Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Philippines: Rebel Landmine Use On Rise

Posted to the Eurasia Review (Apr 9): Philippines: Rebel Landmine Use On Rise

Landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted by communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in the past 10 years have killed 113 people and injured 262 others, the military said today.

“The noted increasing trend on the use of IEDs by the NPA shows that the insurgents are shifting strategies due to their dwindling numbers and lack of firearms and ammunition,” a study released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines said.

The study did not say how many of the 113 deaths were civilians and how many were government security forces.

Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, head of the military’s Human Rights Office, called for an “end to the useless armed violence.”

Tutaan said the military has directed its tactical units to be vigilant and proactive when conducting security operations.

The report also noted a number of communist rebels surrendered during the first three months of 2013.

“Proof of their dwindling influence in communities and in their own ranks is that 77 [NPA] rebels left their lives in the mountains and returned to the democratic fold,” the report noted.

The report showed a “significant increase” in rebel surrenders, said military spokesman Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos.

He said the increase in rebel surrenders can be attributed to the Internal Peace and Security Plan Bayanihan, millitary campaign since January 2011.

The campaign aims to be “people-centered” rather than adopting a traditional military approach in an attempt to win the peace.

Military estimates place the rebel strength at about 4,000 men, from a high of more than 20,000 in the 1980s. Formal peace talks between the communists and government remain stalled.

Army capture abandoned NPA camp in Compostela Valley

From the Global Post (Apr 9): Army capture abandoned NPA camp in Compostela Valley

Troopers from the Army's 25th Infantry Battalion have captured an abandoned New People's Army (NPA) camp while conducting patrol operations in Montevista, Compostela Valley province Sunday.

Recovered from the rebel camp were assorted medical items, subversive documents and electric wires at Sitio Maroot, Barangay Banglasan in Montevista town.

Reports said the NPAs are using the facility as a recruitment and training camp for recruited minors.

Earlier, security forces have recovered five landmines during clearing operations at Barangay Libudon in Mabini, Compostela Valley over the weekend.

Behind the scenes of Balikatan: Small team keeps exercise moving forward

From the US Marine Corps Website (Apr 9): Behind the scenes of Balikatan: Small team keeps exercise moving forward

“Balikatan” is a Filipino expression which translates to "shoulder to shoulder" or “shouldering the load together” and epitomizes the spirit of the bilateral Philippines-U.S. military training exercise bearing the same name.

It’s safe to say that a joint team of U.S. military personnel here has taken that expression to heart, working tirelessly over the last several months to coordinate U.S. participation during the exercise, which officially began April 5.

“Every person here plays a critical role in making sure Balikatan is successful,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Kevin Sampels, logistics director and officer-in-charge of the Joint Exercise Control Support Group (JESG) coordinating U.S. participation during exercise Balikatan 2013.

U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific – acting as the U.S. executive agent and coordinating with the Armed Forces of the Philippines – has been augmented by personnel from all branches of the military. The JESG provides direct support to these forces.

For most of March, the small team consisted of about 15 personnel. Some flew to the Philippines directly from Thailand following exercise Cobra Gold. Many worked exclusively out of local hotel conference rooms before transitioning to Camp Aguinaldo, April 4.

The group has served as the nerve center for all U.S. involvement, taking the lead on everything from drafting contracts and working with Philippine vendors to offloading gear and transporting cargo to locations throughout the Philippines.

He added that in addition to these logistics and contracting specialists, others have been playing essential roles: personnel specialists track the constant flow of U.S. service members arriving in the Philippines, force protection managers monitor the local security environment, and communication experts ensuring that everyone can talk to one another.

It’s all part of the effort to make sure the troops on the ground have what they need, he said, and the team’s seamless integration with Philippine counterparts has been a large part of his focus.

“Coordination with the (Armed Forces of Philippines) and their participation during the planning conferences has been critical,” said Sampels. “This is a bilateral event, and if we’re not joined at the hip, it’s not going to happen.”

In mid-March, Philippine and U.S. service members started humanitarian civic assistance projects throughout Zambales province. Military engineers are constructing and repairing schools and other community infrastructure, while medical personnel have been offering free medical, dental and veterinary care.

Balikatan also trains both Philippine and U.S. armed forces to provide relief and assistance in the event of natural disasters and other crises that endanger public health and safety.

Additionally, command post and field training exercises are scheduled to take place in Camp O’Donnell, Crow Valley, Subic Bay and Fort Magsaysay.

Sampels said that without support from a dedicated staff, these humanitarian events and training activities could never take place.

“The behind-the-scenes stuff is just as important as the sexy stuff going on in the field,” said Sampels. “I could not be more proud of what the folks here are doing.”

DVIDS: Balikatan 2013 stage for first intelligence, force protection information exchange

From the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS) (Apr 10): Balikatan 2013 stage for first intelligence, force protection information exchange
CAMP EMILIO AGUINALDO, Philippines – On this urban military installation, amid creaking palm trees and sweat-drenched troops, a handful of U.S military members spent a week building greater trust with their Filipino counterparts during a subject matter exchange focused on intelligence and force protection.

The exchange is one of the latest developments to help build interoperability between Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. forces during exercise Balikatan 2013, the 29th iteration of the annual bilateral training exercise, which fosters a long standing relationship with both militaries.

This is the first time an exchange of information and experience has taken place on this topic. It grew out of a need recognized during the planning phase of this year’s exercise.

“We are thankful for this opportunity to continue to grow our capabilities and to share what we know about these critical subjects,” said Philippine Army Lt. Col. Arnulfo F. Bajarin, senior officer from the AFP participating in the training.

Approximately 60 Filipino service members from across all four branches of the AFP attended the four-day training.

“I’ve been very impressed with their (the Filipino students) ability to absorb the knowledge,” said a U.S. Marine spokesman, who was instrumental in organizing the exchange. “The students are eager, and I’ve been impressed by how quickly they pick things up.”

Bajarin said the exchange proved beneficial to both Philippine and U.S. participants.

“I lectured the American forces on how we work intelligence and helped them understand our strengths and challenges in this environment,” Bajarin said. “They will take this knowledge back to their commands across the country and cascade it to their units.”

The exercise formally kicked off April 5th at a ceremony that included senior diplomats and military officers from both the Philippines and U.S. The U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, Harry K. Thomas, Jr., captured the spirit of the exercise during his opening address.

“Shoulder-to-shoulder we stand together, ready to defend when necessary and assist when needed,” Thomas said.

The Philippines Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert F. del Rosario confirmed Thomas’ sentiment with an agreement that the exercise will “breathe life and meaning to our obligations as treaty partners.”

A day earlier, U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Richard L. Simcock, U.S. deputy exercise director, affirmed the training’s importance by attending the student’s commencement ceremony.

Simcock and Bajarin know the joint training will make the AFP more capable.

“This training is extremely important in providing timely, actionable and relevant information about the movements and operations of the various threat groups we contend with,” Bajarin said.

DVIDS: Australian Observation Team Considers Balikatan Participation

From the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS) (Apr 10): Australian Observation Team Considers Balikatan Participation

BK 13 - Australian Observation Team considers Balikatan participation

An observation group of Australian Army officers tour the Looc Elementary School construction site to gain an understanding of the types of projects Philippine and U.S. engineers are building throughout the Zambales province. The Australian government is gauging the feasibility for future Balikatan participation. The Lawin schoolhouse is one of eight engineering civic action projects (ENCAP) being performed by Combined/Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force (CJCMOTF) units in support of exercise Balikatan 2013. Balikatan (BK13) is an annual Philippine-U.S. bilateral exercise. Humanitarian assistance and training activities enable the Philippine and American service members to build lasting relationships, train together and provide assistance in communities where the need is the greatest. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chris Fahey/ Released).

PHILIPPINES - An observation team from the Australian Defense Force visited the Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force (JCMOTF) and Combined Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force (CJCMOTF) April 6 during exercise Balikatan.

“The Australian Defense Force sent a small observer team to exercise Balikatan to look for future opportunities of involvement,” said Australian Army Lt. Col. Michael Scott, the head engineer planner of Headquarters Company, 6th Brigade. “We’re looking for opportunities to potentially integrate into future exercises.”

The team received an exercise overview briefing at the JCMOTF headquarters by the JCMOTF Operations Officer Lt. Cmdr Joe Harder who also answered more specific questions from the group.

“They are visiting exercise Balikatan 2013 to look for opportunities to participate with partner nations in the years to come,” said Harder. “The U.S. is supporting the Australian visit by giving them an overview of how the execution is being conducted and to help identify gaps and capabilities that can expand the effectiveness of the mission vice just coming and doing the same thing which would just add more redundancy to the mission.”

According to Scott, Balikatan is a great exercise to observe due to the longstanding relationship between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the U.S. military.

Philippine Army Capt. Felipe Estrada agrees. “Exercise Balikatan is a combined exercise conducted yearly between the U.S. and the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” said Estrada, the officer in charge of construction at the Looc Elementary School project site. “We have learned many techniques and tactics during the exercise already, so when other countries like Australia want to be combined with the training then we would learn even more practices to deliver within the community.”

Balikatan helps maintain a high level of interoperability and enhances military-to-military relations and combined combat capabilities.

“We were able to see a lot of the projects that are out there and it’s given us some good exposure to what’s actually being done between the Philippine and American services during Balikatan this year,” said Scott. “Balikatan is a good opportunity and we’re looking forward to observing the rest of the exercise and seeing if there are any opportunities for Australian involvement in the future.”

Balikatan is an annual Philippine-U.S. bilateral exercise. Humanitarian assistance and training activities enable the Philippine and American service members to build lasting relationships, train together and provide assistance in communities where the need is the greatest.

Peace pact with MILF to withstand scrutiny: Ferrer

From the Sun Star-Manila (Apr 10): Peace pact with MILF to withstand scrutiny: Ferrer

THE Philippine government assured that the comprehensive agreement it will sign with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will be based on a "solid foundation."

Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the government's chief negotiator, said that the deal "will withstand the scrutiny of the skeptics, the misgivings of the unconvinced, the cynicism of the critical."

"Our President, this government panel, our government, are not the type who will promise the moon, the sun, and the stars, only to leave you later in the dark or to your own resources when the going gets even tougher," she said during the opening of the 37th round of formal talks on Tuesday.

She maintained that the government aims to sign the remaining annexes confidently by taking the time needed to thoroughly review them. This, she said, was the reason the 37th round of talks was reset from its original March schedule.

"I can tell you that the Cabinet members have gone out of their way to shepherd this process. Many have spent time with us seeking solutions, providing context, broadening understanding," she said.

"Our agenda remains clear: we solve the remaining issues across the three annexes, seek the creative compromises, and find the right language," Coronel-Ferrer added.

The peace panels are hammering out the remaining annexes on Wealth-sharing, Power-sharing, and Normalization. The Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities was the first to be signed in February.

MILF panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, in his statement, said the MILF is fully committed to finish the process in order to establish real peace in Mindanao.

"Without appearing very simplistic, I think we are about to achieve this historic feat on signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the Aquino administration," he said as he related his optimism to settle the remaining issues on the annexes.

‘PH-US military exercises a cover to open mining activities’—church group

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 9): ‘PH-US military exercises a cover to open mining activities’—church group

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Militant groups are up in arms against the holding of the joint US-Philippine Balikatan exercises in typhoon Pablo-affected areas, saying US troops are only using it to set foot in mine-reach areas in Mindanao in the name of humanitarian assistance.

“Balikatan 2013 will only intensify the implementation of ‘Oplan Bayanihan’ in the hinterlands of Mindanao, especially in Davao regions where American-controlled mining corporations are presently devouring mineral deposits and resources,” Philippine Independent Church Bishop Antonio Ablon, chairperson of Patriotiko Mindanao, said in a statement.

Ablon was reacting to the statement of US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr. about the so-called “strong collaboration” between the armed forces of the US and the Philippines in extending aid to typhoon Pablo survivors in December 2012.

“This is a (signal) that American forces, through the Balikatan military exercises, will again set foot here in Mindanao in the name of humanitarian relief operations,” Ablon said as militant groups led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) trooped to Camp Panacan here, expressing their protest.

Earlier, the group led protesting Pablo survivors, who demanded their share of the relief goods distributed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) but which they claimed they failed to receive. The protests ended up with Pablo survivors taking matters into their own hands by taking sacks of rice kept inside a DSWD warehouse.

“Again, we raise our fists and voices to condemn the exercise that truly manifests the continued intrusion of US imperialism into the sovereignty of our country,” Ablon said as the Philippines and the United States formally commenced the 29th Balikatan military exercise on April 5. The joint military exercises will involve more than 8,000 combined Filipino and American forces.

“We demand the immediate pull-out of military troops and armaments from the Philippines,” he said.

“Just like the previous joint military exercises, today’s Balikatan is clad with sweet rhetoric of humanitarianism and assistance to communities,” he added.

“This year’s fusion of Balikatan and ‘Oplan Bayanihan’ will certainly displace more ‘Pablo’ victims, especially the Lumads, already deprived of their ancestral lands and their right to self determination,” he said.

He said foreign mining companies have been hotly eyeing Mindanao’s rich mining resources, mostly concentrated in the lumad’s ancestral lands.

He urged people to “unite” and “to oppose in all fronts the US dominance in our land.”

PMA welcomes new superintendent

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 10): PMA welcomes new superintendent

FORT DEL PILAR, Baguio City -- The premiere military school in the country is set to welcome its new superintendent on Thursday, April 11.

Vice Admiral Edgar Abogado will replace Philippine Military Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Ireneo Espino who will retire on April 16, 2013.

Espino assumed his post as PMA Superintendent on November 23, 2012 serving less than five months in the academy.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Emmanuel T. Bautista will preside over the scheduled turnover and change of command ceremony on Thursday at the PMA Fort Del Pilar here

Abogado is a member of the Philippine Military Academy “Mapitagan” Class of 1980 while Espino is a member of PMA “Matapat” Class of 1979.

He is the former Commander of Central Command in Visayas. Maj. Gen. Roy Deveraturda replaced Abogado in a simple turnover ceremony on April 7, 2013 at the CentCom headquarters in Camp Lapu-Lapu, Cebu City.

Abogado is the fourth Navy officer to occupy the post as Centcom chief. CentCom is one of the AFP’s wide support commands combating terrorism and insurgency in the Visayas region.

Before his post as CentCom commander, Abogado served as PN’s chief of naval staff, deputy commander of the Philippine Fleet, and head of Assault Craft Force. He was also designated as Vice Commander of the Philippine Navy, the Commander of the Naval Forces Northern Luzon and Commander of PN Logistics Center.

He also commanded the Philippine Navy vessels BRP Gen. Mariano Alvarez (PS-38), BRP Artemio Ricarte (PS-37), BRP Apolinario Mabini (PS-36), BRP Bagong Silang (PG-104), BRP Bagong Lakas (PG-102), BRP Liberato Picar (PG-377), and BRP Filipino Flojo (PG-386).

Chinese officials want detained fishermen released

From ABS-CBN (Apr 10): Chinese officials want detained fishermen released

Two Chinese officials visited on Wednesday the 12 alleged poachers who were caught in the restricted waters of Tubbataha Reef.

Consul General Shen Zicheng and 3rd Secretary Li Jian of the Chinese embassy met with officials from the Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to request the release of the 12 fishermen, a dzMM report said.

The WesCom, however, said it has no authority to decide on the release of the 12 alleged poachers, whose 500-gross ton vessel ran aground at the reef before midnight on Monday.

The Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) said the 12 Chinese nationals arrived in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan at 8:30 a.m. on board the Philippine Coast Guard vessel 3503.

The alleged Chinese poachers are facing charges for violating sections 19 (Unauthorized Entry), 20 (Damages to the Reefs), 26 (Destroying, Disturbing Resources), and section 27 (Poaching by Foreigners) of the Republic Act 10067 or the Tubbataha Act of 2009.

They also allegedly attempted to bribe marine park rangers with US$2,400, or roughly Php99,000. The TMO said the attempted bribery was in violation of Article 212 (corruption of public officials) of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines.

The marine park management said various agencies are working together to expedite the filing of charges against the fishers. These include: the Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Navy, Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Western Command, Bureau of Customs, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Municipality of Cagayancillo.

The TMO said the illegal fishing charges will be the primary case against the twelve.

"The violation of Section 27 (Poaching by Foreigners) of the RA 10067 is the primary case to be filed before the close of working hours today," the TMO said.

Commodore Enrico Villanueva, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) – Palawan District Commander, earlier said that while no fish or marine life were found inside the Chinese vessel, the fishing gear inside it can already be used as evidence in the illegal fishing charges.

The TMO said the vessel was the 7th Chinese vessel caught in the restricted waters since 2002. The last incident, involving F/V Hoiwan, happened in 2006.

The latest incident in Tubbataha comes nearly three months after a United States Navy minesweeper, the USS Guardian, ran aground and damaged at least 2,345 square meters of protected reef.

The Philippines is seeking P58 million ($1.4 million) in compensation.

Southeast Asian militant suspected of leading attack that killed Filipino soldier

From the Washington Post (Apr 10): Southeast Asian militant suspected of leading attack that killed Filipino soldier

A Southeast Asian militant is suspected of leading an ambush that killed an army intelligence officer in the southern Philippines, Philippine military officials said Wednesday, highlighting the danger still posed by foreign militants who have been on the run from U.S.-backed counterterrorist offensives.

Suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen with Amin Baco, a young terror suspect believed to be from either Indonesia or Malaysia, killed one of three army intelligence officers who traveled by motorcycle to remote Ungkaya Pukan town in Basilan province Tuesday to check the reported presence of armed men near a village, army brigade commander Col. Carlito Galvez said.

Shortly after the ambush, Baco’s group fled and clashed briefly with other army troops near a river in Ungkaya Pukan before escaping into a jungle, an army report said, adding that reinforcement troops aboard a truck and van helped pursue the militants but lost sight of them.

Baco is one of several Southeast Asian terror suspects who have taken refuge over the years in the southern strongholds of local militants mainly from the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group, passing on bomb-making and combat skills and helping plot attacks. But years of military offensives have weakened and kept the Filipino militants and their foreign allies on the run.

Baco, who uses the nom de guerre Abu Jihad, is a young militant who has been linked to the Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiyah, according to Galvez.

Philippine intelligence officials say Baco stayed for years with Abu Sayyaf fighters on southern Jolo island but fled the area after a U.S.-backed airstrike targeting foreign militants killed several extremists in a mountain encampment in February last year.

He was later monitored to have joined Abu Sayyaf fighters in nearby Basilan and on the Zamboanga Peninsula, posing with armed Filipino militants in a picture taken with a cellphone that was later seized by government forces.

The Abu Sayyaf is notorious for deadly bomb attacks, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings and is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. Although U.S.-backed Philippine military operations have crippled its capacity to launch terrorist attacks in recent years, the Abu Sayyaf has survived with about 350 armed fighters and remains a serious security threat in the south.

NPA rebels target bets’ campaign funds

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 10): NPA rebels target bets’ campaign funds

TACLOBAN CITY—Communist guerrillas would seize the campaign funds of candidates who resort to vote-buying and coercion, according to the National Democratic Front (NDF).

Fr. Santiago Salas, spokesperson of the NDF in Eastern Visayas, said candidates using dirty tactics in their campaign would be “dealt with accordingly.”

The New People’s Army (NPA), Salas said in a statement, has been instructed to confiscate the campaign funds of candidates found using dirty tactics.

The money that would be seized will be used “for the people,” said the NDF statement.

Salas said candidates for local positions spend huge amounts just to win. Candidates for governors and congressmen, he said, spend P100 million to P200 million each to buy votes or coerce voters.
“They are spending such for three-year positions, roughly worth about P3 million in accumulated salaries,” Salas said.

“It goes to show that the winning candidates will be recouping their spending by continuing the vicious cycle of systematic corruption, patronage politics and crime while in power,” he said.

Salas said the guerrillas would monitor candidates, especially in villages that are under “revolutionary jurisdiction,” or areas where guerrillas maintain a presence.

Candidates should be allowed, however, to finance projects that benefit  the people, Salas said.

The military in Eastern Visayas earlier said 124 of 4,000 barangays (villages) in Eastern Visayas are considered under the influence of the NPA.

These are mostly in the three Samar provinces—Samar, Eastern Samar and Northern Samar.

The military in the region had accused the NPA of soliciting permit to campaign and permit to win fees from candidates, ranging from P50,000 to P5 million, depending on the position being sought by a candidate. Salas denied it.

Capt. Amado Gutierrez, acting information officer of the 8th Infantry Division based in Catbalogan City, Samar, said the NDF threat is just propaganda to counter reports of rebel extortion activities.

He said documents found by soldiers in NPA lairs showed the rebels are demanding P50,000 to P5 million in so-called permit to campaign fees.

Gutierrez said the military also received reports that winning candidates are being required to pay rebels so-called “permit to win” fees.

He said candidates should shun the NPA and report extortion attempts by rebels to the military.

Former NPA groups celebrate anniversary in the open

From the Manila Times (Apr 9): Former NPA groups celebrate anniversary in the open

Ormoc City: Almost one thousand members of the eight organizations organized in the early ‘90s by the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front (CNN) in Leyte celebrates openly their 12th Anniversary under the folds of the law with the government troops, Non-Government Organizations and Civil Society Organizations last April 3, 2013 in Barangay Jubay, Calubian, Leyte province.

Colonel Rafael Valencia, Commander of the Army’s 802nd Brigade based in Camp Downes, Ormoc City said that the 802nd Brigade and 19th Infantry Battalion of 8th Infantry Division, Philippine Army are closely working with these organizations to attain their dreams in a peaceful manner, without armed struggle.

“We are helping these organizations to be registered with DOLE. One of these Associations already got their certificate of registration, making them a duly government-recognized organization. Other government agencies, NGOs and CSOs have signified to help these organizations achieve their dreams. This is Bayanihan in action”, Colonel Valencia added.

“The registration of the organization will not only benefit the association, but will also be a significant advancement since they have already a personality in dealing with the government agencies, NGOs and or CSOs”, Colonel Valencia ended.

These farmers and fisher folks organizations are: Taglawigan Farmers Organization, Taglawigan Fisher Folks Organization, Catoogan Farmers Association from San Isidro, Leyte; Sorosimbahan Farmers Association, Jubay Farmers Association, Airport Farmers Association, Cabatoan Farmers Association from Calubian Leyte; and Libertad Farmers Association from Kananga, Leyte.

Rescue teams to join ‘Balikatan’

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 10): Rescue teams to join ‘Balikatan’

Rescue groups from different areas in Zambales will receive proper training on swift-water rescue from the Hawaii National Guard during the Balikatan Military Exercises that will be held inside this premier Freeport.

The Hawaii National Guard and the CBRNE Emergency Response Package Team (CERP-T) will also conduct a joint field training exercise in the form of Urban Search and Rescue (USAR). This simulated disaster-response activity will be held on April 10-17 at the training facility here of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Fire Department.

To maximize the training opportunity, 32 rescue operators from flood-prone municipalities in Zambales were invited to join the classroom training on swift-water rescue, said SBMA fire chief Ranny Magno.

Aside from swift-water rescue, the field training will focus on disaster-response scenarios on collapsed structure search and rescue (CSSR) utilizing the SBMA CSSR training facility.

The rescue training will be held while the annual RP-US Balikatan Military Exercise runs from April 5 to 17 in various places in Central Luzon, particularly in the provinces of Zambales, Tarlac and Nueva Ecija.

SBMA Chairman Roberto Garcia said the rescue training would serve as a very timely preparation for the coming rainy season.

“Readiness and high response capability are the very key to effective disaster-response in areas hit by floods and other calamities to avoid loss of lives,” Garcia said.

He added that the SBMA Emergency and Rescue Team (SERT) has been enhancing its skills through trainings because of its commitment to provide search and rescue assistance in various emergency situations in the community.

More than 8,000 Filipino and American military personnel, complemented by 30 military aircraft, the US Navy ship USS Tortuga, and two Philippine Navy ships, will be participating in this year’s Balikatan training activity.

The primary objective of the USAR is to reinforce the humanitarian assistance and disaster-response capacity of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said AFP USAR planner Commander Antonio Alexis Manuel Jr.

Manuel said the activity also aims to improve the capacity for joint and combined inter-operability and disaster-response readiness between the AFP and US Armed Forces.

Mines, IEDs used by NPA to wound, kill civilians - report

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 9): Mines, IEDs used by NPA to wound, kill civilians - report


Iraqi Police discovered this improvised explosive device Nov. 7 (2005) in eastern Baghdad and disarmed it before it could be detonated in a terrorist attack. Army photo. The IED comprises 4 large artillery shells plus an anti-tank mine, all connected together via detonating cord. This would cause the 5 devices to detonate simultaneously. According to a report from the AFP, the New People's Army (NPA) uses similar devices to devastating effect in their fight against the Philippine government.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Tuesday exposed the cruelty of the Communist New People's Army (NPA) as it reported the death of 113 people and wounding of 262 others from landmine incidents and other IED (improvised explosive device) attacks carried out by the insurgent group in the past 10 years.

A report released by the AFP Public Affairs Office (PAO) headed by Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos, Jr. said a recent study completed by the military on the atrocities of the NPA showed that over the past decade, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has perpetrated 107 landmine and IED attacks that have resulted in the death of 113 people and wounding of 262 others. The victims include innocent civilians, both young and old.

The AFP noted that the use of landmine and IEDs are usually followed by NPA ambuscades, which are prohibited tactics long practiced by the insurgent group since the beginning of their armed violence.

The region with the highest incidence of landmine activity is Region XI with 38 incidents that occurred particularly in Davao Del Sur, followed by the CARAGA region with 20 recorded incidents particularly in Surigao del Sur.

Likewise, most of the recoveries of landmines/IED paraphernalia occurred in these regions, with the level of insurgency in these areas considered high.

On Monday, the military said government troops have recovered five landmines in Compostela Valley Province during the first week of April this year.

Four of these landmines were discovered last April 5 by Army troopers during the subsequent clearing operations after an encounter with the NPA at Barangay Libudon, Mabini town. The encounter was triggered by the simultaneous explosion of three landmines, which left two soldiers killed and two others wounded.

The recovered landmines and the exploded IEDs were all laid along the stretch of the barangay road. Other explosives and assorted ammunitions were also recovered from a discovered NPA encampment near the encounter site.

The military said the NPAs are have resorted to inhumane tactics, including the use of IEDs because of their declining capability to engage government troops.

"The noted increasing trend on the use of IEDs by the NPA shows that the insurgents are shifting strategies due to their dwindling number and lack of firearms and ammunition. Thus, the insurgents will try to offset the more superior and more advanced AFP/PNP firepower capabilities by using IEDs to increase the lethality of their attacks during armed engagement," according to the AFP.

"Also, the NPA will continue to use landmines and IED’s as part of its strategy of intensifying their tactical offensives to sow fear among innocent civilians from peaceful communities and force business owners and private individuals to give in to their extortion demands," it added.

Last year, information from line units of the AFP revealed that the NPA rebels have collected up to P25 million extortion money from civilians. The AFP said this is a significant decrease from the P300 million reported in 2011 because of the concerted countermeasures employed by the military, Philippine National Police (PNP), and local government units.

The AFP also has its guards up as it continues its intensified intelligence and monitoring efforts, network sharing with other law-enforcement agencies, and active cooperation with the PNP to thwart any atrocities and violence which are mostly extortion-related.

According to the AFP’s Human Rights Office (HRO), “we can make the NPA accountable through Republic Act 9851.” RA 9851, or the new “Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity” was signed into law on 11 December 2009, is a breakthrough law for the enforcement of international humanitarian law (IHL) as well as human rights in the Philippines.

“Our office documents all the cases of landmines and ambuscades to assist in the filing of appropriate charges against the NPA. We now have a law that will make them accountable for crimes against humanity,” said Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, head of the AFPHRO.

“We call on all sectors [of society] for a collective effort to stop the NPAs from using IEDs and end the useless armed violence. NPA’s use of IEDs has been their continuing violation of IHL and HR. IEDs are banned because it causes inhumane effects on those killed and wounded. Even if it is command detonated, it may just explode hurting civilians, including women and children,” said Tutaan.

For its part, the AFP has directed its tactical units to always be vigilant and proactive when conducting security operations especially along high-speed avenues of approaches and road networks to deny the communist rebels the opportunity to inflict casualties not only to government troops but to civilians and non-combatants as well.

The AFP said that in 2012, the NPAs were responsible for 374 violent incidents recorded which caused the death of 53 civilians all over the country.

Such atrocities against civilians, including private firms and individuals, even poor folks in far flung villages of the country have further eroded their mass base support.

Negros Island insurgents free by next year

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 10): Negros Island insurgents free by next year

CAMP LAPULAPU, Cebu City- A top military official from the 3rd Infantry Division (ID) of the Central Command (Centcom) is optimistic the whole of Negros Island will be insurgency free by next year.

Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta, commander of 3rd ID based in Camp Peralta, Jamindan, Capiz said the “military is doing great stride in clearing the whole of Negros Island.”

He added, however, that they cannot declare one province as insurgency free

The military official described Negros Island as a special case because it consists of two provinces: Negros Oriental which is part of Central Visayas and Negros Occidental which is among the provinces of Western Visayas. It is the third largest island in the country with a land area of 13,328 kilometers.

Mabanta noted they cannot declare one province as insurgency free and leave the other. “We have to declare the whole island,” he said.

Centcom hopes to declare the entire island insurgency free by 2015.

In a related development, the 8th Infantry Division (ID) which is operating in Eastern Visayas has already declared Eastern Samar as Manageable Conflict Affected and Ready for Development last month.

GPH, MILF resume formal talks

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 11): GPH, MILF resume formal talks

Government of the Philippines (GPH) peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer assured that the Aquino administration wants an agreement based on a “solid foundation that will withstand the scrutiny of the skeptics, the misgivings of the unconvinced, and the cynicism of the critical.”

Coronel-Ferrer made the statement Tuesday during the opening ceremony of the 37th Formal Exploratory Talks between the GPH and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The peace panel chief said the Aquino administration also aims to sign the remaining annexes confidently by taking the time needed to thoroughly to review them. According to Coronel-Ferrer, that is the reason why the 37th round of talks originally set for March was rescheduled for April.

Coronel-Ferrer also underscored that “our President, this government panel, our government, are not the type who will promise the moon, the sun, and the stars, only to leave you later in the dark or to your own resources when the going gets even tougher.”

“I can tell you that the Cabinet members have gone out of their way to shepherd this process. Many have spent time with us seeking solutions, providing context, broadening understanding,” Coronel-Ferrer said.

“Our agenda remains clear: we solve the remaining issues across the three annexes, seek the creative compromises, and find the right language,” she added.

The peace panels are currently trying to hammer out the remaining annexes on wealth-sharing, power-sharing and normalization.

The Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities (TAM), which lays out the road map for the establishment of Bangsamoro, was signed by the parties on February 27.

PDEA, DND take on rebel drug threat

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 11): PDEA, DND take on rebel drug threat

It is no easy feat to keep the country safe and free from drug-related harm, but the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Department of National Defense (DND) have committed to take on the challenge.

Based on reliable information obtained by the PDEA, communist rebels are reportedly turning to the illegal drug trade as a major source of funds for arms smuggling.

This is to sustain their planned uprising against the government. In return, leaders of the drug syndicates have been forging alliances with rebel groups for protection and self-preservation.

“The national threats posed by dangerous drugs and insurgency problem may be the same or unequal in scope and magnitude, but they have somewhat learned to co-exist and mutually benefit from one another,” said DND Secretary Voltaire Gazmin when he visited the PDEA.

He added that the illicit production, trafficking, sale, distribution and use of illegal drugs is a serious threat since people under the influence are more likely to commit heinous crimes.

PDEA Director General Undersecretary Arturo Cacdac Jr. pledged to help the DND by suppressing the supply of illegal drugs in the country while the defense agencies guards against external and internal threats to national peace and security.

These two institutions have their own battles to wage against different adversaries, said Cacdac, but nonetheless have vowed to make a united stand against anything or anyone who threatens to inflict harm to the country and its people.

4 MNLF battalions ready to help Kiram forces

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 11): 4 MNLF battalions ready to help Kiram forces

Four battalions of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters are ready to be deployed to Sabah to reinforce the armed followers of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo who are currently in the disputed territory to claim their “ancestral home.”

MNLF Commander Lito Dicay revealed this Tuesday, saying MNLF leaders are discussing a brigade-size contingent to fight alongside Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram and his forces. He said an MNLF brigade consists of four battalions.

“My battalion has completed guerrilla training and we are ready to go anytime a directive is given,” said Dicay, who is based in the Iranun enclave of Maguindanao that covers Barira, Buldon, Matanog, Parang, and parts of Sultan Kudarat and Mastura towns, as well as in Kapatagan, Lanao del Sur.

Dicay, however, declined to identify who will be responsible in giving out the deployment order, other than saying “it is from the Bangsamoro.”

He made it clear, though, that he is under the leadership of MNLF founding Chairman Nur Misuari.

In early March, Misuari admitted the presence of MNLF fighters among the rajah muda’s men, but clarified their presence was not upon his order.

Dicay said his battalion is the MNLF’s “Iranun Battalion” composed of descendants of the warriors of Maguindanao’s Sultan Kudarat, who helped the sultan of Sulu quell an uprising against the sultan of Brunei.

Based on the Sulu Sultanate’s records, the sultan of Brunei rewarded the Sulu sultan with North Borneo (now Sabah) for helping his forces. This historical record is the basis of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III’s revival of the clan’s claim over Sabah.

Dicay said they have Iranun relatives in Sabah who have been living there for many years.

He said that some 800 MNLF forces have already landed on the island to fight with the rajah muda.

Dicay said that if the order is for them to be a peacekeeping force, they are willing to accept it in as much as they ready to fight with the forces of the Sulu sultanate.

When told that getting to Sabah by sea is difficult because of Philippine and Malaysian Navy patrols, he said, “We know our way; and we will go in batches.”

As this developed, Acmad Bayam, former chief propagandist of the MNLF and former trainee on Jampiras Island off Malaysia’s mainland, predicted that Malaysia’s problem with the Sultanate of Sulu under Sultan Jamalul Kiram III will not go away easily.

“I foresee an even bigger crisis re: Sabah as I believe the Kirams and their loyal followers are determined to pursue their claim,” said Bayam.

At the early stage of the Sabah standoff, it was Bayam who revealed the MNLF participation.

On Tuesday, he said he was also told by an MNLF commander belonging to “OCZA” (Operation Commander Zapata) that MNLF leaders have also created “Task Force Iliji” which is being planned for Sabah.

He said OCZA is a codenamed for MNLF commanders who trained militarily in Libya and Syria, while “Iliji” is the name of a Misuari forebear who was with the Sulu sultan’s forces that fought alongside the Brunei sultans’ followers.

Abraham J. Idjirani, spokesman of the Sulu sultanate, said he also heard about the formation of the MNLF’s Task Force Iliji.

Bayanihan’ peace plan nets 77 NPAs

From Malaya (Apr 9): Bayanihan’ peace plan nets 77 NPAs

SEVENTY-SEVEN New People’s Army rebels surrendered to security forces in the first quarter of the year, while there was none during the same period last year.

This can be attributed to the Internal Peace and Security Plan “Bayanihan,” the military’s blueprint in winning the peace, said Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos, AFP spokesman. The campaign plan began implementation in January 2011.

“Also, this reflects that more rebels continue to realize the futility of armed violence and now believe in the sincerity of the Internal Peace and Security Plan Bayanihan and the government’s peace and development initiatives. The effective implementation of localized integration programs was also cited,” said Burgos.

Military estimates placed the rebel strength at about 4,000 men, from a high of at least 20,000 in the 1980s. Formal peace talks between the communists and government remain stalled.

For the whole year last year, 367 NPA rebels surrendered, Burgos said.

He also said the NPA, “as a result of their eroding influence and mass base support,” resorted to prohibited tactics against government troops, like the use of landmines which also hurt civilians.

In the last 10 years, he said, the NPA perpetrated 107 land mine attacks, killing 113 government troops and civilians.

Malaysian-led terror team kills intel agent

From Malaya (Apr 10): Malaysian-led terror team kills intel agent

AN Army intelligence operative was shot dead Tuesday in Ungkaya Pukan town in Basilan by members of the Southeast Asian regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiah.

The military yesterday said the six-man JI group was led by Malaysian Amin Baco alias Abu Jihad.

The slain soldier, Pfc. Nurhasad Imlani detailed with the Army’s 18th Infantry Battalion, and fellow intelligence personnel S/Sgt. Laudencio and S/Sgt. Noel Conol, were aboard two motorcycles when fired at by the group in Kurilim junction in Sungkayot village.

A three-minute firefight ensued, leading to the death of Imlani.

Baco’s group withdrew towards the east. Pursuing troops later caught up with the group in Sungkayot village, also in Unkaya Pukan town, triggering another firefight which lasted a few minutes.

A number of JI operatives have been operating in the Philippines for about a decade now. The Bureau of Immigration listed Baco as among operatives being hunted by security forces.

Ship owner, crew in deeper trouble

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 11): Ship owner, crew in deeper trouble

Bribery, poaching, illegal entry among raps readied

The owner and the 12 crewmembers of the Chinese fishing vessel that ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef on Monday are in deeper trouble as they will be facing multiple charges, including bribery, to be filed by various government agencies.

The Tubbataha Management Office said on Wednesday that the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine Navy, the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Western Command, Bureau of Customs, the Department of Environment and Natural and the Municipality of Cagayancillo were working together to consolidate the charges.

President Benigno Aquino’s earlier vowed that the government will apply the ‘full force of the law’ against the ship’s owner and crew.

Mr. Aquino said the government will execute Republic Act 10067 that says that anyone entering the protected marine zone is considered a poacher.

“May mga kaukulang penalties, may imprisonment, may fine (There are corresponding penalties, imprisonment and fine) – and our job as the executive department is to execute the law,” Aquino said.

The president said the investigation would also look into the possible liability of those tasked to watch over the reef.

But the TMO said the incident may have happened when the radar was not switched on.

TMO chief Angelique Songco said that they switch the radars only every three hours, saying that they do not have the resources to keep the radar equipment on for 24 hours every day.

“Sometimes it’s between those three hours that our rangers are blind,” Songco said.

She added that even if they had detected the Chinese vessel, the fishermen would have likely ignored their attempts to communicate with them via radio, saying that Chinese vessels in the past had refused to answer radio calls.

The president said he was upset when he learned about the incident, which happened nearly two months after the remaining piece of the USS Guardian was extracted from the area.

The US minesweeper ran aground the protected marine sanctuary, which the Unesco declared as a World Heritage Site, on January 17, destroying 2,345 square meters of corals.

“When (Transportation secretary Joseph Emilio) Abaya reported that to me, my answer to him was: This is too much. We have just had it with Guardian, now here comes another.”

The President said that in the light of the recent grounding, the government is now planning to add more lighted buoys in the area and to expand the so-called buffer zone to protect it from intruders.

“Palalakihin ‘yung dapat ‘huwag kayong mag-transit near this area’ to forestall any possibility na magkaroon na naman ng grounding incident,” he said. (We will enlarge the no-transit area to forestall any possibility of another grounding incident).

He added that it was in the “national interest” to preserve the reef “to the fullest extent possible” because of its rich ecosystem, considered as “one of the natural wonders of the world.”

The TMO said that the fishermen will be charged with violating sections 19 (Unauthorized Entry), 20 (Damages to the Reefs), 26 (Destroying, Disturbing Resources) and 27 (Poaching by Foreigners) of Republic Act 10067 or the Tubbataha Act of 2009.

“The main case would be the violation of Sec. 27 or Poaching by Foreigners,” the TMO said.
The fishermen would also be charged of violating Article 212 of the Revised Penal Code, or the law against bribery, as they reportedly tried to buy their way out by offering the rangers US $2,400 (roughly (P99,000).

The bribery attempt was reported by Glenda Simon, the public information officer of the TMO. Simon said the TMO will file the bribery case.

A television report added that Chinese embassy officials Consul General Shen Zicheng and 3rd Secretary Li Jian visited their compatriots on Tuesday and requested Western Command officials to release of the detained fishermen.

The Westcom, however, told the officials that they had no authority to decide on the matter.
Commodore Enrico Villanueva, Philippine Coast Guard – Palawan District Commander, earlier said that while no fish or marine life were found inside the Chinese vessel, the fishing gear inside it can already be used as evidence in the illegal fishing charges.

The TMO said the vessel was the 7th Chinese vessel caught in the restricted waters since 2002. The last incident, involving F/V Hoiwan, happened in 2006.

The 12 fishermen are now being detained in a holding facility in Puerto Princesa, where the cases would be filed against them.

Meanwhile, PCG spokesman Lt. Commander Armand Balilo, said they were already working out with a plan to defuel first the Chinese vessel to make sure there will be no accident of oil spill that may again put the reef in danger.

He said they will discharge the fuel while figuring out how to remove the vessel off the reef if high tide would not be able to float it.

The PCG and TMO said they are now preparing a team to conduct an initial inspection on the possible damage on the reef caused by the recent grounding.

AFP reinforcements deployed to Manila for elections

From GMA News (Apr 11): AFP reinforcements deployed to Manila for elections

The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Thursday sent reinforcements to the Manila Police District to help keep the peace during the run-up to the May 13 elections.

Five soldiers will initially be deployed to each of the MPD's 11 stations to help in peacekeeping operations such as checkpoints, radio dzBB's Carlo Mateo reported.

More soldiers may be deployed if the need arises, the report added.

The AFP and Philippine National Police are working with the Commission on Elections to ensure peaceful and orderly elections on May 13.

The AFP reinforcements stemmed from the meetings of the Regional Joint Security Coordinating Council, which includes representatives from the Comelec, AFP and PNP.

Depending on the situation, more deployments may be made in the next few weeks before the May 13 polls, the report said.

Army intelligence personnel killed in Basilan encounter — military

From GMA News (Apr 10): Army intelligence personnel killed in Basilan encounter — military

A member of Army intelligence was killed in an attack by an alleged member of terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah in Basilan, a military report said Wednesday.

The report identified the victim as Pfc. Nurhasad Imlani, who was deployed with the 18th Infantry Battalion.

It said Imlani and two others were on a mission to verify the presence of JI members in Ungkaya Pukan town when they were attacked around 10:40 a.m. Tuesday by a band of five men led by Amin Baco, alias Abu Jihad, believed to be a member of JI.

Imlani was with S/Sgt. Laudencio and S/Sgt. Noel Conol on a motorcycle when the attack happened in Sungkayot village, the report said.

Later, pursuing troops caught up with Baco's fleeing group and engaged it in a firefight also in the village. No one was reported killed from either side in the second encounter.

Coast Guard: Removal of Sino ship from Tubbataha likely easy

From GMANews (Apr 11): Coast Guard: Removal of Sino ship from Tubbataha likely easy

Chinese fishing vessel runs aground in Tubbataha Reef

A Chinese fishing boat with bow number 63168 remains stuck in Tubbataha Reef after it run aground at the North Atoll on Monday, April 8. Twelve Chinese nationals on board were arrested by the Coast Guard and brought to Puerto Princesa City in Palawan. Various PHL agencies are working together on Wednesday to expedite the filing of charges against the fishermen for violating Section 27 (Poaching by Foreigners) of RA 10067. GMA News/Tubbataha Management Office

Efforts to remove a Chinese fishing vessel that ran aground on Tubbataha Reef last Monday may be easier than those for the minesweeper USS Guardian, the Philippine Coast Guard said Thursday.

Coast Guard Palawan commander Commodore Efren Evangelista said there is no need for salvage ships to cut up the Chinese vessel, which he said is relatively intact and can move under its own power.

"Hindi kailangan ganoong kalaking salvage vessels. Ang USS Guardian kahoy, hindi kaya palutangin. Ang Chinese ship's hull, steel at intact ang propeller ng barko," he said in an interview on dzBB radio.

Evangelista said they are waiting for a vessel from Coast Guard headquarters before starting removal operations.

He said the vessel is expected to arrive in the Tubbataha area Saturday morning.

For now, he said their initial option to remove the ship is to lighten it by removing its fuel and other contents until it can float again.

The Chinese vessel ran aground on the reef before midnight Monday, three months after the USS Guardian did so last Jan. 17.

The 12 fishermen aboard it have been charged with poaching and bribery of public officers before the provincial prosecutor's office.

Photo: Recovered landmines

From the Sun Star (Apr 9): Photo: Recovered landmines

DAVAO. Mga sakop sa 10th Infantry Division sa Philippine Army naghan-ay sa mga landmine nga ilang narekober nga gitanom sa NPA atol sa gihimong forum didto sa Mecheca Restaurant, siyudad sa Davao kagahapon. (King Rodriguez)

The 10th Infantry Divsion displays recovered NPA landmines at a forum held at the Mecheca Restaurant, Davao City.

Photo: Rebel returnees in Davao

From the Sun Star (Apr 10): Photo: Rebel returnees in Davao

DAVAO. Si Lt. Gen. Jorge Segovia, commander sa AFP-Eastern Mindanao Command misuroy uban si Davao Oriental Governor Corazon Nuñez-Malanyaon ug mga opisyal sa bag-ong natukod nga temporaryong puy-anan sa mga rebel returnees kagahapon didto sa Pagri compound, Sitio Magay, Mati City. (King Rodriguez)

Lt. Gen. Jorge Segovia, commander of the AFP-Eastern Mindanao Command visits temporary dwellings for rebel returnees at Pagri compound, Sitio Magay, Mati City

GPH, MILF resume talks on annexes

From MindaNews (Apr 10): GPH, MILF resume talks on annexes

KUALA LUMPUR  – The Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) formally resumed Tuesday afternoon negotiations on the three annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) that would complete the comprehensive peace pact, four months past their supposed deadline.

The resumption came six days after the “first en banc meeting” in Pasig City of the 15-member Transition Commission (TransCom) where MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, concurrent TransCom chair, expressed hope the annexes would be finished “before the elections.”

The synchronized national, local and regional elections are a month away, on May 13.

“We cannot proceed to discuss the substantive issues (in the TransCom) unless the three remaining annexes will be discussed and signed by the parties,” Iqbal told a press conference in Pasig City on April 3, during the body’s “first en banc meeting.”

“ I would like to believe once again that it must be finished before the elections,” Iqbal said.
Agreed upon in Kuala Lumpur on October 7 and signed on October 15, 2012 in Malacanang in the presence of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and Malaysian Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohammad Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, whose country has been facilitating and hosting the peace talks since 2001, the FAB provides the framework for the new autonomous political entity that would replace the 23-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao by 2016.

Under the FAB, the parties agreed to work on the annexes “and complete a comprehensive agreement by the end of the year.”

The panels met in November, December, January and February but managed to finish only the annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, in February.

“Call of the hour”

The annexes on wealth-sharing, power-sharing and normalization are still pending.

The panels were supposed to have resumed talks on March 25 to 27 but a March 25 press statement from Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said President Aquino sought postponement of the talks. No reason was cited but the next day Deles’ office belatedly issued a Q and A that said the President “deems it necessary to have more time for review and consultations on the draft annexes.”

The talks formally started at 3:45 p.m. Tuesday although members of the GPH and MILF Technical Working Group on Normalization started a day ahead, convening at 9:45 a.m. on Monday and meeting again on Tuesday morning and afternoon until they were called to the plenary. Plenary sessions and TWG meetings are held behind closed doors.

In his opening statement Tuesday, a copy of which was given to MindaNews, Iqbal said “settling the remaining issues is the call of the hour.”

“Can we conclude this negotiation now and proceed without delay to normalization, construction, and development of the devastated region of the Bangsamoro” he asked?

“Without appearing very simplistic,” he said, “I think we are about to achieve this historic feat of signing the comprehensive peace agreement with the Aquino administration.”

Iqbal based his optimism on the outcome of the last talks in February. He said he is hopeful that the Annex on Wealth-Sharing will be signed during this round of talks “because the text had been settled during the 36th GPH-MILF Exploratory Talks last February 25-27.”

Sources from the TWG on Wealth-Sharing said the annex had been initialled in February.

On the Annex on Power-sharing, Iqbal said he was “upbeat that we can readily settle this,” noting that there are “only three or four issues remaining for discussion” and that when these two annexes are settled, the Annex on Normalization “will easily fall in place.”

“Spoilers within”
Iqbal, who spoke after GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, began his statement on what he referred to as “spoilers within,” apparently a continuation from an editorial with the same title published in the MILF’s website,, a day earlier, apparently referring to “spoilers” within the GPH and MILF peace panels.

He admitted that sometimes it is more difficult to negotiate with your own peers rather than with your adversary and that worse, one may be “virtually negotiating with himself or herself, because there are instances one disagrees with the decision of the principal and in this particular case, one has to choose: follow your own thought or toe the official line.”

“This is a difficult moment in the life of a negotiator, which he or she has no way to resolve except to do the right thing: make an appeal for the reconsideration of the decision, or he or she has to leave for good (with personal conviction intact),” Iqbal said.

He said they have dealt with the “spoilers” within the MILF, those political or military leaders who disagreed with the leadership in some vital decisions regarding the negotiation “but practically, except one, we handled them in favour of the higher cause of the struggle. The higher interest must be upheld at all times.”

As of 12 noon Wednesday, government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer’s opening statement has yet to be released to the public. Usually the GPH peace panel chair’s opening statement is posted on the same day at the OPAPP website.

The OPAPP, however, posted a press release at 11:28 a.m. Wednesday or nearly 20 hours since Ferrer delivered her statement, explaining that the reason why the March talks were reset for April was to give time for a thorough review.

No copy of the statement was posted on the website.

No promise of moon, sun, stars

The OPAPP press release quoted Ferrer as saying the Aquino administration wants an agreement based on a “solid foundation that that will withstand the scrutiny of the skeptics, the misgivings of the unconvinced, the cynicism of the critical.”

“Our President, this government panel, our government, are not the type who will promise the moon, the sun, and the stars, only to leave you later in the dark or to your own resources when the going gets even tougher,” said Ferrer.

She said Cabinet members had “gone out of their way to shepherd this process.”

“Our agenda remains clear: we solve the remaining issues across the three annexes, seek the creative compromises, and find the right language, “ Ferrer was quoted as saying.

The opening rites ended at 4:19 p.m. It was followed, according to GPH peace panel member Bai Yasmin Busran-Lao by a one-on-one meeting of the panel chairs with Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, who were later joined by panel members handling the Annex on wealth-sharing.

The session ended at 9:07 p.m. Tuesday.

The TWG on Normalization resumed negotiations at 9:30 Wednesday morning.

The International Contact Group, on the other hand, met with the GPH peace panel at 11 a.m. and was scheduled to meet the MILF peace panel immediately after.

The plenary session will resume at 2 p.m.

The GPH introduced new members of its delegation during the opening rites Tuesday: Atty. Anna Tarhata Basman who took over the post from Atty. Johaira Wahab who has been appointed TransCom member, and Gen. Cesar Dionisio Sedillo, former assistant division commander of the 6th ID, now new chair of the GPH Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), who replaced Brig. Gen. Jose Gilberto Roa who retired on April 1.

CPP/Ang Bayan: Editorial--Aquino is dragging the country into a US war of aggression, and must be opposed

Ang Bayan editorial posted to the CPP Website (Apr 10): Aquino is dragging the country into a US war of aggression, and must be opposed

The Aquino regime acted ike the true-blue puppet that it is when it made assurances two days ago that the reactionary Philippine state would assist and support the US’ looming attack on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

With not even a hint of advocating or forging an independent foreign policy, the Aquino regime declared it an “obligation” on the part of the Philippines to side with and support US warmongering under the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) of 1951.

The Filipino people must take a stand and resist the Aquino regime’s puppetry to US imperialism and for dragging the Philippines into intervening in the Korean Peninsula and the Asia-Pacific. Such a policy endangers the Filipino people. Worse, the Aquino regime has been allowing itself to be used as a pawn in a war against a sovereign country that has been asserting its own independence.

Insisting that it is the country’s “obligation” under the MDT to support US warmongering exposes the excessive one-sidedness of this military treaty. Amid the Aquino regime’s posturing against China in 2011, the US made it clear that it would not “automatically” side with the Philippines should the latter go to war against China on the Spratly Islands dispute.

On the other hand, there is no basis for the Philippines to take the US’ side in the latter’s wars of aggression and intervention against a sovereign government.

The Aquino regime’s unhesitating obsequiousness tp US dictates was made clear in Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario’s statements made a few days after he received directives from US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel when the three of them met in Washington. The US officials impressed on Del Rosario that the Philippines is obliged to comply with the provisions of the unequal treaty.

At the same time, the US and the Aquino regime are using their saber-rattling against the DPRK to justify further the Balikatan Exercises that began on April 5. This year’s Balikatan involving 8,000 US and Philippine troops are being held in Central Luzon. Should the US war of aggression against Korea push through, the US would surely use its forces that are now in the Philippines.

The US also used the Balikatan to show off its military prowess by flying a squadron of F/A-18 fighter jets. The Balikatan is a regular military exercise between the US and the Philippines that aims to enhance interoperability between the AFP and the US military and enable the US to use Filipino soldiers as force multipliers in US operations to assert American hegemony in the Asia-Pacific.

Alongside such regular military exercises, the US continues to use the Philippines as a docking point for its warships and landing point for its warplanes. Under the Aquino regime’s “full access” policy, US military forces have been able to use the country’s air and sea ports and various other facilities.

The Aquino regime invokes the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in justifying its “full access” policy. Under the VFA, American troops are free to lord it over Philippine territory and use the country as an instrument in waging war, dragging the Filipino people into conflicts that are not of their own making.

The Aquino regime must immediately stop allowing itself to be used as a tool by US imperialism in intensifying tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The Filipino people support the DPRK people’s call for a stop to the economic blockade against their country and for their right to self-determination to be respected (see related article).

The DPRK declared a state of war against the US and South Korea after the US flew two nuclear-capable fighter planes into DPRK air space. Two US warships have likewise been positioned near the Korean Peninsula, its weapons menacingly aimed at the DPRK.

The Filipino people cry out for the abrogation of the MDT. This is not the first time that the Philippines is being dragged into involvement in a US war of aggression against the latter’s enemies, using the MDT.

Under the MDT, Filipino troops were sent to Korea (through the PEFTOK or the Philippine Expedition Force to Korea) and Vietnam (through the Philcag or the Philippine Civic Action Group) to support US wars of intervention and aggression against peoples struggling for democracy and national liberation.

The US military bases in the Philippines were then used by the US as launching pads for its interventionist troops to Korea and Vietnam. The Philippines has also been used as a launching or rest and recreation station for US aggressor troops in Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. All the US wars of intervention and aggression that have been directly or indirectly supported by the puppet Philippine government have been unjust.

Nabbed rebels face more charges

From the Visayan Daily Star (Apr 10): Nabbed rebels face more charges

The police filed Monday additional charges for violation of the Comelec gun ban on two counts each before the Kabankalan Regional Trial Court against arrested rebel leader Reniel Cellon and his wife, Mary Jane Magquilat, Senior Inspector Joshua Villasis said yesterday.

Villasis, who led the team that arrested Cellon, his wife, and four others at a checkpoint Friday last week, in Brgy. Dancalan, Ilog, also said similar charges were also filed against their four companions identified as Jose Sonny Boy Ditomal, 41; Rodrigo Maricasa, 49; Antonio Estaniel, 51; and Edson Gonzales, 20.

Police records show that a .45 caliber pistol, traced by the military to have been owned by the slain PFC John Ilisan and a fragmentation grenade, were recovered from Cellon, while a Walther caliber .22 pistol was seized from Magquilat.

A rifle grenade, hundreds of live ammunition for a M-16 armalite rifle and carbine, subversive documents and assorted foodstuff were also discovered in the Suzuki Carry vehicle, that Cellon and his companions were riding.

Villasis, who is the Ilog police chief, said the Kabankalan RTC has recommended P12,000 as bail for each count of violation of the Comelec gun ban.

Aside from the gun ban charges, Cellon and Magquilat are also facing murder charges, which are non-bailable offenses, and frustrated murder, he added.

If Ditomal, Maricasa, Estaniel and Gonzales are not able to post bail today, Villasis said he will facilitate their transfer to the Negros Occidental Provincial District Jail in Bago City.

Cellon, commander of the Sentro De Grabida Platoon of the NPA South West Front Committee, was linked by the military to numerous incidents of liquidation in southern Negros, with Ilisan, former rebels and paramilitary troopers as victims.

Col. Jon Aying, 303 rd Infantry Brigade commander, said the arrest of Cellon may reduce the incidence of violence and increase the chances of a secure, free and honest May 13 election in Negros.

Aying said copies of extortion letters recovered from the arrested rebel suspects also indicated an increase by three percent in their demands from private individuals.

The Apolinario “Boy” Gatmaitan Command of the NPA had earlier issued a statement claiming that they are not requiring campaign fees from candidates, who enter their so-called territories.

Aying, however, said the NPA still continues with its extortion activities, and that the rebel group will connect it to revolutionary taxes.

In fact, he added, they have a list of those who have complied with the demands of the rebel group.

Scarborough Standoff a year later

From InterAksyon (Apr 10): Scarborough Standoff a year later

1) 'Don't take the US side'

Ruan’s advice to the Philippines, Japan, and Vietnam--countries that have territorial disputes with China:

“You don’t have to choose. You can play a part in contributing to stabilize China and America relations,” which he thinks is the context in which these disputes are being played. (See numbers 2, 3, and 4.)

“You have every right to push your agenda. But what kind of purpose are you going to achieve? What kind of message are you sending to rest of the world? To China?”

According to him, the Philippines actions’ sends the message to the world that it has the higher moral ground in the dispute, and to China that the Philippines is the underdog.

But Ruan sees the opposite. “I just see the contrary. The Philippine side is very consistently pushing its own agenda to take advantage of the US rebalance,” using the leverage that the Philippines and the US are treaty allies.

“Maybe you think America is on your side. But I like to tell you first of all, China-US relation is pretty solid, robust,” he said.

Secondly, Americans will think of their interests. In the context of the territorial disputes in the region, what are America’s interests? To manage the tensions in the region while justifying its military engagement in the region, said Ruan.

When the tipping point is reached, America will brake and not go to war over its allies’ interests.

“Will America fight for Japanese? I don’t believe it. There’s limited assurance” from the United States, he noted.

And why does Ruan think the US will not join the fray when push comes to shove? Because…

2) Nobody, not even the US, can contain China.

With its refocus on Asia, the US has put China at its crosshairs.

Unfortunately, the Dragon has awakened and its rise to power in the world stage can no longer be stopped, not even by the US.

China is far more stronger, more robust than people anticipated,” Ruan said. “Americans use the rebalance to target China to some extent. I myself don’t believe that America can contain China not anymore. Currently no country, not even US, can contain China. Nobody can contain China anymore."

This unintended targeting of China can be explained by a “trust deficit” between the only superpower left after the Cold War and a strong fledgling trying its wings.

However, every danger has its opportunities, Ruan said.

3) There is no scenario of a clash between US and China.

While many view the US-China relationship as confrontational, Ruan said the two countries currently engage in an intense dialogue with a strategic view on economic and security cooperation.

What proves the “intensity of dialogue” between China and US? Ninety government-sponsored institutions making sure that the two countries are communicating.

One special consultative mechanism is the China-US consultation mechanism on Asia affairs, with a focus on Asia-Pacific, Ruan said, revealing an opening for the three countries concerning the territorial dispute.

“The consensus (between the two countries) is, we cannot afford to go confrontational. This relationship is so important. We all have a great stake. We cannot repeat the great power tragedy where a rising power clashes with the status quo power. The two sides agree, we are not going to repeat that kind of history," he said.

The kind of major power relation that China envisions was revealed during the visit of then Chinese Vice President, now-Chinese President Xi Jinping to Washington DC in February 2012.

His basic idea is that the Asia-Pacific region “is vast enough for rising China and America. We don’t have to engage in a zero-sum game, but engage in positive way for a win-win situation.”

According to Ruan, the Americans responded positively. “There is a growing consensus we're committed to address any kind of dispute in peaceful ways. There is no scenario in the future that we will clash,” he said.

4) The US has refocused on Asia because it is the new economic growth area.

The United States has refocused its attention from the Middle East to Asia because Asia is seen to be the next growth engine.

The international macroeconomic situation has not been very healthy, affecting even Asia: China’s growth slowed down to 8 percent last year and this year eyes a slightly lower 7.5 percent growth.

Asia’s growth has been consistent and resilient,” Ruan said.

The region has passed various tests: the 1998 Asian financial crisis and the 2008 meltdown in the West. This has made the region, particularly East Asia, even stronger.

At same time, the region also engages in institutional building.

“These ready (the region) for unpredictable scenario in the future. I have every reason to believe that Asia will go far better than we expected,” he said.

Unfortunately, “US views China’s rise as a kind of concern…This impressive American rebalance to Asia triggers unintended consequences," Ruan said.

5) Against this backdrop, China will not withdraw from Scarborough.

The Scarborough shoal is an “integral part of Chinese territory,” Ruan said. “We have every credible claim on it. Huangyan (what China calls Scarborough, and what the Philippines calls Panatag) belongs to China far earlier than the Philippine claim.”

The Philippines may have had its way in the past arresting and deporting Chinese fishermen in what China perceives to be part of Chinese territory, but China has now chosen to exert its control over the area.

Ruan insisted that China’s actions were reactions, not initiatives. “We were not the first one who fired the shot. We are doing response,” he said.

Why can’t China simply leave and end the conflict? The issue of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is a complicated dispute, and while the Philippines may think that China has found its aggressive gene, the Chinese people back in the mainland perceive the Chinese government as being “too weak” and not assertive enough, Ruan said.

“It’s a very sharp contrast. Chinese people think the government is weak. It is under tremendous pressure,” he said, and China’s leaders must balance these two perceptions such that it will not compromise sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“This is an integral part in understanding Chinese foreign policy,” he said.

6) Seeking a UN arbitration is a deadend.

The Philippines has the right to pursue its claims over the outcrops off Zambales through the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), but it must realize that this process will eventually not move without China’s participation, Ruan said.

China’s choice is not to participate in the international arbitration. We are not going to participate,” he said.

Why ? China has no basis for participating in that process, which only negatively impacts it, Ruan said. The core issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity cannot be solved by an international arbitration, he said.

“Nobody but the parties involved can really address the issue, not even the UN. Can you expect the UN arbitration to resolve the sovereignty isssue? This is too heavy a burden for them,” he said.

China’s rejection of the UN arbitration is not a rejection of the international community. China is a member of many international institutions, and China “will be responsible in international affairs,” Ruan said.

On the other hand, Ruan sees the Philippines’ submission of the conflict before the United Nations “pretty unsettling.” As the process tries to move forward without China, China cannot send a delegation to meet with the Philippines on the issue bilaterally.

Doing so will derail the delicate and tense talks between the two countries.

“We cannot afford to not engage with each other. Sure (the situation is) not conducive, but we should engage in bilateral talks. It’s difficult to have a kind of major breakthrough (without talking),” he said.

“We prefer bilateral,” he added, echoing the official Chinese position.

But the Philippines, from the beginning, did not want to take this route because it feels that it cannot take on powerful China on its own. It feels that it needs a third party to oversee the talks.

Unfortunately, going to the UN with a third party sends a signal to China that the Philippines is not interested in talking to them, Ruan said.

“We view this action as a kind of unilateral action to escalate issue,” he said.

At the same time, he said, the UN arbitration way might close another door for resolution at the ASEAN level.

“I can foretell first of all that it will not be conducive to create conditionality for (the establishment) of the (proposed) COC (Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea) talks,” he said.

The 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) between ASEAN and China specifies the adoption of this code.

7) ASEAN is a better platform than the UN.

China seems to favor a more substantial role for the ASEAN in settling this territorial dispute, as Ruan said. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is as the “natural bridge” between China and the different players in the region will “serve ASEAN best.”

This and the commitment of all concerned parties to address problems in peaceful means, through political dialogue, point to regional bloc’s key role in conflict resolutions.

Another context in which the China-Philippines relationship exists is the bigger framework of ASEAN.

China, Ruan said, views as important not only the bilateral relationship between the Philippines and China, but also the relationship between China and ASEAN.

The Chinese scholar said China understands that the United States’ engagement with ASEAN puts the regional bloc in a “difficult position.

Maintaning a balanced relationship with China and the US puts is “a difficult dilemma” for ASEAN, he said.

The China-ASEAN relationship is far more important than what we think, he said.

8) The tenuous threesome or managing this menage a trois: China, the Philippines, and the US.

“You cannot choose your neighbors,” and the Philippines and China have been long-time friends, its friendship dating centuries, Ruan noted.

What complicates the relationship is the US. China recognizes that the Philippines’ special relationship with the US is expressed in its Mutual Defense Treaty.

“You are a military ally of the US. We have to live with it. America thinks that China will drive America from the region, but China has no capacity to drive America away,” he said. “It’s your choice to be friends with other countries."

However, the US-Philippines military partnership worries China, that this will be used to “harm China’s interests. This is what we care about…I have to emphasize: We are concerned that kind of relationship should not be used against China.”

The Philippines plays the US card to leverage against China. And China knows it, making its own bets vis-a-vis the Philippines based on this card.

“One of the instruments the Philippine side tries to explore is the value of this security relations (with the US). (The Philippines) expects Americans to come to the Philippines’ aid. (The Philippines) tries to use this as the upperhand in dealing with China,” he said.

“(We) don’t take it for granted that you’re an American ally,” he noted.

Ruan said China will not use force to resolve the conflict, but said it will be compelled to match any force used against it.

Is that a threat? “I’m not threatening. That’s just my analysis, my understanding. China must respond. In territory disputes, each case is very different. We have to grasp each uniqueness,” he said.

9) There’s no magic to repair the friendship. Convergence of interests will make the relationship more normal.

China has various territorial disputes with other neighbors that have been resolved bilaterally, Ruan said.

Of its 14 neighbors, China was able to resolve its territorial disputes with Russia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and even Thailand. These land border conflicts--more volatile and more difficult to resolve--had a breakthrough after a period of “high intensity interaction.”

These past successes make him confident that China and the Philippines will eventually overcome their present difficulties.

“In the long term, we will find a way out. In the meantime, we must careful how we handle things. The point is it will take us additional effort to make our relationship work and get it back on track,” he said.

Ruan recognized that the two parties will find it hard to move from their current positions.

“It’s very difficult for the Philippines to back off. China will not back off. There are constraints on each other. (The current) low-level talk is not working in a positive manner.”

How will the parties manage? “Do not give up any bilateral engagement.”

Admitting that the current relationship is “abnormal” where neither party is satisfied, Ruan said: “Convergence of interests will normalize the relationship.” Both the Philippines and China have “every reason to put the relationship on right track. “

“No magic will happen. I wish our relationship will see the light at the end of the tunnel but not in the near future. We will be stuck in the middle for a while. We'd love to see a resolution.”