Thursday, February 13, 2014

NPAs surrender to the 34th IB, Philippine Army

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 12): NPAs surrender to the 34th IB, Philippine Army

A member of the New People’s Army (NPA) and three NPA Unit Militia members operating in Northern Samar surrendered to the 34th Infantry (Reliable) Battalion on February 7 and February 8, 2014 respectively.

According to a report from the 8th Infantry Division, the surrenderee was just identified by an alias due to security concerns.

One alias Macky/Baba, a regular NPA member surrendered to the 34th Infantry Battalion bringing along a .22 caliber pistol.  Macky/Baba said he surrendered due to the hardship and difficulties he experienced inside the rebel movement.

On the other hand, the Commanding Officer of the NPA Unit Militia based at Brgy Malidon, Gamay, Northern Samar with two members also surrendered to the 34th IB through its Bayanihan Team Operations in the barangay.

Under the Local Social Integration Program of Northern Samar Province, an NPA surrenderee will receive Php 10,000.00 as immediate assistance and Php 30,000.00 as livelihood assistance. The surrenderees will be receiving their benefits upon completion of the documentation of their surrender.

“The surrender of the NPA personalities depicts the general sentiment of the people in communities where NPAs have influence, but given the chance to choose between the path to peace and violence, NPA rebels will choose peace. With the program that Northern Samar is implementing, we are looking at more NPA rebels to return to the mainstream and contribute in the nation’s march to peace and progress,” said Lt Col Rodrigo Ilustrisimo, the Commanding Officer of the 34th IB.

Army keeps tabs of MNLF in Northern Mindanao

From Solar News (Feb 13): Army keeps tabs of MNLF in Northern Mindanao

The Philippine Army's 4th Infantry Division on Thursday allayed fears that Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) forces in Northern Mindanao might link up with Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

This followed pronouncements attributed to the MNLF-Misuari Faction that it has entered into a tactical alliance with the BIFF with the intention of fighting side-by-side against government forces.

Calling the apparent merger of the two Moro forces as an “organic reunification,” the Nur Misuari faction of the MNLF affirmed that it has formed an ‘informal’ tactical alliance with the BIFF, and vowed to assist the BIFF if the military continues to apply pressure on the renegade armed group.

Capt. Christian Uy, Spokesman of the 4th Infantry Division based in Cagayan de Oro City, said the MNLF forces in Northern Mindanao appear to remain dormant, for now, and show no indications of taking part in the armed struggle of the MNLF-Misuari Faction.

Uy said that, although the MNLF in Northern Mindanao is not expected to sympathize with the MNLF Misuari Faction, the military will keep monitoring its activities and movements.

Uy said security forces remain on heightened alert despite the absence of sightings of BIFF trying to enter the 4ID’s areas of responsibility.

Kidnappers free young girl in Zambo Sibugay

From MindaNews (Feb 13): Kidnappers free young girl in Zambo Sibugay

Combined police and military forces have safely recovered a five-year-old girl who was freed Tuesday by suspected kidnappers in a secluded place of Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay, police said.

Senior Insp. Danilo Pailden, Payao municipal police chief, said that Alexa dela Cruz was freed around 4 p.m. at Sitio Masanang, Barangay Poblacion in Payao.

Pailden said the victim was seized by the suspected kidnappers in the evening of January 11 at their residence at Sitio Tabion, Barangay Kima, also in Payao.

He said “no ransom” was paid in exchange for the release of the victim, whose parents are into rice trading.

The police chief said the victim was immediately taken to the municipal health office for medical check-up after her release.

She was reportedly handed over to his father, Alejandro dela Cruz, in the presence of Payao Mayor Carol Mendoza.

Meanwhile, Pailden disclosed that they have already filed criminal charges against five people who were allegedly involved in the kidnapping of the young girl.

Houses for rebel returnees now under construction

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 14): Houses for rebel returnees now under construction

The “Bayay Paglaum” (Home of Hope), a housing project for rebel returnees and their dependents, is now underway and will be fully implemented this year.

The “Bayay Paglaum” project is a peace village with cluster homes. Cottage industries, institutional facilities and an area for food production has been set up to give livelihood to the former New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.

Beneficiaries of the “Bayay Paglaum” will have free education, either a college or vocational course through the provincial scholarship program.  They will also benefit from immediate employment in the provincial government, Philhealth coverage and other health services, 4P’s membership, skills and livelihood training with initial capital, six-month rice allowance, value formation and other capability building activities, and security/protection.

The program is a project of the provincial government of Surigao del Norte through the effort of Gov. Sol F. Matugas, with the support from the national government and the private sector.

The peace village has a complete water and lighting system.

“Residents in the peace village will help each other and practice ‘bayanihan’ in all communal activities,” said Gov. Matugas.

She said the three former NPA rebels who returned to the fold of the government last week will be the first to benefit from this project.

The three returnees received cash incentives under the provincial government’s Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) to help them adjust and live normally in the mainstream society.

Gov. Matugas personally handed-over the cash assistance of R20,000 each during last week’s Provincial Peace and Order Council at Gateway Hotel, this city.

The three rebel returnees who surrendered to the 30th Infantry Batallion were identified as Vicente alias “Edward” Igong-Igong Jr., 19, from Barangay Bunyasan, Malimono, Surigao del Norte; Aljon alias “Maxi” Tagonsulod, 19, from Purok 4 Barangay Hinapuyan, Carmen, Surigao del Sur; and Jonathan alias “Rimwell” Bulag Arguilles, 29 from Purok 3 Liboon, Barangay Ampayon, Butuan City.

These rebel returnees are also set to receive cash assistance, in exchange for their surrendered firearms in line with the AFP’s “Balik Baril, Bayad-Agad” program.

Alert up vs terror threats in Mindanao

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Feb 14): Alert up vs terror threats in Mindanao

CAGAYAN de Oro City and other parts of Mindanao are under threat from attacks by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), two weeks after the signing of the peace agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine Government, police said.

Police Chief Inspector Lemuel Gonda, Cagayan de Oro City Police Office’s (Cocpo) chief on operations, said the police officers in the city are under alert status due to the threat posed by the BIFF, a breakaway group of the MILF, the largest Moro insurgency group in Mindanao.

Gonda said the threat is not only in the city but has been raised in the entire Mindanao.

The information has come from the intelligence community and it is reliable, Gonda said, adding that the police are regularly guarding the safety.

But because of the threat, the police doubled their security measures especially on the strategic checkpoints where possible perpetrators would come through.

Gonda said that after the signing of the peace agreement between the MILF and the government, the military augmented its forces to Cocpo to assist in ensuring the security of the city.

Gonda said Cocpo will remain vigilant and cautious in public places.

“Malls, churches, hotels, inns, terminals and seaports -- these are the places that we should focus on,” said Gonda.

7 wounded soldiers awarded medals

From ABS-CBN (Feb 14): 7 wounded soldiers awarded medals

Seven soldiers from the 10th Infantry Division (10ID) of the Philippine Army were awarded wounded personnel medals for their participation in clashes against New People's Army (NPA) rebels in February.

One of the awardees, Cpl. Joney Baysa from the 25th Infantry Battalion sustained a gunshot wound in his shoulder while he was fighting rebels in Brgy. Casoon, Monkayo, Compostela Valley last February 11.

The 6 other soldiers are members of the 39th Infantry Battalion. Pfc. Lory Kim Lacal, Cpl. Marcelino Bagood, Jr., Pfc. Olomodin Dicampong, and Pfc. Genesis Quilaton were wounded after they were hit by shrapnel from a landmine explosion.

Sgt. Eliseo Peraño sustained gunshot wounds in the back and knee, while Pfc. Michael Guibao sustained a bullet wound in the head. The bullet has yet to be removed.

The 6 soldiers were wounded in an encounter with NPA's Committee Front 51 and 71 in Brgy. Kapatagan, Digos City in Davao del Sur last February 10.

Aside from medals, the wounded soldiers will receive cash assistance. They will also be promoted to a higher rank.

The Davao region is one of the areas with the most number of rebels in the country, with around 14 communist fronts, the military said.

The Army will send additional soldiers to the region to fight the rebels.

MILF: GPH Peace Panel visits JFC Office of Sajahatra Bangsamoro

From the MILF Website (Feb 14): GPH Peace Panel visits JFC Office of Sajahatra Bangsamoro

Last February 7, 2014, the GPH Peace Panel Chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer together with panel members Yasmin Busran-Lao, Mehol Sadain and Senen Bacani visited the Joint Field Coordinating Office (JFCO) -Sajahatra Bangsamoro (SB) in Cotabato City.
“This is our first time to be here and we wish to be updated on various programs that the Sajahatra are doing now” said Ferrer.

Hisham Abdulaziz, Livelihood Component Community Organize updated the visitors on the livelihood component of Sajahatra program in the Central Mindanao Region.

“For the moment, only the CLNAP (Community Livelihood and Needs Assessment Planning) is the only program that has been completed. They were conducted at Baranggay Tariken, Sultan Mastura, Maguindanao and Buliok, Pikit, North Cotabato”, said Abdulaziz.

The CLNAP according to Abdulaziz aims to assist in the determination of appropriate livelihood interventions for the beneficiary communities. Others programs were likewise explained by Abdulaziz such as the TESDA skills training program which is in the implementation stage.

However, Farm to Market Road (FMR), Fish Landing, Cash for Work (CFW) are has not taken off. “Maybe you can accompany us and visit these sites one of these days” said Ferrer. The SB officials who were present expressed their willingness to accompany the delegation of Prof. Ferrer.

In the same conference, the Health Program Component also provided the visitors updates on the Health programs. Yaksani Abas, the Health Component Community Organizer of Central Mindanao said “At present, the Philhealth beneficiary program made tremendous accomplishments in assisting sick Moro, Lumads and settlers. Out of the 11,000 Philhealth Beneficiaries all over Mindanao, 1000 of them are from the Central Mindanao region”.

“Positive feedbacks were received from those who have availed the PhilHealth program under SB because of the “No Balance Billing” or NBB system with beneficiaries incurring zero balance from their hospitalization expenses in government hospitals, added Abas.

Panel member Yasmin Busran-Lao asked “How this PhilHealth can be availed of?” Mr. Abas explained that for the walk-in beneficiaries they only need to bring an endorsement letter from the office or group where they belong.

Lao also asked about the differences between this type of Philhealth Program with other Philhealth programs? Mr. Abas clarified that there are no differences between the two.

The Regional Coordinator of Regional Project Management Team, Central Mindanao Region, Farouk U. Midtimbang, supplemented additional information about the program and others matters with regards to Sajahatra Bangsamoro.

On his part, Panel member Senen Bacani asked about the effectiveness of CLNAP interventions in terms of livelihood. Midtimbang replied that the Thematic Mapping used for the identified sites for the SBP was already used by the BDA in partnership with the Mindanao Land Foundation (MinLand) funded by the World Bank as one of the effective tools in gathering data in which the intervention will correspond to the needs of the community.

Sites for Cash for Work (CFW) and Daycare Center (DCC) and Supplementary Feeding Program (SFP) under DSWD; National Greening Program under DENR and Rural Health Unit under DOH were already identified. Midtimbang is optimistic that the program can be sustained throughout its implementation period.

The GPH Chief negotiator said before saying goodbye, “Maybe we are from GPH and you are from MILF but now we are one”.

BIFF rejects call to join peace talks

From the Philippine Star (Feb 13): BIFF rejects call to join peace talks

The bandit group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters on Thursday rejected the appeal of government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer to join the peace process and help in the creation of a Bangsamoro political entity under the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB).

“They can continue with what they plan to do, while we continue with our struggle for Bangsamoro independence. We can’t join in that on-going peace process,” Abu Misry Mama, spokesman of the outlawed BIFF, said in Filipino.

Misry said they also cannot return to the fold of the MILF, where their founder, the Saudi-trained cleric Ameril Ombra Kato, was a member of.

Kato began as chief of the 105th Base Command of the MILF, but was booted out in 2010 due to insubordination and irreconcilable differences with the group’s central committee.

Ferrer had called on the BIFF to join in the peace process, saying use of guns to seek redress has long been outmoded by peaceful means of resolving misunderstandings.

Ferrer’s counterpart in the MILF, Muhaquer Iqbal, who is also chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), said they are still open to accepting Kato and his followers if they renounce extremism and support the peace process.

Iqbal told reporters, during the launching of the BTC’s central office in Cotabato City February 8, that they have tried all means to convice  Kato and his followers to return to the MILF, but failed.

“But we have not cut the bridge that can reconnect him to the MILF,” Iqbal said.

Misry said they cannot support the peace process that would marginalize their bid for a puritan Islamic state in Southern Mindanao, based on historical facts that Muslims, or Moro communities were already in the region even before the spread of Christianity in the 16th century.

The BIFF, launched by Kato in late 2010, is feared for banditry and for its terror activities.

The group, tactically, is being led now by Ustadz Karialan, one of the trusted lieutenants of Kato, after the latter suffered a  stroke in 2011. Kato, who has been immobile since, remains as the spiritual figurehead of the group though.

Misry also refuted insinuations that they have  fused ranks with a faction in the Moro National Liberation Front led by Nur Misuari.

Misuari has been critical of the government-MILF peace talks, warning that the FAB and the creation of a Bangsamoro political entity will effectively nullify the September 2, 1996 peace pact between the government and the MNLF.

10 soldiers, 7 CAFGU men hurt in Negros Occidental road accident

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 14): 10 soldiers, 7 CAFGU men hurt in Negros Occidental road accident

Ten government soldiers and seven para-military personnel were injured in a road accident on their way to a community outreach activity in Sipalay City, Negros Occidental around 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

Supt. Noel Mana-ay, chief of Sipalay City Police Station, said injured were 10 Army soldiers, including three officers, and seven members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU).

Their names were not yet available as of press time.

They are treated at the Sipalay City Health Office, but there were no serious injuries reported, Mana-ay said.

The soldiers belong to the 47th Infantry Battalion while the seven para-military personnel are under the supervision of the 12th Infantry (CADRE) Battalion deployed in Sipalay City.

Mana-ay said two of the victims were transferred to hospitals either in Kabankalan City or Bacolod City.

According to police investigation, the Army soldiers and CAFGU members were traveling towards Barangay Maricalum when their truck malfunctioned.

The driver applied a brake, but the vehicle rolled over while negotiating a curve along Sitio Anda, Barangay Maricalum.

US naval presence in Pacific aims to promote freedom of navigation

From Philippine News Agency (Feb 14): US naval presence in Pacific aims to promote freedom of navigation

The vast US naval presence in the Pacific Ocean only seeks to ensure that freedom of navigation remains unhampered in this large expanse of water, US Navy Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, said Thursday.

"Our presence here is not as much about balancing power as much as ensuring or trying to assure our partners and our allies that were all in this together and ensure that we have freedom of navigation," he added.

Greenert said that this principle is simple economics as 90 percent of the world's trade are delivered across the various oceans.

"It does not matter what currency or measure but you get my point, in value is over the ocean so its gonna be free and have movement," he emphasized.

Greenert added that this ability of the US Navy to sail in vast tracks of the Pacific means that it is readily available to help its allies in the region.

US to help PHL should China encroach into territory

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 14): US to help PHL should China encroach into territory

US Navy Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, said that the United States is obligated to help the Philippines should China occupy its possessions at the West Philippine Sea.

The American naval official made this announcement during his visit to the National Defense College of the Philippines in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City Thursday afternoon.

Greenert, while admitting that the scenario is a hypothetical one, said that it is the United States' duty to help the Philippines as both nations have a standing Mutual Defense Treaty.

"I don't know into what capacity that help is but we'll help, its part of our treaty. I think in the near term as you sort of saying this is nice that we continue to talk about multilateralism, we have to be clear, with a clear signal and I think we are and will continue to say that aggressive behavior outside of international norms, not using the established procedures... is contrary to ... good order here and we have to manage, we oppose it, we will work to clarify that and making (it) clear, " he added.

China and the Philippines has been at loggerheads with each other on contrasting claims over the West Philippine Sea.

New Army chief vows to improve support system for field units

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 14): New Army chief vows to improve support system for field units

Newly appointed Philippine Army (PA) commander, Major Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri, has vowed to improve the support system for all of its field units.

This was revealed by Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato, the PA spokesperson, Friday.

"They (field commanders) can expect the same (level) of support (during the term of Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes) or even better," he added.

The latter refers to existing mechanism for reinforcement, equipment, training, and maintenance.

Detoyato stressed that Iriberri is attuned to the needs of the field since he has commanded both divisions and brigades.

Prior his appointment as PA chief, Iriberri commanded the Nueva Ecija-based 7th Infantry Division.

"He will just continue with the (existing) support system and do some improvements on it," he added.

Detoyato stated that any clogging on the support system can be costly as operations or maneuvers can be delayed.

PDEA welcome's Navy's commitment to safeguard PHL waters

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 14): PDEA welcome's Navy's commitment to safeguard PHL waters

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has welcomed the commitment of the Philippine Navy (PN) in assisting PDEA in safeguarding the country’s seas against transshipment of illegal drugs.

In a statement, PDEA Director General Arturo Cacdac Jr. cited the letter forwarded to his office by Navy Flag Officer in Command Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano last February 4, reaffirming PN’s commitment of close coordination with the PDEA.

Cacdac emphasized the importance of coordination between PDEA and PN in combating shipment of illegal drugs using the country’s waters.

He stressed that while PDEA is the primary agency of the government tasked to address the menace of illegal drugs, it needs the assistance of other institutions like the Navy.

”We definitely need the maritime support and capabilities of the Philippine Navy in protecting our 1,250,000 square kilometers of territorial waters from illegal drug smuggling,” Cacdac said.

“Realizing the major national concern in the transportation and smuggling of dangerous drugs with the Philippines being an archipelagic country surrounded by bodies of water, PDEA and the Philippine Navy will be closely working together, to effectively and efficiently deter illegal drug trade using our shores,” he added.

In his letter, Alano reaffirmed the Philippine Navy’s commitment to assist PDEA in safeguarding the seas against illegal drugs.

“With the sailors and marines of the Philippine Navy, we wish to renew our continuing cooperation with the men and women of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency,” Alano stated.

Development of maritime domain awareness capability to ease tension in WPS -- US naval chief

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 14): Development of maritime domain awareness capability to ease tension in WPS -- US naval chief

US Navy Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, said development of maritime domain awareness capabilities of nations with conflicting territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea will do much to ease the tensions in the region.

This was his advise to defense experts during his visit to the National Defense College of the Philippines in Camp Aguinaldo Thursday afternoon.

"(One), I would work on maritime domain awareness, in other words I would work to be sure that we had a clarity of what's going on out there in and around the West Philippine Sea on a consistent manner, he added.

"Two, I would hard very hard (to attain) interoperability (with other powers in the region) and that's an easy term so I'll get to the point, using unclassified system use the easy stuff first to share information on what we see out there so whatever you see you want, as I'm saying, make sure your headquarters understand that, thoughout your headquarters in Manila but also out there at your fleet headquarters (and) then be willing to be share that with Vietnam, Malaysia whomever and work toward that," the US admiral stressed.

And three, Greenert said that all countries with stakes at the West Philippine Sea must be able to communicate with each other in order to get assistance or force multipliers.

"I think (developing) maritime domain awareness will be tough, and then underpinning it all is training your people so getting a solid baseline of professional officers," he added.

Greenert is on a three-day official visit with the Philippine Navy which started last Feb. 12 and will end on the 15th.

The visit aims to strengthen the ties and interoperability between the two navies and further realize peace and stability in the region.

Expect stronger US message vs China aggression

From Rappler (Feb 14): Expect stronger US message vs China aggression

ARRIVAL HONORS. US navy chief of naval operations Admiral Admiral Jonathan Greenert. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena

ARRIVAL HONORS. US navy chief of naval operations Admiral Admiral Jonathan Greenert. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena

Don't be surprised if you continue to hear US officials sending China a stronger message. You'll see more of that, said US chief of naval operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert.

"The preponderance and collection of activity by China has caused us to be more clear on where we stand on this – the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), the unilateral declaration of extended fishing gournds.... It is confusing. Worse, it is conflicting with internal norms," Greenert explained when asked about the heightened US rhetoric in following international laws in the South China Sea. (READ: Beijing slams 'irresponsible' US warning on South China Sea and US lawmakers support PH legal track on China)

Greenert is in the Philippines to sit down with his counterparts to discuss military cooperation in the region. He is the latest in a growing list of US defense and military officials to visit the countrty.

He was at Camp Aguinaldo on Thursday, February 13, to pay a courtesy call on Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and to speak before students of the National Defense College of the Philippines.

[Video: Expect stronger US message VS China aggression]

More US assets in the region

The Philippines has one of the weakest militaries in Asia but it is one of the most vocal in challenging China's aggression, especially inside the country's exclusive economic zone. The Philippines is now asking for an increased presence of US troops here, a request that coincides with the strategy to rebalance in the Asia Pacific region.

President Benigno Aquino III was quoted saying the Philippine and the US are close to finalizing a military-to-military agreement allowing increased rotational presence of troops in the Philippines and giving them more access to Philippine military bases. The next round of negotiations will happen in March and all eyes are on the panel – if they will finish the deal in time for the April visit of US President Barack Obama. (READ: PH, US 'close' to signing military deal and Problems in the US-PH bases access deal?)

In the past two decades, Greenert said the US has had at least 50 ships in the Western Pacific. As part of the rebalancing, Greenert said these will increase to 60 ships, including the newest platforms of the US navy.

"What does it mean to the Philippines? We will be availabe to operate, to work together to be able to be comfortable with our partnership and we will go to the direction that we want to," Greenert said.

Super Typhoon Yolanda showed last year the advantages of the presence of US troops and assets in the Philippines. But allowing the US to construct facilities here is raising concerns. (READ: Soldiers of the world deployed for Haiyan victims)

China invasion? US will help PH

If push comes to shove, Greenert vows the US will be around to help the Philippines. An NDCP student asked Greenert what the US would do if China forcibly tries to occupy, say, Pag-asa, the second largest island in the Spratlys.

Greenert replied: "Of course, we will help you.... We have an obligation because of the treaty."

But Greenert said dialogue is the best way to resolve the tension. "Move the dialogue less in the direction where we are going to end in confrontation and combat. It doesn't have to be that way if we use the process that we put in place. We should exhaust that," he said.

In April, countries involved in maritime disputes will try to do just that. The different navies will gather in China for the Western Pacific Naval Symposium. The meeting will seek to draw up common protocols that will guide countries in encounters at sea. The US is invited and the Philippines will also attend.

"I don’t know if I'm optimistic as much as I'm saying we're going to be deliberate. What the heck is this? We need to close this up. All nations seem to disagree except for one," he said.

US admiral assures Philippines of help in case of conflict with China over disputed isles

From InterAksyon (Feb 14): US admiral assures Philippines of help in case of conflict with China over disputed isles

US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the impact of sequestration on the national defense, on Capitol Hill in Washington, November 7, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The United States will come to the aid of the Philippines in the event of conflict with China over disputed waters in the South China Sea, the commander of the US Navy said on Thursday.

The comments by Admiral Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations of the US Navy, were the most explicit statement of US support for the ill-equipped Philippine military which is facing a more assertive China in disputed waters.

"Of course, we would help you," Greenert told students of the National Defense College of the Philippines in response to a question about a hypothetical Chinese occupation of one of the disputed Spratly Islands.

"I don't know what that help would be specifically. I mean, we have an obligation because we have a treaty. But, I don't know in what capacity that help is."

China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea's 3.5 million sq km (1.35 million sq mile) waters. The sea provides 10 percent of the global fisheries catch and carries $5 trillion in ship-borne trade each year.

Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam also claim parts of the sea.
China's claim conflicts with that of the Philippines, which has a 1951 treaty with the United States that officials say bind the two partners to defend each other in case of external attack.

The Philippines has taken its dispute with China to arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea but China is refusing to participate in the case.

Greenert praised the Philippines' move to ask a UN tribunal to strike down China's claims to most of the South China Sea, saying it was "a terrific idea."

He urged the Philippines "to stay the course and bring this to fruition."

China has rejected challenges to its sovereignty claims, and accused the Philippines of illegally occupying Chinese islands in the seas and of provoking tension there.

Greenert said the United States supported the Philippines' case and opposed China's aggressive behavior and would work with allies to maintain freedom of navigation.

The United States has spoken out against China's assertive moves which have in recent months included the imposition of an air defense identification zone in northeast Asia and new fishing rules in South China Sea.

"I think you may have seen some statements coming from our policy-makers exactly in that direction, you will see more of that from us," he said, adding he believed China wanted to be clear on where the United States stood.

The United States has not taken a stand on the conflicting territorial claims over the South China Sea, but Greenert said that he wanted to send a "clear signal... that aggressive behavior outside of international norms is contrary to good order."

In December, during a visit to the Philippines, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned China against any move to declare an air defense zone in the South China Sea, a declaration that was seen as an affirmation of the defense ties between Manila and Washington.

Greenert said the United States was deploying more ships in the region as it rebalanced foreign policy towards Asia and the United States hoped to deploy 60 ships in the Western Pacific from about 45 to 50 now.

Soldier killed, scores wounded in govt-NPA clash in South Cotabato

From InterAksyon (Feb  14): Soldier killed, scores wounded in govt-NPA clash in South Cotabato

A soldier was killed and an undetermined number of rebels were also killed and wounded after a fierce gunbattle Thursday between government troops and some 30 rebels in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.

Capt. Alberto Caber, spokesman of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), said the encounter at around 2:25 p.m. in the boundary of Barangay Ned and Sitio Lambantong, Barangay Lamfugon lasted for almost an hour.

Caber said: “We’ve one soldier killed. Based on reports of civilians who saw the withdrawing rebels, they were reportedly dragging their dead and wounded comrades.

Our troops on the ground continue to verify this as pursuit operations were ongoing.”
The name of the soldier-fatality has been withheld until his family is notified.

Insults, praises greet Bangsamoro Transition Commission peace campaign in Southern Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Feb 14): Insults, praises greet Bangsamoro Transition Commission peace campaign in Southern Philippines

Chief MILF peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal reads the Mindanao Examiner Regional Newspaper at a hotel in Zamboanga after attending a forum in Zamboanga City where he and 14 other members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission were insulted and booed by local participants opposed to the inclusion of the city to the proposed new Muslim autonomy region in Mindanao.

And Iqbal's group in Sulu province where members pay their courtesy to Gov. Totoh Tan and other provincial officials on February 13, 2014 and held a dialogue on the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement. (Mindanao Examiner Photo - Ahl-Franzie Salinas)

Members of the 15-man Bangsamoro Transition Commission headed by Mohagher Iqbal, the chief MILF peace negotiator, held a dialogue on Thursday in the southern Filipino province of Sulu where locals warmly welcomed the group – a far cry from insults they experienced in Zamboanga City.

Abdullah Cusain, head of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission's communication group, said provincial officials led by Gov. Totoh Tan welcomed them to Sulu, one of five provinces under the Muslin autonomous region. “It was really a warm reception in Sulu and we were welcomed by the people there and we thanked Governor Totoh Tan and all provincial officials,” he told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner by phone from Sulu.

He said Iqbal’s group paid their courtesy call to Tan and to his father, Vice Gov. Sakur Tan and other officials and later briefed them about the progress of the peace process and various issues related to the peace talks between the Aquino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group.

“It was far from what happened to us in Zamboanga. Here in Sulu the discussion was friendly and cordial and we appreciate the support of the province and its people to peace in Mindanao,” Cusain said.

Sulu Representatives Maryam Arbison and Tupay Loong and town mayors were also present during the dialogue held at the indoor amphitheater of the Area Coordinating Center.

But not all Tausugs support the new Bangsamoro region because of various reasons, but many of them wanted the 1996 peace deal between Manila and the rival Moro National Liberation Front under Nur Misuari fully implemented.

Misuari's group is also opposing the current government peace talks with the MILF because any peace accord between the two sides would violate the government peace agreement with the MNLF.

Others wanted Sulu to separate from the autonomous region or be part of the new Bangsamoro region for the simple reason that development projects are not equally distributed among the provinces under it. While others believe Sulu belongs solely to the Tausug tribe just as Samal belongs to Tawi-Tawi and Yakan to Basilan - and run their own affairs or even put a separate autonomous region for the three provinces.


In Zamboanga, Iqbal’s group was booed and insulted by residents who are opposed to the inclusion of the city to the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous region. But Iqbal said Zamboanga is not even included in the new Muslim autonomy.

The BTC was supposed to pay its courtesy call to Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar on its way to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, but the politician wanted Iqbal’s group to hold a forum so residents would be able to ask questions about the proposed autonomy for Muslims in Mindanao, and whether the city may be annexed in the new region.

During the forum, a BTC member, lawyer Akmad Sakkam, has told those in the forum to join them in the Bangsamoro autonomous region despite the strong opposition of the locals to be included in the new Muslim homeland.

Sakkam’s comment sparked a heated debate that led many in the forum to walk out and left Iqbal’s group. Locals also felt insulted by Sakkam's comments.

Pursuing peace

But Iqbal said they hold no grudge to those who are not in favor of the Bangsamoro homeland, saying, his group is campaigning for peace in Mindanao which would benefit not only the Muslims, but all Filipinos in the mineral-rich region.

Iqbal said they were only supposed to pay their courtesy to Salazar, but she declined to meet them at the City Hall.

“Originally, it was a courtesy call and the original plan was to hold it at the Office of the City Mayor, but at the last hour, it was change to that forum to some sort of a meeting with many people, kami naman our intention is good, our purpose is good so okay and sabi namin kahit ano ang importante eh makiusap namin ang mayor to convey to her that our message is about peace, about reaching out to people who will understand, who will listen to us because after all what we intend to do as far as the writing of the basic law is concerned is for everybody’s benefit,” he told The Manila Times.

Iqbal said they received reports that they had been set up in the forum by Salazar’s group.

“There were reports that everything was set up, the report went further to say that it was a frame up, but I don’t believe that. We were booed, there were some questions raised and harsh voice, but for us we held our composure, we are there to communicate, we are there to reach out, and we are there to transmit information that are necessary for building peace in Mindanao. So we prepared ourselves for whatever situation that we may encounter,” Iqbal said.

In the end, Iqbal said the BTC and the MILF is willing to listen to all sectors of society just to be able to pursue peace in the country, particularly in the restive region of Mindanao.

“Our message is very simple, it’s like playing ‘Jack and Poy’ (rock-paper-scissors), when people use stone, we use paper; if the other side uses scissors, we use stone; so it’s just about having a situation which is not confrontational so that we can maintain the level of communication with all groups whether they are hostile to us or friend with us, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and the MILF are willing to listen, are willing to argue with reasons, after all we are all civilized people,” he said.

The other members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission are Ibrahim Ali, a member of the MILF; Maulana Alonto, of the MNLF, Talib Abdulhamid Benito, a Shari’ah lawyer; Abdulla Camlia, also of the MILF; Pedrito Eisma, a politician in Basilan province; Raissa Jajurie, a lawyer from Sulu province; Froilyn Mendoza, a member if the Teduray tribe from Maguindanao; Hussein Munoz, also a member of the MILF; Fatmawati Salapuddin, a peace advocate in Sulu; Said Shiek, of the MILF; Asani Tammang, a lawyer from Sulu; Timuay Melanio Ulama, also a member of the Teduray tribe; Johaira Wahab, an advocate of women's rights.

Bangsamoro land

Zamboanga City Rep. Lilia Nuño has openly supported the peace process and said the peace deal between government and MILF would bring prosperity not only in Zamboanga, but the whole of Mindanao.

She said Malaysia, which is brokering the peace talks, has immediately pledged P 20 billion for Bangsamoro areas after the signing of the Annex on Normalization by peace negotiators just recently.

“Even if we are not part of Bangsamoro but we would still benefit because Zamboanga City is the center of business in the region. All the trade and commerce will still come to our city,” Nuño was quoted as saying.

Zamboanga City serves as the trading and commercial hub of the Muslim provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, all part of the autonomous region, but majority of its inhabitants and their officials do not want to be part of the Bangsamoro region. Zamboanga was a former Moro capital.

President Benigno Aquino is also actively campaigning for the passage of the Bangsamoro basic law, saying, this will bring peace, progress and development in the southern Philippines.

“Nananabik na po tayo sa araw na maipasa na ang Bangsamoro Basic Law, upang tuluyan na ngang mabuksan ang bagong kabanata ng kasaysayan sa Muslim Mindanao. Pagkatapos nating sunod-sunod na nalagdaan ang mga bahagi ng Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, abot-kamay na natin ang ganap na pagtutuwid ng sistema sa rehiyong ito, at ang permanenteng pagbabago sa Lupang Pangako,” he said.

“Ang taumbayan ang siya na pong nagkukumpas ngayon sa direksyong tinatahak ng ating bayan—ang landas ng pangmatagalang kaunlaran at kapayapaan...iyan din ang nakikita nating magiging bagong mukha ng Bangsamoro sa mga darating na panahon,” Aquino said. (Mindanao Examiner. With a report from Ahl-Franzie Salinas in Sulu province.)