Monday, February 10, 2014

IMT pays courtesy call to Sulu governor

From the Mindanao Examiner Website (Feb 10): IMT pays courtesy call to Sulu governor

Malaysian army Col. Zolkipli bin Hashim, leader of Site 3 of the International Monitoring Team, pays courtesy call to Sulu Gov. Totoh Tan. (Mindanao Examiner Photo – Ahl-Franzie Salinas)

Members of the International Monitoring Team (Site 3) have visited the southern Philippine province of Sulu and paid their courtesy call to Governor Totoh Tan at the Capitol Building in Patikul town.

The Malaysian-led IMT headed by army Col. Zolkopli bin Hashim met with Tan and they discussed briefly the role of the cease-fire observers monitoring the truce accord between the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Zol also handed the governor a memento. Tan thanked the IMT for visiting Sulu.

The officer was accompanied by Lt. Col. Syed Islam Shahajam, Deputy Superintendent Hussin bin Rimon, Major Agus Ekos, of Indonesia Major Abdulmubin bin Hadji Timbang and WO1 Suhaimi bin Rajab, both from Brueni; and Major Abdurasad Serajan and Sergeant Kaidar Dugasan, of the Philippine Army.

The IMT-Mindanao was established in October 2004 and responsible for observing, monitoring, verifying, investigating, and reporting on the enforcement of the Mutual Cessation of Hostilities between the Philippines and MILF.

In 2007, the Terms of Reference on the Socio-Economic Assistance Aspects was agreed upon by the Parties for Japan to participate in IMT. Subsequently, the Agreement on the Civilian Protection Component of the IMT was signed on October 27, 2009.

Tarlac soldiers host 2nd organic harvest festival

From the Manila Times (Feb 10): Tarlac soldiers host 2nd organic harvest festival

Capas, Tarlac: The Philippine Army Mechanical Division in Camp O’ Donnell here on Monday hosted a festival that showcased its second harvest of organic vegetables from its “Hardin ng Lunas,” a self- sustaining livelihood program sponsored by the Tarlac Heritage Foundation (THF).

Prices of organic vegetables were sold at literally farmgate levels with pechay, tomatoes, eggplant and mustasa fetching P25 a kilo; sweet pearl corn at P10 a piece; upo measuring two to three feet at P20 a kilo; siling labuyo at P130 a kilo (but a whole big plastic bagful) and organic watermelon at P60 a piece.

Now the favorite pastime of 1,500 soldiers, the eight-hectare farm has fruit bearing trees, two large fishponds of tilapia, herbs like oregano, pansit-pansitan, basil and more.

The first crop was harvested in October and Camp Commander Maj. Gen Nicanor Dolojan of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it brought the camp an additional income of more than P30,000.

The open field is watered by an innovative drip irrigation system, which uses empty beverage bottles filled to the brim and then punctured with little holes to control the amount of water released to the soil. The bottles are kept slightly tilted.

The irrigation water comes from nearby fishponds and is rich in nutrients from the waste discharges of tilapia.

The farm utilizes no chemical fertilizer and pesticides but relies mainly on decomposed farm wastes and plants that repel insects and pests. The seeds are supplied by East West Seeds in partnership with the THF Director Dr. Isa Cojuangco Suntay (a dermatologist by profession).

The troops also breed and propagate large flocks of sheep and goats and some cows and carabaos that roam the sprawling grounds.

The harvest festival was actually a pre-retirement treat for Dolojan, who will quit his post on February 13, said Suntay.

Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., commander of the Northern Luzon Command, said the “Hardin ng Lunas” will be implemented in all the camps of Luzon “as our contribution to mitigating climate change, helping the soldiers and the communities around us eat right and to promoting economic stability side by side with the peacekeeping efforts of the AFP.”

Suntay said the idea of the Hardin was thrust upon the camp after the devastation caused by Typhoon Santi, which leveled most of the hardwood and fruit-bearing trees inside the camp.

Soldiers, Atila-Balgos Foundation provide medical aid to 'Yolanda' victims

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 11): Soldiers, Atila-Balgos Foundation provide medical aid to 'Yolanda' victims

Units from the Capiz-based 3rd Infantry Division together with the Atila-Balgos Foundation teamed together to provide medical aid to "Yolanda" victims residing in Barangay Jaena Norte, Jamindan town, Capiz.

Participants in the activity were medical personnel from 3rd Infantry Division headquarters in Jamindan and the 301st Infantry Brigade in Camp Hernandez, Dingle, Iloilo.

Major Ray Tiongson, the command's spokesperson, said the Sunday medical mission was conducted at the Camp Jamindan Elementary School in Sitio Agbalagon, Barangay Jaena Norte.

Around 450 residents benefited from the distribution of free medicines and vitamins.

The Atila-Balgos Foundation headed by Dr. Abundio Balgos, MD, is a recognized non-government organization (NGO) based in Roxas City, Capiz that engages in various humanitarian missions.

Their team is composed of six delegates that deliver basic social services to the less fortunate barangays.

“We believe that if we work together, we can do great things. With our continued collaboration and harmonious working relationship with the stakeholders, the military will continue to reach out to our constituents especially the victims of calamities and the less fortunate residents in the hinterland barangays here in Panay,” 301st Infantry Brigade commander Brig. Gen. Arnold Quiapo said.

In the aftermath of the devastation of "Yolanda", the 3rd Infantry Division together with Operation "Blessing", an international NGO, also reached out to the Indigenous Peoples through medical and relief operations in Barangays Aglinab, Lagdungan, Roxas 8 and Daan Sur all of Tapaz, Capiz that benefited around 1, 200 residents.

It was made successful through collaboration with the barangay chief executive and other officials of said barangays.

“The spirit of 'Bayanihan' has again manifested in the collaborative efforts of the military and the NGOs. Likewise, the concerted efforts of the local government units, other government agencies, civil society organizations and other stakeholders in addressing the well-being of our people have tremendously contributed to our campaign in 'winning the peace' here in the region,” 3rd Infantry Division commander Major Gen. Aurelio Baladad said.

Army on alert vs Maguindanao bombers of power lines

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 11): Army on alert vs Maguindanao bombers of power lines

The Army here has placed its forces and its multipliers into heightened alert after suspected Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) attempted, but failed, to topple down a steel tower of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP).

On Sunday, three improvised bombs were set off by BIFF in one of the steel tower of the NGCP in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao province in what the Army said was a desperate act to get back at government forces and the general public for the fall of its main camp two weeks ago.

Major Dante Gania, public affairs chief of the Army's 6th Infantry Division, said the bombers strapped three improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in three of the four columns of the tower but only one went off.

"Obviously it was a desperate attempt to sabotage the peace we are experiencing now," Gania told reporters.

Despite the explosion of one of the IEDs, Gania said the tower remained intact.

It was the second attempt of the BIFF and its sympathizers to topple steel tower of NGCP in an apparent move to divert the military's attention following the fall of BIFF camp in Barangay Ganta, Datu Shariff Saydona, Maguindanao and the death of at least 50 BIFF guerillas.

On February 7, the BIFF planted an IED in a transmission tower of NGCP in Datu Paglas, Maguindanao but it failed to topple down the tower.

Police and militiamen assigned in the area noticed two men roaming around the tower in the middle of rice field hours before the blast.

Militiamen and intelligence operatives under the supervision and administrative control of the 38th Infantry Battalion have been deployed and tasked to secure power lines.

Gania also appealed to the public to help secure steel tower in their communities because everybody, including those living near the steel tower would experience the inconvenience of power outages when lawless elements succeeded in their terror activities.

Military: 6 Abu Sayyaf members killed in Sulu clash, leader believed wounded

From GMA News (Feb 10): Military: 6 Abu Sayyaf members killed in Sulu clash, leader believed wounded

Six suspected Abu Sayyaf members were killed in an encounter with government forces in Sulu over the weekend, with military officials confirming reports that the group's top leader, Yasser Igasan, was among those wounded.

“Nandun si Igasan [sa encounter site], however... ang alam lang namin according to our reports slightly wounded sya,” said Col. Jose Johriel Cenabre of the Second Marine Brigade.

Igasan succeeded Khaddafy Janjalani as the group's leader in 2007 after Janjalani was killed in military operations in 2006.

The clash, which lasted from morning until sundown, occurred last Saturday in Brgy. Mabahay in Talipao, Sulu, considered as a stronghold of the al Qaeda-linked bandit group.

“Meron rin tayong confirmed na anim na napatay natin na ASG [Abu Sayyaf Group],” Cenabre said. “We are very careful to engage them because [that is] their stronghold and their camp is even in the barangay mismo.”

On the part of the government forces, six civilian volunteers were wounded, Cenabre also said.

He said as early as Monday last week, authorities have been “carefully watching” Abu Sayyaf's activities in the area.

“We are looking on the Abu Sayyaf activities in that barangay, and of course sa barangay na 'yan, it will also involve 'yung kanilang families [that is why] our units were very careful,” Cenabre said.

SWS: Most Filipinos back gov't on Spratlys

From Rappler (Feb 10): SWS: Most Filipinos back gov't on Spratlys

The Aquino government has the support of most Filipinos on how it is handling the country's dispute with China over territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), a nationwide survey showed.

The survey, commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), asked it 4 questions to gauge people's awareness about issues surrounding the Philippine-China dispute. It was conducted by the Social Weather Stations Dec 11-16, 2013, with a sample size of 1,550. The margin of error is at +/-3%. The results were released by the DFA on Monday, February 10,

A big majority of respondents – 73% – are aware of the territorial dispute that the Philippines has with China over a group of islands called the Spratlys (locally known as Kalayaan). The rest said they only heard about the dispute during the survey.

When sorted by geographic location, the numbers are consistent: 78% for Metro Manila, 74% for the rest of Luzon, 70% in the Visayas, and 72% in Mindanao.

A big majority (68%) are also aware of the possible oil and gas deposits in the disputed area, while 61% know that the Philippines brought the case for resolution before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) (61%), the survey said.

Awareness of the issues is highest in Metro Manila: 65% in the ITLOS case, and 72% in the possible for natural resources.

A majority are also aware of the measures China is doing in the sea, particularly its strengthening of military forces (56%), the SWS said. Again, Metro Manila residents have the highest awareness of the issue at 65%.

Most Filipinos agree with the government's filing of the case before the ITLOS: for the entire survey pool, 82% agree with the move, while 8% disagree. The remaining 8% are undecided.

Majority are also in agreement that the Philippines should ask the help of other countries to keep China's military actions in check: 80% of the respondents nationwide agree to an extent.

The survey also revealed that almost all the respondents – 93% – of respondents agree that the country should defend its territory and natural resources in the West Philippine Sea "through lawful means."

"The overwhelming support of the Filipino people for the arbitration case and our rules-based approach to the West Philippine Sea dispute proves that taking a principled stance, one that is based on respecting the rule of law and pursuing peaceful settlement of disputes, strongly resonates with the Filipino people," DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said.

Among the top issues in the headlines during the survey period were the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda and the Central Visayas earthquake; the pork barrel scam; Megan Young's victory in the Miss World pageant; and Manny Pacquiao's win over Brandon Rios.

Problems in the PH-US bases access deal?

From Rappler (Feb 10): Problems in the PH-US bases access deal?

OUT OF THE PANEL: Foreign Affairs assistant secretary Carlos Soreta. Rappler file photo

OUT OF THE PANEL: Foreign Affairs assistant secretary Carlos Soreta. Rappler file photo

Just when President Benigno Aquino III said the Philippines and the US were close to concluding a military deal that would increase the presence of American troops in the Philippines, Rappler learned there was a shake up in the Philippine panel. (READ: PH, US 'close' to signing military deal)

Department of Foreign Affairs assistant secretary Carlos Soreta has left the Philippine panel, the government confirmed.

"It's part of the rotation scheme of the officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs. He is now the head of the Foreign Service Institute," foreign affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez told Rappler in a text message on Monday, February 10.

Soreta no longer participated in the 5th round of talks held in Washington DC on January 30. The DFA was represented there by Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya and Ambassador to Vienna Lourdes Yparraguirre, Rappler also learned.

Asked if there are problems with the negotiations with the US, Hernandez no longer replied.

When the talks began in August 2013, initial press releases introduced Soreta as the chairman of the Philippine panel. This was amended in succeeding announcements to show that Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino is panel chairman.

It is, after all, a military-to-military agreement intended to allow increased rotational presence of American troops in the Philippines and give them more access to our military bases.

The panel has always been tightlipped about the details, but they gave assurances the agreement would abide by the Constitution. The panel also maintains that it doesn't need ratification by the Senate, like other agreements with other countries.

"The agreement will just be an implementing document for the Mutual Defense Treaty and Visiting Forces Agreement," Batino said in a recent interview. (READ: Enrile: US access to PH bases may violate law)

Impasse last year

The talks reached an impasse after Round 4 of talks in October 2013. The Philippine panel allowed the US to construct "temporary" facilities in the Philippines but the US panel sought to limit the access of the Philippines to these facilities. Batino talked about the "substantial work" that still needed to be done.

"It is very opportune that there will be more time to study these things....There would be substantial work to be done internally by the Philippine panel to study and review possibilities on the remaining issues." (Bases access: PH, US disagree on 'critical provisions')

"Personally I would have to conduct substantial study and examination of issues," Batino added then. (Watch the video here.)

Informal talks were held in December 2013 before Round 5 in January. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin vowed we would insist on equal access. (READ: PH to press 'equal access' to US facilities in bases deal)

Round 6 will be held in March.

Panel chair remains optimistic

Despite the shake up, the President told the New York Times in a February 4 interview that the military-to-military agreement is nearing completion.

Batino is optimistic. "We’re hopeful. We're hopeful that both parties will be able to come into agreement at the soonest possible time," he told Rappler on the sidelines of a recent Senate hearing.

PHILIPPINE PANEL CHAIRMAN: Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino. Rappler file photo

PHILIPPINE PANEL CHAIRMAN: Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino. Rappler file photo

Here’s a verbatim transcript of an ambush interview with Batino following Aquino's New York Times interview.

Q: The President said you are close to a deal?
Batino: We see great prospect in the finalization of negotiations in the near future.

Q: Near future? What is the timeline?
Batino: It’s a negotiation and therefore one party does not control.

Q: The next round of talks will happen in March. Are we going to expect possible signing then?
Batino: We’re hopeful. We're hopeful that both parties will be able to come into agreement at the soonest possible time.

Q: What is the status of talks on the equal access to facilities?
Batino: With respect to certain items also in consideration, we cannot divulge anything yet.

Q: The defense secretary said the Philippines will insist on equal access.
Batino: Yes. Just like that we promised that the agreement will be consistent with the fundamental principles of sovereignty.

Q: This deal will not need Senate approval?
Batino: The agreement will just be an implementing document for the Mutual Defense Treaty and Visiting Forces Agreement.

The US used to have bases in the Philippines that allowed the presence of tens of thousands of US troops here. But the Senate voted in 1991 to end their contracts. They were able to return in 1999, following the approval of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows the temporary presence of US troops in the country.

It is against the backdrop of growing maritime disputes that the Philippines is now asking for the increased presence of US troops here. It also coincides with the so-called US pivot to Asia.

Youth from conflict areas find refuge in football

From Rappler (Feb 10): Youth from conflict areas find refuge in football

MANILA, Philippines – Youth from war-torn areas in Mindanao find refuge in football. A group of Marines finds a way to use sports as an instrument of peace.
David Lozada reports.

Can sports pave the way for peace?
For the past decades, peace has been elusive in conflict areas in Mindanao. Now, they are fighting the war in a different battlefield - football. Sulu-based marines started Football for Peace because they wanted to teach the youth of Sulu a way out of the cycles of violence and poverty.
The program’s founder, Lt Col Stephen Cabanlet, says the program has given impoverished children a crack at a decent future. Now, finishing their education and playing professional football is no longer an impossible dream.
LT. COL. STEPHEN CABANLET, PHILIPPINE MARINES: The medium is football but we can go deeper. Aside from character development, we can go into scholarship, educational .program. Ang vision na nga nila is hindi lang maging good football player pero good citizen eh. In that way they can help their community sa nakuha nilang values sa paglalaro ng football. (Our vision was not only for the children to be a good football player but more importantly, a good citizen. In that way they can help their community with the values they got from the sport.)
The campaign expanded to other provinces like Palawan, Tawi-Tawi, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Zamboanga. Thousands of balls have been donated.
But with rough fields and heavy use, the balls never seem to last long.
Responding to the need for stronger balls in the football clinics, One World Futbol and Chevrolet Philippines donates 2,400 indestructible footballs. The balls can survive the harshest environments, never go flat and don’t need to be pumped.
Chevrolet Philippines president Alberto Arcilla hopes the balls will help shape the children’s future.
ALBERTO ARCILLA, CHEVROLET PRESIDENT: I personally believe that sports always bring out the best in the youth, individuals. We just want to contribute in their growing up, in having direction, enjoying their being kids.
The Marines are now looking for ways to support the college education of the children who join their football clinics.
LT. COL. STEPHEN CABANLET, PHILIPPINE MARINES: Hindi lang naman din bola ang pangangailangan namin. Marami ring kailangang support para sa scholarship nila. Support para sa mga training equipment, support para doon sa training sa coaching level and teaching leve ng mga marines na magtuturo. (Of course, we don’t only need balls. We need scholarship benefactors for the children…and support to enhance the skills of the coaching and teaching level of the marines.)
The road to peace is not easy and Cabanlet admits there is a lot of work to be done.
The marines say this sports program is a significant step towards building peace in Mindanao. Aside from mending disputes between communities, football also teaches the children to dream. The soldiers also say they will continue to promote peace through sports, hoping to prove that not all wars are won with guns.
David Lozada, Rappler, Taguig.

AFP to pay tribute to artist Sicam

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 10): AFP to pay tribute to artist Sicam

The Armed Forces of the Philippines Monday expressed sorrows over the death of one of the artists who conceptualized the peace mural in Camp Aguinaldo.

Andrew David Sicam, 35, was among the 14 killed in Friday’s crash of a GV Florida Transport Inc. bus in Bontoc, Mt. Province.

In recognition of Sicam’s contributions to its community relations projects, the AFP allowed his wake to be held at the multipurpose hall of the AFP Civil Relations Service (CRS) at Camp Aguinaldo.

“We wanted to honor David who is one of those who created the images of peace that can be found on the walls of the AFP headquarters. This is our simple way of recognizing the lasting contributions that he had rendered to our organization through our peace advocacies,” said 7th Civil Relations Group Commander Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc.

The AFP and the artists who painted the 4-kilometer mural would gather on Thursday to pay tribute to the fallen artist.

Cabunoc said Sicam, his wife and their two children were on their way to Bontoc along with 11 of their friends to celebrate the birthday of his youngest son when they met an accident.

Besides Sicam, comedian Arvin Jimenez, known to the public as “Tado,” and two other companions were also killed.

Sicam’s wife suffered serious injuries but was reported to be in stable condition. Their two children survived the crash unscathed.

The peace mural around Camp Aguinaldo was considered the “world’s largest.”

Soldiers wounded in battle with BIFF get medals

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 10): Soldiers wounded in battle with BIFF get medals

The Armed Forces of the Philippines pinned meritorious service medals on least 19 members of the Sixth Infantry Division who were wounded in recent battles with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, who led in the pinning of medals at General Siongco Hospital at Datu Odin Sinsuat town on Monday morning, described the event as recognition of the soldiers’ bravery and courage in going after lawless elements.

Bautista, who was joined by Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in congratulating the injured soldiers, attributed the successful weeklong operation to teamwork and cooperation between the armed forces and local government units.

The BIFF is the military arm of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, a splinter of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front led by Ameril Umbra Kato.

Hataman handed over checks for P10,000 to each awardee and P1 million to the Army’s Sixth Infantry Division for its peacekeeping mission.

“Peace and development are inseparable; there can never be one without the other,” said Hataman, who thanked the AFP for providing the needed security not only in Maguindanao, but all other provinces within ARMM.

Hataman said security threats such as bomb attacks within the 34-hectare compound of the Office of the Regional Governor, where other vital regional offices and installations are located, have been quelled by the presence of the Philippine Marines, and the posting of Army troops in other sensitive areas.

Maj. Gen. Romeo Gapuz, 6th ID commander, assured the local government that any threat to security would be the AFP’s primary concern.

The 19 soldiers who were decorated on Monday belong to the 57th, 33rd, and 46th, and the 601st Infantry Brigade, First and Second mechanized brigades.

CPP: Surface Comrades George Geluz and Silvestre Layones Jr!

Posted to the CPP Website (Feb 10): Surface Comrades George Geluz and Silvestre Layones Jr!
Bicol NDFP Information Office

The National Democratic Front-Bicol demands the immediate surfacing of comrades George Villacorta Geluz and Silvestre Layones Jr by their abductors from the Philippine National Police Regional Command in Bicol. Comrade George Geluz was captured at a police checkpoint in Gumaca, Quezon on 08 February 2014 at 11 PM, while Comrade Silvestre Layones Jr was seized by state forces in Naga City on 09 February 2014 at 3:30 AM.

Both have yet to be turned up to the public by the PNP Regional Command based at Camp Simeon Ola in Legazpi City. Families and friends of these comrades are deeply worried as to the possible harm that may befall the two beloved revolutionaries in the hands of PNP torturers. It is the families’ right to be informed of the whereabouts and conditions of comrades Geluz and Layones.

The NDF-Bicol likewise demands that if indeed the two comrades are facing criminal charges under the laws of the Government of the Philippines, they should therefore be presented in the courts of the GPH and not be kept incommunicado. The NDF-Bicol particularly holds responsible Bicol PNP’s Archimedes C. Garcia, RISB5 of the 5th Regional Public Safety Battalion for hiding Comrade George Geluz, and the PNP’s Camarines Sur Police Public Safety Company and the Regional Special Operations Task Group for the abduction of Comrade Silvestre Layones Jr.

It should be put forward that comrades Geluz and Layones, at the time of their arrests are engaging in a series of consultations with regards the plight of Bicol’s destitute majority. Such consultations are highly important so as to advance the legitimate demands of the poor and exploited masses on the negotiating table between the GPH and the NDFP. This commitment by the NDFP in realizing a peace based on justice is in stark contrast with the Aquino government’s anti-peace posture of attacking and abducting revolutionaries instead of pursuing peace negotiations.

Aquino unfazed by Mindanao terror attacks, attends ARMM summit

From the Business Mirror (Feb 10): Aquino unfazed by Mindanao terror attacks, attends ARMM summit

PRESIDENT Aquino, unfazed by renewed terror attacks in Mindanao, is set to fly to Davao City on Wednesday morning to attend a summit of the soon to be abolished Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)—formed after a 1996 peace pact with the mainstream Moro National LIberation Front (MNLF)—to give way to a new Bangsamoro entity provided in a separate peace deal being worked out by the government with the breakaway Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
MalacaƱang maintained on Monday that the bombing of a transmission tower of the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) in Maguindanao over the weekend “should not derail” the Aquino administration’s efforts to attain peace in the South.
A Palace statement read by Palace Spokesman Edwin Lacierda on the eve of the ARMM summit acknowledged that “there will always be people who will try to put down the government, especially now that the Bangsamoro peace agreement will be signed.”
Lacierda did not name the group suspected to have carried out the attack on the NGCP tower even as he affirmed that the government is “prepared to make sure we can push through with our goal to achieve just and lasting peace in MIndanao.”
At a Palace news briefing, Lacierda told reporters the President decided to go to Mindanao and forge ahead with the peace agreement with the MILF, even after the tower attack.
“The President has gone [to the MILF headquarters in Camp Darapanan],” he recalled, adding that Aquino “is not averse going to places where he has to be.”
In the same briefing, Lacierda sidestepped questions on potential security threats likely to come from disgruntled followers of fugitive MNLF leader Nur Misuari, who went into hiding after government forces crushed the Zamboanga siege mounted by Misuari’s men in the City late last year.
Asked if the government was monitoring possible attacks from disgruntled rebels when the new peace agreement with the MILF is finally sealed, Lacierda replied: “If ever we have, I am not in a liberty to discuss it.”
He added: “No. 2, we have always stated that there will be other people who will be naysayers, who have negative views on this peace agreement, but we continue to reach out to them.”
Lacierda also said, “the goal is to arrive at a just and lasting peace in Mindanao” adding that government peace negotiators have already reached out to both the MNLF and to other [MILF] factions.”

Philippine military launches anti-Sayyaf ops

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Feb 10): Philippine military launches anti-Sayyaf ops

Security forces have launched an operation to capture Abu Sayyaf gunmen tagged the spate of kidnappings in the southern Philippine province of Sulu.

Marines earlier clashed with Abu Sayyaf rebels under Sihata Latip and Abraham Hamid in Talipao town that left at least 9 gunmen dead and wounded and one the slain has been identified as Rakib Jal. Troops also captured a rebel encampment on a remote village used by the Abu Sayyaf to launch attacks on civilian and military targets in the province.

The camp was being used by Abu Sayyaf leaders Sibih Pisih and Idang Susukan. It was unknown if there were weapons or bombs in the base which is now being held by the Marine Battalion Landing Team 2.

Several government militias who are members of the Barangay Peace Action Team were also wounded and that two of them - Niko Minuddin and Sabor Sasapan - had been evacuated to Zamboanga City for emergency medical operation, local police said.

“The victims were airlifted to the Western Mindanao Command and immediately rushed to Zamboanga Medical Center,” said Chief Inspector Ariel Huesca, a regional police spokesman.

Last month, provincial police forces led by Senior Superintendent Abraham Orbita clashed with small band of Abu Sayyaf gunmen that eventually swelled to about 400 after armed supporters of the terror group attacked them in the village of Tanduh Bato in Luuk town.

The fighting was so fierce that Orbita’s group, back by a pair of armoured carriers, managed to hold their ground until police reinforcement arrived, but the gunmen broke into smaller groups and dispersed.

In May 2009, a police commander of Sulu, Senior Superintendent Julasirim Kasim and three of his aides and a brother, were killed in an ambushed staged by Abu Sayyaf group in Maimbung town. Kasim had been in the front line in battling the Abu Sayyaf.

The Abu Sayyaf, which means “Bearer of the sword,” has been linked by authorities to the al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya and is blamed on the spate of bombings in the southern Philippines.

Special anti-kidnapping task force formed in Sulu province

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Feb 10): Special anti-kidnapping task force formed in Sulu province

Sulu Gov. Totoh Tan and provincial police chief Abraham Orbita and other members of the anti-kidnapping task force. (Mindanao Examiner Photo - Ahl-Franzie Salinas)

Philippine authorities and the Sulu provincial government have put up a special anti-kidnapping task force to address the threats of kidnappings and abductions here.

Gov. Totoh Tan, who was invited as speaker to a recent seminar on “Community Awareness and Actions on Kidnap for Ransom” held at the Sulu Area Coordinating Center, said the creation of the Special Anti-Kidnapping Task Force-Sulu is long overdue “if we take into consideration the spate of incidences in the province, but nevertheless, as they say, better late than never.”

“Ang mga hakbangin po tulad ng pagsugpo sa kaganapan ng mga kidnapping ay hindi lamang po nakasalalay sa ating mga kapulisan at kasundaluhan. Ang mga lokal na pamahalaan at ating mga komunidad at taong-bayan ay dapat rin po na gampanan ang kanilang bahagi kaagapay ng ating sektor sa seguridad upang magkaroon ng tagumpay sa pagsugpo at paglutas ng mga insidente ng kidnapping na lubusang nakasira sa pangalan at reputasyon ng ating lalawigan.”

“ Ang mga nangyari sa Sulu, kung ito’y mangyari sa mga lungsod ng Kabisayaan at Luzon ay sari-saring ingay na ang maririnig natin sa telebisyon at sa mga kalsada upang maiparating sa mga kinauukulan ang mga naisin ng tao sa kanilang kapaligiran. Bagama’t ang mga tao natin ay hindi matimpi at hindi masyadong lantad sa kanilang mga napupuna, hindi po ibig sabihin na ang kanilang pagsasawalang-kibo ay palatandaan ng kanilang pagsang-ayon sa mga pangyayari,” ani Tan sa talumpati nito.

Tan, in one media interview, said many kidnapped victims were taken from other provinces and cities only to bring and hide them here and dragging the province to a situation that gives a bad impression to the peace and order situation in Sulu.

The seminar was attended by various municipal governments, non-governmental organizations, traders and business groups and police, among others.

3 NPA rebels surrender to Solcom troops

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 10): 3 NPA rebels surrender to Solcom troops

CAMP GUILLERMO NAKAR, Lucena City -- A top official of the Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) reported Monday that three members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Quezon and Albay surrendered to the

Solcom Commander Lt. Gen. Caesar Ronnie F. Ordoyo identified the insurgents as Gloria Anda alias Syra, a resident of Barangay Binahian B in Lopez and Jerry Manjares alias Rejie of Barangay Burgos in Mulanay, Quezon.

Lt. Gen. Ordoyo said the two rebels who operated in the province’s 3rd and 4th districts turned in their cal. 45 Colt pistol to elements of the 85th Infantry Battalion in Lopez, Quezon.

Ordoyo said the third dissident, Rene BriƱas Lorenzana alias Primo, who operated in Albay, voluntarily surrendered to the Bayanihan Team of the 2nd Infantry Battalion at Barangay Nagotgot in Manito, Albay.

The Solcom top official revealed that besides the military’s ground operations, the government troops’ sustained peace initiatives and community development intervention programs aimed for inclusive growth in the countryside have lured rebels to return to the fold of law.

“It is never too late for our brothers and sisters out there to transform their lives as government welcomes them back under the peace process. Their armed struggle against the government by resorting to violence only destroys human lives and properties,” he said.

Ordoyo said armed and violent means are not the right and moral thing to advance the rebels' lost cause and that they could serve our countrymen better using peaceful and collaborative means to effect societal reforms.

He encouraged the other NPA members who remain exploited and are still hiding in the highlands to once and for all give up their useless armed struggle and be part of the government’s development and peace initiatives.

RP-Indonesia enjoying peaceful co-existence

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 19): RP-Indonesia enjoying peaceful co-existence

The Republic of the Philippines and the Republic of Indonesia are enjoying peaceful co-existence within its common borders thanks to the regular confidence-building activities between the two countries.

“There have been no major pressing issues between Indonesia and the Philippines when it comes to the common border for the past 32 years since the RP-Indonesia Border Agreement was signed in 1956,” said Lt. General Ricardo Rainier G. Cruz III, Chairman of the Republic of the Philippine Border Committee and Commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command.

Representatives of the Philippines-Indonesia Border Committee Chairmen’s Conference signed on February 5, 2014 in Davao City several bilateral agreements that would improve political and economic relations between the two countries.

“While there were minor concerns involving the common fishing grounds, these were immediately resolved by the Committee,” Cruz said, although there were apprehensions made in the past by Indonesian authorities against Philippine fishing vessels while traversing the Indonesia EZZ en route to the high seas.

Eko Hanturo, Indonesia Consul General, said one of the major achievements of the Border Agreement is trust-building. “If something happens and problems arise within these borders, there will be a different level of engagement because of the level of confidence and trust,” he added.

Among the bilateral agreements signed during the Border Conference includes the following issues: safe passage of Philippine fishing vessel to Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EZZ), set guidelines on the type and size of vessels and the mandatory safety equipment on board the vessels in crossing the border, extend the area of coordinate patrol operation up to Sulu Islands, modify the concept of operation of coordinate patrol, harmonize border crossing stations standing operating procedure (SOP) in both the Philippines and Indonesia stations and assignment of custom personnel at border crossing stations to restrict transportation of contrabands, especially liquor across the border.

Under the previous Border Patrol and Crossing Agreement, a Customs Officer has already been designated at the Border stations to restrict the entry of contrabands and to enforce customs regulations when it comes to the entry of goods into the respective borders, he said.

Military secures industrial firms in Misamis Oriental

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 10): Military secures industrial firms in Misamis Oriental

CAMP EVANGELISTA, Cagayan de Oro City -– The military has deployed forces in Misamis Oriental (MisOr) to secure various industries and companies that could be a target of a destabilization plot by rebel forces here.

Capt. Christian Uy, spokesperson of the army’s Public Affairs Division here, said on Monday that the deployment of combined military and police operatives was ordered last week after the military overran the largest military camp of the Moro rebel’s Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Cotabato.

He said the military was only cautious as some hardcore BIFF members are now an object of a military manhunt in Mindanao.

“We are wary of possible effects of the Cotabato conflict which might spill over in some provinces in Northern Mindanao, especially in Misamis Oriental where there is a concentration of large industries,” Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, commander of the army’s 4th Infantry Division here said in a statement.

Uy said that the New People’s Army (NPA) might also exploit the situation prompting the military to map out precautionary measures.

In response, the army’s 4th ID has deployed military personnel throughout Caraga and Northern Mindanao regions to secure specially the entry and exit point of these areas, Uy added.

Domogan orders city police to verify reports CPLA members occupy disputed lots

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 10): Domogan orders city police to verify reports CPLA members occupy disputed lots

Baguio City mayor Mauricio Domogan ordered the Baguio City police to verify reports that alleged members of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) are in some of the disputed lots in the city.

Residents in a nearby barangay and some city officials reported seeing the CPLA men setting up camp on vacant lots in the area brandishing high-powered arms.

They said the development is disturbing and should be checked at once.

The mayor asked city police director Jesus Cambay Jr. to coordinate with Cordillera PNP regional director Isagani Nerez and with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) to look into the report.

The mayor also asked the city's anti-squatting team to check on developments about the ejectment case at the Baguio Dairy Farm which the court granted but could not implement pending the issuance of a writ of execution.

The mayor committed to the Department of Agriculture (DA) the city’s assistance in the demolition of the structures in the area.

Palawan police nabs top NPA leader

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 10): Palawan police nabs top NPA leader

Since year 2000, police and military authorities in this city and the whole province have been tracking down Sonny Gonzales to capture him, the highest commander of the identified communist-terrorist Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) in Palawan.

Early Sunday morning, Gonzales, also known as Gilbert Silagan, alias Ka Glenn and Ka Marlon, ended his more than 13-year effort to evade government authorities, who were pursuing him when he was arrested with his wife Alma Morenoo, alias Ka Carol, in Barangay Inogbong, Bataraza.

Senior Police Superintendent David Martinez, the head of the Provincial Police Office (PPO) in Palawan, said in interviews that Silagan, who has a P3-million bounty over his head, was arrested after they were able to track his location in Bataraza.

Martinez said that when police authorities in Bataraza informed him that they spotted Silagan, he immediately dispatched an intelligence team to the town to make further confirmations regarding his movements.

“It is true. This couple is highly mobile, so when they were spotted in the southern part of the province in Buliluyan, we immediately sent a team of intelligence personnel to focus on tracking them. When they found and confirmed the area where they were staying in Bataraza, our policemen operated to arrest them,” Martinez said.

The Palawan police commander said that Silagan has seven standing warrants of arrest for murder and arson, while his wife Ka Carol has a P150,000 bounty and is wanted for murder and attempted murder.

“Since early 2000, Gilbert Silagan has been wanted by authorities for being the highest leader of the NPA in Palawan. He appears to be the provincial commander of the NPA,” he said, adding the rebel leader did not put up a fight when the arrest was made.

Martinez said they are now coordinating with the Palawan Regional Trial Court (RTC) to determine what other cases have been filed against Silagan and Moreno, who are also believed to be behind several atrocities staged by the NPA in the province.

As of this writing, the two remain under the heavily guarded custody of the PPO. Charges are now being prepared for filing, Martinez said.

3 ranking NPA leaders bagged in Southern Luzon

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 10): 3 ranking NPA leaders bagged in Southern Luzon

Two ranking New People's Army (NPA) leaders were nabbed following operations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) over the weekend in Naga City, Bicol and Gumaca, Quezon.

Police elements of Gumaca, Quezon and intelligence operatives of the Southern Luzon Command under Lt. Gen. Caesar Ronnie P. Ordoyo arrested NPA leader George Geluz, also known as Ka Mario, in a checkpoint in Gumaca at 11 p.m. Saturday.

Galuz, who is the Secretary of the Bicol Regional Party Committee (BRPC), was arrested by virtue of warrants of arrest for the crimes of robbery in band with arson and double frustrated murder issued in Camarines Norte.

He is now under custody of Gumaca Police.

Meanwhile, at 2:50 p.m. Sunday, joint police and militry elements arrested NPA leader Sylvestre Layones, head of the Rodante Urtal Command and Executive Committee member of the BRPC, by virtue of a warrant of arrest for murder issued in Legazpi City, Albay. Also arrested with Layones was Christopher Edrinal, another BRPC ranking leader.

Layones and Edrinal were taken into custody by the police.

BRP Magat Salamat marks 37th anniversary in PHL Navy

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 10): BRP Magat Salamat marks 37th anniversary in PHL Navy

The BRP Magat Salamat (PS-20), a patrol ship assigned to the Eastern Mindanao Command, celebrated its 37th year in service in the Philippine Navy on Sunday.

The officers and crew of the patrol ship marked the occasion by giving "birthday gifts" to the residents of Barangay Lower Makar, Labangal, General Santos City.

Personnel of the BRP Magat Salamat also donated trash cans to help maintain the cleanliness along the coastal areas of the city.

The ship crew also served hot meals to more than 150 children, facilitated parlor games to entertain them and distributed school supplies to inspire them to study harder.

"This is one way of giving back the blessings that God bestowed to PS-20. Seeing the smiles of the children is a great birthday gift for our ship,” BRP Magat Salamat commanding officer Cmdr. Emmanuel Eugenio C. Bello said.

The BRP Magat Salamat was commissioned by the PN on Feb. 7, 1977 after the fall of South Vietnam.

Its first commanding officer was Cmdr. Jesus E. Biola.

Throughout her service in the PN, she has received numerous awards and was adjudged as Ship of the Year many times.

Arleigh Burke class destroyers still relevant -- Okata

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 10): Arleigh Burke class destroyers still relevant -- Okata

Despite being in service as early as 1991, the Arleigh Burke class destroyers, of which there are 62 members, are still very capable and could compare favorably with warships just coming out of the shipyards.

This was pointed by USS Pinckney (DDG-91) commanding officer Cmdr. Frank Okata when asked how his ship and other Arleigh Burke class destroyers compare to more modern designs.

He attributes this to the versatility of the Arleigh Burke class destroyers which he says can engage any air, surface and submarine threats simultaneously.

Okata said that this capability cannot be replicated by another warship.

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

The American ship arrived last Friday for a five-day port visit in the Philippines.

She will be leaving by Tuesday, February 11.

Otaka said the USS Pinckney is armed with 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.

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.

6 ASGs killed, 9 others wounded in Sulu encounter

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 10): 6 ASGs killed, 9 others wounded in Sulu encounter

Six members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) were killed while nine others, including six civilian volunteers, were wounded in an encounter in Barangay Mabahay, Talipao town, Sulu Saturday.

In a belated report to Armed Forces of the Philippines public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, Col. Jose Johriel Cenabre, 2nd Marine Brigade commander, said the incident took place between 10:20 to 10:30 a.m.

According to Cenabre, they were conducting clearing operations in Barangay Mabahay, a known enclave of the ASG, when they encountered with an estimated 50 of the brigands headed by one "Yasser Igasan."

Six ASG men were killed in the firefight while three others were wounded.

No deaths were reported for government troops but six members of the "Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team" (BPAT) helping them in their clearing operations were hurt.

Cenabre said fighting lasted until Saturday night. He added that of the six wounded BPATs, two were already flown to Zamboanga for treatment.

All six wounded are reported to be in a stable condition.

Pursuit operations are still ongoing.

Army gets new spokesperson

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 10): Army gets new spokesperson
Lt. Col. Noel J. Detoyato was appointed as the new Philippine Army (PA) spokesperson Monday.

He replaces Capt. Anthony Bacus who was serving as acting Army spokesperson for the past three months.

With Detoyato's appointment, Bacus now resumed his post as deputy of PA public affairs office.

The former has long years of experience in the field of public affairs and civil military operations (CMO).

He will assume office this week.

Prior to his designation as PA spokesperson, Detoyato was the Group Commander of the Information Development Group, Civil Relations Service, Armed Forces of the Philippines.

He also served as the public affairs officer of the AFP National Development Support Command (AFPNADESCOM), spokesperson of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division from 2009 to 2010, and public information officer of the 6th Infantry Division from 1995 to 1998.

As spokesperson, Detoyato has faced challenging circumstances and has been at the forefront of disseminating to the public the Army’s stand in various issues confronting the organization.

In 2010, as the spokesperson of the 2nd Infantry Division, he was at the forefront of public information when members of the New People’s Army known as the “Morong 43” were apprehended in Morong, Rizal.

In 1995, he efficiently handled the flow of inquiries, both from local and foreign media, on the security status of Mindanao, particularly Maguindanao, Lanao Del Sur, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat which were then confronting threats from insurgents and lawless elements.

As CMO officer, Detoyato became the acting deputy of the Office of the Unified Command Staff for Civil Military Operations, U7, AFP NADESCOM.

He likewise served as the assistant chief of staff for Civil Military Operations, G2, 2nd Infantry Division.

Detoyato also commanded the 16th Infantry Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division from July 2010 to June 2012.

In 2012, he assumed as the assistant chief of staff for Education and Training, OG8, 2nd Infantry Division.