Thursday, October 3, 2013

Suspected IED causes alarm in Cotabato

From ABS-CBN (Oct 4): Suspected IED causes alarm in Cotabato

COTABATO CITY - A suspected improvised explosive device (IED) was found in Cotabato City on Thursday evening.

The alleged IED was found by balut vendor Nilo Bahian beside Cotabato City State Polytechnic College along Sinsuat Avenue.

"Kasama ko ang anak ko, nakita ko may mga wirings tapos tinawag ko siya sabi ko bomba yan, tumakbo na kami," Bahian said.

The Philippine Marines and an explosive ordnance disposal team of Cotabato City police responded to the report and cordoned off the area. No one was reported injured.

The EOD team disrupted the IED and learned it was fashioned out of a rifle grenade.

The police have yet to determine the motive behind the incident.

Military claims 'captured' UP physicist is communist rebel

From InterAksyon (Oct 4): Military claims 'captured' UP physicist is communist rebel

The military claims a physicist and former university professor they "captured" following a clash with communist rebels in Davao Oriental October 1 has admitted to joining the New People’s Army last year.

Captain Alberto Caber, public affairs office chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command, said Kim Gargar "admitted he was a member of the NPA-Guerilla Front 25 of the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee."

However, the Kalikasan-People's Network for the Environment said Gargar was "undertaking a research for the implementation of a disaster management project in Cateel town, which was severely devastated by typhoon 'Pablo,'" when he was taken by the military.

An honors graduate of the University of the Philippines National Institute of Physics, Gargar is a member of Agham (Advocates of Science and Technology for the Peoples) and also works with the Center for Environmental Concerns.

He teaches at UP and has taught at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Mapua Institute of Technology and the Mindanao Polytechnic State College, and has also worked for the Asian Development Bank.

He is also a PhD student at Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in The Netherlands.

Caber claimed that Gargar "disclosed that he helped CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines) founder (Jose Ma.) Sison in the production of several books aimed (at) exploiting the countryside" and "joined the NPA in Compostela Valley Province in 2012."

The military officer also noted that Gargar’s wife is “a writer of the leftist online news website.”

Caber said the soldiers involved in the clash in Barangay Aliwagwag found Gargar during clearing operations, several meters from the body of a slain rebel, Gerald Tagle, alias “Ryan,” supposedly vice commander of the NPA’s Guerrilla Front 25.

“He (Gargar) was left by his comrades. According to our soldiers who found him, he was laying on the ground semi-unconscious (sic) clutching his M16 rifle and a jungle pack on his back. Our soldiers cautiously approach(ed) him because of the rifle but he did not make any move,” Caber said.

Lieutenant Colonel Krishnamurti Mortela, commanding officer of the 67th Infantry Battalion, claimed Gargar had a jungle pack that yielded components for making landmines.

Mortela also claimed Gargar "was very cooperative in our interviews with him until he was visited by the group Karapatan," a human rights organization.

The battalion commander also attempted to link Gargar's science background to military claims that the rebels have been using improvised explosive devices "with contaminated shrapnel."

Gargar has been charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, attempted murder and violating the election gun ban.

Cops blow up Nur's house; MNLF leader missing

From the Philippine Star (Oct 4): Cops blow up Nur's house; MNLF leader missing

Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari was not found in his house in Zamboanga City after police blasted it with exposives Friday morning.

Police are conducting a manhunt for the rebel leader who faces rebellion charges for allegedly orchestrating an attack on coastal villages in Zamboanga, leading to a 20-day standoff with government forces last month.

Chief Inspector Ariel Huesca, Western Mindanao police spokesman, said they served a search warrant on Misuari's house in Barangay San Roque.

Huesca said troops decided to use explosives on the house when no one responded to them.  He declined to  elaborate.

"I cannot elaborate for security reasons," he said in a radio interview.

Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Region 9 had said Misuari and at least 80 of his followers including commander Habier Malik violated International Humanitarian Law for the Zamboanga City siege which started September 9.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin declared the end of the standoff last September 28 as the armed forces continue clearing the areas of hidden explosives.

Cotabato police files raps vs BIFF

From the Manila Bulletin (Oct 3): Cotabato police files raps vs BIFF

KIDAPAWAN CITY – The North Cotabato police believes that the case filed against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) that launched series of attacks in at least nine villages in Midsayap last week remains strong as evidence against them is more than enough to convict them.

Cotabato provincial police office director Sr. Supt. Danny Peralta said they have already filed several complaints on murder, frustrated murder, and attempted murder against two known commanders of the BIFF last Wednesday.

Charged were BIFF commanders DM and Abbas Kudanding.

Meanwhile, more than 30 unnamed BIFF members were also identified by witnesses as those behind the attack last September 23 that killed seven and wounded eight people.

Peralta said the evidence against them is “more than enough” to convict them.

“We have photos, sketches, and testimonies from soldiers wounded in the attack and from the relatives of the civilians killed,” he said, adding that the attacks were done in broad daylight so witnesses saw the attackers’ faces and body built.

On the other hand, an unnamed source has disclosed that the two BIFF commanders who were charged are hiding somewhere in the Liguasan marsh.

“These commanders are being secured by residents in the marsh because most of them are their relatives or members of their clans,” the source said.

To date, evacuees from Barangay Malingao in Midsayap, where the alleged hostage taking took place, have already returned to their homes.

Peralta said that an additional Special Action Forces from the PNP have been deployed in the area to ensure the safety of the residents.

The BIFF is under Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato, former commander of the 105th base command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Raid of Misuari house illegal, MNLF says

From the Manila Bulletin (Oct 4): Raid of Misuari house illegal, MNLF says

The recent raid on the residence of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chairman Nur Misuari was illegal, a spokesman said Friday.

“The raid was illegal on the basis that there is an existing final peace agreement between the MNLF and the government”, said Emmanuel Fontanilla, MNLF spokesman.

Authorities raided Misuari’s house in San Roque, Zamboanga City on Friday morning, after a local court issued a search warrant.

A complaint of crimes against international humanitarian law was filed against Misuari and Habier Malik, ground commander of the Zamboanga City attack which resulted in more than 200 deaths, the destruction of millions of pesos worth of property, and the closure of schools and major businesses during the three-week standoff.

Fontanilla said they were preparing a written complaint about the raid for submission to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Even the filing of the case against Misuari was embarrassing for the country, Fontanilla said.

The MNLF spokesman also questioned the manner in which the raid was conducted, noting that they were not informed about the warrant and that the house was empty.

“How can they say they found guns there when no person was inside the house when the raid was conducted?” Fontanilla said.

He added that the MNLF was looking at filing charges against the Armed Forces for human rights violations and torture against captured rebel fighters.

Major naval base in Palawan planned

From the Manila Bulletin (Oct 3): Major naval base in Palawan planned

Oyster Bay, Palawan — Its mangrove-fringed coral reefs support an abundant fish population. Its deep, blue waters are unmuddied by the monsoons that batter the western Philippines coastline.

But the cancelled visit by US President Barack Obama to Asia could have heralded the start of dramatic changes to Oyster Bay, a postcard-perfect cove on Palawan Island that the Philippines expects to transform into a port for its naval frigates and eventually for American warships — all overlooking the disputed South China Sea.

Developing this remote island paradise into a military facility could exacerbate tensions with China, whose sovereignty claims over the vast, mineral-rich South China Sea, one of the world’s most important waterways, set it directly against US allies Vietnam and the Philippines. Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also claim parts of the sea.

Rebuilding ties with the Philippines, including helping to upgrade its ill-equipped military, has been an important part of a U.S. rebalancing of its strategic focus towards Asia that is seen as a bid to check China’s growing power.

President Benigno Aquino has launched a $1.8-billion modernization program and revived plans to build new air and naval bases at Subic Bay, the largest US military installation in Southeast Asia before it was shuttered in 1992.

Also on the cards is the development of Oyster Bay, which lies about 550 km (340 miles) southwest of Manila.

“It will be a mini-Subic,” Commodore Joseph Rostum O. Peña, commander of the Philippines’ western navy, said in the first public comments about converting Oyster Bay into a major naval base.

A future port here would extend the reach of the navy’s two frigates, both former US Coast Guard cutters, over the disputed Spratly Islands, in the southern part of the South China Sea, he said in an interview from his office overlooking the mouth of the bay.

Nur charged with rebellion

From the Manila Bulletin (Oct 4): Nur charged with rebellion

The Philippine National Police (PNP) filed yesterday a complaint of rebellion and violation of international humanitarian law against Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari in connection with a deadly three-week standoff between government troops and insurgents who held scores of people hostage.

More than 200 people and nearly 10,000 houses were burned in the fighting that followed the rebel attempt to storm Zamboanga city hall last September 9.

80 Others Charged

Regional state prosecutor Peter Medalle said Thursday he filed a complaint against Misuari and some 80 of his followers. So far, more than 200 rebels have been charged.

Misuari is believed to be hiding in the southern Philippines. He is the leader of a faction of the MNLF, which signed a 1996 peace agreement but later accused the Philippine government of failing to honor it.

The rebel group, which Misuari founded in the early 1970s to fight for minority Muslim self-rule in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation, has been overshadowed by a bigger rival group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in negotiations with the government to expand an autonomous Muslim region.

Similar Attack In 2001

Misuari’s armed followers led a similar attack in 2001, during which they also seized civilians hostage. He was then charged with rebellion, escaped to neighboring Malaysia but was arrested and extradited to the Philippines. He later posted bail and was acquitted for lack of evidence.

Meanwhile, Muslim religious leaders and scholars warned of an escalation of armed conflict and continuous displacement of innocent civilians in Mindanao unless the issue of the peace accord is satisfactorily resolved.

Yesterday, leaders and scholars from Zamboanga and the provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi met here to express their deep concern on the 22-day standoff between government troops and MNLF fighters loyal to Misuari. (With reports from Nonoy E. Lacson , and Edd K. Usman)

OIC Help Needed

Meanwhile, former MNLF chief propagandist Hadji Akmad Bayam appealed to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to help Zamboanga City in its rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Bayam responded to the call of the government to the international community for help by appealing to the 57-member pan-Islamic body.

Misuari house raided

From the Manila Times (Oct 4): Misuari house raided

Police on Friday raided the house of a former rebel chieftain Nur Misuari as clearing operations continue in villages that hundreds of gunmen occupied in Zamboanga City in southern Philippines.

Police said the Misuari’s house in the village of San Roque was empty, but raiders seized many documents.

It was not immediately known whether police forces found any weapons or explosives in the bungalow, but a police spokesman said a local court issued a warrant to search the house which stands near a creek.

“The subject of the search warrant is explosives, components for improvised explosive devices, unlicensed firearms and documents. We have recovered several items,” said Chief Inspector Ariel Huesca.

He said police forces set off a charge on the front gate of the house to be able to enter the sprawling compound which was heavily guarded by former rebels in the past.

Several towers could be seen from the outside the house despite its tall wall.

Inside the compound were several small buildings and a basketball court and MNLF streamers and tarpaulin signs.

The area has been under tight guard since September 9 when hundreds of Misuari’s supporters led by his lieutenant Ustadz Khabir Malik stormed several villages and took more than 200 people hostage.

The fighting left more than 400 people dead and wounded that resulted in a humanitarian crisis following the exodus of more than 100,000 villagers.

Rangers return to Negros uncertain

From the Visayan Daily Star (Oct 4): Rangers return to Negros uncertain

The return of the Army’s Scout Ranger Battalion to Negros is still uncertain, although the Armed Forces of the Philippines has started to pull out other elite military units from Zamboanga.

Lt. Col. Oriel Pangcog, 1st SRB commander, yesterday said the Light Reaction Battalion of the Special Operations Command was already pulled out from Zamboanga, while they are still waiting for orders from the AFP headquarters.

Troopers of the 1st SRB are now resting at the Western Mindanao Command (WESMINCOM) headquarters, after they were pulled out Sunday from Brgy. Santa Catalina, Zamboanga City.

The village of Santa Catalina served as the battleground of 1st SRB troopers and the Moro National Liberation Front-Misuari faction fighters for more than two weeks.

In weeks of intense fighting with the MNLF-Nur Misuari faction, the 1st SRB captured 121 MNLF fighters, recovered 102 high-powered firearms, including anti-tank 90mm recoilless rifle, and two artillery mortar weapons, and rescued 61 civilians used as hostages, military records show.

Pangcog said the AFP is now deliberating on giving medals to 1st SRB troopers who performed exceptionally and above the call of duty during the fight against MNLF fighters.

Pangcog said the WESMINCOM, which is led by Lt. Gen. Rey Ardo, ordered him to submit a list of soldiers who should receive medals.

NPA claims to have killed 16 soldiers; military says only one dead

From the Mindanao Gold Star Daily (Oct 4): NPA claims to have killed 16 soldiers; military says only one dead

THE North Central Mindanao Command of the New People’s Army (NPA) yesterday claimed that it has killed 16 soldiers in the past three days of fighting but the military said it only lost one soldier.

In a statement, Allan Juanito, spokesperson of the NPA’s North Central Mindanao Command, said the soldiers were killed in six separate clashes since September 30.

In the first alleged incident on Minday, Juanito claimed the NPA killed an alleged military agent named  Junjun Versano  near an Army detachment in Barangay Calabugao, Impasug-ong, Bukidnon.

But 4th Infantry Division spokesperson Capt. Christian Uy denied that a Versano was killed but he confirmed that the NPA “harassed” the detachment on Monday.

He also said the detachment was attacked only once and denied Juanito’s claim that rebels went back to the detachment a day later or Tuesday.

Uy said the NPA rebels merely fired shots at the detachment last Monday and withdrew.

He surmised that the action of the NPAs was to divert from a battle that went on in Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental.

Both the Army and the NPA confirmed that two firefights occurred in Lagonglong on Tuesday but they did not agree on casualty figures.

Uy said only one soldier was killed––Pfc. Ellan Ramones––and six were others were wounded. Hurt were Cpl. Julius Agusen, Pfc. Jose Noli Pabingwit, Pfc. Cris Lorenzo, Pfc. Dioscoro Briones, Pfc. Geofrey Purisima and Pfc. Junard Ramones.

Uy said Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, ordered troops to make the rebels accountable for the killing of Pfc. Ramones and the wounding six other soldiers.

But in the NPA statement, Juanito said 10 soldiers were killed and no rebel was wounded.

Juanito also claimed that they attacked another Army detachment in Barangay Hagpa, Impasug-ong, Bukidnon last Tuesday but this was also denied by Uy.

Juanito said another encounter at Lagonglong took place on Tuesday resulting in the killing of five soldiers.

CampEvangelista sent additional troops from the 403rd Brigade and 58th Infantry Battalion to the towns of Lagonglong and Balingasag, Misamis Oriental as augmentation force against the rebels.

Uy said the military intensified ots operations against the NPA and the Scout Ranger troops from the 58IB were taking the lead.

Marines hoist PH flag in Malik homebase in Sulu

From MindaNews (Oct 2): Marines hoist PH flag in Malik homebase in Sulu

The Philippine Marines based in this town early Wednesday hoisted the Philippine flag at the residence of Ustadz Habier Malik in Tuyang village.

“This [Talipao town] is the base also of Maas,” said a resident, who declined to give her name for security reasons.

Maas is the revered title that some Tausugs use in reference to Nur Misuari, founder of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

This morning, MindaNews saw Talipao residents leading the officers and men of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 2 to the village of Tuyang, Malik’s residential area and MNLF homebase in Talipao town.

Malik led the MNLF members who laid siege on some coastal villages in Zamboanga City on September 9. The military is still reportedly checking if he is still alive or was killed after three weeks of clashes that displaced 23,794 families or 118,819 individuals.

“We have conducted a community dialogue with the people there. We did not go there to engage in war. We are there to heal the wounds of war,” Col. Jose Johriel Cenabre, Joint Task Force Sulu and 2nd Marine Brigade commander, told MindaNews.

“The (Philippine) government is in a progressive engagement with the people, and the Marines entered Lampaya and reached Tuyang, the known lair of Ustadz Habier Malik,” he added.

“We all care for the people especially here in Sulu, where the people in the area (of Malik) requested for the presence of the Marines,” Cenabre said.

The Marines used community dialogue as an approach to seek alliance with the people, who themselves led the soldiers to the area, he said.

Malik’s relatives and the remaining MNLF members who were guarding the camp had already abandoned the place when the soldiers arrived.

The Philippine flag was hoisted by 1Lt. Romelito Macaraig.

This was followed by silence from the residents who witnessed the event in reverence to the panji (flag).

“It is all in the name of kahunungan (tranquility) for Lupah Sug (Sulu),” Macaraig said.

As of noon today, forces from the 32nd Marine Company led by 1Lt. Jozen Banatao were deployed in the area.

MILF: Third Party Monitoring Team visits Manila and Cotabato

From the MILF Website (Oct 3): Third Party Monitoring Team visits Manila and Cotabato

The Independent Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) established by the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the context of their peace process, made its first visit to the Philippines from September 23 to 28, 2013.
In a press release issued dated September 30, 2013 in Manila, Alistair MacDonald, the TPMT Chair, said at the close of their visit that “My colleagues and I were encouraged by the strongest commitment to peace underlined by all of our contacts, whether in the government or the MILF, or among civil society and other key actors. Much has been done already, and much remains to be done, both in completing the remaining annexes to the Framework Agreement and in implementing these mutually-agreed commitments. But it was clear that both Parties are absolutely determined to make this work.”

All five members of theTPMT were present  for  their first  visit, as a team, to the Philippines   –Zainuddin Malang of MinRHac and Karen Tañada of Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute, Huseyin Oruç of the IHH Humanitarian Relief  Foundation and Dr. Steven Rood of The Asia Foundation, together  with the Chair. Mr. MacDonald noted that during this visit they had been able to meet   both with OPAPP Secretary  Teresita Quintos -Deles and GPH Peace Panel Chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and with the MILF Peace Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal, with members of the Transition Commission, of the International Contact Group and the International Monitoring Team, and with representatives of civil society both in Manila and in Cotabato.

He added that the real work of the TPMT could only fully commence once the two remaining annexes on Power-sharing and on Normalization had been completed and added to the already-agreed Framework Agreement and its annexes on Transitional Arrangement and Modalities and Wealth-sharing.

Nevertheless it had been essential for the TPMT to commence its   preparatory work already now, reaching out to the key stakeholders, outlining the mandate of the TPMT, and most of all listening to these key actors and hearing their thoughts and expectations for the way ahead and for how the TPMT could best fulfill its mandate. All members of the TPMT joined Mr. MacDonald in expressing their condolences to the families of the victims of the recent violence in Zamboanga.

MILF: MILF to create buffer zones to protect civilians from harassments

From the MILF Website (Oct 3): MILF to create buffer zones to protect civilians from harassments

In coordination with the Government of the Philippines through the various mechanisms of the GPH-MILF peace process such as the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), and the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT), the MILF has embarked on a plan to help secure civilian populations from harassments by armed groups opposed to the negotiation between the government and the MILF.
The plan is in its final touches and will be ready for implementation, as soon as all the necessary mechanisms and coordination shall be in place.

Its specific mission and purposes are the following:

1. Protect and promote the primacy of the GPH – MILF Peace Process and Ceasefire

2. Protect the civilians communities and their properties

3. Intensify support for the GPH – MILF Peace Process and the Ceasefire

4.Effectively contain the malicious movements, offensives and activities of the saboteurs of peace and the peace process; and

5.Enhancement of proactive cooperation with the concerned LGUs, particularly the PLGU

In general, its rationale runs: “The Peace Process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which aims to find a just and enduring peaceful and democratic settlement to the conflict that beleaguered Mindanao and the aspiration for Bangsamoro government and right to self-determination has been going since 1997. One of the most prominent architectures of this peace process is the remarkable feat and success of the ceasefire accord and its mechanisms on the ground with the GPH – MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and the International Monitoring Team (IMT) at the helm mustering the constantly rising partnership and cooperation between and among the government and MILF forces in responding proactively and effectively to various security issues and concerns confronting the peace process and the stakeholders.”  

It continues: “Needless to say, both the government and MILF place foremost importance, as a matter of policy, to the primacy of the peace process since it started some 17 years ago. Now, under the administration of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, keeping in view of all the invaluable sacrifices and investments, comes to fore the golden opportunity to reach a negotiated peace settlement to the conflict and the legitimate aspirations for peace, justice and prosperity. Hence, all parties and stakeholders cannot afford to waver and falter at this crucial time and final stretches for it is the brighter future of our people and our children and their children’s children that is at stake above all.”

It further asserted that one of the challenges of the peace process being currently faced by the GPH and MILF are the acts of violence, hostilities and atrocities being perpetrated by other armed groups which do not believe in peace negotiation to resolve the armed conflict in Mindanao.

All of these acts are really meant to discredit, undermine, sabotage and spoil peace process and have been inflicting enormous harm, pains and sufferings to the civilians. It has been blatantly and maliciously challenging the security forces of the government and MILF and the peace process as a whole.

The BIAF buffer forces are under the direct command and control of the BIAF General Staff and the MILF Central Committee through the Office of the Chief of Staff–BIAF.

Philippines calls for Misuari charges over city attack

From InterAksyon (Oct 3): Philippines calls for Misuari charges over city attack

Philippine police said Thursday they have asked prosecutors to bring rebellion and other criminal charges against Muslim leader Nur Misuari for a deadly guerrilla attack on a southern city.

Police lodged the complaint against Misuari and against his followers, who fought street battles with police and troops in Zamboanga city last month in which more than 200 people died, said senior police investigator Senior Superintendent Edgar Danao.

"We have gathered affidavits linking Misuari to the said attack," Danao told reporters Thursday, a day after the complaint was filed with the state prosecutor's office.

Misuari is accused of sending his armed Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) followers to Zamboanga on September 9 to try to block a proposed peace deal between the government and a rival Muslim rebel group.

The incursion sparked three weeks of street battles with elite military forces that forced more than 100,000 people to flee their homes.

The government accused the gunmen of taking civilian hostages and setting fire to more than 10,000 homes.

It declared the rebel action crushed on Saturday with the release of the last of 195 hostages.

Apart from at least 189 guerrillas killed, the campaign also left at least 23 soldiers and police and 12 civilians dead.

Misuari, 71, is believed by police to have gone into hiding.

Police have so far filed complaints for rebellion and other criminal cases against 224 MNLF leaders and followers, most of them now detained, said regional police spokesman Chief Inspector Ariel Huesca.

State prosecutors will evaluate the evidence submitted by police, then decide whether to bring charges in court. Rebellion is punishable by life imprisonment.

Muslim rebels have been fighting since the 1970s for an independent or autonomous homeland in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines. An estimated 150,000 people have died in the conflict.

The MNLF signed a peace treaty in 1996 that granted limited self-rule to the south's Muslim minority.

However, the group opposes a planned final peace deal between the government and the remaining major Muslim rebel group, the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Misuari apparently fears the proposed peace deal would sideline him and his group.

Philippines says deal on wider US military presence needs more work

From InterAksyon (Oct 3): Philippines says deal on wider US military presence needs more work

Discussions over proposals to expand the American military's presence in the Philippines failed to reach a deal, Filipino officials said Thursday, a day after US President Barack Obama called off a Manila visit.

The plan would allow more US troops, aircraft and ships to temporarily pass through the Philippines, an Asian military ally, at a time when Washington is refocusing its attention on Asia.

President Benigno Aquino has pushed for the deal to help modernise the Philippine military and to contain China, which he accuses of illegally laying claim to most of the South China Sea including parts of Filipino territory.

The two sides completed a fourth round of talks in Manila on Wednesday, but Filipino negotiators could not say when these will resume amid a US government shutdown.

The negotiations are at a "crucial" stage, with more work needed over the installations to be offered to the Americans, as well as the "pre-positioning" of US defence equipment, chief Filipino negotiator Pio Batino told a news conference.

"While we have narrowed down the discussions to these substantive issues, there are still gaps in our positions," he said, refusing to give details.

"We will need to work on some issues more than the others."

The other key issues tackled this week were on "ownership" and "security", a Philippine government statement said.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had said during a visit to Manila in late August that the two allies were moving towards an agreement "in the near future" and the access talks were to have been a centrepiece of Obama's visit to Manila on October 11-12.

However, Obama cancelled the Malaysian and Philippine legs of his trip on Wednesday due to the budget stand-off with Republican leaders.

Assistant Foreign Secretary Carlos Sorreta said Manila remained hopeful of concluding the agreement, though the negotiators have yet to decide on when or where to meet next.

"We believe our common interest will survive this current issue in the United States," he told reporters.

Asked about the chances of the agreement being signed by Christmas, both Batino and Sorreta said they were optimistic that there would be an eventual deal, though they could not give a time frame.

"I'm still hopeful," Sorreta said.

The United States held two large military bases near Manila until 1992, when it gave both up amid growing anti-US sentiment and a rental dispute.

A new accord in 1999 allowed troops to return to the Philippines for joint military exercises every year.

Several hundred US Special Forces troops are also on short-term assignments in the southern Philippines, where they train and advise local troops fighting Islamic militants.

Troops capture ex-professor in NPA clash in Davao Oriental

From the Mindanao Examiner (Oct 3): Troops capture ex-professor in NPA clash in Davao Oriental

Photos released by the Eastern Mindanao Command shows captured former professor-turned-rebel Kim Gargar as he listens to a military interrogator in Davao and the weapon seized from him by soldiers.

The Philippine military is holding a former professor who helped write propaganda books for communist leader Jose Maria Sison, a regional army spokesman said Thursday.

Army Captain Alberto Caber, of the Eastern Mindanao Command, said Professor Kim Gargar was wounded in a recent clash with government troops in Davao Oriental’s Cateel town.  He said an automatic rifle was also recovered from Gargar in the village of Aliwagwag where troops killed a rebel leader.

He said Gargar was recovered by troops, who were members of the 67th Infantry Battalion under Lt. Col. Krishnamurti Mortela, and given first aid before being brought to the Davao Oriental provincial hospital.

“We are still interrogating Professor Kim Gargar and so far he is cooperating with us,” Caber told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner. “Professor Gargar was unconscious an apparently abandoned by rebels when troops found him.”

Gargar told interrogators that he joined the NPA last year, but previously helped Sison in the production of several books aimed at exploiting villagers in the countryside. He said his wife works as a news writer for an online newspaper.

Gargar said he was a Physics professor at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City and also worked at the Don Mariano University in Cagayan de Oro City in Misamis Oriental province and in Polytechnic University and Mapua University, both in Manila. He was also doctorate scholar in University of Groningen in The Netherlands.

Caber said the human rights group Karapatan has visited Gargar in Davao and allegedly told the former professor not to talk or give any statement to the military. Caber said the professor has praised the soldiers for saving his life.

General Ricardo Rainier Cruz III, chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command, ordered military units to continue operations against the NPA and at the same urged rebels to surrender peacefully. He also commended the soldiers for saving the life of Gargar. “Gargar is an example of how our soldiers really value and respect human rights,” Cruz said.

The NPA, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been fighting for a separate state in the country.

Philippine church assaulted, 2 soldiers killed

From the Mindanao Examiner (Oct 3): Philippine church assaulted, 2 soldiers killed

Two marine soldiers guarding a Catholic church were killed and three civilians wounded in a daring broad daylight attack Thursday by a lone man in the southern Philippines, police said.

Police said the unidentified man managed to sneak inside the compound of the Mount Carmel Cathedral Parish in downtown Jolo and grabbed the M16 rifle of the guard and shot him several times.

The man then ran inside the kitchen behind the church and shot dead another soldier before escaping, but two children, aged three and six, and an adult woman were also wounded in the shootings, according to the police.

It was not immediately known how the attacker managed to get inside the compound undetected and then assaulted the soldiers.

Jolo Mayor Hussin Amin has confirmed the attack and said authorities are searching for the assailant. “We don’t know the motive of the assault, but authorities have launched an investigation into this and are searching for the assailant,” he told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

He said there were reports that the attacker is suffering from a mental illness and that he frequented the church, which had been previously attacked many times by rebels. No individual or group claimed responsibility for the latest attack.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz to be commissioned last week of October

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 3): BRP Ramon Alcaraz to be commissioned last week of October

The Philippine Navy on Thursday announced that the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), the second Hamilton-class cutter in its service, will be commissioned on the last week of October.

"Commissioning and blessing of ceremony of BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) is tentatively scheduled on the last week of October," PN spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic said.

He added that dry-docking works on the ship are proceeding smoothly.

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz went into dry-dock last Aug. 16.

It arrived in the Philippines last Aug. 6 after a two month voyage from the United States.

It added that additional weapons like the two Mark 38 Model2 25-mm "Bushmasters" autocannon and four to six light machine guns will be fitted during the dry-docking period.

The Filipino frigate is presently armed with a quick-firing 76mm Oto Melara main gun which has a range of 20 nautical miles.

Fabic declined to comment on where the frigate is dry docked citing operational security reasons.

GPH panel calls BIFF, MNLF-Misuari group, ASG spoilers of peace process

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 3): GPH panel calls BIFF, MNLF-Misuari group, ASG spoilers of peace process

The Philippine government (GPH) panel in the ongoing peace talks Thursday condemned the rise in violent activities perpetuated by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, as well as other violent rebel groups in Southern Mindanao, and branded them as “spoilers” of the peace process.

GPH panel chairperson Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said they are alarmed with the tactics employed by the BIFF who are trying to spoil the peace talks through heightened violent activities.

“The BIFF attacks show a total disregard to human life and a willful desire to block the progress towards achieving a peaceful resolution to the armed conflicts in Mindanao,” Ferrer said during a public forum on the progress of the ongoing peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front held at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

According to the GPH panel secretariat, the BIFF was involved in at least 50 violent incidents in Mindanao that included shootings, explosions and firefights in the provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Basilan.

The panel said that some of the incidents in Basilan allegedly even involved members of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

“These acts showed that the BIFF and their cohorts had no qualms to use violence against civilians in order to achieve their political objectives,” Ferrer said.

Besides the BIFF and the ASG, the GPH panel likewise condemned the Moro National Liberation Front faction led by Nur Misuari for the 20-day siege in Zamboanga City.

The siege resulted in the deaths of more than a hundred MNLF-Misuari fighters, 23 government forces and nine civilians.

In the course of the Zamboanga siege, as many as 10,000 structures, homes, and buildings were razed in the city and caused the displacement of more than 100,000 persons.

“However, despite the violence instigated by the spoilers of the peace process, the government and the MILF are creating the conditions to bring about lasting peace in Mindanao,” Ferrer said.

Ferrer said the two panels are working exhaustively to address the remaining issues in the Annexes on Power Sharing and Normalization.

The GPH and the MILF signed on October 15, 2012 the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

This was followed by the Annex on Transitional Modalities and Arrangements on February 27, 2013 and the Annex on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing last July 13 this year.

Ferrer said they have already made a lot of progress on the annex on power sharing and are hopeful and optimistic that the last two annexes would be finished by the end of the year.

“The road we face would not be easy as there are still many challenges to face. But both panels are trying their very best to address all issues and we believe that we will have a comprehensive agreement under the term of President Benigno S. Aquino III,” Ferrer said.

Acquisition of 2 new frigates to boost PN capabilities

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 3): Acquisition of 2 new frigates to boost PN capabilities

The Department of National Defense (DND) decision to acquire two brand-new frigates for P18-billion will boost the capabilities of the Philippine Navy fleet.

"The acquisition of the two frigates are part of the PN's force-mix program to attain (our) minimum credible defense posture. These will also enhance the Navy's vision to become a true blue water navy as we aim to be really strong and credible," PN spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic said.

Blue water capability refers to the ability to sail and protect the country's 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone against all threats.

The P18-billion contract for the ships include ammunition for the frigates' weapon system.

Interested bidders must have completed a similar project within the last 10 years.

Winner bidders are required to deliver the frigates within 1,460 calendar days from the opening of the letter of credit.

Pre-bid conference will be held on Oct. 11 with first stage bid to be held on Oct. 25.

Both will be held at the DND Bidding Awards Committee Conference Room, Basement, DND Building, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

The option to acquire brandnew frigates for the Navy came in the wake of the decision to forego the acquisition of Italy's Maestrale-class frigates due to evaluation studies that found out that operating these vessels will be more costly in the long run.

"We found out that it will be more expensive to maintain second hand vessel(s) than buying a new one," the DND earlier said.

The Maestrale was earlier touted by the DND as the next ships to be acquired for the Philippine Navy due to its credible missile and anti-submarine capabilities.

Army succors wounded NPA fighter abandoned for dead by his comrades

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 3): Army succors wounded NPA fighter abandoned for dead by his comrades

Troopers of the Eastern Mindanao Command literally brought up from the dead a badly wounded New People's Army (NPA) fighter whom his companions left to die shortly an encounter in Barangay Aliwagwag, Cateel town, Davao Oriental last Oct. 1.

Capt. Alberto Caber, the unit's spokesperson, identified the rescued rebel as Kim Gargar, reportedly a UP Diliman professor.

Recovered from the latter were an M-16 automatic rifle, assorted landmines and subversive documents.

Killed in the said encounter was a NPA leader identified only as "Ka Ryan".

Gargar was found unconscious by troopers of the 67th Infantry Battalion who were conducting pursuit operations against the former's retreating comrades.

67th Infantry Battalion commander Lt. Col. Krishnamurti A. Mortela said that Gargar was found unconscious while clutching a rifle 200 meters away from the encounter site.

“First aid was given to him by the troops of 67th Infantry Battalion before he was brought to Davao Oriental Provincial Hospital,” he added.

Initial reports revealed that Gargar was a physics professor in UP Diliman from 2000 to 2003; Don Mariano University in Cagayan de Oro City 2003 to 2005; PUP Sta. Mesa in 2006 to 2007; Mapua University year 2007 to 2008 and was a doctorate scholar in chronological Biology in University of Groningen, Netherlands.

He disclosed that he helped CPP-NPA founder Joma Sison in the production of several books aimed to exploiting the countryside.

He joined the NPAs in Compostela Valley Province in 2012 while his wife works as writer of

Gargar was amazed at how he was treated well by the soldiers.

PA denies sending soldiers to battle in tattered uniforms, combat boots

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 3): PA denies sending soldiers to battle in tattered uniforms, combat boots

The Philippine Army Thursday dismissed reports it is sending its soldiers to battle with tattered uniforms and combat boots.

It added its existing guidelines on Individual Clothing Individual Equipment prohibits the Army from doing so.

This was stipulated in a Letter Directive dated July 20, 2011 on the measures for the proper utilization of Reenlistment Clothing Allowance.

It was stipulated that all Army soldiers are entitled to receive the RCA to be given “in-kind and in-cash” upon reenlistment to service.

The RCA given “in-cash” at P8,281.85, while the RCA given “in-kind” is at P4,084.

The RCA “in-kind” was translated to two sets of Battle Dress Attire (BDA) that amounted to P2,704.00 (P1, 352.00 per set), and one pair of combat boots at P1,380.

Each reenlisted personnel is entitled to such benefits every three years, which is also the period to which soldiers must renew their oath to serve the country.

Every soldier is required to utilize the RCA “in-cash” to purchase more sets of BDA in case those provided through the RCA “in-kind” had already been worn out.

Meanwhile, another Letter Directive dated Aug. 3 2009 stated the implementing guidelines on the Direct Exchange (DX) system wherein Army personnel with certified worn-out uniforms and bushed equipment can directly exchange to new and functional ones with the reactivated and accredited Army Stores PA-wide.

Apparently, there is no reason to debate on the insufficiency of individual combat clothing and equipment for Army personnel.

2 Marines killed, 2 civilians wounded in Sulu incident

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 3): 2 Marines killed, 2 civilians wounded in Sulu incident

Two enlisted troops of the Philippine Marine Corps were killed while two civilians were wounded after a still unidentified gunman fired at them while they were near the Mt. Carmel Cathedral, Jolo, Sulu Thursday morning.

Col. Jose Johriel M. Cenabre, 2nd Marine Brigade commander, identified the slain Marines as Cpl. Danilo B. Agustin and Pfc. Gilmor B. Panitan.

Both men were assigned at the 29MC of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 9.

The two were securing the church when fired upon by the lone suspect around 11: 45 a.m.

Both men sustained multiple gunshot wounds and died upon arrival at the Camp Teodulfo Bautista Station Hospital in Busbus, Jolo, Sulu

Wounded in the incident were Daniela Rose Iting, 6, from Anuling, Patikul and Ellyeza Faith Salo, 5, and a resident of Kasulutan Village.

Iting suffered a gunshot wound in the right arm while Salo sustained right heel.

Both are now in stable condition at the Sulu Provincial Hospital.

Cenabre said the Sulu Provincial Police and the Municipal Police of Jolo are now determining the motive for the attack even as pursuit operations are now being conducted against the suspect.

Troops clear, turn over 11 vital installations in Zambo City

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 3): Troops clear, turn over 11 vital installations in Zambo City

The government security forces have turned over Thursday 11 vital installations to include two places of worships to the respective administrators after completion of clearing operations.

Cleared of unexploded munitions and turned over were the Hall of Justice, Land Transportation Office, Department of Budget and Management, National Statistics Office, National Museum, City Social Welfare and Development Office, Women Crisis Center, Plaza del Pilar, Sta. Barbara Barangay Hall, Fort Pilar Shrine, and the Sta. Barbara Mosque.

Police Regional Office-9 (PRO-9) information officer Chief Insp. Ariel Huesca said the vital installations are in the priority list for clearing operations to ensure delivery of basic services like in the case of the government offices.

The turnover ceremony was held at the Hall of Justice Thursday afternoon.

The heads of the different offices and the administrators of the Fort Pilar Shrine and Mosque have expressed their deepest gratitude to the troops who defended the 11 vital installations at the height of the standoff.

Except for the NSO, all the other 10 vital installations are located within Barangay Sta. Barbara, one of the sites of fierce fighting between the government forces and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels.

The NSO is located along Dr. Evangelista Street in Barangay Sta. Catalina, also one of the places of heavy fighting during the standoff.

24 MNLF detainees transferred to BJMP facility in Zambo

From  the Philippine News Agency (Oct 3): 24 MNLF detainees transferred to BJMP facility in Zambo

Twenty-four of the more than 200 Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels detained in San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm were transferred Thursday to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP)-administered Zamboanga City Reformatory Center (ZCRC).

ZCRC Warden Chief Insp. Julius Arro said transferred from the penal farm are those who surrendered last Sept. 17 to former local police director Senior Supt. Jose Chiquito Malayo at the height of the standoff.

Arro said they were transferred to the ZCRC for their safety since the police do not want them together with MNLF rebels who were captured.

Arro said they were detained altogether in one of the ZCRC detention cells.

Arro said the MNLF fighters who surrendered are considered as among the high risk detainees due to their participation in the standoff in this city.

The ZCRC now has a total of 74 high risk inmates with the transferred of the 24 MNLF rebels.

As this developed, Arro has asked for augmentation of personnel or from the police to help them secure the ZCRC.

Convergence is Davao Norte’s localized peace process — Gov. del Rosario

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 3): Convergence is Davao Norte’s localized peace process — Gov. del Rosario

Local governments in the Philippines can have their own version of the national peace process by making sure that they bridge the geographical distances between the government’s services and the remote communities.

“The Convergence for Peace and Development brings together government resources to economically depressed and politically threatened areas,” Regional Peace and Order Council Chairperson and Davao del Norte Governor Rodolfo del Rosario said.

Convergence, which started in 2011, supports the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Peace and Development Outreach Program and has served 24,000 beneficiaries as of 2012.

Under this strategy, the AFP provides the Team with a list of threatened barangays while the rest of the members headed by the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office make an assessment of the economic conditions of said barangays.

“We visit one red-flag barangay every week and bring in an array of government services including health, agriculture and legal services among others,” he said.

While the Convergence Team provide the communities with simple items like slippers, school supplies and fresh milk some of the things they do means a lot to the health and sanitation in the rural areas.

Take for example the toilet bowls that are fabricated by the AFP and the Philippine National Police for these communities.

“The short-term outcome of the project is the widening of access of rural people to government services; by bringing the whole capitol to the remote community the program is able to bridge the gap between the government and its people due to physical distance,” del Rosario said. Del Rosario said the Convergence also has an infrastructure component with the aim of expanding road networks to open northern frontiers to other provinces.

He said the Dept. of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is beating the 2014 deadline of the President to complete the Talaingod-Kapalong-Bukidnon highway and the Asuncion-Laak-Veruela national highway that will connect the province to Agusan del Sur.

“We will also open a provincial road in Kapalong that connects to LGU-Loreto also in Agusan del Sur,” he said. vWith the major road network that connects Davao del Norte to its neighboring provinces, he added, we hope to expedite market integration of our rural people to our urban centers and link out province to a much wider market.

Troops recover 39 cadavers of MNLF rebels involved in Zambo standoff

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 3): Troops recover 39 cadavers of MNLF rebels involved in Zambo standoff

Government security forces have already recovered a total of 39 cadavers of slain Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels involved in the standoff as clearing operations entered the fifth day Thursday.

The clearing operations started last Sunday after National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin declared that the standoff was over.

Police Regional Office-9 (PRO-9) information officer Chief Insp. Ariel Huesca said Thursday that some of the 39 cadavers were exhumed in shallow graves in separate areas in the adjoining barangays of Sta. Catalina, Sta. Barbara and Rio Hondo.

The three barangays were the sites of heavy fighting after hundreds of MNLF rebels infiltrated this city through the shores of Barangay Rio Hondo and nearby barangays.

Huesca said that all of the recovered cadavers were subjected to proper procedures for identification and decent burial.

He said that the security forces have also recovered 236 unexploded munitions during the clearing operations.

He said the recovered munitions include unexploded rifle grenades, caliber 40-milimeter ammunition and hand grenades.

The conduct of the clearing operations is to ensure the safe return of the residents of the three adjoining barangays, Huesca said.