Monday, August 4, 2014

Two key issues snag Bangsamoro talks

From the Manila Times (Aug 5): Two key issues snag Bangsamoro talks

Power sharing and autonomy are the key issues that stand in the way of a final draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which will be the basis for the creation of a Bangsamoro entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

A source privy to the ongoing negotiations between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels told The Manila Times that although autonomy and power-sharing had been defined in previous agreements, the two sides continue to wrangle over the final terms that will go into the draft to be submitted to Congress.

“The bone of contention is that there should be flexibility in making the BBL conform with the Constitution. That’s what the MILF wants. The other side, however, disregarded this flexibility and now wants a very restrictive BBL,” the source, a lawyer, said.

“More than being a legal issue, the peace process is a political agreement.

Therefore, there should be political will. The agreement comes first before anything else so that there should be flexibility to accommodate what were agreed upon in the first place. Right now, it’s the other way around. It’s like they (government negotiators) are saying that the agreement should strictly conform with each and every letter of the law. That is causing the delay,” the source said.

He lamented that the Office of the President (OP) “disregarded” much of the previously agreed and signed accords contained in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the more binding Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and opted to make the draft BBL “very restrictive.”

He said the OP, on instructions from President Benigno Aquino 3rd, “deleted” provisions in the draft bill that were only “copied” from the contents of the CAB.

“What the BTC [Bangsamoro Transition Commission] did was to just copy the CAB provisions and put them in the BBL. However, when the draft was returned by Malacanang, these copied provisions were no longer there and the language is already different,” said the source, who is on the side of the MILF.

The Times asked Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Quintos Deles to confirm or deny the lawyer’s claims. Deles said they also want the BBL to be compliant with the CAB.

“GPH [government of the Philippines] remains committed to full implementation of the [CAB], especially in the passage of the [BBL] that is fully compliant with the CAB. The fact that the two panels are now hard at work in Davao to come up with a mutually acceptable draft BBL to be submitted by the President for enactment by Congress by yearend speaks of the true state of the BBL and the serious commitment of the parties to see the process through to its just and peaceful conclusion,” she said.

According to her, the issues that are being threshed out by the panels are normal occurrences in the peace process.

“Peacemaking is not for the fainthearted. The parties choose to continue to forge ahead,” Quintos told The Times.

One month

In an interview on DZRH on Monday, MILF Vice Chairman Ghadzali Jaafar said the group is giving the government one month to submit the draft BBL to Congress. The Jaafar warned that failure to do so will have dire consequences.

According to him, many MILF field commanders are raring to go back to the armed struggle.

Asked to react on Jaafar’s pronouncements, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the MILF leader could be speaking on his own because not even MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad or MILF peace panel chairman Mohaqer Iqbal have spoken in the same manner.

“Mr. Jaafar is talking to his own crowd, his own audience—the MILF. But we are committed to pursuing and submitting a draft BBL to Congress. None of the personalities with the exception of Mr. Jaafar has spoken in such manner, not even the Chairman of the MILF peace panel, Chair Iqbal has spoken in that regard, neither did Chair Murad of MILF,” Lacierda said.

“So, both the MILF peace panel and the government peace panel are right now discussing and threshing our whatever differences they have ensuring that there will be a submission before Congress,” he pointed out.

On Sunday, a group of Muslims and Christians accused the President of mangling the draft BBL, an act they said showed his administration’s “insincerity” in pushing for lasting peace in Mindanao.

The Moro Christians People’s Alliance (MCPA) called the administration is “insincere, dishonest and deceptive.”

“[President] Aquino cannot flaunt in his fifth State of the Nation Address the success of the GPH-MILF peace talks,” the MCPA said in a statement posted on, the official MILF website.

But ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman said the supporters for the passage of the BBL outnumber those who are opposed to the peace deal.

“MCPA is identified as an ally organization of Bayan Muna, so it harps the same anti-President Noy sentiments. The [people on the ground] do not share their sentiment. For sure, them [people] on the ground is very much hopeful about the success of the BBL,” Hataman said in a text message.

“We respect their opinion, but that doesn’t reflect the situation on the ground.

Many are still positive on the ongoing process, especially in ARMM. Also, I believe that MCPA, from the start, has been expressing its opposition to the Mindanao peace process,” he said.

He noted that “workshops” between experts and stakeholders are ongoing “to ensure that the draft BBL is acceptable to all and that no possible or Constitutional issues may arise [from it].”

Hataman’s wife Sitti, who is also a member of Congress as an Anak Mindanao party-list Representative, also cautioned sectors against sowing intrigue and projecting the failure of the Bangsa moro law.

“I believe that the draft Bangsamoro Basic law remains to be a confidential document. Neither the Philippine Government nor the MILF have presented it to the public. Who can now say it was sabotaged? We must continue trusting each other and the process, if we are to achieve peace,” the lawmaker said.

“It will not do the peace process any good if we keep suspecting and preempting the actions of the government, the MILF and other parties involved,” she added.

Former Rep. Simeon Datuma nong somehow shared the Hatamans’ sentiments, noting that ensuring the Constitutionality of the BBL is important in its successful implementation.

“There are mixed feelings on the delay in the submission of the proposed law to Congress, but I see this as a calculated one to ensure its Constitutionality and easier passage in Congress,” Datumanong, also a former Justice Secretary, said.

“I hope the review will not drastically alter the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro because it may result to further delay and disturb the timeframe,” he added.

596 applicants from Region 2, CAR take PMA entrance exam

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 5): 596 applicants from Region 2, CAR take PMA entrance exam

The Isabela-based 5th Infantry Division on Tuesday announced that 596 applicants from different provinces in Region 2 and Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) took the Philippine Military Academy Entrance Examination (PMAEE) held at the Mamba Gym, Tuguegarao City, Cagayan on Sunday.

The applicants were composed of high school and college students, and even college graduates.

Examinees aspire to be cadets of the country’s premier military school and to be future well-rounded officers and leaders of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

PMA cadets are government scholars who enjoy the noble privilege of serving the country while studying before their commissionship with the Philippine Army, Philippine Air Force or Philippine Navy.

The PMAEE was simultaneously conducted in various examination centers nationwide covering the following subjects: Algebra and Geometry; Grammar and Composition; Reading and Comprehension; Verbal and Numerical Reasoning; and Pattern Analysis.

Further, the PMAEE was conducted by the PMA Mobile Team headed by Major Charles V. Calucag, with the assistance of the Army’s 5th Infantry Star Division represented by the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Civil Military Operations, G7.

The result of the said examination will be posted in the PMA website soon.

Naval detachment to rise from Zambo siege ground zero

From Rappler (Aug 4): Naval detachment to rise from Zambo siege ground zero

'We will be putting up a forward operating base so that threats coming from outside Zamboanga City can be checked,' says AFP chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr

BURNED: More than 10,000 houses were damaged by fires inside the combat zone. Photo by LeAnne Jazul
BURNED: More than 10,000 houses were damaged by fires inside the combat zone. Photo by LeAnne Jazul

A naval detachment will be constructed in barangays Rio Hondo and Mariki in Zamboanga City, sites of bloody gun battles between the military and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in September 2013.

The project is a component of the Zamboanga City Roadmap to Recovery and Reconstruction Plan to complement the existing patrol base in the area.

It will get a budget allocation of P143.67 million ($3.3 million) out of the total P3.5 billion ($80.4 million) budget of the entire plan, based on the latest situation report of the Zamboanga City Public Information Office (PIO). A part of the budget – P2.56 million ($58,850) was already spent for land acquisition and shelter, among others.

It's a very strategic site for the military, Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr told reporters during his visit to Zamboanga City on Saturday, August 2. He said he expects the project to be completed by 2015.

"We will be putting up a forward operating base so that threats coming from outside Zamboanga City can be checked. We can also use the white sand beach as a staging area. We will put guards here so that we will see those who are entering the city," Catapang said.

"It's a Navy forward operating base. There will be naval ships there and Marines will be deployed there. The approaches to the city will be controlled," he said.

Followers of MNLF commander Habier Malik on September 9, 2013, seized coastal villages of Zamboanga City with the aim of advancing to the city hall to hoist their own flag. Malik was lamenting then how the peace talks with rival group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would supercede the 1996 peace talks with the MNLF that created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Completion of peace talks with MILF will abolish the existing ARMM to create the new Bangsamoro entity that will enjoy wider powers and autonomy.

The crisis that shut down Zamboanga City killed 183 MNLF fighters, 18 soldiers, 5 cops, and 12 civilians, based on military statistics. A total of 195 hostages were rescued and 292 MNLF fighters either surrendered or were captured. (READ: Zambo Crisis: Fog of war)

Up to 10,000 houses were burned. Ten months since the siege, up to 25,000 residents remain in evacuation centers, most of them are taking temporary shelter at the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Grandstand. (READ: SONA Fact Check: 25,000 still in Zambo evacuation centers)

For territorial defense, too

The site is also strategic in terms of territorial defense, said Catapang.

"We need to secure our borders with Malaysia," Catapang said, citing global threats of trafficking and smuggling. "Our fellow Filipinos are being questioned and deported. These are all part of protecting our people in a very globalized world."

He said navy choppers will be housed there. The city's Majini Pier will also be developed.

Catapang also hopes increased military presence in the city will result in investors confidence.

"It's all part of winning the peace so that the investors will come in. We have big fishing areas here," he said.

The military and the city rehabiliation team have inspected the waterway where the facility will be constructed, according to a July 21 report of the Zamboanga City PIO.

"The group discussed on ground the status or development of the proposed military reservation facility. Together with the other stakeholders, the group also made a reassessment of the Rio Hondo and Mariki areas to determine the need for additional facilities or structures including housing sites if possible," reads the report.

Deported Australian denies recruiting terrorists in PHL

From GMA News (Aug 4): Deported Australian denies recruiting terrorists in PHL

A suspected Australian extremist who was arrested in Cebu and deported last month broke his silence Monday and denied involvement in alleged terrorist activities.
In posts on his Twitter account, Musa Cerantonio denied recruiting supporters for the Islamic State group, particularly in Sulu and Basilan.
"I have never been to either place, nor did I ever 'recruit' anyone," he said.

Abu Sayyaf releases 1 of 2 female kidnapped victims in Sulu

From InterAksyon (Aug 5): Abu Sayyaf releases 1 of 2 female kidnapped victims in Sulu

The Western Mindanao Command on Monday announced that Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) brigands freed one of the two female victims they have kidnapped in Barangay Kaunayan, Patikul town, Sulu Sunday afternoon.

Capt. Rowena Muyuela, the command's spokesperson, identified the freed victim as Nursalyn Ahamudin Alih.

She was released at Sitio Kantitap, Barangay Danag, also in Patikul around 1 a.m. Monday.

Alih and companion Shekinah Hope Tan were snatched by three ASG members, of which two were identified as Ramsid Sali and Injie, around 2:30 p.m.

All three were aboard an unmarked motorcycle which quickly fled toward the direction of Barangay Taglibi.

Alih, 26, and a resident of Barangay Danag, Patikul, was escorted by Marine troops and her family to Camp Teodulfo Bautista Station Hospital for medical attention and later brought to her sisters’ residence in Muralla St., Jolo, Sulu.

Authorities have yet to confirm whether the family of the victims paid ransom money for the release.

Muyuela said authorities are still conducting pursuit operations to locate and recover Tan safely.

US looks to calm South China Sea tensions

From the Philippine Star (Aug 5): US looks to calm South China Sea tensions

The United States will be looking to calm tensions stoked by recent Chinese oil drilling in disputed waters of the South China Sea at an upcoming meeting of the region's foreign ministers, a senior US official said yesterday.

Although the US claims neutrality in the disputes, China is unlikely to respond favorably.

Secretary of State John Kerry's trip in Myanmar, starting Saturday, comes after China angered Vietnam by deploying a deep-sea oil rig for two months near islands claimed by both countries.

Top diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Russel, told reporters that China's withdrawal of the rig in mid-July had removed an irritant but left a legacy of anger and strained relations with Vietnam and likely raised serious questions among China's other neighbors about its long-term strategy.

"China as a large and powerful nation has a special responsibility to show restraint. There is a big footprint that comes with military strength and it warrants setting your foot very, very carefully and treading very gingerly when you are in a sensitive area," Russel said.

At the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the Myanmar capital, Naypyitaw, Washington will be proposing that South China Sea claimants take voluntary steps to reduce tensions. The US suggests freezing actions that change the status quo, like seizing unoccupied islands and land reclamation.

Chinese officials have already made clear they don't support the proposal. China says it has a historical right to most of the South China Sea and resents what it sees as US meddling, viewing it as an attempt to contain its growing power. The other claimants include the Philippines, which is a US treaty ally, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

Russel said all the claimants, including Vietnam, can do more to clarify what they say is theirs in accordance with international law. He said the US would also urge conclusion of a long-delayed, code of conduct — another initiative China is unenthusiastic about.

Separately, while in the Myanmar, Kerry will be pressing Myanmar's leaders to apply greater safeguards for human rights. Kerry will also be gauging the former pariah nation's preparations for 2015 elections, Russel said.

Last week, more than 70 US lawmakers warned of worsening conditions in Myanmar, including anti-Muslim discrimination and violence, and urged the Obama administration to sanction those complicit in abuses and atrocities, and not to make further concessions to the reformist government unless there's significant progress.

After Myanmar, Kerry will travel to Australia to join Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Australian officials for security talks.

Raps filed vs. Abus behind Eid massacre

From the Philippine Star (Aug 4): Raps filed vs. Abus behind Eid massacre

The local police in Talipao, Sulu will file on Monday afternoon charges of multiple murder, multiple frustrated murder, and multiple attempted murder against two Abu Sayyaf leaders and about 50 of its followers involved in the bloody Eid’l Fitr ambush, an official said.

Talipao police chief SPO4 Rudy Yusop said the case was a result of the investigation conducted by the Special Task Group and his office following the deadly ambush last July 28 at Sitio Lumapid, Barangay Lower Talipao that killed 23 civilians, mostly children and women, and wounded 14 others.

Yusop said the case will be filed before the Regional Prosecutor’s Office in Sulu against Abu Sayyaf leader Iddang Susukan and Sibih Pisih and around 50 followers who were all identified by witnesses.

Yusop said the 39 victims aboard two jeepneys were on their way to celebrate the end of the fasting period of Ramadan to celebrate the Eid’l Fitr when they were ambushed by the group of Susukan and Pisih.

He said the investigation pointed to retaliation as the root cause of the ambush, as the group was against civilians in Talipao for assisting the government forces and the town’s civilian volunteers dubbed as the Barangay Peace Action Team (BPAT) in operations against the militants.

“Talagang galit sila (Abu Sayyaf) sa mga residente dito dahil very supportive sila sa operations ng marines, civilian volunteers at police laban sa kanila,” Yusop said in a telephone interview as he was preparing to forward the case Monday afternoon.

Yusop dispelled reports about the conflict between the son of an Abu Sayyaf and BPAT member over a basketball game sometime in 2013 that triggered the bloody incident.

“No, it was not that incident because it happened last year but it was because of the continuous operations and they were angry at the civilians for providing information to the marines and BPAT,” Yusop said, citing the February encounter incident where six Abu Sayyaf members were killed and six BPAT members were wounded.

Meanwhile, pursuing operations have been ongoing as the military assisted the police forces in running after the ambushers, Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero of the Western Mindanao Command said.

Guerrero said the military is also supporting the police in the investigation and filing of charges against the Abu Sayyaf.

He said there is a direct coordination between the 2nd Marine brigade and the provincial director of the Philippine National Police. They also have the support of Chief Superintendent Agrimero Cruz, current chief of the Sulu anti-kidnapping task force.

“We are moving in support of the law enforcement operation and stabilizing the area with the local police and military forces in Talipao,” Guerrero said.
He said part of the effort is to prevent civilians from retaliating against the innocent families of those Abu Sayyaf members involved in the ambush.

Guerrero said they have coordinated with the Sulu Provincial Peace and Order Council to prevent any retaliation by the surviving relatives of the victims.

MILF accused of violating peace pact

From the Philippine Star (Aug 5): MILF accused of violating peace pact

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines  – The city government has accused the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) of violating a peace agreement after members of the armed group reportedly conducted a mining activity in a village here.

This developed as authorities monitored the movements of some 40 to 50 unarmed MILF members in another village, also in this city.

Zamboanga City Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said the alleged illegal mining activity by MILF members, led by a certain Bob Jumadil, occurred in Barangay Baluno last July 31.

She said the MILF wanted to get samples of the village’s mineral products as they were reportedly given the authority to mine in any part of Mindanao.

“This is a clear violation of the peace agreement,” Salazar said.

Senior Superintendent Angelito Casimiro, acting city police director, said about 40 to 50 MILF members were monitored at the border of Barangay Tagasilay. 

Casimiro said the MILF men claimed they were in the area to attend the baptismal rites of a son of one of their members.

Salazar said Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles responded after the issue was brought to her attention. She said Deles, in a text message, said the movement was illegal under the peace agreement.

Deles described MILF’s move as “unacceptable and nowhere allowed or authorized under the peace agreement.”

Salazar said Deles ordered the government’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostility (CCCH) to look into the complaint and the Armed Forces to take action on the matter.

Deles told Salazar that the issue has been raised with MILF commander Malik Karil, who is in charge of Western Mindanao.

Karil reportedly advised Jumadil, MILF city political chair, to stop all activities including the mining exploration, that could adversely affect the ceasefire and the peace process.

Salazar said this is the second time the MILF violated the peace agreement. The first was when the group tried to put up a satellite office in Barangay Cawit, a village near Baluno.

New group formed amid Bangsamoro uncertainty

From the Manila Standard Today (Aug 4): New group formed amid Bangsamoro uncertainty

A NEW Muslim group has been formed in Mindanao in an attempt to solve the problems in the region in light of the uncertainty over the peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The “Bangsamoro National Transformation Council,” led by Datu Andong, an unarmed group, was created to promote peace in Mindanao in the face of the obstacles besetting the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Andong says the BNTC is talking to people in the remote villages in various parts of Mindanao, particularly in the areas beset by conflict, to  achieve genuine and lasting peace.

Andong made his statement even as Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. the head of the Senate’s local government committee, said Congress might need to move the target deadline for the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which is still being reviewed by MalacaƱang.

In his fifth State-of-the-Nation Address on Monday last week, President Benigno Aquino III appealed to Congress to understand the delay in the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and promised to push for a law that is just, fair and acceptable to all.

Aquino asked Congress to pass the BBL by the end of 2014 when he gave the same address last year.

Drilon has said the Senate will immediately work on the proposed law that will create a new autonomous government in Mindanao.

“We cannot afford to fail as far as the Bangsamoro Basic Law is concerned,” Drilon said.

“We must have something in place so that the Bangsamoro Basic Law will provide stability and improvements in the economic life of the region.”

Andong says he is seeking the support of the military in his group’s effort to promote peace and understanding.

The military welcomed his initiative.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines is open to coordination and collaboration with the BNTC’s effort to attain peace through non-violent actions,” Army spokesman Major Gen. Sonny Tutaan said.

“We can achieve just and lasting peace and development in Mindanao without resorting to violence.”

Andong serves as the development management officer of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development, an administrative arm created by the government during the implementation of the Tripoli Agreement, an agreement entered into between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front and which was signed on Dec. 23, 1976.

He says the BNTC represents the majority of the inhabitants in Mindanao who are calling for a total transformation in the region.

“People don’t have to resort to armed struggle or promote violence,” Andong said.

 “We have discuss things to solve our problems and to attain peace.”

Andong discussed the aborted implementation of the 1996 final peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front and the rise of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which triggered fighting  with the military and claimed thousands of lives.

“People from different groups, particularly armed elements, must lay down their arms and for a common goal through cooperation,” Andong said.

AFP: ASG stepping up abductions

From the Manila Standard Today (Aug 4): AFP: ASG stepping up abductions

The military chief has warned against stepped- up kidnapping activities of the  Al Qaeda-link Abu Sayyaf Group in a move to boost its capabilities and raise funds with which to buy arms.

General Gregorio Catapang said that the ASG members are ruthless and use their victims as human shields.

Catapang told journalists in Zamboanga City  that the abductions  that took place in Western Mindanao were part of the bandits “express kidnappings” mode to raise funds and build up their warchest.

“They are using kidnap victims as human shields and they are building up their capabilities by getting ransom money,” Catapang said as he reiterated his call on local communities for their support to prevent the kidnappings in the region.

The ASG is down to about 200 members, the military said, but its members are equipped with sophisticated weapons such as the shoulder-fired anti-tank, M60 sub-machine gun,  assault rifles, and M203 grenade launchers.

Catapang said while the ASG continues to prey on  victims mostly traders and well-off individuals, the military is doing its best to rescue all the captives.

 The bandit group suffered nearly hundreds of casualties in several encounters with state forces in Basilan and Patikul, Sulu and hundreds more captured including its disbursement officer, wanted by the US government, Khair Mundos with a bounty of $.5 million since the government waged a relentless campaign against them.

During the 1st and 2nd quarter of this year alone, 78 ASG members were killed in separate fighting with security forces in Basilan and Patikul, Sulu. At least 25 of those slain included Yasser Igasan, a prominent leader.

Catapang said the military had clashes with the ASG in Sulu, but the bandits cannot be simply attacked as they use civilians as shields.

“You know it’s very difficult for ground forces to rescue  kidnap victims in the jungle as the bandits are using the captives as human shields. We try to void  collateral damage as much as possible,” Catapang said.

He said the military and the Philippine National Police “are in closely coordinating their efforts in the areas of Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi” in the conduct of massive anti-terrorism efforts against ASG elements.

Recently, the Defense department disclosed the ASG is holding about 18 kidnap victims that include, two German and Australian nationals, two European birdwatchers, Malaysian policeman, a Japanese businessman and other local traders.

China says can build what it wants on South China Sea isles

From WTAQ News/Reuters (Aug 4): China says can build what it wants on South China Sea isles

China can build whatever it wants on its islands in the South China Sea, a senior Chinese official said on Monday, rejecting proposals ahead of a key regional meeting to freeze any activity that may raise tensions in disputed waters there.

Southeast Asian foreign ministers this week hold security talks with counterparts, including those from the United States and China, in Myanmar, with escalating tensions over maritime disputes in Asia likely to be a major issue.

The Philippines will propose a freeze on all activity that raises tension in disputed waters in the South China Sea as part of a three-part plan at the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting, Manila's foreign minister said last week.

The United States, a close ally and former colonial power in the Philippines, has also called on all parties to halt activity in the disputed sea to ease tension.

Manila has accused China of carrying out reclamation work on at least three shoals in the Spratly Islands, where most of the overlapping claims lie, especially between China and the Philippines.

Yi Xianliang, deputy head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Boundary and Ocean Affairs Departments, told reporters that China had every right to build on its islands as a way of improving basic living conditions there.

"The Spratly Islands are China's intrinsic territory, and what China does or doesn't do is up to the Chinese government. Nobody can change the government's position," Yi said.

It was a double standard to bring this issue up now when other countries had been doing similar things for years, he added.

"Why is it that when other countries wantonly build airports, nobody says a word? But China has only this year started small and necessary construction, to raise living conditions on the islands - and so many people raise doubts."

Hong Kong media have reported that China is planning to build an air base on Fiery Cross Reef, though Yi said he was unaware of any such plans.
Yi said that proposals for a "freeze" on tension-raising activities were not helpful, and could be seen as an effort to undermine drawn-out efforts by China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for a code of conduct in the South China Sea by acting as a replacement for the code.

If the United States had come up with such a proposal then he had not seen it, Yi said, adding that in any case the South China Sea was an issue for those countries directly involved.

"Trust in us Asian people to use Asian means and wisdom to resolve our own problems," he said.

China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, which is believed to contain oil and gas deposits and has rich fishery resources. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also lay claim to parts of the sea, where about $5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes every year.

China's placing of an oil rig in waters also claimed by Vietnam around the Paracel Islands in May added to regional concerns about China's intentions. However, China removed the rig last month.

Change of command as 3 generals to retire

From Business World (Aug 3): Change of command as 3 generals to retire

HALF of the six unified commands of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is set to be under new leadership as their respective commanders reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 this year.
In a phone interview, AFP Spokesperson Lt. Col. Ramon P. Zagala confirmed the leadership changes in its Western Command (WesCom) in Palawan, Southern Luzon Command (SolCom) in Lucena, Quezon, and Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) in Davao.
WesCom is headed by Lt. Gen. Roy O. Deveraturda, SolCom by Lt. Gen. Ronnie F. Ordoyo and EastMinCom by Lt. Gen. Rainier G. Cruz III.

“They’re set to retire sometime by this month, August, or by September,” Mr. Zagala told BusinessWorld in a phone interview.
Both Mr. Cruz and Mr. Ordoyo are graduates of the 1980 class of the Philippine Military Academy while Mr. Deveraturda is a graduate of the Aviation Cadet Program of the Philippine Air Force Flying School in 1980.

Mr. Zagala said the Board of Generals has submitted a recommendation for new appointees to AFP Chief-of-Staff Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio P. Catapang.
Aside from the three military groups, the AFP has three more unified commands -- the Northern Luzon Command (NolCom) in Tarlac, the Central Command (CentCom) in Cebu and the Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) in Zamboanga.

Retiring militiamen receive separation pay

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Aug 4): Retiring militiamen receive separation pay

THE Army’s 1st Infantry “Tabak” Division has released closed to P500,000 separation pay to 13 militiamen who belong to the 5th Infantry (CADRE) Battalion of the Tabak division, a military official announced Monday.

Army’s 1st Infantry Division Public Affairs Officer-in-Charge Captain Franco Suelto said eight of the 13 militiamen beneficiaries are from Lanao del Norte while the remaining five are from Zamboanga del Sur.

Suelto said the payment in a form of checks were personally handed over to the militia-retirees by “Tabak” Division Chief-of-Staff Colonel Agapito Carmelo Nagrampa Jr. in a simple ceremony last Thursday in a training center for militiamen in the village of Pigkalawag, Sultan Naga Dimaporo, Lanao del Norte.

Suelto said each of the 13 retiring militiamen received P32,850 in check as a separation benefits or gratuity from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The recipients rendered more than eight years service, said Suelto.

The Civil Active Auxiliaries (CAAs) or better known in the community as CAFGUs (Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Units) are part-time soldiers who render duty for 15 days a month in detachments in the different areas.

Being a CAFGU entails services rendered in meeting local insurgency threat including disaster rescue and response, Suelto said.

Suelto said that the militiamen are automatically included in the ranks of reservists in Mobilization Center per provinces of the Ready Reserve units.
He added that there are more than 10,000 militiamen serving in seven provinces that fall within the 1st Infantry Division jurisdiction alone.

Meanwhile, Army’s 1st Infantry Division commander Brigadier General Gerardo Barrientos Jr. said “the services of our CAFGU are indispensible in the implementation of the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan.”

“They are the force multipliers of our regular soldiers to meet the demands of the Army’s deployment in far-flung areas where the services of our soldiers are needed most,” Barrientos.

“The gratuity and benefits received by the CAFGUs are fitting tribute to their selfless dedication and commitment to the country in pursuit of peace and development of their respective community,” he added.

Efforts on resuming GPH-NDF peace talks continue

From the Sun Star-Davao (Aug 4): Efforts on resuming GPH-NDF peace talks continue

EFFORTS for the resumption of peace talks between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front (GPH-NDF) continue, following the release of the former University of the Philippines (UP) professor Kim Gargar.

GPH-NDF negotiations have remained dormant with the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CAHRIHL) was since signed during former President Ejercito "Erap" Estrada's administration.

In a press conference at the Chowking yesterday, Gargar expressed his desire for the resumption of the peace talks which was already on the stage of drafting socio-economic and political reforms when it was stalled in 2011.

"I'm not just talking about a ceasefire. I am also talking about the socio-economic aspects of such peace talks. I believe that the armed conflict is a result of the malfunction of the socio-economic aspects of our society and should, thus, be addressed," Gargar said.

Gargar was erroneously identified in a news report here Monday as a UP-Mindanao professor. He is not. Rather, he worked with the University of the Philippines as Teaching Associate from June 2000 to May 2003; Mindanao Polytechnic State College (now Mindanao University of Science and Technology) in Cagayan de Oro City from 2003 to 2004 and head of the Department of Physics from 2004 to 2005; Polytechnic University of the Philippines from 2005 to 2006 and the Mapua Institute of Technology from 2007 to 2008, where he also served as Research Director for Computational Sciences.

Gargar said that peace negotiation is among their hope to address the situation of the political detainees like him. He said as of June, there are already 504 political detainees, of which 45 are women and 14 are National Democratic Front (NDF) consultants.

Marie Hilao-Enriquez, national chairperson of the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda), also said that as to date, 204 political killings had already taken under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

"We are happy on the temporary release of professor Gargar and we are fighting to make this permanent. We hope that there would be no more names added to the list. We are disappointed with the president's lack of action not only on political detainees but also on these extrajudicial killings," Hilao-Enriquez said.

Meanwhile, Gargar remains resolved to continue his career as a physicist despite the risks.

MILF: SWC Kutawatu Provincial Committee conducts series of advocacies with Islamic Symposium

From the MILF Website (Aug 4): SWC Kutawatu Provincial Committee conducts series of advocacies with Islamic Symposium

The Kutawatu Social Welfare Provincial Committee (SWC-KPC) conducted series of advocacies with Islamic Symposium in Upi and Talitay in Maguindanao; and Lebak,and Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat. The first advocacy was held at the covered court of Poblacion Nuro, Upi, Maguindanao on July 13, 2014.
This was followed by simultaneous advocacies conducted at the municipalities of Lebak and Kalamansig, all in Sultan Kudarat Province on July 19, 2014. All three were undertaken during the blessed month of Ramadan. 

On August 2, 2014, the last of the series of advocacies was held at Talitay, Maguindanao. These activities were aimed at enhancing people’s awareness on various agreements (FAB and its four annexes and CAB), which the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed in pursuit of peace and development in Mindanao. Another purpose of the advocacies was to increase women’s participation in nation building.

Ramlah Sacop, deputy head of SWC-KPC who spoke on behalf of the women sector urged the women participants to strengthen their leadership capabilities and women’s participation in nation building so that they are fully prepared for the future.

Sheihk Abdulfatah Delna said that women are precious symbol of Islam. He emphasized that how women dress, act and behave themselves in society can be a source of fitna (sins). Strengthening ibadaah or eeman (faith) among the Moro people are effective ways of restoring Bangsamoro identity. He also said that recognizing Moro identity in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) is an achievement gained in the GPH – MILF Peace process.

Nasser Pulindao from the Office of the Chairman, MILF Central Committee on Information dealt on current issues affecting Bangsamoro in relation to the peace process. After the speakers had spoken, an open forum followed.

Some participants clarified the issue on diluted BBL draft resulting to the delay of its submission to congress. Pulindao explained that the GPH-MILF Peace panels are in the process of coming up with an agreed version of the BBL before submitting it to Congress. He urged the participants to be extra vigilant as many things may happen while the “workshops” are underway or should no compromise version is reached by both panels. He assured them that the MILF do not and will not doubt the wisdom of President Aquino is pursuing his commitment for the establishment of the new political entity called Bangsamoro. He allayed fears by some quarters that the current problem besetting the BBL may result to a renewed conflict in Mindanao. Hundreds of participants from women, youth and other sectors attended the said activities.

MILF: MILF Central Committee on Information sends member to local governance training in Japan

From the MILF Website (Aug 4): MILF Central Committee on Information sends member to local governance training in Japan

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front Central Committee on Information sent one of its members to the Regional Focused Training Local Governance held at the Local Autonomy College (LAC), Tokyo, Japan last June 1 to July 3, 2014 sponsored by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Mr. Nasser Pulindao was sent to Japan representing Bangsamoro, Philippines. Representatives from 11 other Asian, African and South American countries namely Bangladesh, Bhutan, Colombia, El Salvador, Ghana, Kenya, Myanmar, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Viet Nam also attended the month-long training.

The 33 days training enhanced the capabilities of the participants on local governance advocacy that can help transform their respective communities into an effective unit of society. Mr. Pulindao admitted that he had learned a lot from the training and vowed to share the acquired knowledge to his peers and brothers in the Moro Front who are equally in dire need of knowledge on local governance. In a brief lecture at the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) few days upon his return to Mindanao, he not only shared the adequate knowledge he obtained in Japan but also his life and experiences while in the said country.

He told this writer that Japan is a very developed country with state-of-the art infrastructure, railway transits, tall buildings, posh villages and very clean environment. He said that Japanese people are very hospitable, courteous and diciplined. He jokingly said that the only problem for a Muslim that goes to Japan is the rareness of “halal” foods which are mostly found in Muslim cultural/Islamic centers in the country. Muslim immigrants and Japanese reverts to Islam are familiar faces in the country of the “Rising Sun”. Pulindao also said that fruits, cooked and raw vegetables are very abundant in malls, convenient stores and supermarkets.

More members of MILF are slated to attend seminars on media and similar trainings in Japan in coming months. A lot more will go on schooling at prestigious universities there. These are in preparation for the establishment of Bangsamoro new polity as the proposed region needs bright, diligent and skilled public servants.  Japan has been funding capacity building activities locally through the BLMI and other local partner NGO’s and pours in hundreds of millions of pesos in infrastructure for Mindanao that started the past many years. The country had been a strong partner of GHP and MILF in seeking an end to the Mindanao Question and is a member of the International Contact Group (ICG).  The Moros of Mindanao and the MILF owe much to the Government of Japan for their support to the peace process.

Senior Abu Sayyaf leader swears oath to ISIS

From Rappler (Aug 4): Senior Abu Sayyaf leader swears oath to ISIS

The ISIS ideology is spreading fast on social media, ' the new machine to recruit militants.'

LOYALTY TO THE ISLAMIC STATE. Senior Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon swears allegiance to ISIS
LOYALTY TO THE ISLAMIC STATE. Senior Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon swears allegiance to ISIS

The Islamic State (IS), formerly known as ISIS or the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq or ISIS, is expanding its recruitment on social media in the Philippines.

On July 23, a video of senior Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon along with masked men was posted on YouTube. Hapilon carries a reward of up to $5 million from the US Rewards for Justice Program. He was indicted in the District of Columbia for “terrorist acts against United States nationals and other foreign nationals.” The FBI says he was “the deputy or second in command for the foreign terrorist organization, the Abu Sayyaf.”

The propaganda video begins with still photos establishing the notoriety of Hapilon: his encircled photo on posters of most wanted terrorists from the United States, which include al-Qaeda’s leaders. Al-Qaeda’s symbolic black flag, which is being used by extremist groups in more than 20 countries around the world (including the foreign fighters of ISIS), peppers the opening montage. (Read: Al-Qaeda's black flag seized in ASG camp)

In the video clip that lasts a little more than 6 minutes, Hapilon, wearing a black gown, links arms with men, most of whom hide their faces. Using a combination of his native dialect, Yakan, and Arabic, Hapilon and his men swear allegiance or “bay’ah,” an oath, to IS and its head, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

[Video: Shaikh Isnilon Hapilon (ASG) made bay'ah to ISIS
The most wanted mujahid in the philippines who has a reward money of 5 million dollar from US pledged allegiance to ISIS CALIPH.]

“We pledge bay’ah to Caliph Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Ibrahim Awwad Al-Qurashi Al-Husseini for loyalty and obedience in adversity and comfort,” says Hapilon, reading from a sheet of paper. The men, ostensibly members of the Abu Sayyaf, linking arms with him in the video recite the oath after him.

“We pledge to obey him on anything which our hearts desire or not and to value him more than anyone else,” Hapilon leads the men. “We will not take any emir other than him unless we see in him any obvious act of disbelief that could be questioned by Allah in the hereafter.”

Philippine officials as well as a former member of the Abu Sayyaf verify the identity of Hapilon.

This is not the first time Filipinos have said they joined and/or recruited for ISIS, although it's unclear exactly what that means.

The first known instance of Filipino support on social media for ISIS was posted on July 2. It shows Filipinos in prison, many of whom are members or former members of the Abu Sayyaf, gathering around a black flag and swearing allegiance to ISIS.

[Video: Prisoners in Philippines show allegiance to ISIS]

Three days later, a second video was posted on Facebook. Claiming to be members of Abu Sayyaf, about a dozen masked men speaking in Arabic said: "Our brothers in Faith, we are your brothers from Ummah Fi'e Sabilillah, the official media of al Harakatul al-Islamiyah [the official name of Abu Sayyaf]. We would like to inform everybody that we sincerely support our mujahideen brothers of ISIS. We are willing to extend to them our right hand when their left hand is lost."

To Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, they said, "'You are to us a replacement of our mother and father.' Our aim is to join you to claim Iraq and As-Sham and to share the Caliphate by the will of Allah." That video was taken down before Filipino authorities could get a copy.

A third video is being investigated by authorities in Southeast Asia. In a mix of languages including Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia and Filipino, the masked men claim to be throwing Filipino support behind ISIS, but at least one investigator says the men could be Indonesians pretending to be Filipinos. The video was uploaded from Indonesia.

Recruiting Indonesians

A day before the video of Isnilon Hapilon was posted, the Islamic State posted an 8-minute video targeting to recruit Indonesians.

The video declares the “good news” that “the Islamic State implements the Sharia of Allah in the entire land” and concludes with a call to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, aka Caliph Ibrahim. (Read: Don't join ISIS, Indonesia's religious affairs minister tells Indonesians)

This is not the first call for recruits from Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population and a once active terrorist network that carried out Southeast Asia’s 9/11 and succeeding annual attacks until 2005. (READ: Indonesia’s evolving terror networks)
In July, jailed Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the emir of Jemaah Islamiyah or JI, once al-Qaeda’s arm in Southeast Asia, called on his supporters to join ISIS.

JI's goal was to create an Islamic Caliphate through parts of Southeast Asia and Australia. After authorities captured or killed most its top and middle rank leaders, Ba'asyir founded what one anti-terrorism official calls the “reincarnation” of JI, Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid or JAT. (READ: Support ISIS, jailed Indonesian terror leader tells followers)

On June 9, the day ISIS began its march to capture Baghdad, a video of Indonesian men in Syria was posted on YouTube. Speaking in Bahasa Indonesia with snippets of Arabic, they urged Indonesians to join ISIS: “Let us fight in the path of Allah because it is our duty to do jihad in the path of Allah.” (READ: Southeast Asian recruits join jihadist ISIS)

Officials in the region say at least 60 Indonesians, 30 Malaysians, 2 Singaporeans and 1 Filipino have fought or are fighting with ISIS. Analysts say more than 12,000 Muslim extremists travelled to fight in Syria and Iraq in 3 years, more than the 10,000 who fought in Afghanistan in the late 80's, the conflict that gave birth to al-Qaeda.

Authorities fear, like Afghanistan, fighters will bring the radical ideology and terror tactics home. It's certainly brought a global diaspora of extremists together. Take Melbourne-born Musa Cerantonio, an ISIS cheerleader who effectively recruited militants to the ideology through social media.

He was arrested and deported by Philippine authorities after he tweeted that he had joined the fight in Syria and exhorted other Muslims to do the same. Australia, sources say, wanted to expose his lie.

Regardless of that, says Ansyaad Mbai, the head of Indonesia's National Counter-Terrorism Agency, known by its Indonesian acronym, BNPT, social media is potent and, using the "Caliphate" of ISIS, could rejuvenate Southeast Asia's terror networks.

“The names don’t matter, and they can change,” Mbai told me. “When they say they want an Islamic Caliphate, they are part of the same group with the same ideology.”

That ideology is spreading fast on social media, which Mbai called “the new machine to recruit militants.”

Coup? Here's the story behind those tanks

From Rappler (Aug 4): Coup? Here's the story behind those tanks

The military has new weapons that arrived last week

NO COUP: A convoy of military trucks seen on Manila roads prompted coup rumors. Photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA
NO COUP: A convoy of military trucks seen on Manila roads prompted coup rumors. Photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA

It was a case of bad timing.

On the same week that Senator Antonio Trillanes IV claimed that disgruntled retired generals were plotting to destabilize the Aquino administration, convoys of military trucks and tanks were sighted on Metro Manila's roads.

The military immediately apologized last week for the alarm caused by the "logistical movements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines."

What the spokespersons couldn't reveal back then – that would have killed the coup rumors – was what the trucks were carrying: the brand new M4 Caliber 5.56mm for the Philippine Army.

"Alam ninyo 'yung nakita ninyo [military convoy] noong isang araw, 'yun yung mga naghahakot (You know, the military convoy you saw, those were the vehicles that loaded the rifles)," said Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Noel Detoyato, laughing at the trouble that the logistical movement caused the military.

BRAND NEW: M4 rifles manufactured by US-based gun manufacturer Remington will replace the Army's M16 rifles. Photo from the Philippine Army

BRAND NEW: M4 rifles manufactured by US-based gun manufacturer Remington will replace the Army's M16 rifles. Photo from the Philippine Army

The first batch of 27,200 M4 rifles arrived last week. The military didn't want to announce what they were transporting for security reasons. Armored trucks accompanied the convoys.

The M4 rifles from US-based gun manufacturer Remington will replace the Army's M-16 rifles. "Napakaganda. Ma-inspire ka. Makatayong balahibo ba (It's really nice. It's inspiring. I got goosebumps)," said an excited Detoyato.

The supposed coup plots have since been debunked by retired generals linked to the rumors.

President Benigno Aquino III was supposed to have led the July 14 ceremonial distribution of the first M4 rifles received by the AFP. This was cancelled, apparently to give way to his televised speech on the Disbursement Acceleration Program.

PAF to buy affordable yet best combat aircraft

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 4): PAF to buy affordable yet best combat aircraft

With two South Korean F/A-50 "Fighting Eagle" jet aircraft expected to arrive and be in commission by 2015, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) announced that it will soon form an assessment team that will sift through the technical specifications of the various fighter aircraft available and decide which one is the best and affordable for the country.

This was stressed by Lt. Col. Enrico Canaya, PAF spokesperson, in a statement to the PNA.

"There are several fighter aircraft available in the market that can fit the requirement for future fighter aircraft of the PAF," he added.

But Canaya said that an assessment team will need to look and evaluate the specification of these fighter aircraft .

"An assessment team (is needed) to determine the technical specifications which will be the basis for selection. At present, we don't have the team in place yet but (it) can be expected soon now that the F/A 50 lead-in fighter aircraft is expected to be delivered beginning next year," he added.

This is in wake of reports that the Swedish JAAB JAS-39 "Gripen" light engine mult-role jet aircraft is being considered by the Philippine defense establishment as the next jet fighters of the PAF.

The "Gripen" has a delta wing and canard configuration with relaxed stability design and fly-by-wire flight controls. It is powered by the Volvo RM12, and has a top speed of Mach 2.

The "Gripen" was designed to be flexible as it had been anticipated that newly developed sensors, computers, and armaments would need to be integrated as technology advances.

It can be armed with a variety of air-to-air, air-to-surface missiles and automatic cannons.

Production models are priced at an estimated USD68 million per unit.

First batch of M-4 automatic rifles now in PHL -- Army

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 4): First batch of M-4 automatic rifles now in PHL -- Army

Armored personnel carriers (APCs), seen by some nervous citizens in South Harbor, Manila Friday morning, were not there to foil possible coup plotters, but to escort the first shipment of Remington M-14 automatic rifles which will be the Philippine Army (PA)'s replacement to venerable M-16 automatic rifle that has faithfully served the country for the past 40 years.

This was confirmed by PA spokesperson Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato in a message to the PNA.

"Around 27,200 units were delivered to us last Friday. We did not just divulged at the time for security reasons. All of these weapons are in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City now," he said.

After some test and inspections, Detoyato said the weapons will be issued to front line units.

Further deliveries are expected until the end of the year until the PA's 63,000 M-4 order is completed.

Each M-4 is worth P38,402.10 each and the entire order of 63,000 units is worth P2.4 billion.

Detoyato said the M-4 is a very versatile weapon and very ideal for close-quarter battle as it fires a more heavy shell than the M-16 automatic rifle it is replacing, thus ensuring greater damage to target.

The PA spokesperson said that the older M-16s cannot fire these rounds due to the so-called "rifle twisting".

"The old M-16s have a 1-in-12 twist while the M-4s have a 1-in-7 twist making it more powerful," he said.

Detoyato stated that while both weapons have the same range (around 500 meters), the M-4 can be more easily upgraded with modern sighting devices.

"The new M-4s (are) ready for enhancements as it is the A3 model. Its carry handle is removable (thus ensuring) its conversion as 'flattop' rifle with Picattiny rail for night vision gear. It also has a handguard to accommodate TGT designators, flash lights and many other items," he added.

And due to its smaller size than the M-16, Detoyato said the M-4 is more easier to carry in foliage and inside vehicles.

With this characteristics, the weapon is more easier to fire and reload during engagements, he added.

The M-4 is a gas-operated, magazine-fed, selective fire, shoulder-fired weapon with a telescoping stock and 14.5 inch (370 mm) barrel to ease close quarters combat.

It fires the .223 caliber, or 5.56 mm NATO round.

PAF deploys firefighting aircraft to contain Rapu-Rapu fire

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 4): PAF deploys firefighting aircraft to contain Rapu-Rapu fire

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) on Monday announced that it has deployed firefighting aircraft to help contain the blaze which has so far destroyed an estimated 6,000 hectares of forest and grass land in Rapu-Rapu, Albay.

The blaze was believed to have started Sunday morning.

Lt. Col. Enrico Canaya, PAF spokesperson, said "Huey II" helicopters fitted with "Bambi" buckets were immediately deployed to help fight the fires Sunday.

He added that these air assets were told to drop their loads to prevent the fire from spreading.

Canaya said that initially, one "Huey II" helicopter, which was based in Villamor Air Base, Pasay City, was deployed in Rapu-Rapu, Albay to help in firefighting operations.

Another one, based in Davao City, was deployed to augment the efforts of the first helicopter.

A W-3A "Sokol" combat utility helicopter was also deployed to help in air reconnaissance, he added.

Canaya clarified that the operations of these assets are depended on the weather conditions meaning that if visibility is good, the planes can fly almost all the time.

The fires have so far affected 2,065 families.