Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ex-Abu Sayyaf hostage relates Philippine ordeal

From Khabar Southeast Asia (Jan 24): Ex-Abu Sayyaf hostage relates Philippine ordeal

Freed reporter laments group's distortion of Islam.

Baker Atyani, the Muslim Jordanian journalist who spent 18 months as a hostage of Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines before escaping last month, said his al-Qaeda-linked captors don't in any way represent Islam or Muslims in their beliefs and actions.

"Abu Sayyaf groups have no ties to the religion of Islam and its values. They resemble a gang –an organised crime group, kind of a mafia that relies on kidnapping foreigners to demand ransoms," Atyani said in a January 9th Al Arabiya interview. "They lacked the basic understanding of Islamic values, which idealise humanity and humility."

He was taken hostage in Sulu on Mindanao Island, where he had travelled to film a documentary about Muslim life in the southern Philippines.

Atyani said the group, led by Rajlan Sahir, saw him only as a means to earn money.

"The issue of being Muslim or not is not very important here, what is important is that they found a source of money," he said. "The sad thing is that the people who follow them believe that this is Islam, and this is how people deal with each other in Islam."

Atyani's comments echoed earlier statements by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), who in July accused Abu Sayyaf of "using Islam to advance their false cause". The group's perversion of the religion, he said, was due in part to its complete isolation from society.

"Some of them did not come out of the jungle for 20 years. One of them was shocked and asked me if we are in 2007," he said. "The people are not living in this world, they live in a jungle and without knowing what is happening in the world."

Atyani, who lost a third of his body weight while in captivity, said he wasn't otherwise physically harmed but the psychological trauma took its toll. The biggest crime committed, he said, was the loss of his freedom.

In captivity, Atyani observed the group also stole children's freedom, often training them to become soldiers.

"You see a child carrying an M16 weapon that is longer than him. I witnessed that, it is a shame for a person to see this, to see people living without education, without any target in life, where the only goal is kidnapping," he said. "They used to say to each other, if you want to get married, kidnap someone and with the ransom money, you can get married. If you wanted to buy clothes or a new mobile phone, kidnap someone and you can buy whatever you want. Kidnapping has become … the only source of livelihood for them."

Peace pact should bring about ‘real-life changes’ in people’s lives – GPH panel chair

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24): Peace pact should bring about ‘real-life changes’ in people’s lives – GPH panel chair

Government of the Philippines (GPH) chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer on Wednesday said the peace agreement that will be forged with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) should translate into positive changes in the lives of the people in the Bangsamoro and the rest of the country.

“The many pages of the texts that we have initialed and will be initialing soon will have to come alive in the form of real-life changes,” she stated in her welcome remarks during the opening ceremony of the GPH-MILF 43rd Exploratory Talks.

“Very soon, the main challenge would be to make this difference manifest in the lives of our people, especially of those in Mindanao; in our institutions, especially those of government at different levels; in our mindsets and norms, especially that of our leaders in politics and society,” said Coronel-Ferrer.

“For this reason, we cannot afford to lose more time at the expense of the bigger task of implementation, and of the considerable progress we have already gained. The time to conclude the formal exploratory talks is now. Let us enable ourselves to move forward 100 percent to the next stage of implementation,” she urged.

Underscoring the crucial role of all Mindanao stakeholders in the peace process, Coronel-Ferrer also called for efforts to strengthen collaboration among the Bangsamoro people and with the non-Moro Indigenous Peoples (IPs) in pushing for lasting peace in the south.

“We must intensify our convergence efforts among the Bangsamoro and with other non-Moro indigenous peoples,” she stated. “In particular, we ask you, our negotiating partners, to show the goodwill and benevolence in extending the hand of friendship with your other fellow Moros and fellow indigenous peoples, especially those, who like you, historically descended from ancestors who have called Mindanao their home,” she added.

In this round of negotiations, the GPH and the MILF peace panels aim to complete the Annex on Normalization and the Addendum on Bangsamoro Waters – the last documents to be signed in order to complete the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

The Annex on Normalization will detail the process by which MILF combatants and their communities can return to peaceful conditions where they can achieve their desired quality of life, which includes the pursuit of sustainable livelihood and political participation.

The Addendum on Bangsamoro Waters, on the other hand, will outline the delineation of territorial waters that will be governed by the Bangsamoro as well as arrangements outside the region’s waters based on the principles of (a) protection of traditional fishing grounds, (b) benefiting from the resources, and (c) interconnectivity of the islands and the mainland parts for a cohesive political entity.

Meeting expectations

Coronel-Ferrer stressed that both sides are “burdened with great expectations” from the public. These include ending violent conflicts in Mindanao involving various armed groups, and bringing about meaningful autonomy through the new set of institutions in the Bangsamoro region.

“In all, the public expectation is that these, our efforts, would truly make a difference. A difference for the better. A difference that is sustainable. A difference that will unite rather than divide. A difference that will bring about a sense of wellbeing and not stoke the fears and insecurities of the populace,” she said.

“To meet these expectations, we’d need to put the right people and appropriate mechanisms in place, the benchmarks on which to measure our progress, and the protocols that will guide our actions, and instill discipline among our ranks. We must be able to sustain the integrity of our peace process,” Coronel-Ferrer stated, also underscoring the need to be realistic to know that there will be challenges, such as delays, breakaways, spoilers, among others.

Guarded optimism

On the same note, MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal expressed guarded optimism that despite the achievements of both parties, “the final destination of this journey of peace is not within immediate reach yet.”

“We may be able to sign the Comprehensive Peace Agreement soon as we wish, but that is not the end of the odyssey,” he said, adding that the negotiation will only be formally terminated if both parties satisfactorily complied with the deal and an Exit Agreement is signed by them.

However, he quickly added: “It is not farfetched that during this five-day session, we will be able to settle all the remaining outstanding issues on the Bangsamoro Waters and Annex on Normalization…”

“Thanks to the openness and spirit of accommodation of the parties, the superb handling of the Facilitator, and the absence of rigidity as in formal negotiations,” he said.

“I assure you, insha Allah, that as long as the two groups remain reasonable and commit to balance between history and reality and cognizant of their roots as descendants of the two brothers, everything will be settled for the satisfaction of the parties.”

Chinese ships leave Paracel Islands after landing drills

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 23): Chinese ships leave Paracel Islands after landing drills

A fleet of three Chinese ships, one of which has an “advanced weapons system,” has completed patrols and landing exercises in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea Wednesday, Chinese state media reported.

“The three-ship flotilla, consisting of amphibious landing craft Changbaishan and destroyers Wuhan and Haikou, left from a military port in south China’s Hainan Province on Monday,” Xinhua news agency reported Wednesday.

“The flotilla undertook a ‘three-dimensional’ patrol of several islets, using surface vessels, hovercraft and shipboard helicopters. Marines with the flotilla conducted a 20-minute landing training on Wednesday,” it said.

The ship Changbaishan was described as China’s largest landing ship and has an “advanced weapon system.”

The fleet also has three helicopters and one company of Marines onboard, the report said.

Disputed islands

Paracel Islands is a group of island in the South China Sea that is the subject of a dispute between China and Vietnam. China calls it Xisha Islands while Vietnam calls it Hoang Sa Islands.

In 1974, a military engagement between Chinese and Vietnamese troops left at least 50 from the Vietnamese side and 18 from the Chinese side dead.

One Vietnamese ship was sunk while a total of seven ships were damaged.

China won the battle and have controlled and occupied Paracel Islands ever since. Sansha city was established July 2012 to administer over the [missing text].

The islands are covered under the recently implemented fisheries regulations of Hainan province that require foreign ships to ask for permission from authorities before they can conduct fishing or other marine activities.

The Hainan fisheries regulation and the reported patrols of Chinese ships have both been protested by the Philippines.

“Under international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea China’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) cannot extend beyond 200 nautical miles measured from the Chinese mainland and Hainan Island,” DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a previous statement.

“Coastal states have sovereign rights over their EEZ. Also under international law there is a high seas area in the South China Sea over which no state can exercise sovereignty,” he said.

Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have territorial claims in the resource-rich region believed to have huge oil deposits.

Photo: 1st Special Forces Battalion arrives in Cagayan de Oro

Posted to MindaNews (Jan23):

Soldiers of the Army’s 1st Special Forces Battalion arrive at the Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro City from Tacloban City aboard Philippine Air Force C-130 planes Thursday 23 January 2014. The soldiers will be deployed in Northern Mindanao to help counter the growing threat from communist rebels. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

Special Forces battalion arrives in CDO to help in fight vs NPA

From MindaNews (Jan 23): Special Forces battalion arrives in CDO to help in fight vs NPA

A battalion of highly trained soldiers, fresh from relief work in Tacloban City, arrived at the Lumbia airport here today to help counter the growing communist threat in Northern Mindanao.

Brig. Gen. Gerardo Barrientos, assistant commander of the Army’s Fourth Infantry Division based here, said the 1st Special Forces Battalion is a “welcome addition” to the 4ID that already has its hands full in the government’s fight against the New People’s Army (NPA).

Planners at the 4ID earlier sought the transfer of the battalion in the aftermath of the NPA attack on Del Monte and ambush of former Gingoog Mayor Ruthie Guingona.

Two Philippine Air Force C130 planes flew two sorties to ferry the soldiers from Tacloban to Lumbia airport, the former hub of civilian air transportation in Cagayan de Oro and Northern Mindanao.

Barrientos said the soldiers, who are highly trained in unconventional warfare and perform high-risk missions, will be assigned initially to train militiamen of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu).

“Cafgus were involved in 70 percent of the 244 firefights recorded with our soldiers in 2013. The militiamen are our first line of defense,” Barrientos said.

He said the 1st Special Forces Battalion is noted for its successes in containing the NPA rebels in Quezon province in Luzon prior to their assignment in Tacloban City.

Lt. Col. Nasser Ledesma, the battalion commander, said they are glad that they left Tacloban after the city already recovered from typhoon Yolanda.

“Electricity has been recovered in Tacloban. More hotels have opened up for business. Tacloban is on the road to recovery. We are no longer needed there,” Ledesma said.

The battalion was supposed to arrive here last November but was deployed to Tacloban after super typhoon Yolanda destroyed the city.

Ledesma said they were among the first government troops to arrive in Tacloban and provided security around its airport, the main lifeline to aid from the outside.

Stand up to China, Japan tells world

From the Manila Times (Jan 23): Stand up to China, Japan tells world

DAVOS, Switzerland: Japan on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) told the world it must stand up to an increasingly assertive China or risk a regional conflict with catastrophic economic consequences.

In a landmark speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued what amounted to an appeal for international support in a potentially explosive dispute with its superpower neighbor over islands in the East China Sea.

“We must restrain military expansion in Asia . . . which otherwise could go unchecked,” Abe told the annual meeting of global business and political leaders, which Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is due to attend on Friday.

“If peace and stability were shaken in Asia, the knock-on effect for the entire world would be enormous,” Abe added.

“The dividend of growth in Asia must not be wasted on military expansion.”

Although Abe did not explicitly mention China, his speech had been flagged up in advance by Japanese officials as an alarm call to an influential audience over what Tokyo sees as bullying by Beijing.

The dispute over the uninhabited but potentially mineral-rich islands is being played out against a backdrop of Japanese fears that China is seeking to exert control over lifeline shipping lanes around its vast coastline and that the United States’ commitment to guarantee Japan’s security is waning.

Tensions over the islands, which Japan calls Senkaku and China refers to as the Diaoyus, have come perilously close to boiling over into armed clashes on several occasions in recent years.

They resurfaced last month when Abe visited the Yasukuni shrine, a memorial to Japan’s war dead, which is controversial because a handful of convicted war criminals are among those commemorated.

China and South Korea seized on the visit as fresh evidence of Japan’s perceived failure to sincerely repent for its 20th-century record of military aggression, and the visit has also been criticized as unhelpful by Britain and the United States.

Asked about the visit here, Abe said his “praying for the souls of the departed” should be regarded as “something quite natural for a leader of any country in the world” while emphasizing he had no intention of hurting Chinese or Korean feelings.

Much of Abe’s speech was given over to a review of the progress of “Abenomics,” his bid to end two decades of deflation which he said was on the verge of bearing fruit.
Describing Asia as a region of limitless potential and the engine driving world economic growth, Abe urged China to join a revitalized Japan in creating systems to prevent disputes from destroying their mutual prosperity.

“Trust, not tension, is crucial for peace and prosperity in Asia, and in the rest of the world,” he said. “This can only be achieved through dialogue and the rule of law, and not through force or coercion.”

Japan wants China to agree to share details of its military spending, help set up a mechanism for managing crises and establish channels of communication between the two countries’ armed forces....

2 NPA men surrender in Palawan

From the Manila Times (Jan 23): 2 NPA men surrender in Palawan

A RANKING New People’s Army (NPA) rebel leader in Palawan and one of this henchmen surrendered to government security forces that were sent out to arrest him on Tuesday in a remote village of the said province, police reports said on Thursday.

Reports sent to Camp Crame by the Palawan Provincial Police Office on Thursday identified the surrenderees as Jenesis del Valle also known as “Pitoy,” “Jayser” and “Baking Iskwadlider,” and Vice Cyrus.

The reports said del Valle gave himself up at around 4 p.m. on Tuesday at Barangay Magara in Roxas town Palawan.

The reports said that del Valle, a member of the KSPN-North Pilipinas, and his companion are now in the custody of the Palawan Provincial Police Office.

4 alleged ABB members nabbed in Iloilo

From the Manila Times (Jan 23): 4 alleged ABB members nabbed in Iloilo

AT least four suspected members of a breakaway communist rebel hit-squad were arrested by combined police operatives on Wednesday in remote village in Iloilo province, reports said on Thursday.

Criminal Investigation and Detection Group director, Chief Supt. Benjamin Magalong, identified the four arrested suspects as Rogelio Labordo, Jiger Labordo, Jessie Labordo and Richard Leal, all residents of Lambunao, Iloilo.

Magalong said that the four were believed to be members of the Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB) and were engaged in robbery hold-ups in Lambunao and nearby towns in Iloilo province.

Seized from the suspects when arrested where a cache of high-powered firearms consisting of four 12-gauge homemade shotguns, a .45- caliber Remington pistol and various types of ammunition.

The four are now detained at the Lambunao Municipal Police Station and charges for illegal possession of firearms are being readied against them.

US military sees risks in China-Japan tensions, seeks restraint

From InterAksyon (Jan 24): US military sees risks in China-Japan tensions, seeks restraint

Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the US Pacific Command, adjusts his translation earpiece at the start of the 45th Security Consultative Meeting at the Defense Ministry in Seoul, South Korea October 2, 2013. REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool

The top US military commander in the Asia-Pacific region acknowledged his concerns on Thursday over entrenched tensions between Japan and China, a day after Japan's prime minister evoked comparisons to Britain and Germany before World War One.

Admiral Samuel Locklear, the head of the US military's Pacific Command, said the role of the United States was to keep encouraging restraint, professionalism and "hope there will be diplomatic dialogue and a solution to this".

"I am concerned," Locklear told a Pentagon briefing, after being asked to assess the tensions between Japan and China and the risk of conflict.

"Anytime you have two large powers, two large economic powers, two large military powers, that have a disagreement that they're not talking to each other about, that has no clear diplomatic end state in sight ... the risk calculation can grow."

Sino-Japanese ties, long plagued by what Beijing sees as Japan's failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China in the 1930s and 1940s, have worsened recently due in part to a territorial row in the East China Sea where China declared an air defense zone late last year.

Ties have also suffered because of Tokyo's mistrust of Beijing's military buildup and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's December visit to a shrine that critics say glorifies Japan's wartime past.

Abe said on Wednesday that Japan and China should avoid repeating the past mistakes of Britain and Germany, which fought in World War One despite strong economic ties, according to his main government spokesman in Tokyo.

China and Japan, the world's second- and third-largest economies respectively, have deep business ties and bilateral trade worth nearly $334 billion in 2012, according to Japanese figures.


The US military's ability to quickly defuse a crisis in the East China Sea is unclear, and Locklear said he did not have a hotline to his counterpart in China's People's Liberation Army.

"I don't have the ability to pick up the phone and talk directly to a PLA, or PLA Navy admiral, or general, at the time of a crisis. And we need to work on that," Locklear said.

He did say Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did have capabilities to reach out in a crisis and "we would hope it would work".

The risks of a mishap were highlighted last month, when the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens had to take evasive action to avoid hitting a Chinese warship operating in support of Beijing's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.

Locklear said the incident had prompted a US demarche - a formal diplomatic statement of concern - to Beijing.

China believed it issued notification to maritime traffic to steer clear of the Liaoning, Locklear said. But he added the Cowpens, which was monitoring the carrier, had no such notice.

Locklear has attributed the incident to the Chinese navy's inexperience with deployments in international waters around other warships, one reason the US officials are looking forward to China's participation in the US military's multinational RIMPAC naval exercises near Hawaii this year.

"We have to expect that the US and the Chinese navies are going to interact with each other," Locklear said.

"So this just highlights ... to both the PLA and to the US military that we have to do better at being able to communicate with each other in a way that allows us to not lead to miscalculation."

CPP/Ang Bayan: Video -- Junk EPIRA and end the US-Aquino regime!

Posted to the CPP Web site (Jan 21): Ang Bayan Video: Junk EPIRA and end the US-Aquino regime!


The power hikes increase adds extra weight to the grave condition that majority of the Filipino people suffer. Since December last year, power companies imposed additional charges that stoke the ire of the people.

Even its implementation was temporarily withheld by the order from the Supreme Court, extra charges pose a real threat to the livelihood of the people in the near future. While the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) law still exists, conspiring big bourgeois compradors that hold control of the production, transmission and distribution of electricity will always make the people suffer.

Abu Sayyaf man captured in Zamboanga City

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Jan 23): Abu Sayyaf man captured in Zamboanga City

Security forces captured Thursday a member of the notorious Abu Sayyaf group implicated in kidnappings in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials said Jun Akilan was tracked down in the village of Talabaan following a tip off from an informant. Akilan was allegedly visiting his family when soldiers and policemen captured him. A .45-caliber pistol was also recovered from Akilan.

The capture of Akilan coincided with the visit of US Ambassador Philip Goldberg.

Akilan is being linked to the kidnappings of teachers in Zamboanga City and also traders in Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay provinces.

It was not immediately known whether Akilan arrived in the village alone or with other kidnappers. The Abu Sayyaf, tied by the police and military to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya, is still holding several kidnapped victims in the southern region.

2016 is Day of Reckoning - MILF

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Jan 24): 2016 is Day of Reckoning - MILF

The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said it could sign a peace deal with Manila either this year or before President Aquino finishes his term in 2016.

Peace negotiators have signed the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement and several annexes over the years and both sides expressed optimism that a political accord is near. But chief MILF peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal cautioned that this early that the final destination of the journey of peace is not within immediate reach yet.

“We may be able to sign the comprehensive peace agreement soon as we wish, but that is not the end of the odyssey,” he said during the resumption of the peace talks in Malaysia, adding the exit agreement will formally terminate the peace negotiations if both sides complied with their part of the deal and after it is certified by Malaysia and the Third Party Monitoring Team. “Ideally that day of reckoning will come our way on or before 2016.”

In his speech, Iqbal said almost everybody back home smells impending success in our current peace talks, especially this 43rd round of negotiation. “They say the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement is just in the corner. They have diverse reasons to entertain such belief and I cannot blame them for it. In fact, I sympathize with them but not necessarily taking their view at face value. But truth is that anyone like me who has been part of the peace journey since the beginning will exactly wish and long for the day of reckoning to come soon.”

“I ask everyone not to stay on the way of these dreamers. Many find solace in dreaming and, therefore, let them continue to dream of that final peace in Mindanao while we in the MILF and government continue to strive to overcome all those that stand on our way leading to the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement,” Iqbal said.

He said the impending success of the peace talks is gaining wide public support. He welcomed this development saying it is far better to see droves of people supporting the MILF and declare oneness with it, rather than join the spoilers and demolish the undertaking.

“After all, the fruits of the negotiation will redound to the benefit of everybody. This can include even the spoilers and all those who have never shown even a speck of support to the MILF in its four decades of armed struggle and 16 years of hard bargaining on the negotiating table. Truly, it is the nature of a popular struggle, nay jihadic, that except for few hardened outcasts of society everybody is part of the victory party,” Iqbal said.

He also praised the Filipino government peace panel headed by Miriam Ferrer, and Malaysia, which is brokering the negotiations, for the progress in the talks.

“We have covered a lot of ground during our last executive session. Thanks to the openness and spirit of accommodation of the parties, the superb handling of the Facilitator, and the absence of rigidity as in formal negotiations,” Iqbal said.

With this, Iqbal said the Bangsamoro Transition Commission or BTC has been conducting public hearings and consultations in Mindanao and that the crafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, whose deadline is set in April this year, has resumed and would be submitted to President Benigno Aquino in May and  transmit it to Congress as a urgent bill.

“I trust that the collective wisdom of Congress will ensure the passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law very smoothly,” he said.

Iqbal said the BTC has visited North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Mendoza and Maguindanao Governor Esmail Mangudadatu. He said both officials received the commissioners “exceptionally well” and they promised to support the peace process as well as pushing for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law once the referendum takes place.

He said BTC will also visit in February Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan II, and also Tawi-Tawi Governor Nurbert Sahali and Basilan Governor Jum Akbar, and is also considering Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabella Salazar.

“I do not know how she (Salazar) would react and treat this gesture of goodwill from our side, knowing well how she felt bitter, as anybody else of good sense, in relation to the Zamboanga siege last November.” Iqbal said, referring to the attack of the Moro National Liberation Front in Zamboanga City last year that killed and wounded over 400 people and displaced some 120,000 villagers.

Iqbal said the BTC has also organized a task force on the indigenous tribes Mamalu-Tabunaway and would hold dialogues with them and to make recommendations, especially on land issues, in aid of the crafting of the basic law.

“I assure you, Insha Allah, that as long as the two groups remain reasonable and commit to balance between history and reality and cognizant of their roots as descendants of the two brothers, everything will be settled for the satisfaction of the parties,” Iqbal said.

The MILF has been fighting for decades for self-determination and rights of the Muslims in southern Philippines.

Some Bangsamoro leaders still apprehensive over peace talks – MILF official

From GMA News (Jan 23): Some Bangsamoro leaders still apprehensive over peace talks – MILF official

Despite the significant progress in the peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), some Bangsamoro leaders remain apprehensive over the negotiations, an MILF official admitted.

“Admittedly, may mangilan-ngilang leaders ng Bangsamoro ang atubili o di kaya may alinlangan sa isinasagawang pag-uusap ngayon,” Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF first vice chairman for political affairs, said in a report on GMA News TV's “Balitanghali” Thursday.

Jaafar did not elaborate on the cause of the misgivings but said he believes majority of the Bangsamoro people will support the agreement once it is signed by both parties.

“Pero naniniwala ako na pag nandiyan na, pirmado na 'yung Comprehensive Compact Agreement... susuportahan siya ng nakararami sa Bangsamoro people, if not all of them,” he said.

He reiterated his call to the Bangsamoro people, including even those from non-Muslim indigenous groups, to support the peace talks.

“Panawagan namin ay para sa kanilang lahat na bigyan ng pagkakataon ang pag-uusap, itong peace talks sa pagitan ng Bangsamoro people at ng gobyerno ng Pilipinas. This time, ang Bangsamoro people ay represented by the leadership of the MILF,” he said.

Jaafar is optimistic that the ongoing talks in Malaysia will yield positive results.

“Considering the fact that 90 percent of the issues are being discussed, under the annex on normalization, are agreed upon already by both parties, meaning meron nang meeting of the minds,” he said.

The television report said the government panel shares the confidence of the MILF that the last annex of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement will be signed soon.

The annex on normalization tackles the disarmament or decommissioning of MILF members and other armed groups and economic programs for the residents of Bangsamoro territories.

Miriam Coronel Ferrer, chief government negotiator, believes the two panels will agree on the annex as the issue on Bangsamoro waters—part of the body of water that will be under the jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro government—has already been ironed out.

The two panels had set aside the issue in December to finish the annex on power-sharing.

“Napakahalaga na ma-delineate kung saan talaga yung areas na yun [Bangsamoro waters]. Meron kang wealth-sharing lalo na yung malalaking mangingisda. Baka naman may regulatory arrangements ka sa kanila para naman hindi nila maubos lahat ng isda at the expense of the small fisherfolk,” Ferrer said.

She also said that part of the decommissioning is the inventory on all MILF members.

“We're working on certain figures pero ang procedure naman natin dyan ay magkakaroon tayo ng process of inventory tsaka verification. So ang pag-settle dyan ay hindi mangyayari sa annex na 'to kundi maga-agree tayo sa process,” said Ferrer.

The government and MILF started its discussion on the annex on normalization on Wednesday.

The normalization annex is the last of four annexes to the Framework Agreement, which is expected to result in a Bangsamoro Political Entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The panels have already signed the Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, the Annex on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing, and the Annex on Power Sharing.

A Bangsamoro Transition Commission shall be in charge of drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which will use the annexes as guide.

Ferrer earlier said they hope to present the Bangsamoro Basic Law to Congress by early 2014.

Noy optimistic about ongoing peace talks between gov’t, MILF — Coloma

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 24): Noy optimistic about ongoing peace talks between gov’t, MILF — Coloma

Press Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said President Aquino expects to have completed the provisions of the peace talks between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MILF) with regard to the remaining annex on the Framework Agreement Bangsamoro that resumed Jan. 23 until 26 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“We have full confidence the negotiation can be finished, and hope to build an agreement on the remaining annex for the entire agreement on the Bangsamoro,” Coloma said.

Coloma said that Presidential Adviser on Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles confirmed the negotiation would begin Jan. 23 until Sunday, Jan. 26.
He emphasized that the processes should have to be accomplished before the Aquino administration ends its term.

“Our objective is to conclude the process within the present administration. Before it, by 2015, there should be a plebiscite in the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” Coloma said.

Coloma said the plebiscite should be defined based on the enacted law by Congress.

Coloma said even there was a delay on the comprehensive agreement, every aspect has been covered on details necessary for the Basic Law.

Government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said in this round, they are burdened with great expectations.

Coronel-Ferrer said that they are expected to close the Addendum to the Annexes on Power Sharing and Wealth Sharing that the GRP and the MILF panels subsequently agreed to add.

“To think that we are so close to closing the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and we still call this round ‘Formal Exploratory Talks’ — the 43rd to be precise. It makes one wonder when we will ever get to the next higher stage of formal talks,” Corornel-Ferrer said.

She said they have gone deep into defining and structuring Bangsamoro autonomous governance, how in effect fiscal and political autonomy should be realized.

Coronel-Ferrer said they are coming to terms with the bigger project of “normalization” with its diverse components, socio-economic, transitional justice and reconciliation, and security.

The security aspect alone is made up of several elements —disbandment of private armed groups, decommissioning of MILF combatants and weapons, redeployment of the AFP from or within the Bangsamoro as the security situation improves, a halt to the proliferation of loose firearm, and transitional security arrangements that will see the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) collaboratively keeping the peace on the ground.

“In particular, we ask you, our negotiating partners, to show the goodwill and benevolence in extending the hand of friendship with your other fellow Moros and fellow indigenous peoples, especially those, who like you, historically descended from ancestors who have called Mindanao their home,” Coronel-Ferrer said.

MNLF asks OIC to probe cause of Zambo standoff

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 24): MNLF asks OIC to probe cause of Zambo standoff

The Moro National Liberation Front has asked the powerful Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to conduct an independent investigation of the Zamboanga City conflict last year that resulted in the neutralization of more than 200 MNLF fighters.

Lawyer Emmanuel Fontanilla, spokesman of the MNLF, said that the group has formally asked OIC to look into the Zamboanga City incident to determine what prompted the conflict.

“The group requested the OIC to conduct investigation into the Zamboanga incident. The MNLF has written the OIC to conduct investigation to determine who caused the incident,” Fontanilla said.

Last Nov. 8, more than 300 MNLF supporters of chairman Nur Misuari wanted to hoist the MNLF flag at the Zamboanga City hall following declaration of the Bangsamoro Republic but were prevented by government authorities, resulting in armed confrontation.

The military launched calibrated response against the MNLF fighters, led by Ustadz Habier Malik, who took more than 200 civilians as hostages.
The conflict dragged for 21 days until the military cleared at least six barangays in the city of MNLF forces.

More than 200 MNLF fighters were killed, along with more than 20 government security forces, including junior officers of the elite Light Reaction Companies deployed in the frontline.

The conflict displaced more than 100,000 individuals.

Fontanilla said that the MNLF will continue to pursue its Bangsamoro Republic through peaceful means.

“The group is organizing and it affirmed to pursue its objective through peaceful means,” he added.

Last year, Misuari declared independence from the government and established Bangsamoro Republic, in an apparent protest against the peace negotiations between the government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

As a result of the Zamboanga siege, Misuari is now wanted for rebellion and genocide. However, the MNLF founding chairman remains elusive.

Leftist rebels claim responsibility for attack on Japanese firm in Bukidnon

From the Philippine Star (Jan 23): Leftist rebels claim responsibility for attack on Japanese firm in Bukidnon

Leftist rebel group New People's Army (NPA) today claimed responsibility for the attack on a warehouse of Japanese multinational firm Sumifru Corp. in the southern Philippine province of Bukidnon.

In a statement issued by the NPA's Mt. Kitanglad Sub-Regional Command, leftist rebels said they attacked the company's warehouse in Barobo Village, Valencia City because of Sumifru's "anti-people activities."

"The NPA launched the punitive action against Sumifru because of its anti-people activities, including land grabbing, the anti- labor and environmentally-destructive operations of their pineapple and banana plantations," said Mamerto Bagani, the sub- regional command's spokesman.

A military official earlier said 10 armed men wearing bonnets barged into the warehouse of Sumifru Corp. on Jan. 17.

Bagani said Sumifru Corp. incurred damages amounting to P11 million ($243,000) after NPAs attacked its banana packing house and paralyzed a cargo truck, a backhoe, six assorted machines and destroyed three laptop computers.

He said a shotgun and a caliber 38 revolver were also seized from the company security guards.

The Philippine military had earlier discounted the involvement of the NPAs in the attack.

Leftist rebels have harassed Sumifru in the past. The NPAs burned four trucks of the company in North Cotabato province in August last year and a container van in October 2011.

Sumifru, a subsidiary of Japanese firm Sumitomo Corp., is engaged in the production, distribution, and export of fresh fruits.

Gov't assures no threat-groups can derail peace talks

From the Philippine Star (Jan 23): Gov't assures no threat-groups can derail peace talks

Authorities won't allow any threat groups to derail the peace negotiation, which is nearing its completion, between the Aquino administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest Muslim rebel group in the country, a senior government official said today.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the state forces, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines, would continue to monitor the situation in southern Philippines to protect people there from any threat groups.

"The government won't allow any violence to take place against our people," he said at a news briefing in MalacaƱang, the presidential palace.

Some groups, such as the rogue Moro National Liberation Front ( MNLF), the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a splinter group of the MILF, and the terrorist Abu Sayyaf, reportedly joined together last year by attacking military and police posts and bombing some cities in southern Philippines to derail the peace talks between the government and the MILF.

The peace panels of both the government and the MILF are currently holding the 43rd formal exploratory talks in Malaysia with the hope to conclude the peace negotiation by completing the annexes of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and signing of a comprehensive peace agreement that will pave the way for the creation of a Bangsamoro government that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

"We are hoping that the whole (peace) process will be achieved under the current administration," Coloma said.

Army division neutralizes NPA threat in 5 provinces

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 23): Army division neutralizes NPA threat in 5 provinces

Five provinces under the area of jurisdiction of the 10th Infantry Division (ID) of the Philippine Army are declared secured from the threat of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Speaking at the briefing Wednesday on peace and development effort of 10th ID from 2011 to 2013, Major General Ariel Bernardo said with the development, the 10th ID handed over the internal security efforts (ISE) of said provinces to their respective local government units (LGUs).

The said provinces are South Cotabato, Sarangani Province, Davao Oriental, Davao del Sur and Davao Occidental.

The areas covered by 10th ID are Region 11, SoCSKSarGen, 2nd District of North Cotabato , Trento of Agusan del Sur, and Lingig of Surigao del Sur.

Bernardo, however, clarified that it doesn’t mean there are no more NPA insurgents in said provinces, however their operations and movements are already neutralized.

In this case, security efforts, can now be handled by the LGU, Bernardo said.

He said the ISE of South Cotabato was handed over to its LGU on September 30, 2011, Sarangani Province on November 2, 2012, Davao Oriental on April 10, 2013, Davao del Sur and Davao Occidental on December 12, 2013.

Bernardo singled out Davao Oriental as already “clean” of rebel infested barangays, while rebel sanctuaries still remain in the boundaries of Davao del Norte, and in areas of Bukidnon, Talaingod, Arakan Valley and Alabel Sarangani.

Compostela Valley has continued to remain as the stronghold of NPAs mainly in the municipality of Compostela.

He said the mining areas in the province is one reason of the strong presence of the NPAs in the area, adding that the military could not conduct a massive combat operation in the province due to the presence of civilians who are also do a living out of the mining operations.

Bernardo explained that the armed group remains as their “power factor” and the people as their “insurging factor”.

“So we are targeting to eliminate the armed group, “ he said.

Of the total 273 rebel-infested barangays in the 10th ID area of jurisdiction, about 60 percent are already immersed while 30 percent still have yet to be immersed.

Immersion is one of the effective peace and development program of the 10th ID in which they institute Bayanihan activities and other development interventions to improve the communities and thereby entice rebels to go back to the fold s of government there is already peace and development in their communities.

Bernardo believes dissatisfaction and discontentment on basic services and needs of the people push the people to sympathize with the rebels.

Once, these are addressed by government both local and national, peace follows with the rebels gradually returning to the government, he said.

PA's 701st Infantry Brigade aids 'Agaton'-displaced families in Davao Oriental

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 23): PA's 701st Infantry Brigade aids 'Agaton'-displaced families in Davao Oriental

The Philippine Army's 701st Infantry Brigade, a field unit of the Nueva Ecija-based 7th Infantry Division, has distributed 3,500 sacks of relief goods to families displaced by tropical depression "Agaton" in Manay and Caraga towns, Davao Oriental.

The relief items consisted of medicines, food and clothing, according to a report from Capt. Mark Anthony Ruelos, 7th Infantry Division spokesperson, Thursday.

Ruelos said that 701st Infantry Brigade commander Col. Benjamin Madrigal immediately mobilized all the unit's assets shortly after the onslaught of the weather disturbance to help in the ongoing relief and rehabilitation missions.

“Agaton” was the first cyclone to enter the Philippine area of responsibility this year and battered Eastern Mindanao and its neighboring provinces.

It brought heavy rains that caused floods, landslides and millions of pesos worth of damage to agriculture and infrastructure facilities.

Several bridges were also destroyed and rendered impassable, paralyzing communications and causing delay in the distribution of relief goods.

As a result, personnel of the 701st Infantry Brigade, together with some volunteers from the provincial government, had to travel by foot or ride motorized boats just to reach the isolated towns to help people in need, Ruelos said.

8 installment payments scheme eyed for 2 frigates

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 23): 8 installment payments scheme eyed for 2 frigates

Should the contract for the Department of National Defense's P18-billion frigate program be awarded to a qualified shipbuilder within the year, the country will be making eight payments for the two ships which will give the Philippine Navy a much-needed boost in surveillance and firepower capability.

Commodore Roland Mercado, Philippine Navy technical working group head for the frigate project, said the proposed payment scheme can be broken down as follows:

* 15 percent during the awarding of the contract;

* 15 percent upon finalization of the contract;

* 10 percent for the laying of the keel of the ships;

* 10 percent for the construction of the vessel;

* 15 percent for installation of engines, weapons, communications, sensor systems, and auxiliary machinery;

* 15 percent during the acceptance trials;

* 10 percent upon delivery of the frigates to the Philippines;

* 10 percent upon completion of the warranty period.

Mercado said that this payment scheme is still for approval of PN flag-officer-in-charge Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano.

Building of the two ships is expected to be completed within two years.

Some technical specifications of the DND's P18-billion frigate program have been revealed by MaxDefense: Philippines, a blogsite for Philippine defense-related matters.

This includes a capability to conduct air-to-air warfare (AAW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and electronic warfare (EW).

Aside from this, these naval vessels should be able to do extended maritime patrol with an embarked helicopter and operating up to Sea State 6.

It must also have a range of 4,500 nautical miles at 15 knots, endurance of 30 days in tropical condition, and capable of running up to 25 knots of continuous speed.

Navigation equipment of the two ships, at a minimum, must consist of two navigation radars, GPS, depth sounding set, and vessel tracking system compatible to PN's existing system.

The frigates' weapons system, at a minimum, should consist of a 76-mm gun; stabilized secondary gun; four .50-caliber machine guns, surface-to-surface missile launchers, surface-to-air missile launching system, and anti-submarine torpedoes.

Bacus says PA anti-aircraft assets operated by its 'Mechanized Infantry Division'

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 23): Bacus says PA anti-aircraft assets operated by its 'Mechanized Infantry Division'

The Philippine Army's anti-aircraft capability or firepower needed to repel attacks by hostile aircraft is operated by its "Mechanized Infantry Division," Army spokesperson Capt. Anthony Bacus said on Thursday.

According to him, the anti-aircraft weapons operated by the PA as of the moment include three units of Bushmasters 25mm auto-cannons, 32 units of Oerlikon 25mm auto-cannons, and 14 units of .50 caliber heavy machine guns.

"These anti-air assets are currently being operated by (our) 'Mechanized Infantry Division'," Bacus stressed.

The above-mentioned unit is based in Camp O'Donnell in Capas, Tarlac. It operates around 343 AFVs (armored fighting vehicles), of which 150 are the United Kingdom-built GKN "Simba," with the remaining AFVs consisting of the United States-designed V-150 and V-200 APCs, M-113 "Bradley," Turkish-made ACV-300s and British Scorpion CVRTs (comvat vehicles reconnaissance tracks).

These AFVs give the PA its armor capability and are organized into a 14-vehicle mechanized infantry companion for deployment with regular units.

Army cites soldiers for the discovery of more improvised land mines

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 22): Army cites soldiers for the discovery of more improvised land mines

The leadership of the 10th Infantry Division lauded members of the 1003rd Infantry Brigade after the discovery of more improvised land mines and other explosive-making 8:30 am Sunday in Sitio Mampait, Barangay Mansanitas, Loreto Agusan del Sur.

Major General Ariel Bernardo, commander of the 10th Infantry Division cited the soldiers and the timely report from the residents for the unearthing of the war materiel.

He said the persistent use of improvised land mines only highlights that the rebels are anti-peace, anti-progress and anti-people as they continue to defy the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CAHRILHL).

"It is through cooperation like this that we will finally put a stop to this and win the peace for our people." Bernardo said.

Captain Ernesto Carolina, public affairs officer of the 10th ID said the soldiers were conducting a reconnaissance patrol when they found the 44 land mines, eight sacks of plastic pipes, batteries, detonating cords, improvised firing devices and other explosive components.

Late last December 2013, the soldiers also recovered 163 landmines and the manufacturing facility in the same vicinity.

ASG member in abduction of teachers nabbed in Zambo

From the Philippine Star (Jan 23): ASG member in abduction of teachers nabbed in Zambo

Military and police security forces captured one of the most wanted person in the region who is a member of the Abu Sayyaf group, tagged in the kidnapping of three teachers  four years ago, during a raid Thursday dawn in a coastal village  in this city, an official said.

Col. Andrelino Colina, chief of the anti-terror Task Force Zamboanga (TFZ), identified the captured suspect as Jun Jalal Akilan alias Temeng, a member of the Abu Sayyaf Ajijul group and listed as number 11 in the most wanted persons in Western Mindanao.

Colina said the Akilan was captured by the combined forces of the TFZ and City Police Office about 3 a.m. Thursday in a hideout at Barangay Talabaan, an east coast village following intelligence surveillance.

“He did not resist arrest when our forces, backed by the police units, surrounded his hideout,” Colina said.

Colina said the raiding team recovered from the suspect a .45 caliber pistol loaded with ammunition.

According to Colina, the suspect has a standing warrant of arrest for kidnapping and serious illegal detention in connection with the abduction of three public school teachers in 2009 at Barangay Landang Gua and Pangapuyan island in Sacol Island.

The victims, including a female and two  male public school teachers, were held for months in Basilan province before they were freed following payment of ransom.