Sunday, August 17, 2014

KL deports 641 Pinoys; Moros, Sultanate protest

From the Manila Standard Today (Aug 18): KL deports 641 Pinoys; Moros, Sultanate protest

A TOTAL of 641 Filipino immigrants were said to have been deported by the Malaysian government to rid the country of illegals particularly in Sabah, a move opposed by the Moro National Liberation Front and the Sultanate of Sulu.

The MNLF said Filipinos living in Sandakan, Semporna, Lahad Datu, Tawao and Kudat in Sabah were being ejected despite having legitimate documents.

The Sultanate of Sulu, which is claiming Sabah, said Malaysia had so far deported 100,000 Filipinos and that it expected that number to reach 200,000 in the coming months.

“The deportation is part of the 2004 pre-implementation plan by Malaysia as programmed by the Eastern Command forces to weed out all refugees in the country particularly in Sabah,” said Sultan Abraham Idjarani, spokesman of the Sultanate of Sulu.

He said Malaysia was forcibly taking Tausug’s out of Sabah, the ethnic group opposed to the framework agreement between the Philippine government the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Malaysia’s Star Online on Sunday said the Filipino deportees included 293 men, 188 women and 160 children, and that those were considered the largest batch of deportees this year.

The Filipinos were part of thousands of immigrants temporarily detained at the  Sibuga detention center and in other jail facilities in Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Papar and Tawau.

The report said the deportees climbed aboard 22 buses for Sandakan, where they boarded a ferry bound for Zamboanga City.

Police Special Task Force Director Rodzi Md Saad said they deported 12,100 illegal immigrants between January and Aug. 15 this year, and of those 9,368 were Filipinos and 2,569 were Indonesians.

He said they expected to deport another 4,000 illegal immigrants by the end of the year.

“The number of illegals deported this year is considered high compared with 13,222 last year and 12,551 in 2012,” Rodzi said.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz prepared to join KAKADU 2014

From AngMalaya (Aug 17): BRP Ramon Alcaraz prepared to join KAKADU 2014

Philippine Navy’s BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), currently the most advance warship of our navy, with its AgustaWestland AW-109 “Power” helicopter (PNH-431) will join KAKADU 2014, largest naval drill hosted by the Royal Australian Navy.

As a preparation, Philippine Navy personnel inspected the BRP Ramon Alcaraz’s Oto Melara, fitted the newly acquired new Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat and secured AW 109 naval helicopter.

Photo by Philippine NAvy



Photos by Philippine Navy

Australia and Philippines will be joined by Japan, New Zealand, and Pakistan in KAKADU 2014.  While Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Thailand, Vanuatu, South Korea and India will be sending personnel as observers.

KAKADU 2014 will start on August 25 and will run until September 12. The drills will be held in Northern Australia Exercise Area.  BRP Ramon Alcaraz with its AW-109 helicopter leaves August 17 .

AFP pulling out Marines from Sulu?

From the Philippine Star (Aug 17): AFP pulling out Marines from Sulu?

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is pulling the Marines out of Sulu as it passes on to the Army the responsibility of dealing with the Abu Sayyaf bandits and other lawless groups operating in the island province.

Sources said from Sulu, the 2nd Marine Brigade under Brig. Gen. Martin Pinto would be reassigned to the provinces of Lanao.

The Army’s Special Operations Command (Socom) under Brig. Gen. Donato San Juan will take over the anti-terror and anti-crime operations in Sulu.

Aside from being a base of the Abu Sayyaf, Sulu has become the center of kidnapping activities by gangs who sell their victims to the bandit group.

“There’s no written order yet. The Marines were advised verbally to prepare to move to their new assignment anytime soon,” one of the sources said without explaining the reasons for the changes in the military’s field operations.

In June this year, six members of Socom’s Joint Special Operations Group  were killed in a friendly fire at the height of fighting between the Marines and the bandits in Patikul. The military has created a panel to investigate the incident.

The Army and the Marines used to be deployed to Sulu as well as in Basilan at the height of the government’s anti-terror drive in 2008.

Later, under the AFP’s new Fleet-Marine concept, Army troops were pulled out from the island province and were redeployed in the mainland, leaving the Marines with the responsibility of combating the Abu Sayyaf.

With the return of the Army to Sulu, it is expected that the elite special forces, the scout ranger and the light reaction regiments will be redeployed in the area.

“We are professional soldiers. We will go wherever we are ordered to go by our commanders,” one Marine officer said when asked to comment on the impending transfer of the 2nd Marine Brigade.

Wanted ABB member falls in Valenzuela

From the Philippine Star (Aug 17): Wanted ABB member falls in Valenzuela

An alleged member of the Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB), wanted for several killings in Northern Luzon, was arrested in Valenzuela City yesterday afternoon.

Arnold Vinasoy, alias “Ka Jerry,” tried to fight off his arresting officers led by Inspector Jonathan Olvena when he was cornered at past 2 p.m. at Sitio Pinalagad, Barangay Malinta, said city police chief Senior Superintendent Rhoderick Armamento.

Vinasoy eventually yield to authorities.

He and 20 others escaped from the Isabela provincial jail while serving his time for murder in August 2001.

He was tagged in the killing of a barangay councilman in Cataguing, San Mariano, Isabela in 1998, the murder of a man at Sitio Pinalagad in 2003 and the killing of a local official in Pangasinan.

Armamento said they are checking reports that Vinasoy was also involved in the killing of a local official in Metro Manila several years ago.

The suspect was detained at the Valenzuela police detention cell.

Army: NPA in Agusan Sur disintegrating

From the Philippine Star (Aug 18): Army: NPA in Agusan Sur disintegrating

The communist New People’s Army (NPA) in Agusan del Sur is disintegrating following several setbacks in the rebel movement, officials of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division (ID) said on Saturday.

In a statement, Maj. Christian Uy, spokesman for the 4th ID, said the NPA rebels are in desperate need of logistics following the arrest last March 22 in Cebu of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) chairman Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma, the party’s secretary-general.

Uy said Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, chief of the 4th ID, advised local businessmen and operators of mining and logging firms in the Caraga region to reject the demands of the rebels who are trying to obtain logistics, firearms and food in order to survive.

Uy said the NPA’s support system was crippled after the arrest of the Tiamzons.

Security forces arrested the Tiamzon couple and five others in Barangay Zaragosa in Aloguinsan, Cebu.

Uy said Visaya ordered all Army units to continue their counterinsurgency operations to prevent the rebels from harassing and shaking down traders and residents.

“It is very obvious that NPA leaders in my area are now frustrated and having a hard time convincing their comrades that they are going to win this war,” Visaya said.

He urged the rebels “to lay down your arms and leave your selfish commanders behind in the mountains and we will bring you hope in the mainstream together with your family.”

Visaya vowed the government would make life better for those who surrender, noting their life in the underground has become “miserable.”

The Army said a recent setback of the NPA in the region was a failed attack on a compound of tribal leader Datu Calpit in Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur on July 15.

Uy said responding Army troops killed 11 rebels including Joseph Tajora Cainong, the alleged leader of the NPA Guerrilla Front 8 in Agusan del Sur. Nine firearms were recovered after the firefight.

NPA leader “Ka Jared” told The STAR in a telephone interview yesterday that the Army officers were just daydreaming when they claimed that the local NPA is disintegrating.

Jared, who led the recent release of four Surigao policemen in Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte, claimed the people in the region are frustrated with the government for failing to provide them basic services such as farm-to-market roads and classrooms.

Hostage survivor Warren Rodwell tells of hunger, sickness during 472 days held captive by Muslim militants

From ABC--Australian Broadcasting Corporation (Aug 17): Hostage survivor Warren Rodwell tells of hunger, sickness during 472 days held captive by Muslim militants

Warren Rodwell

Warren Rodwell is escorted by US military personnel following his release.

An Australian man kidnapped and held hostage by Muslim militants in the Southern Philippines for 472 days has shed more light on his ordeal, telling of his brushes with death and the methods he used to stop himself going insane.
Warren Rodwell, a former soldier and English teacher from Sydney, was seized from his home on the island of Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, in December 2011.

Fifteen months after his release, he says his captors initially nearly killed him through incompetence.

He says he was shot through the index finger during his capture and nearly drowned at sea whilst being taken to his first destination.

"After we got out to sea for an hour, the boat exploded. The motors caught on fire and that's when I could see the errors being made," Mr Rodwell said.

For the next 15 months, Abu Sayyaf guards moved Mr Rodwell from camp to camp in remote mountain jungles and inhospitable mangrove swamps.

"When the mosquitoes would come out they would drive you crazy," he said.

He says he struggled each day to stay in control of his mind.

"I've always had a passion for numbers, and I'd lived in China for some time so I'd add up the number like the Chinese do ... trying to solve mathematical problems," he said.

He says his situation prompted him to reflect on his life and the lives of all the people he had known.

"I thought to myself that I wanted to at least outlive my mother," he said.

Daily struggle of hunger and sickness

Hunger was a constant companion and by the end of his 15 months as a hostage Mr Rodwell had lost about 30 kilograms.

Mr Rodwell said his captors suffered from the same lack of food and sickness.

Rodwell sits at a police station shortly after his release from Islamic militant kidnappers 
Warren Rodwell lost over 30 kilograms during his 15 months as a captive of Muslim militant group, Abu Sayyaf . (AFP)   

"I'd observe their behaviours and because I'd see a change in guards I'd also see some of them getting sick, others going crazy," he said.

"That was always refreshing, when you see that those who are supposed to be in the more powerful situation are suffering more than you are."

Despite being asked numerous proof of life questions and appearing in proof of life videos, Mr Rodwell thought he had been forgotten and was preparing to die.

"As soon as I was released and found out the extent of involvement and the commitment, especially those people within DFAT and the Federal Police, then I was quite overwhelmed," he said.

A ransom, or "board and lodging", was paid to the hostage takers, although it was a tiny fraction of the original demand for $US2 million.

As soon as I was released and found out the extent of involvement and the commitment [from] DFAT, and the Federal Police then I was quite overwhelmed.

Mr. Rodwell's release was both overwhelming and ordinary. He was dropped off at a wharf in the port city of Pagadian.

Skeletal in appearance, he could hardly walk to the port gate where he told an incredulous port worker that he had been kidnapped by the Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf. 

Keeping track of time and dates was important, and he says he will never forget the date of his release.

"I asked the port guard is it after midnight? He said yeah. I said great. It's my mother's birthday," he said.

Since being freed, Mr Rodwell has been recovering in Brisbane.

A finger that was shot during his capture has been amputated and physiotherapy had helped him regain strength.

He has been collaborating with researcher Dr Bob East on a biographical book.

[472 Days Captive of the Abu Sayyaf: The Survival of Australian Warren Rodwell will be published later this year by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.]

New China incursion hit

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 18): New China incursion hit

President Aquino has sounded the alarm over the presence of two new Chinese vessels near the oil-rich Recto Bank (Reed Bank) in the West Philippine Sea.

Citing a military report, the President called attention to the presence of the Chinese hydrographic research vessels at Recto Bank despite a Washington-backed Philippine proposal for a freeze on activities that escalate tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The West Philippine Sea is part of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“What are they doing there? What studies are they conducting? I hope [their presence] will not lead to increased tension between [the Philippines and China],” Aquino told TV5, which had been airing an interview with the President in a series that started on Wednesday night. The network aired the full interview Sunday night.

“Just a reminder, Recto Bank is [144 km] from Palawan so it is clearly within our [370-km] exclusive economic zone.”

But China, which claims 90 percent of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea, sent the ships anyway and by the Philippine military’s description the vessels were surveying and charting the area.

Aquino did not say when the military spotted the vessels and when he was briefed on the matter.

But he said the incursion was the latest in what he described as China’s “seasonal” attitude toward its territorial dispute with the Philippines.

“Whenever we deal with China, and with all due respect, it’s like [its attitude] is seasonal,” he said in Filipino.

“There’s a season when China’s belligerent. There’s a season when it’s friendly. There’s a time when it goes on a charm offensive. There’s a time when it doesn’t,” he said.

Despite the Philippines’ efforts to resolve the territorial dispute peacefully, Chinese incursions into Philippine waters have not stopped, Aquino said.

He cited the presence of the two research vessels at Recto Bank as the latest case of Chinese intrusion into Philippine territory.

It was unclear when the two Chinese vessels arrived in the area, but their presence there was the first provocative act of Beijing since it rejected the US-Philippine proposal for a freeze in activities that escalate tensions in the sea, which Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario tried to push at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Regional Forum (ARF) in Naypyidaw, Burma (Myanmar), last week.

Three-step plan

The proposal was part of the Philippines’ three-step plan for a peaceful settlement of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The two other steps are the conclusion of a code of conduct that would prevent rival claims from erupting into conflict and the settlement of the disputes through international arbitration.

Daniel Russel, the top US diplomat in Asia, was the first to propose the freeze on July 28, but China, which rejects US involvement in the disputes, turned it down, saying the tensions in the region were only being exaggerated by some of the claimants, referring to the Philippines and Vietnam.

The Asean foreign ministers did not discuss the US-Philippine freeze proposal at the ARF because there was already the Declaration of Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea that the bloc and China signed in 2002 to prevent the escalation of tensions over the territorial disputes, the Asean secretariat said.

Competing claims

Besides China, the Philippines and Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also claim parts or all of the South China Sea.

China grabbed Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) from the Philippines after a two-month maritime standoff in 2012. It is reclaiming land on at least five reefs in the West Philippine Sea and is harassing supply ships to stop them from restocking a small Philippine garrison aboard the BRP Sierra Madre, a naval vessel that Manila grounded on Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in 1999 to mark Philippine territory in the contested Spratly archipelago.

Without military muscle to confront China, the Philippines took the territorial dispute to the United Nations International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (Itlos) last year for arbitration.

China has refused to take part in the proceedings, but the tribunal has ordered it to comment on the Philippine case by Dec. 15.

PH sovereign rights

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) maintains that the Philippines “has the exclusive sovereign rights over Recto Bank.”

“Recto Bank or Reed Bank is not an island, or a low-tide elevation. Rather, it is a completely submerged bank that is a continental margin of Palawan… It forms part of the [370-km] continental shelf of the Philippine archipelago under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” DFA spokesman Charles Jose said in July, rejecting China’s complaint about a London-listed company’s drilling operations at Recto Bank.

In his television interview, Aquino recalled that a vessel that belonged to the British company Forum Energy Plc was once driven away by a Chinese ship even if it was operating within Philippines waters.

“Now their ships are in the same area, the Recto Bank,” Aquino complained.

Philippine license

In February 2010, Forum Energy obtained from the Philippines a license for Service Contract 72 (SC72), which covers 880,000 hectares within the Recto Bank basin.

The Philippines’ Philex Petroleum Corp. is the controlling shareholder of Forum Energy.

SC72 has a seven-year exploration period extendible by three years and a 25-year production period that can be extended by 15 years.

The service area includes the Sampaguita gas field, discovered in 1976, and a number of leads identified from earlier seismic evaluation.

Forum Energy has been ready to start exploration in the area, but the dispute between the Philippines and China has been a stumbling block to its operations.

The Philippines, however, has extended Forum Energy’s service contract up to Aug. 15, 2016.

Chinese permit?

But the Chinese foreign ministry insisted that such explorations required permit from Beijing, an assertion flatly rejected by the Philippines.

In March 2011, two Chinese gunboats went too close to a vessel that was surveying at Recto Bank for oil and gas deposits, forcing the Philippine military to send aircraft and vessels to drive the Chinese boats away.

In April 2012, Philex said in a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange that Forum Energy had a report that was “expected to show an improvement in the resources previously known” in the Sampaguita gas discovery at Recto Bank.

Earlier, Forum Energy said that based on a 2006 study, the Sampaguita field had a potential of up to 566 billion cubic meters of natural gas, more than five times the initial estimate.

Filipino peacekeepers: Should they stay or go?

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 17): Filipino peacekeepers: Should they stay or go?

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MalacaƱang on Saturday said President Benigno Aquino III had yet to decide whether or not to pull out the Filipino peacekeeping forces from the Golan Heights and Liberia, even as the Department of National Defense (DND) had recommended it.

Liberia is among the West African countries stricken by the deadly Ebola virus, while the Golan Heights is the volatile buffer zone between Israel and Syria. The civil war in Syria continues to rage, while to the south Israel is currently involved in a battle of deadly missile barrages with Palestine in Gaza.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said over government run-dzRB radio that Mr. Aquino wanted to be appraised of the protection and safeguards available to the more than 400 Filipino troops deployed to these two places under the UN flag.

“My impression is the President has not made a decision yet. He still wants to know the available safeguards,” Valte said.

There are 115 Filipino soldiers in Liberia and 332 in the Golan Heights.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the DND recommendation considered the health and security risks faced by the Filipino troops.

Earlier, Mr. Aquino decided that the Filipino peacekeepers in Syria would stay put after two groups of Filipino soldiers were kidnapped weeks apart by Syrian rebels last year, Valte said.

Suspected Sayyaf men abduct mechanic, kill another

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 17): Suspected Sayyaf men abduct mechanic, kill another

Suspected Abu Sayyaf militants abducted a chief mechanic and killed his assistant, who tried to run away, in a heavily secured provincial government compound in the southern Philippines, officials said Sunday.

About 30 Abu Sayyaf gunmen breached a perimeter wall of the Sulu provincial government compound late Saturday and took chief mechanic Ronald Pelegrin at gunpoint from the motorpool under cover of darkness, said Senior Superintendent Abraham Orbita, who heads Sulu’s police forces.

The gunmen also tried to seize Pelegrin’s deputy, Dante Avilla, but the latter resisted and was shot and killed by the militants when he tried to run away. A mobile police force unit stationed in a nearby building failed to stop the attack by the gunmen, who fled through a hole in a fence that they also used to barge into the compound, Orbita said.

Such brazen attacks on government personnel and unarmed villagers in Sulu and outlying island provinces have kept the Abu Sayyaf a major national security concern despite crippling battle setbacks dealt by more than a decade of U.S.-backed Philippine offensives. Aside from ransom kidnappings, the militants are also notorious for beheadings and bombings.

More than 300 Abu Sayyaf militants, split into factions, remain active in Sulu, a poor, predominantly Muslim region 950 kilometers (590 miles) south of Manila, and in outlying islands and provinces.

The militants still hold several Filipino and foreign captives in their jungle bases, according to the military.

AFP downplays 2 Moro groups’ pledge to support ISIS

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 17): AFP downplays 2 Moro groups’ pledge to support ISIS

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan. PHOTO/A2C Bryan Bautista/ AFP PAO

The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Sunday downplayed the claims of two Moro extremist groups that they had pledged support to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr., AFP spokesperson, said the assertions of the Abu Sayyaf group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters did not hold ground until verified to be true.

“Until we have proven something, it doesn’t prove anything. It doesn’t hold ground,” the official said in reaction to the two extremist groups’ supposed pledge to the ISIS jihadists.

Clips have been uploaded on YouTube showing the BIFF and the Abu Sayyaf rebels affirming their support for ISIS.

Tutaan pointed out that the clips might have been meant to heighten the groups’ notoriety in the public eye so that they would be feared more and could go on with their criminal activities.

Tutaan pointed out that the supposed links between the bandit groups had not been verified.

He reminded the media to be careful in presenting the issue since it could affect public perception.

“There are no facts so far that would show that they have links to ISIS. Anybody could just say that. The thing is, if it’s presented wrongly, it could affect the people’s perception,” he said.

YouTube videos were uploaded recently showing alleged BIFF and Abu Sayyaf leaders reading a statement of support for the ISIS, which now controls large areas in Iraq and Syria.

Tutaan said the AFP has been cautious in dealing with the issue “because we don’t want to cause undue alarm.”

PNoy unfazed by delays, sees Bangsamoro peace process completed as envisioned

From InterAksyon (Aug 17): PNoy unfazed by delays, sees Bangsamoro peace process completed as envisioned

The Bangsamoro Road Map, as rendered by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

Amid a call to speed up the crafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law to embody the key agreements of the government with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, President Benigno Aquino III told TV5 he remains confident that a sound, just and comprehensive law will be the outcome of the entire process.

He aired his views in an exclusive interview just five days before he is scheduled to receive from his legal advisers the draft of a bill that he will then pitch to Congress, for a Bangsamoro Basic Law to be enacted hopefully early in 2015.

He likened the delays - blamed by some on the length it's taking Palace lawyers to go through the draft provided by the transitional council after the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro - to the tedious process of ensuring the "devil in the details" is anticipated and addressed in order to avoid legal questions later.

In an exclusive interview last Aug. 13 with Atty. Mel Sta. Maria, TV5 resident legal analyst,  which will air at 10 p.m. Sunday (Aug. 17), Aquino said, speaking mostly in Filipino:

"Well, when we entered into this process, we never said that anything we asked for would automatically happen. We all really have to persevere and be patient. But I am optimistic of the future. Why? Because even now --and right after the signing of the CAB - the MILF has been fulfilling many of their commitments to us."

He cited as example of the MILF's fidelity to its word its acts of helping the government track down wanted criminals that had taken refuge in its areas.

Moreover, he said the MILF repeatedly helped calm down their constituents in times when tensions were rising over one incident or issue: "May mga panahon na pwedeng nagkaroon ng tensyon o napataas ang tensyon, sumama sila sa pagpapababa nung tensyon. So, palagay ko yung lahat nung nakalagay sa Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro e nandun pa rin ho at mas matibay pa.

[There were times when tension could have gone out of hand, but they helped bring this down. So, in my view everything placed in the CAB is still there and has been honored and is being strengthened]."

He said the Bangsamoro leaders apparently realize it's not just the President who will be put to shame if the peace process fails: "Sila rin ang mapapahiya. Yung mga umaasa e madidismaya. Marami na hong nagtutulong tulong para mangyari ito [They will also lose face. All those who have pinned their hopes on this will be dismayed. Many people have staked so much, helping out to make sure this is pursued to its end]."

He acknowledged that threshing out finer details in any agreement is always tedious.

"Para bang nagkakaintindihan tayo pero gusto nating maging napaka-comprehensive nitong basic law na wala nang makwestyon o wala nang kailangang imbentuhin pa pagdating ng panahon [It's like we all have an understanding that we want a very comprehensive basic law that no one can question or will not need to be revised in the future]."

PNoy getting draft on Monday

The President, according to Palace officials Sunday, will receive from his legal advisers on Monday (Aug. 18) the draft bill they reviewed that worked in the discussion over 10 days of the original government peace panel and the MILF in Davao from Aug. 1-10.

The review meetings were called amid mounting concern that the draft bill might not faithfully reflect the fundamental provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed last year.

The President will act quickly on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) once he receives it, Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said Sunday, and submit the draft law to Congress, giving the latter time to pass the law early 2015.

The Palace is following the roadmap and timetable for setting up a Bangsamoro Transitional Assembly, and the elections of officers of the Bangsamoro Political Entity - which is expected to be held along with elections of 2016, Coloma added.

Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress: less than 50 session days left ‘til yearend

From MindaNews (Aug 17): Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress: less than 50 session days left ‘til yearend

Four months after its submission to Malacanang (Office of the President), the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), reviewed and now “mutually acceptable” to government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), is finally on its way to Congress but it’s a race against time with only less than 50 session days left until December 31, 2014, the Aquino administration’s target for passage of the law.

The final draft of the BBL will be submitted to President Aquino “before end of next week” and to Congress “before end of the month), Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles told MindaNews on Friday afternoon, after the GPH and MIFL issued a joint statement that that they had “concluded discussions” on the remaining unresolved issues of the BBL.

The Joint Statement, signed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Mohagher Iqbal who signed as chair of the Bangsmaoro Transition Commission (BTC), the body tasked to draft the Basic Law, was issued August 15, exactly 138 days to the end of the year, the target date for passage of the BBL.

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III was supposed to have certified the bill as “urgent” when he delivered his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 28 but by then, the peace panels to whom the BTC in a July 3 resolution, elevated its concerns on the Malacanang-proposed revisions to its draft, had not succeeded in coming up with a “mutually acceptable” draft.

In last year’s SONA, the President urged Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law by yearend 2014 to allow enough time for the transition period before the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro government in May 2016. The Bangsamoro, according to the GPH-MILF roadmap, should be in place by June 30, 2016, the same day President Aquino ends his six-year term.

In his SONA on July 28, Aquino said: “if we are able to legislate the Bangsamoro Basic Law before the end of the year and conduct the necessary plebiscite, we will be able to give the Bangsamoro Transition Authority one and a half years to show positive change.”

“Should this be delayed, however, the period for proving that it was right to choose the path of peace will naturally be shortened,” the President said.

47 days

Based on Deles’ statement, the final draft BBL will be submitted to President Aquino before August 22 and to Congress before August 31.

Assuming that the earliest it will be submitted to Congress after the succession of holidays — will be Tuesday, August 26, that is 128 days to December 31, out of which there are a total of 77 days listed under “resumption of session” in the legislative calendar and a total of 51 days for three periods of recess.

The sessions that started July 28 will go on until September 26. Legislators will go on break from September 27 to October 19, resume sessions from October 20 to 31, take a break again on November 1 to 16, resume sessions from November 17 to December 19 and go on Christmas break from December 20 until January 18.

Out of the 77 days, however, MindaNews counted only 47 actual workdays because 30 days of the 77 are Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Congress has a four-week day only (Mondays to Thursdays) purportedly because legislators go home and devote their Fridays to their constituents.

“Enough time”

But Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, eyed to be the chair of a special House committee that would handle the proposed BBL, told MindaNews Friday evening that there is “enough time” to pass the law.

“Very good, very good,” he said, upon learning that Deles said the final draft BBL would be submitted to Congress before end of the month.

“Kayang-kaya” (It can be done), Rodriguez said, adding committee hearings can be done “during weekends” or even “during recess.”

He reiterated earlier statements that he would invite Nur Misuari, founding chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MNLF), the group from which the MILF broke away in the late 1970s, and Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group from the MILF, to the committee hearings on the BBL.

Misuari and Kato are both fugitives from the law but Rodriguez said “we will ask for a suspension of the effects of the warrants of arrest” as they are being hunted down for political offenses. Misuari and Kato have pending warrants for criminal offenses.

Rodriguez also said he wants to invite the Organization of Islamic Cooperation which brokered the peace process between the Philippine government and the MNLF and which is an observer in the GPH-MILF peace process.

On July 1, he told MindaNews that if the draft can stand the test of constitutionality, there should be no problem.

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.

First quarter

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 said they need six months to prepare for the plebiscite.

If the bill is not passed by yearend, Congress, according to its legislative calendar, will resume sessions on January 19 and will go on recess again on March 20. Between January 19 and March 20 is a total of 61 session days but take out Fridays to Saturdays and the Chinese New Year holiday on February 19, there will be only 36 workdays left to March 20.

Once the BBL is ratified in a plebiscite, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is deemed abolished and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) takes over and begins the ministerial form of government.

ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman has repeatedly said they are preparing for a smooth transition from the ARMM to the Bangsamoro.

If the GPH-MILF roadmap is followed, the Bangsamoro government shall have been set up and its first set of elected officials shall have taken their oath of office by June 30, 2016, the same day President Aquino ends his six-year term.

Draft Bangsmoaro Basic Law out of peace panels’ hands; back to BTC and OP

From MindaNews (Aug 17): Draft Bangsmoaro Basic Law out of peace panels’ hands; back to BTC and OP  
After a month’s unsuccessful attempts by the government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels to come up with a “mutually acceptable” draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the Office of the President, particularly the Executive Secretary, has taken over the finalization of the draft with the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the body that drafted the BBL.

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa took over noon of August 10, the last of the 10-day “workshop” of the GPH and MILF panels at the Waterfront Insular Hotel here, meeting separately with the government and MILF peace panel chairs, averting what would have been yet another unsuccessful fourth workshop after the unsuccessful three workshops totaling 11 days in July in Kuala Lumpur and Manila.

Early evening of August 10, the GPH and MILF peace panels met with the press and although they sounded uncomfortable when asked about specifics, announced a date – “August 18, 2014, in sha Allah” — for them to “finish an agreed draft Bangsamoro Basic Law.”

The peace panels got involved in the crafting of a “mutually acceptable” draft BBL when the MILF-chaired BTC (composed of eight commissioners from the MILF and seven from the GPH), passed a resolution on July 3 elevating to the panels its concerns over the Malacanang-proposed revisions to the 97-page draft BBL it submitted to the Palace on April 22.

At the start of the 10-day Davao “workshop” on August 1, government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer had told MindaNews that the panel believes the outcome of the “workshop” should be returned to the BTC because it was the BTC that gave them the panels the mandate to work on the draft.

No panel-to-panel meet

There was no formal announcement from both panels that the draft was out of their hands. But after the August 10 announcement that they would “finish an agreed draft” by August 18, there was no panel-to-panel meeting anymore even as both panels were in the same venues — Malagos Garden Resort on August 13 and Marco Polo Hotel on August 14 and 15.

Ochoa and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Alfredo Benjamin Sabater Caguioa met with MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, concurrent BTC chair, in those three days of exchanges of position papers and conversations that ended Friday noon, August 15 with a two-paragraph, nine-line Joint Statement signed by Ochoa and Iqbal as BTC chair.

The Statement announced that they had “concluded discussions on the various issues” involving the draft BBL “originally drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and submitted to the President last April” and that the parties agreed that “resolutions arrived at by both parties will be incorporated into the final draft Basic Bangsamoro Law that will be prepared and submitted to President Benigno S. Aquino III.”

Following this statement, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles told MindaNews that the final draft BBL would be submitted to the President “before end of next week” and to Congress “before end of the month.”

The Ochoa-Iqbal statement of August 15 was not their first. Two months earlier, Ochoa and Iqbal also issued a statement – a longer one — a seven paragraph, 23-line “Press Statement on the status of the Draft Bangsamoro Law” in an attempt to address the restlessness of those awaiting news on the submission of the draft law to Congress.

“Thorough process of review”

The BTC submitted its draft to Malacanang on April 22, expecting Malacanang would submit the same to Congress when it resumed sessions on May 5 after the Holy Week break. But as June 11, the schedule for Congress to adjourn sine die was fast approaching, it was also getting clearer that Congress would adjourn without receiving the draft.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles had hinted in her opening remarks at the International Conference of Cotabato at the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City on June 6 that the draft BBL would not be transmitted before Congress adjourned on June 11.

She said it was still undergoing a “thorough process of review” by the Office of the President to ensure Congress gets a “more refined and strengthened” draft.

The Ochoa-Iqbal statement was dated June 7 but was e-mailed to the media by Deles’ office afternoon of June 10.

The statement noted that since the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro on March 27, BTC members had been working on the BBL, “consulting with experts and various stakeholders, and building consensus among its members” and that the President expects a law that is “equitable, practical, and empowering, and which serves the interests of the entire nation.”

“Precious legacy”

The statement acknowledged that the BTC had submitted its draft to Malacanang and that they acknowledge the “urgency behind the immediate passage of the BBL,” that a thorough review of the provisions was necessary “to ensure that these are consistent with what the parties agreed upon in the 17 years of peace negotiation.”

“At present, efforts have already been made to coordinate with the Senate and House leadership to ensure that the draft BBL is submitted to Congress when sessions resume in July,” the June 7 statement real.
“We believe that investing time in this process will redound to the benefit of all, laying the foundations for peace, prosperity, and progress in Mindanao––a precious legacy that will be cherished by generations of Filipinos, especially our Muslim brothers and sisters in Mindanao, for years to come,” it added.

Iqbal had earlier said that there was supposed to have been a “four-tiered” engagement with the Office of the President on the draft BBL before its submission to Congress.

The first level was supposed to have been between Ochoa and the BTC, hence that joint press statement on June 7. The fourth and last level would have been between President Aquino and Al Haj Murad Ebrahim. Only the fourth level-engagement happened, the MILF said in an editorial posted on its website on July 23.

The Malacanang-reviewed draft was handed over to the MILF on June 21. Iqbal and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim were shown a copy of the reviewed draft with Malacanang’s proposed revisions, in Hiroshima evening of June 22.

Murad and Iqbal were in Hiroshima to address The Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao (COP 6) on June 23 and met with President Aquino on June 24, shortly before the President addressed the same seminar, where they raised “concerns” over Malacanang’s proposed revisions.

Murad and Iqbal gave no details about what transpired during the meeting with the President that day but two days later, on June 26, Iqbal in a speech in Istanbul, Turkey, said Malacanang’s proposed revisions, if followed, would render the future Bangsamoro less autonomous than the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao that it seeks to replace.

2 Sulu motorpool mechanics abducted, one killed

From MindaNews (Aug 17): 2 Sulu motorpool mechanics abducted, one killed

An estimated 30 armed men stormed the provincial motorpool in Patikul, Sulu late Saturday night and abducted the mechanic and his assistant.

The Sulu Provincial Police Office in a report to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao  said an estimated 30 armed men abducted chief mechanic Ronald Pelegrin, 39, and his assistant, Dante Avila, 29, at around 10:30 p.m.

The report said that while the police pursued the armed men, they found Avila dead, believed to have been shot by the armed men.

Army arrests 2 suspected kidnap gang members

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 17): Army arrests 2 suspected kidnap gang members
Military authorities arrested here on separate occasions Friday and Saturday two suspected members of a kidnap-for-ransom group operating in Maguindanao.

Arrested with firearms were Samer Ayao, 18, of Barangay Tanual, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao; and Raf Uko, 30, also of Datu Odin Sinsuat, according to Col. Noli Mapili, chief of the 5th Army Special Forces Battalion.

Tipped about Ayao’s whereabouts, Mapili said he formed a special team to track down the suspect who was nabbed while on board a van in Barangay Balabaran, Datu Odin Sinsuat town at past 7 p.m. Friday. He yielded a home-made automatic rifle.

Upon interrogation, Ayao admitted he had a companion identified as Raf Uko who was to come to Barangay Balabaran Saturday morning.

A follow-up operation by the same Army unit on Saturday resulted in the arrest of Uko, who was carrying a caliber .38 revolver, an improvised rifle and methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu.

Follow-up operations also resulted in the recovery of a van and a motorcycle used by the suspects in drug peddling.

Mapili said the suspects have been turned over to police authorities in Cotabato City for appropriate filing of charges.

Army says BIFF now truly a terrorist group

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 17): Army says BIFF now truly a terrorist group

The military here now considers the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) as bandits and terrorists after their leaders publicly admitted they support the international terrorist organization ISIS in Iraq.

ISIS stands for Independent State of Iraq and Syria which has been terrorizing Iraqis and other nationals who refused to join them.

According to Col. Dickson Hermoso, speaking for the Philippine Army's 6th Infantry Division, the BIFF has no legitimate revolutionary ideology but plain and simple banditry and terrorism.

In Maguindanao, where the BIFF operates, it has been making live difficult even to its own people, Hermoso said.

”They do not care whether civilians are hurt or killed in their atrocities,” Hermoso, who is also the 6th Infantry Division's inspector general, told reporters.

”They don’t have a clear revolutionary ideologue so they are not revolutionaries as they assert,” he added.

Headed by foreign-trained guerrilla Omra Ameril Kato, the BIFF broke away from the mainstream Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2008 following the botched signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).

Since then, the BIFF had been attacking military installations in Maguindanao which resulted in the death and injury of civilians. It also displaced thousands of Bangsamoro people

Hermoso said the military will continue to remain on guard against the terrorists after Abu Misry Mama, the BIFF spokesperson, announced they have allied with the dreaded ISIS militants.

The latest atrocities perpetrated by the militants in Maguindanao was the setting off of a roadside bomb on Friday dawn in Barangay Sambolawan, Datu Salibo, Maguindanao which targeted an Army convoy but hit a civilian car instead, leaving four commuters wounded.

Hermoso said that aside from terrorizing civilian communities, the BIFF members are also into illegal drugs as evidenced by shabu paraphernalia recovered by pursuing government forces every time the bandits attack Army detachments in Maguindanao.

Army's 10th Division holds consultation to strengthen “Bayanihan” in Comval

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 17): Army's 10th Division holds consultation to strengthen “Bayanihan” in Comval

Amidst criticisms on its controversial “Bayanihan” program, the Philippine Army's (PA) 10th Infantry Division conducted a second Multi-Sectoral Advisory and Action Group (MSAAG) in Mawab, Compostela Valley Province to strengthen coordination and partnership with local leaders, government agencies and other stakeholders the implementation of the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) “Bayanihan” and the Army Transformation Roadmap.

Major General Eduardo M. Ano, commander of the 10th Infantry Division, highlighted the importance of inter-agency coordination and building alliance with other stakeholders in achieving the objectives of the IPSP or Bayanihan program which are peace and development in rural areas.

Ano had asked for a constant stream of constructive criticism to help the army organization develop.

Col. Ernest Carolina of the 10th Infantry Division Public Affairs said the MSAAG was originally organized to reinforce the 10th ID’s recognition of the populace as its main client for winning the peace within its area of responsibility.

One of the focus areas of discussion during the consultation was the alleged exploitation of the youth and lumad sectors by the New People’s Army (NPA) rebel in the villages where the 10th ID is operating.

Carolina said participants shared their inputs and suggestions on the coordinate efforts to address the issue. He quoted Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCCI) president Antonio T. Dela Cruz as saying, “We know the problem is there and we know what we should do about it. If we still don't act, then we will wake up one day and our democracy is gone.”

According to Carolina, Ednar Carlos G. Dayanghirang, former member of the GPH peace panel shared some details of the frameworks for development of the Lumad sector, particularly on the role of the army other partner organization to realize the long desired goal to make Philippine growth inclusive, particularly to the Lumad sector.

MSAAG was in August 2011 aimed at institutionalizing its collaboration with stakeholders in attaining the army’s vision of attaining security and development concerns in Davao region and surrounding areas. MSAAG was patterned after the national advisory group which has been helping the army craft plans and programs for peace and development, as well as evaluate the progress of the division campaign, issues identified during the barangay immersions, peace and development initiatives, and NPA atrocities against the people, all within the context of the Army Transformation Roadmap (ATR).

Carolina said the IPSP continue to draw the support of the local leaders.

He said that Davao Oriental Governor N. Malanyaon and Compostela Valley Vice Governor Manuel “Waykurat” Zamora also attested the effectiveness of the IPSP and Peace and Development Outreach Program (PDOP) in contributing relative peace and development in the province.

Malanyaon and Zamora also shared some of the best practices and a few shortcomings in the collaborative efforts for security and development in their respective provinces.

Carolina said Malanyaon remains committed to do their part so that the objectives of IPSP and PDOP continue are achieved.

Military, NPA locked in the media war in Northern Mindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 17): Military, NPA locked in the media war in Northern Mindanao

The military and the communist New People’s Army (NPA) are locked in the media war in Northern Mindanao as intermittent armed clashes occurred separately in various areas in the region.

In a press statement, Army Maj. General Ricardo Visaya, commander of the army’s 4th Infantry Division in Cagayan De Oro City, claimed that the NPA rebels in Agusan Del Sur now gradually disband.

Visaya said that the NPA is dissipating because it has lost the support of the people who have been fed up with the communist false promises.

The arrest of Benito Tiamzon, Chairman of the CPP-NPA and his wife Wilma Tiamzon, the CPP-NPA secretary-general, crippled the NPA’s support system which resulted in indiscriminate extortion activities of the NPA units in Northern Mindanao and elsewhere.

He said that one of the proofs that the communist rebels have lost ground was the surrender of 137 NPA rebels along with their 135 assorted firearms for the military in the hinterland town of Loreto in Agusan Del Sur.

The situation is exacerbated with the killing of Joseph Tajora Cainong, the NPA commander of the Guerilla Front 8 in Agusan Del Sur, along with his 11 armed men during a siege of the house of a tribal leader in Agusan Del Sur last July 15, 2014.

Visaya said that the NPA rebels tried to win back the confidence of the tribal communities in Agusan Del Sur through fear and terror, but proved costly when the tribal group fought back, which resulted in the killing of Canaan and his men and the recovery of nine high powered firearms of the rebels.

The latest of these series of debacles was the killing of two NPA rebels during an encounter with the elements of the army’s 26th Infantry Battalion last Friday in the hinterland village of Mahagsay in San Luis, Agusan Del Sur.

Visaya said that the bodies of the NPA rebels were recovered from the encounter site. “The bodies were turned over to the local government unit for proper identification,” he said.

According to Visaya, the military also recovered a total of 10 assorted high powered firearms consisting of five AK-47, three M16, one M203 grenade launcher, and one AR15.

He said that while he has ordered all military units to pursue the NPA rebels to flush them out of their mountain lairs, “I also urged them to lay down their arms and return to the fold of the law and we will give them hope for a better life.”

While the military claims victory in the anti-insurgency war in Agusan Del Sur, the NPA rebels are also asserting conquest in various war fronts in Agusan Del Norte and Agusan Del Sur.

In a statement to various media outlets in Northern Mindanao, “Ka. Omar Ibarra,” the spokesperson of the NPA rebels’ Western Agusan Norte-Agusan Sur Sub-regional Command, said that the military is creating an impression that the communist movement is waning.

He said that the military has kept secret the killing of two army troopers and the wounding of six others in separate encounters with the NPA guerrillas in San Luis, Agusan del Sur and Buenavista, Agusan Del Norte last August 9 and 10, 2014.

One element of the army’s 29th Infantry Battalion based in Agusan Del Norte was killed while two others were wounded when the NPA attacked army’s operating troops in Sitio Afga, in the village of Olave, Buenavista, Agusan Del Norte last August 9, 2014.

Ibarra said that another government trooper of the army’s 26th IB was killed while four others were wounded in a separate armed encounter in KM. 18 in the village of Don Alejandro, San Luis, Agusan Del Sur last August 10, 2014.

“In both armed encounters, the communist NPA rebels did not suffer a single casualty,” Ibarra said.

He said that the mounting casualties of the military in various armed skirmished with the NPA rebels, like the death and the critical condition of the wounded soldiers, were also kept by the military from the media and the local community.

The NPA spokesperson also described the various surrender rites of communist guerrillas in Northern Mindanao as “farcical” since those who surrendered were not actually rebels but mostly innocent civilians and members of the tribal communities.

He said that the people also abhorred the military because the ordinary civilians were the usual victims of the militarization in the countryside.

Ibarra cited the evacuation of residents, mostly farmers, in the hinterland of Mintakii in the village of Leydia, in La Paz, Agusan Del Sur of the military operations of the 26th IB and the Bagani Force.

The rank-and-file troops of the military are also deeply dismayed by the corruption of ranking military officers and the miserable conditions of the government troopers in the field being used as shields and pawns of the government, Ibarra said.

'Kakadu 2014' to enhance surface warfare capability of PN

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 17): 'Kakadu 2014' to enhance surface warfare capability of PN
With the departure of BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) and her embarked AgustaWestland AW-109 "Power" helicopter (PNH-431) Sunday for "Kakadu 2014", the Philippine Navy expects to further boost its surface warfare capability with its incoming interaction with the Royal Australian Navy and 12 other participant nations.

"(The) PN’s participation is expected to enhance its surface warfare capabilities and interoperability with regional navies. It will also be an opportunity for the PN to enhance cooperation, camaraderie, and good working relationship with the participating navies," PN public affairs officer for "Kakadu 2014" Ensign John Windy Abing said.

The biennial exercises, the largest hosted by the RAN, will from Aug. 25 to Sept. 12 at the Northern Australian Exercise Area.

The send-off ceremony for BRP Ramon Alcaraz and the 180 officers and enlisted personnel aboard her was spearheaded by PN vice commander Rear Admiral Isabelo H. Gador at Subic Bay Freeport, Olongapo, Zambales.

"Kakadu 2014" will be participated in by 12 countries. The participating countries with navy ships/aircrafts are Japan, New Zealand, Philippines, Pakistan and Australia while Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Thailand, Vanuatu, South Korea, and India will be sending personnel as observers.

Abing said that this is the second time the PN has sent its ship to participate since the exercise began way back in 1993.

The first time that the PN sent a ship was in 1999. PN observers were also sent in 2003, 2005, and 2007.

It can be recalled that on March 2014, Alcaraz’s sister ship, BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15) was also sent to Indonesia to participate for the first time in the Multilateral Naval Exercise codenamed “Komodo” which was participated in by 16 countries.

The PN’s participation in multilateral exercises is an affirmation of its commitment in collaborating with other navies to promote peace and stability in the maritime region.

Malacanang: Bangsamoro Basic Law a priority

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 17): Malacanang: Bangsamoro Basic Law a priority

Malacanang said on Sunday that President Benigno Aquino III will give due priority to the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) once it reaches his office.

Presidential Communication Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr., told reporters in a press briefing over dzRB Radyo ng Bayan that Malacanang will submit the draft of Bangsamoro Basic Law to Congress the soonest possible time.

“Bibigyan ito ng Pangulo ng prayoridad na atensyon upang maihain sa Kongreso ang draft Bangsamoro Basic Law sa lalong madaling panahon, alinsunod sa timetable,” said Coloma.

The government peace panel and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) both issued a statement that they will submit the draft to Malacanang on 18 August 2014.

Based on the timetable, there is still ample time for ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress, in time for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Transitional Assembly and a plebiscite in 2016.

“Bagama’t may pagkaantala sa pagbubuo ng draft BBL, hindi natitinag ang determinasyon ni Pangulong Aquino hinggil sa pagkumpleto ng prosesong pangkapayapaan na maghahatid ng pangmatagalang estabilidad at kaunlaran sa Bangsamoro,” said Coloma.

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed on March 27. The agreement ended the decades-long conflict that claimed the lives of hundreds of people in Muslim Mindanao.

80 percent of M-4 rifle parts similar to existing M-16s

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 17): 80 percent of M-4 rifle parts similar to existing M-16s

Having sufficient stocks of spares or replacement parts is one of the best methods to keep your superiority in the field of battle.

And with the arrival of the Remington M-4 automatic rifle in Philippine military service, finding spare parts or replacement materials need to keep this weapon on the firing line will no longer be a problem as 80 percent of its parts are similar with the M-16 automatic rifle now gradually being phased out from the Filipino ground units.

This means that both weapons can interchange parts in case of malfunction or battlefield damage.

This is possible as the M-4 is basically the shortened version of the venerable M-16 rifle, according to the fact sheet forwarded by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

"The M-4 Carbine is a lighter and shorter variant of the M-16A2 assault rifle. The two have roughly 80 percent of their parts in common (and thus) cost efficient," it stressed.

And despite its short length, the M-4 has a point target range of 500 meters and area target range of 600 meters.

This is greater than the 460 maximum effective range of the M-16A1 assault rifle.

Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato earlier said that the M-4 can fire a more heavy shell than the M-16 automatic rifle it is replacing, thus ensuring greater damage to its target.

It can do this 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 added.

Detoyato stated that 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.

Around 27,300 units, the first batch of the over 63,000 M-4s units acquired for the AFP, were distributed to ground units last Aug. 14

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.