Sunday, February 9, 2014

Army denies, points to BIFF as burning houses in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 10): Army denies, points to BIFF as burning houses in Maguindanao

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao -- The military on Monday denied allegations some of its soldiers torched civilian houses at the height of the offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao.

Colonel Dickson Hermoso, spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division, said no civilian houses were hit by air assets of the military "because it was precise and accurate."

"We are sad there were houses burned during the operation but our policy is very strict, civilians should be spared," Hermoso said, adding that they have intelligence reports showing that BIFF torched houses so the civilians would blame the Army.

Nevertheless, Hermoso urged civilians to submit evidences if soldiers were involved in torching houses.

He explained that there were indeed houses burned during the operation but these were within the BIFF camp in Barangay Ganta, Datu Shariff Saydona, Maguindanao.

"Those hit by rockets from MG-520 attack helicopters were bunkers and shanties within the BIFF camp, including its bomb making factory and main headquarters," Hermoso said.

Earlier, a Moro woman told humanitarian teams that her house was among those they found burned after the operation was terminated.

Quoting another relative, the woman said those responsible were men in fatigue uniforms.

"The BIFF also use practically the same fatigue uniforms as our soldiers," Hermoso explained, stressing civilians saw the burning from a distance so they could hardly determine who are soldiers and who are BIFF.

"As far as the military is concerned, we do not burn civilian houses, that is a taboo for soldiers," Hermoso explained.

The 6th ID spokesperson also reported that BIFF forces attempted to topple down one of the steel towers of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) by planting bombs at the foot of the facility.

"Three IEDs were planted at the three foundation of steel tower and exploded at about 8:45 p.m. but it did not damage the facility," he said.

The 6th ID spokesperson also said the BIFF could be regrouping to launch more attacks on civilian communities.

"That is a possibility but the Army and the police have been alerted and more checkpoints were set up to prevent BIFF from sowing terror," he said.

Hermoso also appealed to the public to help government authorities prevent BIFF from planting bombs.

"We cannot be in all places at all times, Maguindanao is very big and very wide, we need the public support," he said.

China intentions perplexing – Noy

From the Philippine Star (Feb 9): China intentions perplexing – Noy

Beijing’s intentions in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea are perplexing, but would not distract the Philippines from its resolve to defend its territory through peaceful means, President Aquino said in an interview with The New York Times last Tuesday.

In the interview, Aquino also said he would like the international community to help uphold the rule of law in maritime disputes between China and some countries in the region, including the Philippines and Japan.

“One is perplexed at what China’s intentions are. I don’t think that there is any expert that can come up with conclusions that are beyond refute. But having said all of that, again, our concept is very, very simple. You may have the might, but that doesn’t necessarily make you right,” Aquino said.

“At the end of the day, perhaps that it’s high time that the declaration of conduct of the sea really transforms into a binding document called the code of conduct,” Aquino said.

He said a code of conduct in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea would “get the ground rules, the environment clearly set out” and enable nations concerned to focus on “improving the lot of our respective peoples.”

Aquino’s New York Times interview came amid rising tension in the region triggered by China’s growing aggressiveness in staking its territorial claims.

“And if we, in turn, do not protect our rights, then we cannot expect anybody else to protect our rights,” he said.

Aside from pushing for the code of conduct, Aquino said the Philippines has sought international arbitration to get an affirmation of its exclusive economic zone that China was trying to undo with its declaration of a nine-dash line to claim the whole of the West Philippine Sea.

He said the only way to achieve peace and stability in the region is for each country – especially China – to strictly follow the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and other international laws.

“I guess all of the countries involved in disputes keep saying that we will adhere to international law... and this (UNCLOS) was a very difficult agreement to come up with. But basically, everybody’s rights, duties and obligations were spelled out in the document. One would presume that every signatory to the same would adhere religiously to the provisions,” Aquino said.

It is under UNCLOS that signatory nations are allowed 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

He said China’s imposition of fishing rules covering almost the entire West Philippine Sea as well as its setting up of an air defense identification zone over areas disputed with Japan have only exacerbated the situation.

“Any tension detracts from the fundamental mission of any government to improve the lot of its people,” the President said.

He also cited Beijing’s taking over Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which is only 120 nautical miles off Zambales but is more than 340 miles away from China’s closest land mass.

Earlier, Chinese media ganged up on Aquino after he compared China’s actions with Nazi Germany’s annexation of Sudetenland while the West looked on.

“The world has to say it. Remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II and that didn’t happen,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that with The New York Times interview, the world has become more aware of the Philippines’ firm adherence to international law in settling a potentially explosive maritime tiff with Beijing.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China adheres to international law and its actions in the South China Sea should not be compared to Nazi Germany’s actions that led to World War II.

“As an unwavering upholder of international justice, China made huge sacrifice and indelible historical contribution to the victory of the World Anti-Fascist War. It is inconceivable and unreasonable to place China-Philippines South China Sea disputes in the same category with WWII history,” Hong said in a press conference.

“China is strongly dissatisfied with the relevant remark. We hope that the Philippine side will correct its mistake,” Hong said.

But Lacierda said over dzRB yesterday that Aquino was only using the Sudetenland case as an analogy to illustrate a possible scenario. He reiterated his call for China to submit to international arbitration in justifying its claim over some territories belonging to the Philippines.

“We ask the world to support us in this endeavor and we ask China to join us in this arbitration proceeding,” Lacierda said.

This time, US warship treads PH waters carefully

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 9): This time, US warship treads PH waters carefully

USS Pinckney/CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/US Navy Mate 3rd Class Timothy F. So

On this its first visit to the Philippines, the US warship made sure to navigate the waters very carefully.

Arriving a year after the grounding of another US vessel in Palawan, the guided missile destroyer USS Pinckney entered Philippine waters under the tight reins of its officers who are held to “very high standards” to ensure safe and smooth sailing at all times.

“While it was regrettable that the incident happened early last year, we take all possible measures to ensure safe navigation at all times,” said Commander Frank Okata, the Pinckney’s commanding officer, taking questions from reporters.

Okata was referring to the grounding of the USS Guardian, the Avenger-class minesweeper that ran aground on the protected Tubbataha Reef in Palawan on Jan. 17, 2013, destroying some 4,000 square meters of coral.

The Guardian, which was making its way out of Philippine waters at the time, got stuck on the reef and had to be cut to pieces to remove it without causing further damage to the Unesco world heritage site.

Investigation by the US Navy found that poor leadership decisions and planning, among other factors. had led to the accident.

The US has yet to pay the P58 million fine for damaging the reef, saying it was still awaiting a formal request to do so from the Philippine government.

“Navigation is our most fundamental skill as mariners. So we hold ourselves always to our very high standards and, because of this, we are always training and looking at all of our voyage preparations with meticulous detail to prevent any incidents from happening,” Okata said.

The 155-meter 9,300-ton warship docked at Manila’s South Harbor on Friday afternoon for a five-day rest and refueling stop, a routine port visit for US vessels deployed in the Asia Pacific.

It is the second American naval vessel to dock in the Philippines this year, after the missile cruiser USS Shiloh which stopped over in Cebu province on Jan. 31 and stayed for four days.

“We take advantage of this pause in operations to interact with people like yourselves to spread the story about what we do and what our mission is. We also try to restock our supplies, because it’s been a long voyage for us,” said Okata.

The Pinckney took a break after a month at sea, traveling across the Pacific Ocean from its home port of San Diego, California, and conducting training and proficiency exercises on its weapons systems for its crew along the way.

The ship has a complement of some 300 personnel, including at least 10 of Filipino descent.

Among them was Petty Officer Second Class Geraldine Igualdo who brought on board her parents and relatives on her first visit to the Philippines since 2010. The nursing graduate, who followed a cousin into the US Navy, was thankful for the decision she made as a 21-year-old five years ago.

“When I left the Philippines in 2008, I was thinking of just getting permanent status over there (the US). But then I saw their ads and I wanted to join. It’s really a great decision I made, I believe, because I’m here, traveling the world, getting experience and everything,” said Igualdo, who will spend the weekend with her family in Manila.

PN: PN-USN turns over new school building

From the Philippine Navy Website (Feb 4): PN-USN turns over new school building


Commodore Manuel Natalio A Abinuman AFP, the Commander, Naval Forces West and Captain Rodney Moore USN, the Commander of US 30th Naval Construction Regiment turned over a new two(2) -room school building to the school principal, teachers, staffs and students of Macarascas Elementary School in a ceremony held at said school in Barangay Macarascas, Puerto Princesa City last Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014.

The construction of the school building was made possible by US Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3, Construction Civic Action Detail (CCAD)-Philippines and Vertical Utility Engineering Construction, 3rd Naval Construction Battalion of the Philippine Navy as project of US Agency for International Development (USAID). The project started last Sep. 23, 2013 and was completed on Jan. 18, 2014.

This is the 6th building project funded by the USAID in partnership with PN-US Seabees among others as follows:

Aplaya Elementary School
Tagburos Elementary School,
Bacungan Elementary School
Simpocan Elementary School, Bacungan
Mangingisda Elementary School

During the symbolic turn-over, Ms Rocelle Clarisse Bermudez, the President of Supreme Pupil Government, Macarascas Elementary School accepted the key of responsibility in maintaining the school building. She remarked that “the new building symbolizes the transformation of the Macarascas Elementary School which will lead the students of this new generation to new trials and challenges and will continue to pass the torch of success to the next generation.”

Capt Moore also delivered a message, saying “It was a great experience to work alongside with the community and the education and faculty, staff, collectively they deliver a very quality project that will provide safe and secure learning environment for the students and a safe and secure working environment for the faculty and staff. I am proud and pleased about the quality of this project but what I am most proud and pleased about is, really, this is more than just a brick and mortar that we put in place that has become the relationship we have built; that is about the personal, professional experiences we have shared, working shoulder to shoulder, military and civilians community, in the spirit of Bayanihan and that kind of spirit far stronger than the physical structure itself.

Immediately after the turn-over ceremony, the cutting of ribbon and unveiling of building marker followed suit. NAVFORWEST Chaplain MAJ MENDEZ officiated theblessing of the building.

5CRG: EASTMINCOM host 32nd Philippines-Indonesia Border Committee Chairmen’s Conference

From the 5th Civil Relations Group Weekly Activity Blog (Feb 6): EASTMINCOM host 32nd Philippines-Indonesia Border Committee Chairmen’s Conference






The AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command hosted the 32nd Republic of the Philippines-Republic of Indonesia (RP-RI) Border Committee Chairmen’s Conference held at the Grand Regal Hotel Davao City Wednesday morning.

The activity is an enabling process that further strengthens mutual commitment for a peaceful resolution of issues arising borders.

The highlight of the event is the signing of a bilateral agreement which consist of the following agenda:

1. To grant navigational lane and allow Philippine flag fishing vessels to pass through Indonesian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in going to high seas pocket to conserve time and expenditure;

2. To set guidelines with regard to the type and size of vessels and the mandatory safety equipment on board the vessels in crossing the border;

3. Extend the area of coordinated patrol operation up to Sulu Islands;

4. Modify the concept of operation of coordinated patrol;

5. Harmonize border crossing stations standing operating procedures in both Philippines and Indonesia stations; and 6. Assignment of custom personnel at border crossing stations and restricts transportation of contrabands (liquor) across the borders.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier G. Cruz III, Commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command and Chairman of the Philippine Border Committee, members of the Unified Staff and concerned government officials warmly welcomed the Chairman of the Republic of Indonesia Border Committee at the same time Commander, Military Area Command VII Maj. Gen. Tni Bachtiar and party comprised of military officers and concerned Indonesian government officials. Maj. Gen. Bachtiar was accorded with traditional military arrival honor by the Vice-Chairman, Philippine Border Committee and Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao Commander Commo. Antonio A. Habulan Jr at the EASTMINCOM Hqs.

Regional directors and officials from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Department of Social Welfare and Development XI, National Statistics Office XI, Maritime Industry XI, Mindanao Development Authority, Bureau of Immigration, Bureau of Quarantine and Department of Foreign Affairs attended the conference.

This confidence building measure improves our security relations as evidenced by our willingness to exchange information in order to protect our mutual interest. May I pray for everyone to work together as one team so that we could come up with mutually beneficial solutions to both our concerns. We are hopeful that whatever is finalized in today’s activity will doubly serve our countries and friendship” Lt. Gen. Cruz said.

It can be recalled that the Philippines and Indonesia are both signatories of the United Nations on the Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) which later created the Regional Fisheries Management Organization and thereafter created the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission aimed of developing resolutions, conservation and management measures relating to fishing operations in the High Seas at the Pacific Ocean.

Deles cites critical role of BTC in drafting an inclusive Bangsamoro law

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 10): Deles cites critical role of BTC in drafting an inclusive Bangsamoro law

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles cited the important and historic role of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission in drafting a Bangsamoro Basic Law that is fair, acceptable, and inclusive for congressional approval.

"You are both mentor and student; mentor to our legislators in understanding the spirit of compromise and understanding that brought about the Framework Agreement, its Annexes and addendum. You are student to the myriad voices, all with their own grievances and aspirations, whose dream of a Bangsamoro that works, is just as real and as urgent as yours," Deles reminded the 15 BTC members at the inauguration of their office in Cotabato City,a statement posted at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said.

The presidential peace adviser graced the opening of the BTC office with DILG Secretary Mar Roxas. They were welcomed by BTC chairman and head of the MILF negotiating panel Mohagher Iqbal, who presided over the first official meeting of the BTC at their new office.

Deles reminded the BTC that the Bangsamoro Basic Law's approval is critically important to the successful conclusion of the peace negotiations and implementation of the agreements forged by the GPH and MILF panels.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) fully supports the work of the BTC, she added.

"The Bangsamoro Basic Law must not be an island in our statutes, but a document that blends with our Constitutional framework to guarantee the freedom, security and prosperity of Filipinos. Your work in drafting this law as basis for congressional deliberations and approval will endure long after the law has been enacted," the peace adviser said.

Deles assured that the entire government is right behind the BTC’s efforts in the crafting and the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

 She also called on peace advocates and supporters of the Mindanao peace agreement to carry on with their advocacy and not be disheartened by the handiwork of "spoilers". "There will always be spoilers, doomsayers, and know-it-alls. Our hope is that they will learn to trust the process as it shifts from negotiations to partnerships, cemented by law, and celebrated by our people," Deles said.

She said that the new office of the BTC will enable the body to accelerate its work in crafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law, as instructed by President Aquino.

The President, in a recent meeting with BTC officials in Malacanang,  pledged his full support to the enactment of the new organic law that would pave the way for the abolition of the ARMM and creation of a Bangsamoro regional government in areas that would ratify the law in a plebiscite.
He, however, asked the BTC to speed up its work in order to give both Houses of Congress more time to study the measure.

"You will have to formulate provisions that would guarantee a true Bangsamoro future where children can have happier childhoods, their parents longer and more productive lives, and where communities are grounded with abundance, rather than uprooted in fear," the Secretary told the BTC.

The BTC led by Chairman Iqbal is composed of fifteen (15) commissioners, all appointed by President Aquino, with 8 members coming from the MILF and 7 members designated by the government.

It is mandated to hold consultations with various sectors and stakeholders in Mindanao to ensure an inclusive, fair and transparent Bangsamoro Basic Law.

“This roadmap has built-in safeguards to ensure that this journey to peace in Mindanao shall not be short lived. It is the gift of our generation to those that will follow us, a legacy of a united, progressive and peaceful Mindanao,” Deles said.

Two leftist regional command leaders nabbed in N. Philippines

From the Shanghai Daily (Feb 9): Two leftist regional command leaders nabbed in N. Philippines

Two suspected high-ranking leaders of the leftist New People's Army (NPA) were arrested in separate operations in northern Philippines, military said Sunday.

Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, chief of public affairs office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said that joint police and military elements nabbed George Geluz, also known as Ka Mario, in a checkpoint in Gumaca, Quezon shortly before noon on Saturday, while Slyvestre Layones in Naga City, Camarines Sur Sunday afternoon.

Geluz, secretary of the Bicol Regional Party Committee (BRPC), was apprehended by virtue of warrants of arrest for the crimes of robbery in band with arson and double frustrated murder issued in Camarines Norte, he said. Geluz is now detained in Gumaca Police Station.

Layones, head of the Rodante Urtal Command and Executive Committee member of the BRPC, was arrested by virtue of a warrant of arrest for murder issued in Legazpi City, Albay, Zagala said.

The NPA, an armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been waging war against the government for over four decades.

Military backs countryside dev’t program

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 9): Military backs countryside dev’t program

The military strengthened its collaboration with other government line agencies, aiming to sustain the implementation of various peace and development programs in the region.

Major Gen. Ariel Bernardo, Army’s 10th Infantry Division commander, has directed military units under his command to take part in the various development initiatives undertaken by local development bodies in their respective areas.

He said the military should take part “comprehensively” in the planning and implementation of economic development and poverty alleviation programs, which he said are vital to resolve insurgency.

Bernardo together with key military officers recently attended a strategic planning meeting organized by the Regional Development Council-11 and National Economic and Development Authority, which was aimed at crafting actions plans in collaborating efforts of various government agencies and stakeholders to spur economic development of Region-11.

Bernardo said the military should actively take part in the holistic approach to solve the insurgency problem pursuant to Internal Peace and Security Plan of the Armed Forces.

“We know that we cannot solve armed conflicts with an armed solution alone,” Bernardo said.

“We have that vicious cycle if government will not converge to implement development programs in rebel-infested areas,” Bernardo said.

Military vows to pursue drive vs BIFF, other armed groups

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 10): Military vows to pursue drive vs BIFF, other armed groups

The military yesterday vowed to pursue law enforcement operations against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and other armed groups as another explosion rocked Central Mindanao Saturday night.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, the Philippine Army 6th Infantry Division (6ID) spokesman, said members of armed groups like the BIFF who have standing warrants for their arrest must be brought before the bar of justice.

Hermoso disclosed that Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas and Secretary Teresita Deles of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) visited the division’s headquarters yesterday.

“Dun sa briefing namin kay Secretary Mar Roxas, we told him na tuloy-tuloy pa rin yung law enforcement operation pero hindi na katulad ng intensity nung nakaraang linggo,” Hermoso said.

“We will still go after BIFF members and leaders with standing warrant of arrest but under a normal law enforcement operation,” said Hermoso.

“But if they will regroup and launch another attack, then we will again launch an offensive,” he said.

The official said the BIFF has splintered into smaller groups after last week’s offensive wherein 52 members of the brigand group were killed.

“May mga lugar kaming mino-monitor, kung mag-ipon-ipon sila pasukin na naman namin,” said the 6ID spokesman.

He said Roxas and Deles would like to encourage the other groups “na sumama na sa bandwagon ng Bangsamoro para mabiyayaan din sila sakaling magkaroon na ng comprehensive agreement.”

He said the call is being made through the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other Muslim leaders.

When asked what is the rationale for making such call, Hermoso said: “So that no one will be left behind in case there will be a framework comprehensive agreement on Bangsamoro, whoever you are, whatever tribe you belong to.”

“Basta nasa Bangsamoro ka, kasama ka na mabiyayaan,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hermoso said another explosion was reported around 8:45 p.m. Saturday at Km. 16 Barangay Ladia, Sultan Kudarat.

He said improvised bombs were believed planted by the BIFF at a tower of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) in the area.

Fortunately, the explosion failed to destroy the tower, Hermoso said.

“Okay naman, hindi naman nagdulot ng brownout sa lugar,” said Hermoso, noting that it was the brigand group’s third attempt to knock down the tower.

US rejects legality of China’s Sea claim

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 10): US rejects legality of China’s Sea claim

The United States government has, for the first time, publicly rejected the legality of China’s “Nine-Dash Line” claim in the South China Sea.

During his testimony before Congress last week, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel stated that under international law, maritime claims in the South China Sea must be derived from land features.

“Any use of the ‘nine-dash line’ by China to claim maritime rights not based on claimed land features would be inconsistent with international law,” Russel said.

“The international community would welcome China to clarify or adjust its nine-dash line claim to bring it in accordance with the international law of the sea,” he added.

The nine-dash line, also known as the 9-dotted line or the “ox tongue” line, represents the nine dashes that mark China’s claim to the entire South China Sea which China officially submitted to the United Nations only on May 7, 2009.

The US government has never actually publicly stated this argument before as it has reiterated that it takes no position on any sovereignty disputes.

“I think it is imperative that we be clear about what we mean when the United States says that we take no position on competing claims to sovereignty over disputed land features in the East China and South China Seas,” said Russel.

“First of all, we do take a strong position with regard to behavior in connection with any claims: we firmly oppose the use of intimidation, coercion or force to assert a territorial claim. Second, we do take a strong position that maritime claims must accord with customary international law.”

With this statement from Russel, the US is now challenging China to try to fit its Nine Dash Line into the legal framework created by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

On Jan. 22, 2013, the Philippines filed a case against China over the disputed West Philippine Sea before a United Nations-backed Arbitral Tribunal under the 1982 UNCLOS which governs the world’s oceans. Both countries are a signatory to UNCLOS.

The purpose of the case is to halt Chinese incursions into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and to invalidate China’s nine-dash line claim to the waters which the Philippines has repeatedly described as an “excessive declaration” of maritime territory.

China, however, refused to participate in the proceedings from the outset, asserting its “indisputable sovereignty” over most of the South China Sea. It later responded on February 19 with a diplomatic note to the Philippines rejecting any participation to the case. It instead maintained that territorial disputes must be resolved bilaterally.

According to maritime experts, clarification from China as to the legal basis for its Nine Dash Line would be helpful, since it would shift the burden on China to explain its legal position.

Moreover, the US government is also offering a legal roadmap for other countries that are not claimants in the region.

•China Decries US Comments

BEIJING (Reuters) – China has accused the United States of undermining peace and development in the Asia-Pacific after a senior U. official said concern was mounting over China’s claims in the South China Sea.
“These actions are not constructive,” Hong Lei, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a statement issued late on Saturday.

“We urge the US to hold a rational and fair attitude, so as to have a constructive role in the peace and development of the region, and not the opposite,” Lei said.

China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all claim parts of the sea that provides 10 percent of global fish catches and carries $5 trillion in ship-borne trade.

China claims about 90 percent of the 3.5 million square km South China Sea, depicting what it sees as its area on maps with a so-called nine-dash line, looping far out over the sea from south China.

‘US not constructive in WPS’

From the Manila Times (Feb 9): ‘US not constructive in WPS’

The Chinese government said the United States (US) is not being constructive in its comments on Beijing’s actions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Hong Lei, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Washington is seemingly undermining the peace and development of the region, which has fast become a hotbed of territorial issues in the past two years.
“These actions are not constructive,” Lei said.

“We urge the US to hold a rational and fair attitude, so as to have a constructive role in the peace and development of the region, and not the opposite,” he added.

Danny Russel, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told a congressional testimony last week that the US had “growing concerns” that China’s maritime claims were an effort to gain full control of oceans in the region.

He added that China’s claims had “created uncertainty, insecurity, and instability.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also warned the international community of China’s plan to establish an air defense identification zone in the West Philippine Sea, similar to what it established over the East China Sea—a group of small and uninhabited islands being claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing.

This prompted President Benigno Aquino 3rd to compare China to the appeasement of German Nazi during World War II, which earned the ire of Chinese media Xinhua.

China’s increasing aggressiveness is a subject of international concern primarily because the region, which is home to $5 trillion worth of yearly global trade, is being seen as the biggest potential source of armed conflict.

The Philippines, being one of the claimant countries in the resource-rich region together with Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Brunei Darussalam, brought the dispute before the United Nations-backed International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea.

Its invitation to Beijing to join the arbitration process was rejected, however, since the Asian economic powerhouse wants to negotiate bilaterally with the claimant countries.

MILF: North Cotabato Governor Mendoza Spoke of Support to the GPH-MILF Peace Process

From the MILF Website (Feb 9): North Cotabato Governor Mendoza Spoke of Support to the GPH-MILF Peace Process

In an address rendered by the lady governor of North Cotabato Province, Honorable Emmylou “Lala” Talino- Mendoza on the night of February 6, 2014 before a crowd of Mindanao International Studies Society (MISS) at Eva Hotel, Kidapawan City, she stressed of her strong support to the on-going peace process between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
She said, let us not let another temerity when the former leadership of the province mishandled the issue on the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOAAD) that caused the loss of many lives in the province with thousands displacement of residents.

Now is the time that we must work together for peace. We must assist in any manner we can in the attainment of good result in the about to be concluded peace negotiation. She said, on her part, she will be going to put in writing her contribution as support to the peace process. Her work may guide the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) in drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law. It will also give similar guidance to the Philippine Congress in enacting the Basic Law into the Philippine laws.

She considers the necessity of giving attention to the “so-called gray areas in her province”. She was referring to the Indigenous people that constituted considerable number and occupying large area in the mountainous municipalities of North Cotabato.

Another speaker named Prof. Juliet Mendoza, representing Mindanao State University (MSU), main campus, Marawi City, gave some remarks concerning the signing of the last annex on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB). She said, let us all be concern on the ongoing peace process between the GPH and the MILF, so much so that the conclusion is already on sight. The striking point on her speech was her favourable support to the joint panels’ achievement of the GPH and the MILF as recently demonstrated in signing the last annex.

The lady governor and the lady mentor concerned and supportive of the peace process are leaders worthy of emulation by other political leaders and academicians in our midst.

The convention was a conglomeration of tertiary students taking up courses in International studies and in International relations from different colleges and universities in Mindanao.

They were escorted by their respective mentors and other schools’ key officials. On the part of the University of Southern Mindanao (USM), the OIC-President, Atty. Christoper B. Cabelin led the university group in attending the affair.

Initial arrivals constituted the groups from the USM of Kabacan; MSU of Marawi City; Ateneo de Davao of Davao City; Ateneo de Cagayan of Cagayan de Oro City and others are expected yet to arrive. The gathering will be in four days that started on February 6, 2014 and will end on February 9, 2014.

IEP: Video -- (BIFF) vs Army daming namatay na sundalo....

Posted to the Islamic Emirate of the Philippines (IEP) Facebook page (Feb 9): (BIFF) .VS. ARMY daming namatay na sundalo puro pa nmn Ilocano


Bangsamoro office opens amid very tight security

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 9): Bangsamoro office opens amid very tight security

Security was unusually tight here Saturday as Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles arrived for the inauguration of the office of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), a body that will draft the proposed law that would consolidate the recently signed framework for peace between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Security personnel along with dozens of policemen and soldiers checked every car and were on the lookout for possible saboteurs of the peace plan.

“The military recently assaulted the camps of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in nearby Maguindanao and there might be some retaliation planned,” a security officer, who asked not to be identified, said.

The BIFF, a breakaway faction of the MILF, is opposed to the peace process.

Roxas and Deles were met by Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman and other local officials.

The BTC, to be headed by MILF chair Mohagher Iqbal, immediately held a close-door meeting in the new office.

The BTC has been commissioned to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which will become the foundation of a future Bangsamoro entity.

Roxas told reporters that the forging of peace with the MILF was among President Aquino’s top priorities.

“The leadership of President Aquino is closely monitoring the process, particularly the passage of a Bangsamoro Law ,” he said.

Roxas said Malacañang was determined to push forward with the peace process by supporting the draft basic law which Congress still has to pass. It will then be subject to ratification by the residents of the areas proposed for inclusion in the Moro territory.

“If it’s necessary, we will undergo debate for 24 hours but we will not delay it as a legislative tactic,” he said.

The peace panels of the government and the MILF are expected to sign the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in the coming weeks.

The agreement will include four annexes on transitional modalities, wealth sharing, power sharing and normalization, plus an addendum on Bangsamoro waters.

Warning out vs kids in combat

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 9): Warning out vs kids in combat

Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, some of them obviously in their teens, are shown in this photo taken inside the BIFF camp in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province on Friday. JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO
The Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (Iacat) on Saturday warned groups like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and others involved in armed hostilities to stop recruiting children into their ranks.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Iacat chair, expressed alarm over reports that teenagers, some as young as 15 and 16, were among the casualties in recent skirmishes between government troops and BIFF guerrillas in Mindanao.

“Any form of recruitment of children to aid armed conflict is a reprehensible practice and is rightfully condemned by all nations,” said De Lima in a statement.

“Children used as combatants suffer in a number of ways, most of them suffer in silence. It is incumbent upon us to put an end to these horrors,” De Lima, a former head of the Commission on Human Rights, added.

De Lima said the leaders of the BIFF would likely face human trafficking charges under Philippine laws.

She cited Republic Act No. 9208, the 2003 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, which states that recruiting, transporting or adopting a child to engage in armed activities in the Philippines or abroad is considered human trafficking.

This is elevated to “qualified human trafficking” if “by reason or on occasion of the act of trafficking persons, the offended party dies,” the law further states.

Abducted, tortured and jailed NDFP consultant freed in Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner Website (Feb 8): Abducted, tortured and jailed NDFP consultant freed in Philippines

Ramon Patriarca (

A peace consultant of the leftist National Democratic Front of the Philippines, who was abducted, tortured and jailed by Philippine authorities, has been freed after a local court dismissed rebellion charges against him, the human rights group called Karapatan said.

Ramon Patriarca, who was abducted by soldiers and policemen on February 5, 2009 at the village of Casili in Cebu’s Mandaue City, was released from the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center. Patriarca’s case was dismissed by the Regional Trial Court-Danao City along with five other accused, who were earlier released on bail.

The NDFP is the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Karapatan said the release came after Patriarca’s legal counsel filed a demurrer to evidence. Judge Jerry Dicdican found the rebellion case against him without basis and ordered his release.

In jail, Patriarca launched hunger strikes, fasting and other protest actions to call public attention to his detention and to echo the demand to release all political prisoners. He had issued statements to the public on issues such as the pork barrel system, government neglect on the plight of the victims and survivors of typhoon Haiyan. Patriarca also made and sold handcrafted greeting cards, proceeds of which were donated to the typhoon victims.

Patriarca thanked all those who supported him and the campaign to release all political prisoners in the Philippines and abroad.

“I am happy that henceforth, I can better contribute to the struggle for the release of political prisoners, and for human rights and just peace, not limited anymore by prison bars and barbed wires,” Patriarca said in a statement sent to Karapatan.

“State repression is incapable of silencing, not even in prison, yearnings for freedom and justice. My abduction, brief disappearance and torture five years ago, now the subject of a civil case I filed against a number of military and police officials, showed that human rights violations is indeed a twin of the existing exploitative social system,” Patriarca said.

Karapatan said Patriarca filed a civil case for torture and P 1.4 million in damages against 20 officers and members of the Philippine National Police and Central Command, among them then Cebu Provincial police director Chief Supt. Carmelo Valmoria and Maj. Gen. Armando Cunanan, former commander of the Central Command. The case is pending at the Regional Trial Court Branch 12.

To date, there are 427 political prisoners still languishing in jail, all falsely charged with criminal cases. Of the 427 political prisoners, 12 are NDFP peace consultants covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees signed by both the Philippines and the NDFP in 1995.

In 2011, lawyer Alex Padilla, chief government peace panel negotiating with the communist group, unilaterally declared the JASIG inoperative, which according to the NDFP violated the accord.

MNLF senior leaders helped gov't resolve Zambo siege

From the Zamboanga Today (Feb 7): MNLF senior leaders helped gov't resolve Zambo siege

The efforts of senior leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) have been instrumental in putting an end to the siege perpetrated by rogue Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members loyal to Nur Misuari in September last year.

"The siege could have been much worse if not for the speedy intervention and collaboration of MNLF senior leaders and officials of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process," Kong Sahrin, secretary general of the MNLF central committee, said.

He said there was an active engagement between then, the senior MNLF leaders, and OPAPP in the person of Undersecretary Jose Lorena during the siege, especially in convincing other MNLF leaders and members not to reinforce the MNLF-Misuari group in Zamboanga City.

According to him, the remaining MNLF members in neighboring island provinces were gearing up to reinforce the siege but the MNLF senior leaders, through coordination with OPAPP, sent MNLF leader Yusoph Jikiri to Sulu and held a dialogue with the MNLF members there.

Jikiri, who is also a former governor of Sulu, informed the members that the attack is against the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) and stressed that there are proper mechanisms where parties can raise issues, without the use of guns.

The success of the dialogue also prevented the escalation and spillover of the armed conflict to other areas.

Followers of Misuari attacked at least seven coastal villages here in September, shooting civilians and taking more than 100 hostages to get attention in setting up their independent state "Bangsamoro Republik".

Misuari accused the Government of the Philippines (GPH) of abandoning the 1996 FPA and sidelining the MNLF in the peace process.

The siege lasted for about three weeks with almost half of the 300 MNLF followers killed, while others are now jailed. Misuari, along with other commanders and followers, has a standing warrant of arrest issued by the regional trial court in this region following the attack.

Some of the MNLF commanders said Misuari deceived them.  They said that they were originally told to only carry out a peace rally in the city, and be paid at least P10,000. But the compensation never came.

Sahrin said there has been an existing engagement between the MNLF and government. However, the faction of Misuari remained adamant since what they are pushing in the tripartite review are their personal interests.

The September attack in this city was the second one launched by Misuari. The first occurred in 2001 in which his followers also took civilian hostages after the government did not support his demand to extend his term as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). He also led the same atrocities in Jolo.

MILF failed to win back BIFF leader, concedes Iqbal

From the Daily Tribune (Feb 10): MILF failed to win back BIFF leader, concedes Iqbal

The chance of a lasting peace in Mindanao seems bleak, as efforts to convince Ameril Omra Kato, leader of the renegade Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), to support the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement remain futile, Mohaqher Iqbal, the chief of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels, admitted.

Iqbal, speaking during the inauguration of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) main office in Cotabato City, stressed the MILF has been trying to establish a bridge that would pave the way for the return of Kato to the main guerrilla forces.

“We have been trying to win him back because we are inclusive, but our efforts failed,” Iqbal told Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II who were special guests of the program.

“We did our best but still we failed,” he lamented, but maintained that the MILF is still open to accept Kato back.

Chief government negotiator Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer had been urging Kato to help bring about peace in Mindanao by joining the peace process instead of using arms to fight the government and displaced thousands of Muslim civilians whom they vowed to protect.

Kato, about 75 years old, broke away from the MILF in 2008 following the botched signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, formed the BIFF and continued the struggle for Mindanao independence.

Iqbal has repeatedly called on sectors opposed to the establishment of a new Bangsamoro political entity to support the efforts to resolve the decades-old problem in southern Philippines.

“There’s no other better option but to support the GRP-MILF peace process because it is inclusive,” Iqbal added.

Meanwhile, members of the BIFF last Saturday bombed a transmission tower of the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) in Maguindanao province.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID), said the BIFF detonated three improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the NGCP tower, located in Barangay Ladia, Sultan Kudarat town, around 8:45 p.m.

“They (BIFF) attempted to collapse one tower.. .but it did not so power supply was not affected,” he added.

Hermoso said the bombing was still part of the BIFF retaliation against the government following the conduct of “Operation Darkhorse” two weeks ago that resulted in the killing of 52 rebels and the capture of four BIFF camps in Maguindanao.

The BIFF exploded several IEDs in various parts of Maguindanao at the height of the military operation, resulting in the wounding of several civilians including crew members of TV5.

He said such activity only proves the BIFF’s anti-people and anti-peace stance.

Hermoso called on the public and local government officials to remain vigilant to prevent the BIFF from launching atrocities.

“We need target hardening... there should really be security system on probable targets, including civilians so that they could inform us,” he stressed.

“This is not only for security sector, we need the LGUs (local government units), all sectors of the society and the community to report to us so that we can prevent similar occurrence,” he added.

US Navy brass sets visit as RP-China row heats up

From the Daily Tribune (Feb 10): US Navy brass sets visit as RP-China row heats up

In an apparent saber-rattling against China, the United States is sending a ranking military official to the country this week amid the rising tension between the Philippines and China over the disputed South China Sea and a recent commitment of Secretary of State John Kerry that the US would defend its ally Japan against attack, including over islands claimed by China.

Admiral Jonathan Greenert, chief of the naval operations of the US Navy, is scheduled for an official visit on Feb. 12 to 14.

Greenert will be meeting with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista in Camp Aguinaldo, and Philippine Navy flag officer in command Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano at the PN Headquarters.

“The visit aims to strengthen the ties and interoperability between the two navies and further realize peace and stability in the region,” said Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Fabic, spokesman for the Navy.

Alano will tour Greenert to various Navy stations in Manila and Cavite, among these are the Navy Headquarters in Manila, the Naval Base in Ternate, Cavite and the Philippine Fleet and Naval Sea Systems Command in Cavite City.

“The two Navy officials will share their expertise as they tour HPN (headquarters, Philippine Navy) and other PN units around Manila-Cavite area,” said Fabic.

Greenert’s visit to the country came amid the continuing tension between the Philippines and China over the disputed West Philippine Sea.

Since 2011, Manila and Beijing have been entangled in a tense dispute over some islets and reefs in the West Philippine Sea, or the South China Sea.

The Philippine government has accused China of incursions into Manila-claimed and owned territories in the region. In fact, the Department of Foreign Affairs has filed a formal complaint against China before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas.

However, China refused to participate in the proceedings.

Recently, President Aquino again drew criticisms from Beijing for his remarks supposedly comparing Chinese leaders to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.

Kerry, who announced that he would visit China on a trip starting this week, met in Washington with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and reaffirmed the 1960 treaty that commits the United States to protect its ally.

“I... underscored that the United States remains as committed as ever to upholding our treaty obligations with our Japanese allies. That includes with respect to the South China Sea,” he said, before correcting himself to say the East China Sea.

Fears of conflict rose in November when China imposed an Air Defense Identification Zone over much of the East China Sea, requiring planes to report to Beijing when crossing islands administered by Tokyo known in Japanese as the Senkaku and in Chinese as Diaoyu.

“The United States neither recognizes nor accepts China’s declared East China Sea ADIZ and the United States has no intention of changing how we conduct operations in the region,” Kerry said.

The United States and its allies have been increasingly concerned that China will take similar action in the South China Sea, where the Philippines in particular has voiced worries about Beijing’s maritime claims.

Kishida, for his part, extended an invitation for President Barack Obama to make a state visit to Japan. Diplomats say that Obama is likely to visit Japan on an April tour of Asia, although Kerry is not expected to stop in Tokyo on his upcoming trip.

Press Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. also believed the US commitment for military support in case of an attack from China also extends to the Philippines.

“There was no mention of our country in the news report. When Secretary Kerry was here he expressed continued cooperation between the United States and Philippines,”Coloma said.

Kerry visited in the Philippines and went to the ravaged typhoon ‘Yolanda’ Tacloban City last December 17, 2013.

Coloma said like Japan, the United States remains an ally of the Philippines. “From our perspective, the United States is one of two strategic partners, the other is Japan, and we are confident that the United States will stand to its commitment to our country in accordance to existing agreement between the Philippines and the United States,” Coloma said.

BIFF bid to cut Maguindanao power fails after 3rd bombing

From the Business Mirror (Feb 9): BIFF bid to cut Maguindanao power fails after 3rd bombing

MEMBERS of the Bangsa-moro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) bombed a tower of the Transmission Commission (Transco) on Saturday in Maguindanao as the group continued terrorist activities in Central Mindanao, the military said.

The blasts, however, failed to topple down the tower at Kilometer 16, Barangay Ladia, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, said Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.
The latest attack came as the government ordered the police and military to continue law enforcement operations against BIFF members wanted for the beheading of two civilians and an attack on a village in North Cotabato in September last year.

The bombing was the fourth in less than a week, and it came in the aftermath of military operations in Maguindanao and North Cotabato less than two weeks ago wherein soldiers captured four BIFF camps and a bomb-making facility.
Hermoso said the latest bombing aimed at plunging Maguindanao into a power blackout happened at around 8:45 p.m., wherein the bandits exploded three homemade bombs into three of the four steels supporting the Transco tower.
“The bombing did not bring a brownout, but they attempted to bring down the tower,” Hermoso said.
“Three of the IEDs [improvised explosive devices] exploded, but the tower has four steel feet, so it was not cut or toppled down. We still have electricity,” he added.
The local military spokesman said the BIFF had bombed the tower at Barangay Ladia three times in the past already, but the tower never went down.
Hernando Iriberri said the attack was still in retaliation by the BIFF over the loss of its four camps to the military and over the more than 100 casualties that it sustained during the operations.
It was also a part of its continuing terrorism activities in Central Mindanao in support of its aim to establish an Islamic state in the country’s southern part.
Hermoso said the military and the police will continue their law-enforcement operations against the BIFF, as had been ordered by Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II.
The two officials were in Maguindanao on Saturday.
“They told us the law-enforcement operations against the BIFF must not be stopped,” Hermoso said.
However, he said that the two also encouraged other armed groups in Mindanao to join the bandwagon for the framework agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Key US admiral to visit PH

From ABS-CBN (Feb 9): Key US admiral to visit PH

A key admiral of the United States Navy will be visiting the Philippines from February 12 to 15.

Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, the Chief Naval Operations of United States Navy will be visiting the headquarters of the Philippine Navy and will meet with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and top officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The Philippine Navy said the visit “aims to strengthen the ties and interoperability between the two navies and further realize peace and stability in the region.”

On Friday, the USS Pinckney, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, also arrived in Manila.

In a statement from the US Embassy in Manila, the visit highlights the “strong historic, community, and military connections between the United States and the Republic of the Philippines. “

The visit comes amid recent calls for China to ease aggression at the West Philippine Sea. The Philippines is a close ally of the US.

BIFF regrouping to launch more attacks?

From ABS-CBN (Feb 9): BIFF regrouping to launch more attacks?

Members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) again attacked a tower of the National Grid Corp. in Mindanao on Saturday night.

This is the third attempt of the breakaway group to topple the transmission tower. The improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were planted on at least three foundations and were detonated around 8:45 p.m.

“They attempted to topple the National Grid tower, but it’s okay. It didn’t cause a brownout in the area," said Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

"The three IEDs exploded on three of the four foundations. None of them broke down so we still have electricity,” he added.

Hermoso warned the BIFF may launch more attacks soon, saying they are monitoring a regrouping of the BIFF.

This is the third bombing launched by the BIFF since the Armed Forces declared last Sunday a victory in the so-called “Operation: Darkhorse.”

Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala earlier said “Operation Darkhorse” resulted in the death of 52 BIFF members and injury of 49 more.

He also said four BIFF camps were seized as well a makeshift IED factory in Barangay Ganta, Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Maguindanao.

Even if major operations have ceased, the military will continue to run after members of the BIFF, who launched the attacks after the government signed the last annex in the peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

“We cannot cover all areas, we need the assistance of the people. We cannot cover everything because it's vast…There are too many towers in the mountains, can you cover all of them?” Hermoso noted.

Asked where the group is supposedly regrouping, he said: “Well, in the areas where they used to operate in Maguindanao’s first district.”

Kato delays arrest by staying in MILF communities — military

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 9): Kato delays arrest by staying in MILF communities — military

Ameril Umra Kato, a Moro rebel leader who has broken away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and has been leading his men in battles against government troops in protest of the peace pact between the MILF and the Philippine government, has been staying in MILF communities that the military could not just enter, authorities said.

The government’s clearing operation in Maguindanao is continuing against combatants of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the military wing of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM), except for its ailing founding head, Kato, who has appeared to some to be untouchable.

The issue on Kato and his men being tracked down to face a court order for their arrest on several criminal cases they have been charged with, surfaced anew Saturday during the visit here of Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas and Secretary Teresita Deles of the Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process, who led in the formal opening of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) office.

Prior to the calling-off of the joint military-police law enforcement operation, Maj. Gen. Romeo Gapuz, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, told reporters that “Kato is not the subject of our surgical operation.”

Gapuz told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the founding chair of the BIFM-BIFF, a breakaway group from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, was monitored to have been staying in MILF communities, and therefore, the AFP and PNP lawmen would have to secure the clearance of the government-MILF ceasefire mechanism groups.

At the BTC office inaugural rite, MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said Kato, the former MILF 105th Base commander, has refused to surrender despite non-hostile efforts to have him yield.

Roxas said the government has been “following protocol” under the ceasefire agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF so as not to jeopardize the main objective of attaining genuine and lasting peace in Mindanao.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, who was tagged by the MILF in 2013 as a BIFF supporter, along with Muslimin Sema, chair of the Moro National Liberation Front Council of 15, believed he and Sema have been vindicated with the failure so far of the military to arrest Kato because he has been staying in MILF communities.  Mangudadatu and Sema have both denied supporting the BIFF to undermine the peace talks.

Deles emphasized that while the Philippine government has been observing the ceasefire protocol with the MILF, “there is no ceasefire with the BIFF.” She said that clearing and law enforcement operations against armed rebel fugitives, and efforts to relocate and return evacuees to their places of origin have been going on and would continue, subject to the protocols of the peace process with the MILF.

“Our laws will continue to be enforced,” Deles pointed out.

More Filipinos now aware of Sabah claim, says Sulu sultanate princess

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 9): More Filipinos now aware of Sabah claim, says Sulu sultanate princess
Sabah remains elusive to the Sultanate of Sulu a year after the daring revival of its claim to the resource rich land that Malaysia calls its own.
Even so, Princess Jacel Kiram-Hasan believes that it was a victorious campaign.

“That doesn’t mean defeat. To me, we still won because of what happened, there was awareness now among the people. It used to be fight of the sultanate, actually even just of the Kirams. But now, it has become the fight of the Filipinos,” Hasan told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Saturday morning.

The daughter of the late Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, Hasan talked about the stand-off as if it had happened just a few weeks ago.

Exactly a year ago on Monday (Feb. 10), the sultanate’s followers led by Kiram’s brother, Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, arrived at the coastal town of Lahad Datu in the Felda Sahabat district.

It turned into a three-month bloody standoff and strained relations between the Philippines and Malaysia.

The pain in Hasan’s voice brought about by the apparent disdain by the Philippine government over the incursion of the sultanate’s followers into the coastal town of Lahad Datu on Sabah remained palpable.

“They just don’t want to deal with the issue. And to think we are so gung-ho when it comes to China. To think the Sabah claim has a historical basis, we won’t pursue it?” Hasan said in Filipino, mentioning the country’s other territorial dispute.

She frowned at the mention of the Aquino administration’s unreleased “study” on the Sabah claim.

“We can’t expect anything from the political leadership today. We’ll just wait for the right leader to help us with our advocacy,” Hasan, 36, said.
It was frustrating to Hasan that many in government appeared to have a lack of appreciation of their own country’s history.

For example, Hasan agreed with the observation that if the leaders in Manila understood the culture of the Tausugs, not one of them would have mentioned the word “surrender” to this fighting tribe.

“You have to know your people. We are a nation with a diverse culture,” Hasan stressed.

After a series of unfortunate events befell the country in 2013, the sultanate’s claim to Sabah was once again swept under the rug, at least by the political leaders.

But Hasan said the people’s awareness has remained high. Since the standoff and she became her father’s spokesperson throughout the three-month saga, Hasan continues to be invited to speaking engagements left and right.

In fact, she has been invited to be the commencement speaker at the high school graduation of her alma mater, the Philippine Normal University in Manila, this March.

“And I was not even our class valedictorian!” she giggled.

Hasan’s invites are mostly from the academe throughout the country. Her audience are often high school and college students whom she observed showed keen interest in their country’s history.

Hasan said most young people were in awe whenever she explained that the Philippines’ history dated back to the sultanates, way before 1521 when Ferdinand Magellan arrived.

“Imagine, many of us believe that our history only began in 1521?” Hasan remarked.

Hasan added that since the standoff, she noticed that barriers between Muslims and Christians seemed to have been transcended and the Sabah claim even gave each one a sense of pride.

“The issue unified us. There are no Christians or Muslims. Just Filipinos,” she said.

Many also appear to have embraced the fact that royalty does exist in the Philippines, even if it were a small one without any political power.

Hasan is called “Princess” these days and it’s not because it is her birth name. Mostly, it is a sign of respect and recognition of her royal lineage.

It has been a while since Hasan was able to speak to her uncle, Agbimuddin, who remains somewhere in Sabah with his men. But the Raja Muda did speak to her father before the sultan passed away in October last year, Hasan said.

The guerrilla camp established by the RSF in April last year is still there and the sultanate’s followers are living quiet lives, according to Hassan.

On March 1, the sultanate will commemorate the first anniversary of what it calls the massacre of its RSF fighters in Sabah. They will hold a “Duwaa,” a prayer for the souls of the 10 RSF martyrs who died in a bloody clash with the Malaysian security forces that day.

Last year too, Hasan said she was surprised that a group of RSF fighters who were able to sneak back to Jolo from Sabah asked to meet her. They gave an assurance that they would continue the fight to reclaim Sabah, Hasan said.

The sultanate is now under the leadership of Hasan’s uncle, Sultan Esmail Kiram.

Hasan, who was arguably an effective and strong spokesperson who made people understand what the claim and the sultanate were all about, has yet to be given an official task by the new sultan in terms of the sultanate’s pursuit of Sabah.

But apparently, she does not need to be told what to do.

With pride, Hasan said she was brought up by her parents to fight for what is right. And she vows to do just that when it comes to Sabah.

President Aquino seeks support from local leaders to achieve peace in Mindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 9): President Aquino seeks support from local leaders to achieve peace in Mindanao
President Benigno S. Aquino III will seek the support of local leaders in achieving peace in Mindanao in the upcoming Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) local government summit.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said on state-run dzRB Radyo ng Bayan that the President wants the leaders in ARMM to unite and help the peace process.

“...Sana’y humantong na (ito) doon sa pagtatatag ng Bangsamoro political entity, kapag ito ay inaprubahan ng mga mamamayan sa isang plebisito at naitatag na rin ang Bangsamoro transitional authority,” Coloma said.

(“We hope this will lead to the establishment of the Bangsamoro political entity should the people approve it in a plebiscite,” he said.)

The Bangsamoro political entity is being eyed to replace the ARMM. It has been discussed peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Coloma also noted that with ARMM now part of a transition, the local government officials should help maintain peace and order.

"At aalamin din po ng Pangulo kung mayroong mga iba pang mahalagang usapin na local concerns ang mga local executives sa ARMM para matiyak na tumutugon ang pambansang pamahalaan sa kanilang mga pangangailangan,” he added.

(“The President also wants to know if the local executives have concerns that the national government need to address," he added.

No heavy armor for Arleigh Burke class destroyers

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 9): No heavy armor for Arleigh Burke class destroyers

Arleigh Burke-class destroyers may lack the protective armor of earlier classes of ships in the US Navy but they have more than compensated for it by their superior speeds and armaments which made them very capable of tackling hostile air, surface and submarine targets.

This was revealed by Cmdr. Frank Otaka, USS Pinckney (DDG-91) commanding officer, to this writer during the Saturday media tour of his ship.

He added that heavy armor, fitted in Iowa class battleships and other World War II era warships, were needed as you need to fight your foes at close quarters or ranges.

Otaka stressed that such protective equipment are no longer needed as Arleigh Burke class destroyers can engage any threats at very long ranges afforded by its two Mark 41 VLS (vertical launch system)of which 96 tubes are fitted to his ship.

The Mark 41 VLS can fire any anti-air, anti-surface, and anti-submarine missile in the US Navy inventory.

Acting in a support role is the Mark 45 Model 4 five-inch automatic gun which can engage surface and air threats in conjunction with the 20mm Phalanx CIWS (closed-in weapon system) fitted at the stern of the ship.

Topping this off is the advanced radars and sonars installed in the USS Pinckney which can detect, track and if needed be, can guide these sophisticated missiles to their respective targets.

Despite this refinements, Okata said Kevlar is fitted to all vulnerable points of the ship to prevent fragments from penetrating and damaging the vessel or wounding or incapacitating any crew members.

The USS Pinckney belongs to the Flight II series and is the the 41st ship of the Arleigh Burke class of destroyers.

All, in all, the Arleigh Burke class consist of 62 ships.

Besides this, Flight II ships are equipped with more advanced radar, sensor systems and generally bigger flight decks that their predecessors.

The Arleigh Burke class is among the largest destroyers built in the United States measuring 505 feet.

Only the Spruance and Kidd classes were longer at 563 feet.

The USS Pinckney was named after USN cook William Pinckney, who was awarded the Navy Cross for rescuing a fellow crew member during the Battle of Santa Cruz in Solomon Islands in 1942.

Palace: No need to seek reassurance from US on protection from attacks

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 9): Palace: No need to seek reassurance from US on protection from attacks

Malacañang on Sunday said it sees no need for the Philippine government to seek a reassurance from the United States that it will help defend Philippine territories that come under foreign attack.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio “Sonny” Coloma Jr. said US Secretary of State John Kerry already assured the Philippines of continued cooperation and coordination with the US on various issues.

"Mula po sa ating perspektibo, ang Estados Unidos ay isa sa dalawa nating istratehikong kaugnay (one of two strategic partners)—the other is Japan—at patuloy naman po ang ating pananalig na sa oras ng pangangailangan ay paninindigan ng Estados Unidos ang mga commitment nito sa ating bansa na naaayon sa mga existing agreement na umiiral sa pagitan ng Pilipinas at Estados Unidos (From our perspective, the US is one of our strategic partners, the other being Japan. And we believe the US will honor its commitments to us, based on the existing agreements between the Philippines and the US)," he said on state-run dzRB Radyo ng Bayan.

Coloma was replying to a question on whether the Philippines should ask the US for an assurance that it would defend Philippine territories, in the same way the US assured it would defend Japan against attacks over islands claimed by China.

Like Japan, the Philippines has a territorial dispute with China over some parts of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The Philippines has pushed for a rules-based approach to settling the territorial dispute in the area.

"Noon pong nandito si Secretary Kerry, ang kanya pong ipinahiwatig ay ang patuloy na kooperasyon at pakikipag-ugnayan sa pagitan ng Estados Unidos at Pilipinas (When Kerry was here, he already stressed continued cooperation and coordination between the US and the Philippines)," Coloma said.