Sunday, June 22, 2014

Army, LGU declares first “Insurgency-free” town in Leyte

From the Samar News (Jun 15): Army, LGU declares first “Insurgency-free” town in Leyte

By 19th Infantry Battalion, 8ID PA
June 15, 2014

MATAG-OB, LeyteThe first town ever in the provinces of Leyte, Southern Leyte and Biliran; Matag-ob was declared “insurgency-free” as Matag-obanons celebrate the 116th Philippine Independence Day on June 12, 2014.

The declaration which took place at the town’s Freedom Park was formalized with a signing of covenant between the AFP and the municipal government, reaffirming the respective roles and mandate to preserve, sustain the gains and prevent the resurgence of Local Terrorist Group (LTG) and to continually exert efforts, cooperate, support and assist each other, along with other government agencies in preserving the peace and order.

During the ceremony, Lt. Col. Nedy Espulgar, commanding officer of the 19th Infantry Battalion recapped that the town of Matag-ob was one of the municipalities covered by the operations of then Platoon Guerilla (Plaguer) of the Northern Leyte Front, New People’s Army on early 2000.

He added that, the New Peoples Army’s strength was downsized due to tactical offensives initiated by the government forces which resulted to the captivity and neutralization of top cadres from years 2005 to 2007.

In an SB Session on March this year, the 19th Infantry Battalion recommended that Matag-ob, Leyte be formally declared as insurgency-free, as it has satisfied and maintained for several years the requirements stipulated in the National Internal Security Plan (NISP).

The town’s Sangguniang Bayan chaired by Hon. Michael Torrevillas considered the military’s recommendation and subsequently enacted on April 7, 2014, Resolution No. 14-020 which authorized the Hon. Agustin Pedrano, Sr., the Municipal Mayor to sign the joint declaration of Matag-ob, Leyte as an “insurgency free” municipality.

Hon. Torrevillas said Matag-ob was already and have been insurgency-free for several years, citing the Matag-obanon’s love for peace and development though he concede that some land owners experienced resistance from the “Samahan sa mga Gagmay’ng Parag-uma” (SAGUPA) years ago.

On the other hand, Col. Dinoh Dolina, commander of the Army’s 802nd Brigade, who signed in behalf of the AFP, said the declaration may attract investors to establish their businesses which will later on improve the town’s economic status.

The ceremonial signing of the joint declaration of Matag-ob, Leyte as “insurgency-free” municipality was witnessed by Lt. Col. Nedy Espulgar and P/Insp. Christopher Pangue before hundreds of Matag-obanons.

Abu Sayyaf man tagged in 2002 Jehovah Witnesses’ kidnapping arrested

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 23): Abu Sayyaf man tagged in 2002 Jehovah Witnesses’ kidnapping arrested

An alleged Abu Sayyaf financier, who was said to be involved in crimes such as the 2002 kidnapping of six Jehovah’s Witness members in Sulu and the beheading of two of the victims, was nabbed in a joint police and military operation here early Sunday, the military said.

The Task Force Zamboanga Commander, Col. Andrelino Colina, said Sattar Abdulla, was arrested in Tumalutab on Sacol Island based on a warrant issued by a local court for kidnapping and serious illegal detention.

Colina described Abdulla as a known financier of the Abu Sayyaf, who was also involved in other cases of kidnapping in the Western Mindanao area.

He had become the second suspect arrested in connection with the Jehovah’s Witnesses kidnapping after the capture on May 5 of Jumadil Jamran Usman alias Ondil.

The Abu Sayyaf is a ragtag band of self-styled Islamists founded in the early 1990s by Abubakar Janjalani.

A series of military operation against the group has ushered in little success even with the deaths or capture of its leaders during the past years.

It even later forged alliance with the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiya, Osama Bin Laden’s arm in Southeast Asia, and embarked on
bomb attacks that targeted mostly civilians.

These included the February 2004 Superferry 14 bombing that left over a hundred killed and several others wounded.

3 Navy officers to participate in RIMPAC

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 23): 3 Navy officers to participate in RIMPAC

Three Philippine Navy (PN) officers instead of just two will be participating in this year's naval war games called Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC).

"The PN will be sending three officers composed of two operations officers who will be staff officers during RIMPAC and one medical officer who will be embedded in (the) USS Mercy (a United States Navy hospital ship)," Navy public affairs office chief Cmdr. Gregory Fabic said in a text message to the PNhilippine News Agency on Monday.

He declined to give the names of the participating officers as this is still pending approval from higher headquarters.

RIMPAC is the world's largest international maritime warfare exercise. It is held biennially during June and July of even-numbered years in Honolulu, Hawaii.

It is hosted and administered by the United States Navy's Pacific Fleet, headquartered at Pearl Harbor, in conjunction with the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, and Hawaii National Guard forces under the control of the governor of Hawaii.

The US invites allied military forces from the Pacific Rim nations to participate.

With RIMPAC, the United States Pacific Command seeks to enhance interoperability between Pacific Rim armed forces, ostensibly as a means of promoting stability in the region to the benefit of all participating nations.

Spiritual Tabligh gathering to gather 1,000 followers in Zamboanga

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jun 18): Spiritual Tabligh gathering to gather 1,000 followers in Zamboanga

Approximately 700 to 1,000 followers of the Tabligh Islamic Religious Movement coming from the neighboring towns and this city will converge here for a gathering that aims to promote renewed spiritual cleansing on June 23-24.

Professor Jawali Mandain in a press conference Monday said that the two-day assembly will be held in Masjid Lanjang in barangay Recodo and will have participants from Sibuco, Sirawai and Siocon in Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga Sibugay province.

“This is mainly a religious activity, where we promote self-rectification along the practices of Islam,” said Professor Mandain.

He explained that during the gathering, the members will be organized into volunteer groups; one group will be staying in one mosque in the city for three days, another will visit mosques in the different parts of the country, while the last group will visit mosques outside the country such as in India and Bangladesh. These stays are part of the spiritual process that hopes to transform a person for the better.

“Our focus is to discuss the importance of the movement, which is spiritual development within the individual so that they will become peaceful, productive and spiritual citizens,” he emphasized.

According to Professor Mandain, there are approximately 500 mosques in Zamboanga City alone, however, only 30 of them participate in Tabligh.

“We want to revive the practices of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in the mosques, down to the homes,” he said, adding that the Tabligh followers will also be conducting home visits to inspire more to have a spiritual cleansing.

The followers of the Tabligh, said Professor Mandain include engineers, judges, professors like himself, and even some members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). “Anyone is welcome to this group since this is about self-rectification and promoting peace.”

Meanwhile, Police Chief Inspector Ariel Huesca of the Zamboanga City Police Office said that the group had already coordinated with them to ensure security for the whole duration of their stay and “checkpoints will be established in key points.”

1,000 sailors in PH-US war games

From the Manila Standard Today (Jun 23): 1,000 sailors in PH-US war games

ABOUT 1,000 Filipino and American sailors are again joining each other this month for maritime exercises dubbed Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training or CARAT.

“There joint naval exercises with our American counterparts have been going on for years to strengthen our naval and maritime interoperability not only for defense and assault readiness but also for harnessing our disaster response capability,” Lieutenant Junior Grade Rommel Rodriguez, spokesman of the Philippine Fleet based in Sangley, Cavite, told Manila Standard in a phone Interview.

Filipino and US soldiers launch  mock
assaults  off the coast of San Antonio
in Zambales during the May 9, 2014 joint
naval  exercises. File Photo by AFP
He said the naval exercises were scheduled to kick off on June 26 and to last until July 1 in different areas in Luzon.

Rodriguez made his statement after China on Friday called on the Philippines and the United States to engage in other productive activities that would promote national security and trust in the region.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying made the comment on an official government website when asked what she thought about the coming naval exercises between Manila and Washington in disputed waters.
“We hope relevant countries can do more things that are conducive to promoting national security and mutual trust and safeguarding regional peace and stability,” Hua said.

The Philippines’ Defense Department on Friday confirmed that warships of Manila and Washington will hold joint exercises near the disputed West Philippine Sea amid the escalating territorial row between China and its neighbors.

Rodriguez denied foreign news reports that some of the exercises will be held in the disputed areas.

“It is correct that some of our naval exercises will be held in the West Philippine Sea but not within the disputed areas and those areas are all in Luzon,” Rodriguez said.

The United States’ 7th Fleet of the Pacific Command based in Hawaii will be sending some of its warships to join the exercises, but Rodriguez said he had no information about what type of ships the US would be sending.

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the US allows the docking and stationing of agreed-upon naval and air assets of the  US military in Philippine territory.

Higher sources said the US would be sending the USS Ashland (LSD48), the USNS Safeguard (T-ARS-50) and other naval warships. 

“The CARAT 2014 is part of an annual joint exercise series between the US Navy and the Philippine Navy,” Rodriquez said.

Peace advocates urge govt, NDF to resume dialogue in Sorsogon

From the Business Mirror (Jun 22): Peace advocates urge govt, NDF to resume dialogue in Sorsogon

The peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) should resume at the soonest possible time to prevent the loss of more lives in the province, a priest said on Friday, following a spate of insurgency-related violence in recent months.
On May 23 a man was killed in Balocaue, Matnog, when troops of the Philippine Army’s (PA) Scout Ranger fired at his house where New People’s Army (NPA) members took refuge from the heat of the sun, said Rev. Fr. Bong Imperial, an advocacy priest for the Diocese of Sorsogon.
The man’s wife and their 1-year-old child were both wounded by bullets from the military, and were taken to the Sorsogon Provincial Hospital to receive medical attention, he added.
Worse, the military insisted the man’s widow is a combatant  and that they will file charges against her, Imperial said.
The encounter claimed the lives of three NPA guerrillas, he said. The casualties on the government side were allegedly larger in number.
Killed were part of the 100 Scout Ranger force who newly graduated from military training, deployed in the province to undergo their first actual combat operation, Imperial said.
At about 8 p.m. on June 10, another insurgency-related violence broke out. PA Sgt. Rene Madrona, an intelligence operative, was shot dead by armed men near his house in Poctol, Bulusan.
At 4 p.m. the following day, PO3 Christopher Escreza, a Philippine National Police (PNP) intelligence officer, was killed by gunmen at the gate of Saint Joseph Parish Church in Barcelona.
On the same date Escreza was shot dead, the NPA posted on their web site a statement admitting the killings of both Escreza and Madrona as part of their campaign to dismantle counter-revolutionary intelligence networks of the military and police in the province.
The NPA have been liquidating intelligence operatives in the past years as they consider spying into the revolutionary movement a serious threat.
On June 21 the military and guerrillas exchanged fire again in Barangay Fabrica, Barcelona. Explosives were blasted. Fortunately, no casualty  as reported. But military operations continue sweeping remote areas.
The resumption of the stalled peace negotiation, required to soothe both sides, can bring stability and peace in the province, as well as other parts of the country, where poverty and injustice have prompted the poor to take up arms, Imperial said.
Part of the peace negotiation is “cessation of hostilities,” Imperial said “to prevent the growing number of children becoming orphaned by combatant and noncombatant parents.”
Communities will also take a respite from the fear gripping them, triggered by the violence of the armed conflict, he said.
Imperial said both parties have to “observe the separation of combatants from noncombatants at all times” during encounters and combat operations.
The observance of which is incorporated in the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, he said.
The agreement was signed by the government of the Republic of Philippines panel and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines panel in Hague, the Netherlands on March 16, 1998.
Imperial said the government needs to look into working out the resumption of “serious peace talks” that seek “tangible results” to decisively address armed conflict by resolving its roots.
The government came up with a peace accord with the Moro rebels in Mindanao in a recent month, promising to resolve the cause for armed strife in the South, why not with the Left, he asked.
In a recent interview, Satur Ocampo, former NDF spokesperson, said insurgency may continue as long as its roots are not addressed. The government should take the resumption of peace talks seriously, he said.

‘China wants to seize more sea’

Posted to the Manila Times (Jun 22): ‘China wants to seize more sea’

Vietnam and regional countries should raise world alarm about China’s nine-dash claim to much of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), retired French general Daniel Schaeffer told reporters on the sidelines of a conference on the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos here.

Schaeffer, an expert on Chinese issues at France’s Asia Research Center, said China wanted to seize more sea within the U-shaped line claim it had marked out and then force other countries in the region to recognize the claim.

“Vietnam and regional countries should drum up the world community about China’s claim,” he added.

“It needs efforts to delete the claim before solving any disputes of sovereignty. The best way of solving the problem is by raising international alarm,” Schaeffer said.

He warned that China was mounting a worldwide communication campaign to back its claim.

Professor Renato De Castro from the International Studies Department at De La Salle University in the Philippines said China had never given an explanation of its nine-dash line.

He noted that global opinion played an important role in dealing with legal territorial disputes and required China respect the international law.

Jerome Cohen, professor and co-director of US-Asia Law Institute, said Vietnam should use adjudication to challenge China’s claims to sovereignty over the Paracel islands.

He said unless the parties agreed on another impartial institution, Vietnam would have to go before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

“China will surely not consent to an ICJ effort, since unlike the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos 1982) situation, China had no treaty commitment to accept ICJ jurisdiction in any dispute. Yet Vietnam may nevertheless find it worthwhile to try to invoke the aid of the ICJ, not only placate domestic opinion but also to demonstrate to the world its sincere desire for a peaceful impartial settlement,” Cohen added.

“Vietnam should make plain its willingness to submit to the ICJ its territorial claim over the Spratlys, including those islands and other features that it currently occupies. We have long known that many disputes relating to the South China Sea are far too complex to allow for simple solutions. At least several methods of dispute resolution will be necessary for dealing with different times, places and issues.

“In principle, of course, negotiation, whether multilateral or bilateral, remains preeminent. Yet, as it is obvious to all, negotiation has its limits and often needs to be supplemented,” Cohen said.

“I plead for the disputing countries to give higher priority to the role international adjudication and arbitration may play in the settlement process.

“China and Vietnam have successfully negotiated boundary disputes in the Gulf of Tonkin and on their land border, but China maintains that sovereignty over the maritime features is not open for discussion.”

Cohen also noted that Vietnam has several choices to resolve the sea dispute — the Law of the sea system, ICJ, International Court of Arbitration or regional institutions.

“Asian countries could make their own institution to settle disputes in the region,” he suggested.

Erik Franckx, research professor from Vrije University in Brussels, Belgium, agreed that Vietnam could take China to court for a clear definition of the nine-dash line.

The Philippines filed a case challenging Beijing’s claim at a UN arbitral tribunal but China refused to participate.

The conference, which was organized by Da Nang University and Quang Ngai-based Pham Van Dong University, is being attended by 100 scholars and lawyers from the US, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Belgium, Taipei, the Philippines, India, South Korea and Japan and overseas Vietnamese and Vietnamese historical researchers.

The rector at Pham Van Dong University, Pham Dang Phuoc, said the conference was held to discuss China’s illegal placement of an oil rig in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf last May 2.
Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang has called China’s actions “unacceptable.”

”It is unacceptable that strong countries can defy morality and justice. Our people have gone through wars and fought bravely against invaders for thousands of years. Following the recent incident, few countries or international organizations have voiced support for China’s action in setting the rig in Vietnam’s waters and its irrational nine-dot territorial claim,” he pointed out. “Legal and historical evidence shows that justice is on our side. The world community has a fairly clear attitude toward this.”

2 more clan wars among Muslim Iranun families settled in Maguindanao

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 22): 2 more clan wars among Muslim Iranun families settled in Maguindanao

Two more clan feuds involving five Muslim Iranun families were settled peacefully in solemn rites here over the weekend, ending armed disputes that reportedly left scores of casualties in years.

Leaders and members of the Sarosong and Mohmin clans–locked in a 17-year old clan war that had claimed the lives of 27 on both sides – traded handshakes and hugs in between sobs after swearing over the Holy Koran and signing peace covenants before mediating officials led by Maguindanao Gov. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.

The bloody clan war called “rido” in local vernacular, between the Sarosong and Mohmin families, related to one another other by blood in the Muslim Iranun ancestry, was one of five family feuds settled in one setting under the Maguindanao Reconciliation and Unification Council (MRUC) led by the governor.

The reconciliation between the two families also came with the settlement of their dispute against a third group, the Marandang clan, a common enemy of the Sarosongs and Mohmins. Leaders of the third party also signed the peace pact.

At the same settlement ceremony, the warring Taug and Bantilan families, also of the Iranun tribe, also sealed in a separate peace pact their 11-year-old dispute that left 10 people dead and displaced dozens of families in an evacuation cycle, said Maguindanao Rep. Dhong Mangudadatu, who signed as witness in all peace covenants.

The separate disputes among the five families reportedly stemmed from rivalries and squabbles for control of parcels of land that resulted in attacks that challenged each other’s “maratabat” or family honor and reputation.

Governor Mangudadatu and the reconciled families described the ceremonies as a “good sign” for better observance of the Islamic fasting on Ramadhan, which will start June 29.

Leaders of the five families told reporters and witnesses to the reconciliation rite, held at a private resort in Koronadal City, that they agreed to mend their differences through the joint intercession of the governor and emissaries of Brig. Gen. Edmund Pangilinan, the new commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

The 6th ID has jurisdiction over Maguindanao, including its six predominantly ethnic Iranun municipalities in the first district of the province, which accounts for the most number of existing clan wars involving local Moro families, some of them identified with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Maguid Sarosong, a signatory to their peace accord with the Mohmins, said their decision to reconcile via the traditional way was intended to support the efforts of the government to foster peace and order in areas covered by the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro between the Philippine government and the MILF.

“We heeded the desire of the governor, with the help of the police and the military, for reconciliation in view of his manifest efforts in rebuilding Maguindanao from feudalism,” Usman Marandang said in the vernacular.

The reconciliation of the five Iranun families brought to 30 the number of clan wars that were settled in Maguindanao since 2010, according to Chief Supt. Noel Delos Reyes, police director for Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

MILF commander arrested for couple’s kidnap; insurgents threaten Lanao Norte town

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 22): MILF commander arrested for couple’s kidnap; insurgents threaten Lanao Norte town

Moro gunmen have moved out of Pantao Ragat town in Lanao del Norte, but the police and military still placed the entire on alert for possible attacks.

Lacson Lantud, vice mayor of Pantao Ragat town, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone Sunday that no representative from the government nor from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) came to their town to help them resolve the security problem.

“It looks like they were ignoring our situation here,” Lantud said.

He said a team from the Malaysian International Peace Monitor went to the provincial capitol, but instead of helping ease the situation, they asked to take custody of Majid Abuat, the MILF commander that was arrested for alleged kidnapping.

“The rebels withdrew, but it does not mean it’s OK now,” he said.

Lantud earlier reported of an “impending attack” by some 700 armed followers of Bravo, an MILF field commander.

Bravo, whose real name is Abdullah Macapaar, was the same senior MILF commander who led attacks in the two Lanao provinces in 2008 following the scuttling of the so-called Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the Philippine government then led by the Arroyo administration and the MILF. The Supreme Court struck down the deal as unconstitutional.

Lantud said according to “reports,” Bravo was “planning to raid” the municipality to rescue a comrade who was captured following the abduction of a teacher and her husband three days ago.

The situation in the town started on June 18 when Bravo’s men seized public school teacher Aslaime Pangader and her husband Nait as they were heading home on a motorcycle.

Authorities went after the abductors, capturing Majid Abuat. But as far as Bravo is concerned, according to Lantud, the seizure of the Pangader couple was an “arrest” by the MILF because they owed someone in another town some money that needed to be paid back.

Lantud said prior to the massing up of Bravo’s men, the MILF leader demanded Abuat’s release but this was denied.

Col. Madid Paitao, police chief of Lanao del Norte, said they could not just release Abuat due to his pending multiple murder charges.

“He is now detained at the provincial jail. We need a court order before we turn him over to any group,” he said.

Butch Malang, chief of the MILF coordinating committee on cessation of hostilities, said they already sent men to talk to Bravo’s men.

“The issue about Bravo’s issuance of arrest warrant is now being investigated. We are checking on it,” he said.

AFP to deploy soldiers in 6 Oro villages

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Jun 22): AFP to deploy soldiers in 6 Oro villages

THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will deploy soldiers in six villages in Cagayan de Oro City for its Bayanihan Alert for Peace and Development (BAPD).

Bayanihan, which means working together in the Philippines, is an approach of the AFP for a close coordination with the community in working for the safety of the citizens.

The 403rd Infantry “Peacemaker” Brigade (403 IB) is set to deploy its soldiers in the villages of Balulang, Tagpangi, Bonbon, Tuburan and Agusan. Each village will host a platoon of enlisted personnel.

“We are here as front liners and get involved in the affairs of the community and find out from the people their needs and then for us to act as catalysts for those needs to materialize,” said Col. Francisco Pabayo, 403 IB commander.

The soldiers are expected to initiate activities like youth leadership and community leaders’ enhancement seminars; establish livelihood projects; and strengthen existing village defense system in collaboration with the Philippine National Police (PNP), local government units (LGUs) and other stakeholders.

“PNP is very willing to support the program. But because of the big population size in barangays, we also need help in the maintenance of the peace and order. We are here to back up the AFP and vice versa,” said Superintendent Dexter Paje, Police Community Relations Officer of the Cagayan de Oro City Police Office (Cocpo).

Paje assured that police visibility will be frequent in the identified villages.

Immediate response

Mayor Oscar Moreno, who graced the send-off ceremony at Balulang village covered court on Friday, said the program will help giving immediate response to the villages.

Moreno lauded the military and asked the cooperation of the concerned communities.

“This is to bring projects to the people with the military. This partnership goes beyond Cagayan de Oro and even Misamis Oriental. This is for the whole Northern Mindanao,” he added.

Different perception

Tuburan village councilor Charlito Yañez, however, said “residents have a different perception of the military presence" in their place.

“Whenever they see people in fatigue uniforms, they get scared. In 1983, military men massacred families in Tuburan. But later on, some of the people knew that they were rebels dressed in AFP uniforms. So it will be a problem when there is a military presence there since not all have understood yet,” Yañez said.

“But we whole-heartedly accept this kind of program. It will just take some time for the residents to get used to your presence there,” he added.

Balulang chairman Alfredo Carcosa said his village’s concern is on the peace and order.

“We have a peace and order problem here in Balulang because of the high count of [carjacking] cases. But with the help of the military, although it is not their job, but they can maintain peace and order in our community,” Carcosa said.

Aside from peace and order, AFP will also conduct trainings in case of disasters like typhoon Sendong in 2011.

“We have trainings for the people in the community. Trainings will involve first aid, dos and don’ts, among others. We also have an information education for the people wherein we invite weather forecasters that are in authority to talk on earthquakes, typhoons and the like,” said Captain Invinzor Meneses, commanding officer of the Philippine Army’s 43rd Civil Military Operations (CMO) company.

ISIS online cheerleader Musa Cerantonio spotted in PH

From Rappler (Jun 22): ISIS online cheerleader Musa Cerantonio spotted in PH

[Exclusive] Melbourne-born, the 29-year-old jihadist has been staying in the Philippines for nearly a year. He has been seen in Manila, Cebu and Zamboanga, according to Rappler’s sources.

[Video: how I came to Islam :: talk by musa cerantonio :: Part 1]

For the first time, authorities in the Philippines and Australia confirm Melbourne-born Musa Cerantonio, whom a recent study named one of the top two most influential jihadist “inspirations” for fighters in Syria and Iraq, is in the Philippines.

The 29-year-old Cerantonio is a Christian convert to Islam who’s using social media effectively to encourage terrorism and urge Muslims to join the jihad in Syria and Iraq.

Philippine and Australian sources verified to Rappler that Melbourne-born Musa Cerantonio is in the Philippines – and has been for a while. “Nearly a year,” one source privy to the information said.

“He spent a lot of time in the Middle East,” said another. Reports said he appeared on numerous English language shows from Egypt and preached jihad in call-in shows broadcast globally. He combined traditional media with new media: his radical teachings are on YouTube, and he engages and spreads the same virulent ideology espoused by al-Qaeda on Twitter and Facebook.

Two weeks ago as jihadist forces captured Tikrit and Mosul, Cerantonio told his followers: “The black flags fly high today over Mosul and much of Iraq. Rejoice, O Muslims. Hasten to support the Ummah [Arabic for “community].”

On June 13, 2014, the Australian said Cerantonio was under investigation and that the Australian Federal Police may be moving against him where “he’s believed to be living” in the Philippines.

“Have fun finding me,” Cerantonio tweeted in reaction. “I’ll be waiting for you or whichever dogs you send.”

“Come and meet us in the mountains of Sulu if you wish to find me,” he wrote in another tweet. “We will be waiting, no promises that we will be gentle though.” Soon after, Cerantonio’s Twitter account was shut down.

So far, Filipino sources said, there has been no request from Australia for his arrest.

Gray area

When asked why Cerantonio isn't being arrested, a Filipino official not authorized to speak about him replied, “He’s always in the gray area...He knows what governments can do to him so he makes sure he stays in the gray area.”

It’s a gray area that was exploited by many radical preachers around the world, from the Middle East to London to Southeast Asia, where it once seemed difficult to hold accountable radical preachers like Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, once the emir of Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s arm in Southeast Asia.

Shortly after the 2002 Bali bombings, it seemed Indonesians could only bring Ba'asyir in for questioning. He told intelligence officers: “I make many knives, and I sell many knives, but I’m not responsible for what happens to them.”

The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) published a paper in April that studied the social media activity of 190 Western and European fighters in Iraq and Syria.

“Social media represents an essential source of information and inspiration to them,” said the study. “Social media is no longer virtual: it has become an essential facet of what happens on the ground.”

Based on a detailed analysis of their activity on social media, Cerantonio was identified as one of the two most influential voices providing “inspiration and guidance” to fighters.

The ICSR study said that one in 4 foreign fighters followed Cerantonio’s Twitter account. More than 92% of his tweets involved an interaction of some kind: 53.8% involved interactions with other users; 38.4% of his tweets were retweeted.

ICSR wrote that on Twitter, “Cerantonio typically employs highly inflammatory language, for example, calling the State Department ‘pussy Yankee scum,’ and claiming that ‘the USA and its slaves like you are the greatest criminals on Earth.’ In one instance, he posted a modified image of the US State Department seal which read ‘US Department of Rape.’”

Cerantonio was far more active on Facebook: his Facebook page was the third most “liked” page among jihadists. He is “explicit in his endorsement of violent jihad and support for jihadist organizations operating in Syria” and is openly supportive of ISIS and “indirectly bringing in recruits.”

“I have been very clear about why ISIS are the best forces on the ground,” Cerantonio wrote on Facebook. “That is because they are doing what the others do not, i.e., establishing a state and declaring the intention to establish the Khilafah.”

The goal, like al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia, is to establish an Islamic Caliphate, the “Khilafah.”

ISIS apologist

“He’s certainly a very powerful apologist for ISIS even though he claims not to be linked to ISIS,” Professor Greg Barton, from the Global Terrorism Research Centre at Monash University, told Rappler. “He’s clearly laid out his position on the side of ISIS so you can argue that indirectly, he contributes to ISIS.”

ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, finds its roots in Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq, but it became so brutal that at one point, al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri disowned it.

ISIS, in some sense, is the most powerful manifestation of al-Qaeda today,” said Barton. “ISIS controls territory, is more powerful and more successful than al-Qaeda has ever been – because technically, ISIS is not an affiliate of al-Qaeda.”

The social networks that once formed al-Qaeda have been disrupted: with top and middle-rank leaders captured and killed, members of the cells merged, allowing diffferent affiliated groups to mutate in different ways.

The threat today is more dispersed: the central core is weaker, but the offshoot groups carry the same virulent ideology.

Social media spread

That ideology spreads far more rapidly on social media, connecting a Filipino or Indonesian to a global jihad much faster and cheaper (and with less risk) than ever before.

Now face-to-face meetings are no longer needed to preach and recruit, and that may be the soft underbelly for global counterterrorism forces.

It allows an Australian (although some say he’s renounced his citizenship) to proselytize globally from the Philippines using the Internet and social media.

Musa Cerantonio has been seen in Manila, Cebu and Zamboanga, according to Rappler’s sources. His Facebook account, like his Twitter, has been deactivated.

“He’s aware of the vulnerability of his circumstances,” Barton told Rappler. “He’s been clever enough not to divulge his position.”

As the US and its allies struggle with how to handle the crisis triggered by ISIS’ march in Iraq, another pressing question remains: how can authorities stop the spread of the virulent ideology that leads to terrorism and prevent new networks from forming?

China's actions illegal, defy morality: Viet Nam's President

Posted to InterAksyon (Jun 22): China's actions illegal, defy morality: Viet Nam's President

DA NANG -- China's illegal placement of oil rig Haiyang Shiyou 981 in Viet Nam's continental shelf and exclusive economic zone is raising world indignation.

State President Truong Tan Sang, in an interview with Viet Nam News Agency on the issue, quoted an ancient Vietnamese King's words as an indication that the nation will never ease up on the issue.

What is the state of Viet Nam-China relations now that China has placed an oil rig in Viet Nam's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf?

On May 2, China illegally placed its rig within Viet Nam's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. It has unilaterally violated a high-level bilateral agreement on basic principles guiding the settlement of sea-related issues and international law, including the United Nations Charter, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC).

The Party, State and people of Viet Nam strive to strengthen friendship between the people of Viet Nam and China. We want to maintain peace and stability for national development, as Viet Nam has suffered huge losses and devastation after several decades of war. At the same time we expect China to do the same, he said.

As I said to voters in HCM City just after the start of the incident, we will not accept it when any country, regardless of how strong it is, forces us to concede the sacred territory and sovereignty of our fatherland. Viet Nam has sufficient historical and legal evidence proving our sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos, and the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf in line with international law. We are determined to protect every inch of our land or sea from violation. For every Vietnamese, national territorial sovereignty is sacred and sacrosanct.

How did the Party Central Committee respond to the incident at its recent ninth session?

The ninth session of the 11th Party Central Committee spent considerable time debating this issue. The committee and the Politburo have always said that the territorial sovereignty of the nation is sacred and cannot be conceded. The Vietnamese people, Party and State have enough will and resolve as well as a sufficient historical and legal basis to fight to safeguard our national sovereignty.

It is unacceptable that strong countries can defy morality and justice. Our people have gone through wars and fought bravely against invaders for thousands of years. Following the recent incident, few countries or international organisations have voiced support for China's action in siting the rig in Viet Nam's waters and its irrational nine-dot territorial claim.

Legal and historical evidence shows that justice is on our side. The world community has a fairly clear attitude towards this.

What is your assessment of the patriotism of Vietnamese and their way of expressing it now?

Our people have an ardent patriotic tradition. Every time the country's independence and sovereignty are threatened, Vietnamese people always unite as one to defend the Fatherland.

I am deeply moved by and respect the noble sentiment of our compatriots and comrades. All people as one look towards the East Sea. Fishermen bravely stay on the front line at sea despite the threat and intimidation from Chinese ships, even when one fishing boat was sunk.

They stay in their traditional fishing grounds where generations of Vietnamese have fished, refusing to yield. Viet Nam's law enforcement forces never give in. People throughout the country express their patriotism in various creative ways. Vietnamese all over the world also voice their strong protest against China's illegal act.

We are resolved to defend our sovereignty by peaceful measures on the basis of international law. However, we should be vigilant against provocative words and acts. When the country faces difficulties and challenges, we should unite more than ever. It is obvious that division and provocation cannot help the country overcome challenges.

Viet Nam-China economic ties are an issue of great interest for the public. Many people say Viet Nam might become dependent on China economically. What do you think?

It's been nearly 30 years since Viet Nam began the Doi Moi (renewal) policy, and we have been consistent in following integration into the world economy. Under this policy, our country has established trade and investment relations with more than 200 countries and territories.

We have followed the motto of being a friend and a reliable and responsible partner in the international community, co-existing peacefully with all nations. We always strive for mutual benefit and resolutely avoid becoming dependent on any country, both economically or politically.

With this external relations policy, Viet Nam has made many achievements, promoting national development and improving the people's living standards. However, we should frankly admit that this policy has not been carried out well in some fields, thus negatively affecting the economy.

Our economic and trade ties with China have seen a rapid development over recent years, but Viet Nam's trade deficit has been growing, particularly in the import of materials for production. Some of our exports have focused too much on the Chinese market.

In the field of bidding for EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction), BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) and equipment supply contracts in a number of important economic sectors, such as power, information and telecommunications, Chinese investors won a large number of contracts, but the quality and technology of many such contracts are not high while costs usually inflate and the time of implementation is prolonged.

This situation needs to be corrected as early as possible.

An issue of great public concern is what policy and solutions the Party and State have taken in response to China's rig?

Immediately after China illegally positioned its rig deep inside Viet Nam's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, the Party Central Committee and the Politburo drafted out guidelines to deal with the incident. On the one hand, we firmly demand that China remove the rig out of our country's waters; on the other hand, we patiently try to maintain a peaceful environment for national construction and neighbourliness.

Agencies of the Party, State, the National Assembly, the Government and the entire political system have joined the fight, conducting the diplomatic struggle both bilaterally and multilaterally and carrying out activities at the site through civilian law-enforcement forces.

At the same time we have provided regular and truthful information to help people have a clear understanding of what is going on. We have always employed peaceful measures and requested China to show its good will to solve the problem by peaceful means in line with international law and agreements between China and ASEAN, and between China and Viet Nam.

Legal measures will be used when necessary to safeguard our country's sovereignty and territory.

The struggle to defend national independence, sovereignty, national unification and territorial integrity will be long and hard, requiring us to have resolve and, at the same time, calmness and patience in order to be successful.

Our Party and State are undertaking policies and measures to meet the just aspirations of more than 90 million Vietnamese. I would like to quote here the words that King Le Thanh Tong once said to his royal court, which were recorded in Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu (The Complete Annals of Dai Viet): "How can we abandon even a single inch of our mountain, our river? You must firmly stand your ground, not letting them gradually encroach. If they do not listen, we can send our envoys to the north to clarify justice. If you dare to concede even a single inch of the land of our ancestors to the enemy, it will be a crime deserving of death."

AFP to honor Albayano Marine who died in Sulu encounter

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): AFP to honor Albayano Marine who died in Sulu encounter

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will honor the Albayano soldier from Camalig, Albay, who died during an encounter with the Abu Sayyaf Group in Patikul, Sulu, last June 19.

Lt. Col. Johannes Dimaano, head of the Tactical Operations Group 5 of the Philippine Air Force (PAF), said the honors will be done during a ceremony on the interment of the fallen Cpl. Jose Mario Muron, whose remains lie in state at their residence in Barangay Ilawod, Camalig.

Muron will be given a 21-gun salute during his burial whose date has not yet been decided by the family, Dimaano said.

Relatives and fellow soldiers were emotional when they met the body of Muron that arrived from Metro Manila on board a C-130 plane at about 3:30 p.m. on Friday at the TOG-5 headquarters at the Legazpi Airport compound.

Muron’s group in the 2nd Marine Brigade encountered a group of Abu Sayyaf on June 19 where 10 ASG members and seven government troopers died and 24 were wounded.

2 killed in Davao Del Norte clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): 2 killed in Davao Del Norte clash

Two persons, one of them a New People's Army (NPA) fighter and the other a militiaman, were killed following an encounter in Barangay Dacudao, San Isidro town, Davao Del Norte Sunday morning.

The incident took place 5: 20 a.m. Initially two militiamen were reported wounded as rebels battled it out with troopers of the 60th Infantry Battalion.

Capt. Ernest Carolina, 10th Infantry Division spokesperson, said one of the wounded militiamen died of his wounds at 6: 45 a.m.

He added that a series of military offensive against the NPAs was conducted after information was received last Friday that armed rebels were sighted in the Barangay Dacudao area.

Allegedly the NPA's were calling for certain residents of the barangay to their encampment to talk to them about a plan to recover their mass base and resume recruitment in the area. The offensive was launched immediately Friday evening, and the encounter took place in the vicinity of Sitio Mabuhay of the said barangay, that lasted for around 40 minutes.

Government forces recovered from the fleeing NPA ammunition bandoliers with several AK-47 magazines, 50 meters of detonating wire and anti-personnel mine blast fragments.

The mine was supposed to have been detonated by the NPA early in the firefight but failed to inflict casualties among the government forces.

Lt. Col. Roberto Bunagan, 60th Infantry Battalion commander, said, "We cannot allow them to go back to doing what they did in these places. They have exploited the people's condition to their advantage, while at the same time undermining development in the area. Often it is even the children or the minors who are taken advantage of by the group."

The body of the slain NPA, said to be a male possibly in his early 20s, has been turned over to the San Isidro Police, while the body of the militiaman killed in action, identified as Ronel Lagare, is already with the slain CAAs family, he said.

Bunagan said the wounded one, Wennie Piyao, is recuperating at the Kapalong District Hospital.

On Friday morning, the 25th Infantry Battalion recovered an AK-47 high powered assault rifle from the NPAs in an encounter within the same Davao Del Norte - Compostela Valley boundary area.

BIFF, ASG leader killed in Basilan encounter

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): BIFF, ASG leader killed in Basilan encounter

A ranking Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) commander was killed along with a Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) brigand during special operations conducted by the 18th Infantry Battalion, 16th Military Intelligence Company and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Barangay Kuhon Lennuh, Albarka, Basilan Sunday morning.

Lt. Col. Paolo Perez, 18th Infantry Battalion commander, said the operation started 5 a.m. and lasted until 9 a.m.

He identified the slain BIFF leader as Basir Kasaran and the ASG brigand as Misuari Jamiri.

The leader of the MNLF group, who helped in the special operation, was identified as Cmdr. Ombong Malatin alias "Cobra".

Perez said military and MNLF troopers ambushed the terrorists triggering a fierce gunbattle with reinforcing BIFF and ASG members.

Goverment troopers were quickly reinforced with heavy mortars, scattering the terrorists.

In exchange of fire, one MNLF fighter was killed.

Perez said Kasaran is the ranking BIFF operative in Basilan while Jamiri was described as the number three-man in the ASG.

Pursuit operations are still ongoing. No one was reported hurt nor killed in the military side.

US, PH air forces turn over two classrooms in Lapu-Lapu City

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): US, PH air forces turn over two classrooms in Lapu-Lapu City

Air Force units from the United States of America and the Philippines have turned over two classroom buildings in Buyong Elementary School in Barangay Marigondon, Lapu-Lapu City.

This elementary school was one of the schools in Lapu-Lapu City that has experienced classroom shortage after it was hit by typhoon Yolanda last year.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the school building was held early last month.

Among those who attended the dedication rites Friday were Colonel John C. Womack of the USAF, Brigadier General Raymundo Elefante, Wing Commander of 560th Air Base Wing of PAF; Maribago Barangay Captain Joseph Pangatungan; and Teodolo Ybañez, Lapu-Lapu City Administrator.

The undertaking was also witnessed by school officials of Buyong Elementary School.

Ybañez said the city lacks hundreds of classrooms, but the city is trying its best to compensate the scarcity of school needs by having more teachers.

Ybañez thanked the US and Philippine Air Force units for building the classrooms.

8th Infantry Division launches 'Project Shoebox'

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): 8th Infantry Division launches 'Project Shoebox'

The Catbalogan-based 8th Infantry Division has launched its own "Project Shoebox" during simple ceremonies at its headquarters last June 19.

Reports forwarded by Major Amado Gutierrez, unit spokesperson, Sunday said 9,000 shoe boxes containing school supplies and personal care items were turned over by Boyet Singson, representing 2GO Group Incorporated, to Dr. Eduardo G. Pabunan, representing the School Division Superintendent of Department of Education, Samar and Major Gen. Jet B. Velarmino, the Commander of 8th Infantry Division.

2GO Incorporated shipped the items from Metro Manila for free.

"Project Shoebox" was first launched by the U.P. Sigma Alpha Sorority and the 4th Light Armor Battalion, Light Armor Division in Camp Nakar, Lucena City in February 2012.

The project utilized a shoe box as a package, wherein basic school supplies and other personal care items were put into it and were distributed to selected elementary schools.

From then on, the Philippine Army and its subordinate units spearheaded the same project that helped tens of thousands of families who have hard time buying school supplies for their children.

As of 2013, recipient students were placed at 116,096 from 381 public elementary schools located in different parts of the Philippines namely: Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, Bicol region, Compostela Valley, and Davao Oriental.

“This is a simple way of letting our elementary students feel that your Army here in Eastern Visayas and other stakeholders show our simple but genuine concern for their welfare,” Velarmino concluded.

Coloma assures families of 7 soldiers killed in Sulu clash will get benefits

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 22): Coloma assures families of 7 soldiers killed in Sulu clash will get benefits

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. on Sunday assured that dependents of the seven soldiers killed in Sulu clashes with Abu Sayyaf Group will receive assistance from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

”The dependents of the seven soldiers killed in action will receive burial benefits and financial assistance from the AFP,” Coloma said in a press briefing.

Coloma said the children of the slain Marine soldiers will also receive educational benefits, assistance from the Alay sa Kawal Foundation and special financial assistance under Republic Act 6963.

”Their surviving spouses will also receive old age pension, while the wounded personnel will also receive financial assistance from the AFP,” he said.

Based on the latest reports by AFP public information officer Col. Demy Zagala, Coloma said the heavy firefight between the government troops and ASG headed by Hairula Asbang took place at 6:30 p.m. on June 19 in Patikul, Sulu.

”The firefight occurred when the Marines were conducting patrol operations. The ASG suffered at least 10 fatalities while, on the government side, seven soldiers were killed in action and 13 others were wounded,” Coloma said.

The AFP reported that most of the government casualties were hit by enemy mortar fire.

Coloma said the Marines are presently conducting follow-on law enforcement operations in coordination with the Philippine National Police to locate and neutralize the ASG elements in the area.