Monday, August 19, 2013

RSIS: Overestimating peace prospects in Mindanao?

From The Nation (Aug 20): Overestimating peace prospects in Mindanao?

Attacks attributed to a splinter group of Islamic Freedom Fighters in Mindanao have raised concerns about peace negotiations with the Philippine government.

The July 13 signing of the Annex on Wealth Sharing and Revenue Generation between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was hailed as a major milestone towards a Final Peace Agreement and the creation of a new autonomous entity of Bangsamoro. Attacks launched by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), an MILF splinter, before and after the Annex signing has stoked fears of continued conflict in Mindanao even after peace with the MILF.

The skirmishes caused a short-lived closure of a national highway and displaced civilians. The July 26 bombing of Kyla's Bar in Cagayan De Oro City that killed eight people and injured 46 has already been attributed to the BIFF in spite of an ongoing investigation. Some observers in Manila are already dismissing a prospective Philippine government-MILF peace pact. This chorus of pessimism has been echoed - somewhat prematurely - in anonymous "risk control" assessments cited by the Philippine media.

Localised conflict drivers in Central Mindanao contest the prevailing paradigm in both the local and overseas press that the BIFF is most likely plotting with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) to bomb urban areas in Mindanao. Based in the hinterlands of Central Mindanao, the BIFF does not have the networks in place to operate in urban areas, which were previous JI and ASG targets. Deploying resources for an urban terrorism campaign would only strain the BIFF's already limited resources and is anathema to its erstwhile doctrine.

Aside from setting back the Philippine government-MILF peace process, overstating the BIFF's links to the ASG and the JI can lead to the wrong responses. The threat posed by the ASG and JI will not be addressed by scouring Central Mindanao for purported training camps but by focusing efforts in the islands of Basilan and Sulu off the coast of Western Mindanao. In fact, a heavy-handed response can unduly stress existing mechanisms between the Philippine government and MILF to broker peace and resolve conflict. Conversely, the more kinetic - or armed - approaches used to target JI and ASG operatives would not suffice to address the more socio-economic motivations of the BIFF's rank and file.

Latent tensions also exist between Islamist militant groups such as the JI and ASG, and secessionist movements like the BIFF and the MILF. The MILF eschewed involvement with the Islamist groups as early as 2003, to legitimise itself as a political movement that can be negotiated with. A largely unheard of strategic special operation, "Oplan Tornado", was launched in 2005 by the Philippine military to hunt high-value ASG and JI targets, effectively dismantling the networks and camps they have established in Central Mindanao.

Casting the BIFF as an existential threat to the Philippine government-MILF peace process ignores the underlying motivations of its leader, Ameril Umbra Kato. A former chief of the MILF's 105th Base Command, Kato was expelled for opposing the Philippine government-MILF peace process. Taking with him 300 men from his former command, Kato organised the BIFF to wage his own personal crusade in his traditional and very specific area of influence: the provincial boundary between North Cotabato and Maguindanao, delineated by the Rio Grande River.

The parochial leanings of Kato are obvious, as most clashes between his forces and pro-government militia are due to the former's attempts to extort from local farmers. Another modus operandi used by Kato's forces is raids to seize farm produce and livestock. The topology and climate of the BIFF's areas of influence, centred on a few villages in Maguindanao, also limit the courses of action available to Kato's men, and explains the spasmodic nature of his attacks. Attacks by Kato's men are often launched during the rice harvest season, when supplies are available to sustain their operations.

This operational limit is consistent with the inability of southern Philippine secessionist groups to launch expeditionary attacks away from their encampments. A protracted campaign is also unsustainable for Kato given the relative flatness of the terrain around the Rio Grande River. This allows the Philippine military to use combat assets such as mechanised infantry against the BIFF that would have otherwise been less effective in other areas of Mindanao.

There is no question that the BIFF threat must be addressed - but as a local "lawless armed group" as categorised by Philippine security forces. Divorcing the BIFF from its context could lead to the re-emergence of national discourse, especially in Manila, which seeks to dismiss the peace negotiations with the MILF as appeasement. The ability of national discourse to undermine local initiatives to maintain the ceasefire is not without precedent, as seen in the near-collapse of the Philippine government-MILF talks in 2008.

At present, Philippine online forums and social media pages are already abuzz with simplistic and erroneous claims that the BIFF is an adjunct of the MILF. The explosion at Kyla's Bar is being linked to the BIFF, notwithstanding the equal possibility of local electoral politics as a motive for the attack.

The challenge therefore is for Manila to pursue a nuanced approach against the BIFF. A misstep in handling the BIFF, during a critical juncture in the Philippine government-MILF talks, can reignite conflict in Mindanao - something that must be avoided for the sake of achieving permanent peace.

Joseph Franco is an associate research fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security, a constituent unit of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Philippine Army hits communist leaders, human rights group

From the Mindanao Examiner (Aug 19): Philippine Army hits communist leaders, human rights group

The Philippine Army has slammed the human rights group Karapatan for its silence over the atrocities of the communist New People’s Army rebels, blamed for a recent arson in North Cotabato province.

Army officials also strongly criticized the Communist Party of the Philippines and National Democratic Front for tolerating the NPA, its armed wing.

Lt. Col. Noel dela Cruz, commander of the 57th Infantry Battalion, said rebels raided the Davao Concreting Product Construction in the village of Ladayan in Arakan town and torched equipment.

“This is very disheartening to the community and the people who are the direct beneficiaries of the projects. Burning down the equipment is simply delaying the entry of the basic services that the government wants to deliver to the people. It is clear that the NPA is anti-development,” he said in a statement sent by the Eastern Mindanao Command to the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz III, Eastern Mindanao Command chief, said the CPP and the NDF should explain to the public the atrocities of the NPA and its human rights violations.

He said Karapatan human rights group should also explain its continued silence over atrocities committed by rebels in southern Philippines.

Cruz said: “The NDF represented the CPP and NPA when it signed the agreement on CARHRIHL. However, it seems that it is tolerating the NPA in violating the provisions by turning its back when civilians and their properties are attacked.”

“Self-claimed Human Rights Advocates like KARAPATAN, just like the NDF, is also mum on the violations of CARHRIHL by the NPA. Their silence is suspicious when the NPAs are the ones victimizing the civilians.”

CARHRIHL refers to the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, the first substantive agreement signed in 1978 in The Hague between the Philippines and the CPP and NDF.

The military linked Karapatan and several other human right groups and nongovernmental and church organizations to the CPP and NDF, and the NPA, which have been fighting for a separate state in the country.

Lawmaker says better monitoring of US troops needed

From the Philippine Star (Aug 19): Lawmaker says better monitoring of US troops needed

A party list congressman raised Monday  the need to improve and widen the monitoring on the growing numbers of US forces presence in this city and other parts of the country with fears of  rising cases of human rights violations.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate  warned that the proposed framework agreement on the increase rotational presence (IRP) of American troops could lead to an increase of abuse
“Dapat pag-igtingin natin and monitoring sa presence on the US troops dahil mukhang immune na sila mga previous case of abuses. Ito’y dahil na din sa Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA),” the Mindanao representative said. 
Zarate also mentioned previous cases  of abuses which was untried and unheard before the courts.
“Mukhang naging immune na din sila because there was no fair resolution of the cases,” Zarate said.
Zarate earlier said the plans of the Aquino administration in treating the increased rotational presence of US troops in the country as mere “executive agreement”  without subject to scrutiny by the congress and senate is unconstitutional.
According to Zarate, the increase of troops is a clear new agreement that needs the approval of the senate.
Currently, there are estimated  600 US troops on rotational tour of duty of about six months in the base inside the Camp Don Basilio Navarro.
Meanwhile, Zarate lauded Mayor Ma. Isabel Climaco-Salazar for questioning the terms of the stay of the American troops in the country.
Salazar said prospective host the local government units like Zamboanga City should be informed of the period the US forces would be staying in the city even as he also called on the US military to open communication lines to address various complaints of abuses.

GPH, MILF resume talks in KL

From the Sun Star (Aug 19): GPH, MILF resume talks in KL

When political scientist Miriam Coronel-Ferrer enters the Palace of the Golden Horses Hotel in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, she will be bringing two pens as her lucky charm that she hopes will work again this time.

Barring last-minute changes, the peace panels of government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are expected to start a planned six-day exploratory meeting on August 20 to settle remaining issues on power-sharing.

Decommissioning armed wing

They are also expected to consider a joint report of their respective technical working groups on how to go about the tricky process of normalization that includes, among others, the graduated decommissioning of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, the MILF’s armed wing.

Coronel-Ferrer brought the same set of pens last month for the negotiations on the Annex on Revenue Generation and Wealth-Sharing. After the two one-day extension, the meeting produced a breakthrough consensus that brought the parties closer to a comprehensive agreement.

The comprehensive pact will comprise the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) that was signed October 15 last year plus the four annexes on transitional modalities, wealth-sharing, power-sharing and normalization.

The pens were first used to sign the wealth-sharing annex past midnight of July 13. She is hoping the pens can be used for the second time during the current exploratory meeting.

The pens, she revealed, were given by friends within the peace building community, among them Sr. Maria Arnold Noel and Lisa Ugay, who visited her prior to setting off for Kuala Lumpur for last month’s talks.

Consensus on power-sharing

For this round, it is widely expected that the main work for the panels will be building consensus on power-sharing, defining which items should fall as powers exclusive to the central government, devolved to the future Bangsamoro, or shared between the two governance entities.

The MILF said that although it will not be as tough as the negotiations on wealth-sharing, talks for power-sharing is still contentious.

Coronel-Ferrer has said that there are only two power-sharing items that has escaped the parties’ consensus -- transportation and communication and the notion of regional waters.

Last month, The Asia Foundation (TAF) country director Steven Rood said the document containing the power-sharing annex is as good as done, “its contents awaiting a political decision.”

Rood used to be a member of the International Contact Group of the Mindanao peace process. He now represents TAF in the Third Party Monitoring Team which will oversee implementation of the commitments of both parties as embodied in the signed agreements.

Parallel meeting

Earlier, MILF chief Murad Ebrahim said he is looking into the idea of convening the central committee to a meeting parallel to that of the talks in Kuala Lumpur.

He said that on the part of the MILF, this was the ‘magic formula’ that led to the breakthrough on wealth-sharing consensus last month.

Murad explained that while the peace panels were deliberating in Kuala Lumpur, the central committee members gathered in Camp Darapanan -- its administrative base in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao -- to weigh in on the positions and counter-proposal of government on the issue.

The real-time interaction between the MILF central committee and its negotiating panel made it possible for the negotiators to offer definite positions that reflected the official stand of their principals.

The same was true with government. Coronel-Ferrer has admitted that the presence of presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Quintos-Deles in Kuala Lumpur at that time provided a real-time link between the panel and President Aquino as well as Cabinet officials.

Civil society contingent

For the current round, civil society organizations hope to send a contingent to Kuala Lumpur to observe the peace negotiations.

This is to impress upon the parties that we continue to urge them to be conscious of the ticking away of time, explained lawyer Mary Ann Arnado of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus.

The civil society contingent is expected to consist, at least, representatives from Lumad, Moro and settler communities of Mindanao.

Arnado said they would welcome very much the chance to sit inside the negotiating room.

Grassroots Maranao leaders expect the parties, especially the MILF, to bring the matter of Bangsamoro jurisdiction over management of Lake Lanao in the power-sharing negotiations, youth leader Abul Alibasa told Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro by phone.

Also, the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) asked the MILF to work to be enshrined in the power-sharing deal the need for the future Bangsamoro to have primary powers over labor regulations and standard-setting consistent with internationally recognized practices.

APL noted that the current autonomous region is home to the worst situation of labor exploitation in the country.

MNLF dares Noy to bare letter to OIC

From the Daily Tribune (Aug 20): MNLF dares Noy to bare letter to OIC

President Aquino apparently has been misleading the Organization of Islamic Conference.

He has also misled the Filipino people and the OIC in claiming that the earlier agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which included a 75-25 percent sharing for the MNLF, has already fulfilled its obligations as stated in the government-MNLF peace accord.

The MNLF yesterday challenged Aquino to make public the letter forwarded to the OIC which it said is the root-cause of the declaration of independence by Chairman Nur Misuari from the government.

“We challenge the Philippine government to bring out its letter to the OIC — the key to this problem,” said lawyer Emmanuel Fontanilla, spokesman and legal counsel of the MNLF.

Fontanilla claimed that the Philippine government had informed the OIC, which facilitated the talks between the MNLF and the government which ended in the 1996 signing of a Final Peace Agreement, that the FPA has been fully implemented.

But Fontanilla said the government has yet to implement the 75-25 wealth sharing on minerals and taxes agreement with the MNLF.

“This was never implemented,” he said.

Fontanilla also cited the Aquino government’s inclusion of 13 provinces and nine cities covered by the FPA to the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) it signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) October 2012.

“There should be transparency. We should not fool the people,” said Fontanilla.
In spite of the declaration of independence, Fontanilla assured the MNLF will not resort to violence.

Fontanilla said that the MNLF has renounced the use of violence in achieving its goal toward self-determination for Mindanao.

“Armed struggle is obsolete. We have renounced the use of violence and we will submit to people’s process,” said Fontanilla.

“The Aquino government should not worry about the use of arms. We should just be in a contest to win the hearts and minds of the people of Mindanao. Ultimately, it’s the people who will decide,” added Fontanilla.

Earlier, MNLF Chairman Misuari declared independence from the Aquino government during a gathering of MNLF members and supporters in Talipao, Sulu.

Fontanilla said such declaration is only a manifestation of the MNLF’s backtracking to its original goal of an independent Mindanao.

Asked if the MNLF is willing to sit down with the Aquino government, Fontanilla replied “yes, we have been talking for 40 years now. We should not resort to violence.”

However, Fontanilla stressed that the MNLF is ready to defend itself if force by the government. “We will not use arms unless we are forced to do so,” he said.

“We should take this as a mature democracy and not with colonial mentality,” said Fontanilla.

According to Fontanilla, since the declaration was made by Misuari two weeks ago, the government has yet to reach out to the MNLF.

“There is none…we are willing to listen. If they (government) are confident that the people are with them, they don’t have to worry,” said Fontanilla.

The Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, for his part, on Monday said that they are verifying reports that some followers of MNLF’s Misuari have declared their independence in Cotabato.

“We will have that report checked as we are still to get information regarding the matter. We have word that they have done that in Jolo but not in Cotabato,” he added.

Gazmin also said that they are looking into reports that Vice Mayor Muslimin Sema is not supportive of this plan as the MNLF central committee were not consulted on this matter.

The DND chief said that this declaration of independence has no implication with Philippine security as defense and military officials have already inputted it in their planning.

Misuari has “established” a federated state that named him as the president following the declaration of independence last week.

In a statement, Murshi Ibrahim, Misuari’s chief of staff, said Misuari declared the independence of the Bangsamoro Republik in Daira, Barangay Lampaya, Autonomous Federated State of Lupah Sug, according to Habib Mujahab Hashim, chairman of the MNLF Islamic Command Council.

Misuari has also declared himself as the commander-in-chief of the Bangsamoro Armed Forces of what the erstwhile leader called as the 193rd member nation of the United Nations.

Defense chief: Gov't ready for any outcome of Misuari independence declaration

From GMA News (Aug 19): Defense chief: Gov't ready for any outcome of Misuari independence declaration

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Monday said that the government is ready for whatever the outcome of Moro National Liberation Front chairman Nur Misuari's recent declaration of Mindanao's independence will be.

"Pinaghahandaan natin 'yan. Tinitingnan natin kung ano ang magagawa natin," he said.

However, Gazmin also urged the MNLF to resort to "peaceful" means in its support of Misuari's declaration, which includes proclaiming himself the president of a federated state.
"Gawin sana peaceful way para sa ganun, hindi nadadamay ang walang kinalaman d'yan," Gazmin said in an ambush interview.

Asked if Misuari's declaration could be considered a threat, Gazmin said: "Pwedeng yes, pwedeng hindi, depende sa pag-carry out niya, if it can be done peacefully."

Misuari's declaration comes after the signing between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) of the Bangsamoro framework agreement, which is expected to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with a Bangsamoro Political Entity.

The ARMM was created after the 1976 Tripoli agreement which the MNLF had negotiated. The MILF, now in negotiations with government, broke away from the MNLF after disagreements in the peace talks.

The MNLF has expressed dismay over the Bangsamoro framework, saying the government planned to cancel the 1996 peace agreement signed under the Ramos administration as a result of the new framework.

MalacaƱang maintained that the 1996 agreement is still being enforced. The Palace also asserted that there is only "one government in the Republic of the Philippines."

ARMY SAYS: 5 barangays free of NPAs

From the Visayan Daily Star (Aug 19): ARMY SAYS: 5 barangays free of NPAs

Five hinterland barangays in four Negros Oriental towns were declared “insurgency-free and development-ready” by the Army’s 302nd Infantry Brigade.

Col. Christopher Estella, 302nd Infantry Brigade deputy commander, yesterday said the barangays of Siapo and Basak, in San Jose; Brgy. Silab in Amlan; Brgy. Enrique Villanueva in Sibulan and Brgy. Dobdob in Valencia, all in Negros Oriental, that used to be regular targets of the extortion and liquidation activities of the CPP-NPA, were declared as “insurgent free” by the Area Clearing Evaluation and Validation Board.

Estella said the active and untiring support of the local government units for the efforts of the 79th IB peace and development workers deployed in the five hinterland barangays brought a positive impact to the community, although some residents are apprehensive because of fear of retaliation from the NPA.

With peace paving the way to development, the people living in those communities will have a better chance to uplift their condition, he added.

The declaration of the five barangays as insurgency-free was deliberated upon by the ACEV board, with Estella as chairman, on Aug. 15 and 17, at Camp General Leon Kilat in Tanjay City, Negros Oriental.

“As we declare those barangays cleared from the NPA influence, we expect that development will flow into those areas,” Estella said. However, he added, those barangays will still be threatened by the NPA if the issues and concerns of the people are not addressed accordingly.

He attributed the enlightening the hearts and minds of the masses to the convergence of the government efforts and key role of LGUs.

Farm-to-market roads are among the common issues raised by residents to officials of the newly-cleared barangays as echoed by Dobdob barangay captain Guilberto Darias during the ACEV board deliberations.

Although this is not the core issue exploited by the NPA, it needs to be addressed to negate the recovery efforts of the rebel group, and prevent them from establishing a foothold anew in the barangay, Estella said.

Estella also said he is optimistic that Negros Oriental will be free from insurgency later this year, with a minimal number of rebels now operating.

DND verifying reports that some Misuari followers declared independence in Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 19): DND verifying reports that some Misuari followers declared independence in Cotabato

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Monday said that they are verifying reports that some followers of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Nur Misuari have declared their independence in Cotabato.

"We will have that report checked as we are still to get information regarding the matter. We have word that they have done that in Jolo but not in Cotabato," he added.

Gazmin also said that they are looking into reports that Vice Mayor Muslimin Sema is not supportive of this plan as the MNLF central committee were not consulted on this matter.

The DND chief said that this declaration of independence has no implication with Philippine security as defense and military officials have already inputted it in their planning.

Misuari has "established" a federated state and named him as the president following the declaration of independence last week week.

In a statement, Murshi Ibrahim, Misuari's chief of staff, said Misuari declared the independence of the Bangsamoro Republik in Daira, Barangay Lampaya, Autonomous Federated State of Lupah Sug, according to Habib Mujahab Hashim, chairman of the MNLF Islamic Command Council.

Misuari has also declared himself as the commander-in-chief of the Bangsamoro Armed Forces of what the erstwhile leader called as the 193rd member nation of the United Nations.

Army recovers 2 NPA landmines in Compostela Valley

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 19): Army recovers 2 NPA landmines in Compostela Valley

Troopers from the 71st Infantry Battalion, a field unit of the 10th Infantry Division, has recovered two New People's Army (NPA) landmines weighing three kilograms each during patrol operations at Purok 3, Barangay Pangibiran, Mabini town, Compostela Valley last Aug. 17.

Belated reports from Maj. Jake Obligado, 10th Civil-Military Operation Battalion commander, said that around 72 meters of electrical wire was also confiscated.

He added the discovery and seizure of these anti-personnel weapon was made possible by information provided by a concerned resident of the place.

"Immediately after the report, the area was cordoned by the 71st Infantry Battalion personnel for the safety of passersby and motorists while said landmines were recovered from the area by the explosive ordnance disposal team," Obligado stressed.

He added that the usage of these weapons shows the NPAs’ extreme defiance of the Comprehensive Agreement for the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHIHL) where it is specifically stated in Part 3, Art. 2 that landmines should be banned.

Bomb explodes in North Cotabato, no one hurt

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 19): Bomb explodes in North Cotabato, no one hurt
Suspected Moro bandits set off another power improvised bomb in a remote village here Sunday night, police said.

Nobody was killed or hurt in the blast, the third this month here, Police Supt. Reynate Delos Santos, Midsayap police chief, said.

Delos Santos said the blast occurred at 8:45 p.m. in right front of store owned by a certain Gerry Fontanilla in Barangay Nes, Midsayap, North Cotabato.

Fontanilla told police investigators that two men in their 30s arrived in his store at about 8:25 p.m. on board a motorcycle.

He said the two appeared to be in a hurry and bought few sticks of cigarettes and candies from his roadside store.

After getting the cigarette, the two hurriedly left on board the same motorcycle without license plate.

“When they left a powerful blast occurred,” Fontanilla said. Police said the blast created a crater and damaged Fontanilla’s store which was made of light materials.

“I have no idea they were carrying bomb, their faces were new to me,” he said of the two men. He added no other persons came close to his store other than the two men.

Sunday’s blast was the third this month.

On August 7, a powerful blast ripped through a pawnshop along Sto Nino Street here, two days after a powerful car bomb went off in Cotabato City that killed eight people.

Last Wednesday, an IED exploded in Barangay Baliki, also in Midsayap.

Police said the IED, believed to be fashioned from 60 mm mortar, was intended for the town center but due to presence of policemen and soldiers at checkpoints, the suspects were forced to leave it at a roadside variety store.

Nobody claimed responsibility in the latest bomb blast but authorities here considered the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters as the perpetrators. The BIFF claimed responsibility in previous bombings in Midsayap.

NPAs burn 4 heavy equipment of construction firm in North Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 19): NPAs burn 4 heavy equipment of construction firm in North Cotabato

Suspected members of the New Peoples Army (NPA) torched on Sunday afternoon four heavy equipment of a construction firm which according to military was part of the rebels’ extortion activities, the Army here said.

First Lieutenant Nasrullah Sema, speaking for the 57th Infantry Battalion, said about 30 heavily armed NPAs arrived compound of Davao Concreting Product Corporation (DCPC) in Barangay Ladayon, Arakan, North Cotabato at about 1 p.m.

”They were looking for the firm’s manager,” Sema said. “When they could not find the manager, they started pouring fuel into six parked heavy equipment and set them on fire,” he added.

One of the security guards quoted the NPA guerillas as telling them that they were looking for the firm management to collect protection money.

“Don’t worry, you will not be harmed, we are only reminding the company of their obligation to pay revolutionary taxes,” Sema quoted one of the security guards as telling investigators.

Sema said among the equipment torched by the armed men were one bulldozer, one road grader and two Mitsubishi Elf hauler trucks.

The suspects then fled on board a separate truck.It was the second burning incident in North Cotabato in five days.

On Wednesday, NPA rebels torched six heavy equipment of Sumifru banana firm in Matalam, North Cotabato that include three prime mover and three hauler trucks, also known as “Iraqi” trucks.

The suspects also fled with three firearms of the security guards.

Sema said Army Special Forces and 57th Infantry Battalion have been placed on heightened alert following the burning incidents.

Muti-national firms operating in North Cotabato have been subjected to harassment by NPA after the firms’ refusal to provide “protection money.”

Zambo mayor suggests government-MNLF dialogue

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 19): Zambo mayor suggests government-MNLF dialogue

The national government should hold a dialogue with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to resolve the issues concerning peace treaties forged by the previous administrations and the MNLF.

This was the statement of Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar in reaction to queries about the declaration of independence recently by MNLF founding-leader Nur Misuari in Sulu.

“If indeed there is a declaration and it is verified then it is the call of the national government to respond and dialogue with Mr. Misuari because the MNLF peace treaty that was entered into by the government and the MNLF needs further dialogue and process for its full completion,” Salazar said.

Salazar, sans verification, would not say what the effect of the alleged declaration would be, but she reiterated this city’s stand on the peace process.

“The city of Zamboanga is for peace and the city of Zamboanga supports the peace process of the Aquino administration and we want that all of the dialogues between the MILF and MNLF and other groups for that matter be done and be instituted by the OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) as it is the government agency in charge to conduct such moves on the process of peace,” she added.

She said that if indeed reports about the declaration are true it should be an eye opener for the national government to hold the dialogue with all the groups concerned stressing that every group and all the constituents of Mindanao are the stakeholders on the issue.

Peace should be inclusive of all the different groups that would want peaceful process and co-existence if we are to achieve peace in Mindanao, she said.

Nevertheless, Salazar said that this city continues to apply contingency measures to ensure the safety and protection of the people amid the threats and challenges besetting this city and the other parts of the region.

Salazar is in constant touch with police, military and other law enforcement agencies to discuss on peace and security issues.

PMA entrance exams set in Puerto Princesa City

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 19): PMA entrance exams set in Puerto Princesa City
The Philippine Military Academy (PMA), the premier military school in South East Asia, is set to conduct entrance examination on August 25, 2013 in 37 examination centers all over the country.

In this city, it is set at the Holy Trinity University (HTU) in Quezon Street, but no specific date has been identified yet.

The PMA Public Affairs Office (PAO) in a statement has listed the qualifications for admission in the country’s premier leadership training school.

The qualifications are: natural-born Filipino citizen; physically fit and of good moral character; single and has never been married; at least high school graduate; minimum of 5’0 but not to exceed 6’4 for both male and female; no administrative/criminal case; must pass the PMAEE; and should be born from April 01, 1992 to April 01, 1997.

The PMA Cadet Qualification Test (PMACQT) will be administered in thirty-seven examination centers nationwide on August 25. It will cover Algebra and Geometry, Grammar and Composition, Reading and Comprehension, Verbal and Numerical Reasoning, and Pattern Analysis.

Applicants must pass the PMACQT to proceed to the next phase of the cadet selection which is the Complete Physical Examination where they will undergo medical and physical fitness test as part of the requirements for the military training in the Academy.

Successful applicants will compose the PMA Class 2018 who will be officially received in the Academy in an Oath-Taking Ceremony and Reception Rites on April 1, 2014.

“Being a PMA cadet gives an individual a noble privilege in serving the country. One is able to avail of a free college education with a well-rounded curriculum, as well as, receive monthly pay and allowances. After graduating from the Academy, one is guaranteed a progressive career as an officer in the Army, Navy or Air Force," the PMA statement said.

Interested applicants may apply and log on at to download application forms and other requirements.

WESCOM soldiers to join U.S. troops in Pacific Unity 2013

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 19): WESCOM soldiers to join U.S. troops in Pacific Unity 2013

Members of the Palawan-based Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will band together with men and women of the United States Pacific Air Force (PACAF) in a mutual Humanitarian Civil Assistance (HCA) and Civil Military Operations (CMO) activities from August 26 to September 20, 2013 in the 'City in a Forest'.

The activity aims to enhance the response capability of both armed forces during times of disasters and calamities.

“The Pacific Unity 2013 comes very timely as we continue to undertake significant efforts to strengthen our humanitarian, disaster response, and civic action programs in times of distraught," said Army Lt. Col. Emmanuel A. Canilla, chief of the civil military operations of the Western Command.

Canilla also said the upcoming event will be another opportunity to enhance the AFP’s capabilities in ensuring a safe and secure environment for our people.

The joint undertaking is in line with the Pacific Unity 2013, a U.S. Pacific Command-funded humanitarian assistance mission. It is also a bilateral and joint engineering civic action program in cooperation with the city government, the Department of Education Puerto Princesa City District, and the Palawan-based Philippine Air Force 570th Composite Tactical Wing.

The AFP through the Western Command (Wescom) will provide personnel and mission-essential equipment in the conduct of the HCA/CMO.

The PU 2013 intends to conduct Engineering Civic Action Program (ENCAP). It will formally start with a groundbreaking/opening ceremony at the Virgilio Magbanua Memorial Elementary School in San Pedro village, wherein a two-room school building will be constructed. Dilapidated classrooms will also be repaired and rehabilitated.

Last year, over 20,000 residents of Samar benefited in the Pacific Partnership 2012, the largest annual humanitarian and civic assistance mission in the Pacific sponsored by the US Pacific Fleet. The Pacific Unity 12-6 conducted in August 2012 in northern Luzon benefited at least 50,000 residents of the area.

Army overruns 2 rebel camps in Iloilo

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 19): Army overruns 2 rebel camps in Iloilo

The Philippine Army's 301st Infantry Brigade had overran two rebel camps in Tapaz, Capiz and Igbaras, Iloilo province.

PA 301st Infantry Brigade Commander Gen. Arnold Quiapo said the encounter happened successively on Aug. 17 in Barangay Aglinab, Tapaz, Capiz and in Barangay Igbanaba, Igbaras, Iloilo on Aug 18.

The government troops were conducting patrol on the areas when they encountered elements of the New People’s Army who were encamped in there. The rebel soldiers initially fired a shot that forced the government troops to engage them in return.

Quiapo said there were no casualties from both groups and the camps are considered to be rather small.

Basilan town receives P6-M project from U.S. government

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 19): Basilan town receives P6-M project from U.S. government

The American government through the Unites States Agency for International Development (USAID) turned over last week a newly-constructed two-story worth P6 million to a five-year-old town in Basilan.

The recipient of the project is the Municipality of Tabuan Lasa, which is one of the 11 towns of Basilan province.

Tabuan Lasa was created out of the 12 barangays of Sumisip that were not on Basilan Island, by virtue of Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act No. 187, which was subsequently ratified in a plebiscite held on March 29, 2008.

Tabuan Lasa Mayor Muctar Junaid said the P6 million building would house the Area Coordinating Center, Municipal Hall and the police station.

Junaid said that a huge tank was also built to collect rain water for use, except for drinking, since water is scarce in the municipality which comprises of four islands.

The project was turned over to Junaid by Capt. Tanner Fleck, head of the Task Force Archipelago of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines on behalf of USAID in a simple ceremony held in Barangay Lanawan, Tabuan Lasa town.

Fleck admired the effort of the municipal government and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao for taking the initiative in addressing the infrastructure needs of Tabuan Lasa.

Junaid has expressed his gratitude to the American government for providing them the project, which would hasten the delivery of basic government services in the town.

Gov't forces defuse 2 roadside bombs in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 19): Gov't forces defuse 2 roadside bombs in Maguindanao

Government bomb experts defused today two improvised bombs found on a roadside in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, the Army said.

The deactivation came after civilians alerted the police and military authorities about a suspicious sack found on a roadside in Barangay Ladja, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, told reporters the two improvised explosive devices were found at 9 a.m. today along the national highway in Barangay Ladja, a few kilometers away from the military's Artillery Battalion headquarters in Barangay Pigcalawan, also in Sultan Kudarat.

The IED was fashioned from two 60 mm mortar cartridge with mobile phone as trigger mechanism.

He said the IED was similar to the improvised bombs set off by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao.

“The BIFF are among the suspects," Hermoso said, adding that investigators are also looking at other groups behind the attempt.

He said the explosives could be intended for passing government forces on board military vehicles or civilians.

The highway, part of the Cotabato-Davao highway, was closed for about 30 minutes until the explosives were fully deactivated.

The discovery of roadside bombs in Sultan Kudarat came a day after two men set off an improvised bomb in front of a variety store in Barangay Ned, Midsayap, North Cotabato on Sunday night.

No one was hurt in the blast but it damaged the store owned by a certain Gerry Fontanilla.

Fontanilla told investigators that two men arrived in his store about 9 p.m. and bought cigarettes and candies.

They later left hurriedly and minutes later a loud explosion ripped through his store.

Supt. Reynante Delos Reyes, Midsayap police chief, said the bomb couriers could have planned to set off the explosives in the Midsayap town proper but were forced to abandon it due to heavy presence of police and soldiers manning checkpoints.

Gazmin unsure if Misuari, followers a security threat

From InterAksyon (Aug 19): Gazmin unsure if Misuari, followers a security threat

MNLF founder Nur Misuari

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin is unsure if Moro National Liberation Front founder Nur Misuari, who “declared independence” last week, and his followers should be considered a national security threat.

Two ways, puwedeng yes, puwedeng hindi. Depende sa pag-carryout niya (it can be yes, it can be no. It depends on how he carries out [his declaration]). If it can be done peacefully… that’s speculation,” Gazmin told reporters in at the Department of National Defense in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Misuari has often voiced displeasure over the government’s peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which broke away from the MNLF in the 1980s.
A peace agreement with the MILF would lead to the replacement of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, created by the peace pact forged by the MNLF and the government in 1996, with a new Bangsamoro juridical entity.

Misuari has also complained often of government’s failure to fully implement the provisions of the 1996 agreement.

However, the MNLF itself has been rent by divisions, with one faction led by Cotabato City Vice Mayor Muslimin Sema, which has belittled Misuari’s declaration.

Gazmin said they are closely monitoring Misuari’s group and authorities have not closed communication lines with the MNLF founder.

“Right now, there is continuous communication between the Philippine Marines with Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan and the MNLF,” he said.