Friday, July 4, 2014

DVIDS: 7th ID builds relationship with new Philippine army commanding general

From DVIDS (Jul 3): 7th ID builds relationship with new Philippine army commanding general

7th ID builds relationship with new Philippine army commanding general
Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri (right), commanding general, Philippine army, is briefed about the safety procedures on the Stryker from a 7th Infantry Division Soldier before conducting a road test on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., July 2. Iriberri visited JBLM to understand the mission and organization of I Corps, 7th Infantry Division, discuss U.S. Army rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific region, bilateral engagements, and visit combined arms training facilities.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Soldiers from the 7th Infantry Division welcomed the commanding general of the Philippine army to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, July 2.

During a stop on his visit to the U.S., Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri visited JBLM to learn about potential training opportunities with 7th Infantry Division and I Corps units.

Iriberri is the 56th commanding general of the Philippine army and is visiting U.S. installations on the invitation of U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno.

Iriberri and 7th Infantry Division leaders discussed the realignment of units throughout the Pacific region and how it will affect the partnership between the two nations.

“The opportunity today to have Lt. Gen. Iriberri is phenomenal,” said Maj. Gen. Terry Ferrell, commanding general, 7th Infantry Division. “It gives us the opportunity to strengthen an existing partnership, identify the gaps between our armies and where we can work together to close those gaps.”

During a briefing, Iriberri inquired about the capabilities and upcoming restructuring of the brigades within 7th Infantry Division and I Corps and how they will impact the mission in the Asia-Pacific region.

Following a series of briefings, Iriberri toured an equipment display showing the multiple variations and capabilities of the division’s signature Stryker vehicles. He then experienced riding in a Stryker while on a road test.

Before departing the division headquarters, Iriberri expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to visit with the Soldiers and experience the Strykers first-hand.

After leaving the division headquarters, Iriberri traveled to the Mission Training Complex to learn about the virtual training capabilities at JBLM.

The MTC highlighted the areas of training and development of unit leaders, exercises and global networks, the area of operation immersion program, and combined arms training. Training uses live, virtual, constructive, and gaming “blended” techniques.

Iriberri’s goals during his U.S. visit, that also included stops at Fort Benning, Georgia, and Washington, District of Columbia, include upgrading Philippine army capabilities, enhancing joint and combined operational capabilities and upgrading training systems and facilities.

Iriberri, who has trained with U.S. Soldiers as recently as this past May during Exercise Balikatan 2014, said working with other armed forces would enhance the Philippine army’s joint and combined operational capabilities.

Iriberri wrapped up his visit to JBLM with a meeting with Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, I Corps commanding general, about the Corps' perspective, focus and realignment in the Pacific.

ON 4TH OF JULY | Solon asks US for ‘better terms’ for PH on EDCA

From InterAksyon (Jul 4): ON 4TH OF JULY | Solon asks US for ‘better terms’ for PH on EDCA

On July 4, 2014, which Malacanang observes as Republic Day to commemorate the 68th anniversary of the formal recognition of Philippine independence by the United States of America, an administration ally asked the negotiators on both sides of the Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) to consider better terms for  the country not only on infrastructure programs for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) but also for health, education and other social development programs.

In a press conference at a posh restaurant ni Bonifacio Global City, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano appealed for better terms from the United States, which has been a big brother to the Philippines many times in the past.

"Don’t only be big brother. Although the agreement says at low cost, there is much that they can do to help the country, including to spend more on our defense capabilities so that we can use our own money to fund social services and economic development," Cayetano said.

"Since the country needs a lot of money for infrastructure but if we can source our defense budget from US military aid, the monies intended for AFP modernization can be used for other social services programs and economic development.

"So my appeal during what used to be the Filipino-American Friendship Day is let us have better terms. Our negotiators, I don't know why they gave it at low cost; in Japan they are spending billions. But I think the appeal is in order," he added.

3 soldiers demoted for going“wild

From the Sun Star-Cebu (Jul 4): 3 soldiers demoted for going“wild

THREE soldiers have been demoted and will be transferred to Mindanao following their arrest last April for allegedly getting wild while drinking on Gen. Maxilom Ave., Cebu City last April 15.

Lieutenant Commander Jim Alagao, spokesperson of Central Command (Centcom), identified them as Private First Class Leand Bryce Nemil Aujero, 26; Lovey dela Cruz, 24, and Aljun Diocana, 29.

They are assigned at the Intelligence Security Unit (ISU) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) at the Central Command (Centcom).

“This shows that the AFP does not tolerate violations of rules and policies by its members,” Alagao told Sun.Star Cebu.


The soldiers were arrested then detained in Police Station 2 last April 15 after Aujero was accused of pointing a gun at a security guard in a club while his companions became unruly.

Alagao, in a phone interview, said they were demoted to the rank of private following a decision made by investigators in Fort Bonifacio in Manila finding them guilty of ungentlemanly conduct.

The decision, Alagao said, also showed there was no gun-toting incident.


Instead, the investigators weighed on the misbehavior of the soldiers.
“Ang ilang pagmaoy-maoy og paghubog-hubog nakada og kauwaw sa organization (Their acts while drunk brought shame to the AFP),” he said.
Aujero, dela Cruz and Diocana are in Centcom and will serve their punishment for 181 days and 181 hours.


“Padayon ra gihapon ilang trabaho pero dili gyud sila kagawas (They continue working but they can’t go out),” Alagao said.

He said the soldiers will be transferred to Mindanao by the end of the year.
Prior to their arrest, Alagao said the soldiers have no derogatory records. They have been in service for three to five years.

The security guard, 46-year-old Garido Ampong, didn’t press criminal charges against Aujero after they settled the issue.

The soldiers, reportedly very drunk, were about to enter a club in Gen. Maxilom Ave. when Aujero allegedly got irked at Ampong during a routine inspection.

Aujero allegedly pulled out a .45 pistol, prompting Ampong to call for help. When police arrived, dela Cruz and Diocana allegedly prevented them from arresting Aujero.

Rebel spokesman dared to do good

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jul 5): Rebel spokesman dared to do good

The Philippine Army yesterday challenged priest-turned-rebel Frank Fernandez to prove his claims of being pro-people, by doing good for Negrenses, and not by propagating violence.
This was the response of Col. Jon Aying, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, to the claims of Fernandez, spokesman of the National Democratic Front-Negros, that the “Marching for Peace, Serving the Countryside” initiative of the Provincial Peace Integration and Development Unit, of which the military and police are among its members, is part of the Oplan Bayanihan psy-war efforts to dismantle NPA guerilla units in Negros island.
Aying said Fernandez and the CPP-NPA in Negros should help uplift the lives of the people, and not destroy their lives.
In a statement issued by the NDF, Fernandez said that “Marching for Peace” is a grandiose display of terrorism in the 5th district, stressing that it failed to destroy a guerilla front in northern Negros, where a similar activity was held last year.
Organizers of the peace and development activities in the 1st and 5th districts of Negros Occidental had described as “successful” the Pro-PIDU initiatives in their conflict-affected communities.
But Fernandez said the transfer of the “Marching for Peace, Serving the Countryside” activities from the 1st to the 5th district of Negros Occidental is a desperate attempt of Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. and Aying to give foreign capitalists and investors a free hand in pushing their business interests in the area.
Aying invited the NPA rebels who are already tired of the armed struggle to join the government in providing solutions to the poverty problem, which cannot be solved through violent means.
In Negros Occidental alone, more than 100 rebels have already surrendered to the government since 2012, military records show.

2 killed in Bais clash

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jul 5): 2 killed in Bais clash

A Philippine Army soldier and a suspected member of the New People’s Army were killed in an encounter in Sitio Sandana, Barangay Mansangaban, Bais City in Negros Oriental, at around 10 a.m. yesterday.

The soldier was identified as Pfc Marlon Lanes of Roxas City, and assigned with the 79th Infantry Battalion. The suspected rebel fatality remains unidentified, and Army sources described him as young, with long hair, and a fair complexion.

Initial report reaching the 302nd Infantry Brigade of the PA said troopers of the 79th IB engaged around 15 armed men, believed to be members of the Komiteng Rehiyon Sentral Bisayas-South East Front.

Lt. Col. Christopher Estella, deputy brigade commander, said they are trying to determine whether insurgents from the other part of the island had merged with this group during the encounter.

Troops of the 79th and 20th IB were conducting pursuit operations of alleged members of the SEF’s Sentro de Gravidad platoon, allegedly led by a certain Domingo Compoc.

Estella said some residents informed the Brigade about the presence of armed men going around their barangay and asking for food, and causing worry to the community.

He said the clash is an indicator that the rebels are now on the run and the encounter site in Mansangaban was just a temporary harbor area for the NPA.

He noted that about 15 alleged remnants of the SEF, are moving from their usual bases in the southern part of the province, like Sta. Catalina, to the central part of Negros Oriental.

Estella said this can be seen in the pattern of encounters recently, where the clash sites were no longer in Sta. Catalina but in the adjacent or boundary areas of Pamplona and Tanjay City and, this time, Bais City.

He added that soldiers recovered around 15 ponchos, backpacks, personal belongings and documents from the encounter site, and saw traces of blood on the escape route of the suspected insurgents.

This is the second encounter between the rebels and government forces after Negros Oriental was declared as conflict manageable and development ready on May 7.

A group of police personnel from the Regional Public Safety Battalion and Scene of the Crime Operatives were deployed to aid the Army in post-encounter operations.

Dangerous and on the loose (Zulkifli Abd Hir)

From the Star Online (Jul 4): Dangerous and on the loose

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Abd Hir is not dead. He is alive and remains one of the world’s most wanted and elusive terrorists.

The United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation has put a RM16mil price on his head and security agencies have stepped up their operations in the hunt for this dangerous fugitive, especially in view of events in Syria and Iraq.

They fear a resurgence of terror following the call by Abu Bakar Baghdadi – now regarded as the most dangerous terrorist in the world – to radical Muslims worldwide to rise and fight for the Islamic State, the new foundation of a Caliphate.

Regional security agencies said they were now re-looking at the movements of Zulkifli “in the light of events in the Middle East and its impact on South-East Asia.”

Bukit Aman Special Branch’s Counter Terrorism Division principal assistant director Senior Asst Comm Datuk Ayob Khan confirmed that Zulkifli, also known as Marwan, was still alive – despite reports that he had been killed in an airstrike on Feb 2, 2012.

“We are aware of reports that said he was killed a few years ago. That is not true. We believe he is hiding in southern Philippines,” he said yesterday.

He added that his division was now tracking Marwan down and monitoring those close to him.

Asked if Zulkifli might be involved in the local militant movement and in sending fighters to Syria and Iraq, SAC Ayob said police have not ruled out such a possibility.

It is learnt that Muar-born Zulkifli had a wife in Malaysia but married three other Philippine nationals when he went into hiding.

The 48-year-old US trained engineer, who is a bomb making expert, has close links to the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group that is now active in the Philippines.

Intelligence sources said the Kumpulan Mujahiddin Malaysia (KMM) leader is regarded as a supplier of bombs for radical groups, and a trainer of their fighters.

“That is why his arrest is vital in our war against terror. He is part of the Jemaah Islamiyah group that was responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 200 people,” an analyst said.

His brother, Rahmat Abdhir, a US citizen, is now in detention in Guantanamo, following his arrest in California for conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.

Zulkifli, like other KMM members, had travelled in the late 1980s to Afghanistan to join the resistance against the Russians, according to reports.
On returning to Malaysia, he hooked up with other Malaysian Afghan veterans to form KMM, which aimed to form a regional Islamic state via violence.

KMM members have been linked to the murder of Lunas assemblyman Dr Joe Fernandez in 2002, the bombing of a church and a Hindu temple, and also the attack on the Guar Chempedak police station on Feb 4, 2001.

Those arrested under the Internal Security Act included several PAS grassroots leaders such as Zainon Ismail, Noorashid Sakid, Ahmad Tajuddin and Nik Adli Nik Aziz, the son of the then Kelantan Mentri Besar.

AFP: Abu Sayyaf still holds 10 hostages

From Solar News (Jul 4): AFP: Abu Sayyaf still holds 10 hostages

At least 10 kidnap victims are still in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sulu province.
This was reported by Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of the Western Mindanao Command (WesMinCom), on Friday (July 4) amid ongoing operations against the bandit group.
The kidnap victims reportedly include two Malaysians who were kidnapped in Semporna in June.
Guerrero said that the Wesmincom is still verifying reports that one kidnap victim had been injured in an encounter the other week. 
On Wednesday (July 2), Wesmincom captured a major headquarters of the bandit group in Sulu, reportedly the camp of ASG leader Radulan Sahiron.

Patikul, Sulu clash leaves four marines wounded

From the Manila Standard Today (Jul 5): Patikul, Sulu clash leaves four marines wounded

FOUR Marines were wounded on Friday—one of them critically—after heavy fighting again erupted between the soldiers and members of the Abu Sayyaf group in Patikul, Sulu, an official said.

Marine Deputy Commandant Jose Cenabre said the fighting started after the gunmen fired on the soldiers, triggering a running battle.

He said one of the wounded Marines was in critical condition and was airlifted to the Zamboanga City General Hospital. The rest were taken to the Southern Command hospital in Camp Navarro.

“I don’t have yet the details but apparently there were three to four soldiers wounded,” Cenabre said.

Military sources in Mindanao said the gunmen who ambushed the Marines belonged to Abu Sayyaf leader Radullan Sahiron, the same group believed responsible for the ambush-slaying of six Army troopers in Patikul, Sulu.

“The manhunt against the rebels will continue until they are decimated,” Cenabre said.

Meanwhile, an Army soldier was killed and three soldiers were wounded in two separate clashes between government troopers and New People’s Army rebels in Misamis Oriental on Friday.

Clashes with NPA rebels claim lives of 3 soldiers

From the Business Mirror (Jul 4): Clashes with NPA rebels claim lives of 3 soldiers

TWO soldiers were killed while three others were wounded on Friday in three separate firefights between government troops and members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Misamis Oriental.
Maj. Christian Uy, spokesman for the Army’s Fourth Infantry “Diamond” Division, said the first clash happened at around 5:34 a.m. between troops from the 58th Infantry Battalion (IB) and rebels at Barangay Umagos, Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental. During the encounter, three soldiers were wounded.
Uy said that, as a result, the military sent a helicopter to evacuate the wounded troops, but, as soldiers were clearing the landing zone, another firefight broke and one soldier was killed.
At around 8:30 a.m., members of the 58th IB, who were serving as a blocking force, also encountered rebels at Barangay Kibanban, Balingasag, and another soldier was killed.
Uy said soldiers believed that the rebels also sustained casualties during the firefights as bloodstains were seen in the areas where they have positioned themselves.
“People in those communities have seen these NPAs carrying their wounded comrades,” he added, referring to the guerrillas who withdrew following the encounters.
Uy said soldiers are pursuing the rebels.
Meanwhile, another soldier was wounded on Thursday night after he was reportedly shot by rebels in Casiguran, Sorsogon.
Capt. Marjorie Panesa, public affairs officer of the 9th Infantry “Spear” Division, said Cpl. Ronald Frisa, member of the 31st IB was at Barangay Cagay, when he was shot by rebels at past 9 p.m.

Marines capture of Abu Sayyaf main camp in Sulu a big blow to terror group

From the Zamboanga Today (Jul 4): Marines capture of Abu Sayyaf main camp in Sulu a big blow to terror group

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has dealt a major setback to Abu Sayyaf (ASG) militants by capturing the main camp of the Al-Qaeda-linked terror group on June 30 in the troubled island province of Sulu in the southern Philippines.

“This is a big blow (to the Abu Sayyaf (ASG) leadership and organization),” Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command, said in an interview. “Kung baga bahay mo yung nakuha (As if your house was taken hold of).”

With the capture of Abu Sayyaf main camp, Radullan Sahiron has to go somewhere else where he is not very familiar or not very safe and secure, according to Guerrero.

“So we hope we will be able to eventually neutralize the entire group,” he added.

The seized camp served as the lair of  Leader, Radullan Sahiron. It is fortified with connecting trenches, well–established firing positions and hundreds of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) emplaced in all approaches.”

“It was abandoned they ran away so there was brief skirmishes but before there was a long fight against the occupants of the camp so apparently they withdrew and left behind several improvised explosive device more than 100 (IEDs),” said Guerrero.

The military in Sulu had earlier reported that at 3:00 p.m., June 30, 2014, Marine troops captured the main camp.

Prior the successful seizure of the ASG camp, an intense firefight ensued between operating troops and the group of Sahiron.

According to Brigadier General Martin Pinto, 2nd Marine Brigade Commander, troops had to breach the enemy’s defenses and squeeze themselves to the complex terrain to be able to get close to the objective.

“Despite the ASG’s terrain advantage, the Marines held their ground and returned fire as they inched their way to the camp, clearing several enemy satellite camps,” he said.

According to him, the persistence of the troops to push forward forced the heavily armed ASG to escape and scamper towards different directions, taking along with them undetermined number of casualties (dead and wounded comrades).

On the government side during the skirmishes, Marines suffered two wounded soldiers.

“We had two wounded in action (minor wounds). No government troop died during the fighting, it’s fortunate that we were able to get the camp without any massive casualty,” said Guerrero.

“We have received information, the enemies have been dragging along their wounded and killed comrades so I guess they suffered a lot during the encounter,” he said.

Clearing operations is still on-going as of this press time. “This is part of our continuing effort to address kidnapping. Basically that is the number one and address the terror threats. If we will not capture this camp we will not be able to address those threats in Western Mindanao area,” Guerrero said.

Meanwhile, Guerrero admitted the military successful operation against the Abu Sayyaf would not have been attain without the assistance of US in the form of training and support to the AFP’s civil military operations.

“The US assistance given to us has helped a lot. We have improved our medical centers as well as the skills of our soldiers and the military skills training  because they brought funds to rebuild schools, develop roads and bridges until today they on going projects.”

Reacting on reports that the US is disbanding its help on the Philippine troops in the fight against Al-Qaeda-linked terror militants, Guerrero said they will just reduce not disbanding.

“I don’t have (further details) because the decision is in the higher command, but apparently they (US troops in Mindanao) have scaled down their contingent as announced by Colonel Brown,” Guerrero said.

The general also said he does not think that the scaling down of US troops in the southern Philippines will affect the government’s campaign against terrorism.

“We have already acquired skills and we continue enhancing further the capability and skills of our soldiers besides we have the AFP’s modernization program so we don’t have to rely totally to the Americans because we have to stand with our own feet,” said Guerrero.

A year after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the US military established the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines in the southern Philippines to help ill-equipped Filipino forces contain a bloody rampage by the Abu Sayyaf gunmen, who carried out bombings, terrorized entire towns and kidnapped more than 100 people, including three Americans.

Although US forces are barred by the Philippine Constitution from local combat, the advice, training, military equipment and intelligence, including drone surveillance that they provided helped the underfunded Philippine military beat back the Abu Sayyaf. US-backed Philippine offensives whittled the militants’ ranks from a few thousand fighters — mostly drawn from desperately poor hinterland villages — to about 300 gunmen, who survive on extortion and kidnappings for ransom while dodging military assaults.

The US and the Philippines, which are defense treaty allies, signed a 10-year pact in April that will allow possibly thousands of American forces temporary access to selected Filipino military camps and enable them to preposition fighter jets and ships.

Retiring AFP chief downplays talks he is next DND head

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 4): Retiring AFP chief downplays talks he is next DND head

AFP Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista/ AFP Public Affairs Office

Outgoing Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista on Friday quelled as just rumors talks that he would be the next Defense Secretary.

“Hindi pwede (No). You cannot plan the decision of the President. That is, at best, a rumor. There’s no truth to that,” Bautista told state-owned People’s Television.

A report said that Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin might soon step down to make way for Bautista, who is retiring on July 18 just two days before he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 56.

Early this week, Gazmin said that he was not quitting his position.

“Let’s see what the future holds,” Bautista said when asked if he was offered the top defense post.

The retiring military chief also said he has no plans to run for public office.

His moniker “Manny Sundalo” has earned speculations that he will run for a government post. It was played up in social media by his subordinates and he was even named as a social media icon for helping a civilian in need to airlift her friends who survived a bus crash in Mt. Province. The civilian was supposedly clueless that she was exchanging text messages with the military chief.

Bautista said he will take a vacation after his retirement.

“I will take a vacation. It’s been a long time since I took a vacation,” he said.

He has served as military chief since January 2013.

No disbandment of US anti-terror unit, AFP exec reiterates

From the Philippine Star (Jul 4): No disbandment of US anti-terror unit, AFP exec reiterates

The military on Friday reiterated that the US military has not disbanded its anti-terror unit here but only reduced the number of its forces assigned in this southern part of the country.

Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) remains inside the camp of Westmincom to continue to assist and provide support to the local military counterpart.

“What I know is that it (JSOTF-P personnel) was just reduced,” Guerrero said.

Guerrero said JSOTF-P commander Col. Erik Brown has announced that the US united has started the reduction of its personnel but did not say  how many will leave and how many  will stay to continue their tour of duty.

Unofficial information showed tha 600  US servicemen, mostly members of the special forces,  were deployed over a decade since the JSOTF-P unit was established on the invitation of the Philippine government under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to help assist and train the Filipino troops in the war against terrorism.

The JSOTF-P members are deployed in a six-month tour of duty under a rotational basis.

Meanwhile, Guerrero believes the reduction of the JSOTF-P operation will not affect the enhancement and capability of the Filipino soldiers in the war against terror in the south.

“Over the years we have acquired some capability and skills have been enhanced,” Guerrero said. “So we just have to continue enhancing further the skills of our soldiers and their capability.”

He said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization and upgrade is well on its way and equipment have been delivered to the ground for the soldiers.

Soldier, suspected NPA rebel killed in clash in Bais City, Negros Oriental

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 4): Soldier, suspected NPA rebel killed in clash in Bais City, Negros Oriental

A Philippine Army soldier and a suspected member of the New People’s Army (NPA) died in an encounter Friday morning in Bais City, Negros Oriental.

A report reaching the 302nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army said troopers of the 79th Infantry Battalion engaged at least 15 armed men, believed NPA members of the Komiteng Rehiyon Sentral Bisayas-South East Front (SEF) around 10 a.m. Friday at the remote Sitio Sandana in Barangay Mansangaban, Bais City.

Lt. Col. Christopher Estella, deputy brigade commander, in an interview disclosed that early reports received by the brigade said the government troopers and the rebels clashed for about 30 seconds in Sitio Sandana.

The identity of the slain soldier has been withheld pending notification of the next of kin, said Estella.

On the other hand, the suspected rebel killed remains unidentified at press time. Initial description from Army sources said the man was young, with long hair, and fair complexion.

Estella said they are trying to determine whether insurgents from other parts of the island have merged with this group during the encounter.

Though the combat operations was initiated by the brigade, troops of the 79th IB and the 20th IB were on hand to conduct pursuit operations of the rebels, believed to be members of the SEF’s Sentro de Gravidad platoon allegedly led by a certain Domingo Compoc.

Estella disclosed the clash was a direct result of reports from residents in the area to the brigade that some armed men were going around their barangays, asking for food, which worried local folks.

The dead were earlier scheduled for extraction via a helicopter to be brought from the encounter site to the Bais City proper, however, inclement weather had prevented this.

An ambulance was instead sent over to pick up the cadavers, said Estella.

According to Estella, Friday’s clash is an indicator that the NPA rebels are now on the run as the encounter site in Mansangaban was just a temporary harbor area of the rebels.

He noted that the small group of remnants of the SEF, numbering about 15, are now moving from their usual bases in the southern part of the province, such as villages in Sta. Catalina, to the central part of the province.

This can be seen in the pattern of the encounters recently, where the clash sites were no longer in Sta. Catalina but in the adjacent or boundary areas of Pamplona and Tanjay City and this time, Bais City, he pointed out.

Estella disclosed that soldiers recovered at least 15 ponchos, backpacks, personal belongings and documents. They also saw traces of blood on the escape route of the insurgents.

As of press time, the two bodies are still being transported to a funeral parlor in Bais City.

Their cadavers will be released to their respective families once the required documents are in order.

This is the second encounter between the rebels and government forces after the May 7 declaration of Negros Oriental as conflict manageable and development ready.

Authorities have vowed to target a zero insurgency for Negros Oriental although a time frame was not given, but following the declaration, some areas in the province now cleared of the insurgency threat have been turned over to the Philippine National Police (PNP).

2nd Marine Brigade gets speed boat from Sulu government

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 4): 2nd Marine Brigade gets speed boat from Sulu government

In a bid to boost patrol and water interdiction capabilities of the 2nd Marine Brigade, Sulu Governor Abdusakur A. Tan Jr. and other ranking officials of the province donated a 32-foot 600-hp speed boat.

Donation took place last July 2 at the Jolo Pier, according to a statement forwarded Friday by the 2nd Marine Brigade.

Brig. Gen. Martin Pinto, 2nd Marine Brigade commander, thanked the Sulu provincial government saying the donation will definitely boost their capabilities.

"This is a welcome move by the provincial government, a manifestation of the strong partnership and collaboration of the local government and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The said water craft is capable of conducting maritime patrols to intercept and apprehend lawless elements engaged in illegal activities particularly to the series of kidnapping activities in the area," he concluded.

2 soldiers killed, 4 others wounded in Misamis Oriental clash with rebels

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 4): 2 soldiers killed, 4 others wounded in Misamis Oriental clash with rebels

Three troopers were killed while four others were wounded following a series of clashes with New People's Army (NPA) rebels in Misamis Oriental Friday morning.

Major Christian Uy, 4th Infantry Division spokesperson, said the first encounter took place around 5:34 a.m. around Sitio Kapatagan, Barangay Umagoss, Lagonglong town, Misamis Oriental.

Soldiers from the 58th Infantry Battalion were conducting routine security patrol when fired upon an undetermined number of NPAs.

Three troopers were hurt in this encounter with the rebel group sustaining an undetermined number of injured or casualty.

The second engagement took place an hour later as troopers, also from the same unit, were fired upon while clearing a landing zone for the helicopter that will evacuate the wounded.

A soldier was killed and another wounded in this encounter.

The third clash ensued between the blocking force of 58th Infantry Battalion and the NPAs at around 8:30 a.m. at Barangay Kibanban, Balingasag town, Misamis Oriental which resulted in the death of another soldier.

Pursuit operations are now ongoing against the NPA band who sustained an undetermined number of casualty in the series of incidents.

Gen. Bautista to take a short vacation after retirement

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 4): Gen. Bautista to take a short vacation after retirement

With his scheduled retirement just 16 days away, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista on Friday said that he is mulling a little vacation before seeking work in the civilian sector.

The AFP chief is scheduled to step down this July 20.

"I'll take some vacation first (after retirement) as I never had a proper vacation while in active service," he said in Filipino.

Bautista added that he will try to repair some things at his house during his planned vacation.

He is planning to do this with his wife and children.

And when asked if he plans to serve the country in a public office capacity, Bautista said he will just wait for offers.

"I'll continue to work, I need to work to survive," the AFP chief stated.

Bautista declined to comment on rumors that President Benigno S. Aquino III is planning to appoint him as the next head of the Department of National Defense.

"You cannot plan on that, that is the decision of the President," he stressed.

Bangsamoro in transition (3): Transitions within the transition

From MindaNews (Jul 4): Bangsamoro in transition (3): Transitions within the transition

3rd of a series: Transitions within the transition

DAVAO CITY – When the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) presented its draft peace agreement to the Aquino administration in February 2011, it proposed a long transition period of seven years — one year pre-interim and six years interim — enough time to prepare for the new autonomous political entity that would be set up to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

In July 2012, however, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim announced in a press conference in the MILF’s Camp Darapanan that they had agreed to shorten the transition period to three years.

“Originally that transition should be around six years because it is our conviction that we need a longer period to prepare the Bangsamoro to govern themselves,” Murad said, but the government (GPH) peace panel, then under former UP Law Dean Marvic Leonen (now Supreme Court Associate Justice), argued that if the transition period would be six years “then it will be passed on to the next President because the term of President Aquino will end in 2016.”

“So we said we can compromise. We can compromise for three years transition period,” Murad said, adding that within this period, “we hope we can be able to fast track the implementation of any agreement we will reach with the government.”

What is important, he said, is that the agreement signed “will be implemented” because “an agreement that is not implemented will just be a piece of paper.”

President Aquino had sought a meeting with Murad on August 4, 2011 and in that first face-to-face encounter in Japan, they agreed to fast-track the peace process so that an agreement can be forged in the first half of Aquino’s administration (2010 to 2013) and implementation can be done in the second half (2013 to 2016).

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed on October 15, 2012 by the Philippine government (GPH) and the MILF provides for “the need for a transition period” but did not specify a timeframe.

15-month delay

But the Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, signed in February 2013, said the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) which will take over from the ARMM that would be abolished when the Bangsamoro Basic Law shall have been ratified, “shall continue to perform its functions as interim Bangsamoro Government until the duly elected officials of the Bangsamoro shall have been qualified into office in 2016.”

Both parties agreed to a roadmap that would target June 30, 2016, the day the Aquino administration ends, as the day the regular Bangsamoro government would be installed, its first set of elected officials taking over from the President-appointed, MILF-led BTA.

When Murad announced in July 2012 that the MILF had agreed to a three-year transition and the FAB was signed in October that same year, both sides committed to finish the annexes and sign the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) by yearend 2012.

Under the FAB, both parties committed to work on the four annexes to the FAB – power-sharing, wealth-sharing, normalization, and transitional arrangements and modalities – “and complete a comprehensive agreement by the end of the year.”

The annexes were signed in February, July and December 2013 and January 2014 and the CAB was finally signed on March 27, 2014 or nearly 15 months after the supposed deadline of December 2012.


At the session on “Institutionalization of the Bangsamoro Government” on the second day of The Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao (COP-6) seminar in Hiroshima on June 24, Juan Mayo Ragragio, consultant of The Asia Foundation in the Bangsamoro Development Agency-Bangsamoro Development Plan (BDA-BDP) team listed three phases in the transition: the first phase covering the mandated life of the BTC, the second phase covering the mandated period of the BTA and the third phase covering the post-BTA period.

Ragragio said the transition “needs to be managed” and cited five major components of a management mechanism for the transition process: a Transition Team that would assist the BTA in providing uninterrupted delivery of public services during transition and in designing and establishing a new bureaucracy; a Transition Oversight Committee to shepherd the transition process; a strong policy support team particularly because the new political entity will be “using a governance platform heretofore alien to Philippine public administration;” the organization of two critical inter-governmental bodies mentioned in the Annexes: the Central Government-Bangsamoro Intergovernmental Relations Body and the Intergovernmental Fiscal Policy Board; and the Constituency Building Campaign which is “designed to inform the region’s constituents about the Basic Law and the vision of the new government and to encourage them to ‘baseline’ their community governments at all levels, and help the regional government monitor changes in the behavior of local and regional government officials.”

While the first phase started with the appointment in February last year of the 15-member joint GPH-MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) tasked to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the BTC couldn’t finish its task until all four annexes to the FAB and the CAB itself, were signed. The last annex was signed in January 2014 while the CAB was signed on March 27, 2014.

The BTC submitted its draft to the Office of the President on April 22. Malacanang took two months in reviewing it and handed over a copy of the reviewed draft to the MILF with the proposed revisions on June 21.
Murad and Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel and the BTC brought to the President’s attention their “concerns” over the proposed revisions, in a meeting with the President on June 24 in Hiroshima, with the latter later saying in Iloilo on June 27 that Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles had been tasked to meet with Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. “to hasten the process of coming up with the proposed measure that both sides can fully support and endorse.”

Iqbal in a speech in Istanbul, Turkey on June 26 said the government’s proposed revisions “heavily diluted” and practically rejected the BBL drafted by the BTC.

Iqbal also stressed that they have a “very simple and straightforward” position on the BBL: “All those explicitly expressed and provided for in the CAB will no longer be the subject of negotiations. They are finished and settled. It is therefore nonsensical to raise them anew. However, all those, which are not expressly provided but fleshed out by the BTC, as part of its mandate, could be the subjects of subsequent engagement between the parties.”

“Life or death”

Whether or not the draft Basic Law that both the government and MILF “can fully support and endorse” would be submitted to Congress when it reopens on July 28, will depend on what the two parties would do between now and July 28.

The delay will impact on the next steps – legislation by Congress, ratification, the establishment of the BTA and how long – or short – would be the period within which it can “demonstrate its abilities” as President Aquino said, in preparation for the election of the first set of officials by May 2016.

MindaNews columnist Patricio P. Diaz who has been writing about the Bangsamoro struggle and peace processes since the 1960s, estimates the BTA will have only about six months to do its tasks, if the target is to install the regular government by June 30, 2016.

“This is the fact: The Aquino III government is most concerned of the sufficiency of time for the election, not for the transition proper or proper transition. That is borne out by their many official and press statements,” Diaz wrote in his July 2 column.

“The election season starts in January 2016. The real proper transition period ends in December 2015. If the promulgation of the BBL is pushed to the second quarter of 2015, that leaves six months for the transition proper starting with the creation of the BTA and the appointment of its members to administer the transition. What kind of transition can be done in six months?” Diaz asked.

“Transition is life or death to Bangsamoro. Properly done, it’s boom; improperly, bust and doom! Time is most crucial to transition,” he said.

In the same session at the COP-6, Magdalena Mendoza, Senior Vice-President of the Development Academy of the Philippines said they see three priorities that the BTA has to focus on: to undertake strategic review and prepare the existing institutions for restructuring, mindful of the solid foundations of good and effective public administration; to put in place the necessary procedures and mobilize, recruit and build the capacities of the Bangsamoro Government executives and personnel; and to manage the transition, and ensure that critical services are maintained even while preparations for the Bangsamoro Government are underway.

Can these be done in six months? In one year?

Bangsamoro in transition (2): Too much to do, too little time

From MindaNews (Jul 2): Bangsamoro in transition (2): Too much to do, too little time

2nd of a series: Too much to do, too little time

DAVAO CITY — When President Benigno Simeon Aquino III delivers his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 28, it will likely be Eid’l Fitr or the eve of Eid’l Fitr, the end of the month-long Ramadan. On that day, he is expected to push for his “legacy” project — the new autonomous political entity called the “Bangsamoro” — that would be set up, if his administration’s roadmap to peace is followed, on June 30, 2016, the same day his six-year term ends.

But establishing the Bangsamoro is the last step in Aquino’s roadmap. Before then, the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that would serve as the Constitution of this new autonomous political entity with a ministerial form of government, has to be submitted to Congress and certified urgent for legislation, then submitted to the voters in the proposed Bangsamoro area in a plebiscite for ratification, so that the transition government – the 50-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) the President will appoint – can take over from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which will then be deemed abolished.

In his SONA on July 22 last year, Aquino called on Congress to pass the BBL before yearend 2014, to allow for more time for the transition from the ARMM to the Bangsamoro. At that time, the government and MILF peace panels had finished only one of four annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the 15-member joint government-MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) tasked to draft the BBL, was still drafting it.

Participants and organizers of The Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao (COP-6) flash the Peace sign on the first day of the three-day seminar last week. The seminar discussed obstacles and opportunities in the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Photo courtesy of REPUSM

Participants and organizers of The Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao (COP-6) seminar in Hiroshima  flash the Peace sign on the first day of the three-day seminar last week. The seminar discussed obstacles and opportunities in the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Photo courtesy of REPUSM

The BTC submitted the 97-page draft law on April 22. Malacanang took two months reviewing it and the MILF finally received the reviewed draft on June 21, its legal team briefing MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, also BTC chair, on the proposed revisions evening of June 22, in Hiroshima, where both were speakers at The Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao (COP-6) seminar.

Ebrahim and Iqbal sat at the dignitaries’ chairs onstage while the President addressed the COP-6 participants late afternoon of June 24, their heads bowed most of the time, their facial expressions a bit morose except for one brief moment when Murad smiled at what the President was saying.

Unknown to most of the participants, Ebrahim and Murad had met with the President for about “15 to 20 minutes” just before he delivered his speech.
Neither Ebrahim nor Iqbal gave details about what transpired during the meeting with the President. But in a speech in Istanbul, Turkey on June 26, Iqbal said the Malacanang-proposed revisions had “heavily diluted” the BTC draft, in effect rendering the future Bangsamoro less autonomous than the ARMM it seeks to replace (see Part 1).

Only 703 days left

In Iloilo City on June 27, President Aquino told reporters that he asked Murad during their Hiroshima meeting “if it would be possible to meet sometime next week, either their panels or we, in particular, or our designated representatives to thresh it out and come up with the proposed measure and send it to Congress, even before the SONA.”

He said Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles met with Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr. on June 26 “to hasten the process of coming up with the proposed measure that both sides can fully support and endorse.”

“We will be exerting all efforts to ensure that this measure is passed in a timely manner because the dream still is to give the new Bangsamoro government time to demonstrate its abilities… We’re hoping that all the steps will be done that they can sit in office by January 2015,” the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) quoted the President as saying.

When the President delivers his SONA on July 28, he will have only 23 months – specifically 703 days — to the end of his term. Targeting January 2015 as the month for the BTA to take over may not be realistic. Preparing for the plebiscite alone will require at least six months.

The most important factor – the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law – has yet to be made acceptable to the parties that negotiated the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) before “both sides can fully support and endorse” it to Congress.

Iqbal had warned in Turkey that there are two possible consequences: that the draft BBL will not be submitted to Congress when it resumes on July 28 or the government would proceed to submit to Congress the Malacanang-revised draft “without the concurrence of the MILF.”

History repeating itself

The former will further delay the process of legislation while the latter raises the possibility of history repeating itself: a law passed by Congress that is not acceptable to the party government negotiated with.

The case of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the post-signing of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement is an example. The MNLF had expected that the law Congress would pass would embody the provisions of the 1996 peace pact to allow for the ARMM’s expansion and to give it more powers.

The ARMM that the MNLF was going to inherit was supposed to be the vehicle for their envisioned autonomous government but the MNLF lamented that the law Congress passed — RA 9054 — rendered the ARMM even less autonomous than it already was.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, eyed to be the chair of a special House committee that would handle the proposed BBL, told MindaNews Tuesday that if the draft can stand the test of constitutionality, there should be no problem.

Rodriguez made the comment a few hours before the Aquino administration suffered a major debacle: the Supreme Court unanimously declaring unconstitutional the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) or “Presidential pork barrel.” The Aquino administration is also facing another petition with the Supreme Court asking it to declare unconstitutional the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed with the United States in April.

Rodriguez said he is optimistic that the House would pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law even before it takes a break mid-September, the Senate approves it by November and the plebiscite could be held by December, or if there’s a delay, by March.

He said daily hearings could be conducted in the capitals of the six regions of Mindanao in August and September to hasten passage of the urgent bill.
Whether or not the President still has enough political capital to push for this “urgent” legislation has to be factored in.

Six months

Rodriguez said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) can begin preparations for the plebiscite while Congress is deliberating on the bill.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez had earlier told MindaNews that they would need at least six months to prepare for the plebiscite, inclusive of the period for information campaign.

Comelec Commissioner Luie Tito Ferrer Guia, co-chair of the Committee on Bangsamoro Plebiscite Matters, told MindaNews Tuesday that they are “still sticking with six months lead time to have adequate preparation time and to make us comply with logistical requirements.”

He said they are also “waiting for the final draft of the BBL as it will be our definitive guide as to our final plans.”

Guia said the Comelec has been preparing for the plebiscite since December 2013when they formed the Bangsamoro Plebiscite sub-committee. “We just cannot commit funds for the logistics side of it since we don’t have authority yet.”

“Likewise, our preparatory timelines for the 2016 elections would be significantly affected by the intended plebiscite, thus we have to anticipate activities in any eventuality or scenario,” Guia said.

“We need to know the final design of the plebiscite under the BBL as that would determine the quantity and design of forms and supply that we would have to procure,” he said.

Legislation and ratification are just two of still several steps towards the abolition of the ARMM and the installation of the transition government called the “Bangsamoro Transition Authority.”

The longer the delay in these two major steps, the shorter the period to transition into the regular Bangsamoro.

2 suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits face illegal explosive raps

From MindaNews (Jul 4): 2 suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits face illegal explosive raps

The Department of Justice filed criminal charges on Thursday against two suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits who were arrested recently in this city, the police reported Friday.

Chief Insp. Ariel Huesca, Zamboanga City police spokesman, said Jimmy Nurilla and Bakrin Haris were charged with illegal possession of explosives after the inquest prosecutor found probable cause against them.

Combined police and military operatives arrested the two suspects in Barangay Sangali, this city and an MK2 and an M67 fragmentation grenades and documents were reportedly seized from them.

Huesca said illegal possession of explosive is penalized under Section 3 of Presidential Decree 1866 as amended by Section 1 of Republic Act 9516.
He said no bail was recommended for the suspects.

He said the suspects were detained at the Zamboanga City Reformatory Center as ordered by Regional Trial Court Branch 12 Judge Gregorio Dela Peña III.

The two accused were also implicated in the kidnappings of Australian national and a Filipina-American, her son, and cousin in 2011.

Retired Australian serviceman Warren Rodwell was kidnapped in December 2011 in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay. He was taken to Basilan province and was freed 15 months later.

Filipina-American Gerfa Yeatts Lunsmann, her son, Kevin Erick, and cousin, Romnick Jackaria, were kidnapped in July 2011 in this city.

The elder Lunsmann was released in October 2011 in Basilan. Months later Jackaria and Kevin Erick escaped one after the other, also in Basilan.

2 Filipino missionaries shot in Zamboanga town

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Jul 3): 2 Filipino missionaries shot in Zamboanga town

Google map of Dimataling town in Zamboanga del Sur province in southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

PAGADIAN CITY – An unidentified gunman shot dead a Filipino missionary worker and wounded another in an attack in the southern Philippine province of Zamboanga del Sur, police said Thursday.

Police said the duo – Hilarion Amoguis, 56, and Salvino Sakasan, 56 – were attacked in the village called Mahayag in Dimataling town. Amoguis was killed in the shooting while Sakasan survived the attack and had been rushed to hospital by a villager after the gunman fled.

The victims, who work for the Missionary of Kingdom of Jesus Christ, were residents of Lumbo village in Bukidnon’s Valencia town. They were waiting for their vehicle when the gunman arrived and without warning opened fire on the missionaries, according to the police.

Police said the gunman used a .45-caliber pistol in the attack. The motive of the shooting is still unknown and police said it is investigating the attack. No individual claimed responsibility for the shooting.

Soldier killed, 3 more wounded in NPA clash

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Jul 4): Soldier killed, 3 more wounded in NPA clash

A government soldier was killed and three more wounded in fierce clashes Friday with communist rebels in the southern Philippine province of Misamis Oriental, officials said.

Officials said the fighting erupted in the hinterland village of Umagos in Lagonglong town after patrolling soldiers from 58th Infantry Battalion ran into a group of New People’s Army rebels. Another fighting broke out in Kibanban village in the neighboring town of Balingasag.

The wounded soldiers were evacuated to Cagayan de Oro City as the military deployed more soldiers, backed by helicopters, to reinforce the troops fighting rebel forces.

Major Christian Uy, a spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division, said a still undetermined number of rebels were either killed or wounded in the fighting.

“One of our soldiers was killed and three others are wounded in the fighting. There are reports that an undetermined number of rebels were also killed and wounded. The operation against the NPA is still going on,” Uy told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

The military has tagged the NPA as behind the killing of Mayor Mario Okinlay, of Impasug-ong town in Bukidnon on July 2. It said communist rebels opened fire on the convoy carrying Okinlay who was inspecting a medical mission in the town.

The NPA has been fighting for a separate communist state in the country.

Philippine rebels ambush government militia, wife and nephew

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Jul 4): Philippine rebels ambush government militia, wife and nephew

Communist rebels killed a government militia and wounding his wife and nephew in an ambush in the southern Philippines, officials said Friday.

Maj. Christian Uy, a spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division, said the trio was travelling on a motorcycle when New People’s Army rebels attacked them in the village of San Mateo in Butuan City late Wednesday.

The ambush killed Eddie Toda, who was assigned with the 6th Agusan del Norte CAFGU Active Auxiliary, and wounded Susan Toda and Giovanni Balbosina.

Uy said the rebels fled after the ambush. “CAA Toda was unarmed and off-duty and travelling with his wife and nephew, who are both civilians, when NPA rebels ambushed them,” he told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

He said the militiaman died from multiple gunshot wounds in the body.

Lt. Col.  Adonis Orio, commander of the 29th Infantry Battalion, has condemned the attack and branded the ambush as a “cowardly act.”

“The attack on CAA Toda was an act of cowardice on the part of the NPA. He was in civilian attire and was clearly unarmed when he was ambushed. What will happen to his family now that their father is already dead? And so I urge the peace loving people of Butuan City and Caraga to condemn those who use threat and intimidation against the people especially these NPAs. Let us give peace a chance,” Orio said.

Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, the army division commander, has urged the Commission on Human Rights and the human rights group Karapatan and other allied organizations to investigate the murder of Toda, saying the NPA must pay for its crimes.

He also condemned Toda’s killing. “We strongly condemn the brutality and inhumane atrocities of the NPAs who are killing helpless civilians. Again, we will file charges against the perpetrators of the said ambush. We also urge the Commission on Human Rights, Karapatan and other human rights advocacy groups to investigate this matter. These NPAs must be punished for the crimes they committed and must be condemned by the whole nation,” Visaya said.

“For the family of CAA Toda and Giovanni, who are currently grieving for the loss of their father and son, we are saddened for your loss. We will ensure that the necessary support will be provided as soon as possible. This is how we care for the families of our fallen comrades and civilians,” he added.