Sunday, May 26, 2013

AFP: We’re winning war against NPA in Mindanao

From the Manila Bulletin (May 27): AFP: We’re winning war against NPA in Mindanao

Cagayan De Oro City – The government is winning the war against communist insurgents in Northeastern and Northern Mindanao, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) declared yesterday.

“Clearing all communist fronts, winning the hearts and minds, and our peace and development programs have given the government the upper hand against communist insurgents,” said regional Army spokesman Maj. Leo Bongosia of the Army’s Northeastern and Northern Mindanao 4th Infantry (Diamond) Division (4th ID).

“Their (NPA’s) terroristic activities also made rural folks support our peace and development programs on the ground,” Bongosia said.

Since April 26 this year, the Army has recovered eight high-powered and eight other firearms from the insurgents in 26 government-initiated encounters, Bongosia said.

In two separate encounters in Surigao del Norte and Bukidnon, two government soldier died, four NPA rebels were killed, and four former rebels in Agusan del Sur surrendered with firearms, he said.

Together with the firearms recovered were rounds of ammunition; including 825 rounds for M16; 670 rounds for M14; 1,531 rounds for AK47; 90 rounds for Carbine; 15 rounds for Cal. 45, and 10 hand grenades, he said.

Since January this year, the military has killed 11 NPA rebels, recovered 20 high-powered firearms and 22 low-powered-firearms, while 29 NPA rebels surrendered, Bongosia said.

“These favorable results were owed to our dedicated troops and our relentless combat operations in maintaining peace and security in the region especially during the recently concluded May elections,” he said.

“Under the spirit of “Bayanihan,” the 4th ID has its door wide-open for those who want to surrender their arms, leave the struggle, and live peacefully with their families and friends without fear and intimidation,” Bongosia added.

Gov't welcomes political plans of MILF in 2016

From the Manila Bulletin (May 27): Gov't welcomes political plans of MILF in 2016

The prospect of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) establishing its own political party is a welcome development for the Philippine government.

Deputy Presidential Spokeswoman Abigail Valte acknowledged that MILF’s political plans are part of preparations for the establishment of the new Bangsamoro region in 2016.

“The government welcomes the political plans of the MILF for 2016,” Valte said in a Palace press briefing.

“As you all know the road map towards the establishment of the Bangsamoro ends in 2016 and, understandably, the MILF needs to prepare for that to make the necessary preparation,” she added.

MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim earlier divulged that they will establish its own political party this year to prepare for the 2016 polls when the new officials of the Bangsamoro region will be elected. Murad said the political organization would promote the welfare of the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao.

The government and the MILF earlier signed preliminary peace deal that seeks to replace the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao with the Bangsamoro region by 2016.  The election of new Bangsamoro leaders will coincide with the presidential polls in 2016.

Valte said she has no information if the MILF would ask the government’s assistance in the formation of its political party.

“However, as to the other initiatives, we will be providing the necessary assistance to them. We’ve seen this in the socio-economic initiatives that we’ve launched,” she said, citing the Sajahatra Bangsamoro project that involves distribution of education and health aid as well as livelihood assistance to MILF communities.
Meantime, both the government and the MILF are committed to implement the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and its annexes within the term of the President “so as not to leave any unfinished business for the next administration,” according to Valte.
The two panels are currently finalizing the remaining annexes on wealth-sharing, power-sharing and normalization before a final comprehensive peace agreement is signed.

Asked about the next round of formal talks with the MILF, Valte said negotiators are hoping to set a date soon.

Chinese fishing fleet leaves Ayungin, replaced by surveillance ships

From InterAksyon (May 27): Chinese fishing fleet leaves Ayungin, replaced by surveillance ships

The Chinese fishing fleet earlier seen in Ayungin Shoal has left but has been replaced by two Chinese Monitoring Surveillance vessels, the Philippine Navy said Monday.

Colonel Edgard Arevalo, Navy spokesman for West Philippine Sea issues, said it is not certain when the fishing vessels earlier sighted by aerial patrols left, only that, “no fishing activity is ongoing so far.”

Arevalo said the two ships from the CMS, which he described as China’s equivalent of the Philippine Coast Guard, arrived over the weekend.

"The first one arrived 10 p.m. of May 24, while the other one arrived 9 a.m. of May 25. We still don't know when the fishing vessels left as they come and go there," he said, adding that the Navy will continue monitoring developments at the disputed territory.

7 cops killed, 7 wounded in NPA ambush in Cagayan

From InterAksyon (May 27): 7 cops killed, 7 wounded in NPA ambush in Cagayan

Seven policemen were killed and 7 others wounded when they were ambushed Monday morning by communist rebels in Allacapan town in Cagayan.

A sketchy report from the Cagayan provincial police office said the ambush happened around 8:30 a.m. at the boundary of Barangays Cataratan and Centro West, approximately two kilometers away from the town’s police station.

The victims, from the elite Special Action Force, were on their way to a medical exam in Allacapan when a landmine exploded under their vehicle, followed by firing from the guerrillas, regional police spokesman Cesar Orlanes told reporters.

It was the second major blow to security forces since Saturday, when seven Marines died and nine more were wounded in a clash with the Abu Sayyaf in Patikul, Sulu.

The NPA has been waging a 44-year-old Maoist armed campaign that has claimed at least 30,000 lives, according to a government estimate.

The government said in April peace talks with the communists had collapsed and a target of ending the insurgency by 2016 was impossible to achieve.

The NPA, which is believed to have about 4,000 fighters, has conducted a series of high-profile attacks this year.

Civilian hurt in crossfire, wounded rebel captured after Quezon clash

From InterAksyon (May 27): Civilian hurt in crossfire, wounded rebel captured after Quezon clash

A wounded communist rebel was captured while a civilian was injured during a clash in Quezon province on Sunday, the military said.

A squad from the 1st Infantry Battalion was responding to reports of rebel presence in Sitio Bayuko, Barangay Llavac in Real town when the encounter happened.

Civilian Ferdinand Sayno, of Barangay Magsaysay, Siniloan, Laguna “suffered a slight wound” and was immediately given first aid and evacuated for treatment, Lieutenant Colonel Neil Anthony Estralla, spokesman of the Southern Luzon Command, said.

Roger Villaflores, alias Michael/Noy/Nika/Ruben, of Barangay Cagsiay 2, Mauban, Quezon was left behind when the rebels retreated.

The troops seized an M16 rifle, 14 40mm high explosive grenades, an M14 magazine and subversive documents.

RP remains updated on Ayungin Shoal situation — PN spokesman

From the Daily Tribune (May 27): RP remains updated on Ayungin Shoal situation — PN spokesman

The government leadership is up-to-date and well-informed of the situation in Ayungin Shoal in the disputed West Philippine Sea where the Chinese have maintained presence during the past weeks with first-hand information coming from the Navy personnel stationed in the area, a Philippine Navy (PN) official disclosed yesterday.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, Navy spokesman on West Philippine Sea, said that troops stationed in Ayungin Shoal, which is part of the Kalayaan Islands Group (KIGs), serve as the government’s “eyes and ears,” as he stressed the Navy’s commitment to closely monitor the area.

According to Arevalo, the report and documentation from the Navy troops in Ayungin would be used by the government in pursuing legal moves against China.

“The Navy remains committed and vigilant in monitoring the developments in the WPS (West Philippine Sea), especially in Ayungin Reef,” Arevalo said.

“Our personnel there serve as our eyes and ears in that isolated post who render round-the-clock reports and record what they observe as those form part of the documents required as basis for the government’s legal recourse and resort to arbitration,” he added.

As of latest monitoring last May 25, Arevalo said that there were two Chinese maritime surveillance ships along the vicinities of Ayungin Shoal.

“Vessels come and go, we cannot ascertain if they are out there permanently. While we are not sure about that, you can be sure that we are vigilant, our troops there continue to monitor,” Arevalo said.

“...what we are sure about is we are not letting our guards (down) and we’ll continue to monitor them and their movement,” the Navy official added.

Based on latest reports, there were no fishing activities monitored.

Arevalo said that Navy troops stationed in Ayungin Shoal are under instruction to closely monitor Chinese activities in the area.

The PN spokesman also stressed that higher headquarters are closely monitoring the situation in Ayungin Shoal.

“Our instruction remains to be vigilant, for them to monitor every movement, every development there and then aside from the round-the-clock monitoring, they are ding round the clock reporting,” said Arevalo.

“They (troops in Ayungin) are not the only ones monitoring (the situation), even the headquarter, all agencies of the government are monitoring the developments in the area even if we have a lot of undertakings,” he added.

Earlier, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin had vowed there will be no pull-out of troops from Ayungin Shoal as he stressed the military is ready to fight for “what is ours” until the last soldier standing.

The Chinese have been monitored in Ayungin Shoal, located approximately 120 nautical miles from Rizal town in Palawan and well within the country’s 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone, since early May.

Gazmin claimed that the Chinese were fishing inside the Philippine territory.

More Taiwan probers on Hung slay coming

From the Daily Tribune (May 27): More Taiwan probers on Hung slay coming


 Taiwan is sending a fresh team to look into the death of fisherman Hung Shih-cheng in the hands of a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) unit chasing a fishing boat bearing him and other Taiwanese after the vessel supposedly entered Philippine territory.

The Taiwanese delegation is merely waiting for the consent from the government for judicial assistance for the probe they plan to conduct on PCG personnel who shot dead Hung earlier this month, an official of Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.

Deputy Minister of Justice Chen Ming-tang said the MoJ expects to receive a formal written consent for the Taiwanese delegation, comprised mainly of prosecutors from the Pingtung District Prosecutors’ Office.

Chen said once the consent is issued, the team would travel to Manila at once. A Philippine investigation team is also visiting Taiwan, Chen said.

Taipei and Manila have both requested judicial assistance in the probe of the May 9 shooting incident that resulted in the death of 65-year-old Hung and triggered a diplomatic spat between both countries.

Taiwan initially sent a delegation of prosecutors and judicial officials to Manila last May 16 but immediately went back to Taipei two days later after local officials rejected a joint investigation into the case despite an earlier promise.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said later that a “parallel investigation” will be held instead of a joint probe while each side is expected to help each other in the process in line with a bilateral agreement on judicial assistance signed last month.

Taiwan said it had made 10 requests, including asking for access to a video recording of the attack by the Philippine Coast Guard personnel, while the government has issued 11 requests to help the inquiry into the shooting.

The government earlier agreed to allow Taiwanese forensic experts to board the PCG patrol ship to determine if the bullets gathered from the Taiwanese fishing boat and the body of Hung were fired from its guns.

Taiwanese investigators can also question PCG personnel involved in the shooting, but if they decline to respond, the National Bureau of Investigation will provide testimony collected by the bureau’s staff.

Taiwanese investigators are also asking that the government allow the viewing of a video of the shooting recorded by the Philippines vessel that mounted the attack.

De Lima said the team from the NBI is ready to fly to Taiwan “any time once all the needed arrangements have been made” with Taipei.

A PCG spokesman dismissed a report about an initial finding pointing to negligence on the part of PCG personnel in the May 9 fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman.

PCG spokesman Arman Balilo said the supposed findings were mere speculation.

“We would wait for the official findings of the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation). We would wait for the NBI report because we have to see first what were the circumstances they alluded to in the report and what were the bases used by the NBI,” Balilo said.

The NBI has wrapped up its investigation about the shooting on the Philippine side and investigators are ready to depart for Taiwan for further work once they receive visas from Taiwan’s representative office in the Southeast Asian country, local officials said.

Former Senator Richard Gordon, meanwhile, criticized the Aquino administration’s weak responses to issues involving Philippine foreign relations, the latest of which is its limp-wristed reaction to Taiwan’s refusal to accept the government’s apology and the shabby treatment received by Manila Economic and Cultural Office Chairman Amadeo Perez.

Gordon underscored the government’s lame reaction to issues such as furor that arose from the shooting of the Taiwanese fisherman, the Spratlys and Sabah claim gives the impression that the Philippines is a push over which is very demeaning for Filipinos.

“The government must be firm, resolute and must not appear to be weak. Our government must not continue to exhibit the same kind of weakness as shown in our reaction during the Hong Kong hostage crisis in Manila, the Spratlys/Scarborough shoals issue and the killings of our people in Sabah,” the former senator said.

“I am also disappointed in the reaction of this administration to the bullying of Taiwan - limp wristed reaction to Taiwan’s refusal to receive the MECO chairman who went to Taipei to apologize as the President’s personal representative and the shabby treatment he received. Our president has extended his apologies to the family of the person killed - and yet the Taiwanese refused to accept such an apology and added insult by threatening to stop taking workers from the Philippines,” he added.

Gordon pointed out that the government should review the rules of engagement in such matters and ensure that the Armed Forces of the Philippines is well-verses with the rules of engagement so that it could take a stronger position when such issues arise.

“Obviously, other governments think the Philippines is a push over because of our government’s lame reaction to similar issues, which is demeaning to our nation. I cannot keep quiet as we see continuous string of humiliating events. Finally, our government must provide our Armed Forces and law enforcement authorities on rules of engagement in cases involving our territorial waters,” he added.

Gordon also pressed the need for the modernization of the AFP and to improve its capability in protecting the country and its territory.

“The government should immediately ensure that the budget for our Armed Forces and our Coast Guard be strongly increased to ensure credible capability to protect our people and what is ours. Our national security and our national dignity demands so,” he stressed.

Last May 9, Philippine authorities reportedly tried stopping a group of Taiwanese fishermen from allegedly poaching in Philippine waters off the coast of Balintang Island near the Batanes Group of Islands which led to the death of 65-year old Taiwanese fisherman, Hung Shih-cheng.

Hung’s death caused a public uproar in Taiwan, with its government demanding an apology and compensation from the Philippine government.

Reports said Taiwan froze the hiring of Filipino workers and recalled its envoy to Manila in protest over the killing as it rejected an apology that Perez conveyed from President Aquino and the Filipino people as inadequate and insincere because it wanted a government-to-government apology.

MECO is the Philippines’ representative of?ce in Taiwan in the absence of of?cial bilateral ties.

The Philippines, like most countries, formally recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei, but maintains trade and tourism ties with Taiwan.

Troops pursue Abus as Patikul death toll hits 14

From the Daily Tribune (May 27): Troops pursue Abus as Patikul death toll hits 14

Marine troops have launched intensified security operations in pursuit of the Abu Sayyaf band that clashed with government forces in Patikul, Sulu province last Saturday that resulted in the killing of seven soldiers and seven extremists, including a son of a notorious ASG commander.

Col. Jose Johriel Cenabre, commander of the 2nd Marine Brigade operating in Sulu, yesterday said security in the province has been heightened as Marine troops continuously track down the ASG band of Hatib Sawadjaan, a notorious Abu Sayyaf commander.

“Right now, we are still pursuing, tracking the Abu Sayyaf bandits. We will continue to operate against these terrorists. We have intensified our security operations in the area to track them down,” he stressed.

Cenabre said Sawadjaan, who is considered among the “high value targets” in Sulu, was among the Abu Sayyaf bandits present in Barangay Tugas where the encounter erupted.

“He is gaining notoriety for his illegal activities…he is considered among high value targets. He is in the higher echelon of the ASG…he is becoming like the previous leaders of the Abu Sayyaf like Commander Robot and Doctor Abu,” he added. But there was no confirmation of the presence of Sawadjaan in the encounter site but his son, identified as Kausar Sawadjaan, was among the seven ASG killed during the clash.

According to Cenabre, Saturday’s intense fighting along the vicinities of Barangay Tugas in Patikul was as result of intelligence reports of the presence of around 50 armed Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the area.

“There was intelligence report that more than 50 Abu Sayyaf members were consolidating in the area, so we launched the operation…unfortunately, we lost seven Marines in the process,” he said.

Two more Abu Sayyaf fighters were found dead, adding to the five militants reported killed in the first day of fighting, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, for his part, said.

“After the firefight, a scouring operation was conducted and a pursuit operation was launched,” he said, adding that was how they found the new fatalities.

The Marines were hunting down Abu Sayyaf members believed responsible for a spate of abductions of local residents including a Marine’s wife when the clash broke out, Tutaan said.

Although there were no new clashes yesterday, Tutaan said helicopter gunships were now on standby, ready to reinforce the troops if they should encounter the Abu Sayyaf again.

The Abu Sayyaf, funded using seed money from al-Qaeda in the 1990s, is blamed for the country’s worst terror attacks, including the firebombing of a ferry in Manila Bay and kidnappings of foreign tourists.

The group is on the US government’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Marine Corps will accord a heroes’ welcome today to the seven fallen Marines at the PMC Headquarters in Fort Bonifacio.

Yesterday, arrival honors were given to the seven fallen Marines upon their arrival at the Villamor Air Base from Zamboanga.

“There will be heroes to be given to the killed in action..their families will be there…benefits entitled to them will be turned over to the family,” said 1Lt. Vladimir Cabrera, spokesman of the Marines.

Govt boosts Spratlys border patrols

From the Business Mirror (May 26): Govt boosts Spratlys border patrols

After acquiring a refurbished 40-year-old cutter from the United States, the Philippine government is looking to buy additional air assets to beef up its border patrols amid fresh intrusion by Chinese fishing boats backed by two warships near Ayungin Reef, a part of the Kalayaan Island Group on Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
This was disclosed on Sunday by President Aquino’s deputy spokesman, Abigail Valte, who confirmed in an interview over the state-run Radyo ng Bayan that after the acquisition of BRP Ramon Alcaraz, a Hamilton-class cutter used by the US Navy for over four decades, the Philippines is also negotiating to purchase helicopters to augment its Armed Forces border patrols.
“In line with the [Armed Forces] modernization that we want…. Apart from the boats, I understand, we are also acquiring helicopters to replace the ones that we have,” Valte said.
Valte, however, did not provide details of the additional military assets that the government is likely to get also from the US, which previously provided so-called excess defense articles to help the Philippines defend itself against internal and external threats.
When asked whether China has finally acknowledged a Philippine protest against the latest intrusion by at least 30 Chinese ships into the Philippine-claimed territories in the resource-rich Spratlys, she said Malacañang was leaving it up to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to pursue the complaint.
“We will have to defer to the DFA on that,” the Malacanang official said. “They would be in a better position to know what happened to it,” she added, referring to the latest formal complaint filed by the Philippines over the latest Chinese intrusion into its remote territory in the West Philippine Sea.
The President earlier indicated he favored forging fisheries agreements with neighboring countries with overlapping exclusive economic zones to avert further conflicts in the region.  But, he said, the government would pursue this only after resolving a row with Taipei.
Meanwhile, former Sen. Richard Gordon slammed the Aquino administration for supposedly mishandling the case against the suspected “poachers” encountered by a combined Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries crew conducting routine patrols off Batanes province.

NPA ‘supporter’ yields 6 anti-tank land mines

From the Business Mirror (May 26): NPA ‘supporter’ yields 6 anti-tank land mines

A suspected supporter of the New People’s Army is shown with the six anti-tank homemade land mines seized from him at a checkpoint in Davao City. (69IB photo)

SOLDIERS manning a checkpoint intercepted on Saturday a motorcycle rider believed to be a supporter of the New People’s Army (NPA) who yielded a sack containing six homemade anti-tank land mines in Upper Mabuhay, Paquibato District in Davao City.

Lt. Col. Inocencio Pasaporte, 69th Infantry Battalion commander, identified the arrested suspect as 30-year-old Joey Atienza, a resident of Barangay Paquibato, also in the said district.
“He was arrested by the troops detailed at the checkpoint at around 12:45 noon on Saturday. He was riding a Red Honda TMX 155 motorcycle with plate number 9057-YU when caught in possession of impovised explosive devices,” Pasaporte said.
The military said the NPA has resorted to landmine ambushes against government troops in the past few days that resulted in at least three killed and more than a dozen wounded.
The use of landmines in military operations is strictly prohibited by the Geneva Convention. But the NPA said they are only using command-detonated landmines which are not included on the list of prohibited ordnance.
“The arrest of the suspect and the recovery of the land mines were made possible because of the cooperation and support extended by the residents of Paquibato District who revealed the illegal and criminal activities of the NPA in the area. This is a clear manifestation that the people residing in the area are fed up with the terroristic activities and have long wanted peace,” Pasaporte said.

PMA welcomes 257 new plebes

From the Philippine Star (may 24): PMA welcomes 257 new plebes

The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) is welcoming two hundred fifty seven (257) new plebes on Saturday during incorporation rites to be led by Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista.
The plebes, to compose class 2017 of Cadet Corps Armed Forces of the Philippines (CCAFP), were carefully sifted from an original 245 on April 1 during oath-taking and reception rites at the Borromeo Field, said Agnes Lynette Flores, PMA spokesperson.
A total of 163 of the plebes are men and 82 are women.
Flores said that two cadets resigned and 14 cadets from the previous class joined the PMA Class 2017, thus, making the total number of cadets to be incorporated on Saturday, after eight (8) weeks of training, at 257 (171 males, 86 females).
Adopting the Iluko class name “Salaknib” (shield),  class 2017 envisions themselves as the defender of the Filipinos.
Incorporation rites signifies the formal integration of new cadets, who report on April 01 of each year to the CCAFP.
Prior to their incorporation, the cadets are placed under the New Cadets Battalion (NCBN) where they are initially given the orientation on the basic things they need to know about the military profession.
After two months of training, they are deemed ready to be incorporated to the regular corps where they are integrated with the rest of the three upper classes in the Academy, the country's premier military officers' training institution.

U.S. Service Members Dedicate Playground Equipment

From the US Embassy Peace Prosperity Partnership in Mindanao blog (May 22): U.S. Service Members Dedicate Playground Equipment

A U.S. Marine with the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines holds a baby at the Talon Talon Orphanage in Zamboanga City. In addition to the playground project, servicemembers from the JSOTF-P have donated more than PHP 50,000 worth of food and supplies and have made more than five trips this year to the Talon Talon Orphanage as part of their desire to help the local community.

Children and staff from the Talon Talon Orphanage  and U.S. servicemembers celebrated the completion of a new playground donated by members of the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P) here last week.

“This is a great opportunity for us to get out and do something for these children,” said Marine Lt Anthony Brich, Marine Security Element commander, who helped organize the event.

Children from the Talon Talon Orphanage and servicemembers from JSOTF-P play on some of the new playground equipment installed this week. In addition to the playground project, servicemembers from the JSOTF-P have donated more than PHP 50,000 worth of food and supplies and have made more than five trips this year to the Talon Talon Orphanage as part of their desire to help the local community.

Members of JSOTF-P have been visiting and helping with projects at the orphanage since 2002.  According to Capt Craig Nakagawa, the JSOTF-P  command chaplain, “We are  always looking for ways to help the Talon Talon Orphanage, and other area groups, as a way of being good ambassadors, even as new people rotate in and out.”
“We’ve been wanting [new equipment] for so long,” said Jessica Augustin, the orphanage’s nurse.  “I talked to the group, told them what we needed. We did not expect this much.”

Through the chaplain’s office,  servicemembers collected money through various fundraising events to begin refurbishing some of the older equipment.  Earlier this spring, the group received a sizeable donation from one member in particular.

“One of the Marines, who has since rotated out , personally collected and donated PHP 200,000. With that, we were able to complete the project on a grander scale than we had originally planned.” said Nakagawa. “None of this would have been possible without the dedication of our awesome JSOTF-P team members.”

Talon Talon Orphanage, at any one time, takes care of approximately 50 children who have been surrendered, abandoned or orphaned; including children with severe autism and cerebral palsy.  The children come from  throughout the Zamboanga Peninsula. According to Augustin, in addition to state funding, the center relies on donations to operate.

Gov’t sets new tack on talks with communist rebels

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 24): Gov’t sets new tack on talks with communist rebels

The government is bringing the stalled peace talks with communist rebels, through the National Democratic Front, back to the public.

Peace panel members have begun consulting various stakeholders for guidance on how it should proceed with the talks, according to Undersecretary Maria Cleofe Gettie Sandoval, of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp), on Friday.

The government panel is scheduled to meet with various groups that are clamoring for a peace settlement with communist rebels, to explain the status of the talks which have been stalled for 22 months now, she said.

Early in May, the talks triggered an angry exchange of words between Malacañang and the NDF when Palace spokesperson Edwin Lacierda announced that the NDF panel had “killed” a special track for negotiations which it had proposed to restore formal peace talks.

The Aquino administration said it is seeking another approach to reopen talks with communist rebels, but NDF chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni complained that the talks have not even been terminated.

Negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, on the other hand, would resume soon, now that elections have ended, Sandoval said.

She said the MILF talks would proceed with the settlement of three remaining talking points on Mindanao normalization, economic and power sharing as it prepares for a peace transition.

The Opapp official discussed the NDF and the MNLF on the sidelines of a ceremony that secured the commitment of five nongovernment organizations tasked with monitoring the progress of projects for  the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA).

The CPLA was the first group to open peace talks with then President Corazon Aquino after the 1986 Edsa Revolt, and her son, President Aquino, concluded the process in July 2011 with a closure agreement that prescribed 81 social projects for upland communities in exchange for the militia’s disarmament.

The Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Governance (CCAGG), the People’s Organization for Social Transformation and Development Network in Apayao, the Philippine Association of Social Workers Inc. in Ifugao, the International Association for Transformation in Kalinga and the Ebgan Inc. in Mt. Province will monitor and determine whether these projects have led to peace in communities where CPLA influence is strong.

The CPLA closure agreement also allowed CPLA to convert itself into a socioeconomic organization and to absorb 168 qualified militiamen into the military.

Police to hold medical mission in former rebel-influenced village

From the Philippine News Agency (May 25): Police to hold medical mission in former rebel-influenced village

BUTUAN CITY - To show that the government is now fully in control of this former rebel-influenced village, the Police Regional Office 13 will conduct a medical mission and other civic activities at Brgy. Anticala, this city for half a day next week.

Brgy. Anticala, 23 kms northeast of Butuan City, has been a site of skirmishes between the rebels and government troopers before the election.

The most known one which had caught even the international attention was the incident of harassment by an armed group against some 3,000 participants of the "Panaad 2013" (Vows 2013) during the "Good Friday" celebration.

Two militiamen were slain during the incident and even caused a brief mis-encounter between the PNP forces who were securing the inner perimeter and the army special forces who were securing the outer perimeter of the area.

Nobody was injured from both camps during the ensuing incident, but it caused panic, bruises and injuries to the participants of the religious rite.

During the elections, the village was among the areas in the city subjected to the intensive patrol by the PNP and the army until the place was cleared of rebel presence, influence and sightings.

The medical, dental, and minor surgical (circumcision) mission scheduled on May 31, according to the PNP, is aimed at reaching out to the residents in the far flung areas, let them feel the government presence and also help address their medical needs.

ARMM gov wants issue on internally-displaced persons addressed

From the Philippine News Agency (May 26): ARMM gov wants issue on internally-displaced persons addressed

Governor-elect Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao on Friday has ordered the Regional Commission on Human Rights (RCHR) to address human rights issues among internally displaced persons (IDPs)in the region.

Hataman issued the directive as cases of evacuation still occur in the region's five provinces due to "pocket" armed conflict.

With the incident in Sulu where government forces were battling extremists Abu Sayyaf Group and sporadic firefight in Maguindanao, the more IDPs issues should be addressed, according to Hataman.

Lawyer Laisa Alamia, RCHR chairperson, said her office is no longer focused on monitoring and documenting cases but work with other agencies to find solutions to HR issues.

The RHRC was established last year following the enactment of Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act 288 otherwise known as the “ARMM Human Rights Commission Charter of 2012.”

Alamia said that her agency has been receiving support from various sectors in Mindanao, including a new vehicle recently donated by the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

Alamia said that the vehicle will be used in its monitoring activities while noting that the autonomous region houses a number of displaced individuals.

"Forced displacement gave birth to human rights concern and we are banking on establishing human rights profile mechanism in the 110 municipalities across the region,” she said.

“Despite shortage in personnel and technical resources, we are ready to strategize provincial human rights action centers throughout the region,” Alamia added.

In the 2012 forced displacement report released by UNHCR, 278,472 people were forcibly displaced in an accounted 35 incidents.

Apart from natural disaster, the data cites that "rido" or clan feud were among the top three causes.

“We are happy that UNHCR has been one of the active partners of the current regional administration in curbing the problem of human rights abuses in ARMM,” lawyer Anwar Malang, regional government’s executive secretary, said in a statement.

For his part, Arjun Jain, UNHCR Mindanao chief, has vowed to continue his agency’s support.

“Rest assured that UNHCR and many other United Nation agencies and the international community will be behind you, and will continue supporting your work,” said Jain.

Fresh displacement have been reported in Sulu and in Maguindanao were fighting between Moro rebels have occurred in the aftermath of the May 13 national and local elections.

Govt to continue pushing rules-based approach in resolving new tension in West PHL Sea

From the Philippine News Agency (May 25): Govt to continue pushing rules-based approach in resolving new tension in West PHL Sea

The Philippine government will stick to using diplomatic solution in resolving the maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea with the renewed tensions in the Ayungin Shoal, a Palace official said on Saturday.

The Dept. of Foreign Affairs said the current maritime tensions can lead to conflict in the disputed areas particularly with the armed patrols of China.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said during a radio interview over dzRB Radyo ng Bayan Saturday that the government will adhere to a rules-based approach in finding a peaceful solution to the problem.

“We’ve not changed our stance, if you notice in the disputes, in the maritime disputes that we’ve had in the past years, and it’s deliberate,” Valte said.

“We’ve chosen not to respond to provocative statements and provocative actions that may not be productive for the path that we’ve chosen to take. So deliberate ‘yung choices natin, na mapayapa ang ating pagdadaanan dito.”

Asked if there’s a need for the President to convene the National Security Council or a full Cabinet meeting because of the Chinese incursions, Valte said the Aquino administration feels that there is no need for such a meeting at this time.

Given the capacity and capability of the country to deal with the problem, Valte said the President is firm in continuing to deal with the issue given the limited resources that the Philippines has at present.

“Ang sabi ng Pangulo is that so far, we’re dealing with it on the level that is effective for us,” he said.

To address the problem of Filipino fishermen affected by the tension, Valte said they are asking the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources about any possible assistance the government can extend to the fishermen.

“In-assure naman tayo ng BFAR na una daw tinutulungan nilang maghanap ng iba pang lugar na puwede pangisdaan; at pangalawa, existing pa rin ‘yung mga payao na sinet up (set up) natin. Malapit ito sa pampang, para naman hindi sila kailangang lumabas at lumayo palaot,” she said.

Marines kill 4 Abu Sayyaf in Sulu Clash

From the Philippine News Agency (May 26): Marines kill 4 Abu Sayyaf in Sulu Clash

Philippine Marines have killed four Abu Sayyaf bandits, including a mid-level leader, while 10 others were wounded in fierce gun battle Saturday in the hinterlands of Sulu, a military official disclosed.

Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) spokesman Col. Rodrigo Gregorio said the gun battle ensued around 6:40 a.m. Saturday in Barangay Tugas, Patikul, Sulu.

Gregorio said the troops from the Force Recon Class-18, while on operations, stumbled on a group of Abu Sayyaf bandits that resulted in the firefight.

Westmincom chief Lt. Gen. Rey Ardo deployed four helicopter gunships to provide air support to the ground troops and relentlessly pursue the bandits, Gregorio said.

Two of the four slain Abu Sayyaf bandits were identified as Commander Apong Idol, a mid-level bandit leader, and Kausar Sawadjaan, according to Gregorio.

The wounded Abu Sayyaf followers were dragged away by their comrades in their escape, he said.

The operation was aimed to rescue Casilda Villarasa, who was kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf bandits last May 8 in Barangay Asturia, Jolo, Sulu, he said.

Villarasa, 41, is a medical technologist at the Integrated Provincial Health Office in Jolo and is the wife of a Marine soldier.

She was with her nine-year-old daughter on the way to the IPHO when seized by the Abu Sayyaf bandits. Her daughter managed to run away.

Gregorio disclosed that seven Marine troops were killed while nine others were wounded in the ensuing firefight with the Abu Sayyaf bandits.

He withheld the identities of the soldiers who were killed and wounded in action pending notification to the relatives.

He said the Armed Forces through the Westmincom “will see to it that those soldiers who were involved in the encounter will be recognized accordingly and the family of those who have paid their ultimate sacrifice will be taken care of, while those who were wounded will be given the best medical assistance available.”(

'Incidents involving PSG men should not affect institution'

From ABS-CBN (May 26): 'Incidents involving PSG men should not affect institution'

The morale of the members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) remains high amid incidents that have hounded them recently, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

In fact, these issues should not affect the “institution” since officials will not tolerate the actions of erring members, she stressed.

“These are just isolated incidents. These should not reflect on the status of the PSG,” she said.

These issues will also not affect the security of President Benigno Aquino III, she added.

Valte is referring to the arrest of two members of the PSG last week for their alleged involvement in a robbery incident in Quezon City.

She admitted they were decorated men and had no derogatory records with them when they joined the unit.

“That being said, maraming tanong ang lumabas. But the men are screened before they are admitted to the unit,” she said.

Another report also cited the case of another member of the PSG who was charged for assaulting his girlfriend when she ended their relationship.

Valte said the last case is not new anymore. “It happened last year,” she pointed out.

Still, the PSG is already looking into the incident, she said. “Hindi nagkukulang ang PSG sa mga pasabi. Wrongdoings will not be tolerated,” she said.

AFP denies sending reiforcement to Ayungin Shoal

From ABS-CBN (May 26): AFP denies sending reiforcement to Ayungin Shoal

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) denied that it sent reinforcements to the Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

AFP Chief Emmanuel Bautista said it is routine to send Navy ships to the shoal to provide supply for those who are on duty to look after the area.

Just last week, the military reported that they saw a Chinese frigate and two Chinese maritime surveillance ships in the vicinity of the Ayungin Shoal despite the Philippines protest against the intrusion.

According to military spokesman Major Ramon Zagala Jr., they have been monitoring the Chinese ships since two weeks ago.

Saying the AFP has no plans to confront the ships because it might aggravate the situation, Zagala said they will continue to monitor the ships' movements and defend the interests of the country through diplomatic means.

The DFA earlier asserted China has no right to claim the Ayungin Shoal as it is located just 105 nautical miles from Palawan which is well within the 200-nautical mile Philippine Continental Shelf.

DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said only the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the continental shelf and this is guaranteed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Death toll in Sulu encounter rises to 16

From ABS-CBN (May 26): Death toll in Sulu encounter rises to 16

(UPDATED) The death toll in Saturday’s clash in Patikul, Sulu between Philippine Marines and members of the Abu Sayyaf group has reached 16, according to the latest information released by the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom).

Wesmincom PIO Col. Rodrgio Gregorio said nine members of the ASG were killed in the encounter, while 15 more bandits were wounded.

Meanwhile, 24 others were wounded in the firefight.

Seven Filipino marines died in yesterday’s firefight. At least nine soldiers were also injured and airlifted to the Camp Navarro General Hospital.

The Wesmincom will have a send off ceremony to honor their fallen comrades on Sunday afternoon. The coffins of the seven dead soldiers will be boarding a C130 at the Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga City.

Earlier, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel T. Bautista said the Marines involved in the encounter were completing the final part of their training and conducting a test mission when the clash happened.

The troops were responding to a series of kidnapping incidents in the area, including the case of the wife of a Marine.

Bautista said the operations will continue in Patikul, Sulu to rescue the other kidnapping victims of the Abu Sayyaf.

2 more Sayyaf bandits killed; Sulu fighting death toll rises to 14 — military

From GMA News (May 26): 2 more Sayyaf bandits killed; Sulu fighting death toll rises to 14 — military

At least two more members of the Abu Sayyaf were reported killed Sunday, bringing to 14 the number of fatalities stemming from the fighting in Sulu province.

In a radio interview, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr. said they received an update Sunday that seven bandits had been killed.

"Yung initial report, apat, naging lima. This morning the AFP received a report that seven of these lawless elements had been killed," he said in an interview on dzBB radio.

He said the military suffered seven casualties, including an officer and six enlisted men.

In the meantime, he said the efforts to pursue the bandits will continue.

"Efforts are still undergoing to pursue the Abu Sayyaf elements," he said.

But he also said the military's operation will be "discerning" so that "civilians won't be caught in the crossfire."

Earlier, Western Mindanao Command spokesman Col. Rodrigo Gregorio said members of the Marines chanced on a group of Abu Sayyaf bandits early Saturday.

Gregorio said two of the four slain Abu Sayyaf bandits were identified as Commander Apong Idol, a mid-level bandit leader, and Kausar Sawadjaan.

A report on government-run Philippine News Agency said the operation had sought to rescue Casilda Villarasa, 41, the wife of a Marine.

The bandits abducted Casilda last May 8 in Barangay Asturia in Jolo, Sulu. Casilda, is a medical technologist at the Integrated Provincial Health Office in Jolo.

She was with her nine-year-old daughter when the bandits seized her. Her daughter managed to run away.

USS Guardian probe 90% done; report expected this week

From GMA News (May 26): USS Guardian probe 90% done; report expected this week

The Philippine Coast Guard expects to submit this week its report on the Jan. 17 grounding of the minesweeper USS Guardian at Tubbataha Reef.

Coast Guard commandant Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena expects to submit the report to Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, radio dzBB reported Sunday.

The report said the Coast Guard its report is now 90 percent done and once it is submitted to Abaya for his review, then it will be sent to President Benigno Aquino.

Last April, the Philippine Maritime Casualty Investigation Team (MCIT) received relevant documents on the incident from the US Navy.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the MCIT's safety inquiry also aims to identify measures the Philippines and US may adopt to prevent a repeat of the incident.

The USS Guardian ran aground at Tubbataha Reef last Jan. 17, and damaged 2,345.67 square meters of the reef.

It was cut into chunks and completely removed from the area last March 30.

A news release from the Tubbataha Management Office said the fines for the Jan. 17 grounding may amount to P58.4 million ($1.5 million).

Land grabbers fired at Moros while farming at Elbebe, Columbio

From the MILF Website (May 26): Land grabbers fired at Moros while farming at Elbebe, Columbio

Notorious armed land grabbers identified with the barangays chairmen of Kanibong, Bunawan and Maybula, Columbio fired indiscriminately at native Moros while farming at lots 146 and 147 in Elbebe, Columbio, Sultan Kudarat early morning yesterday.
M16, M14 and other assault firearms were used by these lawless land grabbers in indiscriminately firing at the Moro farmers. These attackers were holding ground at lot 158 which is also owned by the Moros but they had developed as their camp after grabbing it by force.

Fierce gun battle ensued as relatives of the Moro farmers with the 109th Base Command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) – MILF came to help.

The land grabbers were driven away from their position at Lot 158 which is called as “Bako Bako” during the skirmish that lasted until 11am yesterday.

“We have to help our relatives Moro farmers that had been attacked while farming,” a contact from the 109th Base Command said.

“We hope that they will not attack again,” he added.

In the early 1980s and 1990s, the Moros were peacefully living and farming in their lands at Columbio but in the late 1990s until 2007, the paramilitaries, armed civilian volunteers organization and private armed groups identified with the barangay chairmen launched a systematic coupled with the use of force to drive out the Moros and illegally grabbed their lands.

As the Moros were driven out of their lands, the land grabbers then plant these lands with Bananas, said the contact from the 109th Base Command. 

Several initiatives had been undertaken by formal and informal authorities but these lawless land grabbers had not been cooperating instead have continued in grabbing and harassing the Moros.

This morning tension grip again the areas of Elbebe as the armed lawless land grabbers start firing again against the Moros and their relatives with the MILF. 

Lamenting the occurrence of this incident and voicing their appeal to the concerned authorities to pursue peaceful resolution of the problem, the contact from the 109th Base command said they maintain defensive posture but will be force to fight back when attacked.

Thousands trapped in North Cotabato

From the Manila Standard Today (May 26): Thousands trapped in North Cotabato

THOUSANDS of Muslim and Christian residents of Matalam, North Cotabato are trapped inside their homes and cannot even go out to buy food to eat because the town has allegedly been surrounded by troops of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

“We are urging the government to help us in our problem because our daily existence is badly affected brought by MILF harassment,” said Iteng Tacunes, a resident commander of the Moro National Liberation Front who is among the leaders of the community.

Tacunes also pleaded that North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza to resolve the situation in Barangay Marbel because parents are afraid of sending their children to school because of the MILF troops.

Tacunes said residents are not being allowed to go out and buy food and other necessities by about 700 fully-armed MILF who have taken control of the MNLF-dominated community.

The villagers have sought the assistance of the MNLF, but the group decided not to intervene for feat that they would be blamed by any fighting that might erupt between the two Bangsa Moro factions.

Tacunes claimed MILF forces have begun ransacking the homes of about 3,000 residents who evacuated the area when the MILF began a supposed blockade of the town before the elections.

The MILF claimed they were in the area as part of a “peace caravan” to urge MILF members in the area to support the group’s Framework Agreement with the government, but MNLF supporters complained of the MILF intrusion, sparking tension in the area.

The MILF forces are being led by a certain Commander Ali Mashur while the MNLF fighters are supposedly led by Commander Dima Ambel.

The tension caused the death of at least one person and officials fear the outbreak of a clan war, called “rido.” Government officials, assisted by community elders, have tried to ease the tension ahead of the elections and an agreement among the MILF, MNLF and the military was supposed to have been signed last Friday, but it did not push through for a still unknown reason.

Tacunes appealed for help from the local and national government because they cannot harvest their sugar cane, palm oil, rubber, coconut, rice and corn produce and that will consequently prevent them from buying school supplies for their children.

The MNLF claim that the MILF presence in Barangay Marbel is part of a plan to enlarge the ancestral domain that they will be given under the Framework Agreement with the government, but that will be at the expense of legitimate land owners.

“They are using the peace pact as their alibi to land grabbed their ancestral land. It is an act of desperation on the part of the MILF,” said MNLF peace panel member Rev. Absalom Cerveza in an interview.

Heroes welcome for slain marines

From the Manila Bulletin (May 26): Heroes welcome for slain marines

The Philippine Marine will give a heroes welcome to seven of its men killed in a clash with members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the hinterlands of Patikul, Sulu.

Marine Commandant Brig. Gen. Romeo Tanalgo made the announcement as he expressed sadness over the loss of one Marine officer and six enlisted personnel.

Tanalgo said the bodies of the seven were scheduled to arrive at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City from Zamboanga Sunday.

He said arrival honors will be given to the fallen soldiers at Villamor Airbase and formal heroes' welcome will be accorded at the Marine headquarters in Taguig on Monday.

While he grieves the death of his men, Tanalgo said: "Every Marine is prepared to pay the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of ending terrorism to pave the way for peace and development. We know the risk."

Marine spokesman 1Lt. Vladimir Cabrera said the Marine leadership will also give whatever benefits due to the families of the slain soldiers.

Peace process in North inked by gov’t and rebels

From Business World (May 24): Peace process in North inked by gov’t and rebels

A mechanism designed to monitor the implementation of a peace agreement in the north was signed by the government and former rebels in Cagayan.
The monitoring and evaluation of the memorandum of agreement with the Cordillera Bodong Administration (CBA) -- Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) was signed Friday by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and Cordillera-based civil society organizations (CSOs).

“The MET mechanism shows commitment of both the government and the CBA-CPLA to principles of transparency and accountability in implementing the 2011 MOA,” OPAPP Undersecretary Maria Cleofe Gettie Sandoval said in a statement.
“OPAPP and our CSO partners believe that the MET mechanism can improve governance and monitoring of government’s peace and development projects and programs,” she added.

The monitoring mechanism of CSOs will allow independent regular checking and evaluation of the progress of the MoA.

“This means, for instance, helping find the connection not just between development and poverty, but also between development and peace. This also means having a role in local mechanisms for sustaining peace beyond the MOA’s implementation timeframe,” said Sandoval.

The CSOs set to sign the agreement as partners of OPAPP for the MET mechanism are Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Governance (Abra); Peoples Organization for Social Transformation Development Network Inc. (Apayao), Philippine Association of Social Workers, Inc. (Ifugao), International Association for Transformation (Kalinga), and EBGAN, Inc. (Mountain Province).

The closure agreement between the government and CPLA and CBA was signed on July 14, 2011 at Mt. Province. The rebel groups agreed to surrender their weapons under a resolution signed by CPLA and CBA leaders.’t-and-rebels&id=70753

Commies enter Zambo village, take weapons from civilians

From the Mindanao Examiner (May 25): Commies enter Zambo village, take weapons from civilians

Communist rebels on Saturday disarmed a former village leader and a civilian in Zamboanga del Sur’s Lapuyan town in southern Philippines, police said.

Police said about a dozen gunmen wearing military uniform entered the village of Mandeg and introduced themselves as New People’s Army rebels and went on to Monico Mandeg and seized his ,45-caliber pistol.

The rebels also confiscated two more .45-caliber pistol and a shot gun from Camilo Anguid.

The rebels fled after the confiscation of the weapons, leaving the two men shaken by the incident.

Just this month, dozens of NPA rebels disguised as government troops also raided the Camp Blessing in the town of Bayog in Zamboanga del Sur and carted weapons issued by the military to local militias.

The rebels, numbering about 40, also seized communication equipment from village chieftain Reynaldo Villaver. They stayed for about 45 minutes in the village before fleeing to the hills.

The rebels have been fighting for decades now in an effort to overthrow the democratic government and install a separate Maoist state in the country.

Leftist rebel in possession of landmines arrested in Davao

From the Philippine Star (May 25): Leftist rebel in possession of landmines arrested in Davao

Authorities intercepted this afternoon six anti-tank improvised explosive devices (IED) from a suspected member of the leftist New People's Army (NPA) in Davao, the local military said.

The explosive devices or landmines were caught in the possession of Joey Atienza, 33, at Upper Mabuhay village in Paquibato District, said Lieutenant Colonel Inocencio Pasaporte, commander of the 69th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army.

According to the officer, the suspect, riding a motorcycle, was nabbed while personnel of the 69th IB were conducting a checkpoint at the said village at around 12:45 p.m. local time.

Pasaporte said that the arrest of the suspect was made possible because of the cooperation and support extended by the residents who revealed of the illegal and criminal activities of the leftist rebels in the area. The suspect had admitted to being a courier of the leftist group, he added.

11 dead as soldiers, Abus clash in Sulu

From the Philippine Star (May 26): 11 dead as soldiers, Abus clash in Sulu

Eleven people were killed early yesterday as government troops clashed with Abu Sayyaf bandits in Patikul, Sulu.

The fighting left seven Marines and four Abu Sayyaf gunmen dead with nine soldiers wounded, said Col. Jose Joriel Cenabre, commanding officer of the 2nd Marine Brigade and Joint Task Force Sulu.

A Marine reconnaissance team ran into a group of Abu Sayyaf bandits in Barangay Tugas near the town of Patikul while government forces were tracking down the group suspected of kidnapping Criselda Marcos Villaraza, wife of a non-commissioned Marine officer assigned in Sulu, Cenabre said.

Villaraza, a medical technologist of the Sulu Provincial Hospital, was kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf last May 18 and freed unharmed two days later, the military said.
Cenabre said the fighting was fierce and led to the big number of casualties.

“As a result of the close firefight, government forces suffered seven fatalities and nine wounded. On the enemy side there are ten wounded in action and four killed,” Cenabre said.

He said the firefight continued until 10 a.m. while the militants tried to escape.

The military identified two of the slain militants as Kausar Sawadjaan and Commander Apong Idol.

The names of the government casualties were not made available pending notification of their immediate families.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan said the wounded Marines were airlifted to a military hospital in Zamboanga City, adding none of their injuries was life-threatening.

Tutaan noted the fighting was close and intense. “The close-quarter combat resulted in casualties on both sides,” he said.

Cenabre added joint military and police forces were conducting follow-up operations against the gunmen.

The AFP’s Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) has dispatched two U-IH and two MG520 helicopters to Patikul to provide air cover to the pursuing troops as well as to conduct evacuation operations for the wounded Marines.

Abu Sayyaf, military clash in Sulu, 11 dead

From Rappler (May 25): Abu Sayyaf, military clash in Sulu, 11 dead

At least eleven people were killed and 19 others were wounded as soldiers clashed with members of the Abu Sayyaf Group in Patikul, Sulu, Saturday morning, May 25.

Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Col Rodrigo Gregorio said members of Force Recon CL-18 were conducting tracking and pursuit operations in Bgy Tugas at around 6:30 am Saturday, following a series of abductions in the area. It was then that they they encountered the rebels, triggering a firefight between the two sides.

Gregorio said at least 7 marines and at least 4 Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed, including a commander known as "Apong Idol" and a member identified as Kausar Sawadjaan.

Agence France-Presse, quoting armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Brig Gen Domingo Tutaan, however reported there were 5 Abu Sayyaf members killed in the battle.

At least 10 Abu Sayyaf members and 9 marines were also injured. The firefight lasted over an hour.

The wounded marines were airlifted to a military hospital in the southern port of Zamboanga, Tutaan said, adding none of their injuries was life-threatening.

Meanwhile, joint military and police forces under the Jolo Internal Defense Force apprehended a group of alleged "extortionists" armed with .45 caliber pistols at El Madina Restaurant in Jolo, Sulu.

Col Jose Johriel Cenabre, Commander of the 2nd Marine Brigade, said one of the alleged extortionists was wounded in the exchange of fire. The apprehended men were turned over to local police afterwards.

Cenabre said that it is "likely" that the group was connected with the Abu Sayyaf.

Police forces in Sulu have been placed on heightened alert as the military continues to pursue the bandits.

The Abu Sayyaf Group is believed to be holding Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani, who was abducted in Jolo City in June 2012.

Their latest victim is believed to be medical technologist Casilda Villarasa, wife of Sgt Faustino Villarasa, who was abducted on May 18.

Founded using seed money from al-Qaeda in the 1990s, the Abu Sayyaf is blamed for the worst terror attacks in the country, including the firebombing of a ferry in Manila Bay and kidnappings of foreign tourists.

The group is on the US government's list of so-called foreign terrorist organizations.

About 600 American troops have been rotating through the southern Philippines for a decade to help train local troops in hunting the Abu Sayyaf, who enjoy local support at their bases in some of the poorest areas of the Philippines.

Peaceful approach to Ayungin issue - Palace

From Rappler (May 25): Peaceful approach to Ayungin issue - Palace

The government intends to stick to a rules-based approach in resolving maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea, including those involving the Ayungin Reef.

In a radio interview on Saturday, May 25, Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the government has not changed its position, despite the warning from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) that the maritime tensions could lead to conflict, particularly with China's armed patrols.

"We’ve chosen not to respond to provocative statements and provocative actions that may not be productive for the path that we’ve chosen to take. So deliberate ‘yung choices natin, na mapayapa ang ating pagdadaanan dito," Valte added. (Our choices are deliberate, that we will choose the peaceful path.)

Valte also said the Aquino administration does not think it's already necessary for the President to convene the National Security Council or a full Cabinet meeting as a result of the Chinese incursions.

She added that the President is firm about continuing to deal with the issue given the limited resources that the Philippines has at present.

Ayungin Reef, also known as Second Thomas Shoal, is a tiny group of islets and reefs in the Spratly Islands chain, about 200 kilometers (120 miles) northwest of Palawan, the nearest major land mass.

Ayungin is guarded by a handful of Philippine marines aboard a World War II-era ship that was deliberately grounded there in the late 1990s to serve as a base.

It is about 41 kilometers (25 miles) east of Mischief Reef, a Philippine-claimed outcrop that China occupied in 1995.

Second Thomas Shoal is within the Philippines' internationally recognized exclusive economic zone, and surrounding waters are rich fishing grounds.

To address the problem of Filipino fishermen affected by the tension, Valte said they are asking the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) about any possible assistance the government can extend to the fishermen.

"In-assure naman tayo ng BFAR na una daw tinutulungan nilang maghanap ng iba pang lugar na puwede pangisdaan; at pangalawa, existing pa rin ‘yung mga payao na sinet up (set up) natin. Malapit ito sa pampang, para naman hindi sila kailangang lumabas at lumayo palaot," Valte said.

(We were assured by BFAR that they are helping fishermen look for other fishing grounds. And second, the payaos that we set up are still there. They are close to the shore so fishermen don't have to go too far out to sea.) A payao is a floating artificial reef that attracts fish.

Troops in Sulu on alert vs Abu Sayyaf

From Rappler (May 26): Troops in Sulu on alert vs Abu Sayyaf

Security in Sulu have been placed on heightened alert Sunday, May 26, for possible retaliatory attacks of the Abu Sayyaf as the death toll in the fierce gun battle between Marines and the radical group reached 12.

A senior police official said troops were pursuing the militants and a retaliatory attack may occur as the Abu Sayyaf suffered severe casualties during an encounter in the hinterlands of Patikul.

Chief Superintendent Noel Delos Reyes, the head of police in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said he ordered all troops in the province to take precautionary move to prevent any diversionary attacks that may be carried out by Abu Sayyaf since one of their fatalities was the son of Abu Sayyaf leader Adzmar Sawadjali.

“They might stage bombings and kidnappings to distract the attention of our police and soldiers pursuing them,” he said.

At least 7 Marines and 5 Abu Sayyaf have been killed in the gun battle Saturday, May 25, in Patikul's Barangay Tugas. Nine other Marines and about 10 Abu Sayyaf fighters were wounded.

“I directed the head of police in the province to put all police forces on alert to prevent any possible attacks,” he said.

Troops were on mission against militants involved in recent kidnapping incidents in Sulu when they encountered Abu Sayyaf militants.

COSTS OF CAPITULATION | Strategic implications of Philippine response in Taiwan crisis

From InterAksyon (May 24): COSTS OF CAPITULATION | Strategic implications of Philippine response in Taiwan crisis
By: Jose Antonio Custodio, Special to

On May 9, 2013, a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources patrol vessel, the MCS 3001, encountered the Taiwanese fishing vessel Guang Ta Hsin 28 within Philippine waters. Although the Taiwanese government has claimed that the fishing boat was within their territory, several facts that contradict this claim of Taiwan is that their fishermen frequently poach in the Philippines and Philippine patrol vessels never stray outside of the country’s territorial waters. To further emphasize this, given the materiel deficiencies of the Philippine Coast Guard, the BFAR, and the Philippine Navy as compared to our neighbors in the region, the Rules of Engagement are so strict that it will be out of character to imagine any Philippine patrol vessel going gung-ho in our territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone. The policies guiding Philippine maritime enforcement agencies frequently use the term “monitor” which reveals a probable intention not to create international incidents that would put the government in a difficult situation vis-a-vis the country’s more powerful neighbors. This monitoring policy of the Philippines has been roundly condemned by many Filipinos for being too meek in its approach to constant intrusions and poaching by Chinese vessels whether they are from China or Taiwan. Ironically, foreign ministry statements from Beijing and Taipei depicting the Philippines as being arrogant, savage, and barbaric in its protection of its territorial waters are so far from reality. These statements are definitely not aimed against the Philippines but toward the Chinese public to generate support for whatever policies both Beijing and Taipei have to further their own national and political interests.

Despite Taiwan’s near saint-like depiction of the fisherman who died, Chinese and Taiwanese fishermen are a rowdy bunch and have engaged in aggressive acts against Japanese, Vietnamese, and even American vessels. There are also many cases of Taiwanese fishermen routinely abusing Filipinos working in their fishing boats in our country’s northern waters. It is bad enough that Taiwanese fishermen poach in Philippine waters, but what makes it worse is that they use our own poor countrymen to do the dirty work for them. Some Taiwanese fishing vessels also are used for smuggling operations by transnational crime syndicates thereby adding another dimension to the issue of monitoring the movement and taking effective measures against these ships and boats in our territory. Thus, the contention of the PCG personnel manning the MCS 3001 is believable that the Guang Ta Hsin 28 was in Philippine territory and it tried to ram them. Since BFAR vessels are usually made of fiberglass, the consequences of a ramming attack would most likely be lethal to it. Still, the incident at sea does reveal certain matters that the Philippines must address in the protection of its maritime interests.

The phenomenon of the Strategic Corporal or in this case the Strategic Seaman

The term Strategic Corporal is lengthily defined as: the notion that leadership in complex, rapidly evolving mission environments devolves lower and lower down the chain of command to better exploit time-critical information into the decision-making process, ultimately landing on the corporal, the lowest ranking non-commissioned officer, typically commanding a fire team of 4 individuals or a squad of 13 individuals (three fireteams plus NCO). In very rapidly evolving mission situations, obtaining mission instructions from remotely located command may result in mission failure, or in casualties to both force personnel and civilians. Conversely, misusing this kind of responsibility may result in personal liability for the team leader: a decision executed to respond to situational needs may result in later prosecution as the team leader's actions are reviewed by higher authorities.

In another definition: With the onset of the information age and the omnipresence of the media (both social and old), the decisions taken by tactical-level commanders can readily resonate at the strategic level. So the concept of tactical commanders needing to understand the strategic effects of their decisions has been taught as a fundamental part of professional military education.

This can be readily applied to the MCS 3001 crew. They were ordered into the operational area by the government to protect Philippine maritime interests. They were caught in a tense confrontation with an aggressive Taiwanese vessel that demanded quick action. The commanding officer made a judgment call to engage the Taiwanese vessel due to its aggressive actions, suspicions about its purpose in the area, and even the vulnerabilities of his boat. The initial PCG statement explaining this incident was strong and it supported the crew of the MCS 3001 by saying no apologies were forthcoming. However as the days passed and the Taiwanese government delivered threat after threat to the Philippines and irresponsibly targeted Filipino OFWs in Taiwan, the Philippine government made an about-face and issued several apologies which were all rejected by Taiwan. The PCG crew were then subjected to an investigation which although being a standard operating procedure unfortunately became a feasting ground for some Philippine media outfits in portraying the issue as a Taiwan mess just to take anti-administration potshots. The issue of the OFWs further divided policy and opinion makers between those who wanted to take a strong stand and those who wanted to appease Taiwan. Taipei, sensing Filipino disunity, then ramped up the situation further by implementing freezing of hiring of OFWs and even engaging in military exercises near the Philippines, while it did nothing to curb ultra nationalistic comments in their media against Filipinos.

As the Philippines has declared through the words of President Aquino in a previous state of the nation address that “what is ours is ours.” Hence when it comes to our territorial and EEZ interests, more incidents like this are to be expected in the near future. Even if the government strictly implements a monitoring only policy with no engagement, it will not mean that such encounters will not happen especially since the situation in such areas is very fluid (pun intended). In this regard, the government must be prepared to use all of its instruments of national power to communicate a clear and decisive message in defense of the interests of the nation very much as the Taiwanese are doing in this situation. Failure to do so will only result in demoralization among the uniformed services, disunity among the Filipino people, and opportunities for countries we have issues with such as Taiwan and China to exploit us.

The overstated OFW factor

The moment the Taiwanese threatened the Philippines with the OFW freeze, it effectively constrained the actions of the Philippine government as voices counseling restraint resonated both within the administration and from the private sector. The problem is that if the Philippine government’s decisions are a product of knee-jerk reactions without a careful overall assessment of Taiwan’s reliance on skilled and semi-skilled Filipino labor then we may be looking at the problem from a position of weakness. Usually, Philippine assessments on economic relations center on numerical attributes such as investment poured in, amount of dollars and pesos to be gained or lost, and on our vulnerability should this disappear. Rarely is the dependence of the host country examined in order to have a balanced view of the relationship and to see how the Philippines should take threats against the continued employment of its nationals. More often than not, knee-jerk reactions occur which are partly brought about by the emotional appeals of OFWs and companies engaged in economic activity with the host country who all call for resolutions to the crisis favorable to their situation. The knee-jerk reaction is done by the government as an expedient means of resolving a situation without resorting to substantial solutions that entail more effort and to avoid any media circus that may harm its approval ratings.

Granted that 85,150 Filipinos work as OFWs in Taiwan, the bluster in the Taiwanese government’s approach is seen in the fact that it did not immediately deport all Filipinos working there but announced a freeze in hiring. One can very well imagine the economic dislocation that will occur in Taiwan should all these Filipinos immediately leave which is something their government which is already struggling in its own approval ratings will not resort to. No country (especially a country as diplomatically isolated and in search of an identity as Taiwan) will do that as it will face international condemnation and it will find difficulty in hiring other nationalities as it will have a negative image as an inhospitable destination for OFWs. Not unless of course the Taiwanese themselves would want to do the backbreaking work done by the OFWs.

Hence the Philippine government should hold Taiwan accountable for any violent act committed on OFWs since the Taiwanese government chose to whip up national frenzy over the incident. If attacks against OFWs continue, the Philippines may choose to elevate its complaint to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Philippine government should also ensure that the Taiwanese government guarantees the safety of all Filipinos working in Taiwan and not just merely warn our nationals to stay indoors in that country. This warning to our nationals in Taiwan to stay indoors, without a corresponding reminder to Taipei to at least desist from inflaming public opinion, gives the impression that the Philippine government is washing its hands of any involvement and responsibility if any additional attack on an OFW occurs. The Philippine government should also be true to its word to look for alternate employment areas or better yet to generate more jobs here in the Philippines to lessen the number of Filipinos working in Taiwan which has proven itself to be an unreliable partner in that economic relationship with the Philippines. After all, what is the use of favorable investment ratings given to the Philippines by international bodies if the Philippine government does not act as an effective enabler for investments to come in and generate employment?

Template for additional territorial grabs by Beijing

The Philippines should be very careful in the manner it handles this situation with Taiwan. This is not because of economic or political fallouts that we will have with Taipei, but due to the fact that Beijing is carefully studying the responses and reactions that we are making. They will then use this as a template to make their next territorial grab against the Philippines and as of now the Chinese have more than enough proof that our Achilles heel is not that we have a weak military capability, but that government resolve evaporates quickly especially when the OFW issue is exploited. With an estimated several hundred thousand Filipinos working in Hong Kong alone, Beijing will not think twice in using the OFW issue now that they see that such threats always remain effective against Manila.

Hence, if the Philippine government projects an image of total capitulation to Taiwan, it should expect more aggressive actions on top of already an increasing display of aggressive activities by China in the West Philippine Sea in areas like the Kalayaan Island Group specifically at Ayungin Shoal just a few hundred miles off Palawan. A few weeks ago, Beijing reiterated a demand for Manila to dismantle a grounded World War Two era landing ship at Ayungin Shoal that is being used as an installation by the Philippines to protect the country’s maritime interests in the area. The PLA-Navy has together with Chinese maritime patrol agencies already deployed several vessels including a missile frigate to pressure the Philippines to pull out the garrison. Manila has responded by activating a naval task force composed of several ships, including one of its most modern vessels, a British made Off Shore Patrol Vessel.

So far, the Philippines has stood pat on its decision not to give way, but the Philippine government should be prepared for other threatening moves once China presses further on Ayungin Shoal or elsewhere in the KIG (Kalayaan Island Group). These threatening moves will range from harassment of Philippine vessels at sea, hacking of Philippine websites, and even threats on continued Filipino OFW employment in China and Hong Kong. If the Philippine government caves in, no amount of diplomatic artistry from the Department of Foreign Affairs will be able to stem the onrush of Chinese annexation of the West Philippine Sea and the neutralization of the Philippine presence there. The Philippine government must make the choice between short term labor contracts affecting several hundred thousand Filipinos or the loss of strategic political, economic, and military interests in the resource-rich West Philippine Sea and in northern and eastern territorial waters that will affect the livelihood and food security not only of millions of Filipinos today but of generations to come.

(Jose Antonio A. Custodio is a security and defense consultant having worked at private sector and government offices. He was a technical adviser for a US defense company working for the US Pacific Command. He also specializes in military history and has post-graduate studies in history from the University of the Philippines.)