Monday, June 30, 2014

Ramadan saves kidnap victim from Sayyaf's beheading

From the Philippine Star (Jun 30): Ramadan saves kidnap victim from Sayyaf's beheading

The Abu Sayyaf militants halted its plan to behead its captive laborer on Sunday, citing the observance of the Ramadan in Sulu.

Analiza Lingayan, wife of Remigio Lingayan, confirmed the report after the kidnappers called them up Sunday night, informing the family that they cancelled Remigio's execution.

“The kidnappers said they will not pursue the beheading because of the observance of the Ramadan,” the victim’s wife disclosed.

The Abu Sayyaf group abducted Lingayan, 50, along with his brother-in-law Joselito Gonzales on June 4 in Indanan town while the victims were working on a project of Sulu vice governor Sakur Tan.

Gonzales was reported killed during the encounter on June 19 between the Abu Sayyaf and the military forces in Patikul. Lingayan relayed this information when he was able to call his wife via phone.

The police and military, however, have yet to confirm the information.

The kidnappers initially demanded P20-million ransom, but later reduced it to P3 million and gave the victim’s family 10 days to pay the ransom. The ultimatum lapsed on Sunday.

Mrs. Lingayan said during her conversation with the kidnappers, she appealed to the group to spare her husband as  they are exhausting all means to raise any possible amount to save the life of her husband.

The Lingayan family here has resorted to putting up empty plastic gallons as donation boxes to raise any amount while appealing to the provincial government of Sulu to help negotiate for the release of the victim.

3 MNLF factions pick Nur as common representative

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 30): 3 MNLF factions pick Nur as common representative
The meeting was intended to unify the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). It ended with three factions of the former agreeing to move as one for a common goal.

During the June 11-12 meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, three factions of the MNLF—Habib Mudjahab Hashim’s MNLF Islamic Command Council, the Executive Committee of 15 led by Muslimin Sema and Nur Misuari’s group, represented by lawyer Randolph Parcasio—signed an agreement to have “a unified, solid position toward efforts to arrive at a political, just and lasting peaceful solution” to the Bangsamoro question.

Hashim, in a phone interview with the Inquirer on June 26, said the three groups also agreed to have Misuari as their representative.

Misuari, however, has been in hiding since his men attacked Zamboanga City in September last year. He will be represented by Parcasio.

“We have discussed with MNLF senior leaders, together with OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation), to intervene and seek for the lifting of Misuari’s arrest warrant,” Hashim said.

The new group, in a statement that Hashim sent to the Inquirer, said it maintained the “oneness of the MNLF under the leadership of MNLF founding leader and central committee chair Nur Misuari.”

The statement was signed by Hashim, Sema, Parcasio, Ustadz Abdulbaki Abubakar, Jimmy Labawan, Abdul Jabbar Narra, Yahodza Simpal, Hatimil Hassan, Shakiruddin Bajin and Mashur Jundam.

Hashim said no formal talks happened between the MNLF and the MILF.

“We just greeted each other,” he said.

The MILF recently signed a peace agreement with the government. The MNLF, on the other hand, has been complaining that the government failed to fully implement the provisions of the peace deal that it signed in 1996.
The MILF is a breakaway group of the MNLF.

In a text message, lawyer Emmanuel Fontanillas, who belongs to Misuari’s group, confirmed the unification.

“Yes, they are now united and that is expected, since he (Misuari) is the originator of the modern struggle. Eventually, all fronts will unite under him,” Fontanillas said.

Misuari was not invited to the Jeddah meeting initiated by the OIC.
But Hashim said they were in constant contact with Misuari during the two-day meeting.

The MNLF senior leaders also agreed that Parcasio would be the spokesperson of the “MNLF Jeddah Formula.”

Hashim said they hoped that the Department of Justice would review the cases filed against Misuari.

Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said the decision to lift the warrant of arrest against Misuari was for the Regional Trial Court in Taguig to decide.

“I believe that the court will appreciate the merits of the case,” Salazar said.

Gazmin downplays resignation report

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 30): Gazmin downplays resignation report

With the retirement of General Emmanuel Bautista, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff, rumors of the resignation of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin started to circulate, but the man was quick to downplay the issue.

According to a report, the 55-year-old Bautista is being groomed to be the next defense chief.

“When I said that I’m tired, that’s not correct,” said the former Commanding General of the Philippine Army. “Yes I have aged but I’m even stronger than people my age.”

Gazmin added that his working tenure would depend on the Chief Executive, President Benigno Aquino III.

“My service depends on the President, I would continue to do what he says,” Gazmin said. “If he says that I should resign, I would resign.”

“I’m thankful that I’ve had the chance to serve the country.”

Roxas sees ‘bomb plot’ in Southern Mindanao

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 30): Roxas sees ‘bomb plot’ in Southern Mindanao

The “possible terrorist threat” in Southern Mindanao has been identified by Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II as a bomb plot that is likely planned by a person or two individuals.

“Bomba ito, terorismo ito. This is not a conventional threat posed by several men in uniforms, firing with their long firearms,” Roxas said in a hastily called press briefing in Camp Crame on Monday.

“Ito ay isa, dalawang tao lang na masama ang binabalak at nagpaplano.”

On Sunday, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said it was bracing for a “possible terrorist threat” in Davao City, alerting all its police forces in Mindanao. But the police did not specify the nature of the threat.

After his meeting with Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Roxas said the threat possibility is at level four based on the information and leads gathered.

“May the threat possibility be at level four or below, Mayor Duterte said the government response must be at level ten. We cannot just ignore this threat possibility,” he said.

Roxas on Sunday flew to Davao City to meet Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who also chairs the Regional Peace and Order Council of Davao Region, and Police Regional Director Wendy Rosario to ensure that all police units in Mindanao are on alert for any possible terrorist attack.

He also sought the cooperation of 1.7 million citizens of Davao with the authorities in preventing any terrorist threat from materializing.

He said the intelligence unit of the PNP, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Intelligence Service of the AFP (ISAFP) have collated their reports and came up with the information that a terrorist attack might hit Davao City.

Roxas, however, declined to divulge further information so as not to compromise and jeopardize the operation of intelligence units.

Farmers mark end of Carper with protests

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 30): Farmers mark end of Carper with protests

Different militant organizations and farmers march towards Mendiola near Malacanang palace in Manila from Department of Agrarian Reform in Quezon City, Monday, on the last day of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) law.  NIÑO JESUS ORBETA/INQUIRER
About a thousand farmers marched to Mendiola in Manila on Monday to mark the expiration of what they called “bogus” Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and then called for free distribution of lands to farmers.

Dubbed as the “Lakbayan ng mga Biktima ng CARP para sa Tunay na Reporma sa Lupa (Journey of CARP Victims for True Land Reform),” the march from the Department of Agrarian Reform office in Quezon City to Mendiola was participated in by farmers from Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog and Bicol Region.

Led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Peasants Movement of the Philippines), the “lakbayan” also protested how government has handled agrarian disputes like the 6,000-hectare Hacienda Luisita, the 8,650-ha Hacienda Looc in Nasgbu, Batangas, and the 3,500 ha Araneta Estate in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan.

The marchers, upon arrival at Mendiola, burned a 10-foot effigy of President Aquino who was sporting a US flag as an undershirt.

“We want to send a strong message to the President and the proponents of the CARP extension bill that we have enough lies, deception and violence inflicted by the sham CARP to the peasantry,” said KMP chairman Rafael Mariano.

Mariano slammed House Bill 4296, which would grant a two-year extension to the 26-year-old CARP saying that this action would be “nothing but an exercise in futility.”

Independent labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (May 1 Movement) noted that the CARP has been the “longest-running” and “most expensive” land reform program in the world. “It has not resulted in the distribution of lands to farmers but has only legalized the concentration of lands in the hands of a few landowning families,” said KMU chairman Elmer Labog.

Mariano added that this march aimed to show all Filipinos that “the peasantry’s collective strength is far more superior than the big landlord-dominated and controlled legislative mill.”

The current conditions in the country, according to Labog, “cry out” for genuine land reform and national industrialization especially now that unemployment continues to increase.

“As workers, we want to give out our all-out support to farmers who are calling for a genuine land reform,” Labog noted.

The KMU chair said the condition of the farmers have been worsened by the surge in price hikes of basic commodities, which have also pushed Filipinos to migrate to other countries to look for better-paying jobs.

Air Force to display assets at anniversary rites

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 30): Air Force to display assets at anniversary rites

To display strength, the Philippine Air Force would showcase 50 of its air assets during its 67th anniversary to be held in Clark Air Base in Pampanga, Tuesday morning.

Lieutenant Colonel Enrico Canaya, PAF spokesman, said the fly-by display of their assets would highlight the day’s program, and to show the public that they have the wings to perform their mission.

“This will convey the state of readiness of the Air Force and that includes the state of readiness of our pilots,” Canaya said Monday. “These air assets can perform various functions. (The fly-by) will show that we can perform the mission and conduct air operations.”

An aerobatic team from the PAF Flying School, the Ravens, would use SF-260FH/M planes to perform an aerial capability demonstration.

Other wings that would join the fly-by showcase are three S-211 jets, three C-130 Hercules cargo planes, one F-28, 2 F-27 Fokker, three N-22 Nomad planes, two OV-10 Bronco bombers, two SF-260TP warrior, 16 SF-260FH/M trainers, nine T-41D trainers, an LC-210 weather aircraft, four MG-520 gunship helicopters, four UH-1H Huey helicopters, one Bell 205, Huey II, six Sokol rescue helicopters, and three S-76A air ambulances.

A joke no more

Always the butt of jokes, the PAF is set to display their brawn and shatter the jest that hovered over them for years.

Canaya said that the joke “all air, no force” is no longer true.

He added the Air Force is continually improving their assets through the modernization program.

On June 26, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that four new Huey helicopters were being assembled in Clark and that 17 are still set to arrive.

Expected to lead the ceremonies is President Benigno Aquino III with Gazmin and General Emmanuel Bautista, the Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff, flanking him.

PAF Commanding General Lieutenant General Jeffrey Delgado would lead the awarding of the outstanding air men and civilian employees.

Manila court to hear Pestaño case

From the Manila Standard Today (Jun 30): Manila court to hear Pestaño case

The Court of Appeals has paved the way for the Manila Regional Trial Court to hear the murder case filed against 10 Navy officers and enlisted personnel over the death of Ensign Philip Andrew Pestaño.

The appellate court through Associate Justice Ramon  Bato Jr. also sustained the Feb. 26, 2014 order issued by Presiding Judge Josefina Siscar of RTC Branch 55 ordering the transfer of the accused from  military custody to the Manila City Jail.

The CA junked the petition to overturn the RTC’s order and issuance of a temporary restraining order.

According to the ruling, the charge of bias and prejudice is moot and academic since the judge has inhibited herself from handling the case.
The CA noted that the case was already raffled to Banch 6 presided by Judge Jansen Rodriguez.

It also cited Republic Act 7055, a law that strengthens civilian supremacy over the military by transferring to the civil courts the jurisdiction over certain offenses committed by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Associate Justices Rodil Zalameda and Maria Elisa Sempio Diy concurred with the ruling.

Earlier, the CA has also affirmed with finality its decision which upheld the order of the  Ombudsman dismissing from the service the accused.

Among those charged by the Ombudsman for Pestaño’s death were Navy Capt. Ricardo Ordoñez, Commander Reynaldo Lopez, Commander Alfrederick Alba, Lt. Commander Luidegar Casis, Lt. Commander Joselito Colico, Lt. Commander Ruben Roque, Machinery Repairman 2nd Class Sandy Miranda, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Welmenio Aquino, Petty Officer 1st Class Carlito Amoroso and Petty Officer 2nd Class Mil Leonor Y. Igacasan.

Court records of the case showed that BRP Bacolod City, a Navy cargo ship, left Tawi-Tawi on Sept. 20, 1995.

After seven days, the ship made a last-stop over in Sangley Point and departed the same day for its final destination, the Navy headquarters in Manila.

Before the ship reached Manila, Pestaño was found dead inside his cabin lying on the bed with a single gunshot to his right temple and a purported suicide note to his family.

Investigation by the Senate and the military ruled out suicide.

No threat to Metro Manila, says Malacañang

From GMA News (Jun 30): No threat to Metro Manila, says Malacañang

The possible security threat in Davao City will not spill over to Metro Manila, Malacañang assured Monday.
At a press briefing, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said military intelligence reports indicated that the alleged threat was "specifically directed" at Davao City.
"The information we have is that it [the alleged threat] is limited to Davao City," Lacierda said.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is "validating the threat" and is taking a "proactive stance" on the matter, he added.
Lacierda said that AFP Eastern Mindanao Command had been on alert even before President Benigno Aquino III called up Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte about the threat.
The President's spokesman also ruled out any possibility that the threat in Davao City was connected with a destabilization plot against the administration.
On Friday, Davao City security officials were placed on heightened alert after Duterte said he received a warning from Aquino of a supposed threat in the area. 
The threat alert in Davao City came days after the reported escape of alleged bomb-making terrorist Abdel Basit Usman from authorities during a raid on a guerrilla camp.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas meanwhile said that Davao City's preparations after the terror alert are sufficient, but still asked the public to take the threat seriously.

5th Infantry Division offers medical, dental services to all sectors

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jun 29): 5th Infantry Division offers medical, dental services to all sectors

CAMP MECLHOR DELA CRUZ, GAMU, Isabela – The 5th Infantry Division, Philippine Army’s medical and dental services unit is offering its services to all sectors in its area of operations.

Lieutenant Colonel Aniceto Operana of 5ID, PA medical and dental unit, said his team is prepared to join the private sector, civil society organizations and other government agencies in conducting medical and dental missions in its area of operations.

Operana said sectoral organizations who intend to conduct medical and dental missions can request and coordinate with the army division leaders inside Camp Melchor dela Cruz and his team will surely be joining their scheduled missions for the good of the public.

He added that his unit has been joining many medical and dental missions of different sectors in its area of operations and continue on with their endeavor to help the public on their health and dental problems.

"We are very much willing to extend our dental and medical services to the needy and underprivileged individuals or groups," Operana said.

He said their team will again join another medical and dental mission set by Bombp Radyo – Cauayan on July 13, 2014.

Army trains new CAFGUs in Kalinga

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jun 30): Army trains new CAFGUs in Kalinga

The Philippine Army stationed in the province is set to train this week about  120 applicants to the Civilian Auxiliary Force Ground Unit (CAFGU) to beef-up its counter-insurgency force.

77th Infantry Battalion (IB) Commander Col. Francisco Milliari reported the training will take place at their camp in Barangay Bantay, here.
As part of the screening, the Army took the background investigation of each of the applicants to assure their loyalty to the constitution as Army auxiliary force.  Their integration to the AFP must not be due to some adventure other than to serve the country and the Filipinos with utmost sincerity and commitment to duty, Milliari stressed.

The 120 applicants will undergo training on basic military combat and  will be inculcated strict military discipline. After qualifying with all the requirements, the new CAFGUs will be deployed in the Army’s area of operation in the province.

 As incentive, CAFGUs who earned good record and performance in their duty are given recruitment priority in the Army.

Frigate specifications out by July

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): Frigate specifications out by July

Specifications of the two frigates worth P18 billion, which will be armed with a variety of weapons capable of dealing with surface, sub-surface and air threats, will be released by July.

This was confirmed by Philippine Navy technical working group head Commodore Roland Mercado in a text message to the Philippines News Agency on Monday.

"It (specifications) will be released this July. I'll just have to present it to the PN leadership to get their comments and approval," he added.

Mercado declined to give the frigates' specifications pending his presentation to Navy flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Jesus Millan.

Earlier, two more foreign shipbuilders have joined the Navy's P18-billion frigate program. These are Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd. of India and STX France SA.

They were allowed to join in the bidding after their motions for reconsideration were considered by the Department of National Defense's Special Bidding Awards Committee.

They were earlier excluded from the project due to deficiencies in documentary requirements.

These companies now join Navantia Sepi (RTR Ventures) of Spain and South Korean firms STX Offshore & Shipbuilding, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. Ltd., and Hyundai Heavy Industries Inc. who successfully passed the first stage of the bidding.

Design assessments of the frigate proponents started last February.

Each bidder was given five working days to present its concept.

During this period, hull, power plant, communications, and weapon systems designs were scrutinized closely by the technical working group.

PN's Del Pilar-class frigates capable of operating with modern US warships in CARAT 2014

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): PN's Del Pilar-class frigates capable of operating with modern US warships in CARAT 2014

The two Gregorio Del Pilar-class frigates now serving the Philippine Navy (PN) are very much capable of operating along with the ultra-modern United States Navy warships participating in the five-day CARAT 2014 naval exercises off Zambales coast.

This was revealed by Cmdr. Gregory Fabic, PN public affairs office chief, in a text message to the Philippines News Agency on Monday.

Fabic said that despite their relative age, pegged at 40 years old, the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15) and BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) are still fast, maneuverable and well-armed.

"Del Pilar-class frigates are CODOG (combined diesel or gas propulsion system) and have the necessary speed and maneuverability to keep up with any modern ships. While we are still on the process of upgrading its weapons system, Del Pilar-class frigates have the 76mm Oto Melara (automatic cannon) main armament which is potent enough to deter any threats and inflict damage," Fabic stressed.

He added that this capability is demonstrated in the ongoing CARAT 2014 where the two Filipino warships are able to operate efficiently with the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the USS John S. McCain (DDG-56).

CARAT, which refers to "Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training," aims to improve interoperability of the American and Filipino navies. It formally began on June 26 and will end on July 1.

Lt. (JG) Rommel Rodriquez, Philippine Fleet spokesperson, said BRP Gregorio Del Pilar was acquired and commissioned in 2011 while BRP Ramon Alcaraz was obtained in 2012 and commissioned in 2013.

Both ships are former Hamilton-class cutters serving the US Coast Guard.

The two frigates are the largest combatants of the Philippine Navy and are the mother ships of the AgustaWestland AW-109E "Power" helicopters commissioned last December 2013.

President Aquino to grace 67th anniversary of Philippine Air Force

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): President Aquino to grace 67th anniversary of Philippine Air Force

President Benigno S. Aquino III will grace the celebration of the 67th anniversary of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) in Clark Field, Pampanga on Tuesday.

“The Commander-in-Chief will give thanks to the men and women of the Philippine Air Force, and will speak about additional capability enhancements that the administration is undertaking to enable our uniformed services to effectively meet the challenges of their responsibilities,” Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said during Monday’s press briefing in Malacanang.

Part of the PAF modernization is the acquisition of 12 FA-50 lead-in fighter trainer jets from South Korea, Lacierda said, adding that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has released a Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) for the P18.9-billion project.

“With this, we can only expect the PAF to further improve its capacity to carry out its mandate as the ‘First Force,’ not only in times of calamity but also in times of stability,” he said.

Lacierda, meanwhile, noted that Monday marked President Aquino’s fourth year in office.

“Throughout these past years, we have remained focused on the commitments we outlined in our social contract with Filipinos,” he said.

“In the remaining two years of the administration, the President and his team will continue the active pursuit of a Philippines where no one is left behind, capitalizing on the many significant gains we have collectively achieved.”

The Presidential Spokesperson said that inclusive growth for all means sharing the responsibility of nation building.

“We are all reminded that the task of nation building is not left to government alone, and that each of us must put our country above ourselves as we work toward realizing our shared aspiration: a truly just and equitable society,” he added.

Ongoing security efforts in Davao City just 'precautionary measures'

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): Ongoing security efforts in Davao City just 'precautionary measures'
With the military and police placing Davao City under tight watch, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Monday said that moves are just "precautionary measures" to safeguard civilian lives and properties that may be under threat.
"Davao City, Iligan, Cagayan De Oro and Zamboanga City are always under threat, so security measures put in place by the military and police are just precautionary measures," he said in Filipino.
Gazmin said security measures need to be tightened in these areas as government security forces have scored heavily against the Abu Sayyaf Group which might be planning to retaliate.
The Eastern Mindanao Command earlier announced that it has beefed its checkpoints and patrols in cooperation with the Philippine National Police (PNP) in wake of the terror threat against Davao City.
Capt. Alberto Caber, Eastern Mindanao Command spokesperson, said that they are still clarifying reports that Basit Usman, an Abu Sayyaf Group operative with ties with the Jemaah Islamiyah and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, is the brains behind the threat.
"Our intelligence units are still validating this reports. They are still determining possible plans, motives, and locations for this purported attack," Caber said in Filipino.
The Eastern Mindanao Command spokesperson stressed that terrorist threat can materialize in a form of a simple bomb attack or a car bomb albeit no confirmation can be made yet.
Car bombs are the trademark of Basit who is known to perpetuate a series of car bombing attacks in 2002 in Kidapawan, North Cotabato.
He added that they are being aided in this endeavor by the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Aside from the police checkpoints, Caber said that travelers heading for Davao City, after the airport, need to pass five to seven checkpoints before being allowed entry to the area.
The Eastern Mindanao Command spokesperson said that passing through these security cordons will take at least an hour.
Aside from manned checkpoints, plainclothes operatives are constantly monitoring Davao City for possible infiltrators.
Caber stated that checkpoints are also deployed in the boundaries of Cagayan De Oro and Bukidnon near Davao City.
Signs with the hotlines of the local police are scattered all over Davao City to give civilians an idea on where to contact authorities should suspicious looking persons come to their areas.

CARAT 2014 | US, Philippine troops 'assault' beach

From InterAksyon (Jun 30): CARAT 2014 | US, Philippine troops 'assault' beach

SAN ANTONIO, ZAMBALES - More than 200 US and Filipino Marines launched a mock amphibious assault Monday on an enemy beachfront close to a disputed South China Sea outcrop.

Amid driving rain and rough waves, five amphibious assault tanks roared off from a US destroyer anchored off Zambales province, about two hours drive northwest of Manila, and landed on the soggy beach peppered with imaginary foes.

US Marines scanned the horizon on scopes mounted on assault rifles as they dramatically emerged from the hatch, while their Filipino counterparts took firing positions on the ground.

Shots later rang out towards enemy positions in an assault that lasted about an hour.

The drill was part of week-long, annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) that the United States bilaterally holds with Asian allies, including the Philippines, to boost maritime security.

About 1,000 US and Filipino troops and five warships, including an American missile destroyer, took part in the training, which began last week.

Philippine fleet commander Jaime Bernardino told reporters at the start of the war games last week that they were designed to upgrade the Filipino navy's capability in guarding the country's long coastline.

"These are the gaps that we would like to address (to) make sure we detect (foreign vessels) properly, we intercept them and we neutralize them if necessary," he said.

Monday's exercise took place on an uninhabited beach near a Zambales naval outpost 220 kilometers (137 miles) east of Scarborough Shoal on the South China Sea.

The shoal, a traditionally-rich fishing ground, has been effectively taken over by China following a tense year-long standoff with the Philippines in 2012.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, including waters near its smaller neighbours' shores.

It has been accused of becoming increasingly aggressive in staking its claims to the sea, a vital shipping lane also believed to contain vast oil and mineral deposits.

Parts of the sea are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Filipino military officials had said the manoeuvres were designed to plug "capability gaps" within the Philippine military, considered one of the weakest in the region.

The Philippines has increasingly looked at the United States to boost its military capabilities amid the Chinese threat.

In recent years, the Philippine acquired two US ships to patrol its coasts.

In April, the allies signed a defence pact that would see thousands of US troops stationed in the country in the next decade, including in Subic, once the country's largest naval shipyard outside US soil until 1992 when it was shut.

Domestic terror group behind threats

From MindaNews (Jun 30): Domestic terror group behind threats

DAVAO CITY – A “domestic terror group,” not an international terror group is behind the recent threats of terrorist acts here and other key cities in Mindanao, the Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesperson said.

Chief Supt. Reuben Theodore Sindac, chief of the PNP’s Public Information Office told ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) Monday morning that the group behind the recent threats is a “domestic terror group.”

Sindac did not name the group but said “we can resolve this issue within our level.”

Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Public Affairs Office, said security measures are being put in place to make people aware of such a threat but Zagala added, “we do not want to cause undue panic.”

President Aquino on Thursday informed Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of the alleged terror threat, prompting the latter to place the city under heightened alert.

Zagala said reports about the involvement of Abdulbasit Usman are still being validated. Usman is reportedly a bomb-making expert with links to the Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiyah.

The military is currently pursuing Usman, who is believed to training members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and who allegedly evaded capture during military operation on his hideout in Maguindanao on June 10.

The US State Department has offered a $1-million bounty for his killing or capture for his alleged involvement in a spate of bombings in the country. In January 2010, he was reported killed by an American drone aircraft near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

But the Philippine military later said Usman who was with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front but was expelled from the group for carrying out unauthorized bomb attacks, was alive and hiding in Mindanao.

There has been no conclusive proof on what really happened to Usman after reports came out that he had joined the BIFF.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

MILF: Current State of Peace Negotiation between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front

Posted to the MILF Website (Jun 29): Current State of Peace Negotiation between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front by Mohagher Iqbal

The peace negotiation between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is almost a success story.

The two parties have already signed the most significant agreement in their 17 years of protracted negotiation, which is the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) last March 27, 2014. This agreement provides for the negotiated political settlement of the armed conflict and Bangsamoro Question in Mindanao that claimed the lives of about 150,000 lives since 1972. There are no more substantive issues left in the pipeline of the negotiation for the parties to discuss except when new problems, mainly on the implementation aspects, crop up from time to time that require a meeting of the peace panels in Kuala Lumpur.

The good thing in the GPH-MILF peace process, unlike other peace processes especially the GRP-MNLF peace process, is that even after the signing of the CAB, the peace panels are not disbanded and would continue to engage each other when necessary until all the signed agreements are fully implemented and they signed the “exit agreement”. This agreement will mark the termination and end of their formal negotiation, so that in the regular operation of the Bangsamoro Government all problems with the Central Government shall be resolved through the inter-governmental relations mechanisms involving several layers of government.

    To date, what remains to be done by the parties to complete the process, aside from the normalization of the previously conflict-affected areas and their transformation into peaceful and progressive communities, is to translate the CAB, which is a political document, into a legal framework to be passed by the Philippine Congress. For this purpose, the two parties have created the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) whose main mandate is to craft the proposed basic law called Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which will become the governing law for the future Bangsamoro political entity. However, in order to do it legally feasible and executory on the side of government, President Benigno Aquino III had signed an Executive Order No. 120 creating the BTC, which upon its creation in late 2012, started to work on its mandate immediately so that on April 22, 2014 it had submitted to the Office of the President (OP) the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law for submission to Congress as certified as urgent bill to fast track its enactment into law.

The BTC’s proposed BBL mainly copy-pasted the essential elements of the CAB, pursuant to the provision of the same, to wit: “The mechanisms and modalities for the actual implementation of this Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, including the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law pursuant to Article V. Territory of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, are spelled out herein. The Parties shall mutually take such steps for its full implementation leading to the establishment of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority and the regular Bangsamoro Government …” in 2016.

The rationale behind this approach is simple. It is simply to avoid or minimize debates and oppositions especially from the government itself, knowing fully well that not all in the government service are fully on board the peace efforts of President Aquino. Besides, spoilers abound everywhere and ready to spew their venom at the first opportunity that occurs.

Sad to note, however, that only after two months, to be exact 61 days, while I was in Hiroshima, Japan on June 23 that this humble representation, as Chairman of the BTC and the MILF peace panel, had received a copy of the proposed BBL bearing the remarks and comments from the OP, which heavily diluted the original proposal coming from the BTC. A lawyer of the MILF, commenting on the remarks of the OP on the BBL, said that when a law is crafted out of it would be worse than the Republic Act No. 9054 that created the so-called Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which in every bit is an administrative arrangement. No less than President called the ARMM as a “failed experiment”.

    Now the challenges ahead appear daunting. Unless the Parties and the supporters and friends of the peace process come to the timely rescue and prevent the foreseeable collision of approaches of the two parties, the much-heralded signing of the CAB in Manila, Philippines last March will be over-shadowed by bickering, blaming, and shaming. The direct consequence would be that the BBL will not be submitted to Congress on July 28, in time for the State-of-the Nation Address (SONA) in Congress of President Aquino, or the government would proceed to submit the BBL without the concurrence of the MILF.

    The position of the MILF on the proposed BBL is very simple and straight forward. All those explicitly expressed and provided for in the CAB will no longer be the subject of negotiations. They are finished and settled. It is therefore nonsensical to raise them anew. However, all those, which are not expressly provided but fleshed out by the BTC, as part of its mandate, could be the subjects of subsequent engagement between the Parties. If reasons and consistency prevail, there is no way this controversy cannot be settled.

    Be this as it may, but the MILF has been with this kind of situation before and emerged out of it head high. After the breakdown of the ceasefire and the peace negotiation in 2000 at the behest of the Estrada administration, which launched the all-out war against the MILF, the peace negotiation, which was then on a domestic stage, was elevated to the diplomatic stage with the participation of Malaysia, as third party facilitator, upon the invitation of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2001. In 2003, while the peace negotiation was also moving modestly, the government ordered another all-out war against the MILF under the pretext of running after so-called kidnap-for-ransom groups. After the last bullet was fired, and the Parties reengaged in their peace journey, the International Monitoring Team (IMT) came in to oversee the effective implementation of the ceasefire, thereby creating an atmosphere of tranquility for the peace negotiation to proceed undisturbed. Again, in August 2008, after the government reneged by not signing the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), after it was initialed on July 27, 2008, and another full-blown war erupted, the International Contact Group (ICG), early designed to act as “international guarantee”, was organized to help the Parties comply with their obligations. Their exact mandate is to “exert proper leverage to the parties” to make sure that all is well and followed.

Today, we are on the verge of a similar situation. But I don’t think we are in a hopeless situation. I don’t think the parties will allow the situation to degenerate into something we do not like. I still have confidence on both sides’ determination to overcome the perceived hardships ahead of us.  The almost sudden visit of President Aquino to Japan to discuss bilateral issues with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and then proceeded to Hiroshima to speak before delegates to a peace forum organized by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), mostly coming from the MILF including Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and this humble representation is a timely occurrence at the precise moment when many a member of the BTC and the MILF is irritated, if not infuriated, by the almost total disregard of the proposed BBL crafted by the BTC. What is amazing is that the very government office tasked to oversee the conduct of the peace process, on the part of government, that led to the signing of the CAB, instead of defending the essence of this historic document or at least inhibited itself out of delicadeza, virtually led the review team of the OP to overhaul almost the entire proposal of the BTC, tasked by the two parties and by the President himself through his Executive Order No. 120 to craft the BBL. Before he spoke to the delegates, President Aquino met first with Chairman Murad and the undersigned at the Sheraton Hotel, which lasted for about 25 minutes. While I cannot disclosed the details of the meeting, but suffice to say that it was mainly about the way forward vis-à-vis the BBL.

Moreover, the infrastructures of the peace process, especially after the signing of the CAB, are so well-knitted and all-embracing that any sign of fissure can be addressed well and promptly. We have the third party facilitating country, which is Malaysia, we have the International Contact Group (ICG) composed of The United Kingdom, Turkey, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, representing the states, and Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD), Conciliation Resources (CR), Muhammadiyah, and Community of Sant’Egidio, representing the international non-government organizations (INGOs), we have the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) headed by a foreign eminent person, which monitors and validates the compliance of the parties, we have the Joint Normalization Committee (JNC), we have the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) headed by an eminent person nominated by Switzerland, the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) composed of Brunei, Norway, Turkey, and two representatives each from government and the MILF, and many more others.

Finally, let me state here that no matter what happens to the BBL, enacted or not by Congress, the MILF will remain focused on pursuing the Bangsamoro people’s right to self-determination at all cost. The MILF will also leave no stone unturned in exposing the true state of things surrounding the BBL, which must be faithful to the letter and spirit of the CAB. Truth must be pursued and error must be shunned. More urgently, the MILF will continue to capacitate our people, including building of institutions, linkages, networks, and alliances, so that they will have greater clout and power in asserting their right to self-determination.

Thank you very much and wassalam.

[A statement read by Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF peace panel and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), during a forum on peace process in Istanbul, Turkey on June 26-27, 2014.]

MILF: UNYPAD members attend Islamic Leadership Training

From the MILF Website (Jun 30): UNYPAD members attend Islamic Leadership Training

Twenty five youth leaders of the United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD) participated in the seminar-workshop on Islamic Leadership organized by the UNYPAD Maguindanao cluster-2 chapter on June 14, 2014 held at Ma’had Muj’tamah, Pagatin, Datu Salibo, Maguindanao.
The UNYPAD Provincial Chapter Chairman Mahmod Tulino; Norodin Guiamaludin, Vice Chairman for Internal Affairs; Yusoph Lumambas, UNYPAD Secretary General and this writer facilitated the seminar-workshop.

Lumambas shared why there is a need for youth to organize. He also pointed out that one of the objectives of an organization is to transform the Bangsamoro youth into becoming competitive, technology-oriented and God fearing citizens.

Tulino pointed out that, “Islam is a complete way of life, unlike what other peoples’ perception that Islam is just a “ritual-concern religion”.

Tulino also cited the successful leadership of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) as well as Omar Ibnu Abdul Aziz during the golden age of Arabian Peninsula.

Buharie Yunos, Datu Salibo Municipal Chapter Chairman explained in his opening message, “The main purpose of the activity is to empower the youth on how to become a good leader and served as an instrument for the good transformation of communities.”

“The current leadership style of leaders in this society is very different in what we have learned in today’s training,” he stressed.

The participants extended their appreciation to the leadership of UNYPAD by reaching out to their community that is always affected by armed-conflict.

The seminar-workshop was jointly organized and facilitated by Maguindanao cluster-2 provincial chapter with support from the national chapter.

Fighting Terrorism: A Third Way

Commentary Magazine (Jun 29): Fighting Terrorism: A Third Way by Max Boot

It is not just in Iraq that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are on the march. This is a general trend across the Islamic world. As Seth Jones of Rand notes in a recent report, “from 2010 to 2013 the number of jihadist groups world-wide has grown by 58%, to 49 from 31; the number of jihadist fighters has doubled to a high estimate of 100,000; and the number of attacks by al Qaeda affiliates has increased to roughly 1,000 from 392.”

How should the U.S. combat this distressing trend? Simply pulling back from the Middle East, as President Obama envisioned, is not working–American retreat is increasing conflict, not decreasing it. But that doesn’t mean that the only other alternative is, as the president suggested in his West Point address, to launch a major ground war with American troops.

There is a third way and it can be found in the Philippines where, after 9/11, the U.S. set up a Joint Special Operations Task Force to combat Abu Sayyaf and other Islamist terrorist groups. That task force, whose operations I described in this 2009 Weekly Standard article, never had more than 600 personnel and it never went directly into combat. Rather its mission was to assist the Philippine armed forces with intelligence, planning, civil affairs, psychological operations, training, and other important tasks. Now, having accomplished a lot, the task force, based in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, is being disbanded.

The New York Times quotes one analyst as saying “that the unit ‘undoubtedly helped the Philippine military to curb the activities of violent extremist groups operating in the region’ so that militants ‘now only pose a small, localized threat.’ ” That doesn’t mean Abu Sayyaf has ceased to exist but its numbers have been drastically cut–from an estimated 1,200 fighters to 400–and it has become more of a criminal than a terrorist menace.

That’s not a bad result, all things considered; it would certainly look like victory if we were to achieve anything approaching that outcome with such groups as Boko Haram, the Haqqani Network, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and of course the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

That’s not to say that 600 Special Operations troops by themselves can get the job done everywhere; circumstances were propitious in the Philippines where the insurgency was localized among a minority Muslim population and where the state had a long history of functioning, albeit with substantial problems of corruption and ineffectiveness.

The crisis is more acute in countries like Yemen, Sudan, Syria, and Iraq where large sections of the countryside have fallen entirely out of the government’s control. In some places–Iraq and Afghanistan among them–it will take a lot more than a few hundred special operators to keep the enemy at bay. But in other countries the Philippine model could prove to be sufficient. We should certainly try to apply it where we can, because the alternatives–retreat or massive military intervention–are so unpalatable.

More barangay tanods fielded in DC for anti-terror campaign

From MindaNews (Jun 30): More barangay tanods fielded in DC for anti-terror campaign

Local Governments Secretary Mar Roxas on Sunday met with Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and police officials to discuss security measures undertaken against reported terror threats targeting the city and key areas in Mindanao.

At a press briefing Sunday night at the Marco Polo Davao, Roxas said the security contingent against terrorism should go down to the community level with the use of additional barangay peace keeping action teams (BPAT).

He cited the addition of five more tanods per barangay in all of the city’s 182 barangays.

Roxas added that the additional barangay volunteers would ensure that a more local intelligence network is created so that crime incidents would be prevented.

“Your own residents would be the ones to know if there are suspicious people in your barangays,” he said.

Roxas said police visibility has also been increased, with around 1,400 police and 350 Task Force Davao personnel roving the city.

“We’re doing everything that is humanly possible,” Duterte said.

Duterte and Roxas did not name the organization behind the alleged terror threats.

Duterte ranked the threat to be a “3” on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 as the highest but added that the city’s response to threats always corresponds to a “10.”

President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday phoned Duterte about intelligence reports on terrorist threats targeting his city and the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Koronadal and Kidapawan.

Duterte said Aquino told him not to treat the threat lightly. He immediately convened a meeting with the security sector in the city.

Immediately, orders were made disallowing military o police or any civilian to carry firearms into the city. “They should leave these at the checkpoints,” Duterte said, adding only police and military personnel assigned in the city are allowed to carry firearms.

The alert level comes one month before the annual Kadayawan Festival.

Duterte said it has always been the practice of the city to raise its alert levels and that Dabawenyos have been trained to cooperate with security measures such as checkpoints, the prohibition of backpacks in public areas, as well as the presence of CCTVs in major areas in the city.

President Aquino’s call to Duterte came on the same day media reported that the United States was disbanding its anti-terror contingent in Mindanao – the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines, or JSOTF-P, which was set up over a decade ago to fight Al Qaeda-linked groups such as the Abu Sayyaf following the September 11, 2001 attack in the United States.

An Associated Press (AP) report datelined Manila on Thursday quoted US Embassy Press Attache Kurt Hoyer as saying that the United States’ partnership with Philippine security forces “has been successful in drastically reducing the capabilities of domestic and transnational terrorist groups in the Philippines” and that the remaining terrorists “have largely devolved into disorganized groups resorting to criminal undertakings to sustain their activities.”

Hoyer said US military planners in coordination with their Philippine counterparts are working on a “transition plan where the JSOTF-P as a task force will no longer exist.”

Hoyer said there were currently about 320 American military personnel left in the south.

The AP report also quoted Hoyer as saying a still unspecified number of US military personnel from the Pacific Command would remain under a new unit called the PACOM Augmentation Team to provide Filipino forces with counter-terrorism and combat training and advice, and “ensure that violent extremist organizations don’t regain a foothold in (Mindanao).”

The US and the Philippines in April signed an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that would allow US forces temporary access to selected Filipino military camps and enable them to preposition fighter jets and ships.

Former Senators Rene Saguisag and Wigberto Tanada who voted against the treaty extending the stay of US military bases in the country in 1991, had petitioned the Supreme Court questioning EDCA, arguing that such an agreement required the concurrence of the Senate.

Commentary: Is This What Terror War Success Looks Like?

Commentary from The Blog on the Huffington Post site (Jun 28): Is This What Terror War Success Looks Like?

What does success against jihadist terrorist groups look like? For all the talk of a Forever War, we might just have an answer now.

With activity in the decades-long Islamic jihadist insurgency in the Philippines down to a consistently low ebb, and an autonomy agreement now struck between the government in Manila and the main jihadist group, the overall Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), for a very limited swath of territory in place, the US is disbanding its big Philippine special ops task force focused on the conflict.
And preparing to pull up stakes and head for home?

[Video-GMA News Report: NTVL: USS Ashland, dumaong na sa Subic bay para sa carat exercise]

US forces are again flowing through the old Subic Bay naval base in the Philippines, but not to deal with Islamic jihadists.

Not hardly, as discussed before. For the US in fact is ramping up its presence in the Philippines, with the former US naval base at Subic Bay in the midst of major upgrades as US and Philippine forces work more closely together in the midst of the crisis over China's assertion of sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea.

Did Philippine government forces aided by US advisors completely defeat the Islamist insurgency? No. Was that insurrection degraded, through a combination of military action and political concessions to deal with legitimate concerns, to a level akin to a low-grade virus? Yes.

The US and Philippine governments were then free to move forward on more pressing geostrategic matters, as part of the Asia-Pacific Pivot.
This could be a model for how what many have called the "Forever War" (named after the classic Joe Haldeman science fiction novel) against transnational jihadist terrorism comes to an end. Of course, there are differences elsewhere, not the least of which is the frequent absence of a government with basic popular appeal for a nation-state with a substantial degree of coherence.

Speaking of which, US efforts to hold together the post-World War I colonial construct called Iraq are not going well, despite Secretary of State John Kerry's high-profile meetings with government and factional leaders in Iraq, NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, and Gulf Arab foreign ministers in Paris.

Despite being very hard-pressed, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is refusing calls from Kerry and others for a government of national reconciliation. Active Sunni leaders are either silent or working with ISIS. And the Kurds are declaring "a new era in a new Middle East," in which they have brand-new oil supplies ready for sale.

Maliki, and the US, seems to have dodged a bullet with the Baiji oil refinery, Iraq's largest, apparently still at least partially in the hands of government forces, the recent BBC report to the contrary notwithstanding. But it is out of service, which only further ramps up the sense of crisis.

While spurning Kerry's entreaties for a coalition government addressing Sunni and Kurdish concerns, Maliki has welcomed air strikes against ISIS formations by the Syrian Air Force and is now looking to Russia to supply aircraft previously promised to the Iraqi regime by the US but not yet delivered. High on that list are jet fighters and attack helicopters. Both of which the Russians do about as well as we do.

But while the odd attempt by the Obama Administration to hold up artificial borders constructed by the British and French empires after World War I, and the government installed by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney after the Iraq invasion of 2003, plays out, let's look at an actual success story.

It's been a long time coming. Since the late 1960s, in fact, when both Islamic jihadist and Communist guerrilla movements erupted in the Philippines.

Our overt imperial relationship with the Philippines -- which we seized as a colony, in violation of our pledge to Filipino rebels after the Spanish-American War -- ended with the independence of the Philippines in 1946 after Americans and Filipinos fought side by side against Japanese forces in World War II. But another sort of imperial relationship continued.

A cadre of Filipino stewards, for example, as I came to experience, continued to serve US Navy officers around the world for decades. The great naval base at Subic Bay, America's largest outside the US, was a critical staging area for the adventure in Vietnam. And there was an active US military assistance program, which I helped in, to deal with persistent insurgencies by Islamic jihadists -- an early harbinger of what was to come -- and Communist guerrillas, guided by the doctrine of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, from the end of the '60s on.

Those uprisings ebbed and flowed as the US found itself kicked out of the Philippines after the Ferdinand Marcos regime, too close to the Reagan/Bush Administration, was overthrown in the 1980s.

Yet the US and Philippines retained a formal alliance by treaty and US forces went back into the Philippines after 9/11.

The Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines advised and assisted the Philippine armed forces in its struggle with jihadists in the Mindanao region of the southern Philippines vast archipelago. Over time, the insurgency was degraded even as the government in Manila forged a limited autonomy agreement with the principal jihadist group, granting it power over a small swath of the big island of Mindanao and several small islands near it.

The Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines was one of several formed around the world, as the mission description went, to fight Al Qaeda-linked groups at their source before they became a threat to the US.

The special forces task force, which ranged in size from 300 to 600 troopers, was directed to play an advisory role to Philippine forces without taking on a direct combat role. But they did play a major role in spinning up air and artillery strikes, often through use of drone aircraft, and operated in obvious combat zones and situations. Though there have been several jhadist outfits about, their principal target was Abu Sayyaf, a group which spun up in the early and mid-'90s after receiving training in Afghanistan from core Al Qaeda members.

The group continued to pull off attacks on government forces and bombings of civilian sites as well as various criminal acts for money, such as kidnappings for ransom, throughout, but saw its ranks reduced by two-thirds over the past decade while it proved either unable or unwilling to pull off attacks on the US.

Will all attacks cease once the accord between Manila and the MILF is fully implemented? Probably not. Some Abu Sayyaf members may continue, and there are a couple of other smaller groups pulling off various missions. But the judgment has been made that the activity has diminished to a sufficiently low ebb as to be not much more than an annoyance.

Meanwhile, major facilities are again being provided for US forces as the Philippines face a major maritime challenge from China in waters around the archipelago nation. This time around, as I discussed when President Barack Obama formally won back the long expected access in April, the bases in question such as Subic Bay and Clark Field will not be permanent American bases but facilities shared by US and Filipino forces, with American units not so much permanently bases in the Philippines as they are flowing into and out of the islands as part of a permanent rotational presence.
And so the long-standing Joint US Military Advisory Group Philippines (JUSMAGPhil), with top officers often working together in Camp Aguinaldo, headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Metro Manila's Quezon City, has changed focus, dropping the post-9/11 war on terror focus to emphasize the Asia-Pacific Pivot.

Is jihadism dead in the Philippines? Probably not. But it has been arm wrestled, through a program combining targeted military action with limited political concessions and palliatives, into a contained situation, a manageable condition, freeing up intellectual and operational bandwidth for bigger challenges.

It may not be dramatic, but it may be real.

[Political analyst William Bradley is an award-winning columnist and experienced political advisor. His New West Notes, longtime California leader in near real-time political analysis, has a 90%+ forecasting record.

Beginning as a U.S. Senate intern, Bradley has been a senior advisor and special advisor to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns, governors and senators, was senior advisor with Arianna Huffington of Shadow Conventions 2000, and advised leading parties in Mexico, Japan, Germany, and Russia. The HuffPost featured columnist and former chief political writer for the LA Weekly and California Business has held national, state and local posts, co-founded a newspaper in California's capital, dabbled in Hollywood, written for a score of major international publications, hosted a national radio show on XM, and been an Al Jazeera analyst.

A U.C. Berkeley grad and U.S. Navy vet, Bradley is USC's first senior fellow for online journalism and a former national merit scholar, VISTA Volunteer, and Royal Society of Arts fellow. A yearly judge of the national AltWeekly Awards, he was a senior fellow of University of Colorado and Cal State University think tanks and is a member of the American Legion and Mensa.

The former doctoral fellow, who has done post-grad work at UCLA, USC, Oxford, Stanford, University of Virginia, Naval Postgraduate School and Naval War College, earned memberships in the national honor societies of a half-dozen academic fields, as well as the overall liberal arts, and awards in advertising and public relations. A multi-sport and multi-event athlete in high school and college and a sometime track coach, he has a 1st degree black belt in karate.

Bradley is a frequent analyst on national radio and international television, and enjoys the cavalcade of events in these dark and fascinating times.]

New group may be behind threat to Davao City – AFP EastMinCom

From GMA News (Jun 29): New group may be behind threat to Davao City – AFP EastMinCom

A new group linked to the Abu Sayyaf group and Jemaah Islamiyah may be behind the supposed terrorist threat against Davao City, which has been on heightened alert since last week, a ranking military official said on Sunday.

The new group, supposedly led by master bombmaker Abdul Basit Usman is planning attacks in the country's largest city, Capt. Alberto Caber of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Eastern Mindanao Command said.

Usman is a foreign-trained bomb expert who was caught in 2002, however, he escaped that the same year.

The United states has offered $1 million for information that could lead to his arrest.

On June 11, a joint police and military operation killed two of Usman's relatives, but the wounded bomb expert managed to escape.

"May intelligence report na may plano ang isang grupo na magsagawa ng bomb attack dito sa Davao City," he told GMA News Online in a phone interview.

"Wala pang pangalan itong grupo pero may link ito sa Abu Sayyaf at JI (Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian terrorist organization linked to Al-Qaeda)," Caber added.

"Puwede na new group ito," he said.

Caber said that according to intelligence reports, the group might use bombs or improvised explosive devices for the attack.

"Puwedeng magpasabog ang mga ito to kill government forces or to kill civilians to attract international attention," he said.

Still, Caber explained that the military has yet to validate the intelligence reports.

Retaliation for ASG leader's arrest

The military is not discounting the possibility that the bomb threats are retaliation after the Philippine National Police captured top-ranking Abu Sayyaf leader Khair Mundos, who has a $500,000 bounty.

Mundos was arrested in Barangay San Dionisio, Parañaque City on June 11.

The police and military have tightened security measures in Davao City. Caber said that they have increased the number of personnel and checkpoints within and outside the city.

"We also have operatives in plain clothes," he added.

According to Davao-based GMA News Online contributor Mac Macapendeg, there are more patrol cars and checkpoints in the city, especially in commercial areas.

He said, though, that the heightened security has not kept residents from regular activities.

On alert until August

Davao City has been on heightened alert since last week after President Benigno Aquino III called up Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to warn him of a possible security threat.

"There are reports of possible terrorist attack. For good measure, the president called Mayor Duterte," explained AFP public affairs chief Ramon Zagala in a separate phone interview.

"The public is warned. They should be aware and vigilant," he added.

Caber said the heightened alert in Davao City will remain until August or after the celebration of the Kadayawan Festival, the city's biggest annual celebration.

Meanwhile, the government assured residents that it has enough soldiers on the ground to keep civilians safe.

"We have more than enough forces to secure Davao City and its neighboring towns and communities… We have the support of the civilian population and the rest of the stakeholders," Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma, in a radio interview on Sunday, quoted Zagala as saying.

Two suspected rebels bagged in Zamboanga Del Sur encounter

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 29): Two suspected rebels bagged in Zamboanga Del Sur encounter

Two suspected New People's Army (NPA) fighters were captured following a firefight in Sitio Sagpang, Barangay Datagan, Guipos town, Zamboanga Del Sur Friday afternoon

In a statement forwarded by Capt. Franco Suelto, 1st Infantry Division spokesperson, Sunday, the incident took place 2: 45 p.m. as troopers of their 53rd Infantry Battalion was conducting routine security patrols in the area.

He added the firefight lasted for three minutes which resulted in no casualties for government forces.

As rebel forces retreated, two suspected NPA fighters identified as Wilfredo Damulos and Edgar Cadilansa, were captured by government troopers.

Seized from their possession were one Ingram M-11 9mm auto-pistol, 52 rounds of ammunition and one hand grenade.

Suelto said the two were immediately turned-over to the Zamboanga del Sur Provincial Police Office for filing of appropriate charges.

“It is unfortunate that the two captured individual believed and supported an irrelevant ideology that espouses armed struggle when peace is only the way to progress and development. We are calling the local NPAs in Zamboanga Peninsula to lay down their arms and avail the AFP Gun for Peace and Comprehensive Local Integration Program so they can return to normal lives and live peacefully in mainstream society. Let us give peace a chance, “ he concluded.