Sunday, March 30, 2014

Abu Sayyaf abducts school principal in Sumisip

From the Philippine Star (Mar 31): Abu Sayyaf abducts school principal in Sumisip

Suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen abducted a public school principal Monday morning in a remote village of Basilan province, according to officials.

Basilan school district superintendent Dr. Norhaya Abdurahim identified the victim as Benita Enriquez Latonio, 60, a native of Barangay Talisayan this city, but assigned as school principal of Manggal Elementary School in Sumisip town, Basilan.

Police investigation disclosed the victim and several teachers aboard a passenger jeepney,bearing plate number JVK-359 bound for Isabela City, were blocked by five  suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen, wearing bonnets, under Juhaibil Alamsirul alias Abu Kik about 6:20 a.m. at sitio Mompol, Barangay Libug, Sumisip.

Villagers told police the suspects took Lotonio at gunpoint and left the rest of teachers unharmed and fled on foot toward an unknown direction.

The companions of Lotonio were escorted by authorities on their way back to the town proper of Sumusip.

Basilan Police Provincial director Senior Superintendent Mario Dapilloza declined to answer phone calls and inquiries about the latest kidnapping incident in Basilan.

It was not known if the victims failed to coordinate for security during their travel passing outskirt of Sumisip which is known to be infested by the Abu Sayyaf group.

Alerted military and police forces immediately launched pursuit operation to  rescue the  school principal.

Davao’s NPA rebels are the biggest, strongest

From Asian (Mar 30): Davao’s NPA rebels are the biggest, strongest

If Ka Simeon Santiago is to be believed, there are now close to 1,000 fully armed New People’s Army guerrillas operating in Southern Mindanao alone.

That is close to 10 percent of the total armed strength of the Maoist-inspired NPA in the whole of the Philippines.
On Saturday, March 29, the NPA marked its 45th Founding Anniversary becoming the oldest running insurgency of its kind in Asia.
In a six-minute video posted on YouTube, Ka Simeon addressed a battalion of NPA regulars saying they have built 40-platoon guerrilla force spread throughout the five sub-regional commands of the Southern Mindanao Regional Party Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines.  This has led to the establishment of NPA regional command’s first ever Pulang Bagani Battalion, according to Ka Simeon.
NPA guerrillas in Far South Mindanao. Pic by Edwin Espejo
NPA regulars in the Davao region are said to be the biggest and strongest in the Philippines.Pic by Karlos Manlupig
It is one of the stronger, if not the strongest, NPA regions in the whole of the Philippines along with the Northeastern Mindanao Regional Party Committee of the communist movement where the more identifiable Mindanao rebel spokesman Jorge Madlos, a.k.a. Ka Oris, is based.
The NEMPRC is believed to have approximately the same number of NPA battle-tested combatants.
An NPA platoon is normally composed of at least 21 armed regulars.  A Philippine Army platoon is composed of at least 29 soldiers.
An AFP battalion will have at least 900 men but its effective combat force may only be 600 soldiers while an NPA battalion could not have more than 300 combat forces.  An NPA company has between 50-80 men while the AFP has each 120-man regular company.
The Central Committee of the CPP-NPA said in a statement sent to the media Saturday that its armed regulars have now exceeded the number it had in 1985 when party documents said their high-powered firearms were only 5,600.
The CPP-NPA said the actual NPA strength in 1985 was contrary to government pronouncements which placed the rebel strength at 25,000 armed regulars.
“It (NPA) has surpassed its previous peak in 1985 and is now about 10,000 high-powered rifles,” the CPP-NPA said in the statement.
The rebel group said even relatively weaker regions have grown in recent years, citing the 120 percent increase in the number of platoons in Far South Mindanao Regional Command of the NPA.  The NPAs in Far South Mindanao are believed to have at least four companies of armed regulars.
The CPP-NPA however suffered a major blow a week before the NPA founding anniversary.
CPP chairman Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma, along with five others, were captured in Cebu City on March 22 after a massive government manhunt.
AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said the communist rebels have been decapitated following the arrest of the couple.
The NPA was organized in 1969, months after the CPP was re-established in December 1968.
It was formerly headed by Bernabe Buscayno, alias Kumander Dante, who became a rallying figure for student activists in the tumultuous decade of the 1970s.
Among the activists was Tiamzon who was then a government scholar at the University of the Philippines.
From 35 vintage rifles and handguns, the NPAs have grown to become a continuing security threat to the Philippine government.
The NPA claims it is now operating in 110 guerrilla fronts in 71 provinces.
The CPP-NPA says it aims to increase its armed regulars to 25,000 to advance the stage of its protracted armed struggle to the next stage.
The communists said they are preparing to advance from strategic defensive to strategic stalemate with the government.

AFP on the trail of another top NPA official

From ABS-CBN (Mar 30): AFP on the trail of another top NPA official

The 4th Infantry Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is in hot pursuit of another top official of the New People's Army (NPA), a military official said Saturday.

The subject of the pursuit is prominent Communist leader Jorge Madlos, also known as "Ka Oris."

In 2012, the Aquino government offered a P5.6-million reward in exchange for information that would lead to his arrest.

Madlos has led numerous attacks against civilian and military targets in Mindanao, which is under the jurisdiction of the 4th ID.

“He cannot hide forever. There will come a time that we will catch up on him,” said Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, commander of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division.

The statement was made after the arrest of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) chairman Benito Tiamzon, his wife Wilma Austria who is the CPP's secretary general, and five of their staff in Cebu on March 22.

The government has offered P10-million reward each for the capture of the couple. An NPA insider allegedly provided information to the military, leading to the arrest of the couple who are currently detained in Camp Crame.

“Our operations against him are continuing, although he may become very conscious of his security because of what has happened to Tiamzon,” said Visaya, referring to Madlos, the spokesman of the National Democratic Front in Mindanao.

Visaya, however, admitted that it is difficult for the military to set a timetable for the arrest of Madlos, especially as he is believed to be staying in the mountain.

He said Madlos may be one of the candidates to succeed Tiamzon, considering the length of his service to the movement. Madlos has been with the CPP since the 1970s.
But the military general said Madlos, despite being a candidate to succeed Tiamzon, will not automatically get the post because of his age. He is now in his 60s.

Visaya further explained that the arrest of Tiamzon and his wife will result in a leadership vacuum in the communist movement, despite the claim of some communist leaders that the said vacuum will only be temporary.

“They (communists) say that the leadership vacuum (due to Tiamzon’s arrest) is just temporary. Yes, it's temporary but how long is the temporary because it will be hard to select a new leader,” the official said.

Madlos' last reported location was Surigao del Sur. Visaya said about 800 to 900 NPAs are operating in the area of responsibility of the 4th ID, particularly in the entire Caraga region and parts of Northern Mindanao.

WesMinCom launches peace mural as NPA celebrates 45th anniversary

From the Zamboanga Today (Mar 30): WesMinCom launches peace mural as NPA celebrates 45th anniversary

A mural promoting peace and development was launched here Saturday, March 29, 2014, two days after the signing of Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the Philippines government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The public artwork was held at the Armed Forces of the Philippine’s Western Mindanao Command headquarters in Calarian, west coast of Zamboanga City, in time the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army celebrated its 45th Anniversary on Saturday.

Earlier, Cagayan de Oro City,at least seventy two members of the New People’s Army (NPA) from Northern Mindanao and Caraga formally surrendered to the government at Camp Evangelista.

According to the reports, the surrender comes a day before the 45th Anniversary of the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Phillippines – and less than a week after two of the NPA’s top leaders were arrested.

The former rebels also surrendered 69 firearms which cost more than P2 million and as part of the AFP’s Gun for Peace Program, those who surrendered will be given financial help equivalent to the value of the firearm that they turned-over to the military, the report said.

Also on March 22, authorities captured CPP leaders Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria in Cebu, while Andrea Rosal, another alleged CPP leader and daughter of former NPA Spokesman Roger Rosal, was also arrested Thursday night in Caloocan City.

Likewise, authorities on Thursday arrested another suspected communist leader — Andrea Rosal, daughter of the late rebel spokesperson Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal.

Hundreds of soldiers, navy men, policemen, peace advocates, students, youth, and civilian volunteers painted the perimeter walls of Western Mindanao Command headquarters along Calarian highway, in the bid to create awareness on peace and development through “bayanihan”.

The Western Mindanao Command public information office said the peace mural painting is part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ peace advocacy in collaboration with the national and local artists in the country, peace advocates Zamboanga and artists from the different universities.

“This is one form to promoting the ‘bayanihan’ through the peace mural painting,” said Marine Major Muella, WesMinCom information officer. “This is purely volunteerism with one goal which is to promote peace in the entire Mindanao.”

Lieutenant General Rustico Guerrero, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said the mural is very timely as the government and the MILF just signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and for the peace they are espousing.

“Peace advocacy is one of our main thrusts in the Armed Forces of the Philippines through the ‘bayanihan’, hoping that our countrymen will see this especially by those who are still fighting it out and using the way of violence,” Guerrero added.

According to Guerrero, “This is in fact a long overdue project but because of the siege last September this was disrupted. The spirit of bayanihan or working together is what we are promoting here It’s a multi-stakeholder undertaking where all the stakeholders join together for one activity.”

One of the civilian volunteers in the mural painting took the opportunity to call on the government and the MILF, saying that “Our call, that is why, we are here in this mural painting not only to paint but to demonstrate to all that peace is everybody’s interest, concern.”

“If (peace) is the interest of all, everybody should participate so that our place will become peaceful. If a new government (in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao ) is put in place, they (government and MILF) should see to it that their agreement is not only for leaders but also for grassroots,” said Mersia Alli, convenor of Tibuok Lupah Sug, a Sulu-based one network of the civil society for peace and unity.

Although she is hopeful and elated by the recent signing of peace accord between the government and the MILF, Mrs. Alli expressed doubts, saying what had happened with the 1996 peace agreement of the Moro National Liberation Front with the Philippine s government will be repeated.

“Hindi pa rin buo ‘yung belief namin sa agreement dahil hindi lang naman ito ang unang agreement mayroon agreement nuon with the MNLF, so medyo natatakot pa rin kami baka maging ganun din (Our belief to the agreement is still not full because this it not first agreement there was agreement before with the MNLF, so we are relatively afraid because it might be repeated again).”

Hence, Mrs. Alli said suggested with the hope that the people would realize from the lessons or experiences in the past especially what had happened with the ARMM and MNLF.

“We hope that before the term of President Aquino ends, the Bangsamoro politicial entity will be properly established because if there is a new president something might happen,” she continued. “We hope also that the government and the MILF won’t shortcut the process,” she further said.

“What we want also is that before the conduct of plebiscite, the people must be informed, educated well about the Bangsamoro government because the people still do not really understand the annexes and the CAB.”

Reacting to the massive proliferation of loose firearms, she said the government should invest more and focus on education of the people to address the problem. “We hope that problem on loose firearms will be given solution by the Bangsamoro government because it is the root cause of the conflict and criminality in the region.

“The gun culture exists in our society because the people don’t feel secured but if there is a safe and sound atmosphere, I think no one would like to carry guns,” she said.

For Dante Arboso, head of the Antipolo artists group, said they recommended to the event organizers that the art concept of the participants especially by the students and the youth art enthusiasts should be exposed on the walls of schools in Zamboanga to create awareness among the public.

“Ang pinaka maganda sa public art na ito ay iyung promotion sa kapayapaan sa lugar na ito na kung saan nagkaron ng kaguluhuhan, (What is really good in this publis art is the promotion of peace in this place, where a conflict occurred,” he said. “The art of participants here is actually the reaction of what happened during the conflict.”

Asked to comment on what situation he sees in Mindanao today, he said Mindanao is so vulnerable because of the existence of different armed groups, but what is important we have to be concerned about the next generation,, the people here needs unity for peace and development.”

2 Sagada cops dead, 2 wounded in NPA raid

From the Philippine Star (Mar 31): 2 Sagada cops dead, 2 wounded in NPA raid

Two policemen were killed and two of their colleagues were wounded when New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, marking their 45th anniversary, swooped down on the camp of the Regional Public Safety Battalion in Sagada, Mt. Province Saturday.

Senior Superintendent Oliver Enmodias, Mt. Province police director, withheld the identities of the slain and wounded soldiers as their relatives still have to be informed about the incident.

Sagada was declared a peace zone in the early 1990s supposedly to be off-limits to both rebel and military forces.

In June last year, police and the military launched an assault following the NPA ambush of police trainees in Tadian town that left one dead almost a dozen others wounded.

The Army’s 54th Infantry Battalion used to encamp in Sagada but pulled out early this year after the municipal council and elders wanted the peace zone revived.

“What is clear in last Saturday’s assault was the rebels’ violation of the ongoing peaceful status of the area,” Enmodias told The STAR.

NPA rebel slain in Cagayan clash

From the Philippine Star (Mar 30): NPA rebel slain in Cagayan clash

A suspected New People’s Army (NPA) guerrilla was killed in an encounter with Army troops in a Cagayan town yesterday.

The clash occurred as authorities were on a heightened alert for possible attacks by communist insurgents, as part of the armed group’s celebration of its 45th founding anniversary.

Reports identified the alleged rebel as Ronald Beran, 42, of Barangay Masi, Rizal town, where the encounter took place.

The soldiers were conducting patrol operations at the area when at least 10 armed men fired at them, triggering the firefight.

No one was hurt from the government forces led by a certain 2/Lt. Ranola of the Isabela-based Army’s 5th Infantry Division.

The encounter came a day after some 20 armed men believed to be communist guerrillas stormed a property of a former village chairman in Cabisera 2 Hacienda San Antonio in Ilagan City.

Isabela police director Senior Superintendent Sotero Ramos said the group, including two NPA amazons, entered the compound of Reynaldo Edrada, whose son-in-law, John Sales, was an incumbent councilman.

The armed men reportedly distributed letters demanding taxes from local grain traders.

Edrada and Sales were not home during the incident.

Rebel tagged in killing of bishop’s brod

From the Philippine Star (Mar 29): Rebel tagged in killing of bishop’s brod

An alleged member of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade was tagged in the killing of the brother of Davao Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla.

In a press conference yesterday, Chief Inspector Joseph Euje Almaquer, spokesman of a special investigation task group, said three witnesses have identified Julie Cabino, 30, alias Jojo Cabino and Jojo Cabarles, as one of the two assailants of Romeo Capalla in Oton town two weeks ago.

Almaquer though said Cabino’s gun was not the one that killed Capalla, as his firearm jammed after he fired it.

Murder charges were filed against Cabino and four John Does yesterday.

3 wounded as Abus storm Sulu village

From the Philippine Star (Mar 30): 3 wounded as Abus storm Sulu village

Three persons were wounded when suspected Abu Sayyaf militants stormed a village in Patikul town in Sulu on Friday, security officials reported yesterday.

The bandits, armed with assault rifles, fired rifle grenades near a Marine detachment at around 1:30 p.m.  in Barangay Bungkaong, said Brig. Gen. Martin Pinto, head of the 2nd Marine Brigade and Joint Task Force Sulu.

Pinto expressed belief that the detachment could be the target of the attack.
All shots fired by the bandits from an M203 grenade launchers hit civilian houses.

The Marines retaliated prompting the bandits to retreat.

Marine soldiers applied first aid treatment to the victims before they were taken to the hospital.

Pinto said the raid was followed by another attack on a detachment in Barangay Latih. No one was reported wounded in the incident.

Security around Patikul was stepped up following the spate of kidnapping incidents perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf militants who held their captives in the area.

Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said they have intensified their operation against the Abu Sayyaf particularly now that the government has finally forged the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Guerrero said they would maximize the operation against the militants and other threat groups once the normalization annex of the agreement will be implemented.

Misuari faction in Maguindanao: dream Bangsamoro Republik lives on

From MindaNews (Mar 31): Misuari faction in Maguindanao: dream Bangsamoro Republik lives on

Followers of  Moro  National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chair Nur Misuari on Saturday said their dream for a Bangsamoro Republik lives on even as government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27.

The MNLF members, led by Suhod Ebrahim, commander of the MNLF’s 6th Sudarah Brigade, met members of the press at their camp in Barangay Raguisi, Sultan Kudarat town, a few kilometers away from the MILF’s Camp Darapanan.

The  group didn’t display any firearm but the red MNLF flags, Ebrahim said, are symbols that their dream Bangsamoro Republik lives on.

He said they have nothing to do with the CAB and have no plans of supporting it.

The Moro National Liberation Front-Maguindanao led by Suhod Ebrahim at their camp in Sultan KUdarat town. MindaNews photo by Ferdinandh B. Cabrera

The Moro National Liberation Front-Maguindanao led by Suhod Ebrahim at their camp in Sultan KUdarat town. MindaNews photo by Ferdinandh B. Cabrera

A tarpaulin on display in the camp features the photographs of US President Barrack Obama, the secretary-generals of the United Nations and the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation, and Misuari, who is wanted for rebellion and crimes against international humanitarian law following the bloody 21-day standoff with government forces in September.

He said Misuari relayed the information about the allege support of the three prominent personalities to their bid for independence and that they are just awaiting Misuari’s directive on the action they would undertake such as the possibility of a siege similar to Zamboanga.

Ebrahim said  “this (siege) part 2  (is) not yet scheduled… It depends upon President Misuari.”

Misuari is referred to by his supporters as “President of the Bangsamoro Republik.”

Ebrahim said their only hope is the promise of independence that Misuari allegedly said will be realized with the help of America and the United Nations and the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, two entities that have been supporting the GPH-MILF peace process.

In a press statement issued in the evening of Thursday, after the signing of the CAB and reception at Malacanan Palace, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said the United States “will continue to be a major development partner in Mindanao and in an effort to help bring about a successful outcome” of the CAB.

“We believe the CAB can benefit the people of Bangsamoro, and all Filipino citizens,” Goldberg said.

In Washington DC, the State Department in a statement said it “fully supports the ongoing peace and reconciliation process, and we encourage all parties to continue their efforts to ensure a future of peace, prosperity, and stability in the southern Philippines.”

‘CAB puts peace in jeopardy’

From the Manila Times (mar 30): ‘CAB puts peace in jeopardy’

President Benigno Aquino 3rd has derailed the peace process in the southern Philippines by sacrificing another Muslim group when he signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the leader of the International Police Commission (IPC) said on Sunday.

Malacanang apparently was unperturbed by the accusation, with Herminio Coloma, chief of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, saying: “All stakeholders are called upon to participate in the peace and rebuilding process.”

Gen. Rafael Clarete, president of the IPC, which is recognized by the United Nations Economic and Social Council, said the President, as a result of inking the CAB last week, now risks “serious uprising and secession” from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Clarete, speaking from General Santos City in Mindanao after arriving from California also last week, added that Malacanang should have honored the peace agreement that the government signed with the MNLF on September 2, 1996 before “expediting” the CAB.

The President would have no one to blame but himself “if war erupted between the MNLF and the government,” he warned.

Clarete said Aquino, in signing the peace agreement with the MILF, leaves his successor the “burden of a war” that would fester for years.

The IPC president, who met with senior MNLF leaders in Mindanao last Monday, learned that the President had put aside ironing out 42 supposedly defective provisions of Republic Act 9054 and other clauses under Phase I and Phase II of the 1996 peace agreement in favor of signing the CAB.

“How can you have peace in the region [Mindanao] when a large force [MNLF] is [girding] for war… that would erupt soon because the Aquino government cannot totally implement the provisions of the 1996 peace accord?” Clarete said.

The IPC leader, who flew to the Philippines to observe the signing of the CAB, said he will make a critical report to the US government that would mention the supposed discontent of the MNLF under the Aquino administration.

The President trusted the MILF too much when the group’s leaders are “not capable of handling” the Bangsamoro homeland, according to Johnny Siao, chief of the MNLF’s National Border Command forces based in Mindanao.

Henry Dazo, a retired police superintendent, agreed, saying the MILF leadership lacks “experience and leadership.”

A newly created group called Southern Philippines Tri-People Indigenous Association, which is said to be composed of 10,000 members, also on Sunday said it was supporting the MNLF’s demand that the government fulfill first the terms of the 1996 peace agreement before implementing the peace deal with the MILF.

Hotbed of insurgency

 Still, Mindanao will remain a hotbed of insurgency even if CAB is implemented immediately, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

This is attributed by the military to the presence of the communist New People’s Army (NPA), the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group and other threat groups.

Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya also on Sunday disclosed that one-half of the total strength of the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), is concentrated in Mindanao.

The NPA, he said, is “strongest” in areas under the 4th Infantry Division and the 10th ID.

The 4th ID spokesman, Capt. Christian Uy, said their division has jurisdiction over the Northern Mindanao area, which includes the Caraga region, composed of the provinces of Agusan del Sur and Agusan del Norte, Dinagat Islands, Surigao City and Butuan City.

Also under the 4th ID are Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon and Camiguin in Region 10 with the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Gingoog, Malaybalay and Valencia.

First Lt. Ernesto Carolina, 10th ID spokesman, said under their area of responsibility are the southernmost parts of Agusan del Sur and Bukidnon, Compostela Valley, Sarangani, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental and the easternmost part of North Cotabato.

Madlos is one of the most senior communist leaders and one of the top contenders to replace Benito Tiamzon, allegedly the CPP chairman, who was recently arrested with his wife Wilma.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said the NPA is almost a spent force and would be “irrelevant” by 2016.

The military has claimed that 25 out of 81 provinces in the country are insurgency-free and that the NPA’s strength has dwindled to 4,043 from a peak of 24,430 fighters during the 1980s.

A lawmaker also warned that the establishment of the Bangsamoro homeland by 2015 would not immediately silence the guns in southern Philippines.

Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas also on Sunday said the CAB is just one step toward winning peace, noting that other security threats still exist in Mindanao.

But the people of the region, Trenas added, should not be discouraged if the law would not end the cycle of violence in a snap.

Meanwhile, he said, “Congress has more than enough time to pass the law before year-end.”

Trenas conceded that “influential groups and individuals who are against any power-sharing and wealth-sharing deal with a new Bangsamoro authority” would try to resist the implementation of the CAB.

The MILF has about 10,000 armed followers, according to the military, which makes it easily the biggest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines.

Having long fought for an independent homeland for the nation’s Muslim minority to be carved out of Mindanao, it split in the 1970s from the-then main rebel group, the MNLF.

The MNLF had agreed to autonomy but founding MILF leader Hashim Salamat was intent on fighting for independence.

The Bangsamoro refers to people who at the time of Spanish conquest and colonization were considered natives or original inhabitants of southern Philippines. Their descendants and spouses are recognized as Bangsamoro people.

Bangsa is a local word for nation. Moro derives from the term “Moors” used by Spanish colonialists to refer to Muslims.

Under the CAB, the MILF drops its claims for a separate state in Mindanao and settles for parliamentary self-rule in the Bangsamoro autonomous region. This region will be established by 2016.

The Bangsamoro will replace another Muslim autonomous region that was brokered in the 1990s with the MNLF, which the government says has failed.

Also under the CAB, the MILF will “gradually” decommission its forces and put the weapons “beyond use.” A local police force will assume law enforcement functions from the Philippine police and military but the Philippine government will retain exclusive powers on defense, foreign policy, currency and citizenship matters.

The autonomous government will receive 75 percent of all local taxes, fees and charges, 75 percent of revenues from metallic minerals and control of fishing areas up to 12 nautical miles from the coastline.

The region will not be an Islamic state, rather a secular government. Sharia law will apply only to Muslims and only for civil cases, not for criminal offenses. All residents are guaranteed basic rights to life, movement, privacy and freedom of religion and speech.

It will cover five provinces, plus two cities, six towns and 39 villages in the South, comprising about 10 percent of the Philippines’ total land area.

Aquino is to ask Congress to pass a “Bangsamoro Basic Law” for the autonomous region by the end of this year.

People living in areas to be included in the autonomous region will need to ratify the law in a plebiscite to be held in 2015.

After the basic law is approved and ratified by the plebiscite, a 15-member “Bangsamoro Transition Authority” will govern the region until a regional parliament is elected. The President will appoint members of the transitional authority, but the MILF will have a majority and the chairman.

A regional parliament, expected to have 50 seats, is to be elected in conjunction with the national elections in May 2016.

Luzon Army brass named

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 30): Luzon Army brass named

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III has finally signed the appointment of the generals who will command the two of the four army divisions in Luzon Island.

Maj. Gen. Benito De Leon, current commander of the Armed Forces Training and Doctrine Command based at Camp O’Donnell in Capaz, Tarlac,  was tasked to command the 5th Infantry Division based at Camp Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela.

De Leon, a classmate of AFP chief of staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, confirmed his appointment that took effect March 28, but he will assume his new post on April 4.

The other new commander is Brig. Gen. Glorioso Miranda who was ordered to take command of the 7th ID based at Fort Magsaysay in Palayan City, Nueva Ecija.

Miranda also confirmed his new appointment but he said the turnover of command has yet to be scheduled.

Miranda is currently camp commander of the AFP General Headquarters in Quezon City.

The 7ID was formerly headed by Army chief Maj. Gen. Hernando Iriberri while the 5ID was commanded by Maj. Gen. Joel Ybanez who has recently retired.

The commander of the 202nd Infantry Brigade, Brig. Gen. Ivan Samarita was designated new commander of TRADOC while Samarita will be replaced by Col. Rodel Alarcon, current Assistant Chief of Staff for Plans (G5) of the Army.

Miranda will be replaced by Col. Arthur Ang, current Assistant Commander of the 2ID while Col. Angelito de Leon will be the new commander of the AFP Command Center.

Aside from the 5 th ID and 7 th ID, the other army divisions based in Luzon are the Second, based in Tanay, Rizal, and the Ninth, based in Pili, Camarines Sur.

The appointment of the two new commanders were confirmed a day after the Philippines signed agreements to buy $528 million worth of military aircraft from South Korea and Canada.

“After more than four decades of stagnancy in its dream of improving its capability, our air force has found a promise of new life with the realization of our modernization program,” Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said on Friday.

Korea Aerospace Industries will deliver 12 FA-50 jets worth 18.9 billion pesos ($421.12 million) in just over three years under a contract agreed by Philippine defence officials and South Korean government representatives.

The Philippines also completed a P4.8 billion contract with Canadian Commercial Corp. and Canada’s Bell Helicopters to build eight helicopters for the military.

The twin deals are part of the Philippines’ P75 billion effort to upgrade its armed forces, particularly units tasked with patrolling disputed territory in the South China Sea.

‘MNLF ready, just in case’

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 30): ‘MNLF ready, just in case’

Members of the Moro National Liberation Front on Sunday began oiling their high-powered firearms “in case the need to use them arises”, a spokesman said two days after the signing of the comprehensive agreement on the Bangsamoro.

MNLF spokesman Absalom Cerveza said that   they did not expect any untoward incidents to erupt in Mindanao following the CAB signing, but they opted to “wait and see.”

Cerveza said the MNLF fighters “don’t want to be caught flat-footed.”

He said the peace deal could face rough sailing ahead before the formulation of the basic law creating the Bangsamoro entity, the law that would substitute the  1996 Final Peace Agreement between the government and the MNLF.

The government is confident of  attaining genuine peace in Mindanao as a result of the new peace accord with the MILF after decades-long conflict that left tens of thousands of Moros and government soldiers killed.

But Cerveza expressed pessimism on CAB, saying that the  “finish line is still far ahead,” referring to the complex problems the government and the MILF would be facing in the aftermath of the deal signing.

“The framework does not provide a package of peace but would only address the MILF and not the people of Mindanao,” Cerveza said.

“They have plans, but at the end it not complements the desire for peace because they are creating more confusion, complex problems than solution,” he stressed.

He said genuine peace could have been attained in Mindanao during the GRP-MNLF peace accord, but the government left it hanging.

Cerveza said the MNLF is not the only problem the government has to contend with, but it also has to reckon with the other rebel factions which could unite and forge a bigger alliance than the MILF.

Meanwhile, Cerveza noticed the sudden changing of military guards in Jolo, Sulu, the bailiwick of MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari, presently in hiding after the September Zamboanga City siege.

He said that the military could be up to something. “If their intention is to create war, war is an expensive exercise, but then we have no other options but to pay the price.”

NDF seeks gab revival; PNoy wants agenda first

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 31): NDF seeks gab revival; PNoy wants agenda first

THE communist National Democratic Front has signified its desire to resume informal talks with the government in May through third-party facilitator Norway, but the Aquino administration first wants to know the agenda that will be put on the table.

Government chief negotiator Alexander Padilla said Sunday no agreement had been reached as to when the informal talks would be held.

He said the NDF made its request after the arrest of Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma Austria, chairman and secretary-general, respectively, of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

“We want to know the agenda first,” Padilla said in a phone interview.

“Are they calling for the resumption of the talks so they can demand again the release of their leaders? For our part, we want a clear and time-bound agenda that includes a ceasefire mechanism.”

Padilla said the government was still waiting for feedback from Norway on the items to be discussed during the proposed informal meeting.

Since the Tiamzon couple were arrested, the CPP and the NDF had been giving mixed signals on the future of the peace talks, which have remained stalled since February 2011.

CPP founding chairman and NDF political consultant Jose Maria Sison has accused the government of killing the peace talks and hinted it would be best to wait for the next administration to resume the negotiations.

Padilla earlier told reporters that the government now preferred to negotiate with Philippine-based CPP leaders instead of the Utrecht-based NDF panel members such as Sison and chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni.

“There should be no pretensions anymore. We have been talking for so long with the NDF negotiators but they would say one thing and the CPP would say another,” Padilla said.

“In the end, it is always the CPP that has the last say, so we should just talk with the CPP directly.”

The CPP and the NDF have both invoked the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees in seeking the release of the Tiamzon couple and other detained rebel leaders.

But the government has stood firm that the Jasig has become inoperative, and that the safe- conduct pass does not extinguish standing arrest warrants.

The Tiamzon couple aside, the other high-ranking communist leaders who are detained are Tirso Alcantara, Alan Jazmines, Emeterio Antalan, Leopoldo Caloza, Pedro Codaste, Alfredo Mapano, Eduardo Sarmiento, Paterno Opo, Dario Tomada and Marilyn Badayos-Condes.

Meanwhile, following the successful signing of the Bangsamoro Peace Framework Agreement on Thursday, the Promotion of Church People’s Response has joined the call for the government and the National Democratic Front “to immediately resume the peace talks to address the roots of the armed conflict.”

“We further call to overcome obstacles that impede the desire of the people for a just and lasting peace,” group secretary-general Nardy Sabino said in a statement.

“We are urging both parties to seek ways to resolve the contentious issues based on their previously signed agreements.”

Sister Maureen Catabian, convenor for the group Pilgrims for Peace, said they wanted peace, harmony and prosperity in the country.

“It has been quite some time now, 45 years to be exact, that the armed conflict between the [government] and the CPP-NPA-NDFP has been going on with no let-up,” Catabian said.

“Hundreds if not thousands of people, combatants and non-combatants alike, have died, civilian communities have been displaced and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are rife.”

Rex Reyes Jr., general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, also urged the government and the communists to go back to the negotiating table.

“We say choose the way of peace,” Reyes said.

“The process and agenda have already been established since September 1, 1992, in what is now a foundational document on the peace talks, also called The Hague Agreement, and in other important agreements reached by both parties. These are outstanding documents.”

AFP joins CARHRIHL 16th anniversary

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 29): AFP joins CARHRIHL 16th anniversary

Officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in eastern Mindanao joined the commemoration of the 16th anniversary of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

The activity, dubbed multi-stakeholder summit, was spearheaded by a group called Bantay Bayanihan that was held at the Finister Hall of the Ateneo de Davao University here.

The summit was aimed to launch a massive awareness campaign for the constituents to fully understand the vital provisions of the CARHRIHL that was signed by the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front (NDF).

The AFP officials who joined the summit include Eastern Mindanao Command commander Lt. General Rainier Cruz III, AFP spokesperson Major General Domingo Tutaan, AFP Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Lysander Suerte and 10tInfantry Division commander Major General Ariel Bernardo.

The summit was also attended by more than 300 stakeholders from at least 150 different civil society organizations and top government officials in Davao region, among them was Davao del Sur Governor Claude Bautista.

Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines (PCBL) national governor Alfred Lubang was also present during the summit.

Ateneo de Davao president Fr. Joel Tabora welcomed the attendees of the summit and stressed the importance for both the AFP and the NPA’s (New People’s Army) to protect the lives of innocent civilians as guaranteed under the CARHRIHL.

A presentation on the historical account of the signing was also presented while GPH Peace Panel member Ednar Dayanghirang gave some insights on the vital provisions of the agreement.

Stakeholders who joined the gathering aired their concerns.

‘Dangerous stage of confrontation’ seen after filing of Memorial

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 31): ‘Dangerous stage of confrontation’ seen after filing of Memorial

The Philippines must be prepared for potential economic sanctions and other forms of diplomatic reprisals by China with the March 30 filing of its Memorial challenging before the United Nations the claims of the Chinese over the West Philippine Sea.

“Our decision to move ahead despite Chinese protestation and their alleged offer of ‘carrots’ — disengagement from certain occupied features and not imposing an ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) in the West Philippine Sea — means that we may enter a dangerous stage of confrontation,” Prof. Richard Heydarian of the Ateneo Center for Asian Studies told the Manila Bulletin yesterday.

According to Heydarian, much will depend on how the Philippines translate its legal battle into “a springboard to politically pressure China” to uphold its commitment to the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), and the Declaration of a Code of Conduct in South China Sea (DOC) under the auspices of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“Military support from external partners such as the US will also be crucial in preventing a limited potential warfare with China over disputed maritime features,” he said.

However, Heydarian stressed that although the filing of the Memorial risks permanent estrangement with China, “it also holds the potential to rally the region especially like-minded countries like Vietnam and Japan, and the broader international community behind the Philippines, and in this way pressure Beijing to explore a diplomatic compromise with the Philippines in the future.”

The same line was echoed by University of the Philippines Institute of Marine Affairs Prof. Jay Batongbacal who declared that in terms of the arbitration, “filing the Memorial does seem to indicate that the Philippines has locked its course towards whatever will be the outcome.”

“There have been cases where the parties amicably settled their dispute before judgment on the merits, but in those cases the parties maintained cordial relations despite the case,” said Batongbacal. “In this instance, Philippine-China relations obviously have already deteriorated even way before the filing of the Memorial.”

“There seems to be very little opening, if any, for the two sides to each an amicable settlement given their public and diplomatic positions,” he added.

Former Philippine ambassador to the United Nations Lauro Baja, however, was more optimistic with his take on the filing of the memorial.

“Relations between states should never reach the point of no return,” the seasoned Filipino diplomat who helped negotiate the Conduct of Parties in South China Sea said. “Diplomacy never ends.”

“The challenge is to open and or keep lines of communication open especially between the leadership of both countries.”

CPP/Sine Proletaryo: Video -- Ka Simon Santiago for 45th NPA anniversary

Sine Proletaryo video posted to the CPP Website (Mar 29): Video: Ka Simon Santiago for 45th NPA anniversary


Message on the 45th founding anniversary of the New People's Army

Comrade Simon Santiago,
Regional Political Department,
NPA-Southern Mindanao Region

Let us salute and honor the martyrs who gave up their lives, and gave their time to serve the poor and liberate them from oppression and exploitation.

The New People's Army has proven and determinedly raised its capability to perform its tasks as a fighting army, an organizing army, an army for propaganda, cultural work and production.

Hagel to Address Island Disputes on Pacific Trip

From (Mar 28): Hagel to Address Island Disputes on Pacific Trip

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will return to the Pacific next week for his fourth trip to the region with plans to address the growing tensions between China and its neighbors over the Spratly Islands.

The Spratly Islands are just one of many Pacific island disputes over natural resources that played a part in the overall U.S. defense strategy that pivots U.S. military resources from the Middle East to the Pacific.

Hagel will meet with defense leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, in Honolulu at the beginning of a longer trip through the Pacific region including stops in Japan, Mongolia and China, Pentagon officials said.

Discussions with ASEAN leaders are expected to focus on regional alliances and methods for resolving territorial disputes by addressing China's long-standing claim to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, Pentagon officials added.

"China has been more assertive on their maritime claims in recent years. This involves increased naval patrols through zones or areas claimed by other countries," a senior Pentagon official said.

The Spratly Islands includes an area of more than 750 reefs, small islands and atolls in the South China Sea off the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam. Highly disputed for centuries, the area is rich in oil and natural gas. The Chinese estimate there to be 213 billion barrels of oil around the Spratly Islands.

Countries claiming rights to territory in the Spratly Islands include China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, and Brunei.

China appears to claim most, if not all of the South China Sea, through its so-called nine-dash line, which vaguely asserts control, access and sovereignty over 1.4 million square miles of islands, Pentagon officials said.

Although U.S. officials say China has not clearly articulated what it means, the nine-dash line can be traced back to China's ruling party from 1928 to 1949, the Koumintang. The Koumintang retreated to Taiwan in 1949 when the Communist Party of China took over following civil war in the country, however the concept of the nine-dash line has endured.

The U.S. has officially gone on record saying that the People's Republic of China's nine-dash line is not in accordance with existing international law.

In February, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Danny Russel testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs stating that "under international law, maritime claims in the South China Sea must be derived from land features."

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

He also indicated that the U.S. would welcome an opportunity to hear China clarify its nine-dash line claim and bring it in accordance with the international law of the sea.

At stake are the vast troves of oil and natural gas reserves in and around the Spratly Islands. The manner in which the U.S. and ASEAN deals with the Spratly Islands could also set a precedent for the other disputed island chains involving China to include the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

China has already shown that it will wield the might of its military to protect the country's claims to these islands. The Chinese launched a military faceoff in 2012 with the Japanese when it sent Chinese navy ships to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands that are claimed by both countries.

Like the Spratly Islands, the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands are valued for their wealth of oil reserves believed to be around the islands. Defense analysts worry the Chinese could set off a string of military engagements in the region should the Chinese navy try to enforce their rule over these islands.

The disputes over these island chains address debates over the laws of the sea -- a contentious topic itself -- and what laws should be recognized.

The U.S. has still not formally joined the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention, however Pentagon officials say the U.S. recognizes and abides by its provisions. Several efforts over the years to officially ratify the convention have stalled in Congress, Pentagon officials said.

Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, there are no provisions granting rights to waters without regard to land-based sovereign rights. The U.N. treaty specifies that territorial waters extend for 12 miles off of the coast of sovereign territory, a Pentagon official explained.

The U.N. treaty also specifies that up to 200 miles off the coast of a country is considered part of an economic exclusive zone. This means the host country has exclusive first rights to resources and any economic related activities.

"Countries can't do things that threaten the resources but other than that it is high seas freedoms. China conducted military exercises within the U.S. [economic exclusive zone] around Guam," a Pentagon official said.

Interagency investigation team probing Matanao raid

From the Sun Star-Davao (Mar 29): Interagency investigation team probing Matanao raid

AN INTERAGENCY investigation team is conducting a probe into the raid perpetrated by New People's Army (NPA) rebels at the Matanao Municipal Police Station in Davao del Sur last March 10, a top official of the Regional Prosecution Office said.

Regional State Prosecutor lawyer Antonio Arellano, in an interview with Sun.Star Davao, said an interagency investigation team composed of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are conducting a probe into the incident.

The investigation came after the case filed against the nine suspected NPA members arrested after the encounter was dismissed.

The respondents were identified as Johnrey Moher, Jolito Sales, Rofo B Nabundasan, Roger Natunton, Christopher Sales, Joey Alberca, Noel Alba, Lodemer Gama Bagumbayan, and Reynante Orot Paradise.

"We already have a team conducting an investigation not only on the attack of the NPA but also to the arrest of the nine suspects. The team will be investigating on all angles of the incident to determine whether there are human rights violations committed by either our state officials or civilians," Arellano said.

The regional state prosecutor said the formation of the interagency investigating body is by virtue of Administrative Order (AO) 35 penned by President Benigno Aquino III on November 22, 2012, in relation to the DOJ Department Order 726.

DOJ leads the investigation team composed of representatives from the PNP, AFP, Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC), Department of Interior Local Government (DILG), Department of National Defense (DND), Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp), Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs (Papa), and National Bureau of Investigation.

The AO teams, as Arellano called them, are responsible for collecting evidence for case buildup against human rights violators on the side of the state, communist and the civil society in general.

Arellano, who read part of the AO 35, said: "There have been reported and validated violations of the above-declared rights of the individual throughout the years, which have served to create an impression of a culture of impunity, wherein security establishments of the State and non-state forces have been accused of silencing, through violence and intimidation, legitimate dissent and opposition raised by members of the civil society, cause-oriented groups, political movements, people's and nor-government organizations, and by ordinary citizens."

He also noted that in Davao Region, 17 prosecutors are part of the AO teams, and the Matanao raid is the first case being investigated in the region.

NPA patay sa Cagayan encounter

From Bombo Radyo News (Mar 29): NPA patay sa Cagayan encounter

Patay ang isang hinihinalang miyembro ng New People's Army (NPA) matapos makaenkwentro ang tropa ng militar sa bayan ng Rizal Cagayan.
Kinilala ang nasawi  na si Ronald Beran, 42,  residente ng Brgy. Masi sa nasabi ring bayan.
Nakaengkwentro ng 5th ID Philippine Army sa pangunguna ni 2nd Lt. Lyndolph Ranola ang 10 hinihinalang kaanib ng  makakaliwang pangkat sa naturang Brgy. habang sila ay nagpapatrolya.
Nauna umanong nagpaputok ang mga rebelde kung kayat gumanti ang mga sundalo na nagresulta sa pagkamatay ni Beran.
Wala naman nasugatan o namatay sa panig ng militar.

20 'NPA guerrillas' forcibly enter ex-barangay chairman's house in Isabela — report

From GMA News (Mar 30): 20 'NPA guerrillas' forcibly enter ex-barangay chairman's house in Isabela — report

At least 20 suspected communist New People's Army rebels forced their way into the house of a former barangay chief in Isabela province, a radio report said Sunday.

The armed men entered the house of Reynaldo Edrada in Barangay San Antonio in Ilagan City, according to a report on Bombo Radyo.

However, they failed to find their target. The report said no one was reported hurt in the incident.

Citing initial information, the report said the men had cal-.45 pistols and were believed to be under the NPA's Reynaldo Pinion Command.

While the armed men failed to find Edrada, they left a letter accusing the Edrad of abusing his power and harassing farmers.

NPA guerrillas mainly concentrated in north-eastern, southern Mindanao — AFP

From GMA News (Mar 29): NPA guerrillas mainly concentrated in north-eastern, southern Mindanao — AFP

The New People's Army forces are now mainly concentrated in some areas in Mindanao and have resorted to banditry, an official of the Armed Forces of the Philippines said Saturday during the 45th founding anniversary of the NPA.

AFP spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala also told GMA News Online "[the communist rebels] have lost their ideological mooring and now engaged in extortion [activities]."

With around 4,000 fighters in the whole country, they are now mostly concentrated in north-eastern and southern Mindanao, he said.

When asked if the communist insurgency is still a long-term threat, he said: "They are more of a criminal group now."

Earlier reports indicated the NPA guerrillas have been doing extortion activities targeting politicians, especially during election season.

They also collect "revolutionary taxes" from construction companies and other businesses operating in the countryside.

21-gun salute

In an earlier report, the Communist Party of the Philippines said they will mark NPA's 45th anniversary with a 21-gun salute in their respective "territories."

It said the 21-gun salute is for "the heroes of the New People’s Army and the people’s democratic revolution."

"At high noon, prior to the general public singing of the Internationale (the communist anthem), NPA commands and people’s militia units in formation will give a 21-gun salute. Depending on prevailing military and security conditions, different NPA commands and people’s militias can modify this plan by either extending, abbreviating or rendering an alternative gun salute," the CPP said in a statement.

It added all NPA commands will parade the flags of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the NPA, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the People’s Democratic Government.

The CPP lauded the "eminent proletarian revolutionaries" who it said continue to help lead and guide the revolution as it sets its sights on the "next higher phase of the people’s war."

It said the 45th anniversary of the NPA should "celebrate the people’s victories in waging revolutionary armed struggle, carrying out agrarian revolution to smash land monopolies and improve the conditions of the peasant masses and building the organs of the people’s democratic government from the ground up."

Potent force

In January, a report on the Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan as saying the longest-running communist insurgency in Asia remains the “most potent internal security challenge.”

Tutaan said this at a command conference to assess the military's performance last in 2013.

The conference is a regular venue where senior military officers discuss the AFP’s gains in its internal peace and security operations.

RPM-P optimistic on peace pact

From the Visayan Daily Star (Mar 29): RPM-P optimistic on peace pact

The Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa-Pilipinas/Revolutionary Proletarian Army/Alex Boncayao Brigade has more reason to believe in the sincerity and commitment of the Aquino administration to also sign a closure agreement with them, after inking a final peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, RPM-P chairperson Veronica Tabara said yesterday.

On Thursday afternoon, President Benigno Aquino III led the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) with the MILF at the Kalayaan grounds of Malacañang.

Tabara said she is optimistic that the signing of their own closure agreement with the government will follow soon.

“It will follow the government-MILF signing. We will have an agreed date with the government that will be announced by our information arm that is with OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process)", Tabara told the DAILY STAR.

"We have more reason to believe in the sincerity and commitment of the Aquino administration to sign the closure agreement with the RPMP/RPA/ABB after it signed the final peace agreement with the MILF, through the CAB, " she said.

“In fact, we have been continuously undertaking joint activities that are preparatory to the implementation of the provisions of the closure agreement document, on which we already have a consensus, but it still has to be finalized and signed,” Tabara said.


It is with high hopes for a bright path of reconciliation and collaboration between the government and the MILF for the interest of peace, justice and progress of the Muslim people, and the broad masses in Mindanao, that the RPMP/RPA/ABB salutes the signing of their peace
agreement Thursday, Tabara said.

The commitment that the government and the MILF forged in this agreement to end armed hostilities and undertake measures under mutually agreed terms to address the legitimate issues and demands of the Bangsamoro, manifest their genuine and shared interest to uphold and work for the interest of the people, she noted.

"We extend our highest commendation to the leadership of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, and the leaders of the MILF on this achievement," Tabara said.

This signing heralds a historic step that will undertake the immense task of healing wounds of a decades-long armed conflict rooted in the centuries-old social injustice wrought by colonization on the early peoples of our country, that still resonates and affects Mindanao and the whole Philippines, she also said.

Child warriors among NPA surrenderees

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 30): Child warriors among NPA surrenderees

Thirteen of the 72 New People’s Army (NPA) rebels who surrendered to the military in Cagayan de Oro City were children, while a number of them were minors when they joined the insurgency, the military said, adding that this showed the communists were fielding child soldiers in its war to establish a Maoist government in the Philippines.

Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, who flew in for the surrender ceremony Friday, said the recruitment of child warriors was a violation of the rules of war, and was clearly prohibited under the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

The event was held a day before the NPA celebrated its 45th anniversary and barely a week after the capture of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ Top 2 leaders, Benito and Wilma Tiamzon.

‘Militia ng Bayan’

According to the military, most of those who surrendered were regular NPA members while the others belonged to the so-called Militia ng Bayan operating in the hinterlands of Caraga and Northern Mindanao regions.

Forty-eight of them were from Bukidnon, 18 from Agusan del Sur, three from Surigao del Sur, one from Agusan del Norte and two from Misamis Oriental.

“Thirteen of those who surrendered were minors and most of them were from the indigenous communities in the hinterlands of Bukidnon, Agusan and Surigao in the Caraga region,” Bautista said.

Among those who were minors when they joined the NPA was Ronjie Salintao.  He said he was only 14 when he joined the rebel army in his hometown of Loreto, Agusan del Sur, four years ago.

Another child warrior, Jong Manlantagan, said he was also 14 when he joined the NPA in San Fernando,  Bukidnon, a known NPA lair.

“(We) do not see any government (presence) in the hinterlands and there are no services there,” he told reporters.
Manlatagan, a Manobo, said he grew tired of being with the rebels and decided to surrender.

No to child soldiers

Bautista said the NPA should stop using children as warriors. “These are just 13 child warriors who, after years of being with the NPA, decided to lay down their arms and try to live a normal life. There could be more (child warriors) out there in the mountains,” Bautista said.

The returnees received compensation for the guns they yielded. In addition to financial assistance, the rebel returnees will also be placed in the Social Integration and Livelihood Program, under which they will be given farms to tend.

AFP ready to face members of BIFF, but asks them to join peace process

From GMA News (Mar 30): AFP ready to face members of BIFF, but asks them to join peace process

The Armed Forces of the Philippines is prepared deal with Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) if the breakaway group pushes through with its violent threats, said a military spokesperson on Sunday.

However, AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the group, which broke off from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2008, may join the process of creating their dream state, if its members choose to abandon their arms.

He was referring to the Bangsamoro Political Entity that would soon replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao as a result of the newly-signed comprehensive peace pact.

In a text message to GMA News Online, Zagala also hinted that the BIFF cannot push through with their threats of armed struggle against the current peace process.

"Currently, the BIFF is scattered and has very limited capabilities to stage significant offensives that could spoil the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro)."

But given the BIFF's unpreparedness, Zagala said,  the AFP will remain vigilant to "prevent (the group) from doing such acts."

Also, he said clearing operations against the rebel group continue after the destruction of BIFF's camps.

BIFF's threats came a day after CAB was signed by the government and the MILF.

DND looking at improved and enhanced versions of HAWK surface-to-air missiles

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): DND looking at improved and enhanced versions of HAWK surface-to-air missiles

The Department of National Defense (DND) is looking at the possibility of acquiring improved and enhanced versions of the Raytheon MIM-23 HAWK (Homing All the Way Killer) surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).

The HAWK is a US medium range SAM.

The DND stated that acquisition of this weapon aims to protect the country from air threats its shore-to-ship missile (SSM) launchers which it is planning to acquire for the Philippine Army at P6.5 billion.

The SSM project consists of 12 launchers, trailers and tracking systems and missiles that could be fired to hit naval or sea targets.

It will be carried out through “limited source bidding", a process where certain companies are invited to submit bids for the program.

The HAWK is capable of intercepting and destroying any hostile aircraft, drone, or rocket that may be sent to incapacitate or disabled the Army's SSM system.

It was initially designed to destroy aircraft and was later adapted to destroy other missiles in flight.

The missile entered service in 1960, and a program of extensive upgrades has kept it from becoming obsolete.

Israel, one of the operators of the HAWK missile, have upgraded the Phase 2 standard with the addition of a Super Eye electro-optical TV system for detection of aircraft at 30 to 40 kilometers and identification at 17 to 25 kilometers.

They have also modified their system for engagements at altitudes up to 24,000 meters.

PHL files ‘memorial’ vs China before int’l court

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): PHL files ‘memorial’ vs China before int’l court

The Philippines’ arbitration case against China took another leap forward after Manila submitted a crucial document containing volumes of evidence and maps seeking to nullify Beijing’s sweeping claim over the resource-rich South China Sea.

Manila said the document, called the “memorial,” was transmitted electronically to the The Hague-based tribunal, where a five-man panel will review and hear the Philippine complaint, which was first initiated in January 2013.

“Today, the Philippines submitted its memorial to the arbitral tribunal that is hearing the case it brought against the People’s Republic of China under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told a press conference.

The memorial will determine if the tribunal has jurisdiction over the Philippine case or if the complaint has legal basis. The hard copy of the document will be forwarded to the tribunal on Monday.

“With firm conviction, the ultimate purpose of our memorial is our national interest,” Del Rosario said, adding “it is about defending what is legitimately ours, securing our children’s future, guaranteeing freedom of navigation for all nations and helping preserve regional peace, security and stability.”

“It is about seeking not just any kind of resolution but a just and durable solution grounded on international law,” Del Rosario said.

Philippine officials declined to discuss details of the memorial nor provide a copy pending a review by the tribunal.

Del Rosario said the memorial contains “ten volumes with maps,” has “nearly 4,000 pages,” and will strengthen the Philippines’ case.

“(It) contains the Philippine analysis of the applicable law and the relevant evidence, and demonstrates that the arbitral tribunal has jurisdiction over all the claims made by the Philippines,” he said.

Del Rosario stressed that “every claim is meritorious.”“It sets out the specific relief sought by the Philippines in regard to each of its claims, and shows why it is entitled to such relief.”

Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza said the incidents of harassment in Ayungin Shoal, a feature off Manila’s western coast facing the South China Sea, was included in the Philippine case.

“The Philippines amended its statement of claim including Ayungin as part of the arbitration,” Jardeleza said.Tensions over Ayungin Shoal - called Ren’ai Reef by China and known internationally as Second Thomas Shoal – ratcheted three weeks ago when Chinese government ships prevented two Philippine civilian vessels which was sailing toward the disputed rocky outcrop.

Another incident of harassment occurred over the weekend, according to the Philippine military, when its naval vessels transporting food, supplies and fresh Filipino troops to a grounded Philippine Navy ship manned by about a dozen Marines were blocked anew by Chinese Coast Guard ships.

The decaying Filipino vessel served as a military outpost and a symbol of Philippine sovereignty in the offshore territory.

Del Rosario said it is not known if China will file a counter-memorial, which is the usual practice in arbitration. Beijing has declared that it does not recognize the process.

The arbitral panel will decide on its next course of action upon receipt of the Philippine memorial.China insists indisputable sovereignty over the waters, citing history and ancient maps as the basis of its sprawling claim.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to the South China Sea, of which some parts included in Manila’s territory have been re-named West Philippine Sea.

Ayungin Shoal resupply mission an assertion of PHL sovereignty

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): Ayungin Shoal resupply mission an assertion of PHL sovereignty

The successful mission to resupply and rotate the Marine contingent standing watch over Ayungin Shoal is an assertion of Philippine claim and sovereignty to the area.

This was revealed by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Major Gen. Domingo Tutaan, Jr,.

"It's an assertion of our claim to that territory and the mission to resupply the troops in the area," he added.

This, despite efforts of the Chinese Coast Guard to block the resupply mission, he said.

The Philippine civilian ship was able to evade Chinese Coast Guard vessels by maneuvering in the shallow part of Ayungin Shoal.

The Marine unit was based at the BRP Sierra Madre (LT-57), an old Navy landing ship, placed near Ayungin Shoal to shelter Filipino forces in the area.

"At about 3 p.m. Saturday, the AFP on board a civilian vessel was able to resupply/reprovision and rotate troops aboard BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal," AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala earlier said.

The ship was carrying rice, water, and canned goods which were immediately transferred to the BRP Sierra Madre.

Zagala did not comment on reports that two Chinese Coast Guard ships tried to prevent the Filipino ship from entering the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal.

An earlier attempt was blocked by Chinese law enforcement vessels sometime this month.