Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Southeast Asian recruits join jihadist ISIS

From Rappler (Jun 18): Southeast Asian recruits join jihadist ISIS

A little more than a week after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) began its march to capture Iraq’s capital, the UN warned Iraq’s crisis is "life-threatening."

This is only the latest flashpoint in a long-evolving, global threat exposed by the 9/11 attacks.

ISIS is the latest reincarnation of fighters from at least 2 al-Qaeda-linked groups that had become so brutal that, at one point, al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri distanced al-Qaeda from them.

The group traces its roots to al-Qaeda in Iraq, led by the ruthless Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who tried to ignite a sectarian war between Sunni and Shiite – and nearly succeeded.

The pullout of US troops in 2011 in Iraq, as well as the power vacuum in Syria, created conditions that one US official called “the Super Bowl of jihad.”

More than 12,000 Muslim extremists have travelled to Syria to fight in just 3 years, according to a report by the Soufan Group, a private security company.

That’s more than the 10,000 estimated to have fought in Afghanistan in the late 80s, the conflict that spawned al-Qaeda.

“That’s why so much of the world is today focused on Iraq,” said US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg, who for 3 years, was Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. “And why this has been a very troubling moment as ISIS, which went up into Syria to fight jihad there, are returning to Iraq to their roots with many foreign fighters in tow – including those who may be there from East Asia or other places in the world, including the United States," he told Rappler in an interview on Tuesday, June 17.

The FBI estimated last May that about 70 fighters from the US travelled to fight in Syria, including the first known American suicide bomber from Florida.

Intelligence sources disclosed that about 200 Australians, 50 Indonesians and about 20 Malaysians have gone to fight the jihad in Syria. Singapore said it’s investigating one Singaporean, while a Filipino intelligence source said at least one Filipino linked to Abu Sayyaf has gone to Syria.

Social media targets Indonesia

On June 9, the day ISIS began its march to capture Baghdad, a video of Indonesian men in Syria was posted on YouTube.

In a little more than 11 minutes, hooded men holding their Kalashnikovs, speak in Bahasa Indonesia with snippets of Arabic. They urge their countrymen to join ISIS: “Let us fight in the path of Allah because it is our duty to do jihad in the path of Allah.”

Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population, was the base of Jemaah Islamiyah or JI, once al-Qaeda’s arm in Southeast Asia. Indonesia felt the impact of Afghanistan in annual terrorist attacks from 2002-2005. Most of the 2002 Bali bombers, Asia’s 9/11, were Afghan veterans.

"They work underground even though we hit them hard," Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told me. "They have the capability to consolidate, to reorganize, and try to find the opportunity to strike us again. There are many smaller organizations. There are many branches that developed, but actually the mainstream remains. Al-Qaeda is the big brother," Yudhoyono added.

The fear now is that Syria is functioning much like Afghanistan did in the late 80s.

Goldberg explained: “It’s a situation where Syria became a central focal point for these groups and for international jihadists. People just want to get to a fight – some of them not even understanding exactly what it is.”

That includes Southeast Asia and Australia, the countries where cells of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) were discovered after 9/11.

Philippines and involvement of Malaysians

On Friday, June 13, Malaysian police arrested 3 Malaysians, including a Royal Malaysian Navy officer, in an operation led by its Special Branch Counter-Terrorism Division in Sandakan on the east coast of Sabah.

Police said they were members of a group linked to ISIS in Iraq and the Abu Sayyaf, a notorious group in the southern Philippines that has swung back and forth from its al-Qaeda roots to crime.

Malaysian authorities said they have arrested 15 other members of the same group since April 28.

The men, according to a Special Branch source, were planning to fight in Syria and then “launch suicide bombings in Iraq.”

They allegedly trained in the southern Philippines, where Southeast Asia's most wanted, JI leaders Malaysian Marwan and Singaporean Muawiyah, have found shelter and continue to train fighters.

Intelligence sources in the Philippines told Rappler that may well be true. Although curtailed significantly in the past decade and dampened by a signed peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, once JI's main partner in the Philippines, training still continues.

The more extremist BIFF, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), continues to train and shelter members of JI, a charge the group denies.

Last week, the Philippine military and police wounded bomb-maker Abdul Basit Usman, a main link between JI and the Abu Sayyaf. He carries a $1 million reward for his capture under the US Rewards for Justice program.

Ground commander Lt. Col. Donald Hongitan said troops located a JI explosives manufacturing facility.

“During the raid Usman was there. He was wounded as per report from our operating troops in the field,” he said, adding that “This proves BIFF is not only coddling Jemaah Islamiyah but it seems they have strong ties.”

Although rarely publicly acknowledged, that has never been disputed. The ties are traced and documented in my book, "From Bin Laden to Facebook."

On Saturday, June 14, The Star of Malaysia reported 27 year old Ahmad Tarmimi Maliki became “Malaysia’s first suicide bomber,” driving a military SUV full of tons of explosives into SWAT headquarters in al-Anbar on May 26. He killed 25 elite Iraq soldiers shortly before an ISIS attack.

On Sunday, June 15, members of Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) marched around and disrupted street musicians in the Indonesian city of Solo, waving ISIS flags and proudly displaying ISIS symbols.

New generation of terrorists

“JAT is the new camouflage of JI,” Ansyaad Mbai, the chief of Indonesia’s National Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT) told me. “It has the same leader, Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, and most of the key figures of JAT are also JI so I call this the new jacket of JI.”

Like al-Qaeda, JI’s top and middle leadership has been degraded – arrested or killed by law enforcement. The cells, however, remained and have mutated.

The first Indonesian jihadist to die in Syria, for example, went to school in the notorious Pondok Ngruki, founded by JI (now JAT) leader Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the school of many of the Bali 2002 bombers.

At least 16 out of 26 of the 2002 Bali bombers either attended or were associated with one of three JI-linked schools: Al-Mukmin in Pondok Ngruki, Lukmanul Hakim in Malaysia, and Al-Islam in East Java. Association with Lukmanul Hakim "increases the probability by more than 23% that a jihadi will play a major role in an attack."

The names may change, but the social networks and virulent ideology remain the same.

The fear is that fighters from Syria – like the Bali bombers – will return home and carry out attacks using tactics they honed in battle. So far, there's only been one known instance of this happening: 3 weeks ago, a French-Algerian who had fought a year with ISIS in Syria was arrested for a deadly attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels.

"We were very concerned when we saw a video of an American who ended up in Syria and was involved in a suicide bombing," said Goldberg. "These are issues of concern because the same people who go in, if they're from European or American background can travel more easily if they're not identified or known. So this has stirred quite a bit of concern in all corners, not just in Washington but around the world."

If history repeats itself, according to the Soufan report, then “the Syrian war is likely to be an incubator for a new generation of terrorists.”

PH mum on turnover of wanted terrorist

From ABS-CBN (Jun 18): PH mum on turnover of wanted terrorist

A Palace spokesman on Wednesday remained mum on whether or not Abu Sayyaf terrorist Khair Mundos will be turned over to the United States following his capture.

"Doon sa aspeto na kung siya ay iti-turn over, wala tayong impormasyon hinggil diyan. We have to find out kung ano 'yung mga accountabilities niya sa batas at kung anong sangay ng pamahalaan natin ang mayroong hurisdiksyon hinggil diyan," Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said.

He gave assurance that the government is always keeping an eye out for possible terror attacks.

Philippine authorities earlier announced the capture of Khair Mundos, one of the Abu Sayyaf's top leaders, in Manila last week after a manhunt lasting seven years.

The US State Department's "Rewards for Justice" website describes him as a "key leader and financier" of the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic militant group blamed for the worst extremist attacks in the Philippines.

The group, founded with seed money from Al-Qaeda, is believed to have only a few hundred militants but has successfully carried out deadly bomb attacks and kidnappings, often targeting foreigners and Christians.

Mundos had been captured in 2004 in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao, a largely lawless area roughly 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from Manila where the Abu Sayyaf is based.

He was arrested "on the first-ever money laundering charges against terrorists", according to the "Rewards for Justice" website.

It said Mundos confessed in custody to having arranged the transfer of Al-Qaeda funds to the Abu Sayyaf's top leader for bombings and other criminal acts throughout Mindanao.

He was also charged in the Philippines with multiple murder charges.
However Mundos was among dozens of militants who escaped from Kidapawan City prison in Mindanao in February 2007, as part of a well-planned break.

Muslim insurgents using grenade launchers blasted their way into the jail before dawn, then pinned down a handful of guards with rifle fire while Mundos and the others fled.

MILF: Mindanao Peoples’ Peace Movement clarifies stand on GPH-MILF Peace Process

Posted to the MILF Website (Jun 19): Mindanao Peoples’ Peace Movement clarifies stand on GPH-MILF Peace Process

The Mindanao Peoples’ Peace Movement [MPPM] called to a special meeting members of its executive committee representing the Moros, Indigenous Peoples (IP’s) and the Mindanao Migrants on June 13-15, 2014 at the Global House, Faculty Ville, Midsayap, Cotabato.
One of the very crucial issue tackled in the meeting was the MPPM position/stand on the GPH-MILF Peace Process. After a lengthy deliberation the participants came up with a decision to throw their support to the peace process and its outcomes; the FAB, its four annexes, the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) and the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).

Professor Rodelio N. Ambangan, Chairman of the MPPM in his statement categorically expressed MPPM’s support to the aspiration of the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao for a strong and expanded autonomy. He added that MPPM wants to clarify issues pertaining to the marginalized peoples particularly the IP’s in the agreements or in the draft basic law.

The BBL is currently under review by the legal team of the Office of the President and shall be submitted to Congress in July 28, 2014 when the two chambers resume its regular session, according to statements issued by Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa and BTC Chair Mohagher Iqbal recently.  The basic law contains provisions with regards to the IP’s ancestral domain, tribal pratices/laws and given the choice to choose their identity.

MPPM is a coalition of peace and human rights organizations that commits to work for a just-peace in Mindanao, Sulu, Basilan, Palawan and Tawi-Tawi (MinSuBaTaPa). MPPM called on all people in Mindanao to support the proposed Bangsamoro Government as it believes that just, lasting and sustainable peace is in the offing.’-peace-movement-clarifies-stand-on-gph-milf-peace-process

CPP/NDF: Installation of Stephen Paduano of Abang Lingkod, a political accommodation of the US-Aquino Regime 2

NDF propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Jun 17): Installation of Stephen Paduano of Abang Lingkod, a political accommodation of the US-Aquino Regime 2

Frank Fernandez
NDFP Negros Island Chapter
Being a docile puppet of the fascist reactionary state and the exploiting classes of comprador bourgeoisie-landlords in the Philippines, Stephen Paduano a.k.a. Carapali Lualhati a former National Commander of the bandit Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA) was installed as a representative of the bogus Abang Lingkod Partylist. He and his bandit group of RPA dutifully implement anti-people, anti-revolutionary movement programs and schemes of the reactionary state, like the P-noy’s Public-Private Partnership and the Negros First Agenda of Gov. Alfredo Marañon, Jr. and the O’Plan Bayanihan of the mercenary Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Aside from Paduano’s direct crime of factionalism against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New Peoples’ Army (NPA), he committed felonious acts against the people.

Carapali or Stephen Paduano as the former RPA Commander, is responsible and is accountable in the series of killings of the peasant leaders, Edwin Bargamento, Pedro Trabajador, Manuel and others in the Island of Negros.

 Leaders and members of the RPA such as Marvin Salve, Rustom Poro, Vincent Capunong and others are alleged to be involved in the murder-slay of Judge Henry Arles. In Panay, they too are responsible in killing Romeo Capalla and just recently, Dionisio Garete, a farmer from the town of Janiuay.

They too are part of the much dreaded “Death Squad” of the Phil. Army believed to be responsible for the abduction of Perseus Geagoni, Felicidad Katalbas, Roberto Marapo, Jr. and Amir Borris.

Aside from these cases, Stephen Paduano and his group acting as hired goons of Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Jr., Alfredo Marañon, Jr, Ballesteros, Bernard Trebol, Fuentespina and others, are responsible in harassing and evicting the peasants and farmer beneficiaries (of CARP) from the lands they till. They are ruthless instruments in the land reconcentration scheme of the ruling classes and the state.

These are just a few of the cases filed before the People’s Revolutionary Court against the RPA and Stephen Paduano. And a few years ago, in their quest for justice, the victims and family of the victims, submitted these cases for investigation before the Congress.

However, as if to add insult to injury, Stephen Paduano was installed as representative of the bogus Abang Lingkod Partylist!

The reactionary Commission on Election (COMELEC) and the Supreme Court utterly neglected the valid reasons and evidence of the petitioners proving that the Abang Lingkod is a bogus Partylist and is not representing any marginalized sector, but is just a sheer creation of the bandits reactionary benefactors and coddlers, Congressman Albee Benitez and Gov. Alfredo Marañon, Jr. Aside from this, the COMELEC and the PNP are playing blind over RPA’s threats, forcing the peasant voters to vote for their bandit leader.

The truth is, this is a political accommodation by the US-Aquino regime of the parties and individuals, to ensure the implementation of the regime’s anti-people, anti-movement programs, as well as part of its power strengthening. As revisionist traitors, they are instruments in the imperialist and bureaucrat capitalists’ ideological offensive. They are part of the reactionary machinery declaring that socialism and communism are dead advocacies, saying that imperialist globalization is the natural world destiny. That socialism is a passe’!

This is not true, because more and more countries are now resisting imperialism and they embrace and advance the new democratic revolution and aim for socialism!

The reactionary big comprador bourgeoisie and landlords are happy that another rogue bandit are added in the majority corrupt politicians in the Philippine Congress in the person of Stephen Paduano.

On the other hand, the people are angered more than ever over the bankrupt and inutile ruling system of semi-colonial, semi-feudal. And the people and the revolutionary movement in Negros and other regions will never forget the outrageous crimes of Stephen Paduano against the CPP-NPA and the people.

CPP/NDF: “One Island, One region” Project, Gov. Alfredo Marañon, Jr.’s scheme to expand his power in Negros Oriental

NDF propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Jun 18): “One Island, One region” Project, Gov. Alfredo Marañon, Jr.’s scheme to expand his power in Negros Oriental

Frank Fernandez
NDFP Negros Island Chapter
“No politics involved. The “One Island, One region” Project is only for the betterment and benefits of the people of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental.” This is what Gov. Alfredo Marañon, Jr. brags during the “One Island, One Region” Summit in Kabankalan City last June 6, 2014.
“This is a big lie!” This is how the National Democratic Front (NDF) – Negros views this “One Island, One Region” project.

Marañon is adept in the art of deception using his sharp tongue, in order to hide his and his allies true scheme in expanding the economic and political interests.

Together with Gov. Marañon are the former governors Rafael Coscolluela, Daniel “Bitay” Lacson and others who also dreamed of expanding their economic and political interests in Negros Oriental.

This group of comprador bourgeoisie – landlords are aggressive in pushing for the realization of their power expansion, by using this “One Island, One Region” project as their firm reason to realize their dream.

Gov. Marañon and his allies can only benefit a little amount from national allocation for the planned Regional offices in the Island of Negros.

The much bigger reason is that the “One Island, One Region” project will enable this big reactionary classes of Negros Occidental to tap and exploit the resources of the nearby backward towns and barangays in the boundaries of Occidental and Oriental. They believe they could reap superprofits should they develop the economic and business potentials of the area.

Marañon and his allies and the foreign investors aim to attach Canlaon City and Vallehermoso of Negros Oriental to Sagay City, San Carlos City and Salvador Benedicto of Negros Occidental for their plan of developing vast areas of upland barangays for agri-business ventures / plantations of oil palm tree, pineapple, rubber tree, banana, coffee and cow and sheep pastureland. Particularly, Marañon aims to develop Canlaon City as the organic vegetable capital of the Philippines for Japanese market. It is adjacent to the rice farms of OISCA of Japan, where Marañon is one of its Board of Directors.

They would also gain more profits should they develop the eco-tourism and resort complex in Northern Negros.

The vast areas of adjacent towns and barangays of Hinobaan, Ilog, Kabankalan City of Negros Occ. and the towns of Basay, Bayawan and Mabinay of Negros Oriental seem desirable for the agri-business interests of the Marañon group.

Copper Development Corp., Goring Mineral Exploration and Eagle Cement Corp. are operating and will operate in the boundaries of the two (2) Provinces, specifically in the towns of Basay and Hinobaan.

In the boundaries of Binalbagan and Himamaylan City, Negros Occ. and Tayasan, Ayungon and Jimalalud, Negros Oriental, the Epithermal Gold Corporation, Essensa Mining Corporation and Philmet Exploration Corporation are also claiming mining rights.

Using the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Armed forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA), Gov. Marañon implements projects that facilitate the entry of local and foreign investors in partnership with the ruling reactionary classes in Negros.

For sure, the Marañon group in the Occidental can secure more profits should the “One Island, One Region” project materialize. Economically and politically, the ruling class in the Occidental are more powerful than those in the Oriental. Surely, the ruling classes of the Oriental will be subservient to the caprices and whims of the ruling classes in the Occidental. The ruling classes in the Oriental side led by Gov. Degamo are fully aware of the Marañon interest in this project, thus, they’re having second thoughts in accepting this project.

Air Force chief 'not thinking' of AFP top post

From the Philippine Star (Jun 18): Air Force chief 'not thinking' of AFP top post

Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado on Wednesday  shrugged off rumors that he is being eyed to succeed Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, who will retire from the service next month.

“I’m not really thinking about that at this time. I’m very much contended with where I am now,” Delgado told reporters in Villamor Airbase in Pasay.

“I am very much focused on the directions of the Philippine Air Force and to be fair with the rest of the guys, everybody, all generals, are qualified to occupy the Chief of Staff position,” he added.

Delgado said the Board of Generals has yet to deliberate on who would succeed Bautista, who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 on July 20.

The Board of Generals consists of the Armed Forces Chief of Staff, the Vice Chief of Staff, the Deputy Chief of Staff and the heads of the Navy, Army and Air Force.

When asked whether he dreams of becoming the chief of the 125,000-strong armed forces, Delgado said: “We are okay here.”

A member of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) of former President Corazon Aquino, Delgado assumed as the 33rd Air Force chief on April 25.

He is a graduate of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) class ’82 and a former Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs.

As a pilot, Delgado flew MG-520s and T28 Trojan combat aircraft, T-41D and SF-260 trainers, and BN Islander multi-engine passenger aircraft.

Delgado is no stranger to the risks being faced by pilots who handle aging air assets as he survived two crashes during his younger years.

While some view Delgado's PSG stint during the first Aquino administration as an advantage, sources said nothing is final until the president signs the appointment papers.

Coast Guard beefing itself up within next 3 years

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 18): Coast Guard beefing itself up within next 3 years

Members of the Philippine Coast Guard in action.  AFP FILE PHOTO

The Philippine Coast Guard is to hire an additional 1,000 uniformed personnel this year and 2,000 more in the next two years to meet its goal of having a “10,000-strong command” by the end of President Benigno Aquino III’s term in 2016.

The PCG, an agency attached to the Department of Transportation and Communication, has only 606 officers and 6,143 enlisted personnel tasked to guard the country’s more than 36,000 kilometers of coastline and thousands of coastal communities depending on the nation’s marine resources.

“This year, recruiting at least 1,000 uniformed personnel is our target,” Cmdr. Armand Balilo, the PCG spokesperson, told the INQUIRER in a telephone interview Wednesday. “But our bigger goal is to have 10,000 uniformed personnel within the next three years. Ideally, we should have that number of personnel.”

An undisclosed number of new recruits will be assigned to the PCG’s new search-and-rescue base in Roxas City in Capiz, Balilo said.

He said that “with the ongoing personnel recruitment program, the command has also started preparing for the manning of the 10 brand-new patrol boats that we’re getting from Japan in the next two years.”

The command expects delivery of two to three of the 10 patrol vessels by the third quarter of 2015. The seven other 40-meter (131-foot) boats would be delivered the following year.

In December, Malacañang announced that the Japan International Cooperation Agency would provide a $184-million soft loan for the PCG’s acquisition of the vessels to boost the country’s maritime security.

The Coast Guard’s current fleet consists of nine boats, which are mainly utilized in search-and-rescue operations.

Some PCG personnel also man several vessels belonging to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in the campaign against illegal fishing and poaching in the country’s territorial waters.

Aside from its uniformed personnel, the agency has 299 civilian employees plus some 6,000 auxiliaries or volunteers nationwide who help it promote safety at sea and protect the marine environment, among other things.

From only P2 billion in 2010, the PCG’s annual budget now stands at more than P4.3 billion.

Balilo pointed out that the PCG’s “increased budget” would boost the command’s operational and administrative capabilities.

He expressed confidence they would get another budget increase next year, saying, “it’s a good thing we’re getting full support from the government.”

The command, he added, is “in a better position to enforce Republic Act No. 9983,” or the Coast Guard Act of 2009, which aims to further enhance maritime safety and prevent sea tragedies.

Police, military arrest suspected drug dealer Jerry Alam in Basilan

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 18): Police, military arrest suspected drug dealer Jerry Alam in Basilan

Combined security forces raid the residence of a suspected notorious drug dealer in Basilan on Wednesday, June 18. PHOTO from Army’s 4th Special Forces Battalion

Combined police and military forces have arrested a suspected drug dealer and seized P200,000 worth of shabu in the province of Basilan on Wednesday night, the military said.

Jerry Alam, an alleged “notorious” supplier of drugs in the cities of Isabela and Lamitan, was arrested in Upper Port Holland in the town of Maluso past 6p.m., Lieutenant Colonel Eliglen Villaflor, Commander of the Army’s 4th Special Forces Battalion told

The government forces, armed with a warrant from a local court, swooped down the residence of Alam, and also held seven others who were with him—three males and four females.

A five-minute firefight also ensued but no one was hurt. Some of Alam’s companions were able to escape.

Villaflor said they were also able to recover seven firearms—two M16 rifles, one baby armalite, one M14, one garand rifle, one M203 grenade launcher and one KG 9 machine gun, as well as drug paraphernalia.

Alam and his companions will be brought to a police station in Isabela.

10 to 12 Chinese ships spotted in West PH Sea; vessels continue dredging activities - PAF

From InterAksyon (Jun 18): 10 to 12 Chinese ships spotted in West PH Sea; vessels continue dredging activities - PAF

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has spotted 10 to 12 Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea in its latest reconnaissance mission over the disputed area. 

Col. Florante Falcis, assistant chief of PAF's air staff for intelligence division, said the ships were sighted on the natural gas-rich Ayungin (Second Thomas) and Panatag (Scarborough) shoals.

Falcis, however, did not say the date that the PAF saw the vessels in said areas, which are being claimed by several countries including the Philippines and China.

The PAF official also declined to comment on whether the ships were naval craft or civilian vessels. He said the number of ships sighted was not a permanent figure as it varied from time to time.

Falcis added the Chinese ships had continued dredging activities in the West Philippine Sea.

Meanwhile, the PAF did not spot any foreign aircraft entering Philippine airspace without clearance, according to Air Force commanding general Jeffrey Delgado.

PAF to beef up missions 

Amid the Philippine's intensifying territorial dispute with China, Delgado reiterated PAF's readiness to defend the country's territory, though admitting that PAF's forces won't be able to match that of China.

"We are prepared (for)… any contingency that the government will ask us to do as far as the territorial defense is concerned even with meager resources. We are ready to confront any kind of threat should there be a need for us to be really involved but right now, we are avoiding any confrontations. We are adhering to the rule of law; we are supporting the government’s efforts in pursuing the legal complaint in the international courts," he said.

Delgado said the PAF would beef up reconnaissance and overflight missions over the disputed territory.

"Right now, based on our role as far as territorial defense is concerned, is we provide the needed information to higher headquarters as far as our patrols are concerned; we provide the things that we see from above as we conduct our air patrols to higher headquarters for their perusal, that's our role for the moment, we provide the necessary air intelligence information," Delgado said in Filipino.

Currently, PAF reconnaissance flights are concentrating on Scarborough, which lies 124 nautical miles off Zambales and Ayungin, which is around 140 nautical miles from Palawan.

The Philippines has acquired 12 FA-50 jet fighters from South Korea's Korean Aerospace Industry worth P18.9 billion.

Two of the jets are expected to be delivered within 18 months after the opening of the letter of credit. The next two aircraft are expected to be delivered within the year after the first delivery. After which, the remaining eight jets will arrive in the Philippines within eight months on a staggered basis.

8 arrested, 11 high-powered firearms confiscated in Basilan raid

From InterAksyon (Jun 19): 8 arrested, 11 high-powered firearms confiscated in Basilan raid

Guns and ammunition seized in Basilan, 18 June 2014. RICHARD PALCATAN

Eight persons were arrested in a raid in Maluso, Basilan 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Eleven high-powered guns, including M14, M16, and M203 grenade launcher, and 42 sachets of shabu, drug paraphernalia, and around P150,000 were also confiscated during the raid, said Chief Superintendent Noel delos Reyes, director of the Philippine National Police in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The raid, made by the joint police, military, and anti-narcotics authorities, was made at a residential house based on a search warrant.

The arrested individuals are now at the Basilan police provincial headquarters and undergoing investigation.

Stakeholders express support for MNLF-MILF deal

From the Philippine Star (Jun 18): Stakeholders express support for MNLF-MILF deal

Stakeholders to the Mindanao peace process are optimistic the reactivation of the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum (BCF) through the efforts of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will bind together two rival fronts bickering over each other's different peace blueprints for the decades-old Moro rebellion.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles said Wednesday that the revival of the BCF, based on a consensus reached by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the OIC during a meeting last week in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, complements Malacañang’s peace efforts with southern Moro communities.

The BCF was first established by the OIC in 2010, to resolve the ideological disparities of the two fronts, but failed to take off, overtaken by events and security issues that saddled the Moro dominated areas in the south.

The OIC, a bloc of 57 Muslim countries, including the petroleum-exporting states in the Middle East and North Africa, helped broker the Sept. 2, 1996 final peace pact between the government and the MNLF. It is also involved in the on-going overture between the MILF and Malacañang.

The OIC has been trying since 2006 to unite the MILF and the MNLF for both groups to agree to a common Mindanao peace roadmap.  Leaders of both groups agreed to revive the BCF during their meeting on June 14 at the OIC’s headquarters in Jeddah.

“We welcome that news. The BCF must provide the two fronts the opportunity to pursue together a just, lasting and `inclusive’ peace in Mindanao. This is a much-awaited development,” Deles said in a text message.

Deles said the creation of the BCF complements the "inclusivity context" of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro, signed in Malacañang on March 27, 2014 by GPH chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, and her MILF counterpart, Muhaquer Iqbal.

Oblate Missionary Eliseo Mercado, Jr., director of the vaunted Institute for Autonomy and Governance, said he felt elated with the "resurrection" of the BCF as a result of the OIC’s latest attempt to bring together the MNLF and the MILF into one venue, where both sides can discuss and reconcile each other's different perspectives on how to resolve the Moro problem that has been hounding the country's south since the late 1960s.

“We are hoping that the reorganized BCF, with the MILF and the MNLF both at its forefront, will exist as a working regular peace and solidarity forum for the two groups, even without the OIC’s presence,” said Mercado, who regularly convenes some 40 peace advocacy groups for periodic roundtable dialogues on the Mindanao peace process.

Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Maguindanao’s chief executive, Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, had both expressed support for the BCF via separate emailed official statements.

Mangudadatu said he is even willing to invite representatives of the BCF to the inter-agency Maguindanao peace and order council, which oversees the peaceful resolution of security issues in the 36 towns in the province, a known bastion of the MILF.

"There must be continuing peace activities between government agencies and Moro groups in Maguindanao to sustain the goodwill between the GPH and the MILF," he said.

The governor, during the PPOC’s meeting in Buluan town on Monday, lauded the commanders of the Army’s 6thInfantry Division, the 601st, 602nd and 603rd Brigades, for their continuing engagements with MILF leaders through sports activities, joint resolution of family feuds, and in the planning and implementation of community projects meant to improve the productivity of Moro peasants.

“And now we have added the BCF to the PPOC’s 'book of friends and partners' in furthering peace and sustainable development in Maguindanao,” Mangudadatu said.

The MILF’s chief negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal, had confirmed that, while in Jeddah, they signed, along with the MNLF, and OIC’s secretary-general, Iyad Ameen Madani, a joint communiqué stating the reactivation of the BCF.

Madani has called on the MILF and the MNLF to build closer working relations with each other after the signing of the trilateral statement, according to Iqbal.

It was the MNLF that first started the Moro rebellion in Mindanao in the early 1970s, then a solitary struggle for self-rule by Mindanao's Muslim groups.

The ideological differences between MNLF founders Nur Misuari, who is from Sulu, and the Egyptian-trained cleric, Salamat Hashim, an ethnic Maguindanaon, led to the birth of the MILF in 1981, with the latter leading the breakaway group, which is more religious in character.

The MNLF has been- since after signing a final peace accord with government on Sept. 2, 1996- seeking the enhancement of the ARMM, the expansion of its area and the involvement of members in regional governance.

The MILF, which has an ongoing agreement with Malacañang, wants the autonomous region replaced with an entirely new, more politically and administratively empowered Bangsamoro entity.

Exposing China’s Artificial Islands Plan in the Spratly’s

From International Policy Digest (Jun 17): Exposing China’s Artificial Islands Plan in the Spratly’s

Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, via Associated Press

Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, via Associated Press
On May 2nd 2014, tensions dangerously escalated in the South China Sea (SCS) after China’s HYSY 981 oil rig began its drilling operation in an area within Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.

While the HYSY 981 event has become the focal point of SCS developments at the moment, there are signs of another alarming threat to this region’s peace and stability.

News from various sources shows that China is quietly attempting to build an artificial island upon the Johnson South Reef in the Spratly Islands.

Furthermore, Beijing is also planning similar activities in several other reefs of this archipelago. This is a dangerous intrigue and might give China significant advantages in SCS disputes.

Almost two weeks after the HYSY 981 oil rig started its drilling operation, on May 13th 2014, the Philippines provided images of China’s personnel reclaiming land on Johnson South Reef, clearly to build an aircraft runway.

 Then, on June 4th 2014, Phil Star quoted Philippines President Benigno Aquino III saying he has received reports of movements by Chinese supply ships near at least two more reefs, Gavin and Cuarteron. According to a confidential report, China is also doing land reclamation activities in the Hughes and Eldad Reef.

Moreover, Jin Canrong, international relations professor at Renmin University in Beijing even revealed to the South China Morning Post that a proposed expansion of the Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys has been submitted to the Chinese central government. The artificial island would be at least double the 44km2 size of the US military base of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The proposed expansion, according to Phil Star, will cost China $5 billion USD and would take 10 years to complete, similar to the construction of a 100,000-ton nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

Beijing’s intrigue to construct artificial islands in the Spratly Islands is a major step in its plan to boost its military power there. Since 1988, China has illegally occupied at least 9 reefs in this archipelago. For the purpose of military stationing or for other purposes, China has been gradually constructing and expanding artificial structures on those reefs. However, most of the structures built are reef fortresses and supply platforms since the tiny area of those reefs has prevented China from building airstrips or sea ports. Only the Fiery Cross Reef could be considered as a semi artificial island since it has a command headquarters and a helicopter landing pad.

Therefore, even though China’s People Liberation Army (PLA) navy is superior to those of the SCS claimant states, it may have some potential weaknesses and disadvantages in case of conflict in the Spratly Archipelago. The distance from Hainan Island’s Yulin base to the Spratlys is 580 miles, considerably further compared to Vietnam’s Cam Ranh base (250 miles) or the Philippines’ Puerto Princesa base (310 miles). As a result, China may find it more difficult to deploy and maintain a large number of military vessels and aircrafts in the Spratlys than in the Paracels. Moreover, the aircraft handling capability of PLA’s Liaoning carrier is still being tested and the carrier is vulnerable against submarines such as Vietnam’s Kilo class. An artificial island built upon the Fiery Cross Reef could act as a permanent and more effective aircraft carrier in the heart of the SCS.

In a press conference in Beijing on June 6th 2014, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei insisted that China’s action in the Spratlys “has nothing to do with the Philippines.” However, other SCS claimant states have valid grounds to be deeply concerned by China’s ambition to build artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago. If the airstrips in Fiery Cross and Johnson South Reefs are completed, the PLA air force will be able to reach not only all parts of the Spratlys but also China’s neighboring countries in Southeast Asia.

According to the Philippines former National Security Adviser, Roilo Golez, Chinese jets can easily reach the entire Philippines, Vietnam and parts of Malaysia within Fiery Cross’s 1,000-mile radius. Consequently, the national security of these countries will be seriously threatened.

Furthermore, a chain of artificial islands in the Spratlys will form a block allowing China to strengthen its air and maritime surveillance in the SCS. Like Roilo Golez said, China will then have a strong incentive to establish an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the SCS, similar to the one in the East China Sea.

China’s plan will also be conducive to its intention to become a naval superpower. Beijing is showing off not only the military capability of PLA but also China’s new generation of modern submersible oil rigs (HYSY 981, under-construction HYSY 982, HYSY 943 and HYSY 944), capable of drilling in most parts of the SCS. There is a possibility that China might adopt an “oil rig salami slicing” strategy: to gradually send oil rigs southward from the Paracels into the waters surrounding Spratly Islands. The construction of airstrips and sea ports in the South Chia Sea, along with more aircraft carriers (China is also building another aircraft carrier, estimated to be completed by 2018) will ensure that in case China sends oil rigs into the region, none of the other SCS claimant states dare to militarily stand against Beijing’s action. Therefore, China can carry out its plan to extract resources in the Spratlys with confidence.

Even the Indonesians may have reasons to be worried. In China’s 2009 nine-dash line submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), the area that China claimed does not include Natuna Islands of Indonesia. However, on March 18th 2014, Commodore Fahru Zaini of the Indonesian navy told Antara News that a new map on Chinese passports encompasses part of the Natuna waters, raising the attention of Indonesian officials. This may be a sign of Beijing’s ambition to expand from the Spratly to further south. Thus, China’s artificial islands plan in the Spratly Archipelago will raise deep concerns from Jakarta.

Indonesia’s Natuna Islands and even the Malacca Strait are well within the 1,000 miles radius of the Fiery Cross Reef. Beijing may also want to increase its control from the Malacca Strait towards the South China Sea in order to reduce its seaborne energy supply vulnerability.

From the analysis above, it is obvious that the construction of airstrips and sea ports in this archipelago may give China significant advantages in any SCS dispute. However, it will also be a sign of Beijing violating the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the SCS (DOC) and trying to change the status quo of the SCS in its favor. Over the past few years, China has made many efforts to persuade the world of its peaceful rise. Yet, on the contrary, Beijing’s actions are seen by its neighbor and the international community as provocative and threatening towards regional peace and stability.

Recently, at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Chinese General Wang Guanzhong’s speech aimed to send a message that China is not the one who stirs up trouble and tension in the region. It seems that this message was not well received.

Rather than dismissing the concerns of its neighbors as part of a political conspiracy, China should come to understand how its own actions contribute to the perception of a Chinese threat, as evident in its plan to construct artificial islands in the Spratly Archipelago. Beijing’s message of peaceful rise should be proven in words and deeds accordingly.

PH sets Pagasa airstrip upgrade, China protests

From the Manila Standard Today (Jun 19): PH sets Pagasa airstrip upgrade, China protests

Naval project to be finished this year


The Philippines strengthened its claim to a disputed territory in the Kalayaan Island Group following a plan to construct an approach to a runway in Pagasa Island, triggering a strong protest from China.

An Air Force official on Wednesday disclosed that the Navy has already awarded the right for the project to the winning bidder, including the dredging activities preparatory to construction.

“Right now, it’s a two stage construction project. The first stage is to provide the approach to the island, and it’s now being undertaken by the Navy [because] it’s a naval project. We do things something like dredging projects so that the construction material can come in. So the first part is now under bidding [and] I understand they have (Navy) determined already the winning bidder,” according to Major Gen. Edgar Fallorina, chief of staff of Philippine Air Force chief Lt. Gen.  Jeffrey Delgado.

Fallorina said the construction of the approach should come first before any development or improvement takes place for the Pagasa runway, while the second part would involve improvements on the runway itself.

He said that the project is expected to be finished within the year.

But as early as Monday, China has demanded that the Philippines withdraw all its facilities and personnel in disputed territories in the South China Sea, including the Spratlys, where the KIG is located.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said that since the 1970s, the Philippines has “illegally and forcefully occupied parts of China’s Nansha Islands (Spratlys), including Zhongye Island (Pagasa), in violation of the United Nations Charter and principles of international law.”

Hua also slammed the plan by the Philippine military to develop naval facilities in Pag-asa Island, which Manila considers as part of the Kalayaan town in Palawan.

Hua noted that since last December, the Philippines’ Department of National Defense announced that it would upgrade the airstrips and naval facilities on Pag-asa Island. The following month, the DND again announced their plans to build a world-class airport on the Kalayaan Group of Islands.

“The Philippine side, on the one hand, intentionally takes provocative actions while on the other hand makes irresponsible remarks on China’s legitimate actions which are within China’s sovereignty,” she declared.
“That is unjustifiable.”

Hua made the statement after Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said he would propose that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) call for a moratorium on construction in the South China Sea as he cited the “need to manage the tensions” in the disputed region “before it gets out of hand.”

Del Rosario made the proposal in the wake of reports that China was reportedly planning to build an artificial island in the disputed region.
But Hua reitretated that China has indisputable sovereignty over the Spratlys  and their adjacent waters.

“Activities by China on relevant islands or reefs of the Nansha Islands fall completely within China’s sovereignty,” she said.

Recently, about 150 people conducted a rally in Makati and chanted, “Get out China!,” in protest of China’s reclamation activity at several reefs in the Spratly Islands.

Carlos Celdran, a Manila artist and historian, said the dispute between China and the Philippines was all about tapping the resources in the South China Sea.     
Celdran said China doing reclamation work, drilling in contested waters and taking other actions to assert its claims is “so old-fashioned.”

But he also says Filipinos should “get involved [in] the issue.”

Aside from the 31.5-hectare Pagasa, the Philippines claim as its own at least seven islets and two reefs in Spratlys, which is also being contested by several of its neighboring countries.

Recently, one of KIG’s reefs, the Mabini, had been invaded by China which had reportedly done reclamation and construction for reportedly a military garrison with an airstrip.

China is also threatening to take over Ayungin Shoal despite the presence of Marine troops stationed on board the grounded BRP Sierra Madre.

Meanwhile, Delgado reported that as many as 10 to 12 Chinese government and military vessels had been patrolling the West Philippine Sea including areas claimed by the Philippines as part of its territory.

“There are times that they number - in the whole of the West Philippine Sea - ten to twelve. But it also trickles down to three or four,” he said.

Delgado said the Air Force conducts daily maritime patrols above the West Philippine Sea. He said photographs of reclamation activities by China is part of the output they provide to the national government.

The Air Force is now focusing on Bajo de Masinloc near Zambales, and Ayungin Shoal in Palawan, Delgado said, “because these are the areas with pictures of new activities being done by other countries.”

Delgado said the Air Force has now shifted its focus significantly on territorial defense of the West Philippine Sea and added that preparations include not just the acquisition of air assets, but also the installation of radars on locations to be determined, and the training of personnel who will be operating the new air assets once they arrive.

As this developed, the Puerto Princesa City Regional Trial Court has deferred anew the pre-trial of nine Chinese fishermen accused of poaching off Half Moon Shoal, locally known as Hasa-Hasa Shoal, because their lawyer did not show up before the court.

Provincial prosecutor Allen Ross Rodriguez said that Judge Ambrosio de Luna of the Puerto Princesa City RTC, Branch 51, postponed the scheduled pre-trial of the Chinese poachers, which was intended to clarify points of law and facts.

The prosecutor said the court has provided the nine Chinese fishermen a lawyer from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) during their arraignment, but the designation of the lawyer was just temporary.

Judge de Luna has rescheduled the pre-trial to July 1, the third time that the pre-trial of the Chinese fisherman has been deferred.

Vets oppose new VFP constitution, bylaws

From the Business Mirror (Jun 18): Vets oppose new VFP constitution, bylaws

WAR veterans are opposing the changes being introduced by Defense Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin into the constitution and bylaws of the Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP) as part of the efforts to reform the organization.
In a statement, the VFP through Col. Bonifacio de Gracia, said 182 delegates who attended the recent national presidents’ convention held in Taguig City have rejected the changes made by Gazmin “in the classification of organizations that may join the federation as an umbrella organization, membership requirements, composition of the supreme council, committees and management, including the financial system.”
“All regional presidents, district presidents, including presidents of charter and affiliate organizations of the VFP all over the Philippines, have unanimously spoken and they do not want to tinker with the current VFP constitution and bylaws at this time,” de Gracia, who is the VFP’s vice president, said on Wednesday.
“They particularly expressed disapproval of the changes in the bylaws being introduced by no less than Defense Secretary Gazmin,” he added.
Last month the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) said it would continue its efforts to reform the VFP, which, it said, was “being run by its official like a private organization,” so that it would fully cater to the needs of all the country’s veterans.
The PVAO made the statement as the VFP members contested the new constitution and bylaws that was crafted by the Department of National Defense and the PVAO last year for the VFP.
The VFP claimed the new charter infringes on the independence and direction of the organization. The new constitution and bylaws, which VFP officers helped prepare, was approved by Gazmin. It seeks to institute reforms in the federation by making it transparent.
The old charter of the VFP made it like a private corporation, where the officers had no term limits and its affairs only open to its members, only 30 percent of whom are “real” veterans and the rest “sons and daughters” of veterans.
Some of its officials, PVAO Administrator Ernesto Carolina said, have been occupying their posts for 30 years.
De Gracia said the delegates believed the amendments to the bylaws that were “proposed” by Gazmin would diminish the core function of the current setup of officers and downgrade the role of the veterans’ widows and children. He said they also fear the amendments will allow non-veterans to come in and take hold and control of all the assets of the VFP.
“The highest ruling body of the VFP has spoken at how thousands of Filipino veterans are best governed. We hope the voice of the people who fought for our freedom shall be respected,” de Gracia said.
But Carolina said they wanted to institute reforms at the VFP, purposely for all the legitimate veterans to have access to the organization.
“The VFP is supposed to have been formed or made up of veterans, and yet the majority of its members are not veterans but family members of veterans,” he said.
Carolina noted that other veteran groups like the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, where former Ambassador Manuel Yan was a member, were even excluded from membership with the VFP.
He said the purpose of the new constitution and bylaws was to widen the coverage of the VFP, by including not only 30 percent of the veterans in its affairs and membership, but all of the veterans, other than making its day-to-day affairs transparent.
Carolina said there are perks and benefits that the officers of the federation enjoy, but he refused to disclose these in details out of respect to the current officers of the VFP as they are veterans or have come from families of veterans.
The VFP has some properties under its name and it even has a percentage from the earnings of the Philippine Veterans Bank.

Security forces attack NPA lairs in Southern Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Jun 19): Security forces attack NPA lairs in Southern Philippines

Government forces attacked a stronghold of the communist New People’s Army rebels in the southern Philippines, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

The military offensive targeted the rebels in the province of Agusan del Sur where NPA forces were allegedly preparing to launch fresh attacks. It was unclear how the operations went on or if civilians were affected by the attack.

The NPA, which has been fighting for decades for the establishment of a separate state, previously warned to attack military and police targets in the restive southern region where it has gained foothold in many areas.

There was no statement from the NPA about the latest military offensive.

Pacific Partnership 2014 pours in USD380,000 for civic action programs in Tacloban City, Palo

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 18): Pacific Partnership 2014 pours in USD380,000 for civic action programs in Tacloban City, Palo

Some USD380,000 worth of engineering works and other humanitarian civic programs will be poured in Tacloban City and Palo, Leyte for the last leg of the Pacific Partnership 2014 (PP 14).

Col. Arnulfo Matanguihan, task force commander of the PP 14 –Leyte, said that engineering works kicked off today, Wednesday with the United States and the Philippine Armed Forces engineers taking the lead.

The construction of four-classroom and science buildings at the San Fernando Central Elementary School, another science building at the Castilla Elementary School in Palo and reconstruction of the outpatient building of the Tacloban City Hospital simultaneously kicked off today with 22 engineers from the US military contingent and their counterparts from the AFP working on the projects.

Matanguihan said that a Japanese vessel is slated to anchor near Tacloban in July 4 bringing in medical, dental and veterinary doctors for the series of civic actions slated at the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center and health centers in San Jose and Diit, all in Tacloban City.

They will be joined by their counterparts from the military contingents of US, AFP, Australia and Malaysia.

“These are the countries that helped us immediately after Yolanda,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lt. Ronald M. Piramide of the US Navy and the officer-in-charge of the PP14-Philippines said he feels “great” helping his “kababayans” who were affected by Yolanda.

Both his parents are native of Padre Burgos, Southern Leyte but migrated in the US. However, every two years, he takes time to go home to the province.

Piramide cited that there has been a “great difference” in places that were ravaged by Yolanda since the last time he did site visits in March and January this year.

“A lot of work has been going on in Tacloban; it feels fantastic,” he said.

He also disclosed that the activities that they will be doing were based on the request of the host country.

Meanwhile, Matangguihan said that a ceremony will be held to culminate the Joint Task Force Pacific Partnership 2014 this month.

Prior to the Philippines, the military continents already passed by Indonesia, East Timor, Vietnam and Cambodia, he added.

The activity, he said, is an annual exercise that has been going on for about 10 years in partnership with the military and humanitarian and government agencies focusing on civic action programs.

In 2012, the province of Samar was also identified as venue of the partnership.

300 Sarangani villagers flee due to NPA harassment

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 18): 300 Sarangani villagers flee due to NPA harassment

Around 300 residents of a remote village in Malungon town in Sarangani Province have fled their homes following alleged harassment by armed members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in the area.

Malungon Mayor Reynaldo Constantino said Wednesday the residents of Sitios Mahayahay, Malaygang and Bulay in Barangay San Juan were forced to leave their homes after NPA rebels under Front 75 reportedly harassed their communities on Monday night.

He said the rebels allegedly threatened the residents and fired several shots, although not one of them was harmed.

“(They) decided to just leave their communities due to fears of more harassment from the rebels,” he said.

The mayor said that as of Wednesday morning, some 99 families or around 300 individuals have already evacuated to the barangay proper of San Juan and the neighboring villages.

Ahasueris Keen Pacheco, coordinator of the Malungon municipal disaster risk reduction and management council, said they already delivered some food packs and other relief items to the affected families.

He said they are currently preparing for the delivery of more relief supplies to the area as they expect the number of evacuees to increase in the coming days.

“We have not even listed yet those who just arrived in the evacuation centers and according to reports, more evacuees will be arriving today,” Pacheco said.

Chief Insp. Lurobe Rojo, Malungon police chief, said the NPA rebels initially came to the area last June 13 and abducted two officials of Barangay San Juan.

He said Barangay San Juan councilors Tirso Manambay and Edgar Tamalon were on their way home to the barangay proper at around 7 p.m. when they were taken at gunpoint by the NPA rebels.

But the rebels released the two officials unharmed about three hours later following negotiations made by their relatives.

Capt. Rey Balibagoso, spokesperson of the Army’s 1002nd Brigade, said they received reports that the NPA rebels had planned to use the two victims as human shields in an ongoing military offensive operation in the area.

He identified the leader of the group responsible for the abduction as a certain Manuel Garduque alias Dodong Sidlak, leader of Platoon Uno of the NPA Guerrilla Front 75, which operates in the hinterlands of Sarangani and Davao Occidental provinces.