the Sulu gunmen were apparently preparing for a protracted war as “ordered” by Kiram.

But Ahmad Zaki said Malaysian security forces were ready and will finish the battle in just a few more days.

The Sabah crisis started from a stand-off that began on Feb. 12, three days after Agbimuddin Kiram and his men arrived for a “homecoming” in the Malaysian state. Although the men were armed only with vintage rifles such as Carbine and Garand and the traditional krises and machetes, they survived days of Malaysian air strikes and artillery bombardmant along with ground assaults by nearly 5,000 Malaysian soldiers and policemen backed by armored personnel carriers.

Ahmad Zaki said more military hardware had arrived, including a “squadron of tracked Armored Personnel Carriers (APC)” to help ground forces with with the operation.

Bernama also reported that Malaysian Armed Forces Chief Gen. Zulkifeli Mohamad Zin had told reporters in Kuala Lumpur that the police and military action in Tanjung Batu could wrap up within the next two or three days.

The number of people rounded up by the authorities in connection with the campaign against the Kirams’ bid to reclaim Sabah, and for violation of restrictions against civilians in certain areas, reached 349 as of Monday. One of them died of illness in a hospital, Ismail said.

Bernama also reported that Malaysian Armed Forces Chief Gen. Zulkifeli Mohamad Zin had told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, also on Monday, that the police and military action in Tanjung Batu could wrap up within the next two or three days.

In an interview during a recent visit to Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, Ardo said he tended to believe the claims of the Kirams that Agbimuddin was still alive because of the absence of funeral-related activities.

“If the locals in Simunul start a vigil, then we know he is dead already,” he said.

Asked where Agbimuddin might be, Ardo said he really had no idea and that the military was validating information it has been getting from all sources.

Unverified reports received by the Inquirer from some sources here said Agmuddin had gotten through a blockade established by the Philippine Navy and the Coast Guard in the south.

Senior Supt. Antonio Freyra, Sulu provincial director, told the Inquirer by phone that they had been given orders to find out if Agbimuddin was anywhere in the province.

He said policemen were specifically told to monitor the influx of evacuees from Sabah because Agbimuddin could be one of them.

“But so far, with all the documented landings of small and big sea vessels here (Jolo) and in some parts of the shores of Sulu we haven’t found any man who fits Agbimuddin’s description. Most those who arrived here in recent days were women and children,” Freyra said.


MILF-gov't ceasefire body asked to probe Maguindanao clash

From the Philippine Star (Mar 19): MILF-gov't ceasefire body asked to probe Maguindanao clash

Local officials on Tuesday asked the joint ceasefire committee to investigate the firefight in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, where a key suspect in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre was killed and five police officers were wounded.
One of the wounded policemen was Superintendent Julius Coyme, a senior staff of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) regional police office.

Senior Superintendent Rodelio Jocson, police director of Maguindanao, suffered a sprained ankle after a bad fall when he ducked for cover when Moro gunmen fired at them with assault rifles while they wre serving the arrest warrant on Maguindanao massacre suspect Dainga Ampatuan in Barangay Kuloy in Shariff Aguak.

Policemen killed Dainga in the encounter.

Barangay Kuloy is a known stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and is covered by the rebel group’s 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities with the government.

Local officials said that so intense was the three-hour running firefight between the combined Army and police raiding team that Dainga and the Moro gunmen managed to cripple a police patrol car with machine guns and shoulder-fired grenades.

Initial reports from barangay officials said that while policemen and Dainga's group were engaged in a gunfight, several gunmen were seen reinforcing the massacre suspect's group.

After the gunfight, police recovered 12 high-powered firearms abandoned by the gunmen who reinforced Dainga's group.

Chief Superintendent Noel delos Reyes, regional director of the ARMM police, said the slain massacre suspect is a relative of detained former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr.

The former governor, along with three of his sons, and several other relatives are now detained in Metro Manila on charges of 58 counts of murder for the Maguindanao massacre in Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town on Nov. 23, 2009.

Reports said that the gunmen that fought with Dainga were members of the MILF's 108th Base Command.

Shariff Aguak town Mayor Zahara Upam-Ampatuan said the tension waned only after she and her constituent-leaders managed to contact local commanders of the MILF and asked them to help reposition the rebels away from the scene.

Zahara said dozens of villagers evacuated during the encounter, but some of them have already returned to their homes in Barangay Kuloy.

Von-Al Haq, spokesman of the MILF’s military arm the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, said the police team that neutralized Ampatuan did not inform the ceasefire committee of the operation.

The government and the MILF, under the 1997 ceasefire accord, are bound to cooperate, through the joint ceasefire committee and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), in interdicting criminals and terrorists in guerilla strongholds.

The local government of Shariff Aguak has called on the joint ceasefire committee, the AHJAG, and the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team to immediately intervene and impose security measures to stave off a repeat of Monday’s clash.


Sulu Sultanate not keen on retrieving fighters' remains

From the Philippine Star (Mar 19): Sulu Sultanate not keen on retrieving fighters' remains

The Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo is not keen on retrieving from Sabah the bodies of its 28 fighters who have been reported as killed by Malaysian security forces since March 5.

“In line with the preaching of Islam, why would we still disturb the souls and the spirits of the deceased? They are now rested in peace,” said Abraham Idjirani, spokesman of the sultanate.

“You know, among Muslims, kuntento na ang isang tao basta mailibing siya within 24 hours,” Idjirani added.

According to the teachings of Islam, a deceased person must be buried within 24 hours after his or her death. After the 17-day standoff erupted in a firefight on March 1, the Sulu sultanate asked Malaysia for a ceasefire to be able to bury their dead.

Since March 5, Malaysian security forces had conducted offensive operations to flush out Kiram’s followers. According Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib, 61 of the sultan's followers had been killed from March 5 to 15.

The Malaysian government had written the Philippine government regarding the repatriation of the bodies in three days, although it did not specify the dates for this period.

"We have sent the letters through our Foreign Ministry. In fact, today there will be a meeting between the Foreign Ministry and the Philippine Embassy. Technically the three-day period has not lapsed yet," Taib said in a report by news network GMA-7.


Idjirani said the offer of the Malaysian government to have the remains of the dead fighters retrieved and sent back to the Philippines is just another “black propaganda.”

Idjirani said should the Sultanate of Sulu agree to retrieve their dead fighters from Sabah, the retrieval team should be guaranteed immunity from arrest or harassment by a neutral country.

“Now the proposition of Malaysia is another black propaganda. First of all, there is no definition of conditions on how the retrieval is to be done. It is also very alarming on the part of the Sultanate of Sulu as without the intercession of a neutral country, Malaysia could order the arrest of the retrieval team and accuse them of being members of the Royal Security Force,” he said.

Idjirani added that the retrieval of the deceased fighters should be covered by media both local and international and be made in the presence of a neutral humanitarian organization such as the Red Crescent or the International Committee of the Red Cross.

He also said that Malaysia should also allow an independent group to conduct autopsies on the remains of the dead sultanate fighters to prove that they were indeed killed in combat and were not tortured to death.

“If that should happen, we challenge Malaysia to allow an independent body to conduct autopsies on the remains. We have still to solicit the consent of the relatives,” he said.

Idjirani believes that the 10 fighters earlier reported as captured by Malaysian security forces could have already been killed. He said that the refusal of Malaysia to present the 10 could mean that they are already dead.


US-Phl agree on close defense cooperation

From the Philippine Star (Mar 19): US-Phl agree on close defense cooperation

The Philippines and the US on Tuesday agreed to conduct “frequent and energized consultations” to boost defense ties in a meeting that also tackled the rebalancing of Washington’s forces in the Pacific.

These matters were discussed during the call of US Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter on Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin in Camp Aguinaldo.

“Frequent and energized consultations with the US Defense Department in the coming months [are] seen to boost the defense cooperation between the Philippines and United States,” the Department of National Defense (DND) said in a statement.

DND spokesman Peter Galvez said consultations would facilitate an “easier exchange of information.”

The two security officials also tackled the “central role” of the Philippines in the region and ways to maintain peace and stability.

“Dr. Carter also explained that the rebalancing of US forces is a broad engagement geared towards the promotion of economic stability in the region,” DND said.

Galvez said the “rebalancing” act of US could benefit the Philippines in several aspects.

“It’s [rebalancing] a broad approach and a broad engagement of region, so we will be affected in several aspects, economic and tourism,” the defense official said.

“What they want is for [the rebalancing] to be mutually beneficial,” he added.

Last year, the US announced plans to deploy majority of its naval fleet to the Pacific by 2020.

Then US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the move was in line with the US’s efforts to boost its presence in the Asia Pacific.

Panetta said the US naval assets would be realigned from a roughly 50-50 split between the Pacific and the Atlantic to about 60-40 split between those oceans.

Also discussed during the meeting between Gazmin and Carter was the US’s support to the Philippine military’s upgrade efforts.

“The visits are a good way for us to strengthen our personal relationships with the people we usually work with. Both the Philippines and the United States will benefit (from) our frequent and energized consultations with our US counterpart,” Gazmin said.

Carter served as Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition Technology and Logistics from 2009 to 2011. He holds a doctorate degree in theoretical physics from the University of Oxford.

Carter was also the head of the International and Global Affairs faculty of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

He was a co-director of the Preventive Defense Project and a member of the President’s Management Council and the National Council on Federal-Labor-Management Relations.


Malaysian forces capture 3 alleged Kiram supporters

From the Philippine Star (Mar 20): Malaysian forces capture 3 alleged Kiram supporters

Malaysian forces arrested on Sunday three people believed to be supporters of the sultanate of Sulu in Sandakan, state-run news agency Bernama reported yesterday.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib was quoted as saying that the arrested persons would be charged in court.

The arrest raised to 107 the number of people detained for allegedly violating Malaysia’s Security Offenses Act 2012.

Bernama said a total of four clashes between Malaysian and Sulu sultanate forces were recorded last Sunday. No one was reported injured in the fighting that occurred between 8:05 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Malaysian forces are conducting clearing operations against the troops of the sultanate of Sulu.

Malaysian Army First Division chief Maj. Gen. Datuk Ahmad Zaki Mokhtar said security forces were using 12 armored cars with chain wheels to allow movement in all types of terrain.

More than 60 people have died since the fighting between the sultanate of Sulu and Malaysian forces started last March 1.

The daughter of Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III belied yesterday reports that the unilateral ceasefire that they have declared in Sabah has been lifted.

At a media forum in Quezon City, Princess Jacel Kiram said the they want to peacefully resolve the fighting in Sabah.

“Of course they have to defend themselves if they were attacked,” she said. “But they cannot initiate an attack.”

Jacel also denied reports that her uncle, Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, has fled Sabah and returned to the Philippines.

“He’s out of the danger zone, but he’s still in Sabah,” she said.

He and his troops have no intention to leave Sabah, she added.

Jacel said more than 40 armed supporters of the sultanate were able to enter Sabah last week.

“They were relatives of those who died,” she said. “We tried to stop them. In fact, we are doing our best to stop those who are in Sulu who want to go to Sabah.”

Jacel said the Aquino administration has not initiated another contact following the meeting between Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II and her uncle Ismael Kiram.

They have not seen the sincerity of the Aquino administration in supporting the Philippine claim to Sabah, she added.

Jacel said she could not see what the government is waiting for to push the claim to Sabah.

“We have historical basis on claiming Sabah,” she said.

The STAR learned in Tawi-Tawi yesterday that members of the sultan’s forces remaining in Sabah have no choice but to fight after Malaysian security forces destroyed their boats.

Various sources said the Malaysian police and military intend to wipe out the sultan’s forces.

Haji Faisal Malande, outgoing executive assistant to Tawi-Tawi Gov. Sadikul Sahali, said the conflict would end if Malaysia acknowledges and names the real heir of the Sulu sultanate as the Sultan of Sabah.

“That’s a win-win solution to end this crisis,” he said.

Another source, who also asked not to be named, said Malaysia’s police and military appeared to have underestimated the fighting capabilities of the raja muda’s men.

Agbimuddin once served as district officer in Lahad Datu, which is equivalent to a mayor in the Philippines.

As of yesterday, around 10,000 Malaysian troops have yet to nail down the raja muda and his fighters after weeks of fighting.

The STAR learned that Navy and immigration personnel discovered that returning fighters of the sultanate were carrying imported canned goods for their families.

“When their luggage was searched, we found that they were carrying imported canned goods and other groceries for their families back home,” a security official said.

Tawi-Tawi police director Senior Superintendent Joselito Salido said they were also carrying two M16 rifles, a shotgun, and an M1 rifle.

“Yes, they were carrying bags of groceries, including cans of corned beef,” he said.


PAMANA road project to lessen travel to E. Samar upstream town

From the Leyte Samar Daily Express (Mar 19): PAMANA road project to lessen travel to E. Samar upstream town

TACLOBAN CITY—Travelling from Maslog, an upstream town in Eastern Samar, to the nearest town will be easier as soon as the road project will be implemented through the government’s Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) program.

Maslog Mayor Septemio Santiago said from the usual three to four hours by boat, it is expected to lessen about two hours of travel from the town center to the next town of Dolores.

“The road project of PAMANA will not only bring convenience to residents. It is also expected to improve their livelihoods,” Santiago said.

Maslog is a fifth class municipality and majority of residents depend on agriculture. Like other interior towns in Eastern Samar, it delivers its products to larger neighboring towns. The place is also known for its cool climate and lush rainforest.

Last week, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP), in coordination with partner agencies conducted an information caravan with social services package from PAMANA projects in Maslog.

Engr. Nida de la Cruz, chief of Operations Performance and Capability Development of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said the information caravan was part of the social preparation program of the road rehabilitation project in Maslog.

The project forms part of the 42-kilometer road that will traverse the toAwns of Can-avid and Dolores. The 18-kilomer stretch will connect Dolores to Maslog.

The project costs about P446 million. Initial release of P10 million has been made by PAMANA.

PAMANA is the government’s program and framework for peace and development in areas affected by armed conflict and communities covered by existing peace agreements. It seeks to reduce poverty, improve governance and empower communities.


NPA Leader Jailed, Justice Served to Murder Victim’s Heirs

From the Negros Daily Bulletin (Mar 19): NPA Leader Jailed, Justice Served to Murder Victim’s Heirs

In an enormous blow to the already down-spiraling strength of NPA in southern part of Negros Oriental, Calixto Vistal AKA Cocoy, an NPA leader in the area was convicted guilty for the murder of Basilio Casido whom he and some accomplices feloniously executed at the middle of an ongoing barangay session last May 07, 2009 in Tayak, Siaton, Negros Oriental.

The three-minute reading of the decision came Friday morning, March 15, 2013 at the sala of Judge Roderick Maxino of RTC Branch 32. Vistal was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt and was given the maximum punishment "Reclusion Perpetua" and payment to the victim’s direct heirs the amount of Php 100,000.00 in civil indemnity and moral damages.

The conviction came as a pleasant news to the triumphant heirs of Casido who broke into tears as they witnessed the decision unfold in the courtroom that day. Likewise, this is a resounding victory for the people of Barangay Tayak, Siaton, which for nearly four years now since the murder was committed, justice is finally served. "He got what he deserved. They took the life of my father for reasons that he worked for the peace and order of our barangay," said Merlyn Casido, daughter of the late Basilio Casido.

LTC Marion R. Sison, Commanding Officer of 79th IB based in Siaton, Negros Oriental saw the decision as a success in the unit’s legal operation efforts integrated in its Bayanihan Team that helped facilitate the pursuance of the case. More importantly, LTC Sison called the conviction a "victory" for the people who dreamed of peace and justice. He averred that his unit’s thrust is to promote peace in the unit’s area of operation. He further noted that one way of winning peace is for the Army to ensure that true justice always prevail.


NPA Leader Nabbed

From the Negros Daily Bulletin (Mar 19): NPA Leader Nabbed

A ranking New People’s Army (NPA) rebel was arrested in Jaro, Iloilo City last Saturday, the military said yesterday.

Bernabe Tobongbanua, with aliases "Mamay" and "Bimboy," was arrested by combined elements of the military and the police, Capt. Major Ray Tiongson, chief of the Public Affairs Office of the 3rd Infantry Division, said in a press statement.

Tobongbanua, allegedly a staff for Regional Finance Bureau and Intelligence Officer of Komiteng Rehiyon-Panay, was arrested by virtue of warrant of arrest forcmurder case issued by Judge Amular of Branch 21, 6th Regional Trial Court, Tiongson said.

Col. Arnold Quiapo, commander of the 301st Infantry Brigade based in Dingle, Iloilo said, "With the arrest of Tubongbanua, the peace and order situation in the island of Panay will be much better. The rule of law must always prevail and we will ensure that justice will be attained by victims of the CPP-NPA and Tubongbanua."

Seized from Tubongbanua were subversive documents of high intelligence value and explosives, Tiongson said.

Major General Jose Mabanta, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, Philippine Army said, "This is an accomplishment of the people of Panay because through their help, we were able to catch Mr. Tubongbanua. Significantly, this will have a great impact on the CPP-NPA leadership here in Panay."
Other appropriate charges will also be filed against Tubongbanua who is also involved in a series of extortion activities especially from the big companies in urbanized areas of in Panay, Tiongson added.

Tubongbanua is also one of the suspects in the torching of a crane in Sigma, Capiz in 2011, and two taxi cabs in Leon, Iloilo in July 2011.

Mabanta stressed that, "This development will add to the leadership crisis which is now happening in the hierarchy of the CPP-NPA. They are now considered a weak organization and with that, we hope to end the insurgency in the whole of Panay."

"We are once again openly reaching out to our long-lost brothers in the CPP-NPA to come down and talk with us especially with the local government leaders because the issues in our society are being addressed through our IPSP Bayanihan and we cannot move on if we keep on fighting. We need to go back to the negotiating table to finally put an end to the insurgency problem of our country," Mabanta added.


NPA rebels kill army spy in Camarines Sur

From Bicol Today (Mar 17): NPA rebels kill army spy in Camarines Sur

Contributed Photo

City of Naga, Bicol Region – New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Camarines Sur admitted the killing of an alleged Army spy on Thursday afternoon at Sangay, Camarines Sur, according to a rebel statement sent to Bicoltoday.com. on Friday, March 15.

The NPA Edumundo Jacob Command (EJC) said it had meted “punishment” to Ferdinand Bantal, a military asset and member of a paramilitary group, in Sitio Odiongan, Turague village, Sangay, this province.

According to the rebel statement, Bantal was involved in the attempted killing of three peasants when they were caught resting in a hut during a military operation by a Special Operation Team in Antipolo village, Iriga City in year 2007. However, the civilians managed to flee.

Rojo Armada, EJC spokesman, said the victim was also involved in harassing and threatening civilians in the mountain areas of Sagnay, Baao, and Iriga City in year 2006, and on rural folks he suspected as “rebel sympathizers.”

The group also claimed the alleged spy had been involved in cattle-rustling and other “criminal activities”.

The rebel statement came from the Edumundo Jacob Command which is based in Rinconada District, commonly known as Camarines Sur’s 5th legislative district with Iriga City as the premier urban area, and 45-minutes drive from City of Naga.


Prov’l peace plan good model: AFP

From the Visayan Daily Star (Mar 19): Prov’l peace plan good model: AFP
The Armed Forces of the Philippines Central Command described the creation of a 5-year Provincial Peace, Integration and Development Unit, which was established by the provincial government, 303rd Infantry Brigade, and the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office, to help conflict-affected communities in the province, as a “very good model” of the AFP “Bayanihan” campaign.

Navy Vice Admiral Edgar Abogado, AFP Central Command chief, in a dialog with 303rd IB troopers on Saturday in Murcia, Negros Occidental, said the main objective of the AFP’s Internal Peace and Security Plan is to “win the peace”, through a people-centered security strategy that is founded on broad-based consultations and engagements with key stakeholders.

Abogado also lauded the efforts of the Philippine Army and PNP in Negros Occidental for the formation of the Multi-Sectoral Action Group in La Castellana, whose members are now helping survivors and families of the ambush victims in coping up with trauma.

Eight civilians and a policeman died, and 12 others were injured in an ambush claimed by the New People’s Army in Brgy. Puso, La Castellana, Jan. 27.

Col. Oscar Lactao, 303rd IB commander, said the creation of PIDU last year aims to sustain its peace building and development efforts, crucial to the resolution of more than 40 years of armed conflict in Negros Occidental.

Lactao said it will not only address security and livelihood needs, but will cause healing and reconciliation towards sustainable peace in Negros Occidental.


Troops clash with rebels, NPA camp seized

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 19): Troops clash with rebels, NPA camp seized

VERUELA, Agusan del Sur - Combat forces of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Caraga region overran a camp of the New People’s Army (NPA) following an encounter with the communist-terrorists in the wake of insurgency operation at the vicinity of Sitio Kawalian, Brgy. Sta. Emelia here on Saturday at 4:45 p.m.

One section of 133rd Regional Public Safety Company led by PInsp Alvin T. Caballes encountered unknown number of rebels under Guerilla Front 3 of Southern Mindanao Regional Committee that resulted in 25-minute firefight.

Leftists withdrew to southeast portion. No reported casualty on the government side but still undetermined on the part of adversaries.

Police seized food supplies, subversive documents, uniforms and medicine kits in a camp abandoned by the NPA.

Nearby police stations were conducting checkpoints to intercept the rebels while intelligence monitoring has been intensified to track down their movements.


Two former rebels to receive P50,000 each

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 19): Two former rebels to receive P50,000 each

Two former rebels are about to receive P50,000 each from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) under the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP), according to Imelda Bonifacio of OPAPP.

The two rebels named Edgar and Glenda (not their real names) will be receiving their checks as the Joint Validation and Authentication Committee (JVAC) convenes on Monday, March 25.

The JVAC is a special team of the Samar Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) that assesses, validates and processes the identity and validity of the former rebels.

The two surrenderees spent years in the movement but realized the futility of their cause they were fighting and decided to return to mainstream society.

“It is difficult to be on the run,” said Glenda, who went into hiding in Manila after deserting the underground movement.

Edgar meanwhile needs to surface as his children need to be educated.

The duo surrendered last year but the processing for the release of their benefits took some time.

Edgar and Glenda bring to 11 the number of former rebels who have availed of the benefits coming from the OPAPP.


Youth should realize significance of Liberation of Panay, says Army official

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 19): Youth should realize significance of Liberation of Panay, says Army official

The younger generation should be encouraged to know by heart the struggles and the gallantry of Filipino soldiers against the Japanese soldiers leading to the liberation of Panay on March 18, 1945.

“Our soldiers offered their lives, at ang ating tinatamong kalayaan ngayon ay utang na loob natin sa ating mga ninuno lalo na ng ating mga beterano,” Lt. Col. Aldwine Almase, Battalion Commander of the 82nd Infantry Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, Philippine Army said in a PIA interview.

LtC. Almase said that it is important for everyone to know the history of the country, how it struggled against foreign aggressors, and how it emerged as a nation.

Almase hopes that the commemoration of the Liberation of Panay observed March 18 of every year, will help imbibe the spirit of nationalism in the youth and likewise instilling values such as loyalty to the country.

The remaining veterans, their relatives, and various government officials observed the 68th anniversary of the Liberation of Panay at the Balantang Memorial Cemetery National Shrine in Jaro, Iloilo City.

March 18 of every year was declared a special non-working holiday by virtue of former President Corazon Aquino’s Proclamation No. 430 or "An Act Declaring March 18 of every year as Victory Day in the Islands of Panay and Romblon including the cities of Iloilo and Roxas" issued in 1989.

As stipulated in Proclamation No. 430, March 18 is of great historical and sentimental significance to both the veterans and the people of Panay and Romblon because it was the day when the Panay Guerilla Forces launched the final assault on the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces.


Army sustains leadership training for the youth

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 19): Army sustains leadership training for the youth

The Army based in the province claims that its youth leadership training has effectively shielded the sector from falling into the trap of the communist movement in the area.

Army 501st Brigade Commander Col. Roger Salvador explained that through leadership trainings, the youth are provided proper values and outlook on community involvement making them productive and reliable sector.

"This way, our youth could discern what teachings are positive and what are destructive to the community where they live shielding them from the false ideology of communist elements," Salvador said.

Since youth training has become the Army’s regular program, here, the Command has developed its own pool of trainors and speakers as answer to regular requests from barangays.

This summer, the Army has set another youth camp in Kalinga with the theme,'Kabataan, nasa kamay mo ang pagbabago'. This is open to all interested youths.

This Army program has already produced several youth leaders from in-school and out of school youths in the province, Salvador claimed.

Aside from producing future leaders in the community, trained youth have become active advocates on environmental protection and against illegal activities.


PAMANA infra projects benefit MNLF areas

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 19): PAMANA infra projects benefit MNLF areas

Several infrastructure projects implemented under the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) program in the different recipient-barangays within and outside the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) have already been completed, benefiting the so-called “MNLF areas.”

Director Enrico dela Torre told a group of government information officers attending the three-day workshop on communicating the gains of PAMANA held here at the Pinnacle Hotel starting March 18-21 that the infrastructure projects ranges from farm-to-market roads, bridges, postharvest facilities, water supply systems to health centers.

Others have been constructed in “peace and development communities” (PDCs), the places where the camps of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) were situated prior to the signing of the peace agreement between the MNLF and the government in 1996, he added.

Dela Torre also said the PAMANA-PDC projects have been implemented through a multi-stakeholder scheme in which the community people are the ones identifying the infrastructure to be constructed in coordination with the implementing agencies and a “third party,” which comes from a non-government organization, that would certify the veracity of the project.

With the implementation of PAMANA-PDC, dela Torre observed that the community people are now actively involved in seeking government’s assistance/projects that would answer their needs.

The provinces which received PAMANA-PDC projects are Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Maguindanao of ARMM, Zambonga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay of Region 9, Lanao del Norte of Region 10, Davao del Sur of Region 11, and North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato and Sarangani of Region 12.

PAMANA is the national government’s peace and development framework to respond and strengthen peace building, reconstruction, and development in conflict-affected areas (CAAs) as spelled out in President Aquino’s five priority programs which include the attainment of “just, inclusive and lasting peace” among others.


Top army official lauds local peace initiatives

From the Sun Star-Bacolod (Mar 19): Top army official lauds local peace initiatives

VICE Admiral Edgar Abogado, Commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Central Command, lauded the efforts of the army and police in Negros Occidental and encouraged everyone to continue with the very good initiatives.

Abogado visited the Brown Eagle Troopers at Headquarters 303rd Infantry Brigade on Saturday, March 16, 2013 in Barangay Minoyan, Murcia.

Colonel Oscar Lactao, Commander of 303rd Brigade, welcomed Abogado in traditional military arrival honors together with the Brigade staff and commanding officers of the AFP and Philippine National Police (PNP) units in Negros Occidental.

In his talk with the men and women of the Brigade, Vice Admiral Abogado emphasized on the AFP’s ‘Winning the Peace’ strategy in the conduct of internal peace and security operations (IPSO).

He then presided a Command Conference, where he was provided with a briefing on the security operations being conducted in the province, the preparations for the May 2013 Elections, and an update on the multi-sectoral initiatives for the victims and families of the recent ambush-massacre of civilians in La Castellana that was perpetrated by the NPA.

He cited the organization of the Provincial Peace, Integration and Development Unit (ProPIDU) which undertakes the 5-Year Peace and Development Project (5YPDP) and the latest formation of the Multi-Sectoral Action Group (MSAG) in La Castellana as very good models of “Bayanihan”, an approach that is currently being undertaken by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The primary objective of the AFP’s Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan is to ‘Win the Peace’ through a people-centered security strategy that is founded on broad-based consultations and engagements with key stakeholders.

Beyond its goal of diminishing the armed capability of the NPAs and other treat groups through its focused military operations, the 303rd Brigade will continue to support and assist the local government, line government agencies and non-government organizations in working together for a just, humane and compassionate society by addressing the social, economic and political concerns of the people and communities in the province of Negros Occidental.