Wednesday, January 1, 2014

AFP expects more provinces with NPA to normalize

From the Philippine Star (Jan 1): AFP expects more provinces with NPA to normalize

The military expects more areas grappling with communist insurgency to undergo 'normalization' this year and vowed to work closely with civilians to make it possible.

Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said once a province is declared normalized, the lead role of maintaining peace and security would be transferred from the military to local governments.

He said an area has undergone normalization if local governments and other civilian stakeholders are already active in addressing the causes of rebellion and if insurgency has weakened due to such efforts.

“The root causes of insurgency should be solved not by the military alone but by everyone,” he said.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), however, refuted this outlook and even claimed that the military’s security plan Bayanihan has failed.

“As 2013 ends, we can conclusively declare the defeat of the Aquino regime’s Oplan Bayanihan which failed in its declared aim of reducing the armed strength of the New People’s Army (NPA) to inconsequentiality by the middle of this year,” CPP said in a statement.

The CPP said its fighters would continue to “undertake more frequent tactical offensives.”

“This year, every NPA command must gun for a record increase in the number of weapons seized from the reactionary military, paramilitary and police forces,” the group said.

Bayanihan, which took effect in 2011, seeks to end insurgency by curbing its roots like poverty and lack of access to basic services.

The first three years of the implementation of the security plan will focus on addressing internal armed threat groups.

The final three years of Bayanihan, which starts this year, will be devoted to handing over the lead role in ensuring internal peace and security to civilian government agencies. Such turnover will allow the military to focus on its transition towards territorial defense.

Zagala believes the military would be able to accomplish the requirements in the security plan.

“We’re optimistic that we will be able to make it,” Zagala said.

“They (rebels) are against our way of life, our democracy, our freedoms and institutions. We should cherish them by protecting them and we can do so by finding solutions in our own way,” he added.

He said 29 of 81 provinces have undergone normalization due to the military’s anti-insurgency campaigns.

These are Cavite, Marinduque, Romblon, Guimaras, Cebu, Siquijor, Biliran, Bohol, Leyte, Southern Leyte, Aklan, Antique, Eastern Samar, Apayao, La Union, Pangasinan, Tarlac, Kalinga, Nueva Viscaya, Quirino, Nueva Ecija, Aurora, Benguet, Batanes, Camiguin, Misamis Oriental, South Cotabato, Saranggani and Davao Oriental.

The CPP, however, claimed that the mass struggle against the government would intensify this year due to supposed worsening economic conditions and corruption.

2014 or never for peace deal, MILF says

From the Philippine Star (Jan 1): 2014 or never for peace deal, MILF says

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Wednesday said this year would be crucial for the peace talks even as it remains confident that all issues would be resolved by negotiators.

In an editorial posted on its website, MILF said the establishment of a Bangsamoro government in 2016 would hinge on the decisions to be made by negotiators this year.

“This is the year for the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front to make hard and eventful decisions, which are political milestones in their talks that would ensure the establishment of the Bangsamoro government in 2016,” MILF said.

“Failure to do so will make the future gloomy,” it added.

MILF said both panels should sign the comprehensive peace agreement within the first quarter to enable the Bangsamoro Transition Commission to finish the final draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The draft will then be submitted to President Aquino, who will certify it as urgent to provide lawmakers enough time to pass it into law.
“This should not be later than May this year,” MILF said.

“By 2015 the atmosphere will change radically; the fever of the 2016 presidential election will begin to spread its divisive and paralyzing effects. Expect switching of party affiliations and heightened bickering among politicians,” it added.

MILF believes the Bangsamoro issue would be affected by these political developments even if it is a non-partisan matter.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law, MILF said, should be ratified by people in Bangsamoro territory by yearend or early 2015 to make way for the establishment of the transition authority.

The MILF, nevertheless, is upbeat on the prospects of the negotiation, which is scheduled to resume this month.

“In spite of the still rough road ahead, we are still very hopeful and upbeat that the two parties will finally settle all the remaining issues in the negotiating table,” the group said.

“Two sincere, willing, and committed partners, like the Aquino administration and the MILF, will always find ways to overcome any issue that stands on their way.”

The government and the MILF have signed the transitional arrangements as well as the annexes on wealth and power-sharing.

Issues up for discussion are the Bangsamoro waters, the annex on normalization and the final peace agreement.

6 killed, 15 wounded in Mindanao bomb attacks

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 1): 6 killed, 15 wounded in Mindanao bomb attacks
Six people were killed and 10 others were injured in an explosion late Tuesday night near a church after New Year’s eve Mass in Basilan.

Reports from the Philippine National Police said the blast at the residential area in Barangay (village) Tumahubong in Sumisip municipality killed Linebel Cisneros, Lourdes Ablong, Rey Limben, Khadic Kitarol, Elbert Gumuba and an unidentified child.

It happened at 10:20 p.m. Tuesday during a New Year’s party following a Mass at the residence of a certain militiaman Manuel Cisneros near San Vicente Ferrer Parish.

According to PNP reports, four were hurt but Armed Forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said the attack injured 10.

Police said the improvised explosive device used was believed to be made from charges of 105 millimeter Howitzer.

In a separate incident, five were wounded when unidentified men tossed a fragmentation grenade along the national highway in Barangay Ugalingan, Carmen, North Cotabato at around 8 p.m.

The victims, a mother and her three children and another girl, were outside the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) when three suspects on board two motorcycles lobbed the explosive.

The victims were about to enter the Church periphery when the explosion occurred.
Islamist militants and Muslim rebels are known to operate in the two southern provinces, but Zagala says it could not be immediately determined if they were involved.

MILF negotiator hopeful about next round of peace talks

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 1): MILF negotiator hopeful about next round of peace talks

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal set a hopeful tone Tuesday for the final document that would make up a comprehensive peace agreement with the government as both panels prepared for the next round of talks in Kuala Lumpur in the next few days.

Iqbal said an honest discussion between the two parties at the 43rd round of talks would allow for the completion of the normalization annex—considered a sensitive matter because it includes the laying down of arms by the Moro rebels—before April, when a draft Bangsamoro Basic Law which contains the final peace agreement should be submitted to Congress for approval.

Iqbal acknowledged that the normalization annex is a challenging document to thresh out, particularly because it includes many facets that would “normalize” the situation in Central Mindanao after many years of fighting.

The normalization annex includes the decommissioning of firearms, the redeployment of military troops to areas outside the Bangsamoro, the creation of a Bangsamoro police, the disbandment of private armies, and transitional justice, among others.

“These are very difficult and sensitive issues. But what’s important is an honest negotiation between the two parties. We should try to address each other’s concerns and settle the issues,” Iqbal told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.

Iqbal, however, said the text for the normalization annex could be completed in the 43rd round of talks, but not its terms of reference.

A source privy to the peace talks told the Inquirer that dealing with the private armies and the kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) groups within the jurisdiction of the future Bangsamoro, which will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or ARMM, would be a major challenge in the implementation of the normalization annex.

“How will you deal with the politicians and their private armies? The MILF can decommission their firearms but dealing with the private armies and the KFRs is a very tall order. There is pressure on both (parties),” the source, who requested anonymity, said.

The source said the MILF would be pressured to keep peace and order in the Bangsamoro once the military leaves areas where private armies and kidnap-for-ransom groups operate.

On the other hand, the government is “pressured politically because it (Aquino administration) wants to exit in good graces,” the source added.

The source said the MILF wants a gradual decommissioning of firearms, perhaps until 2031.

“They will decommission firearms completely provided there is a level playing field,” the source said, referring to a situation where there would no longer be communist insurgents, Abu Sayyaf terrorists, and private armies of politicians.

BDA enhances transparency and excellence in Administrative and Finance Divisions

From the MILF Website (Jan 1): BDA enhances transparency and excellence in Administrative and Finance Divisions

The Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) conducted the “Administrative and Financial Management Enhancement Workshop” to improve transparency and excellence in its Administrative and Finance Divisions. 
Admin and Finance Officers from Regional Offices and Central Management Office of BDA participated in the activity held at Alnor Hotel in Cotabato City on December 24-26, 2013.

Engr. Windel Diangcalan, BDA Program Division Head, described Admin and Finance Divisions as the “lifeblood of any organization” and pointed out the crucial role of Admin and Finance Officers for the smooth operation of the organization.

Ustadz Mohammad S. Yacob, BDA Executive Director, reminded the participants the value of cooperation and teamwork. “We are in BDA and we are helping each other, we do not let our colleagues fail,” Yacob said. “Rather we help them, we support them, and we teach them,” he continued.

Parts of the workshop were the review and re-orientation of the Operational Manual of the agency on its Admin and Financial Management.

The Heads of Admin Division and Finance Division presented and discussed the policies and guidelines of BDA on admin and financial management.

Participants from different Regions of BDA interacted with questions and concerns they raised.  The resource persons gave corresponding reply for every concern that surfaced.

A panel of critiques was invited to observe and provide inputs on the discussions with specific advises on topics that were identified.

To further explore ways of improving the mechanisms in the operation, the operational manual was laid down against the actual situation during the program operations and implementations.

One of the recommendations stressed by the panel is for BDA to harmonize its manual with what is the actual happening. Accordingly, it should be from the actual situations that the BDA shall draw the revision and enhancement of its operational manual both in Admin and Finance.

Further, the panel noted BDA’s unique identity being neither a government institution nor non-government organization. BDA identified itself as quasi government being product of the negotiation between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

One of the highlights of discussion during the 3-day workshop is the challenges faced by the Sajahatra Program which is its initial stage of learning and forming its capacities especially on its financial management. Sajahatra received support from the World Bank for its operations last September 2013.

“We are still at the stage of knowing the ‘how-to’ and ‘what-to do’ given that each region has different situations,” said Amon Jadeeda Pacasem, Finance Officer of the Program in its Central Management Office.

She pointed out, “We have limited resources and capacities but we are willing to learn and improve.”

Pacasem expressed her thanks for being part of the workshop where they got advices and support from their seniors.

Part of the enhancement workshop is the promotion of camaraderie and team building among the staff from different regions.

Through games and workshops, the participants established teamwork and friendship and also learned the values of leadership, cooperation, unity and sensitivity to others needs.

BDA, the show window of Bangsamoro governance, aims to develop a Moro workforce with values formation, capability-building initiatives and education.

It establishes strong footing on Islamic values and good governance and strengthens transparency mechanism in the organization.

The agency has Central Management Office based in Cotabato City and seven Regional Management Offices namely Central Mindanao, Southern Mindanao, Davao, Ranaw (Lanao), Zamboanga Peninsula, Zamboanga-Basilan, and Sulu - Tawi-tawi.

It is tasked to determine, lead and manage relief, rehabilitation and development projects in the conflict affected areas of Mindanao.

BDA is currently drafting the Bangsamoro Development Plan in support to the proposed Bangsamoro Government, a new political entity that will replace the current Autonomous Region on Muslim Mindanao by 2016.

AFP investigating Basilan, North Cotabato blasts

From ABS-CBN (Jan 1): AFP investigating Basilan, North Cotabato blasts

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) says investigations into last night’s attacks in Basilan and North Cotabato are now underway.

AFP spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala says the attacks were likely pre-planned. He adds that a number of troops have already been deployed in both areas to improve security.

Five people were wounded in a grenade blast in Carmen, North Cotabato hours before the New Year.

Meanwhile, six people were killed and 10 injured in a separate explosion in a residential area in Sumisip, Basilan.

Zagala says auxiliary threat groups may be behind both explosions.

“For both blasts, the probability is that there are auxiliary threat groups, those groups that dare to undermine the government, especially in Carmen, because we’re nearing the finality of the peace agreement with the MILF,” Zagala told ANC.

PNP: Grenade not meant for North Cotabato UCCP Church

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 1): PNP: Grenade not meant for North Cotabato UCCP Church

Police here believed the grenade attack on New Year's Eve was not meant for the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) but to the family of a militiaman.

"The target of the grenade thrower was the family of militiaman Narciso Tropa who were walking toward the Church for the New Year’s Eve mass," Supt. Franklin Anito, Carmen police chief, told reporters.

Quoting one of the victims, Anito said they saw an unidentified man standing at a dirt road they were to pass in going to the Church for the New Year's Eve mass.

“Definitely, the target was not the Church,” he told reporters. He said the victims could not identify the man as it was dark.

“They just noticed that the man tossed something hard on the ground and hurriedly left,” he said.

Police investigators believed the suspect was after Narciso Tropa, a member of local militiaman group in Barangay Ugalingan, Carmen. He was unharmed.

The grenade went off not far from a house owned by the Tropa family, wounding four family members, Amy, 53, Chabelita, 12, Ading, 16, and John Loyd, 6, all undergoing medication at a hospital.

Also injured in the blast was 16-year old Marielle Montayer, who sustained shrapnel wounds in different parts of her body.

China mulls revamping military regions to boost superiority in South and East China Seas: report

From InterAksyon (Jan 1): China mulls revamping military regions to boost superiority in South and East China Seas: report

China's Haijian 66 maritime surveillance vessel and a Japanese Coast Guard ship are seen in one of their close encounters in disputed area in the East China Sea in this Reuters file photo.

China is considering reorganizing its seven military regions into five in a bid to respond more swiftly to a crisis, the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Wednesday.

The news comes amid rising tensions over Beijing's territorial claims in the region, with China and Japan squaring off over a chain of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

Each of the new military regions will create a joint operations command that controls the army, navy and air force as well as a strategic missile unit, the major daily said citing senior Chinese military officials and other sources.

The planned revamp would mark a shift from the current defence-oriented military that relies mainly on the army to one that ensures more mobile and integrated management of the army, navy, air force and strategic missile units, Yomiuri said.

"It is a proactive measure with eyes on counteracting the Japan-US alliance," the daily quoted one of the officials as saying.

Tokyo and Beijing are locked in a simmering territorial row over Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea which China also claims and calls the Diaoyus.

The United States, while insisting it does not take sides on sovereignty disputes, has said that the islands are under Tokyo's management and so come under a security treaty in which it is required to defend officially pacifist Japan against attack.

Under the proposed military structure China aims to strengthen its attack capability to secure air and naval superiority in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, the daily said.

The newspaper also reported that Japan plans to deploy its first "Global Hawk" unmanned surveillance planes at an airbase in Misawa, on the northern tip of Japan's main Honshu Island, adjacent to a US airbase where the same type of aircraft will be based later this year.

Japan's defense ministry plans to deploy three Global Hawk drones between April 2015 and March 2016, Yomiuri said.

Misawa is located about 2,300 kilometers (1,430 miles) north of the Senkakus which Chinese coastguard ships have frequently approached, sometimes moving into territorial waters, since Tokyo nationalised some of the islands in September 2012.

Equipped with sophisticated sensors and radars, the Global Hawk drone is capable of flying more than 30 hours non-stop and detecting the movements of vessels, aircraft and missiles within a radius of 500 kilometres from an altitude of 18,000 metres.

It does not have attack capability.

The defense ministry and the US air force will jointly maintain the drones to ensure they operate effectively, the report said.

In addition, information collected by the Global Hawk will be shared and jointly analysed, Yomiuri said.

China, which has been ramping up military spending over its past decade of strong economic growth, has also tussled with the Philippines and Vietnam over maritime territories.

7 killed, 5 wounded as suspected Abu Sayyaf bomb Basilan New Year's party

From InterAksyon (Jan 1): 7 killed, 5 wounded as suspected Abu Sayyaf bomb Basilan New Year's party

Seven persons were killed and five others wounded when suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf detonated a bomb during New Year’s celebrations at the home of a militiaman in Basilan province.

Authorities are still to determine the motive for the 10:22 p.m. attack on the home of Manuel Cisneros in Zone 6, Barangay Tumahubong, Sumisip.

Captain Jefferson Somera, 1st Infantry Division spokesman, said Rey Limbin, Elbert Gumuba, Elbert Gumuba Jr., Kitarol Kadik, Lynibel Cesniros and Lourdes Ablong were killed immediately in the explosion.

Jessa Dingkong died at the Zamboanga City General Hospital where the injured were airlifted.

Hataman condemns bombing; extends aid to victims

Regional Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) condemned the bomb attack, describing it as a "cowardly and satanic act meant to kill innocent people."

He assured the victims' families that justice will be served. “We assure them that justice shall be served,” Hataman said in a text message to reporters.

ARMM has already extended financial and medical assistance to four persons wounded in the attack.

Police and military investigators confirmed the explosive used in a residential compound in Basilan was a hand grenade with improvised trigger mechanism.

Apparently, the suspect and the victims knew each other as they even welcomed the unidentified man as he arrived at the residential compound in Barangay Tumahubong, Sumisip town.

One witness told investigators that the victims offered food and drinks to the suspect who, after few drinks, quietly left.

Minutes later, the bag that he left under his chair went off.

Police identified six of the fatalities as Rey Limbin, Elbert Gomoba, Kitarul Kaddik, Leniebel Cisneros, Lourdes Badjon Gumuba and Therese Claire Alegarbes.

Barangay Tumahubong is about 10 kilometers away from Barangay Buli-Buli, the hometown of Gov. Hataman.

He directed the police to identify, arrest and file charges against the perpetrator.

Moro rebels optimistic to sign peace deal soon

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Jan 1): Moro rebels optimistic to sign peace deal soon

President Aquino and MILF chieftain Murad Ebrahim during the launching of the 'Sajahatra Bangsamoro' on February 11, 2013. (Mindanao Examiner Photo - Mark Navales)

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which is negotiating peace with Manila the past 17 years expressed optimism that it would be able to sign a comprehensive accord this year.

“Within the first quarter of this year, the parties must sign the comprehensive peace agreement to enable the Bangsamoro Transition Commission to finish the final draft of the Bangsamoro basic law for submission to President Benigno Aquino, who will certify it as an urgent bill, in order to give just enough time for Congress to pass it into law,” the MILF said on its website.

It said 2014 is a crucial year for the peace talks.

The MILF stressed the need to forge the peace deal in the first quarter of the year because the Bangsamoro basic law should be ratified by the people in the Bangsamoro territory preferably towards the end of this year or early 2015 to pave the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.

The peace negotiations is expected to resume this month following the signing of the annex on power-sharing in December in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Both sides also signed the annexes on transitional arrangements and modalities, and revenue generation and wealth-sharing.

Still up for discussions are the annex on normalization and an addendum on the issues of Bangsamoro waters in order to complete the peace accord.

The MILF said the peace accord "is not just a piece of paper but will contain principles likely on how the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is going to be abolished, the conduct of the plebiscite for the ratification of the Bangsamoro basic law and the manner of amending the Constitution, if necessary.

The rebel group said although it is optimistic with the peace process, the "road ahead would still be rough."

“[But] we are still very hopeful and upbeat that the two parties will finally settle all the remaining issues in the negotiating table. Two sincere, willing, and committed partners, like the Aquino administration and the MILF, will always find ways to overcome any issue that stands on their way. This has been proved by them time and again,” it said.

In a recent statement, the Philippine peace panel said all of the accomplishments in the peace process were made possible through the collective efforts, trust, and goodwill of both parties and their respective principals, and the unwavering support of various sectors to push the process forward.