Thursday, June 20, 2013

Asia Foundation: Confidence in Mindanao Peace Process Fragile

Posted to the "Notes from the Field" section of the Asia Foundation Website (Jun 19): Confidence in Mindanao Peace Process Fragile

June 19, 2013
While the peace process in Mindanao has made tremendous progress over the past year, including the signing of a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, there is still a long way to go. The current stage can be described as a “fragile transition,” where there is significant progress in the negotiation of a final settlement to the conflict, but the level of confidence in the process is uncertain.

The Asia Foundation’s new study, “The Contested Corners of Asia,” which examines subnational conflicts (including in Mindanao) across Asia – now the most deadly, widespread, and enduring form of violent conflict, affecting more than 131 million people – concludes that aid to this region needs to be more explicitly focused on conflict by increasing confidence in the peace process and building legitimate institutions.

The origins of the Mindanao conflict can be traced back to the 16th century when the native Moro population under the rule of Islamicized Sultanates successfully resisted subjugation by the Spanish colonial forces, setting them apart from the majority of the Filipinos who were converted to Christianity. The conflict was sparked by a series of resettlement programs to Mindanao by the central government in the 1950s up to the 1970s. This led to widespread dispossession of lands previously owned by the Moros and the indigenous peoples in Mindanao by Christian settlers.

Resistance by the Moros under the leadership of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) reached its height during the Marcos martial law regime in the 1970s. It was not until a couple of decades later that a Final Peace Agreement (FPA) with the MNLF was secured under the Ramos administration in 1996. But by then a breakaway group from the MNLF, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), had emerged, declaring its ultimate objective to establish an Islamic state for the Moros.

After a series of deadly clashes between government forces and MILF rebels, the incumbent administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III successfully forged an interim peace agreement with the MILF called the “Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro” in October 2012. The Framework provides for the creation of the Transition Commission (TC), which will eventually evolve into the Transition Authority (TA) until the full implementation of the new Bangsamoro political entity in 2016. President Aquino recently appointed the 15 Bangsamoro members of the TC.

In February 2013, the president and the MILF chair jointly launched the “Sajahatra Bangsamoro,” a project to accelerate delivery of basic services to the Bangsamoro areas and to create employment opportunities. Additional resources for improving delivery of basic services were also allocated by the government to the existing ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) regional government, which covers around 80 percent of the areas being proposed by the MILF as part of the Bangsamoro territory. The government treats this series of initiatives as part of its crucial “confidence-building” measures in support of the peace process.

The donor community appears to be in full support of the government’s peace efforts. An International Contact Group (ICG), composed of representatives from four countries and four international NGOs (including The Asia Foundation), serve as observers to the negotiations between the government and the MILF panels. A jointly administered fund by the UN and the World Bank, called Facility for Advisory Support for Transition Capacities (FASTRAC), was formed to provide technical services to the MILF. Operations of the existing Mindanao Trust Fund (MTF) will be expanded to support Sajahatra Bangsamoro and the formulation of the medium-term reconstruction and development plan for the Bangsamoro.

Despite these positive initiatives and responses, the study shows that spoilers to the peace process abound as subnational conflict does not only involve vertical conflict (i.e., state vs. minority) but also horizontal ones (i.e., inter-elite and inter-communal). The MNLF has rejected the agreement between the government and the MILF and insists that the 1996 FPA is still in operation and that the government should fulfill its obligations under this agreement. A breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), has broken ranks with the main MILF fighting force, maintaining that the FAB was a “sell-out” by the current MILF leadership because it falls short of establishing an “Islamic state” for the Bangsamoro people.

Christian leaders of surrounding provinces have expressed their concern over the areas that will be identified by the Basic Law as part of the new Bangsamoro entity and the powers that will be vested in this new Bangsamoro political entity. Similarly, traditional Moro politicians governing provinces belonging to the ARMM see the new Bangsamoro entity as a threat to the perpetuation of their political powers and ambitions. In preparation for the presidential election in 2016, and as seen in the mid-term election in May 2013, traditional Moro politicians are now attempting to gain the support and loyalty of ordinary Bangsamoro and even rebel field commanders in their respective areas.

The Asia Foundation’s subnational conflict study on Mindanao also reveals that while the focus of the government’s peace effort is settling state-minority contestation, the unintended consequence of the signing of the FAB is the intensification of inter-elite competition. The Moros are familiar with this phenomenon given the prevalence of rido (clan wars) in their communities. But there are signs that the aftermath of the FAB implementation will bring inter-elite contestation to a level and magnitude never seen before. The national government is aware that as it successfully addresses vertical contestation, it should equally pay attention to horizontal conflicts, which if left unattended can negate the positive gains obtained from the former effort. The study recommends that aid should support government efforts in bringing local communities and stakeholders into the peace process.

As the study indicates, the signing of the peace agreement is just one of the critical steps in the transition from conflict to peace. The challenge now is how to consolidate the gains of the peace agreement by continually “restoring confidence,” and translating confidence-building measures to legitimate institutions that will ensure the creation of jobs, justice, and security for the citizens of Mindanao.

[Fermin D. Adriano is co-author of “The Contested Corners of Asia: The Case of Mindanao,” and is currently the senior policy advisor of the World Bank’s State and Peace-Building Fund Project in Manila. He can be reached at The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation.]

Sultanate vows indefinite struggle for Sabah

From the Manila Bulletin (Jun 20): Sultanate vows indefinite struggle for Sabah

Whether Malaysia likes it or not, its Sabah problem is not about to ride into the sunset as the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo yesterday vowed to wage an indefinite struggle to repossess North Borneo.

As this developed, a new round of fighting between the Sultanate’s Royal Security Force (RSF) and Malaysian troops broke out for the second time in two days.

Abraham J. Idjirani, the Sultanate’s secretary-general and spokesman, said yesterday the new encounter occurred in Kampung Labbiyyaw, Lahad Datu, Sabah, between 7 and 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
On the other hand, a check on the websites of Malaysian news organizations on Tuesday and Wednesday morning showed that none had yet carried any news report on the sultanate’s claim of the new fighting.

The sultanate’s claim could not be verified independently.

However, Idjirani assured everyone that fresh encounters indeed took place after the May 5 General Election in Malaysia.

The firefight in Kampung Labbiyyaw came after Monday’s encounter between the two parties in Kampung Dangan Tunko, also in Lahad Datu, he said.

Idjirani told the Manila Bulletin that the Sultanate, through its heirs, at least from the late Sultan Punjungan Kiram’s lineage, is ready and committed to continue the struggle over Sabah.

“What is important is the Sultanate and its ‘raayat’ (constituents) are showing the Malaysian government and the democratic freedom-loving nations that the Sultanate of Sulu through its Royal Army and volunteers are exercising their strong determination to repossess Sabah from the illegal occupation of the neo-colonialist Malaysia,” he said.

The Sultanate is determined to prolong its struggle to claim back from the Muslim country what is historically a part of its territory, he added.

From the Punjungan Kiram clan, Idjirani said there are still eight surviving siblings, eight men and two women, led by Sultan Jamalul, plus their children and grandchildren who are expected to carry on the struggle.

“It is not going to end until Malaysia’s ‘illegal’ annexation of North Borneo is withdrawn and the territory repossessed by the sultanate,” said Idjirani.

In the two new rounds of fighting, no casualty figure was relayed by Idjirani’s source, Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, who continues to stake the sultanate’s ancestral claim over the rich territory.

Another source, Habib Mujahab “Bogs” Hashim, who chairs the Islamic Command Council, one of the factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF-ICC), also relayed having received information about the second round of fighting.

“My source who is a ‘Bangsa Suluk’ (of the Tausug Nation) in Lahad Datu told me of the new fighting on Tuesday evening,” said Hashim.

Asked if he believes an indefinite struggle over Sabah is possible, he said “yes.”

“The sultanate’s heirs and raayat are not going to let if go unless Malaysia agrees to settle this problem peacefully for the benefit of the Bangsa Suluk,” said Hashim.

He promised to call again today (Wednesday) after confirming if there were any casualties, the MNLF senior leader said.

“I expect some casualties because bullets do not excuse anyone,” Hashim said.

Hashim said his source is already a citizen of Sabah, a member of the MNLF.

Meanwhile, the credibility of the sultanate of Sulu is apparently at record low since Malacañang is having doubts about anything it says.

The government is not immediately buying the claim of the Sulu sultanate of renewed fighting with Malaysian forces in Sabah given its history of allegedly peddling lies in the past, according to a Palace official.

Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Secretary Ramon Carandang said the Palace prefers to verify such report from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) rather than believe the sultanate’s spokesman right away.

“What they said in the past has turned out not to be true. I will not immediately believe any claim that’s not backed up by any evidence,” Carandang said in an interview with the Manila Bulletin. “We will check the report with the DFA,” he added.

Carandang said the government earlier received information that the Lahad Datu has been cleared of the remnants of the Sultanate’s armed followers following a standoff in the area last February.

A crisis erupted in Sabah last February when armed followers of Kiram seized control of Lahad Datu to press their historic claim over the oil-rich territory.

Soldiers deployed to amok incident scene in Burauen

From the Leyte Samar Daily Express (Jun 20): Soldiers deployed to amok incident scene in Burauen

Troops from the Philippine Army’s 78th Infantry Brigade (IB) were deployed to Barangay Anonang in Burauen Leyte following the amok incident that killed a military official and two militiamen.

Inspector Federico Sanchez, chief of the Burauen police station, confirmed that augmentation force to the detachment while the investigation of the case is still ongoing.

“They were there to secure the village and help maintain peace and order after a member of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) ran amok inside the detachment,” Sanchez said in phone interview.

The detachment is under the jurisdiction of Philippine Army’s 78th IB in Barangay Abuyogon, six kilometers away from Anonang village.

As of yesterday morning, the town police station is still waiting for report from the Scene of the Crime Operative sent by the regional office right after the incident late Monday afternoon.

 Militiaman Cesar Manidlangan, killed Sgt. Renato Cabarse, acting commander of the 78th IB operational control detachment, and Alexander Estrella, also a Cafgu member.

The suspect was shot dead by fellow Cafgu Genes Cabidog to stop him from shooting others inside the camp. The incident stemmed when Cabarse disallowed Manidlangan from attending a fiesta in Bobon village.

The incident occurred at 4:45 p.m. on Monday inside the army detachment in Brgy. Anonang in Burauen, approximately 57 kilometers south of this city.

Sgt. Gabby Sayong, one of the cadres from the Philippine Army’s 52nd Infantry Battalion tasked to process the papers of dead militiamen said the military did not fell short in instilling discipline among Cafgu members.

“We have been disseminating guidance to them but we have to step up the implementation of policy with this incident,” said Sayong said in a phone interview.

Felipe Gerona, a Cafgu member assigned in Brgy. Anonang, said that dispute between Cabarse and Manidlangan could be traced to the delay in the release of their allowances.

“We were 26 last year in that detachment but the number has been reduced to about 19 active militiamen this month due to delayed release of allowances,” Gerona said in a mobile phone interview.

Sayong denied the allegation saying they have been releasing P2,760 monthly allowance on time. In Leyte and Southern alone, there are 700 active Cafgu members tasked to render military auxiliary service 15 days in a month.

Filipino troops in Golan need defence against chemical arms, Aquino says

From InterAksyon (Jun 20): Filipino troops in Golan need defence against chemical arms, Aquino says

President Benigno Aquino threatened Thursday to withdraw Philippine troops from the UN peacekeeping force on the Golan Heights unless they receive anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, and are protected against chemical arms.

Aquino said the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), now made up of just over 500 Filipino and Indian troops, needed revised rules of engagement as Syria's civil war heats up.

Manila pledged on Wednesday to keep its troops in the volatile strip of land between Syria and Israel until at least August 3, but said their continued presence would depend on the UN beefing up security.

"We're trying to identify all the potential threats. Were they to be confronted with tanks, do we have the capability? We (should) get anti-armour," the Philippine leader told reporters.

"Against aircraft that may threaten their position, we are trying to get them anti-aircraft (weapons)."

Aquino also referred to "allegations that chemical weapons are now being employed in the Syrian civil war" as he pressed for the UN to do more.

The United States said last week that it had proof that Syrian government forces had carried out deadly chemical attacks against rebels, and that Washington would be providing military support to the opposition.

The Syrian regime and Russia dispute the allegation about chemical weapons.

Aquino said if his government's demands were met, "the mission will become tenable, and we would then be able to stay there to help the entire world". "But if our requests are not granted, I will not risk keeping our troops there without the resources required to carry out their mission."

British ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the UN Security Council president for June, said on Tuesday that UNDOF would get "some heavier weapons", extra body armour and see observation posts reinforced.

But Philippine military spokesman Domingo Tutaan told AFP he was unaware of whether UNDOF now had that equipment as demanded by Aquino.

The Philippines had warned in recent weeks that it was considering pulling out its 341 soldiers from the force after 25 of them were kidnapped by Syrian rebels in two separate incidents this year.

They were released unharmed but the abductions, as well as the wounding of a Filipino soldier at an UNDOF outpost, heightened concerns about the peacekeepers' safety.

UN peacekeepers have been monitoring a ceasefire between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights since 1974, but violence has escalated as the Syrian civil war spills over into the area.

Austria began pulling out its 370 peacekeepers last week because of the security concerns, following similar moves by Japan and Croatia.

However, UN diplomats said on Tuesday that Fiji had offered to send 500 troops.

RP peacekeepers to stay in Golan for now — DFA

From the Daily Tribune (Jun 20): RP peacekeepers to stay in Golan for now — DFA

The Philippine government has decided to maintain its peacekeepers in the Golan Heights until at least August, and may stay longer if the United Nations increased security there.

The announcement by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario followed repeated government warnings in recent weeks that it was considering swiftly pulling out its 341 soldiers from the volatile area between Syria and Israel.

“We’re committed to stay-ing at least until August 3,” Del Rosario told a news conference.

Syrian rebels kidnapped 25 Filipino peacekeepers in two separate incidents in the Golan Heights this year.

They were released unharmed but the abductions, as well as the wounding of a Filipino soldier at an outpost of the UN Dis-engagement Observer Force (UNDOF), height-ened concerns about the contingent’s safety.

UN peacekeepers have been monitoring a ceasefire between Syria and Israel in the Golan since 1974, but violence has escalated as the Syrian civil war spills over into the area.

Austria began pulling out its 370 peacekeepers last week because of the security concerns, leaving the Golan force with just the 341 troops from the Philippines and 193 from India.

But diplomats said that Fiji had offered 500 troops.

Del Rosario said the UN and the United States had been trying to dissuade the Philippines from pulling out.

He added the government could give no assurance unless recommendations it had given to the UN to enhance the peacekeepers’ safety were put in place.

President Aquino had earlier said the force needed more equipment and revised “standard operating procedures” to improve the troops’ security.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the UN Security Council president for June, said UNDOF would get “some heavier weapons,” extra body armor and see observation posts reinforced.

Del Rosario did not comment directly when asked if the new measures announced by Lyall Grant met the Philippines’ requirements.

He said a Philippine assessment team was in the Golan Heights to help Aquino decide on the security situation and what action to take after August 3.

“If there is no appreciable increase in the risk exposure by that time, then we may even consider adding to our contingent,” Del Rosario said, while emphasizing the government was conscious of the need to have an adequately staffed force.

“We want a normal number there for the protection of everyone.”

Military to file complaint vs rebels who abducted soldiers

From the Mindanao Times (Jun 20): Military to file complaint vs rebels who abducted soldiers

A military official said they are preparing to file complaints against the communist rebels who abducted five soldiers in a checkpoint in Sitio Lubas, Barangay Poblacion, Paquibato on Monday afternoon.

Lt. Col. Inocencio Pasaporte, 69th Infantry Battalion commander, said in a text message that they will be filing charges against Leoncio Pitao or Kumander Parago and his men for kidnapping.

Pasaporte said that the 15 armed members of the Pulang Bagani Command 1, under Pitao’s command, staged a road block at around 2 p.m. and were tasked to take the soldiers.

The battalion commander said Cpl. Manny Quezon, Pfc. Ronald Gura, Pfc. Bernie Padilla, Pfc. Donato Estandia, and Pvt. Marteniano Pasigas Jr. were coming from Panabo doing a research for their upcoming feeding program as part of their peace and development outreach program.

The soldiers were on board two motorcycles when they were stopped by the rebels in camouflaged uniforms in a checkpoint. The team leader, identified as Lt. Neven Caanitan, jumped off the motorcycle when he realized that the men were NPA rebels.

He added it was possible that rebels were tipped about the soldiers heading their way after they boarded the motorcycles in Panabo. He said the motorcycle drivers were also abducted but immediately released two hours after.

“Our pursuit operation is still ongoing to recover and locate the group,” he added.

Sr. Supt. Ronald M. dela Rosa, city police director, said they will also make legal actions against the rebel group but they have to still coordinate with the operating units of the Philippine Army in the ground in Paquibato because the police is limited to the investigation of the crime.

Dela Rosa said that based on the report from the Paquibato station commander, Chief Insp. Romeo Abler, Pitao’s son, Ryan Pitao or Kumander Ryan, was responsible for the alleged abduction.

“Maybe we can file appropriate charges. But as to the rescue operation, we are just awaiting their plans,” he added. “They could possibly be filed with serious illegal detention, because that’s abduction.”

In a statement, Pitao said that the NPA’s active counter-intelligence and subsequent operations were meant to punish the government’s armed units, particularly the Civil Military Operations battalion under Maj. Jake Obligado for continuing to encroach, settle and conduct psychological warfare and intelligence operations in all villages of Paquibato District.

He added that there were three .45 caliber pistols and one hand grenade confiscated from the captives.

Pitao also disclosed that the peace and development outreach program has completely militarized the farmer and Lumad populace by regulating the movement of the civilian and abusing the masses.

“The fascist AFP has slyly employed anti-ambush methods by using two-wheel transport and masquerading as innocent service providers with civilian clothes and lack of high-powered firearms. Again, as in many of its twisted pronouncements in the past, the military has used the worn-out excuse that their troops were attacked or accosted by the NPA when the former were engaged in harmless chores like marketing,” Pitao said in a statement.

He also revealed that further intensification of the military operations in the city’s hinterlands under the cover of pursuit and rescue operations will only endanger the lives of the prisoners.

Pitao said they are currently undergoing investigation for possible serious human rights violations, violations of International Humanitarian Law and crimes versus the people that they may have committed in the course of their participation in the counterrevolutionary Oplan Bayanihan and as elements of the reactionary armed force.

 “The NPA custodial force will continue to take active defensive stance to protect its troops while ensuring the safety of its captives.”

3ID Changes Guards: Sumagaysay Succeeds Mabanta

From the Negros Daily Bulletin (Jun 20): 3ID Changes Guards: Sumagaysay Succeeds Mabanta

Mrs.Gigi Mabanta (center) assists Maj. Gen. Essel Soriano, (back to camera), vice commander, Philippine Army, in giving the medallon and other awards to her husband, Maj. Jose Mabanta, Jr. as outgoing division commander of the army’s 3rd Infantry division.* (EBC)

Camp Peralta, Jamindan, Capiz - After serving the Armed Forces of the Philippines for 56 long years, Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta, Jr., retires as commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, Philippine Army, at Camp Peralta, Jamindan, Capiz.

Brig Gen. Jonas Sumagaysay was appointed general officer incharge of the Division, with Maj. Gen. Essel D. Soriano, vice commander of the Philippine Army. The turn-over ceremony yesterday held at Camp Peralta, was witnessed by top officers of the Division, including brigade commanders, battalion commanders, men and women in the army, fellows from the Police Regional office 6, Iloilo Vice Governor Raul Boboy Tupas and Salvador Divinagracia, all graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), and civilian partners in peace and development efforts of the AFP.

Mabanta was honest enough to divulge that his monetary benefits from 56 years in the service amounted to P5.7 million. He will retire from the military service, but he will continue serving the populace in the form of civilian jobs which he did not divulge. His priority after retirement is to be with his family.

He enumerated some of his tangible accomplishments in the Division aside from having received the rebels who gave up for better life. He was also able to construct 30 additional quarters, constructed new chapel, most of all, he worked for peace and development in the community, that the army has established rapport with the stakeholders. He acknowledged the big roles of field commanders and men in the field for having worked closely with the local government units and other sectors leading to the peace campaign of the AFP. He led the planting of palm tree as symbol of peace and prosperity.

He also predicted that on or before end of this year, the AFP in this region would be able to cut down half of insurgency in the area due to the continued people oriented programs of the government, and surrender of rebels.

Maj. Gen. Soriano lauded Maj. Gen. Mabanta for his outstanding accomplishments having the charismatic and remarkable leadership, with genuine commitment to serve the people to attain peace.

Brig. Gen. Sumagaysay assures the men and women in the army, the partners and stakeholders for peace, that he will continue the programs and projects of the Division, as well as guidelines and orders from the higher headquarters. "I will carry on the mission, establish partnership with all sectors, to continue the objective of winning the peace."

Both Mabanta and Sumagaysay are classmates at the PMA. They are multi-awarded soldiers for their outstanding accomplishments in the service. 3rd Infantry Division coverage is Panay and Negros Islands, particularly the provinces of Negros Occidental and Oriental, Iloilo, Guimaras, Capiz, Aklan and Antique.

Phl-US exercises near Panatag to include live fire, seizure drills

From the Philippine Star (Jun 20): Phl-US exercises near Panatag to include live fire, seizure drills

The Philippines and United States navies are deploying six warships and 1,000 sailors and servicemen in next week’s joint naval drill close to the Panatag Shoal, a rock formation off the coast of Zambales now being occupied by China.

Scheduled to be held Thursday next week until June 2, the joint naval exercises will be participated in by four US navy warships, the Philippine Navy’s flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar and a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel as well as 1,000 combined onshore and offshore military personnel.

The naval drill will be held just 20 nautical miles off Panatag Shoal.

Naval Forces Northern Luzon Public Affairs Office Ensign Bernard Sabado said that just like in the past, the joint PHL-US naval exercises dubbed Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) will include live fire drills, maritime interdiction, ship boarding and seizure as well as aerial surveillance.

"In-port” activities will be conducted in several areas of Northern and Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog, specifically at the former US bases in Subic Bay in Zambales and at Clark Field in Pampanga and at the Philippine Marine training base in Ternate, Cavite.

With Panatag Shoal under their virtual control since last year, China has been imposing a three-layered naval and maritime defense around the Philippine-owned rock formation, effectively driving away Filipino fishermen from getting any closer to the shoal to fish.

Panatag Shoal or Karboro to the locals, which is only 124 nautical miles from mainland Zambales, has been a traditional Filipino fishing ground until last year when China illegally occupied the place in response to the Philippine’s Navy’s failed attempt to arrest Chinese poachers in the area.

Aside from a Chinese frigate that is currently imposing a 20-nautical mile security perimeter from the shoal, two to three maritime and surveillance ships are positioned in the inner perimeter and on a rotation basis have been guarding the entrance to Panatag's lagoon.

UN, foreign groups end Mindanao tour

From the Philippine Star (Jun 20): UN, foreign groups end Mindanao tour

Representatives of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) ended Wednesday their four-day tour in Mindanao to study the peace process.

The OIC, a bloc of 57 Muslims countries including petroleum exporting states in the Middle East and North Africa, has a representative to the on-going peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Dubbed “High-Level Partnership Mission to the Philippines,” the joint study tour, led by Atta El Manan Bakhit, assistant secretary-general of the OIC’s humanitarian affairs, and Rashid Khalikov, director of OCHA, sought  to assess the gains of the Mindanao peace process and determine possible needed interventions to further support  the initiative.

The OIC also helped broker the September 2, 1996 peace accord between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front.

The visiting dignitaries also met separately with Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman, and Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF’s vice chairman for political affairs.

Hataman and his executive secretary, lawyer Anwar Malang, briefed the OIC and OCHA representatives on the political and administrative functions and issues of the ARMM, whose territory the MILF wants to put under a new self-governing entity based on its 2012 Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) with Malacañang.

The visiting OIC and OCH representatives also barnstormed Maguindanao province, a known bastion of the MILF, to visit project sites of the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) program of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

The PAMANA program is focused on socio-economic activities aimed at accelerating the rehabilitation of conflict-affected communities in areas covered by the government-MILF 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities.

Just as the OIC and OCHA officials were inspecting PAMANA projects sites in Maguindanao last Wednesday, the International Labour Organization and the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) forged here a tie-up on a special project for impoverished Moro communities.

BDA’s executive director, Mohammad Yacob, and Lawrence Jeff Johnson, ILO’s country director for Philippines, signed before representatives of various media outfits in Central Mindanao an agreement detailing how their agencies are to implement the “Program for Local Government Development through Enhanced Governance and Grassroots Empowerment” or PLEDGE in Moro areas.

The PLEDGE supports the socio-economic component of the GPH-MILF talks.
Johnson told reporters  that there is a need for socio-economic interventions  to improve the lives of Moro people while the government-MILF talks are underway.

The ILO had also implemented projects that complemented the efforts to help  combatants of the MNLF after the latter signed a peace pact with Malacañang during the time of President Fidel Ramos.

With its PLEDGE project for Mindanao, the ILO became the latest foreign organization to join a  number  of international agencies backing the GPH-MILF peace talks.

Gov't negotiator says talks with MILF to resume July

From the Philippine Star (Jun 20): Gov't negotiator says talks with MILF to resume July

The government’s peace panel is optimistic  that the peace talks with Moro  Islamic Liberation Front, which has complained of the delay of the negotiations, will resume next month.

A senior member of the GPH panel negotiating with the MILF, Senen Bacani, announced over Catholic station dxMS here Thursday that both sides are now trying to fix the dates of the next round of exploratory talks in Malaysia  in July.

Bacani declined to reveal any detail on the tentative schedule for the formal talks in Malaysia in keeping with a protocol agreement that enjoins the panels  to keep confidential the dates of their exploratory meetings abroad.

The MILF has complained of the deferment of the resumption of the talks two times , first in March and  the second in April, on the behest of President Benigno Aquino III.

The President reportedly wanted to review  the details of the remaining annexes, particularly about the wealth- and power-sharing agenda, the GPH and MILF panels are to add to the October 15, 2012 Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB).

The FAB is the basis for the creation of an enabling law to abolish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and replace it with a more  empowered, MILF-led Bangsamoro entity.

The Malaysian facilitator of the talks, Tengku Dato Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, has separately met with the GPH and MILF panels to intervene   and settle their differing views on the wealth- and-power sharing annex be integrated with the FAB.

Ghadzali Jaafar,  MILF vice chairman for political affairs, earlier told reporters that the government is trying to introduce changes to the wealth- and power-sharing provisions.

“We shall stick to what has been agreed in previous meetings,” Jaafar said.

A former government chief negotiator, Davao City-based lawyer Jesus Dureza, said the complaints on the delay of the GPH-MILF talks should not come as a surprise.

“This is totally expected and is serving a good purpose,” Dureza, former chairman of the Mindanao Development Authority, said.

The stalemate, according to Dureza, will remind the public and all stakeholders to the GPH-MILF talks that the peace negotiation is not  a “walk in the park.”

“The annexes are still being worked out,” Dureza said.

Getting the peace talks fully done by 2016 is the “best case scenario,” according to Dureza.

Peace talks between the government and MILF started on January 7, 1997.

The Malaysian facilitator of the GPH-MILF talks came to Maguindanao last week to deliver “notes” from the government, detailing its official position on the  contentioius provisions.

Military to NPA: Release 5 soldiers without conditions

From the Philippine Star (Jun 20): Military to NPA: Release 5 soldiers without conditions

The military yesterday called on communist rebels to unconditionally release the five soldiers they kidnapped in Davao City, saying it would not negotiate with the insurgents.

“If they (rebels) are really concerned with the community they are fighting for, they should release the soldiers who are helping that very community without any condition,” said Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, Armed Forces public affairs chief.

“We will not negotiate with this terrorist group that kidnapped our soldiers,” he added.

Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr., Armed Forces spokesman, said they have not received any demands from the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels behind the kidnapping.

“We will not request for any concession,” he said.

The five soldiers, who are involved in development projects, were snatched last Monday while buying food in Paquibato district in Davao City.

Seized were Cpl. Emmanuel Quezon, Pfcs. Ronald Gura, Bernie Padilla, and Donato Estandia, and Pvt. Marteniano Pasiagas Jr. Officials said they were unarmed and were in civilian attire. A certain 1Lt. Neven Canitan was able to elude the rebels.

The NPA’s 1st Pulang Bagani Battalion based in Southern Mindanao declared the kidnapped soldiers as “prisoners of war.”

In a statement, the NPA said their operations were meant to punish the military “for continuing to encroach, settle and conduct psychological warfare and intelligence operations in all villages of Paquibato district.”

Meanwhile, the military is now pursuing the NPA rebels who attacked an agro-industrial firm in Esperanza, Agusan del Sur and killed five of its workers last Tuesday.

Police identified the five slain civilians as Felipe Hadraque, Remy Polintan, Jun Tria, Danny Crispulo Lemonsag, and Angel Cusan.

“We call on all sectors to condemn this act by the NPA because this is clearly a violation of human rights. The (victims are) non-combatants,” Zagala said.

Meanwhile, suspected NPA guerrillas killed Sgt. Arnel Porcalla, detachment commander of the 1st Civilian Armed Auxiliary of the Army’s 22nd Infantry Battalion based in Irosin, Sorsogon, and a militiaman, Oliver Delloson, during a fiesta celebration last Monday.

In Masbate, suspected rebels also gunned down a civilian, Julian Bersales, 34, while on his way home in Cataignan town.

‘Local peace talks will benefit rebels’

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jun 20): ‘Local peace talks will benefit rebels’

For ex-rebel leader Stephen Paduano and Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr., the localized peace talks will benefit and address the concerns of local armed rebels in Negros.

Paduano, who used to be a leader of the New People’s Army in Negros , said yesterday that the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front have suffered ups and downs since 1987, because the rebel movement takes it as a “clear surrender”.

He added that the CPP-NPA will never lay down their guns, as they are bent on pursuing the armed struggle.

“They are using the peace negotiation as a tool for propaganda purposes”, Paduano, who used to be the commander of the defunct Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade, also said.

The RPA-ABB, that was formed in 1998 by disgruntled NPA leaders in Visayas, later entered into a peace agreement with the government.

Paduano said he still believes that the main beneficiaries of whatever peace talks about armed conflict are the local armed rebels.

Marañon joined Paduano and the military in supporting the localized peace talks.

He said that the NDF leaders who are enjoying luxurious lifestyles don’t want peace.

Should there will be peace, they will be losing their sources of livelihood, he added.
Marañon also said they have observed an increasing number of rebels who have abandoned the armed struggle.

Of more than 90 rebels who have surrendered since 2010, five surrendered nine high-powered firearms. The returnees also availed of livelihood and financial assistance from the provincial government of Negros Occidental.

“We have to solve our own problem here” Marañon said.

Former Negrense priest Luis Jalandoni, the NDF peace panel lead negotiator , said NPA units operating in different parts of the country are not authorized to engage in peace negotiations.

Jalandoni said localized peace talks do not constitute a new approach.

“It is actually an old worn-out futile attempt of the reactionary government to split the revolutionary movement and deceive the people,” he said.

Presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles had earlier said that the government was pursuing discussions to resume the negotiations using a new approach, that was taken to mean the “localized peace talks.”

Deles said the shift in strategy will focus on the pivotal role of the affected communities and other peace stakeholders.

AFP: Rescue ops for 5 abducted soldiers to continue despite threat from NPA

From GMA News (Jun 20): AFP: Rescue ops for 5 abducted soldiers to continue despite threat from NPA

Military operations to rescue the five soldiers abducted by communist New People's Army (NPA) rebels in Davao City will continue despite a rebel leader's warning that such efforts will endanger the lives of the captives.

“It is our duty to rescue our personnel,” said Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala on Thursday, four days after the abduction. "We owe it to them."

Capt. Raul Villegas, deputy public affairs chief of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, said about a hundred troops have been dispatched to conduct the rescue operations. The number does not include those who are manning checkpoints.
The five abducted soldiers — Cpl. Emmanuel Quezon, Pfcs. Ronald Gura, Bernie Padilla and Donato Estandia, and Pvt. Marteniano Pasiagas Jr. — were about to buy supplies and coordinate with a non-government organization for an upcoming feeding program when seized Monday afternoon at a rebel roadblock in Pacquibato District.

A sixth soldier, Lt. Neven Canitan, the group's superior, escaped by jumping from a motorcycle and then into a ravine.

The soldiers were reportedly unarmed when abducted.

NPA leader Leoncio Pitao, alias Kumander Parago, has warned the military against pushing through with the pursuit operations, saying these will only endanger the lives of the five “prisoners of war.”

Zagala dismissed Pitao's remarks as “propaganda.”

“They [rebels] are insurgent force, they follow no rules, and our troops are in danger because they were abducted by them,” he said.

PHL, US to hold naval exercises near Panatag Shoal

From GMA News (Jun 20): PHL, US to hold naval exercises near Panatag Shoal

The United States and the Philippines are to hold joint naval maneuvers in the South China Sea (parts of which are called West Philippine Sea) next week between Luzon and a reef claimed by both China and Manila, the Philippine Navy said Thursday.
The exercises taking place from June 27 to July 2 by the two allies are to be held about 108 kilometers (67 miles) east of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Navy spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Gregory Fabic told AFP.
Chinese government vessels are still believed to be patrolling the waters around the shoal after a lengthy standoff last year with the Philippines, which ended with a Filipino retreat.
"This was planned way back in 2010. Whatever happened since then was purely coincidental," Fabic said when asked if holding the exercises there this year were a way for the Philippines to reassert its sovereignty over the shoal.
The maneuvers would be held over 12,347 square kilometers (4,767 square miles) of waters, he added.
Chinese Embassy spokesmen in Manila could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Beijing claims it has sovereign rights over nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters far away from its main landmass and approaching the coasts of Southeast Asian countries.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts of the sea, and the area has for decades been regarded as a potential trigger for major military conflict in the region.
Since last month, the Philippine Navy has also been monitoring Chinese government vessels in the South China Sea stationed off a Filipino-controlled reef in the Spratly Islands called Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
Fabic said an unspecified number of US Navy ships, Marines and aircraft will take part in the exercises alongside Philippine Navy and coastguard vessels and aircraft, Filipino Marines, and Navy and Coast Guard special operations teams.
"We will focus on communications, naval surface operations, counter-terrorism and maritime security," he said.
"This is to increase the level of inter-operability between the Philippine Navy and the US Navy in the conduct of combined naval operations."

Communists junk localized peace talks

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 19): Communists junk localized peace talks

The National Democratic Front, the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has ruled out “localized peace talks,” the government’s preferred method of negotiations to deal with the decades-old communist insurgency.

Luis Jalandoni, the lead negotiator of the NDF peace panel, on Tuesday said the units of the New People’s Army (NPA)—the armed wing of the CPP—operating in different parts of the country “are not authorized to engage in peace negotiations.”

The policy is observed by all local units of the communist movement, Jalandoni said in an e-mail interview from his base in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

On May 8, the CPP declared its full support and recognition of the NDF peace negotiating panel which is representing the party in the peace talks with the government.

“Not a single unit of the NPA or leadership committee of the CPP will fall for the Aquino regime’s localized peace talks scheme,” the CPP said in a statement.

Jalandoni said localized peace talks “do not constitute a new approach.”

“It is actually an old worn-out futile attempt of the reactionary government to split the revolutionary movement and deceive the people,” he said.

Teresita Deles, the presidential peace adviser, earlier said the government was pursuing discussions to resume the negotiations using a new approach, which was taken to mean the “localized peace talks.”

She said the new approach would not involve the government panel which had been dealing with the NDF in the on-and-off talks.

Deles said the shift in strategy would focus on the pivotal role of the affected communities and other peace stakeholders.

Ramcey Astoveza, chief of the Agta tribe in the Sierra Madre mountains in northern Quezon province, declared support for the localized peace talks.

But for it to succeed, all local officials and affected communities should be actively involved, he said. Finding a peaceful end to the conflict should not be left only to the military and NPA combatants, he said.

Astoveza said the indigenous people should be actively involved in all forms of peace negotiations.

“We want our voices to be heard. The armed protagonists have long been killing each other right inside our communities and oftentimes, we become their hapless victims and our inherent peaceful living is their collateral damage,” he said.

Lt. Col. Neil Anthony Estrella, spokesman of the Southern Luzon Command, challenged all local chief executives in Southern Tagalog and Bicol to come forward and declare support for the peace talks.

“In our common pursuit for peace, there should be no fence sitters. We’re all stakeholders here, particularly the local officials because they are representatives of their respective communities who have long been suffering from NPA atrocities,” Estrella said.

The Inquirer asked several Quezon mayors by text if they would support localized peace talks, but no one had replied by press time.

Jalandoni maintained that pursuing peace talks at the local level was bound to fail, citing past failed attempts with communist splinter groups like the Revolutionary Proletarian Army/Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB) and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA), which he branded as “fake peace talks.”

“They have become part of the AFP machinery, just like the Cafgus (Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit). It has meant the pocketing of the people’s tax money by corrupt civilian and military officials and the producing of so-called surrenderees,” Jalandoni said.

He called on the Aquino administration to return to the negotiating table and resume the peace talks with the NDF.

The talks hit another impasse after the two panels accused each other of reneging on agreements reached during the so-called “special track” that the rebel group had proposed to salvage the talks.

The special track required that the communists give up their preconditions for the talks to resume. However, the NDF backtracked in February and demanded as a precondition the release of detained communist rebels.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, meanwhile, said the military wanted to end the armed conflict now and not wait another three years before a peace agreement was reached with the communist rebels.

“We want to end the armed struggle now and stop the killings and the extortion activities (by the NPA). Don’t we want to end the conflict now and not wait another three years (for peace)?” Bautista said in an interview.

Bautista made the comment in reaction to Jalandoni’s statement that the insurgents would rather wait for the next administration to negotiate a peace deal since the prospects for peace with the Aquino administration had dimmed.

Meanwhile, President Aquino has tapped the government’s chief negotiator with the communist rebels to head the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).
Alexander Padilla, a health undersecretary, took over as president and CEO of PhilHealth effective June 13.

Sison: ‘Sobriety, willingness to talk’ may break impasse in NDFP peace talks with gov’t

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 19): Sison: ‘Sobriety, willingness to talk’ may break impasse in NDFP peace talks with gov’t

Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Sobriety and the willingness to talk could break the deadlock in the peace negotiations between the Aquino administration and communist insurgents, exiled Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison said Wednesday.

“If the GPH (Government of the Philippines) somehow shows sobriety and willingness to talk, the NDFP (National Democratic Front of the Philippines) will not hesitate to open wide the door for peace negotiations between the duly authorized panels,” Sison,

 NDFP chief political consultant, said in reply to an e-mail sent by the Inquirer on Wednesday asking him if the communist panel planned to invite government representatives to an informal meeting to settle the kinks that hinder the resumption of the peace negotiation.

Sison maintained it was the government, specifically pointing to Teresita Deles, head of the Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, who made the announcement on the termination of the peace negotiations last April.

“It should be the GPH side, especially at the level of President [Benigno] Aquino [III], who should send us an emissary who is mutually respected by the GPH and NDFP,” said Sison, who is now living in self-exile in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

He said President Aquino could send a “positive message to the NDFP” through Norwegian  Special Envoy Ture Lundh. Norway has been mediating the on-and-off negotiations since 2001.

“Sooner than you expect, the NDFP panel might even be the one sending someone to Manila to ascertain what is the real sentiment of President Aquino,” he told this correspondent.

Sison noted that the NDFP panel “has no record of rejecting a mutually respected emissary.”

“The NDFP has also repeatedly declared that the peace negotiations are in principle going on if no side has given a formal notice of termination to the other side,” Sison asserted.

The NDFP is the political arm of the CPP. Its armed wing, the New People’s Army, has been waging sporadic war against the government for the past 44 years, considered as the world’s longest-running Maoist inspired rebellion.

When asked what the government should do to show its sincerity and what the NDFP has to give in return to the gesture, Sison said the “GPH should show willingness to comply with existing agreements.”

“If it does not, the NDFP sees no point in negotiating and making agreements with the GPH,” Sison added.

The NDFP and OPAPP websites show 18 agreements, joint statements and communiqués signed by both parties since the start of the peace negotiation in 1992 up to 2004, when the talks collapsed because both parties were adamant in pushing for their respective preconditions before for resuming the talks.

“The agreements determine the obligations of the negotiating parties. Compliance with agreements is what any side should do to please the other side,” Sison said.

On June 16, Luis Jalandoni, head of the NDFP panel, declared that if the government would continue to refuse to resume the peace talks, the communist insurgents would have no option but to wait for the end of Aquino’s term and continue to fan the flames of armed revolution nationwide.

On April 30, Deles announced a  “new approach” to ending the communist rebellion by bringing the negotiations to the local level, especially among the communities most affected by the conflict.

The new approach, according to Deles, would not involve the government peace panel to pave the way for the “localized” peace talks, thus effectively terminating the negotiations with the NDFP.

A few days later, Malacañang firmly declared that a ceasefire agreement should be signed first before it agrees to a resumption of the peace talks.

The communist rejected the demand and cited the signed agreement that provides for no pre-conditions during the peace talks.

Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda also blamed the NDFP for having “killed” the negotiations with its preconditions and demands.

Last week, Fidel Agcaoili, NDFP spokesman, accused Deles of sabotaging the peace talks. Malacañang defended Deles and accused the rebels of not showing good faith and sincerity at the negotiating table.

Jalandoni disputed the government claim that the negotiations had already reached a dead end.

He insisted that the peace talks had not been effectively terminated due to the lack of written notice of termination which should be sent by one of the parties as stipulated in the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) signed by the two sides in 1995.

Communist leaders maintained that joint agreements forged in more than 20 years of negotiations should remain in effect and be respected by both sides.

The communist leaders also rejected the concept of localized peace talks, the government’s preferred method of negotiations, and claimed that the scheme also aims to split the revolutionary movement and deceive the people.

Negotiations between the communist rebels and the government have been stalled since 2004, giving rise to continued human rights violations, according to human rights watchdog Karapatan.

In the two years of the Aquino presidency, Karapatan said it has documented 137 victims of extrajudicial killings, including 14 victims of enforced disappearances, 72 of torture and 269 of illegal arrests, mostly attributed to state security forces.

A military report, meanwhile said nearly 400 people, majority of them civilians, have been killed in encounters between NPA and government troops and other alleged atrocities since 2011.

Meanwhile, the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC), a non-government institution serving children and families who are victims of state violence in the Philippines, appealed to the Aquino administration to return to the negotiation table.

“CRC looks for sincerity and genuineness from the Aquino government to uphold just and lasting peace for the future of the Filipino children,” Jacquiline Ruiz, CRC executive director, said in a statement.

Ruiz expressed alarm over the growing number of human rights violations involving children.

She said last year CRC documented 12 cases of killing, four children used as guides in military operations, 10 children arrested, detained and tagged as members of the NPA and hundreds of children affected by the continuing attacks and encampment of the military in schools in remote areas.

In a recent report, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, expressed concern over the use of children as operatives, informants and messengers in conflict areas, recruited by terror groups, militant organizations and even state agents.

The UN official said some 26 children were recruited as soldiers, messengers and informants in conflict zones while dozens of other minors were slain and maimed in militant attacks and gunfights in the country last year.

AFP denies using children in operations

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 19): AFP denies using children in operations

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan: Surprised. PHOTO/A2C Bryan Bautista/ AFP PAO

Surprised by a United Nations report that said it was among the armed groups in the country that used children in their operations, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reiterated it was not its policy to endanger the lives of children in conflict zones.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan said Tuesday that according to the UN report, it was the Abu Sayyaf, Moro Islamic Liberation Front and New People’s Army that “were considered persistent perpetrators” because they had been reported to have recruited and used children in situations of armed conflict for the past five years.

Tutaan said it was actually the military that initiated an investigation into the allegation that the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion had forced two boys to serve as guides to help find an NPA camp in North Cotabato in July 2012.

The military, he said, found that the battalion had not committed an infraction.

Tutaan assured the public the military would not use children in its security operations.
“We are 101-percent committed to preventing the use and exploitation of children in armed conflict,” Tutaan told reporters.

What’s really is going on in Sabah?

From Malaya (Jun 20): What’s really is going on in Sabah?

THE Sultanate of Sulu yesterday said clashes erupted on Tuesday in Sabah between its supporters and Malaysian security forces, the second such incident since Sunday although Malaysia dismissed such reports.

Abraham Idjirani, spokesman of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, said the firefight took place between 7 and 8 p.m. Tuesday in Labbiyaw in Lahad Datu town involving some 200 of their fighters and Malaysian security forces.

Idjirani said he learned of the firefight when Kiram’s brother, Agbimuddin who has been leading the sultanate’s supporters since February, called up yesterday.

“This is a chance encounter just like last Sunday’s firefight. Our Royal Security Forces (as the Kirams called their armed supporters in Sabah) battled the Malaysian forces for about 30 minutes,” he said.

He said Agbimuddin did not disclose if his forces sustained casualties.

Kiram’s camp had also claimed that last Sunday’s encounter took place in Dangan Tungko, Sabah with no reported casualties.

Earlier, Idjirani said only 166 had been left of Kiram’s original supporters but he claimed they were reinforced by more than 1,000 “volunteers” from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, which both the Philippine and Malaysian governments denied.

In the latest encounter, Idjirani said Kiram’s supporters were forced to retreat because Malaysia’s forces were more numerous and better armed. “They had to save on bullets and strength,” he added.

But the Malaysian military’s Eastern Sabah Command (ESSC), in reports published in the Star Online Malaysia, denied the Kirams’ claim of fresh clashes.

The report quoting ESSC chief Mohammad Mantek said offensive operations against the Sulu fighters have stopped.

“No such thing happened. Nothing at all,” Mantek was quoted as saying adding that the claims of firefights are only “meant to cause trouble.”

Malaysia last March claimed it has effectively broken the back of the sultanate’s forces.

But Idjirani insisted, “Of course, they would not admit such incidents took place as they wanted to create an impression that Sabah is peaceful and our supporters are already decimated.”

ICG: The Philippines: Dismantling Rebel Groups

From the International Crisis Group (Jun 19): The Philippines: Dismantling Rebel Groups

For the full report go to the following URL:


The future of thousands of fighters is at stake following an historic deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The government, MILF leaders and donors worry that rebel soldiers could slip back into violence. Successful implementation of a pact that addresses the political grievances of the Muslim minority in the south may be enough for some, but others could take up guns again under the banner of another group, or because of criminal interests, land disputes or warlord politics. Often, specialists prescribe disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) – a process that secures weapons, returns ex-combatants to communities, and helps them find jobs – to promote reconciliation and build peace. In the Philippines, however, DDR is strongly associated with counter-insurgency. The October 2012 agreement with the MILF does not mention it. Elsewhere, the government is dabbling in DDR-esque socio-economic assistance to two smaller rebel groups with pre-existing peace agreements. Manila needs to think hard about whether DDR as practised internationally can be carried out.

The 1986 pact with the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) and a 2000 deal signed with the Revolutionary Proletarian Army – Alex Boncayo Brigade (RPA-ABB) are among the Philippines’ many peace agreements that never lived up to their promise. Both times, the government tried to rehabilitate the rebels but in ways that did little to improve security. The military was given a free hand to repurpose the CPLA as paramilitaries, and the government looked the other way while the RPA-ABB freelanced as vigilante-style police and guns for hire. Programs that could have provided alternative sources of livelihood, such as agricultural cooperatives, either failed or were never carried out. Both groups remained armed as their peace processes shuddered to a halt. Manila was lucky that despite their dissatisfaction, neither the CPLA nor the RPA-ABB had any interest in attacking the state; their priority was extracting benefits from the government to satisfy disgruntled members.

President Benigno Aquino III, who took office in 2010, breathed life into the MILF negotiations, without forgetting about other rebel groups. He was willing to spend time and money on the CPLA and RPA-ABB for two reasons. First, the Philippine government lacks credibility when talking peace, because Manila has repeatedly backpedalled on or did not implement core provisions in agreements with the MILF’s predecessor, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), as well as with the CPLA and RPA-ABB. President Aquino believed that one way he could prove his sincerity in the MILF process – the central pillar of his peace agenda – was to keep promises his predecessors had made to others. Secondly, the peace process office, which manages negotiations with non-state armed groups, wanted to incorporate DDR lessons from abroad as it wrapped up the loose ends of the CPLA and RPA-ABB agreements. A “closure agreement” was signed with the former in July 2011; negotiations with the latter are underway.

The Aquino government’s closure processes with these two groups have been haunted by the mistakes of years past. The peace process office had no mandate to revisit the political terms of the old pacts. It tried to find new ways of delivering and monitoring socio-economic assistance, such as gathering data on beneficiaries. These improvements are real, yet implementation has been painstakingly slow. Meanwhile, set ways of thinking about rebel weapons persist. For years, the military ran ineffective, stand-alone weapons buybacks for counter-insurgency purposes. Under Aquino, the civilian-led peace process office has more control, but struggles to escape this tainted legacy. It has moved away from a cash-for-guns model and towards livelihood support for ex-combatants. Government officials dealing with CPLA and RPA-ABB matters, and even some military officers, describe these changes in the language of DDR.

DDR is meant to focus on ex-combatants to create an environment conducive to building institutions to enforce the rule of law, protect human rights and foster development. Both the CPLA and the RPA-ABB cause problems, but it is hard to justify assistance to either group as a prerequisite to, for example, strengthening the judiciary and reforming the police. The Aquino government is interested in best international practices from DDR on some technical matters, but it has no strategy that connects assistance to former rebels to making communities more peaceful and secure in the long run. It did not integrate into the two closure processes the lax enforcement of gun laws and the public’s lack of confidence in the military and police. The peace process office spent hours discussing CPLA and RPA-ABB weapons, while illegal firearms remain widely available, and private armies of local politicians operate with impunity. In the southern Philippines, the same problems exist, but in a much more explosive environment.

The MILF, because of its numbers and might, as well as the level of violence and international support to the peace process, is a case apart. Its fighters have good reasons to hold onto their guns until the government can convince them it will scale down the presence of the military and other state-aligned forces in Mindanao. The best way forward for the MILF and Manila may be to develop a shared vision for improving security. The government’s attempt to draw inspiration from DDR for the two closure processes has so far led to middling results at best. Replicating them in Mindanao is unlikely to advance the peace process in a meaningful way.


To further the objectives of President Aquino’s peace agenda

To the government of the Philippines:

1.  Minimise the risks of former rebels working as hired guns for politicians by revoking executive order 546 (which permits the arming of civilian militias by local officials as “force multipliers” for the police).

2.  Develop a policy on the disposition of CPLA and RPA-ABB guns that clarifies whether they will be destroyed.

To donors and external partners:

3.  Press the Philippine government to develop a timeframe for dismantling the Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units (CAFGU).

4.  Assist the Philippine government in creating an environment conducive to the demilitarisation of the MILF, by offering support for:

a) training a new Bangsamoro police force;
b) reducing the availability of weapons in Mindanao; and
c) strengthening judicial systems.

To remedy problems in the CPLA and RPA-ABB closure agreements

To the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP):

5.  Disclose the criteria used for verifying CPLA members and permit others who meet these same criteria but were not included on the list compiled in November 2011 to participate in programs offered under the closure agreement.

6.  Limit strictly the arming of RPA-ABB members under the reservist law to as short a period as possible and state explicitly how long these “defense units” will be permitted to exist.

7.  Clarify in writing the interim security arrangements for both CPLA and RPA-ABB members, and jointly review them regularly until both closure agreements are fully implemented.

Jakarta/Brussels, 19 June 2013

6 U.S., PHL ships to participate in this year's CARAT exercises

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 20): 6 U.S., PHL ships to participate in this year's CARAT exercises

Six naval vessels, including four U.S. ships, will be participating in this year's "CARAT" exercises which will be held in the northern part of the West Philippine Sea starting this June 27 up to July 2.

Naval Forces Northern Luzon public affairs officer Ensign Bernard Sabado said the U.S. will deploy four ships with a complement of 500 men while the Philippines will deploy the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15) and Coast Guard cutter and another 500 military personnel.

Drills that are included in this year's CARAT exercise include live fire, maritime interdiction, ship boarding and seizure, and aerial surveillance

Sabado added that there will be also "in-port" activities at the former U.S. bases in Subic Bay and Clark Field, as well as at the Philippine Marine base in Ternate, Cavite.

This year's exercises will be held amidst increasing aggressive moves of China in the West Philippine Sea which include the placing of buoys off Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal which prevented Filipino fishermen from fishing there.

Panatag Shoal is only 124 kilometers away from Zambales and well within the country's 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

2 NPA rebels surrender in Davao Del Norte

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 20): 2 NPA rebels surrender in Davao Del Norte

Tired of the incessant and causeless fighting, two New People's Army (NPA) rebels voluntarily surrendered to the 60th Infantry Battalion of the 10th Infantry Division in Barangay Dona Andrea, Asuncion town, Davao Del Norte last June 17.

Capt. Raul Villegas, 10th Infantry Division deputy spokesperson, reported on Thursday that the two rebels personally gave themselves up to 60th IB commander Lt. Col. Llewelyn R. Binasoy.

He identified the surrenderees as Dante Galang and Jomie Andoy, members of the NPA's "PBC 4" armed unit.

Villegas stated the two men decided to give themselves up after realizing that their families do not have a future in the NPA ranks.

"(They also found out) that the promises of (their leaders) of changing society were all lies and that they were forced to inflict suffering to innocent civilians instead of helping the community," he added.

Binasoy, in a statement, said he welcomed the two NPA rebels in their camp.

"They made the right decision. This only reflects that the ideology of communism is a dead ideology and the NPA members are already demoralized," he said.

Troopers kill suspected lawless element in Compostela Valley

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 20): Troopers kill suspected lawless element in Compostela Valley

Troopers from the 71st Infantry Battalion, a field unit of the 10th Infantry Division, have killed a suspected member of a lawless group during an encounter in Pantukan, Compostela Valley Province on Wednesday morning.

Wounded in the 9:00 a.m. clash in Sitio Sapang Tinaw, Barangay Tibagon in Pantukan was an Army trooper who was not identified.

Capt. Raul Villegas, 10th Infantry Division deputy spokesperson, said soldiers tried to save the severely wounded man. Apparently, the lawless element was abandoned by his companions but took the latter's automatic rifle.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz concludes Panama Canal crossing

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 20): BRP Ramon Alcaraz concludes Panama Canal crossing

BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), the second Hamilton-class cutter in Philippine service, has successfully concluded her Panama Canal crossing Tuesday night (American time).

This was revealed by Navy spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic Thursday.

The ship is the sister ship of the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15).

With this achievement, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz becomes the first Filipino warship to cross the historic waterway under her own power.

"She passed by Panama Canal Tuesday evening (American time) and is now enroute for San Diego, California," he added.

Fabic said that the BRP Ramon Alcaraz is expected to reach the latter port before the end of June.

The Philippine frigate entered the Panama Canal Zone during the weekend or almost five days after her June 10 departure in Charleston, South Carolina.

The 82-kilometer Panama Canal connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean.

It cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a key conduit for international maritime trade.

Prior her arrival at the Panama Canal Zone, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz made a brief stopover at Mayport, Florida and successfully test fired her 76mm Oto Melara automatic cannon and conducted speed trials which she attained the speed of 25 knots without any difficulty.

The ship's top speed is place between 29 to 31 knots.

The Filipino warship is expected to reach the Philippines by the first week of August and be in commission by September.

Escape, evasion tactics part of military training - AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 20): Escape, evasion tactics part of military training - AFP

There is nothing wrong with the decision of 1st Neven Canitan to evade the New People's Army (NPA) force who captured five of his unarmed men in Sitio Lubas, Barangay Paquibato, Paquibato District, Davao City Monday afternoon, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced on Thursday.

AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala issued this statement after the rebels called Canitan's action plain cowardice.

The latter and his men are members of the 10th Infantry Division's 60th Infantry Battalion.

"Soldiers, regardless of rank, are taught to escape if captured by enemy forces or evade them (if caught by superior forces)," he added.

The same doctrine is drilled into every soldier serving in almost all of the world's armed services.

In the British Army, soldiers are taught that even unsuccessful escape attempts can unbalance the enemy force as it forces the latter to double the number of guards assigned to secure prison facilities, hence cutting down the number of able-bodied combatants.

Zagala added that Canitan only followed his training when the latter decided to evade after finding something fishy about the rebel checkpoint that earlier accosted them.

The AFP public affairs chief also added that Canitan cannot also be accused of abandonment as no actual fighting took place.

"The incident involves unarmed peace and development team members. Their sole purpose was to help depressed communities in the areas they are assigned to. Their purpose is not for combat, hence 1st Lt. Canitan cannot be accused of abandonment," he pointed out.

This was also bore out by the instance that Canitan's men approached the rebel checkpoint to identify themselves and their mission.

Zagala also assured the families of the captured soldiers that they would do everything in their authority to safely recover the captured military personnel.

"It is our duty to them as personnel of the AFP," he stressed.

Mabanta retires as 3ID commanding general

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 20): Mabanta retires as 3ID commanding general

The commanding general of the 3rd Infantry (Spearhead) Division (3ID), Philippine Army in Panay Island has formally retired from the military service.

Maj. Ray C. Tiongson, spokesperson of 3ID, said Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta Jr. left the Army unit command after reaching the mandatory age retirement of 56 on June 20, 2013.

He said Army Vice Commander Maj. Gen. Essel Soriano graced the turnover ceremony held Wednesday morning at the headquarters of the 3ID in Camp Macario Peralta, Jamindan, Capiz.

Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Jonas Sumagaysay took over as the acting commander following the retirement of Mabanta who steered the helm of the 3ID for the past 16 months.

It was learned that the 3ID has the overall supervision of various Army units operating in Panay and Negros islands including those in the island-province of Siquijor.

Rebels reject mayor's plea to release 5 soldiers

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 20): Rebels reject mayor's plea to release 5 soldiers

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Mindanao has rejected Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio's call to release the five Army soldiers abducted by New Peoples Army (NPA) rebels in Paquibato District last June 17.

“We regret to inform Mayor Sara Duterte that we cannot heed to her request since there are still processes to be made,” Jorge Madlos alias Ka Oris said.

Duterte-Carpio earlier asked the NPAs to release the five soldiers since “it doesn’t have any positive contribution to the city. It only adds to their notoriety.”

The incident only worried the family of the soldiers, the mayor added.

The soldiers identified as Corporal Emmanuel Emmanuel A Quezon, Privates First Class Ronald Gura, Donato Estandia, and Private Marteniano Pasiagas Jr. were on their way to the market to purchase some supplies when blocked by the rebels in Bangkaan, Paquibato District.

Agusan del Sur incident a summary execution -- PNP

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 20): Agusan del Sur incident a summary execution -- PNP
The five victims of shooting in Esperanza, Agusan del Sur NPA attack on a rubber plantation and a church Tuesday morning was a summary execution and not due to a shootout, a police official said in a press conference Thursday morning.

Supt. Alex Uy, the medico-legal of the Crime Laboratory 13, who conducted the autopsy said four of the victims were all shot at close range based on the gunpowder burns he found at the entrance of the gunshot wounds.

"This indicates that they were shot at close range. They also had their hands tied behind their backs so they didn't have the chance to fire a gun, nor to resist or to defend themselves," he said.

He added only victim Jun Tria was not tied but sustained gunshot wounds in his right foot and left forearm which was broken -- possibly hit by a high-powered firearm.

Uy said severe blood loss could have caused his death as he was said to have died before reaching the local hospital.

He was the one who reportedly was able to escape.

The PNP in the region reacted to the statement of George Madlos alias "Ka Oris" in a local radio interview last night that the NPAs just fired back in retaliation as they were first fired upon by the victims.

"There was no encounter or a shootout between the two groups. The victims were haplessly and helplessly shot by the perpetrators," said Supt. Martin M. Gamba, the chief spokesperson of PRO 13.

It should be recalled that about 40 armed men believed to be NPA guerillas attacked a rubber plantation owned by Esperanza town Mayor Leonida Manpatilan at Sitio Camarangan, Barangay Hawilian of the said town 10 a.m. Tuesday. Two caretakers, Angel Cosan and Danny Linonsag, were shot dead by the attackers and burned a bulldozer owned by Shanalynne Corporation.

Police reports from Agusan del Sur Police Office also mentioned that the said group proceeded to Km. 7, Barangay Milagros and attacked the "Pinagbuklod" Church, a fellowship of Christian believers in the area. Three others were accordingly shot in the area with hands tied behind their backs and at close range. They were identified as Felipe Hadraque, a former Philippine Army member, Remy Polintan, a resident of Barangay Milagros and Jun Tria. The NPAs then, burned another seven heavy equipments in the area owned by Shanalynne.