Monday, February 3, 2014

Solon seeks probe of US troops’ ‘presence’

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 2): Solon seeks probe of US troops’ ‘presence’

A militant lawmaker condemned and called for an investigation of the alleged participation of US troops in the military operations against members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao province.

On Saturday, US forces were seen providing medical assistance to wounded government troops and two journalists who were hurt in a bomb attack in Datu Saudi-Ampatuan town.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said the Visiting Forces Agreement does not cover participation in any form of activities inside a military camp during an ongoing massive operation.

“I don’t think it’s covered. In the first place, why are they there in a combat zone? We have to remember that the US involvement in the Vietnam War also started from supposedly providing so-called ‘humanitarian’ assistance, a clear euphemism for low-intensity intervention,” he said.

Zarate said this humanitarian assistance would only justify and strengthen the “maneuvers” of the US government for a more permanent presence in the country.


“The US is now clearly actively involving itself in our internal affairs, in violation of our Constitution. This interventionist policy is highly condemnable as this will clearly escalate,  especially with the so-called US increased rotational presence. The defense and foreign departments should explain why they allowed this transgression of our sovereignty,” Zarate added.

The lawmaker called on  Congress to immediately conduct an inquiry into the recent participation of US forces in Maguindanao.

“As part of its oversight functions, I think Congress should also inquire into US troops involvement in the Maguindanao clashes,” Zarate said.

For BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mama, the participation of foreign troops in the tension in Mindanao would only further enrage the Bangsamoro people.

“America is always meddling with the internal affairs of other countries. We believe that even the United Nations is afraid to reprimand America,” Mama said.

Mama said they were expecting that the Philippine government would seek the help of the United States.

“We knew that if the Philippine government is having a hard time in fighting here in Mindanao they would ask America for help. But we are not afraid. If we see these American soldiers out there in the field, we will not think twice about fighting and driving them away,” Mama said.

Hostilities between military, BIFF on the wane

From the Philippine Star (Feb 4): Hostilities between military, BIFF on the wane

Hostilities between the military and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have waned, but soldiers remained in strategic areas in Datu Piang and Shariff Saidona towns here to prevent bandits from regaining control of the territory that government forces overran last week. Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said tactical operations against the BIFF have ended, but efforts are continuing to prevent the rebels from regrouping.

“All of our security efforts are being closely coordinated with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) through the joint ceasefire committee,” Hermoso said.

Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said military forces have been coordinating closely with the local government units and even the MILF.

“This is a coordinated operation. So the MILF knows, they are included in the operations. Even addressing the evacuees, they are included in the plan,” Guerrero added.

The military official said the operation has been contained in the area of the BIFF but they were also preparing and anticipating possible spillover.

Armed Forces spokesman Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr. said the military is preparing for possible retaliatory attacks by the BIFF.

He said the group could launch such atrocities because they do not observe existing laws.

“They don’t follow any rule. They used children in their group. They don’t respect the rule of law. It (retaliation) could be in any form and that is why we are preparing ourselves for whatever incidents that might happen,” he said yesterday.

Tutaan was referring to the youths who were employed by the BIFF as soldiers. The military said at least three of the 52 rebels slain during recent clashes were child warriors.

When asked whether the BIFF can still mount attacks, Tutaan said: “Their being potent is more on their being sinister. They are treacherous so we are resorting to target hardening.

“If they launch an attack against a community that is not protected, it will cause disorder. That is the reason why we are securing these communities,” he added.

The latest military operations dubbed as “Operation Darkhorse” led to the capture of four BIFF camps and a makeshift explosive factory in Maguindanao.

The weeklong offensive left 52 BIFF members and one soldier dead and 49 rebels and 20 military personnel injured.

Eight civilians were also hurt and more than 35,000 were displaced during the weeklong operations in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

Operation Darkhorse started last Jan. 27 and was supposed to end after two days. The campaign was extended until last Saturday to allow government forces to seize more BIFF lairs.

While Operation Darkhorse was supposed to be a law enforcement operation, there were no reports of BIFF members captured by pursuing authorities.

BIFF leader Ameril Umbra Kato, who is facing several criminal cases for leading bloody attacks in Mindanao in 2008, remains at large.

Col. Edgar Gonzales, commanding officer of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Brigade based in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, said their intelligence operatives have intensified monitoring of the movement of BIFF bandits who were driven out from their stronghold in Barangay Ganta in Shariff Saidona last Friday.

“We are not taking chances. We will not lower our guard,” Gonzales said.

He said the BIFF is known for its practice of targeting public places and farming villages, both for diversionary attacks and to retaliate for losses incurred in encounters with government forces.

He said their units are now focused on securing relief groups attending to the needs of evacuees.

The provincial government deployed yesterday relief and rehabilitation workers to areas affected by the five-day clashes between Army troopers and BIFF members.

Gonzales and Brig. Gen. Edmund Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade, led soldiers in hoisting the Philippine flag at the parade ground of the captured BIFF camp in Barangay Ganta on Saturday.

Guerrero said mopping up operations will continued to flush out the remnants of the BIFF in Central Mindanao and prevent the rebels from derailing the peace process.

“The operation will continue against those who are trying to derail the peace. The operation aimed to maintain peace in the area that is conducive to peace process,” said Guerrero.

Thousands of Moro residents were evacuated to safer areas at the height of the fighting.

Lynette Estandarte, chief provincial budget officer, said the office of Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu delivered yesterday 1,219 food packs to relief sites at the towns of Datu Piang and Salibo.

Estandarte said the food packs consist of rice, canned good, and instant noodles.
“There will be succeeding relief missions to other evacuation sites in the coming days,” she said.

Laisa Alamia, executive secretary of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said members of the inter-agency Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Relief Team (HEART) had also been dispatched to assist the evacuees.

Barangay officials have confirmed that the BIFF had trained child warriors and women on guerrilla warfare and the fabrication of improvised explosives in the camp, which fell after five days of air, artillery and ground assaults.

Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad yesterday criticized the BIFF for allegedly using child soldiers and exposing them to violence.

“Mindanao will never be peaceful if children are exposed to violence,” said Jumoad.
He believed that there was no reasonable explanation for teaching minors how to hold a gun and turning them into soldiers.

“It is unbelievable that children are used as soldiers. Our Muslim brothers must stop it,” Jumoad said.

Photographs of children holding rifles were among material recovered by the military when they overran the BIFF camp in Maguindanao.

Govt troops remain on alert as Maguindanao evacuees return home

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 4): Govt troops remain on alert as Maguindanao evacuees return home

While heavy fighting between government troops and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters have ceased and displaced families started to return home in Maguindanao's three towns, government troopers stay on alert to ensure remnants of the BIFF remains neutralized, the Army here said Tuesday.

Col. Edgar Gonzales, commanding officer of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Brigade based in Shariff Aguak town, said he deployed personnel in suspected areas of operation of BIFF to thwart terror attacks like planting of explosives that target civilians and military vehicles.

“We are not letting our guards down, we don't take chances, we should always be one step ahead of them," he said, adding that the BIFF could use terror attacks after they were neutralized and their camps captured.

Gonzales said experiences in the Maguindanao campaign showed that the BIFF would likely resort to violence against civilians by setting off improvised bombs.

After the fall of its camps Friday, three improvised bombs were planted by the BIFF in Datu Piang, Datu Shariff Saydona, Guindulungan and Datu Paglas, all in Maguindanao.

An IED was recovered by bomb experts planted at the foot of National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) which the Army said was a signature handiwork of the BIFF. It was safely defused.

Gonzales said Army units are now focused on securing relief groups attending to the needs of evacuees returning to their homes.

On Friday, Brig. Gen. Edmund Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 601st Brigade, led government troops in hoisting the Philippine flag inside the captured camp of BIFF in Barangay Ganta, Shariff Saydona, Maguindanao.

Colonel Dickson Hermoso, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said the military is filing charges against the BIFF for using child warriors in the war against government forces.

Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu and the provincial social welfare office had already distributed about 1,300 food packs for the displaced families while the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) relief agencies distributed food packs and water containers with potable drinking water to prevent diseases among displaced families.

ARMM and Maguindanao governments have been assisting families returning home on Monday after the fighting had ended.

BIFF rebels harass banana plantation in NorCot

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 4): BIFF rebels harass banana plantation in NorCot

Suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) harassed on Monday night a banana plantation in Km. 124 Brgy. Dungos, Tulunan, North Cotabato.

Tulunan police chief Sr. Insp. Ronnie Cordero said that at 8:00 p.m. Monday, the rebels fired a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) targeting the store house of the Delinanas Banana Plantation in the area.

The incident triggered a five-minute encounter between plantation security forces and the attackers.

Cordero said no one was hurt on the side of the plantation security force.

Police personnel and members of the Philippine Army’s 39th Infantry Brigade responded to the incident forcing the rebels to retreat.

Roadblocks were immediately set up along the perimeter of Dungos and the near environs to ensure the safety of villagers.

Army deploys 6 'Bayanihan Teams' in Guihulngan City

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 4): Army deploys 6 'Bayanihan Teams' in Guihulngan City

In line with its community development efforts, the 11th Infantry Battalion, a field unit of the Capiz-based 3rd Infantry Division, deployed six "Bayanihan Teams" (BTs) in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental Monday.

These "BTs" will be sent to Barangays Linantuyan, Luz, Plagatasanon, Banwage, Balogo and Humay-Humay.

Lt. Col. Willy Isaac, 11th Infantry Battalion commander, said that these units will be utilized for immersion and stakeholders’ engagement.

The "BTs" will be assigned at the barangays for three to four months where they will perform their duties as facilitators for the convergence of efforts with the local government units and other stakeholders to resolve socio-economic issues and ensure the delivery of basic services in the barangays.

Isaac emphasized that convergence among all stakeholders is the key in “winning the peace” and improving the well being of the community.

PA's 703rd Infantry Brigade provides medical aid to 3,000 indigent Mabalacat residents

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 4): PA's 703rd Infantry Brigade provides medical aid to 3,000 indigent Mabalacat residents
The Pampanga-based 703rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army said on Tuesday that it has provided medical and dental assistance to indigent residents in Mabalacat town.

An estimated 3,000 people were provided with free medical consultation and treatment, dental service, ECG, anti-rabies vaccination, eye check-up, and free haircut, among others, unit commander Brig. Gen. Henry Sabarre said.

The medical mission was conducted at the town's Mabiga Elementary School and was participated in by military doctors from Fort Magsaysay Army Station Hospital, 703rd Medical Team, Mabalacat Doctors Hospital, Mabalacat local government unit and other private stakeholders.

Aside from the free medical services, a job fair was also held as an added attraction and public service in partnership and collaboration with SM Hypermarket, SRI Services, Faith in God, Horizon Powder Coating, Romac Services, Lifetime Kuisines, Mirof, Starboard Manpower, Quarah and NCO Clark.

Navy's 6 MPACs for upgrade --Fabic

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 4): Navy's 6 MPACs for upgrade --Fabic

The six MPACs (multi-purpose attack craft) in the Philippine Navy service are scheduled for an upgrade that will make them more capable in carrying out their various missions.

Navy spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic confirmed this plan but said that no details are available yet on what the upgrades will consist.

"The PN has plans for upgrade for the current fleet of MPACs but we have no details yet on what it will consist," he added.

Observers, however, said that this may consist of installation of more advanced radar and sensor equipment and possibly of more longer range weaponry.

Three of the PN's MPACs were sourced from Taiwan while the three others were ordered from Filipino shipbuilder Propmech Corporation, which is based in Subic Bay, Zambales.

These ships are 16.5 meters long, 4.76 meters wide and has a draft of one meter, a top speed of 45 knots and a range of 300 nautical miles. Each cost around P90 million.

The hull is made of high-quality aluminum.

Crewed by one officer and four enlisted personnel, it is capable of carrying 16 fully-equipped troopers or two tons of cargo.

The MPAC is capable of operating in territorial waters up to "Sea State 3" (slight waves) without any system degradation.

It is armed with one .50 caliber and two 7.62mm machine guns.

Palace: BIFF stands no chance to become major threat

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 3): Palace: BIFF stands no chance to become major threat

The government is working to prevent the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) from becoming a major threat in the future, MalacaƱang said Monday.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma, in a press briefing, admitted that the splinter group led by Ameril Umbra Kato remains a threat despite the military’s capture of the BIFF’s main encampment in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town in Maguindanao.

The BIFF is a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“Sabihin na lang nating panganib pa sila, ano. Iniiwasan ng pamahalaan na maging malaking panganib sila sa pamamagitan ng karampatang aksyon,” Coloma said. (Let’s just say that they are still a threat. The government, through appropriate actions, is avoiding the chance that they become a greater threat.)

He said the pro-active measures include surveillance work and “decisive action whenever necessary.”

The BIFF has been engaging the military in gunfights following the signing of the normalization annex for the much-anticipated peace agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF.

Coloma reiterated their call for all groups in Mindanao to participate in the peace process.

“Hinihimok natin lahat ng mga mamamayan, lahat ng mga grupo na lumahok sa proseso ng kapayapaan, ngunit sa harap nito ay meron pa ring mga elemento na gumagamit ng karahasan at lumalabag sa batas. Kaya’t ang tugon sa kanila ay ‘yun ding paggamit ng kamay ng batas para supilin ang kanilang iligal na kilusan,” he said.
 (We encourage all citizens, all groups to participate in the peace process but some still use violence and violate the law. That is why our response is to use the long arm of the law to quell their illegal movement.)

Multinational firm fights off Moro rebel attack in North Cotabato

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 4): Multinational firm fights off Moro rebel attack in North Cotabato

Security personnel of multinational firm Del Monte Fresh Produce briefly battled Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) gunmen, who harassed a packing house of its subsidiary Delinanas in Tulunan, North Cotabato on Monday evening,police reported Tuesday.

Senior Inspector Ronnie Cordero, Tulunan police chief, said an undetermined number of BIFF gunmen — one of them firing a rocket propelled grenade — stormed the Delinana facility in Km. 124 in Barangay (village) Dungos around 8 p.m.

The plantation’s security force engaged the rebels in a five-minute clash until soldiers from the 39th Infantry Battalion arrived.

No one was harmed in the incident, he said.

Just last week, at least 52 BIFF rebels were killed when soldiers conducted a massive operation in nearby Maguindanao.

Authorities had warned that with the Maguindanao operation, which also resulted in the seizure of a major BIFF camp, the breakaway rebel group would stage more attacks.

New Army chief eyed

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 5): New Army chief eyed

The commander of the Northern Luzon Command, Lt. Gen. Gregorio Catapang, is being groomed to    head the top Army position  when the incumbent chief Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes bows out of service on Friday, sources said.

Another source said the commander of the 4th Infantry Division, Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya,  is being “highly considered”  for the NOLCOM position that  Catapang would soon vacate.

Catapang declined to comment.

He is a member of Philippine Military Academy “Dimalupig” Class of 1981 and classmate of  Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, AFP chief of staff.

Coballes belongs to the PMA “Mapitagan” Class of 1980.

A Malacanang statement issued by Presidential Communications Secretary Edwin Lacierda said that President Aquino will attend Coballes’ retirement ceremony at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.

“At the end of the week, President Aquino will witness the retirement ceremony of Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes, Commanding General of the Philippine Army, and the consequent Change of Command Ceremony,” Lacierda said.

BIFF sets urban terror

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 4): BIFF sets urban terror

Military braces for rebels’ shift in warfare strategy

The military said on Monday that it was bracing for more attacks from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters following reports that the renegade group may resort to sowing terror in ‘urban areas.’

Colonel Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the military would deploy soldiers to vital installations and public areas part of its pro-active security measures and intensify its intelligence gathering to avert possible attacks.

“We’re heightening our proactive preemptive security measures especially on providing security to vital installations such as roads, public markets, churches, and all areas where people converge. We’ve also discussed with local government units to include in their security system to encourage residents to give information about activities of the BIFF and possible ally groups for immediate action,” he added.

Meanwhile, a Palace official said the military would continue its mopping operations against the BIFF, two days after it terminated ‘Operation Darkhorse’ in Maguindanao.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Sonny Coloma said the BIFF remains a threat to the country’s security.

“We will do everything that needs to be done to neutralize elements that sow conflict, fear, and threat to our people,” Coloma said.

“They (BIFF) are still a threat that we are trying to stem. We will not allow them to become a bigger threat through proactive intelligence gathering, surveillance, and decisive action,” he added.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Col. Ramon Zagala said the military had successfully restricted the movements of BIFF rebels and prevented the spread of violence to nearby areas.

The military also captured a BIFF encampment in Barangay Ganta Shariff Saydona at the height of the fighting.

The military terminated its major offensive against the BIFF in Maguindanao on Sunday after the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (AFP-MILF) Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) did not extend the 72-hour extension for the military to defeat the BIFF.

The deadline ended on Saturday, Feb. 1.

As this developed, the Moro National Liberation Front-Nur Misuari faction, which declared on Saturday that it had forged an ‘informal’ tactical alliance with the BIFF, said that the Islamic Command Council also sought an alliance with the MNLF in its bid to boost its quest for an independent Muslim Islamic state in Mindanao following the abrogation of the 1996 final peace agreement.

MNLF spokesperson Absalom Cerveza said the Islamic Command Council under Commander Hashim Bogdabi signed the alliance with the MNLF last week.

Cerveza said the ICC is the largest Muslim armed group operating in the Zamboanga peninsula, which include Zamboanga City, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga Sibugay.

Cerveza, however, said the two groups were ‘still in the process of solidifying our ranks.”

Meanwhile, Cerveza said Misuari has instructed his political staff and supporters to reject any plea from the government for a renegotiation of the terminated 1996 peace agreement.

“His instruction is that there will be no more negotiations to take place and that the only possible negotiations should center on the closure of the tripartite review talks,” Cerveza said.

The clashes between government forces and BIFF members had killed 52 BIFF fighters, including 13 alleged “child soldiers” and a government trooper.

More than 130 were wounded on both sides and at least eight civilians were injured in crossfire.

The war also displaced more than 9,000 families.

The military claimed to have reduced the armed capability of the BIFF with the capture of three major camps including a “bomb-making factory.”

“We’d stopped the joint law enforcement operation of the 6th ID and the police in Maguindanao but we continue to enforce normal law enforcement operation to preempt possible retaliation from the BIFF. We are expecting this just like what happened to the convoy of soldiers and mediamen who were hit by a roadside bombing. Yesterday, there was an attempt by BIFF elements in Guindulungan town to bomb a road but because of information relayed by the residents, our soldiers and policemen quickly responded and diffused at least three bombs planted along the road,” Hermoso said.

Hermoso added that right after the military terminated its operation, they also assisted local government units in helping the displaced residents return to their homes and resume their normal lives.

The BIFF, which vowed to continue its attacks against the government ‘until the last drop of our blood,’ has reportedly sought refuge to their other camps in the hinterlands of Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

The military launched an all-out attack against the BIFF two days after the government and the MILF signed the last two documents needed to complete the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

The signing of the CAB will lead to the submission of the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law - a measure that would abolish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and replace it with a political entity to be called Bangsamoro - to Congress by June.

National Commission on Muslim Filipinos head Mehol Sadain, a government negotiator in the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has assured critics of the BBL that it would only contain provisions that can be implemented within the bounds of the 1987 Constitution.

Presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles said the government is ready to provide a budget for the Bangsamoro which at least would be double of the current ARMM budget of about P14 million.

President Benigno Aquino III had appealed to members of Congress to put aside their “fear of the unknown” and deliberate on the BBL, which he would certify as urgent, with an open mind.

Who's going to be next Army chief?

From InterAksyon (Feb 4): Who's going to be next Army chief?

Who is going to be next Army chief? A military source said the commander of the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) has the inside track for the position when Lieutenant General Noel Coballes retires this Friday.

Nolcom chief Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang declined to talk.

Catapang is a member of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Dimalupig” Class of 1981 and classmate of Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista.

Coballes, on the other hand, belongs to the PMA “Mapitagan” Class of 1980.

A Malacanang statement Monday issued by Presidential Communications Secretary Edwin Lacierda said President Benigno Aquino III will attend Coballes’s retirement ceremony at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.

“At the end of the week, President Aquino will witness the retirement ceremony of Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes, Commanding General of the Philippine Army, and the consequent Change of Command Ceremony,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda, however, did not mention who will succeed Coballes.

Earlier, Catapang said he is honored if given the opportunity to lead the 90,000-strong Army.

Kahit saan po tayo makarating basta mabigyan tayo ng panibagong trabaho, trabaho lang po tayo (Wherever we’re appointed, as long as we’re given a job, we’ll do the job),” Catapang said.

Sa akin kasi sanay na ako sa kung ano man ‘yung binibigay na trabaho gagampapan lang. Kaya nga kung ano, what does it take to be a CGPA (Commanding General, Philippine Army), malaking question mark ‘yun dahil malaking trabaho ‘yan. Kaya let’s just wait kung ano ang darating basta as of now naka-focus lang ako sa trabaho ko. Kita niyo naman maganda ‘yung ginagawa natin,” he added.

“I’m used to accepting whatever is given to me. Heading the Philippine Army is a big job. Let’s just wait for the announcement. I’m focused on work. You can see we’re performing well.”

A second source said the commander of the 4th Infantry Division, Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, is “highly considered” by higher-ups for the Nolcom position that Catapang would soon vacate.

Visaya belongs to the PMA “Matikas” Class of 1983.

IN DEFENSE OF PH TERRITORY | P5.3 billion allocated for Philippine Navy upgrade

From InerAksyon (Feb 4): IN DEFENSE OF PH TERRITORY | P5.3 billion allocated for Philippine Navy upgrade

BRP Ramon Alcaraz

With the Philippine coastline placed at 36,289 kilometers (equivalent to 22,549 miles), it is only fitting that focus be given on the Philippine Navy's modernization.

Giving the necessary funds to the Navy to acquire modern and well-armed ships, helicopters and other aircraft will allow the PN to develop its capability to protect and monitor the country's territorial waters against intruders.

As of this writing, the Navy has been allocated P5.3 billion by the Aquino administration for its upgrade.

It has used the money in acquiring two Hamilton-class cutters, the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15) in 2011 and the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) in 2013 and the three AgustaWestland AW-109 "Power" helicopters, also last year.

From 2014 up to 2016, the PN is expecting the delivery of P6.4 billion worth of equipment, including the acquisition of two strategic sea-lift vessels, two armed versions of the AW-109s helicopters, and around 12 to 20 amphibious vehicles for the Philippine Marine Corps.

Navy spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic earlier said that they are very excited with the way things are going for the PN modernization.

With these equipment, he stressed that the Navy's maritime domain awareness capability has been greatly improved.

Another development being eagerly awaited by the PN is the ongoing bidding at the Department of National Defense for its two brand-new frigates whose contract price is placed at P18 billion.

The shape, size and capabilities of these ships will be determined once the workshop for qualified proponents starts this February.

This was revealed by DND Undersecretary Fernando Manalo.

"The workshop will allow the proponents to present their proposed specifications. The data/information that will be generated during the workshops will be used by the Navy in formulating the final TOR (terms of reference)," DND Undersecretary Fernando Manalo said.

Each proponent has a working week (around five days) to present its design to the PN technical working group and its private consultants.

As of this posting, only four shipbuilders have successfully passed the first stage of the bidding for the P18-billion frigate project.

These are Navantia Sepi (RTR Ventures) of Spain and South Korean firms STX Offshore & Shipbuilding, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. Ltd., and Hyundai Heavy Industries Inc.

The second phase involves the inspection of company eligibility documents.
Three other shipbuilding firms joined the bidding but the DND declared their documents to be deficient.

These companies, identified as Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers Ltd. of India, STX France SA and Thyssenkrupp Marine System, have filed a motion for reconsideration at the DND.

Arrest of Abu suspect lawful–CA

From the Business Mirror (Feb 3): Arrest of Abu suspect lawful–CA

THE Court of Appeals (CA) has declared lawful the arrest of a suspected Abu Sayyaf bandit who is believed to have participated in bomb attacks in Mindanao, including one in Malagutay, Zamboanga City, where two Americans were among the fatalities.
Allan Almoite, alias Ali Ambing, was released from detention by Branch 162 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Pasig City on June 21, 2006.
Prior to his release, representatives from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) conducted an investigation with regard to the allegations that he was tortured during his detention.
Eventually, the CHR issued a report on March 21, 2006, which concluded that there are physical findings consistent with torture, without mentioning the persons responsible for the abuse.    
Subsequently, Almoite filed an administrative case for oppression, grave misconduct and conduct unbecoming a police officer before the Ombudsman against the police officers who arrested him.
They were identified as Supt. Roger James Brillantes, Police Officer (PO) 3 Peter Paul Pablico and PO1 Noel Fabia.
On January 20, 2012, the Ombudsman found the police officers liable for grave misconduct, and imposed upon them the penalty of dismissal from the service.
The Ombudsman held that the policemen committed grave misconduct for arresting Almoite even if his name did not specifically appear in the warrant of arrest issued by the RTC in Pasig City.
However, in a 15-page ruling written by Associate Justice Leoncia Real-Dimagiba, the CA’s Fourth Division granted the petition filed by three police officers seeking their reinstatement to their positions.
The appellate court noted that it is of common knowledge that criminal elements oftentimes use different aliases or fictitious names to hide their true identities in order to avoid arrest and criminal prosecution for their illegal activities.
The CA said this could be true in the case of Almoite, who may have adopted the name Ali Ambing when he was integrated or become a member of the Abu Sayyaf.
“The arrest of complainant was not a violation of law or established rule. The complainant was arrested by virtue of a valid warrant of arrest where his alias was duly printed in the warrant and when arrested, explosives were found in his possession,” the CA ruled.
The appellate court added that the warrant of arrest names Almoite as a certain Ali, thus it was up to the police officers to establish his real identify, which they were able to do as it was shown that Almoite’s alias is Ali Ambing and his photograph attached to the warrant of arrest shows that Ali Ambing and the private complainant are one and the same person.
“How then could petitioners be liable for grave misconduct when the person they arrested is the same person they perceived to be that in the arrest warrant?” the CA added.
In addition, the CA also belittled the report of the CHR, as it only showed that Almoite suffered a brasions and contusions, which was contrary to his claim of torture and maltreatment.
It also noted that Almoite failed to identify the policemen who allegedly tortured him.
“It is clear that the arrest having been lawful, the petitioners acted in good faith and in the performance of their duties as police officers tasked with the keeping of law and order consistent with their oath of office,” the CA said.
“Even if we grant that there was a mistake in the arrest, still the mistake cannot be classified as a grave misconduct, considering that the petitioners acted in their belief that the person they arrested was the same person in the warrant of arrest,” the ruling added.
Concurring with the ruling were Associate Justices Leoncia Real-Dimagiba, Amelita Tolentino and Ricardo Rosario.
Court records showed that Almoite was arrested by the petitioners in his residence in Quezon City pursuant to an arrest warrant issued by Branch 162 of the RTC in Pasig City, for kidnapping and serious illegal detention with ransom.
Police and military personnel seized from Almoite police and Marine uniforms, materials used in making bombs and several photos of suspected Abu Sayyaf Group bombers.
Reports  said Almoite has also been linked to the bomb attack on Fort Pilar in Zamboanga City, the SuperFerry bombing and the Valentine’s Day bus bombing in Makati City.

MILF pact could allow US bases in Bangsamoro homeland

From the Manila Times (Feb 3): MILF pact could allow US bases in Bangsamoro homeland

THE United States (US) may be granted basing rights in Mindanao by the Bangsamoro Political Entity once the final peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is signed and set into motion, according to an in-house think tank of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The Office of Strategic and Special Studies (OSS), a unit under the military, said Washington played a pivotal role in the peace talks both directly, through “secret” meetings between US officials and MILF leaders, and indirectly, by providing aid.

“One thought is about an American-led plot to lend a debt of gratitude by helping Mindanao become independent and get repaid in terms of grant of US rights to set up bases there,” the OSS said in a book it published, “In Assertion of Sovereignty: The Peace Process.”

The paper was authored by Cesar Pobre and Raymond Jose Quilop, a political science professor from the University of the Philippines who has been providing policy directions to the AFP over the last two decades.

According to the OSS, General Santos City in South Cotabato is being considered as the future site for a US base.

“In any event, whatever interest the US may have in the peace process, it may be well to keep in mind that from 1999 to 2008, six meetings between US government officials and MILF leaders have reportedly taken place. In February 2008, [Former] US Ambassador Kristie Kenney paid a visit to the main rebel base of Camp Darapanan in the town of Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and met with MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad and Central Committee members,” the book said.

The meetings were so secret that “the visit was done apparently with no prior coordination with the appropriate government authorities.”

“The day before the visit, Kenney was with then DFA Secretary Alberto Romulo for the opening of the Balikatan exercises,” it said.

Reports about Kenney’s “secret” meeting with the MILF leaders was first made public by Wikileaks in 2011 through the release of purportedly secret cables from the US Embassy in Manila to Washington. The OSS book confirmed this.

It was widely known that after declaring war on terror following the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, the US government worried that Mindanao would become a “sanctuary or training ground for international terrorists.” Washington was aware of the MILF’s supposed links to Jemaah Islamiyah and al-Qaeda.

“Apparently, Ambassador Kenney was interested in the progress of the peace talks and the creation of a new autonomous region under MILF rule. An exchange of views regarding the Balikatan exercises was reported to have been done,” the OSS said.

Reserved power

 But Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles said the observation may be out of place in the context of the new deal being forged with the MILF.

For one, granting the US being basing rights here is a power “reserved to the national government,” Deles said.

Asked if the Bangsamoro Political Entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) could actually enter into such an agreement, Deles replied: “No.”

“Foreign policy is a reserved power of the national government! That is very clearly stated in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and in the power-sharing annex,” she said in a text message to The Manila Times.

CIA front

The OSS book said Washington was considered a “major stakeholder” in the peace process and had actually used organizations that were believed to be fronting for the Central Intelligence Agency. One of these agencies is the US Institute for Peace (USIP) through the Philippine Facilitation Project.

The OSS, citing several sources, said the USIP’s “true objective is to infiltrate the MILF.”

“The US through the USIP guided the crafting of the [defunct] MOA-AD [memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain] to serve its tactical and strategic objectives in the country as well as in the Southeast Asian region,” it noted.

The allegations were denied by Kenney who pointed out that the USIP acted on its own in preparing a study paper on the peace process that did not reflect Washington’s position, but “she did not mention, however, that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was among the ex-officio members of the institute.”

Security tightened in GenSan after mortar find

From MindaNews (Feb 3): Security tightened in GenSan after mortar find

Security has been tightened in various parts of the city following the recovery on Sunday night of a live 60mm mortar round near a roadside community police outpost in the area.

Chief Insp. Edgar Yago, chief of the police station number 01 here, said Monday the mortar round was found at past 8 p.m. at the vicinity of its police box or outpost in Purok San Roque Silway in Barangay Dadiangas West.

Based on their initial investigation, he said the explosive was abandoned beside the police box by a child who found it near the area.

Yago said the child reportedly played with the explosive for several days before deciding to leave it at the police box.

“It’s a live mortar round and could explode or detonate if not handled properly,” the police official told reporters.

Yago said they were still determining the possible owner of the abandoned mortar round, which is similar to those attached in improvised bombs that exploded in Maguindanao province last week.

The official refused to link the recovery of the mortar round to the bombing incidents in Maguindanao that were believed to be the handiwork of splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“It’s a plain mortar round and there were no attached materials like those in improvised explosive devices,” he said.

Authorities earlier placed this city and other areas of Region 12 under heightened alert in the wake of the “law enforcement operations” launched by government forces against members and leaders of the BIFF in Maguindanao.

Chief Supt. Lester Camba, Region 12 police director, said the move is a precautionary measure against possible diversionary attacks being planned in the area by the BIFF and its allied armed groups.

The official said they are specifically monitoring possible movements of the BIFF in parts of Maasim, Kiamba and Maitum towns in Sarangani Province and other areas of Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato and North Cotabato.

Spotlight on military camps ahead of peace talks

From Gulf News (Feb 3): Spotlight on military camps ahead of peace talks

Camps of MILF will be the centre of decommissioning of weapons

The six military camps of a Filipino-Muslim rebel group that is about to sign a comprehensive peace deal with the government will begin decommissioning of weapons before its integration with the communities in southern Philippines, sources said.

Mejol Sadain, a member of the MILF peace negotiating team, said that the camps of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) province will witness the disposal of weapons of some 12,000 members of its armed wing Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF). The government and the MILF have agreed in Kuala Lumpur last month to create the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB), to undertake the project.
Both negotiating parties have agreed that the IDB will be composed of three foreign and four local experts, to be chaired by an expert from Canada, Sadain said, adding that the process was chosen instead of the proposed destruction of the weapons.
The IDB will also oversee the armouries where the firearms of the BIAF will be placed, said Sadain, adding that these armouries will be erected soon in the MILF camps. He did not say if the armouries of the BIAF will also be strengthened for the keeping of the weapons of the BIAF fighters.

“This aspect of the agreement is really hard to implement, but it can be done if both parties trust each other,” a source told Gulf News, who requested for anonymity.
Both the government and the MILF have also agreed that former BIAF members and soldiers jointly work for the prevention of loose firearms, by targeting private armed groups in the southern Philippines, said Sadain.

Meanwhile, the source said, “It’s a tall order because this might not be done without the holding of peace talks between the government and several armed groups in the south.”
The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) led by Umbra Ameril Kato, a former MILF commander, has an armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter (BIFF), which clashed with government forces in Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces last week, resulting in the death of more than 50 and displacement of 35,000 residents.
The clashes began when BIFF members refused to accept the warrants of arrest issued by prosecutors against BIFF members who were blamed for the fatal attacks in the south in 2012.
The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which forged two pro-autonomy peace settlement with the Philippine government in 1976 and 1996, has resurrected armed struggle. A faction of the MNLF led by MNLF founder Nur Misuari renewed armed struggle in 2001 and in 2013.
“The BIFM and the MNLF are two big reasons why it is hard to make Mindanao gun-free,” said the source.
Meanwhile, the main aim of the government and the MILF is also to develop MILF camps into residential and productive communities, said Sadain, adding this will be undertaken as soon as the peace settlement is signed, as part of the so-called decommissioning process.
The deal signed in Kuala Lumpur includes an annex called normalisation, which centred on the decommissioning of BIAF weapons and the fate of the MILF fighters.
Earlier, the government and MILF have signed three other agreements on transitional arrangements; sharing of earnings between the autonomous Filipino-Muslim region and the national government; identification of autonomous governance belonging to the Filipino-Muslim autonomous region and areas of governance shared both by the national government and the Filipino-Muslim autonomous region.
The Philippine government and the MILF started the pro-autonomy peace talks in 1997.

'MNLF eyes 'Kosovo-style' campaign

Posted to ABS-CBN (Feb 3): 'MNLF eyes 'Kosovo-style' campaign

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has warned it will carry out what it calls a “Kosovo style” struggle to “decolonize” southern Mindanao and some parts of Malaysia, including Sabah and Sarawak.

MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari called on his followers to renounce armed struggle and adopt the Kosovar model by carrying out peaceful assemblies in attaining their political objective for self rule, spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla said yesterday.

Fontanilla was referring to the 2008 Kosovo declaration of independence where participants unanimously declared Kosovo as independent from Serbia.

Although the legality of the declaration was disputed by Serbia, several countries recognized it.

Fontanilla said Serbia sought international validation and support for its stance that the declaration was illegal, but the International Court of Justice said the declaration did not violate international law.

“Armed struggle is already obsolete as proven in other countries. We will bring our cause to the people,” Fontanilla said.

He said their struggle is now on the second phase after Misuari declared the independence of the Bangsa Moro Republik in Sulu in last year.

Fontanilla said the MNLF has conducted peaceful assembles in General Santos City and Davao City before hostilities broke out in Zamboanga City that eventually led to the filing of charges against Misuari and his men.

According to Fontanilla, peaceful assemblies are scheduled next month in key cities in Mindanao and Sulu. He said the result of the assemblies would form part of the documentary evidence to be submitted before the United Nations committee on decolonization.

“The MNLF is just expressing its desire to be an independent state and it will be the people who decide, it’s a war in winning the hearts and mind of the people,” he said.

Fontanilla said the MNLF is now taking the next step that will involve a series of assemblies for every province where Muslims, Christians and tribal groups will express their desire for self-rule.

Peace deal with NDF in 2016 still uncertain, says Deles

From the Philippine Star (Feb 2): Peace deal with NDF in 2016 still uncertain, says Deles

While the peace pact between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is now on its final stretch, it remains uncertain whether a peace deal with the communists will be reached before President Aquino steps down in 2016.

Officials admitted that talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) are at an impasse, but they remain hopeful all stakeholders will still cobble together a peace agreement.

“Mahirap yung (negotiating) table talaga but I think if we don’t give up, there can be a way for the communities affected,” Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles told STAR editors and reporters last Friday.

When asked whether it is possible that no peace accord will be reached with the NDF by 2016, Deles said: “My job is not to give up so I will never say no.”

“We are hoping that by 2016... the communities will see that there is a way to peace, that they will be confident that there can be peace,” she added.

Negotiations between the government and the NDF hit an impasse over differences on the rebels’ demand to free communist leaders with criminal cases. The NDF represents the New People’s Army (NPA) and the Communist Party of the Philippines in the peace talks.

The NDF said jailed communist leaders should be freed since they are covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), which provides peace consultants immunity from arrest.

Government negotiators, however, said the NDF has no way to prove that the jailed rebels, especially those using aliases, are really peace consultants.

The stalemate has prompted government negotiators to look at a “new approach” to attain peace in communist-affected areas.

“The new approach is more on what needs to happen on the ground. The new approach is trying to build more mechanisms among people to work for peace,” Deles said.

“Peace process is always better if the leadership of the parties are able to talk but some things really need to happen on the ground to convince the leadership of the CPP-NPA-NDF that we have to talk, that we should come where there is a way of moving forward,” she added.

‘Human shield’ dies in NPA attack

From Tempo (Feb 1): ‘Human shield’ dies in NPA attack

SORSOGON CITY – A civilian used by rebels as human shield was killed while a policeman was wounded in an encounter here late Thursday night.

In a report sent to Senior Superintendent Victor Deona, Philippine National Police regional director, said some 10 suspected New People’s Army (NPA) fighters attacked a police post at Barangay Cabid-an junction road.

Police Inspector Arne Oliqiano of the city police said that the ensuing exchange of fire between the cops and the rebels lasted for 30 minutes, seriously wounding Police Office 2 Jovit Liwanag.

The civilian fatality, used by the rebels as cover, was identified as Henry Orbina of Salvacion, Irosin town.

Orbina, a worker of Sts. Peter Paul Corp, in the area, was passing by the place when the encounter occurred.

Liwanag, who sustained gunshot wounds in the upper right back and lower legs, was immediately brought to the nearest hospital for medical treatment; while the body of Orbina was brought to Funeraria Labalan.

Oliqiano said the wounded cop along with PO3 Ronel Diesta and PO1 Noly Lagsit resisted the rebels’ attempt to takeover the police post.

When radioed of the incident, the Sorsogon City Police Station and the Armed Forces contingent responded immediately but failed to arrest the rebels.

NPA rebels abduct auto mechanic in Southern Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner (Feb 1): NPA rebels abduct auto mechanic in Southern Philippines

DAVAO CITY – Communist rebels on Saturday abducted a man whose wife they had previously seized filed criminal charges against them in the southern Philippines, the military said.

Officials said Jerry Mataas, an automotive mechanic working for Santa Maria Bus Company in Compostela Valley province, was taken by New People’s Army rebels from his house in the village of Teresa in Maco town.

The victim’s wife, Janice, was abducted by rebels on December 27 and rescued a month later by troops from the 71st Infantry Battalion in Maco town. The woman filed charges against the NPA just recently, according to the military

“The abduction of Mr. Mataas is believed to be an act of threat and intimidation of the NPAs to terrorize the Mataas family and the rest of the community after the wife has filed charges of Serious Illegal Detentionon January 29, 2014 against the New People’s Army,” it said in a statement sent to the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

The military also said that the town’s vice mayor Voltaire Rimando has appealed to the rebels to free the woman and to put a stop to the kidnapping of innocent civilians.

“The local government of Maco would like to appeal to these NPAs to stop kidnapping innocent civilians and release their kidnap victims immediately. Based from the information we have received, they belong to the indigenous people of the community. The New People’s Army must respect and spare these civilians who want to live peacefully,” the same statement quoted the politician as saying.

“Prior to these recent untoward incidents, Barangay Teresa and Masara are known to be one of the peaceful Barangays of Maco. If ever there will be a continuous threat and armed conflict in that area, the economy will be greatly affected especially that 70% of the local income of our municipality is coming from APEX Mining Company. It makes the operation of APEX Mining Company as the heart of our town. Therefore, we have to make the place peaceful and safe without any threat and intimidations from the New People’s Army,” it further said.

Colonel Angelito de Leon, commander of the 1001st Infantry Brigade, has condemned the woman’s abduction and accused the rebel group of human rights violation.

“I strongly condemn the NPAs’ abduction of the Mataas couple which is a gross violation of their Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. “I am also appealing to the members of the populace to continue to unite and stand up against the NPA who continue to cause disorder in far flung communities,” De Leon said in the statement, adding they will file a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights.

He said troops were deployed to track down the rebels and rescue the hostage.

 The NPA has been fighting for decades now for the establishment of a separate Maoist state in the country.

AFP counterinsurgency drive inside public schools

Op/Ed piece in the Philippine Star (Feb 1): AFP counterinsurgency drive inside public schools

In pursuing its counterinsurgency program, dubbed “Oplan Bayanihan,” the Armed Forces of the Philippines has used schools, hospitals, clinics, and religious places in blatant violation of certain national and international laws and conventions.

From July 2010 to December 2013, the human rights alliance Karapatan said it had documented 18 cases of minors as victims of extrajudicial killing and 132,633 others — mostly children — as rights violation victims in the course of the AFP’s use of such venues for military purposes.

Many voices have been raised decrying the victimization of Filipino children in this way. Numerous organizations here and abroad have repeatedly urged the AFP and the Aquino government to pull out military personnel from communities and schools and to stop the killings and other rights violations.

But no positive government action was taken on these appeals.
In a case discussed in this column on August 13, 2011, the Blaan Literacy School and Learning Center in Upper Suyuan, Malapatan, an indigenous community in Sarangani province, was occupied by soldiers for three months.

The school’s organizers filed complaints, supported by affidavits of victims and witnesses, with the Ombudsman and the Commission on Human Rights. They charged six officers and soldiers of the Philippine Army’s 73rd Infantry Battalion with harassment, threat and intimidation, and violation of RA 7610 (which provides special protection against child abuse, exploitation and discrimination).

Another case (discussed here on July 21, 2012) pertained to protest by 118 teachers and directors of literacy and non-formal schools in northeastern Mindanao against soldiers who had occupied their schools, interrogated the teachers, conducted classes, and branded their schools as “rebel schools.”

The delegates to a “Mindanao Conference in Defense of Schools under Attack,” held in Davao City, demanded the immediate pullout of AFP troops and paramilitary units from their schools and communities. Neither action nor response came.

Recently Karapatan documented other related cases, but this one is particularly interesting:

Starting July 1, 2012, Grade 6 and high school students were required to participate in AFP-conducted counterinsurgency lectures during class hours in Baguio City public schools.

The lectures were authorized through Memorandum  No. 68  of  the Department of Education-CAR, which allowed the 5th Civil Military Operations Battalion, 5th IDPA “to conduct a counter-insurgency campaign, a 1-hour symposium, in all public elementary and high schools in this Division…”

The memo explains: “This is to enhance pupils’/students’ consciousness about the deceptions and clandestine operations of the Communist Terrorist Movement.”

One year later, in July 2013, after a mid-term assessment of Oplan Bayanihan’s implementation, AFP Chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista set guidelines in the conduct of AFP activities inside or within the premises of schools or hospitals.  (Bautista, main author of Oplan Bayanihan was named AFP chief months earlier.)

Letter Directive No. 25, authorized by Bautista, refers to the following laws and conventions:

• RA 7610 (earlier cited), which declares children as “zones of peace” and calls for monitoring and reporting on children in situations of armed conflict. It also prohibits the use of schools, hospitals and rural health units for military purposes (as command posts, barracks, detachments, supply depots, etc.);

• UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict;

• UN Security Council Resolution No. 1612 establishing monitoring and reporting mechanisms on Grave Child Rights Violations in Situations of Armed Conflict; and

• UN Security Council Resolution No. 1882, which calls for decisive state actions on abuses against children in situations of armed conflict.

Specifically, the letter-directive defines as its purpose “to prevent the occurrence of the six (6) Grave Child Rights Violations,” in compliance with UNSC Resolutions 1612 and 1882. These violations are: killing or maiming children, using them in armed conflict, rape/sexual violence, abduction, denying children humanitarian access, and attacks against schools/hospitals.

On Dec. 13, 2013, in relation to Bautista’s guidelines and invoking the same laws and conventions, Education Secretary Armin Luistro issued a memorandum “to protect the rights of children even during armed conflict.”
Memorandum No. 221 set the procedures for the approval and monitoring of AFP requests to conduct activities in public schools, including the submission of post-activity reports by school principals and reports on any violations of the AFP guidelines.

Despite the guidelines — or because these are intentionally so crafted — AFP units have continued to violate the very laws and international conventions that they are supposed to obey.

For instance, the guidelines state that “non-combat or non-traditional” activities inside schools,  such as civil-military operations, “must not be in the nature that is within the context of armed conflict in order to avoid undue labeling, tagging and branding of persons/groups/organizations…”

The fact, however, is that “civil-military operations” are intrinsic to counterinsurgency.

Thus, in the CMO counterinsurgency lectures in Baguio — which have been extended to freshman orientation in colleges and universities — video presentations are used to tag progressive people’s organizations and partylist groups as CPP-NPA “front organizations,” according to Karapatan.

It’s probably because the guidelines say — in outright deception — that “the conduct of anti-insurgency information campaigns inside schools and hospitals is forbidden” ONLY “in the course of traditional activities, such as combat or intelligence operations.”

AW-109 pilots now undergoing NVG training

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 3): AW-109 pilots now undergoing NVG training

The Philippine Navy on Monday said that the pilots and flight crews of its three AgustaWestland AW-109 "Power" helicopters are now undergoing training on how to efficiently use their NVG (night vision gear) equipment.

NVG is an optical instrument that allows images to be produced in levels of light approaching total darkness.

Training is being provided by AgustaWestland, Navy spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic said.

This started early in January and will last until March or the first week of April, he added.

Fabic said that having NVGs installed on their AgustaWestland helicopters provided the PN with the capability to operate and fly at night.

The PN is operating three AW-109 helicopters as of this posting. Another two, the attack versions, are expected to arrive by the third quarter of this year.

The AW-109 "Power" helicopter is a three-ton class, eight-seat helicopter powered by two Pratt and Whitney PW206C engines.

The spacious cabin is designed to be fitted with a number of modular equipment packages for quick and easy conversion between roles.

The aircraft’s safety features include a fully separated fuel system, dual hydraulic boost system, dual electrical systems and redundant lubrication and cooling systems for the main transmission and engines.

The AW-109 has established itself as the world’s best selling light-twin helicopter for maritime missions.

Its superior speed, capacity and productivity combined with reliability and ease of maintenance make it the most cost-effective maritime helicopter in its class.

For shipboard operations, the aircraft has a reinforced-wheeled landing gear and deck mooring points as well as extensive corrosion protection measures.

The ability to operate from small ships in high sea state enables the AW-109 to perform its mission when many other helicopters would be confined to the ship’s hangar.

Over 550 AW-109 "Power" and AW-109 light utility helicopters have been ordered for commercial, parapublic and military applications by customers in almost 50 countries.

AFP remains on alert for possible BIFF attacks

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 3): AFP remains on alert for possible BIFF attacks

Despite inflicting a crippling defeat on the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Monday announced that all its forces in Maguindanao are still on alert and conducting security operations to account for the remaining brigands.

Major Gen. Domingo Tutaan, AFP spokesperson, said they opted to do this footing as the BIFF could attack again without any warning.

"(They could attack again as) they are sinister (and) treacherous. That is why vigilance is required," he added.

The AFP earlier stated that its "Operation Darkhorse," which was terminated Sunday, resulted in the neutralization of 101 known BIFF personalities of which 52 were killed and 49 wounded.

"Operation Darkhorse" also resulted in the recovery several high-powered firearms, explosive ordnance and capture of four BIFF camps and the neutralization of a makeshift IED (improvised explosive device) factory in Barangay Ganta, Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Maguindanao.

The factory is responsible for the production of IEDs used in bombings in Central Mindanao.

"Operation Darkhorse" was launched late last week by the Army in support of the Philippine National Police (PNP)'s drive to effect warrants of arrest for BIFF personalities involved in various crimes including kidnap for ransom, murder, and other violent activities.

It provided military support to the PNP in their pursuit of BIFF personalities.

Operation 'Darkhorse' achieves tactical objective - AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 3): Operation 'Darkhorse' achieves tactical objective - AFP

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Monday announced that "Operation Darkhorse" achieved its tactical ojective which was to render the "Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters" (BIFF) without any operating base or sanctuary.

"(Operation Darkhorse) was designed for some objectives and one of those is to deny the enemy, the BIFF a sanctuary, where they can consolidate, prepare, train or stage attacks of terror. We were able to get that sanctuary and once we attained that tactical objective, we terminated operations against them," AFP spokesperson Major Gen. Domingo Tutaan said.

"Operation Darkhorse" was terminated last Sunday. The AFP earlier announced that the offensive campaign against the BIFF resulted in the recovery of several high-powered firearms, explosive ordnance and capture of four BIFF camps and the neutralization of a makeshift IED (improvised explosive device) factory in Barangay Ganta, Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Maguindanao.

The IED factory is responsible for the production of explosive device used in bombings in Central Mindanao.

"Operation Darkhorse" was launched late last week by the Army in support of the Philippine National Police (PNP)'s drive to effect warrants of arrest for BIFF personalities involved in various crimes including kidnap for ransom, murder, and other violent activities.

It provided military support to the PNP in their pursuit of BIFF personalities.

The operation resulted in the neutralization of 101 known BIFF personalities of which 52 were killed and 49 wounded.

Always lead from the front, outgoing PA chief tells young officers

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 3): Always lead from the front, outgoing PA chief tells young officers

To ensure the respect of their men, outgoing Philippine Army (PA) commander Lt. Gen. Noel A. Coballes on Monday advised young officers, aspiring to reach flag rank, to always lead at the front.

He added that this sums up most his combat experience.

The former is scheduled to retire this coming Feb. 7 after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56.

Coballes said that taking risk is worthwhile, but then you have to manage the risk.

Also, another defining leadership style of the PA chief is empowering the non-commissioned officer corps by emphasizing their role as key leaders and giving them distinction and recognition.

Coballes also mentioned that the morale and welfare of the troops is one of his paramount concerns, and that this is evident in the programs and projects that had been implemented during his incumbency, which include, among others, providing decent and quality housing for the soldiers and improving the health care services and facilities.

Lastly, the PA chief shared the success of the Army Transformation Roadmap (ATR) in the continued pursuit of the Army for change and transformation.

Coballes will be leaving the PA with the ATR in full swing and with the Internal Peace and Security Plan "Bayanihan" continuing to gain headway and positive results.

Gov't forces making sure BIFF won't grow into major threat --Palace

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 3): Gov't forces making sure BIFF won't grow into major threat --Palace

Government forces are taking steps to make sure armed groups trying to fight the government do not become a major threat to peace in Mindanao, MalacaƱang assured the public Monday.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio “Sonny” Coloma Jr. said the government's goal to attain peace for Mindanao remains unchanged.

"Masinsing tinututukan ng ating Armed Forces of the Philippines, particular ang intelligence operative natin, ang sitwasyon para tiyakin na kung anumang galaw ng kaaway ng Republika hindi ito makahadlang sa proseso ng kapayapaan (Our AFP particularly our intelligence operatives are keeping tabs on things to make sure any move by the state's enemies do not become a major threat)," Coloma said at a media briefing.

He said this includes the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and followers of Moro National Liberation Front founding chairman Nur Misuari.

The BIFF and followers of Misuari are reportedly joining forces against the government.

Coloma said the government is taking proactive action via intelligence work, surveillance, and "decisive action pag kinakailangan (decisive action if needed)."

Palace, military: BIFF still a threat

From Rappler (Feb 3): Palace, military: BIFF still a threat

The military offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) may be over, but both the Palace and the military still consider the group a threat.

On Monday, February 3, a day after the military officially ended its week-long operations against the BIFF, Presidential Communications and Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma acknowledged the breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) still poses some danger.

"The government is working on making sure they don't become a huge threat through appropriate actions, like practice intelligence, surveillance of their locations, and decisive action, when needed," he said. He vowed that the government would bring to justice those who committed illegal acts.

Colonel Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao, also said it expects the BIFF to retaliate following the military offensive that killed 52 BIFF members and wounded another 49.

"We are expecting [it] because we hurt them. They're likely to plant explosives like the one on Saturday that hurt a reporter and a civilian. Yesterday, they had an attempt in Guindulungan...they planted 3 IEDs on the highway. It's a good thing people saw it right away and reported it so we were able to defuse it," he said.

While the military said it expects retaliatory attacks, Hermoso said there would be no need to heighten an alert status because it continues to monitor roads, markets, church, and areas where masses of people converge.

Earlier, Lt Colonel Ramon Zagala, chief of the public affairs office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, also told reporters the military would continue to hunt down remaining splinter groups.

"They have split into smaller groups and further operations must be done to follow up," he said.

These military operations will be "smaller in scale," he said, adding that they would also be held in coordination with the main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Last week, the Palace gave assurances all its action against the BIFF did not break any rules of engagement.

The military's offensive started after the Philippine government signed the final annex that forms part of its peace agreement with the MILF last week. The agreement aims to give the MILF wider autonomy through the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity, and to put an end to 4 decades of fighting in Mindanao.

Led by commander Ameril Umra Kato, the BIFF splintered from the MILF and has rejected the peace talks with the government.